"It's difficult to admit the obvious"
political world

The Jewish refugee

Jan Peczkis|Friday, December 31, 2010

This heavily-documented work contains many facts and figures on the early-middle WWII-related movement of Jews across, Europe, Palestine, the USSR, and other nations. In terms of historical development, the authors touch on the historic Polish tolerance of Jews: "Moreover, the 1492 expulsion [of Jews from Spain] was one of the last acts of tragedy of the Middle Ages. In Holland, Turkey, and even far-away Poland, the Jews of those days found hospitality and promise of a new and brighter future." (p. 11).


Polish authors had pointed out how Poland's Jews had quickly shifted their loyalties to the partitioning powers, and the Jews soon became the indirect beneficiaries of Poland's enemies. This is borne out by Tartakower and Grossmann, who thus describe the economic fate of western Poland's Jews in Prussian-ruled Poland: "We may mention, for instance, the nineteenth-century movement of Jews from the former Polish provinces in Germany to Berlin and other major cities..." (p. 6). "The small community of about half a million Jews, less than one percent of the population of Germany, was regarded as one of the most fortunately situated branches of the Jewish people in the world." (p. 29). For more on all this, please click on Gold and Iron, and read the Peczkis review.

Let's fast-forward to the 20th century. The authors confirm the fact that anti-Semitism in Italian Fascism had been a relatively recent development. It had "held no sway in Italy" until the decree of September 2, 1938. (p. 39).

Much has been said about anti-Semitism. However, there were also plenty of prejudices within the Jewish community. For instance, in Palestine, German Jews looked down upon the OSTJUDEN (eastern European Jews) as lacking in culture and a sense of order. For their part, the OSTJUDEN frowned on German Jews as having a pedantic sense of order, lacking mental agility, and having an insignificant Jewish education. (pp. 76-77).

Poland's late-1930's government took a harder line on Jews than did the preceding philosemitic Pilsudski regime. Nevertheless, the Polish government's policy towards the Jews was not unilaterally negative, as often portrayed. Consider the border incident of October 1938. Germany began expelling its Polish Jews. Up to that time, Poland's returning Jews were welcomed back. The authors comment: "Already in the preceding years, several thousand Polish nationals had been repatriated to Poland and a special relief committee established for them in Warsaw." (p. 487). Suddenly, the Germans dumped a large number of erstwhile Polish Jews at the border: "In the course of a few days almost 15,000 persons were seized and put across the Polish frontier, more than 9,000 of them at the Polish border town of Zbonszyn. At first, the Polish authorities allowed the refugees to proceed to the interior,...but after a few days the authorities had a change of heart and interned over 5,000 refugees at Zbonszyn." (pp. 487-488). In time, these refugees emigrated to other nations. So, despite the fact that Poland was already overcrowded with Jews, she did accept part of the Jewish population back that had earlier abandoned Poland and staked its future in Germany. In fact, Tartakower and Grossmann (p. 521), in another context, admit that Poland was too poor a nation to absorb a significant number of Jewish refugees.

Although this book was published in 1944 and written before that, the authors were well aware of the ongoing Holocaust. They wrote: "The general belief is that, of the over three million Jews in Poland before the war, no more than a few hundred thousand are left today." (p. 48).

Arab hostility towards Jews is nowadays commonly attributed to the existence of the State of Israel. If Tartakower and Grossmann are correct in their descriptions, Arab hostility towards Jews existed long before that--notably in pre-Israel Palestine. (p. 54-on).
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