Renewal of Jewish Life

The first attempts to renew Jewish life took place in Lublin, the seat of the Polish Committee of National Liberation. In a manifesto issued on July 20, 1944, this committee published a solemn declaration assuring equal rights and full rehabilitation to the survivors of Polish Jewry. The Jewish Committee was formed to extend emergency aid to Jews converging on Lublin from the liberated parts of Poland. This group included adults who returned from the forests and other hiding places or who miraculously survived the concentration camps, and children who found refuge in convents or with individual Polish families. In October 1944 the Jewish Committee was renamed the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland and moved to Warsaw when the Polish capital was liberated. The committee was composed of representatives of the various Jewish parties and was presided over by the Zionist Emil Sommerstein. At first it was primarily concerned with providing material assistance to the Jewish survivors and facilitating their return to a productive life. Before long, however, the committee extended the range of its activities to social and cultural spheres.

By 1945 it comprised ten districts (wojewódstwa), two subdistricts, and about 200 local committees. Several dozen Jewish cooperatives, in a variety of trades, and 34 Jewish farms run by several hundreds of Jewish agricultural laborers were founded. A considerable number of Jewish weeklies and bi-weeklies, representing every shade of Jewish political opinion, made their appearance. Among them was the organ of the Central Committee, Dos Naye Lebn. An elementary school having Yiddish as the language of instruction with Hebrew as a compulsory subject was established in Lodz. There was also a society of Jewish writers, journalists, and actors in that city, while in Lower Silesia the Jewish Society for Art and Culture was formed. After the Zionist pioneering youth movements were reorganized, they established hundreds of training farms, children's homes, etc., and prepared their members for aliyah. In July 1945 the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) entered the Jewish scene in Poland. Through the Central Committee, it subsidized a variety of social welfare agencies, emphasizing the care of children, the aged, and the sick. In addition the JDC provided food, clothing, and medicine to educational and cultural institutions, and supported a variety of plans to help able-bodied men and women become productive again. The following year, ORT began its work in Poland, creating a network of vocational schools. In the medical field TOZ provided the assistance. At the beginning of 1946, this organization was running eight mobile clinics, seven hospitals, and medical aid stations in all major cities.

In addition to the 80,000 Jews already in Poland, over 154,000 Polish Jews were repatriated from the U. S. S. R. in the summer of 1946, bringing the total Jewish population of Poland close to 250,000. The Polish government and the Communist-dominated ruling party (the Polish Workers' Party – PPR) encouraged the Central Committee in its social and cultural activities and lent support to the Jewish efforts to establish new economic foundations and restore communal life. At the same time, the government placed no obstacles in the path of Jews who wished to emigrate. It permitted the Zionist movement to exist and displayed a friendly attitude to the aspirations of the yishuv in Palestine and later to the State of Israel. Polish government support (or at least tolerance), aid from world Jewry, and, especially, the growth of the community by mass repatriation from U. S. S. R., led many Polish Jews in the immediate postwar period to believe that the conditions being created in the "new" Poland would enable them to live a free and full Jewish life.

Cultural, Religious, and Economic Life

At first these hopes had some basis in fact. In 1946-47 two Yiddish theaters were founded – in Lodz and Wroclaw – and employed some 80 actors. In 1950 they joined forces as the Jewish State Theater with a government subsidy under the direction of Ida Kaminska. The theater discontinued its activities after 1968, when most of the Jews emigrated from Poland. A publishing house and a literary monthly came into being. The Society for Art and Culture founded Jewish libraries, promoted amateur societies in various cultural fields, and arranged public lectures. The Jewish Historical Institute embarked upon a program of collecting and publishing historical material on the Holocaust. According to figures published in the anniversary edition of Dos Naye Lebn (1945-47), the Central Committee's Board of Education served 34 Jewish schools staffed by 179 teachers and attended by 2,874 children. Jewish religious life was renewed in every town where Jews resettled. In prewar Poland there had been 2,000 rabbis, 8,000 ritual slaughterers and religious teachers, and 10,000 yeshivah students. Of these, only a few dozen rabbis, slaughterers, and about 100 yeshivah students survived the war, mainly in the U. S. S. R., but only a few of them refrained from emigrating and remained in postwar Poland. Nevertheless, the Union of Religious Communities was established, comprising some 30 communities. The Union attended to Jewish religious needs by refurbishing and using two synagogues which had not been destroyed – one in Warsaw and the other in Wroclaw – establishing prayer-houses in all the communities, providing mazzot for Passover, arranging for the supply of kasher meat, and founding kasher public kitchens. In cooperation with the Central Committee, the Union rededicated Jewish cemeteries and reburied according to Jewish rite the victims of Nazism buried in mass graves.

In mid-1948, the Union of Religious Communities formally joined the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. The cooperation between the two bodies, however, lasted only into the early 1950s, when the Stalinization taking place in the country also affected Jewish life and made the cooperation of secular and religious bodies impossible. By the end of 1960, there were 23 member communities in the Union, and by 1966 the number was reduced to 18. The number of individual members varied greatly from one community to another; thus, in Warsaw, there were only 20 registered members, while in Katowice there were 1,200 and in Wroclaw 2,000. The Union of Religious Communities was still in existence in 1969, but the mass emigration of 1968-69 reduced its membership severely. At the end of 1947, there were 200 Jewish cooperative societies, with a membership of 6,000. About 15,000 Jews were employed in communal institutions, coal mines, heavy industry, textile factories, and a variety of government and private factories; 124 Jewish families were employed on farms. By the end of 1946, ORT was conducting 49 different vocational courses staffed by 81 instructors and attended by over 1,100 pupils. Contact with Jewish communities outside of Poland was maintained by both the Central Committee and by the various Zionist groups which were active in the early postwar years. In the beginning of 1948, the Central Committee joined the World Jewish Congress and participated in its meetings and conferences.

The Flight from Poland

The revival of a sound Jewish community life in Poland was the declared aim of those Jews who had been Communists before the war. They believed that the conditions were now ideal for the renewal of Jewish life and argued that a revived Jewish community would both demonstrate the vitality of the Jewish people and the failure of Nazism and other forms of anti-Semitism. The majority of Polish Jews, however, including those who were being repatriated from the Soviet Union, did not want to reestablish their lives in Poland, where the Nazis had found thousands of collaborators among the local population eager to cooperate in the extermination of the Jews. Moreover, pogroms continued even after the Nazi occupation ended. To most Polish Jews it was unthinkable to renew their life on the Polish soil soaked with the blood of millions of Jews. Thus tens of thousands of Polish Jews who fled from the U. S. S. R. and Poland made their way to Rumania and Germany in the hope of reaching Palestine. After the Kielce pogrom this exodus took on an organized and semi-legal character. A coordinating committee for aliyah was formed from representatives of all Zionist groups to make arrangements for up to a thousand persons a day to cross the Polish border at three points in Lower Silesia near Kudowa. The operation lasted about six months, until the end of 1946. Thereafter, Jews encountered difficulties in leaving Poland, but emigration did not come to a stop. In 1949, when the Zionist parties were disbanded, all former Zionists were permitted to leave for Israel, and some 30,000 people took advantage of this opportunity. Thus, mass emigration continually depleted Polish Jewry from 1944 to 1950. The Central Committee, which did all in its power to combat this movement, was forced to accept the reality of a drastic decrease in the Jewish population.

Anti-Jewish Excesses

Jewish emigration from Poland was motivated not only by the recent tragic past and by prewar Zionist education, but also by the continuation of a clear and present danger to the Jews. There were murderous attacks upon Jews on Polish roads, railroads, buses, and in the towns and cities. The murders were committed by members of Polish reactionary organizations, such as the NSZ (Narodowe Sily Zbrojne). In cruelty and inhumanity, their crimes often equaled those committed by the Nazis. Beginning in 1945 the assaults upon Jews swiftly assumed mass proportions. In two pogroms – one in Krakow on Aug. 11, 1945, and the other in Kielce on July 4, 1946 – thousands of Polish men, women, and children ran amuck in the Jewish quarters, killing in Kielce 42 Jews and wounding 50 others. The attacks spread throughout the country, and in 1945 alone 353 Jews were reported murdered. The wave of anti-Jewish excesses continued well into 1946 and reached its climax in the Kielce pogrom. The government and the ruling party issued declarations designed to placate the Jews and there were public protests against anti-Semitism by intellectuals and large parts of the working class. Above all, the Jewish Communists and the Central Committee of Jews in Poland tried to reassure the Jews that the government would stamp out the anti-Semitic underground. The Jews, however, did not heed the exhortations and raced for the borders. By the end of 1947, only 100,000 Jews remained in Poland.


The Soviet Example

A second factor discouraging any hope for a viable Jewish community in Poland was the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the U.S.S.R. Soviet anti-Semitism was at first disguised as a campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans." This was followed by the judicial murder of leading Jewish writers and artists and the total liquidation of Jewish cultural life in the Soviet Union. The campaign culminated in the so-called Doctor's Plot. These Soviet developments had an immediate effect on the Polish scene. In 1948 the central committee of the ruling party, the PPR, on Moscow's initiative, accused its first secretary, Wladyslaw Gomulka, and his associates of rightist-nationalist deviation, and Poland became, more than ever, a Soviet satellite. The entire country was overrun by the Soviet secret police. Under these circumstances Poland's attitude toward its Jews could not be substantially different from the Soviet model.

Nevertheless, Stalinist anti-Semitism was effected in Poland without bloodshed and mass arrests. It was the cultural activities of Polish Jewry that were immediately affected, reduced in their scope, and adapted in their content to the new spirit. The Stalinization of Poland was carried out by a variety of measures. The existing workers' parties were merged into a single party, and all other parties were liquidated. The Soviet Union was glorified and its policies in internal and foreign affairs were slavishly copied. In all creative activities "socialist realism" became the rule. In the Jewish sphere, "unifications" and liquidations were carried out. The first to be liquidated were the Zionist parties and the Bund in November 1949. This was followed by a ban on the operation of the JDC and ORT, in spite of the assurance given by the Polish Committee of National Liberation in its manifesto of July 20, 1944, and the appeal in December 1945 by the Polish provisional government for foreign aid to be extended to Polish Jews. Similarly, the recognition of the JDC's work expressed in November 1946, when JDC director, Joseph Schwartz, was awarded a high decoration by the government, no longer had any meaning.

An act of liquidation by "unification" affected the Union of Jewish Cooperative Societies, representing 200 societies, 15,000 workers, and substantial assets (originally financed by the JDC) which was forced to merge with the general Polish Union of Cooperatives. On May 16, 1949, a "recommendation" was made to the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland to secede from the World Jewish Congress. Finally, the Central Committee itself, whose continued existence as a seemingly independent representative body was not in harmony with the new trend, was ordered to merge with the Jewish Society for Art and Culture. The new organization bore the name Cultural-Social Association of the Jews in Poland (Kultur-Gezelshaftlekher Farband fun di Yidn in Poyln). All Jewish schools were nationalized in the 1948-49 school year, resulting in the further reduction of Jewish studies. Yiddish as the language of instruction and the teaching of Hebrew had already been eliminated. Such organizations as the Jewish Agency came to be regarded as "agents of imperialism," and any contact with them was highly suspect. The spiritual life of Polish Jews was now restricted to preoccupation with the "progressive" tradition. The mass emigration had resulted in a radical reduction in the number of district and local Jewish committees. Their total number dropped to 30. The largest concentrations of Jews were in Warsaw (about 8,000), Wroclaw (about 6,000), Lodz (about 5,000) and Szczeczin, Katowice, Cracow, Legnica, and Walbrzych.

In spite of these far-reaching quantitative and qualitative changes, the leaders of the Cultural-Social Association and the other Jewish establishments (such as the Historical Institute, the theater, the publishing house, the literary journal, and the newspaper Folksshtime), both in Warsaw and the provinces, did all in their power to maintain at least a modest level of Jewish activity. In fact, in the period 1950 to 1957, Jewish life in Poland was relatively stable. Even so, there were those in the association who, encouraged by the ruling party, sought to promote assimilation and achieve results.

1956-1967. Stalin's death in 1953 resulted in an easing of tension, but Gomulka's assumption of power, in 1956, completely transformed the Jewish scene in Poland. Revelation of the innumerable crimes committed in the U.S.S.R. during the period of Stalin's rule enabled the Jewish newspaper Folksshtime to publish a passionate protest against Soviet anti-Semitism and its destruction of Yiddish literature and culture. In Poland it was once more possible to foster Jewish literature and to reestablish contact with Jewish organizations abroad. The JDC and ORT returned to devote themselves primarily to the approximately 25,000 Polish Jews who were being repatriated from the U. S. S. R., under an agreement between Gomulka's government and the Soviet Union (along with hundreds of thousands of people who had been Polish citizens in 1939 but for some reason had not been repatriated after the war). Once again the JDC extended aid to the sick, the aged, and children. It also assisted various cultural institutions, including schools. ORT, for its part, reestablished its network of vocational training schools.

The great majority of Jews repatriated from the U. S. S. R. did not, however, have any intention of staying in Poland. Even before their departure from the Soviet Union, most of them resolved to move on from Poland, primarily to Israel. Similarly, thousands of long-established Jews now decided to leave Poland for good. Their decision was influenced by the anti-Semitic incidents that occurred soon after Gomulka's rise to power. Poland again allowed Jews to emigrate, and some 50,000 people left the country in 1958-59. In some cases, whole towns were emptied of their Jewish population, and the Jewish community in Poland was now reduced to about 30,000 people. Of those who remained some 3,000 were too old or too sick to earn their livelihood and were supported by the JDC, as were various children's homes, camps, and clubs. In addition, the JDC financed the Historical Institute, the Cracow Jewish Museum, cultural enterprises, the reestablishment of Jewish cooperatives, and the construction of a Jewish home for the aged.

The Jewish cooperative movement, revived after 1957 with help from the government and the JDC, was soon able to stand on its own feet and to transfer 20% of its yearly profits – ranging from one to two million zlotys – to the Jewish Cultural-Social Association. This situation prevailed until 1967.

Final Liquidation

In 1968-69, a fourth mass emigration of Jews from Poland took place, resulting in the virtual dissolution of the Jewish community as an identifiable and creative group. It also spelled the final disillusionment of those Jews who hoped the Gomulka regime would differ from the Soviet Union in its approach to the Jews. The Six-Day War (1967) and the March 1968 student riots in Polish university towns were seized by the Polish government as the opportunity to utilize popular anti-Semitism for its own political purposes. When the party faction called the Partisan Group, led by Minister of Interior Mieczyslaw Moczar, initiated anti-Semitic action in an attempt to oust Gomulka from power, the Polish Communist leader adopted a clearly defined anti-Jewish policy. In March 1968 Gomulka publicly declared those Jews whose loyalty wavered between Poland and Israel to be "rootless cosmopolitans" unworthy of holding public office. He reiterated, however, the principle that Israel-oriented Jews should be allowed to emigrate to the Jewish state. In the course of 1968, Jewish youth camps, schools, and clubs were disbanded. Jews were dismissed from whatever public positions they still held, and the Cultural-Social Association was reduced to a mere paper existence. Restrictions were placed even on the status of Yiddish, a language which had been used in Poland almost as long as Polish itself. Yiddish was declared a foreign language, with the result that any publication in Yiddish had first to be translated into Polish before it could be released for distribution. In practice this signified the end of the Yiddish publishing house "Yiddish Bukh" and of Yiddishe Shriften, the literary journal. The Yiddish newspaper Folksshtime, which formerly appeared four times a week, was now restricted to a weekly appearance. The JDC and ORT were again forbidden to operate in Poland, and the Jewish cooperatives were again handed over to the general Cooperative Union. The Jewish home for the aged, financed by the JDC, was turned into a general institution.

The liquidation of all organized forms of Jewish life was accompanied by a relentless anti-Semitic campaign carried through the press, radio, and television. The majority of Polish Jews, the tragic remnant of a community that had once numbered over 3,250,000 people, reacted to these events by choosing to emigrate. Since the Polish authorities allowed Jewish emigration only to Israel, and then only upon renunciation of Polish citizenship, many Jews who intended to emigrate to other countries (Canada, Australia, Scandinavia) ostensibly applied for papers and visas to Israel. Efforts to assure the continued existence of Jewish life in Poland were in vain. Young Jews, most of whom left the country, were especially shocked by the anti-Semitism displayed by leading Polish Communists. The few Jewish institutions still in existence in 1971 were devoid of all creative content and had been stripped of all authority.
[David Sfard, Ph. D; Jerusalem]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica

Relations with Israel

Poland was among the first countries to recognize Israel (May 18, 1948). During the period preceding the establishment of Israel, Poland was unstinting in its support for the yishuv. At a convention of Soviet-bloc foreign ministers, the Polish foreign minister introduced a resolution congratulating Israel and condemning Arab aggression. Polish public opinion also strongly supported Israel and its struggle, as evidenced by resolutions passed by various public institutions, including the National Conference of Polish writers. Israel also received practical aid. In 1948, before the declaration of independence, a Haganah camp was set up in Poland, where 1,500 young Jews underwent preparatory military training before leaving for Israel. During the actual fighting, shipments of wheat were brought to Israel by a Polish boat. In August 1948 an Israel legation was established in Poland, one of Israel's first diplomatic missions.

The Change of 1950

The cooling of U.S.S.R.-Israel relations from 1950 affected relations between Poland and Israel. A certain ambivalence characterized Poland's attitude toward Israel, for, together with criticism of Israel on the international scene, particularly at the UN, there was also understanding and sympathy for Israel's problems and a courteous attitude in official relations, in contrast to the attitude of other member states of the Eastern bloc, even in 1950-55, which were particularly difficult years for Israel relations with Eastern Europe. The change, which started to make itself felt at the beginning of 1950, was reflected in a decrease in the number of exit permits issued, although emigration from Poland never ceased altogether. Polish authorities began to display animosity toward the Israel legation, with a view to minimizing its contacts with Polish Jewry. During this period were mass arrests and staged trials in a number of Eastern European countries, and, while the situation did not reach such proportions in Poland, police measures were intensified there and the Israel legation was put under police surveillance. A sharp turn of events occurred in 1953, when the Israel minister in Warsaw, A. L. Kubovy, who was stationed in Prague, was declared persona non grata as a result of a similar action taken against him by the Czechoslovak government after the Slánský trial. Thereafter two other Israel diplomats were expelled.

Improved Relations in 1956

Wladyslaw Gomulka's ascension to power as secretary of the Communist Party in the fall of 1956 ushered in a liberalization in Poland's internal regime and a more independent foreign policy. Relations toward Israel improved primarily through an open emigration policy. Israel's problems were given more objective treatment in the press. In 1956 Israel again appointed a resident minister in Warsaw after a three-year period during which a chargé d'affaires headed the Israel legation. In 1963 the mission was elevated to the level of an embassy. After 1956 there was also a broadening of cultural and scientific relations in the form of reciprocal visits by individuals and delegations. Nevertheless, the Polish government maintained a constant reserve and did not respond to all of Israel's initiatives, sometimes even failing to implement plans they themselves had suggested. Thus, for example, cultural and scientific relations were not established on a formal basis, although such a step would have been justified by the extent of these activities. Nor was a Polish-Israel Friendship League set up in Poland, although an Israel-Polish Friendship League functioned in Israel.

Nevertheless, Poland was undoubtedly foremost among the East European countries in fostering relations with Israel, especially in the areas of culture, science, and information. Israel artists participated regularly in international music festivals in Poland, and many Polish performers appeared in Israel. Radio musical programs were exchanged. Exhibitions of Hebrew books were held in Poland, and Polish books were distributed in Israel. Regular exchanges of scientific publications took place, and individuals and figures in public life paid reciprocal visits. Exhibitions of graphic art were organized in Poland and in Israel. Of special note during the period between 1956 and 1967 were the tour of a Polish medical delegation in Israel; the visit to Israel of the chairman of the Polish Academy of Sciences; and the visit of the Israel ministers of health and welfare to Poland. After 1956 Israel participated regularly in the International Fair in Poznan. An information bulletin distributed by the Israel embassy influenced public opinion, and the Polish press often drew upon it.

In the political arena (for example in voting at the UN), Poland continued to identify with the U.S.S.R. but nevertheless was willing to support the election of Israelis for various functions in international agencies. Its spokesmen would point out that Poland's guiding principle was to foster relations both with Israel and with the Arab states, but neither at the expense of the other. An event in May 1966 seemed to herald a marked improvement in Polish-Israel relations and a development in Israel's relations with the entire Communist bloc: a convention of Israel diplomatic representatives in Eastern Europe was held in Warsaw with the participation of Foreign Minister Abba Eban. It was the first time that such a convention was held in a capital of the Eastern bloc, and Warsaw was willing to serve as its venue; it was also the first visit in an East European capital by an Israel foreign minister. Eban held discussions with the Polish foreign minister, Adam Rapacki, who displayed the attitude usually accorded an official foreign visitor.

The Six-Day War

Fairly normal relations were maintained between the two countries when the U.S.S.R. began escalating the Middle East crisis, which resulted in the Six-Day War. Significantly, a visit to Poland at the end of April by the Israel minister of welfare, heading a delegation for the establishment of the Auschwitz memorial, was handled in a way that reflected a change for the worse in Poland's attitude. The fact that the visit was not mentioned in the press was interpreted as one expression of the attempt to minimize the Jewish character of the Holocaust. In the first half of May, Polish newspapers and communications media were still presenting a balanced view of the Middle East crisis. A sharp change occurred, however, during the second half of the month. The press began to give unilateral coverage to the Arab-Soviet position. Grotesque accusations with anti-Semitic overtones were leveled against Israel and its leaders. On May 28 the president of Poland sent a message to Nasser expressing "full support for the struggle of the Arab nations." After that time, Poland's statements were characterized by an animosity toward Israel even more venomous than in other Eastern European countries.

According to all indications, Polish public opinion generally supported Israel in its struggle for survival, but in the hands of groups competing for power in the party and in the Polish government, the Middle East crisis became a weapon for infighting, with the declared intent of displacing Jews from public positions. On June 12, 1967, following the Soviet Union's example, Poland notified Israel that diplomatic relations between the two countries were being severed, and inimical demonstrations against the Israel diplomats initiated by the authorities took place in sight of the diplomatic staff that came to take leave of the Israelis at the Warsaw airport. The Dutch embassy, which represented Israel's interests in Poland from that time, strongly protested against this behavior.

Emigration to Israel

In 1948 there were approximately 70,000-80,000 Jews in Poland. This number was swollen by thousands of Jews who returned from the U.S.S.R. in 1956-57 under the Polish-Soviet repatriation agreement. One of the major tasks of the Israel legation in Poland was the struggle on behalf of the majority of Jews who wished to migrate to Israel. Despite accusations leveled periodically by Polish authorities at the Israel legation and its staff for propagandizing and organizing the Jews for migration to Israel, there was continuous emigration. Between 1948 and 1949 the Polish authorities were issuing several hundred passports a month to Jews wishing to emigrate, especially to the aged, handicapped, and women left alone. Between 1949 and 1956 the number of passports issued decreased to a few dozen per month. The major years of Polish Jewish immigration to Israel were 1956-60 with their numbers reaching around 52,000. The peak year was 1957, during which some 31,000 Jews migrated to Israel. Despite the breakdown in diplomatic relations in June 1967, the Polish government continued to issue exit permits for emigration to Israel, but the motivation for this policy became more and more an anti-Semitic intent to "purge" Poland of its Jewish population.

Trade Relations

A trade agreement signed between Poland and Israel in 1954 was renewed annually until 1968. The numerous industrial and agricultural products traded were valued at approximately $4,000,000 in both directions. Major Israel exports were citrus fruit and tires, with Poland exporting frozen meat, sugar, iron and steel products, and chemicals. Two Israel exports added in the later years were potash and cotton, which then exceeded the citrus export. During 14 years the scope of the agreement had doubled, in effect, and in certain years it had tripled. A shift in the trade balance in Israel's favor occurred in the first months of 1966 and continued thereafter due to a steep increase in the export of potash. Upon the severance of diplomatic relations, Poland was in debt to Israel for over $5,000,000, but despite its hostile attitude toward Israel it did not revoke the trade agreement of 1954, and it was automatically renewed in 1968. By then, however, the agreement was meaningless, with Israel having discontinued its exports to Poland to avoid increasing the Polish debt, which was, in effect, a credit extended to Poland without interest. In June 1968 the Israel government informed the Polish government of the revocation of the trade agreement. Poland's debt to Israel, then $2,700,000 was repaid thereafter.

[Moshe Avidan]
Ambassador, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica

Developments in the 1970s and Early 1980s

The present Jewish population of Poland is approximately 6,000. In Warsaw there remains only a single synagogue and in the whole country there is no rabbi. The Jewish cemetery in Bialystok was transformed into a public garden, and the authorities are planning to erect a large industrial plant on the site of the Jewish cemetery in Breslau (Wroclaw). The famous Jewish cemetery in Warsaw has been repeatedly desecrated by gangs who stole the marble from the graves, and it is feared that part of it will be liquidated to make way for a railway line.

The Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland has come under the full control of the Ministry of Interior and almost all of its social functions have been terminated. After the Jewish cooperatives were liquidated, the Polish government began to defray the rather modest budget of the society.

In 1976-77 the Jewish issue again became a motif in the official propaganda campaign which came on the heels of the Polish workers' protest movement against rises in food prices, and the activities of the "Committee for the Defense of the Workers," and dissidents.

The prolonged instability of the situation has resulted in intensified exploitation of the Jewish issue, and the press directly attacked and ridiculed Jewish religion, tradition and customs with the result that Jewish life is compressed into a lifeless framework which, nevertheless, still continues to function. The Jewish Cultural-Social Committee is still in existence, as is the Jewish Historical Institute and the Jewish Theater. The newspaper Folksshtime also continues to appear. The institute received permission to resume publication of the academic journal Yiddishe Bletter whose publication had ceased several years earlier.

In the latter part of 1977 the Poles took several tactical steps to improve their image with regard to Jewish matters. In October and December 1977 the chairman of the Organization of Former Jewish Partisans and Fighters in Poland (Stefan-Shalom Greik, an Israeli), the chairman of Yad Va-Shem (Dr. Yitzhak Arad), and a representative of kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta'ot (Zvi Schneir) were invited to Poland, in connection with the implementation of a plan to establish a Jewish exhibit hall in the former extermination camp at Auschwitz. It was the first time that the authorities in Poland displayed a readiness to permit Israeli institutions to participate in the implementation of the plan, and even to be assisted by the advice of Israeli experts. The Warsaw Institute of Jewish History was also invited to assist in drawing up the plan. The pavilion was opened at a ceremony held on April 17 , 1978, in the presence of Polish authorities and Jewish delegations from Israel and the Diaspora. Its official name is "The Destruction and the Struggle of the Jews in Occupied Europe." In June, however, it was closed to the public, although it was claimed that the closure was only temporary to improve the amenities there, and that it would be opened to individuals on request.

A definite anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish tone was expressed in government propaganda used in its fight against the increased strength and demands of Solidarity in 1980 and 1981, although the current demographic distribution of Jews in Poland certainly does not warrant any such attacks. Individual Jews did participate in the Solidarity movement.

Polish-Israeli Relations

The first step in the Polish operation to improve their image with regard to the Jews was the sending of Dominik Horodenski, editor of the journal Kultura on a visit to Israel, where Aorodenski made an effort to display Poland's good will and its desire to improve its relations with the Jewish people.

Diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel have not been renewed. It is part of Poland following Moscow's dictates in foreign policy generally, and in its policy towards the Middle East conflict in particular. Following the severing of commercial ties between Israel and Poland in 1968, the first exchange of goods between the two countries was renewed in 1976. Israel exported citrus to Poland ($834,000) and imported books ($5,000). In 1977 goods in the value of $1.5 million were exported to Poland and $600,000 worth of merchandise was exported from Poland to Israel.

[Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]


Developments 1983-92

Poland's transition to a democratic system of government and a market economy which began in 1989 after nearly five decades of Communist rule took place against the background of economic crisis and industrial unrest. However, the new freedom experienced by Polish society has had an invigorating effect on the small, mostly elderly, Jewish community which on the eve of the Second World War numbered 3.5 million and is now estimated to number 6,000 people living mainly in Warsaw, Wroclaw (Breslau), Krakow (Cracow), and Lodz with smaller groups in other provincial towns. A significant renewal of Jewish cultural and religious life has taken place, and people previously estranged from Jewish tradition, especially among the younger-age group, have begun to acknowledge their Jewish identity. Communal and cultural activities were strengthened and encouraged by the renewal of ties with Israel and increasing contacts with world Jewry. Two important events exemplify this positive trend: the community acquired its first resident rabbi in over 20 years, and a Coordinating Commission of Jewish Organizations, which represents and acts on behalf of the whole community, was established. The new body brought together the Jewish Social and Cultural Association, the Mosaic Religious Association, the Jewish Historical Institute, the Jewish Theater, and the bi-weekly paper Dos Yiddishe Wort (formerly Folkssztyme).

A range of educational and cultural activities is provided by the Social and Cultural Association (TSKZ) which has branches in 15 cities. Courses in Jewish history and Yiddish as well as song and dance classes are held. The Jewish Historical Institute conducts research and publishes scholarly papers and books on the history of Jews in Poland. Among its most recent projects is the provision of teaching materials on the Holocaust. Welfare activities are carried out with the financial support of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

On the positive side of Polish-Jewish relations is the continuing interest in the history and culture of Polish Jews among the Polish intelligentsia. The awareness of the need to preserve the Jewish heritage and recognize the Jewish contribution to Polish culture originated in liberal Catholic, Protestant, and opposition circles in the 1980s.

Among the initiatives taken were annual weeks of Jewish culture, seminars on Jewish subjects, festivals of Jewish films, exhibitions as well as efforts to restore and maintain Jewish cemeteries and monuments. From the mid-1980s, in an attempt to improve their image abroad the Communist authorities encouraged Jewish studies. The Institute for the Study of the History and Culture of the Jews in Poland was created at Krakow's Jagellonian University in 1986. A number of conferences and symposia were held with the support of the state and the participation of Western, including Israeli, scholars. A large number of books on Jewish subjects were published to meet the growing demand. In post-Communist Poland, state authorities have continued to support a range of cultural activities. A foundation called Eternal Memory has been set up by the treasury for the restoration and preservation of Jewish cultural monuments.

The community is, however, experiencing a rising tide of anti-Semitism. The change to a pluralist democracy has opened up opportunities for extremist nationalist groups which have been using anti-Semitism as a tool in the political struggle. Their propaganda identifies Jews with the Communist regime and blames them for all the shortcomings of Polish life. The removal of restraints on freedom of expression has meant that anti-Semitism is now openly voiced in public and every-day life with grass-roots anti-Semitism well attested in public polls.

Government and Solidarity personalities have become targets of anti-Jewish campaigns, which draw attention to their real or alleged Jewish origins. At the time of the 1990 presidential and the 1991 parliamentary elections these tactics were freely used even by the mainstream political groups. Anti-Semitic publications, including reprints of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, have been distributed widely in recent years. Acts of vandalism at Jewish institutions, synagogues, and cemeteries have multiplied as Polish skinheads seek to emulate their Western counterparts. The need to obtain economic assistance from the West, which acted as a brake on political anti-Semitism during the last decade, prompted President Walesa's initiative in 1991 to create a Council on Polish-Jewish Relations. An advisory body attached to the president, its function is to promote better understanding between Poles and Jews by drawing-up educational programs for Polish youth, organizing events and exhibitions, and providing a reaction to anti-Semitic incidents.

The continuing dispute over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz has been at the center of the crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations for the last decade. The controversy was widely debated in the Polish press: a range of views from openly anti-Semitic to liberal was expressed revealing a disquieting level of prejudice and a lack of understanding between Poles and Jews.

While some elements within the Catholic church support right-wing Christian parties with known anti-Semitic tendencies, the Polish bishops, in an effort to improve relations, issued an unprecedented statement taking a clear stand against all manifestations of anti-Semitism. The Episcopal letter, read in churches on January 21, 1991, presented Vatican II teachings on the relations between the two faiths and dealt with a number of controversial issues such as Polish responsibility for the Holocaust, alleged Jewish responsibility for Communism, and anti-Semitism past and present. At the same time the Catholic Seminary in Warsaw published a book on Judaism and the Jews for school teachers written in a similar spirit.

Relations with Israel

In 1986 Poland was the first of the Communist bloc countries to re-open low-level diplomatic relations with Israel which had been severed since the Six-Day War. Interest sections dealing with visa regulations and cultural and economic ties were established in Warsaw and Tel Aviv. Full diplomatic relations were restored in 1990. A framework for the promotion of good relations was provided by the establishment of the Polish-Israeli Friendship Society. There has been a steady growth in cultural exchanges and trade expansion. Poland has shown a strong interest in acquiring Israeli technology in the fields of agriculture, telecommunications, health, and hotel industry. There has been an unparalleled growth in tourism, facilitated by direct air links, with Israelis visiting Poland in great numbers. Visits by Israeli and Polish government officials culminated in the visit by President Walesa to Israel in 1991 and President Herzog's visit to Poland in 1992.
[Lena Stanley-Clamp]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica

In the Mid-1990s

There are some 8,000 Jews living in Poland in the mid-1990s. Most of them are in Warsaw but there are also communities in Cracow (Krakow), Lodz, Stettin (Szcecin), Danzig (Gdansk) and in several cities in Silesia, notably Kattowitz (Katowice) and Breslau (Wroclaw), most of which have synagogues. The eastern part of the country, once teeming with Jewish life and with great centers such as Lublin and Bialystok, probably has no more than 50 Jews. In the past few years there has been a certain revival with young people of Jewish origin who had no Jewish knowledge joining the community. The Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in the Polish Republic (KKOZRP) coordinated activities of the various bodies. Under the auspices of the Lauder Foundation, a club has been established which organizes many events for young people including Jewish summer camps and athletics. The Jewish groups include persons orphaned in the Holocaust and brought up by non-Jews and a veterans organization. An important item on the agenda is the preservation of synagogues and cemeteries throughout the country. Many of these are in a state of disrepair or are being used for secular purposes. Poland has a chief rabbi whose seat is in Warsaw and another rabbi for youth. A primary school and kindergarten have been opened in Warsaw. Jewish courses are offered at the universities in Warsaw and Cracow. Warsaw's Jewish Historical Institute is an important archive and venue for cultural events while Cracow has a center for Jewish Culture. The Warsaw Yiddish Theater is the only regularly functioning Yiddish theater in the world. Most of the actors are non-Jews. Many books on Jewish themes have recently been published in Polish and the community has a number of publications. Poland is the scene of considerable Jewish tourism including pilgrimages to Holocaust sites which bring many Jewish youth groups.

[Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]

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Emil Sommerstein (1883–1957), Zionist leader in Galicia and Polish Jewish leader. Born in the village of Hleszczawa in the district of Tarnopol, Galicia, Sommerstein practiced law in Lvov. His Zionist activities began during his student years, when he founded the Zionist Students' League in Galicia (1906). He later played a leading role in the Galician Zionist Federation, of which he became chairman. Return
ORT (initials of Rus. Obshchestvo Rasprostraneniya Truda sredi Yevreyev , originally meaning "Society for Manual [and Agricultural] Work [among Jews]," and later – from 1921 – "Society for Spreading [Artisan and Agricultural] Work [among Jews]"), organization for the promotion and development by vocational training of skilled trades and agriculture among Jews. Return
Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw), institution devoted to the study of Polish Jewish history. As soon as World War II ended and some forms of organized Jewish life were resumed in Poland, a series of historical societies sprang up in Lodz, Cracow, Bialystok, and Lublin. Their main task was to preserve a record of the gruesome events of the Holocaust by research, documentation, collection of evidence, and publications. Return
World Jewish Congress (WJC), a "voluntary association" of "representative Jewish bodies, communities, and organizations" throughout the world, organized to "assure the survival, and to foster the unity of the Jewish people" (arts. 1 and 2 of its constitution). Return
Joseph Schwartz (1877–1944), Hungarian rabbi and author. Born in Felsövisó, Hungary (now Viseul-de-Sus in Rumania). Schwartz was the son of Naphtali ha-Kohen Schwartz. Return
Six-Day War Rapid war in June 1967 when Israel reacted to Arab threats and blockade by defeating the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies. Return
Haganah Clandestine Jewish organization for armed self-defense in Erez Israel under the British Mandate, which eventually evolved into a people's militia and became the basis of the Israel Defense Forces. Return
Slánský trial The first of a series of anti-Semitic show trials held in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s whose prime victim was Rudolf Slánský (1901–1952), secretary-general of the Czechoslovak Communist Party after World War II. Return