THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH POPULATION IN PLONSK
AND THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN POLAND
In general the history of Plonsk was related to the history of Warsaw and the history of the Jews in general in Poland. Because of this we understand that it is necesary to include a little of the history of the Jews in Poland.
The history of the Jews in Poland reaches back over a millennium. The first Jews arrived in the territory of the modern Poland in the tenth century (year 966). The first extensive Jewish emigration from Western Europe to Poland occurred at the time of the first Crusade in 1098. Under Boleslau III (1102-1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerance of the First ruler, settled throughout Poland, including over the border into Lithuanian territory up to Kiev. The Jews came to form the backbone of the Polish economy, and the coins minted by Mieszko III even bear Hebraic marking. Jews enjoyed undisturbed peace and properity in the many principalities into which the country was then divided; they formed the middle class in a country where the general population consisted of landlords (developing into “szlachta”, the unique Polish nobility) and peasants, and they were instrumental in promoting the commercial interest of the land.
The tolerant situation was gradually altered by the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand, and by the neighbouring German states in the other. During the next hundred years, the Church pushed for the persecution of the Jews while the rulers of Poland usually protected them. In 1334 , Kasimir III the Great (1303-1370) amplified and expanded Boleslaw’s old charter with the Wislicki Statute. Kasimir was especially friendly to the Jews, and his reign is regarded as an era of great properity for Polish Jewry, and was surnamed by his contemporaries “King of the serfs and Jews."
But the persecution is coming, and in 1347 the first blood level accusation against Jews in Poland recorded, and in 1367 the first pogrom in Poznan. Later the massacres occurred at Kalisz, Kraków, Glogów and other polish cities along the German frontier, and it is estimated that 10.000 Jews were slaughtered.
As the result of the marriage of Wladislaus II to Jadwiga, daughter of Luis I of Hungary, Lithuania was united with the Kingdom of Poland. Although, in 1388, rights were extended to Lithuanian Jews as well as under the rule of Wladislaus II and those of his successors that the first extensive persecutions of the Jews in Poland commenced, and the king did not act to stop this events. The declining in the status of the Jews was briefly checked by Kasimir IV the Jagiellonian (1447- 1492), but to increase his power he soon issued the Statute of Nieszawa. Among other things he abolished the ancient privileges of the Jews “as contrary to divine right and the law of the Land.”
The policy of the government toward the Jews of Poland was not tolerant under Kasimir’s sons and successors, John I Olbracht (1492-1501) and Alexander the Jagiellonian (1501-1506), who expelled the Jews from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1495. Alexander reversed his position in 1503, just as the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, as well as from Austria, Bohemia and Germany, thus stimulating the Jewish emigration to the much more tolerant Poland. Indeed, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from western Europe; and the resulting access to the rank of Polish Jewry made it the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people.
The most prosperous period for Polish Jews began following this new influx of Jews with the reign of Zygmund I (1506- 1548), who protected the Jews in his realm. His son, Zygmund II August (1548-1572), mainly followed in the tolerant policy of his father and also granted autonomy to the Jews in the matter of communal administration and laid the foundation for the power of the Kahal, or autonomous Jewish Community. This period led to the creation of a proverb about Poland being a “haven for the Jews.”
Following the childless death of Zygmund II, the last king of the Jagiellon dynasty, Polish and Lithuanian nobles gathered at Warsaw in 1573 and signed a document of limited toleration in religions. In 1648 the Commonwealth was devasted by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its population, over 3,000,000 people, and Jewish losses were counted in hundred of thousands. Poland herself, which had suffered either from the Chmielnicki Uprising, or from the invasion of the Russians and Ottomans, now became the scene of terrible disturbances (1635-1658). Charles X of Sweden, at the head of his victorious army, overran Poland; and soon the whole country, including the cities of Krakow and Warsaw, were in his hands. He devastated the whole country through which he passed and treated the Jews without mercy. As soon as the disturbances had ceased, the Jews began to return and to rebuilt their destroyed homes; and while it is true that the Jewish population of Poland had decreased and become impoverished, it still was more numerous than that of the Jewish colonies in Western Europe; and Poland remained as the spiritual center of Judaism, and through 1698, the Polish kings, generally remained supportive of the Jews, despite the hostility from clergy and nobility. It also should be noted that while Jewish losses in those event were high, estimated by some historians to be close to 500,000, the Commonwealth lost 1/3 of its population—approximately 3 million of its citizens.
Disorder and anarchy reigned supreme in Poland during the second half of the 18th century, from the accession to the throne of its last King, Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski (1764- 1795). In 1772, in the aftermath of the Confederation of Bar, the outlying provinces of Poland were divided among the three neighboring nations, Russia, Austria and Prussia.
Jewish were most numerous in the territories that fell to the lot of Austria and Russia. But this partition wasn´t good. A second partition of Poland was made on July 17, 1793. Jews, in a regiment led by Berek Joselewicz, took part in the Kosciuszko Uprising the following year, when the Poles tried again to achieve independence, but were brutally put down.
Following the revolt, the third and final partition of Poland took place in 1795. The great bulk of the Jewish population was trasferred to Russia and thus became subjects of that empire, although in the first half of 19th century some semblance of the vastly smaller Polish state was preserved, especially in the form of the Congress Poland (1815-1831).
The Jewish life continued. Yeshivot were established, under the direction of rabbis, in the most prominent communities. Such were officially known as gymnasium, and their principal rabbis as headmasters. Important yeshivot existed in Krakow, Poznan, and other cities. In 1530 a Hebrew Pentateuch (Toráh) was printed in Krakow; and at the end of the century the Jewish printing houses of the city and Lublin issued a large number of Jewish books, mainly of a religious charater. The growth of Talmudic scholarship in Poland was coincident with the greater prosperity of the Polish Jews; and because of their communal autonomy educational development was wholy one-sided and along Talmudic lines. Polish Jewry found its views of life shaped by the spirit of Talmudic and rabbinical literature, whose influence was felt in the home, in school and in the synagogue.
The assassination of Tzar Alexander II in 1881, was and act falsely blamed upon the Jews. This act prompted a large- scale wave of anti-jewish riots, called “pogroms”, throughout 1881- 1884. In the 1881 outbreak, pogroms were primarily limited to Russia, although in a riot in Warsaw twelve Jews were killed, many others were wounded, woman were raped and over two million rubles worth of property was destroyed. The pogroms prompted a great flood of Jewish immigration to the United States and other countries, with almost two million Jews leaving the Pale by the late 1920s.
By the late 1800s, Haskalah began to take hold in Poland, stressing secular ideas and values. Because it was created a growing number of political movements within the Jewish community itself. Zionism became very popular with the advent of the Poale Zion socialist party, as well as the religious Polish Mizrahi, and the increasingly popular General Zionists. Jews also took up socialism, forming the Bund Labor union which supported assimilation and the rights of Labor. In 1912, Agudat Israel, a religious party came into existence. In PLONSK the activity of Jewish people was very important, principally in the Zionist and Bund party....
Unsurprisingly, given the conditions under the Russian Empire, and the Jews participated in a number of Polish insurrections against the Russians, including the Kosviuszko Insurrection, and the January Insurrection in 1863, as well as the Revolutionary Movement in 1905. We said in the chapter, History of Plonsk, the Jews as people of Plonsk greatly participated in these revolts. Jews also played a role in the fight for Independence in 1918, some joining Jósef Pilsudski, while many other communities decided to remain neutral in the fight for a Polish Independent State. The result of the concern over the fate of Poland’s Jews was a series of explicit clauses in the Versailles Treaty protecting the rights of minorities in Poland.
In 1921, Poland’s March Constitution gave the Jews the same legal rights as other citizens and garanteed them religoius tolerance. But during the first and last years of the second Polish Republic, the persecution against Jews increased. This situation was more tolerant during the goverment of Josef Pilsudski (1926-1935). When the nazis invaded Poland about 120,000 polish Jews fought against the german army as members of the polish army. The estimation is that during the battles 32,216 jewish soldiers and officers were killed, and 61,000 taken prisoner by the german army; most of them didn´t survive.
According with the agreement of non aggression between Russia and Germany, Poland was divided again in a zone occupated by the russian army, and a part of the german army. The division: 61.2% of the polish Jews were under the nazis, and 38.8% of them under the russian army. According to the national census in 1931 there were 3,130,581 Polish Jews. And if we consider the increase of the population in Poland during 1931 and 1939 there were more or less 3,474,000 Jews in Poland an September of 1939.
About 240,000 Jewish survivors from the Camps were in Poland after the Second War, but many of them left Poland due to the antisemitic sentiment of the polish people, especiality after the Pogrom of Kilce in 1946. Currently, at the beginning of the 21st century, there are not more than 20,000 Jews in all of Poland, most of them living in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Krakovia. But there is not any census data showing the exact number. Jewish organizations in Poland, like the Center Moses Schoor, say there are 100,000 Jews in Poland not practicing their religion, and they don’t list their religion as Jews.
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