Hoffman traces the experience of Jews in pre-modern Poland, partitioned Poland, the Second Republic, WWII, and the immediate postwar period. There is a wealth of information presented in this volume, and I focus on only a few matters. Without doubt, this book is much more objective than Marian Marzynski's rather anti-Polish SHTETL.
After the Partitions, and particularly as the 19th century wore on, Jewish and Polish political interests increasingly diverged. Consider the situation in Russian-ruled eastern Poland: "In fact, Jewish attitudes towards tsarist rule were mixed. In contrast with the Poles, Jewish communities basically accepted the legitimacy of the Russian government, even though they may have bridled against some of its policies." (p. 117). Hoffman sees the later Litvak Jewish immigrants as not so much a force of Russification, as a significant source of pro-Russian political orientation as well as radical-left sentiment (p. 137).
By the time of the resurrection of the Polish state in 1918, the Polish-Jewish gulf had grown large. Polish Jews wanted not only civil rights, but, in contrast to western European Jews, also minority rights (p. 164). [In modern parlance, this would be called special rights. They would, in effect, make the Jews into a nation-within-nation in Poland.] Not surprisingly, this led to overt separatism. Hoffman writes: "In Bialystok, representatives of the Jewish community proposed that the city and surrounding region should become part of Lithuania rather than Poland, because this would put Jews in a better numerical position. The suggestion was met with outrage by Polish politicians." (p. 164). During the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, Jewish loyalties were ephemeral. Hoffman remarks: "According to the Yizkor Book, views were divided between those who sided unequivocally with the Polish cause, and others who felt that Bransk did not really belong to Poland, and therefore should not be required to supply soldiers to the Polish army." (p. 165)
Much has been said about prewar violence against Polish Jews, but little about internecine Jewish violence. Hoffman comments: "The factions quarreled, splintered, and accused each other of betrayal and Jewish anti-Semitism. Not infrequently, members of competing parties disrupted each other's meetings and got into bloody street brawls." (p. 179; see also pp. 180-181).
Most Bransk-area Jews were murdered by the Germans at Treblinka. Those Jews who managed to flee the ghettos not only faced the danger of betrayal by Poles, but also betrayal by other Jews (pp. 224-225). In fact, two of Hoffman's fugitive relatives perished as a result of a Jew who led the Germans to their hiding place (p. 6).
The small percentage of Jews saved owes to the rarity of Jews who escaped the ghettos. Furthermore, Hoffman remarks: "The Yizkor Book records several instances in which Jews refused help offered to them by Poles, because they did not want to abandon the others." (p. 223).
Hoffman recognizes the fact (p. 2) that the Germans' choice of occupied Poland as the site of the death camps had nothing to do with actual or presumed Polish attitudes towards Jews. She is also open-minded to the possibility that the Kielce Pogrom had been a Soviet-staged event (p. 249).