The Jews in Poland and Russia: A Short History (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) Paperback – Abridged, 26 Sep 2013
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From reviews of The Jews in Poland and Russia, Volumes 1 - 3: 'Exemplary and formidable ... Polonsky, as much as anyone else, has created the field of modern Jewish history as a subject to be considered and understood rather than simply a tragic past to be mourned. He is too good a historian to confuse the history of Jewish life with the German policies that brought Jewish death ... The barely visible commitment in these three wonderful volumes is to rescue a world from polemic, for the sake of history.' Timothy Snyder, Wall Street Journal 'We can only commend Antony Polonsky for his massive effort to explain seven centuries of Jewish history ... [his] strength lies in his ability to illuminate intellectual and cultural developments ... Because of the excellent bibliographies, extensive annotation, and wonderful maps ... any reader wishing to read in greater detail about Polish and Russian Jewry will have plenty of resources to enable the search.' Alexandra S. Korros, Jewish Quarterly 'Masterful ... In Polonsky's erudite and eminently clear treatment, the rich forest of eastern European Jewish civilization that has become obscured not only by trees, but also by debris of scholarly twigs, re-emerges in its full lushness ... The Judaic studies academy will long be in Polonsky's debt for this sweeping work, one destined to be the authoritative classic in its field for the foreseeable future.' Allan Nadler, Forward 'Definitive ... The scope is immense and the author does an impressive job of synthesizing a vast literature ... This trilogy will no doubt serve as a standard history of east European Jewry for a long time.' Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review 'Well-researched, well-written ... a comprehensive survey ... highly recommended.' S. Kan, Choice 'Stupendous' David Frum, The Daily Beast 'The most important thing one can say about Antony Polonsky's The Jews in Poland and Russia is: get it and read it!' Theodore R. Weeks, The Polish Review 'Magisterial, comprehensive ... a highly original and distinctive contribution to the fields of east European as well as Jewish history ... an authoritative reference for research and teaching ... an eloquent and refreshing narrative and compelling analysis ... overwhelming keen judgement, deep knowledge of Poland and its Jews, and remarkable critical insights that are manifest in this extraordinary book.' Michael Berkowitz, Slavonic and East European Review
About the Author
Antony Polonsky was born in Johannesburg, and studied history and political science at the University of the Witwatersrand. He went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship in 1961, where he read modern history at Worcester College and then pursued his doctoral studies at St Antony's College. He taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science from 1970 to 1992. Since then he has been at Brandeis University, where in 1999 he was appointed Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies, an appointment held jointly at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Brandeis University. Among the many books he has written or edited are Politics in Independent Poland (1972), The Little Dictators: A History of Eastern Europe since 1918 (1975), The Great Powers and the Polish Question, 1941 1945 (1976), and Abraham Lewin's A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto (1988). He is the editor of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, also published (since 1993) by the Littman Library. Professor Polonsky is vice president of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies and of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies. He is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Mordecai Anieliewicz Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Warsaw, and an Associate of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University. In 2011 he was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of Polonia Restituta and the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of Independent Lithuania.
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The Bad: hard to believe this was supposed substantially edited from prior version. Book is a "short" history only in that prior version was even longer. Hard to follow.
Bought book for a course-- professor said probably will not use it again because of the many complaints.
19th CENTURY INTEGRATION/ASSIMILATION ATTEMPTS
Owing to the fact that assimilation is an amorphous term, integration is probably the better term to use. Polonsky repeats the usual explanations (or exculpations) for Jews not integrating with Poland: The Catholic-majoritarian atmosphere, the persistence of anti-Semitism, the non-granting of full rights, etc.
Was the granting of full rights to Jews a condition for Jews agreeing to join Poland, or should it be the other way around? (p. 67). As for continued anti-Semitism, some integrationist-oriented Jews, such as Samuel Hirsch Peltyn, the editor of IZRAELITA, contended that no nation is perfect. Jews should not think that their loyalty to, and unity with, a nation should occur towards a nation that exists only in dreams. (p. 108).
Other factors inhibited the integration of Jews into Polish society. The Jewish community was very slow to change. (p. 75, 109). Polish positivists had long believed that socio-economic progress and secular public schooling would break down the barriers between Poles and Jews. (p. 75, 109). However, economic progress was slow, and the tsarist Russian authorities forbade the establishment of public schools. (p. 109). In 1900, the vast majority of Poland's Jews were still being educated in the HEDER. (p. 109). [In 1918, with the impending resurrection of the Polish state, Jews demanded special government-funded Jewish schools as part of the minority rights of Jews.]
Finally, many/most Jews, notably the nationalist-oriented ones, opposed integration into Polish society for a very simple reason. They felt that they would have to give up essential aspects of Jewishness in doing so. (p. 100).
1912 DUMA ELECTIONS
One of the most interesting aspects of this work is Polonski's relatively balanced treatment of these elections, and the ensuing retaliatory Endek-led boycott of Jews. This is instead of the usual one-sided demonization of Roman Dmowski.
The Jewish electorate, most of which was unassimilated, had this platform: One seat for the Duma, from the Russian-ruled Kingdom of Poland (preferably from Lodz, but, if necessarily from Warsaw), would be held by a Jew. Otherwise, in Warsaw, the Pole elected would be one who supports "equal rights for Jews" (as they defined it). (p. 115). It is fascinating to note that assimilationist Jews, writing in IZRAELITA, saw through this apparently reasonable demand (and tacitly agreed with the Endek condemnation of it). Polonsky comments, (quote) IZRAELITA rejected this platform as unnecessarily provocative. "Warsaw is a Polish city. The Jews must not take advantage of their accidental voting majority...they must vote for a man of tested civic virtues, for a fervent Polish patriot. A manifestation of Jewish separatism must not be allowed to take place." (unquote). (p. 115).
One common reason (or exculpation) for the Jews supporting the socialist Jagiello, instead of Jan Kucharzewski, in the 1912 elections to the Duma, was the alleged anti-Semitism of the latter. In actuality, Kucharzewski publicly declared his support of the principle of Jewish equal rights, although he also felt that some restrictions on Jewish political and economic power would have to exist, and that Jewish aloofness to the Polish cause was factual. (p. 115).
I dispute Polonsky's contention that Dmowski, as suggested by Kucharzewski, was too conciliatory to the Russians, and that Dmowski made anti-Jewish appeals because he felt the need to shore up his credentials with the Polish electorate. Dmowski was in no sense pro-Russian, and his standing with the Polish population was unambiguous. [For more on this, please see the Peczkis Listmania: Understanding Polish Statesman Roman Dmowski and the Endek Movement].
The Endek-led boycott of the Jews, conducted in retaliation for Jewish conduct in the 1912 Duma elections, was only the beginning. Polonsky realizes that it was not only Endeks, political reactionaries, and devout Catholics, that came to see Jews as fundamentally incompatible with essential Polishness. (pp. 116-117). He thus concludes, (quote) The emergence of political anti-Semitism as a significant force in the Kingdom of Poland was primarily a consequence of the fear and anger provoked in Polish political circles by the growing strength of ethnic concepts of Jewish self-definition within the Jewish community of Poland. This view was succinctly put by Swietochowski himself. In his memoirs, he explained: "I admit only to the name of evolutionist in philosophy and national humanist in sociology. Because of my views, I defended the Jews fifty years ago, when they wished to be Poles, and because of the same views, I do not defend them today, when they wish to be Jews, enemies of the Poles." (unquote)(p. 117).
Now consider the resurrected Poland (1918-1939). As is true of almost every work on Polish-Jewish relations, this one mentions Polish Cardinal August Hlond and his much-condemned 1936 statement on "Jews as freethinkers." (pp. 226-227). Interestingly, however, the self-atheization of Poland's Jews was an active concern not only to Polish Christians, but also to many Jews. Citing a Hebrew-language source, Polonsky writes, (quote) The impact of secularization was deeply worrying to the leaders of the Hasidic movement in Poland, both religious and lay, and they made great efforts to devise educational institutions that would protect their young people from what they regarded as the corrosive impact of the modern world and of secular Jewish ideologies, above all Bundism and Zionism. (unquote). (p. 246).
THE BUND: COMMUNISM AND SEMANTICS
The author elaborates on Jewish political parties and movements. Consider the Bund. For a time, the Bund had effectively isolated itself from Jewish public opinion, in interwar Poland, because of what Polonsky calls its "resolutely anti-religious and anti-Zionist attitude". (p. 232). By the late 1930's, the Bund had grown into a widely supported Jewish political party in Poland. (pp. 232-233).
The author portrays the Bund as anti-Communist, notably in the light of onerous Soviet conduct (p. 216, 232), as well as advocating what Polonsky calls revolutionary socialism. (p. 232). Is the distinction between the Bund and Communism one of degree, anti-Stalinism, tactics, semantics, or some combination thereof?
The author elaborates on the strongly pro-German orientation of those Polish Jews that had fallen under Prussian rule because of the Partitions. (p. 2, 47, 54-55, 130).
Although Polonsky does not mention Judeopolonia, he touches on it. The United Jewish Socialist Workers' Party had been formed in 1917 by the merger of two parties, one of which called for the establishment of an autonomous Jewish territory, though not necessarily in Palestine. (p. 174). [Considering the large Jewish population in Poland, and the huge Jewish infrastructure already in place in Poland, why not make this Jewish province or state on Polish territory?]
Fast forward to WWII. During the early part of Operation Barbarossa, some Slavs and Balts joined in the murders of Jews. While not exonerating people of responsibility for their actions (p. 332), Polonsky appreciates the fact that the these peoples were under very brutal German rule. (p. 331). Polonsky also objects to the widely used term bystander for the same reason. In addition, bystander implies free choice, and furthermore serves to lessen German guilt, even if unintentionally. (p. 331).
Going further, Polonsky has a lucid and detailed analysis of Nazi collaboration. Collaboration could variously be motivated by agreement with Nazi racial goals, by an outworking of fascist sympathies, by an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, or by an attempt to alleviate the sufferings of one's people until there is an Allied victory. Applying this, he then focuses on the conduct of the Judenrate in considerable detail. (pp. 357-on).
Unfortunately, Antony Polonsky departs from his earlier objectivity, and veers to an outright Judeocentric bias, when he discusses such things as the events at Ejszyszki and the Jedwabne "revelation" of neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross. Furthermore, Polonsky's extensive bibliography conspicuously omits every single one of the scholarly works of historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz. For instance, please click on Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas, and read the detailed Peczkis review.
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