ThrillKill - 5/23/2005 12:20 AM
tcp_ML500 - 5/23/2005 10:17 AM
... Does anyone realize how much the Jews have contributed to Poland's culture, all the way down to some traditional garments still seen today, the advancement of the arts when the King welcomed them open hearted, open handed, etc...
...As far as culture, IÃ¢â¬â¢m not sure of your assessment. Poland at one time was the hub of Europe and had adopted many different cultural aspects, the language mostly...
Not to forget the Jews who fought for Polish independence!
Jews in Poland's Development
A major role in the industrialization of the nation was played by eminent group of Jewish entrepreneurs, bankers, industrialists, and merchants. Many well known families - the Kronenbergs, Natansons, Epsteins, Toeplitzes, Wawelbergs, Rotwands, Fajanses, Reichmans - initiated, organized, and developed many fields of economic and cultural life. Jews were in the vanguard of modern banking, industry (including the sugar refining, textile, paper, and mechanical), commerce, export-import trade, and transportation (the construction of railway lines and river traffic on the Vistula). The Wawelbergs and Rotwands, for example, founded one of the first polytechnic colleges on Polish soil.
Jews and Polish Culture
Jewish citizens were prominent in the fields of publishing, photography and motion pictures.
Jews were also active in such fields as music and the fine arts. The well known composers, Adam Muncheimer and Ludwik Grossman, directed the Warsaw Opera for a time during the 19th century. The primary founder of the Warsaw Philharmonic (opened in 1901) was Aleksander Reichman, while its acclaimed director for many years during the period between the two World Wars was Grzegorz Fitelbe. Numerous Jews, both writers and poets, left their distinct mark on the history of Polish literature (Julian Tuwim, Boleslaw Lesmian, Antoni Slonimski, Mieczyslaw Jastrun, Wlodzimierz Slobodnik, Arnold Slucki, Jan Brzechwa (a favorite poet of Polish children), Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Anatol Stern, Janusz Korczak, Bruno Schulz and others) made notable contribution to Polish literature. In the world of art, many famous names are the Seidenbeutal twins, the Gotliebs, Maurycy Trebacz, Roman Kramsztyk, Artur Szyk, Leopold Pilichowski, and Marek Wlodarski as well as renown sculptors Abraham Ostrzega and Henryk Kuna. Their works may be viewed in countless Polish and foreign museums, as well as in the Jewish Museum of the Historical Institute of Warsaw.
A unique Jewish culture blossomed in pre-World War II Poland. Eminent writers and poets Icchak Lejb Perec, Szalom Alejchem, Szalom Asz, and Hirsz Dawid Nomberg created classic works. Jewish schools, both secular and religious, existed in Poland. The YIVO (Jidiszer Wissenszaftlecher Institute) Scientific Institute was based in Wilno before transferring to New York during the war. The Main Judaic Library and the Institute of Judaic Studies are located in Warsaw in what is now the Jewish Historical Institute Building. Religious centers had at their disposal Talmudic Schools (Jeszybots), as well as synagogues, many of which are architecturally outstanding.
Jews in the Battle for Polish Independence
Jews actively participated in the national uprisings which took place on Polish lands. A colonel of the Polish Army, Berek Joselewicz, formed a Jewish cavalry regiment in 1794 which took part in the Kosciuszko Insurrection. The Colonel was killed during the battle of Kock in 1809. Jews were represented in the November Insurrection (1830 - 1831), the January Insurrection (1863), as well as in the revolutionary movement of 1905. Many Polish Jews were enlisted in the Legions, commanded by , which fought for the independence finally achieved in 1918. About 100,000 Jewish soldiers found themselves in the ranks of the Polish Army at the start of World War II in September of 1939. Many were killed and wounded on the battlefield. For the duration of the war, many Jews were in the Polish Armed Forces in the West, in the Polish People's Army formed in the Soviet Union, as well as in civilian resistance movements and guerrilla detachments. Many lost their lives or were wounded; very many received the highest combat distinctions.
Social and Political Life
During the period between the two World Wars, Jews accounted for 10% of Poland's population of 33,00,000. The Jewish community developed many social and cultural organizations, and political parties including the left-wing Bund, and the Poalej Syjon, the Communists, as well as the Zionists, the orthodox "Mizrachi"and the "Agudas Izrael". There were also the Folksists (People's Party), groups favoring assimilation, as well as many vigorous trade unions. The interests of Jews in Poland were represented by politicians and leaders with seats in the Sejm or the Senate, as well as in municipal councils and in Jewish religious communities. The interests of Polish Jewry were also served by the potent and well developed Jewish press published in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. There were about thirty dailies and over 130 Jewish periodicals in circulation just prior to the outbreak of the war in 1939; these figures do not include the publications of the many small provincial towns throughout the nation.
About the traditional polish costume: MY BAD!
King Boleslav of Poland invited the Jews, granting them unprecedented rights and privileges.
The period of history we are looking at is known as the Renaissance which historians generally date from about 1350 to about 1650. Renaissance means "rebirth." Rebirth of what? Of knowledge.
We have now left the Dark Ages dominated by the repressive policies of the Church in Rome and are beginning a time period associated with individual expression, self-consciousness, and worldly experience, and accomplishments in scholarship, literature, science, and the arts.
In the Renaissance, we see some powerful kings emerging in England and in France, while the power of the Church begins to wane. The famous personalities of this period of time are Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Petrarch, Rabelais, Descartes, Copernicus, just to name a few.
This is also a time when Jews made their way into Poland. Today we tend to think of Jewish life in Poland as being confined to the shtetl, but that did not happen until the 18th century. We also tend to think of Poland as synonymous with anti-Semitism, pogroms, etc. But during the time of the Renaissance the picture was quite different.
Before we begin the fascinating story of the Jews of Poland, we have to keep in mind the historical pattern that we see constantly in Jewish history. The places where the Jews will do the best are almost always the places where the Jews will suffer the worst in the end. You'd expect there'd be places that would be good for the Jews and other places where Jews would have a rough time. But that's not what happens.
The best of times and the worst of times tend to happen in the same place. We just saw it in Spain, we're going to see it now in Poland, we'll see it later in Germany. It's one of the great patterns in Jewish history ever since the Jews were invited into Egypt and then enslaved there.
So how did the Jews come to Poland?
A POLISH INVITATION
Poland became Christian very late, only at the turn of the 11th century, and only then did it join the European community of nations (so to speak). After that, it took a couple of hundred years before Poland started to emerge as a nation-state with strong development potential.
If you want to develop your country economically and culturally, who do you need?
You need Jews. (note from tcp: Don't consider this boasting, but please place back in context of economic development at the times, remember good catholics were not supposed to charge interest, did not deal with money, left that dirty job to the Jews...)
Why were the Jews so necessary? First, they could read and write. Jews were always highly educated as they had to be literate to read and obey the Torah, and general education came along as part of the parcel. Second, Jews were excellent bankers, accountants, and administrators who knew how to keep the economy healthy.
So in 1264, King Boleslav of Poland granted a charter inviting the Jews there. The charter was an amazing document, granting Jews unprecedented rights and privileges. For example, it stated that:
"The testimony of the Christian alone may not be admitted in a matter which concerns the money or property of a Jew. In every such incidence there must be the testimony of both a Christian and a Jew. If a Christian injures a Jew in any which way, the accused shall pay a fine to the royal treasury."
"If a Christian desecrates or defiles a Jewish cemetery in any which way, it is our wish that he be punished severely as demanded by law."
"If a Christian should attack a Jew, the Christian shall be punished as required by the laws of this land. We absolutely forbid anyone to accuse the Jews in our domain of using the blood of human beings."
"We affirm that if any Jew cry out in the night as a result of violence done to him, and if his Christian neighbors fail to respond to his cries and do not bring the necessary help, they shall be fined."
"We also affirm that Jews are free to buy and sell all manner of things just as Christians, and if anyone hampers them, he shall pay a fine."
This was an amazing document. We saw previously that Jews (see Part 46) would be brought in as money-lenders (being excluded from other professions), then when a bishop or nobleman wanted his debt annulled, he brought a "blood libel" against the Jews and had them expelled or killed. King Boleslav boldly promised the Jews that this would not happen in Poland.
Jews did not immediately flock into Poland, though some did settle there to test the waters. But when other countries started expelling Jews -- England being the first in 13th century and Italy and Portugal being the more recent in the 15th century (as we saw in Parts 46 and 48) -- Poland became an attractive destination point.
Then in 1569, Poland unified with Lithuania, and as a result expanded its borders to the east. What we know as the Ukraine today and some of Belorussia, became vassal lands of Poland which was still a semi-feudal country. These lands needed to be managed and job openings in administration (at which Jews excelled) sprung up everywhere.
Another Polish king, Sigismund II Augustus, issued another invitation. Here is an excerpt from his edict, granting the Jews permission to open a yeshiva at Lublin, dated August 23, 1567:
"As a result of the efforts of our advisors and in keeping with the request of the Jews of Lublin we do hereby grant permission to erect a yeshiva and to outfit said yeshiva with all that is required to advance learning. All the learned men and rabbis of Lublin shall come together for among their number they shall choose one to serve as the head of the yeshiva. Let their choice be a man who will magnify Torah and bring it glory."
GOLDEN AGE OF POLISH JEWRY
In Poland, the Jews were allowed to have their own governing body called the Va'ad Arba Artzot, which was composed of various rabbis who oversaw the affairs of the Jews in eastern Europe. The Poles did not interfere with Jewish life and scholarship flourished.
Some important personalities of this period, which a student of Jewish history should remember, were:
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1525-1572), from Krakow, also known as the Rema. After the Sephardi rabbi Joseph Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Isserles annotated it to fill in the rabbinic decisions from Eastern Europe. His commentary was, and continues to be, critically important in daily Jewish life.
Rabbi Ya'akov Pollack (1455-1530), from Krakow. He opened the first yeshivah in Poland and was later named the chief rabbi of Poland. He developed a method of learning Talmud called pilpul, meaning "fine distinctions." This was a type of dialectical reasoning that became very popular, whereby contradictory facts or ideas were systematically weighed with a view to the resolution of their real or apparent contradictions.
Rabbi Yehudah Loewe, (1526-1609), not from Poland but important to Eastern European Jewry. He was known as the Maharal of Prague and was one of the great mystical scholars of his time. He has been credited with having created the golem, a Frankenstein figure, a living being without soul.
Along with the growth in Torah scholarship came population growth. In 1500 there were about 50,000 Jews living in Poland. By 1650 there were 500,000 Jews. This means that by the mid 17th century about 30% of the Jewish population of the world was living in Poland!
Where did these Jews settle within Poland?
Jews were generally urban people as they were historically not allowed to own land in most of the places they lived. However, they also created their own farm communities called shtetls. Although we tend to think of the shtetl today as a poor farming village (like in Fiddler on the Roof), during the Golden Age of Polish Jewry, many of these communities were actually quite prosperous. And there were thousands of them.
The Jews in these independent communities spoke their own language called Yiddish. Original Yiddish was written in Hebrew letters and was a mixture of Hebrew, Slavic, and German. (Note that Yiddish underwent constant development and "modern" Yiddish is not like the "old" Yiddish which first appeared in the 13th century, nor "middle" Yiddish of this period of time.)
Overall, the Jews did well, but working alongside Polish and Ukrainian Christians (who thought Jews killed Jesus) had its downside.
There were several instances of Christian rioting against Jews. For example, in 1399 in Poznan, a rabbi and 13 elders were accused of stealing Church property and they were tortured and burnt at the stake. (The Poles must have forgot the king's edict.)
Another problem was that Jews worked as administrators and tax collectors for Polish feudal lords. This did not make them popular among the local folk, who needed little encouragement to unleash their anti-Semitic rage.
This was especially true in places like the Ukraine, where the Catholic Poles were viewed as an occupying power in an Eastern Orthodox land, and the Jews -- being representatives of the occupation forces -- were the easiest to resent.
And while the Polish nobility might have needed the Jews, the common Poles didn't. There were instances when the Polish soldiers would purposely leave town, abandoning the Jews to the mercy (or lack thereof) of the Ukrainians. This happened, for example, in 1648 in the city of Tulchin. The Polish soldiers made a deal with the Cossacks and left town. The Jews defended the city by themselves until it fell and they were all slaughtered.
When the Ukrainians decided to throw the Poles out of their land, a full-scale massacres of Jews began.
The year 1635 saw the first big explosion of violence in Ukraine against Poles and Jews. But this attempt at the revolution was crushed. It returned with new vigor thirteen years later.
This second rebellion, in 1648, which succeeded in freeing Ukraine from Polish rule, was led by a Ukrainian Cossack named Bogdan Chmielnicki. In large measure it was directed at the Jews.
Chmielnicki was one of the biggest anti-Semites in human history, on par with Hitler. His aim was genocide and his forces murdered an estimated 100,000 Jews in the most horrendous ways:
Here is one description (from Yeven Mezulah, pp. 31-32):
"Some of them [the Jews] had their skins flayed off them and their flesh was flung to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were cut off and they [their bodies] were flung onto the roadway where carts ran over them and they were trodden underfoot by horse ... And many were buried alive. Children were slaughtered at their mother's bosoms and many children were torn apart like fish. They ripped up the bellies of pregnant women, took out the unborn children, and flung them in their faces. They tore open the bellies of some of them and placed a living cat within the belly and they left them alive thus, first cutting off their hands so that they should not be able to take the living cat out of the belly ... and there was never an unnatural death in the world that they did not inflict upon them."
Here is another account from a Luthuanian Rabbi Shabbetai ben Meir HaCohen (1621-1662) also known as the Shach, who survived this time:
"On the same day 1,500 people were killed in the city of Human in Russia on the Sabbath. The nobles [Cossacks] with whom the wicked mob had again made an alliance chased all the Jews from the city into the fields and vineyards where the villains surrounded them in a circle, stripped them to their skin and ordered them to lie on the ground. The villains spoke to the Jews with friendly and consoling words: 'Why do you want to be killed, strangled and slaughtered like an offering to your God Who poured out His anger upon you without mercy? Would it not be safer for you to worship our gods, our images and crosses and we would form one people which would unite together.' "But the holy and faithful people who so often allowed themselves to be murdered for the sake of the Lord, raised their voices together in almighty in Heaven and cried: 'Hear of Israel the Lord our God, the Holy One and the King of the Universe, we have been murdered for Thy sake so often already. O Lord God of Israel let us remain faithful to Thee.' Afterward they recited the confession of sins and said: 'We are guilty and thus recognize the Divine judgement.' Now the villains turned upon them and there was not one of them who did not fall victim."
It's no wonder when Jews hear the word Cossack they break out in a sweat. These people killed 100,000 Jews and destroyed 300 Jewish communities in the most brutal way one could imagine.
Yet to this day Chmielnicki is considered a nationalist hero in the Ukraine, where they regard him as a kind of "George Washington." In Kiev there is a big statue in the square erected in his honor.
So this is how, in 1648-1649, the Golden Age of Polish Jewry came crashing down.
These pogroms took place in Eastern Poland, and the Jews in other parts remained there. Poland continued for many years to be the center of the Ashkenazi Jewish world as we shall see in future installments.
However, before we cover that period of time, we will backtrack a bit to talk about the Protestant Reformation which also took place during the Renaissance.
I guess I've reached the age at which memory embelishes and then twists facts, my apologies...
Ã¢â¬âIn Russia and Poland:
(see image) Jews of the Caucasus in Native Costume.(After a Photograph by Orden.)
(see image) Polish Jewess and Jew of the Eighteenth Century.(After Le Prince, 1765.)
In the Middle Ages the Jews of Poland and Lithuania dressed like their Christian neighbors, as is indicated clearly by Cardinal Commendoni in his well-known description of the condition in which he found the Jews when he visited Poland in 1561 ("Czacki Rosprawa o Zydach," p. 93). The special garb which, in medieval times, the Jews of Germany and other European countries were compelled to wear (see Bruno KÃÂ¶hler, "Allgemeine Trachtenkunde," iii. 100) was not known in Poland. There is, in fact, seemingly reliable evidence that the so-called Jewish garb of Poland, including even the "jarmulka" (undercap), is simply the old Polish costume which the Jews retained after the Poles had adopted the German form of dress (see Plungian, "Ben Porat," p. 59, Wilna, 1858, quoting from Russian sources). As the Jews lived under their own jurisdictionpractically until the division of Poland, and as the interior of Russia had no Jewish population before the acquisition of the Polish provinces, all Russian legislation on the subject of Jewish costumes is naturally confined to the nineteenth century.