Anti-Semitism in Europe

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Anti-Semitism in Poland
From "The Polish Jew, His Social and Economic Value," by Beatrice C.  Baskerville,


The average Pole when asked to define an anti-Semite will promptly answer "a man who dislikes the Jews more than they deserve," but I have used the word here in the ordinary sense of the word--as meaning a dislike for the Semite. Sionism* in Poland is so bound up with anti-Semitism that it would be difficult to treat of the one without referring to the other. As we have just seen, though Sionism, as Dr. Hertzl and the general public understand the word, is bankrupt in that country, the Sionistic atmosphere is not.

photo: Pallbearers carrying the the victims of the Kielce pogrom, transport the coffins from trucks to the burial site in the Jewish cemetery, July 1946. Courtesy of the USHMM and Leah Lahav.

The Jews say that its flourishing condition is due to anti-Semitism, that if the Poles were not anti-Semites, the Jews would not be Sionists, The Poles deny this charge, affirming that anti-Semitism is not the cause but the effect of Sionism, that if the Jews had shown any friendly feelings for them, any gratitude for the protection they received centuries back, any interest in Poland's weal or sympathy for her woe, any inclination to demolish the walls of the ghetto, to forget the jargon, to discard the halat, to assimilate, in short, with the rest of the community--anti-Semitism would not exist today. They meet the charge of increased anti-Semitism­-and its increase during the past half decade is utterly undeniable--with a counter charge of Jewish hostility and Jewish anarchy. They point out that the Bund was the first party to arm the masses, placing the means of exercising terrorism in the hands of those who lack culture and education to curb their passions of race and class; that the revolutionary parties which are given up to bomb-throwing, assassination and other acts of excess, are de facto Jewish; that the proportion of Poles to Jews amongst the leaders of these parties is very small; that the Jew, who has been economically dangerous to Polish interests for centuries, has now become a political peril, because, having nothing to gain by keeping quiet and a possible gain in revolt, he has prompted and is guiding the present revolutionary movement.

This conviction prompted the Poles to act with unexpected energy during the election for the Duma. Very little interest was shown in these elections at first because the Jews had declared that they would not participate in them. The Polish community was aroused a few days before the time fixed for voting by the announcement that the Jews had decided to send representatives to the Duma and were engaged in a pre­elective campaign. Warsaw and Lodz, owing to the large percentage of the Jewish element, were threatened with Jewish delegates. The result of this news was astonishing. Suddenly every Polish party took the elections quite seriously, and, what is more wonderful in faction-loving Poland, decided to arrive at a speedy understanding and vote irrespective of party politics for the National Democrats; otherwise if the votes split up between the Conciliators, Patriots and Progressives, the Jewish candidates would gain the day. Perhaps the best example was shown in Lodz, where, though the Polish and German elements are ever at war, they united against the common foe, voted together, and won the day. The Jews themselves worked with laudable zest. In the provinces those who could not afford to pay their fares to and from the voting centres were supplied with enough money to cover their travelling expenses. The Kahals, calling upon every man to use his vote, threatened to impose a heavy fine upon those who neglected their civic responsibilities. Men were sent into the streets to buy voting cards from the needy Polish population.1 Sandwich men, bearing Hebrew placards calling upon all Jews to vote for their cause, paraded the Jewish quarters. Pre-election meetings were addressed in Yiddish by advocates of the cause. But solidarity, a feature which is generally missing in their political life, saved the Poles; and, in spite of the fact that the Jews form 14% of the total population, their party in Poland did notsend one delegate to the first Duma. The Jewish proletariat relieved their feelings by setting up straw figures dressed in the Polish fashion and throwing mud at them. The "Intellectuels" lodged a protest against the conduct of the National Democrats who had "swamped" them, and promised never to forget the slight put upon Jewish interests. Whether this exclusion of the Hebrew element ia politically wise, or whether, as the Jews themselves affirm, it will convey but a poor opinion of Polish tolerance to the Liberal Party in Russia, remains to be seen.. But the fact in itself is interesting, inasmuch as it shows a tendency on the part of the Poles to keep whatever political right they may obtain under their own control and prevent the Semites from ousting them in the political arena as they have already done in trade and commerce.

Hitherto anti-Semitism has not aroused the Poles to organise a campaign against the economic influence of the Jews. Here and there an increased disinclination to buy from them may be seen, and of late much has been written about the need of organising the Polish commercial element into guilds which will defend its interests, for there is a growing conviction that, as the Jew intend to preserve their own national individuality, some means of protecting the Polish element must be found. But as yet it is too early to foretell what these means will be. In Poland, where men think rapidly and act slowly, questions even of such importance as this one do not get the prompt attention they deserve. No, though anti­Semitism prevails in all classes of the Polish community, it is, as yet, nothing more definite than the instinctive dislike of the Sclav for the Semite, not because he is dangerous, politically or economically, not because he lives on usury, but because he is a Semite, because he talks through his nose, and talks Yiddish, is difficult to throw off, is half a toad-eater and half arrogant, because he has a hooked nose and a high colour, because he wears a halat and his wife wears a wig. This anti-Semitism does not prevent its possessor from dealing with Jewish tradesmen, borrowing Jewish gold or employing Jewish labour. It is content to make use of the object of its hatred even for the object's own gain. But it goes no further. It will not admit a feeling of sympathy between the two contrasting parties, it prompts the contempt with which the Pole regards his factor, not because he is a factor, but because he is a Jew. It prevents the Polish lounger from helping the Jewish drayman to pull his cart-wheels out of the snow. It causes the Polish school-boy to call the blots which disfigure his copy-book "Jews," and the peasant to call the teazels by the same name, because they cling to his clothes and are difficult to dislodge. It is, too, though slightly accentuated, the same instinct which prevents a Pole from marrying a Jewess, or a Polish girl from wedding a man who has a Jewish name, and which closes the doors of many Polish houses to the Jews.

But there are times when this sentiment takes a more serious form, when the Polish masses, inspired either by fanaticism or a sense of wrong, assume a threatening attitude towards the children of the ghetto, who then feel that Poland, like Russia, may become the scene of terrible massacres. Such a case oecurred in the autumn of the year 1905 when the imperial manifesto of October 17th promised constitutional right to the Tsar's subjects.

The event was celebrated in all the Polish towns by processions, for the Poles are addicted to illusions, and it seemed to them that the promise of the Tsar would bring about a political paradise at once. The least respectable portion of the population preferred to follow red banners and even old red petticoats carried by the Bund and other revolutionary parties, shouting out "Down with Tsardom" "Down with Poland!" "Down with the Church!" down with everything in short but anarchy; the more respectable, however, gathered in front of the churches, singing patriotic hymns and returning thanks for the constitution the Tsar had promised them. Before long it became evident that whilst the Polish element flocked to the patriotic processions, the Jewish element prevailed amongst the red banners and rags. In short, a kind of rivalry sprang up, and when the patriotic population of the city decided to organise a solemn procession of its own upon the following Sunday, the hooligans who had howled themselves hoarse over the "Red Standard" expressed their intention of preventing others from singing "God save Poland." But the national procession was organised so carefully that all attempts to disturb the order of the main body were abandoned. The ruffians among whom, spectators affirm, Jews predominated, therefore tumed their attention to the branch processions; and when one left the church on the outskirts of the town, they threw mud, stones and other missiles at the cross and the priests. One of the crosses was struck, and a young Israelite, incensed at the remonstrances of a man who carried it, shot him. The indignation of those in the procession was unspeakable. The priests had the greatest difficulty in preventing a free fight, and, when the day's ceremony was over and the news of the outrage had spread through the town, black looks and threats passed from man to man in the poorer quarter and warned the Jews that public opinion was very much against them. Their anxiety was increased by the fact that Jewish massacres were disgracing several towns in Russia. The acrimony with which the revolutionary parties, taking advantage of the temporary freedom of speech accorded by the Manifesto, had attacked Church and fatherland during the past few days, only increased the feeling of hostility to the Jews, who, rightly or wrongly, have the reputation of leading these parties. All this caused the quieter portion of the population to fear that another outrage, similar in character to the one just recorded, would induce the Polish masses to follow the example given in Odessa and Kieff and rise against the Jews. Their apprehensions were heightened by the conviction that the Russian authorities would gladly welcome a massacre in "cultured" Poland; they therefore used every effort to avert such a disaster and to keep the national record for toleration at all costs. In the churches the priests mounted the pulpits twice and thrice daily to preach against the evils of racial hatred and the necessity for Christian love and forbearance. In the squares and open spaces laymen addressed little groups, urging them, for Polish honour, not to allow the passion of the masses to get the upper hand. Pamphlets and proclamations, bearing the same message, called upon the people to refrain from following the example of barbarous Russia and refuse to play into the hands of a hostile government. Householders, fearful lest the mysterious "black hundred," the crowds of hooligans whom Russian misrule had allowed to increase and multiply in the slums of the city, would, incited by the Russian authorities, commence the massacre and set fire to the anti·Semitism of the people, organised self-defence parties which, armed with the best weapons they could obtain, kept watch by night in the large covered gateways of the houses. Excitement ran high. In spite of the universal strike which had cut off all the ordinary means of communication with the rest of the Empire, vague and alarming reports came from Russia. The air was heavy with massacre and disaster, and no man knew what the hour would bring forth. It is in such times that a little incident, a mere trifle, is fraught with giant consequences. For all Warsaw knew, the government in St. Petersburg might be overthrown, and the only machinery, bad as it was, which kept the joints of the communal life together, be destroyed. People could not sleep at night. The least noise in the silent courtyards, the echoes of a domestic difference, the shouts of startled slumberers aroused a panic, when people sprang from their beds and opened the windows to see if the 'black hundred" had not begun to massacre the Jews. And if fear aud excitement prevailed in the Polish quarters, what is to be said of the Jewish, where men dared not venture out by day and sat huddled together at night, trembling at every passing footfall, thinking that each patrol was a murderous band, come to butcher the men, violate the women and sack the shops and houses. In several instances the Jewish defence groups, maddened into anxiety, rushed into the streets upon hearing the sound of measured footsteps and attacked the military patrols, a mistake which resulted in an order to disarm and disband all Jewish defence parties and to arrest the members.

They would have fled to Austria and Germany if escape had been possible, but all communication was cut off. One Jew, impressed with the powers of the British Government, went to the British Consulate and demanded protection in the form of a steamer to convey him and his family to Dantzig. The same idea of British prestige caused quite a demand for the
"Union Jack." A few rich Hebrews, the envied possessors of motor-cars, escaped from what they thought was certain death. The rest sat at home and awaited their fate. This tension lasted for several days; but as night after night passed and the "black hundred," the bogey of Pole and Hebrew, did not appear, the excitement calmed. The Jews began to venture about the streets, the Polish self­defence groups were dismissed, and the crisis passed. But for weeks afterwards the thought of massacre haunted the inhabitants of the ghettoes..

The following incidents, the first of which occurred in Warsaw shortly before the feast of P&asOver (1906) will give the reader some idea of the scenes which occur from time to time in the Polish towns to disturb the amicable relations which, in spite of the anti-Semitic undercurrent, generally exist between the Polish and Jewish masses, permitting them to work side by side in the factories without showing any signs of racial antagonism.


One evening a little Polish girl entered a Jewish shop and begged for a piece of maca (passover-cake). Rosenzweig, the Jew who owned the shop, gave her some and she went away. But the maca pleased her so much that she came back for a second helping, and when she returned for the third time, Rosenzweig, anxious to get rid of the child, swung her up in the air and playfully theatened to put her in a barrel which stood near, if she came again. A passer-by heard the child scream and, upon glancing in and seeing her swung up in the air, immediately raised the alarm that "the Jews want the child's blood to mix their maca." This signal has never failed to bring a crowd in a Polish town, and a moment later a very angry one had collected round the shop, Rosenzweig, thoroughly frightened, locked the door and hid himself behind some lumber. The crowd broke the windows and was looking for the hapless joker when a passing patrol arrested the proceedings by enquiring into the cause of the excitement.

The soldiers found Rosenzweig, pulled him from his hiding-place, and took him to the police-station accompanied by the crowd whom the patrol could scarcely keep away from the object of their anger. After giving his version of the affair, Rosenzweig was set at liberty and told to go home. It took him all his Hebrew ingenuity to take him there, for the crowd followed him all the way; and not a moment passed but he had to dodge a blow or a piece of mud aimed at his trembling figure. The little Polish girl cost him dear, for he dared not open his shop until three or four days afterwards.

Not long afterwards a very similar incident occurred in the town of Lomza. A. Polish workman took his ten­year-old son out shopping, and went into a Jewish shop for some yeast. The Jew could not find it at first--these little shops are not models of tidiness--so the workman told his son to wait for the yeast while he went on to make some more purchases, as it was Friday afternoon and the Sabbath was approaching. On his return, the yeast was there but the boy had disappeared. He angrily asked the Jew what had become of the child. The Jew as angrily answered that he knew nothing about him. Their loud voices attracted a few loungers who said something about Christian blood and Jewish passover-cakes. The words spread through the street like wild-fire, and the consequence would have been disastrous for the Jew had not the boy turned up amongst those who ran to see what new piece of excitement was afoot. He paid for the misunderstanding he had caused with a sound whipping.

These two incidents show that the old conviction that the Jews are ready to murder Christian children for ritualistic purposes still prevails among the Polish masses, in spite of the efforts of the clergy to eradicate it. It is as firmly rooted in their minds as the belief that to dream of a Jewess is unlucky, or that all Jews are subject to a loathsome disease akin to mange which will show itself even in the offspring of mixed marriages.

Nevertheless, there have been no serious anti-Semitic demonstrations in Poland since the year 1880, when the Jews in Warsaw were the victims of a good deal of horseplay. But the scenes then2 enacted were of very different character from those which occurred in Russia as recently as the year 1906.

After the barbarous pogrom which took place on Corpus Christi day (1906) at Bialystok, some attempts were made to provoke a similar massacre in Warsaw. Proclamations were posted on the houses at street corners calling upon the populace to stamp out once and for all that "parasitic, grasping and useless Jewish race" from among them. But the indignant passers-by tore them down, and the Social Democrats and Polish Party of Socialists replaced them by others. The Social Democrats, after stating in very plain language that the Russian Government had provoked the horrors of Bialystok, continued :--

"In Bialystok the Jewish proletariat is very numerous: thousands of Jews work in the factories there--they fight side by side with Christians there for political freedom and a better existence. The minions of Tsardom have long plotted to bring these brethren to kill one another. Their provocations failed, for the revolutionary parties exposed their shameful plans and made them useless. But at last a bomb has served their purpose, and the Tsar's hooligans waited in crowds for the signal to begin their hellish work, aided by the Tsar's soldiers, who fired into the houses and let off volleys at the Jews as they escaped from the hooligans." Of course the author of the proclamation seizes the opportunity of preaching the ceaseless sermon of the revolutionary. He says--"This new crime of the Tsar cries out for vengeance. These rivers of innocent blood cry out that life is unbearable until the Monster called Tsardom is strangled, until the knife and the sword are wrenched from the hands of the criminals."

Then capitalism is dragged in :--

"But there is yet another criminal, and that is capitalism, which has grown to monstrous proportions under the protection of Tsardom. Bialystok is its nest. For long years the capitalistic leeches have sucked the blood of the working man. To the struggle! Comrades and workmen! To the struggle with hideous Tsardom! To the struggle with capitalism, the source of all curses." It is only at the end of the proclamation that the proletariat is abjured to shoot down the first hooligan who looks like provoking a pogrom.

The Polish Party of Socialists distributed over a hundred thousand proclamations calling upon their comrades to deal shortly with the provocators. But those they posted on some of the houses in Warsaw deserve the prize in a proclamation competition. After laying stress on the fact that the government had provoked the massacre in Bialystok and the soldiers rivaled the hooligans in torturing their victims by cutting off their hands, legs, noses and ears, it went on to say that, for all the party cared, the rich Warsaw Jews might look after themselves. What the Socialists meant to protect was the Jewish proletariat. Why? Not because the Jewish proletariat is composed of human beings, of men and women with a right to enjoy as full a measure of safety and protection as anybody else, not because a Jewish massacre would shame Poland in the eyes of the world; but because the Jewish proletariat was the most revolutionary element in the country, and the Polish Party of Socialists needed that element to help them to carry out their political programme. But the scenes which disgraced Bialystok on Corpus Christi day aroused the indignation of the Poles, both in that town and throughout the Empire. It was therefore with thinly veiled satisfaction that they repeated the following sequel to the pogrom.

In the Szosova, in Bialystok, lives a certain Pop (an Orthodox priest) who took part in the procession on the fatal day and was seen mixing with the crowd during the looting which accompanied the massacre. A day or two later some of the richer Jewish merchants, whose shops had been looted, sent a deputation to the Pop to say that they had excellent reason to believe that some looted treasure was concealed in his cupboards. The Pop indignantly denied the charge and refused to open his cupboards. The deputation went away and returned with policemen, and after some delay the cupboards were opened and revealed looted goods to the value of 5,000 roubles to the astonished gaze of the police inspector and the discomfiture of the Pop.

Elated with this success, the deputation next called upon a Russian in the civil service. In his cupboards they found wares which had lately been in their shops and included 3,000 roubles' worth of watches, jewellery and silver. The police took possession of the treasure, and unwillingly penned protokols in which the names of two locally prominent Russians figured not as accusers but as accused.

There is yet one form of anti-Semitism to be found amongst baptised Jews. These neophytes often have a bitter dislike for the race from which they sprang, and lose no opportunity of holding up those who still adhere to the faith they have so recently left to derision. This kind of anti-Semitism, which is totally different from the goodnatured contempt of the Pole-has given rise to a popular saying that no man is as anti-Semitic as a Jew. It affords much amusement and no little wonder to the Polish element to hear a man, whose father frequented the synagogue and wore a halat, talk contemptuously of "those mangey Jews" or gleefully point out the Semitic features on his cousin's face, quite forgetful of the fact that his own are of the Hebrew type and that his very speech betrays him as a descendant of the ghetto.

Such is the anti-Semitism we meet in Poland: like the people from whom it comes, it is lacking in energy and aim. Like people from whom it comes it is regulated by a certain sense of national pride, ready, when the moment and the need arrive, to exercise its power or court its passions. It is far removed from the anti­Semitism of the Russian as it is from the toleration of the Saxon. But it exists, and, what is more, exists in the hearts of the Poles in a more definite form to-day than it did five years ago.

Which side was the more to blame at the beginning when the two races first lived side by side, it is difficult to say. But to the mere observer it appears that there has been a good deal to forgive on both sides; and to-day, at any rate, the Jews are as anti-Polish as the Poles are Anti-Semitic. They do not want to assimilate, they do not want to blend their interests with the interests of the rest of the community. They are striving to assert their national individuality, to live their own lives and attain their own ends, all three of which are as far removed from Sclavonic ideals as the twilight from dawn, as night from day. These tendencies have found expression in the Bund.

1 As much as six shillings was paid for the cards, which were immediately destroyed.
2 No blood was shed; the crowds contented themselves with breaking the furniture and splitting up the feather beds in the ghetto.


 * - The word "Zionism" here is spelled as "Sionism" and the spelling has not been changed by the Museum.





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