History of the Jews in Poland
Overview
 
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium
Millennium
A millennium is a period of time equal to one thousand years —from the Latin phrase , thousand, and , year—often but not necessarily related numerically to a particular dating system....

. For centuries, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the Partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 and persecution especially by the Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n authorities. There was nearly complete genocidal
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in the 20th century during the 1939–1945 German and Soviet occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust.
Encyclopedia
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium
Millennium
A millennium is a period of time equal to one thousand years —from the Latin phrase , thousand, and , year—often but not necessarily related numerically to a particular dating system....

. For centuries, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. This ended with the Partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 and persecution especially by the Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n authorities. There was nearly complete genocidal
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in the 20th century during the 1939–1945 German and Soviet occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust. Since the fall of communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterized by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk
Nozyk Synagogue
The Nożyk Synagogue is the only surviving prewar Jewish house of prayer in Warsaw, Poland. It was erected prior to 1902 and was restored after World War II...

, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 created in 1569
Union of Lublin
The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was...

, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 was the most tolerant country in Europe. Known as paradisus Iudaeorum (Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 for Jewish paradise
Paradise
Paradise is a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless. It is conceptually a counter-image of the miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and...

) it became a unique shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and a home to the world's largest Jewish community. According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. With the weakening of the Commonwealth and growing religious strife (due to the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 and Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

), Poland’s traditional tolerance began to wane from the 17th century onward. After the partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, primarily the increasingly anti-Semitic
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, but also Austro-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 (later known as the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I
Aftermath of World War I
The fighting in World War I ended in western Europe when the Armistice took effect at 11:00 am GMT on November 11, 1918, and in eastern Europe by the early 1920s. During and in the aftermath of the war the political, cultural, and social order was drastically changed in Europe, Asia and Africa,...

, it was the center of the European Jewish world with one of world's largest Jewish communities of over 3 million. Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, however, from both the political establishment and from the general population, common throughout Europe, was a growing problem.

At the start of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (see: Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish Gentiles (Christians). Although the Holocaust occurred largely in German occupied Poland there was little collaboration with the Nazis by her citizens. Collaboration by individual Poles has been described as smaller than in other occupied countries. Statistics of the Israeli War Crimes Commission indicate that less than 0.1% of Polish gentiles collaborated with the Nazis. Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives
Rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust
Polish Jews were the primary victims of the German Nazi-organized Holocaust. Throughout the German occupation of Poland, many Polish Gentiles risked their own lives—and the lives of their families—to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people...

, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne massacre. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the communist People's Republic of Poland
People's Republic of Poland
The People's Republic of Poland was the official name of Poland from 1952 to 1990. Although the Soviet Union took control of the country immediately after the liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944, the name of the state was not changed until eight years later...

 for the nascent State of Israel and North
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 or South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Block country to allow free Jewish aliyah
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

 to Israel, without visas or exit permits. Britain demanded from Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in the late 1960s as the result of the Soviet-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign. After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalized and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship
Citizenship
Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

. Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.

Early history to Golden Age: 966–1572

Early history: 966–1385

The first Jews arrived in the territory of modern Poland in the 10th century. By travelling along the trade routes leading eastwards to Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

 and Bukhara
Bukhara
Bukhara , from the Soghdian βuxārak , is the capital of the Bukhara Province of Uzbekistan. The nation's fifth-largest city, it has a population of 263,400 . The region around Bukhara has been inhabited for at least five millennia, and the city has existed for half that time...

, Jewish merchants (known as Radhanites) crossed the areas of Silesia
Silesia
Silesia is a historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts also in the Czech Republic, and Germany.Silesia is rich in mineral and natural resources, and includes several important industrial areas. Silesia's largest city and historical capital is Wrocław...

. One of them, a diplomat and merchant from the Moorish
Moors
The description Moors has referred to several historic and modern populations of the Maghreb region who are predominately of Berber and Arab descent. They came to conquer and rule the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. At that time they were Muslim, although earlier the people had followed...

 town of Tortosa
Tortosa
-External links:* *** * * *...

 in Spanish Al-Andalus
Al-Andalus
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

, known under his Arabic name of Ibrahim ibn Jakub, was the first chronicler to mention the Polish state under the rule of prince Mieszko I
Mieszko I of Poland
Mieszko I , was a Duke of the Polans from about 960 until his death. A member of the Piast dynasty, he was son of Siemomysł; grandchild of Lestek; father of Bolesław I the Brave, the first crowned King of Poland; likely father of Świętosława , a Nordic Queen; and grandfather of her son, Cnut the...

. The first actual mention of Jews in Polish chronicles occurs in the 11th century. It appears that Jews were then living in Gniezno
Gniezno
Gniezno is a city in central-western Poland, some 50 km east of Poznań, inhabited by about 70,000 people. One of the Piasts' chief cities, it was mentioned by 10th century A.D. sources as the capital of Piast Poland however the first capital of Piast realm was most likely Giecz built around...

, at that time the capital of the Polish kingdom of the Piast dynasty
Piast dynasty
The Piast dynasty was the first historical ruling dynasty of Poland. It began with the semi-legendary Piast Kołodziej . The first historical ruler was Duke Mieszko I . The Piasts' royal rule in Poland ended in 1370 with the death of king Casimir the Great...

. The first permanent Jewish community is mentioned in 1085 by a Jewish scholar Jehuda ha-Kohen
Yehuda ben Meir
Yehuda ben Meir, also known as Yehuda ha-Kohen or Judah of Mainz, was a German rabbi, Talmudic scholar and traveler of the late tenth and early eleventh century CE. His book Sefer ha-Dinim contains an account of his travels and those of other Jews in Eastern Europe...

 in the city of Przemyśl
Przemysl
Przemyśl is a city in south-eastern Poland with 66,756 inhabitants, as of June 2009. In 1999, it became part of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship; it was previously the capital of Przemyśl Voivodeship....

.
The first extensive Jewish emigration from Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 to Poland occurred at the time of the First Crusade
First Crusade
The First Crusade was a military expedition by Western Christianity to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquest of the Levant, ultimately resulting in the recapture of Jerusalem...

 in 1098. Under Boleslaus III (1102–1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerant regime of this ruler, settled throughout Poland, including over the border in Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

n territory as far as Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

. Boleslaus III for his part recognized the utility of the Jews in the development of the commercial interests
Commerce
While business refers to the value-creating activities of an organization for profit, commerce means the whole system of an economy that constitutes an environment for business. The system includes legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and technological systems that are in operation in any...

 of his country. The Jews came to form the backbone of the Polish economy and the coins minted by Mieszko III even bear Hebraic markings
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

. Jews enjoyed undisturbed peace and prosperity 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 landlord
Landlord
A landlord is the owner of a house, apartment, condominium, or real estate which is rented or leased to an individual or business, who is called a tenant . When a juristic person is in this position, the term landlord is used. Other terms include lessor and owner...

s (developing into szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

, the unique Polish nobility) and peasants, and they were instrumental in promoting the commercial interests of the land.

The tolerant situation was gradually altered by the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 on the one hand, and by the neighboring German states on the other. There were, however, among the reigning princes some determined protectors of the Jewish inhabitants, who considered the presence of the latter most desirable as far as the economic development of the country was concerned. Prominent among such rulers was Boleslaus the Pious of Kalisz
Kalisz
Kalisz is a city in central Poland with 106,857 inhabitants , the capital city of the Kalisz Region. Situated on the Prosna river in the southeastern part of the Greater Poland Voivodeship, the city forms a conurbation with the nearby towns of Ostrów Wielkopolski and Nowe Skalmierzyce...

, Prince of Great Poland. With the consent of the class representatives and higher officials, in 1264 he issued a General Charter of Jewish Liberties, the Statute of Kalisz
Statute of Kalisz
The General Charter of Jewish Liberties known as the Statute of Kalisz was issued by the Duke of Greater Poland Boleslaus the Pious on September 8, 1264 in Kalisz...

, which granted all Jews the freedom of worship, trade and travel. During the next hundred years, the Church pushed for the persecution of the Jews while the rulers of Poland usually protected them.
In 1332, King Casimir III the Great
Casimir III of Poland
Casimir III the Great , last King of Poland from the Piast dynasty , was the son of King Władysław I the Elbow-high and Hedwig of Kalisz.-Biography:...

 (1303–1370) amplified and expanded Bolesław's old charter with the Wiślicki Statute. Casimir, who according to a legend had a Jewish lover named Esterka
Esterka
Esterka was a legendary Jewish mistress of Casimir the Great, King of Poland. She was the daughter of a poor tailor from Opoczno named Rafael....

 from Opoczno
Opoczno
Opoczno is a town in south-central Poland, within the eastern part of Łódź Voivodeship , previously in Piotrków Trybunalski Voivodeship . Important communication routes run through the town, namely the central railway line, which connects Silesia with Warsaw, and road 12, which creates a...

 was especially friendly to the Jews, and his reign is regarded as an era of great prosperity for Polish Jewry, and was nicknamed by his contemporaries "King of the serf
SERF
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

s and Jews." Under penalty of death, he prohibited the kidnapping of Jewish children for the purpose of enforced Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

. He inflicted heavy punishment for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Nevertheless, while for the greater part of Casimir’s reign the Jews of Poland enjoyed tranquility, toward its close they were subjected to persecution on account of the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

. In 1348, the first blood libel accusation against Jews in Poland was recorded, and in 1367 the first pogrom took place in Poznań
Poznan
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

 (Posen). Compared with the pitiless destruction of their co-religionists in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

, however, the Polish Jews did not fare badly; and the Jewish masses of Germany fled to the more hospitable cities in Poland.

The early Jagiellon era: 1385–1505

As a result of the marriage of Wladislaus II
Jogaila
Jogaila, later 'He is known under a number of names: ; ; . See also: Jogaila : names and titles. was Grand Duke of Lithuania , king consort of Kingdom of Poland , and sole King of Poland . He ruled in Lithuania from 1377, at first with his uncle Kęstutis...

 (Jagiełło) to Jadwiga
Jadwiga of Poland
Jadwiga was monarch of Poland from 1384 to her death. Her official title was 'king' rather than 'queen', reflecting that she was a sovereign in her own right and not merely a royal consort. She was a member of the Capetian House of Anjou, the daughter of King Louis I of Hungary and Elizabeth of...

, daughter of Louis I of Hungary, Lithuania was united with the kingdom of Poland
Polish-Lithuanian Union
The term Polish–Lithuanian Union sometimes called as United Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania refers to a series of acts and alliances between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that lasted for prolonged periods of time and led to the creation of the Polish–Lithuanian...

. In , broad privileges were extended to Lithuanian Jews
Lithuanian Jews
Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania:...

 including freedom of religion and commerce on equal terms with the Christians. Under the rule of Wladislaus II, Polish Jews had increased in numbers and attained prosperity. However, religious persecution gradually increased, as the dogmatic clergy pushed for less official tolerance, pressured by the Synod of Constance. There were accusations of blood libel
Blood libel
Blood libel is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays...

 by the priests, and new riots against the Jews in Posen in 1399. Accusations of blood libel by another fanatic priest led to the riots in Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 in 1407, although the royal guard hastened to the rescue. Hysteria caused by Black Death led to additional 14th-century outbreaks of violence against the Jews in Kalisz
Kalisz
Kalisz is a city in central Poland with 106,857 inhabitants , the capital city of the Kalisz Region. Situated on the Prosna river in the southeastern part of the Greater Poland Voivodeship, the city forms a conurbation with the nearby towns of Ostrów Wielkopolski and Nowe Skalmierzyce...

, Kraków and Bochnia
Bochnia
Bochnia is a town of 30,000 inhabitants on the river Raba in southern Poland. The town lies approximately in halfway [] between Tarnów and the regional capital Kraków . Bochnia is most noted for its salt mine, the oldest functioning in Europe, built circa 1248...

. Traders and artisans jealous of Jewish prosperity, and fearing their rivalry, supported the harassment.
The decline in the status of the Jews was briefly checked by Casimir IV the Jagiellonian (1447–1492), but soon the nobility forced him to issue the Statute of Nieszawa. Among other things it abolished the ancient privileges of the Jews "as contrary to divine right and the law of the land." Nevertheless, the king continued to offer his protection to the Jews. Two years later Casimir issued another document announcing that he could not deprive the Jews of his benevolence on the basis of "the principle of tolerance which in conformity with God's laws obliged him to protect them". The policy of the government toward the Jews of Poland oscillated under Casimir's sons and successors, John I Olbracht (1492–1501) and Alexander the Jagiellonian (1501–1506). The latter expelled the Jews from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 in 1495 when he was the Grand Duke of Lithuania but reversed the law in 1503 shortly after becoming King of Poland. A year later he issued a proclamation in which he stated that a policy of tolerance befitted "kings and rulers".

Center of the Jewish world: 1505–72

Alexander became more tolerant just as the Jews were expelled from Spain
Alhambra decree
The Alhambra Decree was an edict issued on 31 March 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by 31 July of that year.The edict was formally revoked on 16 December 1968, following the Second...

 in 1492, as well as from Austria, Hungary and Germany, thus stimulating Jewish immigration to the much more tolerant Poland. Indeed, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain
History of the Jews in Spain
Spanish Jews once constituted one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under Muslim and Christian rule in Spain, before the majority, together with resident Muslims, were forced to convert to Catholicism, be expelled or be killed when Spain became united under the Catholic Monarchs...

, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from Western Europe; and the resulting accession to the ranks 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 Zygmunt I
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I of Poland , of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548...

 (1506–1548), who protected the Jews in his realm. His son, Zygmunt II August
Sigismund II Augustus
Sigismund II Augustus I was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, the only son of Sigismund I the Old, whom Sigismund II succeeded in 1548...

 (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 Qahal, or autonomous Jewish community. This period led to the creation of a proverb about Poland being a "heaven for the Jews". According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century. In the middle of the 16th century, Poland welcomed the Jewish newcomers from Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, mostly of Sephardi
Sephardi Jews
Sephardi Jews is a general term referring to the descendants of the Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula before their expulsion in the Spanish Inquisition. It can also refer to those who use a Sephardic style of liturgy or would otherwise define themselves in terms of the Jewish customs and...

 origin, however some of the immigrants from the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 are still claimed to be Mizrahim
Mizrahi Jews
Mizrahi Jews or Mizrahiyim, , also referred to as Adot HaMizrach are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus...

. Jewish religious life thrived in many Polish communities. In 1503, the Polish monarchy appointed Rabbi Jacob Polak, the official Rabbi of Poland, marking the emergence of the Chief Rabbinate. By 1551, Jews were given permission to choose their own Chief Rabbi. The Chief Rabbinate held power over law and finance, appointing judges and other officials. Some power was shared with local councils. The Polish government permitted the Rabbinate to grow in power, to use it for tax collection purposes. Only 30% of the money raised by the Rabbinate served Jewish causes, the rest went to the Crown for protection. In this period Poland-Lithuania became the main center for Ashkenazi Jewry and its yeshivot
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

achieved fame from the early 16th century.

Moses Isserles
Moses Isserles
Moses Isserles, also spelled Moshe Isserlis, , was an eminent Ashkenazic rabbi, talmudist, and posek, renowned for his fundamental work of Halakha , entitled ha-Mapah , an inline commentary on the Shulkhan Aruch...

 (1520–1572), an eminent Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ist of the 16th century, established his yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

 in Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

. In addition to being a renowned Talmudic and legal scholar
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

, Isserles was also learned in Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

, and studied history, astronomy, and philosophy.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: 1572–1795

The Warsaw Confederation

Following the childless death of Zygmunt II, the last king of the Jagiellon dynasty
Jagiellon dynasty
The Jagiellonian dynasty was a royal dynasty originating from the Lithuanian House of Gediminas dynasty that reigned in Central European countries between the 14th and 16th century...

, Polish and Lithuanian nobles (szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

) gathered at Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 in 1573 and signed a document of limited toleration in which representatives of all the major religions pledged each other mutual support and tolerance. The edict did not include the Polish Brethren, an anti-Trinitarian that would later become known as Socinians, who formed roots for the modern Unitarian church in the US.

The Cossack uprising and the Deluge

In 1648 the Commonwealth was devastated by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its population (over three million people), and Jewish losses were counted in the hundreds of thousands. The first of these was the Chmielnicki Uprising, in which Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Bohdan Zynoviy Mykhailovych Khmelnytsky was a hetman of the Zaporozhian Cossack Hetmanate of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth . He led an uprising against the Commonwealth and its magnates which resulted in the creation of a Cossack state...

's Cossack
Cossack
Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Southern Russia inhabiting sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins and who played an important role in the...

s massacred tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in the eastern and southern areas he controlled (today's Ukraine). Khmelnytsky riled up the people by telling them that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews". The precise number of dead may never be known, but the decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, which also includes emigration, deaths from diseases and jasyr (captivity in the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

). The Jewish community suffered greatly during the 1648 Cossack uprising which had been directed primarily against the Polish nobility. The Jews, perceived as allies of the nobles, were also victims of the revolt, during which about 20% of them were killed.

Then the incompetent politics of the elected kings of the House of Vasa
House of Vasa
The House of Vasa was the Royal House of Sweden 1523-1654 and of Poland 1587-1668. It originated from a noble family in Uppland of which several members had high offices during the 15th century....

 brought the weakened state to its knees, as it was invaded by the Swedish Empire
Swedish Empire
The Swedish Empire refers to the Kingdom of Sweden between 1561 and 1721 . During this time, Sweden was one of the great European powers. In Swedish, the period is called Stormaktstiden, literally meaning "the Great Power Era"...

 in what became known as The Deluge
The Deluge (Polish history)
The term Deluge denotes a series of mid-17th century campaigns in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a wider sense it applies to the period between the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648 and the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, thus comprising the Polish–Lithuanian theaters of the Russo-Polish and...

. The kingdom of Poland proper, which had hitherto suffered but little either from the Chmielnicki Uprising or from the recurring invasion of the Russians, Crimean Tatars
Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate, or Khanate of Crimea , was a state ruled by Crimean Tatars from 1441 to 1783. Its native name was . Its khans were the patrilineal descendants of Toqa Temür, the thirteenth son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan...

 and Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

s, now became the scene of terrible disturbances (1655–1658). Charles X of Sweden, at the head of his victorious army, overran Poland; and soon the whole country, including the cities of Kraków and Warsaw, was in his hands. The Jews of Great and Little Poland
Lesser Poland
Lesser Poland is one of the historical regions of Poland, with its capital in the city of Kraków. It forms the southeastern corner of the country, and should not be confused with the modern Lesser Poland Voivodeship, which covers only a small, southern part of Lesser Poland...

 found themselves torn between two sides: those of them who were spared by the Swedes
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 were attacked by the Poles, who accused them of aiding the enemy. The Polish general Stefan Czarniecki
Stefan Czarniecki
Stefan Czarniecki or Stefan Łodzia de Czarnca Czarniecki Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth general and nobleman. Field Hetman of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. He was a military commander, regarded as a Polish national hero...

, in his flight from the Swedes, devastated the whole country through which he passed and treated the Jews without mercy. The Polish partisan detachments treated the non-Polish inhabitants with equal severity. Moreover, the horrors of the war were aggravated by pestilence
Infectious disease
Infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, contagious diseases or transmissible diseases comprise clinically evident illness resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism...

, and the Jews and townsfolk of the districts of Kalisz
Kalisz
Kalisz is a city in central Poland with 106,857 inhabitants , the capital city of the Kalisz Region. Situated on the Prosna river in the southeastern part of the Greater Poland Voivodeship, the city forms a conurbation with the nearby towns of Ostrów Wielkopolski and Nowe Skalmierzyce...

, Kraków, Poznań
Poznan
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

, Piotrków
Piotrków Trybunalski
Piotrków Trybunalski is a city in central Poland with 80,738 inhabitants . It is situated in the Łódź Voivodeship , and previously was the capital of Piotrków Voivodeship...

, and Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

 perished en masse by the sword of the besieging armies and the plague.

As soon as the disturbances had ceased, the Jews began to return and to rebuild 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 a hostile clergy and nobility. It also should be noted that while Jewish losses in those events were high, estimated by some historians to be close to 500,000, the Commonwealth lost one third of its population — approximately three million of its citizens.

Decline under the Saxon dynasty

With the accession to the throne of the Saxon
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 dynasty the Jews completely lost the support of the government. The szlachta
Szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

and the townsfolk were increasingly hostile to the Jews, as the religious tolerance that dominated the mentality of the previous generations of Commonwealth citizens was slowly forgotten. In their intolerance, the citizens of the Commonwealth now approached the "standards" that dominated most of the contemporary European countries, and many Jews felt betrayed by the country they once viewed as their haven. In the larger cities, like Poznań and Kraków, quarrels between the Satins and the Jewish inhabitants were of frequent occurrence. Attacks on the Jews by students, the so-called Schüler-Gelauf, became everyday occurrences in the large cities, the police regarding such scholastic riots with indifference. In the 16th and 17th centuries Jews were expelled from a number of Polish towns, and victimized by pogroms usually organized by local merchants and artisans. By 1764, there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population was estimated at 1.2 million.

The partitions

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
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

, and Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

. Jews were most numerous in the territories that fell to the lot of Austria and Russia.
The permanent council established at the instance of the Russian government (1773–1788) served as the highest administrative tribunal, and occupied itself with the elaboration of a plan that would make practicable the reorganization of Poland on a more rational basis. The progressive elements in Polish society recognized the urgency of popular education as the very first step toward reform. The famous Komisja Edukacji Narodowej
Komisja Edukacji Narodowej
The Commission of National Education was the central educational authority in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, created by the Sejm and king Stanisław August Poniatowski on October 14, 1773...

("Commission of National Education"), the first ministry of education in the world, was established in 1773 and founded numerous new schools and remodeled the old ones. One of the members of the commission, kanclerz
Kanclerz
Kanclerz was one of the highest officials in the historic Poland. This office functioned from the early Polish kingdom of the 12th century until the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. A respective office also existed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 16th...

Andrzej Zamoyski, along with others, demanded that the inviolability of their persons and property should be guaranteed and that religious toleration should be to a certain extent granted them; but he insisted that Jews living in the cities should be separated from the Christians, that those of them having no definite occupation should be banished from the kingdom, and that even those engaged in agriculture should not be allowed to possess land. On the other hand, some szlachta and intellectuals proposed a national system of government, of the civil and political equality of the Jews. This was the only example in modern Europe before the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 of tolerance and broadmindedness in dealing with the Jewish question. But all these reforms were too late: a Russian army soon invaded Poland, and soon after a Prussian one followed.

A second partition of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 was made on July 17, 1793. Jews, in a Jewish regiment led by Berek Joselewicz
Berek Joselewicz
Berek Joselewicz was a Jewish-Polish merchant and a colonel of the Polish Army during the Kościuszko Uprising. Joselewicz commanded the first Jewish military formation in modern history.-Life:...

, took part in the Kościuszko Uprising
Kosciuszko Uprising
The Kościuszko Uprising was an uprising against Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia led by Tadeusz Kościuszko in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania in 1794...

 the following year, when the Poles tried to again 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 transferred to Russia, and thus became subjects of that empire, although in the first half of the 19th century some semblance of a vastly smaller Polish state was preserved, especially in the form of the Congress Poland
Congress Poland
The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

 (1815–1831).

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, which fought for the Polish independence finally achieved in 1918.

The development of Judaism in Poland and the Commonwealth

The culture and intellectual output of the Jewish community in Poland had a profound impact on Judaism as a whole. Some Jewish historians have recounted that the word Poland is pronounced as Polania or Polin in Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

, and as transliterated
Transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 into Hebrew, these names for Poland were interpreted as "good omens" because Polania can be broken down into three Hebrew words: po ("here"), lan ("dwells"), ya ("God
Names of God in Judaism
In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title; it represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world. To demonstrate the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for...

"), and Polin into two words of: po ("here") lin ("[you should] dwell"). The "message" was that Poland was meant to be a good place for the Jews. During the time from the rule of Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I of Poland , of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548...

 until the Nazi Holocaust, Poland would be at the center of Jewish religious life.

Jewish learning

Yeshivot
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

were established, under the direction of the rabbis, in the more prominent communities. Such schools were officially known as gymnasium
Gymnasium (school)
A gymnasium is a type of school providing secondary education in some parts of Europe, comparable to English grammar schools or sixth form colleges and U.S. college preparatory high schools. The word γυμνάσιον was used in Ancient Greece, meaning a locality for both physical and intellectual...

s, and their rabbi principals as rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

s. Important yeshivot existed in Kraków, Poznań, and other cities. Jewish printing establishments came into existence in the first quarter of the 16th century. In 1530 a Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 Pentateuch (Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

) was printed in Kraków; and at the end of the century the Jewish printing houses of that city and Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

 issued a large number of Jewish books, mainly of a religious character. The growth of Talmudic scholarship
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 in Poland was coincident with the greater prosperity of the Polish Jews; and because of their communal autonomy educational development was wholly one-sided and along Talmudic lines. Exceptions are recorded, however, where Jewish youth sought secular instruction in the European universities. The learned rabbis became not merely expounders of the Law, but also spiritual advisers, teachers, judges, and legislators; and their authority compelled the communal leaders to make themselves familiar with the abstruse questions of Jewish law
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

. 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.

In the first half of the 16th century the seeds of Talmudic learning had been transplanted to Poland from Bohemia
Bohemia
Bohemia is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands. It is located in the contemporary Czech Republic with its capital in Prague...

, particularly from the school of Jacob Pollak
Jacob Pollak
Rabbi Jacob Pollak was the founder of the Polish method of halakic and Talmudic study known as the Pilpul; born about 1460; died at Lublin in 1541...

, the creator of Pilpul
Pilpul
Pilpul refers to a method of studying the Talmud through intense textual analysis in attempts to either explain conceptual differences between various halakhic rulings or to reconcile any apparent contradictions presented from various readings of different texts.Pilpul has entered English as a...

("sharp reasoning"). Shalom Shachna
Shalom Shachna
Shalom Shachna was a rabbi and Talmudist, and Rosh Yeshiva of several great Acharonim including Moses Isserles, who was also his son-in-law.-Biography:...

 (c. 1500–1558), a pupil of Pollak, is counted among the pioneers of Talmudic learning in Poland. He lived and died in Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

, where he was the head of the yeshivah which produced the rabbinical celebrities of the following century. Shachna's son Israel became rabbi of Lublin on the death of his father, and Shachna's pupil Moses Isserles
Moses Isserles
Moses Isserles, also spelled Moshe Isserlis, , was an eminent Ashkenazic rabbi, talmudist, and posek, renowned for his fundamental work of Halakha , entitled ha-Mapah , an inline commentary on the Shulkhan Aruch...

 (known as the ReMA) (1520–1572) achieved an international reputation among the Jews as the co-author of the Shulkhan Arukh, (the "Code of Jewish Law"). His contemporary and correspondent Solomon Luria
Solomon Luria
Solomon Luria was one of the great Ashkenazic poskim and teachers of his time. He is known for his work of Halakha, Yam Shel Shlomo, and his Talmudic commentary Chochmat Shlomo...

 (1510–1573) of Lublin also enjoyed a wide reputation among his co-religionists; and the authority of both was recognized by the Jews throughout Europe. Heated religious disputations were common, and Jewish scholars participated in them. At the same time, the Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

had become entrenched under the protection of Rabbinism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

; and such scholars as Mordecai Jaffe and Yoel Sirkis
Yoel Sirkis
Joel ben Samuel Sirkis also known as the Bach - an abbreviation of his magnum opus, Bayit Chadash - was a prominent Jewish posek and halakhist. He lived in central Europe and held rabbinical positions in Belz, Brest-Litovsk and Kraków from 1561-1640.-Biography:Sirkis was born in Lublin in 1561...

 devoted themselves to its study. This period of great Rabbinical scholarship was interrupted by the Chmielnicki Uprising and The Deluge
The Deluge (Polish history)
The term Deluge denotes a series of mid-17th century campaigns in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a wider sense it applies to the period between the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648 and the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, thus comprising the Polish–Lithuanian theaters of the Russo-Polish and...

.

The rise of Hasidism

The decade from the Cossacks' uprising until after the Swedish war
The Deluge (Polish history)
The term Deluge denotes a series of mid-17th century campaigns in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a wider sense it applies to the period between the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648 and the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, thus comprising the Polish–Lithuanian theaters of the Russo-Polish and...

 (1648–1658) left a deep and lasting impression not only on the social life of the Polish-Lithuanian Jews, but on their spiritual life as well. The intellectual output of the Jews of Poland was reduced. The Talmudic learning which up to that period had been the common possession of the majority of the people became accessible to a limited number of students only. What religious study there was became overly formalized, some rabbis busied themselves with quibbles concerning religious laws; others wrote commentaries on different parts of the Talmud in which hair-splitting arguments were raised and discussed; and at times these arguments dealt with matters which were of no practical importance. At the same time, many miracle workers made their appearance among the Jews of Poland, culminating in a series of false "Messianic" movements, most famously as Sabbatianism
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

 was succeeded by Frankism
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

.

In this time of mysticism
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 and overly formal rabbinism came the teachings of Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, or BeShT, (1698–1760), which had a profound effect on the Jews of Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 and Poland in particular. His disciples taught and encouraged the new fervent brand of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 based on Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

known as Hasidism
Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

. The rise of Hasidic Judaism within Poland's borders and beyond had a great influence on the rise of Haredi Judaism
Haredi Judaism
Haredi or Charedi/Chareidi Judaism is the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, often referred to as ultra-Orthodox. A follower of Haredi Judaism is called a Haredi ....

 all over the world, with a continuous influence through its many Hasidic dynasties including those of Chabad-Lubavitch
Chabad-Lubavitch
Chabad-Lubavitch is a Chasidic movement in Orthodox Judaism. One of the world's larger and best-known Chasidic movements, its official headquarters is in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York...

, Aleksander
Aleksander (Hasidic dynasty)
The Aleksander chasidic movement flourished in Poland from 1880 until it was largely destroyed by Nazi Germany during World War II.Now nearly extinct, the Aleksander Hasidim were the second largest Hasidic group in pre-Holocaust Poland.Between the world wars, Hasidic Jews from all over flocked to...

, Bobov, Ger
Ger (Hasidic dynasty)
Ger, or Gur is a Hasidic dynasty originating from Ger, the Yiddish name of Góra Kalwaria, a small town in Poland....

, Nadvorna
Nadvorna (Hasidic dynasty)
Nadvorna is a Hasidic rabbinical dynasty within Orthodox Judaism. The dynasty derives its name from the town of Nadvorna, known in Ukrainian as Nadvirna...

, among others. More recent rebbes of Polish origin include Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880–1950), the sixth head of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, who lived in Warsaw until 1940 when he moved Lubavitch from Warsaw to the United States. See also: List of Polish Rabbis

Jews of Poland within the Russian Empire (1795–1918)

Official Russian policy would eventually prove to be substantially harsher to the Jews than that under independent Polish rule. The lands that had once been Poland were to remain the home of many Jews, as, in 1772, Catherine II, the tzarina of Russia, instituted the Pale of Settlement
Pale of Settlement
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited...

, restricting Jews to the western parts of the empire, which would eventually include much of Poland, although it excluded some areas in which Jews had previously lived. By the late 19th century, over four million Jews would live in the Pale.
Initially, Russian policy towards the Jews of Poland was confused, alternating between harsh rules and somewhat more enlightened policies. In 1802, the Tsar established the Committee on the Improvement of the Jews in an attempt to develop a coherent approach to the Empire's new Jewish population. The Committee in 1804 suggested a number of steps that were designed to encourage Jews to assimilate, though it did not force them to do so. It proposed that Jews be allowed to attend school and even to own land, but it restricted them from entering Russia, banned them from the brewing industry, and included a number of other prohibitions. The more enlightened parts of this policy were never fully implemented, and the conditions of the Jews in the Pale
Pale of Settlement
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited...

 gradually worsened. In the 1820s, the Cantonist Laws passed by Tsar Nicolas
Nicholas I of Russia
Nicholas I , was the Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. On the eve of his death, the Russian Empire reached its historical zenith spanning over 20 million square kilometers...

 kept the traditional double taxation on Jews in lieu of army service, while actually requiring all Jewish communities to produce boys to serve in the military, where they were often forced to convert. Though the Jews were accorded slightly more rights with the emancipation reform of 1861, they were still restricted to the Pale of Settlement
Pale of Settlement
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited...

 and subject to restrictions on ownership and profession. The status quo
Status quo
Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...

 was however shattered with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, an act falsely blamed upon the Jews.

Pogroms within the Russian Empire

The assassination 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 two Jews were killed, 24 others were wounded, women were raped and over two million rubles
Russian ruble
The ruble or rouble is the currency of the Russian Federation and the two partially recognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Formerly, the ruble was also the currency of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union prior to their breakups. Belarus and Transnistria also use currencies with...

 worth of property was destroyed. The new czar, Alexander III
Alexander III of Russia
Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov , historically remembered as Alexander III or Alexander the Peacemaker reigned as Emperor of Russia from until his death on .-Disposition:...

, blamed the Jews for the riots and issued a series of harsh restrictions on Jewish movements. Pogroms continued until 1884, with at least tacit government approval. They proved a turning point in the history of the Jews in partitioned Poland and throughout the world. The pogroms prompted a great flood of Jewish immigration to the United States, with almost two million Jews leaving the Pale
Pale of Settlement
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited...

 by the late 1920s, they also set the stage for Zionism
Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

.

An even bloodier wave of pogroms broke out from 1903 to 1906, and at least some of the pogroms are believed to have been organized or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhrana. Some of the worst of these occurred on Russian occupied Polish territory, where the majority of Jews lived, and included the Białystok pogrom
Białystok pogrom
The Białystok pogrom occurred between 14–16 June 1906 in Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire, now in Poland. During the pogrom between 81 and 88 people were killed, and about 80 people were wounded....

 of 1906, in which up to a 100 Jews were murdered and many more wounded.

Haskalah and Halakha

The Jewish Enlightenment, Haskalah
Haskalah
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

, began to take hold in Poland during the 19th century, stressing secular ideas and values. Champions of Haskalah, the Maskilim, pushed for assimilation and integration into Russian culture. At the same time, there was another school of Jewish thought that emphasized traditional study and a Jewish response to the ethical problems of anti-Semitism and persecution, one form of which was the Musar movement. Polish Jews generally were less influenced by Haskalah, rather focusing on a strong continuation of their religious lives based on Halakha
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 ("rabbis's law") following primarily Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

, Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

, and also adapting to the new Religious Zionism
Religious Zionism
Religious Zionism is an ideology that combines Zionism and Jewish religious faith...

 of the Mizrachi
Mizrachi (Religious Zionism)
The Mizrachi is the name of the religious Zionist organization founded in 1902 in Vilnius at a world conference of religious Zionists called by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines. Bnei Akiva, which was founded in 1929, is the youth movement associated with Mizrachi...

 movement later in the 19th century.

Politics in Polish territory

By the late 19th century, Haskalah and the debates it caused created a growing number of political movements within the Jewish community itself, covering a wide range of views and vying for votes in local and regional elections. Zionism became very popular with the advent of the Poale Zion
Poale Zion
Poale Zion was a Movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers circles founded in various cities of the Russian Empire about the turn of the century after the Bund rejected Zionism in 1901.-Formation and early years:Poale Zion parties and organisations were started across the Jewish diaspora in the...

socialist party as well as the religious Polish Mizrahi, and the increasingly popular General Zionists
General Zionists
The General Zionists were centrists within the Zionist movement and a political party in Israel. Their political arm is an ancestor of the modern-day Likud.-History:...

. Jews also took up socialism
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

, forming the Bund labor union which supported assimilation and the rights of labor. The Folkspartei
Folkspartei
The Folkspartei was founded after the 1905 pogroms in the Russian Empire by Simon Dubnow and Israel Efrojkin. The party took part to several elections in Poland and Lithuania in the 1920s and 1930s and did not survive the Shoah.-Ideology:...

 (People's Party) advocated, for its part, cultural autonomy and resistance to assimilation. In 1912, Agudat Israel
Agudat Israel
Agudat Yisrael began as the original political party representing the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel. It was the umbrella party for almost all ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, and before that in the British Mandate of Palestine...

, a religious party, came into existence.

Many Jews took part in the Polish insurrections, particularly against Russia (since the Tsars discriminated heavily against the Jews). The Kościuszko Insurrection, January Insurrection (1863) and Revolutionary Movement of 1905
Russian Revolution of 1905
The 1905 Russian Revolution was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. Some of it was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies...

 all saw significant Jewish involvement in the cause of Polish independence.

By the end of the 19th century, 14% of Polish citizens were Jewish. Jews participated in their religious communities, as well as local and federal government. There were several prominent Jewish politicians in the Polish Sejm, such as Apolinary Hartglass and Yitzhak Gruenbaum
Yitzhak Gruenbaum
Yitzhak Gruenbaum was a noted leader of the Zionist movement among Polish Jewry between the two world wars and of the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine, and the first Interior Minister of Israel.-Education and journalistic career:Gruenbaum was born in Warsaw, Poland...

. Many Jewish political parties were active, representing a wide ideological spectrum, from the Zionists, to the socialists to the anti-Zionists. One of the largest of these parties was the Bund, which was strongest in Warsaw and Lodz.

In addition to the socialists, Zionist parties were also popular, in particular, the Marxist Poale Zion
Poale Zion
Poale Zion was a Movement of Marxist Zionist Jewish workers circles founded in various cities of the Russian Empire about the turn of the century after the Bund rejected Zionism in 1901.-Formation and early years:Poale Zion parties and organisations were started across the Jewish diaspora in the...

 and the orthodox religious Polish Mizrahi. The General Zionist
General Zionists
The General Zionists were centrists within the Zionist movement and a political party in Israel. Their political arm is an ancestor of the modern-day Likud.-History:...

 party became the most prominent Jewish party in the interwar period and in the 1919 elections to the first Polish Sejm
Polish legislative election, 1919
The Polish legislative election, 1919 took place on 26 January and were the first election in the Second Polish Republic. The elections, based on universal suffrage and proportional representation, produced a parliament balanced between Right, Left and Center...

 since the partitions, gained 50% of the Jewish vote.

In 1914, the German Zionist Max Bodenheimer
Max Bodenheimer
----Max Isidor Bodenheimer was a lawyer and one of the main figures in German Zionism.In 1914, he was one of co-founders of German Committee for Freeing of Russian Jews, and seems to be an author of conception of establishment League of East European States-German client state with autonomous...

 founded the short-lived German Committee for Freeing of Russian Jews
German Committee for Freeing of Russian Jews
The German Committee for the Freeing of Russian Jews was created in August, 1914 by Franz Oppenheimer, Adolf Friedman and Leo Motzkin to lobby for the socio-political liberation of Jewish people living in the Russian Empire and ensuring their protection from pogroms...

, with the goal of establishing a buffer state (Pufferstaat) within the Jewish Pale of Settlement, composed of the former Polish provinces annexed by Russia
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

, being de facto protectorate
Protectorate
In history, the term protectorate has two different meanings. In its earliest inception, which has been adopted by modern international law, it is an autonomous territory that is protected diplomatically or militarily against third parties by a stronger state or entity...

 of the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 that would free Jews in the region from Russian oppression. The plan, known as Judeopolonia
Judeopolonia
Judeopolonia - theory positing an alleged future Jewish domination of Poland. The idea had its roots in an 1858 book by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, but did not gain currency in anti-semitic tracts until around the turn of the century...

, soon proved unpopular with both German officials and Bodenheimer's colleagues, and was dead by the following year.

Interwar period 1918–1939

Fight for independence and Polish Jews

While many other non-Polish minorities were ambivalent or neutral to the idea of a Polish state, Jews played a role in the fight for Poland's independence in 1918, a significant number joining Józef Piłsudski. In the wake of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and the ensuing conflicts that engulfed Eastern Europe — the Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

, Polish-Ukrainian War
Polish-Ukrainian War
The Polish–Ukrainian War of 1918 and 1919 was a conflict between the forces of the Second Polish Republic and West Ukrainian People's Republic for the control over Eastern Galicia after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary.-Background:...

, and Polish-Soviet War
Polish-Soviet War
The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

 — many pogroms were launched against the Jews by all sides. As a substantial number of Jews were perceived to have supported the Bolshevik
Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

s in Russia, they came under frequent attack by those opposed to the Bolshevik regime. Just after the end of World War I, the West became alarmed by reports about alleged massive pogroms in Poland against Jews. Pressure for government action reached the point where U.S. President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 sent an official commission to investigate the matter. The commission, led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr.
Henry Morgenthau, Sr.
Henry Morgenthau was a lawyer, businessman and United States ambassador, most famous as the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. He was father of the politician Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and the grandfather of Robert M. Morgenthau, who was the District Attorney of...

, concluded in its report
Morgenthau Report
The Morgenthau report was a report issued by the United States' commission led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Homer H. Johnson, Brigadier General Edgar Jadwin and from the British side, Sir Stuart M. Samuel to investigate reports of mistreatment of Ashkenazi Jews in Poland...

 that the reports of pogroms were exaggerated, but also noted that the violence against Jews had been produced by a "widespread anti-semitic prejudice against Jews" (see: Morgenthau Report). It identified eight major incidents in the years 1918–1919, and estimated the number of victims at 280. Four of these were attributed to the actions of deserters and undisciplined individual soldiers; none were blamed on official government policy. Among the incidents, in Pińsk
Pinsk
Pinsk , a town in Belarus, in the Polesia region, traversed by the river Pripyat, at the confluence of the Strumen and Pina rivers. The region was known as the Marsh of Pinsk. It is a fertile agricultural center. It lies south-west of Minsk. The population is about 130,000...

 a commander of a local Polish military garrison accused a group of Jewish civilians of plotting against the Poles (a claim the Morgenthau report found "devoid of foundation") and ordered the execution of thirty-five Jewish men, women and children. (See Pinsk massacre
Pinsk massacre
The Pinsk massacre was the murder of thirty-five Jewish residents of Pinsk taken as hostages by the Polish Army after it captured the city in April 1919, during the opening phases of the Polish-Soviet War. The local Jews were arrested while holding a meeting...

). In Lviv
Lviv
Lviv is a city in western Ukraine. The city is regarded as one of the main cultural centres of today's Ukraine and historically has also been a major Polish and Jewish cultural center, as Poles and Jews were the two main ethnicities of the city until the outbreak of World War II and the following...

 (then Lemberg) in 1918, after the Polish Army captured the city, the report concluded that 64 Jews had been killed (other accounts put the number at seventy-two Jews who were killed by officers and soldiers of the Blue Army).
In Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

, soldiers of Blue Army
Blue Army
The Blue Army, or Haller's Army, are informal names given to the Polish Army units formed in France during the later stages of World War I. The army was created in June 1917 as part of the Polish units allied to the Entente. After the Great War ended, the units were transferred to Poland, where...

 assaulted Jews in the streets, but were punished by military authorities. Many other events in Poland were later found to have been exaggerated, especially by contemporary newspapers such as The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, although serious abuses against the Jews, including pogroms, continued elsewhere, especially in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. The above-mentioned atrocities committed by the young Polish army and its allies in 1919 during their Kiev operation against the Bolsheviks had a profound impact on the foreign perception of the re-emerging Polish state. The result of the concerns over the fate of Poland's Jews was a series of explicit clauses in the Versailles Treaty
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities...

 signed by the Western powers, and President Paderewski, protecting the rights of minorities in new Poland including German (leading theme). In 1921, Poland's March Constitution gave the Jews the same legal rights as other citizens and guaranteed them religious tolerance and freedom of religious holidays.

The number of Jews immigrating to Poland from Ukraine and the Soviet Russia during the interwar period grew rapidly. According to the Polish national census of 1921, there were 2,845,364 Jews living in the Second Polish Republic; but, by late 1938 that number has grown by over 16% to approximately 3,310,000. The average rate of permanent settlement was about 30,000 per annum. At the same time, every year around 100,000 Jews were passing through Poland in unofficial emigration overseas. Between the end of the Polish–Soviet War and late 1938, the Jewish population of the Republic has grown by over 464 thousands.

Jewish and Polish culture

The newly independent Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

 had a large and vibrant Jewish minority – by the time World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 began, Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe
although many Polish Jews had a separate culture and ethnic identity from Catholic Poles. Some authors have stated that only about 10% of Polish Jews during the interwar period could be considered "assimilated" while more than 80% could be readily recognized as Jews.

According to the 1931 National Census
Polish census of 1931
The Polish census of 1931 or Second General Census in Poland was the second census taken in Poland, performed on December 9, 1931 by the Main Bureau of Statistics...

 there were 3,130,581 Polish Jews measured by the declaration of their religion. Estimating the population increase and the emigration from Poland between 1931 and 1939, there were probably 3,474,000 Jews in Poland as of September 1, 1939 (approximately 10% of the total population) primarily centered in large and smaller cities: 77% lived in cities and 23% in the villages. They made up about 50%, and in some cases even 70% of the population of smaller towns, especially in Eastern Poland. Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Łódź numbered about 233,000, roughly one-third of the city’s population. The city of Lwów (now in Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

) had the third largest Jewish population in Poland, numbering 110,000 in 1939 (42%). Wilno (now in Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

) had a Jewish community of nearly 100,000, about 45% of the city's total. In 1938, Krakow
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

's Jewish population numbered over 60,000, or about 25% of the city's total population. In 1939 there were 375,000 Jews in Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 or one third of the city's population. Only New York City had more Jewish residents than Warsaw.

The major industries in which Polish Jews were employed were manufacturing and commerce. In many areas of the country the majority of retail businesses were owned by Jews who were sometimes among the wealthiest members of their communities.
Many Jews also worked as shoemakers and tailors, as well as in the liberal professions; doctors (56% of all doctors in Poland), teachers (43%), journalists (22%) and lawyers (33%).
Jewish youth and religious groups, diverse political parties and Zionist organizations, newspapers and theatre flourished. Jews owned land and real estate, participated in retail and manufacturing and in the export industry. The religious beliefs spanned the range from Orthodox Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

 to Progressive Judaism
Progressive Judaism
Progressive Judaism , is an umbrella term used by strands of Judaism which affiliate to the World Union for Progressive Judaism. They embrace pluralism, modernity, equality and social justice as core values and believe that such values are consistent with a committed Jewish life...

.

Polish language instead of Yiddish was increasingly used by the young Warsaw Jews who did not have a problem in identifying themselves fully as Jews, Warsavians and Poles. Jews such as Bruno Schulz
Bruno Schulz
Bruno Schulz was a Polish writer, fine artist, literary critic and art teacher born to Jewish parents, and regarded as one of the great Polish-language prose stylists of the 20th century. Schulz was born in Drohobycz, in the province of Galicia then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spent...

, were entering the mainstream of Polish society, though many thought of themselves as a separate nationality within Poland.

Children were mainly enrolled in religious Jewish schools which limited their ability to speak Polish. As a result, according to the 1931 census, 79% of Jews gave Yiddish as their first language and only 12% listed Polish, with the remaining 9% being Hebrew. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of German-born Jews of this period spoke German as their first language. During the school year of 1937–1938 there were 226 elementary schools and twelve high schools as well as fourteen vocational schools with either Yiddish or Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 as the instructional language. The YIVO
YIVO
YIVO, , established in 1925 in Wilno, Poland as the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut , or Yiddish Scientific Institute, is a source for orthography, lexicography, and other studies related to the Yiddish language...

 (Jidiszer Wissenszaftlecher Institute) Scientific Institute was based in Wilno before transferring to New York during the war. Jewish political parties, both the Socialist General Jewish Labour Bund
General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland
The General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland was a Jewish socialist party in Poland which promoted the political, cultural and social autonomy of Jewish workers, sought to combat antisemitism and was generally opposed to Zionism.-Creation of the Polish Bund:...

 (The Bund), as well as parties of the Zionist right and left wing and religious conservative movements, were represented in the Sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

(the Polish Parliament) as well as in the regional councils.
The Jewish cultural scene was particularly vibrant in pre–World War II Poland with numerous Jewish publications and over 116 periodicals. Yiddish authors, most notably Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isaac Bashevis Singer – July 24, 1991) was a Polish Jewish American author noted for his short stories. He was one of the leading figures in the Yiddish literary movement, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978...

, went on to achieve international acclaim as classic Jewish writers, and in Singer's case, win the 1978 Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

. Other Jewish authors of the period, like Janusz Korczak
Janusz Korczak
Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit was a Polish-Jewish children's author, and pediatrician known as Pan Doktor or Stary Doktor...

, Bruno Schulz
Bruno Schulz
Bruno Schulz was a Polish writer, fine artist, literary critic and art teacher born to Jewish parents, and regarded as one of the great Polish-language prose stylists of the 20th century. Schulz was born in Drohobycz, in the province of Galicia then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spent...

, Julian Tuwim
Julian Tuwim
Julian Tuwim , sometimes used pseudonym "Oldlen" when writing song lyrics. He was a Polish poet, born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, of Jewish parents, and educated in Łódź and Warsaw where he studied law and philosophy at Warsaw University...

, Jan Brzechwa
Jan Brzechwa
Jan Brzechwa , , born Jan Wiktor Lesman in Żmerynka, Podolia to a Polish family of Jewish descent was a Polish poet and author, mostly known for his contribution to children's literature....

 (a favorite poet of Polish children) and Bolesław Leśmian were less well-known internationally, but made important contributions to Polish literature. Singer Jan Kiepura
Jan Kiepura
Jan Wiktor Kiepura was an acclaimed Polish singer and actor.-Biography:...

, born of a Jewish mother and Polish father, was one of the most popular artist of that era and pre-war songs of Jewish composers like Henryk Wars
Henryk Wars
Henryk Wars was a Polish and later American pop music composer. He wrote the music for 50 films in the interwar period in Poland and sixty more in the United States...

 or Jerzy Petersburski
Jerzy Petersburski
Jerzy Petersburski was a Polish pianist and composer of popular music, renowned mostly for his Tangos, some of which were milestones in popularization of the musical genre in Poland and are still widely known today, more than half a century after their creation.Jerzy Petersburski was born April...

 are still widely known in Poland today.

Scientist Leopold Infeld
Leopold Infeld
Leopold Infeld was a Polish physicist who worked mainly in Poland and Canada . He was a Rockefeller fellow at Cambridge University and a member of the Polish Academy of Sciences....

, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski was a Polish logician and mathematician. Educated at the University of Warsaw and a member of the Lwow-Warsaw School of Logic and the Warsaw School of Mathematics and philosophy, he emigrated to the USA in 1939, and taught and carried out research in mathematics at the University of...

, and professor Adam Ulam
Adam Ulam
Adam Bruno Ulam was a Polish and American historian and political scientist at Harvard University. Ulam was one of the world's foremost authorities on Russia and the Soviet Union, and author of twenty books and many articles.-Biography:...

 contributed to the world of science. Others are Moses Schorr
Moses Schorr
Moses Schorr, Polish: Mojżesz Schorr was a Rabbi, Polish historian, politician, Bible scholar, assyriologist and orientalist. Schorr was one of the top experts on the history of the Jews in Poland. He was the first Jewish researcher of Polish archives, historical sources, and pinkasim...

, Ludwik Zamenhof – the creator of Esperanto
Esperanto
is the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto , the pseudonym under which L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887...

, Georges Charpak
Georges Charpak
Georges Charpak was a French physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992.-Life:Georges Charpak was born to Jewish family in the village of Dąbrowica in Poland . Charpak's family moved from Poland to Paris when he was seven years old...

, Samuel Eilenberg
Samuel Eilenberg
Samuel Eilenberg was a Polish and American mathematician of Jewish descent. He was born in Warsaw, Russian Empire and died in New York City, USA, where he had spent much of his career as a professor at Columbia University.He earned his Ph.D. from University of Warsaw in 1936. His thesis advisor...

, Emanuel Ringelblum
Emanuel Ringelblum
Emanuel Ringelblum was a Polish-Jewish historian, politician and social worker, known for his Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, Notes on the Refugees in Zbąszyn chronicling the deportation of Jews from the town of Zbąszyń, and the so-called Ringelblum's Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.-Before the war:He...

, Arthur Rubinstein
Arthur Rubinstein
Arthur Rubinstein KBE was a Polish-American pianist. He received international acclaim for his performances of the music of a variety of composers...

 just to name a few from the long list of Polish Jews who are known internationally. The term "genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

" was coined by Raphael Lemkin
Raphael Lemkin
Raphael Lemkin was a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent. He is best known for his work against genocide, a word he coined in 1943 from the root words genos and -cide...

 (1900–1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar. Leonid Hurwicz
Leonid Hurwicz
Leonid "Leo" Hurwicz was a Russian-born American economist and mathematician. His nationality of origin was Polish. He was Jewish. He originated incentive compatibility and mechanism design, which show how desired outcomes are achieved in economics, social science and political science...

 was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics. The Scientific Institute YIVO was first organized in Wilno. In Warsaw, important centers of Judaic scholarship, such the Main Judaic Library and the Institute of Judaic Studies were located, along with numerous Talmudic Schools (Jeszybots), religious centers and synagogues, many of which were of great architectural quality. Yiddish theatre
Yiddish theatre
Yiddish theatre consists of plays written and performed primarily by Jews in Yiddish, the language of the Central European Ashkenazi Jewish community. The range of Yiddish theatre is broad: operetta, musical comedy, and satiric or nostalgic revues; melodrama; naturalist drama; expressionist and...

 also flourished; Poland had fifteen Yiddish theatres and theatrical groups. Warsaw was home to the most important Yiddish theater troupe of the time, the Vilna Troupe
Vilna Troupe
The Vilna Troupe , also known as Fareyn Fun Yiddishe Dramatishe Artistn and later Dramă şi Comedie was an international and mostly Yiddish-speaking theatrical company, one of the most famous in the history of Yiddish theater...

, which staged the first performance of The Dybbuk in 1920 at the Elyseum Theatre. Some future Israeli leaders studied at University of Warsaw
University of Warsaw
The University of Warsaw is the largest university in Poland and one of the most prestigious, ranked as best Polish university in 2010 and 2011...

 including Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin
' was a politician, founder of Likud and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Before independence, he was the leader of the Zionist militant group Irgun, the Revisionist breakaway from the larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. He proclaimed a revolt, on 1 February 1944,...

 and Yitzhak Shamir
Yitzhak Shamir
' is a former Israeli politician, the seventh Prime Minister of Israel, in 1983–84 and 1986–92.-Biography:Icchak Jeziernicky was born in Ruzhany , Russian Empire . He studied at a Hebrew High School in Białystok, Poland. As a youth he joined Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement...

.

There also were several Jewish sports clubs, with some of them, such as Hasmonea Lwow
Hasmonea Lwów
Hasmonea Lwów was a Polish-Jewish sports club based in the city of Lwów . Created in 1908, it was the first sports club exclusively for Jewish members. It was named after the Hasmonean royal dynasty...

 and Jutrzenka Kraków
Jutrzenka Kraków
Jutrzenka Kraków was a Jewish minority Polish football club during the interwar period. The club existed until 1939. Fans and players of the club were generally associated with the Bund political party. The main rival of Jutrzenka was the club Makkabi Kraków, which was associated with the Zionist...

, winning promotion to the Polish First Football League. A Polish-Jewish footballer, Józef Klotz
Józef Klotz
Józef Klotz , born in Kraków, was a Polish footballer of Jewish origin, who scored the first ever goal for the Poland national football team. He was connected with two clubs – Jutrzenka Kraków and Maccabi Warszawa...

, scored the first ever goal for the Poland national football team
Poland national football team
The Poland national football team represents Poland in association football and is controlled by the Polish Football Association, the governing body for football in Poland...

. Another athlete, Alojzy Ehrlich
Alojzy Ehrlich
Alojzy "Alex" Ehrlich , also called "King of the Chiselers," was a Polish table tennis legend, widely regarded as one of the best players in Polish history of this sport, who three times won silver in the World Championships....

, won several medals in the table-tennis tournaments.

Growing anti-Semitism

An ever-increasing proportion of Jews in interwar Poland
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

 lived separate lives from the Polish majority. In 1921, 74.2% of Polish Jews listed Yiddish or Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 as their native language; the number rose to 87% by 1931, resulting in growing tensions between Jews and Poles. Jews were often not identified as Polish nationals; a problem caused not only by the reversal of assimilation shown in national censuses between 1921 and 1931, but also by the influx of Russian Jews escaping persecution especially in Ukraine, where up to 2,000 pogroms took place during the Civil War and an estimated 30,000 Jews were massacred directly and a total of 150,000 died. A large number of Russian Jews emigrated to Poland, as they were entitled by the Peace treaty of Riga
Peace of Riga
The Peace of Riga, also known as the Treaty of Riga; was signed in Riga on 18 March 1921, between Poland, Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine. The treaty ended the Polish-Soviet War....

 to choose the country they preferred. Several hundred thousand refugees joined the already numerous Jewish minority of the Polish Second Republic. The resulting economic instability was mirrored by anti-Jewish sentiment in some of the media, discrimination, exclusion, and violence at the universities, and the appearance of "anti-Jewish squads" associated with some of the right-wing political parties. These developments contributed to a greater support among the Jewish community for Zionist and socialist ideas, coupled with attempts at further migration, curtailed only by the British government. Notably, the "campaign for Jewish emigration was predicated not on anti-semitism but on objective social and economic factors". However, regardless of these changing economic and social conditions, the increase in antisemitic activity in prewar Poland was also typical of anti-semitism found in other parts of Europe at that time, developing within a broader, continent-wide pattern with counterparts in every other European country.

The matters improved for a time under the rule of Józef Piłsudski (1926–1935), who opposed anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

. Piłsudski countered Endecja
Endecja
National Democracy was a Polish right-wing nationalist political movement active from the latter 19th century to the end of the Second Polish Republic in 1939. A founder and principal ideologue was Roman Dmowski...

's 'ethnic assimilation
Polonization
Polonization was the acquisition or imposition of elements of Polish culture, in particular, Polish language, as experienced in some historic periods by non-Polish populations of territories controlled or substantially influenced by Poland...

' with the 'state assimilation' policy: citizens were judged by their loyalty to the state, not by their nationality. The years 1926–1935 were favourably viewed by many Polish Jews, whose situation improved especially under the cabinet of Pilsudski’s appointee Kazimierz Bartel
Kazimierz Bartel
Kazimierz Władysław Bartel was a Polish mathematician and politician who served as Prime Minister of Poland three times between 1926 and 1930....

. However a combination of various reasons, including the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, meant that the situation of Jewish Poles was never too satisfactory, and it deteriorated again after Piłsudski's death in May 1935, which many Jews regarded as a tragedy.
With the influence of the Endecja party growing, antisemitism gathered new momentum in Poland and was most felt in smaller towns and spheres in which Jews came into direct contact with Poles, such as in Polish schools or on the sports field. Further academic harassment, such as the introduction of ghetto benches
Ghetto benches
Ghetto benches or bench Ghetto was a form of official segregation in the seating of students, introduced in Poland's universities beginning in 1935 at Lwow Polytechnic. By 1937, when this practice became conditionally legalized, most rectors at other higher education institutions had adopted this...

, which forced Jewish students to sit in section of the lecture halls reserved exclusively for them, anti-Jewish riots, and semi-official or unofficial quotas (Numerus clausus
Numerus clausus
Numerus clausus is one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university. In many cases, the goal of the numerus clausus is simply to limit the number of students to the maximum feasible in some particularly sought-after areas of studies.However, in some cases,...

) introduced in 1937 in some universities halved the number of Jews in Polish universities between independence and the late 1930s. The restrictions were so inclusive that, while Jews made up 20.4% of the student population in 1928, by 1937 their share was down to only 7.5%.

Although many Jews were educated, they were excluded from most of the relevant occupations, including the government bureaucracy. A good number therefore turned to the liberal professions, particularly medicine and law. In 1937 the Catholic trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s of Polish doctors and lawyers restricted their new members to Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 Poles (in a similar manner the Jewish trade unions excluded non-Jewish professionals from their ranks after 1918). A series of professional and trade unions, including those for lawyers and physicians, enacted "Aryan clauses" expelling Polish Jews from their ranks. The bulk of Jewish workers were organized in Jewish trade unions under the influence of the Jewish Labor Bund, which recognized the special cultural needs of the Jewish population, as well as special conditions arising from official discrimination against Jews in certain professions. Jews were virtually excluded from Polish government jobs during this period.

Complex and long history shaped Polish attitudes towards the Jews and Jewish attitudes towards the Poles, but the anti-Jewish sentiment in Poland had reached its zenith in the years leading to the Second World War. Between 1935 and 1937 seventy-nine Jews were killed and 500 injured in anti-Jewish incidents. National policy was such that jobless Jews, who largely worked at home or in small shops due to discrimination in employment, were excluded from welfare benefits.
The national boycott of Jewish businesses and advocacy for their confiscation was promoted by the Endecja
Endecja
National Democracy was a Polish right-wing nationalist political movement active from the latter 19th century to the end of the Second Polish Republic in 1939. A founder and principal ideologue was Roman Dmowski...

 party, which introduced the term "Christian shop". A national movement to prevent the Jews from kosher slaughter of animals, with animal rights as the stated motivation, was also organized. Violence was also frequently aimed at Jewish stores, and many of them were looted. At the same time, persistent economic boycotts and harassment, including property-destroying riots, combined with the effects of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 that had been very severe on agricultural countries like Poland, reduced the standard of living
Standard of living
Standard of living is generally measured by standards such as real income per person and poverty rate. Other measures such as access and quality of health care, income growth inequality and educational standards are also used. Examples are access to certain goods , or measures of health such as...

 of Poles and Polish Jews alike to the extent that by the end of the 1930s, a substantial portion of Polish Jews lived in grinding poverty. As a result, on the eve of the Second World War, the Jewish community in Poland was large and vibrant internally, yet (with the exception of a few professionals) also substantially poorer and less integrated than the Jews in most of Western Europe.

The main strain of anti-semitism in Poland during this time was motivated by Catholic religious beliefs and centuries-old myths such as the blood libel
Blood libel
Blood libel is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays...

. This religious-based anti-semitism was sometimes joined with an ultra-nationalistic stereotype of Jews as disloyal to the Polish nation. On the eve of World War II, many typical Polish Christians believed that there were far too many Jews in the country and the Polish government became increasingly concerned with the "Jewish Question". Some politicians were in favor of mass Jewish emigration from Poland.

By the time of the German invasion in 1939, antisemitism was escalating, and hostility towards Jews was a mainstay of the right-wing political forces post-Piłsudski regime and also the Catholic Church. Discrimination and violence against Jews had rendered the Polish Jewish population increasingly destitute, as was the case throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe. Despite the impending threat to the Polish Republic from Nazi Germany, there was little effort seen in the way of reconciliation with Poland's Jewish population. In July 1939 the pro-government Gazeta Polska
Gazeta Polska (1929-1939)
Gazeta Polska was an important newspaper in interwar Poland, published from 1929 to 1939 in Warsaw. It had a strong pro-Sanation bias and was seen as a semi-official or governmental news outlet of the Sanation-dominated Polish government. Within Sanation politics, Gazeta Polska supported "the...

wrote, "The fact that our relations with the Reich are worsening does not in the least deactivate our program in the Jewish question—there is not and cannot be any common ground between our internal Jewish problem and Poland's relations with the Hitlerite Reich." Escalating hostility towards Polish Jews and an official Polish government desire to remove Jews from Poland continued until the German invasion of Poland.

World War II and the destruction of Polish Jewry (1939–45)

The Polish September campaign

The number of Jews in Poland on September 1, 1939 amounted to about 3,474,000 people. One hundred thirty thousand soldiers of Jewish descent served in the Polish Army at the outbreak of the Second World War, thus being among the first to launch armed resistance against the Nazi Germany. It is estimated that during the entirety of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 as many as 32,216 Polish-Jewish soldiers and officers died and 61,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans; the majority did not survive. The soldiers and non-commissioned officers who were released ultimately found themselves in the Nazi ghettos and labor camps and suffered the same fate as other Jewish civilians in the ensuing Holocaust in Poland
Holocaust in Poland
The Holocaust, also known as haShoah , was a genocide officially sanctioned and executed by the Third Reich during World War II. It took the lives of three million Polish Jews, destroying an entire civilization. Only a small percentage survived or managed to escape beyond the reach of the Nazis...

.
In 1939 Jews constituted 30% of Warsaw's population. With the coming of the war, Jewish and Polish citizens of Warsaw jointly defended the city
Siege of Warsaw (1939)
The 1939 Battle of Warsaw was fought between the Polish Warsaw Army garrisoned and entrenched in the capital of Poland and the German Army...

, putting their differences aside. Polish Jews later served in almost all Polish formations during the entire World War II, many were killed or wounded and very many were decorated for their combat skills and exceptional service. Jews fought with the Polish Armed Forces in the West
Polish Armed Forces in the West
Polish Armed Forces in the West refers to the Polish military formations formed to fight alongside the Western Allies against Nazi Germany and its allies...

, in the Soviet formed Polish People's Army as well as in several underground organizations and as part of Polish partisan units or Jewish partisan formations.

Territories annexed by the USSR (1939–1941)

On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a Nonaggression Pact, the so-called Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact with a secret protocol providing the partition of Poland. Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939 and the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939. In the newly-partitioned Poland, 61.2% of Polish Jews found themselves under German occupation
Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany
At the beginning of World War II, nearly a quarter of the pre-war Polish areas were annexed by Nazi Germany and placed directly under German civil administration, while the rest of Nazi occupied Poland was named as General Government...

 while 38.8% were in the Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union
Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union
Immediately after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of the Second Polish Republic, which Poles referred to as the "Kresy," and annexed territories totaling 201,015 km² with a population of 13,299,000...

. Based on population migration from West to East during and after the Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

 the percentage of Jews in the Soviet-occupied areas was probably higher than that of the 1931 census.

The Soviet annexation
Soviet invasion of Poland (1939)
The 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland was a Soviet military operation that started without a formal declaration of war on 17 September 1939, during the early stages of World War II. Sixteen days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet Union did so from the east...

 was accompanied by the widespread arrests of government officials, police, military personnel, border guards, teachers, priests, judges etc., followed by executions and massive deportation to the Soviet interior or forced labour camps where, as a result of the harsh conditions, many people died. Of the approximately 1.450 million Polish citizens living in the region deported by the Soviets, 63.1% were ethnic Poles but Jews represented 7.4% of all the prisoners.

Jewish refugees from Western Poland who registered for repatriation back to the German zone (people in the Soviet occupation zone had little knowledge of what was going on in the German occupation zone since the Soviet media did not report on their Nazi ally's misdeeds), wealthy Jewish capitalists, prewar political and social activists were labelled "class enemies" and deported for that reason. Jews caught for illegal border crossings or engaged in illicit trade and other "illegal" activities were also arrested and deported. Several thousand, mostly captured Polish soldiers, were executed on the spot; some of them were Jewish.

All private property and, crucial to Jewish economic life, private businesses were nationalized, political activity was illegal and thousands of people were jailed, many of whom were later executed. Zionism, which was designated by the Soviets as counter-revolutionary was also forbidden. Within one day all Polish and Jewish media was shut down and replaced by the new Soviet press, which conducted mainly political propaganda but also was attacking religion, including the Jewish faith. Synagogues and Churches were not yet closed but heavily taxed. The Soviet ruble of little value was immediately equalized to the much higher Polish zloty and by the end of 1939, zloty was abolished.

Most economic activity was subject to central planning and restrictions and a lot of private property nationalized. Because Jewish communities tended to rely on commerce and small scale businesses, the nationalization affected some of them to a greater degree than the general populace. The Soviet system resulted in different economic arrangements which were characterized by low wages and frequent shortages of goods and materials. As a result, Jews, like many other inhabitants of the region, saw a fall in their living standards.

Under Soviet policy, Poles were denied access to positions in the civil service and former Polish senior officials and notable members of the community were arrested and exiled to remote regions of Russia together with their families. At the same time the Soviet authorities encouraged Jews to fill in the newly emptied government and civil service jobs.

While most Poles of all ethnicities had anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiments, a portion of the Jewish population, along with ethnic Belorussians, Ukrainians and few communist Poles had initially welcomed invading Soviet forces. The general feeling amongst Polish Jews was a sense of relief in having escaped the dangers of falling under Nazi rule, as well as from the overt policies of discrimination against Jews which had existed in the Polish state, including discrimination in education, employment and commerce, as well as antisemitic violence that in some cases reached pogrom levels. The Polish poet and former communist Aleksander Wat
Aleksander Wat
Aleksander Wat, was a Polish poet, writer and art theoretician, one of the precursors of Polish futurism movement in early 1920s....

 has stated that Jews were more inclined to cooperate with the Soviets Norman Davies
Norman Davies
Professor Ivor Norman Richard Davies FBA, FRHistS is a leading English historian of Welsh descent, noted for his publications on the history of Europe, Poland, and the United Kingdom.- Academic career :...

 claimed that among the informers and collaborators, the percentage of Jews was striking, and they prepared lists of Polish "class enemies", while other historians have indicated that the level of Jewish collaboration could well have been less than that of ethnic Poles. Holocaust scholar Martin Dean has written that "few local Jews obtained positions of power under Soviet rule."

The issue of Jewish collaboration with the Soviet occupation remains controversial. Some scholars note that while not pro-communist, many Jews saw the Soviets as the lesser threat compared to the German Nazis. They stress that stories of Jews welcoming the Soviets on the streets, vividly remembered by many Poles from eastern part of the country
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

 are impressionistic and not reliable indicators of the level of Jewish support for the Soviets. Additionally, it has been noted that some ethnic Poles were as prominent as Jews in filling civil and police positions in the occupation administration, and that Jews, both civilians and in the Polish military, suffered equally at the hands of the Soviet occupiers. Whatever initial enthusiasm for the Soviet occupation Jews might have felt was soon dissipated upon feeling the impact of the suppression of Jewish societal modes of life by the occupiers. The tensions between ethnic Poles and Jews as a result of this period has, according to some historians, taken a toll on relations between Poles and Jews throughout the war, creating until this day, an impasse to Polish-Jewish rapprochement.

Even though only a small percentage of the Jewish community had been members of the Communist Party of Poland
Communist Party of Poland
The Communist Party of Poland is a historical communist party in Poland. It was a result of the fusion of Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and the Polish Socialist Party-Left in the Communist Workers Party of Poland .-1918-1921:The KPRP was founded on 16 December 1918 as...

 during the interwar era, they had occupied an influential and conspicuous place in the party's leadership and in the rank and file in major centres, such as Warsaw, Lodz and Lwow. A larger number of younger Jews, often through the pro-Marxist Bund or some Zionist groups, were sympathetic to Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and Soviet Russia, both of which had been enemies of the Polish Second Republic. As a result of these factors they found it easy after 1939 to participate in the Soviet occupation administration in Eastern Poland, and briefly occupied prominent positions in industry, schools, local government, police and other Soviet-installed institutions. The concept of "Judeo-communism" was reinforced during the period of the Soviet occupation (see Żydokomuna
Zydokomuna
Żydokomuna is a pejorative antisemitic stereotype which came into use between World Wars I and II, blaming Jews for the rise of communism in Poland, where communism was identified as part of a wider Jewish-led conspiracy to seize power....

).

There were also Jews who demonstrated loyalty toward Poland, assisting Poles during brutal Soviet occupation. Among thousands Polish officers killed by the Soviet NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 in the Katyń massacre
Katyn massacre
The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre , was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs , the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by Lavrentiy Beria's proposal to execute all members of...

 there were 500–600 Jews. From 1939 to 1941 between 100,000 and 300,000 Polish Jews were deported from Soviet-occupied Polish territory
Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union
Immediately after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern regions of the Second Polish Republic, which Poles referred to as the "Kresy," and annexed territories totaling 201,015 km² with a population of 13,299,000...

 into the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. Some of them, especially Polish Communists
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 (e.g. Jakub Berman
Jakub Berman
Jakub Berman was born into a middle-class Jewish family. Berman first became a prominent communist in prewar Poland. Toward the end of World War II he joined the Politburo of the Soviet-formed Polish United Workers' Party...

), moved voluntarily; however, most of them were forcibly deported or imprisoned
Population transfer in the Soviet Union
Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers," deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite...

 in Gulag
Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

. Small numbers of Polish Jews (about 6,000) were able to leave the Soviet Union in 1942 with the Władysław Anders army, among them the future Prime Minister of Israel
Prime Minister of Israel
The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of the Israeli government and the most powerful political figure in Israel . The prime minister is the country's chief executive. The official residence of the prime minister, Beit Rosh Hamemshala is in Jerusalem...

 Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin
' was a politician, founder of Likud and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Before independence, he was the leader of the Zionist militant group Irgun, the Revisionist breakaway from the larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. He proclaimed a revolt, on 1 February 1944,...

. During the Polish army's II Corps
Polish II Corps
Polish II Corps , 1943–1947, was a major tactical and operational unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West during World War II. It was commanded by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders and by the end of 1945 it had grown to well over 100,000 soldiers....

' stay in the British Mandate of Palestine, 67% (2,972) of the Jewish soldiers deserted, many to join the Irgun
Irgun
The Irgun , or Irgun Zevai Leumi to give it its full title , was a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization haHaganah...

. General Anders decided not to prosecute the deserters and emphasized that the Jewish soldiers who remained in the Force fought bravely. Cemetery of Polish soldiers
Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino
The Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino holds the graves of over a thousand Poles who died, storming the bombed-out Benedictine abbey atop the mountain in May 1944, during the Battle of Monte Cassino....

 who died during the Battle of Monte Cassino
Battle of Monte Cassino
The Battle of Monte Cassino was a costly series of four battles during World War II, fought by the Allies against Germans and Italians with the intention of breaking through the Winter Line and seizing Rome.In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans...

 contains also headstones bearing a Star of David
Star of David
The Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Shield of David or Magen David is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish identity and Judaism.Its shape is that of a hexagram, the compound of two equilateral triangles...

.

The Holocaust: German-occupied Poland

The Polish Jewish community suffered the most in the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

. About six million Polish citizens perished during the war, half of them (three million) Polish Jews—all but about 300,000 of the Jewish population—who were killed at the German Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 extermination camps of Auschwitz
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

, Treblinka
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

, Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

, Belzec
Belzec extermination camp
Belzec, Polish spelling Bełżec , was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust...

, Sobibór
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

, Chełmno or died of starvation
Starvation
Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient and vitamin intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition. In humans, prolonged starvation can cause permanent organ damage and eventually, death...

 in ghettos.

Poland was where the German Nazi program for the extermination of Jews, the "Final Solution" was implemented, since this was where the majority of Europe's Jews lived at the time (excluding the Soviet Union).

In 1939 several hundred synagogues were blown up or burnt by the Germans who sometimes forced the Jews to do it themselves. In many cases Germans turned the synagogues into factories, places of entertainment, swimming-pools or prisons. By the end of the war, almost all of the synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s in Poland have been destroyed. rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

s were ordered to dance and sing in public with their beards cut or torn. Some rabbis were set on fire or hanged.
Germans ordered registration of all Jews and a word “Jude” was stamped in their identity cards. Numerous restrictions and prohibitions targeting Jews were introduced and brutally enforced. For example, Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, use public transport, enter places of leisure, sports arenas, theaters, museums and libraries. On the street, Jews had to lift their hat to passing Germans. By the end of 1941 all Jews in German-occupied Poland, except the children, had to wear an identifying badge with a blue Star of David. The Germans made almost no attempt to set up a collaborationist government in Poland, "disappointed that Poles refused to collaborate", nevertheless, Polish language rag
Rag
Rag or rags may refer to:*A torn, threadbare or otherwise inferior piece of textile.*A piece of ragtime music.*Raga, the musical scale of a composition in Indian classical music.*Rag...

s ran by them routinely published antisemitic articles that urged local people to adopt an attitude of indifference towards the Jews.

Following Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, many Jews in what was then Eastern Poland fell victim to Nazi death squad
Death squad
A death squad is an armed military, police, insurgent, or terrorist squad that conducts extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a war, insurgency or terror campaign...

s called Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen were SS paramilitary death squads that were responsible for mass killings, typically by shooting, of Jews in particular, but also significant numbers of other population groups and political categories...

, which massacred Jews, especially in 1941. Some of these German-inspired massacres were carried out with help from, or active participation of Poles themselves: for example, the massacre in Jedwabne, in which between 300 (Institute of National Remembrance
Institute of National Remembrance
Institute of National Remembrance — Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives and prosecution powers founded by specific legislation. It specialises in the legal and historical sciences and...

's Final Findings) and 1,600 Jews (Jan T. Gross
Jan T. Gross
Jan Tomasz Gross is a Polish-American historian and sociologist. He is the Norman B. Tomlinson '16 and '48 Professor of War and Society and Professor of History at Princeton University.- Biography :Jan T...

) were tortured and beaten to death by members of the local population. The full extent of Polish participation in the massacres of the Polish Jewish community remains a controversial subject, in part due to Jewish leaders' refusal to allow the remains of the Jewish victims to be exhumed and their cause of death to be properly established. The Polish Institute for National Remembrance identified twenty-two other towns that had pogrom
Pogrom
A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

s similar to Jedwabne. The reasons for these massacres are still debated, but they included anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, resentment over alleged cooperation with the Soviet invaders in the Polish-Soviet War and during the 1939 invasion of the Kresy
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

 regions, greed for the possessions of the Jews, and of course coercion by the Nazis to participate in such massacres.

Some historians have written of the negative attitudes of some Poles towards persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. While members of Catholic clergy risked their lives to assist Jews, these efforts were made in the face of strong anti-semitic attitudes from the Polish Catholic Church hierarchy. Anti-Jewish attitudes also existed in the London-based Polish Government in Exile.

Holocaust survivors's views of Polish behavior during the War span a wide range, depending on the personal experiences of the person. Some are very negative, based on the view of Christian Poles as passive witnesses who failed to act and aid the Jews as they were being persecuted or liquidated by the Nazi Germans. Poles, who were also victims of Nazi crimes, were often afraid for their and their family's lives themselves and this fear prevented many of them from giving aid and assistance, even if some of them felt sympathy for the Jews. Emanuel Ringelblum
Emanuel Ringelblum
Emanuel Ringelblum was a Polish-Jewish historian, politician and social worker, known for his Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, Notes on the Refugees in Zbąszyn chronicling the deportation of Jews from the town of Zbąszyń, and the so-called Ringelblum's Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.-Before the war:He...

, a Polish-Jewish historian of the Warsaw Ghetto, wrote in 1944 in his Polish-Jewish Relations during the Second World War of the indifferent and sometimes joyful responses in Warsaw to the destruction of Polish Jews in the Ghetto. However despite that, as another scholar (Gunnar S. Paulsson
Gunnar S. Paulsson
Gunnar Svante Paulsson is a Swedish-born Canadian historian who has taught in Britain and Canada.Paulsson graduated Oxford University with a D.Phil. in 1998...

) in his work on the Jews of Warsaw has demonstrated, Polish citizens of Warsaw managed to support and hide the same percentage of Jews as did the citizens of cities in Western European countries.

Ghettos and death camps

The German Nazis established six extermination camps throughout Poland by 1942. All of these – at Chelmno (Kulmhof)
Chelmno extermination camp
Chełmno extermination camp, also known as the Kulmhof concentration camp, was a Nazi German extermination camp that was situated 50 kilometres from Łódź, near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem . After annexation by Germany Kulmhof was included into Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939...

, Belzec
Belzec extermination camp
Belzec, Polish spelling Bełżec , was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust...

, Sobibor
Sobibór extermination camp
Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the town of Sobibór, Lublin Voivodeship of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor...

, Treblinka, Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

 and Auschwitz (Oswiecim) – were located on the rail network so that the victims could be easily transported to them. The system of camps was expanded over the course of the German occupation of Poland and their purposes were diversified; some served as transit camps, some as forced labor camps
Forced labor in Germany during World War II
The use of forced labour in Nazi Germany and throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II took place on an unprecedented scale. It was a vital part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories. It also contributed to the mass extermination of populations in German-occupied...

 and some as death camps. While in the death camps, the victims were usually killed shortly after arrival, in the other camps able-bodied Jews were worked and beaten to death.

The operation of concentration camps depended on Kapos
Kapo (concentration camp)
A kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during World War II in any of certain lower administrative positions. The official Nazi word was Funktionshäftling, or "prisoner functionary", but the Nazis commonly referred to them as kapos.- Etymology :The origin of "kapo"...

, collaborator-prisoners. Some of these Kapos were Jewish themselves, and their prosecution after the war created an ethical dilemma.
Between October 1939 and July 1942 a system of ghettos was imposed for the confinement of Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of all Jewish Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. It was established in the Polish capital between October and November 15, 1940, in the territory of General Government of the German-occupied Poland, with over 400,000 Jews from the vicinity...

 was the largest in all of World War II, with 380,000 people crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles. The Łódź Ghetto was the second largest, holding about 160,000. Other Polish cities with large Jewish ghettos included Białystok (Białystok Ghetto), Częstochowa
Czestochowa
Częstochowa is a city in south Poland on the Warta River with 240,027 inhabitants . It has been situated in the Silesian Voivodeship since 1999, and was previously the capital of Częstochowa Voivodeship...

, Kielce
Kielce
Kielce ) is a city in central Poland with 204,891 inhabitants . It is also the capital city of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship since 1999, previously in Kielce Voivodeship...

, Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 (Kraków Ghetto
Kraków Ghetto
The Kraków Ghetto was one of five major, metropolitan Jewish ghettos created by Nazi Germany in the General Government territory for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation of Polish Jews during the German occupation of Poland in World War II...

), Lublin
Lublin
Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland. It is the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 350,392 . Lublin is also the largest Polish city east of the Vistula river...

, Lwów (Lviv Ghetto), and Radom
Radom
Radom is a city in central Poland with 223,397 inhabitants . It is located on the Mleczna River in the Masovian Voivodeship , having previously been the capital of Radom Voivodeship ; 100 km south of Poland's capital, Warsaw.It is home to the biennial Radom Air Show, the largest and...

. Ghettos were also established in hundreds of smaller settlements. Living conditions in the Ghettos, most hermetically sealed and without ability to leave, were terrible. Overcrowding, dirt, lice, lethal epidemics such as typhoid and hunger resulted in countless deaths.

Many Jews tried to escape from the ghetto in the hope of finding a place to hide outside of it, or of joining the partisan units. When this proved difficult escapees often returned to the ghetto on their own. If caught, Germans would murder the escapees and leave their bodies in plain view as a warning to others. Despite these terror tactics attempts at escape from ghettos continued up until their liquidation.

Since Nazi terror reigned throughout the Aryan districts, the chances of remaining successfully hidden undoubtedly depended on a fluent knowledge of the language and on having close ties with the community. Many Poles were not willing to hide Jews who might have escaped the ghettos or who might have been in hiding due to fear for their own life and that of their family. The Germans would often murder non-Jewish Poles for small misdemeanors and execution for help rendered to Jews, even the most basic kinds, was automatic. Poles often refused to help, but the general reason for that was that they feared for their own lives since in any apartment block or area where Jews were found to be harboured, everybody in the house would be immediately shot by the Germans. While the German policy towards Jews was ruthless and criminal, their policy towards Christian Poles who helped Jews was very much the same. Thousands of non-Jewish Poles were executed for helping Jews.

Hiding in a Christian society to which the Jews were only partially assimilated was a daunting task. They needed to quickly acquire not only a new identity, but a new body of knowledge. Many Jews spoke Polish with an accent, used different nonverbal language, different gestures and facial expressions. Jews with the specific physical characteristics were particularly vulnerable.

Some individuals took advantage of a hiding person's desperation by collecting money, then reneging on their promise of aid — or worse, turning them over to the Germans for an additional reward. Individuals who turned in Jews in hiding to the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 received a standard payment consisting of some cash, liquor, sugar and cigarettes.

Many Jews were robbed and handed over to the Germans by "szmalcownik
Szmalcownik
Szmalcownik is a pejorative Polish slang word used during World War II that denoted a person blackmailing Jews who were hiding, or blackmailing Poles who protected Jews during the Nazi occupation...

"s many of whom practiced blackmail as an "occupation". Those criminals were condemned by the Polish Underground State and a fight against these informers was organized by Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 (Underground State's military arm), with the death sentence being meted out on a scale unknown in the occupied countries of Western Europe.
The belief that the experienced suffering was preordained and that it would result in the coming of the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 also existed among some religious Jews.

To discourage Poles from giving shelter to Jews, the Germans often searched houses and introduced ruthless penalties. Poland was the only occupied country during World War II where the Nazis
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 formally imposed the death penalty for anybody found sheltering and helping Jews.

The penalty applied not only to the person who did the helping, but also extended to his or her family, neighbors and sometimes to an entire village.
In this way Germans applied the principle of collective responsibility whose purpose was to encourage neighbors to inform on each other in order to avoid punishment. The nature of these policies was widely known and visibly publicized by the Nazis who sought to terrorize the Polish population.

Food rations for Poles were very small (669 kcal per day in 1941) and black market prices of food were high, factors which made it difficult to hide people and almost impossible to hide entire families, especially in the cities. Despite these draconian measures imposed by the Nazis, Poland has the highest number of Righteous Among The Nations
Righteous Among the Nations
Righteous among the Nations of the world's nations"), also translated as Righteous Gentiles is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis....

 awards at the Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament....

 Museum (6,195).

The Polish Government in Exile
Polish government in Exile
The Polish government-in-exile, formally known as the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile , was the government in exile of Poland formed in the aftermath of the Invasion of Poland of September 1939, and the subsequent occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which...

 was the first (in November 1942) to reveal the existence of Nazi-run concentration camps and the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, through its courier Jan Karski
Jan Karski
Jan Karski was a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter and later scholar at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943 Karski reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and...

 and through the activities of Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group and a member of the Home Army...

, a member of Armia Krajowa who was the only person to volunteer for imprisonment in Auschwitz and who organized a resistance movement inside the camp itself. One of the Jewish members of the National Council of the Polish government in exile, Szmul Zygielbojm
Szmul Zygielbojm
Szmul Zygielbojm was a Jewish-Polish socialist politician, leader of the Bund, and a member of the National Council of the Polish government in exile...

, committed suicide to protest the indifference of the Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 governments in the face of the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

 in Poland. The Polish government in exile was also the only government to set up an organization (Żegota
Zegota
"Żegota" , also known as the "Konrad Żegota Committee", was a codename for the Polish Council to Aid Jews , an underground organization of Polish resistance in German-occupied Poland from 1942 to 1945....

) specifically aimed at helping the Jews in Poland.

Warsaw Ghetto and its uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of all Jewish Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. It was established in the Polish capital between October and November 15, 1940, in the territory of General Government of the German-occupied Poland, with over 400,000 Jews from the vicinity...

 and its 1943 Uprising
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp....

 represents what is likely the most known episode of the wartime history of the Polish Jews. The ghetto was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank
Hans Frank
Hans Michael Frank was a German lawyer who worked for the Nazi party during the 1920s and 1930s and later became a high-ranking official in Nazi Germany...

 on October 16, 1940. Initially, almost 140,000 Jews were moved into the ghetto from all parts of Warsaw. At the same time approximately 110,000 Poles had been forcibly evicted from the area. The Germans selected Adam Czerniakow
Adam Czerniaków
Adam Czerniaków , born in Warsaw, Poland, was a Polish-Jewish engineer and senator to the prewar Polish Sejm for Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government...

 to take charge of the Jewish Council called Judenrat
Judenrat
Judenräte were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to...

 made up of 24 Jewish men ordered to organize Jewish labor battalions as well as Jewish Ghetto Police
Jewish Ghetto Police
Jewish Ghetto Police , also known as the Jewish Police Service and referred to by the Jews as the Jewish Police, were the auxiliary police units organized in the Jewish ghettos of Europe by local Judenrat councils under orders of occupying German Nazis.Members of the did not have official...

 which would be responsible for maintaining order within the Ghetto walls. A number of Jewish policemen were corrupt and immoral. Soon the Nazis demanded even more from the Judenrat and the demands were much more cruel. Death was the punishment for the slightest indication of noncompliance by the Judenrat. Sometimes the Judenrat refused to collaborate in which case its members were consequently executed and replaced by the new group of people. Adam Czerniakow
Adam Czerniaków
Adam Czerniaków , born in Warsaw, Poland, was a Polish-Jewish engineer and senator to the prewar Polish Sejm for Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government...

 who was the head of the Warsaw Judenrat committed suicide when he was forced to collect daily lists of Jews to be deported to Treblinka extermination camp at the onset of Grossaktion Warsaw
Grossaktion Warsaw (1942)
The Grossaktion or Gross-Aktion in Warsaw was a Nazi German operation of mass extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning July 22, 1942. It was a key part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard headed by the SS- und Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik...

.

The population of the ghetto reached 380,000 people by the end of 1940, about 30% of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was only about 2.4% of the size of the city. The Germans closed off the Ghetto from the outside world, building a wall around it on November 16, 1940. During the next year and a half, Jews from smaller cities and villages were brought into the Warsaw Ghetto, while diseases (especially typhoid) and starvation kept the inhabitants at about the same number. Average food rations in 1941 for Jews in Warsaw were limited to 253 kcal, and 669 kcal for Poles, as opposed to 2,613 kcal for Germans. On July 22, 1942, the mass deportation
Grossaktion Warsaw (1942)
The Grossaktion or Gross-Aktion in Warsaw was a Nazi German operation of mass extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning July 22, 1942. It was a key part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard headed by the SS- und Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik...

 of the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants began. During the next fifty-two days (until September 12, 1942) about 300,000 people were transported by freight train to the Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

. The deportations were carried out by fifty German SS soldiers, 200 soldiers of the Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

n Schutzmannschaften Battalions, 200 Ukrainian Police, and 2,500 Jewish Ghetto Police
Jewish Ghetto Police
Jewish Ghetto Police , also known as the Jewish Police Service and referred to by the Jews as the Jewish Police, were the auxiliary police units organized in the Jewish ghettos of Europe by local Judenrat councils under orders of occupying German Nazis.Members of the did not have official...

. Employees of the Judenrat
Judenrat
Judenräte were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to...

, including the Ghetto Police, along with their families and relatives, were spared from deportations until September 1942 in return for their cooperation. Jewish Ghetto policemen were ordered to personally "deliver" ghetto inhabitants to the Umschlagplatz train station, but afterwards shared their fate. On January 18, 1943, a group of Ghetto militants led by the right leaning ŻZW
Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy
Żydowski Związek Wojskowy was an underground resistance organization operating during World War II in the area of the Warsaw Ghetto which fought during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising...

, including some members of the left leaning ŻOB
Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa
The Jewish Combat Organization was a World War II resistance movement, which was instrumental in engineering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. ŻOB took part in a number of other resistance activities as well...

 rose up in a first Warsaw uprising. Both organizations resisted, with arms, German attempts for additional deportations to Auschwitz and Treblinka. The final destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto came four months later after the crushing of one of the most heroic and tragic battles of the war, the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp....

.

The Uprising was led by ŻOB (Jewish Combat Organization) and the ŻZW. The ŻZW (Jewish Military Union) was the better supplied in arms. The ŻOB had more than 750 fighters, but lacked weapons: they had only 9 rifles, 59 pistols and several grenades. A developed network of bunkers and fortifications were formed. The Jewish fighters also received support from the Polish Underground (Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

). The German forces, which included 2,842 Nazi soldiers and 7,000 security personnel, were not capable of crushing the Jewish resistance in open street combat and after several days, decided to switch strategy by setting buildings on fire in which the Jewish fighters hid. The commander of the ŻOB, Mordechai Anielewicz died fighting on May 8, 1943 at the organization's command centre on 18 Mila Street.

It took the Germans twenty seven days to put down the uprising, after some very heavy fighting. The German general Jürgen Stroop
Jürgen Stroop
Jürgen Stroop, , was a high-ranking Nazi Party and Gestapo official during World War II. In 1952, he was extradited to Poland, convicted of war crimes, and hanged.-Early life:Jürgen Stroop was born in Detmold, in the Principality of Lippe, German Empire, the son of a police officer...

, in his report, stated that his troops had killed 6,065 Jewish fighters during the battle. After the uprising was already over, Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 had the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Square (outside the ghetto) destroyed as a celebration of German victory and a symbol that the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw was no longer.

A group of fighters escaped from the ghetto through the sewers and reached the Lomianki forest. About 50 ghetto fighters were saved by the Polish "People's Guard" and later formed their own partisan group, named after Anielewicz. Even after the end of the uprising there were still several hundreds of Jews who continued living in the ruined ghetto. Many of them survived thanks to the contacts they managed to establish with Poles outside the ghetto.
The Uprising inspired Jews throughout Poland. Many Jewish leaders who survived the liquidation continued underground work outside the ghetto. They hid other Jews, forged necessary documents and were active in the Polish underground in other parts of Warsaw and surrounding area.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was followed by other Ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprisings were armed revolts by Jews and other groups incarcerated in ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europes during World War II against the plans to deport the inhabitants to concentration and extermination camps....

s in many smaller towns and cities across German occupied Poland. Many Jews were found alive in the ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto during the 1944 general Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

 when the Poles themselves rose up against the Germans. Some of the survivors of 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp....

, still held in camps at or near Warsaw, were freed during 1944 Warsaw Uprising, led by the Polish resistance movement
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

 Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

, and immediately joined Polish fighters. Only a few of them survived. The Polish commander of one Jewish unit, Waclaw Micuta, described them as some of the best fighters, always at the front line. It is estimated that over 2,000 Polish Jews, some as well known as Marek Edelman
Marek Edelman
Marek Edelman was a Jewish-Polish political and social activist and cardiologist.Before World War II, he was a General Jewish Labour Bund activist. During the war he co-founded the Jewish Combat Organization. He took part in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, becoming its leader after the death of...

 or Icchak Cukierman
Icchak Cukierman
Icchak Cukierman , also known by his nom de guerre "Antek", or by the anglicised spelling Yitzhak Zuckerman, was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II.Cukierman was born in Vilnius, Lithuania into a Jewish family...

, and several dozen Greek, Hungarian or even German Jews freed by Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 from Gesiowka
Gesiówka
Gęsiówka , was a Nazi concentration camp in Warsaw, Poland.- History of Gęsiówka :Before the war, Gęsiówka was a military prison of the Polish Army on Gęsia Street . Beginning in 1939, after the German occupation of Poland, it became a re-education camp of the German security police...

 concentration camp in Warsaw, men and women, took part in combat against Nazis during 1944 Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

. Some 166,000 people lost their lives in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw Uprising
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation by the Polish resistance Home Army , to liberate Warsaw from Nazi Germany. The rebellion was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces...

, including perhaps as many as 17,000 Polish Jews who had either fought with the AK
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 or had been discovered in hiding (see: Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński
Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski
Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, was a Polish poet and Home Army soldier, one of the most renowned authors of the Generation of Columbuses, the young generation of Polish poets of whom many perished in the Warsaw Uprising.-Biography:...

 and Stanisław Aronson
Stanisław Aronson
Stanisław Aronson is a Polish Jew and an Israeli citizen, as well as a former officer of the Polish Home Army with a rank of Lieutenant...

). Warsaw was razed to the ground by the Germans and more than 150,000 Poles were sent to labor or concentration camps. On January 17, 1945, the Soviet Army
Soviet Army
The Soviet Army is the name given to the main part of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1992. Previously, it had been known as the Red Army. Informally, Армия referred to all the MOD armed forces, except, in some cases, the Soviet Navy.This article covers the Soviet Ground...

 entered destroyed and nearly uninhabited Warsaw. Some 300 Jews were found hiding in the ruins in the Polish part of the city (see: Wladyslaw Szpilman
Wladyslaw Szpilman
Władysław "Wladek" Szpilman was a Polish-Jewish pianist, composer, and memoirist. Szpilman is widely known as the protagonist of the Roman Polanski film The Pianist, which is based on his memoir of the same name recounting how he survived the Holocaust...

).

The fate of the Warsaw Ghetto was similar to that of the other ghettos in which Jews were concentrated. With the decision of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 to begin the Final Solution
Final Solution
The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust...

, the destruction of the Jews of Europe, Aktion Reinhard began in 1942, with the opening of the extermination camps of Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, followed by Auschwitz-Birkenau where people were killed in gas chambers and mass executions (death wall). Many died from hunger, starvation, disease, torture or by pseudo-medical experiments. The mass deportation of Jews from ghettos to these camps, such as happened at the Warsaw Ghetto, soon followed, and more than 1.7 million Jews were killed at the Aktion Reinhard camps by October 1943 alone.

Białystok Ghetto and uprising

In August 1941, the Germans ordered the establishment of a ghetto
Ghetto
A ghetto is a section of a city predominantly occupied by a group who live there, especially because of social, economic, or legal issues.The term was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. The term now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated...

 in Białystok. About 50,000 Jews from the city and the surrounding region were confined in a small area of Białystok. The ghetto had two sections, divided by the Biala River. Most Jews in the Białystok ghetto worked in forced-labor projects, primarily in large textile factories located within the ghetto boundaries. The Germans also sometimes used Jews in forced-labor projects outside the ghetto.

In February 1943, approximately 10,000 Białystok Jews were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

. During the deportations, hundreds of Jews, mainly those deemed too weak or sick to travel, were killed.

In August 1943, the Germans mounted an operation to destroy the Białystok ghetto. German forces and local police auxiliaries surrounded the ghetto and began to round up Jews systematically for deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp. Approximately 7,600 Jews were held in a central transit camp in the city before deportation to Treblinka. Those deemed fit to work were sent to the Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

 camp. In Majdanek, after another screening for ability to work, they were transported to the Poniatowa, Blizyn, or Auschwitz camps. Those deemed too weak to work were murdered at Majdanek. More than 1,000 Jewish children were sent first to the Theresienstadt
Theresienstadt concentration camp
Theresienstadt concentration camp was a Nazi German ghetto during World War II. It was established by the Gestapo in the fortress and garrison city of Terezín , located in what is now the Czech Republic.-History:The fortress of Terezín was constructed between the years 1780 and 1790 by the orders...

 ghetto in Bohemia
Bohemia
Bohemia is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands. It is located in the contemporary Czech Republic with its capital in Prague...

, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

, where they were killed.

On August 15, 1943, the Białystok Ghetto Uprising began, and several hundred Polish Jews and members of the Anti-Fascist Military Organisation  started an armed struggle against the German troops who were carrying out the planned liquidation and deportation of the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

. The guerrillas were armed with only one machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

, several dozen pistols, Molotov cocktail
Molotov cocktail
The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, Molotov bomb, fire bottle, fire bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons...

s and bottles filled with acid. The fighting in isolated pockets of resistance lasted for several days, but the defence was broken almost instantly. As with the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp....

 of April 1943, the Białystok uprising had no chances for military success, but it was the second largest ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprisings were armed revolts by Jews and other groups incarcerated in ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europes during World War II against the plans to deport the inhabitants to concentration and extermination camps....

, after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp....

. Several dozen guerrillas managed to break through to the forests surrounding Białystok where they joined the partisan units of Armia Krajowa
Armia Krajowa
The Armia Krajowa , or Home Army, was the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II German-occupied Poland. It was formed in February 1942 from the Związek Walki Zbrojnej . Over the next two years, it absorbed most other Polish underground forces...

 and other organisations and survived the war.

Postwar

Between 40,000 and 100,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust in Poland by hiding or by joining the Polish or Soviet partisan
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

 units. Another 50,000–170,000 were repatriated from the Soviet Union and 20,000–40,000 from Germany and other countries. At its postwar peak, there were 180,000–240,000 Jews in Poland mostly in Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

, Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław and Lower Silesia
Lower Silesia
Lower Silesia ; is the northwestern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia; Upper Silesia is to the southeast.Throughout its history Lower Silesia has been under the control of the medieval Kingdom of Poland, the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy from 1526...

, e.g., Legnica
Legnica
Legnica is a town in south-western Poland, in Silesia, in the central part of Lower Silesia, on the plain of Legnica, riverside: Kaczawa and Czarna Woda. Between 1 June 1975 and 31 December 1998 Legnica was the capital of the Legnica Voivodeship. It is currently the seat of the county...

, Dzierżoniów
Dzierzoniów
Dzierżoniów is a town in southwestern Poland. It is situated in Lower Silesian Voivodeship...

 and Bielawa
Bielawa
Bielawa is a town in south-western Poland with 31,988 inhabitants . It is situated in Dzierżoniów County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship ; previously it has been a part of the Wałbrzych Voivodeship ....

.

The character of Poland had changed however. In spite of the major Polish contribution to World War II
Polish contribution to World War II
The European theater of World War II opened with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. The Polish Army was defeated after over a month of fighting. After Poland had been overrun, a government-in-exile , armed forces, and an intelligence service were established outside of Poland....

, Poland was placed under direct Soviet control due to British and US dependence on the Soviet military commitment to the defeat of Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

's unwillingness to confront Stalin over his future plans for Poland. Soviet style communism was established and the borders of Poland were moved west. The Soviet Union annexed the eastern regions
Kresy
The Polish term Kresy refers to a land considered by Poles as historical eastern provinces of their country. Today, it makes western Ukraine, western Belarus, as well as eastern Lithuania, with such major cities, as Lviv, Vilnius, and Hrodna. This territory belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian...

, which had many ethnic minorities including Jewish shtetl
Shtetl
A shtetl was typically a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe until The Holocaust. Shtetls were mainly found in the areas which constituted the 19th century Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire, the Congress Kingdom of Poland, Galicia and Romania...

 communities.

The Jewish survivors found it practically impossible to reconstruct their earlier lives as they were before in pre-war Poland. Jewish communities and rich Jewish life ceased to exist. People who somehow survived the Holocaust and who returned to their town or villages often discovered that their homes had been looted or destroyed. Some homes had new repatriated inhabitants who at times were very unhappy to see returning Jewish survivors.
Polish Jews began to leave Poland soon after the Second World War ended for a variety of reasons. Many left because Poland became a communist country they did not want to live in, or because all private property had been confiscated by the new communist government. Some left because they did not want to live where their family members were murdered and instead chose to live with relatives in different countries. Many wanted to go to British Mandate of Palestine, soon to be the new state of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, especially after Gen. Spychalski signed a decree allowing Jews to leave Poland without visas or exit permits. Yet others left because many Poles viewed Jews with hostility due to anti-Semitic prejudice.

Anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Polish cities and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Jewish violence (see: Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944-1946
Anti-Jewish violence in Poland, 1944-1946
Anti-Jewish Violence In Poland, 1944–1946 refers to a series of violent incidents that immediately followed the end of the Second World War in Poland and influenced postwar history of Jews as well as Polish Jewish relations. The exact number of Jewish victims is a subject of debate, but the range...

). The best-known case is the Kielce pogrom
Kielce pogrom
The Kielce pogrom was an outbreak of violence against the Jewish community in the city of Kielce, Poland on July 4, 1946, perpetrated by a mob of local townsfolk and members of the official government forces of the People's Republic of Poland...

 of 1946, in which thirty seven Jews were brutally murdered. Kielce anti-Semitic riot, amidst the raging civil war in postwar Poland, discouraged many survivors from rebuilding their lives there and convinced them to emigrate.

Irrespective of their status, the communist government's response to the Kielce atrocities was rapid. Special investigators were dispatched and military tribunals formed. Acitivities of the local authorities were investigated. However, only the local commander of Milicja Obywatelska
Milicja Obywatelska
Milicja Obywatelska was a state police institution in the People's Republic of Poland. It was created in 1944 by Soviet-sponsored PKWN, effectively replacing the pre-war police force. In 1990 it was transformed back into Policja....

 was found guilty of inaction. Nine direct participants of the pogrom were sentenced to death; three were given lengthy prison sentences. Debate in Poland continues today whether the murderers were leftists or rightists. Who inspired the killings is not agreed upon or known.

Between 1945 and 1948, 100,000–120,000 Jews left Poland. Their departure was largely organized by the Zionist
Zionism
Zionism is a Jewish political movement that, in its broadest sense, has supported the self-determination of the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state...

 activists in Poland such as Adolf Berman
Adolf Berman
-Biography:Born in Warsaw under the Russian Empire , Berman attended the University of Warsaw, where he earned a PhD in philosophy...

 and Icchak Cukierman
Icchak Cukierman
Icchak Cukierman , also known by his nom de guerre "Antek", or by the anglicised spelling Yitzhak Zuckerman, was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II.Cukierman was born in Vilnius, Lithuania into a Jewish family...

 under the umbrella of a semi-clandestine organization Berihah
Berihah
Bricha was the underground organized effort that helped Jewish Holocaust survivors escape post-World War II Europe to the British Mandate for Palestine in violation of the White Paper of 1939...

("Flight"). Berihah was also responsible for the organized emigration of Jews
Aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

 from Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, and Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

 totaling 250,000 (including Poland) Holocaust survivors.

A second wave of Jewish emigration (50,000) took place during the liberalization of the communist regime between 1957 and 1959. After 1967's Six Day War, in which the Soviet Union supported the Arab side, the Polish communist party adopted an anti-Jewish course of action which in the years 1968–69 provoked the last mass migration of Jews from Poland.

The Bund took part in the post-war elections of 1947
Polish legislative election, 1947
The Polish legislative election of 1947 was held on January 19, 1947 in the People's Republic of Poland. The anti-communist opposition candidates and activists were persecuted and the eventual results were falsified...

 on a common ticket with the (non-communist) Polish Socialist Party
Polish Socialist Party
The Polish Socialist Party was one of the most important Polish left-wing political parties from its inception in 1892 until 1948...

 (PPS) and gained its first and only parliamentary seat in its Polish history, plus several seats in municipal councils. Under pressure from Soviet-installed communist authorities, the Bund's leaders 'voluntarily' disbanded the party in 1948–1949 against the opposition of many activists. Stalinist Poland was basically governed by the Soviet NKVD
NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 which was against the renewal of Jewish religious and even cultural life. In the years 1948–49 all remaining Jewish schools were nationalized by the communists and Yiddish was replaced with Polish as a language of teaching.

For those Polish Jews who remained, the rebuilding of Jewish life in Poland was carried out between October 1944 and 1950 by the Central Committee of Polish Jews (Centralny Komitet Żydów Polskich, CKŻP) which provided legal, educational, social care, cultural, and propaganda services. A countrywide Jewish Religious Community, led by Dawid Kahane, who served as chief rabbi
Chief Rabbi
Chief Rabbi is a title given in several countries to the recognized religious leader of that country's Jewish community, or to a rabbinic leader appointed by the local secular authorities...

 of the Polish Armed Forces, functioned between 1945 and 1948 until it was absorbed by the CKŻP. Eleven independent political Jewish parties, of which eight were legal, existed until their dissolution during 1949–50. Hospitals and schools were opened in Poland by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and ORT to provide service to Jewish communities. Some Jewish cultural institutions were established including the Yiddish State Theater founded in 1950 and directed by Ida Kaminska
Ida Kaminska
Ida Kaminska was a Polish actress.-Early life:Born in Odessa, Russia she was the daughter of Yiddish stage actress Esther Rachel Kamińska and actor, director and stage producer, Avram Izhak Kamiński . She reportedly married and divorced actor Marian Melman...

, the Jewish Historical Institute
Jewish Historical Institute
The Jewish Historical Institute is a research institute in Warsaw, Poland, primarily dealing with the history of Jews in Poland.The Jewish Historical Institute was created in 1947 as a continuation of the Central Jewish Historical Commission, founded in 1944. The Jewish Historical Institute...

, an academic institution specializing in the research of the history and culture of the Jews in Poland, and the Yiddish newspaper Folks-Shtime ("People's Voice").

Following liberalization after Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's death, in this 1958–59 period, 50,000 Jews emigrated to Israel. A significant number of Polish communists were of Jewish descent and actively participated in the establishment of the communist regime in the People's Republic of Poland
People's Republic of Poland
The People's Republic of Poland was the official name of Poland from 1952 to 1990. Although the Soviet Union took control of the country immediately after the liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944, the name of the state was not changed until eight years later...

. Between 1944 and 1956, they held, among others, prominent posts in the Politburo
Politburo
Politburo , literally "Political Bureau [of the Central Committee]," is the executive committee for a number of communist political parties.-Marxist-Leninist states:...

 of the Polish United Worker's Party (e.g., Jakub Berman
Jakub Berman
Jakub Berman was born into a middle-class Jewish family. Berman first became a prominent communist in prewar Poland. Toward the end of World War II he joined the Politburo of the Soviet-formed Polish United Workers' Party...

, Hilary Minc
Hilary Minc
Hilary Minc – born into a middle-class Jewish family of Oskar Minc and Stefania née Fajersztajn – was a communist politician in Stalinist Poland and pro-Soviet Marxist economist. Minc joined the Communist Party of Poland before World War II...

– responsible for establishing a Communist-style economy), and the security apparatus Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB) and in diplomacy/intelligence. After 1956, during the process of destalinisation in Poland under Władysław Gomułka's regime, some Urząd Bezpieczeństwa officials including Roman Romkowski
Roman Romkowski
General Roman Romkowski born Natan Grünspau [Grinszpan]-Kikiel, was a Polish-Jewish communist, second in command in Berman's Ministry of Public Security during the late 1940s and early 1950's. Along with several other high functionaries including Dir. Anatol Fejgin, Col. Józef Różański, Dir...

 (born Natan Grunsapau-Kikiel), Jacek Różański (born Jozef Goldberg), and Anatol Fejgin
Anatol Fejgin
Anatol Fejgin was a Polish-Jewish communist before World War II, and after 1949, commander of the Stalinist political police at the Ministry of Public Security of Poland, in charge of its notorious Special Bureau...

 were prosecuted for "power abuses" including the torture of Polish anti-communists (among them, Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki was a soldier of the Second Polish Republic, the founder of the Secret Polish Army resistance group and a member of the Home Army...

), and sentenced to long prison terms. A UB official, Józef Światło, (born Izaak Fleichfarb), after escaping in 1953 to the West, exposed through Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a broadcaster funded by the U.S. Congress that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East "where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed"...

 the methods of the UB which led to its dissolution in 1954. Solomon Morel a member of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland
Ministry of Public Security of Poland
The Ministry of Public Security of Poland was a Polish communist secret police, intelligence and counter-espionage service operating from 1945 to 1954 under Jakub Berman of the Politburo...

 and commandant of the Stalinist era Zgoda labour camp
Zgoda labour camp
The Zgoda labour camp was a concentration camp for Germans, Silesians and Poles, set up in 1945 by the Soviet NKVD in Świętochłowice, Silesia. It was controlled by the communist secret police until its closure by the Stalinist authorities of Poland in November of the same year.Between 1943 and...

, fled Poland for Israel to escape prosecution for genocide. Helena Wolińska-Brus
Helena Wolinska-Brus
Lt. Col. Helena Wolińska-Brus born Fajga Mindla Danielak, was a military prosecutor in Poland with the rank of lieutenant-colonel , involved in Stalinist regime show trials of the 1950s. She has been implicated in the arrest and execution of many Polish anti-Nazi resistance fighters including key...

 (born Fajga Mindla Danielak), a former Stalinist prosecutor, who emigrated to England in the late '60s, was fighting being extradited to Poland on charges related to the execution of a Second World War resistance hero August Fieldorf. Wolinska died in London in 2008.

1967–1989

In 1967, following the Six-Day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

 between Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 and the Arab
Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 states, communist Poland broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli victory over the Soviet backed Arab states in 1967 was greeted by Poles with a slogan; "Our Jews beat the Soviet Arabs" (Nasi Żydzi pobili ruskich Arabów)

The vast majority of the 40,000 Jews in Poland by the late 1960s were completely assimilated into the broader society. However, this did not prevent them from becoming victims of a campaign, centrally organized by the Polish Communist Party, with Soviet backing, which equated Jewish origins with "Zionism" and disloyalty to a Socialist Poland.

In March 1968 student-led demonstrations in Warsaw (see Polish 1968 political crisis
Polish 1968 political crisis
The Polish 1968 political crisis, also known in Poland as March 1968 or March events pertains to the major student and intellectual protest action against the communist government of the People's Republic of Poland...

) gave Gomułka's government an excuse to try and channel public anti-government sentiment into another avenue. Thus his security chief, Mieczysław Moczar, used the situation as a pretext to launch an anti-Semitic press campaign (although the expression "Zionist" was officially used). The state-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign resulted in the removal of Jews from the Polish United Worker's Party and from teaching positions in schools and universities. In 1967–1971 under economic, political and secret police pressure, over 14,000 Polish Jews were forced to leave Poland and relinquish their Polish citizenship . The leaders of the communist party tried to stifle the ongoing protests and unrest by scapegoating the Jews. At the same time there was an ongoing power struggle within the party itself and the anti-semitic campaign was used by one faction against another. The so called "Partisan" faction blamed the Jews who had held office during the Stalinist period for the excesses that had occurred, but the end result was that most of the remaining Polish Jews, regardless of their background or political affiliation, were targeted by the communist authorities.

There were several outcomes of the March 1968 events. The campaign damaged Poland's reputation abroad, particularly in the U.S. Many Polish intellectuals, however, were disgusted at the promotion of official anti-Semitism and opposed the campaign. Some of the people who emigrated to the West at this time founded organizations which encouraged anti-communist opposition inside Poland.

First attempts to improve Polish-Israeli relations began in the mid seventies. Poland was the first of the Eastern Bloc
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

 countries to restore diplomatic relations with Israel after these have been broken off right after the Six Day's War. In 1986 partial diplomatic relations with Israel
Israel–Poland relations
Israel-Poland relations refer to diplomatic and commercial ties between Israel and Poland.Poland broke off relations with Israel after the Six-Day War of 1967, following the lead of other countries of the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc. It was the first Eastern bloc country to recognize Israel...

 were restored, and full relations were restored in 1990 as soon as communism fell.

During the late 1970s some Jewish activists were engaged in the anti-communist opposition groups. Most prominent among them, Adam Michnik
Adam Michnik
Adam Michnik is the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, where he sometimes writes under the pen-names of Andrzej Zagozda or Andrzej Jagodziński. In 1966–1989 he was one of the leading organizers of the illegal, democratic opposition in Poland...

 (founder of Gazeta Wyborcza
Gazeta Wyborcza
Gazeta Wyborcza is a leading Polish newspaper. It covers the gamut of political, international and general news. Like all the Polish newspapers, it is printed on compact-sized paper, and is published by the multimedia corporation Agora SA...

) was one of the founders of the Workers' Defence Committee
Workers' Defence Committee
The Workers’ Defense Committee was a Polish civil society group that emerged under communist rule to give aid to prisoners & their families after the June 1976 protests & government crackdown...

 (KOR). By the time of the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, only 5,000–10,000 Jews remained in the country, many of them preferring to conceal their Jewish origin.

Since 1989

With the fall of communism in Poland, Jewish cultural, social, and religious life has been undergoing a revival. Many historical issues, especially related to World War II and the 1944–89 period, suppressed by communist censorship have been re-evaluated and publicly discussed (like the Massacre in Jedwabne, the Koniuchy Massacre
Koniuchy massacre
The Koniuchy massacre was a massacre of civilians carried out by a Soviet partisan unit along with a contingent of Jewish partisans under their command during the Second World War in the Polish village of Koniuchy on January 29, 1944.-Massacre:A small local self defence unit was created to defend...

, the Kielce pogrom
Kielce pogrom
The Kielce pogrom was an outbreak of violence against the Jewish community in the city of Kielce, Poland on July 4, 1946, perpetrated by a mob of local townsfolk and members of the official government forces of the People's Republic of Poland...

, the Auschwitz cross
Auschwitz cross
The Auschwitz cross is a cross erected near the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1979, the newly elected Polish Pope John Paul II said mass on the grounds of the Auschwitz II extermination camp to some 500,000 people. An 8.6 metre tall cross was erected there for the purpose, and removed after...

, and Polish-Jewish wartime relations in general).
According to the Coordination Forum of Countering Antisemitism there were eighteen anti-Semitic incidents in Poland in the period from January 2001 to November 2005. Half of them were incidents of demagoguery, eight were violent incidents such as vandalism or desecration, and one was verbal abuse. There were no antisemitic attacks by means of weapons in Poland. According to a 2005 survey, the portion of the population holding anti-Semitic views in Poland is not higher than those in some other countries surveyed. According to a survey carried out by CBOS and published in January, 2005, in which Poles were asked to assess their attitudes toward other nations, 45% claimed to feel antipathy towards Jews, 18% to feel sympathy, while 29% felt indifferent and 8% were undecided. Those surveyed were asked to express their feeling on the scale from −3 (strong antipathy) to +3 (strong sympathy), with 0 taken to indicate indifference. The average score for attitude towards Jews was −0.67. In the 2010 survey antipathy decreased to 27% and sympathy rose to 31%. 35% of respondents felt indifferent and 7% responded "hard to say". The average score for attitude was +0.05. The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich
Michael Schudrich
Michael Joseph Schudrich is the Chief Rabbi of Poland. He is the oldest of four children of Rabbi David Schudrich and Doris Goldfarb Schudrich.-Biography:...

, said in a BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 interview: it's ... false and painful stereotype that all Poles are antisemitic. This is something I want to clearly state: this is a false stereotype. Today there is antisemitism in Poland, as unfortunately the rest of Europe; it is more or less at the same level as the rest of Europe. More important is that you have a growing number of Poles who oppose antisemitism.

Poland has many legal provisions to combat antisemitism, neo-fascism, extremism and has ratified all the major international conventions pertaining to human rights protection and anti-discrimination.

Jewish religious life has been revived with the help of the Ronald Lauder Foundation and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture
Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture
The Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture was founded in 2001. Its mission is to help support the survival of Jewish life and culture in the face of unprecedented global threat to the Jewish people, especially in Israel; strengthen Jewish identity and sustain Jewish heritage in the United...

. There are two rabbis serving the Polish Jewish community, several Jewish schools and associated summer camps as well as several periodical and book series sponsored by the above foundations. Jewish studies programs are offered at major universities, such as Warsaw University and the Jagiellonian University
Jagiellonian University
The Jagiellonian University was established in 1364 by Casimir III the Great in Kazimierz . It is the oldest university in Poland, the second oldest university in Central Europe and one of the oldest universities in the world....

. The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland was founded in 1993. Its purpose is the promotion and organization of Jewish religious and cultural activities in Polish communities.

A large number of cities with synagogues include Warsaw, Kraków, Zamość
Zamosc
Zamość ukr. Замостя is a town in southeastern Poland with 66,633 inhabitants , situated in the south-western part of Lublin Voivodeship , about from Lublin, from Warsaw and from the border with Ukraine...

, Tykocin
Tykocin
Tykocin is an old, smaller size town in north-eastern Poland, with 1,800 inhabitants , located on the Narew river. Tykocin has been situated in the Podlaskie Voivodeship since 1999. Previously, it belonged to Białystok Voivodeship...

, Rzeszów
Rzeszów
Rzeszów is a city in southeastern Poland with a population of 179,455 in 2010. It is located on both sides of the Wisłok River, in the heartland of the Sandomierska Valley...

, Kielce
Kielce
Kielce ) is a city in central Poland with 204,891 inhabitants . It is also the capital city of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship since 1999, previously in Kielce Voivodeship...

, or Góra Kalwaria
Góra Kalwaria
Góra Kalwaria is a town on the Vistula River in the Mazovian Voivodship, Poland, about 25 km southeast of Warsaw. It has a population of about 11,000 . The town has significance for both Catholic Christians and Hasidic Jews...

 although not many of them are still active in their original religious role. Stara Synagoga ("Old Synagogue") in Kraków, which hosts a Jewish museum, was built in the early 1400s and is the oldest synagogue in Poland. Before the war, the Yeshiva Chachmei in Lublin was Europe's largest. In 2007 it was renovated, dedicated and reopened thanks to the efforts and endowments by Polish Jewry.

There are also several Jewish publications although most of them are in Polish. These include Midrasz
Midrasz
Midrasz is a Polish language monthly journal founded in 1997 by Konstanty Gebert, a renown Polish journalist, war correspondent and Polish-Jewish activist. The journal is devoted to Polish, Jewish and Polish-Jewish culture, art, literature, history and religion, as well as contemporary matters....

, Dos Jidische Wort (which is bilingual), as well as a youth journal Jidele and "Sztendlach" for young children. Active institutions include the Jewish Historical Institute, the E.R. Kaminska State Yiddish Theater in Warsaw, and the Jewish Cultural Center. The Judaica Foundation in Krakow has sponsored a wide range of cultural and educational programs on Jewish themes for a predominantly Polish audience. With funds from the city of Warsaw and the Polish government (26$ million total) a Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
The Museum of History of Polish Jews is a new museum under construction on the site of the Warsaw ghetto. The cornerstone was laid in 2007 and the museum is scheduled to open in 2012. The museum will feature multimedia exhibits on vibrant Jewish community that flourished in Poland for a thousand...

 is being built in Warsaw. The building was designed by the Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaecki.

Former extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka are open to visitors. At Auschwitz the Oswiecim State Museum currently houses exhibitions on Nazi crimes with a special section (Block Number 27) specifically focused on Jewish victims and martyrs. At Treblinka there is a monument built out of many shards of broken stone, as well as a mausoluem dedicated to those who perished there. A small mound of human ashes commemorates the 350,000 victims of the Majdanek camp who were killed there by the Nazis. In Łódz there is the largest Jewish burial ground in Europe, and preserved historic sites include those located in Góra Kalwaria and Leżajsk.

The Great Synagogue in Oświęcim
Oswiecim
Oświęcim is a town in the Lesser Poland province of southern Poland, situated west of Kraków, near the confluence of the rivers Vistula and Soła.- History :...

 was excavated after testimony by a Holocaust survivor suggested that many Jewish relics and ritual objects had been buried there, just before Nazis took over the town. Candelabras, chandeliers, a menorah and a ner tamid were found and can now be seen at the Auschwitz Jewish Center.

The Warsaw Ghetto Memorial was unveiled on April 19, 1948—the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw ghetto Uprising. It was constructed out of bronze and granite that the Nazis used for a monument honoring German victory over Poland and it was designed by Natan Rappaport. The Memorial is located where the Warsaw Ghetto used to be, at the site of one command bunker of the Jewish Combat Organization.
A memorial to the victims of the Kielce Pogrom of 1946, where a mob murdered more than 40 Jews who returned to the city after the Holocaust, was unveiled in 2006. The funds for the memorial came from the city itself and from the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad is an independent agency of the Government of the United States of America. It was established by U.S. Public Law 99-83 . The law directs the Commission to -- identify and report on cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings...

.

In modern Poland, interest in learning about and preserving the artifacts of Jewish culture is quite strong, especially among the younger generations. Many works devoted to the Holocaust have been published. Notable among them are the Polish Academy of Sciences
Polish Academy of Sciences
The Polish Academy of Sciences, headquartered in Warsaw, is one of two Polish institutions having the nature of an academy of sciences.-History:...

's journal Zaglada (first issue, 2005) as well as other publications from the Institute of National Remembrance
Institute of National Remembrance
Institute of National Remembrance — Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives and prosecution powers founded by specific legislation. It specialises in the legal and historical sciences and...

.
There have been a number of Holocaust remembrance activities in Poland in recent years. The United States Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 documents that:
In September 2000, dignitaries from Poland, Israel, the United States, and other countries (including Prince Hassan of Jordan) gathered in the city of Oświęcim (Auschwitz) to commemorate the opening of the refurbished Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue and the Auschwitz Jewish Center
Auschwitz Jewish Center
The Oświęcim Synagogue, also called the Auschwitz Synagogue, is the only active synagogue in the town of Oświęcim, Poland. The formal as well as pre-war name of the synagogue is Khevre Loymdei Mishnayos...

. The synagogue, the sole synagogue in Oświęcim to survive World War II and an adjacent Jewish cultural and educational center, provide visitors a place to pray and to learn about the active pre–World War II Jewish community that existed in Oświęcim. The synagogue was the first communal property in the country to be returned to the Jewish community under the 1997 law allowing for restitution of Jewish communal property.

The March of the Living
March of the Living
The March of the Living, is an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust...

 is an event held each year in April to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It takes place from Auschwitz to Birkenau and is attended by many people from Israel, Poland and other countries. The marchers honor Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as Israel Independence Day.

An annual festival of Jewish culture
Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków
The Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków is an annual cultural event organized since 1988 in the once Jewish district of Kazimierz by the Jewish Culture Festival Society headed by Janusz Makuch, a self-described meshugeneh, fascinated with all things Jewish...

 takes place in Kraków.

In 2006, Poland's Jewish population was estimated to be approximately 20,000; most living in Warsaw, Wrocław, Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

, and Bielsko-Biała
Bielsko-Biała
-Economy and Industry:Nowadays Bielsko-Biała is one of the best-developed parts of Poland. It was ranked 2nd best city for business in that country by Forbes. About 5% of people are unemployed . Bielsko-Biała is famous for its textile, machine-building, and especially automotive industry...

, though there are no census figures that would give an exact number. According to the Polish Moses Schorr Centre
Moses Schorr Centre
The Moses Schorr Centre or the Moses Schorr Adult Education Centre founded in Warsaw, Poland , is a project of Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. It was named after Professor Moses Schorr , an eminent Polish rabbi, historian, senator and social activist, best known for promoting educational principles...

 and other Polish sources, however, this may represent an undercount of the actual number of Jews living in Poland, since many are not religious. The Centre estimates that there are approximately 100,000 Jews in Poland, of which 30,000 to 40,000 have some sort of direct connection to the Jewish community, either religiously or culturally. There are also people with Jewish roots who do not possess adequate documentation to confirm it, due to various historical and family complications. A special program of introduction to Judaism is offered to them by a progressive Jewish Community Beit Kraków.

Poland is currently easing the way for Jews who left Poland during the Communist organized massive expulsion of 1968 to re-obtain their citizenship. Some 15,000 Polish Jews were deprived of their citizenship in the 1968 Polish political crisis. On June 17, 2009 the future Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw launched a bilingual Polish-English website called "The Virtual Shtetl", providing information about Jewish life in Poland.

See also

  • Timeline of Jewish Polish history
  • List of Polish Jews
  • Jewish history
    Jewish history
    Jewish history is the history of the Jews, their religion and culture, as it developed and interacted with other peoples, religions and cultures. Since Jewish history is over 4000 years long and includes hundreds of different populations, any treatment can only be provided in broad strokes...

  • Jewish ethnic divisions
    Jewish ethnic divisions
    Jewish ethnic divisions refers to a number of distinct communities within the world's ethnically Jewish population. Although considered one single self-identifying ethnicity, there are distinct ethnic divisions among Jews, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an...

  • Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
    Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
    The Museum of History of Polish Jews is a new museum under construction on the site of the Warsaw ghetto. The cornerstone was laid in 2007 and the museum is scheduled to open in 2012. The museum will feature multimedia exhibits on vibrant Jewish community that flourished in Poland for a thousand...

  • Three Hares
    Three hares
    The three hares is a circular motif appearing in sacred sites from the Middle and Far East to the churches of southwest England , and historical synagogues in Europe....

  • Wooden synagogue
  • Jewish-Ukrainian relations in Eastern Galicia
    Jewish-Ukrainian relations in Eastern Galicia
    Eastern Galicia formed the heartland of the medieval Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia and currently exists within the provinces of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil in modern western Ukraine. Along with Poles and Ukrainians, Jews were one of the three largest ethnic groups in Eastern Galicia with...


Further reading

  • Alvydas Nikžentaitis
    Alvydas Nikžentaitis
    Alvydas Nikžentaitis is a Lithuanian historian, senior research fellow of the Lithuanian Institute of History and president of Lithuanian National Historians Committee.-Biography:...

    , Stefan Schreiner, Darius Staliūnas (editors). The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews. Rodopi, 2004, ISBN 90-420-0850-4 Google print

Maps


History of Polish Jews


World War II and the Holocaust

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