Tom Sawicki

Depressing Numbers

The Jewish world has not recovered yet to its pre-Holocaust numbers

People love numbers. October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza have produced, and indeed continue to produce, horrific numbers. Major news outlets need numbers to bolster their alleged impartiality. Politicians use numbers to bolster their alleged command of the facts. With all this in mind, I recently came across the numbers that drove home, at least for me, how fragile is our Jewish existence. These numbers are in a book which offers an interesting, and painful, window to the world that no longer exists. It is the 1937 edition of Almanach Zydowski (that’s Polish for the Jewish Almanac) – a yearbook of the Jewish community in Lwów (pronounced L’vouv) – that’s Lviv, in Ukraine today.

The book came to me from my cousin Alex Redner, the son of my mother’s oldest sister Bronia – all Holocaust survivors no longer with us. Among its 708 pages filled with the accomplishments of Lwów Jews before World War Two, there is one page – page 176 – that I find the most disturbing. It contains the “Statistics of the Jewish People in All the Countries Around the Globe.” (All translations from Polish are mine.)

It is there that you find the numbers of Jews in Europe, Africa, America (North & South), Asia and Australia, with the latter also including New Zealand and Hawaii. All in all, according to the 1937 Almanach Zydowski, there were16,371,300 Jews in the world. In Europe, home to most Jews before the Holocaust, there were 9,735,800 Jews. Today, there are 1,305,100 Jews in Europe, according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (1.4 million, according to the Wikipedia).

Europe’s countries with the most Jews were Poland, with 3,150,000 Jews; Russia (I find it telling that the yearbook’s editors did not call it the Soviet Union), with 2,710,000 Jews (plus another 240,000 in Russia’s Asian Republics); and Romania, with 1,050,000 Jews. Today, there are 4,500 Jews in Poland, 145,000 in Russia, and another 40,000 in the Ukraine, and 8,700 in Romania. In Germany before the Holocaust there were 400,000 Jews; today, very much bolstered by Jews from Israel and the former Soviet Union, there are 118,000 Jews. In Great Britain before World War Two there lived 340,000 Jews (330,000 today) and 230,000 in France (550,000 today, bolstered primarily by the Jewish refugees from North Africa).

The numbers in Africa and Asia for 1937 are also very telling. There are 64,000 Jews living in Egypt (100 today); some 119,500 Jews in French Morocco (2,150 today); 98,000 Jews in Algeria (50 today); 65,000 Jews in Tunisia (150 today); 80,000 Jews in Ethiopia, which is listed as Abyssinia (12,000 today); in Iran, listed as Persia, there are 55,000 Jews (8,900 today); and in Iraq there are 90,000 Jews (10 today). There is one number among those in Asia, however, which by today is very encouraging: The Jewish Almanac lists 395,000 Jews living in British controlled Palestine in 1937; there are some 7.2 million Jews living in Israel today.

The 1937 numbers for the United States and Canada are 4,400,000 and 160,000, respectively. Today these numbers stand at 6.7 million and 405,000.

The 1937 Jewish Almanac lists all the existing countries at the time. A number of those countries no longer exist or have been absorbed into the neighboring countries. Some are the protectorates of the World War One allies. And in fact, most of the countries in Africa are listed as British, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Belgian colonies. (The enclosed picture lists all the other countries not mentioned here.)

The book gives us one final number: There are 16,371,300 Jews in the 1937 world. Today, according to Wikipedia, the Jewish Agency, and Sergio DellaPergola (the Hebrew University demographer and statistician), there are 15.3 million Jews in the world. Seventy-eight years after the Holocaust the Jewish population has yet to recover to its pre-World War Two numbers.

About the Author
Tom Sawicki retired from AIPAC's Israel Office at the end of 2020 where he was its director of Programming.