For centuries Poland was known as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. Pogroms were frequent and Jews were tormented, killed and abused in most of the areas of Russian Poland and later by the Polish Republic.
In 1935 my wife’s grandfather, owner of several textile factories in Warsaw, learned of the death of his old mother in Dzialoszyce and he hurried to Warsaw’s train terminal in order to board a train to attend the funeral.
At the station he was jumped upon and beaten by young Polish thugs who cut off his long beard and payot (side curls)….beaten so badly that he was unable to board the train and was not able to attend his mother’s funeral in time. As a result of his terrible experience he sold six of his factories and gathered up all his remaining possessions and together with four of his five children he left Poland forever. The one daughter who chose to remain in the Praga district of Warsaw died in the Holocaust in Poland four years later.
Jews were discriminated everywhere in Poland and were denied entry into most of the Polish universities, Those which did allow Jews to enter were required to sit on back benches in the university classrooms.
While most Jews remained loyal to Poland and contributed largely to Polish culture, some thousands created a negative verse to be added to the Polish national anthem, Jescze Polska Nie Zginela Poki My Zyjemy (Poland’s Glory is Not Lost While Her Sons Remain Alive), a verse which they sang declaring that Poland’s glory was indeed lost while her sons remained alive. This negative verse was sung by thousands of the millions of Jewish faithful Poles.
For centuries, Jews living in Polish towns, villages and cities were badly treated, often victims of church-sponsored pogroms. Poland was among the largest Catholic religious population in most of the European nations. Their cry was bitter. “Zydzie do Palestina”.. Jews must go to Palestine. They are not wanted in Poland.
In spite of persecution and abuse, Jews contributed largely to Polish literature, history and culture. Many of Poland’s most renowned authors, artists, musicians and scholars were Jews, loyal to the culture of the Polish heartland.
During the Holocaust, large numbers of non-Jewish Poles did everything possible to aid their suffering Jewish neighbors. Poles were remarkable in their efforts to help Jewish fellow Poles.
There were some notable exceptions, in particular Kielce and Jedwabne. The latter was a Polish town in which, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, Poles followed the despicable acts of the Nazis. Gathering up some three hundred Jews in Jedwabne, Poles locked them up in a barn and set it on fire killing all the Jews inside.
Kielce was a major city with a large Jewish community. The Nazis deported most of the Jews to concentration or death camps and at the end of the war Jewish survivors returned to Kielce in search of their homes and property.
Supported by the local churches, Jews in search of their property were badly beaten by local Poles and were driven out of the city. At war’s end, most Jewish survivors were unable to regain their homes, land and property.
In my visit to Poland in 1967 I met with dozens of Polish Jews who were still bereft of their former homes. Jews who continued to search for lost property were badly beaten and were driven out of their former residences.
In a small Jewish cafe the owner gave me a copy of the Jewish newspaper Volkstimme/Glos Ludu which I carried visibly with me in my travels. On a train to Krakow a conductor saw me with the Yiddish newspaper and addressed me in Yiddish, surprised to see a young man reading the newspaper. He invited me to the cafe on board the train and over a cup of steaming tea he shared much information about the recent pogroms and attacks upon Jews on Polish streets.
Thousands of 1967 Jews were fleeing from Poland seeking shelter in Scandanavian countries, mainly in Sweden and Denmark. The Jewish community of Poland had diminished and most Jews never returned to their former homes. Seeking reparations for their homes and property was almost a lost and hopeless cause.
Today the Jewish population in the Polish republic numbers between 10 to 20 thousand Jews out of a total population of 39 million. Most Jews live quiet lives and do not generally mingle with other Poles.
Poland today remains a country of few Jews and Jewish life and culture is minimal. Some three million Jews were massacred during the 1939-1945 war and their numbers have not grown.
Poland is not the best place in the world for Jews to live and enjoy. Bad memories remain. A large Jewish population does not.
KIEDYS BYLA ZYDOWSKA POLSKA, DZIS JEST POLSKA PRAWIE ZADNYCH ZYDOW. Once there was a Jewish Poland. Today there is a Poland without many Jews.