Between the Millstones in Poland
The Jews of Poland are on the march. Thousands are stampeding in caravans and trucks across the mountain passes into Czechoslovakia, through Austria, and into the U. S. occupation zone in Bavaria. Others take the northern route and travel via underground railway to the area of Frankfort-on-the-Main. From the beginning of May to the end of July, the U. S. zone of occupation has become the refuge of some 40,000 Polish Jews, who today await the opening of Palestine or of some other refuge for permanent settlement. Minus passports or visas, and without any means of support, these Jewish nomads come with fear in their hearts, telling the story of the worst anti-Semitic terror in post-Hitler Europe.
An A.P. dispatch from Lodz, one of the largest Jewish centers in present-day Poland, and the point of departure for go per cent of the Jews who reach the U. S. zone, tells us that “if Poland’s western frontiers were thrown open tomorrow, all but half-a-dozen Jews would have left Polish soil in a single week.”
What is behind this mass flight? What has caused the persecution of the approximately 200,000 Jews, the 6 per cent remnant of the pre-war Jewish population, savagely highlighted in the recent shocking Kielce pogrom?
There are charges and counter-charges. The Soviet-dominated Polish Government blames the “reactionary-fascist” opposition in and outside of Poland, which embraces parties and groups from the extreme reactionaries concentrated around General Wladislas Anders, commander of Polish troops in Italy, and his friends of the former government-in-exile in London, to the numerically powerful Polish Peasant party, led by Stanislas Mikolajczyk, Vice-Premier of the Warsaw regime. Some opposition elements allege that the government is not taking proper measures for Jewish security and even hint that it is not averse to deflecting popular antagonism directed against it in Poland towards the Jews, as well as using anti-Semitism to smear the opposition before world opinion. Most observers point to the traditional and deep-rooted anti-Semitism of the Polish masses, intensified by the Nazi occupation.
Piecing together these and other factors, the picture emerges of the Polish Jewish remnant caught, as between millstones, between two mighty political and social forces which today clash head-on on Polish soil. The hostility and fight for supremacy between these two forces—often loosely and inaccurately described in current journalism as East and West—have brought the country to the brink of civil war. The Jews find themselves in their historic scapegoat role, but with cruel, new refinements. With their position more tragically hopeless each day, they see but one solution: flight.
Poland of today is unlike the Poland of seven years ago. Its geographical, political, and social physiognomy has altered most drastically. Its population has shrunk from thirty-five million to about twenty-three million; of these, two million are Germans yet to be evacuated. To the U.S.S.R., Poland lost 46 per cent of her pre-war territory, including all her provinces east of the Curzon line, parts of Galicia, with Lvov, its capital, as well as the Vilna region. On the other hand, by the bounty of the powers, her boundaries to the west have been shifted to the Oder and Neisse rivers, and now encompass a large half-moon of territory which amounts to about one-fifth of pre-war Germany, including the formerly German provinces of Pomerania, Brandenberg, and Silesia. She received besides a substantial portion of East Prussia, which is now being determinedly “de-Teutonized.” At Potsdam, the United States and Great Britain agreed to the Soviet proposal that Poland administer this territory. But the arrangement was not a permanent one, and there are indications of reluctance on the part of London and Washington to granting Poland such a large part of Germany.
While most Poles would favor the present western boundaries, some of them, particularly those who belong to the rightist groups, have not made peace with the prospect of losing the historical Polish eastern provinces ceded to the U.S.S.R. For this loss, even after the annexation of the German territories, means decreasing Poland to four-fifths of her former size. To Polish nationalists, this constitutes a grievously unjust annexation, all the harder to bear because, after all, they were victorious allies of the United Nations, not a vanquished enemy.
One major result of the change is that this newly constituted Poland contains only one minority—the Jews. (White Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Germans together made pre-war Poland a country in which a third of the population consisted of minorities.) History has demonstrated that the position of Jews is precarious in a country where they form a single minority facing a monolithic majority. It is more deeply precarious in Poland, where nationalist romanticism is combined with general backwardness and religious fanaticism among large portions of the population.
The social and economic upheaval in Poland also plays a role. While the regions ceded to the U.S.S.R. are primarily agricultural, the annexed German provinces are highly industrialized and second only in importance to the Ruhr. From a chiefly agricultural country, Poland is rapidly becoming an urbanized and industrial nation. Radical reforms instituted by the present government have contributed further to the change of Poland’s economic and population structure. All industrial establishments employing more than fifty persons have been nationalized, with the result that 1900,000 of Poland’s estimated 2,000,000 industrial workers are employed by the state. Big estates totaling more than three million acres, formerly belonging to some 10,000 families, have been parceled out to nearly 400,000 poor and landless peasants. Poland is thus undergoing a social revolution, which aims to combine planned economy with development of private initiative.
While these economic reforms were approved by all progressive elements, including the Jews, the resulting emergence of a large Polish middle class has for the Jews an immediate and unfavorable by-product. This rising middle class of small industrialists, shopkeepers, and factory administrators is determined to eliminate potential competition on the part of Jews, who previously constituted one-third of the urban population and were predominant in many middle-class fields.
It should also be remembered that a considerable portion of the property now held by many Poles was originally owned by Jews, who were despoiled by the Nazis, frequently with the aid of Poles. Numberless Jewish stores, workshops, houses, and factories are now in the hands of Poles who dread the possibility of surviving Jews returning from concentration camps and Soviet exile and reclaiming them. It is an everyday occurrence in the smaller towns of Poland for returning Jews to receive anonymous warnings to leave town—“or else!” A number of Jews who did not heed this warning lost their lives during the first year after liberation.
Neither the territorial nor the economic changes, however, are as important in the explosive situation of present-day Poland as the relentless political strife that is rending Poland asunder.
The present provisional Polish government, which was established in Moscow as a rival to the London government-in-exile, and in which Communists play a leading role, has engendered the hostility of a considerable part, perhaps even a majority, of the population. This hostility has various roots. Mingled with the traditional animosity to Russia, based on the bitter memories of I 50 years of Czarist rule, are the more recent experiences of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin treaty, the subsequent partition of Poland between Russia and Germany, and the tragic Warsaw insurrection in 1944 which cost the lives of 300,000 Poles and ended in the complete and wanton destruction of Poland’s capital by German fury. Controversy still rages in Poland as to whether the Red army deliberately slowed down its offensive at the gates of Warsaw in order to bring about the failure of the Warsaw revolt, or whether this halt was a strategic necessity. Occupation of Poland by the Red army, which has been living off the land, the operation of Soviet N.K.V.D. (secret police) units on Polish territory, and the presence of Soviet officers and technicians in the Polish army, which was organized on Soviet territory, are additional causes of deep resentment.
This diffused hostility is expressed primarily through underground channels, since only six parties are permitted legal existence. Four of these belong to the left-wing block which is the mainstay of the government: PPR (Communists); PPS (Socialists); SL (a small government-sponsored peasant group); and SD (Democratic party—a group of leftist intellectuals). Boleslaw Bierut, the president of the National Council, is a Communist who lived for some years in Soviet Russia. The two undersecretaries of foreign affairs and other leading officials in the administration are also Communists. Prime Minister Eduard B. Osubka-Morawski is a Socialist. The two parties forming the legal opposition group are the PSL (Polish Peasant party) led by Mikolajczyk and the unimportant SP (Workers party), which has recently been dissolved. While observers estimate that in a free election Mikolajczyk’s party would receive a majority of the votes, his party is represented in the National Council by only 51 of 432 members.
The opposition claims that the government rules by the terror of the security police, rigorous censorship of the press, the intimidation of all dissident elements, and the omission to date of free elections. Mikolajczyk denies the charge of being anti-Russian, stating that he is in favor of friendly relations with Poland’s eastern neighbor, but is against alienating the Western democracies. It is no secret that he enjoys the sympathies of London and Washington.
Undoubtedly, since Mikolajczyk is the only vocal force opposed to the government, he has attracted among his supporters elements which are much to the right of him, and which support the terrorist bands now operating in villages and forests against government officials and Red army units, and organizing assaults against the Jewish population. It is these elements that spread the major myth of present-day Poland, that the country is ruled by Jewish Communists.
The fact is, of course, that Jews are numerically few in the present government. However, some Jews hold key positions, and are thus convenient targets. Hilary Minc, Minister of Industry and Commerce and chairman of the National Economic Council of the cabinet, is the only Jew with full cabinet rank. Jacob Berman, another Communist and alleged diplomatic brain of the present government, is Undersecretary of State. Leo Chajn, of the Democratic party, is Undersecretary of Justice; Dr. Ludvig Grosfeld, former Minister of Finance in Mikolajczyk’s cabinet in London and a member of the Polish Socialist party, is Undersecretary of Foreign Trade. A number of Jews occupy high posts in the security police and a few are in the diplomatic service. These Jews act, of course, as individuals and most, if not all of them, do not identify themselves with the Jewish community. As a matter of fact, some of the more prominent Jewish Communists in the government, like Hilary Minc, are extreme assimilationists, and are quite indifferent to the future of the Jewish community.
In Poland, with its traditional exclusion of Jews from public office, the mere fact that Jews occupy high government posts is startling. Accordingly, it becomes easy to call the pro-Soviet government Jewish, and all Jews Russian Communists.
The pogrom in Kielce on July 4 lit up as by a lightning flash the dark, turbulent scene. Before the war, Kielce had a population of about 30,000 Jews. A year after liberation, the Jewish community numbered about 250, including some recently returned from the U.S.S.R. Most of the surviving Jews lived in an old three-story house at 7 Planty Street, in the heart of the 17th-century ghetto. This building contained a public kitchen and the local community office, and housed about thirty young boys and girls who were members of a kibbutz, working in factories and workshops while preparing themselves to go to Palestine.
The place and date are important to remember. Kielce is 120 miles south of Warsaw. A small city with tanneries, glassworks, and stone quarries, it is surrounded by low hills, whose forests afford cover to underground bands. The growing political tension in that region reached its climax during the referendum campaign. The government received a small majority which was disputed by the opposition elements. The pogrom occurred four days after the referendum The flame was ignited by the ancient myth—the ritual murder charge. A nine-year-old Christian boy named Henryk Blaszczyk, the son of a local laborer, “disappeared from home.” After an absence of three days, he came back and said that he “had been kidnapped by Jews, kept in a cellar where he saw about fifteen other Christian children already murdered.” Rumors began to circulate that “something is going to happen to the Jews tomorrow.” The next day, father and son went to the police station, where the boy said that he was held prisoner at the house of the Jewish community. In a short while a crowd of 5,000 began to gather. It surrounded the Jewish communal building and began beating and murdering the Jews.
The pogrom lasted for seven hours, and forty-one Jews, including the head of the local Jewish community, Dr. Severyn Kahane, lost their lives. The Vice-Governor, when asked why he had not ordered the soldiers to fire when he saw Jews being killed, replied that had he done so, “hundreds would have been shot and this might have made the position of the Jews even more critical, for with anti-Semitism rampant, pogroms might have been organized in other places.” The government’s actions, and the subsequent trial of nine of the ringleaders of the pogrom who were sentenced to death and executed, were accompanied by a controversy involving the government, the opposition, and the Church.
The government claims that the pogrom was instigated by the secret NSZ (National Armed Forces), which is accused of being the armed agent of the Polish reactionary forces abroad and is said to number about 30,000. This organization, government supporters assert, gets instructions, funds, and arms from abroad through underground channels and through parachutists landing in obscure comers of the land under cover of darkness. Such activities are not inconceivable for the followers of ONRA, the fascist .wing of the Endek party, which in pre-war Poland organized attacks on Jewish students at universities and pogroms in a number of cities, in addition to disseminating vicious anti-Jewish propaganda. Names are given of Polish military men abroad of the pro-Pilsudski colonel type that ruled Poland up to 1939, and who are now alleged to be pulling wires leading from various Western capitals to the terrorist bands in Poland. Final proof, however, is still lacking.
Mikolajczyk was directly charged by the government with responsibility for the pogroms on the ground that many reactionaries and anti-Semites are among the ranks of his followers. He replied with the charge that the government authorities in Kielce were criminally negligent. He asked why it took seven hours before the local militia took drastic steps to disperse the mob.
The facts are that not only were several members of the militia among the leaders of the pogrom, but that leading city officials undoubtedly failed to discharge their responsibilities. This is evidenced by the arrests of the commander of the militia, the local commander of the security police, his assistant, and the commander of the militia commissariat, for “failing to act energetically in subduing riots.” The government’s explanation is that some elements of the militia are opposed to the present regime.
As to the Church, it is a fact that at best it is indifferent to the recurrent attacks on Jews. A pastoral letter, sent by the Polish bishops and read in all churches before the referendum, speaks of “violence and crime” and appeals for their cessation, but omits any reference to the Jews murdered by the Polish nationalists. August Cardinal Hlond, Catholic Primate of Poland, after deploring the Kielce pogroms, said, “The fact that this condition [of the Jews] is deteriorating is to a great degree due to Jews who today occupy leading positions in the Polish government and endeavor to introduce a governmental structure which the majority of the people do not desire.” However, ten years ago, when Jewish influence in the Polish government was non-existent, the same Cardinal Hlond found other reasons for publicly condoning anti-Semitism. In a pastoral letter of 1936, he said, “A Jewish question exists and there will be one so long as Jews remain Jews. It is an actual fact that the Jews fight against the Catholic Church, they are free-thinkers and constitute the vanguard of atheism, bolshevism, and revolution. . . . One does well to prefer his own kind in commercial dealings, to avoid Jewish stores and Jewish stalls in the market.” Noteworthy also is the fact that the Bishop of Kielce has declined to denounce the pogrom.
Many observers feel that had the Church taken a stand against the terrorists, the wave of anti-Jewish attacks would have ceased.
The pogrom in Kielce has aroused world opinion because it was the largest massacre of Jews in the post-Nazi era. But other attacks against the Jews took place in other localities at the same time, and immediately before these outbreaks, Polish Jewry suffered the loss of twenty-nine-year-old Felix Naiman, leader of the Bund, the Jewish Socialist party, who was killed in broad daylight in Lodz.
That the present government is opposed to anti-Semitism and discrimination is admitted by all. The Polish Committee of National Liberation, the forerunner of the present government, in its manifesto issued on July 22, 1944, pledged “democratic freedom and equality to all citizens regardless of race, creed and national origin.” The manifesto declared, “the Jews whom the invaders have spared from brutal extermination will be assured normal conditions of existence as well as full legal and actual equality.” The National Committee included among its members the Zionist leader and former deputy of the Polish parliament, Dr. Emil Sommerstein, and Dr. Boleslaw Drobner. The Central Committee of Polish Jews, in a special declaration to the surviving Jewish population, declared, “The first democratic government of Poland is now building a new, just and people’s Poland, assuring full, actual equality for us”; and all Jewish parties individually appealed to the Jewish population to unite around the Polish provisional government.
There is nothing surprising in the fact that all Jewish groups, the vast majority of whose membership is non-Communist, lend their support to the present government, which not only promises equality, but is the first Polish regime that does not practice discrimination. Before the recent referendum—on the questions of a unicameral parliament, agrarian and industrial reforms, and the western frontier—all Jewish groups appealed to the Jewish population to vote “yes” as asked by the government leaders.
At the same time, some observers are inclined to question whether the present government, despite its own espousal of equality, is doing everything possible and necessary to curb the wave of anti-Semitism flooding the country.
Surely it knows the problem. Poland stood first among all countries in its virulent anti-Semitism before Hitler and only second after Hider; and even the anemic Polish liberalism was not free of anti-Semitism. As early as 1912, a theory was created of a so-called “progressive anti-Semitic force” and some prominent liberal leaders supported the economic boycott against the Jews. Between the two world wars, although large sections of the working class and peasantry were not anti-Semitic, the Polish Socialists were not energetic in combatting the anti-Semitic agitation of the rightist parties, seeking to avoid this unpleasant subject. During the years of Nazi occupation, collaboration with the Nazis in the liquidation of Jewish life and property was a frequent phenomenon and even during the heroic struggle of the Jews in the ghetto of Warsaw, there was not one Polish group that actively helped the ghetto fighters.
In short, Poland is a country where anti-Semitism grows from the “grass roots.” Therefore, it is clear that it devolves upon the government to move against it through active counter-measures and special vigilance by its police and army, through broad-scale re-education of a population steeped in anti-Semitic beliefs, and by all other means available.
The fact that the fight against anti-Semitism does not even today constitute a major part of governmental activities leaves it open to the imputation it prefers to “go easy” in order not to bolster the charge that it is a Jewish government, and thus further prejudice and incite the populace against it.
The irony of the accusation that Polish Jewry is Communist is that the bulk of the Jews now in Poland came back from the U.S.S.R. after six years of exile. About 150,000 Jews who fled the Nazi invasion returned from central Russia and Siberia with the desire to build a new life in Poland. Several reasons were behind their decision. First, they were drawn back by hope of finding surviving relatives. The economic misery in the distant regions of the U.S.S.R. was another reason, as was the lack of any organized religious and cultural Jewish life along traditional Polish-Jewish lines, as well as the absence of their customary ways of livelihood. Whatever the motive, the fact that more than go per cent of Polish Jews declined the opportunity to remain in the U.S.S.R. certainly hardly justifies their persecution on the grounds of unusual attachment to Soviet Russia.
The present mass flight in the wake of pogroms comes after a year in which the remnant of Polish Jewry had struggled with great courage to rebuild amid the ruins, a year which saw green shoots of a new life thrusting themselves up amid the rubble.
There is little need to remind ourselves of the cataclysm that befell Polish Jewry, before the war the largest Jewish enclave in Europe and the most vigorous, culturally and spiritually. Nor is there need to recall what they found when they returned to a devastated land—this pitiful remnant of less than 200,000 of a Jewry that once numbered more than 3,300,000.
Warsaw had been the largest Jewish community in Europe, with a population of about 400,000. Many of Warsaw’s blocks, alleys, and deep courtyards were crowded with Jewish businesses, hundreds of shtiblach (Hasidic prayer-houses) where prayer and meditation went on day and night, religious schools, Yiddish newspapers, Yiddish and Hebrew grammar and high schools, labor organizations, political parties of all varieties. It was a city of wonder-rabbis and revolutionary leaders, manufacturers and peddlers, scholars and writers.
Warsaw, as the returning Jews had known it, had almost completely disappeared. A wellknown French observer, Emanuel Mounier—not a Jew—reports in his magazine Esprit: “In the ghetto the spectacle of total chaos assumes the appearance of serene and eternal nudity. There is not even a shadow of a wall panel; not a trace of a foundation on the ground: a flat wasteland of hard and broken stones. The Germans have destroyed, then burned, then overturned the soil on the charred remains. Nowhere is the passion of nihilism demonstrated more than in this Jerusalem where there are no men to cry nor a single wall to receive their tears.”
Under its ruins still lies buried a monumental collection of monographs and documents relating to Jewish life in the ghettos, collected by a group of able Jewish historians under the leadership of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum. They were all killed by the Nazis.
And yet there came signs of a newly emerging life even around Warsaw. We heard about celebration of the Passover Seder in Praga, a suburb where most of Warsaw’s Jews now live. As no large communal Jewish hall was available, a private home was used, its walls decorated with pictures of the leaders of the Polish government and Theodor Herzl. Most of the celebrants were Jewish officers and soldiers, many of whom still used their assumed Christian names. A Soviet airman was among the guests. As for the origin of the materials for the Seder: the matzoth came from New York; wine made from raisins was supplied by the Jews of London; and the hagadoth were sent by the Mizrachi of Chicago. The Seder was conducted by a cantor who between the cups of wine sang of the “Jewish spirit that lives forever,” with his tattooed camp number plainly visible on his left arm. In the middle of the celebration, two stones were hurled through the window by some hooligans in the street. But “no one was hurt by the broken glass, and those present ignored the episode.”
Lodz had been next to Warsaw the largest Jewish community, with a population of 200,0000. It was called the “Manchester of Poland” because of its textile industry, which was partly owned by Jews and which employed large numbers of Jewish workers. It was a city of lively Jewish commerce, industry, unions, literature, and art. Lodz remained almost undamaged, because Hitler annexed it to the Third Reich, calling it Litzmannstadt.
Numbering about 20,000, its Jewish community is the main transition point for repatriates on their way from the U.S.S.R. to Silesia and for those heading for the United States zone in Germany. One Yiddish weekly, Dos Naje Leben (“The New Life”), official publication of the Jewish Central Committee, is published there. The story of how it came to be produced is worth telling, for it is typical of other efforts. The Nazis destroyed about 2,00 Jewish printing establishments in Poland; 8,000 Jewish typesetters were exterminated. The one German printing establishment in Lodz had some Hebrew letters which were used by the Nazis to print anti-Jewish decrees; these were then posted on the walls of the ghetto buildings. When the Nazis finally liquidated the ghetto they scattered the Hebrew type. After liberation, a Jewish typesetter, Margolis, who had been the leader of the ghetto revolt in Bialystok, gathered together the few scattered Hebrew letters, and with a few other surviving Jewish compositors established the first Jewish printing house in liberated Poland. Their first job was to print a call to the Jews of Poland for vocational retraining. The available type, however, was sufficient for only one page of a tabloid-size newspaper. To print an eight-page weekly, the process is repeated eight times—it takes eight days to prepare this small weekly. Nevertheless, it appears regularly. As one reads it, one finds in its editorials, news items, stories, and poems, the reflections of stirring Jewish life.
In Lodz, the Jewish community succeeded in setting up two schools, in which four hundred children receive both a general and Jewish education. Most of these children were recently repatriated from Soviet Russia. Others came from the concentration camps and the woods, and a small number were transferred from the “Aryan” side where they had been hidden by Poles. They sat together on the improvised school benches and learned as did Jewish children in previous generations that “in the beginning God created heaven and earth,” and sang the poems of modern Yiddish and Hebrew poets, taught to them by teachers still wearing soldiers’ boots.
They built a Yiddish theatre in Lodz called Shiraim—“Remnants.” There, a few surviving actors played for audiences numbering more than 2,500, with the main attractions classical Jewish comedies. Yes, laughter and applause shook the audience, one observer reports.
Tarnow, a town in western Galicia, was another landmark in Poland before the deluge. Reuben Iceland, a poet who lived there decades ago, wrote an epic poem describing the life of the town—its commerce which fed forty surrounding localities, its pious women, and its striving youth. Tarnow had a Jewish population of 30,000 which was reduced to 650. Tarnow too has its Jewish cooperative, club, improvised synagogue—and its anti-Semitic terror.
Desolaton is even greater in the small towns, in some of which not a solitary Jew remains. Before the war there were about a hundred small towns in the vicinity of Warsaw, all with substantial Jewish communities. Tens of thousands of Jews lived, worked, and perpetuated Jewish culture. A recent visitor, who knows the Warsaw region well, reports in the London Jewish Chronicle that he traveled considerable distances without seeing any Jews or hearing Yiddish spoken:
“Everybody who has been in Poland will remember the way the towns were planned, with their square market places and their rows of houses behind.
“The Jews used to occupy the houses in the squares, while the non-Jews lived in the houses behind. The shops in the squares were Jewish, as were the tiny workshops in the backyards. Morning and evening, Jews, clad in traditional garb, could be seen hurrying to and from the synagogue, the most imposing Jewish building in the town.
“Not one trace of all this was I able to find in any of the many towns I visited. The houses in the market places that survived the war are tenanted by non-Jews, as are the shops and workshops. As for the synagogues, they are either empty or are being used for storage. In some towns they are being taken apart brick by brick, the bricks being used by farmers to build stables and barns.
“In Ger, only a handful of Jews are to found today. And not one of them wears a beard. The building that once housed the famous Yeshiva is empty, and the rabbis home and offices look desolate. Not a vestige of their former glory remains. The few Jews who are there seem to be beset by constant anxiety. . . . Like the handful of Jews one meets in some of the other small towns, they are counting the days until they can leave to seek refuge and a happier life elsewhere. . . . Some I met were, like myself, only visitors, come to settle some business affair and get away as quickly as possible, as they were all fearful of staying the night.”
Economically, the surviving Jews emerged after six years of Nazi occupation completely impoverished. Some of them found employment in government factories; others organized producers’ cooperatives. But most of them were compelled to eke out a livelihood by selling in the marketplace such oddments as they could—bits of clothing, battered furniture, fragments of food or machinery or material. A few were engaged as administrators in the nationalized industrial establishments, and several hundred practiced medicine, dentistry, and other professions.
Polish Jews have been unable to take care of even a minimum of their social needs, which are tremendous. There are the 5,000 surviving Jewish children of the country to care for, most of whom are orphans needing both physical and mental rehabilitation. There is the problem of immediate aid to the repatriates from the U.S.S.R., and of assisting them in their resettlement in Silesia. There is the problem of maintaining the large network of social and cultural institutions, including many kibbutzim where about I 5,000 boys and girls are being trained in various trades with the hope of going to Palestine. Most of the funds for these purposes have been provided by the Joint Distribution Committee and the Polish government, which has been supplying the Jewish Central Committee with substantial subsidies to be used for social work and rehabilitation.
The Central Committee, in whose hands rests the leadership of the Jews of Poland, is located in Warsaw, with local and regional branches in various places throughout the country. This committee consists of a coalition of all Jewish political parties—the Jewish section of the Workers party, the various wings of the Zionist movement, Bundists, and democrats. The ideological differences between these groups have not been obliterated by their unprecedented experiences, but they have been tempered. While the Communists and Bundists are still unwilling to base Jewish policy on emigration, and Zionists see a bright future only in Palestine, both sides tend to unite on the immediate issues of first aid, of support of the present regime, and the demand for the opening of the gates of Palestine and for some form of independent Jewish existence there.
Jewish geography in Poland has completely changed. Lodz, with 20,000 Jews, is the only city of pre-war Poland which is a major center today. Next to it is Stettin, a former German city which now has 18,000 Polish Jews and which may possibly be realloted to Germany in the future permanent treaty arrangements. Cities in Silesia that have become prominent Jewish centers are Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) with 15,000 Jews; Rychbach (formerly Reichenau), with 11,000 Jews; and Walbrzech (formerly Waldenberg).
During the past few months, no fewer than 70,000 Jews have arrived in Silesia, most of them from the U.S.S.R. Silesia is rich in mineral resources and equipped with the most modern industrial plants.
Altogether, there are in Polish Lower Silesia thirty-five Jewish communities. A year ago few if any Jews lived here, unless in the labor camps. A sign of the newly-emerging life in Silesia is the recent opening of several Hebrew and Yiddish schools. About 700 Jews work in the coal mines. Others are active as weavers in a state-owned textile factory. Many other Jews are engaged in a number of workshops organized and developed by themselves on a cooperative basis. In Rychbach there are ten different Jewish cooperatives comprising tailors, butchers, shoemakers, metal workers, cabinet makers, transport workers, and others. Not far away, there is a prosperous Jewish farmers’ cooperative. Altogether, there are in Lower Silesia about eighty-five Jewish farms, covering well over 4,000 acres of land granted to them by the government. Of the 8,000 Jews classified in recent months, 4,500 were engaged in industry and the rest in farming, administrative work, and the free professions.
It has been felt that many Jews could build new homes in this region with profit to themselves and to the country, given adequate security and the abatement of anti-Semitism.
But today over most of Poland there is no long talk of a new life—the talk is of exodus. Hope of “the road back” is dying—Polish Jewry looks for the road out.
Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, adviser on Jewish affairs to the U. S. Theater Commander in Germany, General Joseph T. McNarney, states in his latest report that 100,000 Jews will flee Poland in a year—60,000 within the next three months—to escape “daily robbing, beating, and killing.”
Where they can go is another problem. But so long as the general situation in the country is one of latent upheaval, there can be no thought of any stable life in Poland for the majority of its surviving Jews.
No matter how reluctant one may be to believe that one must write finis to the thousand-year history of the Jewish people of Poland—a history signalized by the emergence of new patterns of Jewish communal and religious life, the rise of Hasidism and of a powerful Jewish labor movement, and the development of modern cultural trends—the end of a significant Jewish community in Poland seems today an immediate possibility.