Slowo Zydowskie, Volume 73, No. 21, 1994

Gabriele Simoncini, Henry Huttembach, Eds., “Ethnopolitics in Poland.”   Nationalities Papers.  Volume 22,  SI

No. 1, 1994.   

                Information is due to readers of S»owo òydowskie about the new special issue (“Ethnopolitics in Poland,” Supplement No. 1, 1994) of the journal Nationalities Papers, published by the Association for the Study of Nationalities of the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe. Most of the articles in this special issue directly address Jewish questions in Poland.
        A study by G. Simoncini presenting the complexity of nationality problems in interwar Poland precedes  the specific articles. The reader, especially one not familiar with these questions, can learn about the nationalities’ demographics, and also fundamental problems demanding solutions at that time. The author correctly reaches the conclusion that the Polish state was incapable of solving social and nationality problems, but he forgets to add that independence lasted hardly twenty years, a period too short to solve any serious questions.  This fact, however, certainly, does not justify several aspects of the Republic’s conduct toward the minorities.
        The following articles deal with specific questions, especially Jewish participation within the communist movement. The authors (J. Brun-Zeimis, G. Simoncini, J. S. Skurnowicz, R. Taras, J. Schatz) consider the following: the discussions within the communist movement on the national question (also on the relation to the Jews as a nation) in the years 1918-1923; the ethnic composition of CPP members; the Polish Jews’ participation in the USSR during the  years 1943-1945, in the formation of a new Polish national mythology; the Jewish activists’ influence on Gomulka’s defeat within the PWP in 1948; and, finally, the experiences of the former communist activists of Jewish origin who emigrated from Poland.
        These articles provide interesting details and sometimes stimulating hypotheses, but they are frequently  encumbered by lack of knowledge of questions overarching the specific topic of the articles. Even G. Simoncini, well-prepared in the modern history of Poland, writes that Grabski’s 1924 language laws were promulgated “to the satisfaction of the chauvinism of the Polish elites,” when in fact they met with strong protest. Stanis»aw Grabski, co-author of the laws, met problems within his own party because of them. 
        In other articles, we meet, among other facts, surprising information: that Jerzy Putrament was Jewish, and Joachim Lelewel a social democrat, and that Jews threatened the Polish state before 1939.  We find unexpected formulations especially in the introduction to the entire volume. We read about tensions and conflicts between “the host majority, and the long-resident minority.” These “hosts” are intended to be the Poles, and the “residents” (that is, those not having complete rights), the Jews. It would seem that the editor of a journal dedicated to nationality questions should realize the relativity of these concepts. Most of all, there is in this introduction the question of how many centuries must elapse for the “foreigner” to become a legally equal “co-host,” co-citizen. The question is particularly fundamental in the case of the Jews, whose settlement in the lands of the Polish state began at the time of its formation.
        In this same introduction we also find the suggestion that within the Polish communist movement, “the ethnic Poles” were inclined toward independence from Moscow, while a “Polish-Jewish vanguard” was pro-Moscow. Moreover, a similar thesis contradicts researchers mentioned in another article, the author of which tries to argue, in turn, that the PWP’s activists of Jewish origins were a sort of separate faction (next to the “National” and the “Muscovite”) cooperating to brig about Gomu»ka’s fall in 1948.
        One example of an author’s naiveté is a consideration of a case when communist Jews ostentatiously broke rules and regulations of Judaism (an example known from different memoirs is the eating of bread and ham on the village square on Yom Kippur) as an important element in understanding the position of communist Jews toward their own national tradition. These same Jews, however, did not have the courage to act against Catholic traditions.
        Nevertheless, for a young man who expressed contempt for religion or family tradition, the customs to which he conformed were fundamental. The Chasidik family’s offspring ate bread and ham on Yom Kippur, because that holiday had for him fundamental meaning and symbolic character. The Catholic family’s offspring did the same on Holy Friday and never thought this to be a rejection of religion on the day of a great Jewish holiday.   Extrapolating conclusions from these different cases means that the author does not fully perceive the atmosphere of the period about which he writes.
        In sum, I came away from this volume with rather mixed feelings.  I recognize the undertaking of the fundamental questions, the writing of selected specific questions; but I am also surprised that a very fragmented examination would lead to generalizations, and that the brief introduction repeats unfortunate stereotypes.

Jerzy Tomaszewski

University of Warsaw


[Translated from Polish]