American and British Investigations of the anti-Jewish Pogroms in Poland, 1918-1920

Review of The Jews in Poland: Official Reports of the American and British Investigation Missions. 1920. The National Polish Committee of America, Chicago. Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis

American and British Investigations of the anti-Jewish Pogroms in Poland, 1918-1920

I focus on Samuel and Wright. For more, see the the Peczkis reviews of All in a life-time, and Poland and the Minority Races (Eastern Europe Collection Series).

Western press accounts spoke of thousands of Jews killed in Polish pogroms. (The Situation, p. 57). (90% of these turned out to be unfounded: ibid, p. 56). Vicious Polonophobic screeds were circulated. (reprint, p. 49). The actual death toll, a few hundred, was equated with the Turkish massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. (Letter, p. 53). Kempczynski criticized what is essentially Jewish-suffering-is-special thinking, citing the ongoing hostilities between many different peoples against each other: “Yet none of these nations has raised the cry: `pogrom.’ Bloodshed, licentiousness, robbery is a natural outcome of war.” (p. 54).

This isn’t just old stuff: The perceptive reader can find many modern incarnations of all the foregoing. Poland is tacitly blamed for the Holocaust (e. g., Insinuations about why the Nazis built the death camps on Polish soil, references to “Polish” death camps, etc.) The several hundred Jews killed in post-WWII Poland is inflated into the thousands, and compared with the Nazis’ murder of 5-6 million Jews (e. g. “mini-Holocaust”, “The Holocaust after the Holocaust.”). The Jewish-suffering-is-special slant is manifested by promotion of the Holocaust over all of the many other 20th-century genocides, as well as the selective obsession about Poles acquiring post-Jewish properties (Jan T. Gross), even though countless millions of non-Jews also lost their properties during (and after) WWII.

Sir H. Rumbold, British Minister to Poland, soundly rejected the claim that Polish anti-Semitism was exceptional or severe: “It is giving the Jews very little real assistance to single out, as is sometimes done, for reprobation and protest, the country where they have perhaps suffered least.” (p. 21).

Jews shot at Polish troops on behalf of the invading Soviets (Sir Stuart Samuel, p. 29), and, contrary to Jewish denials, local Jewish garrisons did fight for the Bolsheviks at such places as Vilna and Lida. (Captain Wright, p. 46). Jews avoided military service in the Polish Army, and this was reckoned a cause, not consequence, of the Army’s anti-Semitism. (ibid, p. 42).

Polish pogroms of Jews were not based on religious intolerance. (The Situation, p. 58). Instead, just as Jews often vilified Poland collectively for the actions of some Poles, so also Poles sometimes attacked Jews collectively for the actions of some Jews. The Polish-Army-directed shootings and lootings of Jews in such places as Pinsk, Lida, and Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) were collective retaliations for Jews shooting at Poles, supporting the Communists, etc., and those at Lemberg (Lwow, Lviv) were for Jews failing to support the Poles against the Ukrainian separatists. (Samuel, pp. 26-30; Wright, pp. 47). Since many of the “Polish” Jews were actually Russian Jews (Litwaks, or Litvaks), and delivering their allegiance to Russia, this provoked fear in the surrounded Polish troops, prompting them to attack. (Samuel, p. 24; Wright, p. 41, 46; The Situation, pp. 59-60).

Samuel (p. 29) suggests that Polish-Bolshevik cooperation didn’t provoke the same resentment among Poles as did Jewish-Bolshevik cooperation. (If so, one must remember that Jews, a foreign people having no nation of their own, were living and prospering in Poland as a favor of the Polish authorities. Consequently, their disloyalty to Poland, especially when in obviously-disproportionate numbers, was seen in a harsher light.)

Now consider also the Germans: “But Jews in Poland have not only become Polonized, they have been Russified and Germanized. So that the Jews appear to the Poles as the representatives of their own oppressors…The Jews, and especially those to whom it was so profitable, naturally welcomed the arrival of the Germans, and at the Armistice there were Jewish demonstrations in favour of the Germans and against the `Polish Goose’, as they termed the newly-arisen Polish White Eagle.” (Wright, p. 39, 42).

What about the Jews-are-crooks belief of many Poles? In a speech before the Judeans and reprinted in the December 14, 1919 issue of the NEW YORK TIMES, Morgenthau said: “The evil consists in allowing the Jews in a town to follow one or two pursuits. Where there are 5,000, perhaps 1,000 of them could make an honest living, but 5,000 must cheat each other or starve.” (p. 50). Wright, alluding to Jewish poverty, commented: “Furthermore, they are also driven into all sorts of illicit and fraudulent practices, and I think the Poles are right when they complain that too large a proportion of convictions for such offenses are Jewish.” (p. 48).

Whence the origin of the blood libel? Far from being systematically persecuted, Jews, unlike other European religious minorities, never had to modernize. (Wright, p. 38). So conventional Polish Chassidism had, until very recently, been so Oriental and backwardly medieval that Poles had found it incomprehensibly mysterious, and therefore potentially malevolent. (Wright, pp. 34-35).

However, once it began to occur, the modernization and assimilation of Jews did not itself make Jews into Poles. The heretofore-apolitical Jews demanded essentially separate-nation status, and, as in Zionism, eventually their own homeland. (Wright, pp. 39-41). They flexed their newfound political muscle in the 1912 Duma elections, electing Jagiello, a Polish-independence-repudiating Pole. (Samuel, p. 32). Polish patriots (Dmowski and the Endeks, or Endecks) retaliated by launching boycotts of Jews.

Jewish political separatism created an ironic counterpart to the Dreyfus affair: “For example, Dreyfus was an officer who said he was as French as any Frenchman (it was his opponents who denied he ever could be.) At present the Polish government says it will admit Jews as field officers if they will sign a declaration that they are of Polish nationality. This they refuse to do.” (Wright, p. 38).

The centuries-old religiously-motivated high literacy rate among Jews, ironically, later facilitated the popularity of freethought and Communism among Jews: “When the Jew is Europeanized he transfers the allegiance he had to Torah and Talmud over to educational text books and becomes the fanatic of education…Thirdly, why the Jews play so large a part in Bolshevism. Bolshevism requires a vast administration and propaganda, which in turn require that men shall at least be able to read and write.” (Wright, pp. 39-40).

By piotrbein