Cardinal Hlond’s 193 “Jews as Freethinkers” Statement Revisited
Although only 76 years have passed, Poland’s Cardinal August Hlond is still attacked for his comments. Consider:
Review of Mendelsohn, Ezra. 1983. The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Insights on Jewish Political Life in Eastern Europe, Notably Poland. Jews as Freethinkers, etc.
Owing to the breadth of the topics covered by this work, my review is limited to the large chapter on Poland.
Mendelsohn tacitly supports Endek characterizations of the Litvaks (Litwaks): “…the modernizing Jewish population adopted Russian culture; virtually no Jews here knew Polish in the prewar period…” (p. 21)…”In the Lithuanian-Belorussian borderlands…The Jews were not culturally or politically identified with the Poles,…and had no reason to favor Polish rule.” (p. 52).
Although Dmowski and the Endeks are commonly faulted for often questioning Polonized Jews as Poles, Mendelsohn realizes that the type of Jew does not predict his loyalties [much less whether or not he identifies with Polish national goals]. The following stand-alone paragraph is a quote:
But it is certain that not all those who felt themselves ‘Poles of the Mosaic faith’ would have agreed to be termed assimilationists, just as it is certain that not all Jews who declared themselves to be Jews by nationality identified with the various doctrines of Jewish nationalism. Representatives of the large Hasidic population, for example, who rejected modern Jewish nationalism but who were certainly not assimilated, were doubtless found both among Jews by nationality and among Poles by nationality.” (End quote)(p. 29).
Poland regained her independence (1918). The Jews’ attempt to enshrine themselves as a separate nation on Polish soil, as manifested, for example, by the so-called Minorities Treaty, backfired. Mendelsohn comments: “The effort to force Jewish national autonomy down the Poles’ throats with the aid for foreign powers was seen as yet another example of their basically hostile attitude toward the Polish state.” (p. 36).
Although the author does not mention the Narutowicz assassination, he does recognize the fact that the national minorities’ bloc, the work of Yitzhak Gruenbaum, was a political overreach—even an assault on Poland that could effectively convert most Poles into Endeks. He quotes from Ignacy [Yitzhak] Scharzbart’s Yiddish-language memoir: “‘[Moreover] the nationalities’ bloc will call forth the frontal opposition of the entire Polish people and will alienate from us even the relatively friendly groups within the Polish people, especially the Polish Socialist Party.’” (p. 54).
Jewish separatism and particularism continued. As recently as 1931, upwards of 80% or more Jews, in many Polish cities and towns, gave Yiddish as their mother tongue. (p. 31).
The religious-Orthodox party, Agudes Yisroel reckoned Jews a religion and not a nationality. Its views on the Jewish role in Polish society largely coincided with that of most Poles. For a time, it won concessions from the Polish government, which reciprocated with support for Agudes Yisroel. (p. 55). Unfortunately, religious and non-religious issues are not always clear-cut, and the alliance broke down because of the shekhita laws. [These laws, though understandably perceived as an attack on the Jewish religion, were actually motivated by the goal of reducing the Jewish dominance of the meat industry.]
Predictably, Mendelsohn condemns Cardinal August Hlond’s 1936 Jews-as-freethinkers-and-vanguards-of-Bolshevism pronouncement. Yet he tacitly admits its factual basis, as, for example, manifested by at least one of the mainstream Jewish political parties: “The Bund, in contrast with Zionism, could appeal only to the secular, antireligious elements in Jewish life and to those who sympathized with its class approach to the Jewish question…its emphasis on the need to develop Yiddish secular culture in Poland won it a following among the Yiddishist Jewish intelligentsia.” (p. 61). Other ostensibly mainstream non-Communist Jewish movements were infected, to one degree or another, with Communism. For instance, Mendelsohn characterizes the Poale Zion left as “pro-Communist” (p. 59) and the Hashomer Hatzair [where Mordechai Anielewicz was member] as eventually assuming “a radical, left-wing, Marxist character.” (p. 59).
Mendelsohn provides figures on Jewish occupations in 1921. Interestingly, at 10% of the Poland’s population, Jews were 5.8% of Poland’s agricultural laborers, and less than 1% of Poland’s miners. (p. 26).
Although there were wealthy Jewish factory owners, the vast majority of Jewish businesses in Poland were small—the very ones that Polish peasants wanted to start in order to move out of their subsistence-agriculture poverty. The following stand-alone paragraph is a direct quote from Mendelsohn. Note that he does not mention the fact that, even after the Polish boycotts, and on the eve of WWII, Poland’s Jews still owned businesses at a rate that was multiples of their 10% share of Poland’s general population.
During the years 1932-1937 the Jewish economist Menakhem Linder carried out a study of the Jewish-owned shops in eleven towns in the Bialystok region…In 1932 there were 663 Jewish-owned shops in these towns, which constituted 92.0 percent of the total number of shops in these towns; by 1937 there were 563 Jewish-owned shops, which constituted 64.5 percent of the total number. The figures show that the crucial year in this decline was 1936-1937, the reason being the renewed boycott. The decline was nationwide, although it was particularly evident in the eastern borderlands, where Jewish domination of commerce was so pronounced. By 1938, according to one authority, the share of Jewish-owned enterprises in Polish commerce had sunk below 50 percent, and no end to the precipitous decline was in sight. (End quote). (p. 74).