Abstracts & videos

Polscy Żydzi obserwują wjeżdżające do Parczewa wojska niemieckie, fotografia z kolekcji G. Russa, depozyt Stowarzyszenia Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich
Polscy Żydzi obserwują wjeżdżające do Parczewa wojska niemieckie, fotografia z kolekcji G. Russa, depozyt Stowarzyszenia Żydowski Instytut Historyczny w Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN

Roundtable I

Christhardt Henschel, Stpehan Stach, Darius Staliūnas, Andrei Zamoiski (chair: Maciej Zakrocki)

Polish Independence, Jewish Questions and the Neighbors

  • The end of the First World War marks also, or perhaps above all, the emergence of a new world order and drawing a new map of Europe, with the decline of old empires and new countries being born, including those that had never existed before! Poland reappeared on this map, too, although the final shape of its borders would be confirmed several years after the symbolic date of November 11, 1918. The slogan "the right of nations to self-determination" by President Woodrow Wilson and .... Vladimir Lenin had a huge impact on this process.

    But  what did it mean for millions of European Jews? Was this “right” also applicable to them? If so, to what extent? The emergence of many new states raised important questions on the scope of the rights of national minorities, on religious and cultural freedom, and on the true meaning of “nationality” and “citizenship”.

    In the case of Jews, some pointed to the necessity of their own debate in the context of "self-determination" with "self-definition", and then loyalty to the new state in which they "happened" to reside. And the term "happen to reside" did not carry a negative connotation: the shape of new states’ borders was decided by the leaders of the great powers, by the outcome of armed conflicts, or by an uprising or a plebiscite. How did the Jews living within its borders being delineated at the time perceive the new Republic of Poland? Did they consider the solutions adopted by the newly independent state as interesting, important and  worth imitating, or on the contrary - did they prefer to stay out of Poland, hoping that whatever the autonomy of Ukraine or Lithuania had to offer was better than the ideas propagated in Poland.

    A discussion panel that opens the November Hopes conference will allow us to place the question of Polish independence and the problems it triggered for the Polish-Jewish community in a broader, international context - the neighbourly one as well as the one of great politics being born in the new Central-Eastern Europe.


Session I: Hopes

Natalia Aleksiun

Jews in Galicia Imagine Independent Poland

  • Paper will present cultural history approach, presenting how Galician Jews, socialized in the unique conditions of Polish autonomy in the framework of Habsburg Empire, had imagined Independent Poland. Dr Aleksiun will deal with the specificity of Galician Polish acculturation of the Jews, their relation to Polishness and the Polish state, highlighting also gender context of this relation.     

Joshua Zimmerman

A Black Spot in Polish-Jewish Relations that Won't Go Away: the 1920 Internment Camp for Jewish Soldiers at Jabłonn
  • One of the still unresolved black spots in Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars is the Internment Camp for Jewish Soldiers in Jabłonna in August-September 1920.  As the Red Army approached Warsaw in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Minister of War, fearing Bolshevik sympathies among the Jews, ordered thousands of Jewish volunteer soldiers in the Polish Army to be imprisoned in an internment camp in Jabłonna, located 14 miles north of Warsaw.  Twenty-eight days later, after the vociferous protest of Jewish members of parliament and the defeat of the Red Army, the internment camp was closed and the volunteer soldiers were freed.  The event marred Polish-Jewish relations throughout the interwar period and is still remembered today in the Jewish community of Poland and of Polish Jews and their descendants outside of Poland.

Marcos Silber

November Hopes for Genuine Equality: Citizenship, Nationalism and national autonomy

  • Paper will talk about Jewish nationalist circles, political parties and their images of the place of Jewish national community in Independent Poland. He will elaborate on the paradox of Jewish nationalists struggle for citizenship equality performed from the ethno-nationalist positions than in the long run, together with the activities of Polish and other national minorities political parties had reinforced ethnic patterns of exclusion and discrimination in the Polish state.


Session II: Fears

Piotr J. Wróbel

The First World War, Poles, Jews, and Germans

  • The Polish Second Republic was established in 1918 in a period of Polish-Jewish conflicts. They intensified during the First World War. Among many factors that contributed to this situation, there were Polish, Jewish, and German policies in the region occupied by the Second Reich between 1915 and 1918. The presentation examines these policies and their impact on the situation of the Jews in Poland after 1918.

Theodore R. Weeks

Jews between Poland and Lithuania: Wilno, "Middle Lithuania," and Modern Nationalisms, 1918-1922
  • After 1918, Jews throughout East-Central Europe had to deal with a quite new political situation, one dominated by the ideology of the "nation-state."  In Wilno after 1918, Jews found themselves in a difficult position, wooed (but implicitly also threatened) by two nationalisms: Polish and Lithuanian.  This paper will present various Jewish answers to this conundrums, Polish responses, and consider the implications for Polish-Jewish relations during the interwar period.   

Michał Trębacz

Great Fears of a Great War. Lodz Jews on the Eve of Polish Independence

  • The First World War is a time of economic collapse and political radicalization. In multiethnic Łódź, apart from economic and social tensions, the nationality becomes an important issue. How does the community of Łódź Jews function in this complex structure? Are we dealing with a common catalog of fears? Or maybe what for some was a cause for concern, for others was a reason for hope?


Session III: Realities

Konrad Zieliński

Jewish Population on the Polish Lands on the Eve of Poland`s Independence

  • In 1918 Jews inhabiting Polish lands were faced with new challenges, both socio-economic and political. The situation was far from easy, especially that the Jewish community residing in the newly independent Polish state was by no means homogenous.

    The differences in mentality, custom, tradition as well as in legal and economic status were far greater among Jews coming from the three partitions than among the Polish community. This diversity made it difficult to establish—especially in the realm of politics—a common stance and to protect Jewish rights whenever these were threatened or broken. Demographically and economically, Jews in the reborn Poland represented the Eastern type which was marked by high birthrate, occupational structure (commerce, broking, crafts and services) as well as orthodox religion, even though younger generation demonstrated an increasing interest in national ideologies and class orientation.

    The Jewish community in Poland shared a high level of urbanization and experienced a general sense of resentment on the part of the Polish majority.

Robert Blobaum

The Specter of Judeo-Polonia and the Politics of Containment: 1918 and Beyond
  • Paper will address how issues related to Jewish participation in the Polish public sphere before and during the First World War shaped postwar discourse in independent Poland.  Real as well as politically manufactured fears of excessive Jewish influence, in particular, resulted in various strategies of containment which shared one underlying assumption:  namely that political institutions and public space remain firmly in "Polish" hands.

    How reductionist interpretations of Jewish aspirations to create a hybrid polity, or Judeo-Polonia, and thereby deprive "Poles" of "Poland" became central to interwar political culture--to the point of requiring "solutions"--is thus the main question posed by my paper. 

Eugenia Prokop-Janiec

1918: Institutions of Jewish Culture on the Eve of Poland’s Independence/1918
  • The paper will examine specific features of Jewish cultural life in the period when Poland was emerging as an independent state. The survey will focus on these institutions that provided a sense of cultural continuity and change which were built before the World War I, established during the wartime, and launched in the first months following the end of the war. The main area of interest will be press, publishing houses, and school system.


Roundtable discussion II

David Engel, Jochen Böhler, Piotr J. Wróbel, Jolanta Żyndul (prowadzący Antony Polonsky)

Jews and Polish Independence. 100 Years Later
  • The re‑emergence of the Polish state after 123 years of foreign rule was the most obvious example of the triumph of the principle of nationality in the post‑First World War settlement. This round-table, which takes place in the hundredth anniversary year of Polish independence, aims to reflect on the conditions which made possible the emergence of this state and what effect it had on the Jewish community in the Polish lands, by now, after that in the United States, the largest in the world. 

    For the Jews, the experience of the war, with its shifting fronts and anti-Jewish violence had been traumatic. At the same time, the postwar situation did have some positive elements for them. Zionism now enjoyed international recognition as did the protection of  the rights of the minorities in Poland and a number of other states, while the democratic constitution established here led to the hope that Jews would be recognized as equal citizens.