Jews in Poland


August 14, 2022

Today, the Jewish community in Poland has about 3,500 members, mainly senior citizens. This is only a tiny fraction of the massive Jewish population, which still in 1939 numbered about 3 million Jews, i.e. 10% of the population of the whole of Poland. The main cause of this development was the Holocaust and post-war emigration.


Middle Ages and Modern Ages

The first large influx of followers of Judaism occurred in the 12th century, when the first anti-Jewish pogroms occurred in Europe, from which Jewish refugees hid on Polish territory. In 1569, when the Union of Lublin completed the unification of the Polish-Lithuanian state, the number of Jews in the territory at that time was estimated at 200,000. In 1264, Prince Boleslav V issued the Great Charter of Jewish Freedoms, known as the Law of Kalisz, which provided Jews with protection and some privileges. During the Middle Ages, the charter was confirmed by several other Polish monarchs. The first major pogroms in Poland occurred during the uprising of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, when Ukrainian Cossacks murdered 100,000 Jews in the 17th century. Since the 18th century, after the demise of the Polish Free State, there have been mass exodus from the Russian-occupied part of Poland. Between 1881 and 1890, from the beginning of the Russian occupation, 135,000 Jews left the territory. In the years 1830-31, a significant part of the Jews fought on the side of the Poles against the tsarist troops. In 1848, the Krakow rabbi Dow Beer Meisels even called on the Jews to support the political demands of the Poles.

Developments in the 20th century

Before World War II, Jews in Poland represented the largest[source?] Jewish community in the world, numbering 3-3.3 million people. This enormous settlement was mainly due to strong migration in the Middle Ages. The Jewish minority was a loyal but unintegrated part of Polish society, whose members were on average richer and more educated than the Poles, which was the cause of some social tension. This began to escalate in the 1930s, after the outbreak of the economic crisis and the death of Marshal Piłsudski, when Poland, which was increasingly dominated by the anti-Semitic right and the anti-Judaic Catholic Church, adopted a number of anti-Jewish measures, which included restricting the access of Jews to universities and certain professions, the introduction of the so-called bench ghettos and the like. The real disaster for Jews in Poland was the occupation of the country by Nazi Germany, which gradually began the mass liquidation of all Jews in Poland. Poland was supposed to be the country most affected by the Holocaust. Already in 1939, the first ghetto began to be created, where Jews were herded and left at the mercy of famine and disease. The Nazis set up six extermination centers in Poland as part of the so-called "final solution to the Jewish question". From autumn 1941 in Auschwitz and in the Chełmno nad Nerem camp. From the spring of 1942, Bełżec, Sobibór, Auschwitz II-Birkenau began to be used for the extermination of Jews, and in the summer of 1942 the Treblinka extermination camp was established. In the fall of 1942, the Majdanek camp near Lublin was put into operation. Towards the end of 1944, when the majority of European Jews had already been murdered, the last death camps were also liquidated and the prisoners still alive were evacuated to the west in the so-called death marches. A small part of Poles took advantage of the situation and personally participated in the liquidation of Jews, sometimes assisting the Nazis, exceptionally also as initiators and main organizers of pogroms. On the other hand, thousands of Polish families helped the Jews, despite the brutal persecution by the Nazis (For example, the death penalty for illegally supplying the Jews with food and medicine, the extermination of the entire homestead where the Jews were hiding). Over a thousand Poles were murdered by the Nazis for this activity (Jad Vashem recognized just over 700 of them posthumously as righteous among the nations. The commission led by Israel's highest