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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)

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Chapter 1. A Time of Crisis: 1929-1932

[1.7. Economic policy against the Jews in Eastern Europe since 1919 - methods - especially anti-Semitic Poland]

[Since 1919: Poland: Anti-Jewish tax system: 10 % population pay 40 % of the taxes - robbery]

In all these countries taxation was levied first on the traders and artisans - largely Jews. This was done because the government did not wish to antagonize the peasants on the one hand or the rich gentile landowning and merchant classes on the other. The Jews in Poland, though composing 10 percent of the population, paid 40 percent of the taxes. Having obtained these taxes, the government was reluctant to provide services to the Jews from whom such a large proportion of these monies had come. Subventions to Jewish institutions were ridiculously small,

[Since 1919: Eastern Europe: No economic help to Jews]

and no government plans were ever formulated to ease the Jewish economic problem in Poland, Romania, or the Baltic countries.

[Since 1919: Eastern Europe: Jews are an other nation - Jews are enemies]

The economic problem came on top of anti-Semitic feelings. Modern nationalism saw the Jew as a foreigner and therefore an enemy. There were constant reports of anti-Jewish excesses, caused by economic factors, religious prejudice, or nationalist agitation.

[Lodz October 1928: Strike against Jewish workers - propaganda for a boycott against Jews]

In October 1928 Polish factory workers went on strike at Lodz to protest the employment of Jews. A boycott against Jews was propagated by the National Democratic (Endek) opposition to the regime of Marshal Pilsudski, the Polish strong man.

Ritual murder stories were spread in Lublin and Vilna in 1929. Attacks on the Jewish population occurred at Bialoczow and Zaleszczyki.

[1929-1932: Eastern Europe: Riots against Jews]

A serious (p.29)

riot, involving the destruction of two synagogues, a Jewish editorial office, and some Jewish buildings, occurred in June 1929 at Lwów. Riots occurred at Volkovysk, in Lithuania, in the autumn of 1929, in which 20 Jews were injured. In Romania, anti-Jewish riots occurred constantly. In late 1929 there were riots at Chisme, near Ismail, and students held anti-Jewish meetings in Cluj and other places. The same pattern repeated itself, tediously and dangerously, in 1930, 1931, and 1932, even before the Nazi type of anti-Semitism had gained its major victory.

[1919-1931: Poland: Discrimination by economic law against Jews is taken over from Russian law]

Discriminatory laws against Jews, a residue of czarist legislation, were in force in the formerly Russian part of Poland (Congress Poland) for 13 years after the establishment of Polish independence, despite the fact that Poland had signed the 1919 Versailles Convention for the protection of national minorities. Under the law,

-- Jewish patients were refused admittance to hospitals maintained by general taxes,
-- and Jews were forbidden to rent state lands,
-- punished for changing their names (from Jewish-sounding ones to Polish ones),
-- forbidden to participate in village administration,
-- liable to deportation to a certain distance from the borders "to prevent smuggling",
-- and forbidden to engage in mining.

These laws were not abolished until March 1931.

[1919-1931: Most of the Polish Jewish organizations boycott the Polish government - exception Agudah]

On the whole, the Polish government of Pilsudski's followers was not overtly or violently anti-Semitic, but since it did not enjoy the support of the majority of the population, it was afraid of antagonizing the anti-Jewish majority of peasant and town dwellers, and consequently did little to protect the Jews. Most of the Jewish parties - Zionists, Bundists,

(Footnote: The Bund (Allgemeiner Yiddischer Arbeter-Bund), founded in 1898, was an anti-Zionist Jewish socialist party with a very large following in Poland)

and Yiddish Autonomists

(Footnote: Yiddish Autonomists ("Folkists"), a middle- and lower-middle-class movement, aspired to the creation of Jewish national life on the basis of cultural autonomy in the Diaspora)

- refused to be drawn into the circle of Pilsudski's supporters, and (p.30)

only the Orthodox Agudah

(Footnote: Agudat Yisrael was an ultra-Orthodox movement, anti-Zionist at first, then slowly becoming non-Zionist. A working-class section (Poalei Agudat Yisrael) in time became supporters of a radical Orthodox Zionism).

broke Jewish solidarity by becoming part of the government bloc. In return, the Agudah were granted an election law for Jewish communities that allowed them to influence elections by excluding anyone who had "publicly" expressed his disapproval of Jewish religion. This provision enabled the Agudah to exclude many of their opponents from Jewish community administration.

[Since 1924: Poland in economic depression - discrimination of Jews in public services]

The Polish economic crisis of 1924-26 turned into a semipermanent depression, aggravated by the autarkic and nationalistic policies of the government. There was considerable administrative discrimination. Jews made up about one-third of the population in Warsaw, and they composed 27.3 percent of the Polish urban population generally. Yet their share in the municipal administration all over the country was only 3.4 percent in 1931. In Congress Poland only one Jew was employed in the postal services. Of the 4,342 employees of Warsaw's municipal trolley lines 2 were Jews, and among the 20,000 Warsaw city employees there were 50 Jews. In state administration and the courts the number of Jews came to 2 percent; in the police, customs, and prisons, to 0.18 percent.

(End note 6: R. Mahler: Jews in Public Service and the Liberal Professions in Poland, 1918-39; In: Jewish Social Studies 6, no. 4 (October 1944)

[Since 1924: Poland in economic depression - discrimination of Jewish schools and of Jewish students]

Jewish schools had to be maintained by Jews, and the government gave ridiculously small subsidies. Of the 300 million zloty budget of the Ministry of Education in 1930/1, Jewish schools got 242,000 zloty; later they got even less. Thus they had to support their own schools. At the same time, more and more Jewish students flocked to them, as the general schools tended to discriminate against Jews in every possible way. The number of Jewish students in Polish academic institutions between 1925 and 1931 decreased by 10 percent, while the number of students generally increased by 15 percent.

(End note 7: Ibid. [R. Mahler: Jews in Public Service and the Liberal Professions in Poland, 1918-39; In: Jewish Social Studies 6, no. 4 (October 1944)])

[Since 1927: Poland's new artisan laws against Jewish artisans and peddlers]

Artisans had been subjected to restrictive regulations since 1927. The government was supposedly trying to modernize production, (p.31)

but these regulations had to do less with modernization than with nationalism and anti-Semitism. By a decree of December 12, 1927, every artisan was forced to pass tests in Polish history, geography, and language, as if that was a vital prerequisite for a Polish Jew who had been a satisfactory shoemaker for 20 or 30 years. The older people, who did not know Polish beyond what was needed for everyday use, who had never studied or showed interest in Polish geography or history, were now forced to go to school and undergo examinations. Licenses were introduced, both for artisans and for traders. For young people three years of apprenticeship with a master recognized by the authorities and another three years at a trade school were now required. For the 150,000 families of Jewish artisans this was a terrible calamity. The 345,000 smaller traders and peddlers now had to pay for licenses that they simply could not afford, and their position was no easier than that of the artisan.

[Since 1924 approx.: Tobacco industry and alcohol industry become state's monopolies in Poland - Jews dismissed]

The Jewish worker and employee in Poland did not fare any better. All but 440 of the 3,000 Jews who had formerly found a living in the tobacco industry were dismissed when tobacco became a government monopoly. The same thing occurred in the alcohol industry, where "in one of the largest distilleries, the administration categorically declared that it had received verbal instructions not to employ any Jews."

(End note 8: Landau reports, 1929-31, file 139)

[Late 1920s: Poland dismisses all Jews from railway]

6,000 Jews employed on the railways were dismissed in the late 1920s.

[1929: Poland's monopoly on wood industry without Jews]

The wood industry had employed 25,000 Jews, but by 1929 no Jews were working in the government-owned wood monopoly.

[1931: Poland: Wide spread poverty under Jewish population]

In 1931, according to Jacob Lestschinsky, the noted Jewish statistician,

-- 48.86 % of Polish Jews had an income of less than 50 zloty ($ 10) a week,
-- 29.06 % between 50 and 100 zloty,
-- and only 17.25 % over 100 zloty.

(End note 9: Cited by Faust; In: Book of American Federation of Polish Jews. 25th annual convention, June 11-12, 1933)

The result of all this was increasing misery. By 1929 between 25 and 30 % of Polish Jews were living on the subsistence level. Something had to be done quickly.

[Late 1920s: Jewish poverty in Romanian Bessarabia, Bucovina and northern Transylvania]

An equally terrible situation prevailed in Romanian Bessarabia, Bucovina, and parts of northern Transylvania, as well as in Subcarpathian (p.32)

Russia. There, a primitive Jewish rural population lived among even more primitive local peasants and shepherds. In the late 1920s, as a result of the economic developments already briefly outlined, the anti-Semitic propaganda of Romanian nationalist students, supported by some German colonists, found a ready response. This was aggravated by famine resulting from crop failures in Bessarabia in 1928/9. The government was no help at all, though the new "peasant" regime of Juliu Maniu, installed in December 1928, promised that a firm line would be taken against the anti-Semites. The Jewish community itself was split. The Union of Hebrew Congregations and the Bucharest community (headed by Dr. Wilhelm Filderman, a friend of JDC) supported the Liberal party, which was defeated in the elections. Others, such as the Zionists, wanted to be independent, whereas the Agudists supported Maniu. The new government also passed a community law which was, in a way, parallel to the Polish law mentioned above, and was also inspired by Agudist rabbis.

The grimmest situation of all confronted JDC in northern Transylvania, in the areas of Máramarossziget and Satu-Mare. Extreme poverty reigned there, and the slightest economical and political upheaval could and did cause calamity.

[Late 1920s: Eastern Europe: Not integrated Jewry, economical crises and nationalism provoke exclusion of the Jews]

This, then, was the situation confronting East European Jewry: newly developing nations engaged in the painful transition to a modern economy were determined to exclude the Jew from economic life. As the traditional middleman between town and country, the Jew no longer fitted into the economic picture. Excluded from the promise of economic advancement and from political influence, a stranger in language, religion, and cultural background, hated an despised, he was the first victim of every economic and social disturbance.

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