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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)



Chapter 5. Prelude of the Holocaust
[A. Destruction of the Jewish existence in Poland 1929-1939]

[5.4. The Jews in Poland 1921-1938: Figures]

[Jewish population in Poland and professions]

The number of Jews in Poland in 1921 was 2,845,364;

(End note 20: 44-29, memo 1/30/39 [30 January 1939])

by late 1938 it was approximately 3,310,000. The annual rate of growth was about 30,000.

(End note 21: R50, "Situation of the Jews in Eastern Europe", memo of the Paris JDC office, June 1938. The figure of 3,310,000 appears in "General Survey of Political and Economic Conditions in Poland in 1938" (12/3/38 [3 December 1938]), in 36-report 1938).

The Polish census of 1931 gave the number of gainfully occupied Jews as 1,123,025.

[There has to be considered an inofficial emigration so every year emigrated about 100,000 Jews from Poland to oversea countries;
In: Herman Graml: Die Auswanderung der Juden aus Deutschland zwischen 1933 und 1939; Gutachten des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte; im Selbstverlag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte. München 1958, S.79-84; Tel.: 0049-(0)89-12688-0].

(End note 22: Mahler, op. cit. [Jews in Poland between the Two World Wars (Hebrew); Tel Aviv 1968], pp. 46 ff. Only 37 % of the Jews were economically active, compared to 42.5 % of the non-Jews (excluding agriculture). This meant that given the same income, the Jew was worse off because he had to fee more mouths. Seen in another way, this was a form of concealed unemployment).

Of these, 277,555 were classified as workers, about 200,000 were artisans,

(End note 23: The total in industry and handicrafts were 506,990. Without the workers, there were 229,435. This included 22,367 home workers. The total number of Jewish employers was 75,362. This figure included industrialists. By all accounts, therefore, the number of Jewish artisans cannot have been less and was probably more than 200,000).

and 428,965 were traders. In 1931 the number of registered unemployed workers was 78,256, or 28.2 % of the total.

[1935: Kahn reports: unemployment and misery of over 1/3 of the Jews]

In 1935 Kahn reported that no less than 60 % of the workers and employees were unemployed; of these, only workers employed in enterprises employing more than 20 people were entitled to unemployment  insurance. Those who did work received an average of 30-40 zloty ($6-$8) a week. Of the artisans, one-third were estimated to be "in distress".

In 1931 the traders and their families had numbered 1,140,532. In 1935 Kahn estimated that there were 1,150,000 and that 400,000 were living in "dire poverty". Of the 120,000 whom he classified as "intellectuals" and their families, 60,000 had no steady income. Kahn estimated the total number of Jews who were without any income, unemployed, or distressed to be over 1,000,000, or one-third of Polish Jewry.

(End note 24: WAC, Box 323 (c), Kahn's report on Poland, 5/22/35 [22 May 1935])

This estimate was given credence by a number of other authorities.

(End note 25: Rabbi Schorr of Warsaw in the Jewish Chronicle, 1/18/35 [8 January 1935], p.20: "Not less than one-third of the entire Jewish population of Poland was today dependent on charity in some form or other.")

[1937: Jewish Chronicle reports: Jews in Poland in poverty and misery]

Two years later the London Jewish Chronicle could describe the Jews in Poland as "a helpless minority sunk in squalid poverty and misery such as can surely be paralleled nowhere on the face of the earth. Today it is generally agreed that one-third of the Jewish population is on the brink of starvation, one-third contrives (p.187)

to obtain  a mere existence, and the rest are fortunate in securing a minimum of comfort."

(End note 26: Jewish Chronicle, 1/8/37 [8 January 1937])

[Indicator of poverty: Charity day at Passover]

A fair indicator of the economic condition of the Jews was the number of people asking for charity at Passover. In 1933, 100,000 of the 350,000 Jews of Warsaw applied for such assistance,

(End note 27: JDC Library-American Federation of Polish Jews, 25 annual convention, June 11-12, 1933)

or less than a third. In 1935, 60 % of Warsaw Jews applied.

(End note 28: Abraham G. Duker: The Situation of the Jews in Poland; Newsletter of the Conference on Jewish Relations, April 1936)

In the spring of 1939 a JDC memorandum estimated the number of Jews wholly dependent on charity at 600,000, or close to 20 % of Polish Jewry, while a total of 38 % (1,250,000) were wholly or partially dependent.

(End note 29: 44-4, memorandum re Poland, 5/1/39 [1 May 1939])

[1934: Neville Laski about Jewish poverty in anti-Semitic Poland]

In August  1934 Neville Laski, president of the British Board of (Jewish) Deputies, reported from Poland that he had "never seen such poverty, squalor, and filth. It made one despair of civilization." What was more important, he discerned a downward trend and foresaw that "even this year will be looked back upon as a happy year".

(End note 30: 44-6)

[1937: Kahn: The Nazis are more honest to the Jews than the Catholic Polish population]

This prediction was fully borne out by Alexander Kahn, chairman of JDC's Polish Committee, who reported in 1937 that "in Poland the Jew is in the midst of his ruthless enemies, bound hand and foot, and without a chance". He described how the "bands of savage youths, wild-eyed and bloodthirsty, with every human instinct obliterated, jump upon old men, women, and young children in the streets and in the public parks of Warsaw". The Nazis, Kahn thought, were "more honest"; the Jews in Poland were faced with "extermination or expulsion".

[Supplement: It's strange that Polish economy could not profit from the German economy since 1933. When the economy in Germany had been as bad as the Polish economy the Nazi government in Berlin would not have been better than the Polish government].

Polish competition was, with government help, fairly effective.

Table 11: Jewish versus non-Jewish Enterprises in Kalisz
Type of Enterprise
Increase or Decrease
Jewish businessesxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Non-Jewish businesses
789    907    +118xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Jewish artisans
328    311    -17xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Non-Jewish artisans
497    536    +39xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
(End note 31: R14, November 1936, Schweitzer report)


Some detailed researches affirmed this. Table 11 illustrates the situation in the town of Kalisz.

[Early 1939: JDC memo: About 30,000 shops have changed between Jews and Non-Jews]

In early 1939 a JDC memorandum estimated that between 1933 and 1938, some thirty thousand non-Jewish shops had opened and that about the same number of Jewish shops had closed.

(End note 32: See note 29 [44-4, memorandum re Poland, 5/1/39 [1 May 1939])

[Oct 1936: Sholem Asch deplores Jewish skeletons are walking in anti-Semitic Poland]

The deterioration of Jewish economic life led to serious social and medical consequences. Sholem Asch, the famous Jewish writer, claimed that "people made the impression as if they were buried alive. Every second person was undernourished, skeletons of skin and bones, crippled, candidates for the grave".

(End note 33: "The Mourner at the Marriage Fete", October 1936; In: WAC, Box 366 (c)

It should be remembered that this was written three years before World War II began.

[Oct 1937: Harsh poverty for Jewish children in anti-Semitic Poland]

The most serious results of this general situation were evident among Jewish children. A detailed investigation in the town of Ostrog showed that, out of a sample of 386 Jewish children in four out of 15 "Jewish" streets, 262 were of school age but only 109 attended school. Of the other 153, 12 were ill, 3 were retarded, 6 had no documents for registration, 9 had not enrolled in time, 6 were not accounted for, and 117 could not go to school because they had no clothes or shoes. Of the total of 386, only 67 were healthy; 196 were weak or anemic, 61 were scrofulous. A total of 71 % of the children were in various stages  of undernourishment down to and including starvation.

(End note 34: 45-CENTOS, report, October 1937)

This was the situation three years before the establishment of ghettos in Poland. Similar descriptions could be quoted about other areas as well. JDC estimated that about one-third of the Jewish schoolchildren went to school hungry.

[Anti-Semitic Poland: Tax recovering by robbing the Jews of essential equipment]

Government action, quite apart from official policies, tended to be quite unscrupulous. Polish tax collectors interpreted the law in the most brutal way. Reports came in to JDC of bakers from whom the last bit of flour was taken away in lieu of taxes they could not pay; of horses taken away from peddlers, thus reducing them to complete destitution; of wewing machines taken away from tailors, as well as material left by the customers to be made up into clothes. (p.189)

(End note 35: R16, 11/23/1935 [23 November 1935], "Notes and Source Material for Committee on Poland and Eastern Europe")