Poland

 

General

       The first sizable groups of Jews settled in the region of Silesia in the 12th century.  By the end of the 15th century, there were more than 60 Jewish communities and a population estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 in the Poland-Lithuania area (by 1569 the union between Poland and Lithuania had been formalized).  Although Jews, at first, were permitted to engage only in money lending activities, they developed a variety of occupations, particularly trading activities.

       The Jewish population grew significantly during the period of the colonization of the Ukraine (1569-1648).  During this period, over 100 Jewish communities were established in the Ukraine, with an aggregate population in excess of 50,000.  As a result of improving conditions and immigration from abroad due to persecutions, Jewish population up to 1650 grew quite substantially, particularly in the eastern and south-eastern areas of Poland-Lithuania.  From about 100,000 persons in in 1578, the Jewish population grew to about 300,000 in 1648.  During this period, Jewish cultural life flourished along with the economic and demographic growth.  

       The situation of the Jews changed dramatically with the massacres of 1648-49, the Cossack revolt and the subsequent invasion of Poland and resulting wars.  Notwithstanding the worsening conditions, the Jewish population in Poland-Lithuania grew in both absolute and relative strength.  As of 1764, the Jewish population was about 750,000, with about 549,000 in Poland and 201,000 in Lithuania.

       In 1772, 1793 and 1795, the country was divided among its large neighbors, Russia, Prussia and Austria.  Basically, this situation prevailed until the end of World War I.  During the 1800's, the Jewish population in the Kingdom of Poland grew substantially despite large scale emigration to the West, primarily the United States.  This growth is exemplified by the the following tables from the Encyclopedia Judaica detailing the growth of the Jewish population in Warsaw and Lodz.

Growth of Warsaw Jewry

Year

# of Jews

Percentage

1781

3,532

4.5  

1810

14,061

18.1

1856

44,149

24.3

1882

127,917

33.4

1897

219,141

33.9

 

Growth of Lodz Jewry

Year

# of Jews

Percentage  

1793

11

5.7

1856

2,775

12.2

1897

98,667

31.8

1910

166,628

40.7

       As a result of the collapse of the three partitioning powers after World War I, Poland was reconstituted as a sovereign state.  During the period between wars, the relative Jewish population in the cities decreased due to a variety of factors, including a significant decrease in the Jewish birth rate in the cities.  The following table from the Encyclopedia Judaica shows the decrease in the percentage of the Jews in the cities of Poland during the period between the two World Wars.

City

Percentage of Jews

1921

Percentage of Jews

1931

Warsaw

33.1

30.1

Lvov

35.0

31.9

Vilna

36.1

28.2

Bialystok

51.6

43.0

Grodno

53.9

42.6

Brest-Litovsk

53.1

44.3

Pinsk

74.7

63.4

       At the start of World War II, the Jewish population of Poland was about 3.3 million.  Of this number, about 2.1 million came under Nazi rule and the balance under Soviet occupation as a a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact.  The destruction of Polish Jewry is well documented and beyond the scope of this presentation.  Suffice it to say that at the end of the war, only 380,000 Jews of Poland had survived.  This figure includes all the survivors among the Jews who were living in Poland at the start of the war and represents less than 12 of the Jews of Poland, including the 7 who ere saved within the Soviet Union.

       As of June, 1946, there were about 240,000 Jews registered in Poland.  Pogroms continued in Poland with the most violent being the murder of 42 Jews, including women and children, in Kielce.  This activities, combined with the natural reluctance of the survivors to continue life in Poland, led to a flight of  Jews from Poland.  By the end of 1947, only 80,000 to 100,000 Jews were left in the country.  Anti-Semitism never ceased and reached new heights after the Six-Day War in 1967.  Most of the remaining Jews elected to emigrate at this point.  The Jewish population is now estimated at about 8,000, mostly in Warsaw.

 

Communities

                               Cracow

                               Czestochowa

                               Gdansk (Danzig)

                               Glogau

                               Inowroclaw

                               Katowice

                               Lodz

                               Myslowice

                               Opole (Oppein)

                               Poznan

                               Rzeszow

                               Tarnow

                               Warsaw

                               Wieruszow

                               Wroclaw (Breslau)

References

Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing

Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, P. 1143-76

Copyright 1998-2005 Edward Victor