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Gumplowicz Family

Advocates of the Haskalah and then of Polish Jewish assimilation. Abraham Gumplowicz (1803–1876) was a wealthy merchant and politician. His son Ludwik (1838–1909) was a legal historian and sociologist. Abraham’s grandson, Maksymilian Ernest (1864–1897), was an attorney, historian, and Slavic studies specialist. Maksymilian’s son Władysław (1869–1942), a physician by training, was a geographer and journalist.

Abraham Gumplowicz created one of the first lending libraries in the Jewish district of Kraków in 1837. Beginning in 1840, he led the group Zur Förderung der Geistigen und Materiellen Interessen der Israeliten (Toward the Advancement of the Spiritual and Material Interests of the Israelites), promoting secular education and religious reform. Gumplowicz was a cofounder of his city’s Tempel (Reform synagogue), and during the period called the Springtime of Nations in 1848, he served on the local council that supported Kraków’s rebellion. During the January uprising of 1863, he was an intermediary for the insurgent National Government, and beginning in 1866 he served as an alderman.

Ludwik Gumplowicz criticized the uprising of 1863 as needless bloodshed (in contrast to two of his brothers who fought in the ranks of the insurgents), but between 1861 and 1863 he wrote for the assimilationist periodical Jutrzenka (Morning Star), which was associated with the insurgents. In his articles, he demanded unconditional, full equality for Jews, and criticized the conservative elite of Galicia for demanding Polonization as a preliminary condition for attaining such rights (at the same time, the conservatives opposed the right of Jews to buy land). In 1861, Gumplowicz was a member of the delegation that strove for Galician autonomy at the imperial court in Vienna, and he fought to assure electoral rights for Jews.

Ludwik Gumplowicz studied law in Vienna and Kraków, receiving his doctorate in 1862. His dissertation, “Prawodawstwo polskie względem Żydów” (Polish Legislation with Regard to the Jews; 1867), was the first synthetic work on this topic; it surveyed Polish legislation from the Middle Ages to his own times. Because he publicly declared his atheism and anticlericalism, the Jagiellonian University rejected his postdoctoral dissertation in 1868. From that year until 1873, Gumplowicz edited the journal Kraj (Country), which had a liberal and freethinking profile. He served as an alderman in Kraków from 1873 to 1875, and in 1875 was appointed assistant professor at the University of Graz (Austria), and received the title of professor in 1882 after converting to the Evangelical faith. He did not sever relations with Poland, however, and continued to publish in that country’s liberal press.

Despite his conversion, Ludwik Gumplowicz continued to advocate Jewish assimilation. In a letter to Theodor Herzl in 1899, he expressed his opposition to the Jewish national movement. In 1895, he was elected vice president of the prestigious Institut International de Sociologie in Paris. He interpreted the theory of Social Darwinism and was a founder of the sociological theory of the state. Among his most important works were Grundriss der soziologie (1885; Eng. trans., Outlines of Sociology; 1889), Geschichte der Staatstheorien (History of the Theory of the State; 1905), and Sozialphilosophie im Umriss (Social Philosophy in Outline; 1910). His collected works were published in 1926. Terminally ill, he committed suicide in Graz, along with his wife.

Maksymilian Ernest Gumplowicz (1864–1897), an attorney, became a historian of the Polish Middle Ages and a Slavic scholar. Beginning in 1895, he taught Polish at the university in Vienna. In 1903, his study Początki religii żydowskiej w Polsce (Beginnings of Jewish Religion in Poland) appeared posthumously. Like his grandfather, and later his father, he committed suicide, to which he was driven by an unhappy relationship with a much older writer, Maria Konopnicka.

Władysław Gumplowicz, Ludwik’s younger son, was a doctor who worked as a geographer and journalist. In 1900, he joined the Polish Social Democratic Party and became its ideologue. In 1901, he spent time in an agricultural cooperative community governed by the principles of Fourierism near London; among his publications was Kwestya polska a socyalizm (The Polish Question and Socialism; 1908). From 1919 to 1923, he served at the Polish embassy in Vienna but was dismissed when a rightist coalition took power in Poland. Beginning in 1923, he lectured at the Free Polish University and in the Society of Workers Universities.

Suggested Reading

Peter Bossdorf, Ludwig Gumplowicz als materialistischer Stattssoziologie (Bonn, 2003); Hanna Kozinska-Witt, “Ludvig Gumplovich ve-shorashave be-Krakuv ha-Yehudit,” Gal-Ed 17 (2000): 63–76; Hanna Kozinska-Witt, “Ludwig Gumplowicz’s Programme for the Improvement of the Jewish Situation,” Polin 12 (1999): 73–78.



Translated from Polish by Karen Auerbach