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Assimilationist student group in Poland. Organized activity of groups of “assimilationist” Jewish students and academicians had taken place in the major cities of Congress Poland and Galicia as far back as the beginning of the twentieth century. The members of these groups called themselves “Polish youth of Jewish origin.” One such group, called Zjednoczenie (Union), operated in Lwów, and a similar group called Żagiew (Torch) operated in Warsaw. Both groups maintained that the patriotism of Polish Jews had been undermined by the rise of Zionism. They explained that they would attempt to resolve the “Jewish problem” by seeking equal political rights for Jews and through economic changes, and voiced their objection to the extensive use of Yiddish as well as to Hebrew.

Żagiew and Zjednoczenie joined forces to form a nationwide organization called Zjednoczenie. This organization became a social and ideological framework for the deliberation and clarification of ideas and for the exchange of views regarding the proper way to resolve the “Jewish problem.” Most of the members of Zjednoczenie were also associated with other social or political organizations, either Jewish or Polish. They originated from different social classes but for the most part were educated and well-versed in Polish culture. Some of them were former fighters in the Polish legions of World War I, while others were needy students supported by contributions made by members of the upper classes who were also members and financial supporters of the organization.

The class differences and varied ideological inclinations were manifested in the inability of organization members to reach decisions regarding matters of principle. Some maintained that the “Jewish problem” should be resolved through assimilation, as the Jews were essentially Poles, and Judaism was therefore not a significant factor in the definition of their identity. They further maintained that Jews who did not wish to follow this path should emigrate from Poland. Other members of the organization regarded Jews as a national entity and supported the development of Jewish cultural and social institutions throughout Poland.

By the late 1920s, Zjednoczenie had some 3,500 active members. It operated in the major cities of Poland, with the most active branch located in Warsaw. Zjednoczenie provided a home for the activities of the Wiedza (Knowledge) organization for the distribution and promotion of Polish culture, founded during World War I.

During the latter half of the 1920s, the socialist-oriented members of Zjednoczenie became more influential and even dominant. Often also members of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), they opposed the people they called “The Veterans of Liberal Assimilation,” referring to leaders and wealthier individuals who donated funds to Jewish charity and cultural institutions even though they did not identify with Jewish culture and in most cases did not speak Yiddish. The socialists, who were younger for the most part, accused older members of the community of pursuing positions of power while ignoring the needs of the Jewish masses.

Zjednoczenie, however, continued to oppose Zionist ideology. At a conference held in 1930 in Warsaw, the delegates voiced serious criticism of Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel. They claimed that Zionism was immoral because it sought to deny civil rights to Arab inhabitants of Palestine. This criticism replaced the previous arguments of the “assimilators,” according to which the Jews were neither a people nor a nation. During the 1930s, however, Zjednoczenie gave up its struggle against Yiddish and Hebrew. The issue was dropped as obsolete since these languages no longer constituted an obstacle to the linguistic “conversion to Polish” of a major portion of the Jewish public.

Against the background of growing antisemitism in independent Poland at the beginning of the 1930s, particularly in the universities, Zjednoczenie’s status weakened. In fact, its members admitted that they had failed at promoting the concept of assimilation: growing antisemitism now permeated every class and sector of Polish society. At the same time, Zjednoczenie’s members did not regard Judaism as a sentimental, spiritual, or religious value. They called themselves Jews only because they had been born as Jews.

As antisemitism in Poland intensified, the members of Zjednoczenie progressively realized their helplessness and inability to influence either Jewish or Polish society. At the same time, they were harshly criticized in the Jewish press. They acknowledged that they were no more than a handful of individuals within the Jewish public but still prided themselves on the extent and intensity of their activities in the major cities of Poland. Criticism of the organization by Poles and Jews alike, as well as the internal doubts and loss of faith in assimilation as a way to resolve the situation of the Jews in Poland, caused wealthier assimilationist Jews to discontinue their donations to the organization, which, in turn, led to the cessation of the organization’s activities in the mid-1930s. Still, the antisemitic policy of the Polish ruling party in the late 1930s galvanized former members of the organization, who urged the Polish government not to discriminate against Polish citizens because of religious differences or national origin. They also voiced their determined opposition to the government’s plan for encouraging the emigration of Jews from Poland.

Suggested Reading

Miri Freilich, “Hitbolelut u-polonizatsyah be-kerev yehudim be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam, 1919–1939: Hebetim irguniyim, ḥevratiyim u-politiyim” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 2000); Jednodniowka z okazji 3-ciego Ogolno-Polskiego Zjazdu Zjednoczenia (Warsaw, Lwów, Kraków, Vilna, and Gdańsk, Pol., 1931); Pamiętnik pierwszego walnego zjazdu Zjednoczenia Polaków Wyznania Mojzeszowego Wszystkich Ziem Polskich (Warsaw, 1919); Prawne rozwiązanie kwestji żydowskiej: Postulaty Tow. Akad. Zjednoczenie (Lwów, 1919).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann