Poland the cradle to Poles of Jewish faith and Orthodox Jews.

Bund, the ideology of the twentieth century. The Bund. Poles of Jewish faith and their unflinching belief that “territory is a myth”.

Polish Jews were attached to Poland and Polish culture and to both leftist and Jewish nationalist ideals. My mother was a proud Bundist in prewar Poland. Called the General Union of Jewish Workers which came to life in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, the Jewish Socialist political movement, founded in Vilnius in 1897, by a small group of workers and intellectuals from the Jewish Pale of tsarists Russia. The Bundists came together to end discrimination against the Jews, and they became a successful social organization, fighting for the rights of all workers. In 1920, the Russian Bund was divided into two groups: the majority merged with the Communist Party while the minority, led by Rafael Abramovich, continued until its suppression by the Bolsheviks. The Polish Bund concentrated on labor activism, and by 1910 created legal Bundist trade unions in four cities. The Polish Bund became a separate entity, and in December 1917 the split was formalized in a secret meeting in Lublin.  The Bund was a legal organization.

Bund promoted the use of Yiddish as a Jewish national language and strongly opposed Zionism arguing that emigration to Palestine was a form of escape. The focus was culture, rather than a state or a place, as the glue of “Jewish Nationalism.” Borrowing from the Austro-Marxist school, which instantly caused a rift between Bundists and Communists.  The Austro-Marxist idea was to make the nation a non-territorial association, that “territory is a myth”. For a nation not to be organized as a territory but as an association of societies thus totally disconnecting a nation from a territory. In the 1930s, Bund was the most popular party among Polish Jews. During the interwar years most Jews were Bundists.

My mother wrote of her mistrust of Communist ideology, and how those doubts were further solidified during the six years of war she survived in Stalin’s Russia. For Bund the focus was always culture and not a state or a place, as the glue of “Jewish Nationalism.” Their unflinching belief that “territory is a myth”, in the end proved that the ideology itself was flawed. Bund’s ideology also exposes the lie on the stereotype of Polish anti-Semites that Jews were conditioned from birth to be communist and that Jews are responsible for communism in Poland.

Before WWII Poland was the cradle to Orthodox Jews and Poles of Jewish faith. The Zionists, HeHalutz, the Pioneers, blossomed across Europe, Russia and Poland at the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, and had its peak 1930–1935. Its aim was to train its members to settle in the land of Palestine. As many as 5 percent of Polish Jewry (139,756) emigrated to Palestine between 1918 and 1942. Polish Jews who survived and came back to Poland, left in two main phases. Of the over 3 million Jews who lived in Poland before the war, about 100,000 Jews remained at the end of World War II. By 1958, 50,000 emigrated, some to Israel, others to Western Europe, America, Canada and even South America. The rest chose to stay, and ten years later, in 1968 they were forced to leave once again. By the time communism fell in Poland in 1989, only 5,000–10,000 Jews remained in the country. Most chose to conceal their Jewish identity.

The birth of Zionism. The “father” of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), was a Viennese, emancipated, secular journalist who covered the Dreyfus affair in 1894. Dreyfus was a captain in the French Army who was falsely accused and convicted of treason, he was acquitted and completely cleared some years later. This case crystalized for Herzl the strong anti-Semitism rampant in the upper echelons of the French Army and in the French press. Emancipated Jews were not immune to the repercussions of this Anti-Semitism. Herzl felt that the only solution to anti-Semitism lay in a Jewish Homeland. The pogroms Jews of Eastern European countries suffered was a further reinforcement, persecutions, killings and burnings were widespread. Jews were forced to live in closed ghettos, particularly in the Russian Empire, where most were confined to the Pale of Jewish settlement, in Lithuania, Belarus and White Russia. When the first Zionist Congress was convened in Basle in 1897, Eastern European Jewry, participated with the greatest majority and they would only accept the homeland, the land of Zion. Some of them already settled in Palestine, in the Holy Land. The last toast in the Passover ceremony is “Next year in Jerusalem”. Orthodox Jews at that time completely rejected any Jewish political movement and did not attend the congress. The socialist “Bund” organization also rejected nationalism and Zionism.


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