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September 25, 1987 - Image 92

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-09-25

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BACKGROUND

FROM THE ENTIRE
STAFF OF .. .

WALDRAKE PHARMACY

5548 Drake Rd. •West Bloomfield • 661-0774

How Anti-Semitic
Were Polish Peasants?

A young anthropologist says the
stereotype of the rabid anti-Semitic has
been exaggerated

ELSA A. SOLENDER

Special to The Jewish News

Best Wishes
to all of our clients
and friends for a Happy
and Healthy NEW YEAR.

I

ULECUMULL e

T

from all of us

at

THE MICHIGAN GROUP

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HOMESTEAD TITLE COMPANY
RELIANCE MORTGAGE COMPANY

88

FRIDAY, SEPT. 25, 1987

he image of the Polish
peasant as a vicious, ig-
norant, drunken anti-
Semitic brute dominates ac-
counts of life in pre-Holocaust
Poland. Dr. Wladyslaw T.
Bartoszewski of St. An-
thony's College, Oxford, con-
cedes that Polish peasants
were habitually violent, il-
literate and consumers of for-
midable quantities of alcohol.
But he challenges the stereo-
type of the Polish peasant as
a .rabid anti-Semite.
The youthful social an-
thropologist, whose book The
Jew in the Mind of the Polish
Peasant will be published by
the Hebrew University later
this year, draws heavily on
testimony by Jews them-
selves, especially memorial
volumes written by Jews
before the Holocaust. These
descriptions of shtetl life
resemble oral histories, he
said, rather than scholarly
historical monographs. They
are free of the distorting lens
of the Holocaust, a problem
with standard history books
today. Dr. Bartoszewski has
previously contributed to
Polin, a journal dedicated to
Polish-Jewish history which
is published at Oxford. In the
past decade there has been
substantial growth of interest
in the history of Jews in
Poland among Polish-born
scholars. Dr. Bartoszewski
received his doctorate from
Oxford two years ago.
Addressing the Institute on
East Central Europe at Col-
umbia University, Dr. Bar-
toszewski contended that
Poles and Jews in the Polish
countryside between 1840
and 1938 were so economical-
ly interdependent that "in
normal times, they had nor-
mal human relations." There
was loathing and admiration
on both sides.
Jews and peasants lived
side by side in the Polish
countryside, not integrated
but not isolated. They did not
mix socially, but a "half
friendly relation" normally
existed. Between 25 to 28 per-
cent of the Polish Jewish
population lived in the coun-
tryside between 1840 and
1938, almost 50 percent of
them in small towns and
townlets. Some 70 percent of
Poland's pre-Holocaust
population lived in the
countryside.

Until the seventeenth cen-
tury, Jews could join the
Polish aristocracy through
conversion.
"The saying that every
Polish nobleman had some
Jewish blood is probably
true," Dr. Bartoszewski said.
Jews were protected by
king and nobles more than
most others in Polish coun-
tryside, acting as economic
middlemen because Poland
had no real middle class. The
Jews were not rich, but they
were better off than the
average peasant.
Until World War I, the
Polish peasant parties were
indifferent to Jews. In the late
1920s, overt anti-Semitism
surfaced in the peasant par-
ties. They were alarmed over
the economic role of Jews.
After 1936, the "Jewish prob-
lem" became part of the
structure of the party
movement.
Before that time, Dr. Bar-
toszewski believes that better
relations existed among Jews
and peasants in the country-

There was loathing
and admiration on
both sides.

side than between Jews and
others in the cities. He says
pogroms rarely occurred in
villages or townlets, and occa-
sionally in small towns. He
noted, however, that the
degree of peasant violence
directed against everybody,
even their own families, was
very high, fueled by heavy
consumption of alcohol.
Dr. Bartoszewski chal-
lenged conventional wisdom
about widespread acceptance
among the peasants of
Roman Catholic Church
teachings on Jews. While the
blood libel — the belief that
Jews slaughter Christian
children to use their blood for
ritual purposes on Passover
— still persists in parts of
Poland, Dr. Bartoszewski has
discovered that such beliefs
are not all elaborated in
popular literature in Poland.
No complicated myths or folk
tales exist in Poland, as they
do in virtually all other
Eastern European countries,
to support such a belief struc-
ture. From this, Dr. Bar-
toszewski suggests that while
lower level Catholic clergy
certainly preached the blood
libel, actual belief may not
have been so widespread in
the peasant culture as com-

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