Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Emigration versus
Emigrationism

ZIONISM IN POLAND AND THE TERRITORIALIST PROJECTS
OF THE POLISH AUTHORITIES, 1936–1939
EMANUEL MELZER

The situation of Polish Jews deteriorated sharply following Marshal Józef PiŁsudski's death in May 1935. As long as PiŁsudski was in power many Jews believed he was the only figure capable of maintaining public order and restraining antisemitic currents flowing deep within Polish society at that time. The political organization BBWR (the Non-Party Bloc of Cooperation with the Government) was based on a wide spectrum that included divergent groups and social classes of the population, all pulling in different directions. Many Jews, especially those from assimilationist and orthodox circles, joined it as well. The purpose of PiŁsudski and his so-called Sanacja camp was to weaken the political power of the radical antisemitic camp of Endecja (National Democrats), headed by Roman Dmowski. This was a historical clash between two conflicting concepts: PiŁsudski's notion of the superiority of the multinational state over the nation and Dmowski's idea of the Polish nation as the supreme bearer of the sovereignty of the state. But already in the last years of PiŁsudski's rule, Sanacja came closer ideologically to the basic Endek concept of a national state. This of course had repercussions on the official policy toward Jews and other minorities in the 1930s.

The years 1936–1939 were marked by the radicalization of antisemitism in the ruling Sanacja camp during the whole post-PiŁsudskite period. Wishing to prevent the disintegration of their group, the Sanacja leaders officially sanctioned anti-Jewish activity, while expressing no more than mild disapproval of its

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