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

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Polish Jews under Soviet
Occupation, 1939–1941

SPECIFIC STRATEGIES OF SURVIVAL
ANDRZEJ ŻBIKOWSKI

The growing interest of historians in the Jewish population of prewar eastern Poland (the Kresy) is unfortunately connected to the saddest page of Jewish history, the Holocaust. Scholars have observed that during the first weeks of the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland, the Jewish population became the object of attacks not only by the German special divisions but also by the local population. They explain this primarily by pointing to the emergence of ethnic tensions during the time of the Soviet occupation. Today, when outbreaks of pogroms in eastern Poland and Lithuania during the summer of 1941 are better understood, we must ask if there was a connection between the growing ethnic tensions in 1939 and 1941 and Polish-Jewish relations in the 1930s. For a number of reasons, the answer is neither simple nor monolithic, owing to the near complete absence of analytical data.

Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars have thus far been studied globally, on a countrywide scale. Various indicators or categories of antisemitism, such as the attitude of government bodies and various social groups toward Jews, have shaped this discourse. These indicators include the rise of economic tensions, the growing social disparities, the evolution of antisemitic ideology in Poland and its receptivity to German models. To date, we have no study that examines how Polish-Jewish relations differed across various regions of Poland, particularly in the mid–1930s when a wave of pogroms spread throughout the country.

Despite the absence of specialized archival studies, we can still come to some conclusions about the specificity of the Jewish population of the Kresy by analyzing the results of the public census. In 1931, more than 3.1 million

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