Poland became an
independent nation against all odds in the interwar period and retained
her sovereignty from 1919 to 1939; hence the concept “interwar Poland.”
The vicissitudes of her existence earned her the name of “God’s Playground.”
 The Jews within her borders shared her history since
1240 C.E. Their freedoms during this period, unequalled in other
places of Western Europe, earned Poland the Biblical allusion of “New
In contrast, some scholars have described Poland’s Jewry in the interwar
Republic as being “On the Edge Of Destruction.”  That Polish Jewry
was in distress is attested by the urgent visit of Mr. Neville Laski,
a member of the British Joint Foreign Committee closely associated with
the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Joint Distribution Committee,
in 1934.  His August visit
fell between two historical events framing Polish Jewry’s status: seven
months before, in January of that year, Poland and Germany signed a
bilateral non-aggression declaration and in September Colonel Josef
Beck, as Foreign Minister, announced in Geneva, his country’s unilateral
abrogation of the Minorities Treaty in force since 1919. The scholars
listed below have studied separately either the birth of Poland and
the imposition of the Minorities Protection Treaty, the rapprochement
between Poland and Germany, or the situation of the Jews in Poland.
However, they have paid scant attention to the nexus between the rise
of Hitler, the rapprochement between Poland and Germany, the demise
of the Minorities Protection Treaty, and the consequent worsening situation
of Polish Jewry. 
Polish government reluctantly accepted the signing of the Minorities
Protection Treaty concurrently with the Peace Treaty in Paris on May
28, 1919, complaining that it was an intrusion in its internal affairs
and sovereignty. Colonel Beck’s unilateral abrogation sixteen years
later was therefore a confirmation of this long held stance. While the
Polish government could not reject the Minorities Protection Treaty
in 1919, it chose to do so unilaterally in 1934 because of its new political
circumstances. The Polish-German rapprochement of that year restored
in Poland’s eyes its own standing as an independent political agent
that could act without consultation with its staunchest ally, France.
In addition, the Polish government felt that it could protect itself
against the threat of German aggression on its own while at the same
time project itself to be in the same league as other great powers such
as Britain, Russia, or France. By abrogating the Treaty unilaterally
the government sent a clear message that it was a master of its own
that house was not in complete order as there were intractable political
and social problems. In addition, the Polish government’s treatment
of its varied minorities deteriorated. Exploring in detail these international
events and tying them up to the internal political, social, and economic
situation in Poland, makes the task of assessing Polish Jewry’s situation
easier. It was indubitably threatened by both the internal situation
in Poland and international political shifts of power, but most certainly
not “on the edge of destruction.” It is important to study the interwar
period without taking into account Jewish annihilation during the Second
World War. To do so casts a shadow that obscures actual events the
record and produces a partisan historiography.
 It behooves all historians working in this sensitive
period to heed Michael Ignatieff’s advice: “in no field of history does
one wish more fervently that historians could write blind into the future.”
purpose of this study is to explore the Jewish situation in Poland during
the years when the Minorities Protection Treaty was accepted. This will
be done by framing in the context of both the domestic and international
events affecting the country in the same period. Such a study will
make it clear that the September 1934 abrogation of the Minority Treaty
was intimately connected to Poland’s new relationship with Germany.
The Polish government could ignore the treaty’s stipulations as it had
done all along without the need to denounce it in the international
arena. Hitler’s contempt toward for the League of Nations bolstered
by the rapprochement served as a model for Poland to follow suit. Finally,
Mr. Laski’s visit anchors the political maneuvering that led the Polish
government to renounce the Minority Treaty. The latter had been imposed
by the Allies at the prodding of British and American Jews as insurance
for the Polish Jews to be treated fairly. Sixteen year later, Mr. Laski,
as a member of the same group, albeit not an original contributor to
the Treaty’s stipulations, was now a witness to its demise.
The year 1934 opened with
a coup of Polish diplomacy. War minister Josef Pilsudski, Foreign minister
Colonel Josef Beck, and the newly appointed Envoy to Germany, Josef
Lipski, engineered a careful rapprochement with Poland’s erstwhile foe.
Soon after Hitler walked out of both the disarmament conference in Geneva
and the League of Nations, Pilsudski, Lipski, and Beck, conferring in
Warsaw, agreed it was worthwhile to approach the Chancellor. Pilsudski
directed his Envoy to convey the following communiqué:
the present situation, the Marshal [meaning Pilsudski]
declares Poland’s security to be based directly upon these two
namely: upon direct relationship with other states (in this
Polish - German relations), and upon the collaboration of states
the frame of the League of Nations. The Marshal describes this
element as a sort of reinsurance, ensuing from the fact that the
members of the League of Nations, are bound by obligations under
pact of the League of Nations, especially in the case of conflict.
the last decision of the Reich’s government, resulting in [its]
from the League of Nations, deprives Poland of this second element
The Berlin- Warsaw
diplomatic exchanges, surprisingly smooth and swift, culminated with
the signing of a bilateral non- aggression pact. During his audience
with the Chancellor on November 15, 1933, Lipski transmitted Pilsudski’s
measured words to both Hitler and Baron Constantin von Neurath. Within
two weeks, on November 27, 1933, he was handed a draft of their new
commitments. Simultaneously, Germany’s Envoy, Hans von Moltke, presented
the identical text to Pilsudski in Warsaw. Meanwhile, Col. Beck appeased
the French ambassador.  The non-aggression
pact was signed on January 26, 1934.  The most important paragraphs
announce to reach direct understanding
on questions of any mutual nature whatsoever concerning
their mutual relations. Should any disputes arise out of these
agreements [and] not be solved by direct negotiations, they
will in each particular case, on the basis of mutual agreement,
seek a solution by other peaceful means without prejudice
to the possibility of applying if necessary, such modes
procedure as are provided for such cases by other agreements
in force between them. In no circumstances, however, will they
proceed to use force in order to settle such dispute.” 
The present declaration
is to remain in force until its denouncement
by one of the Contacting Parties, but this may not be done prior
expiration of ten years.
and Germany’s respective parliaments ratified this declaration soon
thereafter, and their representatives were raised to the rank of ambassadors
within a few months.
 The western powers reacted in a stunned, subdued manner
because the pact eased fears of renewed hostilities. Meanwhile, to cement
the rapprochement, Hitler sent Josef Goebbels to Warsaw in June 1934.
Ostensibly invited to speak at the Association of Intellectual Cooperation
on “National Socialism as a factor of European Peace,” he met afterwards
with Beck and von Moltke in a non- official reception.
interim, on June 7, 1934, a group of four Rabbis (Kanal, Perelman, Langleben,
and Fajner) visited Cardinal Kakowski in Warsaw with a petition. They
wanted him to use his moral authority to stop “youthful outbursts,”
and protect unfortunate Jews from suffering more violence. Their petition
is worth quoting in full:
In the name of the rabbinate of the Polish Republic we turn to you
in the following powerful matter. In Germany in the land of the
of the Teutonic knights, from time immemorial Polands enemy,
a horde of barbarous pagans has recently come to power warring
against all the laws of God, trampling upon all the important
principles of the Christian faith, persecuting all adversaries with
cruelty unknown in human history, especially to the descendants
of the land of Israel. The whole civilized world, and the princes
of the Catholic Church, has condemned the monstrous actions of
the Nazis in Germany.Unfortunately in Poland the land with the
greatest number of God fearing Catholic Christians, a certain
faction, especially youth, is troubling us. Shamefully, calling
themselves Polish nationalists, they modeled themselves after the
example of the pagan Nazis. They attack defenseless people
walking on the streets of Polands cities because they look Jewish.
Without pity they bully, beat and injure them. Sometimes these
ruffians encounter resistance from their innocent victims and
they react with even more fury bringing shame to Polands old
reputation for tolerance and God. We are convinced, Cardinal,
that no true Polish Catholic can be utterly corrupt, that these youth
have been momentarily deluded by the slogans of foreign enemies.
At an appeal by their senses and certainly cease the persecution of
the Jewish people which defames Polands good name. In the
name of the Rabbis and Jews of this illustrious Republic, we
entreat you, Cardinal, to issue a pastoral appeal about this to all
Poland Catholics. Then peace and order will reign again in the land
beloved by us all. May grace flow upon it.
Rabbis were referring to the violence generated by the students’ “Green
League” formed in 1931. Their platform called for all those belonging
to the League not to buy from Jews, not to patronize their businesses
in any way, not in commerce and not in law, and certainly not as social
peers. They also called for the government to reinforce the numerus
clausus restricting the entry of Jews in the universities
they attended.  In addition, they distributed antisemitic pamphlets,
posters and cartoons and the number of violent incidents increased during
their school holidays. They attacked Jews in Warsaw, Vilna, and Lemberg
(See map Appendix 1). The police dispersed them, but within a few days
they attacked again.
anti-Jewish riots were outright imitations of Nazi violence.
 They spread like wildfire to other universities and
by 1934 they had become a threat to the Jewish community as a whole.
Indeed, anti-Jewish violence inspired non-radicalized youth to join
the Green League and harass shopkeepers everywhere. These attacks escalated
to Jewish homes under the excuse that the Jews “affronted” a Christian
procession in Warsaw. The intensification of violence was triggered
by the Goebbels’ visit to Poland.  While Polish Jews have suffered similar pogroms
prior to the re-establishment of interwar Poland, the ferocity of these
attacks during a peaceful period was unprecedented. Undoubtedly, these
youths were imitating their counterparts in Germany. Hence the Rabbis’
pressing appeal to stop the terror.
the Cardinal did nothing of that sort and his response to the Rabbis’
plea is an important indicator of the role religion played in the complex
interaction between Jews and Poles in this period. Whereas the 1921
Constitution guaranteed equal rights to all religions, article 114 declared
the Roman Catholic faith to be in “a chief position among the enfranchised
religions of the state.”
 Most significantly, Cardinal Kakowski was one of the
signatories of the Concordat with the Holy See in 1925.  His close relationship
with Pious XI was implicit in his response to the Rabbis: he regretted
the violence but railed at the same time against Jewish newspapers
“infecting public culture with atheism.”  That allusion
-meant for Jews directly tied to Communism- tainted also anyone politically
active left of center.  Undoubtedly,
his denunciation was devoid of a racist tenor; nonetheless it depicted
Jews as an inimical force to Christianity and by extension the Polish
state. The Cardinal’s response implied that Jewish behavior provoked
Polish youth to use Nazi methods. Yes, he ruefully added it was “regrettable,”
but apparently eminently necessary.
Rabbis’ appeal also offers clues to the Polish-Jewish relationship.
Their plea was typical of Jewish petitions since medieval times. Prior
to emancipation, Rabbis or wealthy individuals served as intermediaries
requesting protection or the rescission of a law that affected all the
community. Political enfranchisement made intercession, or Shtadlanut,
obsolete. Elected Jewish representatives to the Parliament, or Sejm,
could effectively argue that the recent violence was in complete violation
of both the clauses of the Minorities Protection Treaty and Poland’s
own 1921 Constitution.
Laski’s June 1934 visit was therefore geared to assess the impact of
these violations. He arrived in Poland after visiting the Jews in Austria,
and was received by a young man named Cang who served as his guide.
This young Jewish-Polish journalist wrote for the Manchester Guardian,
the Jewish Chronicle and the Central News. He obviously spoke
English and was well versed on the current events and situation.
 After walking through the streets of Warsaw and speaking
with diverse members of the Jewish community, Laski was granted an audience
with Colonel Josef Beck.
Mr. Laski had two important conversations that August morning. While
waiting to be received by Colonel Beck, he was able to strike up a conversation
with Beck’s principal secretary Mr. Gwiazdowski. The secretary, a converted
Jew, suggested that the solution to the pressing Jewish situation was
emigration. Mr. Laski challenged him to be practical: “Where was the
land, the money, the technical means and the will of the Polish Jews
to leave Poland?” Gwiazdowski’s silence spoke volumes. Mr. Laski then
berated him by adding that the Jews of Poland had citizenship rights.
Moreover, they were under the protection of the Minorities Treaty and
there was absolutely no point in arguing about the validity of the Treaty.
Undoubtedly, the Polish state had to abide by it. Moreover, the Jews
of Western Europe were ready to compel the Polish state to comply. Gwiazdowski
retorted that there was less antisemitism in Poland than in Germany.
Upset at Gwiazdowski’s disingenuousness, Mr. Laski compelled him to
answer: “Do two blacks make a white?” Does the fact that Germany is
[blatantly] antisemitic justify a similar penchant [for it] in Poland?”
However, Mr. Laski elicited neither an answer nor any emotions from
the Secretary. He essentially continued taking notes about the conversation.  As a converted
Jew, Gwiazdowski no longer retained a staunch commitment to his coreligionists
or their fate.
Mr. Laski’s interview with Colonel Beck had a more subdued and formal
tone. Prince Lubormski, served as a translator. Lubormiski greeted
Laski in a most pleasant manner, informing him of his acquaintance with
his brother Harold.  At the very outset
of the conversation, Mr. Laski was assured that the Jews of Poland were
treated fairly and that concerns about antisemitism were exaggerated.
To this “well worn cliché,” related Mr. Laski, “ I answered with another
well worn cliché: that the proof of the pudding was in the eating.”
He then praised the Pilsudski’s government as more benign, but argued
that nothing practical was truly being done to ameliorate the Jewish
situation. Indeed, Mr. Laski remarked, “nobody could visit the Warsaw’s
Jewish quarters and argue that the Jewish community was not in distress.”
Interestingly, Mr. Laski did not say anything to Col. Beck about the
Mr. Laski spent another hour that afternoon speaking with the acting
Prime Minister, Mr. Zawadski. The conversation covered the same ground,
but Laski felt that he had better rapport with Zawadski than with Col.
Beck: “…whether it was pre-agreement of courtesy or not, at any rate,
I found that we were moving very much along the same line at the close
of the interview.”  Quite possible this was so because
they were both able to speak privately in French with no intermediary.
most remarkable conversation was with the Minister of the Interior,
Mr. Zydram- Koscialkowski. He acknowledged that the poverty in the
Jewish quarter was striking, but appealed to Mr. Laski to consider,
too, the undeniable fact that Poland’s poverty contributed to Jewish
pauperization. As for antisemitism, he acknowledged its irrefutable
incidence as: “common in Poland and probably ineradicable and most parties
used it for election purposes.” [Indeed] “Any party that favored the
Jews would find itself in a precarious position, and added “un grand
nombre de Juifs sont communiste, mais ce n’est pas la politique, cest
la misere.” Delighted to hear his own perceptions validated, Mr.
Laski politely encouraged him to take the next step: “could this be
said in a public platform?” Zydram Koscialkowski did not take the hint.
Actually, he warned against such a move: “no one would have the courage
to say so publicly, even though it was absolutely true.” In the final
moments of this interview, they deliberated about possible solutions
to the present Jewish quandary; depressingly none emerged: Zydram Koscialkowski
averred that emigration was impossible and that Zionism was a palliative.  Mr. Laski offered some clues
to this gentleman’s exquisite frankness: He was married to a Jewess
and had been governor of a province for four years. During his regime,
Jews and non- Jews lived side by side in harmony. 
Zydram- Koscialkowski’s remarks about the party system were accurate.
The Parliament, or Sejm, despite its diverse parties was totally dominated
by the Nationalist Party, or Endecja. Its heady patriotism, imbued
with a strong Catholic ethos, encouraged ethnic uniformity, barely
tolerating the participation of other political groups.  Its preference
for the Hassidic Agudath Israel Party hinged on this group’s narrow
claims: religious protection as granted by article 110 in Section V
of the 1921 Polish Constitution. Other Jewish parties were snubbed because
they aimed at a broader range of political co-determination based also
on the Constitution:
of Poland guarantees on its territory, to all,
without distinction of extraction, nationality, language, race,
or religion, full protection of life, liberty, and property.
the right of presenting individual or collective
petitions to all state and self-government representative
bodies and public authorities.
belonging to national, religious, or linguistic
minorities have the same rights as other citizens of funding,
supervision and administering at their own expense, charitable,
religious and social institutions, schools and other educational
institutions, and of using freely therein their language, and
observing the rules of their religion. 
as the Jewish leadership stressed, these articles were backed by the
stipulations of the Minorities Protection Treaty of 1919. These articles
were incorporated almost verbatim in the Constitution with stipulations
insuring civil, political, and religious rights to all the minorities
in reconstituted Poland.
Jewish leaders did not speak with one voice. Jewish parties were splintered
in a multiplicity of political currents and lines of conflict. There
were four Zionist parties: Orthodox Zionists, or Mizrachi (Conservative
agenda combined with Modern Zionism), General Zionists (Democratic-liberalism
geared to the Middle class and neutral to the issue of religion), Labor
Zionists (with a socialist agenda) and Revisionists (fiercely Zionists
with a Palestinian emigration agenda). In contrast, the Bund party was
anti-Zionist and anti-Communist, anchoring itself on national territorial
claims and the right to use the Yiddish language. Finally, there was
an insignificant group of mostly former assimilated Austrian-Jews who
 Unable to jettison these parties’ insistent claims,
the Sejm retaliated instead by not allocating money for their school
budgets and not offering their students free rides on the trams.
 Needless to say, Agudath’s students did not confront
such petty slights.
attempt to counteract the constant snubs and distinctive harassment
in the Sejm, the General Zionists led by Yitzhak Gruenbaum banded with
other non- Jewish minorities (Germans and some Slavs) to form a Minorities
Bloc in 1922, as a response to the government’s re-arrangement of political
districts favoring the Nationalist Party, or Endejca.  The animosity
between the Minorities Bloc and the Nationalist Party peaked with the
election of the first President of the Republic. The ballots awarded
this post to Gabriel Narutowicz, a socialist, chosen as candidate by
the Minorities Block as well as the Left and Center. Endecja acrimoniously
decried this legal victory: “Look what the Jews are imposing on us.”
The ensuing diatribe, published in several newspapers, cost the fifty-seven
years old President his life. He was assassinated while talking to
the British Ambassador during the opening of the Zacheta Art Gallery.
While Eligiuz Niewamdowski allegedly acted alone, there is no question
that Endecja bears the brunt of the responsibility for fostering this
rancorous climate. 
visceral hostility between Endecja and the Jews is most immediately
linked to the tensions surrounding the Fourth Duma elections of 1912
when the Jews did not support the party’s candidate, Mr. Kurazewski.
In retaliation, Roman Dmowski, Endejca’s founder, called for an economic
boycott which was later incorporated as a party-platform in interwar
Poland. In addition, Dmowski envisioned an ethnically homogeneous and
intensely Catholic Poland. He therefore supported the signing of the
Concordat with the Holy See.  The boycott was a tool to achieve
his twofold aims: to rally most Poles behind Endejca, and to make Jews
so uncomfortable they would “voluntarily” decide to emigrate from Poland.
Dmowski’s antisemitic rhetoric is evident in his 1916 speech:
Why is there
such dislike for the Jews in Poland? The Jews are the salt
of the earth. It is necessary to court them. I will not go into whether
are the salt of the earth or not. Salt is a good condiment and if
soup in measured amounts it brings out taste. But if too much is poured
nobody can finish the soup.
Elite books and
popular newsletters carried Dmowski’s message across the land. Arthur
Gruszecki‘s novel Prezebudzenie (1916) picked up the theme by
accusing Jews of lacking patriotism by wanting to dominate the land
at the expense of Poles and Polishness.  Similarly, the newsletter
Gazetta Polska carried as its masthead the rhyming logo “Swoj
do Swego po Swoje” encouraging Poles to patronize only “their own.”
This “ cold pogrom”
channeled as an economic strangulation, albeit ambivalently applied,
impoverished the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community, but
drove away very few Jews. Many saw no reason to leave since they were
citizens of Poland. Furthermore, they and their ancestors had shown
loyalty by fighting alongside Polish forces in their attempts at liberation.
But even those who heard the expulsion clarion there was no place to
go. Most governments around the world closed their frontiers to new
emigration throughout the interwar period. 
Mr. Laski’s visit
confirmed both the abject poverty of the majority in the Jewish community
and the wishes to emigrate. His wandering around Warsaw’s Jewish district
permitted him to observe the wretchedness of its inhabitants: “Nothing
that I have seen or heard [before] in any degree can picture what I
saw with my own eyes.” He interviewed, for example, a man about forty
years old who eked a living as a sign-painter. He lived and worked out
of one room shared with his wife and four children. His total earnings
were 30 zlotys which only covered the rent. Mr. Laski observed a child
sleeping on the doorstep because there was no room for him to sleep
inside. Most of the district’s homes were in disrepair and the hygienic
conditions appalling. Finally, dishevelled children wandered everywhere
in these tenements.
many Jews asked Mr. Laski for certificates of emigration to Palestine.
One young man thought that he would be permitted to emigrate from Poland
if he had a wife. Could Mr. Laski provide him one?  He could not promise anything
of that sort because the British restricted emigration to Palestine
following a dispute between Arabs and Jews about access to the Western
Wall in 1931.  Furthermore, the majority of
Polish Jews barely eked out a living from their labors and few could
afford travel expenses. In 1934, only 19,026 Polish- Jews managed to
leave the country. 
The poverty of
most Polish Jews stemmed from their concentration in the less modern
sectors of the economy, but there was also an important middle class
contingent ignored in Mr. Laski’s report. According to the 1931 census
there were about 3,113,933 million Jews, or 9.8% percent of the total
population of Poland.
 By 1934 it had grown to approximately 3,200,000.  The upper strata, mostly urban, were involved
in commerce, trade and insurance. Jews also formed a large part of
the intelligentsia: forty to fifty percent were lawyers and forty percent
were doctors. They were also involved in the cultural life of both the
Jewish and the Polish community. While there were a handful of industrialists,
most Jews fell into the category of master craftsmen with small shops
employing a few people, or self employed as petty traders: tailoring,
leatherwork, book -binders, and bakers.
 These craftsmen lived dispersed in small villages,
or shtetls. Finally, in an unusual move, a handful of Galician
Jews used their newly won legal right to buy land in these villages
becoming landowners and peasants.
 (See map Appendix 2).
According to Mr.
Laski, bureaucratic discrimination exacerbated the pauperization of
the Jews in the shtetls. Dealing with these corrupt officials
was like running an obstacle course. A clear example was the discrimination
against the approximately 30,000 Jewish bakers. Compelled by the government
to modernize their machinery, many lost their businesses through their
inability to obtain the necessary loans. In one case, a lucky baker
obtained both a loan and a letter because he had been a baker in the
army. A new impediment was soon invented however: he was told his bakery
would have to function near a body of water. That meant a considerable
physical dislocation and further expenses. Needless to say this baker
joined the ranks of the impoverished. Laski recorded a similar harassment
deriving from the payment of taxes. While the law permitted flexibility
and discretion for those lagging behind, local officials resorted to
bribery and extortion with impunity. Finally, while the government encouraged
the formation of trade guilds, local guilds barred Jews from joining
implicated in this impoverishment was the Jews’ adherence to the strictures
of Orthodox life. Mr. Laski’s visit to schools and Yeshivot (religious
academies) confirmed this fact: committed to just study Torah and Talmud,
they could not supplement their income except as teachers or rabbis.
The facilities and living arrangements in these institutions were coarse
and primitive. Many of these students slept on the floors of the schools.
Mr. Laski justly perceived this lifestyle as injurious, but his own
ambivalence is apparent. On one hand, he enjoyed his visit with these
young men, and judged them to be “remarkably intelligent,” but on the
other, he also depicted them as “odd” and their occupation as a “ blind
impoverishment was part and parcel of Poland’s own economic situation.
Since its independence, the government had a difficult time establishing
one currency system and stabilizing it. In addition, Poland’s population
growth during this period was one of the highest in Europe. However,
this instability was intimately tied to political atomization and its
 As of 1925, of 92 registered political parties, thirty-two
gained representation in the Sejm. Political stability, a leading indicator
of an orderly society, appeared to be unattainable. In the first seven
years the government formed 14 different cabinets. These parties’ representatives
were educated prior to the reconstitution of Poland. As members of the
either Russian, Polish and Austrian Parliaments their modus operandi
had been always reactive to their governments oppressive policies.
While this policy was appropriate then, it was obsolete as members of
their own government. They spent more time bickering with one another
than attending to the affairs of state. Their animosity and mindset
were still entrenched in fighting pre-independence struggles with each
other.  It was in this milieu that
Jewish parties tried to enforce their minority rights to no avail.
The Sejm’s ineffectiveness
led to Josef Pilsudski’s re-emergence and the subsequent coup of 1926.
 He justified his new involvement in politics under
the apt name of “sanajca” (literally meaning purification.)  The majority of Jews preferred a Pilsudski-dominated
government because, unlike Endejca, it did not promote overt antisemitism.
Indeed, their situation improved under the cabinet of Pilsudski’s appointee
Kazimierz Bartel. He had a friendlier attitude toward all minorities.  During his government, steps were taken to revive
Jewish trade, prohibit university quotas at the universities, and rescind
the still extant Russian anti- Jewish laws. However, the cold pogrom
was not dismantled.  Unfortunately,
two factor undermined these positive developments. First, the Sejm,
still dominated by Endecja, remained recalcitrant and made a mockery
of purification. For example, encouraged by the new benign climate,
the minorities published a newspaper called Nation in 1927. Within a
few days Yitzhak Gruenbaum was mysteriously beaten in front of his house
in Warsaw, and the German editor, a teacher by the name of Augusta Utta,
was soon transferred to a forsaken province.  Secondly, the stock market
crash of 1929, and the consequent world wide Depression, expunged the
rest of the Bartelian promises.
Mr. Laski was able
to talk with one of the members of the Sejm: Mr. Wislicki. He was an
extremely prosperous merchant not touched by the Depression. He reiterated
the distressed economic condition of the Jewish population. Apparently
Mr. Laski associated the problem of discrimination with the subject
of the Minorities Protection Treaty. Mr. Wislicki sidestepped the issue
by remarking emphatically, “the Treaty would soon be liquidated by the
Polish government, Poland would not be deterred from denouncing the
Minorities Treaty merely because of her minorities [living] outside,
or because of the Treaty of Versailles.” 
Wislicki’s casual forewarning of such an important political shift to
a mere member of a NGO is at first surprising. Yet, prince Lubormiski’s
allusion to Laski’s brother Harold offers an interesting clue. Since
both Neville and Harold Laski worked in the highest echelons of government
as barristers, this delicate message was meant to reach not only Mr.
Laski’s Jewish audience, but also the British government itself. Quite
possibly, it was a deft attempt to blunt its response to Poland’s challenge
Mr. Wislicki predicted, Poland stunned the world again: Colonel Beck,
on September, 13, 1934, announced his country’s stance on the Minorities
Protection Treaty with a succinctly short statement:
is compelled to refuse as of today all cooperation
in the matter of supervision of the application by Poland of the
system of minorities protection, pending the implementation of a
uniform system for protection of minorities. 
The key words in
this defiant statement are “pending the implementation of a uniform
system.” In other words, unless all countries across the world embraced
similar Minorities Protection Treaties, Poland would no longer obey
its statutes. The lack of universality touched the issue of fairness
already debated by the Allies in 1919. However, weary about their own
colonial concerns, the seemingly lucid argument failed to persuade the
Allies. This crucial understanding of particularity versus universality
haunted the authors of the Minorities Protection Treaty. Finally, as
a way out of their quandary, they conjured a compromise: old states
had a legacy of stability, but new states lacked it. Therefore, only
“new” states would be required to incorporate a Minorities Protection
this new interpretation. Indeed, interim Polish President Ignazy Paderweski
had pleaded not to make them sign such a document since it infringed
upon his country’s sovereignty. He also stalled on the eve of signing
the Peace accords, to no avail. The French Premier, Clemenceau, tersely
warned Paderewski of the dire consequences of procrastinating: the
Allies won the war and it was up to them to define the conditions of
the Polish miracle.
 Roman Dmowski, keenly aware of the inexorable quid
pro quo, had advised Paderewski to sign first and worry later about
the implications of compliance to the Minorities Treaty.
 Furthermore, despite ratification, the Polish government
had not published the text of this treaty in its official Gazzete until
December 6, 1920.
 This passive- aggressive behavior was a clear indication
not only of hurt pride, but also of the government’s unwillingness to
meet its terms in the future.
In addition, the
1919 activism of Jewish groups formulating and lobbying for the enforcement
of a Minority Protections Treaty affronted Polish sensibilities.  Although American
and British Jews had no direct access to the Peace conference, except
through President Wilson and his counsel, Col. House, they had introduced
their own minorities-protection document. They took into account the
following factors: extreme nationalism, antisemitism, the ongoing boycott,
and the past history of Polish pogroms that were reccurring.
These new pogroms
began because the Allies had not define Poland’s borders with Russia.
A Polish- Russian war, lasting until 1921, defined the new frontiers.
The Polish Army, dressed proudly in blue uniforms, also dubbed “Hallerczy
Boys” because of the name of its captain, fought valiantly and enlarged
Polish territory. Josef Haller, an Austrian by birth and trained in
France, had been allowed to form there the Polish army in exile and
transfer it to Poland. However, Haller had also augmented his troops
along the way with badly trained volunteers. Either by design or accident
of war, the “Hallerczy Boys” had killed Jews not involved in the direct
hostilities during these maneuvers; their neutrality was to no avail
as many were accused of having sided with either the Russian or the
In the midst of
the hostilities it was difficult to fathom how many Jews had been killed,
but these cold-blooded murders were in the pattern of old pogroms and
dubbed as such. The total tally of Jews killed was disputed by the parties
involved in conformity with their own aim: Pilsudski minimized the
incidents and the number of Jews killed, but a journalist by the name
of Israel Cohen confirmed the events and characterized them as a pogrom.  The Allies, bent in preserving
Poland’s rebirth as a “cordon sanitaire” against Bolshevist ideology
and Russian old-age imperialism, also toned down the nature of these
Pressed by American Jews to send a fact-finding commission, President
Wilson assigned Henry Morgenthau to the task.  His return report
had been tone down for the press. At any rate, Jewish organizations
then used these recent pogroms as evidence that the Poles needed to
be restrained. (See map Appendix 3). Actually, some individual Jews
had even argued that Poland did not deserve its independence. This acrimonious
debate over the extent of the pogroms and Jewish involvement in the
Minorities Treaty continues to strain Polish-Jewish relationship up
to this day. 
incidents had convinced the Allies of a categorical need for protection
of minorities in all successor-states.  The League of
Nations would assume responsibility for reinforcing the treaties. However,
a remarkable hurdle needed to be surmounted: this proviso was decided
before the League of Nations became a reality! It was not even clear
if the members of the League’s Council would accept to oversee such
a minefield of future disputes. Indeed, Lord Balfour had predicted the
obstacle to such an endeavor.
 A softening criterion to make the task more palatable
was agreed upon: any minority, which required the League of Nations’
attention, would only address the League under the doctrine of “clean
hands.” In other words, this group could solve practical issues to
enhance its socio/political welfare, but could not have an irredentist
ulterior agenda. 
However, it was also noted that resisting assimilation should
not be construed as irredentist.  This fear of potential political conflagrations
had watered down the sanctions of the League of Nations against wayward
states. Furthermore, the Council’s purposeful destruction of its own
papers and records make it difficult to evaluate their performance adequately.
Protection Treaty and the League of Nations, despite the above iniquities,
were both bold and courageous new designs in international law. Yet,
many in-built setbacks had undermined their effectiveness. Chief among
them was the United States’ withdrawal from its initial commitment to
help form a new order in Europe. The Senate’s vote had not ratified
either the Treaty or the United States’ entrance into the League of
Nations, robbing the latter of a chance to grow roots as a truly international
system.  Championing at first Poland’s
rebirth, the United States had unceremoniously abandoned it and permitted
it to become again, in Norman Davies’s apt phrase, “God’s Playground.”
One example of
this iniquity will suffice: the Germans’ case in Polish Upper Silesia.
Its German residents became, overnight and against their will, a minority.
While many moved to Germany immediately, the German government had entreated
many others to stay. The German government had argued that there was
no point in uprooting themselves from their homes and the environment
they knew so well. However, the hidden agenda is more convincing: they
should stay there in the hope that one-day this land would return to
its “rightful owners.” Moreover, once Germany entered the League of
Nations in 1926, it used this minority issue to browbeat Poland with
a myriad of complaints. While many grievances- such as language and
educational issues- were indeed accurate, others were intended to keep
the issue of Germany’s minorities alive. In this manner, Gustaf Stresemann
became their advocate at the expense of Polish dignity.  On the other
hand, even with this constant harassment, Poland learned too well to
wait out these complaints until they lost their relevancy. Furthermore,
Poland imputed any and all grievances to acts of disloyalty.
aware of the disloyalty card, understood that winning a case against
the government in the League’s Council was often a Pyrrhic victory with
consequent reprisals back home.
 Even if they won, the Polish government always found
new legal maneuvers at the federal and local level to camouflage or
nullify their non-compliance with the Minorities Protect Treaty. For
example, the licenses of many thousands of shoemakers and tailors were
taken away from them in 1927, due to a new pre-requisite requiring a
test on Polish history, geography and language. 
The situation of
the German minority also deteriorated as a result of the Polish-German
non-aggression pact in 1934. While Hitler allowed, the Stresemann’s
monetary compensation, albeit in a more reduce level, he was not their
guardian anymore. Unrestrained, the Polish government also harassed
them with impunity.  Indeed, the League
of Nations did not receive any complaints from the German government
and the grievance Council ceased its activities after 1934.
 This paralysis perfectly captures the ineffectiveness
of the whole system.
imminent integration into the League of Nations system, also in 1934,
raised Poland’s fears that its small but sizable Russian minority, quiescent
up to now, would soon acquire a champion. The Polish government envisioned
the German humiliation nightmare repeating itself again: indeed, some
historians argue that Russian admission to the League was the main
trigger for Poland’s unilateral abrogation of the Minorities Protection
Russia’s entry into the League of Nations was clearly not the primary
instigating factor in the abrogation. It is a well-known fact that Stresemann’s
unrelenting defense of the German minority forced Beck’s predecessor,
Foreign Minister A. Zaleski, to resign from his post in 1932.  It seems reasonable to assert
that under those circumstances Poland would have more important reasons
to withdraw. Instead, it endured the indignities and even acquiesced
to solve some of its own blatant transgressions as a result of the League’s
arbitration. Therefore, a more plausible explanation for the unilateral
abrogation is Poland’s new relationship with Germany: emboldened by
Hitler’s own withdrawal from the League, Poland dared to defy it too.
It purportedly proclaimed to regain its absolute sovereignty while shielding
itself of further public indignities at the international level.
was vaguely aware that this new international position, albeit temporarily
tenable, was extremely uncertain in the long run. Pilsudski’s relief
after the signing of the non- aggression pact purportedly “buying” ten
years security confirms this assertion. Interestingly, Pilsudski also
assumed an independent relationship with Russia. He sent Colonel Beck
to Russia with reassurances that Poland intended to respect their 1932
bilateral agreements despite its new pact with Germany. Colonel Beck
successfully managed to extend the Russian pact for other ten years. 
and Colonel Beck were extremely proud of their brinkmanship. Without
the help of France they had single-handedly wrestled their country from
the starker political designs of both Germany and Soviet Russia. They
hoped that the pacts they signed with each of these countries would
prove to be a true détente. They were pleased to think that as of 1934
Poland was in charge of its own destiny. Barring omniscience, there
was no way to detect later tectonic political shocks. Similarly, the
Jewish minority, despite Poland’s insidious political antisemitism,
could not predict the future implications of this double-tracked international
venture. Under the best of circumstances their situation would not deteriorate
further, and at worst, they might suffer other pogroms; but they would
nonetheless survive them.
Meanwhile, in a
volatile era of competing nationalisms, Polish-Jewish discourse on self-determination
remained embroiled in the antithetical quarrels about its criteria and
significance. On one hand, it is important to remember that the Polish
people once they were independent in 1919 resented any new interference
with the way they wanted to handle their political and domestic affairs.
Understandably, they looked forward to reconstitute themselves as a
Catholic Polish country and the presence of Jews and other minorities
appeared to be an insurmountable hindrance. At this moment in time,
they had not taken into consideration that Jews dwelled with them for
five centuries. On the other hand, the latter also considered Poland
their own country and had no irredentist agenda. They hoped to be granted
the same respect and self-determination the Poles wanted for themselves.
The wanted they civic rights that the 1921 Constitution assured them
they will have, but also respect and dignity as a diverse minority.
This is what they understood by self- determination. Had the Jews felt
there was no hope of improvement, they would not have had participated
in neither the government’s elections nor the Parliament.
However, the Poles
did not care for the Jews’ presence or their religion, and their rapprochement
with the Holy See complicated the political tensions. Poles understood
self -determination as uniformity: one ethnicity, one religion, and
one political outlook. They were not alone; Hitler was advocating similar
nationalistic notions. Granted, Poland’s antisemitism was not the same
level as Hitler’s maniacal obsession. Yet, the Polish government allowed
itself to be seduced by the use of similar violent tactics- in addition
to an economic strangulation- fervently hoping Jews would emigrate.
It is at this junction that both political antisemitism and racial antisemitism
entwine. Witness, the word “pollution” in the Cardinal’s speech: it
was meant as an obvious attack against Jews’ sympathies for Communism
or Socialism, but it was also a borrowed term from racial notions. Furthermore,
Jews, as victims of either cold or hot pogroms, did not stop to make
this fine distinction between the two; although, of course there are
important differences between the two. Historians that read the tragic
story of interwar Poland as linked with the Holocaust are conflating
both antisemitic discourses and drawing what appear to be logical conclusions.
Yet, it is prudent, as disciplined historians, to keep these two periods
separate and not read the events backward: coercive emigration measures
no matter how violent are not a ”Final Solution,” despite the intense
hatred against Jews and Judaism that inspired them.
Mr. Laski’s report
highlighted these complex issues and put into perspective the mistreatment
of the Jews and the reasons for it. Undeniably, Polish Catholic antisemitism
and Nationalism - as expressed by the Endejca Party- were part of this
explosive mixture. If in addition, the government permitted the racial
discourse in Germany to filter in by allowing its youth to act like
Nazi thugs, any hope of a Polish Jewish dialogue was lost. Mr. Laski’s
arrival coincided with these events, as the last shreds of compromise
between Poles and Jews began to unravel. The abrogation of the Minority
Protection Treaty proved to be a watershed.
* * *
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