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170 SHOFAR Fall 1999 Vol. 18, No.1 No Way Out: The Politics of Polish Jewry 1935-1939, by Emanuel Melzer. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1997. 235 pp. $39.95. The history ofJews in Poland between the two World Wars is generally depressing, and the period 1935-1939 is particularly depressing. Emanuel Melzer's study documents this unenviable picture with fresh research from Israeli, Polish, and British archives as well as published primary and secondary literature. His work fleshes out the familiar topic and gives fresh detail about the issues ofthe day. He discusses Polish government policy, shows the reactions of different Polish groups, and examines the activities of Jewish parties and factions. The book makes a useful contribution to the field, although it could have been more sharply focused. Melzer confirms that antisemitism, which was a problem throughout the interwar period, radicalized and deepened after 1935. The National Democratic movement had long made antisemitism a major plank in its program, but their major opponent, Jozef Pilsudski, the dominant figure in Poland in 1926-35, adopted a more equitable policy towards Jews and other minorities. After his death in 1935, Pilsudski's successors, the "Colonels," attempted to bolster their political position by borrowing the opposition's antisemitic policy. They encouraged boycotts of large and small Jewish enterprises, tolerated anti-Jewish bullying in schools and universities, enacted laws restricting kosher slaughter, and made Jewish emigration a major aim of foreign policy. The Colonels disliked antisemitic violence, but they did little to stop it, and Polish Jews suffered several severe pogroms at this time as well as numerous lesser incidents. Melzer shows that large segments of society pushed the Polish government to adopt these policies. Students were most vehement and active, while peasants tended to be passive and disliked strident anti-Jewish policies that interfered with their trading patterns. Factory workers included both antisemites and proponents of Polish-Jewish solidarity. Melzer's portrait ofPolish society and government policies shows the range of opinion. However, he puts more emphasis on the antisemitic side of that spectrum. Melzer traces the variety ofJewish political parties and factions from the religious conservatives on the right to the Bund, Labor Zionists, and Communists on the left. His major point is that there was little cooperation among the parties to fight offantisemitic initiatives from government and society. Not only did eachparty have its own approach, it actively competed with other Jewish parties for support among the Jewish public and failed to present a united front against Polish antisemitic elements. Of course, it is unlikely that concerted action would have dissuaded the Polish government or society from antisemitic acts. Vladimir Jabotinsky is not as well-known to the English-reading public as he should be, and Melzer's description of his contacts with the Polish government are particularly welcome. Jabotinsky was the most willing of all the Zionists to help the Polish government try to get Britain to allow Polish Jews to emigrate to Palestine. The substantial description ofthe kosher slaughter and the ghetto Book Reviews 171 benches issues also add to the general picture presented in most accounts of interwar Polish-Jewish history. The major focus of this book is the Jewish community itself, according to the subtitle, and the book could have focused more clearly on Jewish society; most of the book presents a general picture of Polish-Jewish political relations. While the author needed to establish the Polish side ofthe equation clearly, he should have explored the Jewish side in greater depth. The internal workings ofJewish political parties are rarely examined, and leading personalities such as Gruenbaum, Ehrlich, Dubnow, and Jabotinsky are not discussed at length. Their overall ideologies and policies need to be established to provide a context for their handling of the issues of the day. One ofMelzer's most interesting assertions is that the 1934 Polish-German NonAggression pact had a "profound effect" on Polish government policies towards the Jews. Jews have often suspected collaboration between German and Polish antisemites, regardless of their other differences, while Polish historians see the Pilsudskiite government as deeply anti-German and the National Democrats as fiercely nationalistic (i.e., at least as anti-German as anti...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 170-171
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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