- Żydzi w Polsce Odrodzonej (Jews in the Restored Poland), and: "Głos Gminy Żydowskiej" ("The Voice of the Jewish Community")
Poland regained its independence in November 1918 after over 100 years' absence from the map of Europe. The process of forming and setting the boundaries of the Polish State took several years more; however, at the end of 1918 the provisional structures of the state authorities already existed. In January 1919 the first democratic parliamentary election took place on part of its territory. In June 1919, simultaneously with the signing of the Versailles Treaty, the independence of Poland was recognized in the international arena, as well as its western boundaries. On the controversial territories of Upper Silesia and Warmia, a referendum was announced which would determine their future national status. After the end of the Polish-Soviet war in February 1921 the border with the Soviet Russia was set. The incorporation of the Vilnius region in early 1922 and the recognition of Eastern Galicia as a part of Poland in 1923 completed the process of shaping the borders of the Polish State.
There were three million Jews in the newly established Polish State. The Jewish community had been deteriorating and losing its mutual links throughout the nineteenth century. In 1918, in the newly unified Poland, the Jews who up to then had been living in the separate areas of the Kingdom of Poland, the Polish Eastern Borderline, Galicia, and Great Poland met for the first time since before the partitions. Because the invaders—Russia, Prussia, and Austria—had different policies towards the Jews who lived in the separate areas, [End Page 118] each Jewish community had experienced its own fate, had specific distinctive features, and functioned in a different legal system. The twenty inter-war years of the Second Republic of Poland contributed to the abolition of those dissimilarities only to a degree, through migration, the unifying policy of the Polish State, and mutual coexistence.
The Jewish community showed a positive attitude towards the rebirth of the Polish State in the belief and expectation that the future Poland would prove to be a democratic state free from the persecution of Jews. Secular circles demanded that Jews be granted the rights that would enable them to preserve their tradition and language. The battle for minority rights was finally fought in two spots: at the Versailles Conference in the spring of 1919 and in the Polish Parliament in fall 1920. Whereas the Jewish representatives at the Constitutive Parliament and the Jewish delegates at the Versaille Conference urgently requested collective common rights for Jews in the form of national cultural autonomy, both the Polish parliamentary majority and the leaders of the superpowers in Paris were ready to consider individual rights at most. The idea of national rights granted individually finally triumphed—rights for individuals as the members of the minority group, not for the entire minority group as a community. That seemingly small difference resulted in very grave consequences. Collective rights would have allowed the body to represent the minority towards the state authorities and autonomously control the rights of the minority, first of all national education and its financing from the public purse. The system of rights for individuals could not provide such practices.
Although the idea of national cultural autonomy was not accomplished, in the Second Republic of Poland the autonomous network of Jewish institutions and organizations functioned in practice. They were active in all fields of religious, economic, social, cultural and educational life as financed from private sources. Part of it was a continuation of the existing associations; others emerged as the result of the changing conditions of living in the Diaspora as well as modern transformations and social movements. That network of Jewish institutions guaranteed the achievement of all national needs of the Jewish minority in Poland despite the not always friendly policy of the Polish State.
Polish-Jewish relations were particularly tense after the end of...