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  • Does 'Polish Antisemitism' Exist?Research in Poland and Ukraine, 1992 and 2002
  • Ireneusz Krzemiński (bio)
    Translated from the Polish by Jarosław Garliński

In 1992 I led a team from the Institute of Sociology at Warsaw University which sought to analyse Polish attitudes to Jews. One thousand and eleven Poles over the age of 18 were surveyed by the Social Research Workshop in Sopot. This was repeated in 2002 with 1,098 respondents, whilst another survey was conducted in 2003 by Sotsioinform of 1,000 Ukrainians. A fourth survey was conducted by a team from the Workshop on the Theory of Social Change in 2012 of 1,200 Poles.1 This chapter summarizes the results of the first three surveys in English, in preparation for the publication of the results of the 2012 survey in a forthcoming volume of Polin.


Sociological research into antisemitic attitudes presents many challenges and has been approached in many different ways. Most scholars recognize that hostile attitudes towards Jews may be deeply ingrained in an individual's psyche, if not in their entire personality, an insight that the Frankfurt School developed into the concept of the 'authoritarian personality'. On the whole, surveys of antisemitic attitudes have been based on a series of statements about Jews as people or as a [End Page 425] distinct (religious or national) group.2 Bergmann and Erb used more than a dozen questions to measure attitudes towards Jews and Israel.3 However, as Bergmann pointed out, the respondents themselves defined their attitudes towards Jews and thus were making self-declarations.4 Our studies sought indicators of antisemitic attitudes in respondents' answers to questions that were similar or identical to those posed in various Polish studies from 1990.5 At the root of the identification of antisemitic attitudes lay two theoretical assumptions: first, that antisemitism consists of an 'attitude' with cognitive, judgemental/emotional, and behavioural aspects; and, second, that maintaining a sense of hostility and unfriendliness is unpleasant for an individual and as a result, a strong justification is necessary if these attitudes are to endure. We distinguished two sets of attitudes as the basis for hostile or unfriendly attitudes towards Jews—'traditional antisemitism', which finds a religious justification for dislike and hostility, and 'modern antisemitism', which developed throughout Europe in various national versions since the French revolution.6 To reveal the presence of traditional antisemitism, we simply asked whether Jews were guilty of the death of Jesus and if they were therefore them-selves responsible for the sufferings they had endured. To discover indicators of modern antisemitism, we asked whether Jews controlled the financial system, whether they sought clandestinely to gain global power, and whether they always looked out for each other. These three elements define an axis of ideological conviction. Their content has been empirically confirmed by research and, in particular, by an analysis of responses to the question of why some people do not like Jews. We also asked whether Żydokomuna (Judaeo-communism, the view that communism was a Jewish phenomenon, which, ironically, coexists with beliefs about Jewish 'control of capital') was an expression of Jewish propensity for anarchy and disruption. What is surprising is that in Poland this particular prejudice was articulated only by a small group of respondents. Modern antisemitism in Poland is clearly not different from that in other European countries or throughout the world.

Another important hypothesis underlay our research: Polish-Jewish rivalry for moral and cultural superiority. What is at issue here is the thesis of the 'moral superiority' of Poles who act according to noble motives and selflessly maintain their obligations regardless of the cost to themselves, unlike Jews (and Germans) who always seek their own advantage. Polish suffering is explained as the result of [End Page 426] following honourable principles rather than rational calculation, which has led to catastrophes and national suffering. This competition over who has behaved better throughout history constitutes an important element in national identity, both Polish and Jewish.

We selected questions aimed at revealing traditional antisemitism and modern antisemitism and correlated the responses to calculate the intensity of each within individual respondents. The questions also allowed the respondents to reject the...


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