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  • Economic Struggle or Antisemitism?
  • Szymon Rudnicki (bio)

In recent times all kinds of 'judaeo-sceptics', as well as some historians, have attempted to prove that there was no antisemitism in Poland before the Second World War; rather, there was simply an economic struggle. This serves to hide the fact that the aim of this struggle was not to 'Polonize' the economy but was against the Jews as such: the economic war was an important aspect, but only an aspect, of a wider phenomenon. While collecting material for this chapter, I came to the conclusion that this apologetic point of view was also upheld by the radical nationalists. Ruch Młodych, the paper shaping the political thought of the National Radical Movement (Ruch Narodowo-Radykalny; RNR), included writings about 'antisemitism, and particularly economic antisemitism'.1 Initially I wanted to focus on the RNR propaganda. It turned out, however, that the entire nationalist press spoke with one voice. The Catholic press was no different in this respect.

There is no doubt that the Endecja (National Democrats) were the leaders in spreading antisemitism in Poland. It became a permanent element of their propaganda, and its intensity grew as the years went by and it became increasingly aggressive.2 As Stanisław Cat-Mackiewicz wrote, 'when using the word "minorities", the average nationalist was only seeing Jews, only thinking about Jews'.3 The advantage of the anti-Jewish programme was its concreteness and immediacy. In the process the Endecja exploited the Catholic Church's anti-Judaism, which over the centuries had grown to be a significant element of its culture. In addition, the Polish lands were particularly susceptible to antisemitic slogans because of the large Jewish population and its role in economic life. Antisemitism led the nationalists to perceive reality through the prism of the Jewish question.

Endecja was supported in the spread of antisemitism by the church, which led to an increase in resentment and hostility towards Jews. Father Mateusz JeŻ wrote that in villages, where clerical influence was stronger, there were fewer Jews, while [End Page 397] in the cities 'those Catholics who are the better, practising Catholics, who listen regularly to masses and sermons, tend to be more antisemitic'.4

Endecja was also the first party in Polish political life to use antisemitism on a larger scale as a weapon in the fight for influence and power. The adoption of an anti-Jewish programme had obvious advantages. It exploited existing sentiments, exaggerated the role of Jews, and incited the masses against them. In 1905 Endecja exploited antisemitism to fight against the revolution. By promoting slogans of national solidarity, it started identifying socialism with Jews, which would lead to the concept of żydokomuna, 'judaeo-communism'. As a result of losing the elections in 1912, Roman Dmowski, the leading ideologist of Polish ethno-nationalism, developed an obsession with antisemitism,5 and his followers—trying to make up for the failure—announced an economic boycott of Jewish businesses. This was organized by Rozwój, the Society for the Development of Trade, Industry and Crafts, founded in mid-1913 and responsible for publishing the first Polish edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. During the 'Second Conference on Jewish Studies' organized by Rozwój, a unanimous resolution was passed demanding the unconditional separation of Polish society from the Jews.6 Rozwój was active until 1933, when its role was taken over by the apparatus of the National Party (Stronnictwo Narodowe). The National Party advanced the thesis that the Jews had created both communism and capitalism in order to gain control of the world. The Jews became richer by exploiting the Poles. The issue of Jewish wealth presented in these terms further justified the necessity to eradicate it.

The economic crises of the 1930s gave a new dimension to the issue. It was not difficult to convince a society struck by disaster of who was to blame for all the negative aspects of social, political, and economic life, and to use antisemitism as an integrating element. On 6 December 1931 Gazeta Warszawska, a xenophobic daily newspaper published by the Endecja, wrote that the separation into different political groupings in Poland was often...


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pp. 397-406
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