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03/14/2023 03:49:23 PM


Jewish life in Poland

A few years ago, I visited in Poland the government sponsored Jewish history in Poland museum. I was surprised to discover that of the ten permanent exhibits, only one dealt with Polish antisemitism. The rest celebrated the amazing nexus of Jewish and Polish creativity that existed for centuries. It is easy to think of only Auschwitz when considering Jews in Poland, but this does a disservice to the centuries of Jewish life that began to flower in the 16th century. That age was a golden period of Jewish legal innovation, spiritual renewal, and cultural expansion. Some of the scholarship became very abstract and intellectual, but the growing Chassidic movement that followed served as a creative correction. The Jews also enjoyed a limited communal autonomy that would be curtailed only in the aftermath of the Cossack revolt of 1648. To be followed by Czarist persecution. (RIP, Topol.) The Ukraine of the period was a hostile Cossack run entity that led to the massacre of whole Jewish villages and enslavement of Jews. What was bad for the Jews also became bad for Poland. The glory days were over. Eventually the Jews found they were living in Russia, not Poland, and another chapter of torment began.
Next time: Enter the Chassidim.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784