Our ancestors in Galicia within a context... #galicia

Peter Jassem <jassep@...>

Jane Foss <JLowenkron@...> wrote:

/.../ The ones who came did miss their old homes, but not the pogroms and
deeply rooted anti Semitism that always threatened to flare up and lead to
killings and rape. Of course all who remained but one were killed in the
Holocaust, so one wishes they had uprooted themselves.............

Dear Jane, I would like to continue this interesting discussion and, if
Gesher Galicia allows, make these two additional comments:

1. Pogroms did exist but not to the extent popularly believed and they were
rarely a sole cause of Jewish exodus to America.

Last year, during the 19th Annual Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New
York, one of leading Jewish-American historians Professor Michael
Stanislawski of Columbia University spoke about it in his very interesting
lecture titled "The Pale of Settlement: The Czars' Edicts & Their Impact on
Our Ancestry", an attempt to bridge the gap between the scholarly and the
popular understanding of Russian and Polish Jewry. Also it has to be noted
that while under the oppressive Czarist regime acting according to the
Roman maxim "divide et impera" (divide and rule) had intensified ethnic
tensions between all component nationalities of the empire in Galicia under
Maria Theresa a similar policy took place but her successor Joseph II
liberalized his empire, granted more civil rights to various ethnic groups
and notably to the Jews thus relieving tensions and creating better grounds
for co-existence. I do not see the history of Galician Jews as a string of
pogroms and rape.

2. Anti-Semitism.

As you realize it was present everywhere, including North America. In most
European countries it took a much more radical form then in the territories
of the Polish Commonwealth or the state of Poland. Prof. Stephen M. Berk
of Department of History of Union College, Schenectady, NY in his lecture
two years ago in Toronto presented many examples to support this thesis.
Also all scholars agree that the Polish Commonwealth was a Jewish safe
heaven for ages while most of European countries fiercely persecuted Jews,
forcibly converted them, expelled them or banned them >from entering their
borders. It is true that tensions rose in Poland after the partitions. The
Polish state no longer existed and for the Poles, retaining their
independence became a primary objective. At the same time, the
partitioning power did everything they could to promote divisions among the
ethnic groups as part of their strategy to subvert Polish efforts to
restore the Polish state. Once again - divide and rule. The large
emigration of Jews >from Galicia at the end of the 19th century was matched
by an equally large emigration of Polish Christians. In both cases the
primary reason for this was poverty. Although there was anit-Semitism in
inter-war independent Poland, it was by no means a universal sentiment.
While some nationalists wanted Poland to be entirely a Polish state and
had little tolerance for other languages and cultures, many others retained
their age-old tolerance. Pluralism is a relatively new concept. I have
examined many letters written by Polish Jews >from former Western Galicia
to their American cousins dated January to September 1939 that I found no
indication of fear of their local Polish neighbours. On the other hand a
great concern and fear of developments in Germany and fear for the fate of
their own country of Poland was evident in many letters.

In conclusion, I'd like to express my strong belief that our Galician
family histories and the history of 18th, 19th and early 20th century
Polish and Eastern-European Jewry in general should not be seen through the
filter of the Holocaust, a tragedy planned and implemented by Nazi Germany
during the Second World War that followed.

Peter Jassem
Toronto, Canada

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