Between the Wars

Six Men

Zolynia in the mid-1930s. Men in their best suits, probably for a wedding or other special event. Seated, left to right, are Chaskel Kesten, Shmiel Marder and Chaskel Jokel. Standing, at left, is Gessel Marder. The other two men are unidentified. The Marder and Kesten families had butcher shops for many years. Leibish Jokel picked up day jobs, including work as a stablehand and gamekeeper on one of the local Potocki estates. By this time, the Jokels were dependent on money and goods sent from Leibish's siblings in the United States, typical of dozens of Jewish families in Zolynia. He died of tuberculosis in 1935, probably not long after this photograph was taken.The Jokel, Kesten and Marder families were related, like many of the town's Jewish families.


The End of the Immigration Era

The United States severely limited the annual number of immigrants from Poland and other Central and East European countries in 1921, and passed even stricter limitations in 1924. Visa to go the the United States were difficult and required waiting on lists for years. By 1930, only 1,269 Polish citizens legally immigrated to the United States.

Dissolution of Zolynia Miasteczko

In 1919, an initiative was made by some Zolynia residents to merge Zolynia Miasteczko, the market town, with Zolynia Wies, the outlying village. The town had been losing population for years, the number of residents falling from 1,834 in 1880 to 1,711 in 1900 to 954 in 1921. The Wies area had also been losing population, but at a much lower rate, falling from just over 4,154 to 3,954 in the same period. For years, the proposal was studied and kicked about various bureaucracies, from the Powiat (county) government in Lancut to the new provincial government in Lvov. Finally, after numerous appeals and delays by officials, the town was merged into the village in 1928. Protests were filed regarding possible voting irregularities in the 1929 elections for the new village council, and the new Zolynia Wies government could not fully function for another two years.

Zolynia was not the only town in the vicinity in which the mainly-Jewish central market area was merged with the larger, mainly-Christian village, according to a postwar account from a former resident of Rzeszow. A former resident of Kolbuszowa, just to the west, suggests that a particular concern over local control was appointment of the local board of tax assessors. Assessors would base personal taxes on perceived wealth, status and lifestyle: "Jews were usually discriminated against and assessed higher taxes than the Poles," he maintains.

Regardless of the reasons behind the dissolution of the market town, there were some clear practical results. In the last town elections before the war in 1914, 12 out of the 18 elected town councilmembers were Jewish. In the first elections after the merger, none of the councilmembers elected to represent the expanded village were Jewish. In the new municipality, Jews were a distinct minority.

Legal restrictions on Jews in Interwar Poland

The wording of the Polish Constitutions of 1921 and 1935 guaranteed citizens freedom of conscience and religion and granted every national minority group full equality in the use of its language for all public, private and economic purposes. Equality before the law was a legal ideal, but it was not always an everyday reality.

Jews were elected to the Sejm, the national legislature. However, it wasn't until 1931 that they could convince the Sejm to officially rescind discriminatory laws from the old pre-1772 Kingdom of Poland. These laws were still being used by some municipalities to restrict where Jews could live, prohibit their purchase of land and require observance of the Sunday Sabbath.

In another example, the telegraph company rejected telegrams written in Hebrew or Yiddish, even if words were spelled out in Latin characters, and telephone conversations in those languages were also banned (as a security measure). In 1923, Poland's General Prosecutor ruled that language could not be restricted in private conversations, but Hebrew and Yiddish could not be used in any public purpose. It was declared that Hebrew was not a national language because most Jews did not use it in everyday living, and Yiddish was "merely a primitive form of German."



Josef Pilsudski on a 1919 postage stamp, when he was Chief of State and commander of the Polish forces fighting the Soviet Union.

The "Jewish Grandpa"

Josef Pilsudski, a popular war hero and former head of the new Polish Republic, had retired from Polish politics in 1923. Within a few years, the Polish economy was suffering with high inflation and unemployment the political situation was in chaos. In 1926, Pilsudski led the "May Coup" and his Sanacja party (a left-center coalition) took control of the Sejm and the government. Pilsduski usually had the title of Minister of Defense, but actually was acknowledged as dictator.

Pilsudski was personally opposed to antisemitism and did not object to minority groups retaining their cultural identify. He rejected the concept of ethnic assimilation, promoting the idea of "state assimilation" in which loyalty to the Polish Republic was built among all ethnic and religious groups. One of his first actions was to rescind the ban on speaking Yiddish in public assemblies, including municipal councils and the Sejm. Pilsudski was very popular among Jewish Poles, who sometimes called him "the Jewish Grandpa." Until his death in early 1935, Pilsudski held his archrivals, the hardline anti-semitic National Democrats (nicknamed the "Endeks") in check, and held back growing pressure on the Sanacja to deal with the "Jewish Question."

"Struggle, Yes, But No Physical Injury"

The National Democratics or "Endeks" were on the ascendency in most of Poland, offering millions of peasants, poor farmers, the unemployed and the underemployed a clear explanation of who was responsible. Meanwhile, the post-Pilsudski Sanacja coalition was trying to hold off the Endeks and remade itself into the OZN, a "Camp of National Unity." In an effort to maintain popularity and support, OZN began adopting some of the Endek positions on minority groups. By the end of 1937, OZN brochures began referring to Jews as "an element alien" to Poland. OZN also endorsed the reduction of Poland's Jewish population by encouraging emigration to other countries. Although the government officially condemned violence against Jews, the slogan "Struggle, yes, but no physical injury" seemed to give approval to boycotts against Jewish businesses and professionals.

Zolynia Just Before the War

The population was smaller in Zolynia and the size and diversity of the local economy was smaller. The Jewish community was more diverse in some ways, but it remained a cohesive group in some important areas. By tradition, even Jews who were poor were expected to make some kind of contributions to those more in need. The Kahal was no longer an official government agency, but it remained a corporate entity, owning property and assessing voluntary fees on the congregation to support local Jewish poor and other causes. Zolynia had a Gemilas Hesed (a Hebrew Free Loan Society), common in many shtetls in Europe, which made small, interest-free loans to people in need. Typically, loans might be made to help buy new equipment for a struggling craftsman or merchant, such as a sewing machine or pushcart. In 1929, 33 small loans were made, totaling 2,470 Polish zlotys (about $3,325 in U.S. currency in 2007). This was not enough to help many, and more and more Jewish-owned businesses in and around the market square went out of business.

By the early 1930s, a little more than half of the town's dealers and shops listed in regional business directories were owned by Jews. Near the end of the 19th century, Jews had owned about three-fourths of them. While some local Jewish families were doing fairly well, living a comparative middle class lifestyle, more and more families were dependent on clothes and cash sent from children and relatives abroad.

Poland Transforming

Technically, the government argued, what was happening in Poland was neither discrimatory nor anti-Semitic. Raising of the economic status of peasants, explained the Minister of Internal Affairs in 1938, was "the higher economic values of the Polish nation. Therefore, the Jews have to understand that economic struggle against them is not a violation of their rights, nor is it an attack on them as citizens of the state." There was no law that applied universally to all Jews, so the government claimed that formal equality under the law was being maintained. But the effect of these laws were clear. The Nationalists also took actions against ethnic Ukrainians, effectively closing many places of worship and social organizations. 1938, Jewish and Ukrainian deputies in the Sejm tried unsuccessfully to stop a new law that restricted members of national minorities in becoming approved members of the bar. The Minister of Justice would create lists of approved lawyers. The first list contained 63 names, none of them Jewish.

There was a series of economic boycotts against Jewish-owned shops and professionals. In April 1937, the government issued an order requiring business signs to include the name of the owner, helping consumers identify Jewish businesses. Many towns banned markets within city limits, or opened markets only on Saturdays when Jewish residents could not shop or sell. Nationalist students at universities and colleges demanded the segration of Jewish students in lecture halls. The first to establish this "bench ghetto" was Lwow Polytechnic Institute in December 1935. The practice later spread to many secondary and even elementary schools. Pressure to exclude Jews from higher education was working; the percentage of Jewish tudents enrolled in institutions of higher education fell from 20.4% in the 1928-1929 academic year to 7.5% in 1937-1938.

The Sejm passed, effective January 1, 1939, a ban on all Jewish ritual slaughter, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds, making it almost impossible for most Jews to consume meat. Some 40,000 Jews would be put out of work. A new law restricted the manufacture and trade of religious articles to people officially registered in the faith for which the articles were intended. The sponsor declared: "It is time to strive for complete economic freedom from alien elements." The target clearly was the Jews, who could no longer deal in Christian religious items.

By this time, many Jewish people in Poland who had never considered leaving Poland, their ancestral home for generations, were now willing to leave. Encouraging Jewish emigration was the single issue on which the Endeks and Zionist members of the national legislature agreed. Families in the United States tried to facilitate the acquisition of visas for loved ones in Zolynia, but the process was difficult and usually took years. Immigration to Palestine was also restricted by the British. But some had the means and the opportunity to leave, and did. During this time, a few Zolynia Jews ended up in Mexico, Canada and other places. Before the Second World War, there were hometown associations for Lancut Jews in New York, London, Paris and Palestine, and also in more exotic countries, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and Switzerland. It is likely that there were some Jews from Zolynia in at least some of these Lancut groups.

On December 21, 1938, 116 out of the 167 National Unity Camp delegates to the Sejm signed a statement declaring that "Jews are a factor weakening and blocking the normal development of the nation and state...they constitute a highly undesirable element, making it difficult for the Polish rural and urban population to stand on their own feet." They demanded that the government "use all available means to organize the emigration of the Jews." The Prime Minister agreed that organized emigration was a prime "solution to the Jewish question in Poland, " that this was "unanimous Polish public opinion" and that the government would do everything it could "to create conditions that would enable an increase in emigration."

This was the policy of the Polish government on the eve of the Second World War.

Market 1936

The Zolynia market square in 1936.


More Information

Zolynia Wies (the combined town and village) in the 1930s: Zolynia's telephone exchange was 71-45; post office hours are 8 a.m. to noon, and from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. daily; Zolynia has its first secondary school.

By the end of the 1920s, new laws and reforms had legally stripped Count Potocki of the formal rights and priviledges of nobility. He no longer "owned" Zolynia and most of the forests, meadows and other natural resources in the area. However, he successfully transformed his ordynacja into a modern business conglomerate. Potocki was still, by far, the area's largest landowner and a proprietor or key investor in a large portion of the area's industry. He employed many local Jews as caretakers and managers of his properties.

Anti-Jewish campaigns in Poland were different from those in Germany and some other countries. In Poland, Jews were generally characterized as an economic or cultural threat, but no as subhuman or biologically inferior, as in Germany.

The nationalistic program of Poland's OZN government of the late 1930s included an arms buildup and calls for an expanded Poland (Polska od Morza do Morza or Poland From Sea to Sea, meaning a country stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, including much of the Ukraine). Poland participated in the partitioning of Czechoslovakia in 1939. The government's obsessiveness regarding the country's Jewish minority diverted attention away from Poland's worsening economy and, inadvertedly, from the very real and growing danger from Germany.

On February 29, 1936, Cardinal Hlond, Primate of Poland, issued a Pastoral Letter which was read in Catholic Churches throughout the country. Here is the text of that letter:

There will be a Jewish problem as long as the Jews remain. This question varies in intensity and degree from country to country. It is especially difficult in our country, and ought to be the object of serious consideration. I shall touch briefly here on its moral aspects in connection with the situation today.

It is a fact that the Jews fight against the Catholic church, they are free-thinkers, and constitute the vanguard of atheism, bolshevism and revolution. It is true that the Jews are committing frauds, practicing usury and dealing in white slavery. It is also true that in the schools, the influence of the Jewish youth upon the Catholic youth is generally evil, from a religious and ethical point of view.

But let us be just. Not all Jews are like that. Not all Jews are this way. There are very many Jews who are believers, honest, just, kind and philanthropic. There is a healthy, edifying sense of family in many Jewish homes. We know Jews who are ethically outstanding, noble, and upright.

I warn against that moral stance, imported from abroad, that is fundamentally and ruthlessly anti-Jewish. It is contrary to Catholic ethics. One may love one's own nation more, but one may not hate anyone. Not even Jews. One does well to prefer his own kind in business dealings and to avoid Jewish shops and Jewish stalls in the markets, but it is not permitted to demolish Jewish businesses, break windows, or throw things at their homes. One should protect oneself against the influence of Jewish morals, keep away from their anti-Christian culture, and especially boycott the Jewish press and demoralizing Jewish publications. But it is inadmissible to assault, beat up, maim or injure Jews. One should honor Jews as human beings and neighbors, even though we do not honor the indescribable tragedy of that nation, which was the guardian of the idea of the Messiah and from which was born the Savior. When divine mercy enlightens a Jew to sincerely accept his and our Messiah, let us greet him into our Christian ranks with joy.

Beware of those who are inciting anti-Jewish violence. They are serving a bad cause. Do you know who is giving the orders? Do you know who is intent on these riots? No good comes from these rash actions. And it is Polish blood that is sometimes being shed at them.


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