A Warsaw Story: Polish-Jewish Relations during the First World War

Robert Blobaum

West Virginia University


This paper is about the continuation and acceleration of a downhill slide in Polish-Jewish relations in Warsaw that began in the last decades of the nineteenth century and forms part of a larger European story.  During the First World War, the image of the speculating and profiteering Jew became widespread in central and eastern Europe, especially during the second half of the war, when acute shortages, especially of food, became the norm.  In the specific context of Warsaw, the association of Jews with Germans (coupled with the pro-Russian sentiment of many Poles), the presence of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in the city, competing and conflicting claims on the part of segregated institutions and organizations over access to public assistance, the insistence of Polish cultural warriors that Jews were responsible for the city’s demoralization in wartime, and issues of representation on non-governmental and self-governing municipal bodies only added to economically-based accusations of exploitation, hoarding, price-gouging, and speculation.  However, it was the existential catastrophe of Warsaw’s residents during the war, and the perception that Jews were not only better off but had profited from the war’s hardships, that fed anti-Jewish agitation in Warsaw.  By the fall of 1918, physical assaults on Jews against the backdrop of Polish nationalist calls for a boycott of Jewish trade and commerce, had become commonplace.  That Warsaw did not experience a major outbreak of anti-Jewish violence at the end of 1918 was something of a miracle, one that this paper will attempt to explain.

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