The Jews in Poland and Russia

BookThe Jews in Poland and Russia

The Jews in Poland and Russia

Volume I: 1350 to 1881

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

2009

December 10th, 2009

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In his three-volume history, Antony Polonsky provides a comprehensive survey—socio-political, economic, and religious—of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe from 1350 to the present. Until the Second World War, this was the heartland of the Jewish world: nearly three and a half million Jews lived in Poland alone, while nearly three million more lived in the Soviet Union. Although the majority of the Jews of Europe and the United States, and many of the Jews of Israel, originate from these lands, their history there is not well known. Rather, it is the subject of mythologizing and stereotypes that fail both to bring out the specific features of the Jewish civilization which emerged there and to illustrate what was lost. Jewish life, though often poor materially, was marked by a high degree of spiritual and ideological intensity and creativity. Antony Polonsky recreates this lost world—brutally cut down by the Holocaust and less brutally but still seriously damaged by the Soviet attempt to destroy Jewish culture. Wherever possible, the unfolding of history is illustrated by contemporary Jewish writings to show how Jews felt and reacted to the complex and difficult situations in which they found themselves. This first volume begins with an overview of Jewish life in Poland and Lithuania down to the mid-eighteenth century. It describes the towns and shtetls where the Jews lived, the institutions they developed, and their participation in the economy. Developments in religious life, including the emergence of hasidism and the growth of opposition to it, are described in detail. The volume goes on to cover the period from 1764 to 1881, highlighting government attempts to increase the integration of Jews into the wider society and the Jewish responses to these efforts, including the beginnings of the Haskalah movement. Attention is focused on developments in each country in turn: the problems of emancipation, acculturation, and assimilation in Prussian and Austrian Poland; the politics of integration in the Kingdom of Poland; and the failure of forced integration in the tsarist empire. Volume 2 covers the period 1881–1914; Volume 3 covers 1914–2008.

'Polonsky's sweeping study offers an illuminating, accessible view of Jewish life in eastern Euope since the end of World War II. In elegant prose, the author engages major historiographical issues while analyzing important cultural, religious, social, and political trends among eastern European Jewry. He carefully frames each section with a chapter-long overview of the relevant historical context for the following chapters . . . Throughout, Polonsky masterfully navigates the different realms of a turbulent eastern European Jewish world, conveying both the richness of its history and the tragedy of its destruction. Highly recommended.'
J. Haus, Choice

'Succeeds admirably. Simply put, these volumes are required reading for anyone with a serious interest in East European history or for anyone looking for a scholarly assessment of a particular feature of Polish or Russian Jewish history. Handsomely produced, with extensive maps and tables, and a glossary . . . will remain a standard work in the field for some time . . . a body of work that, in summarizing the current state of our knowledge, effectively sets the agenda for future scholars. Polonsky is perhaps the scholar most responsible for the growth of Polish Jewish studies in the late twentieth century . . Very few historians could write a series of volumes like this . . . [he] has armed scholars with a formidable tool that will help them dispel stereotypes . . . Just as these volumes are destined to become the starting point for the work of many students, they will be the touchstone for scholars working in the field at all levels.'  
Sean Martin, European History Quarterly

'Combines a masterful grasp of Jewish history with that of eastern Europe. While underlining the unique features and achievements of the Jewish communal experience he authoritatively integrates them into the history of the countries in which Jews lived . . . Incorporating current, ground-breaking scholarship from North America, Israel, and Europe these beautifully narrated volumes should not only be seen as a staple of university courses, but also as a must-read for anyone attempting to understand any aspect of modern Jewish history and religious tradition, wherever it may be playing out . . . With this extremely important book, Antony Polonsky not only writes history but, following the example of his illustrious predecessors, makes it.'  
Katarzyna Person, European Judaism

'We can only commend Antony Polonsky for his massive effort to explain seven centuries of Jewish history in a mere 2,000 pages . . . Polonsky's strength lies in his ability to illuminate intellectual and cultural developments . . . Because of the excellent bibliographies, extensive annotation, and wonderful maps included in each volume, any reader wishing to read in greater detail about Polish and Russian Jewry will have plenty of resources to enable the search.'
Alexandra S. Korros, Jewish Quarterly

'Magisterial . . . all three volumes, but particularly Volume 3, should be of special interest to Polish Americans and all Americans interested in the history of the Jews in Poland, Lithuania, and Russia.'  
Anna M. Cienciala, Polish Review

'Definitive . . . The scope is immense and the author does an impressive job of synthesizing a vast literature . . . This trilogy will no doubt serve as a standard history of east European Jewry for a long time.'
- Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

'Exemplary and formidable . . . Polonsky, as much as anyone else, has created the field of modern Jewish history as a subject to be considered and understood rather than simply a tragic past to be mourned. He is too good a historian to confuse the history of Jewish life with the German policies that brought Jewish death . . . The barely visible commitment in these three wonderful volumes is to rescue a world from polemic, for the sake of history.'  
- Timothy Snyder, Wall Street Journal

‘The first serious, and most successful, effort thus far to summarize the history of the Jews of  “Eastern Europe” . . . the first book to synthesize the vast research that has emerged since the seventies . . . comprehensive and multidisciplinary . . . there is no book today that can compare to its scope and to the vast and new materials that he brings forth and analyzes with a broad imagination, an intensive approach, and a moderate style.’
- Moshe Rosman, Zion

Each of the three volumes of this magisterial work provides a comprehensive picture of the realities of Jewish life in the Polish lands in the period it covers, while also considering the contemporary political, economic, and social context.

Volume I: 1350 to 1881 provides a wide-ranging overview down to the mid-eighteenth century, including social, economic, and religious history. The period from 1764 to 1881 is covered in more detail, with attention focused on developments in each country in turn, especially with regard to the politics of emancipation, acculturation, assimilation, and forced integration.

Volume II: 1881 to 1914 explores the factors that had a negative impact on Jewish life as well as the political and cultural movements that developed in consequence: Zionism, socialism, autonomism, the emergence of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, Jewish urbanization, and the rise of popular Jewish culture. Galicia, Prussian Poland, the Kingdom of Poland, and the tsarist empire are all treated individually, as are the main cities.

Volume III: 1914 to 2008 covers the interwar period, the Second World War, and the Holocaust, including Polish–Jewish relations and the Soviet record on the Holocaust. A survey of developments since 1945 concludes with an epilogue on the situation of the Jews since the collapse of communism.

Author Information

Antony Polonsky is Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw. He is the author of the three-volume History of the Jews in Poland and Russia, published in an abridged paperback version as The Jews in Poland and Russia: A Short History.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover1
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright5
Dedication6
Acknowledgements8
Contents10
List of Maps12
List of Tables12
Note on Transliteration14
Note on Place Names15
Maps16
GENERAL INTRODUCTION34
PART I JEWISH LIFE IN POLAND–LITHUANIA TO 175038
INTRODUCTION40
1. Jews and Christians in Early Modern Poland–Lithuania42
2. The Structure of Jewish Autonomous Institutions73
3. Jewish Places: Royal Towns and Noble Towns101
4. Jews in Economic Life124
5. Religious and Spiritual Life147
CONCLUSION191
APPENDIX: The Polish–Lithuanian Background193
PART II ATTEMPTS TO TRANSFORM AND INTEGRATE THE JEWS, AND THE JEWISH RESPONSE, 1750–1880214
INTRODUCTION216
6. The Last Years of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth224
7. The Jews in the Prussian Partition of Poland, 1772–1870256
8. The Jews in Galicia to the mid-1870s281
9. The Jews in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland, 1807–1881306
10. The Jews in the Tsarist Empire, 1772–1825355
11. Nicholas I and the Jews of Russia, 1825–1855388
12. The Reign of Alexander II, 1855–1881425
Glossary474
Bibliography483
Index528