Second International Conference on “Jews in Galicia”
Kraków, 10-12 September 2019
Title of paper: Institutional antisemitism in the territory of the former Galicia, 1935-1939
Presenter: Tony Kahane
In the period 1935-1939, following the death of head of state Marshal Piłsudski, the Polish national government adopted a more authoritarian and nationalist stance. Piłsudski had been considered, at least by some Polish Jews, as a protector of national and religious minorities. After his death in May 1935, institutional antisemitism – whether it was purposefully instigated or flourished by neglect on the part of the authorities – saw a dramatic increase.
In the public non-governmental sphere, certain newspapers regularly featured antisemitic “news reports”, opinion pieces and cartoons of an extreme and grotesque nature – comparable with the internationally better known antisemitism of Nazi German newspapers such as Der Stürmer. Various newspapers, such as ABC, advocated boycotts of Jewish businesses and shops, listing them by name, and encouraged Jewish emigration. In 2013, an exhibition of antisemitic cartoons from Polish newspapers of the 1930s was mounted by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, entitled Obcy i Niemili.
In public institutions, the increasing discrimination against Jews has been equally well documented by historians. Most Polish universities instituted restrictions on the number of Jewish students they would admit, or else barred them altogether – in stark contrast to the position previously in the Second Republic including in the early years of the 1930s. The education ministry, if not actively implicit in introducing a strict numerus clausus in higher education, willingly turned a blind eye to the practices of the university authorities, allowing them to follow their own admission policies. For example, in the academic year 1922-1923, 46% of medical students in Lwów were Jewish, and 26% at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. By 1937-1938, the figure in Lwów had fallen to 12% (with a similar proportion in Kraków). At the beginning of the new academic year 1938-1939, only three students in the first year of medical studies in Lwów (less than 1% of the new intake) were Jews, and there were none in Kraków.
Local (civil) government had a similarly free hand in instituting discriminatory policies against Jews and other minorities. This presentation will examine in particular the actions of the municipal authorities in Stanisławów (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) in maintaining close checks and reporting on the activities of rabbis. The State Archive of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast (DAIFO), in its collection of municipal records, has thick files from the period 1936-1939, with correspondence about and reports on the 61 rabbis serving in the wider district – including in the towns of Bolechów, Kołomyja, Obertyn, Tłumacz, Tyśmienicia, and Zabłotów, as well as in Stanisławów itself. These documents list not only detailed biographical detail about the rabbis, but provide reports on their perceived loyalty (to the government) and their popularity among their congregations. Such reports were not conducted for the purposes of sociological research, but for purposes of political control over Jews (in this case the rabbis, and through them their congregants) who were considered likely, as Jews, to be “anti-national”.
When Soviet forces occupied the eastern part of Poland in September 1939 – following the occupation by Nazi German troops earlier that month – the more blatant instances of institutional antisemitism in eastern former Galicia were suppressed over the following year and a half. The proportion of Jewish students admitted to Lwów University, for instance, increased, and a greater number of Jews were involved in the municipal administration in Lwów. Nevertheless, other problems for Jews arose. Antisemitic attitudes, which had been earlier instilled among many ordinary people, could have contributed to individual acts of financial opportunism or extortion, or to the betrayal of Jews in hiding after the German invasion of eastern Poland in June 1941.