Poles and Jews in a Small Galician Town

Rosa Lehmann, Menasseh ben Israel Institute for Jewish Social and Cultural Studies

Berghahn Books, Oxford/New York

In Poland and elsewhere there has been a noticeable increase of interest in various aspects of the Polish-Jewish past which can be explained, the author argues, in terms of a broader intellectual need to explore the “blank spots” of Poland’s national history. This quest begins and ends with Polish anti-Semitism and the Shoah, during which most of Europe’s Jews were annihilated on Polish soil, but also focuses on the events of 1946-1968, the years of pogroms, anti-Semitic campaigns, and mass emigration of the Jews from Poland. All these became main issues of public reflection in Poland after a silence for almost forty years and led to the widespread view that Polish-Jewish relations are irredeemably poisoned by anti-Semitism.

If this is the case, how is it possible then, the author asks, that Jews still play an important role in the cultural expressions and the consciousness of the Polish people? To find an answer, she explored Polish-Jewish relations in a small Galician town from the early 19th century to the end of World War II. Detailed analysis of archival materials as well as interviews with Polish inhabitants of this town and Jewish survivors living elsewhere reveal a pattern of Polish-Jewish interdependence that has led to a far more complex picture than is generally assumed.

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“The great gap in our understanding of interwar Poland is that we have so few studies of the situation of the Jews in smaller towns and townlets. There are studies of Jews in smaller towns in the eighteenth century. … There have also been some more popular studies of small town Jewish life,… but we have virtually no scholarly studies in English of the life of Jews and the interaction of Jews and Poles in smaller towns. This is the subject of this book. … This is not a historical but an anthropological study and seeks, by eliciting the present-day opinions about the Jews, to reconstruct the relations of the Jews with their gentile neighbours. Lehmann gives a highly nuanced picture of the hostile coexistence, interdependence and patron-client relationships which prevailed in the town. Her work, in particular, her discussion of the way the small wealthy Jewish elite provided for its Polish clients, breaks new ground and makes this an important and significant study.”

Antony Polonsky, Brandeis University

“In the sixty years since the Holocaust took place, vast amounts of research have been conducted in an attempt to understand what happened and why. Much of this research has been an attempt to draw judgments and assign guilt for one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century. In studying the Holocaust it is important to consider that the war was experienced by individuals with unique circumstances, That makes microcosmic studies like the work by Lehmann especially valuable. In meticulously piecing the story together one community at a time, it is possible to gain insight into the greater implications it had for humanity.”

Karen Gabert in East European Quarterly, XXXVIII, No. 2, June 2004, pp. 205-214

“Rosa Lehmann presents a well-researched historical anthropological case study of Polish-Jewish relations. One of the book's major values has to do with a successful integration of economic history into anthropological interpretation, thanks to which the reconstructed local history provides a view of a full field interesting to anthropologists, historians and even folklorists.”

Ewa Ignaczak in Focaal - European Journal of Anthropology, No 41, 2003, pp. 203-204

“Lehmann uses both quantitative data and deep interviews to document the social makeup of the Jews and non-Jews in Jasliska in the interwar period. There are few parallels to this kind of analysis.”

Shaul Stampfer in Religious Studies Review, Volume 28, July 2002, p. 287

“L'ouvrage de Rosa Lehmann - étude anthropologique croisant récits d'informateurs et archives écrites - représente une tentative de réponse à plusieurs questions récurrentes dans l'historiographie juive et polonaise : l'antisémitisme en Pologne est-il un problème structurel ou culturel ? Comment peut-il se maintenir et croître dans un pays aujourd'hui sans juifs ? Enfin, pourquoi les juifs virtuels continuent-ils à jouer un rôle aussi important dans les expressions culturelles et les consciences polonaises ? … Cette étude permet donc de nuancer les vues stéréotypées sur l'attitude de Polonais vis-à-vis des juifs, qui ne sont pas marquées pas un simple antisémitisme, mais bien plutôt par l'ambivalence, maître mot de l'ouvrage.”

Florence Heymann in L'Homme 165, 2003, pp. 332-334

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From the Contents: THE JEW LEGEND: The Tale of the Polish Jews - Anti-Semitism in Poland: a structural or cultural problem? - An Ethnographic Case-Study Approach - THE SETTING: Feudal relations: the gentry, the Jews, and the peasant serfs - Jasliska: portrait of a Polish episcopal town - Modern times, or the decline of a small town - SPHERES OF INTERACTION: SPATIAL INTEGRATION: Patterns of settlement - Acquisition of land: the gossip about Jewish arson - SPHERES OF INTERACTION: ECONOMIC RELATIONS: New times, old patterns - Economic dependence - Economic competition - Hostile dependency - SPHERES OF INTERACTION: THE SOCIAL BOUNDARY AND THE IMAGE OF THE JEW: Strangers at home: the mystical world of Poland’s Jews in exile - When two worlds meet: cross-cultural contact and its limitations- Polish-Jewish relations and the image of the Jew - THE ETHNIC BOUNDARY: THE CASE OF THE CONVERTED JEWISH WOMAN: Felicja’s story - Transgressing the ethnic boundary - THE DESTRUCTION OF THE COMMUNITIES: Hitler’s era: German rule in southeastern Poland - The destruction of a Jewish community - The destruction of a Polish community - DISCUSSION: PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE AND SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATIONS: The physical experience: Jewish patrons and Polish clients - Symbolic representations: Polish-Jewish relations and the image of the Jew - CONCLUSION: THE JEW LEGEND REVISITED

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Berghahn Books, Oxford/New York. 2001. 240 pages, 5 maps, 7 tables, 3 figs., glossary, bibliog., index  –  ISBN 1-57181-794-8 hardback $69.95/£47.00  –  ISBN 1-57181-505-8 paperback $25.00/£17.00  – 

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