Parties and political organizations

Jewish political participation was made possible thanks to emancipation and the formation of a Jewish intelligentsia. Jewish intellectuals contributed to the development of ideologies and inspired the foundation of mass political parties.

Jewish activists were involved in most political parties established in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the century, they began organizing the first Jewish political parties. The complicated situation of Jews in East Central Europe meant that their political ideas had to reflect the question of Jewish identity, including nationality, religion and culture. Party activists also had to take a position on social issues, which was reflected in the division of parties and political currents into left and right.

In the 1880's, the Jewish workers' movement (primarily associated with socialism and Yiddishism) and Zionism took shape simultaneously. In the early twentieth century, Zionism was divided into left and right, which included a liberal center and a religious faction. The small first Jewish leftist groups were founded in Wilno, and modeled themselves after radical Russian organizations. Their activists cooperated with the [Russian] narodniki movement, and also contributed to the formation of Polish socialist groups, such as Proletariat, Socjaldemokracja Krolestwa Polskiego i Litwy ("Socialdemocracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania", SDKPiL), Polska Partia Socjalistyczna ("Polish Socialist Party", PPS) (socialism and Jews).

In 1897, the Bund was founded. Somewhat later, at the initiative of J. Pilsudski, the Jewish Organization of the PPS was founded, which was to counterbalance the Bund. In Galicia, as in the Russian partition, the Jewish workers' movement first organized [Jewish] trade unions. Assimilated members of the intelligentsia were also involved in the creation of the first leftist parties there, such as the Polska Partia Socjalno-Demokratyczna ("Polish Social-Democratic Party", PPSD). In 1905-1906, the Zydowska Partia Socjalno-Demokratyczna ("Jewish Social-Democratic Party") was founded, modeled on the Bund; it supported cultural and ethnic autonomy within the framework of the Austrian state. In 1912, the Jewish section of the PPSD merged with it.

In the late nineteenth century, Zionism also influenced Jewish attitudes. The pro-Russian assimilationist movement collapsed after the wave of pogroms in the 1880's; at that time, many assimilationists became involved in the activities of Chibat Tsiyon, which began advocating Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Zionist movement grew rapidly after T. Herzl's book The Jewish State came out in 1896 (Polish editions in 1917, 1933), and also after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. After the Second Zionist Congress in 1898, three districts of the World Zionist Organization were created in Galicia: Krakow, Lwow and Stanislawow. In the Russian partition, the movement was deemed a threat to the state and was forced underground.

At the same time, a Zionist left was also forming. The first group, Poale Zion, was founded in 1897 in Minsk; it was then active in the pale of settlement, in Austria (beginning in 1904), and in the United States. In 1906, the All-Russian Jewish Socialist Party Poale Zion, also active in the Polish lands, was founded at the congress in Poltawa (Poltava).

A religious faction formed during the Zionist Congress in London in 1901, making the movement more diverse. It took the name of the Organization of Orthodox Zionists, Mizrachi. From 1905, it was associated with the World Territorialist Organization, whose members, known as "territorialists", were very influential in the Kingdom of Poland. They stressed the need to create a national homeland for the Jews on a territory that would be internationally guaranteed. One of the projects under consideration was the colonization of Uganda. The Balfour declaration meant that the territorialists' ideas became less significant.

In addition to the large Jewish parties, there were also smaller groups operating in the Kingdom and Galicia, often of a local nature. In Warsaw, these included the Neo-Assimilationist party, a liberal group. It postulated national assimilation and treated Jews as a religious group. The Union of Unified Youth (Zjednoczenie (Unification)) and the Berk Joselewicz Scouting Union were associated with this party. Jews were members of Polish political parties, such as the liberal Democratic Party, which was active in the Kingdom of Poland at the turn of the century, and even National Democracy, in its early phase.
One of the leaders of the Polish communist movement was A. Warski (1868-1937), who in 1918 helped bring about the merger of SDKPiL and PPS-Left and the creation of the Communist Party of Polish Workers, later known as the Communist Party of Poland. During the First World War, Jewish political life grew livelier, particularly after the Germans entered the Kingdom of Poland and the tsarist legal restrictions were lifted. The elections in 1915 to the city councils and other local government offices contributed to this increased activity. The Zionist Organization in Poland was made legal. In 1916, the He-chaluts organization was founded.

The most important group founded during this period was Agudat Ha-ortodoksim [Hebrew, "Orthodox Union"], a conservative-clerical party operating within the framework of the world federation of Agudas Isroel, which had been in existence since 1909. The "folkists" also became very important (Yidishe Folks-Partay in Poylen), led by N. Prylucki. During the first years of the interwar period, the radical parties were most powerful (Bund, Poale Zion), along with the liberal Zionists. In 1920, a new Zionist workers' party, Hitachdut, was founded. In elections to the Jewish religious Communities, the Orthodox Agudas Isroel party had strong support.

Zionist parties were very successful in the elections to the Sejm in 1922, gaining twenty-four seats (out of a total of thirty-five 35 Jewish MPs); in the Senate, they had 7 of 12 [Jewish] seats. Jewish members of parliament formed the Jewish Caucus, which cooperated with the Block of Ethnic Minorities. Internal conflicts within the parties and Jewish groups led to a split in the vote, which in turn meant fewer MPs were returned to the Sejm and Senate sessions that followed. Many Zionists, representatives of Agudas Isroel, and Bund members took part in city councils.
The political situation began to change during the 1930's. A new right-wing Zionist fraction took shape-the Revisionist Zionists, who in 1935 founded the New Zionist Organization (Nowa Organizacja Syjonistyczna (NOS). It criticized the World Zionist Organization for being too eager to compromise with the British Mandate authorities in Palestine.

After the Depression, leftist influence-both Zionist and Bundist-began to grow. In elections to the Jewish religious Communities in 1938, the Bund was very successful in many cities. This sparked protests among Orthodox activists, who had previously held the dominant position in the Communities. The state authorities, however, used these protests as a pretext to declare the elections invalid and appoint boards in Warsaw and other places instead.

During the Second World War, all the Jewish parties and associations in German-occupied areas were disbanded, and their property confiscated by the Third Reich. Most of the political structures ceased to exist as a result of arrests, mass deportations, emigration of some of the leadership, or their escapes to the east.

Those who remained took up work in the ghetto underground. At first, self-help programs were the focus, such as providing extra food and engaging in civil resistance. Underground newspapers were also published (approximately fifty different titles just in Warsaw), secret schools were organized, and cultural and academic life was supported. As early as 1940, the Jewish Military Union was founded, made up of revisionists.

It was the youth organizations that took the political initiative in the ghettos, however. These included Ha-shomer Ha-tsair, Dror, Ha-noar Ha-tsiyoni, He-chaluts, and Tsukunft, which prepared people for armed resistance. When the liquidation of the ghettos began, these efforts were rendered superfluous: many activists were sent to camps, where they perished. In the autumn of 1942, the Jewish National Committee was founded; somewhat later, the Jewish Coordination Commission (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, Jewish Combat Organization) was established, uniting most of the political parties in an effort to organize armed resistance in the ghettos.
As a result, on April 19, 1943, an uprising broke out in the Warsaw ghetto (which was the first armed resistance against the Germans in occupied Europe). There were also other uprisings and armed actions in ghettos in Bialystok, Wilno, Krakow, Czestochowa, Bedzin, Tarnow, Krzemieniec and Nieswiez.

In Soviet-occupied territories, political parties ceased functioning. Most of the leaders of Zionist and Bundist organizations were arrested and imprisoned or sent to camps (such as W. Alter and H. Erlich). Some were also deported.

After the Sikorski-Majski treaty, there were ineffective attempts made to rebuild independent political life, taking advantage of the Polish Embassy that was opened in the Soviet Union. In January 1943, the Union of Polish Patriots (Zwiazek Patriotow Polskich, ZPP) was founded, which was completely subordinated to the Soviet authorities. In 1944, an Organizational Committee of Polish Jews headed by E. Sommerstein was created in the USSR under the aegis of the ZPP. It participated in negotiations regarding repatriation, and helped make it possible for Jewish citizens of prewar Poland to be included in the repatriation.

In Lublin in 1944, some of the prewar Jewish parties renewed their activities. Bund started its activities again in September 1944, and was the first to express its willingness to cooperate with the new authorities. In the Polish National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa), there were three Jewish representatives: M. Szuldenfrei, representing the Bund; Sommerstein form Ichud, and A. Berman, from Poale Zion-Left. In November 1944, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (Centralny Komitet �yd�w w Polsce [CKZP]) was created following a decision by the Polish National Libration Committee. It was to include [representatives of] all legally existing Jewish parties.

By 1950, eleven Jewish parties existed, of which eight were legal: Bund, Poale Zion-Left, Poale Zion-Right, Ha-shomer Ha-tsair, Hitachdut, He-chaluts, Mizrachi and Ichud. Jewish communists were granted limited organizational independence, thanks to the Jewish Faction of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR), created under the aegis of the CKZP. Agudas Isroel, the revisionists (prewar NOS) and the Jewish Democratic Party (the prewar Yidishe Folks-Partay) were operating illegally. The Zionist parties wielded the most influence in Jewish society; of these, the liberal Ichud was particularly strong, having 8,000 members in 1947, while the Bund had only 1,500 members. The existence of independent parties was tolerated until 1949. The Jewish fraction of the PPR lost its organizational independence. The Bund was disbanded on January 16, 1949. Next, the communist authorities set about liquidating Zionist parties, setting dates for their disbandment. (Mizrachi was to disband by December 1, 1949; Hitachdut by December 20, 1949; Ichud by January 1, 1950; and Poale Zion by February 1, 1950.) Jewish parties in Poland ceased to exist, and most of their leadership emigrated in fear of persecution.

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