First with blood then with hammer - Jewish shock troops in the Second Polish Republic

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First with blood then with hammer - Jewish shock troops in the Second Polish Republic

Post by wm » 13 Nov 2021 23:57

At the end of the twenties, the failure of political Zionism became apparent. As result a new political force emerged - it was called Revisionist Zionism and its military arm - Betar.
From right then the road to Jewish Palestine wasn't going to be cleared with nice words but with bullets.
Incredibly the new movement wasn't entirely Jewish, it was actually based on Polish nationalism.

From: "Jabotinsky's Children" by Daniel Kupfert Heller
In the early 1930s, Polish police officers throughout the country were reporting to their superiors that the Zionist youth movement was placing their pledges of Polish patriotism front and center of their public activity.
Some described how the youth movement's leaders marked Zionist celebrations by laying wreaths at Polish war memorials, imploring their followers to "act Polish."
Others recounted how local Betar units requested permission to march in parades alongside Polish scouts and soldiers during the country's national holidays.5 Betar leaders boasted to one another of the presence of Pol-ish military officials at their events. A Betar's efforts to link Zionism with Polish nationalism became a regular feature of their activities in the early 1930s.
At the very moment that Betar's leaders claimed to perform a distinct national identity, they modeled their ceremonies on Polish patriotic rituals, called for their members to "act Polish," and attempted to include Polish government officials as both observers and participants in their celebrations.

No less significant was the reaction of the Polish government to these performances. Government officials often encouraged Betar members to participate in Polish patriotic parades. They even permitted them to join the government's paramilitary training programs, where Betar members could learn to shoot rifles. At various points, the youth movement's participants, leaders, and Polish government officials all shared the same conviction—not only was there something fundamentally "Polish" about Revisionist Zionism, but to be a young Zionist was, in many ways, to exhibit the qualities of the ideal Pole.
Nearly 80 percent of the 420,000 Jewish children of school age living in 1930s Poland attended a Polish public school. In the province of Lwow—a strong hold for Betar—the number was as high as 97 percent.n In this province and elsewhere throughout the country, young Jews spent as many as twelve hours a week learning Polish, reading Polish literature, and listening to teachers recount the history of Polish kings, noblemen, soldiers, and politicians.
The unprecedented opportunities given to these young Jews to obtain a free education, learn alongside non-Jewish students, and receive daily instruction in Polish language, literature, and history proved transformative. Not only did the Polish public school system play a crucial role in determining the linguistic preferences of Polish Jewish youth, who increasingly used Polish as a language of daily communication, but the years spent learning about Polish history and literature also shaped how Jewish youth understood who they were and where they belonged in the new Polish state.
Polish public schools under the Sanacja regime seemed to offer young Jews the promise of acceptance and integration into the Polish state. Polish government officials instructed teachers to encourage students belonging to the country's national minorities to embrace Polish literature and history. They also insisted that schools stage as many patriotic celebrations as possible, from parades on Polish Independence Day to school recitals in honor of the name days of prominent Polish cultural and political figures. By doing so, they hoped that the country's national minorities, particularly those living in Poland's borderlands, would identify with the Sanacja government and become loyal citizens of the country.
These expectations were made clear in the new curricula designed by Pilsudski's government in the early 1930s. The Sanacja's curriculum guidelines for the study of history explained that its "emphasis on moments of active and positive participation of the minorities in Poland's state life" aimed at "strengthening in them a sense of attachment and civic responsibility with regard to the state."
A 1935 history curriculum instructed fifth-grade teachers, should they find themselves "in schools where there are Jewish youth," to "address more fully the participation of Jews in the struggles for independence." Echoing this advice, textbooks describing national minorities participating in patriotic parades alongside locally stationed soldiers.

The Sanacja government's preoccupation with transforming young citizens into soldiers also left a deep imprint on the public school's literature program. Novels by such Polish romantic authors as Adam Mickiewicz and Henryk Sienkiewicz, describing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century battles against Swedes, Cossacks, and Russians, became staples of the public school classroom. Considered by Polish nationalists of every stripe to be the father of modern Polish literature, Mickiewicz wrote sweeping romantic tales of Polish military exploits and national rebirth in which Jews were a natural, integral component of Polish life. Along with his patriotic poems and plays, Mickiewicz had also claimed elsewhere that Jews and Poles shared a mystical bond.
Advocates of Jewish integration into Polish society had used these writings for decades as proof that Catholic Poles and Jews were brothers-in-arms, two oppressed nations fighting for the restoration of their homeland. Mickiewicz's literature, when read within the context of the public school, reinforced the official message of the Ministry of Religion and Education that any national minority group who pledged loyalty to Poland and joined in its military struggles would be embraced by the Polish nation.

The ambitions of Polish public school officials, particularly in the eastern borderlands, were frequently hampered by a lack of finances, a shortage of qualified personnel, and skepticism among peasants about the value of education Their impact on Jewish students, however, is unmistakable in autobiographies written by Jewish youth in the 1930s.
The efforts of public school officials to instill Polish patriotism are vividly described by dozens of Betar members, from a range of religious and economic backgrounds, who participated alongside several hundred young Jews in an autobiography contest sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Using the pseudonym K.S.V., a young man from a town near Lodi recounted how his Polish teacher "hammered Sienkiewicz's trilogy into us until we almost broke."
Although he resented having to learn Sienkiewicz's account of seventeenth-century Polish military adventures by heart—a task faced by many public school students—he proudly pointed out to his readers that Polish history was his best subject. Indeed, when it came to describing their education, Betar autobiographers, along with other YIVO autobiographers, often listed Polish literature and history as their favorite subjects of study.
Poland's history often focused on their participation in Polish armed revolts. Descriptions of Jews participating in the Polish uprising in 1794 against the partition of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, or rebellions against Russian rule in 1830-31 and 1863-64, aimed to demonstrate that Polish nationalism had a tradition of inclusion and tolerance of non-Catholics.

Textbooks also presented military service as the most effective route for Jewish membership in the Polish nation. By the late 1920s, Polish military officials worked closely with district school boards and local principals to prepare students for military service. In addition to providing financial and organizational support for scouting programs affiliated with the schools, local military officials offered courses in "military preparation" for young men and first aid training for young women.
To provide them with a taste of the honor accorded to Poland's armed forces, military units across the country invited student delegations to R. E., a young Betar member from the southeastern town of Horodenka, wrote with as much passion about his Polish-language teacher introducing him to Polish literature and watching Polish soldiers march during parades as he did about praying with his father and wearing tzitzit, ritual fringes worn by observant Jewish males.
For lack of a contemporary role model, he may well have recalled Mickiewicz's most famous work, Pan Tadeusz, which included among its protagonists an observant Jewish innkeeper in the early nineteenth century who was also a fervent Polish patriot.

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