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.
Antony Polonsky is Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and chief historian of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. He is co-chair of the editorial collegium of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry.
List of Maps List of Tables Note on Transliteration Note on Place Names Maps General Introduction I Jewish Life in Poland-Lithuanian to 1750 Introduction 1 Jews and Christians in Early Modern Poland-Lithuania 2 The Structure of Jewish Autonomous Institutions 3 Jewish Places: Royal Towns and Noble Towns 4 Jews in Economic Life 5 Religious and Spiritual Life Conclusion Appendix: The Polish-Lithuanian Background II Attempts to Transform and Integrate the Jews, and the Jewish Response, 1750-1880 Introduction 1 The Last Years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 2 The Jews in the Prussian Partition of Poland, 1772-1870 3 The Jews in Galicia to the mid-1870s 4 The Jews in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland, 1807-1881 5 The Jews in the Tsarist Empire, 1772-1825 6 Nicholas I and the Jews of Russia, 1825-1855 7 The Reign of Alexander II, 1855-1881 Glossary Bibliography Index