Mission of The United States to Poland: Henry Morgenthau, Sr. report
MISSION OF THE UNITED STATES TO POLAND
AMERICAN COMMISSION TO NEGOTIATE PEACE.
MISSION TO POLAND. Paris, Oct. 3, 1919
To the American Commission to Negotiate Peace:
1. A mission consisting of Mr. Henry Morgenthau, Brigadier General Edgar Jadwin, and Mr. Homer H. Johnson was appointed by the American Commission to Negotiate Peace to investigate Jewish matters in Poland. The appointment of such a Mission had previously been requested by Mr. Padarewski, President of the council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland. On June 30, 1919, Secretary Lansing wrote to this mission:
"It is desired that the Mission make careful inquiry into all matters affecting the relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish elements in Poland. This will, of course, involve the investigation of the various massacres, pogroms and other excesses alleged to have taken place, the economic boycott and other methods of discrimination against the Jewish race. The establishment of the truth in regard to these matters is now, however, an end in itself. It is merely for the purpose of seeking to discover the reason lying behind such excesses and discrimination with a view to finding a possible remedy. The American Government, as you know, is inspired by a friendly desire to render service to all elements in the new Poland, Christians and Jews alike. I am convinced that any measures that may be taken to ameliorate the conditions of the Jews will also benefit the rest of the population, and that conversely, anything done for the community benefit of Poland as a whole will be of advantage to the Jewish race. I am sure that the members of your Mission are approaching the subject in to right spirit, free from prejudice one way or the other, and filled with a desire to discover the truth and evolve some constructive measures to improve the situation which gives concern to all the friends of Poland."
2. The Mission reached Warsaw on July 13, 1919, and remained in Poland until Sept. 13, 1919. All the places where the principal excesses had occurred were visited. In addition thereto, the Mission also studied the economic and social conditions in such places as Lodz, Krakau, Grodno, Posen, Chelm, Lublin, and Stanislawow. By automobiling over 2,500 miles through Russian, Austrian, and German Poland the Mission also came into immediate contact with the inhabitants of the small towns and villages. In order properly to appreciate the present cultural and social conditions, the Mission also visited educational institutions, libraries, hospitals, museums, art galleries, orphan asylums, and prisons.
3. Investigations of the excesses were made mostly in the presence of representatives of the Polish Government and of the Jewish communities. There were also present in many cases military and civil officials, and wherever possible officials in command at the time of the excesses occurred were conferred with and interrogated. In this work the Polish authorities and the American Minister to Poland, Mr. Hugh Gibson, lent the Mission every facility. Deputations of all kinds of organizations were received and interviewed. A large number of public meetings and gatherings were attended, and the Mission endeavored to obtain a correct impression of what had occurred, of the present mental state of the public, and of the attitude of the various factions toward one another.
4. The Jews entered Poland in large numbers during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when they migrated from Germany and other countries as the result of severe persecutions. Their language was German, which subsequently developed into a Hebrew-German dialect, or Yiddish. As prior to this immigration only two classes or estates had existed in Poland (the owners and the tillers of the soil) the Jewish immigrant became the pioneer of trade and finance, settling in the towns and villages. As time went on it became generally known throughout Europe that Poland was a place of refuge for the Jews, and their numbers were augmented as the result of persecutions in Western Europe. Still more recently as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from Russia on account of the enforcement of the Pale of Settlement and of the May laws of 1882, their number was further increased.
5. Notwithstanding the fact that Poland has been a place of refuge for the Jews, there have been anti-Jewish movements at various times. The present anti-Semitic feeling took a definite political form after the Russian revolution of 1905. This feeling reached an intense stage in 1912, when the Polish National Democratic Party nominated an anti-Semite to represent Warsaw in the Russian Duma and the Jews cast their vote for the Polish Socialist and carried the election. The National Democratic Party then commenced a vigorous anti-Semitic campaign. During the German occupation this campaign was temporarily reduced. At the end of the great war the chaotic and unnatural state of affairs in which Poland found itself, gave good ground for a condition of social unrest, which together with the world stimulated tendency toward national self-determination, accentuated the feeling between Jewish and non-Jewish elements. The chauvinistic reaction created by the sudden acquisition of a long coveted freedom ripened the public mind for anti-Semitic or anti-alien sentiment, which was strongly agitated by the press and by politicians. This finally encouraged physical manifestations or violent outcroppings of an unbalanced social condition.
6. When in November, 1918, the Austrian and German armies of occupation left Poland, there was no firm government until the arrival of General Pilsudski, who had escaped from a German prison, and it was during this period, before the Polish Republic came into being, that the first of the excesses took place. The use of the word "pogrom” has purposely been avoided, as the word is applied to everything from petty outrages to premeditated and carefully organized massacres. No fixed definition is generally understood. There were eight principal excesses, which are here described in chronological order:
- 1. Kielce, Nov. 11, 1918.
- Shortly after the evacuation of the Austrian troops, the Jews of this city secured permission from the local authorities to hold a meeting in the Polski Theatre. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss Jewish national aspiration. It began shortly before 2 o’clock and filled the theatre to overflowing. During the afternoon a small crowd of Polish civilians largely composed of students gathered outside of the theatre. At 6:30 P.M. the meeting began to break up, and when only about 300 people remained in the theatre, some militiamen entered and began to search for arms. A short while thereafter and while the militiamen were still in the building, a crowd of civilians and some soldiers came into the auditorium and drove the Jews toward the stairs. On the stairs there was a double line of men armed with clubs and bayonets, who beat the Jews as they left the building. After the Jews reached the street they were again beaten by the mob outside. As the result of this attack four Jews were killed and a large number wounded. A number of civilians have been indicted for participation in this excess, but have not as yet been brought to trial.
- 2. Lemberg, Nov. 21-23, 1918.
- On Oct. 30, 1918, when the Austrian Empire collapsed, the Ukrainian troops, formerly in the Austrian service, assumed control of the town. A few hundred Polish boys, combined with numerous volunteers of doubtful character, recaptured about half the city and held it until the arrival of Polish re-enforcement on Nov. 21. The Jewish population declared themselves neutral, but the facts that the Jewish quarter lay within the section occupied by the Ukrainians and that the Jews had organized their own militia, and further, the rumor that some of the Jewish population had fired upon the soldiery, stimulated among the Polish volunteers an anti-Semitic bias that readily communicated itself to the relieving troops. The situation was further complicated by the presence of some 15,000 uniformed deserters and numerous criminals released by the Ukrainians from local jails, who were ready to join in any disorder particularly if, as in the case of wholesale pillage, they might profit thereby.
- Upon the final departure of the Ukrainians, these disreputable elements plundered to the extent of many millions of crowns the dwellings and stores in the Jewish quarter, and did not hesitate to murder when they met with resistance. During the ensuing disorders, which prevailed on Nov. 21, 22 and 23, sixty four Jews were killed and a large amount of property destroyed. Thirty eight houses were set on fire, and owing to the paralysis of the Fire Department, were completely gutted. The synagogue was also burned and a large number of the sacred scrolls of the law were destroyed. The repression of the disorders was rendered more difficult by the prevailing lack of discipline among the junior officers to apply stern punitive measures. When officers’ patrols under experienced leaders were finally organized on Nov. 23, robbery and violence ceased.
- On December 24, 1918, the Polish Government, through the Ministry of Justice, began a strict investigation of the events of Nov. 21 to 23. A special commission headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, met in Lemberg for about two months, and rendered an extensively formal report which has been furnished the Mission. In spite of the crowded dockets of the local courts, where over 7,000 cases are now pending, 164 persons, ten of them Jews, have been tried for complicity in the November disorders, and numerous similar cases await disposal. Forty-four persons are under sentence ranging from ten days to eighteen months. Aside from the civil courts the local court-martial has sentenced military persons to confinement for as long as three years for lawlessness during the period in question. This Mission is advised that on the basis of official investigations the Government has begun the payment of claims for damages resulting from these events.
- 3. Pinsk, April 5, 1919.
- Late in the afternoon on April 5, 1919, a month or more after the Polish occupation of Pinsk, some 75 Jews of both sexes, with the official permission of the town commander, gathered in the assembly hall at the People’s House, in Kupiecka Street, to discuss the distribution of relief sent by the American Joint Distribution Committee. As the meeting was about to adjourn it was interrupted by a band of soldiers, who arrested and searched the whole assembly, and after robbing the prisoners marched them at a rapid pace to gendarmerie headquarters. Thence the prisoners were conducted to the market place and lined up against the wall of the cathedral. With no lights except the lamps of a military automobile, the six women in the crowd and about twenty- five men were separated from the mass, and the remainder, thirty-five in number, were shot with scant deliberation and no trial whatever. Early the next morning three wounded victims were shot in cold blood as soon as life revealed itself in them.
- The women and other reprieved prisoners were confined in the city jail until the following Thursday. The women were stripped and beaten by the prison guards so severely that several of them were bedridden for weeks after, and the men were subjected to similar maltreatment.
- It has been asserted officially by the Polish authorities that there was reason to suspect this assemblage of Bolshevist allegiance. We are convinced that no arguments of a Bolshevist nature were mentioned in the meeting in question. While it is recognized that certain information of Bolshevist activities in Pinsk had been reported by two Jewish soldiers, we are convinced that Major Luczynski, the Town Commander, showed reprehensible and frivolous readiness to place credence in such untested assertions, and on this insufficient basis took inexcusably drastic action against reputable citizens whose loyal character could have been immediately established by a consultation with any well known non-Jewish habitant.
- The statements made officially by Gen. Listowski, the Polish Group Commander, that the Jewish population on April 5 attacked the Polish troops, are regarded as devoid of foundation. We are further of the opinion that the consultation prior to executing the thirty-five Jews, alleged by Major Luczynski to have had the character of a court-martial, was by the very nature of the case a most casual affair with no judicial nature whatsoever, since less than an hour elapsed between the arrest and execution. It is further found that no conscientious effort was made at the time to investigate the charges against the prisoners or even sufficiently to identify them. Though there have been official investigations of this case, none of the offenders answerable for this summary execution has been punished or even tried nor has the Diet Commission published its findings.
- 4. Lida, April 17, 1919.
- On April 17, 1919, the Polish military forces captured Lida from the Russian Bolsheviki. After the city fell into the hands of the Poles the soldiers proceeded to enter and rob the houses of the Jews. During this period of pillage 30 Jews were killed. A large number of Jews including the local rabbi, were arbitrarily arrested on the same day by the Polish authorities and kept for twenty-four hours without food amid revolting conditions of filth at No. 60 Kamienska Street. Jews were also impressed for forced labor without respect for age or infirmity. It does not appear that any one has been punished for these excesses, or that steps have been taken to reimburse the victims of the robberies.
- 5. Wilno, April 19-21, 1919.
- On April 19, Polish detachments entered the City of Wilna. The city was definitely taken by the Poles after three days of street fighting, during which time they lost thirty-three men killed. During the same period some sixty-five Jews lost their lives. From the evidence submitted, it appears that none of these people, among whom were four women and eight men over 50 years of age, had served with the Bolsheviki. Eight Jews were marched three kilometers to the outskirts of the City of Wilna, and deliberately shot without the semblance of a trial or investigation. Others were shot by soldiers who were robbing Jewish houses, No list has been furnished the mission of any Polish civilians killed during the occupation. It is, however, stated on behalf of the Government that the civilian inhabitants of Wilna took part on both sides of the fighting, and that some civilians fired upon the soldiers. Over two thousand Jewish houses and stores in the city were entered by Polish soldiers and civilians during these three days, and the inhabitants robbed and beaten. It is claimed by the Jewish community that the consequent losses amounted to over 10,000,000 roubles. Many of the poorest families were robbed of their shoes and blankets. Hundreds of Jews were arrested and deported from the city. Some of them were herded into box cars and kept without food or water for four days. Old men and women were carried away without trial or investigation. Two of these prisoners have since died from the treatment they received. Included in this list were some of the most prominent Jews of Wilna, such as the prominent Jewish writers Jaffe and Niger. For days the families of these prisoners were without news from them and feared that they had been killed. The soldiers also broke into the synagogue and mutilated the sacred scrolls of the law. Up to August 3, 1919, when the Mission was in Wilna, none of the soldiers or civilians responsible for these excesses had been punished.
- 6. Kolbussowa, May 7, 1919.
- For a few days before May 7, 1919, the Jews of Kolbussowa feared that excesses might take place, as there had been riots in the neighboring towns of Rsoszow and Glasgow. These riots had been the result of political agitation in this district, and of excitement caused by a case of alleged ritual murder in which the Jewish defendant had been acquitted. On May 6 a company of soldiers was ordered to Kolbussowa to prevent the threatened trouble. Early in the morning of May 7 a great number of peasants, among whom were many former soldiers of the Austrian Army, entered the town. The rioters disarmed the soldiers and three peasants had been killed. They then proceeded to rob the Jewish stores and to beat any Jews who fell into their hands. Eight Jews were killed during this excess. Order was restored when a new detachment of soldiers arrived late in the afternoon. One of the rioters has since been tried and executed by the Polish Government.
- 7. Czestochowa, May 27, 1919.
- On May 27, 1919, at Czestochowa, a shot fired by an unknown person slightly wounded a Polish soldier. A rumor spread that the shot had been fired by the Jews, and riots broke out in the city in which Polish soldiers and civilians took part. During those riots five Jews, including a doctor who was hurrying to aid one of the injured, were beaten to death and a large number were wounded. French officers, who were stationed at Czestochowa, took an active part in preventing further murders.
- 8. Minsk, August 8, 1919.
- On Aug. 8, 1919, the Polish troops took the City of Minsk from the Bolsheviki. The Polish troops entered the city at about 10 o’clock in the morning, and by 12 o’clock they had absolute control. Notwithstanding the presence in Minsk of General Jadwin and other members of this mission, and the orders of the Polish Commanding General, forbidding violence against civilians, thirty-one Jews were killed by the soldiers. Only one of the number can in any way be connected with the Bolshevist movement. Eighteen of the deaths appear to have been deliberate murder. Two of these murders were incident to robberies, but the rest were committed to all appearances, solely on the ground that the victims were Jews. During the afternoon and in the evening of Aug. 8, the Polish soldiers, aided by civilians, plundered 377 shops, all of which belonged to the Jews. It must be noted, however, that about 90 per cent of the stores in Minsk are owned by Jews. No effective attempt was made to prevent these robberies until the next morning, when adequate officers’ patrols were sent out through the streets and order was established. The private houses of many of the Jews were also broken into by soldiers and the inhabitants were beaten and robbed. The Polish Government has stated that four Polish soldiers were killed while attempting to prevent robberies. It had also been stated to the mission that some of the rioters have been executed.
7. There have also been here and there individual cases of murder not enumerated in the preceding paragraphs, but their detailed description has not been considered necessary, inasmuch as they present no characteristics not already observed in the principal excesses. In considering these excesses as a whole, it should be borne in mind that of the eight cities and towns at which striking disorders have occurred, only Kielce and Czestochowa are within the boundaries of Congress Poland. In Kielce and Kolbussowa the excesses were committed by city civilians and by peasants respectively. At Czestochowa both civilians and soldiers took part in the disorders. At Minsk the excesses were essentially the fault of one officer. In Lemberg, Lida, Wilno, and Minsk the excesses were committed by the soldiers who were capturing the cities and not by the civilian population. In the three last cities the anti-Semitic prejudice of the soldiers have been inflamed by the charge that the Jews were Bolsheviki while at Lemberg it was associated with the idea that the Jews were making common cause with the Ukrainians. These excesses were, therefore, political as well as anti-Semitic in character.
The responsibility for these excesses is borne for the most part by the undisciplined and ill-equipped Polish recruits who, uncontrolled by their inexperienced and oftimes timid officers, sought to profit at the expense of that portion of the population which they regarded as alien and hostile to Polish nationality and aspirations. It is recognized that the enforcement of discipline in a new and untrained army is a matter of extreme difficulty. On the other hand, the prompt cessation of disorder in Lemberg after the adoption of appropriate measures of control shows that an unflinching determination to restore order and a firm application of repressive measures can prevent, or at least limit, such excesses. It is therefore believed that a more aggressive unitive policy and a more general publicity of reports of judicial and military prosecutions would have minimized subsequent excesses by discouraging the belief among the soldiery that robbery and violence could be committed with impunity.
8. Just as the Jews would resent being condemned as a race for the action of a few of their undesirable co-religionists, so it would be correspondingly unfair to condemn the Polish nation as a whole for the violence committed by uncontrolled troops or local mobs. These excesses were apparently not premeditated, for if they had been part of a preconceived plan, the number of killed would have run into the thousands instead of amounting to about 280. It is believed that these excesses were the result of a widespread anti-Semitic prejudice aggravated by the belief that the Jewish inhabitants were politically hostile to the Polish State. When the boundaries of Poland are once fixed and the internal organization of the country is perfected the Polish Government will be increasingly able to protect all classes of Polish citizenry. Since the Polish Republic has subscribed to the treaty which provides for the protection of racial, religious and linguistic minorities, it is confidently anticipated that the Government will whole-heartedly accept the responsibility, not only of guarding all classes of its citizens from aggression but also of educating the masses beyond the state of mind that makes such aggression impossible.
9. Besides those excesses there have been reported to the mission numerous cases of other forms of persecutions. Thus, in almost every one of the cities and towns of Poland, Jews have been stopped by the soldiers and have had their beards either torn out or cut off. As the Orthodox Jews feel that the shaving of their beards is contrary to their religious belief, this form of persecution has a particular significance to them. As a result many of them are afraid to travel. The result of all these minor persecutions is to keep the Jewish population in a state of ferment and to subject them to the fear that graver excesses may again occur.
10. Whereas it has been easy to determine the excesses which took place and to fix the approximate number of deaths, it was more difficult to establish the extent of anti-Jewish discrimination. This discrimination finds its most conspicuous manifestation in the form of an economic boycott. The National Democratic Party has continuously agitated the economic strangling of the Jews. Through the press and political announcement, as well as by public speeches, the nonJewish elements of the Polish people is urged to abstain from dealing with the Jews. Land owners are warned not to sell their property to the Jews, and in some cases where such sales have been made the names of offenders have been posted with black bordered notices stating that such venders were "dead in Poland". Even at the present time, this campaign is being waged by most of the non-Jewish press, which constantly advocates that the economic boycott be used as a means of ridding Poland of its Jewish element. This agitation has created in the minds of some of the Jews the feeling that there is an invisible rope around their necks, and they claim that this is the worst persecution that they can be forced to endure. Non-Jewish laborers have in many cases refused to work side by side with Jews. The percentage of Jews in public office, especially those holding minor positions, such as railway employees, firemen, policemen and the like has been materially reduced since the present Government has taken control. Documents have been furnished the mission showing that Government owned railways have discharged Jewish employees and given them certificates that they have been released for no other reason than that they belong to the Jewish race.
11. Furthermore, the establishment of co-operative stores is claimed by many Jewish traders to be a form of discrimination. It would seem, however, that this movement is a legitimate effort to restrict the activities and therefore the profits of the middleman. Unfortunately, when these stores were introduced into Poland they were advertised as a means of eliminating the Jewish trader. The Jews have, therefore, been caused to feel that the establishment of the cooperatives is an attack upon themselves. While the establishment and the maintenance of cooperatives may have been influenced by anti-Semitic sentiment, this is a form of economic activity which any community is perfectly entitled to pursue. On the other hand, the Jews complain that even the Jewish co-operatives and individual Jews are discriminated against by the Government in the distribution of Government-controlled supplies.
12. The Government has denied that discrimination against Jews has been practiced as a Government policy, though it has not denied that there may be individual cases where anti-Semitism has played a part. Assurances have been made to the mission by official authorities that in so far as it lies within the power of the Government this discrimination will be corrected.
13. In considering the causes for the anti-Semitic feeling, which has brought about the manifestations described above, it must be remembered that ever since the partition of 1705 the Poles have striven to be reunited as a nation and to regain their freedom. This continual effort to keep alive their national aspirations has caused them to look with hatred upon anything which might interfere with their aims. This had led to a conflict with the nationalist declarations of some of the Jewish organizations which desire to establish cultural autonomy financially supported by the States. In addition, the position taken by the Jews in favor of Article 93 of the Treaty of Versailles, guaranteeing protection to racial, linguistic and religious minorities in Poland, has created a further resentment against them. Moreover, Polish national feeling is irritated by what is regarded as the "alien” character of the great mass of the Jewish population. This is constantly brought home to the Poles by the fact that the majority of the Jews affect a distinctive dress, observe the Sabbath on Saturday, conduct business on Sunday, have separate dietary laws, wear long beards, and speak a language of their own. The basis of this language is a German dialect, and the fact that Germany was, and still is, looked upon by the Poles as an enemy country renders this vernacular especially unpopular. The concentration of the Jews in certain districts or quarters in Polish cities also emphasizes the line of demarcation separating them from other citizens.
14. The strained relations between the Jews and the non-Jews have been further increased, not only by the great war, during which Poland was the battleground for the Russian, German and Austrian armies, but also by the present conflicts with the Bolsheviki and Ukrainians. The economic condition of Poland is at its lowest ebb. Manufacturing and commerce have virtually ceased. The shortage, the high price, and the imperfect distribution of food are a dangerous menace to the health and welfare of the urban population. As a result hundreds of thousands are suffering from hunger and are but half-clad, while thousands are dying of disease and starvation. The cessation of commerce is particularly felt by the Jewish population, who are almost entirely depended upon it. Owing to the conditions described, prices have doubled and tripled and the population has become irritated against the Jewish traders whom it blames for the abnormal increase thus occasioned.
15. The great majority of Jews in Poland belong to separate Jewish political parties. The largest of these are the Orthodox and Zionist and the National. Since the Jews form separate political groups, it is probable that some of the Polish discrimination against them is political rather than anti-Semitic in character. The dominant Polish parties give to their supporters Government positions and Government patronage. It is to be hoped, however, that the Polish majority will not follow this system in the case of positions which are not essentially political. There should be no discrimination in the choice of professors and teachers, nor in the selection of railroad employees, policemen, and firemen, or the incumbents of any other positions which are placed under the civil service in England and the United States. Like other democracies, Poland must realize that these positions must not be drawn into politics. Efficiency can only be attained if the best men are employed, irrespective of party or religion. 16. The relations between the Jews and non-Jews will undoubtedly improve in a strong democratic Poland. To hasten this, there should be reconciliation and co-operation between the 86 per cent Christians and 14 per cent Jews. The 86 per cent must realize that they cannot present a solid front against their neighbors if one-seventh of their population is discontented, fear-stricken, and inactive. The minority must be encouraged to participate with their whole strength and influence in making Poland the great unified country that is required in Central Europe to combat the tremendous dangers that confront it. Poland must promptly develop its full strength, and by its conduct first merit and then receive the unstinted moral, financial and economic support of all the world, which will insure the future success of the republic.
17. It was impossible for the Mission, during the two months it was in Poland, to do more than acquaint itself with the general condition of the people. To formulate a solution of the Jewish problem will necessitate a careful and broad study, not only of the economic condition of the Jews, but also of the exact requirements of Poland. These requirements will not be definitely known prior to the fixation of Polish boundaries, and the final regulation of Polish relations with Russia, with which the largest share of trade was previously conducted. It is recommended that the League of Nations, or the larger nations interested in this problem, send to Poland a commission consisting of recognized industrial, educational, agricultural, economic and vocational experts, which should remain there as long as necessary to examine the problem at its source.
18. This commission should devise a plan by which the Jews in Poland can secure the same economic and social opportunities as are enjoyed by their coreligionists in other free countries. A new Polish constitution is now in the making. The generous scope of this national instrument has already been indicated by the special treaty with the allied and associated powers, in which Poland has affirmed its fidelity to the principles of liberty and justice and the rights of minorities, and we may be certain that Poland will be faithful to its pledge, which is so conspicuously in harmony with the nation’s best traditions. A new life will thus be opened to the Jews and it will be the task of the proposed commission to fit them to profit thereby and to win the same appreciation gained by their coreligionists elsewhere as a valued asset to the commonwealths in which they reside. The friends of the Jews in America, England, and elsewhere who have already evinced such great interest in their welfare, will enthusiastically grasp the opportunity to cooperate in working out any good solution that such a commission may propound. The fact that it may take one or two generations to reach the goal must not be discouraging.
19. All citizens of Poland should realize that they must live together. They can not be divorced from each other by force or by any court of law. When this idea is once thoroughly comprehended, every effort will necessarily be directed toward a better understanding and the amelioration of existing conditions, rather than toward augmenting antipathy and discontent. The Polish nation must see that its worst enemies are those who encourage this internal strife. A house divided against itself can not stand. There must be but one class of citizens in Poland, all members of which enjoy equal rights and render equal duties.