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2005 | 112 | 2 | 49-72

Article title

A Difficult Choice. Assimilated Jews about National Identity in the Second Republic

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Many Jewish families in inter-war Poland were either assimilated or on their way towards full assimilation. In contrast to a plethora of studies about the customs, conduct and life of the Jewish community there are almost no publications dealing with the assimilated Jews. The reason for this state of affairs lies in the encountered difficulties with discovering suitable sources. One of the greatest obstacles involves the question of national consciousness. Assimilated Jews did not constitute a uniform community in the Second Republic. Some of them regarded themselves as thoroughly Polish, but only in individual cases did they totally ignore their Jewish descent. The overwhelming majority considered itself to be Poles, albeit in a slightly specific fashion. Moreover, its members were compelled to justify, emphasise and verify their Polishness. Almost all the assimilated Jews did not possess an unambiguously precise national identity. At times, they belonged simultaneously to two cultures, or while remaining exclusively within the range of Polish culture they were aware of the fact that they were not perceived as Poles. Polish identity was cherished predominantly by the older generation, i.e. persons who were already adults at the time when Poland regained independence. On the other hand, children and adolescents, even from totally assimilated households, were incapable of defining their national affiliation clearly and unwaveringly. Due to the growing tide of anti-Semitism, the 1930s began witnessing progressing dissimulation. Young people, whose parents regarded themselves as Poles, tried to return to their Jewish roots -as a rule, unsuccessfully, without indispensable knowledge of language, culture or religion. The same years were tantamount to a period of a contrary process: the offspring of traditional Jewish families were disenchanted with observing Jewish rituals, which they regarded as outdated. Educated in Polish or Jewish schools with Polish as the language of instruction, they frequently did not retain close ties with their grandparents and parents, who remained solely within the range of Yiddish. Furthermore, they sought an environment in which they would feel 'more at home', and would not be rejected owing to a different culture and language. Consequently, an increasing number of Jews felt themseles to be Poles, while an ever smaller number was regarded as such by the Polish community. The Jews in question remained in a state of suspension. In view of the more and more vivid demands made by both sides, concerning unambiguous national declarations, there came into being a mechanism of enclosing the assimilated Jews within a specific social circle. By doing so, they created, although perhaps involuntarily, a community of their own, a sui generis third nation of the assimilated.









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  • A. Landau-Czajka, Instytut Historii PAN, ul. Rynek Starego Miasta 29/31, 00-272 Warszawa, Poland


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