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The Assimilationists

Pages 68 – 69

Questions to Facilitate Study

I. E. Pechnik, The Ihud in Crisis

  1. Did the Jewish assimilationists in Poland have any special traits, and if so, what does the author think they are?
  2. What is “rational assimilation”? What are its characteristics?
  3. How does the author criticize Zionism as a solution to the Jewish problem?
  4. What solution does this article offer for the problems of three million Jews in Poland?
  5. How should Jews relate to antisemitic manifestations (“incidents”) and to Polish society in general?
  6. Do you think this article takes a positive attitude toward the continued existence of Jews in Poland?

The Assimilationists

I. The Ihud in Crisis

E. Pechnik, Ajednoczenie na Przelomie, Zjednoczenie, Kwiecin, 1932 (4), pp. 4-6

You hear it everywhere: “Assimilation is bankrupt.” “How can you be an assimilationist in our time, after everything that’s happened?” “Are you still Jews, and what is your connection with Judaism?” and so on. Every member of the Ihud (the league of Jewish assimilationists) is faced with the following fateful question: Who is right? How can we answer them?

As for remarks on ties with Judaism, one could answer: “Usually it is religion that ties us to Judaism.” But let us be honest; most of us do not observe the commandments. So what do we have in common? First and foremost, we have shared origins and traditions.

As for whether the assimilation issue has really died out and matters only to the small groups of people in Poland who wave the Ihud banner–even assuming that this is so — why do these people follow this path? Why do they not change direction?

One can support the Ihud by inner conviction (a “born” assimilationist) or by arriving at the conviction. Those who feel a cultural affinity for contemporary Europe (without considering the question of the superiority of Jewish or European culture) are already standing on assimilationist soil.

One can discern two groups of assimilationists: “pure” assimilationists and nationalist assimilationists. One may, in fact, advocate the elimination of national and religious differences only, but one may go further and claim: “I am a Pole (German, Frenchman, etc.) because I was educated in this country, my traditions are based on its traditions, and I am a I patriot of the country where I live.”

I will attempt to focus on “pure” assimilationism since this addresses the phenomenon in a more inclusive way. But even here, one must accept the view of a person who says, “I assimilate because that’s what I feel like doing.” This attitude is rather hard to fathom; the person’s education and feelings may have a decisive impact, but not necessarily.

But over and above these “born” or “pure” assimilationists, we find a secondary type: “rational assimilationists” –people who, irrespective of their feelings, wish to solve the Jewish problem where they live (for example, Poland) by reaching some kind of modus vivendit144 and who, for various reasons, reject the views of the Jewish nationalistic movement, be it Zionist or other.

“Rational assimilationism” argues that millions of Jews live in the world and that antisemitism is rampant everywhere to this or that extent. Poland itself has three million Jews who have equal constitutional rights. The problem we face today is what the attitude of these masses should be. Zionism attempts to find its way out of the labyrinth through rebuilding Eretz Israel, but even the most zealous Zionist knows that this land can, under the best of circumstances, sustain a population of several hundred thousand only, and many others will remain outside its borders. If so, what role is intended for Jews who do not live in Zion–in Poland, for example? Are they to establish “a state within a state” or remain aliens with different political rights’? It is clear to everyone, I think, that none of these out- looks is acceptable even to the most liberal state, and it is hard to create fictions of dual nationality or citizenship because the complications this causes would make the whole matter totally untenable.

Thus, this mass of three million Jews in Poland will remain here, live here, reside here, and earn its living here — but in what way? Action of some kind should be taken if none of the perspectives described above is accepted.

Consequently, the best course to take seems to be the third course, the one the Ihud recommends: mass assimilation. It is a very hard thing to do. We are aware of the difficulties that arise at every step; we acknowledge the legitimate argument of our Jewish rivals that in order to achieve our objective, we need the goodwill of the local population to which we extend our hand. Even though some reject our view, the circle of sympathizers who dwell in the same homeland but profess a different faith (the Polish one) is growing steadily. Examples of this sympathetic attitude run into the thousands. Suffice it to mention the coordinator of the S.A.M.Z.145 in Cracow, who has supported this view from its inception. Members of other religions and Polish student youth organizations who promoted the idea of Ihud in their movements sit on S.A.M.Z.’s administrative board.

Consider the recent incidents. Despite all the pain and bitterness they left behind, have they not corroborated our claim? True, a gang of youth caused shameful riots, but should society as a whole, which has condemned this behavior in various ways, be blamed for it? Even supporters of Kurjer Warszawski (a Polish journal) have denounced them, and naturally also other journals and political organizations, government institutions, and youth organizations with different outlooks, which organized active opposition. We must take a different attitude toward all of these, who constitute the majority of Polish society, and we should cooperate with them!

Here is where the important role of assimilationism in general, and Ihud in particular, begins: we should build a bridge across which people who adhere to different faiths but dwell in the same country will be drawn closer to each other. Today, when such vicious clashes have come to light, our task is many times greater. We must show that, despite the difficulties, we will not yield. We will cling to our position and continue marching in the direction that we deem to be correct!