860c.4016/72: Telegram

The Minister in Poland (Gibson) to the Acting Secretary of State15

114 [44]. For Mission and Department. I venture to submit the following observations which it is desirable to bear in mind in connection with questions affecting the Jews in Poland.

The Jews should not for all purposes be considered as a whole. There are very clearly separate[d] classes and the distinctions are generally recognized by the Poles. These may be indicated as follows:
The assimilators. The element of patriotic and respected Jews who are assimilated to the body of Polish citizens and are not involved in the so called Jewish question. They occupy Government positions and have no grievances against the Polish state. They look upon their religion purely as a religion and not as a nationality.
The orthodox Jews. Chiefly engaged in trade and manufacture, peddling, et cetera. Although not aggressive they are as a rule indifferent to Polish state. Among them is an educated element, professional men, et cetera, who profess loyalty to Poland.
The Litwaks. Russian Jews whose coming to Poland was attributable to two causes: (1) The planting of spies, agents provocateurs, et cetera, as a part of the old Russia[n] system. (2) A far greater number simply deported to get them out of Russia proper. These people are avowedly hostile to the Polish Government and give open provocation to public feeling. They are as a rule better educated than the run of the Jews in Poland and like type are wealthy.
The criminal class. A troublesome class composed chiefly of young Jews who have abandoned the tenets of their religion and live largely by their wits, a class that is not unlike the gun men in New York and gives constant trouble to the police.
The Jewish question in Poland is not in any sense religious but social and economic. Neither Poles nor Jews refer to religious differences in discussing the question [of] social problems.
A large element of Jews persist in looking upon their religion as a nationality. Their attitude toward the Poles [in this respect] is often hostile and provocative. The attitude of the Jewish press and Jewish members of the Diet serve to intensify ill feeling. These believe that they can coerce Poland through the influence of foreign Jews upon their Governments. This situation is not helped by the attitude of Polish newspapers [many of] which keep feeling stirred up by constant discussion of Polish grievances against the Jews.
Under the old oppressive rulers it was known that spies and agents provocateurs for Russia, Germany and Austria, were continually recruited from the Jewish ranks. More recently bandits and spies for the Bolsheviki, the Ukrainians and Germans have been recruited in the same way. This does not mean that the Jews as a class have done these things but it is an undoubted fact that many of the agents who have been apprehended have been Jews who have sought to impair military operations in the war zone, cutting telephone and telegraph wires. Their behavior towards the troops has brought about what is at present the worst phase of the problem. The soldiers are generally convinced that Jews are carrying intelligence to the enemy, firing on them from houses et cetera. The result is a dangerous state of feeling. It is to be noted that all the important incidents in which Jews have recently been killed were troubles (in?) Lemberg, Pinsk and Chenstokhov. Great difficulty is now being experienced by the commanders of Haller’s troops in controlling anti-Jewish action. The Polish officers with these troops are men who have come from Russia since the Bolshevik regime [and] who have seen the Jew as a Bolshevik or his agent in nefarious practices. The soldier who comes from America is first amused by the Jewish costume, beard and habits and then incensed by the Jew’s lack of patriotism and his speech. In view of the misery on every side, his sense of justice is easily aroused.
Economic problems. In former times there was no Polish class to occupy the middle ground between peasant and noble landowners. The Jews came in and occupied that place without resistance. As time went on a Polish middle and merchant class grew up and that matter was in a fair way to adjustment when in 1905 Russia drove many of her Jews across the border into Poland. This reestablished [Page 758] the preponderance in trade of the Jews and intensified the feeling. In parts of the country the Jews have a practical monopoly of trade particularly in foodstuffs and consider this has made one of the most dangerous phases of the question. There is no doubt that this class carries on business by methods that would not be tolerated in the United States but that has been permitted under the old form of tyranny and cannot be quickly corrected by Governmental action. Now they hoard food to keep prices up and indulge in profiteering. How far Christians have gone in for these detestable practices I have not been able to determine but the fact is that most of the food shops belong to Jews and the resentment for these practices falls upon them. The situation is aggravated by the fact that there is in Poland a large population of unemployed largely of the turbulent sort to be found in mining and manufacturing communities. When they see food which they cannot buy because of high prices they resort to violence. Another grievance is that Jews smuggle food through the military lines into Germany and into territory occupied by the Germans. This is an organized business and smugglers licenses are issued by the German authorities permitting these people to pass freely for the recognized purpose of smuggling food out of Poland. Incidents that occur in this connection have no religious tinge. If a Jew is injured it is called a pogrom. If a Christian is mobbed it is called a food riot.
The present campaign abroad is largely based on agitation fomented outside of Poland. The Jews here complain of their treatment in general and refer on all occasions to the Pinsk affair in regard to which I have reported fully, and for the past day or two to Chenstokhov. They make no reference to general hardships [massacres] such as are reported in the foreign press and I judge that they consider these two affairs their principal grievances. I learn from Lieutenant Colonel Dawley General Staff that there is a German news agency established at Kovno which is in German hands and that this agency is pouring out [to Berlin] a stream of stories as to what is happening in the [neighboring] regions under Polish occupation. These articles are copied in the press of Scandinavia and other countries whence comes [a great] part of the present agitation. The Germans are clearly doing this with a purpose: (a) to stir up as much dissension as possible inside the country so as to keep it in a weakened condition and (b) to create the impression throughout the world that Poland is a country unworthy of our support or sympathy, thereby weakening her as a possible rival or enemy. This German propaganda is certainly not undertaken for the altruistic purpose of helping the Jews.
Our aim in this matter, I take it, is to exert any proper effort to prevent violence or discrimination against the Jews and to contribute so far as may be to a better understanding between the races.
Solution is only possible through the elimination of the present distrust and dislike which is largely artificial and in order to accomplish this I see the following possibilities:
To prevail upon the local press both Polish and Jewish to moderate its tone. I have had some talks on the subject and believe that a certain amount can be accomplished in this direction.
To call upon the assimilator Jew to throw off his present passive attitude and take an organized active part in assisting the Polish Government to solve this problem both through advice and example as well as actual efforts with their own coreligionists. American Jews can play an important part in stating [starting] such a campaign.
I believe there is a good deal of misapprehension as to the attitude of the United States on the question both among Poles and Jews to the effect that we are advocates of the Jews as such as against the Poles. This is used as a lever by the Jews and is a cause of resentment and distrust among the Poles. This might be helped providing some representative Poles could visit England and the United States to study the Jewish question along constructive lines.
Violent agitation abroad based on unwarranted reports of conditions cannot help the Jews but has exactly the opposite effect. Such propaganda when it becomes generally known here, will rightly or wrongly be attributed in some measure to the Jews and resentment will be intensified. After such agitation has been discredited, it will be difficult to secure credence for real grievances when they arise. I believe that the Department can render a service to the Jews of Poland by discouraging agitation based upon exaggerated or unfounded reports.
The Department can contribute to the solution of this problem by: (1) facilitating the coming [to] Poland of American Jews who are prepared to face facts honestly and work patiently for the good of their coreligionists; (2) refusing passports to agitators of any sort, Jewish or Christian. We have had unfortunate experiences with both kinds.
A great problem which is the product of time and circumstances requires both patience and good will for its solution. Solution is deferred by agitation which is productive of ill will on both sides. The Polish Government is [well intentioned] but lacks power and experience in authority. It is amenable to suggestion to an [Page 760] extent that is surprising. I should be glad therefore to receive ideas from the Department or from anybody sincerely interested in the problem.
  1. Forwarded by the Commission to Negotiate Peace as No. 2439.