Eastern Borderlands (1918-1939)

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Jewish Life in the Eastern Borderlands

Jews, unlike other ethnic groups living in the Eastern Borderlands, were deployed evenly throughout the area. The Jewish community lived mostly in towns and cities that they called sztetls (a Jewish term) in separate districts / quarters set up in a specific communal fashion and social custom, which formed a closed society. Aside from the Polish one, they had a separate administration which was subject only to the Jews. The main authority was the Jewish council (kahal).
Jews were characterized by a distinct culture and language. For the most part they avoided assimilation; their whole world was the sztetl, and the one language that they knew and used on a daily basis was Yidish. In the sztetl they published and read newspapers in Yidish, had distinct cultural institutions there, as well as sporting clubs, librairies, and Jewish houses of worship – synagogues – where they could pray and observe Jewish holy days. In the sztetl one also found elementary schools conducted in the Jewish language, as well as religious schools – Talmud Torah and Yeshiva cheders – where the Talmud and Torah were taught from a very young age.

The language of daily use was Yidish, but prayers were in Hebrew. Only a small percentage of Jews (Zionists, who were advocates of the creation of a separate Jewish state) communicated among themselves in Hebrew. The assimilation of Jews within the Eastern Borderlands was very limited. Jews were mostly involved in trade and crafts.

With the increase of nationalist sentiment in Europe during the interwar period, there were also pogroms that took place within the territory of the Second Polish Republic ( the worst of these was the pogrom in Lwow in November 1918). Jews were also persecuted ( for instance with the enactment of the numerus clausus, as well as the Ghetto benches at Universities, and the boycot of Jewish shops in the 1930s).