The Attitude of Christian Churches in the Kingdom of Poland toward Jews in 1855–1915

by Krzysztof Lewalski (Author)
©2020 Monographs 326 Pages


The book is the first attempt in historiography to present the attitude of Christian Churches (Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox) in the Kingdom of Poland towards Jews at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The work is based on a rich and varied source base, it presents many new facts and introduces unknown or unused sources. The monograph deals with the issues of extremely important historical significance, often remaining at the center of the updated historical and political disputes. Despite the difficulty and complexity of the topic, the analysis of the source material, the narrative, and the conclusions contained therein were not involved in these disputes. The work is an important step towards understanding Christian-Jewish relations and Polish-Jewish relations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
  • CHAPTER 1: The Situation of Christian Churches in the Kingdom of Poland in 1855–1915
  • The Organization and Number of Christian Churches
  • The Authorities’ Policy Toward Christian Churches
  • Doctrinal Differences and Intellectual Potential
  • CHAPTER 2: Jews in the Kingdom of Poland in 1855–1915
  • The Size and Distribution of Jewish Population
  • Socio-Occupational Structure
  • The Religious and Sociopolitical Life of Jewish Population
  • Policy of the Partitioning Powers and Polish-Jewish Relations
  • CHAPTER 3: Christian Churches and Anti-Semitism
  • Anti-Semitism or Anti-Judaism
  • Anti-Judaism
  • Anti-Semitism
  • In the Face of Pogroms
  • Blood Libel: “True or False?”
  • CHAPTER 4: The Project of Assimilation as a Solution to the Jewish Question
  • What Kind of Assimilation?
  • Missionary Activity
  • Evangelicals
  • Roman Catholics
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Difficulties with Neophytes
  • The Image of Neophytes
  • Motives for Conversion
  • Neophytes’ Number and Their Social, Professional, and Age Structure
  • CHAPTER 5: Christian Churches and the Jewish Question Against the Backdrop of Civilizational Changes and the Democratization of Social Life
  • Jews as “Rulers of the World, Intransigent Enemies of the Church”
  • Fight for the Nationalization of Trade and Industry
  • Fight for Sobriety
  • Toward an Economic Isolation
  • Toward Jews’ National and Political Aspirations
  • Conclusion
  • Annex
  • 1. The Jewish question in the Kingdom of Poland in the middle of the nineteenth century in an anonymous manuscript
  • 2. The parish priest of Mordy, Fr. Aleksandrowicz, to the general consistory of the Podlachia diocese in Janów, regarding the baptism of the Jew, Józef Buchbinder
  • 3. The parish priest of Włocławek, Fr. Nowakowski, to the President of the town of Włocławek
  • 4. The superior of the monastery of the Reformats in Włocławek, Fr. Hilary Bielawski, to the President of the town of Włocławek
  • 5. The testimony of Rozalia Frankiel given in the Town Council of the Town of Częstochowa regarding her stay in the Mariavite convent
  • 6. A letter of the parish priest of Radzyń to the General Consistory of the diocese of Podlachia
  • 7. A letter of the dean of Sieldce, Fr. Aleksandrowicz, to the General Consistory of the diocese of Podlachia
  • 8. A letter of the General Vicar of the Warsaw Archdiocese, Fr. Paweł Rzewuski, to the Government Committee of Internal Affairs and Denominations
  • 9. A letter of the superior of the permanent monastery of the Dominican order, Fr. Stanisław Cieślakowski, to the administrator of the diocese of Lublin, Fr. Kazimierz Sosnowski
  • 10. Karol Gustaw Manitius, the second pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession to the Warsaw Consistory
  • 11. The General Consistory of the diocese of Lublin to lay and monastic clergy
  • 12. Fr. Nowakowski, Dean of Częstochowa, to Fr. Piotr Kubarski, prior of the Jasna Góra Monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit
  • 13. Parish priest of Częstochowa, Fr. Nowakowski, to Fr. Euzebiusz Rejman
  • 14. Vicar of the Kielce Cathedral, Fr. R. Smoliński, to Fr. Euzebiusz Rejman, prior of the Jasna Góra Monastery
  • 15. Parish priest of Dąbrowa Górnicza, Fr. Grzegorz Augustinik, to Fr. Euzebiusz Rejman, prior of the Jasna Góra Monastery
  • 16. A request of Urysz and Estera Weinsztok to Fr. Euzebiusz Rejman, prior of the Jasna Góra Monastery, regarding their daughter
  • 17. A letter of Fr. Antoni Śliwiński to Fr. Euzebiusz Rejman, prior of the Jasna Góra Monastery
  • 18. A request of a women from the village of Boroszewice, Maria Ossyjasz, to Augustyn Łosiński, bishop of the diocese of Kielce, regarding her son
  • 19. A request of Jankiel Ickowicz and Szyia Orzech to Fr. Stanisław Kazimierz Zdzitowiecki, bishop of the diocese of Wrocław, regarding baptism
  • Zusammenfassung
  • Zur Haltung der christlichen Kirchen im Königreich Polen gegenüber den Juden in den Jahren 1855–1915
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Persons
  • Series index

←10 | 11→


“Strange thing! For several years I have been talking with ‘biting sarcasm’ about priests and noblemen, our merchants and craftsmen, or German industrialists, and yet none of these gentlemen accused me of anger or spreading superstition and hatred. But when I first touched on the Jewish position, I was immediately warned.”1 “It seems impossible to address the Jewish question without causing clamor and resentment. Everything can be criticized, even mathematical certainties, everything can be mocked, only the Jewish question must be stroked in the right way and still with a very delicate hand, in a velvet glove”2 – Bolesław Prus wrote in his Chronicles (1889).

What these words reveal, apart from the personal bitterness of the author and the historical context, is how delicate the matter itself remained and how hard it was to discuss various aspects of the Jewish question sine ira et studio. Even today, historical Polish-Jewish relations spark a great deal of controversy. Bolesław Prus’ statement sounds like a warning, but it also forces us to ask the following question: what is important to remember for a historian, who studies the complicated Polish-Jewish relations and – in the case of this work – the attitude of Christian Churches toward Jews, not to fall into the trap of simple generalizations or black-and-white schemes? This is certainly not an easy task. It seems that an important condition for avoiding this threat is, on the one hand, the adoption of the longue durée perspective in research to maintain a necessary distance, and on the other hand – the understanding of the examined issues with a reference to a wide and complex socioeconomic and religious backdrop of a given epoch.3

This book deals with the relationship between the Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Churches and Jews in the Kingdom of Poland from 1855 to 1915. I should immediately emphasize that it is not about the Church understood in the institutional sense or as a community of the People of God. None of these models corresponds to the essence of the account presented in the work. Rather, I shall seek to analyze the opinions, statements, programs, and actions concerning Jews undertaken by clerics as the “people” of the Church. Indeed, their voice had a profound influence on the formation of the social-religious consciousness of the ←11 | 12→whole masses of the faithful. In addition, I refer to various opinions of lay people connected to the Church. The following analysis of source material gives insight merely into some Christian and ecclesiastical circles of influence. Nevertheless, it seems representative.

I have decided to take the middle of the 1850s as the initial caesura. The death of Nicholas I in 1855, followed by the death of Ivan Paskevich, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Poland, a year later, and the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War of 1853–1856 were the announcement of changes in the current policy toward the Kingdom of Poland. The increase in hope for political changes with Alexander II’s ascension to the throne created a favorable atmosphere around actions aimed at changing the legal status of Jewish population living in Congress Poland. The period of dissent, which lasted until the granting of equal rights for Jews in 1862, revealed that the position of Polish opinion-forming circles on this issue was unclear and had an impact on the evaluation of the results of the emancipation and equality of Jews in the Kingdom after 1863.

The final caesura, the year 1915, does not require any further justification. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 forced the Russian administration to leave the borders of the Kingdom of Poland in August 1915, thereby initiating various processes which sparked profound changes in the hitherto existing social, political, and economic conditions in the region.

The issues addressed in this monograph are still poorly recognized in the Polish historiography. In the interwar period, neither Polish nor Jewish historians had dealt with this issue.4 Indeed, the same applies to the post-war period.5 Noteworthy, the collection of works of the Jewish Historical Institute, which had operated in Poland since 1947, lacks a single text concerning this period. The overwhelming majority of the Institute’s work deals with the history of Jews in 1939–1945. In the 1960s–1970s, Artur Eisenbach had studied the history of Jews in the nineteenth century, which resulted in a series of quality works. The author, ←12 | 13→however, focused mainly on the internal structure of Jewish population, its legal status, and the participation of Jews in Polish national uprisings.6

It is worth mentioning an interesting polemic that broke out in the Kwartalnik Historyczny in the first half of the 1980s and exerted an inspiring influence on the discussion of some of the issues addressed in this book.

The polemic was triggered by Stefania Kowalska-Glikman’s article, entitled “Małżeństwa mieszane w Królestwie Polskim. Problemy asymilacji i integracji społecznej” (Mixed Marriages in the Kingdom of Poland. The Problems of Assimilation and Social Integration), which covered the period of 1815–1870.7 The article met criticism from Jakub Goldberg, who accused Kowalska-Glikman of neglecting the issue of marriages of Jewish converts8 arranged by the clergy, while also demonstrating that the guidelines regulating this process developed by Charles Borromeo in the second half of the sixteenth century were still valid in the nineteenth century. In light of these guidelines, the clergy was responsible for arranging marriages between Jewish neophytes and born Catholics.9 In her response to Goldberg’s remarks, Stefania Kowalska-Glikman argued that she never found any sources from the period under study which would prove the programmatic and organizational activity of the Catholic Church in the field of arranging mixed marriages.10

Without dwelling on the subject matter of this dispute, one should simply note that the arguments employed by the adversaries, and the very fact of their disagreement, indicate the need for a broader discussion of the attitude of Christian Churches toward Jews in the Kingdom of Poland.

The changing political situation in the country since the second half of the 1980 created a favorable atmosphere for dealing with “difficult themes.” It also ←13 | 14→encouraged more extensive research on the past of Jews in Poland. This was reflected in a considerable number of works and articles on Jews and Polish-Jewish relations published over the last fifteen years.11 Particularly helpful for the discussion of this subject are academic works which discuss the issues of assimilation,12 anti-Semitism,13 and religious conversion.14

←14 | 15→

Among the works concerning assimilation, one should mention especially Alina Cała’s Asymilacja Żydów w Królestwie Polskim (1864–1897) (The Assimilation of Jews in the Kingdom of Poland 1864–1897). Referring to a rich source base and large body of literature on this subject, the author provides a suggestive if sometimes one-sided explanation of factors and mechanisms which conditioned the assimilation process.

A vast majority of the works dealing with the religiousness, location, and activity of Christian Churches in the discussed period concerns the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. In the first case, one should mention studies on religiousness, its manifestations and conditions, and the social-religious teaching of the Church. The works of Daniel Olszewski deserve special attention, especially his Polska kultura religijna na przełomie XIX i XX wieku (Polish Religious Culture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century).15 This is the first historical work which sets the problems of Polish religiousness in a broader context, exploring rich source material. It is worth noting that the author does not limit his account to Catholicism. He also recognizes the role of other Christian denominations and Churches in the process of shaping this religion. Also Ewa Jabłońska-Deptuła16 and Edward Walewander17 take up these themes.

←15 | 16→

In turn, Czesław Lechicki,18 Ireneusz Kaczmarek,19 and Jan Mazur20 have studied the problems of Catholic journalism in the discussed period. One should content, however, that despite this absence of a work – with the exception of Jan Mazur’s study on the theme of “Catholic Thought” – which would analyze the content of Catholic writings against a broader socioeconomic and ideological backdrop of the epoch, thereby providing a better insight into the type of mentality dominating in the community of Catholic writers and journalists.

Stanisław Litak,21 Daniel Olszewski,22 Stanisław Kotkowski,23 and Stanisław Gajewski24 discuss the social structure of the clergy, especially its intellectual formation and social activity. In addition, it is worth mentioning Aleksy Petrani’s studies25 on the policy of the tsarist authorities toward the Church, Adam Stanowski’s thesis, Bolesław Kumor’s fundamental work on the organizational and territorial structure of the Church in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries,26 and Franciszek Stopniak’s work on the Church in Lublin and ←16 | 17→Podlachia regions.27 This last study deserves a special credit for its strong reliance on archival materials.

There are not many works concerning the history of the Evangelical Church in the Kingdom of Poland. These are mainly the studies by Eduardo Kneifel,28 Woldemar Gastpare,29 and Tadeusz Stegner.30 The works of the first two authors, however, are more textbook and factual in character, for they neglect a broader socioeconomic background and do not go into a deeper analysis of the Protestant community itself. Still, these deficiencies find compensation in the works of Tadeusz Stegner, who shows the evangelical community not only as a religious group but also in the perspective of social, political, and national processes which took place in the Kingdom of Poland.

In turn, the history of the Orthodox Church in Poland has been rarely discussed and largely overshadowed by research on the Uniate Church. The works of Henryk Suchenko-Suchecki31 published before the war, or those of Janusz ←17 | 18→Woliński32 and Wacław Zaikyn,33 certainly do not fill this gap. The same applies to more recent studies by Mirosława Papierzynska-Turek,34 Anna Frączek (Krochmal),35 and Witold Kołbuk.36 Only Anna Frączek’s studies are entirely devoted to the discussed period. The others, valuable and informative as they are, focus merely on the general situation and role of the Orthodox Church in the Kingdom.

The source base of this book consists of materials of various provenance: the Russian State Historical Archive in St. Petersburg, all national and diocesan archives, and the Jasna Góra Archive, which gathers sources from the territory of the Kingdom of Poland. The State Historical Archive provided information on the location of Jews in the Kingdom of Poland in the early 1870s (Teodor Berg’s report) and on the state of Jewish education. They constitute an interesting source of information about the central authorities’ policy toward Jews in Congress Poland and personal opinions of the authorities concerning the Jewish question. It is important to emphasize that because of both time limitations and the enormity of the source material, the presented analysis is based on a partial query.

The material stored in national and diocesan archives does not exemplify mass tendencies and remains largely incomplete. The reason behind this state of affairs might be the loss of archival sources caused by the turmoil of the wars. For instance, files from Kuyavian-Kalisz diocese were destroyed in 1920, while those from Warsaw Archdiocese burned down in 1944. Similarly, the majority of the files of religious orders – which were confiscated after the dissolution of monasteries by the tsarist authorities in 1864, and which were reclaimed through revindication after the First World War and transferred to the Warsaw University Library – vanished during the Warsaw Uprising.37 Moreover, the condition of ←18 | 19→the sources in some diocesan archives leaves much to be desired, making it very difficult to conduct an effective query. This applies especially to the archives in Siedlce and Sandomierz.

Particularly noteworthy are the materials stored in the Main Archive of Historical Records in Warsaw and in the Archives of the Capital City of Warsaw. They shed light on the missionary work of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession among Jewish circles in the Kingdom of Poland and of the Congregationalist London Missionary Society. In addition, by analyzing these materials, one can at least partially learn about the difficulties encountered by the Catholic Church in its evangelizing efforts among Polish Judaists. In this case, a clear caesura can be established – the year 1864, when the activity of many religious orders in the Kingdom of Poland was suppressed.

An extremely interesting document, which sheds light on the conditions of the missionary activity of the Catholic clergy in the Jewish community of the Kingdom of Poland before the mid-1950s is the manuscript of an anonymous author found in the Diocesan Archive in Kielce.38 The only thing we know about this author is that he was a priest, most likely with higher education; he came from Warsaw Archdiocese and was well versed in the issues he discussed. However, it is difficult to figure out what was the purpose, and who were the intended recipients, of this text.

The sources stored in the Diocesan Archive in Łomża provide interesting information not only about social unrest in the Suwałki Governorate against the backdrop anti-Jewish incidents which occurred in 1881–1882 but also about the attitude of state and ecclesiastical authorities toward this issue.39

The sources from other archives, regrettably scarce, give us a better insight into some issues related to the process of converting Jews into Christianity. They reveal, among other things, the complexity of various factors that have conditioned this process. In this respect, the most interesting source is the correspondence of Catholic clerics concerning Jewish neophytes (the Jasna Góra Archive, the State Archive in Włocławek, and the Archdiocesan Archive in Lublin). In addition, the archival query provided, unfortunately also fragmentary, statistical data concerning religious conversion of Jews.

This book largely refers to social-religious periodicals and diocesan magazines, in particular: Przegląd Katolicki (Catholic Review; 1863–1914), ←19 | 20→Polak-Katolik (Pole the Catholic; 1908–1914), Posiew (The Seed; 1908–1913), Zwiastun Ewangeliczny (The Evangelical Annunciator; 1876–1882, 1898–1914), Głosy Kościelne w sprawie Kościoła Ewangelicko-Augsburskiego (Church Voices Concerning the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland; 1884–1890), Kholmsko-Varshavskiy yeparkhal’nyy vestnik (Chełm-Warsaw Diocesan Annunciator; 1877–1905), Varshavskiy yeparkhal’nyy listok (Warsaw Diocesal Newspaper; 1906–1915), Kholmskaya tserkovnaya zhizn’ (Chełm Church Life; 1906–1913), Kholmskiy narodnyy listok (Chełm People’s Newspaper; 1906–1913), and Izraelita (Israelite; 1866–1914). They were a rich source of insight into the clergy’s views on the Jewish question, not only from a religious point of view, but also from a social and post-liturgical point of view. In addition, the book refers to lay journalism, memoirs, and diaries. Unfortunately, memoirist publications are rare – a lack felt most acutely in the case of clerical writings. It is worth noting at this point that the book explores rarely discussed sources such as collections of homilies, parish teachings or textbooks on pastoral theology used in Catholic seminaries. They are an extremely valuable supplement to the material from other archives, as they shed light on the mentality of certain ecclesiastical circles.

The book consists of five chapters. The first chapter discusses organizational structures of individual Churches with close attention paid to the political conditions of their functioning and, above all, to their intellectual potential. The latter issue has influenced the clergy’s attitude toward Jewish issues in various respects. The second chapter describes the Jewish community with close attention paid to its increasing socioeconomic differentiation – a process which manifested itself especially at the turn of the centuries. This chapter also presents the policy of the partitioning powers and the position of Polish opinion-forming circles toward the Jewish question until the mid-1880s. The most important problems addressed in the third chapter include the issue of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, including the clergy’s stance toward the pogroms of Jews in 1881–1882 and 1903–1906 and the phenomenon of the blood libel. The fourth chapter discusses first of all the activities of Christian Churches aimed at attracting Judaists to Christianity, motives leading them to change their faith, and the image of Neophytes emerging from the press at that time. The last chapter presents the attitude of Christian Churches toward the Jewish question against the backdrop of social, political, and economic transformations taking place in the Kingdom, especially at the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.

At the end of the book, the Annex to Chapter 4 is attached. It is a selection of archival materials, chronologically arranged and dating from 1854–1913. They provide interesting information about the difficulties associated with the ←20 | 21→evangelization of Jews. They also reveal various aspects of the conversion process, e.g. they shed light on factors which influenced individual decisions to change one’s confession.

The scope of the problematics addressed in this book certainly does not cover all issues designated by its title. The author is aware that some issues are merely touched on, while others still await proper examination. It is necessary to conduct extensive queries which will broaden the archival resources available for research in this field. Unfortunately, this task goes beyond the capabilities of an individual researcher.

It is very important to continue research on the social origins of Christian spirituality in the Kingdom of Poland, its intellectual formation, recognized authorities, socioeconomic attitudes, and the mentality of the clergy.40 Results of this research will certainly bring us to a better understanding of many phenomena and processes which indirectly affected the relationship between Christian Churches and Jews in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The same applies, perhaps even more so, to the need for examining the attitude of Jewish opinion-forming circles toward Christianity in the discussed period. However, one should be aware that the Hebrew and Yiddish languages – the languages of archival materials and the press – still constitute an important barrier for researchers of these issues. I hope that this work will make up, at least partly, for the severe gap in Polish research and encourage further studies.

←21 | 22→

1 B. Prus, Kroniki, ed. Z. Szweykowski, Vol. 12, Warszawa 1962, p. 79.

2 Qtd. after T. Jeske-Choiński, Historia Żydów w Polsce, Warszawa 1919, pp. 274 ff.

3 Cf. R. Wapiński, “Problemy warsztatu historyka dziejów najnowszych,” Przegląd Humanistyczny 1996, No. 1, p. 37.

4 A. Eisenbach, “Historiografia żydowska w Polsce w okresie międzywojennym,” in: Środowiska historyczne II Rzeczypospolitej, ed. J. Maternicki, Warszawa 1987, pp. 235–291; J. Maternicki, E. Cesarz, “Zainteresowania twórcze historyków warszawskich w latach 1918–1939,” in: Środowiska historyczne II Rzeczypospolitej, ed. J. Maternicki, part 5, Warszawa 1990, pp. 7–35; J. Maternicki, “Elita warszawskiego środowiska historycznego 1918–1939,” in: Środowiska historyczne II Rzeczypospolitej, part 5, pp. 36–90.

5 See S. Kieniewicz, “Powojenny dorobek historiografii okresu powstań narodowych,” KH 1987, No. 1, p. 157; L. Trzeciakowski, “Historiografia dziejów popowstaniowych 1864–1914,” KH 1987, No. 1, pp. 159–194.

6 See A. Eisenbach, “Prawa obywatelskie i honorowe Żydów (1780–1861),” in: Społeczeństwo Królestwa Polskiego, Vol. 1, Warszawa 1965; A. Eisenbach “Mobilność terytorialna ludności żydowskiej w Królestwie Polskim,” in: Społeczeństwo Królestwa Polskiego, Vol. 2, Warszawa 1966; A. Eisenbach, Kwestia równouprawnienia Żydów w Królestwie Polskim, Warszawa 1972; A. Eisenbach, Z dziejów ludności żydowskiej w Polsce w XVIII i XIX wieku. Studia i szkice, Warszawa 1983; A. Eisenbach, Emancypacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich 1785–1870 na tle europejskim, Warszawa 1988.

7 KH 1977, No. 2.

8 KH 1980, No. 4 (Czy małżeństwa neofitów i neofitek z urodzonymi katoliczkami i urodzonymi katolikami świadczyły o zaawansowanym stadium ich społecznej integracji i asymilacji?).

9 KH 1980, No. 4. See also KH 1984, No. 1 (Konwersja i mariaż).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
Christian-Jewish Relations Polish-Jewish Relations Antisemitism Religious Conversion Jewish Question Missionary Activity
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 326 pp., 10 fig. b/w, 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Krzysztof Lewalski (Author)

Krzysztof Lewalski, Professor of the University of Gdańsk; research interests: religious life in the Polish lands in the 19th and 20th c., the Christian Churches and the Jews; the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the Polish Kingdom and Russia; everyday life of the clergy at the turn of the 19th and 20th c.


Title: The Attitude of Christian Churches in the Kingdom of Poland toward Jews in 1855–1915
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