“Polishing” the Jewish Masses: Personal Hygiene, Public Health, and Jews in Fin de Siècle Warsaw

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This article examines the efforts of Jewish physicians and social activists to improve the hygiene habits of Warsaw’s Jewish residents. Warsaw was the third largest city of the Russian Empire, a significant Polish national site, and home to the largest Jewish community in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. Efforts to improve the hygiene of the city’s residents were undertaken by Jewish and non-Jewish physicians, social activists, and journalists—but not by the local authorities. Jewish physicians and social activists who were involved in these activities acknowledged that the attempts to improve the hygiene habits of the Jewish masses needed to take the traditional Jewish way of life into account. In addition, they had to operate separately among the city’s Jewish and non-Jewish residents because of the tensions that existed between Poles and Jews. Nevertheless, the methods used by Jewish and Polish physicians and social activists were similar. In Polish society, the goal of improving the residents’ personal hygiene was among the tasks that members of the local intelligentsia took upon themselves. It was also considered a Polish national project. The question of whether the Jewish residents of the city should be included or excluded from this project gained a good deal of public attention among both Poles and Jews in the 1890s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-203
Number of pages25
JournalJewish History
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Cholera
  • Disease
  • Epidemic
  • Hygiene
  • Jewish intelligentsia
  • Public health
  • Warsaw Jewry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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