Stateless Nation: A Reciprocal Motif Between Polish Nationalism and Zionism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


CHAPTER 4 Stateless Nation: A Reciprocal Motif Between Polish Nationalism and Zionism Marcos Silber Any citizen of the State of Israel could complete the sentence: “. . . is not yet lost.” There is another state whose citizens could also complete that sentence—Poland. If in the State of Israel they would insert the words “our hope,” in Poland they would say “Poland.” Indeed, some would argue that the words “is not yet lost” were lifted by Naftali Herz Imber, the flamboyant poet born in Zloczów in Galicia, from the first line of the Polish national anthem—“Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła.”1 As far back as the 1980s David Engel posed in an unpublished lecture this question : What can we learn from this example? Do we have before us a transfer of cultural ideas from a Polish national culture to an emerging Jewish national culture, or is this just a hint of a few Polish motifs that were absorbed into a Jewish nationalism that also drew from other national movements, most notably the German and Russian?2 And also from the ethnonational struggles within the Habsburg Empire?3 The claim has frequently been made that Polish culture transmitted relatively few assets to the Jewish national movement and Jewish settlement in Palestine, and those few didn’t go much beyond folk wisdom regarding “Polishness” and sexist remarks about Polish women. This claim arises in the main because very few Zionist leaders and ideologues (apart from the Revisionists) openly admitted to any influences whatsoever.4 On the contrary, the standard narrative has it that Jewish national consciousness among Polish Jewry developed only after the cultural influence of the Polish milieu had been thrust aside. Such comments may be found in the writings of noted Polish Zionists such as Yitzhak Gruenbaum, who took several opportunities, in his important essay on the history of the Zionist movement, to emphasize the Litvak (i.e., Jewish Lithuanian) foundations of Polish Zionism, and in the memoirs of Abraham Podlishewski, a noted Zionist 88 Marcos Silber leader in Warsaw.5 Such claims are common in Polish Jewish historiography, which tends to cast the Jewish national idea among Polish Jewry as a Litvak creation, alien to the Polish cultural world.6 In the early 1980s, Ezra Mendelsohn remarked in his classic study of Polish Zionism between the wars that “Polish nationalism exerted a tremendous influence on Polish Jewish youth and pointed large numbers of Jews toward Zionism.”7 Engel took this a step further by suggesting, in the course of the aforementioned lecture, that various Zionists adopted certain Polish motifs almost unconsciously, and that these motifs penetrated so deeply into the core of the Zionist ethos that they came to be perceived as an intrinsic part of Jewish nationalism in general and Zionism in particular.8 This unconscious absorption had made them invisible . Focusing on the Zionist Right, historians Yaacov Shavit and Daniel Heller have demonstrated how profoundly Revisionist Zionism in Poland was shaped by Polish motifs.9 Similarly, Kamil Kijek’s pioneering study of Jewish youth in Poland between the wars notes the deep-seated connection between exposure to the nation-fostering messages embedded in Polish language and literature, on the one hand, and the process of thrusting aside the Polish “we,” on the other—a complex process Kijek calls “symbolic acculturation.” These approaches suggest, in Kijek’s view, an interpretation of Zionism as an internalization of Polish nationalist discourse.10 Yfaat Weiss suggests that the construction of Israeli citizenship is an internalization of the construct of Polish citizenship between the wars.11 Engel wrote in a similar vein when discussing what citizenship meant to Polish Zionists.12 I concur with these arguments. Polish Zionism between the wars drew both consciously and unconsciously on the motifs and symbols of the Polish cultural milieu. While Mendelsohn, Engel, Shavit, Weiss, Heller, and Kijek discuss the period following the founding of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, when Jewish integration into Polish culture within a sovereign Poland was at its height, the present chapter sets out to trace the transfer of motifs between Polish nationalism and Zionism before 1918.13 I follow in the footsteps of Shoshana Stiftel and Ela Bauer, who examined the role of Polish nationalist thought in shaping the nationalist ideas of Nahum Sokolow.14 However, here I examine these concepts not just with regard to a central figure such as Sokolow but among his contemporaries and juniors, with particular attention to the arena of literature. It is not...
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrom Europe's East to the Middle East: Israel's Russian and Polish Lineages
EditorsKenneth B. Moss, Benjamin Nathans, Taro Tsurumi
PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
ISBN (Print)9780812299571
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NameJewish culture and contexts.
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press


Dive into the research topics of 'Stateless Nation: A Reciprocal Motif Between Polish Nationalism and Zionism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this