Burning of Great Synagogue. Drawing by Ella Liebermann-Shiber.
Burning of Great Synagogue. Drawing by Ella Liebermann-Shiber.

Antisemitism refers to the prejudice, discrimination, and hatred against the Jewish people. The term was coined in nineteenth century Germany. It is different from anti-Judaism insofar as it identifies Jews not as a religion but (wrongly) as a “race.” It includes social, political, ethnic, religious, and economic opposition to Jews, and the systematic oppression of their legal and civil rights.


Polish attitudes toward Jews in Będzin prior to the Nazi occupation were relatively tolerant. However, this somewhat peaceful coexistence was not without periods of intercommunal conflicts. Escalating antisemitism that resulted from the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich in Germany was soon reflected in Polish society in the form of public harassment, pejorative verbal abuse, and the numerous clausus, a policy that limited the enrollment of Jews in higher education. Prior to World War 2, Jews were considered an inferior race that could be exploited for labor. They were excluded from certain professions, schools, and banned from many public spaces. Prominent among antisemitic attitudes were imagined or observed class jealousies, religiously motivated hatred, and beliefs that Jews were social and economic parasites.


Interactions between Jews and Poles mainly resided in the economic sphere due to trade and employment. Such relations did not exclude friendships. Also, some Poles defied Nazi orders and hid and sheltered their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation.


For a general overview of antisemitism:

USHMM: Antisemitism


For more information on the rise of antisemitism in pre-1939 Germany:

USHMM:Anti-Jewish Legislation in Pre-War Germany