An Uncho­sen Peo­ple: Jew­ish Polit­i­cal Reck­on­ing in Inter­war Poland

  • From the Publisher
January 3, 2022

A revi­sion­ist account of inter­war Europe’s largest Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that upends his­to­ries of Jew­ish agency to redis­cov­er reck­on­ings with nationalism’s patholo­gies, diaspora’s fragili­ty, Zionism’s promis­es, and the neces­si­ty of choice.

What did the future hold for inter­war Europe’s largest Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, the font of glob­al Jew­ish hopes? When intre­pid ana­lysts asked these ques­tions on the cusp of the 1930s, they dis­cov­ered a Pol­ish Jew­ry reck­on­ing with no tomor­row.” Assailed by anti­semitism and wit­ness­ing liberalism’s col­lapse, some Pol­ish Jews looked past pro­gres­sive hopes or reli­gious cer­tain­ties to inves­ti­gate what the nation-state was becom­ing, what pow­ers minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties real­ly pos­sessed, and where a future might be found―and for whom.

The sto­ry of mod­ern Jew­ry is often told as one of cre­ativ­i­ty and con­tes­ta­tion. Ken­neth B. Moss traces instead a late Jew­ish reck­on­ing with dias­poric vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, nationalism’s ter­ri­ble poten­cies, Zionism’s promis­es, and the neces­si­ty of choice. Moss exam­ines the works of Pol­ish Jewry’s most search­ing thinkers as they con­front­ed polit­i­cal irra­tional­i­ty, state cri­sis, and the lim­its of resis­tance. He recon­structs the des­per­ate cre­ativ­i­ty of activists seek­ing to counter despair where they could not redress its caus­es. And he recov­ers a lost grass­roots his­to­ry of crit­i­cal thought and polit­i­cal search­ing among ordi­nary Jews, young and pow­er­less, as they strug­gled to find a viable future for themselves―in Pales­tine if not in Poland, indi­vid­u­al­ly if not communally.

Focus­ing not on ideals but on a search for real­ism, Moss recasts the his­to­ry of mod­ern Jew­ish polit­i­cal thought. Where much schol­ar­ship seeks Jew­ish agency over a col­lec­tive future, An Uncho­sen Peo­ple recov­ers a dark­er tra­di­tion char­ac­ter­ized by painful trade­offs amid a har­row­ing polit­i­cal real­i­ty, mak­ing Pol­ish Jew­ry a par­a­dig­mat­ic exam­ple of the minor­i­ty expe­ri­ence endem­ic to the nation-state.

Discussion Questions