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The oldest records that mention the presence of Jews in Warsaw date to the 14th century, when this city was the capital of Mazovia, a principality later united with Poland. After 1453, Jews were known to have been banished by official decree. When Warsaw became the capital of the Polish Kingdom at the close of the 16th century, Jews were brought into the city by the senators and delegates to the Polish parlia_ment. In the 18th century, many Jews were permitted to settle in Warsaw on the condition that they pay a special tax. Two small Jewish towns were founded on the outskirts of Warsaw by the Poles Potocki and Sulkowski. However, the existence of these towns was challenged by the native Polish population, and they were destroyed in 1775. Jews finally received full permission to settle in Warsaw in 1788. They were not popularly accepted, however, and suffered intermittently from the hostile outbursts of their Christian compatriots. Nevertheless, Jews helped defend the city against the Russians in 1794 and organized a regiment of light cavalry. Three years later Jews were compelled to adopt surnames and pay a poll tax.

During the time of Napoleon, a Duchy of Warsaw was set up and chartered by a constitution that included full civil and political rights for Jews. In 1808, these rights were suspended by the Duke of Warsaw upon the instigation of antisemitic noblemen. In the course of the 19th century, Jews of Warsaw gradually received greater official acceptance. In 1863, many Jews participated in the Polish uprising against the Russians.

Pogroms drove thousands of Russian Jews to Warsaw at the close of the 19th century. At the same time, antisemitism in Poland, and especially in Warsaw, began to grow as the new Polish middle class found itself in competition with Jewish merchants and industrial workers. When the Russian government convened the Dumas, or legislatures, at the beginning of the 20th century, Jews of Warsaw supported liberal labor candidates in opposition to the reactionary and antisemitic candidates of the National Democratic Party. The resulting anti-Jewish agitation in Warsaw was great.

By the time of World War I, Warsaw had become a spiritual, economic, and political center for Jews of Eastern Europe. Jews had built a compact community, which included Orthodox, assimilationist, Zionist, and Bundist (socialist) sectors. When Poland received its independence in 1919, Warsaw contained the headquarters of all these Jewish “parties,” as well as commercial and cultural organizations, yeshivot, and seminaries. A flourishing and influential Jewish press had appeared: there were seven Yiddish daily newspapers and numerous periodicals. There were also two Jewish dailies in the Polish language and, intermittently, one in Hebrew. In addition, the Jewish community in Warsaw produced and supported numerous prosperous publishing houses, theaters, art exhibits, and professional organizations. In the political sphere, Jews of Warsaw saw many of their numbers elected to the Polish parliament. Nevertheless, antisemitism never completely abated, and economic discriminations against Jews continued to exist up to the outbreak of World War II.

At the time of the Nazi invasion in 1939, there were approximately 330,000 Jews in Warsaw, or 10 percent of the total Jewish population of Poland. By October 1940, the Germans had herded the entire Jewish population of Warsaw into a ghetto the size of about 100 square city blocks, surrounded by walls and barbed wire. Until July 1942, the Germans were content to make life difficult for Jews by keeping them on starvation rations and denying them medical care. Then the Nazis began systematically deporting Jews from the Warsaw ghetto; told that they were being taken to labor camps, Jews actually were sent to death camps where millions of Jews perished. In spring 1943, the leaders of the Jewish underground of Warsaw rose up against the Germans, much to the latter’s surprise. By April 1943, the Germans had ordered the complete evacuation of the ghetto. Only lightly armed, the remaining Jews of the ghetto put up a gallant struggle against the heavily armed Germans sent to destroy them. The Jewish resistance, led by the young commander-in-chief Mordecai Anielewicz fought to the last, until September 1943. Two uprising leaders who survived were Yitzhak Cukerman and Zivia Lubetkin, who settled in Israel.

The postwar period saw the return of a small number of Jews to Warsaw

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