2015 Przemyśl, Poland
Przemyśl, Poland. Nominated as a Knowledge City-Region
Przemyśl is a city in south-eastern Poland with 66,756 inhabitants, as of June 2009. In 1999, it became part of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship; it was previously the capital of Przemyśl Voivodeship. Przemyśl owes its long and rich history to the advantages of its geographic location. The city lies in an area connecting mountains and lowlands known as the Przemyśl Gate, with open lines of transportation, and fertile soil. It also lies on the navigable San River. Important trade routes passed through Przemyśl and ensured the city's importance. Przemyśl was a center of the Jewish enlightenment.
Situated along the River San, historically considered the artificial divide between eastern and western Galicia (Halychyna), the city has been relatively neglected by historians in favor of Kraków to the west and Lwów (L΄viv, Lviv, L΄vov, Lemberg) in the east. This disregard has resulted in a scholarly deficiency in the historiography of eastern Galicia and the centuries-long tripartite relations in place there, as well as a paucity of comparative histories especially in the years of Galician autonomy. While most scholarly works have traditionally considered only the late interwar period and the Second World War, it is essential to understand the many years of coexistence and historical alliances among the three ethnic groups of Przemyśl – and of eastern Galicia – which in great measure determined the course of the evolution of the Jewish community there and subsequent relations in the Polish Second Republic. Today, the city of Przemyśl is situated in southeastern Poland just nine kilom eters 2 from the Ukrainian border and has a population of 69,500 inhabitants. The city straddles the River San and lies at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Przemyśl once played a vital role in the history of Poland. Its favorable geographic location on m edieval trade routes contributed to its development as a significant economic center in Galicia (Halychyna). Many important phenomena in Polish history are directly reflected in the histo ry of Przemyśl in a microcosm. The multinational character of this Galician city was shaped both by its earlier history and by the large numbers of ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Despite flare-ups of competition and
conflict, these groups maintained generally civil, if uneasy, relationships with each other through the first decades of the twentieth century. Under Austrian rule from 1772, a primary goal of the empire’s officialdom was to assimilate the Jews of Przemyśl not to the local Polish or Ukrainian communities, but rather to Austro-German culture so that the Jews – and the Poles to a lesser extent – would contribute to the “Germanization” of Galicia. By the 1870s, however, many Jews chose to assimilate to Polish culture. The considerable autonomy of Galicia under Austrian rule opened the door to secular, Polish-language education, political alliances, economic cooperation, and increased social interaction. The difficult struggle for Jewish emancipation led to the emergence of two distinct Jewish societies in Przemyśl and Galicia. An integrated, or progressive, community coexisted and interacted with the dominant Orthodox community. The constitution of 1867 equalized the rights of all citizens of the Austro-Hungarian crownland of Galicia regardless of religion and nationality, thus disposing all of all restrictions on the Jews. The transformations that took place in the province during the constitutional period (1868-1918) left the Jews of Przemyśl in a new quandary though, caught as they were between the national and territorial aspirations of the Poles and the Ukrainians. The political divide that developed within the Jewish community of Przemyśl actually aided in the emergence of a multitude of political parties and respective ideologies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Socialism, well- established and the strongest of all political groupings in Przemyśl at the turn of the century maintained a popular orientation through the 1920s, but its appeal gradually diminished in the face of growing Polish and Ukrainian nationalism and antisemitism. Here, Zionism, prevalent since the 1880s, appealed to an even larger segment of the population as an attractive political alternative, with its promotion of Jewish self- identification through a nationalistic platform. From the outset, the Jewish community of the Galician center of Przem yśl had always included a substantial number of poor, traditional Jews, and a smaller yet influential group of wealthy and integrated Jews. The latter, to the displeasure of the Polish and Ukrainian townspeople, were able to purchase a large proportion of the city’s real estate. The Jewish community played a significant role in the infrastructure and development of the city. Jewish economic success – even dominance – in a number of sectors such as the learned professions, banking, trade, and small- and large-scale industry frequently led to troubling competition among the three ethnic groups, occasionally resulting in anti-Jewish incidents, the primary manifestation of modern antisemitism until the 1930s. Following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in November 1918 and the re incarnation of the Polish state in that year, Przemyśl Jewry encountered its first contact with the nascent Polish state. This took place in the dramatic circumstances of anti-Jewish riots and pogroms throughout Galicia, byproducts of the armed conflict between the Poles and Ukrainians in Przemyśl and elsewhere, in which both sought to define their national borders. The events leading to the end of the First World War left the Jews of the city between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” On the one hand, the Ukrainians decried Jewish neutrality in the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-19, interpreting it as a continuation of the traditional pro-Polish attitude, while Poles accused the Jews of pro-Ukrainian sympathies. The Jews’ neutral attitude ultimately increased the distrust of both Poles and Ukrainians, who no longer viewed them as potential allies in the Second Republic of Poland. The negative state of the tripartite relations in Przemyśl would determine the history of Przemyśl from 1918 to the outbreak of the Second World War, a twenty-year period in which the Jews of Poland would be forced to the fringe of society living under the insidious reality of a pariah community. In Przemyśl, as in other towns and cities of this volatile, ethnically m ixed region of Europe, tension was always present. During times of peace, the three groups enjoyed by and large mutual rapport as the long since established symbiotic interdependence remained undisturbed. During periods of adversity and tragedy though, conflict and violence, influenced by popular antisemitism and nationalism, became the norm. This discord can be understood only in view of the tripartite relationship among Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Representative of eastern Galicia, Przemyśl’s population was very heterogeneous and had been marked by religious and ethnic diversity over many centuries. Early history Przemyśl is the oldest borough on the eastern fringe of the present-day Republic of Poland. It is an ancient center located in a gap between tw o geographical regions: the Dynów uplands and the Sandomierzska lowlands in the San River valley. The region was settled already during prehistoric times. Archeological research provides evidence that a trading settlement existed in the area of present-day Przemyśl from the time of the Holy Roman Empire along the route leading from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. (Chris Hann, “Postsocialist Nationalism: Rediscovering the Past in Southeast Poland,” Slavic Review vol. 57, no. 4 (Winter, 1998), 842-844. 4 http://www.kki.pl/pioinf/przemysl/dzieje/dzieje1_e.html).