chapter  V
3 Pages

Relations between Jew and Gentile

Relations between Jew and Gentile T h e Jews in our town lived their own life, forming a voluntary ghetto, completely isolated, physically and mentally, from the Christian Poles, on whom they looked as goyim (gentiles) who did not know the Law, and were thus incapable of any higher thought, or who at best were occupied with worldly learning, unworthy of the serious attention of a Jew. O f modern inventions they knew none, except the telegraph, into the operation of which they never inquired. We had our Jewish mechanics, watchmakers, turners, boiler-makers, brassworkers, and a few of them showed a decided mechanical aptitude, but they all worked in the traditional way. In the ’eighties of the last century, in view of the growing antagonism between Austria and Russia, our little town, lying as it then did in close proximity to Russia, was for strategic reasons connected by rail with the trunk-line Cracow-Lwow, and many of our Jews had for the first time in their lives the opportunity of seeing a locomotive. When the railway-line was opened, the Jews flocked to the station to have a look at the modem miracle, on which occasion one of the mechanically minded Jews, the old Aaron Ende, a sharp-featured greybeard, who might have stepped out of a Rembrandt canvas, enthusi­ astically exclaimed: “ A wonderful invention, indeed, but the greater wonder is that a goy> a gentile, could have invented such a machine!’5 The Jews were utterly indifferent to home politics. They

did not care for elections, and did not know who represented them in the Reichsrat in Vienna or in the Diet in Lwow. They only knew they had to obey the laws and pray for the Emperor. They did not even regard home affairs as politics. Government matters, they believed, concerned worldly in­ terests, that is, the non-essentials of life. Besides, it was no

good to interfere in State affairs; for, whenever they should happen to become critical, the Jews would have to pay for it. They had been for centuries the victims of the bewildered gentile nations; it was therefore best to leave these things alone. On my expressing disapproval of Jewish indifference to public affairs, the Rabbi of our town reproved me, saying: “ You young folk think yourselves wiser than our fathers; when you grow up you will learn that we Jews are like stepchildren among the gentiles. Woe to the stepchild if it is stupid, but a hundred times more woe if it is clever! Don’t be too wise, said King Solomon; and he knew.” The indifference to domestic politics was compensated,

however, by a lively interest in foreign affairs. They thought politics dealt essentially with the international relations of the various States, with diplomacy and war. They liked to hear and read about Alexander the Great, whom they called Alexander “Mokden,” or about Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, and they pricked their ears whenever rumours of war floated in the air. Their interest in foreign politics was a heritage from the times of their national existence in ancient Palestine, which, from its geographical position and topo­ graphical formation, served as a bridgehead of warring empires. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Romans involved that little country in their imperial ambitions, and it witnessed in the course of history wave after wave of imperialist invasions. Moreover, and this is probably the most important consideration, international conflicts and collisions were associated in the mind of our Jews with Messianic hopes. Whenever some great war was being waged, mysterious old manuscripts circulated from hand to hand, pointing apocalyptically to the approaching world crisis as the precursor of the advent of the Messiah and the triumphant return of the Jews to the Holy Land. I remember having seen such a manuscript in 1877-78, during the Russo-Turkish War, at the time when Osman Pasha defended Plevna. Even

my mother, an illiterate woman whose only care was the home, was stirred by such events. In the autumn of 1870, when I was just six years old, mother took me one afternoon for a walk, and, telling me of the Franco-Prussian War, suddenly gripped my hand, and, pressing it convulsively, said with great emphasis: “ Sonny, the accursed Prussians have captured Napoleon!”