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The 1795 Third Partition of Poland – Watershed for Eastern European Jewish History

October 25, 2021

On October 24, 1795, Austrian, Prussian, and Russian representatives met to dissolve the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, known as the Third Partition of Poland, which ended the existence of an independent Polish and Lithuanian state for the next 123 years.

If you’re Jewish and your family comes from Eastern Europe… this is a part of YOUR history… as well as that of Poland and the areas surrounding it in general.

This might not sound like “news” … but this partition of Poland in 1795, the third in some twenty years or so changed the map of Europe… with Russia, the then Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia globbling up the spoils and creating from it a complex fractured geographic cloth of Poland and Lithuania…for all the peoples living there… Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Rutherians, and others… a fractured soul that frankly has never been put together again as it was.

Until that time, Jews – including all of my family’s ancestors – who come from places with names like Bialystok, Grodno, Prienai and Vilnius – this was the beginning of the long end that would lead to two world wars in the 20th century with their well known unspeakably painful results and an end to Eastern European Jewry as we know it. Jews living in the different zones – Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian controlled areas had quite different experiences from this time on as their realities varied significantly according to which of the three powers was in charge.

Prior to the three partitions ending the Polish-Lithuanian state in 1795, Jews were generally welcomed and protected in eastern Europe, many of them having fled from England, France, Germany, etc driven out by extremes of both Catholicism and just as virulent Lutheranism. They, the Jews were welcomed and found refuge for half a milleneum, maybe more, in Poland-Lithuania..

And then the skies darkened … slowly at first

A fine little volume on this subject which deals with Jews during the inter-war period (1919-1939) but also gives good historical background going back to the above mentioned partitions of Poland: The Jews of East Central Europe Between the Wars by Ezra Mendelsohn. For those wanting more in depth history: Norman Davis’ two volume God’s Playground: A History of Poland.

On this Day, in 1795: the Third Partition of Poland was concluded – It’s worth reading the whole article on this subject…

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