Name generally given to the set of military conflicts during the years 1914–1918 that set the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria (the Central Powers) against those of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, the United States, and other countries (the Allied and Associated Powers, more commonly known as the Allies or the Entente). The geographical scope of the war, the sophistication of weapons employed by both sides, the human cost of the fighting among both soldiers and civilian populations—all of these were at the time unprecedented in the history of warfare, and during the subsequent two decades the experience of the war weighed heavily upon the thinking and behavior not only of political leaders but of virtually all who had been affected by it.
The War in the East
The fighting on the so-called Eastern Front, between Russia and the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, took place largely in the heartland of East European Jewry, in areas with a combined Jewish population greater than 4 million. During fall 1914 and winter 1915, Russian forces advanced deep into Austrian Galicia and Bucovina, only to be expelled half a year later following a German–Austrian counterattack. Meanwhile, during spring and summer 1915 Germany took control of all of Congress Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia and parts of Volhynia and Belorussia, bringing some 40 percent of the Russian Empire’s Jews under the rule of the Central Powers. Russia counterattacked in June 1916 in an offensive extending southward from Łuck through Tarnopol and Buczacz to Czernowitz, advancing to the Carpathian Mountains and driving the Austrians from Bucovina, parts of Volhynia, and much of eastern Galicia.
Jewish residents of Ivanik, near Pinsk, Russian Empire (now in Belarus) with German soldiers who occupied their town, ca. 1915. In front (second from right) is Noyekh (Nathan) Glotzer, who became a groom for the commanding officer. (YIVO)
Inspired by the 1916 Russian victories, Romania entered the war on the Allied side on 27 August of that year, attacking Austro-Hungarian forces in Transylvania. The Central Powers repulsed this invasion, and by December 1916 their troops occupied most of Romania. In July 1917, the Russian provisional government—installed following the overthrow of the tsar the previous March—tried to extend its hold over Galicia even further. This new Russian advance, halted by Germany on 10 July, was followed by a German counteroffensive: by October German forces pushed Russian troops out of virtually all occupied Austrian territory and took control of Russian territories as far east as Latvia.
In February 1918, Germany and Austria invaded Ukraine in order to assist Ukrainian nationalists against the Bolsheviks, who had taken power in Russia three months earlier. From then until the end of the war in November 1918, the Central Powers controlled Ukraine, Belorussia, Volhynia, Congress Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the bulk of Romania in addition to the East European Habsburg lands—that is, the area inhabited by the large majority of East European Jews.
German/Yiddish identity card issued to Samuel Abramow by German occupation authorities, Białystok (now in Poland), ca. 1915-1917. (YIVO)
The frequent movement of armies back and forth across this area over a four-year period disrupted the lives of all the region’s inhabitants. For Jews, however, the disruption was compounded by wide-spread uncertainty concerning their sympathies in the conflict—sympathies that were in fact subject to many competing pressures whose relative degree of influence shifted constantly during the course of the war. The tsarist Russian government in particular profoundly suspected Jewish loyalties. Although the onset of fighting witnessed not only an outpouring of patriotic statements in the Russian Jewish press but also the enlistment of nearly 400,000 Jews in the tsar’s armed forces (of whom some 80,000 served at the front during the 1914–1915 campaigns), Jews were quickly charged with treachery by some military leaders and right-wing politicians. Such charges gained credibility when, on 17 August 1914, the Supreme Command of the German and Austrian armies issued a proclamation in Yiddish exhorting the Jews of the Russian Empire to revolt and promising full equality for Jews in the event of a German victory; accusations of treachery became increasingly forceful following the Russian defeats at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in late August–early September 1914. As a result, Russian military commanders frequently expelled Jews from towns and villages near the front lines and at times even took local Jewish leaders hostage to insure loyal behavior.
These practices reached their peak between March and September 1915, when, as German forces advanced deep into Russian territory, more than half a million Jews were expelled from frontline areas, including all of northern Lithuania and much of Latvia. In one 48-hour interval in May 1915, all 40,000 Jews living in Kovno (Kaunas) were forcibly removed from the city. The property left behind by those expelled was often looted or destroyed. On the other hand, the expulsions precipitated the de facto abolition of the Pale of Settlement, as deportees had to be resettled in Russia proper. Many other Jews, not subject to expulsion, fled from the fighting of their own volition; most moved from the countryside to cities, seeking safety in numbers. By 1915, more than 80,000 Russian Jewish war refugees had congregated in Warsaw; 22,000 additional Jews settled in Vilna.
Jewish soldiers in the Romanian army during World War I, 1917. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ion & Jeanine Gutman Butnaru)
Russian forces also wreaked havoc upon Jews during occupations of Galicia and Bucovina. In addition to the procedures the Russians employed in their own territories, including the deportation of more than 50,000 Jews from these occupied lands to the far reaches of the Russian interior, Russian commanders extracted high levies from the Jewish population for provisioning their troops and maintaining supply lines. In consequence, the Russian invasion of 1914 generated a massive flight of Jews from areas that seemed liable to fall into tsarist hands. At least 200,000 Jews, and by some estimates as many as 450,000 (that is, more than half the Galician Jewish population), were uprooted by Russian conquest or its threat. According to Austrian government statistics published in fall 1915, some 77,000 Galician Jews entered Vienna during the months of the Russian advance, while another 75,000 found refuge in the Czech lands.
These figures, however, appear incomplete; they do not account for Galician Jews who fled to the Hungarian areas of the Habsburg Empire, nor for the many who were housed in refugee camps in Styria and other Austrian provinces. Unofficial surveys from the period in question identified more than 130,000 Galician Jews in Vienna alone. Several thousand other Jews, mainly from Bucovina, fled to Romania. Most refugees returned to their homes with the Austrian recapture of the contested areas in the second half of 1915, but some fled again during the 1916 Russian offensive. At the end of the war, at least 35,000 Galician Jews, and perhaps as many as double that number, remained in the Austrian capital.
Relations with the Central Powers
Lajos Erdős, a Jewish soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, Budapest, World War I. Photograph by Hungaria Fényképészeti Társaság. (Centropa)
The Austrian authorities were generally said to have handled the refugee situation efficiently and humanely. The Central Powers also won approval at first among Jews for behavior in the territories that they captured from the Russians, although such feelings faded as the war continued and occupation practices became more severe. At the beginning of the war, some German planners thought that cultivating the good will of the region’s Jews should be an important strategic goal. To this end, largely at the suggestion of German Zionist leader Max Bodenheimer, the German Foreign Ministry enlisted the aid of German Jewish leaders in spreading anti-Russian propaganda in the areas of heaviest Jewish settlement. Immediately following the German–Austrian proclamation of 17 August 1914, Bodenheimer and other German Zionists organized a Committee for Liberating the Russian Jews, whose goal was to promote the establishment of a multinational buffer state under German protection in the borderlands between Germany and Russia, in which the Jews, as one of the state’s constituent national-ities, would take advantage of the linguistic affinity between German and Yiddish to foster German influence in the region.
The Committee published a Yiddish newspaper, Kol mevaser, with an editorial by Naḥum Sokolow and provocative illustrations by graphic artist Hermann Struck, who later in the war was appointed adviser for Jewish affairs to the German occupation forces in Lithuania and Latvia. However, Russian anti-Jewish reprisals and abandonment by the German government of interest in the buffer state idea persuaded the Committee to discontinue this publication and to redirect its focus: in October 1914 it changed its name to the Committee for the East (Komitee für den Osten), added non-Zionist support, and redefined its purpose as advancing the general welfare of Jews in the eastern war zone. Nevertheless, it continued to concern itself with the region’s political future, helping Polish Jewish leaders plan for changes that the Central Powers were widely expected to implement in the Russian areas coming under their control.
In 1915–1916, the Committee worked together with spokespersons for all of the major political streams within Polish Jewry—assimilationist, Orthodox, nationalist, and socialist—to promote the inclusion of Congress Poland in a confederation of Poles, Jews, Rusyns (Ruthenians), and Belorussians within the framework of Austria-Hungary, on the assumption that such an arrangement would offer Jews greater security than a “small Polish” one, in which Poles and Jews would be the sole ethnic groups and a large Polish majority could dominate the Jewish minority. These efforts came to naught, however, when on 5 November 1916 Germany and Austria-Hungary, hoping to stimulate Poles to volunteer to fight for the Central Powers, proclaimed the establishment of a quasi-independent Kingdom of Poland in the German and Austrian occupation zones. Following this “small Polish” settlement, the Committee turned its attention even more to social welfare issues.
Hardship and Relief
Such attention was urgently required, as the war’s devastation generated extreme want. The economic hardships faced by Jews and others in the already impoverished areas of heavy fighting were exacerbated by the absence of male breadwinners who had been called to military service. Indeed, the percentage of Jewish mobilization in the countries of Eastern Europe matched that of the non-Jewish population; by the end of the war some 650,000 Jews wore the uniform for Russia (of whom approximately 100,000 lost their lives), 320,000 for Austria-Hungary (40,000 killed), and more than 50,000 more for Bulgaria and Romania (2,000 killed). In addition, some 6,000 Jews enlisted in the Polish legions. Also aggravating indigence, especially in the German occupation zones, was the German policy of exacting levies from local populations in order to make up for growing shortages at home, which had been induced by the Allied blockade. As the war dragged on, German authorities even recruited laborers, sometimes by force, to work in German factories; some 70,000 East European Jews were brought to Germany in this fashion. Epidemic disease also took a heavy toll, especially in urban centers that had taken in large numbers of refugees. In Vilna, for example, the death rate among Jews more than tripled between 1914 and 1917.
Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers at a soup kitchen, Suwałki, Poland, 1918. (YIVO)
These conditions produced a large body of destitute Jews dependent upon communal support for food, clothing, medical care, and shelter. Providing for such Jews became a primary avenue through which Jewish women became involved in the war effort. With local Jewish communities in the war zones understandably unable to generate the necessary resources, the burden of providing such support fell upon Jewish organizations abroad. Major roles in this regard were played by the German Jewish Relief Association (Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden, established in 1901 to assist in improving material conditions for Jews in the Russian and Ottoman Empires), the Vienna-based Israelite Alliance (Israelitische Allianz zu Wien, which had assisted Jewish victims of the Russo-Turkish war in 1876–1877), and (until the entry of the United States into the war in April 1917) the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (founded in 1914 as an alliance between German and East European Jews in the United States for the explicit purpose of aiding Jews in the war zones).
East European Jews also organized their own relief agencies. Most prominent among them was the Jewish Committee for the Relief of War Victims (Evreiskii Komitet Pomoshchi Zhertvam Voiny; EKOPO), launched in 1914 by members of the Russian Jewish elite residing outside the Pale of Settlement. This organization, headed by a broad coalition of Jewish communal leaders of diverse ideological orientations, including Kadet Party vice chairman Maksim Vinaver, prominent liberal Saint Petersburg attorney Genrikh Sliozberg, former socialist Duma deputy Leontii Bramson, railroad executive David Feinberg, and Zionist publicist and historian Iulii Brutskus (Julius Brutzkus), among others, demonstrated considerable political skill, obtaining contributions of more than 17 million rubles from Russian government sources during the first two years of its existence (more than half of its total disbursements during that period). Its principal beneficiaries were the Russian Jewish deportees and other refugees to the Russian interior, but it also extended aid to Jews in Galicia and Bucovina when Russian forces occupied those regions. Still, the greatest number of Jews needing assistance lived under German or Austrian rule for most of the war; during those times they were beyond EKOPO’s reach.
Jewish and non-Jewish members of the civilian militia organized during the German occupation during World War I, in the marketplace, Swislocz (Yid., Sislevich; now Svislach, Bel.), 1915. (Left to right) Alter Geler, Menakhem Finkelshteyn, the German captain of the militia, Velvl Goldshteyn, Avrom Faynsilber, and Matebush, a non-Jew. (YIVO)
The extreme privation experienced by Jews in the German and Austrian occupation zones gradually weakened their initial favorable impressions of the Central Powers. On the other hand, resentment of the occupation regime was often mitigated when German and Austrian policies toward Jews were compared with those of Russia. Most notable among those policies was the freedom given Jews to organize politically, a right that, except for a brief period following the 1905 Revolution, had been severely restricted under Russian rule. Thus Jews played an active role in the municipal elections in Warsaw in July 1916, entering into an agreement with Polish municipal leaders that guaranteed them 15 out of 90 seats in the city council.
Jewish political organization was further encouraged by the Ordinance Concerning the Organization of the Jewish Religious Community in the Government-General of Warsaw, published on 15 November 1916. This statute called for the election of Jewish communal governing bodies by literate males aged 25 or older who paid communal taxes according to a system of proportional representation—a provision that assumed the existence of political parties that would nominate competing lists of candidates. Accordingly, the following two years witnessed the establishment of Jewish parties that engaged one another in open political competition, including the Zionist Federation of the Kingdom of Poland, the Orthodox League (Agudas ha-Ortodoksim, a forerunner of Agudas Yisroel), the autonomist Jewish Democratic People’s Party (Yidishe Demokratishe Folkspartey), and the assimilationist Polish Jewish Party of Civil Equality (Partia Równości Obywatelskiej Żydów Polskich). The Bund, Po‘ale Tsiyon, and Mizraḥi also joined the competition, each setting up a full-fledged party apparatus and openly mobilizing support in the new Polish Kingdom.
Leon Reich (right) with J. Tennenblatt, Alexander Hausmann, and Michael Ringel, photographed while being held hostage by a Polish military patrol (uniformed men, standing, first and second from left), Przemyśl, 1918. These four Zionist leaders from Lwów were taken hostage in order to guarantee the “good conduct” of Jews in Lwów following a pogrom in which Polish troops killed 73 Jews suspected of collaborating with Ukrainian forces trying to take control of the city from the Poles. (YIVO)
Many observers, especially Zionists, Bundists, and autonomists, viewed this tacit German encouragement of Jewish political activity as a sign that Jews would eventually be recognized as a constituent autonomous nationality of the states expected to be formed on captured Russian territory, entitled to a share of state resources in proportion to their share of the population and empowered to manage their own internal social, cultural, and educational affairs. Even before the promulgation of the community ordinance, on 1 January 1915, Jewish writers Y. L. Peretz, S. An-ski, and Yankev Dinezon issued a manifesto warning that the war would generate far-reaching changes in the region. They called upon Jews to document both their sufferings and the role they played in the war, lest others determine the place for Jews in the emerging new world order on the basis of misinformation and prejudice. A number of “black books,” war diaries, and belletristic works were produced by Jews in answer to this call, including Dos bukh fun tsar (The Book of Woe) by Sholem Asch and An-ski’s own Khurbn Galitsiye (The Destruction of Galicia).
Ultimately, however, the German authorities not only did not promote autonomy but in most places actively discouraged it. In the Kingdom of Poland, the jurisdiction of the Jewish communities, far from expanding, remained explicitly confined to the provision of religious services. To be sure, seemingly far-reaching steps in the direction of instituting autonomous Jewish national rights were taken for a time in Lithuania and Latvia (actually in the German occupation zone known as Ober-Ost, which included the Russian provinces of Grodno, Vilna, Suwałki, Kovno, and Kurland). There the Germans initially envisioned establishing a large Kingdom of Lithuania and Kurland in which no single ethnic group would dominate. Thus in June 1916, Yiddish was recognized as an official language, on a par with Lithuanian, Belorussian, and Polish, and Jewish schools were permitted to employ it as a language of instruction. The authorities also permitted publication of a Yiddish daily newspaper, Letste nayes, even as they denied similar permission for a Lithuanian-language daily.
Jewish shops in Białystok with German, Yiddish, and Polish signs, during the German occupation of the city during World War I. (Left to right) M. Chodorowsky’s Wholesale Smoked Meats; Yitskhok Baran, Shoemaker; Wine, Beer, and Tea. (Tomasz Wisniewski, www.szukamypolski.com)
Moreover, local councils serving areas with a Yiddish-speaking population were required to reserve at least one seat for a Jewish representative. By the next year, however, following the overthrow of the tsar in February–March 1917 and the installation of a liberal provisional government in Petrograd (the Russified name for Saint Petersburg adopted after the outbreak of war), Germany, fearing a potential pro-Russian backlash, began strongly to favor Lithuanian national claims over those of the other groups in the region. Lithuanians were permitted to elect a separate national representation, but Jews were not; the areas of activity controlled by Jewish communities were curtailed, and the favor formerly demonstrated toward Yiddish was withdrawn.
Indeed, the February–March 1917 revolution in Russia complicated not only German policy but the loyalties of Jews in the German-occupied territories as well. Within a month of assuming power, the provisional government abolished all legal restrictions upon Jews, effectively granting them equal citizenship in a new democratic, multinational Russian state. It also went farther than the Germans in acknowledging Jewish aspirations for recognition as a constituent nationality of the new Russia, permitting elections to an all-Russian Jewish Congress that would serve as the vehicle through which Jews would exercise their collective right of self-determination. Inspired by the vision of Russia as a federation of nationalities, Jewish leaders on the Russian side of the military frontier entered into an alliance with the Ukrainian Central Council (Rada), offering communal autonomy for Ukrainian Jews in a territorially autonomous Ukraine, which in turn would be part of a federated Russian republic. Hopes for a similar arrangement were raised on the German side among Jews in Poland following the provisional government’s promise to establish an independent Polish state tied to Russia, and Jewish leaders in Lithuania and Latvia broached the possibility of cooperation to their Lithuanian and Latvian counterparts as well. Suddenly Germany lost its advantage in the battle for Jewish sympathies. Britain’s Balfour Declaration of November 1917, pledging to “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” merely accelerated what was already a mounting pro-Allied shift in East European Jewish opinion.
Revolution, Civil War, and Pogroms
The promises of 1917 did not materialize, however. The provisional government was never able to consolidate its rule and could not effect its design for a reconstituted Russia. Instead, the Bolshevik seizure of power in October–November 1917 set the region’s politics on a new course that redounded on the whole to most Jews’ misfortune. When the Bolsheviks removed Russia from the war shortly after taking control of the country, eventually (according to the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk) giving up all claim to Ukraine, Finland, and its former Polish and Baltic territories, the question of Jewish sympathies in the lands under the control of the Central Powers became suddenly inconsequential for German planners. Instead, Germany intensified its strategy of establishing conservative regimes in the occupied lands that would control the spread of Bolshevik-inspired revolutionary tendencies, even as it helped to strengthen the Bolsheviks’ hand in Russia proper. It replaced the Ukrainian Central Rada, which it had recognized in February 1918 as the legitimate government in Ukraine but which it distrusted for its social radicalism no less than for its political inexperience, with a puppet government known as the Hetmanate. In May 1918, this policy of establishing easily controllable regimes was extended to Romania as well. None of the administrations set up by the Central Powers during this period demonstrated any sympathy for the collective political aspirations of Jews on their territories, and their German protectors showed no inclination to change their minds. In Ukraine, the Hetmanate effectively nullified the arrangements for Jewish autonomy that had begun to be implemented under the Central Rada, while in Romania the German-dominated government left the country’s long-standing practice of restricting Jewish citizenship essentially in force.
Jakub Wygodzki (second from left) as a prisoner of war, Chersk, Russia, 1917. (YIVO)
Meanwhile, the continued flow of revolutionary rhetoric from Moscow even after the Bolsheviks had left the war, together with the prominence of Jews among the Bolshevik leadership, provided the new conservative regimes established under German patronage with a device for mobilizing popular support. Leaders of these regimes, who had been widely—and accurately—perceived as tools of German policy in Eastern Europe, could now portray themselves as nationalist defenders of their countries and peoples against the purported Bolshevik threat. In this context, Jewish demands for autonomy and a share of state resources were easily represented as violations of national solidarity that could only serve nefarious Bolshevik interests. Thus the specter of Jews as Bolshevik agents began to permeate the areas under German domination, increasing tensions between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors. Such tensions were exacerbated as well by the growing scarcity of food in the region during the final year of the war—a scarcity compounded by forcible German grain requisitions. The prominence of Jews in the grain trade, especially in Ukraine, made it easy to deflect peasant anger over confiscations from the authorities onto Jews and to blame them for food shortages in general. Against this background, observers began noting attacks upon Jews by elements from the local population in various regions under German domination.
Such attacks reached proportions greater than at any time since the mid-seventeenth century following the collapse of the Central Powers in November 1918, as the withdrawal of German and Austrian forces led to a general breakdown of civil authority, peasants and townspeople scrambled for food in conditions of virtual anarchy, and military forces representing various national movements (including the Red Army) competed for control over different parts of the recently occupied regions. In this situation, Jews often found themselves literally in the crossfire. On 22–23 November 1918, a Polish mob, including soldiers in uniform, pillaged the Jewish quarter of Lemberg, killing 73 Jews and wounding 443. The following month witnessed the beginning of a catastrophic pogrom wave in Ukraine, which by the end of 1919 had claimed several tens of thousands of Jewish lives. Attacks upon Jews were also a feature of Polish–Soviet clashes in spring 1919, with notable violence occurring in Vilna, Lida, and Pinsk.
Hugo Bergmann (center right) with Czechoslovakian President Tomáš Masaryk (left), in a photograph possibly taken at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. From Masaryk und das Judentum (Masaryk and the Jews), edited by Ernst Rychnovsky (Prague, 1931). (Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
In some places Jews organized self-defense units to fight their attackers, but the primary Jewish responses to the violence were political and diplomatic. The fact that most of the violence was perpetrated by adherents of the Polish and Ukrainian national movements induced many Jewish leaders to redouble their efforts to prevent those movements from acquiring unchecked political power. In all of the territories evacuated by the Central Powers, Jewish national councils were organized to demand that the new states forming in the region be constituted not as nation-states but as “states of nationalities” that would serve the interests of ethnic minorities no less than those of the majority nation. At the Paris Peace Conference, Jewish spokesmen from throughout Eastern Europe joined with delegates from the recently established American Jewish Congress to demand that the international community compel the new states not only to acknowledge the right of Jews to equal protection of the law as individuals but also to provide a degree of autonomy that would facilitate the advancement of collective Jewish cultural, social, and political interests. Representatives of British and French Jewry also supported modified versions of those demands. Such provisions were incorporated into the peace treaties concluded by the Allies with all of the states that acquired territory from the now-defunct Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia), as well as Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, and Turkey.
The War’s Effects
In the final analysis, the long-term impact of World War I upon the life of East European Jewry was felt most profoundly in four broad areas: state membership; economics; migration; and relations with non-Jews. First, the Jews of Eastern Europe were divided geopolitically along unfamiliar lines. In Poland, Jews who had formerly lived under Russian, Austrian, or German rule and identified with those states and societies to varying degrees now found themselves cast together into a single political–cultural unit, while new borders separated them from areas that had formerly been part of their normal geographic habitat. Similarly, the new Czechoslovakia brought largely German-speaking Jews from (formerly Austrian) Bohemia and Moravia into the same state as their Magyarized coreligionists from (formerly Hungarian) Slovakia, while impeding their connections with other Magyar-speaking Jews in the new truncated Hungary. Yet perhaps the greatest geopolitical disruption was the increasing encumbrance of regular contact between the 2.5 million Jews who came under Soviet rule and Jewish communities in other lands. Although Jewish organizations abroad were able to remain involved to some degree in the life of Soviet Jewry during the 1920s despite ever-present administrative obstacles, their work was severely curtailed in the next decade, as the Jews of the Soviet Union were effectively cut off from world Jewry.
Eastern Europe, 1923.
Geopolitical fragmentation and recombination made the economic dislocations of wartime more difficult to overcome. Before the war, Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs had produced and sold mainly for one of the two large domestic markets provided by Russia and Austria-Hungary. Splitting the region into a multiplicity of small competing nation-states shrank domestic markets drastically at a time of generally falling per capita consumption induced by the wartime disruption of income sources and rampant postwar inflation. Moreover, the installation of the Soviet regime in Russia sharply curtailed possibilities for foreign trade to the east, while the incorporation of part of formerly German Upper Silesia, a major industrial area with a sparse Jewish population, into Poland undercut the formerly dominant role of Jewish-owned industries in that country. These developments contributed to a situation in which large numbers of East European Jews found themselves constantly struggling to regain the often already meager standard of living they had known before the war began.
The physical dislocations of the war also proved long lasting, as refugees and deportees found it difficult, often impossible, to return to their former homes. According to League of Nations estimates, as late as October 1921 some 200,000 Jews from the former Russian Empire remained stranded in neighboring countries whose governments were unwilling to grant them rights of residence. Immigration to Western Europe and the Americas had virtually ceased during the war, and after the conclusion of peace the most attractive destinations restricted it severely. A new category of stateless, unprotected Jews was thus created, whose ranks diminished only partially before being swelled by refugees from Nazism.
The difficulty of finding homes for the refugees represented but one aspect of the generally heightened hostility toward Jews in most of the countries of Eastern Europe that began during the final phase of the war. The foundation of the postwar political order in the region upon states controlled by dominant national majorities fostered the definition of Jews as second-class citizens. The fear of Jews as Bolshevik agents also persisted, while in the difficult postwar economic climate Jews were often looked upon as competitors for scarce jobs. Such hostility often, although not everywhere, discouraged assimilationist movements and induced increasing numbers of Jews to define themselves in national terms. This process was especially noticeable in the former Congress Poland, where assimilationism, which had a small but significant following before the war, virtually disappeared as a political force by 1918 and never recovered. Although linguistic acculturation increased during the interwar years, it can be said that in general the war helped substantially to frustrate the development of feelings of solidarity between Jews and non-Jews in Eastern Europe. The lack of such feelings was in turn profoundly to affect the fate of the Jews when Germany reoccupied the region after 1939.