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Anti-Jewish Boycott

An anti-Jewish boycott is an organized activity directed against the Jews to exclude them from social, economic, and political life. Anti-Jewish boycott pressure has accompanied anti-Semitism as one of its more dangerous and frequent manifestations. Contacts with Jews were avoided, and Jews were not accepted in merchants' guilds, trade associations, and similar organizations. This form of boycott often coincided with legal and administrative restrictions already in force in the country.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the anti-Jewish boycott became one of the basic weapons used for victimizing the Jewish population. The first International Anti-Jewish Congress in Dresden, in 1882, adopted a slogan against Jewish merchants and professionals. In Western Europe, the boycott took the form of excluding Jews from membership in certain societies. In Eastern Europe, the rapidly developing "national" bourgeoisie, which formed the mainstay of the rightist parties, soon adopted anti-Semitic tactics to squeeze out Jewish competitors.

The anti-Jewish boycott campaign met with success in many parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian anti-Semites publicized in the press and at public meetings the slogan, Don't buy from Jews. When the government declared this slogan illegal, it was changed to Buy from Christians only. In Bohemia and Moravia, the anti-Jewish boycott spread under the slogan Each to his own (svúj k svému) at a time when the rising bourgeoisie sought to obtain an exclusive position in the economy, especially in trade.

Shortly before World War I, the Ukrainian population of Galicia was swept into a boycott movement instigated because of alleged Jewish collaboration with the Poles. At the same time, some Polish public figures in Galicia (for instance, the priest Stojalkowski) proposed the boycott as a form of defense for the Polish population against alleged Jewish exploitation.

In Russia, the boycott did not attain significant proportions, despite the strongly nationalist and anti-Jewish stand of the Russian merchants. The system of legal and administrative restrictions against the Jews already operating in Czarist Russia was more efficient than any form of boycott.

A similar situation existed in Romania, where the Jews had been deprived of all rights of citizenship and were considered “foreigners” in the legal sense. They were not allowed to practice the liberal professions or keep tobacconist shops (which were a state monopoly), pharmacies, etc. Following the Russian example, Romania introduced the numerus clausus in educational institutions. Jewish factory owners were obliged by law to employ two-thirds of non-Jewish workers. In 1907, “foreigners” were prohibited from holding agricultural farms on lease.

The anti-Jewish boycott drive was especially intensive in Polish areas, which at that time did not form a national state. The newspaper Rola, which began publication in the 1880s, proposed the slogan of “Polonization” of trade and industry. Developments took a decisive turn in the following decade when the National Democratic Party (Narodowa Demokracja, “ND,” “En-deks”), led by Roman Dmowski, appeared on the political horizon. Initially, the Endeks did not come out with anti-Semitic slogans and confined their campaign to the “Litvaks,” Jews from Russia, whom they accused of promoting the Russification of Poland.

The crushing of the 1905–07 revolution in Russia was also a major setback to the aspirations of the Polish community for political liberation, and it now began to interest itself exclusively in economic problems. The Endek party campaigns became increasingly aggressive, adopting the slogans “Each to his own,” “Don’t buy Jewish,” and “Buy Christian only.” The boycott also spread to cultural life, giving birth to numerous exclusively “Catholic” or “Christian” organizations. The anti-Jewish boycott received wide public support after 1912 in connection with the elections for the Fourth Russian Duma. The Jewish voters did not support the candidate put up by the rightist Polish party, and their votes secured the election of the Socialist candidate. In retaliation, the rightist press started an intensive anti-Jewish campaign, proclaiming the beginning of the “Polish-Jewish War.” The boycott in Polish areas appears to have been coordinated with the anti-Semitic campaign simultaneously unleashed in Russia in connection with the Beilis case.

Between the two world wars, anti-Jewish boycott agitation continued, particularly in Poland, where the situation deteriorated in the wake of economic difficulties, especially following the depression. In an endeavor to soft-pedal the rising social tension, rightist anti-Semitic circles, with the silent approval of the authorities, pointed at the Jews as the cause of the distress of millions of unemployed. Taking over trade from the Jews was made to serve as a panacea for rampant poverty and unemployment.

After the Nazi rise to power in Germany, the government publicly announced a general anti-Jewish boycott. Nazi agitators urged boycotting the Jews at mass meetings. On Sunday, April 1, 1933, uniformed Nazi pickets appeared in front of Jewish shops, attacked their clients, and wrote anti-Jewish slogans on their windows. The offices of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and engineers were also picketed. The official German policy roused anti-Semitic circles in neighboring countries to more extreme action.

The anti-Jewish boycott in Poland gathered strength in imitation of the Nazi example, and Polish anti-Semitic groups began to adopt active boycott pressure. Pickets appeared in front of Jewish shops and stalls and terrorized the Jewish merchants as well as their non-Jewish clients. The rising number of incidents sometimes resulted in the destruction of shops and goods and also an occasional bloody pogrom, as at Przytyk and Wysokie Mazowieckei.

Anti-Jewish boycott activities received the stamp of official approval in Poland in 1937 when Prime Minister Slawoj-Skaladkowski let drop in his notorious statement the slogan “economic boycott? – please!” The Polish government also attempted to step up Jewish emigration from Poland by means of economic strangulation. The boycott did not greatly affect Jewish industrialists and big businessmen, with whom the most rabid propagandists of the anti-Jewish boycott movement not infrequently had secret commercial ties. However, it weighed heavily on hundreds of thousands of small businessmen, artisans, and others. The anti-Jewish boycott – frequently referred to as the “cold pogrom” in the inter-war press – undermined the foundations of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Jews.


JE, S.V. Anti-semitism; EJ, S.V. Anti-semitismus; Dubnow, Weltgesch, 10 (1929), 121 and passim; I. Schipper (ed.), Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937); Elbogen, Century, 639–44; H.G. Reissner, in: Jubilee Volume … Curt C. Silberman (1969).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.