Poland in 1900 and just before the Sho'ah ranks 1st in a list of nations by Jewish percentage of the population. [1]

Now of course in such a ranking that country is Israel.

Why did Jews migrate to and live in Poland? Considerations could be historical, geographic, legislative (Statute of Kalisz, Warsaw Confederation?) or other.

A more specific question: did more Jews live in Poland than other nations prior to the Sho'ah because of a preference for how Polish laws and people treated Jews? Or is Poland's historical ranking in Jewish population attributed to other reasons?

Comparisons to other countries like Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia, and their laws, may also be helpful.

Personal and family histories may also be helpful in understanding this historical ranking of Poland by Jewish population.

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    Accepted answer to this question is related - Poland ranked 1st in jewish population (at least in Europe) long time before XX century. Feb 12, 2018 at 15:15
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    @DanilaSmirnov that question is much better researched than mine, thanks. Maybe I can find primary sources to support the question above and make it more specific as T.E.D. suggests. Or maybe it is too similar to the one you reference. However I was asking more specifically about Jewish Polish history. Feb 12, 2018 at 15:38
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    The reason is simple: until 17 century the state a part of which Poland was was more tolerant than other European states. This state called itself Rzheczpospolita and has a mixed population of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. There was no religious wars or large-scale persecution until the middle of 17 century.
    – Alex
    Feb 12, 2018 at 23:57
  • VTC for trivial facts.
    – John Dee
    Feb 13, 2018 at 15:03
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    In the Polish-Lithuanian hey days, a large part of Ukraine was part of the PLC. Feb 13, 2018 at 15:38

3 Answers 3


Question: What factors contributed to related Jewish migration and life-choices in Poland, and ultimately this ranking of Poland back then? These factors could be geographic, legislative (Statute of Kalisz, Warsaw Confederation?) or other.

The history of jewish people in Poland goes back a millennium. There is debate about why Jews began settling in Poland. Reasons being put forward have to do with security, geography, and religious tolerance.

Security & Georgraphy
Some date the beginning of the Jewish migration to Poland to 1024 and Pope Urban II's call for crusade to liberate the holy lands from the Moslems. The resulting armies flowing from Europe into the holy lands victimized Jews, Moslems, and Orthodox Christians alike on the way to Crusade. For the Crusaders going to the holy lands to fight heretics, many would not differentiate killing non Christians closer to home. One argument was Jews fled to Poland because it was on the frontier of the Christian/Catholic world and thus not on the path the crusaders traveled.

Jews of Poland.
One of the theories is that the “butterfly effect” that led the Jews of Ashkenaz to migrate to Poland began with a speech by Pope Urban II, who in 1096 called for the liberation of the holy sites in Jerusalem from the Muslim rule. The Pope's call ignited what would come to be known as The Crusades - vast campaigns of conquest by the Christian faithful, noble and peasant alike, who moved like a tsunami from Western Europe to the Middle East, trampling, stealing and robbing anything they could find along the way. Out of a fervent belief that “heretics” were “heretics”, be they Jews or Muslims, the militant pilgrims made sure not to bypass the large Jewish communities in the Ashkenaz countries, where they murdered many of the local Jews, mostly in the communities of Worms and Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Following these massacres, known in Jewish historiography as the Massacres of Ttn”u (after the acronym of the year of Hebrew calendar), Jews started migrating east, into the Kingdom of Poland. Also the Kingdom of Poland and latter the Polish-Lithiwanian

Religious Tolerance
Poland was invaded by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, and Poland actively tried to attract immigrants in that period to make up for the loss of population.

Jewish Virtual Library
While persecution took place across Europe during the Crusades, in the 13th century, Poland served as a haven for European Jewry because of its relative tolerance. During this period, Poland began its colonization process. It suffered great losses from Mongol invasions in 1241 and therefore encouraged Jewish immigrants to settle the towns and villages. Immigrants flocked to Poland from Bohemia-Moravia, Germany, Italy, Spain and colonies in the Crimea. No central authority could stop the immigration.

Freedom of Worship and Assemble was also granted eventually to the Jews in the 13th century.

Jewish Virtual Library
In 1264, Duke Boleslaw issued the "Statute of Kalisz," guaranteeing protection of the Jews and granting generous legal and professional rights, including the ability to become moneylenders and businessman. King Kasimierz ratified the charter and extended it to include specific points of protection from Christians, including guaranteed prosecution against those who "commit a depredation in a Jewish cemetery".

During the 14th and 15th century, Jews were active in all areas of trade, including cloth, horses, and cattle. By the end of the 15th century, Polish Jews began trading with Venice, Feodosiya and other Genoese colonies in the Crimea, as well as with Constantinople. .... By the mid-16th century, eighty percent of the world’s Jews lived in Poland. Jewish religious life thrived in many Polish communities.

Things began to change in the 17th century as Poland would weaken and become partitioned by other greater powers.

Wikipedia:History of Jews in Poland.
Poland's traditional tolerance[9] began to wane from the 17th century onward.[10] After the Partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire,[11] as well as Austria-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia (later a part of the German Empire). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it was the center of the European Jewish world with one of the world's largest Jewish communities of over 3 million.

  • No central authority could stop the immigration. Really? The first jewish child was born in Spain at 2 January 1966 since 1492. Apr 3, 2018 at 6:00
  • @KhirgiyMikhail. I read that quote as, because Jewish immigrants came from north, east, and west; no central authority could stop them. Or... Although much of Europe in this time persecuted jews, no central authority could intercept the immigrants coming to tolerant Poland from so many different directions / routes. It's more about geometry than a lack of strong countries in the late 13th century. Also Spain's Edict of Expulsion was in 1492; but the Spanish Inquisition wasn't disbanded until July15, 1834.
    – user27618
    Apr 3, 2018 at 15:11

Yes, Poland had a large number of Jews because Polish rulers welcomed and protected Jews in Poland for the better part of 1000 years. This was because of the contributions that the Jews made to the economic development of the country through trade, finance, and moneylending, and because these skills were "rarer" in Poland, than in other countries. Moreover, the Polish rulers often sided with the Jews against other groups, e.g. the Catholic church, that wanted to oppress them.

Comparison With Other Countries.

From the link above, following the three partitions of Poland (1772-95), "Official Russian policy would eventually prove to be substantially harsher to the Jews than that under independent Polish rule." Also, the Czars did less to protect the Jews from "unofficial" persecution than the Polish rulers.

Until the 17th century, there were far fewer Jews in the Ukraine (then under the rule of Lithuania) than in Poland. The creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 allowed the more numerous Poles to settle the Ukraine, with the Lithuanians preventing Polish settlement only of their own ancestral lands. This allowed the Poles to introduce Jewish administrators, particularly moneylenders, into the Ukraine. The result was hostility toward the Jews by Ukrainian peasants, reflected in the rebellion of Bogdan Khmelnytsky, beginning in 1648.

Hungary had a love-hate relationship with the Jews, admitting them when the rulers needed them, expelling them when they didn't.


Poland/Lietuva/Belorus was the most soft country to Jews during 16-17 centuries. Not that it was soft by itself, but in Ukraine Poles gave keys from Churches to Jews and thus organized such hate against them, that the life there was almost impossible. And in Russia before 18 century Jews were simply not allowed to live and even to visit the land. And Jews were pushed off to the West by Russia and Ukraine as they overtook or cut off Polish territory. Pushed off as gravel by bulldozer. After the Eastern Poland, Lietuva and Belarus were occupied by Russian Empire, the movement of Jews to the East was restricted. So, they were concentrated on the latest Polish territory. That heap of gravel simply remained where it was.

Statistics on the problem is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jewish_population_comparisons

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    It is just the other way around. Jews came to (modern) Ukraine and Belorussia from the West, when these territories were in one state with Poland and Lithuania.
    – Alex
    Feb 12, 2018 at 23:52
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    How do you define/measure "most soft country"? This assertion can be subjective unless you define your criteria.
    – user69715
    Feb 13, 2018 at 0:38
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    @user69715 it is not my criteria. It was their own criteria. They found it better to live in Poland than in Russia when they could chose. And thus it is absolutely objective. I am only trying to name their reasons. I don't like the chosen name, too, but I couldn't find better one. Help me, if you can find better term, please.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 13, 2018 at 9:09
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    @Gangnus isn't it circular reasoning? "Why did the Jews live in Poland? Because it's the most soft country. Why is it the most soft? It must be, because the Jews chose to be there." Do you have a non-circular reason to say this?
    – user69715
    Feb 13, 2018 at 17:50
  • @user69715 Ok, sorry. Info added
    – Gangnus
    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:03

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