Contested Loyalties in War: Polish-Jewish Relations within the Anders Army

  • Dominika Cholewinska-Vater

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines Polish-Jewish relations and the policies that shaped them during WWII outside occupied Poland within the deterritorialised Polish state in exile. It takes as its point of examination the case of mass desertions by Jewish soldiers from the Polish Army answerable to the exiled Polish government, and the impact it had on relations between Poles and Jews under the aegis of the Allies (particularly Britain, which held the mandate for Palestine in which most of the desertions took place in 1943). The question why the Jewish soldiers deserted the Polish Army en masse was not infrequently raised in post-war Polish historiography, either in Poland (both before and after the transition from communism to democracy) or in the Polish diaspora in the West. This thesis makes a novel intervention in this debate by restoring to relevant historiography the contextual yet universal condition of wartime refugeedom, which, as this thesis shows, preceded the ethnic operative categories of "Pole" or "Jew". By doing this, this thesis deconstructs the politicized ethno-nationalist Polish and Jewish contemporary narratives, which subsequently came to underpin post-war mainstream Polish and Israeli historiographies on the subject, whose treatment of the desertions was fundamentally irreconcilable both morally and methodologically. The central argument of this thesis is that the desertions were a result of complementary Polish and Jewish policies: the former wished to push the Jewish minority outside the boundaries of the ethnically-defined Polish body politic, while the latter's vested interest laid in encouraging Polish Jews to settle in the Palestinian Yishuv. The specific role of the societal beliefs informing these policies and the concepts developed on both sides in their wake is scrutinized in this thesis. This study identifies the Polish wartime regime as an ethnic democracy, using this term as an efficient analytical mechanism to explain the handling of the Jewish minority issue by the Polish government in exile which, in spite of its pretences to abide by the principles of liberal democracy in order to gain its rightful place among the Allies, ultimately spoke above all for the ethnic Polish majority. This government, and its diplomatic and administrative branches, encountered the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv), an encounter which highlighted certain key features of Polish-Jewish relations: majority-minority dynamics, sense of belonging, and inclusion versus exclusion from the body politic, in theory as well as in practice.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEwa Ochman (Supervisor) & Jean-Marc Dreyfus (Supervisor)

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