Antisemitism at Warsaw University

Leo’s father encouraged him to enroll in the London School of Economics at least in part because of the rising tide of antisemitism in Eastern Europe, as well perhaps as the recognition that Poland was in particular peril from expansionist German and Russian regimes.

During the mid to late 30’s, antisemitism and pogroms were spreading in Russia, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere. Leo was aware of violence against Jews on the campus of Warsaw University, and he himself experienced antisemitic harassment, but was never physically attacked. And he saw no indication of prejudice by professors.

The University administration, however, did not always do all it could to prevent Jews from being targeted in various ways. For instance, there was an extended incident resulting from the fact that many if not most Jews would not donate corpses to the medical school. (Even today, many Jews believe that donating one’s body to science is not allowed under Jewish law.) Somehow this led to an attempt to seat Jewish students in a separate part of the classroom. In other places, this type of segregation had turned out to be a prelude to violence against Jewish students. The University administration did not intervene. In response, Leo and other Jewish students did not sit down in class for a whole academic year: They stood in the back of the room, leaving the designated Jewish section empty. The next year, the segregation attempt was abandoned.

The “bench Ghetto” marked a peak of antisemitism in Poland between the world wars. It antagonized not only Jews, but also many Poles. Jewish students protested these policies, along with some Poles who supported them by standing instead of sitting.  – Wikipedia

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