November 17, 1916 - Germany Promises Polish Jews Equal Rights
Pictured - Rabbis in Warsaw, 1916.
The Central Powers announced the creation of an independent Polish state on November 5, hoping to garner Polish fervor in support of the war. The Teutonic emperor’s promises, however, proved to be somewhat vague; there would be a Polish state centered on Warsaw, but it would be a client of Germany. Moreover, what powers and rights it would have were unclear.
Poles welcomed the announcement but demanded more. Germany promised an independent army first. Others were willing to go further. On November 17, the German commander of Warsaw declared equality of the Jewish religion in Poland. He did so with the backing of the German-Jewish Komitee fûr den Osten (KfdO), an organization formed to defend the rights of Eastern European Jews. the KdfO wanted to create a Jewish community recognized not only as a religious one, but a national one, with its own deputies in Parliament, schools, and language. In Warsaw they promised a Jewish corporation with its own religious leaders and full religious equality.
The KdfO was a sincere promoter of German rights, but many others, including the German and Austrian government, the Poles, and Austrian Zionists, were taken aback and annoyed at its promises. The Germans believed it was promising too much, the Poles had no desire for independent Jewish communities, and the Zionists did not trust the Poles. The promises, like most of those made to the Polish state, fizzled out.