Letter: Curbs on Jews in Poland

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The Independent Online
AS AN avid reader of Georges Perec's novels I very much appreciated Galen Strawson's review of his biography by David Bellos ('Rococo modernism: a user's manual, Review, 2 January). But I am puzzled by what Strawson has to say about the Polish constraints on Jews in the 1920s.

It is untrue that Jews were not allowed to practise medicine: in 1931 Jewish doctors accounted for 46 per cent of the Polish medical profession. Several were members of my own family.

It is not true that Jewish children were not admitted to institutions of secondary education (the term 'lyceum' was little used in the early Twenties; prior to 1932, the Polish equivalent was the eight-form gimnazium). I myself attended the middle forms of a Polish girls' gimnazium. Jews represented upwards of one-fifth of all girls and boys in secondary education, qualifying them for university. In the academic year 1924-25 Jews constituted 21.5 per cent of students in higher education; this may have been the peak. By the mid-1930s the numbers were much lower.

As to entry to public parks being prohibited, I can again testify to the inaccuracy of that assertion from personal experience. I was born in Warsaw in 1919 and lived there until I was 16. There was hardly a day when I did not go to its beautiful parks. Moreover, I can think of a number of paintings and engravings which show Orthodox Jews taking the air in Ogrod Saski or Ogrod Krasinskich, both near Warsaw's main Jewish district.

That various restrictions against Jews existed in the inter-war period is a stain on Poland's history. Nothing will be gained from adding three unsubstantiated ones to the tragic list.

Zuzanna Shonfield

London SW3

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