A New Economic Order
The 1848 peasant emancipation in 1848 and the 1867 lifting of restrictions on Jewish land ownership sparked serious competition for land in the Galician countryside. The population in rural Galicia rose from 5.4 million in 1869 to 8 million in 1910. Though Galicia had large supplies of oil and minerals, there was little developed industry, and few economic options for many in the province. Every year, poverty increased and the number of paupers increased, across people of all religions. Many rural Jewish congregations had to rely on donations from the Vienna Jewish community in order to meet expenses and feed their poor residents.
Historically, the Jews of Zolynia and many other provincial towns had served special economic and entrepreneurial functions. By the late 19th century, Jews and Christians competed more and more in trade, baking, handicrafts and other entrepreneurial niches. In the Zolynia market square, Jewish-owned shops and stalls had always sold manufactured goods that were difficult to find in the country town, such as pots and fabrics. The ability of the Lancut estate to bring in more goods through the railroad and improved roads meant that reliance on the local craftsman and traders was reduced.
Jews had always made loans to cash-strapped peasants and townspeople, run inns and taverns, managed estate properties, purchased and resold the grains brought in by local farmers and generally served as middlemen between the upper and lower economic classes. More than ever before, many local Christians were aware that these middlemen spoke Yiddish between themselves. Under the pressure of rising economic tensions, what had been a familiar and accepted aspect of local financial life became something more threatening, more hostile and more resented by Christians throughout rural Galicia. In 1893, the Catholic Church declared the first of several boycotts against Jewish businesses.
Tensions and Hostilities
In June of 1898, a wave of violence against Jews erupted in 33 rural districts in Western Galicia, including the Lancut district. Encouraged by the new People's Party (the Stronnictwo Ludowe), gangs of angry young men, landless laborers and small craftsmen smashed windows in Jewish homes and shops. There was some looting and burning. Incidents took place throughout the Lancut area and in neighboring districts of Krosno, Sanok, Tarnow and Jaroslaw. It was unprecedented anti-Jewish violence in Galicia, and it demonstrated the sharp break which had occurred between struggling Polish Christians and provincial Jews.
In March 1905, a mentally disabled Christian girl in Zolynia disappeared, and there were accusations that she had been abducted, murdered and her blood used by local Jews in a secret ritual ceremony. For centuries, this "blood libel" had been made in times of crisis against Jews and other minority groups across Europe. Sometimes it led to murder or mass expulsions of Jews. Now it came to Zolynia. Eventually the girl was found to have drowned in a well, but some Jews had been investigated by police and even taken into court before being cleared.
Appeal of Zionism Grows
More and more Jews no longer saw Galicia as a place where permanent roots could be planted safely. By the mid-1890s, the first Zionist groups were formed in the area, starting in Lancut, publishing newsletters and finding adherents especially among younger Jews. Since the region's first Zionist meetings were held in the 1870s at Przemysl, (44 miles or 71 km southeast of Zolynia), Zionism had been practically an underground movement. Zionism was the belief that Jews would only be able to be safe and prosper in their own homeland. There were several competing versions of Zionism, but all were very controversial in the Jewish communities of Europe. Many Zionists questioned traditional Jewish views about assimilation into the local community and the political system, secularism, language and the place of the Jewish people in the world. Some saw Zionism as a threat or as a diversion from the accepted path to righteousness. The movement was just starting, but it would come to play a huge role in the Zolynia Jewish community in coming years.
In 1899, over eight in ten peasants in Galicia subsided on farms of five acres or less. 200,000 peasants left Galicia for better prospects in the cities and abroad between 1880 and 1900. Many local Poles moved to small industrial cities and towns in the United States, working in the textile mills in places like Fall River, Massachusetts and Amsterdam, New York.
Hundreds of families would leave Zolynia. Many were encouraged by heavy promotion of immigration by German steamship companies in Hamburg and Bremen, and by letters from family and friends already abroad, telling of greater opportunities and a higher standard of living even among the poor. About half of the families leaving Galicia each year were Jewish. Some went to Vienna and other large cities. By the late 1890s, a few began leaving for Palestine. Most Jewish immigrants from Zolynia went to New York City. The largest concentration lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1901, former Jewish residents of the Zolynia area formed their own hometown association, based in its own little synagogue.
Many Gentile immigrants from Zolynia moved to mill towns in upstate New York, New England and the midwestern United States. There were colonies of Zoliners in Amsterdam, New York (near Albany) and Fall River, Massachusetts (near Boston). A hometown club for former Polish residents of Zolynia would be formed in the Chicago area, called Gminy Zolynia. Many worked in mills which weaved cloth and fabrics that was sent to New York City's "garment district" to be cut, sewn and assembled into clothes and drapes by Jewish immigrants from Zolynia.
Most Christians and Jews in Zolynia and its vicinity stayed, but thousands left. Over the forty years between 1881 and 1921, Zolynia's Jewish population shrank by about half. Some of the outlying villages where small groups of Jewish families had settled were emptied of Jews completely.