The Plunder
The 1898 Anti-Jewish Riots in Habsburg Galicia
Daniel Unowsky


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction offers an overview of the geographical and chronological scope of the violence before setting these events within existing scholarship on antisemitism, Habsburg and Polish history, and the history of violence in central Europe around 1900. Although these events have been largely overshadowed by more deadly examples of anti-Jewish violence before and after World War I, the 1898 riots constituted the most extensive anti-Jewish attacks in the Habsburg state in the post-1867 constitutional era. The 1898 Galician violence challenged the image of Austria-Hungary as a Rechtsstaat, a state governed by the rule of law. The introduction includes chapter previews.

1 Jews, Roman Catholics, and Mass Politics in Western Galicia
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an overview of social, and economic relations in the small towns and villages where most of the 1898 attacks took place. What were the small towns of the region like? Who lived in them? How did Jews and Catholics interact and in what locations and contexts? In this period in Italy, France, and elsewhere, Catholic institutions propagated new and virulent forms of antisemitism. Galicia's Catholic hierarchy and clergy translated and transferred this Catholic-inflected modern antisemitism into the Galician countryside. This took place at the very moment when mass politics arrived in Habsburg central Europe. New political parties competed for rural voters, bringing a strident, aggressive style of political action, rhetoric, and organization to the countryside. The new Catholic antisemitism played a central role in this competition as it did in two fiercely fought elections for parliamentary seats that took place in the first half of 1898.

2 The Plunder
chapter abstract

This chapter traces the course of the 1898 events from the relatively isolated violence in the salt mining town of Wieliczka and the surrounding area in mid-March to the first major urban anti-Jewish riots in Przemyśl and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska in late May, the numerous raids around Jasło in mid-June, and the most intense violence of the period in and near Nowy Sącz and Stary Sącz, Limanowa, and Brzesko in the last week of June. These attacks convinced the Galician governor and the Vienna cabinet to declare a state of emergency in western and central Galicia. Representative riots and attacks are described in detail to provide the reader with a sense of how incidents related to each other.

3 Rioters, Jews, and the State
chapter abstract

Chapter three centers on the participants themselves. Who led the riots and why? What motivated people to join the action? The dissemination of outlandish rumors played a pivotal role in the formation of communities of anti-Jewish action during and after the violence, as did the constant efforts at mobilization by new political parties. What were the confrontations between Jews and Christians like? Many of the rioters and Jews knew each other. How did this familiarity affect events? What defensive actions did Jewish individuals, families, small communities, and organizations take? This chapter considers the roles played by various arms of the state, from local administrators and gendarmes to the Galician governor, military commanders and troops, and the ministries in Vienna as they sought to restore order. The final section of the chapter briefly considers the relative lack of participation in the riots on the part of the Ruthenian/Ukrainian population.

4 The Trials
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 turns to the search for justice. The Galician courts, closely watched by the Ministry of Justice in Vienna, assessed personal responsibility for individual acts of violence and disturbance of the peace. The first major attacks took place in mid-March 1898; five weeks of sustained violence began in the last week of May and ended only in late June. The first trials opened in the beginning of July; courts issued the last judgments in January 1899. Appeals continued for several more months. Each case was a drama that played out in local courtrooms, on the street, and in the press. What were the claims of the prosecution and the defense? How did defendants and witnesses describe the violence and their own actions? How did the media of the day portray the trials and engage in questions of guilt and responsibility?

5 Politics, Policy, and Christian-Jewish Relations
chapter abstract

This chapter explores efforts to inform the events with political meaning. Galicia's major Polish-speaking political players assigned blame and put forward explanations for the riots that bolstered their respective appeals for political support. In November, just before Emperor Franz Joseph's official fiftieth jubilee on December 2, newly elected Peasant Party deputies and socialists addressed the riots from the floor of the parliament building on Vienna's Ringstraße, the symbolic center of power in the monarchy. This chapter illustrates the abyss that lay between the smooth and coherent framing narratives that emerged during and after the riots and the much murkier events, motivations, actions, and reactions of participants on the ground described in earlier chapters. The final section considers how the riots altered patterns of Christian-Jewish interaction.

chapter abstract

The 1898 anti-Jewish riots and their aftermath did not simply arise from Galician backwardness. Swiftly spreading and constantly evolving rumors, slogans shouted by attackers, and statements made to investigators and on witness stands revealed a rural world rife with ignorance, drunkenness, and illiteracy, as well as medieval Catholic superstitions about Host desecration, ritual murder, well-poisoning, and the like. Yet, the specific form antisemitic violence took in Galicia in 1898—the dynamics of its spread and duration—reflected a lively and expanding partisan press, new Catholic social movements, government intervention, and the arrival of modern political mobilization in the Galician countryside. Polish peasant politicians would bring their interpretations of the 1898 violence into the newborn Poland after 1918: they argued that a modernization of the countryside that works for the benefit of Christians could come about only with the exclusion of the Jews.