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An Unchosen People

An Unchosen People

Jewish Political Reckoning in Interwar Poland

Kenneth B. Moss

ISBN 9780674245105

Publication date: 12/14/2021

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A revisionist account of interwar Europe’s largest Jewish community that upends histories of Jewish agency to rediscover reckonings with nationalism’s pathologies, diaspora’s fragility, Zionism’s promises, and the necessity of choice.

What did the future hold for interwar Europe’s largest Jewish community, the font of global Jewish hopes? When intrepid analysts asked these questions on the cusp of the 1930s, they discovered a Polish Jewry reckoning with “no tomorrow.” Assailed by antisemitism and witnessing liberalism’s collapse, some Polish Jews looked past progressive hopes or religious certainties to investigate what the nation-state was becoming, what powers minority communities really possessed, and where a future might be found—and for whom.

The story of modern Jewry is often told as one of creativity and contestation. Kenneth B. Moss traces instead a late Jewish reckoning with diasporic vulnerability, nationalism’s terrible potencies, Zionism’s promises, and the necessity of choice. Moss examines the works of Polish Jewry’s most searching thinkers as they confronted political irrationality, state crisis, and the limits of resistance. He reconstructs the desperate creativity of activists seeking to counter despair where they could not redress its causes. And he recovers a lost grassroots history of critical thought and political searching among ordinary Jews, young and powerless, as they struggled to find a viable future for themselves—in Palestine if not in Poland, individually if not communally.

Focusing not on ideals but on a search for realism, Moss recasts the history of modern Jewish political thought. Where much scholarship seeks Jewish agency over a collective future, An Unchosen People recovers a darker tradition characterized by painful tradeoffs amid a harrowing political reality, making Polish Jewry a paradigmatic example of the minority experience endemic to the nation-state.


  • Scholars of Jewish history have devoted a great deal of attention to interwar Poland as the site of a cultural efflorescence that emerged out of the devastation of World War I…Now Kenneth B. Moss…has come to complicate the story, in ways at once surprising and intuitive, in his new book An Unchosen People…The reluctant recourse to Zionism tells us a good deal about the limited agency and sense of futurelessness found among Polish Jews in this age of cultural pessimism. It is a story exceptionally well told…a brilliant affective history of Jewish political culture in interwar Poland…It is one of the merits of Moss’s fine book to show that, for Polish Jews even before the German invasion of 1939, immigration to Palestine was nothing more or less than a path of escape from a hellish abyss, the full depths of which they could not yet imagine.

    —David N. Myers, Los Angeles Review of Books


  • 2023, Winner of the National Jewish Book Awards
  • 2023, Winner of the The Oskar Halecki Polish and East-Central European History Award


  • Kenneth B. Moss is Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Jewish History and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution, which won the Sami Rohr Prize of the National Jewish Book Council. His work has appeared in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and Portuguese as well as English.

Book Details

  • 400 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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