Żydowska fizys. Wysokość ciała i standard życia Żydów w Królestwie Polskim w drugiej połowie XIX wieku


  • Michał Kopczyński


Jewish looks: Bodily height and living standard of the Jews in the Kingdom of Poland during the second half of the nineteenth century


The article is concerned with the changes in the bodily height of the Jewish population in comparison with the Christians. The analysis is based on the registers of the draft commissions of the Russian army. Due to the incomplete state of preservation of the source materials the author compared the physical characteristics of persons born in the years: 1844–1846, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1887, 1890–1893 draft from the years: 1866, 1882, 1892, 1902, 1908, 1911–1914. During those years universal draft was compulsory in Russia, which renders the data provided by the registers of the draft commissions appropriate as basis for observing changes.

The author notes that during the years 1845–1861 outside Warsaw the drafted men were characterised by a constant increase in height; next, until 1881 the bodily height rose by c. 1 cm among the Jews and 1,5 cm among the Christians. Later on stagnation is observed, and among the Jews since 1887 even decrease c. 1 cm. Kopczyński explains the stagnation periods by natural disasters of the eighteen–forties and eighteen–fifties, and later since 1887 by an agricultural crisis. He emphasizes that the Jewish population was more vulnerable to food–price increases due to their employment structure petty trade, crafts; absence of agricultural jobs and because of religious limitations of their diet. Similarly, the height of conscripts increases during the years 1861–1881, reflecting the upward trends in the economy.

The data from Warsaw available only for the persons born in 1867 and 1891 differs from that stemming form the provinces. The men were generally taller, which seems to disagree with the conviction that living conditions in the cities during the early phases of modernisation were particularly difficult. Among the Jewish population of Warsaw towards the end of the century there is an increase in height, while in the provincial areas we note a marked decrease. According to the author this difference could also result from mass migration of the Jews to the big cities on Polish territories during this period. Migrations tend to encompass stronger and better off individuals, while the weaker and the less favourably situated remain where they were born. This phenomenon finds an analogy in the Jewish emigration to the USA. The data provided by American immigration offices demonstrates that average bodily height of the Jews who entered the USA is higher than of those, who remained in their countries of origin.