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After the expulsions from Western Europe, Ashkenazi Jews found a new home in Poland. In the 17th century, Poland was home to one third of the world’s Jewish population, and was considered the center of Jewish life. Polish Jews became prosperous economically and religiously, but also faced escalating persecution.

Jews were blamed for the Black Plague and the destruction of church property but the worst was yet to come with the rebellion of the Cossacks, a group of Eastern Europeans made up of runaway serfs, bandits and traders.

The organizer of this rebellion was Bogdan Chmielnicki, or “Chmiel the Wicked,” who banded the Cossacks and peasants of Ukraine into armies that led pogroms, savagely destroying more than 300 Jewish towns and massacring thousands of Jews over nine years.
Despite these atrocities, Polish Jewish life was slowly rebuilt, but Chmielnicki will forever be remembered as one of Jewish history’s unforgivable villains.

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About The Jewish Story: Understand three thousand years of Jewish history in these short videos based on the book Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith by the renowned historian Sir Martin Gilbert. Learn the Jewish story from the ancient Israelites of the Bible to Hellenization, the Jews of the Middle Ages to modern day, and more.

About Unpacked: We provide nuanced insights by unpacking all things Jewish. People are complex and complicated — yet we’re constantly being pushed to oversimplify our world. At Unpacked we know that being complex makes us more interesting. Because of this, we break the world down with nuance and insight to drive your curiosity and challenge your thinking.

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