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Chapter VI

Drucker Joins the Chaplaincy Office

The Soviet and Polish armies were advancing toward Poland. The Polish government in the Soviet Union began to prepare to move to liberated Poland. This government was only recognized by the Soviet Union. Stalin decided to publicize this Polish government. He ordered the release of Emil Sommerstein from the Lubianka prison. He was shaved, dressed and became a minister in the Polish government. This indeed was a first, because the Polish government in exile in London did not have a Jewish minister or assistant Jewish ministers. Jews were kept at a distance from the government just as they were kept between the wars. Sommerstein was not the only non–Communist in the government. Stalin wanted to attract publicity for his Polish government.

 

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Dr. Emil Sommerstein, a minister in the temporary Polish government

 

Dr. Emil Sommerstein, born in the village of Chleszczewa near Lwow, was an attorney but devoted himself to Zionism and politics. Sommerstein was elected to the Polish senate, serving as a deputy from 1922 to 1927 and again from 1929 to 1934. He was also a member of several important parliamentary commissions. In 1939 Sommerstein was arrested by the Soviet authorities, underwent severe interrogations and was sent from gulag to gulag. Suddenly, he was shaved, showered, dressed and appointed a member of the provisional Polish cabinet, the first Polish Jew to hold such office in a Polish government. Stalin was determined to control Poland since he would need a bridge between the Soviet Union and East Germany where his army would be stationed. He decided to rehabilitate the once well–known Polish political figure.[1] There were a few other Polish non–communists in the cabinet, but the majority of them were Communist Party members or communist sympathizers answerable to Moscow. The appointments were well received in the West especially in the American press.

Sommerstein was familiar with Soviet political tactics and knew full well that he was being used for propaganda purposes. But he was also interested in re–establishing Jewish life in liberated Poland. This he could achieve by co–operating with the Polish government and the Soviet Union. He decided to play along and try to obtain as many benefits as possible for Jewish Shoah survivors in Poland and they needed every bit of help. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Provisional Central Committee of Polish Jews in October, 1944 under the umbrella of the PKWN or Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego). The PKWN was formed in Moscow from the ranks of the KRN, the Union of Polish Patriots (ZPP and the Polish Workers' Party (PPR)) This committee transformed itself officially into a provisional Polish government in the liberated Polish city of Chelm on July 22, 1944. It began to administer all liberated Polish areas. It followed Red Army units as they moved into Polish territory and expanded its authority within the Soviet–occupied Polish areas.

Sommerstein received money and launched the Provisional Central Committee of Polish Jews in October, 1944. The name of the Jewish organization was soon altered to the Central Committee of Polish Jews, also referred to as the Central Committee of Jews in Poland and abbreviated CKŻP (Polish: Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, Yiddish: צענטראל קאמיטעט פון די יידן אין פוילן; or Centraler Komitet fun di Jidn in Pojln). It was a state–sponsored political representation of Jews in Poland. The Central Committee established Jewish community centers throughout liberated Poland and assisted Jewish Shoah survivors in resuming their lives in Poland. It legally represented all CKŻP–registered Polish Jews in their dealings with the new government and its agencies. Initially, a Provisional Committee of Polish Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Żydów Polskich) convened in Lublin, chaired by Emil Sommerstein with Bundist Michał Shuldenfrei as Vice Chairman. Michal Shuldenfrei was born January 27, 1887. He was a lawyer by profession and an active Bund leader in Poland. In the interwar period in Poland, he served as a defense lawyer in several politically charged trials. During the last stages of the German occupation of Poland he joined the Soviet–sponsored State National Council. He was elected as the only member of the Jewish Bund to the 1947 Polish parliament. He reorganized the Bund in liberated Poland.

The General Jewish Labor Bund in Poland or אלגעמײנער ײדישער ארבעטער בונד אין פוילין or Algemeyner yidisher arbeter bund in Poyln, was a Jewish socialist party in Poland that promoted the political, cultural and social autonomy of Jewish workers, sought to combat anti–Semitism and was generally opposed to Zionism. The Polish Bund emerged from the General Jewish Labor Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia of the erstwhile Russian empire. The Bund had party structures established among the Jewish communities in the Polish areas of the Russian empire. When Poland fell under German occupation in 1914, contact between the Bundists in Poland and the party center in St. Petersburg became difficult. In December, 1917 the split between the two sections was formalized, as the Polish Bundists held a clandestine meeting in Lublin and reconstituted themselves as a separate political party later to be known as the Polish Bund. This party became the largest Jewish political party as shown by the Polish municipal elections in December, 1938 and January, 1939, before the start of the Second World War, in which the Bund received the largest segment of the Jewish vote[15] . In Warsaw, the Bund won 61.7% of the votes cast for Jewish parties, taking 17 of the 20 municipal council seats won by Jewish parties. In Łódź, the Bund won 57.4% (11 of 17 seats won by Jewish parties). Following the war, the Bund tried to reorganize the party and established branches in the main cities. The party opposed emigration to Palestine and tried to develop Jewish life in Poland. They usually played an important role in the Jewish communities and were well organized. They attracted the Jewish youth.

In February 1945, the Central Committee of Polish Jews was reorganized in Warsaw as the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Its presidium included an uneasy coalition of

Jewish representatives who defined themselves as Communist, Bundist, Left and Right Poalei Tzion, Iḥud, He–Ḥaluts, Ha–Shomer ha–Tzair, the Union of Jewish Partisans, and the Jewish Fighting Organization. Emil Sommerstein remained the chair, with Marek Bitter, Adolf Berman (President 1946–1949) and Szlomo Herszenhorn as his deputies, and Paweł Zelicki as Secretary General. The CKŻP integrated local Jewish committees into a new multilevel hierarchy consisting of local, district, provincial and central echelons. It also appointed supervisors for local Jewish committees. The Committee created an Education Department headed by Szlomo Herszenhorn, an active Bundist educator who established the first Jewish orphanage in liberated Poland.

The Jewish Shoah survivors were former shadows of themselves.[2] They were afraid of everything. Their families murdered, their homes gone, they faced the hostile street alone. Sommerstein felt that the Jews needed a spiritual or religious uplift to get back on their feet. He saw that the Central Committee would not support the restitution of Jewish religious life in liberated Poland. He therefore insisted that the Polish government appoint a chief chaplain of the Polish Army to meet the spiritual needs of the Jewish soldiers.[3] There were about 13,000 registered Jewish soldiers in the Polish Army. Actually there were more Jewish soldiers but many omitted to state that fact for a variety of reasons and preferred to pass themselves off as Poles.[4] The army chaplain would also expand his influence in the liberated Polish areas since there were no rabbis in Poland. Sommerstein contacted Dr. Rabbi David Kahana in Lwow and asked him to come to Lublin where the Soviet–backed Polish government was headquartered.

 

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Poland's old and new borders, 1945. The gray areas were removed from Poland in the East and the red areas were added to Poland in the North and West.

 

The territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II were very extensive. In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Polish borders were redrawn in accordance with the decisions made by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference and at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The pre–war eastern Polish territories of Kresy, which the Red Army had invaded in 1939, were permanently annexed by the USSR, and most of their Polish inhabitants expelled. Today, these territories are part of sovereign Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.

The Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile also known as the Polish government in exile situated in London refused to recognize the new Polish borders and began a steady opposition campaign to the changes within Poland. Joseph Stalin was determined to implement the changes and since Soviet troops controlled the areas, the changes were immediately enforced. Stalin obtained full agreement from the provisional government of Poland or as it was popularly known as the Lublin government. After consultations with Stalin, Wanda Wasilewska, a native of Krakow, became the head of the newly formed Związek Patriotów Polskich (Society of Polish Patriots) in the Soviet Union. In 1944, she also became the deputy chief of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN). We already mentioned that these and other groups established the provisional Polish government that was immediately recognised by the Soviet Union. The Polish government in exile in London bitterly protested. The two Polish governments fought each other for recognition and legitimacy. Obviously the Lublin Polish government had the advantage since they began to administer the liberated Polish areas.

 

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Wanda Wasilewska

 

The London exile government had the support of the Western powers and the Polish population in Poland. The Lublin Polish government brought Polish politicians like Sommerstein into the cabinet in order to boost its international standing. Sommerstein understood the game and wanted to gain benefits for the Polish Jewish Shoah survivors. He hoped that Jewish life would rekindle in liberated Poland but it needed governmental help, namely government financial subsidies that were granted to the Central Committee of Polish Jews. He also felt that a religious stimulus would strengthen the Jewish community. At present there was no Jewish religious authority in Poland. Sommerstein pushed for the establishment of a military Jewish chaplaincy office for the Polish armed forces[5]. He correctly assumed that the chief chaplain would become the spokesman for religious Polish Judaism. He selected Rabbi David Kahana to be the chief chaplain and invited him to Lublin where the Polish government was headquartered.

Rabbi Kahana was born in Chlamowka in the district of Tarnopol, Galicia, in 1903. He studied in Vienna where he was ordained as a rabbi and received a doctorate. In 1930, he became rabbi at the Sikstoska Synagogue in Lemberg several years prior to WWII. He survived the war and with the liberation of the area opened the first synagogue and also was appointed librarian? Chaplain?

 

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Rabbi Dr. Major David Kahane in his military uniform with his family

 

to the Jewish section of the city library in Lemberg. He was a popular rabbi and was well accepted by the Polish Army. Furthermore, he had never left Polish soil and thus he was not tainted with any connections to the Soviet Union.

Sommerstein invited Rabbi Kahana to escort him to a meeting with the Polish prime minister, Edward Osobka–Morawski, and the minister of defense, Marshal Michal Rola Zymierski in Lublin on November 15, 1944.[6] Rabbi Kahana was appointed chief chaplain of the Polish Army with the rank of major. He was also granted a car, an office consisting of two chaplains, a cantor, a driver and a maintenance man.

Rabbi Kahana insisted that his office be granted permission to restore Jewish religious life in liberated Poland. Both Rabbi Kahana and Sommerstein knew that this was a difficult request since the government was predominantly communist and did not care about religion. But the Polish government wanted good publicity and indeed it was good tactics to show the Polish government helping Jews in Poland as opposed to the anti–Semitic Polish government in London. Rabbi Kahana was granted his request. The rabbi appointed Aaron Becker to begin visiting the renewed Jewish communities and help restore religious life by helping to organize synagogue services and providing the synagogues with religious articles including talitot and prayer books. These items were being collected by the chaplaincy office and distributed to the newly created Jewish religious associations in Poland. These activities were well received in the English–speaking countries.

The Central Committee of Polish Jews refused to cooperate with the Jewish religious associations. It had to tolerate their existence since this was the order of the government. The Central Committee did not contain religious or Revisionist representatives. Most of the members of the committee were unknown to the Polish Jewish survivors. With the addition of Itzhak Tzukerman and Tzvi Lubetkin as members of the committee, its status rose among the Jewish population.

The war was still raging in Poland and there were no other official rabbis. Rabbi Kahana became not only the chief military rabbi but also the rabbinic spokesman for Polish Jewry in liberated Poland. Thus, he represented Polish Jewry to the rest of the world and his office became the center of Jewish information in Poland. Furthermore, the Polish government authorized him to re–establish formerly destroyed Jewish religious communities in Poland. While the government was overwhelmingly anti–religious, internal and external politics required it to follow a path of religious reconciliation with the Catholic Church, the Jewish population and other religious groups. These political considerations only expanded the powers granted Rabbi Kahana and his office.

The Polish government's natural preference was dealing with the secular Central Committee of Polish Jews. This organization represented Jewish organizations and communities in liberated Poland.

 

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Yitzhak Zuckerman, Polish hero also known as Yitzhak Cukierman and Antek Zuckerman

 

Yitzhak Cukierman was born in 1915 in Warsaw, Poland. He was a hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazis in World War II and one of the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Zuckerman was active in a federation of young Zionist organizations, Hehalutz, and was an early advocate of armed resistance to Nazi plunder against the Jews. He was quick to interpret the first mass executions of Jews as the beginning of a systematic program of annihilation. Perceiving the full scope of Nazi plans and realizing that the Jews had nothing left to lose, in March, 1942, Zuckerman represented Hehalutz at a meeting of Zionist groups and urged the creation and arming of a defense organization. Others feared that resistance would provoke the Nazis to greater violence. But on July 28, soon after the first daily trainload of 5,000 Jews had left the Warsaw ghetto to be gassed at the death camp of Treblinka, Jewish leaders accepted his view and created the Jewish Fighting Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa or ŻOB) under the leadership of Mordechai Anielewicz. Zuckerman became one of his three co–commanders and also helped lead a political affiliate founded at the same time, the Jewish National Committee (Żydowski Komitet Narodowy).

Zuckerman fought in the Polish uprising of 1944 in Warsaw and survived the war.

Zivia Lubetkin was also invited to join the Central Committee. She was born in Byeten near Slonim on November 9, 1914.

 

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Zivia Lubetkin

 

She joined the Labor Zionist Movement at an early age. In her late teens she joined the Zionist youth movement, Dror, and in 1938 became a member of its Executive Council. After Nazi Germany and later the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September, 1939 she made a perilous journey from the Soviet–occupied part of the country to Warsaw to join the underground (ŻOB) there. She fought in the Polish uprising in Warsaw in 1944 and survived the war.

The executive committee of Central Committee consisted of 20 appointed men. It had an executive board of officers consisting of 8 members where the Zionists dominated, due to Sommerstein's influence. Later the committee was changed to 25 members; 13 members represented Zionist groupings and 12 represented the Bund, the Jewish Communists, and the Polish labor party. The head of the organization was Emil Zommerstein, a Zionist. The Revisionist and religious parties were not represented. The religious groups would be able to function under the aegis of Rabbi Kahana's office. The composition of the committee tilted to the left. This trend would continue. Most of the committee members believed in the idea that Jewish life should be restored in Poland. Most of them were opposed to the mass emigration of Jews to other countries. The committee began to reinstitute Jewish life in the restored and liberated areas of Poland. It established a child welfare department headed by Dr. Shlomo Hershhorn, a member of the Bund, who developed guidelines for the Jewish orphanages that were under the control of the committee. These guidelines stressed the Yiddish language, Yiddish culture, Jewish history and the official Polish school curriculum of the regime. These committee guidelines were sent to the Jewish orphanages that were being opened in many places. The stress of these institutions was socialist brotherly love and love of Poland under the new leadership.

Rabbi Kahana immersed himself in the task of restoring Jewish religious life in Poland. To do this he needed to hire a staff to implement his plan. When Rabbi Kahana received the letter of Yeshayahu Drucker offering his assistance he grabbed it with both hands. He immediately told Drucker that he knew all about him and promoted him to the rank of captain in the Polish army that would help him in his work. Rabbi Kahana informed him that he already had military chaplains. But he needed someone to join the chaplaincy in order to help revive the decimated Jewish religious communal life in Poland. Yeshayahu Drucker agreed to accept the position.

Yeshayahu began to travel throughout liberated Poland and wherever there was a Jewish community he stopped and helped the Jews organize the religious life that was decimated by the Germans. He helped with the official paperwork in the various municipalities. He always wore his uniform indicating that he was connected to the Polish state.

He took up residence in the capital and began his social service activities on behalf of the Jewish survivors in Poland. One of the survivors was Drucker's brother, Aaron, who had been discharged from the army as an officer. He married and resumed civilian life in Krakow. Aaron Drucker later left Poland for Israel.


Footnotes

  1. Bauer, Flight, p. 24. Return
  2. Anna Cichopek–Gajraj, Beyond Violence, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 35. Return
  3. David Kahane, Rabbi, After the Deluge, Jerusalem, Israel, 1981. Pp. 10–14. Hebrew Return
  4. Cichopek–Gajraj, Beyond Violence, p. 44. Return
  5. Return
  6. Rabbi David Kahana, After the Flood, published by Mossad Kook 1981, p. 13. Return

 

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