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[Page 205]

Chapter X

The End of the Jewish Community of Zabrze

 

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The great Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhailovich Mikhoels, murdered in 1948 by the Soviet secret police in Minsk, Soviet Union

 

In Eastern Europe new winds began to blow. The Soviet Union was having problems with Yugoslavia, which refused to follow Stalin's political line. Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia and Stalin in the Soviet Union were constantly at odds but Stalin could do little since there were no Soviet troops in Yugoslavia. The pro–Soviet elements in Yugoslavia were rounded up and disarmed. Tito was ready to fight and had the support of the West, particularly the United States. Stalin had to accept defeat but ordered the Soviet secret services to tighten control over his empire to make sure that no more Tito–type situations arose. The various communist parties in Eastern Europe were ordered to seize power or tighten the reins of power. The cold war climate escalated between the Soviet Empire and the West. Organizations and institutions were advised to desist from dealing with Western entities. Fear and panic swept the Communist world as the cold war grew.

Stalin's paranoia with Jews began to emerge into the open. Soviet papers began to write anti–Jewish articles. The Yiddish theater in the Soviet Union was being dismantled and in 1948 Stalin had the great Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels bludgeoned to death and his body run over by a truck as a thinly veiled hit–and–run accident in the city of Minsk. Mikhoels received a state funeral, but most of the Yiddish actors and writers were arrested or exiled. The Moscow Yiddish Theater was dissolved. Jewish culture was ended in the Soviet Union.

The Soviet secret services received orders to begin to replace the Jewish Communist leaders in the various East European countries, including Zdenek Toman, one of the first casualties of the new policies. He was a Jew, well connected with Zionist and Jewish American organizations, had lived for many years in Britain, and was very independent and sure of himself in relation to the Soviet secret service. He was also very close to the Czech establishment, particularly Jan Masaryk. The decision to destroy Toman was made in typical Stalinist fashion: he was promoted to the Czech Ministry of Interior but lost the position of head of state security. He lost control over the security forces to one of his subordinates in the fall of 1947. Toman was neutralized by the change and lost his power in Czechoslovakia. Other important Jewish Communist leaders, including Rudolf Slansky, general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, would soon suffer the same fate. Ana Pauker, leader of the Romanian Communist Party and Foreign Minister of that country would also be arrested and charged with anti–party activities.

 

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Ana Pauker, Romanian foreign minister

 

Similar events involving Jewish officials would begin to occur in other Soviet satellite countries including Poland where the hard liners or pro–Stalin faction gained control of the party and the government. Wladyslaw Gomulka was removed from power and later jailed.

Harsh police measures soon followed in Poland. Leib Koriski, Palestinian emissary and head of the “Koordinacja” office, was arrested and released on condition that he stop his activities in Poland. He continued his “Koordinacja” activities and was arrested again and interrogated. The police insisted that he provide evidence that all children who had left Poland had done so legally. While Koriski was in jail, Pinhas Kribus, another Palestinian emissary, was appointed to replace him. But the police hampered all activities of the “Koordinacja” office. Koriski was released and forced to leave Poland. All Palestinian officials including Sarah Dushnicka–Shener and Menachem Kondo, were also forced to leave the country. No new entry visas were granted to Zionist emissaries. Rachel Sternbuch, who was a Swiss citizen, represented the “Vaad Hatzala” organization in Europe, especially in Poland. This organization was created by American orthodox rabbis to help orthodox rabbis and yeshiva students in Europe. She was also very active on behalf of redeeming Jewish children from non–Jewish homes and institutions. She was arrested, kept in jail for a short period of time and then escorted to the border.

Active Jews were called to the police and questioned. All were told that they were being watched. Even the members of the Bund or Jewish Socialist movement were being followed. The Bund was the best organized movement in postwar Poland. It had a wide variety of institutions and branch offices in many cities in Poland. The organization frequently cooperated with the Communist Party in Poland. The Polish government decided to attack the Bund on two fronts. One way was to order the police to check and control the party activities. The Polish government also urged the Bund members to join the Polish Communist Party. The simultaneous pressure was too difficult to fight and the Bund decided to close its doors in Poland. Most Bund members left Poland and headed to Australia, Europe, Argentina and even Israel, which they had so fervently opposed.

The Zabrze home was not a Zionist institution so it continued to function and even received some of the children from Zionist homes. But Drucker knew they had limited time to get the remaining children out of Poland. Some children were given to Polish families for adoption as the case illustrated below indicates. Drucker was under constant pressure to unite the Zabrze home with the homes of the Central Committee. He delayed and used the time to remove the children and staff from the home. This was

 

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This Polish document states that on
“September 8, 1949 appeared before me Doctor Emilia Siliat Aleksandrowicz from the city of Gliwice. She officially adopted Sulamit Stefania Gottenberg from the nearby orphanage of Zabzre. The release from the orphanage was signed by Major in the Polish Army named Jezajasz Druckier (Yeshayahu Drucker) service number 0783, residing at 16 Szucha Alee, Warsaw. 12 Copy of adoption paper of Sulamit Gottenberg in Gliwice, Poland.”

 

challenging since the secret police watched and recorded their movements. It became particularly difficult to obtain legal documents.

Many Zionist officials began to leave Poland for Israel. Slowly but effectively, the Zionist political parties and their cultural institutions were forced to close their doors. The Jewish communities including Zabrze lost a good part of their Jewish population. Many Jewish activities stopped in Zabrze as the number of Jews steadily declined. Then on December 31, 1949, the Polish government informed the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland that it had to stop all activities on Polish soil. William Bein, head of the Polish Joint Distribution Committee tried to intervene but in vain. The decision shocked the entire Jewish community for the Joint Distribution Committee had extensively supported the Jewish communities and all Jewish institutions. Institution after institution closed. Yeshayahu Drucker closed the Zabrze home and returned the key to the AJRC, which in turn gave the key to the Central Committee of the Polish Jews.

The end of Jewish communal and cultural institutions came with the closure of the organization known as the Central Committee of Polish Jews then headed by Hersz Smolar. Even this official organization representing the Jews of Poland was closed down despite the fact that it had become a mere mouthpiece of the government. All branch offices of the Central Committee were closed including the office in Zabrze. The most prominent official Jewish institution in Poland following the Shoah, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce; CKŻP) attended to the needs of Jews from the fall of 1944 until 1950. Originally chaired by Emil Sommerstein, it had sponsored a variety of programs, providing food, shelter, education, medical assistance, cultural activities, and employment services and vocational training. The CKŻP also supervised the repatriation of Jews from the Soviet Union and assisted with legal emigration.

 

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Emil Sommerstein,
Head of the Central Committee of Polish Jews

 

The dissolution act in effect left Polish Jews without any Jewish organization. The Polish government would eventually establish a mere cultural association of Jews in Poland. The Jewish community remained isolated shadows within the country. The Polish government also closed the exit gates of Poland to Jews. All visa applications to Israel were denied. State–sponsored anti–Semitism swept Poland.

The Zabrze home was converted to a general public old age home that would continue to operate until 1953. The Jewish community of Zabrze withered as most of the Jews left the city. The town has no Jews at present.

 

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