Members of the Central Committee of Jews in Bielawa, Poland, 1945–1946. Photograph by Bronisław Eidler. (YIVO)

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Central Committee of Jews in Poland

The most prominent official Jewish institution in Poland following the Holocaust, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, CKŻP) attended to the needs of Jews from fall 1944 until 1950. It 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. A government-funded body, it was supported financially by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The CKŻP arose shortly after the liberation of eastern Poland from German occupation. Surviving Jews formed committees to represent their needs before local civilian and military officials and turned for help to the Communist-controlled Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego; PKWN) in Lublin. Polish government officials supported the idea of creating a two-tiered hierarchy of Jewish committees, with all government funds for Jewish welfare distributed to local committees by the central committee in Lublin. Initially, a Provisional Committee of Polish Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Żydów Polskich) convened in Lublin, chaired by Emil Sommerstein, with Bundist Michał Szuldenfrei as vice chair.

In February 1945, the Committee 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 Po‘ale Tsiyon, Iḥud, He-Ḥaluts, Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, the Union of Jewish Partisans, and the Jewish Fighting Organization. Sommerstein remained the chair, with Marek Bitter, Adolf Berman (president; 1946–1949), and Szlomo Herszenhorn 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.

In anticipation of the repatriation of Polish Jews from the Soviet Union, the CKŻP formed a department of repatriation, headed by Salo Fiszgrund. The Committee also coordinated the activities of TOZ and ORT, the Association for Culture and Art (Towarzystwo Kultury i Sztuki), the Central Jewish Historical Commission (Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna), sport clubs, the Central Organization of Cooperatives—“Solidarity” (Centrala Spółdzielni Wytwórczych “Solidarność”), and the Bank for Jewish Productivization (Bank Produktywizacji Żydów). The CKŻP published the Biuletyn Poszukiwań Rodzin (Family Search Bulletin) and sponsored radio broadcasts in Yiddish.

Following the Kielce pogrom of 4 July 1946, the committee oversaw a Jewish self-defense organization, the Komisja Specjalna (Special Commission). On 1 June 1948, the CKŻP merged with the organization of Jewish religious congregations under Rabbi David Kahane to become the only official body of Polish Jews. The committee came under Communist control in spring 1949; Hersh Smolar replaced Berman as president. In October 1950 it merged with the Jewish Association for Culture and Art (Żydowskie Towarzystwo Kultury i Sztuki) to form the Jewish Social-Cultural Association in Poland (Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Żydów w Polsce; TSKŻ).

Suggested Reading

Natalia Aleksiun, “Zionists and Anti-Zionists in the Central Committee of the Jews in Poland: Between Cooperation and Political Struggle, 1944–1950,” Jews in Eastern Europe 2 [33] (1997): 32–50; Lucjan Dobroszycki, Survivors of the Holocaust in Poland: A Portrait Based on Jewish Community Records, 1944–1947 (Armonk, N.Y., 1994); David Engel, “The Reconstruction of Jewish Communal Institutions in Postwar Poland: The Origins of the Central Committee of Polish Jews, 1944–1945,” East European Politics and Societies 10.1 (1996): 85–107; Hana Shlomi, Asupat meḥkarim le-toldot she’erit ha-peletah ha-yehudit be-Polin, 1944–1950 (Tel Aviv, 2001).