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Dickstein, Samuel

(1851–1939), mathematician, pedagogue, and historian of science. One of the leading intellectuals in Congress Poland, Samuel Dickstein was born in Warsaw and was an activist in the assimilationist movement. From 1884 to 1918 he served on the executive committee of the Warsaw Jewish Community, responsible mainly for issues related to Jewish schools.

Thanks to the authority and respect that even opponents of assimilation granted him, Dickstein functioned informally as an arbitrator for internal disputes of the communal organization, especially between the Orthodox rabbinate and progressive members of the executive committee. As a result of his arbitration, several Jewish schools with modern programs of instruction were established under the community’s auspices, and an informal coalition of assimilationists and adherents of Ger Hasidism was also created, effectively blocking Zionists from becoming members of the community’s executive committee in the years before World War I.

Dickstein actively encouraged Jewish Polonization, and he enjoyed great authority among the Polish elite as well. He performed numerous honorary functions in Polish foundations and was curator of the Mathias Bersohn Museum of Jewish Antiquities, for which he organized and cataloged the collection. At the same time he worked as a teacher. Beginning in 1870 he lectured in a business school; in 1878–1888 he directed a four-class private Jewish elementary school funded by Jan Berson; and in 1891–1901 he lectured at a secondary school that specialized in mathematics. The latter two schools had adopted a modern program of instruction, including physical education, and were closed down by the tsarist authorities. Dickstein also taught clandestine study groups organized in the homes of the Warsaw intelligentsia, and was prominent in Polish nationalist and scholarly circles. He was active as well in both Jewish and general philanthropic associations.

As a proponent of the exact sciences and the science of pedagogy, Dickstein published a series of periodicals in the 1870s and 1880s. Among his texts related to the history of science was Hoene Wroński, jego życie i prace (Hoene Wroński, His Life and Works; 1896), in which he described Wroński’s philosophical-mystical theories, which influenced Polish romanticism, as derived partly from Hasidic Kabbalah. From 1893, Dickstein was a member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1906 he was elected president of the Association of the Scientific Council, later the Free University, an academic institution that had the character of a university and was free of the restrictions that Jews and women faced at other institutions.

Dickstein lectured on mathematics at Warsaw University beginning in 1919. In the interwar period, he was a member of academic associations in Poland and abroad, and was also the president of a small party, the Neo-Assimilators, that had been established in 1918. Through his wife, Paulina Emilia, he was related to the Natanson family. His younger brother, Szymon (known as Jan Młot), was a naturalist, an early proponent of Polish socialism, an ideologue of the Proletariat (a secret socialist organization), and the translator of Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1881) as well as the works of Charles Darwin into Polish.

Suggested Reading

Alina Cała, Asymilacja Żydów w Królestwie Polskim, 1864–1897: Postawy, konflikty, stereotypy (Warsaw, 1989); Artur Eisenbach, Kwestia równouprawnienia Żydów w Królestwie Polskim (Warsaw, 1972).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 639, Day–Morning Journal, Records, 1922-1972.



Translated from Polish by Karen Auerbach