Yitsḥak Grünbaum, a leader of the General Zionists (fourth from left), at the first convention of Jewish municipal representatives in Dobrzyń nad Wisłą, Poland, ca. 1920. (YIVO)

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Grünbaum, Yitsḥak

(1879–1970), Polish Jewish political leader and journalist. Yitsḥak Grünbaum was born in Warsaw, received a traditional Jewish education, and graduated from a high school in Płońsk. He became an active Zionist during his years in high school. He opposed Herzl’s Uganda plan, and demanded that Zionists pay greater attention to the day-to-day needs of Diaspora Jewry and commit themselves to the struggle for civil and national rights in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. This view, known as Gegenwartsarbeit (work for the present), was incorporated in the Russian Zionist Federation’s Helsingfors Program (1906), of which Grünbaum was a major architect. He served as secretary-general of the Russian Zionist Federation (1908–1910), deputy editor of the World Zionist Organization’s Hebrew weekly, Ha-‘Olam (1909–1914), and editor of the Zionist daily Petrograder togblat (1914).

Jewish representatives to the Sejm (parliament), Poland, ca. 1920: (1) Rabbi Moszek Eli Halpern, (2) Noah Pryłucki, (3) Avraham Tsevi Perlmutter, (4) Dr. Berek Wajncier, (5) Yitsḥak Grünbaum, (6) Osjasz Thon, (7) Uri (Jerzy) Rosenblatt, (8) Ignacy Schiper. (YIVO)

Grünbaum became leader of the Zionist Federation of Poland in 1918 and worked to establish a representative body for all of Polish Jewry. His efforts were instrumental in creating the Provisional Jewish National Council, but he was unable to bring about a democratically chosen Polish Jewish representation. Elected to the Polish Constituent Sejm in 1919 (among 11 representatives of Jewish parties), he headed the Jewish parliamentary caucus, which fought for Polish Jews’ civil and national rights.

In 1922 Grünbaum helped to institute the so-called Minorities Bloc, in which Jewish, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and German candidates for the Sejm ran on a common list. Together the bloc and the Galician Zionists placed 34 representatives in the Sejm and 12 in the Senate, numbers that were never again achieved. Under governmental pressure, the bloc disintegrated, and Grünbaum’s attempt to revive it in 1928 brought inconsequential results.

In that same decade, Grünbaum was involved in a controversy with Galician Zionists, led by Leon Reich and Ozjasz Thon, over how Jewish parliamentary deputies should relate to the Polish government. Grünbaum favored a policy of consistent opposition, whereas Reich and Thon were prepared to back the government in return for guarantees of Jewish rights. Grünbaum’s approach was rejected in July 1925 with the signing of a formal agreement (ugoda) between the government and the Jewish caucus. He also faced opposition from within the Polish Zionist Federation: his ‘Al ha-Mishmar (On Guard) faction supported labor settlement in Palestine, whereas the rival ‘Et Livnot (A Time to Build) group sought to encourage capitalist development. Despite such disagreements, however, Grünbaum remained a towering figure in Polish Zionism throughout the 1920s. A prolific writer, he published hundreds of articles in Polish Jewish newspapers and was among the founders of the Hebrew school network, Tarbut.

Delegates at a Zionist convention, London, 1945. (Front row, from left) Yitsḥak Zuckerman, Ḥaykah Grossman, Emil Sommerstein, Leib Salpeter, [?] Meler. (Back row, left to right) Abba Hillel Silver, Mosheh Kleinbaum-Sneh, Yitsḥak Grünbaum, Unidentified. (Middle row) Mosheh Sharett, Naḥum Goldmann. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

After his election to the Zionist Executive at the 18th Zionist Congress in Prague (1933), Grünbaum moved to Palestine, where he served as head of the immigration and labor departments of the Jewish Agency. During World War II, he headed the Jewish Agency’s Rescue Committee, which was charged with finding ways to save the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, he became minister of the interior in the provisional government. Failing to win election to the first Knesset, he retired from politics.

Suggested Reading

Isaac Grünbaum (Yitsḥok Grinboym), “Ha-Histadrut ha-tsiyonit,” in Entsiklopedyah shel galuyot, vol. 1, V’arshah, cols. 357–412 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1953); Emanuel Melzer, No Way Out: The Politics of Polish Jewry, 1935–1939 (Cincinnati, 1997); Shlomo Netzer, Ma’avak yehude Polin ‘al zekhuyotehem ha-ezraḥiyot veha-le’umiyot, 1918–1922 (Tel Aviv, 1980).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 205, Kalman Marmor, Papers, 1880s-1950s; RG 208, Chaim Zhitlowsky, Papers, 1882-1953; RG 211, Samuel Rosenfeld, Papers, ca. 1900-1942; RG 253, Zelig Tygel, Papers, 1925-1946; RG 389, Emil Sommerstein, Papers, 1944-1946; RG 404, Brocho Reichel, Papers, ca. 1900-ca. 1953.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann