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Mandelsberg-Schildkraut, Bella

(1901–1943), teacher and historian. Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut (or Szyldkraut) was one of the few women among the nearly 70 students who earned masters’ degrees with dissertations on Polish Jewish history at the University of Warsaw between 1919 and 1939. An economic historian who studied with Jan Kochanowski, Mandelsberg wrote her thesis, “The Socio-economic and Public-legal History of Lublin’s Jews in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century, with Emphasis on the Reign of Władysław IV,” between 1926 and 1928; the manuscript remains at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

Mandelsberg was born into a prosperous family in the center of Lublin’s historic Old Town. After completing secondary school, she attended the University of Warsaw and was one of the founding members of the Young Jewish Historians Circle led by Emanuel Ringelblum under the patronage of Majer Bałaban and Ignacy Schiper. Mandelsberg published two articles in the seminar’s Yiddish anthologies, Yunger historiker (2 vols., 1926–1929). A fundamental theme of her writing and research was that Jewish labor was part and parcel of Lublin’s daily life from the thirteenth until the twentieth century.

From 1928 to 1939, Mandelsberg taught history at Jewish secondary schools in Lublin and also lectured in Yiddish in programs of evening courses for workers sponsored by the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon. However, school authorities compelled her to cease the public lectures, which were perceived as containing radical social-political criticism, although she continued to be active within the party’s “closed” programs and cultural events. Mandelsberg served on the board of the Lublin branch of TSYSHO, the Yiddish school organization, was a founder of the Lublin branch of YIVO, and was a charter member of the Jewish Geographical Society in 1931. She conducted tours of Jewish historical sites and drafted a Polish–Yiddish guidebook to Lublin that was never published for lack of funding. Mandelsberg devoted every spare hour to research on a book about the history of the Jews of Lublin. Largely complete in manuscript by 1939, it was never published.

In 1935, Mandelsberg had married Me’ir Schildkraut, a fellow adherent of the Left Po‘ale Tsiyon. With the German invasion in 1939, he fled to Soviet Russia, leaving her to care for her sister, who was ill and had two small children. Unemployed, Mandelsberg worked as a volunteer for the Committee for Mutual Assistance within the Lublin ghetto. In April 1942, the remnants of Lublin’s Jews were moved to the suburban ghetto at Majdan Tatarski. In November 1942, Mandelsberg was transferred to the Majdanek concentration camp. On 3 or 4 April 1943, she was part of a group of Jewish prisoners taken into a wood and shot.

Suggested Reading

Israel M. Biderman, Mayer Bałaban: Historian of Polish Jewry (New York, 1976); Lucjan Dobroszycki, “YIVO in Interwar Poland: Work in the Historical Sciences,” in The Jews of Poland between Two World Wars, ed. Yisrael Gutman et al., pp. 495–518 (Hanover, N.H., 1989); Artur Eisenbach, “Jewish Historiography in Interwar Poland,” in The Jews of Poland between the Two World Wars, ed. Yisrael Gutman et al., pp. 453–493 (Hanover, N.H., 1989); Bela Mandelsberg-Szyldkraut, Meḥkarim le-toldot yehude Lublin (Tel Aviv, 1965), summary in English.