Ignacy Schiper at the YIVO Institute during a scholarly conference, Vilna, 1939. Photograph by Alter Kacyzne. (Forward Association/YIVO)

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Schiper, Ignacy

(1884–1943), historian, political activist, and Sejm deputy. Energetic, creative, and imaginative, Ignacy Schiper (often spelled Schipper) was one of the leading Jewish historians of interwar Poland, a pioneer in Jewish economic history who based his work on extensive research in Polish and German archives. A prolific speaker and author who published primarily in Polish, Yiddish, and German, Schiper advocated a shift from traditional Jewish intellectual history to the secular socioeconomic and cultural history of the working Jewish masses.

Born in Tarnów, Schiper received a traditional heder education. He went on to graduate from a Polish secondary school and studied at universities in Kraków and Vienna, earning a doctorate in jurisprudence. Deeply involved in the Marxist Po‘ale Tsiyon movement, he served as its representative in the Polish Constitutent Sejm in 1919–1922. However, he broke with doctrinaire Marxism and joined the General Zionists, serving in the Sejm from 1922 to 1927.

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)

Schiper never held a regular university post but lectured on Jewish economic history at the Institute for Jewish Studies, founded in Warsaw in 1927. In addition to his important monographs on Polish Jewish economic history, Studya nad stosunkami gospodarczymi żydów w Polsce podczas średniowiecza (Studies on Economic Circumstances of Jews in Medieval Poland, 1911; translated into Yiddish in 1926 as Di virtshafts-geshikhte fun di yidn in poyln beysn mitlalter) and Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (History of Jewish Commerce in Polish Territories; 1937), Schiper published several works in Yiddish: Kultur-geshikhte fun yidn in poyln beysn mitlalter (The Cultural History of the Jews in Medieval Poland; 1926) and Geshikhte fun der yidisher teater-kunst un drame (History of Yiddish Theater and Drama from Earliest Times until 1750, 3 vols.; 1927–1928). He also coedited and contributed 19 chapters to the encyclopedic Żydzi w Polsce Odrodzonej (Jews in Reborn Poland; 1932–1935). In addition, the manuscript of Schiper’s studies on the history of Hasidism in Poland was transcribed and published in Warsaw in 1992 (Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu w Polsce, introduced and annotated by Zbigniew Targielski).

A frequent contributor to Yiddish and Polish Jewish dailies and monthlies, Schiper’s public activities included serving on the YIVO Historical Section, directing the Jewish Academic Home that housed university students in Warsaw, and heading the Keren Hayesod Palestine Fund in Poland from 1935.

After the German invasion of Poland, Schiper was publicly involved in the Jewish Self-Help Society (Żydowska Samopomoc Społeczna; ŻSS) and participated in meetings of the clandestine Oyneg Shabes ghetto archive project led by Emanuel Ringelblum. Employed in the Warsaw Jewish Council’s official archive, Schiper continued his research and writing. He opposed precipitate armed resistance in 1942 but favored helping selected individuals to escape to the Aryan side. Ultimately, Schiper was seized from a bunker during the Warsaw ghetto uprising and was sent to Majdanek, where he died in early July 1943.

Suggested Reading

Alexander Donat, The Holocaust Kingdom: A Memoir (New York, 1978); Shlomo Eidelberg, ed., Yitsḥak Shiper: Ketavim nivḥarim ve-divre ha‘arakhah (New York, [1966]); Jacob Litman, The Economic Role of Jews in Medieval Poland: The Contribution of Yitzhak Schipper (Lanham, Md., 1984); Ruta Sakowska, “Icchak Schipper w getcie warszawskim: Działalność opiekuńcza,” Kwartalnik historii Żydów 4 (216) (2005): 481–505; Chone Shmeruk, “Yitzhak Schiper’s Study of Hasidism in Poland,” in Hasidism Reappraised, ed. Ada Rapoport-Albert, pp. 404–411 (London, 1996).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1,1, YIVO (Vilna): Administration, Records, 1925-1941; RG 227, Alexander Mukdoni, Papers, 1918-1958.