Jakub Wygodzki (second from left) as a prisoner of war, Chersk, Russia, 1917. (YIVO)

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Wygodzki, Jakub

(1855–1941), physician, public leader, and Zionist activist. Jakub Wygodzki was born in Bobruisk (Bobruysk). In 1860, his family moved to Vilna, where he received a traditional Jewish education. He completed his high school studies in Marijampole and then attended medical school at the University of Saint Petersburg. Following additional studies in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, he returned to Vilna, where he served as a gynecologist, pediatrician, and medical researcher and writer. He also established and chaired the Society of Jewish Physicians.

In 1905, Wygodzki was among the founders of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party in the Vilna region. He represented the Jewish population of Vilna as a minister in the Lithuanian government during World War I, when a succession of German, Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish forces captured the city. As a result of his anti-Germany policies, on 31 March 1917, the Germans arrested and briefly held him.

In September 1917, a Lithuanian Taryba (national council) was elected in Vilna, with the goal of establishing an independent state. Wygodzki was appointed minister for Jewish affairs. In 1918 he joined the Zionist Federation, and after the Poles captured Vilna in 1919, he served as president of the Jewish community. From 1919 through 1929 he was a member of the city council, and in 1922 was elected to the first regular Sejm in Poland as a member of the Minorities Bloc. In this position and as a member of the Kolo Zydowskie (the Jewish faction), he worked on the parliamentary education committee and fought to uphold the right to obtain Jewish and Hebrew-language education. He was reelected to the Sejm in 1928. Known as the “father” of the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” (Vilna), Wygodzki was the most prominent Jewish public figure in his city. On his eightieth birthday, the community council named the local maternity and children’s hospital in his honor. In 1940, he headed the relief effort for thousands of refugees who had fled to Vilna from Nazi-occupied Poland.

In addition to publishing numerous articles on political and economic issues, Wygodzki wrote three memoirs in Yiddish: In shturm (In the Storm; 1921), on the German occupation of Vilna; In gehenom (In Hell; 1927), describing his imprisonment by the Germans; and In Sambatyon (In Sambatyon [a mythical, utopian river]; 1931), on his experiences in the Polish Sejm. He also was writing a memoir about his youth, Di yinge yohren (The Early Years). On 24 August 1941, when the Nazis captured Lithuania, Wygodzki was arrested; seriously ill, he soon died at the Lukishki Prison.

Suggested Reading

Isaac Grünbaum, Pene ha-dor, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 1957/58); Israel Klausner, Vilna: Yerushalayim de-Lite (Tel Aviv and Loḥame ha-Geta’ot, Israel, 1983); Jacek Majchrowski, ed., Kto był kim w Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej (Warsaw, 1994).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann