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Berkowicz, Yosef

(1789–1846), lieutenant colonel in the Polish armed forces at the time of the Duchy of Warsaw and during the January uprising of 1830–1831. Yosef Berkowicz was born in the Warsaw suburb of Praga, the only son of Berek Joselewicz. After attending Jewish schools, Berkowicz volunteered for military service in 1809 and served as a sergeant in the Napoleonic campaigns against Russia. In the course of these campaigns, he was wounded numerous times and received two medals for bravery. After the final defeat of the French Army, Berkowicz joined the army of the Kingdom of Poland; however, he was soon discharged (in March 1815) at his own request due to his previous injuries.

For several years, Berkowicz earned his living as a forest warden at several locations in the Kingdom of Poland; however, immediately following the outbreak of the November uprising of 1830, he reentered military service in the insurgent army, this time accompanied by both of his sons. Following the example set by his own father, he approached the leadership of the uprising under General Józef Chłopicki with the proposal that a battalion of Jewish volunteers be created. In so doing, he claimed to be acting on behalf of the “heads of the Jewish community,” although in truth he had not received such authorization.

Furthermore, on 21 December 1830 Berkowicz issued a public appeal to the Jews of Poland to join the battalion he was planning to form in emulation of his father and to fight for Polish independence. The proposal was rejected by the executive committee of the Jewish community, which was concerned with preserving Jewish neutrality, as well as by acculturated circles who, although supportive of efforts to achieve independence, did not approve of the formation of a separate Jewish unit. Berkowicz attempted to compensate for the lack of support from the leading Jewish circles by issuing a second appeal directed specifically to Jewish youth (14 January 1831). After the leadership of the uprising granted him permission to form a Jewish volunteer battalion and simultaneously promoted him to an officer’s rank, he again appealed to the Jewish public to join his unit—a summons to which only 100 volunteers responded. This was due in equal measure to resistance on the part of the Jewish community and to the fact that the battalion lacked adequate funding.

In battle, Berkowicz once again distinguished himself through his bravery. After the crushing of the uprising, he was briefly detained and subsequently moved to France in 1831. Due to animosities within Polish émigré circles, he later resettled in England. There he wrote a fictional account of his father’s story, which his sons published after his death in 1846 under the title Stanislaus, or the Polish Lancer, in the Suite of Napoleon, from the Island of Elba.

Suggested Reading

Zofja Krzemicka, “Berkowicz Józef,” in Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 1, pp. 454–455 (Kraków, 1935); Ignacy Schiper, Zydzi Królestwa Polskiego w dobie powstania listopadowego (Warsaw, 1932); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vol. 1 (New York, 1947), pp. 306–330.



Translated from German by Deborah Cohen