Temkin-Berman Barbara

Barbara Temkin-Berman - Personal data
Date of birth: 21st August 1907
Place of birth: Warszawa
Date of death: 30th April 1953
Place of death:
Occupation: librarian, participant in the resistance movement during WW II, author of Dziennik z podziemia

Temkin Barbara (Batja, Basia) – (Warsaw, 21/08/1907 – Petach Tikva, 30/04/1953) – librarian, participant in the resistance movement during World War II, author of Dziennik z podziemia [Diary from the Underground].

She was born, the daughter of Icek and Frida (Frajda), née Borowska, into a family which settled in Warsaw at the end of the 19th century. The Temkin family was originally from Bobrujsk. Her paternal grandfather, Mikhail Temkin, was a Lithuanian Jew. With the rise of antisemitism and pogroms in Russia in the 1880s, Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) migrated in great numbers to America, or to those towns within the Pale of Settlement, where there was a higher permissible proportion of Jews amongst the total population (mainly the former Kingdom of Poland).

Warsaw, the third largest and most important city in the Russian Empire, was a vibrant place, despite several restrictions, which were imposed upon the Polish and Jewish populations. It attracted the Litvaks, who communicated with the local Jews in Yiddish, which led to the development of the Yiddish press and Yiddish literature. Private book-lending libraries were established throughout the “Northern Quarter”, where the majority of residents were Jewish.

In her diary, Barbara wrote that she was born by the Wisła River. Adolf Berman's memoirs about his wife, preserved in the Jewish Historical Institute, includes the annotation "Rybaki 12"[1.1]. This street, stretching below the Old Town escarpment, was often traversed by pious Jews to reach the ritual baths, located by the Wisła River. Some of them certainly visited Barbara's father, a Hasidic and pious Talmudist.

Batja Temkin had been exposed to the world of books since childhood. In the family home, these were religious texts in Hebrew, read and interpreted by her father, and, in local libraries, these included contemporary literature in Yiddish and Polish.

The Temkin family, living according to Hasidic tradition, did not pay any special attention to educating their daughters - apart from Batja, there was Lea, Chajełe (Hela) and Mania (Maria). "The family struggled with material difficulties"[1.2].

However, "Basia was eager to learn and educated herself"[1.3]. She was supported in her aspirations and helped financially by her sister Maria, who was twelve years older, uneducated, and hard-working. Initially, for two years, she imparted her scant knowledge to Barbara herself. Her subsequent teachers included a familiar teacher and a distant cousin, who was a student.

Under the rampant inflation caused by the First World War, Maria was unable to cover the rising cost of fees on her own, but she was also able to exhort her father to pay for the tuition of the youngest of the Temkin daughters. "She unsuccessfully battled with my father so that he would send me to school"[1.4], Barbara wrote in her diary. She passed to the fifth grade of middle school but, as she wrote in her bio attached to her application to study at the Free Polish University, "However, I had to interrupt my studies, as I was unable to earn enough money to pay for school"[1.5].

Studies, social and professional activities

As she gained a secular education, Barbara's worldview changed. At the age of sixteen, she became a member of the international Zionist organisation Ha’Shomer Ha’Tzair, which was preparing young people to live in Palestine. According to the assumptions of her ideologues at that time, emigrating Jews should engage in collective farming. Basia, as a child of the Old Town, could not identify this movement.

She was more comfortable being active in Poale Zion-Left, a party which, apart from promoting settlement in Palestine, was also concerned with the social life of Jews in Poland. It proclaimed the need to exclude religious matters from gmina overview and to recognise Yiddish as the national language of Polish Jews. Barbara's future husband, Adolf Berman, was an activist of Poale Zion-Left. "She met my father through their joint political activity in the student socialist Zionist movement (linked to the Poale Zion-Left party)"[1.6], Emanuel Berman wrote about his parents.

From 1926 to 1928[1.1.5], Temkin studied economics in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the Free Polish University [Wolna Wszechnica Polska], where eminent specialists lectured. "During the third year, I had to interrupt my studies, due to a lack of employment", she wrote in her handwritten biography. "After a year, I returned to the University [...] enrolling in the fourth year of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. With the special permission of Prof. Helena Radlińska, I began attending all the available lectures and practical sessions of the library group of the Social and Educational Work Studium".

The first page of Barbara Temkin's student index. Source: Barbara's student portfolio from State Archive in Warsaw.

In 1934, Barbara completed another semester at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. On 11th December 1934m she received her degree, with a "good" grading, after presenting a thesis entitled “Jewish Libraries in Warsaw and Their Readership”, written under the supervision of Prof. Helena Radlińska (née Rajchman), head of the Study of Social and Educational Work. The reviewer, Prof. Jan Muszkowski wrote about this work:

"The thesis is built upon material collected by the author, often with considerable difficulty, directly from libraries. It is methodically presented, thoroughly researched (...), demonstrates knowledge of the theory and practice of librarianship, as well as of Jewish writing and the development of Jewish culture against the background of Polish relations"[1.1.5].

Barbara has devoted her professional life to libraries. While still studying, "from time to time, I worked in the Hebrew and Jewish prints bibliography department of the National Library", she wrote in her biography[1.7].

From 15th January 1933 to 31st March 1936, she was manager of the branch office of the L. Wawelberg Library No. 4 at 1 Ludwiki Street. When the institution was taken over by the city in April 1936, she was transferred and became a librarian at the Warsaw Public Library. There, she worked in the Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals bibliography department. Her personnel file contains a certificate, dated 4th May 1938, stating that she was the manager of the Mickiewicz Library No. 24 at 34 Chłodna Street[1.8]. Applying later for a position in a library in Tel Aviv, she wrote in her application, "I have a degree as a bookseller from the University of Warsaw. The title of my thesis was Jewish Libraries in Warsaw’. I have been active in this profession for 20 years"[1.9].

"She was a passionate aficionado of Jewish books and literature. As a specialist in this field, for a period of time, she was administrator for Jewish books at the National Library in Warsaw", - her husband wrote about her[1.10].

The Bermans married on 6th December in 1938[1.11]. They lived at 29 Ogrodowa Street, until the outbreak of the Second World War. 

The Ghetto

The ghetto separated people from the world, but initially gave the illusion of a social life among their own. In her diary, Barbara describes her return from an escapade to Miedzeszyn, "I climb down from the wagon, get into the rickshaw [...] and, after a while, I am on Leszno. I feel like I've returned to my homeland"[1.12].

At 49 Leszno Street, there was a common room of the Central Committee for Children's Events. "The actual purpose of the premises had to be initially hidden [...]. Therefore, the walls of two rooms were decorated with cut-outs, books with colourful illustrations lay on the tables to make the place look like an innocent playroom. Under this cover, there were hidden treasures of youth literature, Jewish and Polish", recalls Rachela Auerbach[1.13]. These books were cared for by Barbara Berman.

"Even in the ghetto, she never lost a book. She organised the children's library at the Childcare Centre and managed it until the last moment. She provided books to Orphanages, boarding schools for street children, children in illegal schools, etc. Also, after the liberation, she devoted a lot of time and energy to acquire Jewish book collections damaged by the Nazis. She collected them by all possible means, book by book. She took over the management of the Central Jewish Library at the CKŻP"[1.14], Adolf Berman wrote about his wife.

In her diary, Barbara recalled how she sourced the books and who helped her to do so. She especially remembered two boys -

"the little boy, who stood near the corner of Karmelicka Street. He had a book storeroom in the basement of the house, where I found most of the Kinder Frajnd sets and many other children's books. He was a good source of information for me, because he immensely enjoyed reading and, if he said a book was good, then surely the children would like it. It later turned out that he was a friend of one of my most voracious readers, Sztajnberg, sent from the kitchen on GG, who took four books at a time and was never satiated"[1.15].

Jewish orphans in the ghetto were cared for by Centos, whose director, from November 1940 to August 1942, was Adolf Berman. Due to his position, he was able to leave the ghetto, thanks to his permit, which made it easier for the Bermans to renew contact with old acquaintances and, consequently, to help them when they decided to live on the other side of the wall. After the Great Ghetto Operation (Akcja), the Berman family lived in a block of flats at 4 Lubeckiego Street, which was occupied by Centos employees.

In March 1942, the Bermans became involved with the newly formed Anti-Fascist Block.

Leaving the Ghetto

From 22nd July 1942, the Germans carried out the Wielka Akcja (Great Ghetto Operation), transporting hundreds of thousands of people to the Treblinka extermination camp. On 5th September 1942, the Berman family bribed the guards and left the ghetto through the official gate. They were immediately surrounded by blackmailers (szmalcowniks), who literally stripped them of their outer garments. The last pair of blackmailers accompanied them all the way to a café on the corner of ul. Furmańska and ul. Karowa, from where Barbara Berman called for help. While waiting for the arrival of a librarian friend, Zofia Rodziewicz, Basia and Adolf listened to the sounds of the street.

"And still children are laughing. Children, whom we no longer saw on the street for six weeks, probably driven to the Umschlag (...). People talk about yesterday's raid. They found a passionate subject. One does not at all feel that, half a kilometre from here, so many people are dying today (...)".

Barbara had to use the toilet. The caretaker, who pointed the way, did not take a particular interest in her. It clearly made her feel better, because "I kept thinking that someone was about to report us and that they would come (...)"[1.16].

Zofia Rodziewicz took the Berman couple to the library on ul. Lipowa, where a warm meal, prepared by kind-hearted fellow librarians, awaited. In the evening, Rodziewicz took them by tram to the old rental house on ul. Żurawia. They spent the first night on benches, but in peace and quiet. They spent the following fourteen nights in Irena Kurowska's guest house.

They were provided with documents in the names of “Biernacka Barbara Anna” and “Biernacki Michał”, siblings from Krynki, last registered in Grodno. In Barbara's fake kennkarte, the year of birth was correct - 1907 - but the date was different – 20th February.

On the “Aryan Side”

About the problem of adopting a new identity for her and other ghetto refugees, she confided:

 "The hardest part was the mimicry, adapting to a new name and generally pretending to be someone else. During the first period, I pretended to be a poor girl, an impoverished intellectual, a refugee from the borderlands, where I had never been in my life. But I had to adapt to the certificate that was made for me from Krynki"[1.17].

For a long time, Barbara feared that she would fall into the hands of blackmailers. Not wishing to tempt fate, she wore a mourner’s veil covering her face.

When the Bermans had adjusted to living outside the ghetto walls, they rented a self-contained room in the city. However, due to the cost, they only stayed there until the winter. The next flat, in Grochów, was cheap, but very cold and - as Basia Berman openly describes - the landlord found them warming their bodies in one bed. He then became suspicious about the origins of the Biernacki "siblings" and they had to find another place to live.

They found one in Mokotów, on Szustra Street. At the time, they were storing large sums of money and false documents intended for ghetto escapees, which were found by the landlady's cousin. They stayed in another flat for as long as seven months, unfortunately they had to leave it due to blackmailers. The Warsaw Uprising found them in a flat in Żoliborz, at 21 Krasińskiego Street.

Despite their own problems and at the risk of their lives, the Berman couple was constantly involved in helping ghetto escapees. Adolf, as a representative of the Jewish National Committee, became secretary of Żegota. Barbara helped the refugees personally. The place of contact was the office of sworn interpreter Janina Buchholtz, at 11 Miodowa Street. It was called “Basia's headquarters”. Ghetto liaison officers met at Miodowa Street and escapees, themselves, often ended up there. From there, money obtained from Jewish organisations and Żegota was stored and distributed, false kennkarten were filled in, as well as housing and employment searches. 

If they feared a threat from informers, Barbara and Janina Bukolska (Buchholtz's underground pseudonym) would meet in the library on Kapitulna Street, passing on important information on pieces of paper. Janina Buchholtz-Bukolska wrote Wspomnienia o pani Basi[1.18], in which she provided a portrait of Basia Berman from that period:

"A petite, thin lady, wearing a tattered coat and a black beret with a veil, turned up at my law office. (...) when she lifted her large, luminous grey eyes to me in a black frame, I felt an immediate affection and trust towards this remarkable woman"[1.19].

Barbara never parted with a large double-bottomed shopping bag, in which she carried important documents. Disposing papers was the most problematic. They were burnt in furnaces during the winter and flushed down the drain during the summer, but this was a tedious and inefficient method.

The Berman couple helped, among others, Emanuel Ringelblum, to leave the ghetto and, when he was taken to the camp in Trawniki, they freed him together with the Home Army activist Tadeusz Pajewski and Emilka Kossower, who was both a member of the Home Army and a Jewish liaison officer to the ghetto.

About Barbara, Ringelblum wrote:

"She is a very interesting type of Jewish woman 'on the surface'. A librarian by profession, she made superhuman efforts to establish a public library for children in the ghetto. She has achieved her goal, despite obstacles piling up at every turn. (...) she doesn't have a particularly 'good look', but she knows that it is not the face, but the behaviour that determines staying on the surface. She always retains his cheerfulness, serenity, is not afraid of anyone, always has a smile on her face, and wears mourning to add to her seriousness"[1.20].

The Warsaw Uprising

Barbara Berman described the Warsaw Uprising in detail in her diary. She survived it in Żoliborz, initially in the WSM buildings on Krasińskiego. It is where the emaciated, shabby, and hungry Jewish rebels, who made their way to Żoliborz from the Old Town, ended up. Barbara organised a fundraiser to help them. She provided money and clothing to the famous fighters Antek Cukierman, Cywia Lubetkin, and Marek Edelman. According to Barbara's diary entry, the Germans took over Krasińskiego Street on 29th September, and the Berman couple found shelter under a garage on Felińskiego Street, from where they left on 3rd October 1944.

Fortunately, they managed to leave Żoliborz, which was occupied by the Germans. They made their way, through Buraków, to Izabelin, where they searched for and supported the surviving Jews, sometimes travelling tens of kilometres on foot. At all time, they carried money to fund aid and documentation for which they could be shot on the spot. 

Post-War

In 1945, Adolf Berman became vice-chairman and soon chairman of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP). Barbara returned to her work as a librarian, organising the central Jewish library at the CKŻP. She collected approximately 120,000 Hebrew and Yiddish books, which had survived the war and compiled the entire book collection[1.21].

On 1st June 1946, in Warsaw, Barbara Berman gave birth to a son, Emanuel, who interpreted his birth in the following manner:

"Only years later did I understand the significance of that time and place. My parents had just survived the war in which they had lost most of their relatives - I was the symbol of their hope for a new life."[1.22].

However, this "new life" was not rosy. A child had appeared, anticipated and idolised, but at the same time engaging. During the initial period, Barbara often raised her son alone. Her letters to her husband have survived. In them, one can clearly see how much she misses Adolf. One letter, in particular, makes it clear that the shared life of the Bermans had begun to fall apart:

"The baby just told me not to write about him, because he's mad at his dad, who doesn't come to see him at all. I have explained that poor daddy is a stalwart for Israel and therefore has no time for his son."[1.23].

Barbara and Adolf Abraham Berman with their son Emanuel. The photo was probably taken in Poland circa 1949. Source: Emanuel Berman Family Archive.

Meanwhile, political changes in Poland resulted in that Adolf Berman lost his position at the CKŻP, and Barbara also changed jobs. She moved on to the Warsaw Public Library, where she compiled the Hebrew and Jewish book collection that had survived the war[1.1.21].

Israel

The Berman family emigrated from Poland, via France, to Israel in March 1950, Barbara hoped that in the newly-formed Jewish state, they would also start a new life together. In a letter from a sanatorium in Cfat, she wrote:

"Even though it is really very good here (...) know that it would not help if you were not the way you are again. Your words then, and in the letter, mean more than all of this. It is going to be good again, I believe that, together, we can manage to cope with everything."

Unfortunately, time has shown that their lives have diverged.

Adolf (he took the name Awraham upon his arrival in Israel) became a member of the Knesset (1951-1955). He was very active professionally and socially. He was frequently away from home, while Batja tried to find work. For two years, she applied for positions as a librarian. Initially, she applied for a job at the Tel Aviv Municipal Library, without success. In her application she wrote: "All my knowledge, accumulated over twenty years, I would like to give back to the city of Tel Aviv, which I love."[1.1.21].

The lack of professional responsibilities had a devastating effect on a person as active as Barbara. She also experienced alienation in the newly-formed state:

"It seems to me that, if I had been among other people who would have put me to work at least a little bit to the best of my ability, I would have been better."[1.24].

Her health declined. Years later, her son wrote: "For the last two years of her life, she was seriously ill. She struggled with Parkinson's disease, various complications and depression. She spent a lot of time in hospitals and sanatoriums, which meant she was often not part of our daily lives"[1.25].

How difficult was the life of the heroic, indomitable Barbara in Tel Aviv, we can infer from her child's subsequent recollections: "Once, she told me that two rogues had harassed her in the street. Trying to escape, she fell over and broke her finger. This scene haunted me endlessly. I felt rage towards the anonymous hooligans, the need to protect her from them, and a great frustration when I realised that, being a child, I probably would not have been able to stop them."[1.26].

Emanuel Berman, a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist, came to know his mother through her wartime notes:

"I retained a sense of connection thanks to her diary, which was first translated into Hebrew and published when I was ten years old. In a way, contact with a brave and strong mother, Basia from the times of the underground, compensated me for the painful memory of a weak and helpless mother. It was with great excitement that I read about how she and my father eluded the Nazis, saving their lives and the lives of many other Jews from the terrifying machinery of the Holocaust."

After two years, in September 1952, Barbara finally managed to get a job as a librarian at a general school. In a letter to her friends, she wrote:

"It's not so bad if I can work (...). I run a large school library. I deliberately started with a children's library, because it was easier for me to learn children's literature. I have already partially mastered the language. I don't speak it very well yet, but I read freely and understand everything, and that's the most important thing when it comes to my profession."

Her home language was Yiddish. She wrote her war diary in beautiful Polish and, in Israel, she had to switch to Hebrew, although they still spoke Polish at home[1.27].

However, in Israel, Barbara only survived for three years. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia. She died in Petach Tikva on 30th April 1953. She would have turned 46 in the following August. 

Ewa Małkowska-Bieniek

References

  • Personnel files of employees of the Public Library of the capital city of Warsaw - Basia Berman née Temkin, ref. A.331/10 (Archive of the Public Library of the capital city of Warsaw, No. 246-596, Warsaw 1993).
  • Personal file of Barbara Temkin in the State Archives in Warsaw, Free Polish University in Warsaw, j. 1400.
  • Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000.
  • Berman E. Outsider, insider. Mój powrót do Polski, [in:] Jak feniks z popiołów? O odradzaniu się psychoanalizy w powojennej i dzisiejszej Polsce, Warsaw 2021.
  • Buchholtz-Bukolska J. Wspomnienia o pani Basi [in:] Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Kraków 1969.

Read more

 

The biography was created as part of the "Polish Jewish Women for Independence" project, implemented with a grant from the Totalizator Sportowy Foundation.

 

Print
Footnotes
  • [1.1] Berman A., Wspomnienia o żonie, manuscript, ŻIH archive No. 302/209, p. 3.
  • [1.2] Berman A., Wspomnienia o żonie, manuscript, ŻIH archive No. 302/209, p. 1
  • [1.3] Berman A., Wspomnienia o żonie, manuscript, ŻIH archive No. 302/209, p. 1.
  • [1.4] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, eds. Grupińska A., Szapiro P., Warsaw 2000, p. 89.
  • [1.5] State Archive in Warsaw, Free Polish University in Warsaw, j. 1400
  • [1.6] Berman E. Outsider, insider. Mój powrót do Polski [in:] Jak Feniks z popiołów? O odradzaniu się psychoanalizy w powojennej i dzisiejszej Polsce, eds. E. Kobylińska-Dehe, K. Prot-Klinger, Warsaw 2021, p. 526.
  • [1.1.5] [a] [b] State Archive in Warsaw, Free Polish University in Warsaw, j. 1400
  • [1.7] State Archive in Warsaw, Free Polish University in Warsaw, j. 1400
  • [1.8] Personnel files of employees of the Public Library of the capital city. of Warsaw - Basia Berman née Temkin, ref. A.331/10 (Archive of the Public Library of the capital city of Warsaw, No. 246-596), Warsaw 1993
  • [1.9] Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 361.
  • [1.10] Berman A., Wspomnienia o żonie, manuscript, ŻIH archive No. 302/209, p. 1
  • [1.11] The file of Emanuel Berman states the year 1936 in: Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 359
  • [1.12] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 40
  • [1.13] Leociak J., Leszno, in: Spojrzenia na warszawskie getto, Warsaw 2011, p. 19
  • [1.14] Berman A., Wspomnienia o żonie, manuscript, ŻIH archive No. 302/209, pp. 1-2
  • [1.15] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p.201
  • [1.16] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 23
  • [1.17] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, pp. 56-57
  • [1.18] Buchholtz-Bukolska J. Wspomnienia o pani Basi [in:] Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, eds. Bartoszewski W., Lewinówna Z., Kraków 1969
  • [1.19] Buchholtz-Bukolska J. Wspomnienia o pani Basi [in:] Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, eds. Bartoszewski W., Lewinówna Z., Kraków 1969 p. 180
  • [1.20] Ringelblum E., Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w czasie drugiej wojny światowej, Warsaw 1988, p. 85
  • [1.21] Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 361
  • [1.22] Berman E., Outsider, insider. Mój powrót do Polski [in:] Jak feniks z popiołów? O odradzaniu się psychoanalizy w powojennej i dzisiejszej Polsce, eds. Kobylińska-Dehe E., Prot-Klinger K., Warsaw 2021, p. 525
  • [1.23] Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 360
  • [1.1.21] [a] [b] Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 361
  • [1.24] Berman E., Papierowy most, [in:] Temkin-Bermanowa B., Dziennik z podziemia, Warsaw 2000, p. 362
  • [1.25] Berman E. Outsider, insider. Mój powrót do Polski, [in:] Jak feniks z popiołów? eds. Kobylińska-Dehe E., Prot-Klinger K., Warsaw 2021, pp. 530-531
  • [1.26] Berman E. Outsider, insider. Mój powrót do Polski, [in:] Jak feniks z popiołów? O odradzaniu się psychoanalizy w powojennej i dzisiejszej Polsce, eds. Kobylińska-Dehe E., Katarzyna Prot-Klinger K., Warsaw 2021, p. 531
  • [1.27] Berman E. Outsider,insider. Mój powrót do Polski, [in:] Jak feniks z popiołów? O odradzaniu się psychoanalizy w powojennej i dzisiejszej Polsce, eds. E. Kobylińska-Dehe, Katarzyna Prot-Klinger p. 532
In order to properly print this page, please use dedicated print button.