Datner Szymon

Szymon Datner - Personal data
Date of birth: 2nd February 1902
Place of birth: Kraków
Date of death: 8th December 1989
Place of death: Warszawa
Occupation: historian, educationalist, translator and Jewish activist
Related towns: Kielce, Pinsk, Białystok

Datner Szymon – (Kraków, 2 February 1902 – Warsaw, 8 December 1989) – a historian, educationalist, translator and Jewish activist.

He received traditional education in a cheder, then attended a Hebrew school and a departmental school. At the same time, he took private Hebrew lessons. He completed the last gymnasium grade at the branch of the St. Hyacinth of Poland gymnasium where he passed his matriculation exam in 1920 as an external student.

Since the age of 13 he also learned to play the violin. In 1923–1924 he received a diploma of a singing teacher from a private school in Kielce. In Cracow, he sang in ‘Shir’, a Jewish choir . In 1920 he entered the Jagiellonian University, first studying law and administration, then philosophy, where he mostly focused on anthropology and prehistory. He obtained a doctoral degree in 1927. In 1921–1922 he also completed a one-year university course in physical education, which gave him the qualification of a PE teacher.

In 1922–1929 he worked as a teacher in Jewish schools in Cracow, Kielce, Pińsk and Białystok. He was a board member of the Trade Union of teachers of Jewish Secondary and Elementary Schools in Poland, the Białystok branch. Between September 1939 and June 1941 he taught geography, singing and physical education in Białystok in a ten-year state school, with Yiddish as the language of instruction. In 1941–1943 he lived in the Białystok ghetto with his family where he got involved in the resistance movement.

On 1 June 1943 he managed to escape from the ghetto and reached a guerrilla group ‘Forojs’ (Forward). In the spring and summer of 1944 he fought in a group ‘26 let Oktiabra’ (26 Years of October, part of the K. Kalinowski guerrilla brigade). After the liberation of Białystok, he returned to the town and became a collaborator of ‘Biuletyn Radiowy’ (Radio Newsletter) and then worked as a department manager in the State Forests Board in Białystok. In 1944–1945 he was a member of the Provincial People’s Council and chairman of the Provincial Jewish Committee in Białystok. For many years he worked as a researcher at the Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) in Warsaw, but he left it due to a political conflict.

In 1954–1955, after leaving ŻIH, he taught courses for illiterate citizens and since 1958 he worked at the Central Committee for the Examination of Nazi Crimes and edited its newsletter. In 1969 he received an advanced research degree from the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences.

In 1969–1970 he was the director of Jewish Historical Institut (ŻIH) and editor-in-chief of its regular publication ‘Biuletyn ŻIH’; he focused mostly in studying Nazi crimes in Poland during the occupation years, particularly those committed by Wehrmacht. In 1946, the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Łódź published his work Walka i zagłada białostockiego getta (The Fight and the Extermination of the Białystok Ghetto). He also published Zbrodnie Wehrmachtu na jeńcach wojennych armii regularnych w II wojnie światowej (Wehrmacht Crimes on Prisoners of War from Regular Armies during World War II) (Warsaw, 1961), 55 dni Wehrmachtu w Polsce. Zbrodnie dokonane na polskiej ludności cywilnej w okresie od 1 września do 25 października 1939 (55 Days of Wehrmacht in Poland. Crimes on Polish Civilians between 1 September and 25 October 1939) (Warsaw, 1967), Las sprawiedliwych. Karta z dziejów ratownictwa Żydów w okupowanej Polsce (The Forest of the Righteous. A Card in the History of Saving Jews in Occupied Poland) (Warsaw,1968).

He attracted particular attention with his cycle of articles printed in ‘Fołks-Sztyme’ under a joint title ‘Megilat Polin’, where he presented how Jews participated in the history of Poland. He acted as the deputy chairman of the Board of Jewish Religious Communes in Poland and then as an honorary chairman of the Religious Association of Judaism.

In 1986–1988 he chaired the Board of the Jewish Historical Institut Association.

Natalia Aleksiun


  • J. Tomaszewski, A. Żbikowski, Żydzi w Polsce. Dzieje i kultura, (2001)
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