Central Committee of Jews in Poland

Central Committee of Jews in Poland (Pol. Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, CKŻP) – representative political body of Jews in Poland, established in October 1944 with the purpose of representing the Jewish population before state authorities and coordinating aid and social support for Holocaust survivors. The CKŻP operated in the years 1944–1950. 

After the liberation of Lublin, an independent Office for the Assistance to the Jewish Population was formed under the aegis of the Polish Committee of National Liberation. The Office was headed by Bund activist Major S. Herszenhorn. Before the war, Herszenhorn had been a member of Lublin’s municipal council and a well-known community leader. He organised care for Jews emerging from their hiding places in the liberated territories, or those who had snuck across the front. Among the people under his care was a group of children who had survived the Majdanek death camp. At the Office’s initiative, the Jewish Committee was founded in July 1944; its aim was to improve aid and organise self-help programmes. Along with the re-emergence and legalisation of Jewish political parties like the Bund, Poale Zion, and Ihud, the Lublin Committee was transformed into the Temporary Central Committee of Polish Jews (October 1944), and a month later, into the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Its composition was established according to party lines: six seats for Jewish communists (the Jewish Faction of the Polish Workers’ Party, PPR), four seats for the Bund, four for Ihud, three for Poale Zion-Left and the same for Poale Zion-Right, and one seat for the HaShomer HaTsair. E. Sommerstein of Ihud became the chairman; after he left for the United States in 1946, he was replaced by A. Berman of Poale Zion-Left.

In 1949, Berman was replaced by H. Smolar, a member of the Jewish Faction of the PPR. The same party proportions were applied in regional structures – in 1946, there operated nine provincial and even district committees. The activities of the CKŻP were subsidised by the Joint, and encompassed all spheres of the re-emerging Jewish life. The following specialised Departments were established: Documentation (registration of survivors, searches for families, re-issuance of personal documents); Legal (legal assistance in the restitution of property, return of children who had been in hiding, documentation of cases of collaboration, collection of testimonies for war crimes trials, as well as legal assistance for those in trouble with the law and assistance for prisoners); Social Services (distribution of food and clothing parcels, monetary assistance and grants); Health (cooperation with the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population); Child Care (management of orphanages, youth dormitories and sanatoria, organisation of summer camps and sports clubs); Education (foundation of Jewish schools, curriculum and textbook development); Culture and Propaganda (assistance for artistic associations, theatres, and amateur groups; development of Yiddish radio broadcasts; book publishing and filmmaking, issuing a daily informational bulletin of the Jewish Press Agency and other press publications); “Productivisation” (establishing and equipping production cooperatives and private crafts workshops in cooperation with the ORT, assistance in finding employment); Landsmanshaftn (coordinating aid from private individuals and foreign Jewish organisations having ties with specific areas in Poland); and Emigration (assistance in legal migration to the West and to Palestine). In the years 1945–1946, the CKŻP also ran the Repatriation Department, which supervised the resettlement programme for Jews from the area of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Central Jewish Historical Commission was created, which strove to preserve the remnants of Jewish culture and document the Holocaust; in 1947, it was renamed to the Jewish Historical Institute. The Society for Culture and Art, supporting artists and other members of the artistic scene, was closely tied to the Committee. The CKŻP also closely cooperated with the Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists and the Jewish Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts. In 1948, the Commission for Aid to the Poles was founded. It assisted individuals who had helped Jews during the German occupation (they had earlier been cared for by the Legal and Social Services departments). Similar activities (often in opposition to the CKŻP) were carried out simultaneously by religious parties, such as the legal Mizrachi organisation and the illegal Agudath Israel party, whose ranks were joined by a large number of Zionist Revisionists. These dealt primarily with the organisation of religious life but were also engaged in providing social services and religious education. 

In the years 1948–1949, Jewish communists dominated the Committee structures. Under the slogan of “broadening the social base,” they modified the rules governing the selection of presidium members, eliminating pluralist influences from various political parties. They attacked Zionists, accusing them of nationalism. Against the will of many its members, the Bund was taken over by the Polish United Workers’ Party. In 1949, the petition filed by the Committee to the authorities resulted in the dissolution of Zionist parties and the nationalisation or liquidation of Jewish schools, sanatoria, healthcare facilities, theatres, and cooperatives. Religious congregations became subordinate to the CKŻP, and all party influences were eliminated; their activities were limited exclusively to religious matters. The activists of the Joint, the Society for Healthcare, and the ORT were accused of spying and expelled from the country. The process of liquidating Jewish organisational independence was concluded on 29 October 1950, when the CKŻP was merged with the Jewish Cultural Society, creating the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland. Jewish religious congregations were replaced with the Religious Union of the Jewish Faith, a state-dependent organisation, largely insignificant until 1956. 

 Alina Cała

The entry was originally published on the Diapozytyw portal, previously owned by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. It is an excerpt from the book Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik by Alina Cała, Hanna Węgrzynek, and Gabriela Zalewska, published by the WSiP.

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