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THE MORGENTHAU MISSION TO POLAND
TO INVESTIGATE THE 1919 POGROMS
Following a series of attacks in 1919 on Jews in interwar Polish towns, a United States investigative mission led by Henry Morgenthau, Sr. visited these towns and took testimony and evidence on the attacks. The evidence, available in the U.S. National Archives, includes many lists of Jews who were injured, killed, and arrested, and even details of Jewish homes that were damaged in the attacks. It also includes reports of the major economic and political discrimination faced by Jews in many towns, including Bialystok.
The following report was transcribed from microfilm at the US National Archives and provided to BIALYGen by Judy Baston. This report was written in English (click to see first and last pages of the report). All misspellings and grammatical errors are as transcribed from the original.
Judy researched the 1919 Morgenthau Mission and presented "The Morgenthau Mission to Poland to Investigate the 1919 Pogroms: A Genealogical Resource" at the 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York City on August 16, 2006.
the American Commission to investigate the position of the Jews in
Report of the Jewish Community Council in Bialystok.
Already before the evacuation of our town by the Germans –
from November, 1918 till February, 1919 – the Jewish population of
Bialystok was horribly alarmed by the facts of violence, that had been
committed on Jews by Polish soldiers and gendarmes at Lapy (24 km.
From Bialystok). On this
railway-station (the 1st in the direction to Warsaw), where
the first demarcation line between the Poles and the Germans after the
armistice passed, the Jewish passengers were most ruthless
bruised, tortured and robbed of their possessions (to the naked body
sometimes!) A real inquisition was there performed and many tens of
Jews lost there after terrible sufferings of whippings and blows and moral humiliation their lives, and only
the happiest escaped the dreadful death, having endured painful
sufferings and material losses.
In spite of all our protests this barbaric inquisition lasted
until its chief – a gendarme-officer – was at last removed from
that place, which got a reputation of a "hell" for Jews far and wide.
Just from the 19th February 1919, when the Polish
military force occupied our town a special relation of the military
and civil authorities to the Jewish population was felt. From small
manifestations of “hooliganism” to Jews on the streets and
lodgings to rude assaults on the personality and worth of many a
Jewish resident – everything had had in that period the character of
a strict hostile action from the soldiers and under-officers against
the Jews. The searches at the Great Town-Synagogue, at the Rabbi’s
and in the greatest bulk of private houses of the Jews just on the
occupation of Bialystok showed themselves at once as a phenomenon,
that can have a double source: either it comes from the discretional,
dessolute power of the military and the attacks are accidental
phenomenons of “hooliganism”, or they are manifestations of a hid,
secret hand that leads eventually leaves unpunished all the illegal
assaults on the Jews, in order to embitter to the latter the life here
and turn for them the land to a "hell upon earth", this compelling them
to undertake the only rescue – to leave the land altogether.
From the material published in the news-papers of Bialystok (the
complements of which are enclosed herewith) it can be easily seen,
what rough and refined means have been used by the Polish authorities
and press here to embitter the life of the Jews, creating round them
an atmosphere of a constant suspicion and inhuman-treatment of the
personal worth of the Jews and the most dissolute manners in regard to
their property. All the facts registered in the Press here are by no
means exhausting the full number of the rough attacks on the
personality and chattels of the Jewish residents of our town and
besides those facts a great deal of hostile actions against the Jewry
here remained without a reverberation in the news-papers at all.
On that ground we are able to presume, that in this hostile
activity some systematic scheme is contained, which is not being shown
openly, but appears in all its perfidious results on every part of the
social, civic and economic life, as it will be shown in the following
Excesses of the military
On Friday, the 25th of April 1919, a troop of
Posen-soldiers passed our town. When a detachment of them escorted a
group of Russian prisoners of war over the principal streets of the
city, the Jews met by those soldiers have been terribly bruised and
some shops and houses have been robbed under the pretext of "searches
for arms" / (“Dos Naie Lebn” #55-58).
The Sabbath-day passed comparatively fortunately, but on
Sunday, the 27th there was from the morning a systematic
battle on the Jewish population and robbery of its property, with an
obvious pogrom-character. The
residents did not even know untill afternoon that a “search for
arms” is being made, for the Posen-soldiers, that went in groups
through the Jewish quarters of the town, have taken in the houses
every kind of valuable commodities and from the warehouses – stocks
of different goods. On
this occasion blows and bruisings have been given to the defenceless
people in the most ruthless manner.
Only at 2 o’clock p.m., when a deputation of the Jewish
population visited the commander of the town he declared, that a
general search for arms is being made, for it is known that “the Jews
keep a great deal of weapons” (?) and by the fact, that there was
nothing found in the houses of the Jews the soldiers got very angry at
the Jewry of Bialystok (!). In
the Great Town-Synagogue three strict revisions have been made on the
same day with blasphemy of the most insulting kind.
During one of these searches soldiers left in the Synagogue two
rifles and an horrible lible could
arise, but fortunately the sally of the soldiers was discovered at
once, and the accident brought in only a death-dread to some Jews,
that were present at the Synagogue.
On both the old and new Jewish cemeteries many graves have been
digged up and arms were searched in them (!) Funeral processions were
stopped and the coffins (the funeral-carriages) have been opened.
Although the battle ceased on the second half of the day the 27th
April, the Jewish residents lived in the next days after the
“horrible Sunday” under a painful impression of robbery, bruising
and revisions of the 27th, being subdued to an inexpressible panic and
fear. Only on the 30th April an official "communiqué"
appeared in order to calm a little the alarmed Jewish population of
During the battle of
the 27th April a great deal of small Jewish stores have
been robbed of their wares (victualing, tobacco, haberdashery, leather)
in such an extent, that their loss was practically equal to the
greatest part of the chattels of the shopkeepers. All the damage done
to the Jewish residents of Bialystok on that day amounts many a
hundred thousand of marks. The military authorities explained the
excesses of the soldiers, when speaking with the Jewish delegation, by
“the demoralization and weariness of the men.”
After the 27th April attacks on Jewish shops from soldiers
repeated many times. Often
the soldiers led the shopkeepers to the barrack under the pretense to
make there the payment for the “bought” goods, but in the reality
the shop-keepers were terribly bruised there, and sent home with
terrible wounds (sometimes of sabers: “Dos Naie Lebn, No. 61),
being even thrown downstairs. In the environs of
Bialystok (Zabludovo, Sokolka, Michalovo) Jews have been killed
by gendarmes and soldiers (or militia-men) without judgement and
investigation. Generally we can say that the excesses in the country (ed:
and the hind streets of the town last continually because, as a rule,
the dessolute sallies of the soldiers are left unpunished and not
investigated by the higher authorities.
The bereavement of work.
Owing to the hostile attitude of the higher civil authorities
to the Jews there may be observed in our town a system of prevation of
work as to Jewish workers, the source of existence being thus cut off
for them entirely. To this end special “Christian” trade-unions in
all the branches of the local industry are being created since the
April last, that watch on the factories, where Jews are occupied,
pursuing them by all accessible means. A special struggle is carried
against the Jewish weavers, that are the main part of the skilled
laborers among the Jewish workmen of Bialystok.
Aiming at the pushing out of them from the mills (that belong
as a rule to Jewish manufacturers) a great campaign was opened.
Referring to an old agreement, that arrives yet from the period of
Russian despotic government some 15 years ago, stating that the number
of the Jews, that work on mechanical looms cannot exceed 50 per cent
of the whole amount of weavers, the Polish workers made now a claim to
obtain a certain part of the looms occupied by the Jews at present,
threatening by acts of violence to the Jewish manufacturers and
Whilst different branches of our industry (worsted stuffs) are
nearly pure of Jews (spinning, milling, teazling, etc.), as the Poles did not admit them to
those processes at all – a
claim was made now to establish a limit of 50% for the Jewish weavers
on the Jewish factories, thus taking away the daily bread from many a
hundred families of Jewish workmen. After a long intercourse between
the Polish and Jewish weavers, in which the representative of the
Ministry of Work at Warsaw was involved, the struggle was settled by
an agreement that no Jews should be disengaged, but work is to be
given to 92 Poles at once and for the future the 50%- standard is
strictly to be kept.
The works that are fed by the municipal money, in which the
greatest bulk results from the Jewish tax-payers, are generally
performed only by Poles. After an obstinate presentation of requests
and protests from the Jewish representatives in the City-Council a
certain number of Jewish laborers was engaged. The promised 50% standard is being but seldom observed,
although the Jews compose 70-80% of the population of Bialystok.
Whereas in the time before the
Polish occupation the number of the Jews in the City-militia (the
police) was unlimited, the Polish authorities have just after their
entrance to Bialystok disengaged the greatest part of the Jewish
militia-men and now only several Jews remained as militia-men in our
town with the population of 50-60 thousands of Jews.
The economic boycott
With a not less intensiveness as in labor is the Jewish
economic efficiancy being pursued in the trade and commerce.
The “boycott-backing”, that could not be executed on a
fully legal ground while the Russian government, has got a public
foundation at present: it is openly made propaganda for it (so for
inst. by priests !) and the system finds its application everywhere.
Cooperative societies are working with a special end to
polonise the trade, being subsidized by the government and enjoy
different franchises (exemption of taxes etc.), that leads to a full
ruin of hundreds of Jewish tradesmen, who are robbed of their earning
and lose certainly the ground under their feet. The result of this policy in
trade is the ruin of the entire
commerce of the Jewish population in the city.
The Jewish tradesmen, that do not enjoy the support of the
government and municipality, are especially chicaned by
the “Office to conquer usury and speculation”. Although the
destination (ed:?) of the office is a very useful one, its practice
has often a special tendency to ruin the Jewish tradesmen and great
damages are sometimes caused to them without any legal basis. Wares,
that are confiscated from them go over to Polish societies, which are
struggling against the Jewish commerce.
IV. Political restrictions
In order to perform the polonisation of our city in the most
effective way the authorities use means, that will, as they suppose,
realize the annulment of the Jewish efficiency at once. To that
purpose, it is necessary, according to an excise plan – first and
foremost – to paralyse the influence of the Jews on the municipal
Aiming at this kind of
polonisation the Warsaw Governement issued on the 10th May
1919 a decree by which 21 villages, situated round Bialystok, are
being connected to the city and the “Greater Bialystok,”
containing villages and small towns, situated some 8-10 km far from
the city in all directions, becomes an immense “urbis” covering an
enormous area with fields and forests. This special kind of the “city-gerry-mandering”
has the only end to create an artificial Polish majority in the
City Council and will be very pernicious to the interests of the town.
It can easily have such an influence on our city, that
Bialystok will owing to this reform lose its great individual
importance and come under the influence of a country population with
its entirely different aspirations and wants.
In the same manner is the
Governement acting by direct restrictions for the defense of the
interests of the Jewish residents of Bialystok. Thus, it was resolved by the Governement and Diet to perform
the elections to the City Council of Bialystok on the basis of the
Polish statute, by which the knowledge of the Polish-language by the
members of the Council is strictly required. Its in our district,
which belonged more than a century to Russia, not being included in
the Crown-Poland (Russian Poland) and forming but a part of the
Governement of Grodno, this language is not known by the Jewish
population at all, the Jewish residents are deprived of the
possibility to send their right representatives to the City-Council.
It is most naturally, that the suitable deputies, according to
the provisions of the law, are not to be had in such a number here, as
it would be necessary for the real representation of the Jewry in our
town. The Polish news-paper of Bialystok gives as
an advice to the Jews here the hint to vote for
Poles, if there are not Jews enough who know to speak and to write
In the civil-service of the
Governement at our city no Jews are to be found. All the officials are
taken only from amidst the Poles and are therefore as far as possible
from the Jewish population and its special character and needs.
All the railway-workers of Jewish race, that had a good
occupation before the entrance of the Polish military, were
immediately disengaged after the entrance of the Poles and remained
practically out of work and without means for the existence of them
and their families.
The prohibition to use the
Jewish language (Yiddish) in the petitions and in the discussions of
the City-Council, produces a great damage to the most important
interests of the Jewish residents of Bialystok.
The dispositions of the City-Governement (“Magistrat”),
which are published only in the Polish language cannot be understood
by the great bulk of the population of our town and, as a result,
misunderstandings and unmerited fines arise.
A short time the Jews were even
not allowed to print advertisements (placards) with the Yiddish text
and the Polish translation. But
at last this restriction was recalled on condition, that the Yiddish
part should be exactly as large as the Polish one. Indeed, no official placard is printed with an Yiddish
The prohibition to use the
Jewish native language in the City-Governement (the Yiddish is always
being identified with the inimical language – the German) is, of
course, the same evil, as the closing of the mouth for nearly 75
percent of the population of our town, as just untill the present time
nobody of the Jews here had the opportunity of teaching Polish.
Restrictions are being used even
in regard to the Jewish members of the City-Council. So it is
prohibited to them to speak (even Polish) by telephone with Warsaw and
other towns, only because Jews in every state are forbidden to do so.
While Poles may freely speak, wherever they like, the Jewish
representatives in the City-Council cannot do so even in behalf of a
Distribution of American victualing
As to the distribution of the
victualings, that are supplied by the U.S.A. to the wretched of
Bialystok, it is now, after the experience of 3 months in this
object, possible to give evidence that there is a clear tendency on
the hand of the Distribution Committees here not only to ignore our
needs entirely but – to treat in the most unjust manner our poor.
In the District Supply Committee
("Powiatowa Rada Opiekuncza") Jews are not allowed to be
represented at all. (We do not know whether it is a command from the
higher authority or a caprice of the local officials). Nothing is
known to us about the state of things there, and we suppose with a
good ground, that from a great part of the received goods – and
nearly all the food supplies pass through it – the Jews don’t get
anything. Asked by us as
to the reason of Jews not being admitted to the Committee, the answer
was: “It is not your business! You have not the right of controlling
On the pretext that the Jews
form only 30% of all the inhabitants of the district of Bialystok, we
obtain no more than 30% of all the supplies distributed by the “Rada
opiekuncza,” whereas the Christian population gets the other 70%,
that go nearly entirely to the advantage of the urban Polish
residents, because the inhabitants of the country do not suffer as
much want and grief as those of the cities and are not in such a
great need. And so the
Jewish residents, i.e. 75% of the Bialystok population, receive less
than a half of the amount given to the other 25% of the residents.
So it may be said, that we received a short time ago some flour
to distribute among the Jews, but we could give them only a rate of 14
"lots" (nearly 7 oz.) per person, whereas the Polish inhabitants of
Bialystok obtain manifold more.
We are admitted to the City-Distribution Committee
("Rada opiekuncza Miejska") in the extent less than 30% to the whole
amount of the representatives, whereas we are 70-80% of all the
inhabitants of the town. Most
of our claims are constantly rejected,
nearly all our protests are suppressed, because the majority of
the members vote closely against our just demands for a fair
distribution according to our wants and needs.
In the time when representatives of every kind of Polish
societies and unions are allowed to send delegates to the "Rada
opiekuncza Miejska" (City-Distribution-Committee) only 8
representatives of the Jewish Community-Council (הלהקה
Vaad hakihalah) have been admitted there.
A short time ago we have applied
to the Commitee with a protest, claiming a just distribution of the
supplies, that may be fixed for the town by means of a
“card-system” in order to give to all the poor of Bialystok the
same rates of food, no difference being made as to race and religion.
The same unjust distribution was
observed in the Children-Relief-Action. While the amount of the poor
Jewish children in the town and country is nearly 9,600, we have
obtained only a small part of portions required by us (again the 30%
rate of all the supplies, that have been distributed only in
the town, for in the country some abuses have been observed by the
Poles themselves) and the greatest bulk of the wretched children of the
Jews remained without aid.
Owing to the assistance given to
us by the Jewish-American Relief Mission at Warsaw, the state of
things is now slightly being improved. The representatives of the
“Opieka Spoleczna nad dziecnia” (Social Aid for Children)
acknowledged the justice of our claims and has given us some
We may add to the end that
according to our information from Bielsk (50 km from Bialystok) the
wrong done to the Jewish community there is even more considerable
than in our town: the
Jews there get only 10% of the supplies.
Even from the American products,
that are distributed for cash
by the City-Governement are unfairly distributed between Christians
and Jews. So the
Christian inhabitants of Bialystok, twice received on “cards” the
best American bacon, whereas the Jewish population got nothing instead
of this victualing, that is not used by it altogether, owing to the
forbidding of the ritual law.
The tortures of the convicts
The tortures, that are executed
on the Jewish convicts, who are at last often found innocent at all,
in the prisons and police-houses are sometimes a mockery on justice
The inquisition-means, that are
used there on human beings, alarm considerably our population and
destroy in the foundation every idea of police and order.
All the abovementioned facts
give us a strong support in the supposition that the hostile attacks
against the Jewish population, are but symptoms of a vast scheme,
striving to push out the Jewish inhabitants from Bialystok entirely.
The atmosphere, that is satiated
by venomous baitings to a social and economic boycott on Jews, creates
such a state, when the Jewish life and chattels are entirely
defenseless. In those
circumstances the energy and activity of the Jews here is but
paralysed, and they cannot contribute more to the economic progress of
the city and its district, that reached such a high degree of
prosperity in the pre-war mainly owing to the Jewish efficiency.
The Jewish population of
Bialystok, that endured two military pogroms – in 1905 and 1906 –
has always appreciated very highly the aspiration to a just, civilised
order and the deliverance of the rough military regiment.
Now, after 5 years of trouble
and an immense disaster owing to the war, when we came in the last 5
months into connection with the revived and delivered Poland, we have
felt, however, again to our greatest regret, the yoke of a dissolute
military force, that is supported by secret powers of national hatred.
In these circumstances it is but
in the natural course of things, that in all the classes of the Jewish
inhabitants of Bialystok the feelings of depression, panic and of a
dreadful insecurity for the morrow day arose and are, at present
spread throughout the Jewish men and women of every descrition here.
27th July, 1919
Jewish Community Council
|Bialystok reports of the Morgenthau Mission can be found at the US National Archives in College Park, Maryland, NARA Film #820-224, Record Group 184.0191/3.|
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Last Updated on 10 September 2006.