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Bialystok Region Jewish Genealogy Group




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.


To the American Commission to investigate the position of the Jews in Poland


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 description:


     I.                   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 Bialystok.


          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: countryside?) 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.


         II.        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 workers.


          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.


          III.       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 self-government. 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 Polish.


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.


          V.    National restrictions

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 translation.


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 public interest.


VI.      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 us.”


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 דעו 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 satisfaction.


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.


VII.           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 and civilization.


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.


Bialystok, 27th July, 1919                 Jewish Community Council

                                                        Of Bialystok


                                                       N. Jakobsohn

                                                       R. Liwszyc

                                                       B. Rozental         

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.