Adolf Berman: Secretary of „Żegota”

At POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we wish to remember those Jews who helped other Jews on the “Aryan side” in occupied Poland. The Yad Vashem Institute does not honour these people with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, as that title is only bestowed upon non-Jews. They, also, are Righteous, as understood in the broad and universal accepted sense of the word – they are people who opposed the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany. They also defended dignity and human rights. Read the story of Adolf Berman from the Polish Righteous website section: Jews helping other Jews on the “Aryan side”.

He was a psychologist, a Doctor of Philosophy, a social-political Zionist activist, a pioneer in career counselling in inter-war Poland. From 1939, he was Director of Polytechnical Counselling, while from 1940 he was Director of “Centos”, the Centre of Societies for the Care of Orphans and Abandoned Children in the Warsaw Ghetto. He was a member of Poale Zion-Leftist. From October 1942, he was a member of the Executive of the Jewish National Committee and its representative to the authorities of the Polish underground. From January 1943 to July 1944, he served as Secretary of the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”. His wife was the outstanding social activist Barbara Temkin (1907–1953). His brother was one of the most important Polish politicians during the early post-War years, Jakub Berman (1901–1984). 

“[…] another meeting of the Jewish National Committee took place in the hideout at 58 Szóstego Sierpnia Street. […] Cups of ‘coffee’ and a bowl of biscuits were placed on a large table to give it an appearance of a social meeting. Sitting at the table were ‘Michał’ (Dr Adolf Berman), ‘Basia’ (Barbara Temkin-Bermanowa), ‘Bogusia’ (Klima Fuswerk-Krymko), ‘Czesława’ (Lotta Wegmeister), ‘Stasia’ (Helena Merenholc), ‘Wanda’ (Bela Elster), and ‘Józio’ (Józef Zysman). The conversation was held in hushed voices; every now and then someone got up from their seat, went to the window, and looked at the street through a gap in the closed curtains. After a short introduction made by ‘Michał,’ the attendees reported on their activities in the last period, especially on the efforts to deliver material aid. They then proceeded to develop a plan for further operations and divided funds allotted for the aid,” noted Józef Zysman (known as Ziemian after the war).

Psychologist, philosopher, Zionist. Before the war

He came from a family of Warsaw merchants, who held Zionist views. He was a graduate of the Michał Kreczmar High School and a student in the Philosophy-Humanities Department of Warsaw University. He obtained his doctorate in 1931.

He began his socio-political activities during his student days. He was a member of Jewish Socialist Workers Youth “Młodość” and then of Poale Zion-Leftist. He was editor of that party's Polish-language organ and of its Yiddish language weekly Arbeter Tseitung. He was a psychologist and a teacher in Warsaw high schools. He worked for the Committee for Jewish Trades and conducted academic research in the field of psychology.

The Jewish Underground. Adolf Berman’s help for other Jews

He was one of the founders of the Anti-Fascist Bloc (1942) in the Warsaw ghetto and was Co-Editor of its organ Der Ruf (Yiddish: The Call). At first, he did not support the idea of armed opposition in the ghetto. He became of member of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews, representing the ŻKN and, together with Marek Arczyński (the Treasurer) and  Leon Feiner (Deputy Chairman, Bund representative), he sat on the committee concerning itself with the distribution of funds. He maintained continuous contact with the Polish Workers’ Party and, among other activities, he organised meetings with the representative of the Jewish Fighting Organisation Arie Wilner and with Władysław Gomułka.

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he signed the telegram to the Bund representive on the National Council in London, Szmul Zygielbojm. In July 1944, he authored the ŻKN’s one-off publication Głos z otchłani (Polish: The Voice From the Abyss). He took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a member of the Political Council of the People’s Army in Żoliborz.

Rebuilding Jewish Life. The fate of Adolf Berman after the war

After the withdrawal of the Germans, he first became Chairman of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKŻP). He was Director of the Jewish Department of the Krajowa Rada Narodowa (Polish: State National Committee). In 1947, he became a member of the Legistlative Sejm (1947). He was Editor-in-Chief of the Poale Zion-Leftist organ Przełom (Polish: Turning Point). He lobbied the highest levels of the Polish authorities to allow free emigration to Palestine, later Israel. He supported the building of a socialist Jewish state in Palestine with the support of the USSR and also supported the betterment of Jewish-Arabic relations. From 1947, he chaired the United Jewish Socialist Workers Party “Poale Zion” in Poland. In 1949, he was removed from the CKŻP, being replaced by Hersz Smolar.

From 1950, in Israel, he was a member of the Mapam Party and then, later, of the Israel Communist Party. He was active in the Polish-Israeli Friendship League. Among his memoirs, he authored Vos der goyrl hot mir bashert (Yiddish: What Fate Has Assigned Me), in Israel in 1980. His wife Basia Temkin-Berman also wrote her memoirs entitled Dziennik z podziemia (Polish: Underground Diary).

Dr. Marcin Urynowicz, ed. Mateusz Szczepaniak, December 2017 (edit: March 2021)

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  • Marek Arczyński, Wiesław Balcerak, Kryptonim „Żegota”. Z dziejów pomocy Żydom w Polsce 1939–1945, Wydawnictwo Czytelnik, Warszawa 1979
  • Władysław Bartoszewski, Zofia Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939–1945, Wydawnictwo Znak, Kraków 1969 (and later editions).
  • Teresa Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942–1945, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1982 (and edition extended and supplemented by A. Namysło in 2020).