David P. Boder Interviews Jacob Wilf; August 17, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool Number 50. The interviewee is Dr. Jacob Wilf. Paris, August 17, 1946. Dr. Wilf is from Katowice, Poland and is now at the conference of the ORT in Paris.
  • David Boder: [In German] And so, Herr Doctor, tell us again what is your name. You speak Yiddish, right?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: [In German/Yiddish] What is your name?
  • Jacob Wilf: My name [is] Jacob Wilf.
  • David Boder: And what kind of a doctor are you?
  • Jacob Wilf: Jurisprudence.
  • David Boder: You are a Doctor of Jurisprudence. How old are you, Doctor?
  • Jacob Wilf: I am forty years old.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . You are only forty years old. Did you practice as a lawyer?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes. I am at present a lawyer in Katowice.
  • David Boder: And you are at present a lawyer in Katowice. Now, Doctor, I understand that you were in Russia?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: Right. Were you deported to Russia?
  • Jacob Wilf: No. I went to Russia voluntarily.
  • David Boder: You went from Poland to Russia.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: Speak a bit louder. Where . . . When did you go to Russia?
  • Jacob Wilf: I . . . In June of 1941 I left for Russia.
  • David Boder: The Germans were not yet in Katowice?
  • Jacob Wilf: No. The Germans were already in Katowice for a long time. I was in another part—in Lemberg.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . Were the Germans in Lemberg?
  • Jacob Wilf: They arrived near Lemberg. I was . . .
  • David Boder: But they were not yet there?
  • Jacob Wilf: Not yet.
  • David Boder: So you . . . The Germans were in Katowice before they were in Lemberg?
  • Jacob Wilf: They were in Katowice already in '39.
  • David Boder: And they came to Lemberg?
  • Jacob Wilf: The 30th of June, 1941.
  • David Boder: Who defended Lemberg?
  • Jacob Wilf: The Poles [corrects himself], the Russians.
  • David Boder: The Russians have defended Lemberg and they [the Germans] occupied Lemberg afterwards.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: And you were in Lemberg.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: And so you left Lemberg for Russia.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: Together with the Russians, or how did that happen?
  • Jacob Wilf: Together with the Russians—with the army.
  • David Boder: With the army . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: [I was]—drafted.
  • David Boder: Did many Jews leave?
  • Jacob Wilf: Unfortunately, few Jews left [with them].
  • David Boder: Unfortunately few Jews have left. What happened to those who remained?
  • Jacob Wilf: Those who remained . . . Ninety-eight percent were annihilated by the Germans.
  • David Boder: Did you by any chance know a lawyer, a Doctor Loewenherz from Danzig? [A reference to Heirich Loewenherz].
  • Jacob Wilf: No.
  • David Boder: In Lwow? You did not know him?
  • Jacob Wilf: No.
  • David Boder: He was from Gdynia, Danzig.
  • Jacob Wilf: No.
  • David Boder: Now then, tell me what happened when you left with the Russians.
  • Jacob Wilf: The 30th of June, 1941. I was drafted into the Red Army . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: And with the Red Army I departed. We retreated.
  • David Boder: How old were you?
  • Jacob Wilf: I was . . . thirty-four years old.
  • David Boder: Thirty-four . . . What did they make' of you. A common soldier?
  • Jacob Wilf: A common soldier.
  • David Boder: Yes. And you went away with the Red Army . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . went away with the Red Army. We retreated as far as the Caucasus.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Afterward, I was there demobilized, since I was of Polish origin . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: And all who were of Polish origin were then demobilized.
  • David Boder: Why . . . ?
  • Jacob Wilf: Because at that time they did not have sufficient confidence in the Polish citizens, that they would actually participate in a struggle against the German forces [?].
  • David Boder: Did they know that you were a Jew?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes, they knew.
  • David Boder: But they discharged you, too?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes, as a Pole . . . [?].
  • David Boder: Well, so what did you do when you were discharged?
  • Jacob Wilf: After that I retreated deep into Russia, and I came to Turkmania, the Turkmanian Republic.
  • David Boder: Did you have a family with you?
  • Jacob Wilf: The wife? I took her with me.
  • David Boder: Your wife. You have no children?
  • Jacob Wilf: No.
  • David Boder: No. And the wife followed with the Russian Army?
  • Jacob Wilf: She followed with the Russian Army . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: And in the summer, in.. in August, 1941, we arrived in Turkmania . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: There we settled.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: I worked there as a lawyer . . .
  • David Boder: They let you work as a Russian lawyer?
  • Jacob Wilf: The let me . . . I passed a certain examination and they permitted me to be a lawyer, a Russian lawyer.
  • David Boder: You speak Russian?
  • Jacob Wilf: I speak Russian very well.
  • David Boder: You speak Russian well. Where did you study law?
  • Jacob Wilf: I studied law in Krakow . . .
  • David Boder: Ah . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: ..at the University.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Jacob Wilf: In '29 . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: In 1929 I graduated.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] So where did you learn Russian?
  • Jacob Wilf: I learned Russian during the German War, the German-Polish War; when I was in Lwow . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: I learned the Russian language.
  • David Boder: You studied the Russian language . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes..
  • David Boder: [In German/Yiddish] So you . . . So you practiced law, where?
  • Jacob Wilf: [The interviewee reverses to Yiddish. It was my experience that the flow of speech with recently acquired second languages is greatly restrained and the expression of ideas in most cases substantially hampered. —D.P.B.] In Mary . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..Turkmanian Republic.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: At the same time, after a few months' time, I lectured on legal science in a school of law.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: A Russian law school.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: And my wife worked in the largest factory . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..of that factory.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: And we were there until the year '45; and we returned with the 'repatriation'—we returned to Poland.
  • David Boder: Didn't the Russians cause you any difficulties about your return?
  • Jacob Wilf: No. Perfectly voluntarily. Whoever presented himself, received the proper documents, some monetary assistance and provisions for the journey . . .
  • David Boder: Monetary assistance and provisions for the journey?
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . provisions for the journey; and we returned back to Poland.
  • David Boder: You returned, where to?
  • Jacob Wilf: I returned in July, 1945 . . .
  • David Boder: The war was still going on?
  • Jacob Wilf: The war was still on [??]
  • David Boder: Didn't the Russians draft you?
  • Jacob Wilf: No . . . No.
  • David Boder: No. Now that is a story. It is, of course, very interesting, what was going on in Russia; but that is not our problem. Tell me now, how have you encountered Poland, and what is going on in Poland in general, and what is happening to the Jews in Poland. And explain to me the whole story of the pogrom of Kielce. Start with the general situation. Are you active in Jewish affairs?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes. At the present time I am the Vice-Chairman of the Regional Committee of Upper Silesia . . .
  • David Boder: That is what, a general . . . ?
  • Jacob Wilf: A general Jewish Committee.
  • David Boder: Oh, a general Jewish . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: This is the only representative [body] of the Jews in Poland . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: In this committee all parties are represented . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..which are active nowadays in the Jewish street [affairs].
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what kind of representation is there necessary? Are [not] all now equal citizens in Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes, but the Jews have special interests, which the committees have to represent.
  • David Boder: For instance?
  • Jacob Wilf: First of all, the committees were formed as relief committees. The problem was to render the first urgent assistance to the Jews who were returning from the lagers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..as well as to the repatriates from Russia.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: That was the first, main taks of the Jewish committees in Poland. Nowadays, the Jewish committee deals with other problems. The first problem which stands before the Jewish committee is to 'productivate' [to turn to, to engage in productive work] the Jewish masses.
  • David Boder: Who does that?
  • Jacob Wilf: First of all, the Jews who have lost on account of the war their . . . all their property and belongings, have lost their workshops. The committees are charged with finding the means for the Jews who live or intend to settle in Poland to rebuild their workshops.
  • David Boder: Now that is very interesting, Mr. Wilf. Will you speak a bit slower, because what you are telling me is very important. Now . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: And so the committees form the only organization which endeavors to return the Jewish masses to productivity. They endeavor that every Jew wherever he may live, should depend on his speciality, on his qualifications, that he may take his part in the reconstruction of the country and do his part in productive labors. That is what the committees which render material assistance are for . . .
  • David Boder: [words not clear]
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . to incorporate the Jews in production.
  • David Boder: Which committees, for instance?
  • Jacob Wilf: The Jewish committees in every city render material assistance to the Jews, so that they will be able to rebuild their workshops again.
  • David Boder: And where do they get the means?
  • Jacob Wilf: For a long time, just until a few months past, the exclusive help which the committees have received were the funds which they got from the Polish government.
  • David Boder: From the Polish government?
  • Jacob Wilf: Exclusively from the Polish government.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: In the year '45, the Joint [JDC] had not yet come to allot proper sums of money for the Jews in Poland. The sole help in 1945, which the Jewish committees had at their disposal to help the Jews, were provisions which they got from the Polish government, and sums of money.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: This year we have received already the money allotments from the Joint.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Besides that, we have received provisions which are being distributed among the Jewish population.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Well, and what does the ORT do there?
  • Jacob Wilf: In addition, in Poland the organization ORT exists, which organizes, and has already organized in cities where there is a larger Jewish population.. They organize trade schools, especially for the purpose of giving the Jewish youth, who had no opportunity to learn anything on account of the [German] occupation, the opportunity to learn a trade—to give them a proper education. Already we have, for example [two words in Hebrew], in Upper Silesia where I am the President of the ORT . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . We have one of the best textile schools . . . textile schools in Bielsk . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: Not far from Katowice.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: There we have today about thirty young people . . .
  • David Boder: Men or women?
  • Jacob Wilf: Mostly men, who have a 'bursa' there. There they live, receiving complete maintenance and study . . .
  • David Boder: What do you call a 'bursa?'
  • Jacob Wilf: That is such a home where they live and get their maintenance.
  • David Boder: Why is it called a 'bura?'
  • Jacob Wilf: That is a Polish name.
  • David Boder: A Polish [name]. Yes . . . Nu . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Besides that, in the second center of Upper Silesia, in [the city of] Bytom, a trade school was created for toolmakers. We have obtained a special 'binion;' it has been repaired and in the next few days we shall start the actual work.
  • David Boder: What is a 'binion?'
  • Jacob Wilf: A building.
  • David Boder: A building. Now then . . . That is . . . how is life there in general?
  • Jacob Wilf: The Jews in Poland have all the opportunities to adjust themselves; because, it may be said for the first time in the history of Poland the Jews became citizens with equal rights. In fact, legally and economically. The attempts of the 'Action' to create a Jewish problem in Poland are being decisively rejected by the whole democratic population of Poland.
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Only the efforts of the 'Action' . . .
  • David Boder: What is the 'Action?'
  • Jacob Wilf: The reaction.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: Those are the Polish Fascists . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . those who have ruled until 1939, who at that time lost power from their hands . . . They, although they are aware that they shall not get their power back, endeavor by all means at home and abroad, to impede the new democratic government of Poland in the creation and upbuilding of a new Poland on a democratic foundation. One of the methods which is being used by the Reaction, the Fascists—the Polish Fascists in their fight against the government are the 'Actions'—the fights against the Jews. In Poland assaults on Jews [two words not clear] are taking place, day in and day out. That is why there was the pogrom in Kielce . . .
  • David Boder: Tell me about the pogrom with all the details that you know . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: The pogrom, as revealed by the investigation of the various official agencies which have then taken place, was inspired by foreign agents.
  • David Boder: Polish . . . ?
  • Jacob Wilf: Polish foreign agents.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: The direct immediate provocation was the creation of a calumny [frame-up]—that the Jews had snatched a Polish child for the purpose of taking blood from him, but they had managed to rescue the child.
  • David Boder: Yes. But tell me, what did they say that the Jews needed the blood for:
  • Jacob Wilf: Well, that is the old calumny that the Jews are using blood of Christian children for ritual purposes.
  • David Boder: Was there not another calumny?
  • Jacob Wilf: No, in this case that was the only calumny.
  • David Boder: The old calumny. Well, I have heard a different story. But if you are reporting it this way . . . That is interesting. How could they need blood . . . ? It happened in July, the pogrom..
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: So how does that tie up with the Passover?
  • Jacob Wilf: No. That comes from the allegation that Jews use [blood] for various other . . .
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: ..ritual needs the blood of Christian children.
  • David Boder: Not only for mazos?
  • Jacob Wilf: Not only for mazos. And the child was going around. It was instigated by some 'agents,' and the child was going around; and it was said [alleged] that it was hidden by the Jews in a cellar for two days . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..And only after that he managed to escape . . .
  • David Boder: Did he say that there were other children [with him], or not . . . ?
  • Jacob Wilf: No, only about himself.
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: Afterwards, when the investigation got under way, it was established that the child was instigated, that his own father had hidden the child and had talked him into creating such a calumny. The population, the Poles seized upon the calumny—the masses were instigated by specially sent-in agents. One started already in the morning . . .
  • David Boder: Agent sent in?
  • Jacob Wilf: Agents sent in from abroad . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: And already from the early morning crowds began to conglomerate. The word about the calumny spread from mouth to mouth; and so they started to drag out the Jews from the building in which the Jewish Committee of Kielce was located.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: And besides, they also grabbed Jews from the street. This pogrom lasted nearly a full day. [Two words in between]. It was also revealed that a part of the officials of the militia . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . have also participated in the 'action.'
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: Only at the end of the day, thanks to the intervention of the Security Authorities and of the Polish Army, was the liquidation of the pogrom accomplished.
  • David Boder: What was the name of the Chairman . . . president of the Jewish . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: The chairman of the Jewish Committee, who was also killed that day in a most disgraceful manner, was Doctor Kahane.
  • David Boder: Kahane..?
  • Jacob Wilf: Kahane.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Only after that, when an investigation got under way—a special commission arrived from Warsaw and all measures were taken in order to bring about security for those Jews who still remained. They were transported in special automobiles to Lodz.
  • David Boder: The ones from Kielce?
  • Jacob Wilf: The ones from Kielce. And already in a few days, in order to convince [to silence?] the Polish masses, the strong hand of the Polish government, in a strong reaction against the events [?] in Kielce, revealed itself in the fact that the trial of the main instigators of the pogrom took place in only a few days, and within only ten days nine Poles were sentenced to death, and four days afterwards the death penalty was executed.
  • David Boder: So you think that the events of the pogrom will help to quieten things down, that the population will be pacified?
  • Jacob Wilf: The situation already now is such that thanks to the strong hand of the Polish government, which has responded so sharply to the pogrom of Kielce, a firm order [calm] has emerged [all] over the country; more so, since the working masses—the Polish working masses have held special meetings in all cities, and have mobilized the Polish masses for a struggle against the Fascists—the Polish Fascists. The workers—the Polish workers, have demonstrated at meetings that they have proved to the Polish people that these pogroms are not only directed against the Jews, but that the hand that beats and kills the . . . the Polish 'democrats' [democratic people], the hand of intervention which fights against the Polish government, is provoking such pogroms in order to harm [the prestige, to prejudice against] the Polish people in [the eyes of] foreign countries; and in order to evoke unrest at home. And the effect is that during recent times order [calm] was established at all levels—more so, that the government takes all possible measures toward the aim that such events should not repeat themselves anymore. One of the measures is that the Polich government has released special pieces of armament to all Jewish committees—to all Jewish institutions; and they are specially guarded by the agencies of security. And so we hope that . . . that there shall not be repetitions of that what has happened.
  • David Boder: Well, did they permit the Jews to possess arms?
  • Jacob Wilf: All Jews who work in the Jewish committees, who occupy positions of responsibility . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: ..have the right, and have received arms, and permission to bear arms on their person.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, one sees presently in Paris a lot of Jews who fled from Poland during the last few weeks.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes. It is clear that in connection with the pogroms of Kielce a psychosis has come about within the Jewish masses . . . There was a time, a few weeks after the Kielce pogroms, that substantial groups of Jews from various regions of Poland have departed, for the sole purpose of saving their bare lives. But we must say that besides the objective conditions which have created the alarmed [?] mood among the Jews in Poland, there were different, additional factors which have created the mood of alarm despair[?]. A number of irresponsible community [last word in Hebrew] workers have taken advantage . . .
  • David Boder: . . . irresponsible what . . . ? [The corresponding words did not sound clear in the actual interview, although they were understandable in part from context on the wire].
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . community [same word in Hebrew] workers . . . [repeats in German] community workers have taken advantage of the conditions; the objective factors, the alarmed mood which was brought about by the occurrence of the Kielce pogroms [He often uses the plural for this word], and started to call a special . . . to use a special propaganda—reinforcing the mood of alarm [unrest], so that the Jews should get away. In fact . . .
  • David Boder: ..so that the Jews should flee?
  • Jacob Wilf: ..so that the Jews should flee; notwithstanding that at this time no real possibilities for emigration of the Jew are available. It is clear that for every Jew who has chances for emigration, it is proper and timely to . . . to leave [the country]. This view is also shared by the representatives of the Polish government, who have announced that they shall support the aspirations of the Jews to emigrate by legal methods. On the other hand, the Polish government in the interests of the Polish . . . the Jewish masses are against the moods of unrest and against the fact that the Jews should emigrate chaotically without an aim and without legal facilities of emigration. We deal here with a situation that would enhance the sufferings, the deprivations which are being undergone at present, by our brother refugees [?] from Poland, in the German lagers of the English and American occupation [zones]. That is how the situation in Poland has recently quieted down. There now exists in Poland a Jewish community [last word in Hebrew].
  • David Boder: . . . a Jewish what . . . ?
  • Jacob Wilf: [again in Hebrew] . . . a Jewish community . . . [in German/Yiddish] a Jewish community . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . of the Jewish masses in Poland. A community of a hundred and thirty to a hundred and forty thousand Jews, who have the greatest desire to remain in Poland, who occupy responsible positions in the economy and government. They work . . .
  • David Boder: Does the Polish government have Jews in the government?
  • Jacob Wilf: The Polish government has a policy that every Jew who possesses the proper qualifications, and wants to work—wants to undertake to serve the government—offers them all the possibilities to occupy the highest government posts, provided they have the corresponding qualifications. That is why we now have in the Polish government responsible men of state. We have Jews who occupy responsible positions of government, regardless of [the fact] that they are Jews. They occupy their posts because they possess the proper qualifications. Besides, that the Jewish committee has recently succeeded in incorporating the Jews into the heavy industries. In the coal mines—we have many workers nowadays who work [deep] under the ground as miners . . .
  • David Boder: Jewish?
  • Jacob Wilf: Jewish . . . In Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. All these Jews, especially those who have been incorporated in the industries—who are engaged in productive work—have the desire to remain in Poland, if only because they see that they have in the democratic government of Poland a near and devoted ally, which offers any guaranty that they shall be able to exist both nationally and socially . . . We Jews in Poland are given to the idea that the lot of the Jewish people—the aim of the Jewish people is intertwined with the coming to power of democracy all over the world. When democracy shall come to power, we shall be victorious all over the world. We hope, and we are sure that the tomorrow for the Jewish people will be a safer and happier [?]one; not like it is today. We Jews in Poland desire to take an active part in the reinforcement in the build-up of democracy in Poland because we believe that this is one of the most important steps for the reinforcement of democracy in the whole world. We combine our lot with the victory of democracy in Poland. And so just as we have faith in the victory of democracy in the whole world, so we are sure that democracy will win in Poland and that is how all the economic and objective conditions for the rebuilding of a new, healthy Jewish community in Poland will be brought about.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how many Jews have remained in Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: Nowadays we have in Poland a population of a hundred and thirty to a hundred and forty thousand Jews.
  • David Boder: That is all . . . all that has remained of the Jews in Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: That is what has remained after a part of the Jews have left Poland . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . for various countries.
  • David Boder: How many . . . How many, do you estimate, have left?
  • Jacob Wilf: We estimate that during the time of repatriation, within a year . . . about a year, the number who have left comes to about a hundred thousand Jews.
  • David Boder: A hundred thousand . . . Now, altogether how many Jews were there in Poland before the war?
  • Jacob Wilf: Before the war there were three and half million Jews in Poland.
  • David Boder: That is all?
  • Jacob Wilf: That was the Jewish population in Poland.
  • David Boder: And what was the population in Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: Pardon . . .
  • David Boder: . . . the whole population of Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: The total population of Poland was about thirty million.
  • David Boder: So the Jews constituted about twelve percent.
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: All right. And what is the Polish population now, according to new estimates?
  • Jacob Wilf: According to new estimates it is [twenty-] four . . . twenty-two million.
  • David Boder: How come?
  • Jacob Wilf: Because the rest were killed off in Poland, and part are still outside the country. [He refers apparently to the Andres' regiments, and other Poles who were taken to Germany as slave laborers, or fled to Russia and remained there].
  • David Boder: Yes. And then a part of Poland has been taken by Russia. Isn't that so?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes. But they, according to an accord between Russia and Poland, have repatriated themselves to the regions which form present day Poland.
  • David Boder: Now then, at present, with a Polish population of twenty-two million . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: . . . and about one hundred and fifty thousand Jews . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . the . . . the population of the Jews amounts to less than one percent?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: And that has remained of all the Jews in Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: That has remained . . . in total there have remained of the Jews percent-wise, . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . two percent of the former Jewish population of Poland.
  • David Boder: And you say . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Ninety-eight percent of the Polish Jews, those who were in the country during the occupation . . . not counting those who were abroad . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: Ninety-eight percent of the Polish Jews who were there during the occupation have been murdered. There remained only—they saved themselves on so-called Arian, Christian papers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes..
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . These have saved themselves [a few words in Hebrew] in certain numbers [??].
  • David Boder: [Pause] Now, Mr. Wilf, that is a very interesting point of view. Of course . . . now, what would you think would be the best solution of the problem for the Jews who are now all over—in the German lagers, here in France? For example, I understand that last week a whole Yeshiva [Hebrew theological college] arrived from Lodz, and still more are coming from there. Now what do you think . . . what shall be done with all these people?
  • Jacob Wilf: This is precisely the incorrect approach taken on the part of the social [political] parties [?]. To us it is clear that since there are Jews in Poland who desire to emigrate to their relatives, or who let us say, those who following an ideological view wish to go to the Land of Israel . . . it is clear that such people should be given a chance [to do so]. But the social agencies [?] who deal with this problem should and must first of all establish emigration opportunities—legal human emigration opportunities; not to lead out of Poland the Jews in a state of chaos. More so, since 'objective' facilities are not available for it. To lead them into lagers, while we are being informed that the Jews in the German lagers live under very hard economic conditions . . . very hard economic conditions . . . and, in addition to it, there are at present—at this time there are no legal facilities to lead out the Jews anywhere, into some land where they could find a place of [safe] settlement. At present they sit around in the lager waiting to receive either 'certificates' for the Land of Israel, or emigration permits for other countries. It is clear that this situation—the liquidation of the Jewish lagers in Germany—will take no less than two years; and the sufferings of the Jews during these two years—the life of the Jews in the lagers—is obviously [to be] very hard.
  • David Boder: [A long pause] Would you really take it unto yourself to tell the Polish Jews who now dwell in Germany, or in France, that it is safe for them . . . for them to return to Poland?
  • Jacob Wilf: We have already cases at present . . . although these are isolated cases . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Very few cases, but there are cases where Jews are returning to Poland. Because, as I have already stated, if there are Jews who consider that there is no safety for them to live in Poland, or who want to leave for other reasons, it is clear that for such reasons they will have a chance to leave. Because the Polish government does not impose obstructions against departure. But it seems clear that since there are no proper conditions to live in the lagers of Germany, that it would be more rational, logical, to remain in Poland—to make contact with relatives in America, in Canada, [or] in other countries—to obtain immigration permits, and to jorney directly from Poland to their relatives and not to go through with one of the most horrible interludes as we picture to ourselves the lagers of Germany.
  • David Boder: [Pause] Are there some other instances that you would like to describe? You say that the Jews are active in other things. Have the Jewish professors returned to the University of Warsaw—to the other universities?
  • Jacob Wilf: What concerns the Jewish intelligentsia in Poland . . . most of them were murdered during the time of the occupation. But those who are at present in Poland—they continue working in their previous positions.
  • David Boder: [Pause] Anything else you want to talk about? About the whole situation? Do you have anything to add?
  • Jacob Wilf: I just want to make this remark . . . that we, the Jews in Poland, the Jewish committees in Poland, devote ourselves since recently, not only to the great activities of relief, but direct especially our attention [efforts] toward the goal that every Jew should be able to rebuild his former workshop . . . endeavor to create all the conditions so that the Jews will be able to work productively—that they should rebuild in time [?] the Jewish life in Poland—build-up again the Jewish community of Poland. Cultural institutions are being created nowadays in Poland. We have now in Poland a union of Jewish writers [or a Jewish Literary Society]; we have two Jewish theaters; and we are endeavoring to reconstruct not only the Jewish economic life of Poland but we are endeavoring to build up the cultural life. We are endeavoring that this small Jewish community in Poland should again be a substantial Jewish community like before the war, and we endeavor that the Jewish Yishuv in Poland . . .
  • David Boder: What is a 'Jewish Yishuv?' [He had used the term all the time during the interview and I understood him well from the context. However, I asked the question just to make sure the meaning of the term.]
  • Jacob Wilf: The Jewish community [commonwealth] in Poland . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . that just as they have taken an active part during the time of the war with the German invaders; just as the Jews have taken an active part during the war on all fronts, be it in the war at the front, be it with the partisans, or in preparation of revolts. Just in the same manner, we Jews who are today in Poland desire to take part in the building up of a new Polish militia [army] on the basis of a new democratic principle. We desire to have a great part in the strengthening of democracy.
  • David Boder: Now tell me this, something about Russia. You told me that you have worked as a lawyer. Did the Russians permit one to practice privately . . . privately as a lawyer? And you were getting privately paid by the people for your services?
  • Jacob Wilf: The legal profession in Russia forms a guild . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . a 'collective' [a cooperative].
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Everyone who has the proper qualification, joins the collective in the corresponding city and becomes a member of the legal profession . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . which renders legal services to the population—appears at trials and deals with all Jewish problems [corrects himself], all Juridicial problems.
  • David Boder: Juridicial . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: The salary received by the lawyer in Russia is a percent of that what the client pays to the . . .
  • David Boder: . . . to the cooperative?
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . to the cooperative.
  • David Boder: Oh. Is the client able to choose which lawyer he wants?
  • Jacob Wilf: The client comes to the juridicial cooperative and demands specifically this or the other lawyer.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: In this way lawyers who have a greater juridicial prestige, greater juridicial abilities . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . education . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . have the right to take advantage of the better opportunities, and have a greater legal practice than other lawyers who are 'weaker' and . . . and [word not clear].
  • David Boder: Could you tell me about some interesting cases that you had during your whole period of [legal] practice?
  • Jacob Wilf: During the time that I spent in Russia I participated very often, and that in spite of the fact that I came from Poland . . . So, in time, since I had been working, I was admitted to the trials against those who acted [?] during the war against the Russian government.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: Those were the so-called counter-revolutionary trials.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Wilf: And I was established as a lawyer in spite of the fact that I took part in the so-called counter-revolutionary trials . . .
  • David Boder: You defended them?
  • Jacob Wilf: . . . I defended [them]. The government—the Soviet government—gives anyone who is indicted [and] that is already provided for in the Constitution, the right to have a defender [a lawyer, legal council]. He has a right to choose council; and if he has no council the government provides one. And so it happened often, that I had a chance to represent such [people] in counter-revolutionary trials; and I must affirm that they had all the rights of defense just like in any other country.
  • David Boder: Did you ever win [such] a case?
  • Jacob Wilf: There were cases when there were indicted citizens—Soviet citizens, also Polish citizens -for counter-revolutionary agitation and propaganda. And as a consequence [in course of] the trial, it was often revealed that the testimonies of the witnesses were not correct and there were often cases that the people were set free.
  • David Boder: That was not a military court?
  • Jacob Wilf: No. Such special general courts which handled all other cases; and they also decide the cases of the counter-revolutionary activities.
  • David Boder: Did they have a jury? [Repeats the term in Russian].
  • Jacob Wilf: There in Russia it is arranged that there is a president [presiding judge] who is elected, and in addition there are peoples' representatives.
  • David Boder: How many?
  • Jacob Wilf: Two.
  • David Boder: And they handle [?] the trial?
  • Jacob Wilf: Yes.
  • David Boder: Thank you very much, Mr. Wilf. This was a special report—a special message [Wire apparently terminates in the middle of the sentence].
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder