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Adam Czerniakow

Last Update 11 June 2006

Adam Czerniakow *
Adam Czerniakow was born in 1880 in Warsaw. After completing his studies in Warsaw in chemistry at the Warsaw Polytechnic, he went on to study industrial engineering in Dresden (Germany). Shortly before WW1 he became involved in Jewish public life.
He dedicated himself to defending and promoting the interests of Jewish craftsmen and he published extensively on subjects concerning Jewish artisans, many of his articles appearing in the "Hantverker – Zeitung", the publication of the General Association of Jewish Craftsmen. In the 1924 yearbook of that association, published on the 10th anniversary of its founding, Czerniakow published a long article outlining a comprehensive programme for vocational training and technical schools. He taught for many years in the Warsaw Jewish community’s vocational schools. Czerniakow took a stand against compulsory unionisation of craftsmen in a lecture delivered to the First Congress of Jewish Artisans on 5 October 1925, the address was later published as a booklet. He was active in the struggle against the 1927 Guild Law, which in effect ousted Jewish workers from their jobs and shops. Czerniakow was a member of the Engineers Association, known for its assimilations stand, but on the other hand he joined the Jewish Nationlist Minority Block, established to counteract attempts of Polish reactionary elements to squeeze minority representation out of Parliament.
From 1927 to 1934, Czerniakow was the elected representative of Jewish artisans, on the National Jewish list, in the Warsaw Municipal Council. He played an active part in the 1928 Sejm and Senate elections and participated in the campaign for Jewish minority rights led by Yitzhak Gruenbaum. He spoke out against government discrimination and persecution. In the 1931 by-elections he won a place in the Senate, but the Pilsudski Government dissolved the Senate and Sejm before the first seitting.
Before the outbreak of WW2, he was nominated to the appointed Executive Council of the Warsaw Jewish Community, as a representative of the Jewish craftsmen. He also chaired that councils education department. Together with Maurycy Mayzel, Marek Lichtenbaum, and Labedz, he was a member of the Warsaw delegation to the 1939 General Congress of Polish Jewry for Eretz Israel.

On 23 September 1939, in the midst of the siege by the Nazis, Stefan Starzynski, the mayor and commissioner for civil defence, had appointed him “Head of the Jewish Religious Community". On 4 October, a few days after the city’s surrender, Czerniakow was taken to Szucha Avenue, the Police and Gestapo HQ in Warsaw where he was ordered to add 24 people to the Community Council and to serve as its head.

Czerniakow Letter
Czerniakow Letter *
Official titles used by Czerniakow until the middle of 1941 were "Head of the Judenrat" and "President of the Jewish Religious Community of Warsaw". From the middle of May 1941 his functions and authority were defined in the ghetto, as corresponding to those of the Mayor in the Polish part of the city.

Czerniakow kept a diary throughout his time as Chairman of the Judenrat, and this will be referred to, as appropriate.
The first Judenrat, established in October 1939, consisted of some of the following members:
A. M. Hartglass, Samuel Zygelboym (Zygielbojm), Isaac Meir Lewin, Abraham Weiss, Abraham Gepner, Josef Jaszunski, and Stanislaw Szereszewski.

Groups arose in the ghetto which tried to oust Czerniakow and some of them like the “13”, led by Abraham Gancwajch, who enjoyed the support of members of the German Police and SD. All these attempts failed as Czerniakow was supported by the Civil Authorities within the Generalgouvernement.
Regarding Gancjwajch, in Czerniakow’s diary, his feelings are clear, as recorded on 25 February 1942:
"I had a visit in my office from Gancwajch, with pleas of a personal nature. What a despicable, ugly creature."

Czerniakow endeavoured to prevent the direct intervention of the German authorities and sought to organise the internal affairs of the Jews with the minimum of outside involvement. Whilst no proof exists of Adam Czerniakow contact with the Jewish Underground or siding with political activists, he personally promoted education for the ghetto’s children and strove to save Jews being put to death.
Czerniakow sought ways to influence the Germans and arouse some sort of sensitivity to and consideration for the ghetto, but these failed, he did however, gain a measure of understanding through his ties with the Ghetto Commissioner, Heinz Auerswald. Auerswald fooled Czerniakow, by hiding the real facts of the Final Solution.

In Czerniakow’s diary, the entry for 19 January 1942:
"I have heard that Auerswald had been summoned to Berlin. I cannot shake off the fearful suspicion that the Jews of Warsaw may be threatened by mass resettlement."

Views on Czerniakow personality are mixed, some Ghetto Chroniclers such as Emanuel Ringelblum, and Yitzhak Katzenelson were severely critical, seeing Czerniakow as an assimilator who mixed with assimilators, a man lacking close contact with the Jewish masses. However, people who worked closely with Czerniakow, such as Stanislaw Adler, who worked for the Jewish Order Service, and then the Director of the Office of Housing in the Warsaw Judenrat, wrote :
"Adam Czerniakow was an experienced social and community worker and a model of the well–read, hard working, good willed man, but he was simply unable to make a decision."

Czerniakow worked tirelessly for the good of the ghetto, with endless struggles with the Nazi authorities over funding for the ghetto, noted with wry humour, on 11 June 1941:
"In the morning at the Community. It has been raining. Fortunately for us this does not entail any cost to the Community."

Czerniakow's Apartment
Czerniakow's Apartment
Czerniakow and his wife Niunia, their only son Jas, fled to Soviet occupied territory, lived from November 1940 in an apartment at 11 Elektoralna Street, and subsequently at Chlodna Street. His entry for 25 January 1942 reads:
"In the morning at the Community. A nocturnal fantasy: I was born on Zimna Street, and want to die on Chlodna Street." ( In Polish – Zimna means Cold Street, Chlodna means Cool Street)

Just before the deportation, Czerniakow wrote on 19 July 1942 in his diary:
"In the morning at the Community. Incredible panic in the city. Kohn, Heller, and Ehrlich are spreading terrifying rumours, creating the impression that it is all false propaganda. I wish it were so. On the other hand, there is talk of about 40 railroad cars, ready and waiting. It transpired that 20 of them have been prepared on SS orders for 720 workers leaving tomorrow for a camp.
Kohn claims that the deportation is to commence tomorrow at 8 p.m., with 3,000 Jews from the Little Ghetto. Because of the panic I drove through the streets of the entire Quarter. I visited 3 playgrounds. I do not know whether I managed to calm the population, but I did my best.

Czerniakow was obviously very concerned about the fate of the Jews, as the entry for 20 July reveals:
"In the morning at 7:30 at the Gestapo. I asked Mende how much truth there was in the rumours. He replied that he had heard nothing. I turned to Brandt, he also knew nothing. When asked whether it could happen, he replied that he knew of no such scheme. Uncertain, I left his office. I proceeded to his Chief, Kommissar Bohm. He told me that was not his department, but Hohmann might say something about the rumours. I mentioned that according to rumour, the deportation is to start tonight at 7:30. He replied that he would be bound to know something, if it were about to happen.
Not seeing any other way out, I went to the deputy chief of Section 111, Scherer. He expressed his surprise hearing the rumour and informed me that he too knew nothing about it. Finally I asked whether I could tell the population that their fears were groundless. He replied that I could and that all the talk was Quatsch und Unsinn (utter nonsense).
I ordered Lejkin to make the public announcement through the precinct police stations. I drove to Auerswald. He informed me that he reported everything to the SS-Polizeiführer. Meanwhile First went to see Jesuiter and Schlederer, who expressed their indignation that the rumours were being spread and promised an investigation.

On 22 July 1942, Czerniakow recorded in his diary:
Czerniakow's Grave
Czerniakow's Grave
"Sturmbannführer Höfle and associates came at 10 o’clock. We were told that all Jews irrespective of sex and age, with certain exceptions, will be deported to the East. By 4 p.m. today a contingent of 6,000 people must be provided."

On the last day of his life, Czerniakow wrote:
"23 July 1942 – In the morning at the Community. Worthoff from the deportation staff came and we discussed several problems. When I asked for the number of days per week in which the operation would be carried on, the answer was 7 days a week."
Later the same day, Czerniakow decided to take his own life, by swallowing a potassium cyancide tablet. Before, swallowing the tablet, he wrote two letters, one to the Jewish Council executive and the other to his wife, saying:
"They are demanding that I kill the children of my people with my own hands. There is nothing for me to do but to die."

Yad Vashem *

The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow – Yad Vashem 1979
The Jews of Warsaw 1939-1943- Yisrael Gutman- Harvester Press
In the Warsaw Ghetto – Stanislaw Adler – Yad Vashem 1982

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