Icchak Giterman

Icchak Giterman had been a dedicated social activist and the director of Joint in Poland for many years. Ringelblum, who co-organized with him aid for Polish Jews displaced to Zbąszyń due to Polenaktion, wrote about him that he was a man of extraordinary thought, who had his own opinion about every issue. During the war, he supported resistance, organized aid for other ghettos, and since May 1940, he joined the board of Oneg Shabbat, supporting the group financially as well. In the Warsaw Ghetto, he lost his wife and son. He managed to obtain a false Argentinian passport but abandoned the idea of escaping. He was shot by Germans on 18 January 1943.

He was born in 1889 in Hornostopol (today Ukraine). His mother Małak came from the Szneurson family, descendants of the founder of the Hassidic Chabad movement. He received his secular education in Kyiv.

From his mother’s side, Giterman came from the Szneurson family, with a long line of rabbis and tzaddikim before him. He was also related to the Halberstams (the Nowy Sącz branch). Hassidism had left profound marks in Giterman’s activism. He owed to it his enthusiasm and passion which affected his associates and other activists as well. He learned from the tzaddikim how to respect the common man, who would leave Giterman’s office reinforced and solaced, like a Hassid after a visit to a rabbi. [1]

During World War I, Giterman co-founded the Jewish Committee for Aid for War Victims  (JEKOPO) in Kyiv, where he lived. He organized aid for Jewish refugees and for pogrom victims in Galicia and Lithuania, also facilitating emigration to the United States for victims of pogroms in Ukraine. He described these experiences in a publication released in Vilnius in 1931: Ojf di churwes fun milchomes un mehumes: pinkes fun gegnt-komitet „JEKOPO” 1919–1931 (In the ruins of war and pogroms: notes from the local JeKoPo committee). Ringelblum encouraged him to continue, but Giterman was unable to do it because of workload. [2]In 1921, he moved to Warsaw and 5 years later he became the head of Joint in Poland (American Joint Distribution Committee), an organization promoting constructive aid. Due to the economic crisis of 1926, the organization developed a network of credit unions offering interest-free loans. The nationwide network was functioning until World War II. CEKABE (Society for Support of Interest-Free Loans and Productivization of Jewish Population in Poland) had its Office for Economics and Statistics; they also published the „Fołkshilf” magazine (Yiddish: „Folk Aid”), edited by Emanuel Ringelblum, who had met Giterman in these circumstances [3]), „Bulletin for Economy and Statistics” and „Bulletin of Interest-free Credit Unions in Poland”. In 1936, the economy and science department at CEKABE announced a contest – Monograph of a town, won by Menachem Linder for his monograph on Śniatyń. Giterman was supporting the young researcher through the Jewish Social Self-Help (with Ringelblum and Bloch) and invited him to contribute to Oneg Shabbat.

Ringelblum writes that Giterman was dedicated with his heart and soul to the idea of credit unions, he knew how to make his employees passionate about social work. He also established a development department dedicated to creating new opportunities for paid work and obtaining new qualifications for the Jewish community. The development became Giterman’s second love, which he offered his time to day and night. He established new social work units with endless energy, extraordinary diligence and vast initiative. [4]

Giterman, a man with a great knowledge of Judaism and an enthusiast of contemporary Jewish Culture, was supporting the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Institute in Vilnius and the „Kultur-Lige” press.

Emanuel Ringelblum’s notes about Icchak Giterman / The Ringelblum Archive

Giterman was strongly supportive of the idea of a secular Jewish school and the CISZO organization responsible for its establishment. He also held patronage over many schools and in many cases, he made their very existence possible, as well as many other examples of Jewish cultural activity, such as Jewish theatre and art. Giterman was their friend and active supporter. [5]

In 1938 he co-organized with him aid for Polish citizens – Jews displaced from Germany to Zbąszyń due to Polenaktion. He was working 18 hours a day and affected everyone with his great dedication. [6] Emanuel Ringelblum was his associate at the time.

When the war broke out, Giterman went to Vilnius in order to obtain aid for refugees from Poland. During his business trip to Stockholm, from where he was supposed to fly to Paris, he was imprisoned by the Germans and deported to a POW camp in Germany, where he spent the following several months. He returned to Warsaw in April 1940 and found employment at the Joint office. As a Lithuanian citizen, he didn’t use the opportunity to go to Lithuania and then further abroad, believing that fate tells him to remain in Poland and serve the Jewish masses.

Letter from Josef Kirman to Icchak Giterman, from Umschlagplatz to Icchak Giterman with a request to help him get away / The Ringelblum Archive

In the ghetto, he was involved in social work, where he was helping resistance and other ghettos with his authority and means from the Joint, trying to obtain money through Joint for the cause of  refugees and war victims. He was supportive of the idea of taxing the richest wartime upstarts. Organizations which he worked in included: ŻSS-KK (Jewish Social Self-Help – Coordination Committe) and JIKOR (Jewish Cultural Organization), and from October 1941 – also the Jewish City Care Committee. From July 1942, he belonged to the KK ŻKN (CoordinationCommittee of the Jewish National Committee) and the Bund; from October 1942 – also the Jewish Combat Organization, for which he was earlier delivering funds from social organizations in order to buy arms.

Discharge from forced labour until 31.12.1940, received at Śliska 6 on the basis of his employment at the American Joint Distribution Committee / The Ringelblum Archive

From May 1940, he became a member of the board of Oneg Shabbat, for whom he was also a donator (his name appears frequently in the Accounting Book).

He was also helping the Ghetto Archive, which was collecting historical proof documenting the hardship of Polish Jews. This was a continuation of the work Giterman was doing in Vilnius, where he established a special commission for collecting testimonies of refugees from Poland. Thanks to comrades Giterman and Guzik, Joint was providing funds for this historical campaign of collecting testimonies in Poland.

We don;t know much about Giterman’s personal life. His wife was named Ester, nee Sapoznikova. They had two children: son Motl (born in 1928) and daughter Hanna. The son and wife were murdered in the ghetto – in 1941 and 1942 respectively. Daughter, who escaped with father to Vilnius in 1939, survived the Holocaust and after the war, she moved to New York, where she married Szajko Frydman and gave birth to son Isaac.

Despite losing his loved on, Giterman really wanted to survive the war. He obtained an Argentinian passport which turned out to be forged. Eventually, he abandoned the idea of leaving. During the Great Deportation, he was organizing self-help in workshops – a commission for workshops at the Judenrat was his idea. The commission was resolving self-help actions and supervised providing basic products to the workshops.he was shot by the Germansduring the January Aktion, on 18 January 1943.

On 18 January 1943, On Monday morning, gendarmerie, SS and Ukrainians have surrounded the house. Giterman was living at Miła 69 in the ghetto; it was a house for local officials, with a secret cache in the basement barely finished. Giterman didn;t manage to find out where the cache may be. He left his house early in the morning, in order to find out more about the cache. At the staircase, he met school directors – Rozenblum from „Tarbut” and secretary of the Jewish Council, Horensztejn – and joined a conversation about recent news. Giterman was standing in the corner next to the stairs, a step away from his flar. Suddenly, a shot resonated and Giterman fell dead onto the stairs. It turned out that the house was surrounded by the SS, who didn’t think much when they saw three Jews and began to shoot, killing Giterman.

Giterman was buried next to Nomberg. None of his friends gave him last goodbyes, only gravediggers. Giterman’s death left a profound impact on everyone. He was a living incarnation of social movement. He was true to the interest of Jewish masses. We will always remember him with greatest respect. [7]

Emanuel Ringelblum dedicated an extensive essay to Giterman (Pisma z bunkra). The Ringelblum Archive contains also letters to Giterman, financial summaries from clothing storage, Refugee Care section at the Jewish Council, economic reports, applications for a loan from the Department of Support of Work and Economic Aid at the ŻSS KOM in Warsaw, as well as many others.

Footnotes:
[1] The Ringelblum Archive, Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z bunkra, vol 29a, p. 155.
[2] Ibidem, p. 150.
[3] Ringelblum: Over almost 20 years, I have been working with comrade Giterman at the YIVO board; in 1930, as an editor of Fołks-Hilf” (credit union monthly), as the manager of local departments of the Joint, and at the press office [in:] Ibidem, p. 156.
[4] Ibidem, p. 153.
[5] Ibidem, p. 154.
[6] Ibidem, p. 156.
[7] Ibidem, p. 163-164.
Bibliography:
Archiwum Ringelbluma, Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z getta, vol 29, ed. Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov, JHI, Warsaw 2018.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, Pisma Emanuela Ringelbluma z bunkra, vol 29a, ed. Eleonora Bergman, Tadeusz Epsztein, Magdalena Siek, JHI, Warsaw 2018.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, vol 23, ed. Katarzyna Person, Zofia Trębacz, Michał Trębacz, Wyd. UW, Warsaw 2015.
Samuel D. Kassow, Who will write our history?, JHI, Warsaw 2017.