Jakub Zylberberg

Philosopher, teacher, scholar associated with the political left wing. He was submitting education-themed writings by various authors to the Archive. His greatest contribution to the Archive was an insightful study written in Yiddish, dedicated to the wartime fate of teachers and students from the Jewish schools in Warsaw. The date and circumstances of his death remain unknown.

Jakub (Jankiel) Zylberberg was born about 1904. Before World War 2, he was a teacher at a primary school, he was also a member of the teachers union. Associated with the Zionist labour party Hitachdut (Hebr. The Association), he supported the idea of building Jewish life in Palestine and basing it on education, especially vocational, in the diaspora.

His personal questionnaire can be found in the Archive. We know that teh was living at 21/5 Nowolipie street, in 1940-1941 he was 35 years old and was married. He was working as a teacher in the primary school no. 138 and was active in the teachers’ union. From 10 December 1939, he was a volunteer at the clothing section of Centos. During the Great Deportation in the Summer of 1942, he joined the special food donation campaign.

On the right: Jakub Zylberberg, „On Education” / Ringelblum Archive

“Working as a teacher in the ghetto is perhaps the most enjoyable, creative and rewarding activity”

Excerpts from the study On Education provided to the Ringelblum Archive by Jakub Zylberberg

In 1939, after the bombing, in November, all pre–war schools were opened for a dozen or so days, but the authorities closed them immediately. From that time until the fall of 1941, there were no official Jewish schools. (…)

But that’s not all: the lack of textbooks is quite an important obstacle, but you can also manage this, because one book is used by a few or a dozen people, and when choosing textbooks, nobody is picky, everybody uses just what is available, so old, inappropriate to the program, obsolete books, must suffice. Ultimately, the teacher’s lecture itself replaces the textbook.

In the spring of 1941, with the permission of the Jewish council or under its aegis, various types of vocational, secondary, semi-high and higher courses began to be established, and all of them, without exception, enjoy great attendance from the beginning of their existence, and finally, from the fall of 1941, open communal schools are a real blessing for children, a source of not only knowledge, but also warmth, joy, cleanliness, environment and… breakfasts.

There are thousands of children willing to learn, they are eager not only for warm breakfasts, warm classes, but also for the environment, they want to break away from the nightmare atmosphere at home, they look for learning, friends, colleagues, fun, entertainment, respite, education, and their own milieu. The maximum fee is 10 zlotys a month, but most do not pay it, pay half or less, or nothing. Breakfasts (tea, bread with marmalade) are issued to all children every day (…)

The most important thing is that the atmosphere in schools is exceptionally friendly, sincere, both with children and teachers. Working as a teacher in the ghetto is perhaps the most enjoyable, creative and rewarding activity. Mutual relations between educators and pupils are not spoiled by any official formalities; honesty and cordiality, enthusiasm in the work of the teacher and student are certain, undoubted phenomena, comforting against the background of general wildness and resignation.

What do the lessons give? First of all, learning. But the goals of the lessons are also practical. There is hope – an illusion, perspective, certainty – it is not known – that after the war these lessons will be considered tantamount to junior high schools and high schools.

In school, Warsaw Ghetto / Ringelblum Archive

The average lesson lasts 40 minutes (45 minutes before the war), usually 2 hours of a given subject are linked together. On average, students have 2 hours a week for Polish, history, mathematics, Latin and a foreign language, and 1.5–2 hours for physics, nature and geography.

Since the learning takes place in the private homes of students and teachers, there is no question of the premises. The lessons are secret, unofficial, although the German authorities know about them well and tolerate them for the time being. If they wanted to, they would have prevented all lessons in one day. (…) young people attend these lessons every day in another place, in worse or better conditions, usually in dark rooms, often in the presence of other tenants.

Practice has proven that the teacher, in order to be rested and unstrained for the day after work, can work 4 or 5 hours a day at the maximum. However, to support himself and his family, he or she must earn at least 1000 zlotys today (May 1942). To get this sum, he or she has to work 8 hours a day, which is 8 to 10 hours. But not all lessons are so “well” paid, because you take all the lessons you can get, so you work 10 and 12 hours, and often even 7 days a week. But how many lucky ones can work for 8 hours a day.

Since there are no sanctions, protection of diplomas, law of practice, etc., there are various self–proclaimed quacks who claim that they graduated from two faculties, had “professorship” practice at some university courses, etc., in some mysterious way from September 1939 obtained the titles of doctors of philosophy, engineers, etc. Such a fame in one’s backyard, house or even street obtains a monopoly for lessons, and with some cleverness and agility, they gain success very easily.

And because they are not in contact with other lessons, they do not know the programs or individual subjects, so they simply cheat, mislead parents and students, claiming that they are preparing a course for a given class. But if, for example, they do not know Latin, nature, grammar or, for example, trigonometry, these Doctors of Science simply leave these subjects and report that they have been canceled by school authorities in recent reforms. [1]

Basing on Zylberberg’s experience of working for children before the war and on his involvement in rebuilding schools in the Warsaw Ghetto, Oneg Shabbat made him responsible for the issues of education. Zylberberg was contributing writings by various authors dedicated to education to the Archive. According to a note by Hersz Wasser, he contributed a report „Education” by an unknown author, written down by Stanisław Różycki, as well as Marian Małowist’s works on Polish and Jewish youth before the war and during the occupation.

Zylberberg’s biggest individual contribution into the Archive was an insightful study written in Yiddish – ‘Teachers and students in public education for Jewish children in Warsaw (Sabbath schools) during the war’. He wrote there:

As a member of a group of teachers who became the subject of this study, I participated in many activities, taking part in organizing as well as in conceptual work. Despite this, I am trying to achieve the goal of diagnosing the activity and work of a Jewish teacher at a public school in a way which could be possibly close to the truth. (…) I will become more of a chronicle writer rather than a historian. [2]

In the Oneg Shabbat accounting book, his name appeared 11 times, for the last time – on 29 July 1942. The date and circumstances of his death remain unknown.

Written by: Anna Majchrowska
Translated by: Olga Drenda
On the left: Personal survey of Jakub Zylberberg / The Ringelblum Archive
[1] The Ringelblum Archive, Getto warszawskie, part I, vol. 33, ed. Tadeusz Epsztein, Katarzyna Person, WUW, Warszawa 2016, p. 200-211.
[2] Ibid., p. 132.