University of Virginia
The Politics of Retribution in Postwar Warsaw: In the Honour Court of the Central Committee of Polish Jews
In 1946 the Central Committee of Polish Jews (Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce, CKŻP), the principal post-war representative body of Polish Jewry until 1950, established an honour court (sąd społeczny or sąd obywatelski in Polish, birger-gerikht or eren-gerikht in Yiddish) to determine whether Jews suspected of collaboration with the Nazis had indeed, in the language of the honour court’s charter, ‘behaved in a manner befitting a Jewish citizen.’ The honour court was authorized to rebuke and sanction putative Jewish collaborators whose behaviour it found objectionable. The honour court enjoyed the support of a large section of the post-war Jewish community in Poland, including the Jews of Warsaw. Between 1946 and 1949, the honour court considered the cases of some thirty Jews from Warsaw. The overwhelming majority of these putative collaborators were ordinary men accused of persecuting fellow Jews while serving in the Warsaw ghetto police. The honour court ultimately dismissed the charges in all but a few of these cases because the incriminating evidence was insufficient to proceed to trial. Two high-profile trials, however, electrified the post-war Polish Jewish community in general and Warsaw’s Jews in particular: the trials of Szepsl Rotholc, a successful pre-war boxer accused of excessively brutal behaviour in the service of the ghetto police, and of Wiera Gran, a popular prewar cabaret performer accused of being a Gestapo informant. Rotholc was convicted, Gran acquitted. Integral to this paper’s examination of the honour court’s treatment of cases of Jews from Warsaw will be an analysis of post-war Jewish standards of accountability for perceived objectionable behaviour in the extreme conditions of the Warsaw ghetto.