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DP Camp Trial File of Chaim Chajet

Chajet, Chaim legal documents 1946
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw

The featured file is a record of Jews prosecuting Jews in their own postwar legal system, often referred to as "honor courts."1 These trials—which took place in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps immediately after the war—sought justice for those within the Jewish community who had, in the estimation of the honor courts, betrayed their own people during the Holocaust. The status of such individuals was a difficult topic in the immediate postwar period. The actions of members of Jewish councils, Jewish ghetto police, and Jewish kapos2 remain controversial today.

After World War II, some Jewish survivors urged investigations into such individuals. On October 8, 1946, the Central Jewish Committee established a "civic tribunal for former collaborators with the Germans." On October 18, 1946, an article appeared in the Yiddish language newspaper, Dos Naye Lebn ("The New Life") decrying the "turncoats and traitors" among the surviving Polish Jews. The unknown author (writing under the pseudonym Cincinnatus) demanded action from the Central Jewish Historical Commission to investigate former Judenrat members, ghetto policemen, informants, profiteers, etc. and bring them to trial. An announcement that the committee was indeed forming a tribunal ran in the same issue of the paper. A general court to try wartime collaboration had already been established by the Polish Committee of National Liberation on September 12, 1944.3 This court had tried these so-called "Jewish collaborators" alongside other non-Jewish collaborators. The acquittal of accused Jewish "collaborator" Michał Weichert, however, prompted some in the Jewish community to demand a new trial with Jewish judges.4 

The Central Jewish Committee in Poland was not the only group to hold their own collaboration trials. Trials also took place in DP camps in occupied Germany. By the fall of 1945, Jewish-run court systems existed in Deggendorf, Landsberg, and Föhrenwald. In Bergen-Belsen, a court operated for a brief period of time in the summer of 1946. By February of 1946, the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the American Zone created a Central Court of Honor, which engaged in trials of Jews accused of crimes during the Holocaust. By June of 1946, all of the major Jewish DP camps had such courts and a Central Court of Honor was established in Munich.5

The set of documents featured here present the story of Chaim Chajet, accused of being a wartime profiteer. The file contains a collection of testimonies, accusations, and the final judgment by the court of the Central Committee of Polish Jews. Accusations against Chajet first appeared in the Yiddish newspaper, Dos Naye Lebn, and the full proceedings took three years—from 1946 to 1949—before his name was cleared. The case hinged on the false identification of Chajet as a member of the Wilno Judenrat—a position that became synonymous with the aforementioned crimes. When it was proven that Chajet's accuser was mistaken on this detail, the remainder of the case began to fall apart.

These courts reveal the challenges and complications of postwar justice among survivors of the Holocaust. Determining an individual's guilt or complicity was not a straightforward matter. Jewish ghetto policemen, for example, helped implement Nazi orders within the ghetto but were also victims of Nazi persecution themselves. Many members of Jewish Councils worked with underground resistance forces. Debate over how to understand such figures continued well into the 1960s with Hannah Arendt's now infamously harsh (and, as many historians would later say, misguided) assessment of the Jewish Councils in her account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann.6 What is certainly evident from these unique postwar trials, however, is an early postwar perspective that these are Jewish matters to be settled—and understood—by Jewish courts.

For more on "honor courts," see the related items in Experiencing History's Postwar Justice collection, A Verdict from "Our Camp-tribunal" and Report on an Incident at Neu Freimann DP Camp.

"Kapos" were prisoners in the Nazi camp system assigned with enforcing orders and maintaining discipline. They were often ruthless and violent, and clung to their "privilege" with the Germans at all cost.

The Polish Committee of National Liberation was a pro-Soviet and Soviet-supported provisional goverment in the newly liberated territories of Poland in 1944.

 

 

See David Engel, "Who is a Collaborator? The trials of Michał Weichert," in Sławomir Kapralski, ed., The Jews in Poland, Volume II (Cracow: Judaica Foundation Center for Jewish Culture, 1999), 339–370.

The literature surrounding these courts is expanding, and as it does it complicates the boundaries between categories in Holocaust Studies. See Gabriel Finder and Laura Jockusch, eds., Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel after the Holocaust (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2015). Israeli scholar Rivka Brot has written on several specific cases (not unlike the Chajet case featured here), including the case of kapo Julius Siegel. See Rivka Brot, "Julius Siegel: A Kapo in Four (Judicial) Acts," Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, 25:1 (2011), 65–127.

See Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1963). 

Voivodeship, in Polish, "province," an administrative unit.

Kielce here refers to a pogrom that occurred in the town of Kielce on July 4, 1946. "Yishuv" is Hebrew for community.

Referring to Haber's accusations at the conference of Leaders of Jewish Committees that Chajet was a member of the Judenrat in Wilno and a common speculator and con-man.

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[Letter from engineer Wiktor Chelem, engineer M. Vogelbaum, and engineer Michał Prużan in Katowice to Centralny Komitet Żydów Polskich (Central Committee of Polish Jews) in Warsaw, September 9, 1946]

We, the undersigned, as former inhabitants of the city of Wilno resident in the pre-war period and during the German occupation of Wilno, hereby affirm in relation to the report on the conference of Leaders of Jewish Committees placed in issue 31 of the journal Dos Naye Lebn on 6 September 1946 that the accusations raised by citizen Haber, secretary of the Jewish Voivodeship1 Committee in Katowice, are in respect to citizen Chaim Chajet, head of the Economic Central department in Katowice, fully fabricated and baseless and bear the marks of libel.

We are thoroughly familiar with citizen Chaim Chajet, his conduct, and his activities both before the war and during the occupation, and on this basis we affirm that he was not a member of the Jewish Council, he always conducted himself beyond reproach, and was considered and is considered an upstanding person whose activities did not conflict with the law.

We hold that the interests of the Jewish community demand that the person who in such a shameless manner libeled his confrere, who underwent all the torments of the German executioners’ concentration camps, be called to account and that the aggrieved party be granted redress.

 

[Letter from Chaim Chajet in Bytom to editors of Dos Naye Lebn in Łódź, September 10, 1946]

On the basis of article 32 of the press codex in connection with the placement in issue 31 of the journal from 6 September 1946 of a report from the conference of Leaders of Jewish Committees regarding a speech given by citizen Haber, a member of the Voivodeship Committee in Katowice, I request the following correction [sic] be placed in the next issue of your journal.

The accusation directed at me by citizen Haber, seeking to blacken my unblemished past and intended to degrade public opinion of me by accusing me of behavior contrary to legal principles and principles of honesty, bears the marks of libel, an investigation of which I am directing against citizen Haber along the appropriate legal channels.

I am firmly convinced that the judicial authorities will mete out to the perpetrator a fitting punishment for the wrong done to me.

 

[Letter from Chaim Chajet in Katowice to the administration of Economic Central "Solidarność" in Warsaw, September 11, 1946]

In issue 31 of the Jewish journal Dos Naye Lebn from 6 September 1946 in a report on the conference of Leaders of Jewish Committees, there appeared a notice with the following content:

"Citizen Haber, a member of the Jewish Voivodeship Committee in Katowice, demands the unmasking of a number of harmful and criminal elements that have infiltrated Jewish civic institutions. He tells of a certain Chajet, who worked [sic] in an authoritative position in the Economic Central and who turned out to be a collaborator of the Judenrat and a common speculator and con-man."

Insofar as citizen Haber's utterances are libelous and mendacious, I request that you defend me against these accusations, that you facilitate [Haber] being called to account via the Central Committee of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and that you demand citizen Haber immediately prove the substance of the accusations raised against my person.

Considering citizen Haber's position as secretary of the Voivodeship committee, a civic position that requires corresponding ethical qualifications, I demand that the consequences of citizen Haber's unworthy behavior, compromising the committee, Jewish institutions, and their leadership, be drawn.

 

[Transcript of Emanuel Haber's testimony, given before the court secretary of the Central Committee of Polish Jews in Warsaw, November 13, 1946]

I got to know Chajet when he worked in the Voivodeship committee in Katowice in the Economic Central. I did not know him prior to this. That Chajet was a member of the Judenrat in Wilno, I heard from citizen Groll, whom I have summoned as a witness. During the occupation, I was in the Soviet Union. One time in a conversation with me [and] in the presence of engineer Rostal, chairman of our committee, and Aychenbaum, an official of the economic department, Chajet boasted that he had sold several cars[' worth] of yeast brought in from Berlin a few months prior (our conversation took place in September of this year). It is my belief that a transaction of this sort constitutes speculation and disqualifies the person in question from conducting authoritative work at a civic post. Immediately after the events in Kielce, while among several people (approximately ten) at the committee's meeting place, Chajet said that the Jewish yishuv in Poland is being liquidated and several million złoty are going into the pockets of individual members of the presidium of the Central Committee [of Polish Jews].2 At the moment I don’t remember who the people were in whose presence Chajet expressed himself in this way. At the conference of responsible secretaries, I made a statement along the lines that it is my belief persons such as Chajet cannot hold authoritative positions in our civic organization and I cited the two aforementioned cases. I did not claim at the conference that Chajet was a member of the Judenrat.

 

[Verdict of Court of First Instance in Warsaw on libel charges brought by Chajet against Haber, presiding judge J. Szląskiewicz, December 11, 1946]

[...] This statement3 was summarized and appeared in print in the journal Dos Naye Lebn, a statement which may subject Chaim Chajet to a loss of the confidence required for his position and lower public opinion of him, an action addressed in article 255 of the Criminal Codex. Verdict: Emanuel Haber is found guilty of the act of which he is accused and will be punished in accord with articles 255 and 61 of the Criminal Codex with one month of arrest and a fine of 1,000 złoty with suspended implementation of the jail sentence for a period of three years. One hundred forty złoty are to be collected from the convicted as a court fee and the convicted is adjudged [responsible] for reimbursement of the costs of conducting the proceedings.

 

[Statement given by Teofil Groll before the Jewish Committee of Bytom, January 7, 1947]

I did not know citizen Chajet at all before encountering him in the committee here, which occurred in March of 1946. As head of the Repatriation Department, I was chairman of the Civic Committee whose task it was to collect funds from Jews in Bytom for repatriates arriving from the Soviet Union. And citizen Chajet was also a member of the Civic Committee. When Perłow, a member of our administration, at one point saw Chajet at a meeting, he stated to me that he ought to be eliminated from the Civic Committee because he had been a member of the Judenrat in Wilno and, as such, citizen Chajet should not have a place among the leaders of Jewry. These utterances were also heard by other members of our committee, including citizen Trauner and others. I [would] note that citizen Perłow presently resides abroad.

 

[Statement given by manager Artur Trauner in Bytom, February 1, 1947]

I've known citizen Chajet since 1945, when I encountered him during my tenure with the Jewish Committee in Bytom. In March 1946 the Civic Committee was formed in Bytom, which had the goal of collecting funds from among Jews for newly arriving repatriates from the Soviet Union. Citizen Chajet was also one of the members of this committee. When Perłow, a member of our administration, at one point saw Chajet at a meeting, he stated to me and comrade Groll that he ought to be eliminated from the Civic Committee because he had been a member of the Judenrat in Wilno. Aside from this, I have no other information, whereby I [would] note that citizen Perłow is presently abroad.

If I should find the address of citizen Perłow, I will send it on to the Civic Court immediately.

 

[Testimony given by engineer Wiktor Chelem before the Voivodeship Jewish Committee in Katowice, April 26, 1947]

I've known Chaim Chajet since before the war. During the German occupation we both resided in Wilno, more specifically, in the Wilno ghetto from September 1941 to September 1943. At first, Chajet worked on the territory of the ghetto, then he transferred over to the work camp "Kajlis 2," which was located outside the ghetto. During that time, Chajet worked as an ordinary worker. Although I don’t believe that the activities of the Wilno Judenrat were harmful to the interests of the Jewish community as a whole or of individual Jews, I, when expressly questioned, nevertheless affirm that Chaim Chajet was not a member of the Wilno Judenrat. Chaim Chajet's behavior was fully consistent with the honor of a Jew, and I cannot make any accusations whatsoever against Chajet. I did not know anything about Chajet purportedly collaborating with the occupier in any way at all.

In October 1943 I was compelled to go into hiding, as a result of which I fled the work camp and lost all contact with Chajet, whom I previously had seen from time to time.

In June 1945 I encountered Chaim Chajet in Łódź shortly after his return from the camp in Stutthof. The state of health and material state of both Chajet and his son were pitiful. For a period of time Chajet was engaged in trading in Łódź, then after a few months he left for Bytom, where he has resided until now.

 

[Ruling of the Presidium of the Civic Court of the Central Committee of Polish Jews in Warsaw, August 27, 1949]

In closed session on the day of 27 August 1949 following examination of the motion entered by the prosecutor in the case of Chaim Chajet, resident in Bytom, Batory Street 11, for cessation of action due to a lack of evidence proving guilt and [lack of] grounds for issuing an indictment on the basis of article 2 p.a. the regulations of the court, [the Presidium] has decided to acknowledge the motion of the prosecutor as justified. [...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
RG Number 15.189M
Date Created
September 9, 1946 to August 27, 1949
Language(s)
Polish
Yiddish
Location
Łódź, Poland
Reference Location
Wilno, Poland (historical)
Vilnius, Lithuania
Document Type Report
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