(1880-1942) Engineer and senator who was also involved in economic affairs. He lived in Warsaw, where he had been born. He was granted a diploma in chemical engineering at the Warsaw Polytechnic, and a second at the Industrial Department of the Dresden Polytechnic. He also attended the Trade School in Warsaw, and knew foreign languages.
In 1909, he was imprisoned by the tsarist authorities for his participation in the Polish independence movement. He considered himself to be a Jew and a Pole, and was concerned about the antagonism between Poles and Jews, and about the problem of integrating these two peoples who lived side by side. His publications emphasizing the Jews' role in the rebuilding of the Polish state attest to this. These include "Udział Zydow w odbudowie zniszczen wojennych w Polsce" (Glos Gminy Zydowskiej no. 10-11, 1938, pp. 276-278), and also his speech made on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Ludwik Natanson Crafts School, about that school's patron. About him, he said: "Whoever thinks that the problem of two peoples living together in one country is easy to digest, assimilate both elements and create from them a conglomeration comprising a valuable alloyis wrong... (...) He loved Poland as all Polish Jews did; their love was not one of convenience-they loved with all the fibers of their soul. He was not ashamed, however, to escape the common people, with whom he had been raised." A. Czerniakow, "Tym, co odeszli...", Glos Gminy Zydowskiej, no. 7-8 (25-26), 1939, pp. 148-151.
He was a co-organizer of the Central Union of Jewish Craftsmen, and also a senator from the Non-Partisan Block for Cooperation with the Government during the years 1931-1939. For many years, he was an advisor to the Jewish Community in Warsaw, and made an important contribution to the expansion of the Matias Bersohn Museum, of which he was later an honorary curator. He was the author of many scholarly works, including one about engines that received an award in 1919, titled Silniki wybuchowe, and also Zniszczenia wojenne w Polsce (Wartime Damage in Poland), as well as works on the sugar industry, bakeries and many other publications in the field of industrial and practical chemistry. In 1939, he was named chairman of the Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw.
During the German occupation he was head of the Judenrat in the Warsaw ghetto. He lived at Chlodna 20, which had been excluded from the ghetto since the autumn of 1941. The buildings on the northern and southern sides from Elektoralna to Zelazna streets belonged to the "small" and "big" ghettos that were separated from the "Aryan road" by a three-meter-high wall. Czerniakow co-organized civil resistance and social services, and helped create an underground archive of the ghetto. He was also in contact with the underground, but opposed any plans for armed resistance. He refused to sign the posters announcing the forced deportation of Jews-which in effect meant that they would simply be transported to death camps. The day before the deportation to the Treblinka death camp was to begin, July 23, 1942, he committed suicide in the building of the Jewish Community on Grzybowska Street. He did this at a moment when the Reich's successes seemed to seal the fate of the war in Europe, and would conclude with a mass murder of the vanquished.
Mary Berg wrote about his suicide in her diary, the first authentic historical document to emerge from the Warsaw ghetto. It was published in English by L. B. Fisher in New York in April 1945.
July 24, 1942
The head of the Community, Adam Czerniakow, has committed suicide. He did it last night, July 23. He could no longer bear his terrible burden. According to the news we receive here, he took this tragic step when the Germans ordered him to increase the contingent of people to be deported. He saw no other way out, except leaving this terrible world. His closest colleagues, who saw him shortly before he died, say that he showed great courage and energy right up until the very end. The Community elected a new chairman to replace Czerniakow. Old Lichtenbaum was selected, the father of Lichtenbaum the engineer, head of the Community's construction office. Today a new group of hostages taken from among the members of the Council of Elders has been taken to Pawiak. Szerynski once again heads the ghetto police, though in February he had been arrested by the Germans. A large group of Jews escaped to the 'Aryan' despite the increased guard. People say that an armed unit of the Jewish underground liquidated a German gendarmerie post near one of the gates, which made it possible for a large group of Jews to escape."
Passage translated from the Polish edition of the diary (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1983).
The Warsaw diary of Adam Czerniakow is a valuable document of the events that took place there. The Polish original was published for the first time over forty years after it was written, in 1983. Czerniakow's notes encompass the period from September 6, 1939, to July 23, 1942. They include information about the problems facing the ghetto, orders received from the occupiers, conversations, meetings, and about Czerniakow's own experiences. He only noted down things that were related to his official position, leaving aside many other matters, which emphasizes the personal character of this document.
After Czerniakow's suicide, E. Ringelblum, in his own notes, expressed his regret that he did not have that document. This was despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he himself, as most residents of the ghetto, condemned Czerniakow's stance towards the Germans. It is interesting that Czerniakow knew about what was known as Ringelblum's "Oneg Shabat" action (creating the ghetto archives). He is said to have appreciated the project, but in the over one thousand pages of diary, the name Ringelblum never appeared once. Czerniakow's notes disappeared for many years, and it was thought that they were gone forever. Czerniakow's wife, Dr. Felicja Czerniakow, had saved them. With the help of friends, she managed to leave the ghetto after her husband's death, and hid for ten months in the home of Dr. Grabowska, and then at Professor Apolinary Rudnicki's, the director of the First Lyceum of the Union of Polish Secondary School Teachers. Czerniakow's notes resurfaced mysteriously in 1964 in Canada, and were bought by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.
Czerniaków served as the model for engineer Lewin, one of the characters in the play Smocza 13 by Stefania Zahorska, which deals with how Jews reacted to the "final solution"-whether they chose to rebel or fight. (asw/cm)
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