Overlapping Identities in Warsaw Operation Rooms: The Jewish-German-Polish Aspects of Warsaw Physicians in the 19th Century


“It clearly is not in our nature that we join ourselves with groups and present ourselves as having solidary interests, even when the interests of Polish science demand it […] although we do not lack excellent surgeons.”

Samuel Grosglik, Report from the 9th Polish Congress of Surgeons in Cracow 1899.[1]

The figure of the Jewish doctor belonged inseparably to the urban landscape of Warsaw in the 19th century. Research in this area has busied itself extensively and repeatedly with this topic. On the one hand, in the last decades there are first and foremost the works of Zofia Podgórska-Klawe; on the other hand, Ilana Löwy, Zenon Maćkowiak and Anna Marek have also made significant contributions. The focus of their scholarly interests has been primarily on profiles of prominent individual physicians, such as Henryk Nussbaum or Zygmunt Kramsztyk and Ludwik Natanson. Other medical historians, such as Andrzej Kierzek, have for example dedicated themselves to studying the historical developments in certain specialities such as otolaryngology and have pointed out the prominent protagonists. What also has been repeatedly recapitulated have been the Jewish accomplishments in the area of medical professional press, primarily the medical journals such as Pamiętnik LekarskiKrytyka Lekarska or Tygodnik Lekarski. In addition to that, there are also works about the scientific societies, that is to say, the professional associations, where the contributions to the emergence and flowering of professional societies are documented. So one can indeed claim that the biographical, journalistic, and philanthropic perspectives of the Jewish medical doctors in Warsaw in the 19th century have certainly been well researched. In contrast to this, as a rule the medical personnel in the yearly reports in the hospitals of the 19th century were not mentioned by name, such that an assigning of people to ethnic or religious groups is difficult to do.

So, what is it that today’s presentation seeks to accomplish? It intends to provide an expansion of the perspectives that have been provided so far by pointing out what positions the physicians from various provinces held in the Warsaw hospitals and to what extent they worked together, shared in performing operations, and engaged in joint research. Over and above this, the central focus of this presentation is on a few aspects in the development of the hospitals in the 19th century Warsaw as well as the contributions the Jewish doctors were able to make in this process. In this sense, the aim of this presentation consists in sketching the outlines of a collective biography of Jewish doctors in Warsaw of the 19th century.

Now, you may ask, why the strict limiting of the topic to this chosen century and this particular city? The reflections and research for this presentation have grown out of my current research project (at the local German Historical Institute), which I have been conducting for several years under the title: A Study of Europe in the 19th Century. The Reciprocal Interactions Between Transnational Entanglements and National Identity. In this particular investigation, the focus is on the cast of actors in the cultural-scientific landscape of the citizens of Warsaw born in the years 1770–1870 who studied abroad and then later took their experiences and contacts back with them as influences in their professional lives in Warsaw. (This age group was chosen since samplings revealed that those who completed university degrees and were active in Warsaw, on average entered into their professions at age 26, and by setting the dates in this way, the time period of the whole 19th century can be covered.) At the center of this is a question about the cultural and scientific transfers that they brought about. The basis of my research is a data bank with 1,000 biographical sketches of scientists and artists in Warsaw in 19th century, who had studied or done research abroad, but for whom the center of their lives was still Warsaw itself. Within this compiled material, I have identified medical doctors as the predominant professional group, with 479 representatives. These careers provide a good foundational source on which to give the question a full hearing. If I have put the focus of my work to this point mainly on the scientific networks, now the opportunity presents itself in this context to cast some light on the amplification, application and dissemination of medical knowledge. When I read the numerous reports in the professional press about specific medical cases, what emerges quite quickly is a graphic image of the patients who at that time lay on the operating tables. Yet, it is much less possible to gain from reading this material a sense of the surgeons, of the actors. And so I ask myself how the cooperative efforts in the operating rooms functioned, at the ʻactive sceneʼ of medicine? Did the notion of ʻnationalityʼ play a role? Did faith (Jewishness) play a role? Or did the doctors show an intrinsically different personality profile, because they were guided more so by a caring orientation toward people? Did they see themselves solely as highly qualified specialists cooperating as colleagues? I am seeking to find answers using the following approach. I have organized my reflections into seven points: In point (1), I present some information about the demographic situation, with special consideration of the development of the Jewish population. In point (2), I describe the situation of the doctors at the beginning of the 19th century. In point (3), I look into the opportunities for formal training for physicians in Warsaw in the 19th century. Then in point (4), I examine in detail the development of certain hospitals during the time period under consideration here. In point (5), I point out how the German, Polish, and Jewish doctors established themselves in this landscape and in point (6), I investigate selected situations in operating rooms in the city. And in point (7), I draw some brief conclusions.

I must say in advance that I have limited myself in my analysis of the ethnic or religious alignment of the actors to merely how they designated themselves. For half of the biographical sketches covered in my research, there are no clear assignations that can be determined for the respective individuals. Numerous actors reveal, moreover, German, French or other foreign roots. Among the Warsaw Jews there were also converts; however, it should be mentioned that in this period of time it was relatively widespread for Jews in what was a Catholic context to choose to convert to Protestantism. Todd Endelman has discerned, that relative to the size of its Jewish population, the number of converts in nineteenth-century Warsaw was not great.[2] What should also be noted here is that the group researched was a purely masculine domain. It was not until the turn of the century that female physicians were practicing medicine in Warsaw hospitals. Now, however, it is time to move beyond these introductory comments.

  1. The demographic situation in Warsaw with special attention to the development of the Jewish population

In the 19th century, the city of Warsaw experienced a rapid growth in its resident population. Within that one century, the number of residents grew tenfold, with the numbers increasing gradually and then almost doubling in the last 25 years. If there were 63,400 residents in the city in 1800, by 1900 there were now 686,000.[3] The Prussian government did not grant Jews permission for permanent residency until 1795. At that time, the number of Jews was about 6,000, which made up around 8.6% of the total population. Shortly after that, in 1799, a Jewish congregation was founded in Warsaw. By 1820, the number of Jews in the town had grown to 22,000 persons (about 22% of the city’s inhabitants) and by 1856 the number had almost doubled, to 41,000 persons (about 26.3% of the population).[4] In this time period, the number of Jews grew in roughly the same proportion as the rest of the city population. In 1897 one counted 185,077 city-dwelling Jews (27.07%). Roughly two-thirds of the city’s populace was Polish (61.66%). The proportion of Russians in the city was 7.31%; the German minority had shrunk to 1.66%.[5] Unfortunately, there is no reliable data about those Germans who had come to the city at the end of the 18th century and had settled there permanently. All we know is that in the first decade of the 19th century they were still a discernable group within the population.

  1. The Situation of the Physicians at the Beginning of the 19th Century

 I will begin my remarks with the Prussian occupation of Warsaw in 1795. The Prussian authorities back then sought to re-organize the medical establishments in Warsaw. The Hospital of the Child Jesus was to be used solely for internal diseases; invalids were to be housed in the Hospital of the Holy Spirit and St. Roch Hospital was planned to be for surgical cases.[6] These measures, however, were not actually able to be implemented. The one thing from among the structural changes sought by the Prussians that did succeed was converting the St. John of God Hospital for use exclusively for psychiatric cases.[7] Also in this time period, the Jewish hospital was opened in 1799..[8] By autumn 1806 the Prussian administration abandoned Warsaw and the French army entered the city. As a result of the Peace of Tilsit, the Duchy of Warsaw was created in 1807. The succeeding years were molded by the numerous activities of war, so it is not surprising that with regard to the care of the sick, the primary focus was on the organization of hospitals for military purposes. In 1810 a military hospital was opened which little by little assumed the care of the patients from other military hospitals, with the latter closing in subsequent years. This main hospital would continue in existence until 1944 bearing the name Ujazd.[9] In 1809, the Interior Ministry of the Duchy set up a general medical council, which was to concern itself with health matters. August Wolff was selected as president, supported by Ferdynand Hirszfeld, Jerzy Christian Arnold, Józef Czekierski and Franciszek Brandt. In addition there were as well two assessors-advisors, the surgeon Fryderyk Spaeth and the pharmacist Józef Celiński.[10] Wolff was a Jew who had been baptized, yet who nevertheless engaged himself for Jewish concerns as well; we do not know anything definitively about Hirszfeld, but given his name, I suspect that he also came from a Jewish background. Czekierski and Celiński were Poles, but nothing concrete can be established about Arnold. Brandt as well as Spaeth were both of German background. What we have then is a classic set of intellectuals with varying backgrounds, something which was often the case in the first third of the 19th century in Warsaw. There were so few specialists that all of them had to be interested in cooperating with one another and were greatly dependent on one another.
This council planned to have only two hospitals in operation in Warsaw, the Hospital of the Child Jesus and St. Roch Hospital. This same circle of people proposed the founding of a medical academy, an idea which was then implemented in 1810. As a result, for the first time doctors could be trained in Warsaw. The teaching sessions were conducted in the speciality ʻtherapyʼ by August Wolff and in ʻurgeryʼ by Józef Czekierski and they took place at St. Roch Hospital.[11] In 1820, the registry of physicians in the city names 46 persons who had graduated, and we can identify eight Jewish physicians among them, along with six Germans. Yet many other German names appear, and also one French name. Some of the German doctors had made it through the Napoleonic Wars and ended up in Warsaw, where they established themselves.

  1. Training Possibilities for Physicians in Warsaw in the 19th Century

The graduated doctors mentioned in the registry from 1820 had studied almost exclusively at German universities. Then in 1816, the Royal Warsaw University was established. Up until its closing in 1831, one could study medicine there. Then there was a pause of almost 30 years for political reasons. It was not until 1857 that there once again was a possibility to study to be a physician in Warsaw – the Medical-Surgical Academy. With the establishment of the Szkoła Główna (Upper Secondary School), which existed between 1861 and 1869, it was once again possible to complete a full medical education. This development ended in 1870 when this educational institution was transformed into an imperial university with Russian as the language of instruction. Many Polish professors had no chance of gaining employment there. In the course of the long 19th century, because of the stormy political developments in the Polish regions, there were very few possibilities for pursuing an education. For that reason, it came to the point where numerous Warsaw students, to the extent that it was financially possible for them, went to study in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Vienna, and after 1840 also in Dorpat or other places. At the Upper Secondary School, the percentage of Jewish students was around 10%. At the imperial university, the percentage of Jewish students rose by the middle of the 1890s from 10% to up to 20%. Among them was above all a large contingent of Russian Jews from the Russian Empire. If it was common at the Warsaw University between 1820 and 1839 to complete a portion of their studies in Germany and then to graduate in Warsaw, the students at the imperial university, on the other hand, completed their studies first, then gained some practical experience and then went off on study tours in middle and western Europe. Yet, the job prospects decreased enormously toward the end of the century.

  1. The Development of Selected Hospitals in the Period Being Studied

After the November Uprising in 1831, a major political emigration took place, yet the group of physicians was by far the one least affected by it. Gradually the health care system began at this point to slowly evolve. 1833 Rada Główna Opiekuńcza (Council of Social Services) was formed. In this body, only one doctor, Maurycy Woyde, represented the medical profession. But in the advisory councils that were established in the respective hospitals, in addition to the citizens of the city, the respective chiefs of medicine also had seats on the councils. For the St. Lazarus Hospital, it was the German doctor August Lessel; for the St. John of God Hospital it was Edward Mylo; for the Jewish hospital there were even two representatives nominated, the Chief of Internal Medicine, Józef Bernstein, and Ludwik Köhler as Chief of Surgery. At the Protestant hospital, things were in the process of change, and a new physician was being sought, so consequently the position on the council intended for a physician was not filled.[12] Because the mild-mannered nurses put up resistance, there were no councils organized for the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, St. Roch Hospital, and the Hospital of the Child Jesus..[13]
In the Medizinische Jahrbücher der k.k. Gesellschaft der Aerzte in Wien from 1842, a report appeared about the ʻHospitals in Warsawʼ, written by Lorenz Köster from Franzensbad and in which he comments that just twelve years previously, the hospitals had been in a sorry state, but now had been much improved by the reforms undertaken. After many major showdowns, under the leadership of Aleksander Le Brun, the Hospital of the Child Jesus was renovated and now had its own separate operating room, which was the first of its kind in Warsaw. At the same time, the Institute for Obstetrics (having been directed by Ignacy Fijałkowski since 1834) was affiliated with it and was given its own wing in the building. Proudly, Le Brun announced in his yearly medical report about the Hospital of the Child Jesus “It is the case that today the Hospital of the Child Jesus belongs to the largest and best administered European hospitals.”[14] There were at that point five doctors and four barber-surgeons working in the building, which contained 240 beds set aside for male patients and 280 beds for female patients. Le Brun also staffed a new office, the physician on site, a position that had already been introduced at the Jewish hospital in 1837. In 1842, the tsarist government issued a ukase for all civilian hospitals in the Kingdom of Poland, which established common regulations and in this way (as the medical historian Podgórska-Klawe puts it) this was the first such law in Europe.[15] This prescribed (among other things) how many medical personnel had to be available. In additional to the medical director, there was to be a chief of staff for every 100 patients, one doctor on site, and a barber-surgeon for every 50 persons. As a result, it was finally possible to have a division of responsibilities for the doctors. Moreover, the explicit principle was formulated that the hospitals were exclusively intended for those who were sick. As a result, in the Jewish hospitals four wards were established: one for surgery, one for internal medicine, one for ophthalmology, and one for obstetrics. In subsequent years reconfigurations in the other hospitals took place as well. What also changed was the profile of the ambulant outpatients. Beginning in 1843, the chiefs of staff of the Jewish hospital held office hours in the outpatient clinics connected to the hospital, and in 1844 one was set up in the Hospital of the Child Jesus.[16] The hospitals more and more became pronouncedly scientific establishments, which in this situation was totally normal, since these places in a sense were the only ones where medical research could be conducted in Warsaw. For example, it was here that Le Brun in 1847 employed chloroform in an operation for the first time. Beginning in 1862, in addition to that, there was a regulation that the position of chiefs of staff had to be filled through a competitive process. From 1857 onward, the nearby Hospital of the Child Jesus functioned as a clinic that was a new training opportunity for doctors in Warsaw – the Medical-Surgical Academy. Aleksander Le Brun taught there. Other teachers such as Włodzimierz Dybek, Konstanty Roze und Tytus Chałubiński for that reason also went to this hospital. In 1869 a first children’s hospital was founded in Warsaw; in 1878 a Jewish children’s hospital came into service (bearing the name of its benefactors Berson and Bauman). After 1870, the financial situation of the hospitals in Warsaw deteriorated considerably, which was primarily the consequence of structural changes in tsarist administrative rulings. In addition to that, there were no announcements of open positions for lead doctors anymore and many administrative positions were filled without careful review. The Russian language university provided no impulses for medical research. The scientific ambitions of the Polish and Jewish doctors were primarily addressed in the city’s hospitals, which had become important centers for unofficial training. It was in this way that the Chief for Internal Medicine in the Jewish children’s hospital, Julian Kramsztyk, organized for students the first systematic course in pediatrics. Many young doctors worked voluntarily in the hospitals in order to gain adequate practical experience.
In 1899, 16 doctors worked without pay in the Hospital of the Child Jesus. Zygmunt Kramsztyk, the Chief of the Ophthalmology department in the Jewish hospital, made the comment that the constant issue of “ʻhardly having space to moveʼ indeed is a characteristic that only our hospitals have.” [17] Of course, looking at the development of the hospitals is but one aspect of the medical-scientific landscape in Warsaw of the 19th century. Further essential aspects would be the booming professional press and the professional associations, which (as mentioned at the beginning) have already been dealt with extensively. The picture portrayed here can be rounded out with the brilliant analyses which Ludwik Natanson and Zygmunt Kramsztyk proffered in their writings at the end of the century. For reasons of time, I cannot go into this in more detail. As far as written material, I would highlight Natanson’s good bird’s-eye-view of the hospitals and the management of the hospitals in his publication From Life and Practice. [18] In it he also looks primarily at the profile of physicians and the demands placed upon them in a ʻcivil societyʼ that was yet not a state. Further to this would be to consider the texts from Zygmunt Kramsztyk about the departments of a hospital, about the duties of the doctor in a hospital, as well “About the Importance of the Hospital” [19] in which he looks at the profile of the physician doing research and at the same time underlines what type of schooling the hospital was offering the physician.

  1. German, Polish, and Jewish doctors establishing themselves in the Warsaw hospitals

 What positions did the various doctors take up? The Sachsen physician Bogumił Fryderyk Szwencki (1784–1860) directed the Ujazd Hospital until 1833, and then transferred over as chief of staff at the Protestant hospital. Jan Fryderyk Wilhelm Malcz directed the St. Roch Hospital beginning in 1827, where he specialized in the treatment of rheumatic and skin diseases and was active in the expansion of the Protestant hospital. Otto Hewehlke, beginning in 1889, was the Chief of Ears-Nose-Throat (ENT) at St. Roch Hospital. If we can establish that at the beginning of the century the percentage of German physicians in the city was quite conspicuous, it can also be determined that at the end of the century, this group was no longer visible, something which primarily rested on the fact that an extensive ʻPolonizationʼ had taken place. Yet the Protestant religion was the one most widely practiced and so these physicians were primarily predestined to work at the Protestant hospital. Furthermore, there were other foreigners who occupied leading positions in Warsaw. The Dane, Dane Jerzy Lewestamm (1801–1831) was a Medical Chief at the Hospital of Holy Spirit and an obstetrician in Warsaw. The Czech, Vilem Dusan Lambl (1824–1895), was the Chief of Internal Medicine at the same hospital after 1871. At the Hospital of the Child Jesus, the Lithuanian Polikarp Girsztowt held the title of Chief of Surgery after 1869. Jewish chiefs of staff outside of the Jewish hospitals were Maurycy Wolff (1798–1861) in the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in 1831–1832, Stanisław Kronenberg from 1838–1842, as well as Jan Ferdynand Libchen (1816–1891) between 1853–1856. Libchen then transferred over as Chief of Staff to the Protestant hospital. At the Ujazd Hospital, Teodor Heiman (1848–1917) was Chief of Surgery in 1879 and from 1881–1898 Chief in the ENT department. At the St. Roch hospital, Theodor Heryng (1847–1925) was Chief of Laryngology between 1880–1889.
The non-Jews in the Jewish hospital were Brandt, the surgeon Ludwik Józef Bierkowski (1801–1860), who also helped during the uprising in 1830–1831. Also, there was the Pole Franciszek Groer (1807–1876) who started working there as a surgeon after 1838 and who held the position of Chief of Surgery from 1843–1858. In general what can be determined is that the number of physicians in leading positions who were either Jews in a non-Jewish hospital, or were non-Jews working in a Jewish hospital was in fact quite limited.
Other Jewish physicians, before beginning their service in the Jewish hospitals, worked as doctors (in some cases, assistant doctors) in other establishments. Among these were Ludwik Koehler (1799–1871), in 1830 a doctor at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, or as well Stanisław Leopold Lubliner (1863–1937), who was assistant doctor at St. Roch. Later, the famous Jewish neurologist, Samuel Flam, was an assistant to Vilem Dusan Lambl at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, Henryk Pacanowski (1857–1911) after 1880 was an assistant doctor in the therapeutic clinic at the same hospital, Leon Goldsobel (1837–1925) and Samuel Meyerson (1851–1939) were assistant doctors in the  Ujazd Hospital. The urologist and surgeon Samuel Grosglik (1860–1931, the surgeon Maksymilian Dinte (1852–1912), as well as the gastroenterologist Salomon Dawid Mintz, were all assistant doctors in the Hospital of the Child Jesus. These years of active learning in the clinics led the way for the professional futures of these individuals. This is how the pediatrician Janusz Korczak remembered these years of practicum in the Jewish children’s hospital: “My teachers in the hospital on Śliska Street: the ironic nihilist Koral, the jovial Kramsztyk, the deep-thinking Gantz, the brilliant diagnostician Eliasberg.[20] By Koral, he meant Adolf Koral, the Chief of Infectious Diseases, who had converted to Protestantism; by Kramsztyk, he meant the internist Julian Kramsztyk; by Gantz, the pulmonologist and laryngologist Mieczysław Gantz. By no means were all the physicians able to find a fixed institutional position. So, for example, starting in 1883 the neurologist Samuel Goldflam operated his own clinic, and in addition to that also belonged to the ʻtravellingʼ physicians, that is, to specialists who examined patients and also operated in various hospitals. Similarly, there was the ENT specialist Zygmunt Srebrny, who in 1890–1895 worked as an ENT specialist in the Jewish hospital without his own position and in addition to that carried on his own medical practice. The competition was great. Even the dermatologist Funk (1855–1911), who had done his specialty training in Vienna, did not find a job as a doctor in an ambulatory clinic until 1887, yet he nevertheless served as a regular dermatological consultant. The famous neurologist Edward Flatau, who returned to Warsaw in 1899, and was active for a while in a consulting capacity at the Hospital of the Child Jesus, still had to search for a longer period to find a permanent position.
All in all indeed few of the medical colleagues voiced public views about religious issues. So it is striking that the surgeon Grosglik, concluded his report about the Polish Surgical Congress in Cracow in 1899 (which I mentioned at the beginning of this presentation) with the comment that it would have been more suitable for the memorial Mass for Professor Alfred Obaliński to be included among the official events of the congress.[21] Because the memorial service took place only afterwards, just a small circle of colleagues was able to attend it. These words do not convey any particular construal of religion, but rather attest to a deep respect for Obaliński.
As many documents show, normal communication among the medical colleagues was in Polish, naturally interspersed with Latin technical terms. The majority of the physicians also had studied or worked in hospitals in the German-speaking area. It was not difficult for most of them to publish in German in the professional press.

  1. Some selected situations in the operating rooms in the city

To begin with, what needs mentioning here is that the written reports about operations from this time period always limit themselves to purely medical facts and, as a rule, yield not a word about the medical personnel – probably because the local reality was taken as generally given for the professional reader. One of the few cases in which the name of a second surgeon is mentioned (namely, the Chief of Surgery, Felix Jabłonowski), comes in the well-known 1847 report from Aleksander Le Brun [22] from the Hospital of the Child Jesus, in which he recounts the first use of chloroform in the bi-lateral amputation of a patient’s legs (during which each surgeon was amputating one of the legs.) What is interesting, however, is that frequently the specific names of the patients are given. Most likely that happened because one wanted to establish that the report was dealing with an authentic, actual case.

By 1809, the council of doctors at that time (under the leadership of Wolff) formulated important phrases to be used in the swearing-in ceremony for physicians in the Duchy of Warsaw and later the Kingdom of Poland.[23] These recalled the responsibility of exchanging ideas with colleagues about difficult cases and beyond that, it was required of them to maintain good rapport with one another. Beginning that year, the Chief of Staff of the Jewish hospital took the German-Polish surgeon Franciszek Brandt (1777–1832) as an assistant. Since both had studied at German universities (Kuntze in Frankfurt and Brandt in Halle), we can assume that in the operating rooms, in addition to Latin, they spoke German. In 1830 and 1831, the Polish surgeon Ludwik Józef Bierkowski helped out at the Jewish hospital. He also had studied at German universities and so we can once again assume they were communicating in Latin and German. Ludwik Koehler (1799–1871) was, starting in 1831, the Chief of Surgery at the Jewish hospital. In 1835, when he was absent for a while with a serious illness, he had the Polish surgeon Le Brun replace him. Koehler and Le Brun were at the time the two innovative surgeons in Warsaw. Koehler introduced the young Polish surgeon, Franciszek Groer, to new operating techniques. Later on, Koehler often asked Groer to assist him in operations and they consulted together on the techniques they were going to employ. Both Koehler and Groer invited colleagues to attend interesting operations. One of the most interesting moments occurred in 1860 in the operating room of the Jewish hospital, when the Berlin surgeon and professor Bernhard von Langenbeck, who had led the surgical clinic Charité to be a central locus of surgery in Europe, conducted three operations at which his student, the Chief of Surgery, Ludwik Chwat, observed. Unfortunately, there are no further details about the visit except for what is in the medical reports.[24]

I have expressly limited myself here to operating rooms. There were, however, in the last quarter of the 19th century also private clinics at which numerous other shared medical activities took place. Furthermore, we know that three Jewish and three Polish physicians Stanislaw Leopold Lubliner, Teodor Heryng, Karol Benni, Zygmunt Srebrny, Henryk Dobrzycki and Ludwig Guranowski planned a joint private ENT clinic. [25] They received the approval in 1891, but the clinic was never opened.

  1. Summary

Even though Jewish physicians were to a certain extent extremely active as ʻlighthousesʼ in science, in the professional press, in journalism, and as forward thinkers in the modernization of hospitals, they represented in the 19th century only a limited percentage of the leading physicians in the hospitals. The economic bottlenecks and political pressure especially in the last quarter of the 19th century led to the point that Jews practicing medicine predominately attained leading positions only in the Jewish hospital and the Jewish children’s hospital. Over and above that there were a few ʻJewish islandsʼ such as circles of students around individual specialists and private clinics. But Polish physicians also belonged to these. If at the beginning of the century, in addition to technical Latin, German also prevailed as the common language among the physicians in the operating rooms, by the end of the century Polish was predominate, because in the interim a technical terminology in Polish had also been developed. So, one can count among the scientific aspects of that period, that a positive collaboration predominated.

[1] Maria Julita Nedza, Polityka stypendialna Akademii Umiejętności w latach 1878-1920: fundacje Gałęzowskiego, Pileckiego i Osławskiego (Wrocław et al.: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1978), 2.

[2] Todd M. Endelman, ‘Jewish Converts in Nineteenth-Century Warsaw: A Quantitative Analysis‘. in: Jewish Social Studies, 4, H. 1 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 28–59.

[3] ʻLudność Warszawyʼ, available at https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludno%C5%9B%C4%87_Warszawy (last visited 23 February 2017).

[4] ʻŻydzi Warszawyʼ, available at www.agenda21.waw.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28:ydzi-warszawy&catid=8:warszawska-galeria-wielu-kultur&Itemid=29 (last visited 23 February 2017).

[5] ʻLudność Warszawyʼ.

[6] Zofia Podgórska-Klawe, Szpitale Warszawskie 1388–1945 (Warszawa: PWN, 1975), 133.

[7] Ibid., 135.

[8] ʻVirtual Shtetlʼ, available at www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/warszawa/5,history/?action=view&page=1 (last visited 23. February 2017).

[9] Podgórska-Klawe, Szpitale, 137.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 140.

[12] Ibid., 177.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Podgórska-Klawe, Szpitale, 184.

[15] Zofia Podgórska-Klawe, ʻWe warszawskich szpitalach ewolucja roli lekarza szpitalnegoʼ, Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki 55, 3-4 (2010), 27-36, here 33.

[16] Podgórska-Klawe, Szpitale, 194.

[17] Zygmunt Kramsztyk Służba lekarska.„ In: Szkice krytyczne z zakresu medycyny Zygmunta Kramsztyka.(Warszawa:1899).

[18] Ludwik Natanson, Z życia i praktyki (Warszawa: K. Kowalewski, 1896).

[19] Zygmunt Kramsztyk, O znaczeniu szpitali: Odczyt publiczny (Warszawa: J. Cotty, 1892).

[20] Janusz Korczak, Pamietnik i inne pisma z getta (Warszawa: 2012)

[21] Nedza, Polityka, 25.

[22] A. Le Brun, ‘O chloroformie. in: Tygodnik lekarski, nr. 10 (8 marca ) 1848, 73-75.

[23] Podgórska-Klawe, Szpitale, 137.

[24] David Rosenthal, ‘Szpital Starozakonnych w Warszawie. Oddział chorych chirurgicznych pana Chwat’. in: Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Lekarskiego Warszawskiego1860, S. III, T. I, og. zb. T. XLIII, s. 369-373.

8/ D. Rosenthal; op. cit., s. 369; Ludwik Chwat, ‘Wycięcie guza szczęki górney‘, in:Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Lekarskiego Warszawskiego. 1865, S. IV, T. VII, og. zb. T. LIII, Ryc. 2..

[25] Andrzej Kierzek, Otolaryngolodzy warszawscy w XIX wieku (Wroclaw: Arboretum, 1998), p.210..

Jewish Spaces


‘From Peddlers to Shopkeepers’. How Consumption Came to the Countryside

(Ruth Leiserowitz)


My paper seeks to elaborate the role, function and perceptions of Jewishness and Jewish actors during the beginning of consumption in the rural area in the context of diaspora. Were there forms that were unique to either village or town? I will present my paper with 7 points and 23 pictures. This is a case study in a border region. – East Prussia. Therefore, this photo demonstrates the important role that border played in this region.
The starting point of observation is the East Prussian border area in the first half of the 19th century. It was here that Prussia bordered on the old Lite or Lita, the region in which the Lithuanian Jews, the Litvaks, lived from the end of the 14th century until the beginning of the World War II. This is the region which is today the intersection where Poland, Lithuania, and the Kaliningrad region meet. This was once the periphery of the empire in which there were no shops in the countryside. The villagers occasionally acquired a few necessary items at markets and fairs or from Jewish peddlers who came from the other  side of the border – from the edges of the Russian Empire.



In the first half of the 19th century, peddlers, primarily of Jews from Poland and Lithuania, offered their wares to the villagers, bringing to this border region a transnational material cultural exchange. Prussian authorities were interested in supporting and promoting this commercial exchange as much as possible because it proffered significant economic advantages to the region. Furthermore, native merchants were pleased with this commercial activity, since it was only through this exchange that they had access, albeit slight, to a foreign market. It seemed that only Jews were able to surmount the manifold obstacles in the Prussian-Russian-Polish trading business. In addition to their knowledge of the respective languages and countries, they had at their command as well: a mercantile sense, embedded in a functioning cross-border network; the availability of sufficient capital; strong intercultural competence, and, in order to overcome the strains of their costly and uncomfortable journeys, a high motivation towards ownership. This group of Jewish merchants was well-liked on the Prussian periphery. Many of the Litvak-Jewish traders, who began their Eastern Prussian careers as peddlers, later ended up as bearers of a solid merchandise trade in the Prussian region.

Let me focus on Litvaks coming into the area after 1840. The first group of Jews were already well settled in the small towns. The newcomer had to start on an lower level.
The majority of the traders travelled by horse or on foot. They generally used side roads; because it was precisely there that there were more customers than at the large places on the country roads. The regular selection which ambulant trade offered improved supply conditions in the countryside and created new needs. Jewish and Christian salesmen contracted peddlers as in-betweeners.
The customers seemed to accept the Jewish peddlers and to use their services to a greater extent.This is the only way to explain the growth in wealth of various traders, who finally managed to establish their own premises in East Prussia with their business. Sources show that numerous traders from the other side of the border looked for a firm area of trade, built up a constant body of regular customers there, applied for permanent residence and gradually became well-known personalities who were able to receive certificates of their good name from the mayors on request. These were frequently asked for when a peddler planned to stabilize his local trade connections, i.e. to settle permanently and to make an application for naturalization. If customers were satisfied, they would gladly support the wish to settle, since they saw the obvious advantages for both sides.


From police reports, we know what was contained in the satchels of these peddlers. The range of goods of a peddler comprised mostly the following articles: penknives, shaving razors, scissors, pipe bowls and fittings, buttons, ribbons, soap and cloth. But clocks as well were traded. Especially in the winter, the textile merchants were on the move, as confirmation dresses and suits were sewn for Easter. The peddlers came regularly, and so desires could be expressed, and orders placed. Undoubtedly, a range of demands evolved in this time.


Railway construction in East Prussia began in the 1850s. In addition to the state-sponsored main lines, scores of secondary lines quickly sprouted, which allowed the development of a dense transportation network. The railway provided a considerable improvement to trade possibilities, since new buying and selling markets could be accessed, greater turnover was achieved and the city and the countryside came closer.
As the possibility now existed to deliver an ample range of goods as far as the villages, many shops appeared, and many travelling vendors and peddlers thus put down roots. In addition to soap, kerosine and accompanying lamps, everything which a farmer might not, or could not produce himself was sold in these shops. A locality which featured a shop hence offered an added attraction.
The mobility between the city and the countryside increased, and so did the influence of the city on the rural area . The freshly established traders imported fashionable clothing, modern furniture, bicycles, sewing machines and the telephone. With boosted sales, the railway decidedly enhanced trading opportunities (Richarz1997:8). Rural communities were now in a commercial and communication relationship which emanated from the city. The first traces of cultural homogenization gradually began to show themselves here as well as in East Prussia (Haupt/Mayaud 1999: 355).

Jewish marketing

Can we speak about „Jewish marketing“? To what extent were the shopkeepers and their families pioneers of consumption? The expanding middle and upper class of Jews in the villages oriented themselves according to the urban bourgeoisie in their consumer behavior and soon also in individual modes of life. Here we could say that an acculturation took place at a great distance. One example is that they sold postcards from their shops and used them.(The production of view cards increased significantly after the permit of Reichspost in 1872.) This was a very innovative measure.
The first generation of Jewish shopkeepers were immigrants from neighboring regions of the Czarist Russian Empire, who traditionally also had numerous children. They themselves were the first consumers of such products and equipped their houses in an urban manner with them. They demonstrated for the village dwellers novelty.
Further information on the dowrey of daughters of shopkeepers is given by some marriage records.
Upon examining the marriage contract (with conditions of property division in the event of separation) dated from 3 August 1868, of Heinriette Bräude, a merchant’s daughter, we see among others things, “5 silk dresses, 20 various woolen and half-woolen dresses, 6 coats, 1 double breasted, 1 velvet, 2 silk, 2 summer coats.” (Marriage contract, 3 Aug. 1868, no. 1573, Ap. 2, B. 2097, Šilutės valsčiaus teismo fondas [Šilutė District Court], Lithuanian State Archives, Klaipėda). This itemization, documented by a notary, shows that this merchant’s daughter was well-to-do(?) and possessed far more clothing than she in general required. Their property distinguish the families of Jewish shopkeepers from the rest of the population in a given village. A further characteristic, which was clearly perceived by their cohabitants, was that the shops remained closed during the High Holidays of Judaism, and the families often went away—to a nearby town, where there was a synagogue. Although the rural inhabitants recognized the Jewish faith of the shopkeepers, they did not associate the wares in their shops as Jewish. Those items were products of modernity, for which general promotions and advertisements also appeared in periodicals and newspapers.
The expanding middle and upper classes of provincial Jews oriented themselves toward consumerist behavior and soon also towards the unique ways of life of the urban Jewish bourgeoisie. As Monika Richarz formulated, it was a matter of “acculturation over a great distance.” Soon new educational needs appeared as well. The children, who thanks to the railways, were often sent to nearby towns to school because of their parents’ aspirations to join the urban Jewish bourgeoisie. The Jewish shopkeepers were the precursors of the middle class in rural areas. They represented a firm fixture of the villages and the rural social fabric. Nonetheless, the public assumed that they would gradually disappear from the East-Prussian countryside in the beginning of the 20th century, as the children of these families left for work in the cities and only seldom returned. They frequently established new businesses in the small towns of the region, where they specialized in, among others things, fabric and clothing.

The Salamander Example

In 1904 a Berlin shoe vendor registered the trademark “Marke Salamander” for footwear and accessories. Already by 1905, a branch system of the “Salamander-Schuhgesellschaft mbH” arose, which organized cost-efficient distribution, and at the same time facilitated advertising and sales. Independent retailers obtained the exclusive right of sale for “Salamander-Schuhe” in their respective locations and received advertising support from the company. Thus selective distribution, joint promotion and uniform pricing policies were organized. The first dealers who distributed Salamander-Schuhe in the province of East Prussia were Jews. In some cases they radically changed the profile of the land—from general stores to specialty shops. (In this case the strategy proved useful, as in the meantime many competing general stores with the same range of products had been established.) In other cases, they set up new shops, which, owing to their design and configuration, had a unique selling point and became magnets. In a third variant, the range of choices in a general store was augmented to include an assortment of shoes. All of these examples of shops had Jewish proprietors, who, moreover, were related to each other. Whoever was successful as a retailer quickly enlisted relatives to their branch. Through new, attractive and very modern advertising efforts, sales were boosted.


Jews fulfilled an important role in the propagation of consumerism to rural areas and proved to be innovative players. Through their distinctive position, they and their families served as a model for consumer culture in the countryside.