|Born||26 December 1901|
|Died||10 April 1984 (aged 82)|
|Known for||Involvement with the Ministry of Public Security and its activities|
Jakub Berman (26 December 1901 - 10 April 1984) was a communist activist in the Second Polish Republic (prior to World War II). In communist Poland, he was a member of the Politburo of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR) and then of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). Berman (together with W?adys?aw Gomu?ka and then Boles?aw Bierut) was responsible for party oversight of the Stalinist Ministry of Public Security. From 1948, he was considered the second most powerful politician in Poland, after Bierut (until Bierut's death).
Jakub Berman was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Warsaw on 26 December 1901. His younger brother was Adolf Berman. Jakub became a member of the Communist Youth Union and in 1928 joined the Communist Party of Poland. He was arrested a few times, but unlike many other activists, had not been imprisoned for a prolonged period. He received a law degree in 1925 from the University of Warsaw. He wrote a magister thesis entitled S?u?ba domowa w Warszawie w ko?cu w. XVIII oraz próby jej zrzeszenia si? zawodowego ('Domestic servantry in Warsaw at the end of the 18th century and its attempts to establish a trade association'). Berman's academic adviser, Marxist sociologist Prof. Ludwik Krzywicki, wanted to hire Berman at the university as his assistant, but it was not allowed because of Berman's Jewish origin. Krzywicki's efforts to find Berman a mainstream non-university job also failed and Berman ended up working for a Jewish agency, in a poorly paid position. The family was supported largely by Berman's wife, Gustawa née Grynberg, who was a well-regarded physician and dentist.
On 6 September 1939, after the Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, Berman followed government directions for "able-bodied men" and took a train going in the eastern direction. He went to Bia?ystok, by that time occupied by the Soviet Union. With his friend Alfred Lampe, Berman was active in Polish-communist circles there and became a Soviet citizen. In March 1941 he moved to Minsk, where he worked as an editor at Sztandar Wolno?ci ('The Banner of Freedom'), a Polish-language bulletin published by the Communist Party of Byelorussia. Berman's doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of Krzywicki and entitled O strukturze miast polskich na podstawie spisu ludno?ci w 1791 r. ('On the structure of Polish cities based on the population census of 1791'), was brought to Bia?ystok by his friend and colleague Irena Sawicka, but burned in Minsk when a dormitory where Berman and other journalists were housed was bombed by the Germans.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Berman escaped to Moscow. Later he became an instructor at the Comintern school in Kushnarenkovo near Ufa, where he trained displaced Polish communists, activists for the new Soviet-sponsored Polish Workers' Party (PPR). With the help from Georgi Dimitrov and Jerzy Borejsza, Berman was able to bring there his wife and daughter Lucyna.
In December 1943, Berman met Joseph Stalin at a Kremlin reception for activists of the Union of Polish Patriots. He gained Stalin's trust and became a prominent figure among the Polish communists in the Soviet Union (according to Berman, Stalin hated him). In the summer of 1944, Berman joined the Politburo of the PPR and returned to Poland. In Lublin, at the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN), Berman practically led the foreign affairs department; it was concerned primarily with securing international recognition for the new communist-led governing entity.
In January 1945, as soon as Warsaw was liberated, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland (formerly the PKWN) moved from Lublin to Praga district of Warsaw. Berman, as a member of the Politburo of the PPR, was charged with oversight of the state security apparatus (the Ministry of Public Security). In post-war Poland Berman organized state censorship, supervised the development of and permissions for political parties and organizations, and was the main liaison between the PPR and the PKWN. Berman's decisions had to be consulted with and could be vetoed by two resident Soviet advisers, who remained in Poland until 1953 and 1954.
From 1948, together with Boles?aw Bierut, general secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), a successor of the PPR, and economist Hilary Minc, Berman formed a triumvirate of Stalinist leaders of Poland.[a] According to Lucyna Tych, Berman's daughter, all three "Stalinist" leaders sought to implement communism in Poland in ways different from the manner in which it was done earlier in the Soviet Union (while remaining entirely loyal to the leadership of the Soviet Union). Berman and Minc were close friends and partners. They successfully cooperated in protecting Poland's economic interests. For example, after their repeated interventions with the Soviets, the practice of dismantling industrial equipment in Poland and taking it to the Soviet Union was discontinued. They were somehow able to fend off Soviet attempts to introduce broader (Soviet-like) railroad tracks in Poland, which would cut-off Poland's transportation links with Germany and the West.
In late 1949 Stalin attempted to remove Berman from his position of power, accusing him of participation in an international anti-communist conspiracy and illicit foreign contacts, but the effort somehow did not succeed.
In August 1951, Gomu?ka was arrested, probably on Stalin's and Lavrentiy Beria's orders; they demanded his quick trial. Berman and Bierut, however, were able to keep delaying the proceedings, to the point that the trial never took place.
Berman became a member of the Politburo of the PZPR and remained in that capacity until 1956. He was responsible for science, literature and cultural affairs, propaganda and ideology.
During the period when Berman was one of the officials responsible for party oversight of the security apparatus, at least 200,000 people were imprisoned and some 6000 executed on political charges. Hundreds of former members of the Polish resistance movement in World War II were persecuted, especially from the Home Army and the National Armed Forces.[b]
After the death of First Secretary Bierut, Berman resigned from the PZPR Politburo (and from the position of first deputy prime minister) in May 1956. He was incriminated by his former co-worker in the security services Józef ?wiat?o, who defected to the West. Berman was relieved from the Central Committee of the PZPR in the fall of 1956 and in 1957, in the aftermath of the Polish October, dismissed from the party altogether, as responsible for the "Stalinist-era errors and distortions" (by which they meant dogmatic and sectarian party attitudes as well as breaking of the rule of law). Subsequently, Berman worked in the state-run Ksika i Wiedza ('Book and Knowledge') publishing house until his retirement in 1969. Jakub Berman died in Warsaw in April 1984.
a.^ Berman told a story to Teresa Tora?ska, by whom he was interviewed in the early 1980s. Afterwards, he requested that Tora?ska refrains from printing it, because he was concerned that his revelations may reflect badly on Bierut, "a noble man". Tora?ska published the account anyway.
In November 1949, at Belweder Palace, Bierut wanted to give Berman investigation files concerning cases of officers accused of political crimes, because he wanted Berman's opinion on the matter. Berman declined to take the files, because he considered them contrived and worthless. He asked Bierut to make sure that no death sentences are issued based on such evidence. Berman soon regretted not having taken the files and cooperated with Bierut's procedure. Bierut, who normally followed his advice, this time did not and twenty death sentences were eventually carried out. "Unfortunately", lamented Berman, "he believed in those papers too much".
b.^ The degree and nature of Berman's involvement with the state security apparatus are matters of controversy. It is not known whether his was kept currently informed by Minister Stanis?aw Radkiewicz and his people, or whether they saw him, an idealistic communist, as an impediment to their operation. According to the testimony of people familiar with Berman in this role, he often alleviated the cruelties of the system. He had no formal decision-making capacity, which rested with Gomu?ka and Bierut, or with Radkiewicz at the operational level. On the other hand, as the communist regime struggled to contain the armed underground in the mid-1040s, Berman lobbied for an expansion of state security. Berman is also believed to be responsible for the lessening of political repression, which began in the later 1940s.
Berman, responsible for culture, was despised by the literary circles and others, on whom he imposed harsh censorship and other restrictions. After the death of Bierut, Berman's adversaries produced highly negative written evaluations of him in printed media and he quickly became a scapegoat for all the misdeeds of the Stalinist period. A "good Bierut and bad Berman" stereotype was created.