The Szmul Zygielbojm Memorial Committee was formed in 1993 by members and friends of the Jewish Socialists' Group and the Bund to provide a permanent memorial in London to perpetuate the memory of the life and work of the Polish Jewish socialist and anti-fascist, Szmul Zygielbojm, who committed suicide in London in May 1943.
After escaping from Nazi-occupied Poland, Zygielbojm maintained an information-gathering network from London and compiled a grim dossier on the atrocities being suffered by Poland's Jews. He lobbied diplomats, government officials, the press and trade unions, calling for exceptional action to rescue Poland's Jews. After he received news that the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was finally extinguished, Zygielbojm took his own life as a final protest against the passivity with which the world allowed the slaughter to occur.
In May 1996 a memorial plaque was unveiled on the corner of Porchester Road and Porchester Square, London W2, in a ceremony attended by the Polish ambassador, Zygielbojm's family in America, the mayor of Westminster and around 200 people, including holocaust survivors, anti-racist activists, Polish socialists and others.
At the unveiling a speech was made by David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists' Group and Zygielbojm's last letter was read in Yiddish and English by Esther Brunstein and Julia Bard.
The unveiling was followed by a memorial meeting addressed by: Perec Zylberberg (World Co-ordinating Committee of the Bund), Ryszard Stemplowski (Polish Ambassador), Majer Bogdanski (Bundist veteran and JSG member), David Cesarani (historian), and Zygielbojm's daughter in law Adele and grandchildren Paul and Arthur.
To President W. Rackiewicz
I take the liberty of addressing to you my last words and through you to the Polish government and people, to the governments and peoples of the Allied states and to the conscience of the world...
The responsibility for the crime of murdering all the Jewish population in Poland falls, in the first instance, on the perpetrators, but indirectly it also burdens the whole of humanity, upon the peoples and governments of the Allied states that, so far, have made no effort towards a concrete action to put a stop to this crime...
I cannot remain silent. I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland whose representative I am are being exterminated. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto perished with their weapons in their hands in their last heroic battle. It was not my destiny to die as they did, together with them. But I belong to them and in their mass graves.
By my death I wish to make the strongest possible protest against the passivity with which the world is looking on and permitting the extermination of the Jewish people. I know how little human life is worth today, but as I was unable to do anything during my life, perhaps by my death I shall help to break down the indifference of those who have the possibility now, at the last moment to save those Polish Jews still alive, from certain annihilation.
My life belongs to the Jewish people in Poland and, therefore, I give it to them. I wish that the surviving remnants of the several millions of Polish Jews could live to see, with the Polish population, the liberation that it could know in Poland, in a world of freedom and in the justice of socialism. I believe that such a Poland will arise and that such a world will come.
I bid farewell to everybody and everything that was dear to me and that I have loved.
Born in 1895 in Borowica, Poland, Szmul Zygielbojm was forced by poverty to start work in a factory at the age of 10. Later, when he was married with two children, he worked as a glovemaker. He educated himself intensively and developed a tremendous love for music, art, literature and theatre. Having joined the Bund (Jewish Socialist Party), he proved to be an excellent organiser and public speaker. He rose fast within the party and was elected to its central committee. He became the Secretary of the Metal Workers Union and represented the Jewish trades unions in the Executive of the Federation of all Trades Unions in Poland. In 1927 he was elected to Warsaw Town Council.
In 1936 Zygielbojm moved to Lodz, the most industrial town in Poland and home of its second largest Jewish community, where he was elected to the town council. The whole population took him to their hearts. When war broke out in 1939 he returned to Warsaw and helped to organise the defence of the city. When Warsaw was defeated the Nazis were hunting for Zygielbojm. The Bund's underground committee appointed him as the representative of the Jews under the Nazis, and smuggled him out of Poland so he could obtain help for them from governments outside. After a dangerous journey through Germany, he arrived in Brussels and addressed a conference of European Social Democratic parties. His detailed account of Nazi atrocities against the Jews made a devastating impact. One newspaper wrote: 'For the European people a new world appeared of which they did not know before... Zygielbojm revealed to the world, for the first time, the reality of this war.'
Zygielbojm continued his activities for Polish Jewry in America until 1942 when he became a member of the Polish Parliament-in-Exile, based in London. He urged the Polish government to persuade other governments to take steps to stop the annihilation of the Jews. Every report he received from Poland he sent to President Roosevelt and to other Allied leaders. He spoke on BBC radio. He tabled motions in the Polish Parliament-in-Exile urging the Allies to drop leaflets from planes over Germany telling of the atrocities and issuing strong warnings to the Germans. But all this was to no avail.
On 19 April 1943 the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto broke out. Three weeks later, Zygielbojm committed suicide in protest at the passivity with which the world was permitting the Nazis to destroy the Jews of Europe. In a letter found on his table, addressed to the President of Poland, he wrote: '...I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland, whose representative I am, are being exterminated.'