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B'nai B'rith


B’nai B’rith
B’nai B’rith (Hebrew: Bné Brit – Sons of the Covenant – a network of Jewish organizations following the example of the Masonic lodges, the functioning of which began with the establishment of a small charitable organisation in 1844 in New York. The organisation began to develop from 1865 onwards, when the Jewish humanitarian associations of America came up with a joint effort to provide support to the victims of cholera in Palestine. In 1897 a women’s organisation was established, followed by the Anti-Defamation League in 1913; from the 1920s onwards, youth and student organisations were also being set up (the Hillel Foundation). In Europe, the B’nai B’rith remained active since 1882 as the German Imperial Lodge (Berlin). In 1932, a total of 103 lodges of the B’nai B’rith remained active in Europe, with 13 thousand members in total. Among the 19 national districts, the Polish district carried the number 13. After World War II, the European organisation was reestablished in 1948 under the leadership of F. Leo Baeck.

The registered office of the organisation was established in Paris. In 1970, a total of 57 lodges remained active in 12 countries (apart from the USA, where the organisation enjoys a much greater popularity). In 1888, Z. Herzberg established the Jerusalem Lodge in Jerusalem. The beginnings of the B’nai B’rith in Poland can be traced back to 1895. The Cracow lodge was established at the initiative of the lodge in Vienna, led by doctor L. Lustgarten; its official name was the “Solidarity” Jewish Humanitarian Association. It enjoyed the status of a tolerated international organisation and operated according to the articles of association which had been approved by the national authorities. Much as was the case with other centres, the organisation’s members included all of the prominent members of the local Jewish communities, regardless of their political views. The Cracow lodge, along with the lodge in Lviv which was established a few years later as well as the local branches of the Alliance Israelite Universelle have managed to prove their worth in particular during the aid scheme for the Jewish refugees from Russia and Romania (from 1899 onwards); in 1918, the Aid Committee of Polish Jews was established at the initiative of the lodge, the activities of which were also extended to the territory of Eastern Galicia.

The Committee was subsequently transformed into the Union of Associations for the Support of War Orphans, which maintained close cooperation with the Centos organisation in Warsaw. The Warsaw lodge (the Brotherhood) was established shortly after World War I. In 1924, the Polish lodges of the B’nai B’rith joined to form the Great Lodge of the Polish District (13th District) of the B’nai B’rith; they were subsequently forced to disband pursuant to the decree of the President of the Republic of Poland of 22 XI 1938. B. Czajecka, Archiwum Związku Żydowskich Stowarzyszeń Humanitarnych „B'nei B'rith" w Krakowie (1892–1938) Zarys dziejów związku, historia zespołu i inwentarz[The Archive of the Association of Jewish Humanitarian Associations “B’nai B’rith” in Cracow (1892 – 1938). An Outline of the History of the Association, the Activities of the Group and the Inventory], Cracow 1994.

Andrzej Żbikowski

Quoted after: Tomaszewski J., Żbikowski A., Żydzi w Polsce. Dzieje i kultura. Leksykon. [Jews in Poland – Their History and Culture. A Lexicon.], , Warsaw 2001.