Farewell letters from Shmuel Zygielbojm

On the night of 11 – 12 May 1943, Shmuel Zygielbojm took his own life. He had left three farewell letters addressed to the President and Prime Minister of Poland in exile, to his brother Faivel, who lived in Johannesburg, and to his fellow party members in the United States.

Wide list prezydent

I. Letter to President Władysław Raczkiewicz and to Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski, The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum – London.

Mr. President,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Please allow me to address my last words to you. And through you, to the government and people of Poland, to the Allied governments and nations, and to the conscience of the world.


I can neither be silent nor live when the last remnants of the Jewish people, whose I represent, are being killed. My comrades in the Warsaw Ghetto have fallen with guns in their hands, in their last heroic struggle. I wasn’t given the chance to die like them, together with them. But I belong with them, in their mass graves.

Through my death, I wish to express my deepest protest against inaction with which the world is watching and permitting destruction of the Jewish people. I am aware how little human life means, especially now. But since I couldn’t achieve it in my lifetime, perhaps my death will shake from lethargy those who can and who should act now, in order to save, in the last possible moment, this handful of Polish Jews who still remain alive.

My life belongs to the Jewish people in Poland, so I give it to them. I wish for that handful which remained from a several-million community of Polish Jews to see the liberation together with the Polish people, to breathe in a world of socialist freedom and justice, to compensate for all their inhuman suffering. I believe such Poland will emerge, and that such a world will come.

I believe that the President and the Prime Minister will pass my words to everyone to whom they are addressed, and that the Polish Government will take diplomatic and propaganda steps to save the last remaining Polish Jews from destruction.

I bid farewell to everyone and everything I held dear and loved.

S. Zygielbojm

II. Farewell letter from Shmuel Zygielbojm to brother Fajwel

11 May 1943

It is a quiet April night in 1943. I am walking among people in the streets of London. In the passersby brushing against my clothing I see shadows from the Warsaw Ghetto. They are all around me… Why did I leave them? I was there with them. Why am I not there now, in their last struggle? Why am I not fighting by their side on the ruins of the wall in Warsaw? Why am I not lying crushed with them? What have I achieved? Have I saved even a single Jewish child from a terrifying death? I am standing, dejected, with a shattering sense of powerlessness… I cry into the dead of night: O, deaf world! Save them! Save them! In Poland they are murdering Jews, men, women, old people, children...

All the joy in me is stamped out. A sadness, round like the full moon, wraps around me. I look at the tattered clouds, and in them, too, I see the shadows of barbed wire… I recognize the faces of my dear friends.

No shadow passes me twice, it is a different one each time… My God… So many… the whole Jewish world… I have seen them fight, proud Jewish laborers and working people. I have seen them in the labor unions, at meetings, at popular parties and 1st of May demonstrations. Today their shadows rush past me and through me as ragged clouds, each demanding a squaring of accounts…


The sky is cold and silent like the people down below… Indifferent to our tragedy, each night they go to sleep in their warm beds. It slashes my heart and mind like a sword. Their life in agony, their death, is a disgrace for everyone in this world, and no one is ashamed?

O if I had the strength, I would cleave the sky, shake the earth, and scream... It is already past midnight and I am still at my reckoning... A wind breaks out and the shadows keep speeding past...

In Leicester Square a drunk man is singing a sad song.

And I, a Jew, representative of the Jewish proletarian masses in Poland, am also singing my song:

“Brother, we’ve made a pact for life and death...”

My life belongs to the Jewish people in Poland and that is why I am giving it.

III.  Farewell letter from Shmuel Zygielbojm to Leon and Lucjan Blit, his colleagues from the Bund party

11 V [19]43

My dear Leon and Lucjan,

I’d like to ask both of you to forgive me worries and troubles which I bring you. It’s late, and there’s no time for long explanations or for sentimentalism. I bid farewell to you, I send you my love to you – the only ones of my friends to be so kind, you were my life, you were there. I’m certain you will understand everything without further explanations. My comrades from New York and from Poland (if they manage to survive me – what a joy and relief would it be to believe that it’s possible!), will understand me too. I don’t write a separate letter to my comrades from New York; I’m already very very tired. I see all of our loved ones in front of me and I rejoice with everyone who remains alive. Love to both of you.

I leave my letter to the President, to Prime Minister, to Mikołajczyk and to Kot. I’m leaving also their facsimiles. Please send copies immediately to New York and to the PSP. Please send them also to be translated to English, and pass to: dr Wolf from Manchester Guardian, Freeman from the Times, […] from the Labour Party, and to.

My dearest, don’t spend time grieving, but rather take care of immediate actions to save Jews who still live in Poland.

I’m leaving a signed telegram, please send it immediately to New York. This is my last farewell to all my friends.

Dear Leon, I’m leaving to you 50 pounds and a check signed with your name. Please withdraw money from my account (I don’t know, how much is left there). May it be my inheritance for my loved ones.

My dear friends, if either of you sees Manya or any of my children, please tell them that I couldn’t forgive myself that I’d left them.

Love and thanks

Your Z. Artur.


P.S. In the Ministry of Finance, there are signed with my name:

500 dollars for our work here,

3000 dollars for comrades from Poland.

Leon, please move into my flat. I will write to my landlady about it.

On our temporary exhibition „Shmuel Zygielbojm. I can neither be silent nor live” we present Zygielbojm’s prewar biography on the background of his union, political and local government activity, Zygielbojm’s family relations (having escaped from Warsaw in January 1940, he left his wife and children in the capital) and timeline which tells about events from it beginning, through Szmul Zygielbojm’s escape to the West until his inclusion into the National Council and his arrival in London.


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