Potocki, Valentine

views updated


POTOCKI, VALENTINE (Abraham ben Abraham ; d. 1749), Polish count martyred as a proselyte. According to legend, Potocki, a gifted scion of the celebrated Potocki family, while studying in Paris became friendly with Zaremba, another young Polish aristocrat. Once, while in a tavern, they noticed the owner, an old Jew, immersed in the study of the Talmud, and expressed a desire to be instructed in the principles of Judaism. The two vowed that they would become Jews if convinced of the error of Christianity. Zaremba married and forgot both his vow and his friend. Potocki, however, after spending some time at the papal academy in Rome, went to Amsterdam and became a Jew. When Zaremba heard the report, which had spread throughout Lithuania, of Potocki's disappearance from Rome, he recalled his vow, and, taking his family with him to Amsterdam, also became a Jew there, and subsequently settled in Ereẓ Israel. Potocki went to Lithuania and settled as a Jew in *Ilya, near Vilna.

Once Potocki scolded a boy for disturbing the prayers in synagogue. The boy's father, a coarse tailor, took umbrage and reported the existence of the proselyte to the authorities, thus leading to his arrest. Potocki was put on trial, and despite the pleas of fellow aristocrats refused to recant. On the second day of Shavuot, 5509 (1749), he was burned at the stake at the foot of the fortress of Vilna, on his lips the prayer, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord,… who sanctifiest Thy name before multitudes." A local Jew, Eliezer Ziskes, pretending to be a Christian, succeeded through bribery in collecting some of the ashes and a finger from the corpse, and these were eventually buried in the Jewish cemetery. From the soil over the grave of Potocki, who was called by them the Ger Ẓedek ("the righteous proselyte"), there grew a big tree which drew vast pilgrimages of Jews. The grave was demolished by Polish vandals. The first to publish the story of the Ger Ẓedek was the Polish writer J. Kraszewski in 1841. He claimed to have found it in a Hebrew manuscript. Later it was published by I.M. *Dick in Hebrew (1862) and in Yiddish (n.d.) under the title Gerei ha-Ẓedek (see yivo Bleter, 1 (1931), 331–3). So far no historical evidence for the story has been discovered, although it is generally believed to have been true. The story served as a theme for a drama in Yiddish, called Dukus ("Prince"), by Alter *Kacyzne and for some novels. The Jews of Vilna celebrated the anniversary of Potocki's death by reciting the Kaddish and by making pilgrimages to his purported grave on the Ninth of Av and on the High Holy Days.


I. Cohen, Vilna (1943), 73–74, 416, 484–6; M. Balaban in: Nayer Haynt (1925), nos. 68, 80, 81, 94, 99, 113, 119, 134; Yevreyskaya Biblioteka, 3 (1873), 229–37; A. Litvin, Yidishe Neshomes, 1 (1916), 1–8; Gerei ha-Ẓedek (Vilna, 1862); Gerei Ẓedek (Berlin, 1921).

[Arthur Cygielman]