Zbitkower, (Joseph) Samuel

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ZBITKOWER, (Joseph) SAMUEL (1730s–1801), Warsaw merchant, banker, and army purveyor. He settled in Warsaw in 1757 and displayed great ability and initiative in the development of varied types of trade and industry, including timber haulage, working the salt mines, preparation of leather, operating a slaughterhouse, exercise of the monopoly on kasher meat, and the operation of brick kilns and a brewery. Because of his great wealth, evidenced by his ownership of houses in Warsaw and estates in the surroundings, as well as through banking operations, he established good connections with ruling circles – Poles, Russians, and Prussians. In 1773 he received through the minister Poniński the title "Elder of the Jews," which gave him the authority to farm taxes and was exploited by him to extort money from the rich men of the community.

In 1788 Zbitkower was appointed parnas of the Warsaw suburb of Praga, and in 1796 submitted a petition for the suburb to be granted the status of a separate community. He also received the right to establish a cemetery in Praga, which still has the tombstone describing his achievements. The quarter in which he lived was called Szmulowizna after him. Zbitkower's ability to adapt himself to political change enabled him to obtain the position of official contractor to the Russian army of occupation, and also helped him in supplying the Polish fighters during the *Kosciuszko revolt, Tales were related about his generous actions and his readiness to save Jews from the danger of war and capture. His third wife, judith levy of Frankfurt, was well known for her learning and proficiency in German and French, and this enabled her to aid her husband in his connections with members of the government. Despite his poor education, *Zbitkower managed to serve as shtadlan for the Jewish community, thanks to his official connections. After his death his widow and his son berek amassed great riches. He was the ancestor of the Berkson (or Bergson) family; his great-grandson was the philosopher Henri *Bergson.


J. Shatzky, Di Geshikhte fun Yidn in Varshe, 1 (1947), index; A. Levinson, Toledot Yehudei Varshah (1953), 56–60; I. Ringelblum, in: Zion, 3 (1938), 246–66, 337–55; N. Sokolow, in: Haynt Jubilee Volume (1928); idem, Ishim (1958), 101ff.; J. Flinker, in: Varshah (= Arim ve-Immahot be-Yisrael), 3 (1948), 50–54.

[Moshe Landau]