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JEWISH LVIV

¯ archive

Dr. Vladimir Melamed

Archivist and Historian, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

THE TRIAL: “AND WE, HAVING LIVED HERE FOR 600 HUNDRED YEARS, ARE NOT JUST GUESTS, WE ARE MASTERS TOO.”

Steiger Affair and Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Eastern Galicia in the 1920s

On September 5, 1924, Polish President Stanisław Wojcechowski visited Lviv for the opening of the Targi Wschodnie (regional Eastern Trade Fair). When the presidential cortege was passing through the intersection of Legionów and Kopernika streets, a bomb was thrown at his open carriage. Having rebounded from the carriage, it fell down on the ground. At that same moment, it was crashed  by the horse of a cavalry officer.  It had not detonated under the horse hoofs, nobody was hurt. [1]

Fig. 1. The site of the assassination attempt. A drawing. Source: Chwila, October 24, 1925, 7.

The Police made arrest on the scene. They arrested Stanisław Steiger, a Jew, who happened to be at the very place of the crime. Two witnesses immediately  testified against him. The authorities held him responsible, relying solely on their testimonies. They stated: he first raised his arm, and then started running away. After a short police investigation, Steiger was put before the summary tribunal.  The had begun on September 15, 1924, ten days after the assassination attempt. The Tribunal consisted of counselor (judges) Dukiet, Huth, Mayer, and Socha. [2]   In the case of  death sentence, their  unanimous decision was required.  Steiger’s defense held Dr. Grek and Dr. Bromberg.

Stanislaw (Szlomo) Steiger was born on 14 December 1900 in Lviv. His family fled Galicia for Vienna at the beginning of the First World War. At the end of the war he was drafted in an Austrian army non-combat unit. Upon return to Lviv, Steiger entered the Jan Kazimierz University to study law. He also had a job at the commercial firm S.A. Koloniale. [3] Being sympathetic to Zionism, he participated  in social activities  of the local Makabea, Karen Kayemet,and Keren Hayesod Funds. [4]   Having no real affiliation with the Communist movement, Steiger was familiar with its theoretical conceptions.

In 1924, summary courts still existed in Poland, especially in eastern Galicia—the home to Ukrainian dissent. By and large the summary courts dealt with political and criminal cases, which fall under the category of capital punishment. The Austrian law from  the 23rd  of May 1873 on such criminal proceedings had been still in force, providing legitimacy for summary trials, although Polish Legislature was debating its  abolition. [5] Summary proceedings constituted a curtailed version of the normal court proceeding.  Resting on the principles of openness, retaining judicial indictment and the right on defense, the summary courts had no jury and there was no right to appeal the sentence.

The criminal police built its investigation on the testimonies of two primary witnesses—Maria Pasternak and Wiktoria Loedl. The investigators completely disregarded a good number of other key witnesses who testified differently. All the testimonies, which did not support the police version, had not been taken into account or deliberately misinterpreted. The prosecutor, adherent to the police version, charged Steiger with the planned assassination attempt on the President, also linking him to a communist conspiracy. Defense lawyers Grek and Bromberg had been constantly drawing court’s attention to the drastically controversial circumstances of the case. They emphasized the blatant contradictions in the testimonies, pointing out onto the principal disagreement between the key witnesses.

 On 8 September 1924, three days after the attempt, Ukrains’ka Viiskova Organizatsija or UVO (Ukrainian Military Organization), an underground paramilitary structure committed to the cause of Ukrainian independence issued a statement, claiming responsibility for the attempt on Wojcechowski’s life. The statement delivered to Lviv Jewish daily Chwila (A Moment) revealed the following: 

Dear Mr. Editor, assassination attempt, executed around 3 P.M on the 5th of September in Lviv at Kopernika street, has been organized within a row of other actions by the Ukrainian Military Organization and designed by its members, Ukrainians. Having thrown the bomb, the UVO’s member realized its ineffectiveness. He intended to resolve the task with  a revolver, remaining for a while at the place. Although not being able to accomplish that, he involuntarily saved himself. Whereas he was remaining on the site, the other, not connected to the action, began to flee. At that moment absolutely innocent Steiger was arrested by the Polish police … We regret that the UVO’s action unintentionally brought serious harm to a completely innocent person of Jewish nationality and caused the new attacks on the Zionist party and the Jewish community. [6]

Fig. 2. The letter from the Ukrains’ka Viis’kova Organizatsiia (UVO), published in Chwila.

Source: Chwila, September 14, 1924, 3.

Dr. Leon Reich, head of the Eastern Galicia Zionist Organization and Member of Parliament together with Henryk Hescheles, editor in chief of Chwila, immediately intervened, notifying all relevant authorities about the obvious clarification in the Steiger case, although to no avail.  The court dismissed these new evidences on the ground of the prosecution’s objection to its authenticity. The summary court was anything, but not interested in any circumstances that could shed light on the case and provide for an alternative interpretation. The court’s primary goal was to determine whether or not Stanisław Steiger had to be indicted.

On September 17 was the last day of the trial. Verdict was announced in the morning:

On behalf of Polish Republic, the District Criminal Court in Lviv, acting as Summary Court, after having concluded two days of  deliberation, in the view of not reached unanimity,  has referred  the case to the regular proceeding. The Court also rules to hold Steiger incarcerated in the pre-trial  jail. [7]

Three judges admitted Steiger guilty, voting for conviction, while the only one judge voted against it, thus saving his life. If not him, the only remaining hope for life would be a presidential pardon. The new phase of the Steiger Affair began. A day earlier, Steiger’s father, his fiancée Józefa, and his friend Fichtman were released from incarceration. Stanisław Steiger would spend another 15 months in jail until after the new ten-weeks trial, on the 17th of December 1925, the jury delivered the final verdict.

The new investigation coincided with a number of crucial for Jewish society political developments. Firstly, the Polish-Jewish relations on the governmental level had reached a culminating point: whether or not Jewish political representation would carry on an anti-Polish policy of the Bloc of National Minorities or it will be prone to conform with the Polish Government and make itself independent  from the Bloc of National Minorities. After tormenting for the Jews negotiations the Jewish Parliamentary Representation, headed by Dr. Leon Reich, signed the Agreement with the Polish in July 1925 (widely known as Ugoda).

Prime Minister Grabski, congratulating the Jewish delegation with successful completion of the negotiations, said, “A Jewish strive to strengthening of their welfare will not  harm anyone, it shall be nothing but a factor, contributing to the power of the State. [8] The Ugoda between the Jewish Parliamentary Representation and the Polish Government meant to serve for the mutual Polish-Jewish reconciliation and cooperation. Yet it was seen in a different fore by the Ukrainians, notably as another manifestation of the Jewish treachery to the common anti-Polish cause. The organ of Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO), Lviv Daily Dilo (A Deed), ferociously attacked the Jewish conformist politics:

Whether under the leadership of Dr. Byk or Dr. Löwenstein, or Dr. Reich, they are remained the same—the exponents, the propagators, and the executors of the ruling class, the stewards to anybody who is in charge. Profit is in the first place for them, and, to this end, there is no limits of their egoism. [9]  

That was a diametrically different perspective: there, where the Jewish politicians saw a process of normalization, essential to Jewish well-being and security, the Ukrainian politicians detected egoism and treachery. It should be noted that in both instances we are hearing the voice of the Jewish and Ukrainian political elite. The ordinary people of both  communities were not equally engaged and divided along anti- and pro-Polish lines as the politicians were. At the same time, Dilo cannot but negatively influenced Ukrainian public opinion towards the Jews.

In August 1925, another summary political trial was taking place in Lviv. A Jewish Communist, Naftali Botwin assassinated the former agent of the political police Józef Cechnowski on the 28th of July, 1925. Cechnowski was also a witness in the Steiger trial, as well as in the other sound investigation, known as the Trial over the Lviv Residents (Process Obywatylej Lwowskich). The latter trial, also triggered by the Steiger Affair, had brought before the court a number of the leading Jewish political and public figures, as well as Polish and Ukrainian sympathizers of the communist movement. The prosecution incriminated them an anti-state conspiracy. [10] On the whole, the situation resembled the aftermath of the Ukrainian-Polish fight over Lviv in 1918, when a Jewish loyalty towards the Polish state was at stake. As a Ukrainian Dilo put it: “It definitely could be stated that the best doctor, time, has healed Jewish wounds, yet the Jews, at least at the present moment, have forgotten the November Pogroms”[November 1918]. [11]

In October 1918, the Ukrainians proclaimed a forthcoming establishment of a West Ukrainian National Republic in the ethnic Ukrainian territories of the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire. On the 1st of November, they seized power in Lviv, putting a declared republic into being. [12] The Ukrainian leadership appealed to all Galician national minorities for recognition, participation, and support. This appeal reads:

By the will of the Ukrainian people the Ukrainian state has been created in the territories of the former Austria-Hungary. The Ukrainian National Council is the  supreme governing body. All citizens of the Ukrainian state regardless of their nationality and religious denomination are granted equal civil rights. The national minorities—the Poles, the Jews, the Germans are invited to send their representatives to the Ukrainian National Council. [13]

The Polish population of Lviv responded by armed resistance, which eventually had evolved into a full-scale Polish-Ukrainian war in Galicia. The war lasted from November 1918 to July 1919. Fighting courageously for the national cause, the Ukrainians found themselves in a terribly unfavorable international situation when the Allies, seeing Poland as the only reliable anti-bolshevik force, prioritized ad hoc the Polish cause over a Ukrainian independence. The Ukrainian-Galician Army  gave in to the superior Polish military forces, supported by the Allies, and the Government of the Ukrainian Republic went into exile. The Polish administration had been established in Galicia. In 1919-1923 it still, de jure, was a provisional administration until an eventual referendum would take place under the auspices of the Council of Ambassadors (Council of Four). The referendum as well as other provisions of the Galician autonomy had never materialized. In March 1923, the Council of Ambassadors, curtailing a formal Galician autonomy, passed the region onto the full Polish jurisdiction, provisioning for the sake of formalities  some Polish obligations towards the ethnic Ukrainian population and other national minorities.

In the course of Polish-Ukrainian conflict in Lviv, the Jews, en masse, did not show a preference to any of the fighting side, finding themselves caught in between. On the contrary, both sides expected that the Jews would join them. At the time when the conflict was over, both, the Ukrainians and Poles had expressed their dissatisfaction  with Jewish neutrality, accusing them of supporting the opposite side. On 21 November 1918, the Ukrainian forces left Lviv. On the same day, after the Polish army entered the city, the Jewish pogrom had begun. It lasted three days. The pogrom, initiated by the city mob, raged in the Jewish quarters day and night. At its beginning, no attempts to take control over the situation on the part of the Polish military administration had been made. Had the Polish military not intervened too late, the Pogrom would have taken lesser toll than 73 dead, burned synagogues, and ruined Jewish residences. That scale of atrocities had not been seen in the city since the medieval times. After the situation had come under control, the Polish authorities set up a commission to investigate the matter. The commission, manifesting apologetic approach, proved not to have been effective in conducting an unbiased investigation.

From the beginning of the warfare, the Lviv Jewish leadership officially proclaimed neutrality, setting up a Jewish militia unit for the purpose of self-defense. Neither the executive body of the Jewish community nor the leadership of the Regional Zionist Organization were receptive to the Ukrainian appeals of representation and support.


Fig. 3. The Jewish quarter after the November 1918 Pogrom in Lviv.

Source: Derzhavnyi Archiv L’vivs’koi Oblasti (L’viv State Regional Archive)

Despite the official neutrality, some Jewish men had been noticed aiding the combat Ukrainian units, and this fact alone caused a great enthusiasm in the Ukrainian press. [14] However, in retrospect, those few instances of so-called Jewish-Ukrainian cooperation in ‘the November Act’ [Chyn] would eventually serve as a ground for charging the Jews with the anti-Polish stance. The newly established Polish administration deemed the Jews responsible for rendering support to the Ukrainian military in active and passive ways. On the other hand, those few sporadic instances of cooperation, if any, could not help  the Ukrainians to consider Galician Jewry sensitive to their national aspirations. The Ukrainian daily Dilo wrote in this regard:

The Jewish national minority should have had every reason to vigorously uphold our Republic and to protect it. It is the Ukrainian people, who alone are building their nation in Kyïv and L’viv, and who acknowledged to the Jewish people their national rights. If the Jews are really striving to become a nation and do not want to remain an assimilated body, they have to act decisively for the good of this country, which treated them as a nation. Nonetheless, the Jews have not acted like this and were hardly able to have come up with anything except neutrality in the Ukrainian-Polish confrontation. [15]

The newspaper further stated that Ukrainians would still continue to support the Jewish national cause, although one should also consider a popular sentiment, not favorable towards the Jews. The conclusion was sound: “Such feelings are equally essential  as are the  legitimate rights,  for the matter of good mutual coexistence between peoples.” [16] A Ukrainian reaction as we have seen earlier was obviously somewhat gentle yet cannot but expressed resentment, not however lacking a stereotyped vision. Dr. Mykhailo Lozyns’kyi, the scholar and politician, wrote in 1922:

The Jewish pogroms had come as a punishment for the fact that except the Polish-assimilated part of Jewish intelligentsia, the rest of the Jews kept neutrality in the Ukrainian-Polish struggle for Lviv. They organized the military detachments of their own in order to protect the Jewish quarters from the two fighting sides. If the Ukrainians had taken that favorably, the Poles treated the Jewish neutrality as a hostile act and retaliated with the three-days pogroms. [17]

The Jewish-Ukrainian discontent had not placated Polish society. The very fact of a Ukrainian strong dissatisfaction with a Jewish neutrality in the Polish-Ukrainian war had purposely gone unnoticed by the Polish authorities and public opinion. In the eyes of Polish public, the November 1918 Pogrom was seen as a city mob’s reaction on the Polish-Ukrainian clashes in town and possibly a retaliation on the alleged Jewish help to the Ukrainians. As Polish authorities claimed, the mob was neither Ukrainian nor Polish, comprising all sort of scoundrels, taking advantage of the power vacuum. For the Polish public opinion, the death of 73 Jews, burned synagogues, and pillaged Jewish quarters, remained insignificant.  At the same time the image of a Jewish betrayal had turned into a symbol of Polish victimization at the hands of Jews. “The image embedded in Polish memory,  triggered by the phrase “Lviv, 1918,” was not one of a pogrom but rather one of a perfidious Jewry doing serious harm to the national ambitions of the Polish people, both in the military and in the international diplomatic arena. [18] In 1919, when the Polish authority had been reinstated in Eastern Galicia, the reconciliation with the Jews was the last thing for the Poles to consider.

The Jewish political leadership deemed that rehabilitation would be a necessary precondition for the good future of Polish-Jewish relations.  As a leading Galician Zionist and publisher of Chwila, Henryk Rosmarin put it: “the Polish community and press…condemns the pogrom but say it was partially justified by the hostile behavior of the Jewish community. It has become necessary to rehabilitate the Jewish community.” [19] Henryk Rosmarin was then unaware of the Polish officials outlookt on the Jewish neutrality. A document, revealed a few years later, demonstrated an overtly hostile Polish attitude. “In this war, the Jewish population took the side of Poland’s enemies; if they had remained only neutral, this alone would have meant treason, because a neutral friend on war is an enemy. [20]

The background for Steiger Affair was preset by the complicated national relations, as well as by the political and social instability in the region. For the Polish authorities it was another manifestation of the political discontent and extremism. Regardless to the public criticism, the ongoing investigation of pure political nature remained in the hands of the Lviv criminal police. The latter manifested overt tendency to connect the Steiger Affair either to a communist plot or to a Jewish conspiracy. It is not clear to what extent the Polish political police was capable of supervising the case, yet it obviously was involved from the beginning. Characteristically, that this institution was somewhat reluctant to pursue a version of  Steiger’s communist affiliation and had also shown a sheer skepticism to a theory of  the Jewish conspiracy. On the contrary, initially they had been giving more considerations to a communist-terrorist version, while ending up with a Ukrainian-nationalist version, considering it quite conceivable. Evidently, the political police did not play a leading role in the investigation, they limited its input to testimonial or analytical references.

It should be noted that there were objective obstacles on the way of the investigation. ‘The Trial of the Lviv Residents’ in general, and the Mykytyn case in particular, which the Prosecution mistakenly connected to the Steiger Affair, had taken the investigation onto the false direction. Testifying in the case of the Lviv Residents, Mykytyn inveted  a whole new group of would-be conspirators, presumably unrelated to Steiger. According to him, the real executor of the attempt was someone Panchyshyn. The investigation of this lead had taken several months.  Eventually it had ended up in the court with  Mykytyn’s status changed from a witness to the defendant. [21]   Care less about the truth, the Polish right-wing circles cannot but started up a campaign against the Jews charging them collectively for separatism and anti-Polishness.

Notwithstanding by 12 October 1925, when the jury trial began, there had been a fresh set of facts, evidences, and testimonies that alone could provide for a fair trial. 

Then Presiding Judge announced the members of the defense team: Dr. Löwenstein, Dr. Grek, Dr. Ringel, Dr. Landau, and Dr. Rosenkranz.

On the first day, Steiger testified again of what happened more than a year ago, on the 5th of September 1924:

Standing there [the right corner of Kopernika and Legionow], I have noticed someone, throwing a newspaper wrapped package onto the passing by carriage [presidential carriage]. Having realized that was a bomb, I ran into the vestibule of the nearby building; the other people were also running in. Being inside, I heard women’s voices: ‘he run into the gate, he was in a light coat.’ I felt they could have meant me. I took off my hat and came out onto the street. Here I was arrested. [22]

The leadership of the Jewish community and the Jewish Parliamentary Representation had undertaken  unprecedented efforts to pursuade the authority considering a Ukrainian link seriously. Together with the defense team they had collected evidences, allowing to reconstruct the entire developments before and after the assassination attempt. Soon, the Ukrainian involvement was made public. The Jewish media provided a concise version of the story: a member of the Ukrainian Military Organization Teofil Olshans’kyi (Teofil Olszanski) [23] received order to assassinate President Wojcechowski.

    
Fig. 4. Stanisław Steiger in a Lviv prison, 1924

Source: Derzhavnyi Archiv Lvivs’koi Oblasti (Lviv State Regional Archive)

Olshans’kyi was born in 1905, in Chyriv to the family of a Ukrainian priest. In 1919, he joined the army of West Ukrainian National Republic, yet due to the health problems left the military and returned to Przemysl. [24] In 1922, Olshans’kyi became a member of the Ukrainian Military Organization. Sometime in 1924, the UVO’s leadership briefed him on the assassination plan.

Fig. 5.  Stanisław Steiger  in court. Second trial by jury. Source: Chwila,  Oct 18, 1925                                  

                                                     

Executing this plan ,Olshans’kyi (not a Lviv resident) experienced difficulties in locating  a presidential route, as well as  the place chosen for the attempt. He was wondering in the streets for several hours, until he had carried out his mission, although to no avail. Remaining calm in the ensuing panic, he was able to escape the scene unnoticed by the police. [25] Notwithstanding, there were witnesses who allegedly saw him, not Steiger, throwing the bomb. Later they would testify on Steiger’s behalf, stating there was another man with the bomb. A number of other witnesses also argued that Steiger’s location happened to be relatively near to that of the real terrorist.  Albeit, the prosecution, after having been diverted to the wrong  leads by Mykytyn, and his associated, became very much confident in the anti-Steiger version.

Two days after Olshans’kyi fled Lviv, then after another three weeks he illegally left Poland, crossing the German border at Bytom (Beuthen). Being informed about the Steiger Trial, he requested his superiors’ intervention with the Polish authorities in order to prove Steiger’s innocence. It remains unclear whether or not he was aware about  UVO’s initial communication to Jewish daily Chwila.Yet since September 1924, after one year the UVO had not gone any further of claiming responsibility. No names had been released, and, as we know, the court did not deem the UVO document authentic. Had Olshans’kyi not eventually given detailed testimonies to the German authorities in Beuthen and Berlin, the Steiger case would have evidently been lost. Yet Olshans’kyi had testified to the German authorities in this matter.  He unequivocally stated that on September 5, 1924, in Lviv, he attempted to assassinate President Stanisław Wojcechowski.

The Prussian minister of the internal affairs Sewering issued an official communiqué of the Olshans’kyi’s case on the 22nd of October 1925:

Having crossed the German-Polish border at Beuthen, Olshans’kyi was arrested by the local police. In the course of investigation, he testified about affiliation with Ukrains’ka Viis’kova Organizatsiia. In particular he admitted to the execution of the attempt on the life of the President of Poland that took place on the 5th of September 1924. Olshans’kyi  had been granted political asylum by the central German authorities. His current place of residence is unknown. With regard to the trial in Lviv, Minister Sewering has requested  the central German authorities to undertake speedy communication with the Polish authorities. [26]

On November 27, 1925, Polish Telegraph Agency (PAT) reported from Berlin:

Teofil Olszanski, for the second time, voluntarily reported to the Berlin Police, expressing  concerns with regard to his initial confession. Having  regarded this confession sufficient to clarify the case, he is yet compelled to reconfirm it due to  the ongoing  trial over Steiger. The given statement is being made with the full consent of the underground Ukrainian military leadership. The official report regarding Olszanski’s testimonies has been sent to the Prussian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The named ministry shall consider the urgency of communicating the testimonies to the court in Lviv. [27]

In the meantime Jewish political establishment, utilizing their connections with the Ukrainian government-in-exile in Vienna, managed to have contacted the head of the UVO Colonel Evhen Konovalets in Berlin. Colonel Konovalets had confirmed the Ukrainian responsibility for the attempt, exposing Olshans’kyi’s role in it. However, the UVO did not issue a new official statement to corroborate Konovalets’s information. Seemingly, it was in the interests of the UVO and other Ukrainian émigré circles to maintain a status quo. The correspondent to the Warsaw Yiddish daily Moment, interviewed in Berlin Yevhen Petrushevych, President-in-Exile of the West Ukrainian National Republic. When asked if Teofil Olshans’kyi committed the attempt, the answer was rather vague: “Whether or not we know that Olshans’kyi committed the attempt —this is our question. We know the same as you do, that Olshans’kyi had  confessed to the attempt. We deem that under the given circumstances, Steiger shall not be convicted. With regard to  the Olshans’kyi case, we shall wait for the progress of  investigation.” [28] Meanwhile, it has become known that Ol’shans’kyi had fled Germany for the Netherlands. [29]

At this time, all the key leads were in the hands of the German judicial authorities, who were in possession of the Olshans’kyi’s testimonies.  Yet the respective German authorities began official communication with Warsaw not until several months had passed. Even after the German documents reached Poland, Warsaw for a while was remaining mysteriously silent, and then Lviv followed the suit. Notwithstanding, the German official communication had become a good breakthrough in the Steiger’s case. 

The Polish government and the Sejm began to follow the Steiger Affair more closely. The defense lawyers and the Jewish parliamentary representation made public the misconduct of the police investigators, namely commissar Kajdan and inspector Lukomski.  At the Sejm, deputy Żulawski of the PPS was taking floor, demanding a governmental supervision over the Lviv criminal police: “We are all aware about the abusive practices on the part of the security services, but what is going on now in Lviv, especially with  commissar  Kajdan’s brutality, is simply a barbarism, incompatible with a notion of a civilized man.” [30]

Fig.6. The Jurors in the Second Steiger Trial. Source: Chwila, 31 October 1925, 7.

The defense lawyers questioned the validity of the testimonies, especially challenging those of the police. Dr. Rosenkranz emphasized that the police investigators, being under the pressure of their superiors, committed  serious mistakes, ignoring the obvious discrepancies in the testimonies. A malicious conduct of the Polish criminal police was evident from the initial stage of the investigation. The long delay of the German official communications with the Polis authorities was motivated by political reasons, as Dr. Rosenkranz noted: “Analyzing the German press in the period between October 16 and 26, and the anonymous statement, it could be concluded that certain circles in the German authorities were deliberately holding up the Olshans’kyi case. In so doing, they intended to reveal this groundbreaking  testimonies of Olshanskyi only after Steiger was  convicted.” [31]

In the trial, Dr. Ringel presented Stanisław Steiger as a religious man, a moderate Zionist, and a true supporter of the Polish state. His well crafted questions led the court and public opinion to a strong perception of  Steiger  as a loyal and law-obedient  citizen.

Dr. Ringel (to Steiger): Do you know whose electoral votes had been decisive in the election of Wojcechowski?

Steiger: Those were votes of the Jewish Circle [Jewish Parliamentary Representation], seemingly it was 46 votes of the Jewish Circle, followed by the national minorities [in Sejm].

Dr Ringel: Are you aware that Polish Government expressed its support to the ideology, you are the follower of [Zionism]?

Steiger: I am aware that Foreign Minister Skrzynski confirmed Polish endorsement to the policy of the World Zionist Organization.

Dr. Ringel: That is the Organization you belonged to before the imprisonment, and the ideology of what you admitted. [32]

The Defense commenced creating the image of  Stanisław Steiger as a good Jew, a good Pole, and a loyal citizen, who indeed was  not capable  of any anti-state activity. Since the trial had already gone onto political tracks, the defense opened its last and most powerful reserve: an absolutely uncompromised Polish patriot, the former Austrian and Polish parliamentarian, and the leader of the Jewish-Polish assimilationists, a brilliant jurist, Dr. Natan Löwenstein. He would lead the Steiger defense to the final stage. His reputation of a keen Polish patriot, his neutrality and impartiality towards the Jewish political movements and the Bloc of National Minorities were beyond any doubts. Although being retired from the bar for some time and distancing himself from politics, he yet felt compelled to take stand on the Steiger defense, manifesting a firm commitment to rebuff the prosecution.

Dr. Löwenstein was building the defense on the premise  of up-to-date criminology utilizing his deep knowledge of the case. He was also  broadening the matter of deliberation towards the rehabilitation of the whole Jewish society.  His final speech on the 16th  December 1925, well may serve as a historical document, reflecting the contemporary politics, social relations, and microcosm of an individual.

Dr. Löwenstein has persuasively proved inconsistent the testimonies of the key prosecution’s witnesses, he has revealed the sheer discontent in the investigatory practice between the criminal and political police. He denounced the leading criminal police officials of blatant brutality, callous deception, and unequivocal anti-semitism.  Löwenstein was gradually unfolding the drama of a wrongfully accused human being. The court and the pubic had learned how once being under interrogation Steiger could not hold himself on any longer, he then was speaking out his mind: And we, having lived here for 600 hundred years, are not just guests, yet, we are masters too.” [33] The investigating officer inspector Łukomski categorized this nervous breakdown as a hostile manifestation of dissent. Later, in the course of investigation, Łukomski without any feasible grounds would associate Steiger’s disparity with a potential Jewish or communist conspiracy.

Fig. 6. The Courthouse, Ca. 1914. The Steiger trial was being held here in 1924-1925

Dr. Löwenstein was proudly referring to the 600-hundred-year Jewish history in Poland. He did not attend to apologetic approach, on the contrary, drawing on the age-long Jewish experience in Poland he managed to have transformed Steiger’s disparity into the civil rights appeal. “This is our homeland and as long as we live here—we are not guests. In this land we want to be equal citizens—equal not only by the letter of law, yet to be truly free and equal regardless of anything. [34]

Why Jewish society had become so alarmed by the Steiger case? --inquired Löwenstein, relating the answer to the current situation, the Jews were put in. He categorized  that situation as an imposed state of collective responsibility. “It is an order of things, if Jan, Micha ł, or Paweł committed something, then Jan, Michał, or Paweł are charged for that. Yet, if a Jew is guilty, then it is not just him, but all the Jews are guilty, ‘the Jews have done this.’ By the will of G-D and by the will of peoples among whom they live, Jews are associated with the endless culpability. [35]

Jewish society had risen up for Steiger not because of  solidarity and not only for the reason of his innocence,” emphasized Löwenstein, “but for the mere fact that he is a typical Polish middle class Jewish intellectual, loyal to the state and to his fellow Jews. By and large, Polish Jewry is composed of people like Steiger—modest, responsible, and acculturated.” [36] Corroborate this thesis, Löwenstein drew a parallel to the contemporary political trial—that of Naftali Botwin, a young Jewish communist. Botwin’s trial overall exemplified  Jewish political indifference, their non-involvement, and their overt anti-communist stance.

On 28 July 1925, Naftali Botwin, acting allegedly on the party order shot dead a police agent and informant, the former communist Cechnowski. Botwin was apprehended at the scene, while not offering any resistance. He was also  tried by the summary tribunal. His trial was a speedy and merciless. The court disregarded the personal circumstances and humane norms. No Jewish community group, political organization, or officials had shown support or compassion to the plight of the young Jewish man.  

Botwin’s biography was rather typical for the given time. He was the eighth child in a poor Jewish family. Naftali had no memories of his early died father. From the childhood, he was of poor health and started walking only at the age of seven. His education ended up with a three-year people’s school. From the young age, he had to support himself by taking any available job. His last job was that of a tailor assistant. In 1921, Botwin joined a labor union and soon became a member of the Polish communist party [Communist Party of Western Ukraine]. [37] Answering to the court’s question of how he became communist, he said: “I read, listened to the discussions, however, the grievances of life made him realized the fairness of a communist idea as the solution to social injustice. [38]

Staying in front of the summary tribunal, Botwin gave simple and clear answers. Judges, defense, and public probably felt that this young man had come to his last limits, indifferently accepting  all the consequences, and a value of life was something foreign to him now. In the matter of the homicide, Botwin answered:

Presiding Judge: Do you regret of your deed?

Botwin: As for the human being – yes; I learned he had a wife and children, I regret that I have killed a man, although, I do not regret for the provocateur.

Presiding Judge: Did you have then communist leaflets?

Botwin: Yes, I had.

Judge Angielski: You are a member of the Communist party from 1923. Are you a convinced communist?

Botwin: Out of practice and of the mundane life.

Judge Angielski: Did you read some communist books?

Botwin: No, I did not.

Judge Angielsi: Do you know, what are the goals of communism?

Botwin: I cannot tell as an intelligent person would, just from the every day life.

Judge Angielski: Did you read magazines and which ones?

Botwin: Yes, Dziennik Ludowy [People’s Journal], Trybuna Robotnicza [Workers’ Tribune], and others.

Judge Angielski: Did you receive subsidies from the Party.

Botwin: No, never. [39]

The defense team—Dr. Shukhevych and Dr. Aksner, asked the court to attend to Botwin’s hard life, the milieu he grew up in, and to his real age—18, not as it officially was documented 20-year-old, since his birth certificate bore the incorrect date of birth—1905, instead of 1907. The court rejected the  motions of the defense all together. Dr. Aksner drew a historical parallel to the Polish revolutionary movement in the tsarist Russia. He argued: “Botwin was driven by political ideology. His deed was comparable to those committed by Polish terrorists of the Polish Socialist Party* in 1905 on the barricades of Warsaw. Indeed, Cechnowski was on Polish police service, although, this fact alone could not warrant him sympathy of honest people. [40]   To save Botwin’s life, the defense was pleading for regular proceeding in the court of jury. Had this request been granted there  would have been a chance for Naftali Botwin to survive.

                                                

Fig. 6. Naftali  Botwin in the court.

Source: Chwila, August 7, 1925, 6.

The verdict was announced on the next day. The summary tribunal unanimously sentenced Naftali Botwin to death. The last hope was Presidential pardon. The defense attorney asked presiding judge to grant the right to petition for the presidential pardon on behalf of the convicted and his family. The right of petition was granted. The Tribunal had submitted petition to the presidential civil chancellery. Three more hours had been given for the response. The time was 10 o’clock in the morning. At 11 o’clock Botwin had been transported to the Brygidki prison on Kazimierzowska Street, to the place of execution. He was placed in the cell. At 11: 30 before noon, Rabbi Dr. Freund entered the cell. Botwin refused his presence. At 1 o’clock after noon, the members of the Tribunal arrived to the prison. At 11: 15 after noon, Botwin had been taken to the place of execution.  It was announced that President Stanisław Wojcechowski had rejected petition for the pardon. Policemen and soldiers escorted Botwin to the execution site. A song was heard.  Botwin was singing “The Red Banner.”

…A jednak przyjdze dzień zaplaty
Sędziami wówczas będzim my...

(...Indeed, the day of reckoning shall come
And we will take the judges’ seats...) [41]

Botwin took his place in front of the firing squad. The sentence was read one more time. Botwin exclaimed: “Down with bourgeoisie! Long live the social revolution!” He was not letting his eyes be covered. Silence fell. Then shots had been fired. Botwin had fallen dead. [42] At the time of execution, a courier was trying to pass inside the prison a bouquet of white flowers. [43]    In the day of the execution, people saw a red banner raised over the Lublin Union Summit, the highest point in the city at the High Castle Park. The Jewish community remained silent, in fact, distancing itself with Naftali Botwin. The circumstances of the Steiger case were quite different from that of Botwin, yet back in September 1924, if the summary tribunal had taken a unanimous decision of finding him guilty, he would have been also standing in front of the firing squad in the yard of the Brygidki Prison. 

On 17 December 1925, the second verdict in the Steiger case was announced. The Chairman of the Jury Dr. Switerski pronounced: “ Not guilty by the majority of 8 to 4.” [44] With the court consent it had become effective immediately. Stanisław Steiger was released from incarceration. The cheering crowds of Jews greeted him on his way home. The appeal of a “good Pole,” as Löwenstein identified himself on behalf of another good Jew and good Pole had been well heard by the jurors.

For Ukrainian society, the Steiger Affair had turned into a consecutive probe of a Jewish political reliability to the cause of non-Polish people. Hitherto the Ukrainian stand on the Steiger Affair was not that clearly determined as with regard to the Jewish-Polish Ugoda (July 1925) or the Jewish position on the Bloc of National Minorities. (in 1922 and 1928). In this case, it has been primary a Jewish loyalty to the Polish state that was at stake, although the nature of the whole affair per se was rather individual. The Ukrainian involvement had to some extent been customized to the situation. The revolutionary UVO openly claimed its responsibility. It also warned Jews not to take part in Polish festivities, taking place in the authentic Ukrainian territories, for they never would be tolerated by the Ukrainians. [45] The centrist Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO) as a parliamentary and legal-acting political party, which did not follow the UVO’s extremes, blamed Jews only on the ground of its by all means rescue tactic.

Since the UVO and the alleged assassin willingly claimed their responsibility, while the Polish right-wing press openly blamed the Jews, then for the moderate Ukrainians, an innocent Stanislaw Steiger could only be regarded with sympathy and compassion as a victim of the authoritarian Polish system. On the other hand, the methods and strategy, employed by the Jewish parliamentary leaders, the Jewish defense lawyers, and other Jewish public figures in the Steiger Affair could not but cause the characteristic Ukrainian criticism and resentment.

Dilo, reflecting the UNDO’s approach, qualified the final defense strategy as a result of a new Jewish pro-Polish union, aimed against the Ukrainians. [46]   It has become a typical Ukrainian assessment of the Jewish politics, categorized as egoistic and self-centered. For that matter, whether it was the Ugoda or Steiger defense, a blame of betrayal the common interests of the non-Polish people kept being brought up in the public discourse. Commenting on the close of the Steiger Affair, Dilo stated: “With typical energy, racial obstinacy, and thoughtless, this affair was turned into the most important issue of Europe and of the Polish Republic. [47]

It is remained to be researched further why the multiple political messages, formulated by the leading Galician Zionist Leon Reich fell onto the Ukrainian deaf ear and if anything had been only stereotyped by the Ukrainian politicians as the manifestation of Jewish exclusiveness on the expense of Ukrainian people. A paradigm of a Jewish independent policy in relation to the other national minorities of Poland had been formulated in the beginning of 1920s. In 1925, with regard to the harsh criticism from the Ukrainian, as well from the Jewish side, Leon Reich wrote: “We are caught between the two nations—Poles and Ukrainians—and therefore we must conduct only independent Jewish policy. [48]

The fear and uncertainty together with the age-long inferiority complex, multiplied on the appreciation for everything granted, inevitably were to influence Jewish political leadership of Eastern Galicia in its relations with the state, as well as in the other political matters. As Leon Reich put it, Jewish political conceptions are not based on exclusiveness but on historically stipulated realities. Emphasizing such a reality with regard of the Ugoda, Leon Reich wrote: “Have the Jews paid a lot for the Agreement? No, we have only pledged allegiance to the Polish state and its integrity, we have confirmed our unity with the Polish nation, and we have manifested our intention to work for the good of Polish consolidation. By so doing we have not given any legitimate ground to anybody to spread prejudice or intensify oppression. Some people say we could have waited, but not us, for the Jews indeed the ground is burning under feet. [49]

The Ukrainian society has never fully subscribed to such political paradigm. The Jewish society seemingly never has had a non-shadowed political horizon to be able of non-engagingly digest their would- be allies’ position. Notwithstanding, not only mutual grievances dominated the political sphere between the two communities. Characteristically, that social and cultural interaction on the whole, did not carry the  burden of blames and distrust, especially if Jewish national home in Palestine or the Ukrainian University in Lviv were concerned. In all likelihood, Ukrainian-Jewish discourse continued to channel along two avenues, Ukrainian and Jewish and chance for convergence were ever slim. So it stayed in the course on interwar time.

CONCLUSIONS

The Steiger Affair was a combination of fatal coincidences, human errors,

bureaucratic  immobility, police ineffectiveness, as well as it was a reflection of the contemporary  regional and geopolitical situation. The spirit of the time dictated that it was implausible for an individual, unrelated to a communist, nationalist, or other radical conspiracy, to undertake an attempt on the president’s life. That to some extent could explain the scope, extension, and slow pace of the investigation and court-deliberations. Polish officialdom emphasized: the trial never had been aimed against the Jewish community as a whole; the Jewish circles argued: the trial had turned into a probe for Jewish loyalty and patriotism to the state, while Ukrainian public opinion rather saw it as a manifestation of Polish state-ineffectiveness and Jewish over-reactiveness.

Jewish society cannot but exhibit great concern about the Steiger Affair. If at the first summary trial, it was rather Steiger-oriented, then the second 47-days trial did see a broad Jewish front, acting not only in defense of the evidently innocent man, but also engaged in the counterattack against the Polish right-wing, police brutality, and the authorities’ indifference. In the later publications on the Steiger case, often than not antisemitism  was deemed to be a driving force of the whole affair. Yet from historical perspective, admitting antisemitism  as a sparkling  point of those days, and not denying it influence on the local police and the prosecuting attorneys; on the whole, the Steiger Affair was much more perplexed than simply to be ascribed to  the premise of antisemitism.  For example, usually harsh on the Ukrainian nationalism, the Polish authorities in this case were reluctant at pursuing a Ukrainian version. Yet an explanation could lie in rather simple argumentation, having had the ‘executor’ in hands, who would take a risk to undermine the so “good-looking” case for the sake of the logically correct, but so fare a virtual one; not forgetting that even on the last day of the trial the four jurors out of twelve voted guilty.

The Steiger Trial went down in the history of interwar Poland as a multifaceted political, social, and ethnic discourse. In Polish official view, it was a triumph of justice, the Ukrainian circles honored nonconformist position of the UVO, while Jewish society regarded it as a long and weary battle they endured. Stanisław Steiger as a person could not but was the victim of all of the above, yet having deserved all merits to be  remembered as a symbol of that time.


* In original P.P.S.—Polska Partia Socialistyczna (Polish Socialist Party), which leader was Józef Piłsudski, a Polish national hero and Chief of State during the first years of Polish independence


[1] See: Pawel Korzec, “The Steiger Affair,” Soviet Jewish Affairs, 3 (1973), 38; Chwila (Lviv), December 17, 1925, 5.

[2] Chwila (Lviv), September 16, 1924, 1.

[3] Barbara Letocha, “The Steiger Trial,” The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, 29 (2001), 34.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Chwila (Lviv),  September 14, 1924, 3.

[7] Chwila (Lviv), September 18, 1924, 1.

[8] Chwila (Lviv), July 6, 1925, 2.

[9] Dilo (Lviv), June 18, 1925, 1.

[10] On the Trial of the Lviv Residents, see: Chwila (Lviv),  July 1925, No 2268, 2269, 2270, 2271, 2272, 2273, 2274, 2275, 2280, 2281, 2282, 2283, 2284, 2285, 2287,  2288; August 1925, No 2290, 2291, 2292, 2294, 2295, 2297, 2298, 2299,  2300, 2301, 2302, 2303, 2304, 2305, 2306, 2308, 2309.

[11] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), September 21, 1924, 2.

[12] Dilo(L’viv), November 2, 1918, 1; On West Ukrainian National Republic, see: Oleksa Kuz’ma, Lystopadovi Dni, 1918, (L’viv, 1931)

[13] Dilo (L’viv), November 1, 1918, 1.

[14] Ibid., November 5, 1918, 3.

[15] Ibid., November 21, 1918, 1.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Michael Lozynsky, Halychyna v rokakh  1918-1920 [Galicia in 1918-1920] (New York: Chervona Kalyna, 1970), 55.

[18] David Engel, “Lwów, 1918. The Transmutation of a Symbol and Its Legacy in the Holocaust,” in Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, ed. Joshua D. Zimmerman (New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 34. On the November 1918 Pogrom in Lwów, see also Antony Polonsky, “A Failed Pogrom: The Demonstrations in Lwów, June 1929,” in Yisrael Gutman, Ezra Mendelsohn, Jehuda Reinarz, and Chone Smeruk, eds., The Jews in Poland Between the Two World Wars (Hanover, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 1989), 113.

[19] Ibid., 35.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Chwila (Lviv), October 17, 1925, 5.

[22] Chwila (Lviv), October 14, 1925, 8.

[23] In a modern Ukrainian nationalist brochure published in 1994 in Drogobych, Ukraine, his name is mentioned among the members of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) with the reference to the attempt on the life of the Polish President, see: Oleh Bahan, Natsionalism i Natsionalistychnyi Rukh: Istoriia ta Idei (Nationalism and National Movement: The History and Ideas), (Drogobych, Ukraine: Vidrodzhenia, 1994), 43.

[24] Barbara Letocha, “The Steiger Trial,” The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, 29 (2001), 36.

[25] Ibid., 42.

[26] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), October 28, 1925, 1.

[27] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), November 29, 1925, 3.

[28] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), October 29, 1925, 5.

[29] Ibid., 5.

[30] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), October 24, 1925, 4.

[31] Chwila (Lviv), October 29, 1925, 8.

[32] Chwila (Lviv), October 17, 1925, 6.

[33] Natan Loewenstein, O Sprawę Steigera: Obrona w Sprawie Stansława Steiegera przed Trybunałem Przysięglych we Lwowie dnia 16 Grunia 1925 (Lwów: L.S.T.W., 1926), 45.

[34] Ibid., 47.

[35] Ibid., 57.

[36] Ibid., 57.

[37] Dilo (Lviv), August 8, 1925, .3.

[38] Ibid., .3.

[39] Chwila (Lviv),  August 7, 1925, 6.

[40] Dilo (Lviv), August 8, 1925,   4.

[41] Ibid.,  4

[42] Ibid.,  4

[43] Chwila (Lviv), August 8, 1925, 8.

[44] Pawel Korzec, “The Steiger Affair,” Soviet Jewish Affairs, 3 (1973), 55.

[45] Cited in Chwila (Lviv), September 14, 1924, 3.

[46] Dilo (Lviv), November 5, 1925,2

[47] Cited in Shimon Redlich, “Jewish-Ukrainian Relations in Inter-War Poland as Reflected in Some Ukrainian Publications,” in Polin, vol. 11: Focusing on Aspects and Experience of Religion, Antony Polonsky, Editor (London and Portland, Oregon: the Lttman Library of Jewish Civilization, Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, 1998), 234, 235.

[48] Cited in Ezra Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe between the World Wars (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 54.

[49] Dilo (Lviv), January 29, 1926, 2.

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