Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut: Biographical Sketch / Nachman Blumenthal

An entire generation of promising young scholars lost their lives in the tragic events of 1939-1945, and together with them the fruit of their loving and patient toil has been doomed to oblivion.

It is our object to rescue some small part of Bella Mandelsberg-Schildkraut's scholarly treasure – actually a mere fraction of the work of a gifted and idealistic scholar, who in spite of her many other responsibilities still found the time and energy to devote herself to basic research in the history of Lublin Jewry. She was already in the last stages of her work on a magnum opus, and was almost ready to publish it when the holocaust which overtook European Jewry came and swept everything before it.

Nevertheless, some few remnants of her work have by chance weathered the terrible storm. We still have those of her articles which had been published in various periodicals before the war, and the manuscript of her thesis presented to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Warsaw – though this was of course written at the very beginning of her career as a scholar.

Bella Mandelsberg, sister of Regina and Samuel [Shmuel], was born in Lublin in 1901 to a well-to-do and public spirited Jewish family. Her aunt, Bella Brengurn, donated her house at 8 Reinek Street to the Lublin Jewish community. It served as the Community Hall till the very end (April 1942).

She completed elementary and secondary school in Lublin, and then enrolled in the University of Warsaw where she received her Master's degree in History in 1928.

While at the University she was an active member in the Left Poalei-Zion movement, a group which also numbered among its members the late Dr. E. Ringelblum and Dr. Raphael Mahler, historians who later earned renown in their field.

Though from 1928/9 till the outbreak of World War II she taught history in the Lublin Jewish secondary schools, she did not for a moment lessen her efforts to further her political ideas, in spite of the professional difficulties that this activity engendered.

In lectures which she delivered in Yiddish to the general public on historical subjects, she frequently could not restrain herself from touching upon current political matters. Many of these lectures were delivered under the auspices of the People's Evening University of the Left Poalei-Zion movement. Though the school authorities forced her to give up these public lectures, she remained a loyal and active member of the party till the very end.

Her politico-social views couldn't help but be reflected in her lessons at school, and since the youth of the time was naturally attracted to current political activities and were aware of Bella's views, she was forced to display an unusual degree of wisdom ant tact in order to remain faithful to the demands of the school authorities on the one hand and to satisfy her students and her conscience on the other.

Bella was also active in communal affairs. She was a member of the governing board of the Lublin branch of "ZISHO" [Central Jewish School Organization]. She was of the initiators of the Lublin branch of YIVO [Institute for Jewish Research]. She was one of the charter members of the local branch of the Jewish Geographical Society which was founded in February 1931, and perhaps the only one to conduct guided tours of places of Jewish interest in the city – which she made particularly interested with the wealth of her historical knowledge about sites of specifically Jewish interest. She had planned to publish a guide in Polish and Yiddish, but though the work was almost ready for print, due to the difficult times it did not reach fruition.

In 1935 she married Mr. Meir Schildkraut, who shared her socio-political views. With the outbreak of the war her husband fled to Russia and Bella was left with her sick sister who also had two small children, without any material support as she was not permitted to teach during the occupation. From this time on she worked on the Committee for Mutual Assistance on a voluntary basis.

In April 1942 she was transported together with the remnants of the Lublin ghetto to the ghetto in Maidan-Tatarski, from which in November 1942 she was transferred to Maidanek. On April 4th of the following year she was murdered.

 (N. Blumenthal, R. Mahler and N. Korn, On The History of Lublin Jewry, Tel-Aviv 1965, pp. 5-7)

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