David Guzik joined the JDC Warsaw office as an accountant in 1918. During the course of World War II, he became a central figure in JDC Warsaw. Using his skills to raise funds by legal or illegal means, he helped finance welfare services, medical help, and cultural and underground activities in the ghetto including the Oneg Shabbat project and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He survived the war in hiding on the “Aryan” side. In 1945, he was appointed Director of JDC Operations in liberated Poland. David Guzik was killed in a plane crash in Prague in 1946 together with Gertrude Pinsky, JDC Country Director, the Netherlands.
David Guzik, born on November 3, 1890, in Warsaw, was one of the four JDC directors in the Warsaw Ghetto and a central figure in wartime Warsaw. According to one account, he was the most popular person in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
Guzik’s association with the JDC began in 1918, when he became an accountant and finance director in the JDC Warsaw office. Together with Isaac Giterman, Isaac Bornstein, and Leib Neustadt, he was part of the group known collectively as “the Directors” of JDC Warsaw during World War II. In 1940, with German permission, Guzik and Neustadt traveled to Belgium to meet with American JDC representatives. They discussed a proposal, based on a precedent established in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia, to enable the legal transfer of funds to Poland. Prospective emigrants from Poland would deposit local currency in their community treasuries and receive part of the funds back in dollars from the Joint once they reached their overseas destination. In this way, the JDC was able to finance operations without transferring currency to Poland, prohibited during wartime by United States Treasury regulations. While in Brussels in 1940, Neustadt and Guzik arranged for a considerable shipment of food into Poland as a special Passover gesture. Although they could have easily escaped from war-torn Europe, to the surprise of many, they both returned to their posts in Warsaw.
During 1939-40, when Isaac Giterman, who had been the pre-war Director of JDC Operations in Poland, was imprisoned in Germany, Guzik, who had been his deputy, took control of JDC activities. When Giterman returned in 1940, Guzik remained at the head of JDC. After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in November 1940, Guzik continued to direct JDC activities, carried out through the Jewish Self-Help organization (ZTOS – Zydowskie Towarzystwo Opieki Spoleczne). He supported health, welfare, cultural, and educational activities in the ghetto and helped finance the underground schools and youth movements. He arranged for the clandestine sale of goods, which merchants had kept hidden illegally in the ghetto. Guzik smuggled some of the merchandise into the open market and all proceeds from these sales were transferred to the JDC for community use. By the fall of 1941, Guzik was making regular allocations to over 250 public canteens (soup kitchens), which at one time fed tens of thousands of Jews daily.
After the United States’ entry into the war in December 1941, when the JDC office in Warsaw could no longer operate legally and had to close down, Guzik and his colleagues continued their activities underground. Guzik was particularly active in securing loans from wealthy ghetto residents for repayment after the war. These loans financed a wide array of activities in the ghetto, including soup kitchens, medical and welfare programs, the “Oneg Shabbat” archives, and underground schools and newspapers. Funds raised by Guzik later helped finance the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. His name appears on messages sent to London by the underground Jewish National Committee (part of the Jewish Fighting Organization) in Warsaw.
Guzik had a warm Jewish heart, was active, energetic, courageous, ever ready to serve the Jewish community and offer aid to individuals. He soon won the love and confidence of all parties and groups in the ghetto. Although his wife, daughter, and one of his two sons were taken away by the Germans in the first deportation from Warsaw, Guzik was determined to help his fellow Jews in any way possible. He continued his practice of securing loans from wealthy Jews even though this placed him in danger and he could easily have been denounced. Emanuel Ringelblum described him as “one of the thirty-six righteous men” whose righteousness is often hidden behind their outwardly modest demeanor.
Guzik managed to flee to the “Aryan” side of Warsaw. There he was involved with a plan to rescue Jews with the help of Latin American passports. These had been sent from Switzerland or could be purchased. Holders of such passports were to be sent to internment camps rather than death camps but, in fact, most were eventually sent to Auschwitz. Guzik himself was arrested but, by means of bribes, managed to obtain his release.
While on the “Aryan” side, Guzik continued to maintain ties with the Warsaw underground. He remained in hiding in Warsaw until the liberation.
For five years, the JDC headquarters in New York had no direct contact with Guzik, but after VE-Day, in May 1945, a cable from him reached New York, which read: “READY TO CONTINUE WORK stop 40,000 JEWS NEED HELP BADLY stop AWAITING YOUR INSTRUCTIONS.”
Guzik was appointed Director of JDC Operations in liberated Poland. He began the arduous task of caring for the survivors and helping to rebuild the Polish Jewish community. On March 5, 1946, while returning to Poland from a conference in Paris, he boarded a plane for Prague. The plane crashed at the Prague airport, killing all aboard, including David Guzik and Gertrude D. Pinsky, JDC Country Director for the Netherlands.
Guzik was survived by one son who reached Palestine, joined the Jewish Brigade of the British army, and fought in the liberation of Europe. His son later settled in France, where Guzik’s granddaughter still resides. It should be noted that in some accounts he is referred to as Daniel Guzik.
Bauer, Yehuda. American Jewry & the Holocaust – The American Joint Distribution Committee, 1939-1945. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981.
Eck, Nathan. “The Legend of the Joint in the Ghetto,” JDC Archives.
Ford, Elizabeth. “Adventure in Charity,” This Month, January 1947.
Goldstein, Bernard. Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto – the Stars Bear Witness. Translated and edited by Leonard Shatzkin. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2005.