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March 24: Jews in the Kościuszko Uprising

March 24, 2013

Berek_joselewiczWhen the Polish rebellion against Russia led by Tadeusz Kościuszko began on this date in 1794, a Jewish regiment was formed, led by Dov Baer (Berek) Joselewicz (1764-1807). Kościuszko was a veteran of the American Revolution; Joselewicz had been in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. He joined the Polish militia before petitioning Kościuszko for permission to create an all-Jewish unit. A Yiddish call-to-arms went out on September 17th, and a cavalry regiment of five hundred was formed, the first formal Jewish military grouping in modern history. The unit kept kosher, avoided combat on the sabbath, and was nicknamed "the Beardlings." They were largely wiped out while still in formation, however, in a battle over Praga, a suburb of Warsaw where Joselewicz lived. Taken prisoner by the Russians, he found his way back to France after the defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising, joined Napoleon's cavalry, and fought in various battles of the Napoleonic Wars until he was killed in 1807.

"Joselewicz was the only Jew in Praga among the subscribers to a loan in support of the uprising against the third and final division of Poland. Hoping the uprising would usher in equal rights for Polish Jews, he joined the local militia . . ." -- YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe