Lithograph (publ. in 1904)
|Died||May 5, 1809 (aged 44)|
|Cause of death||Killed in action|
|Other names||Dow Baer Joselewicz|
Berek Joselewicz (17 September 1764 – 15 May 1809) was a Polish merchant of Jewish heritage and a colonel of the Polish Army during the Kościuszko Uprising. Joselewicz commanded the first Jewish military formation in modern history excluding Prince Potemkin's Israelovsky.
Dow Baer (Berek) Joselewicz was born in Kretinga, in the county of Kowno, part of the Troki Voivodeship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He worked as a financial agent for a local Polish magnate, Prince Massalski, the lord of Kretinga, and bishop of Wilno. Joselewicz often traveled abroad in pursuit of various tasks, during which he learned to speak French. He spent some time in Paris during the beginning of the French Revolution, and it is thought that this may have later inspired him to join Tadeusz Kościuszko, who advocated similar causes of brotherhood and equality.
Joselewicz initially served in the Polish militia before petitioning Kościuszko for permission to form an all-Jewish unit. On September 17, 1794, Kościuszko officially announced the creation of the unit. Joselewicz, along with another Jew named Joseph Aronowicz, issued a patriotic call-to-arms in Yiddish denouncing Russia and Prussia, eliciting hundreds of volunteers, mostly poor tradeworkers and artisans. Five hundred men were eventually accepted and formed into a cavalry regiment. At Joselewicz's request, they were allowed to keep their religious customs, including access to kosher food, abstaining from combat on the Sabbath when possible, and growing their beards. Joselewicz's unit was popularly known as "the Beardlings". They took part in the 1794 defence of Praga, in which the unit was wiped out, with only few men (including Joselewicz) surviving the battle. Joselewicz himself was taken prisoner by the Russians.
After the defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising, Joselewicz left for Galicia and then for Italy. There he joined the Polish Legions under Henryk Dąbrowski. As a commander of a sabre company in Polish cavalry units, he fought in various battles of the Napoleonic period. Among them were the battles of Trebia, Novi, Hohenlinden, Austerlitz and Friedland. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Virtuti Militari medal and the Legion of Honour with a Golden Cross for his merits. He remained in the army as squadron leader in the 5th Mounted Riflemen Regiment following the constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw (Księstwo Warszawskie) in 1807. From 1807 he fought in various battles in Poland. He was killed in the Battle of Kock in 1809 during an encounter with a unit of Austrian hussars, and today his grave has become a popular tourist attraction.
Berek's son, Josef Berkowicz (1789–1846), also fought in the Battle of Kock, and later served as a squadron chief during the November Uprising of 1830, during which he also attempted to convince Jewish soldiers to desert the Russian army and join the Poles. Berkowicz later moved to England and wrote a novel. Berek's widow and son had received a pension until 1831.
The historical Polish proverb "Perish like Berek at Kock" ("Zginął jak Berek pod Kockiem.") describes someone disappearing without a trace. Another historical folk song describes Berek: "This was Berek, famous Jew, Man of duty, righteous Pole. Not with wine, not with swindle but with blood he paid for glory!" Original text: "Był to Berek, sławny Żyd, Człek sumienny – Polak prawy. Nie kwaterką – ni szacherką, Lecz się krwią dorobił sławy!".
He was honored by a postage stamp as a "A Jewish Fighter for Polish Freedom", issued jointly by Polish and Israeli postal services.
According to Derek Penslar, Berek was not a Polish patriot but rather "an adventurer and activist".
"Berek was not so much a Polish patriot as an adventurer and activist who sought to enhance his own personal honor as well as that of the Jews under his command. Although Berek is most famous for his service for Poland, in 1796 he proposed to the Habsburg emperor the raising of a corps of six thousand to eight thousand Jews who would be divided into cavalry and infantry units to fight against the French.” 
- Jewish City Guard
- Napoleonic Wars
- History of Poland
- History of the Jews in Poland
- Berek Joselewicz in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe
- Józef Berkowicz
- Shmuel Spector; Geoffrey Wigoder (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life: Before and During the Holocaust. New York University Press. p. 1426. ISBN 978-0-8147-9356-5.
- M. Kasprzyk (2007), Berek Joselewicz : The Partitions of Poland: 1772 - 1795. Internet Archive.
- Penslar, Derek J. (2013-10-06). Jews and the Military: A History. Princeton University Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 9781400848577.
Berek was not so much a Polish patriot as an adventurer and activist who sought to enhance his own personal honor as well as that of the Jews under his command. Although Berek is most famous for his service for Poland, in 1796 he proposed to the Habsburg emperor the raising of a corps of six thousand to eight thousand Jews who would be divided into cavalry and infantry units to fight against the French.