POTOCKI (POTOTZKI), COUNT VALENTINE (ABRAHAM B. ABRAHAM):
Polish nobleman and convert to Judaism; burned at the stake at Wilna May 24, 1749. There are several versions of the remarkable story of this martyr, whose memory is still revered among the Jews of Russia as that of the Ger Ẓedeḳ (righteous proselyte). A Russian translation, from the Polish of Kraszewski's "Wilna od Poczátkow Jego do Roku 1750," in which he claims to have followed a Hebrew original, relates that young Potocki and his friend Zaremba, who went from Poland to study in Paris, became interested in an old Jew whom they found poring over a large volume when they entered his wine-shop. His teachings and explanations of the Old Testament, to which they, as Roman Catholics, were total strangers, so impressed them that they prevailed upon him to instruct them in Hebrew. In six months they acquired proficiency in the Biblical language and a strong inclination toward Judaism. They resolved to go to Amsterdam, which was one of the few places in Europe at that time where a Christian could openly embrace Judaism. But Potocki first went to Rome, whence, after convincing himself that he could no longer remain a Catholic, he went to Amsterdam and took upon himself the covenant of Abraham, assuming the name of Abraham ben Abraham.
After residing a short time in Germany, which country he disliked, he returned to Poland, and for a time lived among the Jews of the town of Ilye (government of Wilna), some of whom seemed to be aware of his identity. While in the synagogue of Ilye one day he was irritated into commenting severely upon the conduct of a boy who was disturbing those occupied in prayer and study. The boy's father was so enraged that he informed the authorities that the long-sought "Ger Ẓedeḳ" was in Ilye. Potocki was arrested; the entreaties of his mother and friends failed to induce him to return to Christianity; and after a long imprisonment he was burned alive in Wilna, on the second day of Shabu'ot. It was unsafe for a Jew to witness the burning; nevertheless one Jew, Leiser Zhiskes, who had no beard, went among the crowd and succeeded by bribery in securing some of the ashes of the martyr, which were later buried in the Jewish cemetery. A letter of pardon from the king arrived too late to save the victim.
Potocki's comrade Zaremba returned to Poland several years before him, married the daughter of a great nobleman, and had a son. He remained true to the promise to embrace Judaism and took his wife and child to Amsterdam, where, after he and his son had been circumcised, his wife also became a Jewess; then they went to Palestine.
There is reason to believe that the actual teacher of Potocki, perhaps the one who induced the two young noblemen to embrace Judaism, was their own countryman Menahem Man ben Aryeh Löb of Visun, who was tortured and executed in Wilna at the age of seventy (July 3, 1749). Tradition has brought this Jewish martyr into close connection with the "Ger Ẓedeḳ," but fear of the censor has prevented writers in Russia from saying anything explicit on the subject.
- Fuenn, Ḳiryah Ne'emanah, p. 120, Wilna. 1860;
- Gersoni, The Converted Nobleman, in Sketches of Jewish, Life and History, pp. 187-224, New York, 1873;
- Hurwitz, 'Ammude bet Yehudah, p. 46a, Amsterdam, 1766;
- Kraszewski, Yevreyskaya Biblioteka, iii. 228-236;
- B. Mandelstamm, Ḥazon la-Mo'ed, p. 15, Vienna, 1877.