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Krinki, the tannery town, in creativity and struggle

Translated by Eszter Andor

The tannery center in ferment

Mordechai V. Bernstein: Krinki – a town with a name

Among the annihilated settlements well known in the world, Krinki was famous for its leather industry, while among the Jewish public it was famous for its prominent rabbis, and it had a place of honor in the Jewish labor movement of czarist Russia. One of the first historic strikes of hundreds of Jewish proletarians, around which a sizeable literature grew up and which was considered a milestone in the history of the Jewish labor movement in Russia, took place in Krinki.

Krinki was one of the most important towns in the famous Tannery Workers' Union. In the 1905 revolution Krinki became well known all over the world. The telegraphic agency sent around the news that workers' councils were set up in Petersburg and Krinki.

It is an interesting story how such a wide tanning industry developed in Krinki, a remote shtetl far from any train station. Chemists are believed to have found that Krinki water was rich in certain important salts essential for the tanning process which helped the good tanning of the skin, and the leather that came out from the Krinki water was better and the production more precise.

Shmuel Geler: The tannery

Leather tanning requires much initiative, professionalism, knowledge and persistence – 'articles' with which Krinki was abundantly supplied – and, most importantly, unlimited water supply. Who would not remember the Krinki springs, especially the artesian wells, which flow with water all year long, summer and winter alike.

The process of tanning raw horse skin takes weeks. The skins 'go' from tanks (tubs) to tanks, from hand to hand, soak in various waters, swamps, slack lime and 'oak' (oak bark). They absorb all kinds of extracts and chemicals and are softened with fat. Many professionals worked hard and shared the work until the skin became the well-known Krinki leather.

The 'wet tannery' workers scraped the skin with sharp scythes to remove the hair and the meat from it. The so-called folders folded, smoothed, and compared the skins. The 'dry tannery' workers bleached, cut into strips, curled and rolled, colored and polished, spread out and stretched the skins on frames. The song “The hands be healthy with callus / The sweat running down the forehead!” was in the hearts of all the tannery workers. For them this was daily prose.

The 'wet tannery' workers were constantly soaked in slack lime during their work. The long leather aprons and boots could not protect them from the constant humidity around them. Their hands were always covered with wounds burnt by slack lime and their nails were yellow and green.

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They were enveloped in a strong smell that they absorbed through long years of working in the tannery. The 'wet tannery' workers liked taking a drink from time to time. The alcohol would warm their limbs and drive the bitterness of slack lime out of their mouth and the everyday bitterness out of their hearts.

The work of the 'dry tannery' workers who specialized in various trades was somewhat easier. The main advantage was that they worked mostly in a dry place and they often sneezed, especially in the winter, because of the heat and smoke coming from the nearby drying rooms.

'Fulling' was a trade in itself. The fullers used to make 'uppers' (tongues). The main art of fulling lay in making the 'uppers' strong and soft and making their little tongue protrude. The Krinki 'tongues' adorned thousands of peasant boots.

Folding was an 'aristocratic' trade. It took years to become a good folder, to acquire nimbleness in the fingers and a light professional mobility with the sharp folds. The folders received much higher wages. They taught the trade to their children and close family members in order to pass it on as a dowry to their future sons-in-law.

The strike epoch (The strike period)

Mordechai V. Bernstein: The condition of the Jewish tannery workers (The condition of the Jewish tannery workers and laborers)

Krinki had a high tanning production already in the 1890s, distributing tanned leather to all the corners of the Russian Empire. The Krinki Hamburg type 'cowhide' and boot legs were sent even to the most distant places as well. Before one entered the shtetl, from the direction of Sokolke or Brestovitz, one could already smell the odor of slack lime, the fleshy side of skin, and dry oak coming from the tanning tanks.

The exploitation of the tannery workers had no limits. They worked long hours in the stuffy tanneries and their wages were miserable. They toiled in stinking crowded workshops. They dragged first the wet skins into the tanks of slack lime and oak and then the dry skin in the 'dry section' to the folders and fullers. And still they could not make ends meet.

In the eyes of the Jewish public the tannery worker was inferior even compared to a simple worker – he was accompanied by the smell of skin, blood and slack lime in which the skin soaked. The manufacturers, these 'respectable Jews', did not even want to pray in the same shul [synagogue] as their workers, so the tannery workers built their own bes-medresh.

H. Weinberg (Hershl Pinkes): The beginning of the strike movement

It was the winter of 1896-97. Some workers started to go around with strange secrets that they confided to only a few select people, as well as to me. Thanks to the agitation of Chaim Leyser Yonah the carpenter who had worked in Grodno and came to Krinki from there, a few workers looked around themselves and understood what a great

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injustice was committed against the toilers. They organized themselves into small groups, hoping that these groups will multiply in due course. However, the movement advanced very slowly and it almost died at the beginning of the following summer.

Tzolke Dretzhiner, a tanner from Krinki, then came from Bialystok where he had stayed for some time when the weavers went on strike there. He brought with him a complete plan on how to carry out similar strikes in Krinki. At first he chose only a few trustworthy workers and called them together to a secret meeting to which I was also invited although I was younger than they were. We swore an oath that we would be devoted to the work and would not betray each other. We discussed various plans on how to prepare a strike. Our demands were the following: working from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, and getting paid directly by the manufacturer. Our numbers grew from day to day. Soon some good speakers rose from among the masses. It soon became impossible to keep the larger meetings secret very often. In the course of a few weeks the majority of the workers of Krinki joined the movement.

Yosl Kohn: Before and during of the strike 1 (Before the start of the strike)

There were few 'enlightened' people in Krinki at that time. The Jews were firmly rooted in the Jewish ways and customs and what the agitators told them and wanted them to do meant rebellion and upset their lives and beliefs. The tannery workers who were being agitated through intimate chats during walks, and later through meetings in the forest, were no steady elements. The agitators had two objectives: to strengthen labor unity and to make sure that the manufacturers and the master craftsmen did not learn about their preparations too early. The younger ones who were already enlightened knew some of the 'brothers and sisters' songs but all these things were still foreign to the 'masses'.

When the first big meeting was organized in the Razboynikov woods, about 5 versts from the shtetl, the leaders, with the help of the 'steady elements', put on a real show. When the tannery workers sat down in a half circle, a voice started talking suddenly. It depicted the hard life and slavish conditions under which the manufacturers and the master craftsmen held the tannery workers. The fact that the face of the preacher could not be seen created a mood of mystery and great curiosity – an impression as if the scene when God revealed himself to Moses, our teacher, through a voice in the desert had been repeated - only the Burning Bush was missing. When the voice fell silent, everybody was asked to get up and form a circle. The voice started speaking once again: “Brothers, is all I have told you true?” “Yes”, answered the crowd. “Will you unite yourselves?” “We will”, responded the crowd. “Will you stand up all for one and one for all?” “We will”, they cried out. “Will you keep all you have heard in secret and not let the manufacturers and the master craftsmen know?” “We will.”

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“If so, swear an oath.” A member appeared as soon as this was heard with a sacred book and phylacteries. He lifted the book high up in the air and the crowd, repeated after the voice, the oath of unity and secrecy. After the ceremony, people took each other by the hand and the 'enlightened' started to sing:

“Brothers and sisters, comrades in work and need
Come together all who are scattered and dispersed
The flag is waiting for us
It is burning with rage and from blood is it red
We swear an oath of life and death.”

As the 'unity' movement started to expand, the agitators who had been sent to Krinki returned to Bialystok. It was left to the local 'enlightened' to instruct the tannery workers. The main leaders were Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, Itshke Grodner, and my uncle Moishe Berl. My other uncle, Chaim Shloyme, was also active.

The oath that the workers swore on the sacred book and the phylacteries was held sacred. The strike broke out by accident. A master craftsman from Hershl Grosman's factory slapped a worker in the face and that was the signal to which workers in all factories rose in rage. A meeting was held with the participation of all the tannery workers and it was decided that no one would go to work the next day. At first the manufacturers and the master craftsmen thought it was a joke. They played jokes on the strikers and laughed at them: “Ah”, they said, “they will soon be hungry and they will come back and take up their work.” As this wish did not come true, one of the influential proprietors Eizik Krushenianer, my grandfather Chaim Asher's cousin, said: “As far as I can see, we will not get anywhere with them; it seems that this was prearranged by the association.” The proprietors became restless and sent messengers to the workers to find out why they did not come to work. The workers gave them the following answer they had agreed on: “We demand the dismissal of the master craftsmen, weekly wages paid directly by the manufacturers, and a twelve-hour working day.”

The manufacturers had not expected such a riot and they held a meeting where they decided to call the rebels to the local rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Lavski, may his memory be blessed. The workers and the poor did not like him very much but the wealthy considered him an influential person and respected him a lot. He was rich and his son Avigdor was one of the biggest manufacturers. The rabbi summoned Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, who was one of the leaders of the strike. When he arrived, Rabbi Baruch, surrounded by the manufacturers, started at once to reprimand him for letting Jewish workers participate in the rebellion.

H. Weinberg (Hershl Pinkes): My argument with the rabbi (My debate with the rabbi)

I came to the local rabbi at his invitation and found him sitting, surrounded by well-to-do manufacturers. He turned to me at once and said: “I am very much surprised at you. Tell me, is this a just and Jewish way to settle a dispute? When Jews have a complaint against each other, they go to the rabbi to seek the judgment of the rabbinical court and the rabbi rules who is right.” “Rabbi”, I answered, “You may be surprised at me but I am also surprised at you. One can turn to a rabbinical court

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only in a case when one party has the power and the other party is right. But in this case, as you can see, we have the power and we are also right. So, I am asking you, why would we need a rabbinical court?” “It may be true that you are right and you probably also have the power indeed”, said the rabbi, “but it is the middle of the term; wait until the end of the term and your demands will be fulfilled.” “At least this is what you say, rabbi”, I answered him quickly. “It clearly means, 'the worker returns on the same day', and even in the middle of the hour?”

Yosl Kohn: Terror and arrests

Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, asked the rabbi why he was asking the community all the time to raise his salary. He also reminded the rabbi that his predecessor, the 'old' rabbi (the diligent student Rabbi Avromtshik) was satisfied with little. This 'impertinence' amazed Rabbi Baruch and the manufacturers and the rabbi told Hershl to leave his house.

Seeing the stubbornness and impertinence of the workers, the manufacturers, with the agreement of the rabbi, turned to the governor in Grodno. A large number of gendarmes led by a colonel (regiment commander) arrived in Krinki – this was the first time that the shtetl had so many 'guests'. The gendarmes started at once to terrorize the leaders of the strike. They caught them and struck them down with murderous blows. This only angered the craftsmen all the more and the strike became not only harsher but bloodier as well. The leaders started to hide. Their homes were attacked and people could not sleep in peace in dozens of Jewish homes. The fear that the gendarmes would attack them kept them agitated and vigilant. Hershl Pinkes, the shamash, and dozens of others were arrested and sent to the Grodno prison.

Hillel Katzblum: The first victory

The strike and the meeting before it in the woods were full of dramatic moments that vividly characterized the atmosphere of the strike and the means used in the fights in a Jewish shtetl in the 1890s. While the assembled stood for more than two hours in the rain swearing and singing the 'oath', some of them lay down on the ground and wept with joy or grief – who knows which. A strike meant hunger, suffering and misery.

In order to prevent the striking workers from gathering in the workers' bes-medresh and taking council about the continuation of the strike, the manufacturers persuaded the police to seal the bes-medresh. In return, the workers seized the big bes-medresh where the proprietors of the tanneries used to pray Sabbath morning. The workers sat down by the Mizrach [picture on the Eastern wall] set up a guard to make sure that no employer could enter and distributed 'slips' for leinen [calling up to read from the Torah]. After the prayer, they locked the bes-medresh and took the keys. The manufacturers were forced to turn to the police and ask them to open their bes-medresh. Later the manufacturers tried by all means to persuade the tannery workers to take up work under the old conditions but nothing helped and the workers won in the end. It was accepted that they would work from 7 AM to 7 PM and get paid weekly. They marched on the streets singing and clapping: “From 7 to 7 and money every week”.

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Avrom Miller: The workers get a taste of their power (The workers became aware of their power)

The manufacturers and the master craftsmen had to give in on all points. The sacred oath that the workers swore on two potatoes (bulbes??) in a bag for phylacteries united them until they returned to work victoriously.

This is how the tale of Krinki strikes started. The tannery workers got a taste of their power, the master craftsmen could no longer look braver than they felt and the manufacturers would strike the workers no more. Even Nachum Anshl's strong hand stopped 'working'.

Shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and other craftsmen followed in the footsteps of the tanners, and started to rebel and come forward with demands until they also won. Krinki was soon becoming a kind of Garden of Eden for workers.

The second strike of the tannery workers 2

After Succoth 1897, on the eve of the new 'term' the fight of the tannery workers flared up again. The manufacturers summoned a meeting at the rabbi's house and following his advice they agreed to contract with the master craftsmen for three years and employ only those workers who did not participate in the rebellion and agreed to work from 6 AM to 8 PM. The manufacturers agreed to employ peasants if they could not find enough workers. The master craftsmen and the workers did not accept these conditions and went on strike. The manufacturers appealed to the governor to send soldiers into the shtetl. They gave him the names of the rebels. The strangers were sent away from the shtetl and the locals were arrested. The strike breaking peasants were incited to beat up the strikers. This is how a father, an older coachman, who stood up for his son who had been attacked was struck dead.

The red soldiers who came from Grodno attacked the workers on the street and struck them down with murderous blows. The soldiers went into the workers' bes-medresh, threw the sacred books out and used the building as their barracks. The workers then went to the bes-medresh of the rich and did not let them read the Torah. The chief of police arrived with a sergeant, dispersed the workers and, crossing himself, took out the Torah scroll from the Holy Ark. With the aid of the czarist army, the peasants and strikebreakers who went to Krinki from Bialystok, Berdichev and other towns, the workers were defeated. They starved for some time and in the end they were compelled to surrender and work 14 hours a day again.

SofiaDubnov-Erlich: The prolonged fight of the tannery workers for a more humane life (The prolonged tanners battle for a humane existence)

On June 18, 1900 the 'dry tannery' workers (300 of them, among them 50 Christians) stopped working and came out with the demand for a twelve-hour working day. After the intervention of the representative of the government who arrived from Grodno the manufacturers persuaded 50 workers to return to the factory but they were too few to start the work again. The manufacturers set out into other towns to find workers but none of the tanners responded to their call because they all knew about the strike. The manufacturers brought in peasants from the surrounding villages and asked the police to take stricter measures against the strikers.

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The police together with the gendarmerie descended upon the tannery workers, carried out house searches at night and arrested some people on the street the following day. The manufacturers also handed over workers directly to the police. The strike was slowed down and many of the workers who found themselves in great need went to the countryside to do seasonal agricultural work for the landowners for 25 kopeks a day. They shared their earnings with the rest of the strikers. The manufacturers urged the police commissary to persuade the landowners not to engage the rebels. After seven weeks of strike the starving workers were forced to go back to work 14 hours a day as before.

When a general strike of the tannery workers broke out in Smorgon at the end of 1901 and the leather manufacturers of the North-Western region were mobilized to help their fellow industrialists, Nachum Anshl Knishinski, the 'leather king' of Krinki, went to Smorgon in person to urge the manufacturers not to surrender. In the strikes of 1903 and 1904 the Krinki tannery workers succeeded in achieving some improvements.

During the revolutionary storm in January 1905 the Krinki tannery workers who had become hardened through long years of violent fight represented the main force that seized power in the town for a few days. That summer the Krinki workers managed finally to achieve the eight-hour working day. But in 1906 when, after a hot spurt, a reactionary period set in and the manufacturers lifted their heads and some towns of the Bialystok district also declared lockouts, an Association of Brothers was founded to support the fight of the workers and a strike took place in Krinki. In the fall of 1907 the Tannery Workers' Union of Krinki disintegrated because of the indifference of the workers and systematic struggle became impossible. The practice of weekly wages was discontinued among the 'wet tannery' workers as well.

After a few years of crisis in the leather industry and a period of depression in the Jewish labor movement in Russia a certain revival was noticeable among the tannery workers. A professional union was set up in Krinki in 1911 and it developed serious activity. In the fall of 1912 the union succeeded in carrying out a fourteen-week strike demanding once again the introduction of an eight-hour working day. Several people were arrested after the strike but even this did not break the determination of the union and it grew into a mighty force.

The union carried out a series of economic improvements, introduced a system of punishing the manufacturers for bad conditions in the factories. The union set up a legal library and fought against the system of mediation which had been fairly widespread among the tannery workers before the reactionary period. The union had to put up with not only the manufacturers and the czarist administration but also with the local anarchists who led a bitter agitation against the union and the strike fund.

In 1914 while a revival could be felt in Krinki and the workers went on strike again, there was apathy and a stifling atmosphere in other towns of the tannery district. The earlier unity vanished. Workers arriving in a strange town were no longer given any work. Only in the more hospitable Krinki where there was a union could they find a bit of a haven. The example of the Krinki tannery workers was soon followed by thousands of workers in five factories of Vilnius who also went on strike.

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Revolutionary activity

Dov Rabin: The beginning of the revolutionary movement in Krinki

Krinki 'lads' in the first rows

Krinki, an important center of the tanning industry and a little toiling shtetl, was a natural ground for social fermentation. When the Jewish Pale of Settlement started to seethe with social and revolutionary fight in the 1890s, the Jewish youth and the workers of Krinki were among the first to start this fight. The hard and slavish conditions in the tanneries led the workers to declare a harsh and prolonged strike movement, while the general political and economic oppression of the people in Russia and the hopeless situation of the discriminated and persecuted Jewish masses triggered revolutionary activity. The Jewish 'lads' (youth) were in the front lines of the fighting parties which put the goal of general political and social liberation, that should also bring salvation to the Jews and free them from the troubles specific to them, on their banner.

According to certain sources, there existed revolutionary Jewish workers' circles in Krinki already at the end of the first half of the 1890s. Some agitators who were members of these circles led propaganda activity, even in Grodno, and tried to organize the carpenters, tailors, shoemakers and, most importantly, the workers of Shereshevski's tobacco factory. It is assumed that the above mentioned circles drew their spiritual nourishment from the industrial Bialystok, the town with which the Jews of Krinki had close ties and which later influenced them for many years, especially on the cultural and spiritual plane. These workers' circles took the initiative and organized, led and carried through the famous strikes of the Krinki tannery workers, among them the 1897 strike, one of the most momentous strikes in the history of the Jewish labor movement in Russia – we have already discussed this in detail above.

Who were the first activists?

The active members of these circles were mostly young 'lads' of 18-22 years of age. In a list 3 of 21 people accused by the czarist government of belonging to a “workers' circle” in Krinki only seven were older than 23 and three of these were 27-30 years old. The 'oldest' was Elijah Senders, a tinsmith, accused also of participating in strikes. The names of the others were as follows (according to A. Buchbinder): Avrom Zalmen Brevde, Michol Avrom Guz, Mordechai Moishe Glazer, Yosl-Eizik Moishe Heilperin (“also participated in a strike”), Yosl Avrom Harkavy (a tailor), Hirsh-Leib Lipman Virshubski, Menachem-Yudl Naftali Zogli, Avrom Mordechai Zalkind, Nachum Avrom Luria, Chaim Moishe Mareine, Leib Hirsh Nisht (a weaver from Horodok who “fled to Switzerland”), Leib Feinhersh, Yosef Avrom Friedman, Meir Hirsh Kviat, Simeon Nachum Kerber, Binyomin (Benye) Rom, Hirsh Yoshuah Reisen, Yisroel Yakov Riman, Isayah Yoshua Shimanski, and Ezekiel Leib Shmid.

In the same police records (from 1898 and 1899) the following persons were accused of participating in the tannery workers' strikes in Krinki: Mendel Zalmen Chanutin

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(participated in the first strike of 1897), Yakov Moishe Mareine (“taken into police custody”), Elijah-Chaim Avrom Neshkes (“he was under special police supervision and immigrated to America”), Hersh Shmuel Polivnik, Avrom-Ichak Tuvie Sholem (under police supervision like the above and also “fled to America”). Two other organizers of the first strike, Menachem Motl and Moishe Berl, “went” abroad (see more about them on p. 202). Shmuel Geler recalls the name of some more revolutionary activists in Krinki: Chaim the tailor, Avrom Yakov Betzalel the baker, Pinkes Shevach Morduhovitz and Meir Epstein (the son of the “rabbi of Kazion”).

In connection with the celebration of May 1, 1901 in Krinki the Bundist paper, the Arbeter Shtime (August 24, 1901) related that 70 tannery workers gathered in the woods, where they held speeches and they stayed there until late at night; they parted singing revolutionary songs. When the police commissary learnt about this, he mobilized the neighboring police forces and they were searching for the 'offenders' for 5 weeks until the seekers got bored.

Police records of the same year also mentioned another three people accused of taking part in 'riots' in Krinki which were initiated by a large number of workers on the wedding of a worker who had refused to participate in the strike of the tannery workers. They were the following: Hirsh-Yisroel Avrom Mazur, Avrom Shmuel-Hirsh Maletz (“who had already been accused in 1898 of participating in the strike of the tannery workers and sentenced to be placed under police supervision for two years”) and Leib Avrom Meister.

At the beginning of 1902 the police started searching for a Krinki 'politician', Hirsh-Yisroel Mordechai Mazor who had been sentenced to six months in prison. At the same time a demonstration took place at the funeral of a worker in Krinki on which revolutionary songs were sung.

Fifty to a hundred workers participated in the May 1 gathering in Krinki in 1904. The same year the Bialystok committee of the Bund represented at the international socialist congress, held in Amsterdam, 2,240 members, of which 250 from Krinki (and 700 from Bialystok itself). At the same time Simeon Avrom Mordechai Mazor was accused of belonging to the Bund (he had been under police supervision earlier) and Simcha Mordechai Dimant, a 'political' who had 'vanished' from police supervision, was sought by the police.

Betzalel Patchebutzki (senior): The revolutionary propaganda

The secret meetings used to take place outside the shtetl. The scenes of 'sealing the unity' were solemn and impressive, especially the ceremony of taking the oath on the Tanach and the phylacteries. The workers swore to be faithful to the ideals of the fight for the rights and freedom of the workers and against “tyranny and the enslavement of the workers”, and to keep their unity and the meeting in secret and not let their employers know about them. It seems that even the Krinki 'lads' considered belief in God and the sanctity of the Tanach and the phylacteries as among the most sacred values.

The people who took part in these secret meetings used to gather and leave in small groups or one by one. From time to time the agitators went for a walk with a group of lads in the direction of Sokolke or on Shishlevitz Street, or to the Yentes, Shalkes or Razboynikov woods or to Virian's court where they would spell out the situation and the goals of the revolutionary movement. They often held speeches, distributed proclamations, books and pamphlets and sang labor and revolutionary songs.

A well-known song was Edelshtat's

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In Storm and Fight. The melody outlined gloom and sadness; the dreary tune, the heart-breaking words call up to fight:

“My youth faded in storm and fight
I have not known love and luck
Only bitter tears and aching wounds
Weighed down my breast.”

The two oaths were adopted from Bundist songs. One of them included a paragraph “Holy is nature with her dress of freedom”, while the other anthem contained the blazing stanza starting with the words “Brothers and sisters, comrades in work and need” and ending with “We swear an oath of life and death”.

The anarchists' activities

Anarchist credo (The beliefs of the anarchists)

The anarchists occupied a special place among the fighters for a new and liberal regime in Krinki. As is well known, they did not accept any social and state rule based on coercion and law. In Krinki just as elsewhere there were various shades and trends within the anarchist movement. There were discussions in town about Proudhon's article Property is Theft and the notions of 'federalism' and 'mutualism' (mutual coexistence) became daily expressions among Krinki youth. There were, of course, adherents to Kropotkin's anarcho-communism and to Bakunin's preaching to destroy the state, the mother of all oppression, through 'spontaneous' terrorist acts. Among the Krinki anarchists one could even find admirers of the German Max Stirner who advocated extreme individualism and instinctive egoism, as well as of the Russian nihilist Nietzhaiev who believed that the use of even the most brutal terrorist methods against the ruling government was justified. There were also 'anarcho-syndicalists' and 'ethical' and 'philosophical' anarchists. The Krinki anarchist group was founded by 'professor' Yankl (the writer Yakov Krepliak). The carpenter Niomke Yonah, Moishe (Rives) and their leader Avrom Ichak of Vilnius were also active in this group.

Terrorist acts

In practice most anarchists justified terrorist acts carried out personally against the czarist executive power and the exploiters. They also justified and carried out appropriations or as they called it in abbreviated form 'approps'. If it was not possible to improve the workers' wages legally and give them back the surplus value of the work which had been taken from them, they argued, these must be wrung from the exploiters through other means.

In Krinki great 'acts' were in fact carried out. The manufacturer Shmuel Wiener, the 'American', was shot. He was called 'American' because he had once been to America. He had a permit to have a revolver on him and he used to boast about it. He even teased the youth pointing out his 'gear'. On the last day of Pesach when Shmuel 'the American' was coming from the prayer service with a group of influential community members he was attacked on Tannery Street. The attackers were 17-19-year-old lads.

The Jewish population of Krinki had not yet calmed down after the Shmuel 'the American' case when rumors about an attack planned to be carried out on a meeting of the manufacturers in the great bes-medresh spread. The attackers were supposed to throw a bomb prepared in Horodok. The Krinki group sent Moshke from Krinki to fetch it.

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On the way to Horodok Moshke was wounded and since he could not get medical help there, he was taken to Shishlevitz (Svislotz in Volkovisk county). The doctor who treated him informed the police about the accident. Moshke was arrested and imprisoned in Grodno.

Later it became known that his trial would be held in Warsaw. His mother Rive left no stone unturned to have the trial transferred to Vilnius. No efforts were spared to hand over the matter to lawyers. But Moshke, faithful to his ideals, decided to admit that he was to take the bomb to Krinki and at the same time made a political declaration against the regime of enslavement and tyranny. He intended to declare that he tried to kill the slaves of autocracy with the bomb. His mother threatened him with killing herself if he did that. In the end the Jewish kid, mummy's boy awakened in him and the revolutionary Moshke pleaded not guilty and was freed. Some time later he was arrested again and sentenced to prison.

Anarchist demonstrations (Demonstration of the anarchists)

A few anarchist demonstrations took place in Krinki. The demonstrators went out on the street dressed in black shirts (overcoats), black tassels, black felt boots and black forage caps. They marched to the Polish church singing anarchist songs, the anarchist anthem included. When the quiet, provincial population felt that the demonstrators were becoming 'too merry', the shopkeepers closed their shops, the passers-by locked themselves in their houses and the notabilities of the shtetl, with Nachum Anshl at their head, treated the raging youth calmly.

Niomke (Binyomin) 'the anarchist'

I remember a meeting of the manufacturers in Krinki. It was heavily guarded by armed Cossacks led by a sergeant. Suddenly a shot and the breaking of glass could be heard. The sergeant started to chase the scabby Niomke Hershl and knocked him down. As it turned out, the bomb was thrown by Moishe Siderer. It exploded but no one was injured. Niomke was sentenced to eight years of hard labor by the Slonim court.

kry078.jpg - Niomke Fridman ('the anarchist')
Niomke Fridman
('the anarchist')

On the way from the prison Niomke took out a revolver hidden in a loaf of bread and shot the guard and escaped to Krinki. A few days later he was arrested again and he was taken to the Grodno prison more heavily guarded. When he was taken to the first examination, he snatched the arms of the guards, attacked them and shot at them. Then he barricaded himself at a tailor's in the next house and continued to fire at the police from there. When he saw that he had one last bullet left, he shot himself.

[p. 79]

When the police went into the room, they saw a notice written in blood: “Long live anarchy, you will not get me alive!” (His brother has another version about Niomke's death. See Lipa Friedman, Niomke, the Anarchist, p. 201. [editor's note].)

There were attacks on several Krinki sergeants long after they had moved from the town. The Krinki 'minor' sergeant was shot when he was already living at a hat maker's in Sokolke. The attempt was carried out by Yosl Moishe Afroitshik the shoemaker and Moishe Siderer. Afroitshik was sentenced to the gallows. After some time his sentence was changed to 20 years of hard labor. In 1917 rumor spread in Krinki that he had been seen free in Moscow where he occupied a distinguished position.

The activities of the Krinki anarchists outside their shtetl

There were also cases when Krinki Jewish anarchists perished while carrying out secret and unexpected attacks. This is how Yisroel Isar the shochet and Meir Yankl Bunim died on their way to Bialystok in a horse cab; an explosion was heard and both of them died on the spot.

The activity of Ahron Velvel Yankl Bunim (of Krinki) among the anarchists in Bialystok made a strong impression in town. It was reported that when a group of prisoners had been taken from the prison in Bialystok to the bailiff (district police commander), the guards were attacked and the prisoners were set free. This act was carried out by Ahron Velvel who was at the time a member of the leadership of the Bialystok 'fighting squad' (fighting group). A little later, in 1897, the same Ahron Velvel carried out an attempt on a textile manufacturer named Nachum Kolner and he was sentenced to four years in prison in Irkutzk, Siberia. Ahron Velvel's love went with him in his long wanderings and they married in prison and had children in exile. Later the family came back to Krinki.

The Krinki youth were often called up to help 'make a revolution' in other shtetls. This is how Yankl Tshaine was sent by Yakov Krepliak to help 'make a revolution' in Shishlevitz. They both gave a speech to a large audience. Suddenly a warning was heard that the police was coming. Everybody ran off as fast as they could and Yankl Tshaine came back to Krinki. He was one of the most capable agitators.

In town people were saying that Yankl Tshaine joined the anarchist movement because he was not satisfied with the activities of the Bund, which was too moderate in his eyes. The following incident brought this about. The shochet Yisroel Iser took him to Bialystok and brought him in among the fighters. There was a meeting in Factory Street, and someone approached Yankl and handed him the ABCs of anarchism. Suddenly a commotion was heard. The police attacked the meeting place and shouted to Yankl, “you are one of the Krinki rebels!” and beat him up. Yankl Tshaine tried hard to avenge himself but the Bund was not appropriate for that. So he changed sides and joined the more extreme anarchist movement.

The Krinki anarchists were active in other towns as well. In Sidre (a shtetl in the Sokolke district) Krinki anarchists attacked the post office. One of them,

[p. 80]

the mason Dovid was killed by a postal clerk. In 1905 an anarchist group, in which there were some Krinki youth too, had to carry out an attempt on the mayor of Odessa. The following persons were involved in the preparations: Avrom Ichak from Vilnius, Moshke Rives and Niomke Yonah the carpenter.

Aba Lev/Betzalel Patchebutzki Senior: 4 The workers seize the power in Krinki in January 1905

In January 1905 there was some stirring in our town Krinki when the news got around of the bloody march that had been led by the provoker Priest Gapon to the czarist palace on Sunday January 19. However, the Krinki lads started to assault only when the news about the strike of the railway workers got around.

(B. Patchebutzki)

We received an appeal from the Bialystok committee of the Bund and also from the local branch of the Polish Social Democrats (PSD) to join the open fight of the comrades in Petersburg. We set up a federative committee consisting of the two organizations that decided to stop work in the town on January 17, go out and demonstrate and attack all government figures. In order to declare the political strike, the Bundist organization called together a mass meeting in the synagogue. All Krinki workers, more than 1,500 people, responded to the call and came to the meeting. The two red flags of the Bund and the PSD decorated the bimah.

After the meeting the enthusiastic crowd went out onto the street singing the Marseilles. The 'fighting squad' (fighting group) with revolvers in hand was marching at the head of the procession [a wet snow was falling and the flags were fluttering in the wind – B. Patchebutzki]. The crowd set off towards the center of town. The police vanished. The police commissary and a few village policemen ran away into the Yentes woods. Singing and shouting, the demonstrators went on to the post office in Shishlevitz Street. The gate was shut, so the demonstrators broke it in. We went into the office, broke the telegraph into pieces, tore and destroyed the books and burnt the stamps. No one touched the cash desk, which had 18,000 rubles in it, although the manager of the post office offered us the keys. We only took the sword and started out to the police station and the Jewish 'borough council'. There was no one at the police station, so we played havoc with all we found there: tore, destroyed and burnt the portraits of the emperors, books, papers, photographs of 'suspicious persons' and the like. We inspected the Jewish 'borough council' as thoroughly as the police station. We took several hundred passport blanks and passport booklets with stamps. This 'robbery' came in very useful for the revolutionary movement later, especially when the mass escapes from Siberia started. Dozens of arrested people who escaped were provided with passports from these Krinki blanks and thanks to them they arrived in peace wherever they had to get to. From the Jewish 'borough council' we enthusiastically went on to the district (village district) office and wreaked havoc there just like in the two other places.

[p. 81]

We found about 600 rubles in the cash desk of the district office. The anarchists took most of this (we allowed ourselves to take government money) and 80 rubles were taken by other workers who gave it at once to the organization.

In closed lines, singing and shouting, we went on to the 'Monopolka'. The vendor shut the door and when we broke it in, he started shooting from a revolver. We answered him in the same vein, taking his weapon from him and he fled at once. The store received the very same day a huge consignment of liquor. We put a group of young boys and girls around this government liquor store and they destroyed it to the last bit; they spent the whole day breaking bottle after bottle and pouring out the alcohol so that no one could use it.

We first went into the apartment of the local gendarme but we only found a medal and a sword there, so we took them. Only one inspector (a police superintendent who was in charge of certain 'offenders') remained in town. He was ill in bed and could not run off. We ordered him to hand us over his revolver and sword and he obeyed immediately. Krinki was 'clean' and we had complete control over it. The police commissary and some village policemen ran off to the Yentes woods. We also managed to organize a demonstration and destroy the 'Monopolka' in Krusheniani, a village where many workers had their family.

In the meantime the soldiers coming from the direction of Sokolke were getting nearer and nearer. It turned out that the police commissary had fled to Sokolke and alerted the governor from there and asked for help. The latter sent out the soldiers and we met them on Sokolke Street. The youth stood on one side, armed with revolvers and all kinds of iron bars and axes; the girls were also there armed with stones. The officers started to negotiate with us, and promised not to shoot and injure anybody if we were ready to disperse. We were gathering the whole day until the soldiers dispersed us without shooting at us. The governor himself arrived at once. Krinki was flooded with soldiers – infantrymen and cavalrymen, among them the Tsherkes who lodged in the Yentes bes-medresh.

(A. Lev)

The state of emergency was proclaimed and two hundred participants of the uprising were arrested. Put in chains, many of them were taken to the Grodno prison and many of them were locked up in one-person cells. They were liberated after the October Manifesto of 1905. A few people like Yankl Tshaine, Leibke Naskes, etc., who had organized the Bund in Krinki, escaped from the town (Niomke Friedman and the scabby Hershl were also among the leaders of the revolt). The state of emergency had its innocent victim – the baker Yankl Tzalel. He went out to fetch wood early in the morning and did not hear it when he was ordered to stop, and he was shot on the spot. The Krinki revolt ended and the town became calm and quiet again.

(B. Patchebutzki)

[p. 82]

Nachum Bliacher/M. Fridman: A. Sh. Zutz renews the Bund (A.S. Zutz revives the Bund)

During the uprising in Krinki in 1905 when the Cossack punitive expedition arrived in town and the state of emergency was proclaimed, up to 300 people were arrested and taken away and this led to the disintegration of the local organization of the Bund.

kry088.jpg - Avrom-Shmuel Zutz ('continual light')
Avrom-Shmuel Zutz
('continual light')

Avrom-Shmuel Zutz ('continual light')

In 1906 the organization was already under reconstruction. This was led by Avrom-Shmuel Zutz, together with the comrades Baruch-Mordechai Bliacher, Yudl Kolter's son and Avrom Gordon (Yankl Tzales' son).

Born in 1887 in a poor family in Krinki (his father was a butcher), Avrom-Shmuel Zutz tasted work at a young age in the tannery, first as a leaflet maker and later as a laborer in the fullery. Although he received no elementary schooling he started to ponder over the illegal books of the Bundist literature in his early youth. In the stormy year of 1905 he became an active member of the local Bund and the small rooms in his house and stable served primarily as a meeting place for the leaders and a hiding place for illegal literature.

In April 1907 Avrom-Shmuel was arrested for possessing illegal literature and he was sent to the Grodno prison. He was badly beaten up there several times and once a soldier hit him on the head with a rifle butt. He became ill in the eyes and a few years later he went completely blind. When he was freed he returned home. By 1909 the revolutionary movement was fast declining. The intelligentsia fled. A reactionary spirit reigned among the disappointed workers. They became frequent visitors in the inns and playing cards became their spiritual food. Avrom-Shmuel picked up his courage to activate the remnants of the movement and they accepted him as their teacher and guide, and things gradually started moving by 1911.

[p. 89]

About cultural and social life (From the cultural and social life in Krinki)

Krinki – a center for Torah study

Rabbi Zalmen Sender Kahane Shapiro and his yeshiva 5

Rabbi Zalmen Sender, son of Rabbi Yakov Kahane Shapiro, rabbi of Krinki between 1903-and 1915, was the great grandson of Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner and came from Niesvizh. He was a child prodigy and later acquired the reputation of a prominent man, a sagacious scholar well versed in the Talmud. In 1885 he was appointed rabbi of Maltsh and he founded and was head of a yeshiva there, which became one of the best and most respected yeshivas in Lithuania. His educational method was based on inspiring the students to grasp each Talmudic topic according to its content and root. Among the rabbis who studied in the yeshiva of Maltsh, Rabbi Yisroel Iser Unterman, chief rabbi of Palestine, must be remembered.

[p. 90]

After the death of Rabbi Baruch Lavski, the Jewish community of Krinki offered the rabbinical chair to Rabbi Zalmen Sender and he accepted the office on condition that he could continue to devote himself to his yeshiva, a part of which was to come over to Krinki. Established in Krinki, the yeshiva, called 'Anaf Etz ha-Chaim', with Rabbi Zalmen Sender as its head, kept its reputation as one of the most outstanding yeshivas and it attracted as many as 80 students from near and far.

As the rabbi of the town Rabbi Zalmen Sender was widely accepted, respected and liked by the Krinki public. However, “he did not find favor in the eyes of the Krinki manufacturers because he associated too closely with the workers”, tells us A. B. Miller. Once his attention was called to this and he was asked: “Is it not written: Rabbi, honor the rich?” Rabbi Zalmen Sender answered at once, “The rabbi knew who was rich but I don't know…”. Rabbi Zalmen Sender, as Yosl Kohn and B.Patchebutzki tell us, would often stand up for the craftsmen and reprimand the manufacturers. He even refused to pray in the bes-medresh of the wealthy and preferred to pray in the 'Caucasian' prayer house together with the common people and the toilers.

As an accepted authority, Rabbi Zalmen Sender used to influence the sick and the weak and even order them to eat on Yom Kippur. He would even send a doctor to examine the sick and if it turned out that a person would not be able to survive a fast day, Rabbi Zalmen Sender would go himself to him and force him to eat, even before his very eyes. In 1915 when the front was approaching Krinki Rabbi Zalmen Sender moved to Tule (Central Russia) with a group of his students and after the war he made aliya and settled in Jerusalem where he spent his last years and died in 1923.

His son, Rabbi Avrom Dober Kahane Shapiro, was the last chief rabbi of Lithuania and rabbi of Kovno and he is the author of the well-known classic book entitled Shaale u-Tshuve Devar Abraham [Devar Abraham (Rabbinical Responsa)]. He died in the Kovno ghetto in 5703 (1943). Rabbi Zalmen Sender's second son, Rabbi Chaim, was at first rabbi in Koznitze and later in Slobodke, a suburb of Grodno.

One of Rabbi Zalmen Sender's grandsons – Rabbi Avrom Dober's sons who were raised in Krinki – Chaim Nachum Shapiro was professor of Hebrew and oriental languages at the University of Kovno. He was a prominent scholar of new Hebrew literature and author of two books, among others – one on new Hebrew literature and the other on Haskalah literature in Central Russia – which were published in Palestine. He perished with the entire Kovno Jewish community. Rabbi Zalmen Sender's other grandson, Dr Noach Shapiro, was associate professor of chemistry at the University of Kovno and he made aliya in 1935 and became professor of chemistry at the Bar-Ilan University. He died in 1964.

[p. 91]

Education and culture

D. R.: The situation and tendencies (Cultural conditions and aspirations)

As early as 1897 a substantial number of Jewish children studied in the maskilic public school in Krinki, which was established and maintained from the Jewish 'meat tax' (fee for kosher meat, wine, yeast and the like). At the same time it was reported in the Hebrew Hatsefira in 1900 that “seventy young boys are confined with the Talmud Torah from early morning until late at night where the melamdim [teachers] teach and treat the children in the old fashion way without any order in the studies whatsoever. The children do not learn any languages there, or even the Tanach as they should. Moreover, the air is confined there because it is so crowded.”

However, in the course of a few years, the conditions in Jewish education improved in Krinki. A Hebrew 'reform cheder' (see more about it later) and a Hebrew girls' school were founded. Ida Abitov (Hinde Nisht) describes with the following words: “The Hebrew schoolmistresses” – this is how the two young sisters, Malke and Sime Grosman of Brestovitz, were called – settled in Krinki and opened the first Hebrew girls' school at the beginning of the 20th century. “The instruction in the school followed the natural method of 'Ivrit in Ivrit' [a study in Hebrew, without any translation].” The school functioned for three years until Malke Grosman made aliya (she returned to Krinki later). “The two Hebrew schoolmistresses can be given credit for the fact that their students followed them and became teachers at the age of 13 and 14 in the Hebrew school which was established in Krinki during the first world war for both the children of refugees and local children.

kry091.jpg - Libke and Aharchik (Aron) Lev
Libke and Aharchik (Aron) Lev,
the founders of the first library of Krinki, 1907/08.

As early as 1909 the Hebrew teacher Avrom Einstein could assert that the conditions in girls' education in Krinki were good (Hatsefira, Elul 14, 5669). The students received a national Hebrew education and even the chederim were influenced by these schools and the melamdim started to introduce improvements in the studies. In the cheder children started learning Hebrew language and dikduk [grammar], Hebrew literature and Jewish history “but after the age of bar mitzva the young boys devote themselves to general studies.”

“Concerning reading”, writes Einstein, “the intellectuals are drawn to Russian books and newspapers. Of the Yiddish newspapers Haynt, Unzer Lebn and Fraynd are distributed in Krinki, while the following Hebrew papers come to town: the daily Hed Hazman, the monthly Hasiluch and from Palestine the weekly Hapoel Hatzair.”

“In the local library”, continues Einstein, “there are only a few Hebrew books but the demand for such books has been on the increase recently, so the proprietor of the library is going to enlarge the Hebrew section.” By the way, in 1912 it was asserted that there was a Yiddish lending library (with 200 books). The same year three voluntary librarians registered 2,500 lendings.

Bendet Nisht (B. Niv): The 'reform cheder' (The cheder improved)

On a hot summer day in 1904 a fire broke out on Caucasus alley which spread and destroyed half the town. The chederim (the only educational institutions at the time) were closed and many parents sent their children to friends in the nearby shtetls to study with the local melamdim there. Nearly a year after the fire a group of Zionist parents decided to open a 'school', or a 'reform cheder' as it was called at the time where the studies would be conducted in Hebrew according to the method 'Ivrit in Ivrit', a natural system without translation into Yiddish.

The cheder was launched with 6 to 8-year-old children and a suitable teacher, an expert was brought (his name was Tzirkl, and his wife and children are in Israel). The 'reform cheder' developed and for the third school year a second teacher, named Kulik, was appointed.

However, only a small number of Krinki Jewish children studied in the 'reform cheder' because the traditional masses frowned upon it and regarded it as a 'heretical' school where the children only learned to speak the holy tongue and sing and do 'gymnastics'. . . (incidentally, the music teacher was Simeon Bas, a leather worker who studied music and who later taught the virtuosos Yan Firs and Richard Toker and taught written music to the chazan [cantor] Yosele Rozenblat in America.)

When the 'reform cheder' had already been functioning for a few years, its teaching program was extended and another teacher called Farber from Volkovisk was engaged. The following year Farber hired one more teacher, a graduate of the Hebrew Pedagogical Course of Kovno. All subjects were taught at a high school-level and exclusively in Ivrit. Gemarah was also taught, as it was customary at the time. Despite the disturbances caused by the Orthodox circles the school existed for four years and was closed only because of the departure of Farber. At that time the education that the students received in the most advanced class of the cheder corresponded to the sixth grade in high school.

In the meantime, however, a number of Hebrew teachers settled in Krinki and they gave private lessons to students in private groups. Among them were such personalities as Kunsht, Razepinski, Avrom Einstein and others. Most of the students of the closed-down 'reform cheder' continued to learn Hebrew with them. After years of living in Krinki Einstein was one of the founders and the first director and pedagogue of the local Hebrew Tarbut school, and he was later one of the leaders and instructors of the Tarbut society in Poland.



Footnotes
1. Based on Grodno Echo, Buenos Aires, No. 14. Return
2. Di Arbeter Shtime, No. 7, December 9, 1897. Return
3.See N. A. Buchbinder, Contribution to the History of the Jewish Labor Movement in Russia (in Russian), Vol. 1 (Moscow-Petersburg, 1923). Return
4.Extracts of memoir from the survived manuscript of B. Potshebutski, may his memory be blessed, and from Aba Lev's article in the Reader of the Jewish Labor Movement in the Former Russia (Moscow, 1925), printed in the Grodno Echo, Buenos Ayres. Return
5.On the basis of M. Tsinovitsh and other sources. Return

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