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The First World War (cont.)

Translated by Eszter Andor

[p. 105]

Bendet Nisht (Barukh Nib): The Hebrew elementary school

After the German occupation of Krinki, the Committee for the Homeless ceased its activities, and instruction was interrupted for a few months in the Hebrew elementary school, which had been founded for the children of the refugees and the poor at the beginning of the war.

The population was suffering from hunger, poverty and the cold. But soon four members of the cultural commission of the Committee for the Homeless, who had remained in Krinki –Menase and Pinkhas Garber, B. Nisht and Yakov Kirzhner – assembled and decided to open the school again saying that “even when there is no flour, there is the Torah” (one must study even when there is nothing to eat).

In one year the school, the only Hebrew school in town grew bigger, and the rulers who had at first tolerated it, took a dislike to it and closed it, and compelled the children to attend the German school. But thanks to the efforts of its leaders our school opened again, albeit on a smaller scale.

At the end of 1917, after the Balfour declaration, the committee of the Tzairei Zion convened in Krinki. (It consisted of the following people: Bendet Nisht – now in Israel; Alter Potshebutzki – died in 1964 in Israel, having survived the cruelties of the Second World War; Berl Zakon – now in New York; Melekh Zalkin – perished; and Pinkhas and Menase Garber.) It was decided that the school had to be enlarged, especially because of the prospect of an aliya to Palestine and, connected to this, the need to teach the pupils Hebrew, the local language.

It only became possible to carry out the resolution in 1918 when new winds started to blow – the winds of revolution first in Russia and then in Germany. When the inhabitants of Krinki started feeling, too, that the iron grip of the occupying forces became weaker, the Tzairei Zion organization enlarged the school and the pupils who had been forced to transfer to the German educational institution were also allowed to come back.

Among the active leaders who fully devoted themselves to maintaining the school were the following people: Avrom Eynshteyn, Heshl Sapirshteyn, Melekh Zalkin, Yosef Gabay, Menase Garber, the author of this article, and later Efraym Afrimzon, Sheyme Kaplan, etc. They spared no efforts and they managed to overcome all the difficulties that arose: political persecutions of the school authorities and especially lack of money.

Forty to fifty percent of the budget was always missing. Great self-sacrifice was required from the school committee and the Tzairei Zion organization in order to cover the deficit. They received piecemeal support from our American brethren and later from the town authorities.

[p. 106]

Despite the hard material situation of the school, the teaching staff always maintained a high pedagogical level. The moving spirits of the school were such educators as Eynshteyn, Gotesfeld, Dr Reys, Dr Tzveygl, Moshe Zaleski (now doctor and director of Hebrew education in Cincinnati, USA), etc.

kry106.jpg - A class in the Hebrew school
A class in the Hebrew school

Hundreds and hundreds of pupils graduated from this educational institution in its eighteen graduating classes. And those graduates who left Krinki and emigrated to North and South America, and the numerous graduates who made aliya to Palestine, occupy most distinguished places in the cultural and social life of their country.

The original idea was to educate Jewish children in Hebrew and in the spirit of our national values and survival in Palestine – and indeed the school made this reality. This is shown by both the spiritual foundation with which the pupils were provided, and the enviable rich hakhsharah [training for would-be immigrants], which was to help them take root in the country, build it and fight for it.

Sure Fel-Yelin: Fighting with the Germans for Yiddish education (Struggle with Germans for teaching in Yiddish)

It is the First World War. Homeless, starving, and shabby people wander about in town. Something must be done. I call together the intelligentsia of the town – the high school students, the pharmacist and the teacher couple – and we decide to create a school for the children and to pay attention to them.

The fight against the German occupying power is a splendid chapter in the history of Krinki. The Germans demand that German be the language of instruction in the schools. We teachers agree that Yiddish should remain the language of instruction and German should be taught only as the vernacular. Among the teachers were the Rotbort sisters (the daughters of Rubke, the Governor of the Province), Potshebutzki, Falk and I, and there were a few German teachers and a high school teacher. The Rotborts had already been linguistically assimilated. I, the socialist-Bundist, was a rather militant Yiddishist. Once I made a sharp attack in public against the representatives of the occupying power and because I was young I did not realize how dangerous it was to oppose a military power. “We have not invited you . . . You came to us uninvited . . . Yiddish is our mother tongue . . . We love Yiddish and we will not give in!” This is how I was thinking at the time.

The same night my friend, the German high school teacher, knocked on my window and advised me to leave the shtetl at once. . . . I woke up my father and left in the cold grey dawn. I got on a cart to Bialystok. Later I often came to the shtetl to work – in the school, in the self-defense group, or to give a lecture. My father used to call me the “gabe's wife” and he had hardly any time to see me.

[p. 108]

In the time of the revolutions (During the time of the revolutions)

Yisroel Stolarsk: The workers' rule in Krinki (The workers' reign in Krinki)

It is the end of 1918. The First World War has ended. The Germans are about to leave Krinki. The secretary of the county convenes a meeting in the big bes medresh [synagogue and study house] and informs us that the Germans are leaving and the Poles intend to take over the power. He selects some respected Jewish and Christian inhabitants and gives them the keys of the granaries and some twenty thousand German marks and creates a civil committee, which will take over the lead. Dovid Gotlib convenes a meeting of the Bund, the Poalei Zion, and the anarchists, and we decide that with the outbreak of the revolution in Russia and Germany the time has come for the workers of Krinki to take over the power. Following the good old tradition of the Krinki lads we broke into the meeting of the civil committee, scattered it, and established a labor council. We took over the keys of the granaries and the money and the power in the town.

We promptly distributed flour and potatoes among the poor and sent some men to buy weapons in Bialystok. We already had 200 guns and two machine-guns and a lot of crates with weapons. We set up the machine-guns on the roof of the “little bank” – the loan and savings bank. We organized a workers' militia, which was lead by Heykl Barkan (Heykl Mutz). We provided them with guns and red armbands and we started governing the town.

When all the cereals were gone from the granaries, we levied a tax on the rich and organized public work to give work to the poor and the unemployed. They were sent to cut ice on the Krinki lake for the “poorhouse”.

Our militia had a very difficult task trying to fight theft and hooliganism, which started to spread towards the end of the German occupation. Rich Jewish boys and Christian hooligans terrorized the population and people were forced to suffer and keep silent. When the “gang” disregarded our warnings to hand over their weapons, we shot two bandits in the market place and that helped. The population was very grateful to us, and later when the Poles took over the power and arrested us, the priest interceded for us and helped us to get free.

This is how we ruled the town for a while. Bialystok was already governed by the Poles. Messengers from Pilsudski himself came to Krinki a few times and called us up to give over the power. We refused. We surrendered only when we were already surrounded and the Poles were coming at us from two directions, from Sokolke and Amdur.

Volf Ekshteyn: The activities of the workers' council and its demise (The activities of the workers' council and its demise)

I arrived back in Krinki after the First World War as a demobilized soldier who had gone through the storm of the Russian revolution in the Russian army. When I came home, I joined the Krinki committee of the Bund with the intention to cut off the left wing of the local movement in order to found a separate communist party, following the example of the “Kombund” in Russia.

The following people were members of the local committee of the Bund in Krinki: Dovid Gotlib, Issakhar Fink, Avrom Shmuel Zutz, Hakhum Blakher, A. Sh. Liberman, who was a crockery shopkeeper, his sister-in-law, Khame (Nekhame), who was a midwife, and I. Among us we held the continual debates that were going on at that time between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks along the lines set by the two geniuses of that generation, Plekhanov and Lenin.

[p. 109]

Meanwhile the revolution broke out in Germany and the German power around us ceased to exist. A workers' council made up of several parties was set up in Krinki. The chairman was Yerushe Gotlib, Dovid Gotlib's brother, the secretary Velvel Furie, and Yoske Hatzkls, Moshke Furie, Sorke the midwife, Velvel Ekshteyn, Heykl and Shloyme Mutz and Issakhar Fink, as the representatives of the Bund, were its members. There were also a few Christian members, such as Mikhniuk and Anisimovitz, young demobilized officers of the Russian army and tsar Nicholas.

The first action of the workers' council was to levy a tax on the richer inhabitants of the town in order to help the demobilized soldiers who came back from Russia and from German captivity and went around tattered and hungry. There were heads of families among them who had to be given first aid to help them get back on their feet. A soldiers' committee was set up and it successfully carried out the necessary actions. There were very few people who refused to pay the tax. The workers' council organized a big demonstration to protest against the pogrom in Lemberg and almost all the Jews of Krinki participated in it. The demonstrators, together with the tanners, marched through Kostzial and New Street to the town hall and the little bank and back. The red banners were carried by the eldest worker of the town.

Within the workers' council an arms committee was set up, which went to Bialystok every week to buy weapons. We collected money for this from a special tax, which we imposed on the mills of Krinki and its environs around which we deployed our militia.

A problem arose with the “illegal” youth that went around armed and tried to take advantage of the situation. The workers' council approached them and tried to influence them rather than threaten them. And when we caught a well-known Sokolke thief in Krinki, the “illegal” youth even helped us hand him over to the Germans in Sokolke, who shot him. (A few Germans were still left in the towns at that time.)

kry109.jpg - The Bund committee, 1928
The Bund committee, 1928

The Krinki workers' council was closely linked to such nearby shtetls as Horodok and Brestovitz, in which there was no stable power either.

We ruled the town thus until the Polish army started to mobilize and the news came to us from Amdur that the legionaries were coming to Krinki. They stopped in the middle of the way and sent ahead a delegation to us with the proposal that we should surrender and give over the power. Dovid Gotlib told them that we would not give over the power to anybody, but they should come and take it if they could. The leaders of the workers' council left Krinki and went to Vilna on a minor road, the Odelsk-Grodno road, to avoid an unnecessary bloodshed.

[p. 110]

By the way: when we arrived in Odelsk, we encountered a pogrom mood but when people learned that the Krinki workers' council was in town, the tensions died down.

Hershl Giteles Oygustovski: The activities of the Bund during the war (Activities of the Bund during the war years)

When Krinki was under German occupation during the First World War the Bund, together with other trends popular among the Jewish population, was active in the cultural life of the shtetl. The literary Saturdays that took place in the “little bank” are memorable. A wide Jewish public gathered there to hear a little Yiddish – lectures on Yiddish literature and Jewish history and the like. And if the representatives of the German occupants were not present, which happened from time to time, the lecturer would sneak into his speech his opinion about daily happenings.

After the disintegration of the German occupying regime, when the inhabitants of Krinki organized their own town administration, the Bund came out in the open and participated in the elections to the town council. When the workers' council took over the power, the Bund joined it. The party was also active in the cultural life of the town. Under the leadership of Shmuel Tenor, a Jewish workers' choir was organized and natural science and cultural studies evenings were also held for the young.

I remember the happy evenings when we gathered, thirsting for culture on the premises of the Bund in Itshe Afroytzik's house. There was a lending library, which had a wide selection of books: world literature, as well as the works of the Yiddish classics, of course, and a rich collection of scientific and general social-economic works.

The Bund played an important role in Yiddish education and theater. The plays of the best Yiddish dramatists (Hirhbeyn, Yakov Gordin, Sholem Ash), as well as of world dramatists (Strinberg, Ibsen, Molière, etc.), were put on stage with amateurs. We would have to search hard to find another town or shtetl where Anski's Dybuk was put on stage without any help, but in Krinki we did it. It required a lot of courage and perseverance, as well as inexhaustible faith and love to realize such a performance. School children dragged all kinds of sacks and blankets to the lake, washed them and sewed them together clumsily, and then Note Kozlovski painted sceneries on them. Great was the excitement when the curtain rose.

Ab Mille: War Years (A song about the war years)

We struggled with hunger,
We ran over the fields to feed ourselves.
Our will to live grew stronger,
We appeased our hunger as best we could.
We were seeking on the fields,
We burrowed ourselves in garden beds,
We wanted to provide food for the winter.

We carried potatoes and rye on our shoulders,
We knew that the languishing would last for years.
The war starts with destruction and fires,
Then come the orphans and widows, cripples and plagues.

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