I was saved from any further discussion and argument, by the fact that it was now almost Yom Kippur. At this time, all the Jewish prisoners were taken into one very large cell and held there. Usually this period extended from Rosh Hashanah until after Succoth. The Jewish community brought in kosher food suitable for the holidays and regular prayer services were conducted. The Russians had no love for the Jews, but still it was recognized as a religion and as such, the rites and rituals were allowed to be practiced. Especially for such important holidays as these were. I had been arrested just after Rosh Hashanah and gone through my questioning and examination during this time. Now, just before Yom Kippur I was being transferred to this special cell. The door opened that morning when we got up and the guard told me to get all my possessions together. I said good-by to the head of the cell and was very happy that I was being taken away from these criminals just in time.
In the Jewish cell the atmosphere was different. There was a table set up with a table cloth and with food brought in from the outside. Also another table with prayer books. There were about 12 men already there when I came in and we began to get acquainted with each other. Several were imprisoned because of thievery, some for smuggling from Germany and a few for non payment of debts. When I said that I did not know why I had been arrested, immediately the thieves started to cry out that I was a socialist and revolutionary. That all of us who were political never knew why we were arrested. But we did manage to get on a friendly footing and I felt as if I was half free when in this cell. Compared with the other one, this was already freedom. When I told them that I was to be tried under Article 122, they were very sympathetic towards me. They knew that if I were found guilty that I would probably be sent to the "cold climate" of Siberia. But there was the possibility that I was innocent and would be set free.
And so the day passed in this new atmosphere. As it was getting dark, the group began to prepare to say the evening prayers. I was asked if I would act as cantor. This was not one of my things and I told them so. That to do an act of this kind, one had to be a believer and since they knew that I was a Socialist I was already known to them as a non-believer. But they answered that even if a Jew took off his talus, everyone still knew who he was. I stood before them and could never have imagined that I would lead a group of men in prayer on Yom Kippur night and that this would be in prison. But I wanted to do well for their sakes, and with deep feelings I put on the talus and lead the prayers. After the service was ended we shook hands all around, as is the custom and wished each other a good Yom Tov. They all said that they felt that I had conducted a wonderful service. It was too early to go to sleep and the night inspection was not made for this cell, so we sat around and talked a little bit. We discussed various matters and some of the men explained some of the things that went on in the prisons that I should be aware of. Again, since I was the last one into the cell, it fell upon me to tell the "story of the night". I knew several monologues that had been written by Shalom Alaichem and proposed that I tell these. They agreed to this and I stood before them and recited "The Priziv" that he had written. I could see from the smiles and the laughter that they enjoyed this story very much. They shook my hand and one of them even pressed the pillow that he had received from home into my hands to use for the night. I tried to decline but he insisted and truthfully it was much better sleeping on that then on the hard shoes that I now used as a head rest. I was exhausted from the days activities, even though we did not do any work and with the help of the feather pillow, I fell asleep right away.
The next morning, Yom Kippur, after getting up and washing ourselves and the room, I asked several of the men if they were going to fast as I had no intention of doing so. Some agreed with me and we had our bread and tea and then we held the prayer session. Only three of the thieves fasted the whole day. But after the morning service they prevailed upon me do the afternoon service in great detail. But by two o'clock we were finished with that service and started "Nielah". This is the last set and they said that I had to finish it for them. So we did that and managed to rush through a little and finished early. In the shule in town they were still on the early parts of the "Mussef". We sat down to
have our dinners just as it was getting dark. We sat around and discussed events that we were familiar with, as there was nothing else to do. It was just after the guards had made the last check and it was getting quiet in the prison and we were sitting around thinking about this year and where we would find ourselves the next Yom Kippur. Suddenly one of the men cried out "Alter, I heard them calling your name." I had not heard anything as I was so absorbed in my thoughts. I told him to stop fooling around, it was just into the New Year and too early to play jokes. We now heard steps in the hall and the same man said " Alter, they are going to free you now." In a moment the door opened and the guard told me to gather all my belongings and come with him. All the men took me around and gave me messages to give to their wives and family, for they were certain that I would be freed that night. The guard was getting angry with all the delays, and finally pushed me out into the hall, locked the door again and led me away.
As we walked along the corridor I asked him where we were going and what this was all about, but he could say no more than that I was to be brought to the same room where I had been questioned. I asked if I was being transferred to another cell and he said that he did not think so as it was most unusual for a prisoner to be transferred once the night count had been made. I still could not believe that I was to be freed, as under the articles that I was to be tried, there had to be a trial and it was too soon for the paper work to have been done. When I went into the room, the head of the prison was sitting at the large table and there was a soldier standing near him. The head of the prison took the paper that the soldier had been holding and started to read aloud. An order had been received from the head of police in Warsaw to the head of police in Wloclawek regarding Meyer David Alter, that all the material that had been taken from his house and person was to be returned and that the person was to be freed from prison "immediately". I felt as though I was on a merry-go- round and for a moment could not orient myself or say a word. The soldier took my hand and put a package into it and started to lead me out of the room. I recovered a little and turned from the soldier and said to the head of the prison, "Dos Vidonia" (See you again). He gave me a small smile and answered "Good-by". When I had recovered a little I wondered why he had smiled and realized that I had certainly made a foolish statement as I was leaving the heart of the prison where I had been held.
I was led to the small door that was set into the gate and it was opened barely enough for me to squeeze through and it then closed firmly behind me. I stood for a moment on the free side and then took off as if the devil were chasing me. I wanted to get away as fast as possible in case they had made a mistake and were to open the door in back of me to grab me again. I also felt that this might be a dream and that soon I would wake up and find myself back in the cell. But no. I was running and sweating and awake. And it was true that I was free but I could not understand why. As I ran all sorts of thoughts went through my mind as to why I had been released. Could it have been that the officer that examined me had sympathized with me or had there been another reason? I could not really think of any other reasons. But now I was on the New Market leading to the Broad street and I could see that there were still a lot of people on the street, for outside of the prison, it was not so late and I
realized that the Yom Kippur services were just ending. Not everybody had rushed through them like I did. The Jews were coming out of the shule and were just starting to go home. I began to wonder what would be the best way for me to approach my house. If I suddenly appeared, the shock to my mother might be more than she could stand by my just walking into the house. I slowed down to think about this problem when I heard someone calling out my name. I turned around and was grabbed and hugged by my friend Kalman. He started to cry out "Free, Free" and to jump up and down and dance around me. He was laughing and crying at the same time. People stopped and stared at us like we were drunk. I could hear people then begin to tell each other stories like, "That man had been imprisoned for years and has just been released", "Kalman Dzelenkov has gone crazy" Several other comrades had run up when they realized that Kalman was involved and they formed a circle around us and escorted me to my house. By the time we got there, a great crowd of people were in the yard and the street. I asked that several comrades go in first to reassure my parents that everything was all right and especially my dear mother who had suffered so much during my imprisonment. I finally went into the house and my mother fell upon me with hot tears running down her cheeks and would not leave me alone. It was as though she was afraid that someone should not take me away again. My dear father hugged me and could not say anything but my brothers and sisters danced and hugged me for shear joy.
Everyone had been fasting all day but now they were not hungry The emotion of my return had suddenly filled everyone with such satisfaction that no one could eat the food. The yard was still filled with people and I wanted to go out and explain that I was really home and that they should leave now for their own dinners, but my mother would not let go of me to even move out to the door. My friend Kalman burst in and took me around and cried so much that everyone started to cry again. But these were tears of happiness and joy and not of sorrow. Eventually the crowd did disperse and the comrades left also. Kalman was the last to leave as he was the one who was most affected .We were so close that there did not seem to be one thought that the one had that the other did not also have. Meanwhile we could not understand the "secret" of my release. I would have to calm myself and review every step and question that was asked and the answers that I had given. In the house order was gradually restored and we did sit down to break the fast. We still did not realize why I had been released but we were going to enjoy the time. We were amazed that I had gained weight in prison, for my face was very heavy looking. Later we found out that the bad food and air and the conditions in general had made my face swell up and it looked as though I had gained weight. It was only several days later, when the swellings went down, that we went over every minute and all the events that had occurred from the time that I had been locked up until I had been locked out of the prison. When I got to the point about the paper that the prison head had read to let me out, my father related what he had done, and it appeared that he had been the one that had obtained my release. He did not know what he could accomplish but he could not sit by. He had an idea to go to the head of the police and throw himself at that officers feet and beg that I be released, and he would not tell anyone in the family about it. The thought did not let him sleep and the next morning, early he went to shule to pray that God would allow the heart of the officer to be softened and that the prayers
would be answered and that his son would be freed from prison. Right after the prayers were finished he went with his prayer shawl under his arm to the officers house and knocked on the door. The servant came out and when asked, my father said that he wanted to see the head of police, the door was slammed in his face. But he decided that even if he had to stand in front of the house all day, he was going to plead my case. He rang the bell again and the servant said " Jew, leave or I will pour hot water on you." My father put a foot in the doorway before it could be closed and a small struggle ensued. The officer's wife heard it and with wonder came over to find out what was going on. My father had been able to get into the house by then and he bowed before her and said "Please save my wife and myself. We cannot hold out any longer". She told him to calm down and to tell her the story. My father told her that my mother could not live through these experiences. That an innocent son had been taken to prison and that only her husband could find the means to have him set free. She asked that he sit down and in a few minutes came back with her husband. The officer asked what had happened and then said that there was nothing that he could do. I had been arrested by the Warsaw secret police and that was outside of his jurisdiction. But my father would not give up easily and he fell on his knees and kissed the hands of the officer and pleaded and did not really know what else he was doing, and could not control himself and cried louder and harder and his cries touched the hearts of these people. The wife was already crying and the tears were running from her eyes and she assured my father that they would do whatever they could to help us. Then she approached her husband and told him that he had to do something to set the situation right. The husband said that because of his wife's tears and her interest he would certainly try. He would send a telegram to the Warsaw police and find out if the examination was already over and what the outcome was. Also that the family was known to him, that we had lived in town all of our lives and that we had never been in trouble of any kind. That we were all law abiding citizens and that if nothing of major incriminating evidence had been found against me, that he should strongly consider releasing me. My father could only wish them all the best blessing that God could provide, that they should live for a thousand years and he was shown to the door. The wife patted his shoulder and said that her husband would do exactly as he had stated. She would see to it. Worn out and exhausted from the experience, he could not go far and sat down on a stone near there and rested. After a while he went home and did not tell anyone about his morning's experience. He wanted to believe that all would go as they had said, but it was also possible that it had only been said to get him out of the house quietly. It was only when I described the unusual circumstances of my release that we understood that it had been my father's pleas that had been instrumental in getting me released. My father later took two plates that were used as wall decorations and took them over to the wife of the police head. She did not want to take them but he insisted that she do so as a remembrance of the good deed that her husband had done.
With my arrest, the party worked stopped almost completely. Not only because of the arrest but also because of the need to be lay low for a while. The worry was that there were spies in town and that certainly the police had seen with whom I had been associating. There was also the personal feeling that affected the comrades by my being arrested. It hit too close to home and they were afraid that the same might happen to them. But two days after being released, Kalman came over to the house and
we were already discussing how to renew the activities. I had not gone out to meet anyone yet but that Sunday we already had a meeting of the executive committee. We started in with the work that we found so necessary and held the meeting at the library and formed another reading circle and managed to forget all the unpleasantness of the last weeks. We decided that we would not have any contact with the Committee of the Bund that was not within the country. There was too much danger of being caught until we had figured out a better way of contacting them.
Meanwhile the time was approaching for my examination for induction into the army , which was to take place on the 15 October, according to the Russian calendar. For a long time my mother had said that she would make appeals everywhere, and not let me go into the army to "serve Pania". It was enough that two of her sons had gone to serve. My oldest brother Moishe Hersh had a brother-in-law named Samuel. When it was time for Samuel to go in for his examination, and of course he did not wish to serve, he had a "maker" (macher) create a physical defect. This cost him 50 ruble and would have allowed him to fail the army physical. What this man did was break a finger and then set it so that it would not heal straight. Samuel had closely watched what this man had done and said that when it came my turn, he would do it for me. At this time I was 15 years old. But things did not work out well for Samuel. When it came time for his examination, he was so certain that he would not pass that he did not pay off the doctors and they ended up by passing him for military service. First they sent him to a hospital to have the finger reset and then he went to serve for three years in the interior of Russia. He often wrote that the "defect" was good but that he should not have been so sure of the doctors. I was not to worry because when it came to me he would be able to do a first class job. He was also learning a lot about these things in the army. After his release he lived in Alexandrovitch, but one Sunday he came to visit and the conversation became very real and earnest. It was almost time to start on me. We finally decided that he would come the next Purim ( 1908 ) and bring the "cloths and dressings and other tools" that were needed and that the "exemption" would be done then. So that is what happened when the day arrived. Late at night, after the other children had gone to sleep, my mother and father watched as he made the "operation". First I had to soak the last two fingers of my left hand in hot water so that the skin became soft. Then he put a special salve on the inside of the fingers and closed them up tightly against themselves. He tied them so tight that they could not move. The nails and the outside of the fingers were covered with cotton and small stiff boards so that the acid could not reach there. If they were deformed then it would look as if it had been done on purpose. Part of the secret of the success of this plan was the fact that the defect had to look as if it were part of a natural growth process. My hand was then bandaged, making first certain that everything was in its proper place, and as soon as the bandaging was done, then the acid started to do its work.
The skin started to burn like a fire and that meant that the acid was working. The hand soon became swollen. The first night, understandable, I did not sleep as the pain was so intense. I did not want to cry out in my pain as this would increase the aggravation that my parents had and wake the rest of the family. Besides there was nothing that they would even be able to do to help me. Every night the
bandages were removed and the acid reapplied. For the six weeks that this took, I could not do any work as my hand hurt so and was swollen up to the shoulder. After the sixth week, the second phase of the procure was undertaken. The dead skin that was under the fingers was removed. The acid had burnt the skin and because the fingers were closed, and as the skin grew back it formed a web. The dead skin was removed with tweezers and the fingers retied. The process was repeated every day until there was no more dead tissue remaining. The hand was tied up for a long time, approximately 4 to 5 months, so that I would not unconsciously try to open the fingers. Also I did not want anyone to find out about my sudden defect. Except for the family, everyone thought that I had cut my hand at work and that it was taking a long time to heal. When I finally did take the bandage off, I tried to keep the hand out of sight as much as possible so that it would not be commented upon. After a while the fingers grew as the others did but they were much thinner. When Samuel saw the final results he was very pleased.
Now that I had been released from prison, it was time to earnestly look for some one who would guarantee that I would not pass the physical for the Army. Kalman did not have to worry as he was much too short. But even so he did have a very short haircut the day before he went for the exam. He was worried about me. Each year we found out about some "fixers" that were supposedly acquainted with doctors and through them were able to buy off the "commissioners". We were not thrilled to go to them as there were many tricks that could be pulled and sometimes you found yourself in the army anyway. We had a woman who was a distant relative, maybe 5 times removed, who was called Maruz. At the time she was a widow. She had a nice daughter who had married a Russian veterinarian who was serving in the army. It was said that his father had converted from Judaism. She said that her son-in-law, Kaltan, was very close with the doctors that did these examinations as well as with the head of the commission. She would see that everything was arranged very properly for me. We went to see this Kaltan and he figured out , after seeing my hand that we would need about 600 rubles for the people that were involved. This was to be divided between two doctors and the head of the commission. The others did not take anything, but if these three said that I was not fit, then they would go along with it. If for some reason I was not exempt from the army, then the money would be returned to us, less some expenses that were involved with food and drink that was required to get everyone into a generous frame of mind. These deals took place mostly in restaurants and the money passed hands at that time. I addition it would be helpful if I received a high call-up number. There was even a possibility that I would not be called for service, only examined.
The number that I drew was high, 1017, but this presented other problems as it turned out. The number just before mine, 1016, was drawn by a strong healthy man from Kovoleh, which was about 20 kilometers from Wloclawek. What he had done was make himself a "defect" on four fingers of each hand. He went around boasting that he would never be called into service as both his hands were crippled. He said that he would be freed from all duty. I knew that we would be going into the examination room at the same time, as that was part of the system, and how would it look if I was rejected and he was not? How would the doctors be able to justify their actions? After all he had
eight fingers that were damaged and I only had two. I spoke to Dr. Kaltan about this and about two weeks before the time I was to report to the commission, his mother came running over and said that I should go over to his house immediately for a "pre-examination". I went over and there a man looked at my fingers and asked me questions about them. I told him that I had been like this since I was three years old. That I had fallen upon some glass then and this was the way that it had healed. I mentioned that I would be going in with the man from Kovoleh and he said that this was a well known case and that I should not worry, as my case was already taken care of. He was an elderly man and seemed good natured. He saw my uncertainty and thought that it was because I did not believe him. As I started to turn away and leave, he called me back and took me through the hall to another room and pulled the curtains aside. We looked out onto the garden and he showed me the group of people that were sitting on the lawn. This was the rest of the committee that he could rely on and he was now going out to talk to them about my case. His recommendation would be that I was to be exempt from service because of a physical problem.
Even so, the night before the examination, I did not sleep. I don't think that my parents did either. One of the reasons was that I should not look so healthy when I appeared before the board. The room that I first went into was very large and was filled with men that were to be examined that day. We were called into the other room ten at a time, according to the numbers that we had. One of the first to be examined was the man from Kovoleh. They started by pulling at the fingers to straighten them out and after that they said that he would be sent to the hospital in Warsaw and there they would operate and straighten his fingers so that he could serve in the army and then he would be able to live a full and useful life. When I heard this I almost fainted. What chance did I have? But all the others were examined before me so that I was the last in the group to remain in the room. The next group was being brought in as I was examined, Heart, weight, lungs, blood-pressure and so forth. Everything was fine and then I showed them my left hand and did not make any comment. There was some stirring amongst the group and one of the doctors got up to look closer at my hand and glared at me. He said that I could also go to the hospital and have this corrected and that I would make a fine soldier. This was the rich doctor that could not be bribed. The head of the board asked me how long I had this condition and I went into the story of having fallen at the age of three etc. Two more of the doctors came over to look at me and one of them was the one that I had seen previously. He whispered not to worry. Then they all went back to their seats and each wrote into their book what their opinion was. The head told one of the guards to take me out and wait. All the men that had come in already were certain that I would be taken away immediately, without a chance of even going home. I grabbed my clothes and was roughly pushed into another room and finished getting dressed. In a few minutes I was called back and without another word, I was handed a blue ticket. This meant that I was not physically fit for military duty at this time. I could hardly believe my eyes. I was afraid that it was a dream and that I would wake up soon. But I took the card and quickly put it into my pocket so that the others should not see it and left the building. My father was waiting in the street for me but my mother had stayed at home. Kalman, who was also outside needed only a wink from me and knew that I had again been freed by the Russians. He ran home to tell my mother and
the rest of the family the good news and by the time we arrived, the news spread that I had obtained a "blue card". Others began to say, "such a healthy man, who knows how much money they spread around for him to get this kind of exemption". We were worried that some spy might hear this or that some jealous person might tell on me, so it was decided that I would leave the city for a while so that I would not be visible and would be forgotten for a while. So I said a quick good-bye and left town. I went to my sisters Rasia and Itta who both lived in Lipno. I returned in about two weeks and other things occupied the news and my release from duty was forgotten
I now wanted to return to my former job, but ran into a small problem. During all the time that I had taken off, the boss had replaced me. There were no other places open and I would not work for lesser amounts in order to take the job away from someone else. This was a common practice at that time. I therefore decided to set up and work for myself. Since I was the one who had always demonstrated against the exploitation of the worker, it would be a great shame for me to become a "Boss" or "Master" and to hire "Workers". I started working at home by myself. Later, after I had established a small following, I started to teach my younger brother, Alex how to work the leather. He did not have a great enthusiasm for the work, but we did work together for quite some time.
I will now interrupt this tale of the year 1910, that was just ending. The following episode took place in the year 1909.
In the year 1909 the Bund maintained an illegal room on the Bas Ha'medrish (Zapietzk) Street. We had a table and two chairs and some book cases, that we had nailed together from some scrap lumber. This was all the furniture that the room held. In addition we had some books. In the drawer of the table we kept some paper, pencils and envelopes. There were not many people that knew that we had rented this room. We used it for our committee meetings, wrote our letters there and in general this was our office. In town we often met people who had been involved with the Bund, but in this time of great repression and reactionary developments, they kept their distance from us. Many of them knew that we had started the activities in a small way but did not want to get involved. Some even laughed at us for our actions. We were "foolish children" to them. "We were acting like big shots, starting an organization with a few poor Jews and believing we were going to overthrow the tsar and his whole court and establish a worker's government." One Saturday afternoon during the summer, I met with Kalman and we were going over the river to meet with a small circle of people that we knew there. We were discussing the articles that had been in the "Folks Tsaitung". On the way we met two men on the Main Street (Breite Gass). One of these was called "Lange Trink" (Long Drink) and the other was called "Smoller" (Tar). The father of the latter had been a roofer and used the paper and tar to cover the roofs. So the father was called "Der Smoller" and the son became just "Smoller". These two had been members of the Bund in former times. They were both tailors and always were well dressed. When they had been in the Party they had been part of the "enforcer" group. During the years 1905 and 1906 there were certain sections that were involved with detecting government spies and others within the organization that were not fully supportive of our aims. It
was necessary to fight these elements and sometimes simply showing them a revolver or firing into their homes and balconies, was enough to scare them off. Later these "revolver carriers" went too far. The used the guns to threaten and take money from some people and ended up by giving some of it to the party and keeping some for themselves. There is too much to write about this situation and it would take too much time to tell all that took place and the damage that they did to the movement. Eventually the party was able to break up this band but it took a lot of hard work. These two had been part of the group from our town and sometimes they would not return the revolvers after an undertaking that the party had sanctioned. They went into the small towns adjacent to ours, like Brisk and Lubroniesk and there terrorized the inhabitants and got money from them. After a few incidents like this they were expelled from the party.
When they came near, they stopped us and said that they wanted to go to America and that we should help them financially. They wanted us also to write a letter to the German Socialist- Democratic Party that they should also help them leave Europe. At that time the German Socialist- Democratic Party did a lot of work in helping those that had to emigrate from tsarist Russia. Naturally we would not write such a letter for them and we would not give them any money either and they threatened that they would get even with us and that we would help whether we wanted to or not. We would not give in to such blackmail and we were not frightened. We continued on our way to the other side of the river and held our meeting with the group that was there and soon forgot all about these two hooligans. About two days before Yom Kippur, it turned out that we needed to write some letters that required the official stamp of the Bund. I was keeping this seal in a locked, hidden box in my room. I took it out when required and returned it right after that. This night, I brought the stamp and it was very late when we finished our work and I put the stamp into the drawer and locked it up there. Meanwhile my parents were after me to attend the Yom Kippur services with them at the "Gurer Shtieble" (a small shule maintained by the Gurer Rabbi, who was a relative). They were not very much concerned that I pray with them but rather that I at least attend the services and be with them for the holiday. I was standing there thinking about all these people in the shule that were praying so earnestly and with such feeling to be forgiven for some terrible sins that they would never have even thought of committing, when I noticed that someone was coming towards me. I recognized him as one of our comrades and realized that he must want me. I worked my way over to meet him and he then whispered into my ear that I had to come right away as something had occurred at our "office".
I went out with him and we ran through the streets to our room. Kalman was already there, he had wanted to get a book for someone. We walked in through the broken door and saw that the table was overturned and that the drawer was broken open. The Bund stamp was laying on the floor and there was paper scattered all around. We understood that this was the work of the two men that we had met a few days ago. They had broken in and taken some stationary and impressed the official seal and written letters for the help that we had denied them. We straightened up the room a little and immediately wrote letters to the "Folks Tsaitung" to tell about the incident and to warn the German
Socialist-Democratic Party that those two had written their own letters and that they should not be helped. The next week we received a copy of a paper with our new Bund stamp imprinted on it. We changed the stamp so that it had the new shape and would be good to use again. Several weeks passed and we forgot about the incident. The party activities continued and we did not see these two men about town. One day we received a letter from one of the men from Berlin. They had gotten to Berlin and had gone to the office of the "Forward" that was maintained there and had shown them the letter. They were sent to an address in another part of town and there they were met by a group of men who accused them of being nothing more than common criminals and that the letters that they had saying how imperative it was that they leave Russia because of political reasons was simply made up. They were now being held in a small room until official word was received from us that it was all right for them to proceed. When the incident had first happened and we wrote our letter to the "Folks Tsaitung" we wondered whether our letter would do any good. What the paper had done was to translate it and sent copies to the offices of the German Socialist-Democratic Party in the various cities that immigrants usually went to for assistance. That same day the mothers of the two men came to us and pleaded that we should have their sons released and allowed to continue on the trip to the United States. We convened the committee and decided that we should send a letter and thank the German Party for their help that had been given us but that these men had been active in the Bund before and that they had been punished enough by being held prisoner and that they should get the help that they needed to continue their voyage. Several weeks later we received a letter from Hamburg from these two, in which they thanked us for their freedom and that as soon as the letter was received in Germany, they had been released and given enough money to buy passage to America and that they were now waiting for the boat. We were assured that as soon as they got to America and had the means that it would be repaid. But that was the last that was heard from them. For us the incident was a great success and we were very happy with the results. We now felt that we were part of a larger organization and that we had been recognized for being part of it.
But to get back, when I came home that Yom Kippur evening, my father had not yet returned and my mother had just gotten in and she berated me for having left so early. I told her that I did not feel well and that was why I left. But when my father came in he was very angry with me. He also wanted to know why I had left early, in the middle of the service. He had been embarrassed and it was a shame before all the people in the shule. Naturally I could not tell him the real reason and all my excuses could not justify my leaving in the middle of the prayers. But after several discussions like this, I decided that this comedy could not continue and that this was actually the last time that I went to shule to make believe that I was a praying, pious Jew. I convinced my parents that I was now responsible for my own soul and that I would be the only one to suffer and be punished for my sins. That no one else was responsible or should carry the blame. The last warning that I made was that if they did not want me to leave the house and move to another city, they should not harp on the religious theme and my attending shule. And that is the way that it remained. My parents were very sorry and had quite a bit of aggravation about this, especially my father, but that was the way it remained and now there was a peace between us that was not disturbed.
I continued to work at home and did not want to get too big. I did not buy any leather but would use the materials that were brought to me. This way I was not a "master" but rather a worker and received pay for the work that I did. My brother Alex gradually became better at the work even though every morning there was a great deal of screaming and yelling. My mother could not stand by and see me working at the table and my brother sleeping. Every day was the same thing. He had to be pulled from the bed. Even so, we earned much more at home than was possible for us to do by working for someone else in their shop. We now became the main support for the household. My father could not work too much and my mother was very sickly. She was always coming down with one disease or another because of the hard life that they were forced to live. It was a great joy and sense of accomplishment when I turned over the money that we earned to our parents support the household. We were even able to keep a little bit for ourselves.
We were now 5 children in the house, 5 having already married and left. This one day my mother became very sick. I happened to look up from the work and saw her coming into the yard and right away I could see that it was not good. I ran out and helped her in and got her into bed. She was complaining that her head hurt terribly. When I touched her head, it felt as though it was on fire and she said that it was very bad with her. She had great faith in Dr. Kaltman that had treated her previously, but he was not home so I ran over a got a Christian doctor to come. He said that she probably had "head-typhus" that was very contagious and that we had to be very careful not to catch it. We were then very careful that the younger children did not come too close but I felt that I was the strong one and would not catch the disease. I stayed with her and took care of her the entire time. There were times that we thought that she would not pull through, because of the terrible pains and the high fevers that she had. Often I wished that I had the disease rather than her and that I would be the one to die rather than her. Many days passed before she lived through the crisis and began to feel better. During the crisis she kept crying that we should get Dr. Kaltman, but he would not come as we had called another doctor in at the beginning. It did not help that we pleaded that he had been unavailable at the time and we were desperate. He insisted that he would only come as a consultant. The other doctor had to be there and then he would come. My mother was so sick that it was at times difficult for her to take the needed medicines. I was the only one that could make an impression upon her and even I was having trouble. At one point out of frustration, I swallowed the medicine myself. My mother saw this and gave out a cry. I poured another spoonful and this she took without any hesitation. This now became the best method that I had of getting her to take the needed medication. It took several weeks for her to get better and everyone was astonished that I did not get the disease, for I had been with her the entire time. We felt that it would be good for her to get away for a time and decided that she would visit with my sister Itta for two weeks. On a Friday morning I went with her to Lipno where she lived. The next day, Saturday, a terrible storm broke out with a lot of hail. Without exaggeration each piece of ice was the size of an egg. The windows were all broken and we had to hide in back of the chests in order not to be hit by these pieces of rock-hard ice. My mother pressed me to her bosom and said that it was a good thing that I was with her. She would not have
lived through this without me. In addition to the hail, there was terrible lightening and thunder and many places were struck and set afire. We could hear the cries of people who were injured and who were still on the streets. The storm lasted perhaps a half hour and then the sun came out. I went out into the street and it looked disastrous. Many of the houses just outside the town were burning and around us there wasn't a house that did not have glass missing from the windows. In addition many of the wooden shutters were broken and hung at crazy angles from the window frames or were entirely torn off. We could see people through the broken windows with bandaged heads who had been hit while still in their homes. The streets were still covered with these large pieces of hail that had landed in this small town. It was a very unusual natural event and very local. Only part of the town and some of the outskirts were hit. Sunday I went back to Wladyslwow and left my mother in Lipno. She spent the two weeks there and returned from there by herself, feeling much improved. She kept on saying that she had us children to thank for her recovery, her life and of course also to Thank God.
In the years 1911-1912 we were still a very small group as an organization. The restrictions and repressions were very hard and we simply did not have a really safe place that we could meet in. But now we figured that we had to establish a legal library, even though this would also not be an easy thing to do. There was a chance that this could lead to the discovery of the illegal library that we maintained. We became acquainted with a man with the name of Pomerantz. I have already mentioned him. Through him we were able to get a larger room. We paid the rent for his entire living quarters and a little extra. Officially it was his library but in that way we could expand our library. We had the largest collection of new Jewish books and also a large section of those written in Polish and Russian. The total at that time approached 5,000 copies. We acquired many new readers and had the reputation as the finest library in town. Because we had the large rooms, and each evening we met with large numbers of workers, it became a place where we could talk about and indoctrinate some into the work and ideals of the Bund. The political work became more and more spread out. We did not have any professional leaders or organizers in town. The bosses exploited the workers in the worst ways and the workers, as they came to exchange the books told us about the conditions and what was going on. Even that they had been warned not to go to the "Pomerantz Library" because the men there would lead them astray. We felt that we had to do something more in our activities and decided to form two professional groups. This was of course an illegal activity. We did not want to call them "Professional Groups" (Farein) as we were not certain that anything would come of it. One group was to be composed of shoemakers and the other of tailors. We started the groups and had membership dues to help fund them
The first action that we had a chance to test ourselves on was within the shoemakers trade. It was getting towards Chanukah and the amount of work was increasing. Two of the workers went to their boss and asked for an additional half ruble a week for the additional work and time that they had to put in. He refused them and they came to us to see if we could help them out. As one of that trade I was sent to bargain with the boss, but he would not budge from his stand. We then decided that we
should call a strike and when the boss saw that no one was coming back after lunch, he ran over to my house and pleaded with me that if he gave into my demands that he would go bankrupt. I showed him that even if he were to raise the salary a full ruble for each man, that he would still be making a profit. After a lot of negotiating, he agreed and signed a paper that not only would he pay the half ruble increase per week, but that he would also pay for the time that the men had been out on strike. In addition he would treat them as human beings, not as slaves. This was the first signed contract that we had from a "master".
The news of this victory spread quickly throughout the other shops and I had to practically give up all my work in order to help in the negotiations with the other bosses and in holding meetings and discussions. In this way in a very short time we were able to organize almost the entire trade in the town. At the same time Kalman was doing the same within the tailor shops. There were incidents where the bosses would threaten to go to the police. But after one had been beaten up on a Friday night on his way home after attending shule, they learned that it was not healthy to threaten us or to run to the police with stories and it became easier to deal with the others. So, hardly believing the victories we had won for the workers, we were able to turn the "Professional groups" into "Professional Unions". We became a respected part of the workers community and there were many workers that now came under our influence.
Within the shops, the workers were feeling more confident and better about their positions and work. In some of the shops there were problems with those who had been Bundists during the 1905- 1906 years. There were those who had laughed at our efforts to accomplish something, derided our efforts and often threw insulting remarks at the other workers for siding with us. This led quite often to fist fights and dissension. One night when Comrade Kalman was leaving the library, he was the last one out and had locked up after all other s had left. He was walking home through the long alley that led to his house when he was accosted by a man called "Volesh". This Volesh was a tailor and always elegantly dressed and considered himself part of the "intelligentsia". He had belonged to the Bund in the 1905-06 era . When the repressions started, he withdrew from the party and tried to show that he had never been involved with the events that had happened a long time ago. Now he was jealous of the results that we were having, that the "young boys" had achieved such success in our organizational work and that we were such "big shots" in the Bund. He said that Kalman and I should disband our group, that we did not have any of the "intelligentsia" amongst our members and that without such a group of leaders we were nothing but a mob. Kalman answered that he should be ashamed for talking like that and if he had any common sense he would see what we had accomplished and be proud that the group had been able to do so. One word led to another and Volesh could not stand it any more and beat Kalman up. The next day, when we hear d about this, we called the committee together to see how we would handle the situation. At that time we had a few "stoller" (carpenters) amongst the group who were older Jews with beards and families. Most of them were from Lipno, Litta and Minsk. They were old time Bundists with the fire of their youth. Three of them were members of the committee. When they heard about the attack on Kalman they
were livid with rage and they only wanted to meet this Volesh with their hammers. Comrade Kalman described exactly what and how it had happened and it was decided to "clean this Volesh from the face of the earth". Simply put, he was to be killed. The three carpenters undertook to do this. That night I could not sleep. I already saw this man stretched out on the floor dead. In the morning the plan on how this was to be done was explained. He lived near the Wisle River and it was on a small dark, narrow street. In the evening people did not go there and when he came from work, he would be shot and "no hen would cry out the news". Kalman and I discussed this and felt that we should meet again and change the decision. After all we did not know what the outcome could be from this action. Maybe it would be better to beat him up a little, but Kalman mentioned the fact that Volesh had threatened to go to the police and tell all about us. He might have only threatened to do so but maybe it was a real threat. In addition, Volesh's brother was somehow involved with the police.
On the day that the sentence was to have been carried out, by coincidence, a comrade arrived from the Central Committee. The contact had been broken with them for a long time and now the ties were being renewed and we would no longer be working alone. We would have an opportunity to have many of our questions answered and problems solved. Because he was leaving again that night, we had a meeting and we had to postpone the action that was planned. It was not possible to have all the members there but we did have all of the executive board. He asked what was the action that we had planned for that night and we described what had happened and what we had decided to do. "What" he cried out. "What are you doing? You must stop immediately. Call everyone together immediately." We ran in all directions to call the committee together and to tell the three enforcers not to do anything and to come to the meeting also. They scratched their heads and almost cried in frustration. They had spent several nights in spying out the location and making their plans and now nothing was to happen. But they came to the meeting, as the Central Committee was the highest authority we had. The meeting started and this was the first point that was brought up. The representative said that we were not a terrorist organization and that this was not our way. If terrorist methods were to be used it was to be only in a case where a life was certain to be lost or if the organization itself were endangered. In this case it seemed appropriate to ask for an apology and maybe use a little force. But to take a life was too strong an answer for what had happened. It would be a stain on the organization and he forcefully showed us what a terrible path we were ready to start onto and what dangers were involved. His talk had a profound affect upon us all and I felt much better, as though a stone had been lifted from my heart. I had felt the same thing but did not have the courage and strength to talk this way at the meeting, when all the others were proposing their actions. We then decided that we would ask him to apologize and that we would also fine him, even though he did not belong to the Bund now. When we contacted him and advised him of what the committee had decided, he then admitted that he was sorry for what had happened and would apologize and would pay the fine in a few weeks. He found out what the original decision had been and this affected him so that he disappeared that week and later we found out that he had left for America. ( Later on I will relate another incident that occurred with him in America).
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