But another event loomed in the horizon of my life so that I had to step away from organizational life for a while. This occurred towards the end of 1913. Who could image that there were such people, who for their personal and materialistic wants, would be willing to bury themselves in plans and plots that would bring harm to others. One night, as I left the library, I was met by a well dressed, worldly looking man with glasses on his nose by the name of Lubrenietsky. He knew me, knew my parents and said that he wanted to do me a favor. He told me that all those who had been excused from military service were having their cases reviewed by the government. It seems that somewhere along the line someone had reported the possibility that some of the excuses were not entirely valid and that there had been a lot of payoffs to get the exemptions. He was willing, for a fee, to arrange that my case not come up for this review. We knew that even though he wore a Chasidic garb and carried himself as one who was very pious and prayed and went regularly to shule, he was often willing to act as a spy for the Russians. In fact we felt that his main income was from this spying for the police. I was overwrought with the news. Here three years had passed since I had gone through the examination. Was the entire matter to be repeated and how would I be able to get the exemption now? What if I gave him the money so that it should not reviewed? How long would he be satisfied? Would he come back in a month or two? I told him that I would have to think about it. The next night he was again waiting for me and I told him that I did not have the money to give him. He answered that it would be cheaper to pay him than to have me go into the army for three years. I decided that no matter what happened I could not fall into the trap that I felt was being put before me.
About two weeks later, when Kalman and I were doing some organization work, I mentioned the matter to him. I described all that had happened, as I usually did regarding all of my personal life We discussed the influence that we now had amongst the Jewish workers and how it was increasing also
the problems we were having in other areas. He could not give me a clear answer of what to do but felt that something not too good would happen. Several days later, on a Tuesday around noon, I happened to glance out the window as I was working and saw a soldier asking questions of the superintendent and he was pointing to our house. I understood immediately that they meant me and quickly put something on and said to my mother that certainly this was Lubrenietsky's work. I went out the back window that led into the field. My mother told the soldier that I had just left. Meanwhile I roamed the side streets, just wandering about. About an hour later I saw my mother sitting at the window and knew that it was safe to come inside, which I did by climbing back through the window. She told me that the soldier had a paper with my name on it and that in two days I was to report to the local office and from there I was to be sent to Warsaw for another military physical examination. When my father came home we sat down and tried to figure out what to do now. He wanted me to get hold of this Lubrenietsky and talk to him and see if there wasn't something that could still be done. This I would not hear of. I had an immediate thought that we had "to clean Lubrenietsky out of the way". When I mentioned this to some of the comrades, two of them immediately volunteered to do this. One was a tailor and the other a carpenter, but we already had a lesson from before and we knew that this was not right for us to do. In addition, I would still have to appear as he had already told on me. In addition, if something were to be done to him now, the blame would certainly fall upon me. Meanwhile my father did go to see this spy and was told that the matter was now in the hands of the Warsaw military and that no one in town could help me. It was all up to me to see that I did not pass this time. But there was still a way and that for 300 rubles something could be done, but it had to be right away. I was utterly opposed to this and said that not one groshen would I give this man, but I was willing to beat him up so that he would never want to spy against me or anyone else. But this talk was only anger and we still had to decide what to do. We decided to try and see Dr. Kaltan again, who three years ago, for 600 rubles, bought off almost the entire medical staff. We went over to see him but the "guard" at the door would not let us in. Coincidentally his wife arrived, who knew us well, and told the servant that no matter when we came, we were to be admitted as we were part of her family. When we told the doctor the whole story, he became terribly angry. He threw out a few choice Russian curses and strode back and forth in the room. He told us to come back the next day when he had a chance to find out how things stood. When we returned, he told us that it was "all rolled up" and that it was in the hands of the district examiner and not just our town. That I would have to appear in Warsaw at some date, but he had gotten me a letter that said that I was sick and that I would come as soon as I was well. This my father was to take to the local office. Then we would wait and see how things developed with the early ones who were to be reexamined and I was warned not to appear in the streets. So several days passed and the only way that I went out was after dark and through the back window. This became my door and several times I left to attend a meeting or meet with several of the comrades. My mother would wait anxiously each time for my return.
One day a sergeant came to see how I was. We saw him coming through the window and I jumped into bed and did not even have time to take off my pants. He saw that I was really in bed and was satisfied, but my father wanted to ensure a good report for me, gave him a ruble and asked how it
would read. He said that the report would show that I was really in bed and that I was sick. As soon as he was out of the house I was back at the worktable. A day later we received a note from the Doctor Kaltan that we should come to his house right away. My father went there as I did not want to be out of the house. He was told that the bribe would cost another 600 rubles and that if it were not successful the money would be returned, less whatever had to be laid out in expenses. My father brought the money over the next day. It was almost all the money that I had been able to save up. I was left with 100 rubles. Several days passed and the "inspections" were becoming more frequent and we were afraid that an order would be given that I appear even if I were sick. My father ran to Doctor Kaltan and was told that there was nothing that could be done. He returned 550 rubles, the other 50 having gone for a good dinner (that I did not enjoy). We saw that there was nothing more to do. Then the thought came to me that I would have to leave Poland. My mother was opposed to this as "A child that leaves for America is as good as dead". So then I decided to go to Warsaw and get a false pass and live there until things quieted down and I would have a chance to return to Wloclawek. My mother was not too thrilled with this either but there did not seem to be any other alternatives. She was very much afraid that I could be caught at any time and then I would either be sent into the army or to jail. In Warsaw we had family that we had not seen for many years and they might be able to help. So one Sunday evening my father and I left the house and went to Warsaw. We had the address of Moishe Alter who he lived on The Narrow Milne Street. We entered a small apartment in the basement. The windows looked out onto the foundations of the other buildings. My father recognized Moishe even though they had not seen each other for almost 25 years. When he presented himself as being Itsaak Leib, Yankel's son, they embraced with great joy, called the wife and children from the other room and welcomed us in.. We told him the story of why we had come and they were sorry that there was nothing that they could do for us. But he told us that his brother lived on Morenovska ( the Wide Milne Street), and that we should go there as he had a bit of a reputation as one who could get people exempt from military duty. The brother, Shmuel was very rich and lived in his own house. He had a large circle of acquaintances and he would certainly help us. But these two brothers were very angry with each other and had not seen each other for years. We were not to say that we had seen him as he might have us thrown out of his house.
So a little while later we were at the home of the rich Shmuel (these two were brothers of Victor Alter and Esther Eivinska, who were later killed by the Russians) and were admitted by a servant. The contrast between the two houses was tremendous. Each room here seemed fine enough to be in a palace. Shmuel was still in his bathrobe and slippers and I remember that the robe was silk and that it shimmered with every movement he made. I looked around at all this wealth and expected that as soon as he knew why we had come he would show us the door, but I had made a great mistake. When my father introduced us, he greeted us with great warmth and took us into a large finely furnished room, filled with couches and pictures on the walls. We did not feel comfortable sitting on these soft seats, but he said that we were honored guests. After all we were his Uncle Yankel's son and grandson. He rang for the servants and told them to bring tea and cookies and then he asked about the family and asked what we were doing in Warsaw. My father told him the whole story and
he sat there stroking his long white beard. This he had never heard of, that three years after the examination, the whole matter was to be reopened. What could he do to find out more about this? And what could be done for me? My father helped him out a little in clarifying the thinking. After all, my father said, A you have sons and they did not have to serve and we had heard that through him others had been helped. "True, true" was the reply "and we will go over to the same man that helped me in the past and see if anything could be worked out now". Meanwhile we sat down to eat. His wife and children were there and we soon realized that they all spoke Polish at the table, but Shmuel always spoke in Yiddish. We were introduced to all and I met my grandfather, his uncle. Such a sweet dear man and in fact the entire family were such nice people. They did not hold with the ideals and politics of Victor and Esther did (who were leaders in the Bund), that I knew. But I felt that after I got to know the family a little better I would be able to talk to them and find out some personal things about Victor and Esther rather than just what I had read in the papers. Well finally the meal was finished and Shmuel went to get dressed and we started to leave. He complained that the bunions on his feet hurt and that it was difficult and painful for him to walk and that we would take a droshka (horse and cart). He would not let my father pay for it as we were his guests and besides he was much more able to afford it than we were. We went over to a large tobacco store, I do not remember on what street it was located, but I do remember that it was very large. It was filled with cases of cigarettes and tobacco. We were greeted by an older, taller man and after a few words were told to enter a smaller room in the back. We sat down and again described all the events that led us to be in this store. My father ended by pleading with the man to do whatever was necessary to save his son. The man's face was grave during the entire recital and then said that he had helped many boys who had been called up, but that this was the first time that he had heard about anybody being called back for a physical after three years. But after all it was necessary that one Jew help another. And he told my father that he might as well go home, that Shmuel would act as his surrogate and whatever was learned, he would contact Shmuel. We said our good byes and I was told to be there the next day in the afternoon.
We took my father to the train and we went back. I told Shmuel that I had an address of a friend and that I would sleep there. He thought that it was a good idea. Even though he had a lot of room and would be willing to put me up, he was a little concerned about the superintendent. He would see a new person coming into the house and he might report me and then we would all be in trouble. He was not really that worried about himself, but rather that I did not have a pass and would be sent right away to the army. I thanked him for his concern and left to go to my friends, Aaron and Henig Koenig. They had a modest room and when they saw me they were all smiles. We had a little celebration, for I had not seen them in a long time and then we went to bed. Having no other place, we ended up by sleeping three in the bed. Each day I was careful to see that the superintendent did not notice my coming and going from the house. But I ended up being seen and one night we heard steps in the hall and a knock on the door followed. I hid under the bed and the door was opened and the super and a soldier walked in and asked "Where is the strange man?" "What do you mean by waking people up in the middle of the night?" they replied and with a half ruble each the search was
over. We went back to sleep but of course there was no way that this could continue. I would have to find other quarters to sleep. One morning I went to Shmuel's house and he said that there was a message that we should go over to the tobacco shop right away. Part of the message said that this was not an easy matter but that with God's help everything would work out well. On the way I was told that this tobacco-shop owner was a very pious and honest Jew. That he did not take any money for helping to get someone out of the service. That he only did this as a "mitzvah". He had a very large business and was very rich and because of the business had a lot of connections within the Russian and Polish governments. We went straight through to the back room when we arrived and soon the owner came in and told us that it was a very difficult thing at this time but again, "with God's help we will work it out". For now though, he needed 600 rubles from me. (It seems that this is the only amount that anyone knew). I borrowed the money from my cousin and after a while had the same amount sent from home. Now we only had to wait and as it turned out it was four weeks. Meanwhile I became acquainted with Warsaw and the many comrades that lived there. We would meet in a coffee-shop on Navolipka Street at the place of the "Geyler (Yellow) Muddchi". There was a slight suspicion that he was a "provocateur", for several arrests had been made there, but even so everyone liked the place and it had an air of added danger. Every night I would arrange to sleep in a different place picked out by the comrades there. When I told this to Shmuel he was very upset that I was roaming around like this. Understandably, I could not tell him that I was spending my time with Bundists. Once I had asked him about Victor and Esther Alter and he had said "Shh, don't mention their names. They are married to Gentiles". Meaning that they were not living among Jews and were doing things that good Jews were not supposed to. One day when I went over to the tobacco store (I had been going sometime each day) the man grabbed me and embraced me and shouted "mozel-tov, you are already freed. Everything has been taken care of and come back tomorrow to get the official papers and then you can go home". I ran over to tell Shmuel and the family the good news and found out that they already knew about it.
The next day when I came to the store, I was handed a "white ticket". This meant that I was completely unfit for service at any time. I was listed as a cripple that could not be called up. I asked how this miracle was accomplished and he did not want to tell me, but since I was a relative of his good friend, Shmuel Alter, he described how he had gotten another to take my place for the physical. This was a poor young man that had a bad heart and when my name was called "I" went in and was examined by the review board. The doctors thought that I was faking my illness and crowded around with their stethoscopes, but each heard for himself how bad "my" heart was and stated that all this trouble had been made for me and for them and all for nothing and immediately issued the exemption. The young man received 400 rubles for appearing in my place and the rest had gone to some minor clerks for some of the early paperwork. I thanked him for all the effort that he had expended on my behalf and said that it was a wonderful "mitzvah" that he had done and left. I wrote a letter home to tell them the great news and to say that I would be staying in Warsaw a little longer. Now I could report to the police and everything was legal.
I went over to Shmuel and we were all very happy and admired the "white card" that showed that I was a free man. He now wanted me to stay with him but I told him that my friends had paid for a room for the week and I had to stay there. But this night he insisted that I at least have dinner with them. So I stayed and ate with the family the evening meal and everyone wished me a "mozel tov" and we were all happy that the story had a happy ending, and that I was now released from the pressure of having to serve in the army. Late that night I left them and now with assurance went over to "my" house, knocked on the door and had the super open it and told him where I was staying. He wrote everything down and I went upstairs. The group tried to convince me to stay in Warsaw permanently. But I knew that my parents would be against this and for the work that I felt had to be done, it was more important that I be in Wloclawek rather than Warsaw. Even so, the next morning I went over to a shoe factory and said that I would be willing to come to work the next day. That night I was supposed to attend an illegal meeting, but I received a telegram that I was to come home immediately so I did none of these things.
Late that night I was able to take a train so I said good-by to all my friends and of course my relatives and went home. That week, I read in the Wloclawek newspaper that a great many Bundists had been arrested at the meeting that I was supposed to have attended. The conference had fallen through and almost all had been arrested and were eventually sent into the deep parts of Russia. The coincidence of my having received the telegram that brought me home deeply affected me. For if I had not received the notice I would have been there and probably also been arrested and the rest of my life would have turned out very differently.
I will now go back a little in time and recall various thoughts and interesting moments that I had while I spent those few weeks in Warsaw. I met with the small group of Bundists every day in the coffee shop on Navolipka Street or in the room that was used as a meeting hall with Shlomo the Baker, Kalman and Shia, the shoemakers, Hershel the metal-worker and with others that belonged to various other trades. The movement was repressed and illegal but so were other small groups that existed in the various trades and professions. Most of the members were part of the Warsaw "Hazmir". This was a legal organization that was the meeting point of most of the Jewish writers and poets. It was there that I. L. Peretz would put on showcase evenings, I believe three times a week. Peretz was the chairman of these meetings most of the time. There was a box placed on the table near the chairman and anyone could put questions into it. These were answered after the meeting, based on what the chairman decided was appropriate for that night. From these questions discussions flowed for the rest of the evening. These discussions were very popular with the audiences. Peretz, with his presentations and discussions of these topics as well as his participation, always overwhelmed the audiences. Our comrades also often participated especially when there were questions of a national or political nature. This also afforded us the opportunity to have topics that we were particularly interested in discussed before a large group. I remember several times when Abraham Rothstein and Kalman, the shoemaker discussed with the Zionist leader Chiam Greenbaum the position of the Jews and workers in Europe regarding the establishment of a state in Israel. Peretz
defended the position of Greenbaum. At the first meeting that I attended I met with the Doctor Sternman or "Ben Tsipir" which was his pen-name. He was the son-in-law of the Wloclawek Rabbi Kovolski. He knew me from our home town and was very pleased to see me here and he introduced me to Peretz. When Peretz heard my name and where I was from, he asked if I were the one that had invited him to come and hold a lecture there. I told him yes and even quoted parts of the letter that he had sent in reply. He wrote that he would have been delighted to have come and conduct a meeting at the library that was founded and supported by the workers, but that he felt sick and could not make it for some time. During the day I went to the "Zecsishen Gardens", where towards evening groups of our comrades would get together very often. During the day Peretz and other writers would go there. I remember that he was dressed entirely in white, including a white suit and white straw hat. He often came with Doctor Sternman and would sit down with me and I had a great deal of pleasure discussing events with him. One day Doctor Sternman took me over to Peretz's house and introduced me to his wife and we spent the afternoon there over tea and cookies. Sometimes I felt it was worth the troubles I had with the army physical, including all the aggravation and money, just to have spent the time with this great Jewish writer. Once I expressed my sorrow that he had not yet been to our library but had been to Kutna. He answered "Well you know Kutna. That is really Sholem Ash's town. I went to give a lecture there and not only haven't they paid me, but someone stole my hat during the lecture. I know that these things would not have happened in Wloclawek, but because of my illness I could not come then." It was not until I was on the train going home that I realized that I had not said good-by to Doctor Sternman and to Peretz. They had shown me so much kindness every time that we met. This was the last time that I saw the great Peretz, the crown of Jewish literature. Having met him, his death affected me very strongly. I felt as though he had been a member of my family. For a long time I could not free myself from the visions of this great man that floated before my eyes.
The first few days that I returned home from Warsaw, I did not go out onto the street, in order not to "throw myself in front of the eyes". Kalman came to see me every day after the library closed and gave me reports of everything that had gone on. We spent the time making plans to further the worker's participation in our political activities. We also decided that when I did go to the library, everybody would be warned that no special fuss was to be made about my return. All was to be as quiet and normal as possible. A normal greeting was to be extended and not as if I had returned from a long journey. And that night as I gave out and recorded the books, everyone shook my hand and gave it a little extra squeeze to show that they were happy to see me back. The Bund work had fallen down a little, for conducting large meetings was almost impossible. The committee met regularly and we formed our small discussion groups. Each member of the committee was assigned a group and met with them. We often exchanged groups amongst ourselves so that the groups would get to see different leaders and be involved with different discussions. This also kept the meetings much more interesting.
About this time we began to learn through the press about the possibilities of a war starting. The diplomats began to make lots of noise and to be heard all over and the papers wrote of the strong emotions that were in the air. The censorship increased and we had to read more and more between the lines. The committee and I and within the groups that we led, discussed the timely problems that were arising and the feelings that we were getting from the reports that were spreading across the political skies. But we could not anticipate what the dangers would be nor the troubles, pain and suffering and the victims by the millions that the future would bring. But having been persecuted for so many years by the tsarist government, firstly as Jews and then as Socialists, we decided that if it came to war, that even though we were against war in general, we would have more feelings for the Germans and maybe we would see the downfall of the tsar. We never voted on this or passed any resolutions but this was the feelings of most of the members. We did not know very much about Germany, but their constitutional form of government, even though there was a Kaiser, was much better than what we now had. In addition we felt that the Russians were poisoned from birth with anti-Semitism and would never give it up. In addition, the fact that every Socialist or even liberal thought was suppressed and would never be able to be brought into the open convinced us that the German rulers would be better. That is why each of us had hidden the wish that if war did break out between these two countries, we would be freed from the yolk of the tsar. We felt that we would be allowed to have a constitutional government and that there would be some freedom of actions and thought and that we would be able to have an open Socialist party and pursue our political beliefs. Each day and evening, no ,matter with whom we met, the conversation was about the world political situation and the anticipated war. Sometimes it seemed as though the diplomats would straighten themselves out but during the last days of 1914, everyone could see that the war stood at the front door.
We began to see a nervousness among the city soldiers and their officers. We noted that the various foreign consuls were beginning to pack up and move their belongings and families out. All to be sent back to the home lands. On July 29, I believe that it was a Thursday, (actually it was Wednesday) there was a notice in all the papers that all those who had served in the army and were not yet 55 were being recalled to duty and had to go to Kutna. A great uproar went up amongst the people. They were afraid not to go and with tears from the wives and children as well as from the men themselves, they left on trains that were packed to overflowing. The smarter ones and those that had more courage, felt that the days of the Russians was numbered and they went into hiding and did not go to serve the Russians in this war. But most went as if a fire were chasing them. One day, I believe that it was Sunday (actually Saturday) the first of August, 1914 the town was awakened with the noise of the explosions of the sappers as they blew up the "Kazarmes" and the "Tchech Heiser" bridges. The streets were filled with retreating Russian forces, who went over to the East side of the Wisla River. In town there were always a lot of military men, mostly the cavalry and the Cossacks. The population ran to the river to see the military leaving the area. I remember how one of the officers, sitting on his horse, spoke to the people. It seems that he had a little feeling left for those being left behind. "We will certainly now go through some very bitter years, and the enemy will invade the land. We will
spill a lot of blood. Russia does not want a war but Germany is determined and forcing us into it. This whole night I did not sleep because I was thinking of the civilian population. With the military and the police leaving, the city needs some protection and therefore a civilian peace force was formed that was composed of all the factions that live in the city. Obey these forces and do not fall victim before the war has started."
Even though the population had strong feelings of revenge, were very happy to see the Russians go, for it confirmed this as a first defeat, still that officer was applauded by those who heard him. And with kisses that were thrown through the air at him, he went to the head of the group of Cossacks and crossed the bridge. When almost all of the military had left the town and crossed the bridge, it was blown up. The remaining forces left another way towards Kutna. As the soldiers left, the town came under the control of the civil government, amongst whom were many Jews. Their arms in many cases consisted of old guns that did not even have any bullets.
The nervousness of the population was very great and no-one could sit still in their home. Young and old alike were in the streets. All other movements were stopped. Train tracks, bridges and some of the roads had been blown up. Many of the barges and boats on the river had been destroyed and others had been removed. The "reservists" who had gone to Kutna began to return by foot and in small carts. Rumors began to fly that the German troops were already approaching the city and were very close by. Every one was anxious to see the first soldiers as nobody imagined that it was tied in with any danger. So far the only thing that had happened was that some bridges and other installations had been blown up, but no one was hurt. We heard that some soldiers had already been in town and that they had left to report back to their units. The rumor was that they had been at the train station. Kalman and I, always being together, ran to the station and found that there were thousands of people (it seemed), there already. The rumor spread that some Germans had been there on horse-back and that they would soon be coming back. And so it was. Soon a party of 6 men appeared on horses for they were the advance patrol and they came with their guns at the ready. No one was afraid, for after all these were to be our "liberators". They were greeted with shouts of glee and with smiles. Naturally the Jews were the only ones that could communicate with them for "what kind of Jew does not understand German?". We assured them that there were no more Russian troops in town and they inquired for the exact time and directions of the Russian retreat and we told them all that they wanted to know. Nobody felt that because this was a time of war, this information was actually spying for the enemy and the other side could look upon it as a capitol offense and one could get shot for it. It was, for us, so very natural and we did not feel this was an "enemy" but rather that the enemy had just left. The German solders were very tall and on their horse they looked like giants. They left, saying that they would be back the next day. We felt that we were lucky and were thrilled with the impression that the patrol had made on us. Several planes appeared in the sky that day as well as a "Zeppelin", which created a great stir in town. We were truly astonished to see this marvel. We stayed in the streets until late into the night with the excitement of the coming Germans. The street lights were not lit because of the war and the stores and shops were also closed. We all figured
that the war would be over in a few weeks so we were waiting and taking a small holiday. Who could at that point imagine the terrors that would come with the next four years. The next day we ran from the river to the train-station and back again looking for the arrival of the new troops. Finally about ten o'clock, we heard that they were coming up the river in boats and hundreds of towns-people lined the banks to await the arrival. Those who were on the roofs gave a cry that they could see the boats and soon those standing on the shore could also see them. The boats came by the dozens and the people cleared an area for them to land and we were soon greeting the soldiers in a very friendly manner. This was reciprocated as they had been instructed to be very friendly with the populations that were being invaded. And this we heard later from many other places that we were in contact with. Except for the city of "Koish" where there was a blood bath. The Germans were under the command of a General Proisung. There were some shots fired at the time that the Germans arrived and the soldiers felt that the population was firing on them. They destroyed some houses and then lined everyone up and shot every tenth person. Some of the survivors told us about this and it was very difficult for us to understand, that these "fine" Germans were capable of doing such a barbaric act. Later we heard that the general had been recalled to Germany and had been court-marshaled and punished there. Whether this is true or not we could not verify. This was the only incident that we found out about on the "peaceful" entry of the Germans into Poland.
The civil authorities were still going around with their old guns and when the military saw this they were disturbed and ordered them to halt. The Poles did not understand what was wanted and it was up to the Jewish population to act as interpreters. The soldiers did not care that the guns were old and often did not work. They grabbed and broke the guns right there on the stones of the street. Even though there was no strict line of authority in town, there was a strict obedience to the laws of human behavior. There were no riots and even the feeling of anti-Semitism amongst the Poles seemed to be less. Although this would again bloom when there was a change of military rule.
During the first days, the Germans established their camp outside the city limits and none of them stayed within the town during the night. Later when the larger armies arrived, they established posts in the town. They were very polite and did not take advantage of the population. Everything that they took was paid for and very correct. This group was made up of older men that called themselves "Landshturim" ( Landstorm ). The townspeople soon got tired of not doing anything and went back to the work they did before and got used to the idea of war and the occupation. Although we were truly not aware of what this war would bring to us. One of the first thing s was the disappearance of small change. For all of the coins that were made of silver and gold were soon hidden by the people. So the town was forced to print paper money. The only paper that was available was very inferior and it soon wore out. The Germans began to settle in the town and it seemed that they would remain forever. It was very easy for the Germans to converse with the Jews and a bond grew between them. There were many Jews that began to do business and to make a lot of money at that time. A lot of "coffee shops" were opened and these were patronized by the troops. The word also spread that these
shops offered "coffee with pleasures". Those shops that had young and pretty waitresses did much better than those that did not.
The contact with Warsaw was very difficult but there were those who were able to smuggle across the front lines to bring goods from one side to the other. We were starved for news of the rest of the world. The local papers that came out were very limited in what they offered. So the smuggler became our news paper carriers. They were very expensive and the cost was shared by several people who would become "partners". Soon life began to revolve around these smugglers and their packages. Anyone who could do so was soon dealing and trading, especially in the illegal wares. Many made a lot of money and there were a lot of proposals that were made to me. I was laughed at in some circle for being so naive and simple. I did not want to enter into this kind of life. I did not want to make money and profit from the war and I was also not really interested in "dealing", "business" and so forth.
The German strategy changed and they started to withdraw from some parts of Poland. We smelled this out right away and were very depressed. We heard that wherever the Russians came back in, they immediately made pogroms against the Jews. One Friday we heard many explosions around the town and we knew that the German retreat was under way. These were gasoline and other supplies that they could not take with them and were being destroyed. Soon the bridges that they had rebuilt would also go. The impression was that they would never return. But their strategy was to draw a large Russian Army group into a trap in Poland and there to destroy it. As it became clear some time later, this worked and the Russian Army was destroyed. They had tremendous casualties and Generals Samanov and Ander committed suicide, not to fall into enemy hands. The army had about 500,000 men and it was almost completely destroyed. Soon there was a large army of Russians around Wloclawek consisting of Cossacks as well as the regular army. They made it a practice to rob Jewish concerns whenever they felt like it and in general to harass and make life as difficult as possible. It was almost impossible to remain outdoors. The raids were often conducted by Polish hooligans, and they were often protected by the Cossacks. When we learned the Russians had suffered such a large defeat, we were extremely happy about it. This gave us the hope that the Germans would soon also drive the Russians from our district. In addition to the pogroms, the Russians took hundreds of Jews from the town and surrounding areas and accused them of being spies for the Germans and these people were sent away to the far reaches of Russia. For many weeks we had trouble from the Russians, until after a long hard battle that was fought on the outskirts of the city, they were defeated and again withdrew. For almost a week we heard the booming of the guns until one Thursday, their opposition collapsed and all was quiet. The hospitals soon were filled with wounded. On the Stadtelne Street the Jewish community had fixed up a hospital with their own money. There many of the Jewish girls volunteered their time to serve as nurses and aides. It was a terrible thing to hear the cries of the wounded and the sick. The Russian military might was broken and the soldiers were demoralized during the last battle but the Cossacks on their horses and with their bloody swords chased the soldiers back to the front lines. Whoever could hide from them did so. I myself helped 4
Jewish soldiers hid in a house near ours. I brought them some bread and food and the next day met some German soldiers and told them about the Russians that were in hiding. They were taken prisoner and I was thanked by all. By the Russians for hiding them and by the Germans for turning over prisoners. A strange world. On that Thursday the rest of the Russian front collapsed and they were in a general retreat. By ten o'clock that night there were German patrols on Tomskar Street. They said that the main groups would be coming into the city in the morning. We had trouble sleeping that night, we were that anxious to see the Germans return and be done with the Russian bandits. On Friday morning, hundreds and hundreds of people ran from the town to where the last fighting had taken place. It was near the woods outside of town and we surveyed the battle field. The devastation was terrible. There were bodies strewn all over, parts of people, parts of wagons, guns, animals and all other types of military apparatus thrown about. Trees were utterly shattered and destroyed. Bodies of Russian and German soldiers were spread out and intermixed with each other and with all the other remains of the battle. The leaders of the Jewish community asked that we help in finding the bodies of Jewish soldiers so that they might be brought back for burial within the Jewish cemetery. This work I was not able to do. On the way back from the battle-site, at one point, I saw a Russian soldier laying in the field and in his hand was a book. It turned out to be a book by Pushkin. As I opened it I could see that some of the pages were covered with the blood of this poor man. I took the book to the library as a memento of the horrors of war. Some time later Samuel Schwartz took the book for safe keeping.
As we were returning to town through a different road we came upon a beautiful horse that had on a fine saddle and other equipment. We asked the German soldier who was attending this horse to whom the animal belonged. He told us the story. The general to whom the horse belonged was the head of this army group and was supposed to lead the parade into town. The day before, they were passing a house where some Russians still were with a white flag of surrender. This group had already been in contact with the Germans and had agreed to be taken prisoner. But one of the men inside could not stand the shame of being taken and he had fired and killed the general as they were passing. The Germans had destroyed the house and had killed all those that were inside. There were supposedly about 75 men in that small house. And so because of the act of one man, all the rest had to die in this one incident. We looked inside the house and it was a dreadful sight to see. There were bodies piled one on top of another, limbs were torn from the bodies and the walls and ceilings were completely covered with blood and from the doorway, blood still flowed like a river. It was like a slaughter-house. The killing of the general had disrupted the march and therefore the Germans had decided not to come into the town until the next day. We walked around like this in the forest and were completely amazed at the sights we saw. We were stunned with the positions that some of the soldiers had when they were killed. There were some who still had pieces of black bread in their hands, having died as they were eating. Some had bandages in their hands, ready to tie up their own wounds. I remember one who was trying to bandage his foot that had been blown off with a hand that was also bloodied, and that is how he had bled to death. These were terrible sights that stayed with me all these years. While we were looking around a German officer, riding on a horse came by
shouting that it was dangerous to be here. The Russians had guns that were trained on these positions and they could start firing at any time. As the masses of civilians began to leave the areas we could hear the rumble of guns and soon shells started to fall in the areas that we had just left. We were often amazed at the good qualities of the German troops towards us, for after all they were the invaders and we were supposed to be the enemy. But they tried to show us human kindness whenever possible. It did not take long and the Germans occupied the major portion of Poland and we soon became very accustomed to their presence.
Our little group of Bundists started to meet again and we decided to try and organize a "legally" constituted cultural and social activity center and open a library, reading room and social club. We were not going to ask the Germans for permission, but were to take the stand that this was an organization that was in existence before the war. We rented a large room on the "Lange Gass" (Long Street), I think that it was Number 77 and we raised the money amongst ourselves for the basic initial expenses and signed a contract covering several years. We had meetings and decided that we would call this social club "Tzukunft" (Future). This was in July 1915. We did not have any contact with the organization in Warsaw or with the Central Committee of the Bund. We did everything here ourselves, decided which walls to break down, to make one room larger and include a stage where we would be able to conduct lectures and literary evenings. We were the ones who decided on the types of programs that would be presented. The group was very well accepted by the community and it was not long before we had over 800 social members. Almost all the Jewish workers belonged to the Tzukunft. We were also able to establish a "tea house" (without Pleasures) where one could obtain a fairly good lunch at a reasonable price. We hired a cook and established a dramatic section. Almost every week we had lectures, literary evenings, concerts, and other dramatic events. We could hardly believe that in such a short time we were able to accomplish so much. Our influence in town was very great.
It was a little while later that we were able to establish contact with the Central Committee. Soon after Warsaw was occupied by the Germans, Vladimir Medem was freed from jail and permission was granted to renew publication of the journal "Leben's Fragen" (Life's Questions). We organized a publication committee and started with 25 copies. The second week we already had 500 copies because of the demand. We collected large sums of money from the publication and held special press evenings where topics brought up in the magazine were freely discussed. As soon as we heard that Medem had been freed, we decided that he should hold a lecture for us in Wloclawek. So it came about that the first lecture that he gave was in Warsaw, the second in Lublin and the third was in our city. The lecture was held in the Theater Novashtshi which was the largest in town. The enthusiasm for his lecture was very great. Even the criticism of many of the Zionists in the hall was booed down by the adherents of that party. He gained the respect of even his greatest opponents. His appearance and stature and the lecture brought a lot of prestige to our organization, for we were the ones who had arranged the meeting and this showed that we were part of the larger organization. After this, almost of the leaders of the Bund came to our town to lecture and talk with us. After the
lectures we held meetings of the committees and often with the leaders of the Bund. They were astonished at the reports that we were able to give them about our work. And we were able to organize the areas surrounding town on both sides of the river. This worked out very well for us. When the Germans had already occupied all of Poland and Lithuania and also a little bit of Russia, they then began to look into the political and cultural activities that were being carried on in these areas. When the reports started to come back from their spies, they began to make a lot of trouble for the political parties, especially the Socialists and on the Jewish side they began to put pressure on the Bund. They began to call the leaders of the parties that they knew were involved and gave orders on how to conduct themselves. In April 1918 we were called. I went to that meeting with Abraham Tarentchick as chairman and I as secretary. They said that since it was during a time of war, no demonstrations would be allowed and also no large meetings. That the First of May was to pass as any other day, without any demonstrations or lectures or meetings. We were warned we would be held responsible for any activities and that the library could be closed at any time and that no future activities, such as lectures and concerts would be allowed. In addition, the entire committee would be held responsible and be liable for arrest. We called together a special meeting of the committee and discussed the question almost the entire night. Most were of the opinion that we should go through with the May First demonstration and not bow down before the demands of the occupiers. Some were of the opinion that we should march without the red flags but that all the workers should be called upon to join us. It was a very stormy meeting and finally the vote was taken. We agreed that the demonstration must take place, with our red flags, and to call upon all the workers to stop their work for the one day. This was to show that workers must have the right to demonstrate in the streets. We all knew the penalties and repercussions that would follow. At the beginning of the war we all wanted to see the end of the Tsarist Russian rule and now we were under the "protection" of the "new liberators". We were fully aware of the heavy boot of the Germans. There had been a constant shortage of materials and food and now there were stronger suppressions against any expression of liberal thought. So we knew that after this First of May demonstration, the warning and threats would be carried out and the known people of the organization would have to go into hiding in order not to be arrested.
We were acquainted with two specific Germans, one of whom was the editor of the "Leipzig Social Democratic Folks Tsaitung", a very intelligent and interesting person. The other was a Social Democrat from Berlin. We asked these two what they felt we should do and both said that they had no right to dictate or tell us what to do, as we would be bearing the full responsibility and punishment. But they felt that the gains to the organization would far outweigh the losses. We would be reestablishing the rights of the workers. We took many records out of the offices as well as other materials that we did not want to have confiscated and then we started to organize the workers for the demonstration. The plan was that we would meet at selected corners at particular times and then at a specific time we would all come out in a mass, and unite into one large demonstration. All was arranged and organized in the best manner that we could and at the appointed time the streets were filled with marching workers. We started to shout our slogans and to sing revolutionary songs. The
Germans were not ready for this as they never imagined that we would not fully follow their dictates. But it did not take too long until the soldiers appeared and started to break up the demonstration, to tear the placards from our hands and to beat up the workers with clubs. We ran from them and reorganized on parallel streets and were again broken up and reformed elsewhere. The demonstrations lasted for an hour or two. Time went so fast that it was not possible to know exactly how long it did take. The soldiers did not use their guns and no shots were fired from either side but even from these "dry" beatings a lot of blood flowed and there were many wounded. Many of these were treated in the hall of the "Tzukunft", as we had set up a first aid station there. Later in the evening we were able to hold a large meeting there. The next morning Tarentchick and I were again called to headquarters. We were certain he would be arrested and the question arose as to whether we should go or try to escape. We decided that it would be better to go. It might turn out better that way. When we arrived at the headquarters at the appointed hour, the commandant and two civilians were waiting for us. They told us that for the action we had taken, under the martial law rules, we could be shot. We replied that it seemed a very strong punishment just because someone went out for a little walk.. They yelled that they had been much too liberal and that now things would be very different and great changes would occur. The community house "Tzukunft" was to be closed immediately, we were not allowed to conduct any activities and we would be held responsible for any other types of demonstrations and activities that would take place.
The situation was a very difficult one for us. We were accustomed now to dealing with very large groups of workers, and here we again had to restrict our activities to very small units on the very illegal front. We appealed to everyone that we could think of to have the hall opened again. After a very long time, with appeals that even went to the Social Democratic faction in the German parliament we were allowed to reopen. But we still had difficulties in having legal meetings and theater performances. But at one point there came an opportunity, by accident actually, that allowed us to resume these activities. Every time that we wished to conduct an affair we had to provide the Germans with a program as well as all the materials that would be used for that evening. They would review the material and decide what could be presented and what was rejected. I always went to deliver this material at the headquarters and the next day would go and pick it up and get the permission or rejection slips. We always wondered how it was possible for the Germans to find amongst the "innocent" context of some of the material, those items that had special meaning for the members of the Bund. These items were invariably deleted with the red pen of the censor. One day though, everything became clear. As I was going to pick up a permission slip one day, I noticed that sitting in one of the offices was a Poli-Zionist who was well known to us in the town. His name was Bernstein. And then the idea came to me that these Poli-Zionists were never disturbed by the police, even though their policy was also a very Jewish Socialistic one. But the Bund always had troubles with the German censors. This idea we had often discussed amongst ourselves and thought it was simply the way that the German mind worked. As I looked into the room, this Bernstein lifted his head and our eyes met. I could see the shudder that went through him and that he turned beet red. The censor came in and handed me back the program notes we had brought in and it was refused.
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