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Brzeziny and Brzeziny Jews {cont.}

The workshops in Brzeziny were generally in the kitchen, even if the master had one or two other rooms. In each workshop there were one or more machines, mostly, two or three. The Singer Sewing Machine Company had the franchise in the town. Before World War I there was a Singer representative who sold machines on strict terms. After the war the terms changed radically. Those who sold their machines during wartime bought them back later or bought other used, repaired machines.

Every entrepreneur employed several masters. The work was done in the masters' workshops. A master worked for several magazine owners. The work was executed by the master and his family (wife and children) with the help of one or more journeymen, a female hand stitcher, and an apprentice. There were different grades of journeymen; they were paid by the week and had to complete a specified amount of work. Apprentices were hired for a specified time (from Pesach to Succos or from Succos to Pesach), for room and board and sometimes also given a minimum of pocket money. The apprenticeship lasted, before the war, from two to four years; after the war, from one to three years. After the war apprentices were already paid by the week.

The following table shows the large number of family members that the masters employed.[17]

 TotalWorking for the fatherWorking for strangers
Journeymen352241111
Hand stitchers (female)13612313
Apprentices552233
Totals543386157

Before World War I, the owners were organized into an association under the name “Producers Association of Ready-Made Clothing;” there were ninety members. The war caused their flight to Russia together with the reserves of finished clothing. After the war the majority of those who were left alive came back and renewed their economic activity.

After the War

World War I completely ruined the tailoring trade in Brzeziny. When the war broke out, the magazine owners ran away to Russia, mainly to Ekaterinaslav. Szotenberg and Zygmuntowicz established large magazines there, making very good deals. After the war, fearing the Bolshevik revolution, they hurried home, but they were murdered on the way. Some others had a similar fate. In 1918 a number of tailors that the war had driven out and ruined returned to Brzeziny. During the war years many occupied themselves with smuggling food to Lodz and the surrounding shtetls.

The situation changed with the rise of the Polish state. In Brzeziny in the beginning of 1919 the government ordered larger amounts of merchandise for the army. A distinguished Lodz manufacturer came to Brzeziny to see if the Brzeziny tailors would be able to fulfill the military's order. There were many obstacles to overcome. Among others there were simply no machines, since during wartime the tailors had sold the machines to alleviate hunger. Ten masters joined together with Mordechai Winter at the head. They decided to try to fulfill a three-month military contract. They barely found one hundred sewing machines in the town. They divided the tailors into groups of six. Each group received only two machines. Of the thirty-two groups, one part sewed pants, others, uniforms. Those that did not sew occupied themselves with other tasks. The army contract ended in October 1919. A group of disgruntled tailors left for Lodz.

A bit of revival came with the return of Sulkowicz, who before the war worked for Szotenberg and Zygmuntowicz and during the war became well-to-do. Sulkowicz, in partnership with two other tailors, established the first magazine. Right after that sprang up a second magazine. The two enterprises began giving out work to tailors, and others followed. In 1920 there were ties linking them to all of Poland, and in the forefront was Galicia, from which major merchants began to come, mainly from Lemberg [Lwow] and Krakow.

In 1921 a two-week-long strike broke out because of a rise in prices. Groups of up to three tailors began to buy a bolt of cloth and even half a bolt of cloth. They made garments and prepared them for the coming season. They advertised them well in the press. Within a short time merchants came from different towns to buy directly from the tailors. It may be that the tailors had as their goal to free themselves economically from the magazine owners and take their fate into their own hands, but at the end of 1921 a crisis in the tailoring trade broke out, and this compelled the economically weaker masters to surrender and again accept work from the magazine owners. A number of persistent master tailors held out, however, and became independent. Especially successful were those who received help from American relatives in higher-value foreign currency. Later they themselves parceled out home work to other tailors.

Sales Markets

Before the war most of the Brzeziny production went to Russia. Brzeziny suits of clothing were also sold in Warsaw and other Polish cities, since they were able to compete with the local production due to a low price. Sizable shipments were sent to Little Russia (Odessa), the Siberian markets (Yakutsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok), to Kavkaz, Donetsk (Ekaterinaslav [now Dnepropetrovsk], Rostov) to Turkestan, to Vilna, Moscow, and even to China. These enumerated markets give us a picture of the resourcefulness of the Brzeziny magazine owners.

Although the following table is incomplete, it certainly gives a good idea of the train shipments of Brzeziny work that traveled to Russian markets.

Dispatched from StationAmount in Pood (40 Russian pounds)*
From:189018911897 1899190019011905 19091912
1) Rogow to Russia7344,96825,73222,235 42,55640,70449,96012,594
 Russia to**1,926 3,0803,3791,774
  Baku 1,555 3,2951,9932,485
 Bakhmut1,199
 Vladikavkaz1,717 2,749
 Rostow1,344
 Petersburg1,752
 Lugansk1,024 10,5326,94611,753
 Odessa1105 1,096
 Kharkov 1,044
 Elizavetgrad [Kirovograd]
2) Koluszki1231
3) Lodz Fabryczna9,25610,01511,761 20,309
 through Koluszki701 18,02917,70081,360254,177240,528
   30,35264,32160,17061,888
4) Czestochowa1157812,428 1,3311,531193,977177,993
5) Ruda Guzowska5604,62721,44036,300 4,7146014,8414,958
 Zyrardow 10,281 45,582
6) Zawiercie 25,583

*Relying on the Brzeziny method of calculating that eight suits of clothing weigh one pood, we come to the following approximate number of suits of clothing dispatched – in 1800, 5600 pood; in 1891, 32,200; in 1897, 200,000; in 1899, 176,000; in 1900, 480,000; in 1901, 464,000; in 1905, 400,000; in 1909, 576,000, and in 1912, 592,000.
** [This table is translated as it appears in the book. However, it may have been incorrectly transcribed for the original publication. It is possible that all the numerical entries in this section should be pushed down one row so that there would be no entry in this row and there would then be an entry in the Elizavetgrad row. Ed.]

Negotiations between Labor and Capital

Before the war, due to the fact that the workers were not well organized, negotiations between labor and capital [enterprise/magazine owners] never led to a strike. After the war the newly arisen profession-based unions, following the example of other industrial centers, began strike actions to compel employers to comply with their demands. In the beginning this was not a simple problem. The organizers did not know what sort of situation such an unplanned strike might bring about. They had not properly estimated the appropriateness of the moment for confrontation and whether or not the contractors would be concerned enough to comply with their demands. Time taught them to select strike action at the time when there was a need for their work.

Taking into account that after the war Polish money and the [German] mark fell in value by the hour, striking was the only effective means to improve the wretched condition of the tailors. On the other hand, the frequent conflicts caused the magazine owners to pay starvation wages when work was scarce in bad times and the starving artisans needed something to give them earnings. Because of this the tailors worked and suffered, waiting for better times that seldom came. To show the result of calling strikes at an inopportune time, it is enough to mention the frequent “lockouts” proclaimed by the magazine owners. For long weeks they indulged themselves by not giving out work to the tailors. [18]

In order to characterize the distribution of work time just after the war, we present the following table by year and month from 1919 to 1922.

YearMonthPattern of work
1919From January to MarchWorked part time to execute military work on trial.
 From April to SeptemberWorked to carry out military contracts.
 From October to DecemberDid not work when the magazines were closed because of speculation and usury.
1920From January to DecemberBegan going back to work.
1921From January to MayThree-week strike of master tailors because of the fall of the mark. It ended with a small salary increase.
 JuneWorked, a short work-strike for an 8-hour workday. Ended without result.
 July-AugustWorked without interruption.
 SeptemberFour-week strike of master tailors – without result.
 From October to NovemberThere was no work.
 DecemberA lot of work; the price was raised 100%.
1922From January to MayWorked a little.
 From June to JulyA workers' strike that ended with a salary increase.
 From July to OctoberLittle work; worked with pauses.

From this data we see that out of forty-six months, they worked only twenty-five, including even a few months with little or part-time work. During this time the magazines were closed for fifteen months by the government bureau that combats usury and speculation. It shows, however, that there were strikes for three months, apart from a series of smaller strikes that were not taken into account here. All the strikes were for a salary increase or a shorter workday. Only in 1922 was a small improvement noticeable. In later years, after the stabilization of the Polish zloty, the situation improved a little – but really only a little, not more.

In the earliest postwar period of Brzeziny tailoring, the scourge of the economic policy by the government authorities, especially the office for combating usury and speculation, was also added. At the end of 1919 the government sealed up all the magazines. The intervention of the town government on behalf of their opening did not help. Extensive correspondence with clarifications from the town council was carried out with the higher financial authorities in Warsaw, but all without results. [19] The road to building themselves back up was a difficult one. In 1920 many magazine owners and tailors left Brzeziny and went abroad. At the same time others sought new paths and markets for Brzeziny production. In 1922, because of the rapid rise of the pound sterling and the dollar, efforts were made to take Brzeziny tailored goods by way of Danzig to England and the United States, where the Brzeziny merchandise could easily compete with the local market.

A great obstacle in the development of postwar tailoring was lack of credit because of the low value of the mark. After the stabilization of the zloty, the financial world also became interested in Brzeziny. In the beginning of 1923 banks and credit institutions were established – a local Cooperative Bank and the Jewish Savings and Loan Society. The Warsaw Credit Bank also opened a branch in Brzeziny. The banks stimulated business but also rekindled the earlier woes of promissory notes, wherein twelve percent was deducted [by the bank upon redemption] from the half-year IOU's that the tailors got for their work. In later years the IOU's and the percentage deducted were the main causes of conflicts between labor and capital.

III

Brzeziny Powiat

The Brzeziny powiat [county] in the Lodz wojewodztwo [province] was created from half of the Rawa powiat and parts of Leczyca. Brzeziny's borders were with Rawa and Skierniewice to the east, with Lowicz and Leczyca to the north, with Lodz to the west, and with Piotrkow to the south. When Piotrkow became a province from parts of the Kalisz, Leczyca, and Kielce provinces, the Brzeziny powiat was assigned to Piotrkow.

Its surface occupies 20.28 square miles. It is a flat land. Until not long ago it was still covered with forests and marshes, as evidenced by the numerous names of the towns and villages – Brzeziny [brzozy –birch], Lipiny [lipa–linden], Leszczyny [hazel], Osiny [aspen], Rokociny [creeping willow], etc. There were also numerous small brooks and streams. The southern body of water that is part of the powiat – the Czarna Wolborka River – flows into the Pilica, forming the border of the powiat for a couple of miles. A watery dividing line runs through the environs of the Brzeziny powiat between the town of Brzeziny and the villages of Grzmiaca [Gzhmiontsa], Lipiny, and Malczew, where the highest mountains are found. These mountains reach 122.8 sazni [sonzhni] [20] near Lipiny and Teolin, on the right of the highway between Brzeziny and Lodz, and 104 to 108 sazni near Malczew and Grzmiaca. To the north of these mountains, the water flows from the river Mroga into the Bzura. The Warsaw–Vienna Railroad, cutting through the length of the Brzeziny powiat , fostered the development of the manufacturing industry in Tomaszow. Tomaszow's location on the southern border also fostered a strong growth of agriculture, although the soil there was mediocre.

The numerous roads that cut through the powiat in various directions linked the most important towns and villages. The railroad from Koluszki to Lodz made this line well suited to the development of agriculture and industry. With the building of the railroad and roadways, the forests disappeared. Only near Ujazd were there still large tracts of forest, which were also disappearing because of the development of the Tomaszow textile industry.

In 1890 there were six cotton mills in the powiat , a mere 2000 weaving workshops, 525 cloth workshops, 14 distilleries, 2 beer breweries, 1 distillation factory, 1 paper factory, 1 steam mill and 88 ordinary mills, 1 lime factory, 10 brickyards, and 3 iron works.

As to the organization of its judiciary, the Brzeziny powiat was divided into four district courts – Wola Cyrusowa, Galkow, Ujazd, and Strykow, and into one court of peace [lower court] for Brzeziny and Tomaszow.

As for administration, Brzeziny powiat was divided into fifteen gminy [administrative districts] – Bedkow, Bratoszewice, Biala, Ciosny, Dlugie, Dmosin, Dobra, Lipiny, Laznow [Waznoof], Lazisko [Wazhisko], Mroga Dolna, Mikolajew, Niesulkow, Popien (Jezow), Osada. Those without town status were Glowno, Strykow, Jezow, and Ujazd. The two largest towns were Tomaszow and Brzeziny.

In 1890 the population of Brzeziny powiat numbered 93,778 souls. This number included 18,393 Protestants, 15,528 Jews, and 120 Greek Orthodox; the rest were Catholics.

Towns and Shtetls around Brzeziny

Ujazd

A shtetl in the Brzeziny powiat. At the beginning of the 15th century Piotr Tolk from Strykow proposed to build a town on the newly cleared forest land. The village Jews got a twenty-year exemption from taxes. The founder of the town received from the king the privilege of holding two annual market fairs in addition to the weekly markets. In 1485 the various privileges were renewed for the new owner of the town, Piotr Dinen. When Dinen's grandson married off his only daughter, Anna, Dinen gave her the town of Ujazd as a dowry. In 1594 her husband became kasztelan (starosta) of Sochaczew and later of Brzeziny.

In 1616 Kasper Denhopf obtained from the Sieradz province an estate and palace in Ujazd for his wife and daughter. In 1786 the palace was repaired. The Prussian Kaiser stopped there at the end of the 18th century when he visited the newly captured provinces. He stayed at the palace in Ujazd.

When in 1584 Ujazd went to the Ossolinski Family, Krzysztof Ossolinski built there on the very top of the mountain a castle in the Italian style. On the entry tower (1631) was a large stone cross. A defensive wall ringed the palace. The castle was very well known in Poland. The structure was according to the times of the year – four spires as in the four seasons of the year, twelve halls as in the twelve months, fifty-two rooms for each week, and three hundred sixty-five windows for each day. There was a glass roof with water where there were goldfish. On the walls between the windows were engraved the names of their ancestors in their own signatures.

There were superb gardens there. Eleven years later the Swedes surrounded and destroyed the castle. Until shortly before the end of the 19th century there were still remarkable remains of the castle.

Ujazd was also famous for its traditional Jewish life. A son-in-law of the famous rebbe, Fiszele Strykower, was rebbe there. After the First World War they created national cultural Jewish youth organizations there that carried out widespread enlightenment activities. With the exception of a small number of rescued Jewish survivors, Jewish Ujazd, along with the six million holy martyrs in Europe, was completely destroyed.

Glowno

A shtetl in the Brzeziny powiat, Glowno was already known in 1427. It was established by a Mazovian prince. In 1522 King Sigismund I approved municipal privileges. In the 17th century the town belonged to the famous landowning family the Czarneckis. In 1827 there were seventy-six houses there and 972 inhabitants. Norblin's silver factory in Glowno was very well known in Poland.

Tomaszow

Also known as Tomaszow Mazowiecki or Tomaszow Fabryczny, it was the biggest town in the Brzeziny powiat by the Wolborka River – which converges beyond the town with the rivers Pilica and Czarna.

More that two hundred years ago this was a site of forests and swamps, and it belonged to the landowner Ostrowski, who was at that time chairman of the senate.

Tomaszow begin developing only one hundred fifty years later, after the Congress of Vienna, when Poland was given to Tsarist Russia, and, in the last third of the 19th century, it made rapid progress. In 1879 there were twelve thousand residents with twenty-two enterprises powered by steam. As early as 1886 the town produced textiles and hardware worth seven million rubles and employed eight thousand workers.

The town and surrounding area had superb beautiful scenery and had a large number of people engaged in trades.

Because of its own importance and stature and above all because of the fact that Tomaszow itself is ready to publish a big yizkor book, we are only mentioning it as a town in the Brzeziny powiat.

Jezow

Very long ago this was a village with the name of a Mazovian prince. The name Jezow derived from that. Konrad I, a Mazovian prince and clergyman, gave it away as a gift early in the first years of his reign. Boleslaw, a Mazovian prince, elevated Jezow to the status of a town with privileges beginning in 1272. Later, at the request of a Lublin senior cleric, the Mazovian princes, and the Polish kings, other privileges were added. King Sigismund I twice, in 1519 and in 1537, freed the citizens of the town forever from the obligation of providing horse-drawn wagons for military use.

In Jezow in the 16th century there were blacksmith, wheelwright, and shoemaker guilds. In 1778 King Stanislaw August renewed the privileges of holding the already established market fairs and added four new ones.

In the local church there were stands from the distant Middle Ages almost a thousand years old. Later, Jezow became less important, but its market fairs were renowned in the entire area.

There was a significant Jewish settlement there, hundreds of bright people, and a progressive, religious, and secular youth, organized into clubs, unions, and societies. The well-known Jewish writer Yitzhok Janasowicz came from Jezow.

With few exceptions, all the Jews perished in Hitler's death camps.

Strykow

A shtetl eleven kilometers from Brzeziny – called Strikkow until the 16th century. Paprocki calls it Streijkow. [Situated] by the Moszczenice River, which flows into the Bzura.

Strykow is among the oldest settlements in the Brzeziny area. Very long ago the stopping place between the provincial towns of Leczyca and Rawa was there. Already as early as 1394 Strykow was a town, and Wladislaw Jagiello decreed in Brzeziny that Strykow should pay taxes on wagons, horses, and cattle.

The Strykow landowner, Piotr Strykowski, became kasztelan (starosta) in Inowroclaw in 1457. He also served as advisor to the imperial court for an extended period. His or his father's name was signed on the famous treaty with the Teutonic Knights of the Cross in Brzesc [Kujawski] in 1436. This family, Strykowski, after whom the present-day town is most likely named, dispersed to different lands after accumulating a large estate.

In the 15th century Strykow went to Mikolaj of Kurozweki, whose underage heir, after the death of his father, was under the (legal) supervision of Jan Laski, the Archbishop of Gniezno, and his brother, Jaroslaw. In the 16th century Strykow belonged to landowner Jaroslaw Laski. He received Strykow as a dowry from the Kurozweckis when the Kurozweckis divided their estates (1531) with their brother Stanislaw in Krakow. Stanislaw gave Strykow to Laski. From the Laskis, Strykow went to the Moskowskis. In the middle of the 17th century, Strykow passed over to the Malinskis, and in the 18th century, to the Czarneckis.

In 1459 Strykow provided six foot soldiers to the Prussian government, which shows that it was a significant shtetl, while other towns provided only up to two soldiers.

After a fire destroyed the town, Sigismund I freed the town from various taxes for fifteen years (1520). In 1525 market fairs were added, and in 1543 Strykow was again freed from the burden of taxes. In 1576 five grzywnas, eight florins, and twenty-four groszen were collected.

By the end of the 16th century there were the following artisans: 5 fishermen, 6 shoemakers, 6 tailors, 3 blacksmiths, 13 bakers, 2 potters, 5 furriers, and 2 barrel makers. They paid [as taxes] between 5 kegs of mashke [liquor] up to 24 grzywnas . The three butchers paid up to 12 grzywnas. Altogether the town paid 59 florins and 18 groszen.

In 1827 there were 141 houses with 2,022 inhabitants, of which 1,332 were Jews. In 1858 there were already 171 houses, 4 of them brick, with 2,613 inhabitants, of which there were 1,744 Jews and 88 Germans; the rest were Catholics.

In the 18th century there was a large Jewish population in Strykow, twice as large as in Brzeziny, with well-known rabbis. Rebbe Fiszele was famous in all of Poland as a miracle worker. Twenty-nine villages belonged to the Strykow kehile [Jewish community]. Zgierz, then a village of nine Jews, also belonged to Strykow. The first Jews who died in the village of Lodz were buried in Strykow.

After the Nazi destruction there were no more Jews in Strykow.

Koluszki

Koluszki, a small town six kilometers from Brzeziny, a significant railroad junction on the Warsaw–Vienna and Warsaw–Lodz lines. The majority of Brzeziny goods went through Koluszki.

In 1764 there were already eight Jews living there who paid their taxes to the Brzeziny kehile . Until the war ten Jewish families, who later shared the fate of all the Jews of Poland, lived there. Few saved themselves.

Rogow

A shtetele [very small town] near Brzeziny, near the river Mroga, belonging to the gmina [administrative district] of Mroga Dolna. Its small railroad station eight kilometers from Brzeziny lay halfway between Brzeziny and Jezow. In the beginning of the 16th century Rogow paid a tithe from numerous estates to the ecclesiastical representative of Jezow.

There were ten well-to-do Jewish families. Almost all of them perished.

IV

Organizations

As we have already seen above, the war [World War I] seriously reduced and impoverished the population. It suffered seriously economically and could no longer attain its prewar status. As a result, a communal social movement sprang up. After the rise of the Polish state, a multi-branched communal life began. It was as if all the sluice gates were inoperable and the streams overflowed all the banks. Formerly underground ideas suddenly became winged with enthusiasm and emerged on the surface of Jewish life. Social, economic, cultural, sport, and youth organizations of all types feverishly developed their activities in all directions. A number of the organizations were of lasting value, while others were not. There were those that existed sporadically. I will here describe only some organizations that were active over a longer time period and left their mark on the town.

The Master Tailors' Union

The Master Tailors' Union was founded in 1909 and played a very important role, not only among tailors, but also in town life in general. The founders were: Szlama Gelb (Szlama, the lame), Mordechai Winter, Uri Szajbowicz, Abraham Frajnd, and two others whose names I do not know. The first founding meeting took place in Uri Szajbowicz' house (Uri Glazer's). During the next several weeks four more meetings took place where they talked about the miserable conditions of the tailors. An organizer, who came especially from Lodz, proposed to organize the union. [21] The plan was very characteristic of that time, in which the “Black Hundred,” a reactionary league in Russia sent by Tsarist petty tyrants, suppressed every free thought. A trade union was heretical; therefore, they agreed to form a mutual aid society. The statutes had the following goals:
  1. To have a shul in which the members could daven [pray].
  2. To write their own seyfer-toyre [Torah scroll].
  3. To help downtrodden members.
  4. To have the right to assemble twice a day. [22]
  5. To have the right for someone to attend the sick.
A delegation went to the governor in Piotrkow to have the statutes legalized. The governor, a great enemy of workers and an even greater hater of Jews, turned them down. They waited there until the governor traveled out of town, and with the help of a twenty-five ruble piece, the assistant governor legalized the statutes – along with the instruction that pictures of Tsar Nicholas and his wife must hang in the union's headquarters.

The meetings took place after minkhe [afternoon prayer]. The tables and chairs were arranged in back of the synagogue lectern, and the speaker at the lectern was always referred to as the cantor. Gradually the union developed. The main activity was the mutual assistance of its members.

After the war the union grew greatly; it played an important role in the economic and social life of the town. During the local and national elections, all the political parties took pains to get support from the Master Tailors' Union. The Master Tailors' Union always had their elected members on the town council, the kehile [Jewish community council], and the krankn-kase [fund for the sick]. The important leaders were: Abraham Frajnd, Mojsze Dzialoszynski, Pesach Grinszpan, Lajbl Szajbowicz (Lajbl Bik), Herszl Szmulewicz, Majer Kozak, and Mojsze Berber.

In 1927 the Polish government implemented a trade guild statute that renewed the old privileges of the guilds, with the intention of restricting Jewish access to work. According to the statute, the guilds had to issue master certificates, without which one could not operate a workshop. The Master Tailors' Union carried out an intense battle to weaken the effect of the evil decree. Thanks to the strong protest movement, organized jointly with the Socialist Artisans Union, the so-called tailor chalupnicy [cottage workers] succeeded in getting the evil decree repealed. [23] But this did not last long. In 1935, the anti-Semites achieved their aim. It did not help to argue that modern economic life demanded freedom of work and employment. By means of examinations, guilds, and closed groups, Jewish artisans were threatened, and, even worse, these actions brought about unemployment and poverty.

The Master Tailors' Union separated itself from public political influence and thus managed to pull through all the storms and political changes in Poland.

The Clothing Workers’ Union

The trade movement grew up in an atmosphere of revolutionary political struggle. Under the influence of the violence of 1905–6, Brzeziny, like the majority of the cities in Russia and Poland, organized itself for a decisive battle. Proclamations, strikes, arrests, and banishments to Siberia – all these helped the workers become aware of their need to be organized according to their status in an organized workers' society. Before the war the political workers' parties conducted direct economic battles for the workers. After the war the Needleworkers' Union [presumably part of the Clothing Workers' Union] was organized. The organizers were Szaie Bocian, Majer Szwarc, and Lustig. From time to time the Needleworkers' Union would abruptly change, not always for the best, depending upon which political influence it fell under. There were also objective causes for its instability. A journeyman who joined the Workers' Union, in the course of time, would become a master himself. He would then of necessity become a member of the Master Tailors' Union and employ other workers. This was a mass phenomenon.

The large worker emigration and the high percentage of workers who worked for their own parents weakened the union. Certainly, disregarding all the difficulties, the Workers' Union achieved important gains for workers. At the initiative of the Workers' Union and with the help of inspectors of workplaces and of the town hall, a conference took place on the strict observance of the eight-hour workday, which in truth had never been put into practice. In 1926–27 factions from Poale Zion, Royte [Red–procommunist], and the Bund existed within the union. There were approximately seven hundred members. The union had a beautiful library and a good drama club with a part-time director who periodically staged works from the Yiddish repertoire and from workers' lives.

A First of May demonstration was organized in 1927, which Brzeziny had never seen before then. The streets lost their normal appearance. One did not hear the hum of the machines. All the workers dressed as for a holiday. Activity stopped. The closer to the gathering place near the Workers' Union, the more evident was the scope of the united workers' strength. All the political workers' parties hurried with their red flags to their designated places. At the head went the representative of the Clothing Workers' Union, the mayor, and a representative of PPS (Polish Socialist Party). With banners and slogans for an eight-hour workday and higher wages, a fight against Fascism, child labor, and the persecution of the Yiddish language and culture and for a workers' government – the demonstrators marched through the main streets of the town, and a large orchestra played songs about work and battle. Hundreds of workers participated in the joint march. Three-quarters of them were Jewish workers.

 

brz018.jpg - A scene in a tailor workshop in Brzeziny - Ezekiel Niewodowicz with his daughters and hired hand stitchers
A scene in a tailor workshop in Brzeziny – Ezekiel
Niewodowicz with his daughters and hired hand stitchers

 

The Commercial Employees Union

The Commercial Employees Union, which took no part in any economic action, was organized in 1926. Their main activity was a social one. The membership was entirely Jewish.

The Transportation Union

The Transportation Union was organized in 1929. They mainly organized the street porters and the porters from businesses and warehouses. The main organizers were Ruwen Blatt (Ruwen Ciolek), Zelik Hauzner, and M. Rozensztrauch. The union began with thirty members and did well. [24]

The Left-Wing Poale Zion, the Bund, and the “Reds”

A. Poale Zion

The Poale Zion movement, from the time of its foundation in 1906, represented a strictly Marxist point of view toward all the problems of Jewish working life. It was predestined to play a leading role in the political education of the Jewish worker. After the resolution of national boundaries in 1920, the Brzezin organization went completely over to Poale Zion Left. For legal reasons, Poale Zion joined “The Society for Workers' Evening Courses” in 1923 and carried out broader work with the masses. Among the young and old the significance of “Marxist Borochovism” [after the Marxist-Zionist views of Ber Borochov] and “Proletariat Palestinism” was very clear. They [Poale Zion] helped organize trade unions. They had the most widely-read library, a drama club, and frequent lectures and reading of papers – with lecturers from Warsaw. The most important leaders of the movement came – Zerubawel, N. Buxbaum, Federzeyl, Ringelblum, Loew, Jozef Rozen, Dr. Rafal Mahler, and others. Local teachers and leaders taught literature, political economics, and historical materialism.

In 1925 a rift took place. A significant group of important leaders went over to the Communists; others went to the right and to the Bund. In subsequent years the organization made an effort to make up for the loss from this split. In the later 1920s they won three seats on the town council, which at that time was regarded as a significant victory. For the first time, a female worker, Ester Winter, was among those newly elected to the council. A different impression was created in the town council by the resignation of Comrade Mordechai Dawid Biedak. At the first meeting of the newly elected town council in the large Firemen's Hall, he seceded from the organization in the name of the Poale Zionist town council faction, with a militant twenty-minute speech in Yiddish, in which he demanded equal rights of life, work, and culture for the Jewish masses. The anti-Semitic Endeks [National Democratic Party] gnashed their teeth and made their own groups. The secession signaled the awakening of the Jewish worker between the two world wars. There was enthusiasm, boldness, and dynamism and especially an awareness of the goal. They knew and understood what they were striving for. In later years, they suffered from police persecution; they became partly illegal. [25] In 1939, just before the great destruction, Poale Zion, in a united front with the Bund and other worker parties, was still able to win six seats on the town council.

The most important leaders in the establishment of the Society for Workers' Evening Courses were: Mojsze Icek Ginzberg, Jozef Baruch Szajbowicz, Mordechai Dawid Biedak, Lajb Sieradzki and Jankiel Dawidowicz.

B. The Bund [Jewish Socialists]

Before the first war, the Bund, above all, encouraged the worker in the fight against capitalism and exploitation. The proclamations, the revolutionary songs, the harsh political action against the Tsarist decrees, the organizing workers' circles – all these greatly helped to open the world for the oppressed Jewish working masses. They become permeated with the consciousness of their human worth. “The [working] class does not deserve freedom if they cannot fight for it,” L. Martov said. At the beginning of the century, under pressure from the Bund, Jewish workers broke with the old leaders and antiquated traditional patterns and carried out a coup d'etat in Jewish life. In 1905 the Bund organized strikes and street fights in Brzeziny. [26] There were arrests, banishments to Siberia, and so forth. After the war, the Bundist influence was limited, though still significant. [27] In the thirties the organization became stronger and expanded its influence into broader worker and intellectual strata. The Bund controlled the Socialist Artisans Union. In the town council election in 1939, they gained five seats – the largest Jewish worker faction in the town council. The most important leaders were Szmuel Akerman, Abraham Opatowski, Hersz Finger, and Lajzer Jakubowicz.

In the time of the Nazi destruction the Bundist party leaders were active in Brzeziny. After the transfer of the Brzeziny Ghetto inhabitants to Lodz, Abraham Opatowski, a former Bundist councilman in the Brzeziny Town Council was co-opted by the Lodz resistance group to direct self-help work in the ghetto. [28] The Bundist group in the ghetto numbered fifteen men.

C. The Reds [Communists]

The Communist organization in Brzeziny came into being in 1923. Its founders were mostly middle class and half-assimilated elements. Because of the fact that the party was illegal, its members, in a conspiratorial manner, worked through the legal organizations, mainly the trade unions and workers' parties, where they created Communist factions that led to divisiveness. In a short time they became the dominant strength in the trade unions. They also exercised a great influence over students and youth from middle-class organizations. They created a militant fighting spirit among the workers; they especially fought for a shorter workday. With the free time that they won, the workers developed an interest in communal problems, and this also awakened them to life around them. A striving for education, reading books, sprang up. The rise of culture came with the growing fighting spirit. Every Shabbos , get-togethers and lectures took place on current themes. The Workers' Council Hall, which could hold several hundred people, was always packed to the rafters. Later the Polish Union of Construction Workers and the Workers' Cooperative came under their influence. Earlier, the Construction Union and the Cooperative were under the influence of the Polish Socialist Party [PPS]. The Communists took them in under the leftist PPS that was their affiliate. During the Spanish Civil War a small group went to Spain to fight. There was even a heroic fighter, a leader of a brigade, who fell heroically in battle. The Communists also popularized support for those who were arrested. The entire spectrum of the workers' parties had “MOPR” books to sell and, with this, assisted the local people who were arrested for political reasons. [29]

In the course of time, under the extraordinary political persecutions, emigration, and personal disappointments, the movement declined drastically. The most important leaders, if they were not sitting in prison, had dispersed to other cities. Many of them went to South America, Western Europe, and Russia.

Final Observations

Writing about the workers' Brzeziny, the workers' parties, and the trade union movement, I deliberately avoided the class struggle between work and capital, although without a doubt it existed, and very often in a passionate and intense form. Today, after the Nazi murderous plagues, when our sacred Jewish community has been annihilated along with all Polish Jewry, that other struggle no longer has any significance for us.

Table of Contents



Footnotes:
Ed1In most chapters of the English translation of the Brzeziny Yizkor Book we have used the town's Yiddish name, Brzezin, as that was how it was known among Jews. However, since this chapter is a history of the town as a whole, the Polish name is used – Brzeziny. Throughout the text, explanations added by the editor have been put in brackets [ ]. Return
Ed2There are no longer any gravestones in the Brzeziny Jewish Cemetery. Return
1Pamietnik religyjne-moralny(Religious-moral memoir) (1851), 20:12. Return
2Op cit., 14. Return
3The tribes always fought and attacked one another. The major tribes that occupied Poland were Polanian – Poznan region, Silesian – Wroclaw, Vislanian – Krakow, Mazovian – Plock, formerly the Lechites, Abodrites, and Wilzi, etc. Their major employment was hunting and agriculture. Return
4Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland), 761. Return
5Zakon Krzyzacki (Order of the Knights of the Cross). Return
6Ber Mark, History of Jews in Poland.Return
7See material found in the Archive of the Finance Ministry, 13:46. Return
Ed3In the actual text, author mistakenly wrote "Stanislaw Augustus," a ruler in the 1700s. Return
8Dr. Jacob Shatzky, History of Warsaw, 11. Return
9Piotr Lelewicz later changed his name to Strykowski. It is possible that he came from Strykow, several kilometers from Brzeziny. Return
10Ignacy Baranowski, Przemysl Polski w XVI wieku, 152, 154.
J. Kolaczkowski – in the work "Wiadomosci o fabrykach i rekodzielach w dawnej Polsce," (Information about factories and handcrafts in Old Poland) that among other things woolen cloth was produced in the 18th century in Brzeziny, Biala, Bielska, Blaszki, and Ciechanowiec, etc. Return
11A florin is a gold coin worth today [1961] approximately 2/3 of a dollar. A grzywna is 48 groszen (the groszen had a high value). Zlotys and dinars were small change. Return
Ed4The author must have meant the "Germanic areas of Poland" rather than the "Polish areas of Poland." Return
12After the First World War, Najman and Horn were owners of magazines and gave work to cottage workers, and Rozenstrauch died from hunger in wartime. Return
Ed5The word "magazine," originally meaning a warehouse, came to signify in Brzeziny a small clothing factory. In it clothing was designed and material was cut and parceled out to cottage workers to be sewn. The finished clothing was then brought back to the plant where it was sorted, bundled, and stored until shipped to Russia or other markets. Return
13Obozy Piotrowskiej Gubernii (Camps of the Piotrkow Gubernia) Return
14See Tydzien, no 7, 1895 – 96. Return
15In earlier times the houses were fire traps. In 1875, sixty-nine wooden houses burned down; in 1881, eleven; in 1884, six; and in 1886, sixty-four. Return
16Although 1921, when the survey was administered, was the period when postwar tailoring was on the verge of reorganizing, I still contend figures are far from reliable. The Needleworkers' Union gave me the information that the number of workers was significantly greater than stated here. Return
17The survey was taken of a portion of each category of tailors. There were four kinds of master tailors – the first kind were the extremely good ones, the second kind were at a slightly lower level, the third kind were middle level, and the fourth kind, the lowest. Also the pay for each group was different. Return
18Because of a shortage of work and great poverty in the town, JOINT [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] ran a help and rescue program. CENTOS [Headquarters of Societies Caring for Orphans and Abandoned Children] (supported by JOINT) was especially interested in helping children. Sick children were sent to summer and winter colonies. CENTOS was concerned with their vocational training, helped them with day care, and provided meals. Those who went to school spent time in the home after school. CENTOS was popular in Brzeziny even among middle-class people, and it gladly received community help of a ten groszen (two cents) weekly contribution. Also the government and the town council recognized their important work and gave them fixed subsidies. In Brzeziny in 1937 there were 210 abandoned or neglected children – 77 girls and 133 boys – who benefited from the help. In 1926 Sejm member Dr. Yitzhok [Ignacy] Schiper and the well-known writer J. J. Singer came to Brzeziny to arrange a great rescue undertaking, which was needed by the large working class. Since the workers' organizations refused to work together with the general committee, two rescue committees were formed, one for community elements and the other, for workers. Return
19According to a decree of the Lodz county office in the fight against usury and speculation, the contractors had to post signs in the most visible place in the magazine with the price lists for each article. The signature of the owner and the date he had posted it had to be on each list. Every two weeks one had to report to the financial office. Failure to comply promptly with the decree involved severe penalty. I cannot bring here all the correspondence of the Brzeziny town hall and town council with the Warsaw and Lodz government organs, where it is shown that the town was literally ruined by these Draconian decrees. It is enough that on 11 September 1920 the Ministry for Provisions notified the town council in Brzeziny that the merchants Yehiel-Mojsze Gotlib, David Ikka, Mordechai Ikka, and Mojsze Zindel were entitled to get back their confiscated ready-made garments. Return
20A sazen [sonzhen] is close to 3 eyln long [approximately six feet]. Return
21Mojsze Korpel, a gifted workers' leader of the meat workers in Lodz, organized the Meat Masters' Union. He also organized the Meat Workers' Union in Warsaw, Kielce, Radom, and Kalisz. He is now a Histadrut leader in Israel. Return
22At that time more than three people could not assemble without a permit. Return
23The chalupnicy were a split-off section of the Master Tailors' Union. They joined together in the “Socialist Artisans Central.” They worked with only one apprentice. Their representatives were Hersz Finger, Abraham Opatowski, and Lajbl Sender. Return
24In a letter to Arbeter Tsaytung [Worker Newspaper], number 33 (1929), we read that the Transportation Union had demanded a wage increase for the master bakers and flour merchants. The action succeeded. They also planned to work on a communal basis. Return
25The police closed the organization "Society for Workers' Evening Courses" in 1934. Return
26The Piotrkow governor wrote in his journal of 12 April 1902, number 227, “'the socialist movement' has already given birth to a separate Jewish party, the 'Bund,' that according to news from the police is growing more than all other parties. At their convention it was decided to use all their efforts for full equality for Jews. Jews should have full civil and political rights along with other nationalities.” Return
27In Lodzer Veker [Lodz Awake] of 12 May and 1 June 1928 we read that in the current year there was a united First of May celebration jointly conducted by the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), Royte [Communists], the Bund, and Poale Zion; that the Bund and Tsukunft [youth group] in Brzeziny had over one hundred members; and that at the Lodz regional conference of Bund youth (Tsukunft), the Brzeziny delegate reported on widespread Bundist activity. Forty copies of Folk Tsaytung [People's Newspaper] and a great number of Yungt Veker [Youth Awake] and Lodzer Veker were distributed. Return
28See the article by Jacob Girenberg, secretary of the Lodz committee of the Bund, in The Years of Jewish Destruction, 1946 (the voice of the underground Bund). Return
29International organization to support the politically persecuted. Return

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