(Simchas Torah 1920)
by Yankev Palma
Translated by Gooter Goldberg
The Angel of Death flapped his wings, delivering all forms of capital punishment:
Who by water being drowned the River Bug, like Velvl Chaskelevitch and others.
Who by fire being shot by execution squads, like Yisroel Manchemer, Moyshe Blumberg and Moyshe Nitka in Siedlce (20th August 1920), displaying dignity and bravery, refusing blindfolds and with a final exclamation: Long live the Social Revolution! Or like the three shot in Kałuszyn (end August 1920) and accepted the verdict with humility Shloyme Popovski, Shmul Shtaynberg and Pinchas Shvartz (from Mrozy).
Who by strangulation being buried alive like the twenty and some Kałuszyn Jews in Bojmie, who were forced by their Gentile murderers to dig their own graves.
Who by stoning all those killed with sticks and crowbars by soldiers or cutthroats on lawless roads.
And who by (other) unspeakable violent deaths, like the melamed Simche Palma murdered by Gentiles, the corpse cut and the parts scattered over the fields.
That was a bloody violent summer, and closely following the grief over the slaughter came the day of Simchas-Torah.
A few dozen bundists gathered that Simches Toreh in Dovidl Zylberberg's house to celebrate with a bundist liame the anniversary of the founding of the Bund.
Alter Tcheladnitzky, the aesthete and outstanding orator and reciter could not then find the strength to open the celebration. Thus, the task of introducing a celebratory mood in such a heavy atmosphere fell on one of the younger comrades me.
An oppressive silence of pain and rage filled the room. No one touched the glasses. In desperation, I began to sing an old Vurke tune:
Let us not worry about tomorrow. Let us repair what we damaged yesterday.
The tune resounded, all became enthusiastic and took up the Come to us soon, Moshiach ben David every face in the room lit up with hope and faith.
Moyshele P., the seventeen years old butterfly spread the wings (laps) of his Chassidic kaftan and went into a devotional dance: Shabes, shabes, shabes!. He pulls up the grown Avrom G. Moyshele is full of ecstasy, but the big Avrom's legs are heavy and his thoughts are confused something does not add: on one hand the horrible atrocities, on the other - the youthful unrestrained enthusiasm.
All of a sudden Avrom breaks into Peretz's malchusa d'ara, malchusa d'rakiya above and below is the same and breaks into a roar: les din v'les dayan and his dance becomes a dance of blasphemy above and below is the same there is no justice on earth nor in heaven Avrom perform the blasphemous dance without a tune, but continues to hum les din v'les dayan the judge fell asleep, probably drunk. Avrom's tuneless humming becomes the roar of a lion
The dancing is warming up, the misnaged and fineshmeker Alter Tcheladnitzky joins in, after him the smart Dovidl Zylberberg. They are followed by the contrary Mayerl, the son of Isser the watchmaker, and surprisingly by the merchant-aristocrat Ezriel Skovronek in lacquered shoes, white spats and a walking cane in hand. With measured and dignified steps enters our Yisroel R. and a hot Chassidic dance erupts.
Avrom keeps on leading and when he gets to the line what do you think you are doing, you impudent thing you cutthroat, when will you stop he lowers his roaring, hands resting on shoulders, head thrown back and from his eyes tears trickle.
Thus, late into the night continued a Chassidic dance with an old Vurker tune by a group of bundists - a messianic vision expressed with new words: liberty, equality, justice.
That was how an anniversary of the Bund was celebrated with a bundist liame at a terrible time of a saddened Simchas Torah.
By Avrohom Mitlberg / Buenos Aires
Translated by Gooter Goldberg
World War I overturned the existing Jewish way of life in Poland. A new economic, social and cultural order began also in our shtetl Kałuszyn following the first German occupation.
The local industries, like weaving of prayer shawls, the tanneries and the production of cheap footwear were forced out of business. The confiscations by the German military ruined the merchants and the town was forced to earn a living by smuggling and bootlegging.
The occupation authorities harassed the Jewish population. I remember vividly how German gendarmes drove together all the Jews into the square of the horse market and held them there for hours frightening all the town's inhabitants.
Notwithstanding the harsh regime, we the young started to assemble in clandestine conferences and meetings. New ideas, dreams and pursuits captured our young minds until there grew up a strong movement of thousands of young workers and intelligentsia. All political tendencies had their organisations and committees that carried on ideological battles and organised meetings, demonstrations, First-of-May celebrations, theatre performances and literary gatherings.
Looking back to that era, I see myself together with my closest friends Boruch Shtulman and Noote Tenenboym in a rented cottage near the creek (from which we used to draw water for tea). There we used to read Yiddish literature and discuss the writings. Some female comrades also joined us there: Tema Dembovitch, Rivka Skovronek and Rivka Bayanovski. Among the books we read was Fayerberg's Whither?. Our young spirits were touched by the new world with the new revelations. A new chapter in the perception of the world began for the youngsters that were still tied by their homes to the beismedresh, yeshiva and a strict religious way of life.
Outside it is winter. Snow covers the shtetl. The roadside trees, the orchid and its fence, the empty market square with the well - everything is white. In harmony with the silence enveloping the shtetl, we are overcome by a yearning that is tugging at our hearts towards beauty and unfulfilled dreams.
On a winter day in 1916 comes Yeshaya Grodjitzky, the new member of our circle together with a guest, an itinerant speaker, Comrade Ziame. The latter brings to us tidings from a new world with new ideas - the Zionist-Socialist credo of Ber Borochov, the program of Poalei-Tsiyon.
Boruch Shtulman (an admirer of the dialogues of Aristotle and Plato) was carried away by the logic of Comrade Ziame's historical materialism and his description of the distinctive Jewish economy. Noote Tenenboym, the dayan's grandson threw himself enthusiastically into spreading the new teaching among hundreds of youth in the beismedroshim. Yeshaya Grodjitzky enthralled us with his rendition of the new songs.
Some time earlier Alter Tcheladnitzky, Dovid Bekerman and both Avrohom Mayers led a group of intelligentsia from among the then seymists and members of the Z-S in forming the Education Union. The Union was housed in the former building of the law court. A library was established and the youth flocked to join. In addition, a newly formed drama circle was staging short plays. Invited writers from Warsaw gave lectures, and discussion gatherings by the various movements took place that could last until late into the night.
Organised political groupings emerged - the Bund, the Poalei Tsiyon. The membership of the former (then calling itself the only [Jewish] workers' party in Lithuania and Poland) consisted of workers and a group of intelligentsia that originated in the beismedresh. The Poalei Tsiyon comprised fewer workers and a larger number of young middle class people.
Leaders of the political parties - most of them members of the central committees - arrive in shtetl with political speeches and lectures about the ideological platforms of their respective movements. Discussions take place; opponents offer rebuttals. With youthful fervour, each defends his camp and it ends with singing. The party that sings louder prevails
Our movement, Poalei Tsiyon was very successful in the singing contests. We sang Arbeter Froyen Brider mir hobn geshlosn, The Internationale, Un du akerst un du zayst and the Poalei Tsiyon Oath. The bundists sang the songs by Edelstadt (1866-1892), Rosenfeld (Morris, 1862-1923) and Vintchevski (Morris, 1856-1932). The singing was followed with slogans for a world of justice, for a socialist Palestine (as it was then phrased).
And so it lasted until 1916-1917 when the Germans started to suffer defeats on the western front.
The February (1917) revolution in Russia causes confusion in the German military circles. Preparations are under way to expel the occupation forces from Poland. The ensuing October (Bolshevik) revolution spurs the youth to active participation. People prepare to assume power. A mass meeting is called in the big beismedresh with speakers from all the proletarian movements. A demonstration by over a thousand youths is being organised. The German command is requested to hand power over to the Revolutionary Committee (representing all the parties). The German commandant promises to hand over the following day all arms, whilst the army withdraws from Poland. It is astounding to watch how little Polish boys relieve German soldiers and officers of their weapons and tear off their epaulettes. Polish legionnaires appear and Hallertchiks arrive and cut off Jews' beards. Moraczewski forms the first government of independent Poland.
Workers' councils are formed and debates are raging: Democracy or Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Members of the former S.D.K.P.L. establish the Communist group in town under the leadership of Yisroel Manchemer. They bring speakers from Warsaw, among them the famous Comrade Karol who advocates dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bund is waging a bitter ideological battle for democracy and against dictatorship. The Poalei Tsiyon generates considerable interest with the new tenets of a Jewish marxism - the distinctiveness of the Jewish economy and the necessity of a Jewish territory in the Land of Israel. The elections to the Workers' Councils provide an opportunity to each party to popularise its principles.
I recall a meeting in the house of the Piasetskis near the road to Warsaw. The house, the courtyard and the street was packed. We the Poalei Tsiyon then won seventeen seats on the Workers' Council. We also commenced establishing our own workers' home. The Education Union has not succeeded in maintaining the unity of its members - the bundists seized power of the union and part of the library. Each organisation established then its own home.
The Poalei Tsiyon group decided to invade the unoccupied house of Mendl Sharfhartz, the local landowner. He resided at the time in the estate The Hill, a few kilometres from Kałuszyn, and when an armed delegation arrived at his mansion and declared that the revolutionary committee of the Poalei Tsiyon party decided to requisition his house, he forthwith handed over the keys. The victorious delegation returned triumphantly to base
Immediately, we collected tables and benches into the building and commenced erecting a workers' home in Kałuszyn. However, that was not the end of the saga. On discovering that his house was already occupied by the Poalei Tsiyon, Mendl, in order to avoid having to contend with revolutionaries, sold the property to Shimon, the nouveau riche tailor and orchards franchisee, for a pittance. The freshly minted landlord then came with his wife and children, squatted on the threshold wailing and demanded the return of his property. However, the work went on, a hundred comrades knocking out walls to make room for a hall for meetings, lectures and theatre performances, as well as a library and office. Under the strains of mir boyen, mir boyen an ayzerne vant a beautiful workers' home was constructed. It became the venue for amazing social, cultural and political activities that attracted hundreds of young people.
The wokers' councils in Poland did not exist for long. Concerning their demise, it is worth noting a certain episode at a district convention in Minsk Mazowiecki that was symptomatic for the political situation at the time. The convention took place In November 1918. All political parties in Kałuszyn sent delegates, mostly young people. Just as the proceedings were about to begin, the building was surrounded by troops. An officer accompanied by a police squad entered the hall and asked about the purpose of the assembly. The chairman of the council, instead of explaining the nature of the meeting, demanded the police to withdraw from the sovereign inviolable territory of the workers' council
The military arrested the chairman and some of the delegates. A general strike was declared and the arrested were released the following day; however, the workers' councils were disbanded.
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