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[Pages 208-219]

Zyrardow, 1926 to 1936

by Yosef Funtovitsh

Translated by Debbie Nathan


My memories are related to turbulent times in general and to Jewish life in the new Polish nation after the First World War. In May 1926, the Pilsudski uprising took place. It was supposed to open a new page in the history of the young Polish nation; the “Legioneers” uprising presumably would cleanse Poland of the Chjeno-Piast[1], which was reactionary in both its domestic and foreign policy, and which – it goes without saying – was certainly not friendly to the Jews. Not that Poland's rulers up to then had been neutral toward Jews. Just the opposite: one could already feel an anti-Semitic push to eliminate them: to eject them from economic positions they had created and developed over many generations; to remove them from public life; to cease to allow them to be employed in government service. That was the party line. The sad “Grabski's Hearse” period resulted from this government[2]. It caused small businesses to collapse, ruining hundreds of Jewish towns and impoverishing tens of thousands of Jewish petty traders, business people, shopkeepers, merchants and artisans.

The uprising of May 1926 brought the expectation that healing winds might begin to alleviate the anger of the Poles. Jews hoped for better times. In addition, the uprising had the sympathy of the workers' movement, and not just of those who followed the Polish Socialist Party – the PPS – which supported Pilsudski as “one of their own.” The Polish Communist Party also called for support of Pilsudski's revolt during the revolutionary May Days of 1926.

In Zyrardow we heard echoes of what was happening throughout Poland, especially in the nearby capital city. Because of the factory, Zyrardow was a city where Polish life felt especially intense, particularly when it came to the economic crisis and Polish reaction. With its population of about 30,000 residents – including some 6,000 Jewish families[3] – our Zyrardow shared the fate of the whole country. Certainly we were known thoughout the world for our “Zyrardow linen,” but our turbulent economic and political conflicts were a window onto the situation of the nation and other countries. The factory fed the city, but provided only a hungry, poverty-stricken existence. Strikes, demonstrations and clashes were very frequent. Jews' sources of income were bound up with the plight of the factory workers. There were hardly any Jewish workers in the factory, but Jewish shop owners had factory workers for customers, and Jewish proprietors worked because of the factory workers and their families. Starvation wages and unemployment directly affected the homes of the Polish factory laborers, but also brought poverty to Jewish houses.

The mutual life of Polish workers and the Jewish population was, if not brotherly, harmonious enough. As a workers' city, we had a socialist city council for many years. Before then – at least from what I remember – the President of the council was Orlik and the vice-president was Paluch; both were well known activists in the PPS. The socialist city officials led several important changes in the city's economy, such as moving the market to another site, behind the city, and building a beautiful garden in the middle of the city where the market had been[4]. Several streets got new names. The main street, which had been called Wiskicka, was renamed First of May Street; and Wonska Street got the name Borukh Szulman Street.


* * *



As in earlier years, the basis of Jewish existence during these decades was skilled trades. Jews made a living from hard, honest labor. Tailoring was the main line of business of Zyrardow Jews. Orders for goods were taken by some workshops, such as those of Shaul Indyk, Black Avrom (Borenshtayn), Moyshe Koyfman, Lozer Yakubovitsh (the Comedian) and others. They were good craftsmen, artists in their field. As we used to say, they had “golden hands.” But most tailors worked with remnants and second-hand material; they worked on their stock and later sold the finished goods in the middle of the city, in the market; or in neighboring towns at markets and fairs (in Amshinov, Viskit, Sokhtshev (Sochaczew), Bloyne (Blonie) and elsewhere). Each of the surrounding towns had market days twice a week and a fair once a month. The clothing dealers were always in the outlying areas with their merchandise and used to really prepare for the fairs. It should be acknowledged that these merchants were dealing with peasants from the villages, and to ensure that a peasant did not go back on his word, layaway money was taken. Preparations were especially intense for the big fairs that occurred only once or twice a year. Most preceded Christian holidays: before New Year's and the day before Easter.

The second-hand and remnant workshops were concentrated on Wiskicka Street, Fabryczna Street and Familijna Street. Traveling these streets, even late at night, one heard the rhythmic banging of machines and pressing irons. In the racket one would hear the happy, spirited music of folk- and workers' songs, and not infrequently, snatches of a cantor's song. I want to recall the big second-hand workshops: those of Leybush Vargotsh (Dovidi); Dovid Kleyner (Tsholok); Shulem Gutkind; Yosl Meppen (Gritser); Yosef Yakuby (Little Yosef); Mendl Flint; Yekusiel (Kisl) Lubartovski; Avrom Yakubovitsh (Yellow Avrom) and others.

In addition to the owners and their sons, the workshops employed wage workers. When the work needed to be finished before the markets began, wives and daughters also helped. Workers in second-hand generally had more to do than those who took orders. The latter only worked “in season,” meaning before holidays such as Passover and Sukkos. Altogether, the garment trades employed 120 needle workers and a score of home workers – or as we called them, khalupnikes (from the word meaning “cottage”), who would take the factory work to their houses. Workshop employees worked by the day (or by the week), but khalupnikes worked by the piece.

Indeed, the only Jewish trade union was the garment workers union. At the time, it was located in the home of Mr. Leybush Blank at 15 Targowa Street (later Narutowicza). Unfortunately, the union did not exist for long, due to quarrels about party influence. It had originally been founded through the Bund and was under Bund influence since the first activists were Bundists. A certain role was also played by the fact that Bundists led the Central Clothing Workers Union, the so-called “Garment Center,” which was located in Warsaw and organized outside the auspices of the Central Commission of Trade Unions in Poland. But all the clothing workers from Zyrardow belonged to the garment workers union. Among them were groups from both the Right- and Left-wing Poale-Zion – the Labor Zionists – and the Communists.

Since the Bund did not have its own party office here, the leaders of the garment workers union turned the union office practically into a Bundist club; Bundists gathered there even more often than clothing workers did. Discussion evenings were held here, as well as meetings, lectures, question-and-answer nights for young people, worker rallies, and conversations about current events. But things were impossible, since the union leaders were not supposed to let any non-Bundist groups or individuals into the office. Sharp arguments often ensued, with heckling, until the lectures and discussions got very bitter and turned into vulgar brawls. Next door from the union was the Khevre Kadisha – the Jewish Charity Society – which most of the ready-to-wear workers belonged to. Indeed, they often blamed Reb Leybush Blank for letting the bums into his house. This was quite aggravating for him. Reb Leybush was my stepfather; thanks to this, I had managed to get him to rent us the office.

This situation could not last for long. Constant quarreling undermined the basis of the union, and instead of busying itself with concrete, trade union activities, it turned into an arena of inter-party arguing and quarrels. The end came very quickly, after a “stormy” First of May Academy that the union organized. This was perhaps in 1927 (or maybe a year later or earlier). The trade union (or actually, the Bund under union auspices) decided to conduct a First of May Academy and invite a speaker from Warsaw. The Bund central committee appointed Bundist activist Salek Likhtnshtayn to appear at the Academy. It was assumed that the Bundist speaker would also be able to talk in Polish for the joint May Day celebration with the Polish workers, and indeed, the envoy had a reputation for speaking very well in Polish.

The organizers of the May Academy put the flags of the trade union and the Bund side by side on the presidium. The opponents wouldn't tolerate this; they argued that the union belonged to everybody. This turned into a conflict and a scandal. On a holiday when workers were supposed to be honored, the Academy ended in a big scuffle. Of course, the union was consequently dissolved.

This situation lasted for a few years. The fact that there was no union was difficult for workers. The bosses took advantage of their lack of organization by laying off or firing workers and by paying them piecemeal. In general, these were hard years of unemployment. Some workers went to look for jobs elsewhere, and the accomplishments of the union went to pieces. Later, in 1933 if I am not mistaken, action was again taken to create a new trade union. But the first meeting already showed that the past was not forgotten. The old arguments and reckonings were back on the table, and people wanted to make absolutely sure that no single party could dominate the union.

Another problem arose: legalization. Even though the garment workers' general trade union was attached to the national trade union and was under Bund leadership, there was also a right-wing Labor Zionist workers' organization. Sides were therefore taken about which central union to belong to. In sum, instead of one union being built that would pull in all the garment workers, two unions were created. One embraced the followers of three parties: the Bund, the left-wing Labor Zionists, and the Communitsts. The administrators of this union were: Chairman Simkha Ligenberg (Communist); Vice Chairman Yosef Funtovitsh (Bund); and Secretary Itshe-Yosl Shmitnikov (left-wing Labor Zionists). The second union was organized by the right-wing Labor Zionists and was led by the Haldzband brothers – Getsl and Nosn – as well as by others.

The situation became much worse than before, when there was no union at all, because now a perverse competition began between the two unions. Whatever one union undertook, the other sabotaged. Each considered itself to be the “authentic” union and did not recognize the other. This unbearable situation lasted little more than a year. Unity was finally achieved thanks to private conversations between comrades of the Bund and the right-wing Labor Zionists – conversations that others joined. A general meeting of all the garment workers was held, and an agreement was reached about composition of the union leadership: Chairman, Yosef Funtovitsh (Bund); Vice Chairman Simkha Ligenberg (Communists); Secretary Getsl Haldzband (right-wing Labor Zionists); Vice Secretary Itshe-Yosl Shmitnikov (left-wing Labor Zionists). The union was then on its way to normal activity. It had as many as 120 organized working men and women, as well as some 20 home workers khalupnikes). The union still existed when I left, and it did everything it could to defend the interests of the members. No more struggles for hegemony occurred among the parties in the union. Each group had its own office, where it promoted its ideology. But more about that later.

An important education center during that time was the Peretz Library. The older members of the community can speak with more authority about its early years; what I want to add has to do with the period from 1926 to 1936. The library back then was open three times a week to exchange books. But the office was open daily – or actually nightly – because the main work and the gatherings usually took place in the evenings. It was the only place for working-class Jewish youth, for intellectuals from all the parties, and also for people who were not in parties. There was also a Zionist center, where only Zionists gathered.

The library at that time was located in the house of Reb Sholem Gutkind on Fabryczna Street. It took up two rooms. In the first were the bookcases with books, and also the administrative area. The second was the reading room, which was also used for meetings and activities that usually took place every Friday night during winter months. Lectures were also given there by well-known speakers invited from Warsaw.

The library in these years was under the leadership of the Bund – or more accurately, of Bundists. Management was not elected from any party candidate list. Individuals were elected, and the library activists clearly were Bundists who had the confidence even of non-Bundists. The activists were Moyshe Veynshtok, Noah Nayman, Moyshe-Khaym Koyfman, Masha Birnboym, Moyshe Levental (who later became a member of the Folkist Party[5]). The most important activist among them, who gave all his free time, was comrade Moyshe Veynshtok. By trade he was a tailor. Of medium height, with thick eye glasses, he possessed extraordinary, inborn intelligence. His knowledge of Jewish literature was acquired through self-education. He was extremely well-versed in it and was considered an expert on Peretz. He was secretary of the library and had the total respect not just of his comrades, but of their opponents as well.

Some time later, a “united front” of all the parties was created against the Bundist majority in the library.[6] The effort to remove Bundists from leadership of the Peretz Library was almost a success, but in fact, the only rebels who remained in the management were the Communists. They took over the library, which had to be surrendered to them, even though some non-Bundists – Zionists from various groups – called on the Bund to take the library back from the new leaders. But the Bund categorically refused, since a bitter struggle over management could have brought intervention from the police and endangered the library's entire existence.

Little by little, all the parties except the Communists abandoned the library. It moved to a second office, on First of May Street near the municipal meat market. There, undisturbed by library members from other tendencies, and under the legal auspices of the Peretz Library, the Communists conducted their activities. From what I heard, the library was taken over by the kehila a year before World War II. (This particular situation is addressed in another article – Editors)

The ideological splintering of the library was certainly one reason why the activity of the different parties and ideological groups greatly intensified. “Competition” grew in the community, and it seems to me there was not one young person in Zyrardow who did not belong to, sympathize with, or work with one or another organization. Each had its own office, its own library, its own drama club. Each brought in speakers. Each wanted to heighten its prestige with more activities and more achievements. Indeed, this was a time for great revival of Jewish communal life in Zyrardow.

I was intimately acquainted with Bundist activity from that time because I was active in the movement. I can't go on without dedicating a few lines to the other groups that also did their work in Zyrardow. I am sure that comrades from those organizations can do this in a much more thorough and all-encompassing manner. Of the most active Zionist organizations, the right-wing Labor Zionists should be remembered. They had their office on First of May Street, in the home of Reb Itshe-Leyzer Nisnberg. They had many good, smart activists such as Yosl Nisnberg, the brothers Yosl, Getsl and Nosn Haldzband, Avrom Kzhonzhenitser and others. They had a youth organization, Frayhayt (Freedom) an athletic club HaPoeli (The Worker), and in the later years a agricultural training kibbutz at their “Grukhov” center.

The left-wing Labor Zionists also had their office on First of May Street. They carried out their activities under the legal auspices of “Community Evening Courses for Workers,” whose center was in Warsaw. They had a youth organization, Yugnt (Youth); an athletic club Shtern (Star); and a drama club. At that time their official leader was Yitsik Benek. By the way, it should be noted that Benek was from Warsaw; he moved to Zyrardow when he got married. Indeed, after his arrival in Zyrardow the organizations came to life – or to put it more accurately, they came into being. During the years he was in Zyrardow (until 1930, when he left Poland), he directed a good deal of community activity in our city. He was also a candidate for city council in the elections of 1927.

The Bund had its office on Fabryczna Street. At that time it did its work under the legal auspices of the athletic club Morgenshtern (Morning Star). Besides the party organization, there was also a youth group – Tsukunft (Future), which was divided into the “Vladimir Medem Club” and the “Bronislav Groser Club.” There was also a press committee that distributed both Yugnt Veker (Awaker of Youth), and the Folkstsaytung (People's Newspaper) during the popular “press days.”

Being legalized as the athletic club Morgenshtern gave us problems. To hide the fact that we were were doing party work under the guise of athletics, we had to play sports. We were an “athletic organization,” and occasionally would have to go to the athletic's gymnasium to present our “athletic exercises”. To tell the truth, none of us had any particular talent, so odd things often happened. From time to time the police would show up at our office. This happened when we were having a lecture, a club meeting or a lesson. But we had practiced, and we didn't miss a beat. The speaker would start throwing in bits of Polish terminology about “sports”: such as “soccer,” “gymnastics,” “ping pong.” The police agent would “understand” this and make out a report about how the “athletic” group was carrying out its activity according to regulations. Eventually we got tired of this game and changed the basis of our legalization to the Culture League, which gave us a chance to conduct the work more freely. But Morgenstern was not a total lie. We had a soccer team that was somewhat successful in playing and in safe-guarding the “party interests.”

The Bund tried to organize the Zyrardow porters[7] into a porters' union. The Central Transport Union was under the direction of the PPS. The porters' section was led by the Bund, and a notice came from the central union to organize these workers. The union existed for a while. During one First of May parade it participated, with its own flag, in the Bund section that marched with the PPS. When the Socialist Artisans' and Cottage Workers' Center was founded in Warsaw, the possibility opened for us to also found a socialist artisans' union that the home workers – the khalupnikes – could join. We created such a union and comrade Noah Nayman was delegated to take charge of the work. It was very difficult. The members were the poorest of the poor; they were socially very backwards, and they were religious. The union did not last long. The work got caught up in something odd, which caused a big song and dance for the Bund for the a long time. One Passover season fell during an extremely hard year, with a bitter winter, and it was very difficult to make a living. The khalupnikes rented a bakery and baked their own matzoh. The reason was that everyone needed matzoh for Passover, no matter what. Buying it from the bakery was too expensive – making it themselves turned out to be much cheaper. Our opponents took advantage of this and wrote in their newspapers about how the Bund had sunk so deep into religion that it was supplying people with its own, kosher matzoh. For a long time – admittedly without success – we had to defend ourselves against this charge, which we really wanted to wash our hands of.

The basis of our work was cultural activity. It was carried out almost totally by the comrades themselves. We had no college-educated intellectuals. Our cultural activists came from poor homes. They got their knowledge through their own persistence and self-education; they mastered books by “devouring” them. Even so, we carried out the work systematically and without interruption, under the pretext of Morgenshtern or The Culture League. Every Friday night, a question-and-answer evening, literary critique, or lecture was presented by the person whose turn it was to do so. Moyshe Veynshtok was always the lecturer about literature; Masha Birnboym was the specialist on international problems; later Elke Sobol was added on party issues and the problems of youth. After the lecture would usually come discussions. Often they became especially controversial, which helped the comrades learn how to take the floor and develop into lecturers – first for the Tsukunft club and then for the public, at Bund gatherings and as Bund representatives at inter-party activities.

From time to time we would have lecturers from Warsaw – especially on Saturdays or holidays. These visits lent a festive atmosphere to our organization. Opponents would come, too. In general, lectures really provoked controversy, because a run-of-the-mill, “dry” lecture had no tam – no flavor – and was deemed a flop that only our own comrades attended. To tell the truth, the same “provocation” tactic was adopted by all the other organizations. I cannot say now who first figured out how to follow the example in order to attract an audience.

I remember these speakers visiting us: Luba Belitska, Barukh Shefner, M. Bernsteyn, Natan Shafran, Pinkus Rosenberg, Grishe Yashinski, Leybl Kersh, S. Hurvits and others. We had particular success with Natan Shafran, with his series of lectures about “The Spiritual Crisis in Polish Literature.” He was a hit, and not just with us, because his themes were not narrow party subjects. In Zyrardow we got a big audience, which included all the other organizations, as well as non-party members who liked a good literary lecture. We also arranged a series of recitals and concerts with the famous arts teacher Rukhl Holtser. Her visits were also an event for young people in general. We took advantage of the fact that comrades from Warsaw used to come to “our” forests for summer vacation, so we “exploited” them. That is how we once set up a lecture about current events by Comrade Berel Ambaras (who is now in New York).

On May 1st, our tradition was to demonstrate under the banners of the Bund and the Bund youth group Tsukunft in the joint First of May parade, together with the PPS. During some years the Right-wing Labor Zionists participated, but the Left-wing Labor Zionists did not approve of joint demonstrations with the reformist PPS. They had a tradition on May 1st of celebrating in Warsaw, in demonstrations of the Left-wing Labor Zionists. Usually the speaker who was sent from the Bund's central committee to the First of May parade would also talk in Polish at the joint rallies. I remember that the delegates sent to us for the First of May celebration were Grisha Yashunski (today he lives in Warsaw); Y. Gutgold (today he is in New York) and others.

In general we enjoyed good relations with the PPS. We would come to their office, and their youth from TUR (Towarzystwo Uniwersytetu Robotniczego – Cooperative of University Workers) would come to ours. From time to time we would even hold joint activities. One occurred in Warsaw when Shaye Grinberg, of the Bund youth group Tsukunft, was murdered in a Tsukunft anti-Fascist demonstration. The chairperson of the mourning ceremony and protest was Mr. Noah Nayman. Mr. Khaym Gothart spoke in the name of the Bund, as did Mr. Max Gomolinski in the name of the PPS.

Here I will note a whole series of comrades who were active at the time in the Bund's local organization. First of all I want to remember Mr. Hersh Zshelekhover, who was founder of the revived Bundist organzation in the 1920s (he was killed in Baranovitsh, where he was a refugee); Moyshe-Khaym Koyfman (killed in the Warsaw Ghetto); Noah Nayman (killed, along with his wife Feygele Yakobson and child, while they were refugees on the Soviet side during the Nazi assault); Masha Birnboym (killed in the Warsaw Ghetto); Khaym Gothart (killed in the Warsaw Ghetto); Avrom Sobol (today he is in Montreal, Canada); Elke Sobol (today she is in Lud, Israel); Pantl Yeshonovitsh (today he is in Toronto, Canada). These comrades came to maturity in the organization and took up its administrative work: Avrom Zimler (Montreal); Efrim Yeshonovitsh (Chicago); Leybish Yeshonovitsh (killed with his wife Feyge Shmulevitsh); Yitsik Kirshboym (killed with his wife Yente Baron, in the Vengrov Ghetto); Avrom Kshonzshenski (killed in the Vengrov Ghetto); Yerakhmiel Domb (killed with this wife Yente Sobol in the Vengrov Ghetto); Yankele Sobol (killed on the Soviet side as a refugee during the Nazi assault).

I want to dedicate a few words to Comrade Mendl Yakubson. For many years he was a respected activist in the Communist Party, a member of the district committee; and a good speaker in Yiddish and Polish. His entrance into the Bund in 1930 caused a stir, but he quickly gained the confidence of the organization and became its chairman. He stayed in this post until the outbreak of the war and Hitler's holocaust (he was apparently killed in the Warsaw Ghetto). In September 1936, when I left Poland, the Bund committee consisted of the following comrades: Mendl Yakubson (chairman); Yosef Funtovitsh (secretary); Moyshe-Khaym Koyfman, Avrom Kshonzshensky, Yerakhmiel Domb.

The City Council Elections of 1927

In the election for city council in Zyrardow in 1927, the Bund also had a slate. Six Jewish slates were put up for the three city council positions that Jews could possibly win, from a total of 24 to be elected. They were the following:
  1. A general slate from the Jewish civic groups
  2. An artisans' slate
  3. A butchers' slate
  4. Dr. Landau's slate
  5. The Left-wing Labor Zionists – with first candidate Yitsak Benek
  6. The Bund, with first candidate Moyshe Veynshtok.

Because the Jewish vote was so divided, there was a danger that the Jewish population would end up without a representative (this is indeed what happened). Therefore, conversations took place about a joint slate, between the Bund and the Left-wing Labor Zionists, that would assure a position. But nothing came of it, because each side wanted top billing and it was clear that even in the best of circumstances, more than one victory would not be won, so why go out of the way for someone else? Thus, each side went it alone. Going on with our own list was hopeless, but we did realize that we would be able to do our own campaigning for our own election platform. And we did. The comrades were mobilized. From the youngest to the oldest, everyone got active: with meetings, rallies, distributing propaganda, spreading appeals, putting up posters, and so forth. We brought Warsaw city council members Shloyme Gilinsky and Oyser Goldberg to the election rallies. Owing to our good relationship with the PPS, we got their hall, the Workers' Club, for the rallies. It should be noted that the election campaign was carried out mainly by the Bund and the left-wing Labor Zionists. The business owners' slates and private slates were hardly noticed.

By the way, I want to pass along an episode from this election campaign that will give an idea of what “propaganda” was like then in our city. The neighboring Bund group in Skierniewice had an “illustrated” poster that they had made for elections for their city council. They had not thrown it out after the elections but saved it so we would have another chance to use it. The poster depicted a large ox, each of whose legs symbolized a different party. The ox was poised to attack. It was attacking a worker who stood for the Bund, and it was issuing a command: “Everybody against the Bund.” The comrades from Skierniewice undoubtedly thought this picture had artistic merit, and they gave us the poster on the condition that we return it – with the ox – in once piece. If our relations with the other parties had been different, our opponents surely would not have allowed us the leeway to post such “powerful” propaganda against them.

We agreed to take care of this treasure. We hung the poster at the corner of First of May and Fabryczna Streets, on the house of Khaym the Philosopher – a strategically good place in the heavily Jewish residential area. For two days around the clock, our comrades stood watch so that, God forbid, no damage should be done to our powerful work of propaganda. After the voting on election day, we took the poster down and returned it in one piece to the Skierniewice comrades.

The election results were what one would expect: no one from the Jewish slates got enough votes to win. Among Polish voters, the Socialist Party won a big victory, receiving an absolute majority. I want to note that from then on, Mr. Herman Gomolinsky's role as self-appointed representative of the Jews was finished. He was the director of the grade school for Jewish children. He had no relationship at all with Jewish life, either with his leadership or with his appearance. A fat, clean-shaven man of medium height, he looked like a real Pole. He had three sons. One was a high officer in the Polish army. The second, Max, was a leader of the PPS, who was considered by them to be a good speaker. But when the parties participated in the elections in 1927, Herman Gomolinsky, heretofore always the “representative” of the Jews, was removed from community life. The same thing happened in the kehila. Then there were the Oxner brothers (they were uncles of Dr. Leon Shifman, who was from Zyrardow but lived in Lodz, and was a leader of the Left-wing Labor Zionists and vice-president of the Lodz city council). The Oxners always played up their wealthy background and their close relations with the high-ups of Polish society. Now, because the Jewish parties were becoming active, they were removed from their roles as representatives of the Jewish community.

Although we in the Bund were not represented in the city council, we still had a certain ability to intervene in cases of need, an ability that was reinforced by our friendly relations with the Polish socialists. That is what happened in 1929. It was a hard winter, a crisis-ridden, cold year. In the poor Jewish homes, people were literally freezing from the cold. The city council undertook a project to assist with very cheap (or for some families, free) supplies of coal. Along with other groups, we received a certain amount of coal. It was delivered to us in our office, where we distributed it.

Relations between Jews and Poles

Relations between the Jewish and Polish population in Zyrardow were more bearable than in the rest of Poland. It is a fact that students from Zyrardow who went away to study became anti-Semitic activists, but when they came back home they got quiet. Here there was no atmosphere for their hooligan, anti-Jewish displays. The following shows how the Zyrardow Jewish population organized to “teach a lesson” to an anti-Semite who tried to insult the Jews.

There was an alderman on the city council – Mishkovski – who was a member of the Endecja[8]. People found out that he had insulted Jews during an address at one of the council meetings. This Mishkovsky was the owner of the “Terra” movie theater, and also of the biggest house in the city, which was known as “Krastin's House” (inherited from his father-in-law, Krastin). A meeting was held of all the Jewish parties and it was decided to boycott the theater. The Jewish population was notified of the decision. Pickets were placed around the building to make sure Jews did not violate the boycott. Miskovsky was informed about it and the reasons for it.

We should note here that although Jews were quite a small percentage of the population, they were most of moviegoers. In addition, big groups of Jews attended every show from neighboring Viskit (six kilometers from Zyrardow), where there was no movie theater. People from Viskit had the habit of coming to Zyrardow every Saturday in the daytime to enjoy themselves, and in the evening going to the movies.

The boycott lasted a few weeks. The owner tried to break it with harassment and with police, who arrested the Jewish pickets. This did not help at all. In the end, Mishkovsky sent a go-between to apologize; he said his words had not been meant to insult the Jews. He asked what the conditions would be to call off the boycott. We demanded a large amount for Jewish causes, and that he publish an apology in the newspapers. He was totally forthcoming with the money, but categorically refused to put an announcement in the papers. In the end an agreement was reached. He donated the movie theater completely without charge, and we had a performance of The Seven Who Were Hanged[9]. Proceeds went to the garment workers' union, which was united then. Note that the action against these anti-Semitic words was led first of all by the workers' groups, by youth from the various organizations. And they were the biggest moviegoers. The outcome of the action, in which an anti-Semite was taught a lesson in a united manner, was received with great satisfaction by the Jews. It was also a warning that in Zyrardow one had to be careful about making anti-Semitic utterances.

Speaking about anti-Semitism in our area, I want to convey another fact. This happened in the 1930s. After Hitler came to power, biological anti-Semitism blossomed and was even supported by the Pilsudski government. Cities and towns experienced the first of the infamous and “unfortunate” excesses: attacks on markets and destruction of vendors' stalls, Jews being driven out of higher education, and so on.

From the Bund Central Committee, we received large red posters bearing a message to the Polish people not to let themselves get involved with expressions of anti-Semitism. We went to the police commandant as a delegation to get permission to hang the posters in the city. I went with Comrade Yitsik Kirshboym. The name of the chief of police in Zyrardow was not well known; he was commonly referred to by his nickname, “Marsh Skok,” because that was his favorite expression[10]. He used to shoo everyone away with the phrase: “Marsh skok”, which meant, “Go away! Go to hell! And if you don't you'll have your bones broken.”

When we arrived at the police commissariat we were received by the police officer on duty, who took our posters to the commissar. Not much time went by before “Marsh-Skok” came out in a rage: “What do you mean? What were you thinking?” He showed us the door and chanted his litany: “Marsh skok.” We hadn't even had time to leave the commissariat when he called us back, ordered us to wait, and went back in his office. This lasted for a long time. Then he came out calmly, and announced that inasmuch as the posters had no commercial or literary content that would require a fee to hang them, we should go to the city council, which would stamp them for free. Then we could post them, since they were printed legally in Warsaw (the printer's name and address always appeared on posters). A few days later, we heard that the poster had been confiscated by the Warsaw commissar, and that comrades had been arrested in several cities. What about us? Everything went smoothly – presumably because Marsh Skok did not want to embarrass himself by letting on that he himself had given permission to hang the posters.

In my memoirs I have dwelt on the activity of the Bund, in which I was active. Even so, I see before my eyes everyone – not just “my” offices and “our” comrades and “our own” actions. Everybody from my generation, no matter what organization he or she belonged to, did their work with total faith, with deep belief that this was the best way to serve those ideals which seemed to be the real and only truth. We were indeed faithful, and in our joyous faith we were often stubborn. Now, with the perspective of time and distance – and now that murderers have slaughtered them all – each and everyone is dear and beloved. So is every place that bubbled with their youthful energy and hope.

Holy every house. Holy every street. Holy every place where people trod on their last, painful journey to death. I dedicate my memoirs to all of them. To every single one.


Photos in order of appearance in the original text:

Page 209: The Zyrardow Town Hall
Page 213: The Bundist Athletic Club Morgnshtern (Morning Star) (in Polish Jutrznia”). From right to left, starting at the bottom: Shaul Blat, Nekhemia Leykhter, Zalman Tsigler; 2nd row: Fishl Shpitsak, Leybish Kats, Mordkhe Shpitsak; 3rd row: Yitik Kirshboym, Efrim Yeshenovitsh, Leybish Shmalts, Yisroel Nisenboym. 4th row on top: Yankl Boyer, Menakhem Soshinski, Elke Sobol, Aaron-Shaye Grinberg, Volf-Hersh Yakuby.
Page 214: Comrade Nayman and his wife, Comrade Feygele Yakubson.
Page 215: Hersh Zshelekhover
Page 215: Moyshe-Khaym Koyfman and his wife, Comrade Freydl Plotsker
Page 216: The Bund committee in Zyrardow, September 1936, on the occasion of the farewell for Mr. Yosef Funtovitsh before his departure for Argentina. From right to left: Avrom Kshonzshenski, Mendl Yakubson, Yosef Funtovitsh, Moyshe-Khaym Koyfman and Yerakhmiel Domb.
Page 218: Some of the Bund Committee at the party in honor of Mr. Moyshe-Mordkhe Tsherkevitsh. From right to left: Yosef Funtovitsh, Shaul Blat, Moyshe-Mordkhe Tsherkevitsh, Avrom Kshonzhenski, and Yerakhmiel Domb.


Footnotes

  1. Translator's note: a coalition between the Polish Peasant – or People's – Party, and the right wing/centrist Chjeno Party. return
  2. Translator's note: Grabski was Premier of Poland in the late 1920s and a leader of the nationalist, anti-Semitic Endecja Party. Under his leadership, an extremely radical monetary reform and taxation system was introduced. return
  3. Zyrardow did have a population of about 30,000 in the interwar years but Jews were only 10% of the population, about 3000 residents. return
  4. Other sources suggest that this occurred after the end of the 2nd World War. return
  5. Translator's note: The Folkist Party promoted the use of Yiddish, but was neither socialist nor Zionist. return
  6. Footnote in original: More about this in the work of M. Bauman. return
  7. Translator's note: workers, mainly Jews, who made a living carry heavy loads on their backs. return
  8. Translator's note: the National Party, which was nationalist and strongly anti-Semitic. return
  9. Translator's note: a play, by the Russian writer Leonid Andreyev, that was written after the 1905 revolution and which was an indictment of political terrorism. return
  10. Translator's note: in Polish, marsz w skok. return

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