It was the beautiful timeless period of our misty childhood at the beginning of the century (20th). How strongly we believed in the renaissance we felt it rather than understood it. But before we could really look at the world around us, all our securities and ideas were shattered to pieces, to pieces. Our entire Old World was blown away by the hot raging winds of newly arisen nations and class systems. At the same time the old Jewish self-sufficiency and autonomy collapsed into the dust in front of our eyes. After that everything seemed without mercy, without roots.
In our minds we still lived as in the past, as if everything was secure, safe, worthwhile and would permanently remain in its place.
How can one wipe out of one's memory the medium sized provincial city with its riverside streets, the noisy timber houses, the wide branched family trees, the 'Parisian' Jews, the prestigious Jews, the wealthy merchants and businessmen, and the sturdy peasants? Jewish families had already begun to divide due to their political differences. At first in the tradesmen's own synagogues they would slowly distance themselves from the denseness of their family opinions and ideas on life, and hope that the sunlight would be let in on their own poor dark streets. These were the same underground dreams that surged through the great Jewish domain of Poland to Western Russia.
Spring had arrived in our poor Jewish streets. From the distant smoking factories of the industrial cities and the centres of Russian Jewish life, the first messengers arrived like swallows. The forbidden pamphlets printed on tissue paper the first strike for a 10-hour working day, the longhaired intelligentsia in their satin shirts and the orthodox youths with their black ringlets behind their ears, together with other romantic types of Polish and Russian revolutionaries who trod the snow bound tracks to Siberia in those stormy years. It was our own I.L. Peretz who wrote: the spring was not far away, although the sky was still dark and overcast, and the wind whistled and roared. How beautiful was our belief then.
Orthodox Jews were still praying to their old God of the past. We still married our children as if their future was secure. On our poor Jewish streets they built another storey, another storey, and another attic with a window. We quarrelled; the old branches of many families were split over our collapsing inheritance. We would quarrel over a small plot of land, over rusty old jewellery and ornaments, and exhausted ourselves with our underhand dealings and trading. The Tsarist satraps (rulers) from the lowest guardsman up to the district governor were slipped secret bribe money in order to survive. They were easily bribed they preferred to do business with Jews, who understood dealing in secret, as they had to live their whole lives secretly.
On sunlit mornings when those romantics who ardently believed in a new dawn would sing the heart- warming prayer songs - tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, the leatherworkers, everywhere there was longing, expressed in the melodies of the yeshiva students. They would come out of the strictly orthodox prayer houses of the mitnagdim and make their meagre livelihoods in the wooden stalls and workshops of the side streets and alleys in the shadows of the large city buildings. Brest was famous for it's diligent working-class people; it's wagon drivers, porters, the bosses and their apprentices. They would drink their thick black tea, played with stones and dominos, and accompany their masters to the study house where they would hear a learned man. The educated people would read Hasphira and dream of returning to Zion. The newly arisen wealthy Jewish merchants and prominent men had fashioned a world in which they would sit on the balconies of their newly built houses facing the river on warm summer days, drinking tea with jam from their samovars with their best festive glasses. They would also smell the flowers and trees in the King's Gardens, and the aromas from the coffee houses where the clerical and office workers would congregate. Many deals were made around those tables.
The bustling main street was lined with acacia and chestnut trees that grew in profusion. Over the past decades from the time that it was decided to rebuild the old fortress, and to build railway lines through the city that was situated on the border of Poland and Russia, Brest had become an important hub of commerce and business.
All the trains laden with the golden wheat from the Ukraine went through Brest, pigskins and smoked food from the Pinsk district and further away in Russia. Overnight the newly enriched Jewish merchants became tycoons they were the suppliers and wholesale merchants, and they also founded dynasties. In essence they thought that they were building upon secure foundations and for all eternity. The rouble was a strong currency, and the shine of the heavy gold pieces that they earned gave one a sense of self-confidence and security.
On both sides of the boulevard that was the main Warsaw- Moscow road there were large three storey brick buildings (higher than legally permitted due to the fortress), built in a mixture of Imperialist and Renaissance styles, with carved statues of athletic naked men and half dressed women, their private parts modestly covered by fig leafs, their huge muscles supporting the balconies.
The deep basements and large storerooms were tightly packed with stock the wholesale stores were full of agricultural supplies and machinery, iron goods, clothing, manufactured goods, and especially the supplies for the military. Elegant shops with fruits and cakes, teahouses that had cool room cellars, and low ceilinged rooms with gypsy musicians playing their guitars. Situated on a corner of a busy street was the 'Lotus of Cairo' hall that was the first Brest cinema, where the first silent movies were shown.
In the blue summer evenings the boulevards and the alleys, the square at Domski Plaza the city elite would sit in the arbours between the trees to listen to the summer theatre music in the King's garden, accompanied by sprightly young men with waxed moustaches. Hardened waiters would mind their walking sticks and their dogs stiff officers with their finely dressed ladies, high school youths in their uniforms, army cadets in their brass buttoned uniforms and the wide brimmed hats, would all promenade back and forth in noisy groups. The girls would admiringly recite excerpts from Pushkin and Lermentov. Groups of workers and tradesmen would congregate around the benches on the boulevard, or down towards the river on corners where their hushed murmurings would be heard, and the muffled sounds of their forbidden revolutionary songs. From the tea houses and their overhanging balconies came the sounds of Gypsy violins and guitars playing Ochi Chornaya and Heyda Troika.
It would happen that even on a Friday night or on the Sabbath, long convoys of military wagons would arrive at the Jewish owned stores and warehouses on the Nevski Prospect the soldiers and officers would enter the courtyards to quickly load up the wagons, there would be much shouting together with the neighing noises from the horses, and the gleaming of swords. But the narrow wooden Jewish streets near the river and the fish market were all quiet in the hard earned Jewish Sabbath.
1937 was one of the most critical years since the end of the First World War. The reactionary Polish government had tried hard to ruin the small Jewish businessmen and traders with their little market stalls. They tried to push the Jewish students out of the universities and the Jewish workers out of the factories. They therefore had a special interest in inciting a pogrom-like atmosphere against Jews.
In Brest the atmosphere was also tense. The officially sanctioned and protected anti Semitic campaign sought to provoke the Jewish population, but did not have much material to proceed with. The groups of Jewish unemployed would gather at street corners and discuss the current situation. The main question was, why did they not organize any resistance? Why did they allow themselves to be beaten and their faces spat on? They had been driven from their work and trades. The clear answer that arose was that they could certainly protect themselves from the wild gangs of anti Semitic hooligans, but they could not protect themselves from the Polish police, who supported the aggressive hooligans and would arrest and bring to trial any Jew who put up some resistance.
Unbelievable even for the fascistic government that ruled Poland at that time until the 15th May 1937 arrived. The Brest Jewish community was innocently drawn into a provocation that gave the fascist organized gangs the opportunity carry out a pogrom.
What happened? A Jewish butcher at the New Market stalls could no longer tolerate the repression and the constant sucking out of monies by corrupt police officials taking bribes to overlook the fact that his earnings were not entirely legal (above the meat quota). This Jewish butcher took the right to avenge himself with his sharp knife. The same sharp knife that cut the illegal meat that he sold. This same sharp knife rightfully avenged the policeman's crooked dealings. It was a simple murder the result of tense circumstances but the anti Semitic Polish leaders used this incident as a pretext to stir up the gentile Polish population. All Brest Jews must pay for the butcher's crime (the murder of a police agent) with their 'fortunes' and their blood. Previously organized groups of hoodlums arrived at the New Market with deafening anti Semitic chanting and surrounded the entire area around the market we must take the Jew's possessions they belong to us. Nobody will stop us, the police are with us and are our supporters. The peasants danced for joy as the pimps, prostitutes and thieves gathered with the intent of looting, robbery and murder.
When these evil-minded gangs felt that they had police protection, the looting and destruction began.
Under a half disguised directive from the police they tore off the nailed and shuttered doors of shops and houses and went on a 24-hour rampage of looting and destruction of Jewish assets. What they could not destroy was thrown into the middle of the street so that the Polish gentiles could take it for their own use. The looting and destruction began at the New Market. Under police sanction, shouting and laughing, they entered Jewish factories, homes and shops after breaking the locks and breaking down the doors, smashing the shutters and the glass windows. Mountains of goods were thrown into the street where they were trampled on and picked through by strangers with dirty hands, who made them into bundles and happily took them home.
The pogrom hooligans and their followers lost no time as the order to loot and murder was only for 24 hours, and the Jewish assets were so large. After they finished at the new Market they spread to the 3rd of May St. and then to Dabrowska St. Then they marched down toward the Old Market to the shops and stalls surrounding the market. At this market there was talk of resistance by the porters and wagon drivers, and the strong young men, who tried to organize themselves, but the police immediately warned them not to remain on the streets or they would be arrested. They scattered them away whenever they saw small group gathering.
The wild vandals arrived with the same destructive intent. They wanted to win over the Belorussians peasants who happened to be at the market in large numbers as it was a market day. However, in the majority the Belorussians peasants did not allow themselves to be drawn into the criminal anti Semitic activity, and quickly harnessed their horses to their wagons and fled back to their villages.
As the market was emptied of peasants, the hooligan numbers were diminished as their followers were already laden with stolen goods. The remaining wild animals began to fear that their numbers were too small and their activities abated however, several Jewish shops and dozens of stalls were overturned and looted, and several Jewish heads were beaten with hard rocks. Thus ended their dirty work at the Old Market.
Jews began to emerge from behind locked doors and their hiding places to see if they could safely go home to their wives and families, and to see if the murderous thugs had reached their homes. But the tragic spectacle were not yet over the hooligans began to show themselves with their openly Nazi faces the spilt Jewish blood had given them the courage to reveal themselves in their ugly nakedness. With the Nazi swastikas worn publicly on the right side of their chests they became even more brazen and audacious. They began to organize themselves into groups for further looting and violence, as the taste of Jewish blood had excited them - the criminals prepared for greater exploits.
With nightfall, the shameful dark night of the 16th May, the wild animals fouled the fresh May air. The streets and parks were empty of any people the police prevented any Jewish resistance - they had ordered that the filthy work of the hooligans should continue. They chased every Jew into their homes - the reign of fear, terror and dread from the entire day's events causing them to lock and barricade their doors, put out any lights and fearfully await any more horrors that the night might bring. Screams and crying mixed with the wild shouts of the rampaging beasts were heard from every street - bedding of a workers family was slashed and the feathers thrown into the street. In the food store, barrels of herrings were smashed and thrown into the streets, torn sacks of food, all broken and mixed together lay in the streets.
Further along the broken workshop of a tradesman his tools and instruments smashed, his crying wife and children all beaten up, so the wild looting and destruction continued through the night.
Every Jewish family huddled in their barricaded homes or where the hooligan's hands could not reach them their spirits greatly depressed and fearing for their lives and that they would never see their loved ones again. Jewish neighbours from the same building huddled together, waiting impatiently for the dawn and the horrors of the night to end. The first rays of daylight that penetrated through the closed shutters brings the hope that perhaps this is the end of the mayhem perhaps the unprotected Jews of Poland can overcome this problem of those that want to build bridges between Poland and Nazi Germany. The day brought hope after the dark night and singly the Jews crept out of their homes to see the extent of the shameful barbarity against civilized society. They now stood in the open air of the streets and heard the accounts of the past days events. There had been several stabbings, causing subsequent fatalities. Many were wounded; Jewish stores, shops, homes, and factories plundered and destroyed, windows and doors smashed, Jewish synagogues, prayer houses and cultural centres destroyed. Many Jews who had tried to resist or protect their assets were arrested.
The city of Brest resembled an old ashamed Jewish mother who had endured much pain in her life from violence, wars, destruction and fires, and who emerged from all the suffering with strength and radiance. Now she seemed to say to us: don't lose heart my beloved decent, unemployed, Jewish inhabitants, this will all pass. Although they robbed us, shamed and beat us, and left their bloody marks on us, all this will pass and be all right. Brest together with its Jewish inhabitants will once again grow out of the ruins, larger and more beautiful than before. And thus it was.
Jewish communities around the world immediately responded to the pleas for help from the Brest victims through the agency of the Brest Landsmanschaften. From all the corners of the world large sums of money were collected as well as clothing and goods. A philanthropic committee was set up in Brest supposedly to allocated the sums fairly to anyone that needed it.
However, this committee divided and distributed large amounts to the wealthy businessmen and merchants for the poor workers, tradesmen and small traders there was a barely opened hand of compassion, ignoring the beautiful appeals written in Yiddish from tradesmen and small traders asking for assistance to resurrect themselves. This revenue was supposed to support the tradesman rebuild his workshop, and assist the unemployed in their need.
But finally we need to stress the fact that despite all the persecutions, robberies, beatings, and murders, we Jews have emerged stronger and hardier than before, more ready to do battle for a free world, free of racial discrimination.
If Brest only possessed names such as Avraham Goldberg or Beinish Michalovitch that would be enough for the city's fame, but Brest also had a great tradition of rabbinical and Torah scholars going back to the time of the great sages, and it's great fame was mainly in the religious sphere. How then could Brest not be involved in worldly affairs?
Geographically Brest was not situated in favourable position for it's Jews: it's strategic position caused the fortress to be built there and for many years the Tsarist military authorities paid special attention to the city, also the Germans cast a watchful eye over the city. Brest was an important railway junction with lines to Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. To possess this junction meant an important advantage in wartime.
Certainly the Jews had their livelihoods, mostly from various import/export agencies, small traders and merchants, but with the first winds of war their way of life and their very lives were destroyed. This is in effect what happened and had a huge effect on the lives of the inhabitants of Brest, both in W.W.1, the following Polish regime and in W.W.2.
However, even before W.W.1 a Jew could never feel totally secure or safe since Brest was inside the Russian Pale of Settlement. Due to this fact it was no wonder that a certain section of the Jewish youth could not remain in the city and searched for a place where they could use their dynamic abilities and creative talents.
An example of this was Avraham Goldberg, who wrote a very important chapter in the history of the Jewish press and journalism. Not all the Jews of Brest know that this son of their city was blessed by being a pioneer of Yiddish newspapers and opened a path for Jewish journalists, as he was amongst the first to be involved with Yiddish newspapers. By the way, his first steps along his path were with the Hebrew newspaper 'Hasphira', but his connection with this paper was short and in 1906 he began editing the Yiddish newspaper 'Morgenblatt' in Warsaw, followed by working for the 'Letzte Post'. One of the founders and editors of the newspaper 'Heint', Goldberg remained as an editor until his last days. A Zionist himself, he brought this spirit into the newspapers that he edited. He considered this to be an important spiritual and cultural aspect of his work and to be conducted it with his whole heart and with the highest moral approach. He was the first Brest proponent of a national Jewish journalism. The dates of his birth and death are symbolic - Avraham Goldberg was born in 1881, in that year the Jews of Russia were subjected to widespread pogroms and terrible anti-Semitic decrees, and he died in 1933, the same year that the Nazis came to power in Germany.
Avraham Goldberg was enlightened and became convinced that the solution to the predicament of the Jews was the establishment and rebirth of a Jewish national homeland. Just as there was much support in Brest towards a national homeland, there was also wide support for socialism and the workers movements.
On the tombstone of Beinish Michalovitch, or as he was lesser known by his real name of Joseph Izbicki, was the inscription: The Revolutionary Song of the Jewish Workers Movement. This indeed was his true description, as Beinish Michalovitch was really the song of the Jewish revolutionary movement. A song of the struggle and belief that he published uncompromisingly in the battles for the socialist cause. It is no wonder that the Jewish revolutionary movement loved him, and that his every word was ingrained in their hearts and consciousness.
Even his political opponents had respect and admired him, as he was enlightened and had an appealing bright personality, and a deep socialistic faith. An avowed Bundist, both inside and out, he was deeply steeped with a penetrating humanity. Nature had not bestowed upon him physical strength, but by the age of eighteen he was already a totally convinced socialist and his conviction came from universal ideas. He was a complete Jew, and loved the Jewish nation through the Jewish masses and the Jewish workers movements. He lived through their joys and heartaches, not only when he was free and could conduct his righteous battle for the rights of the Jewish workers, but also when he had been exiled and sent to Siberia.
Beinish Michalovitch was not just a campaigner and revolutionary because he put all his thoughts and ideas on paper he became in many ways the school and university of the Jewish workers. Using the strength of his popularity, he was the first to widely publicize the problems of the Jewish worker and to popularize socialism. In today's modern media, his social editorials seem naïve, but the working class can still learn a great deal about humane socialist ethics and similar topics. He possessed the power to explain his ideas simply, and when one reads his memoirs: The Memoirs of a Jewish Socialist today, one can still find ample material, not just for socialist sentiments and thoughts.
Thus his name will forever remain in the history of the Jewish workers movement, and in Jewish history generally sharing in the honor of Brest that gave such fighters for Jewish nationalism and social renaissance.
Brest was involved in all aspects of Jewish cultural and social events, and when one mentions the lives of Avraham Goldberg and Beinish Michalovitch, it would be a great omission not to mention a third name that was connected to these two, and that was Menachem Berisha. Menachem Berisha was the great and illustrious Yiddish writer who was the Brest connection to modern Yiddish literature. Although known to the literary world as 'Menachem' in reality his surname was Goldberg, and he was a brother of the above-mentioned Avraham Goldberg. He assumed the literary name of Berisha that was his mother's family name. Menachem began his career young and had his literary ordination with no less than Y.L. Peretz himself. One must acknowledge that he was one of the most 'individual' of the Yiddish writers not only with the contents of his poetry, but also with their style and form.
Menachem is a writer that stood astride two centuries born in Brest in 1888; already with his own eyes he experienced the revolution of 1905 and the resulting mass arrests of Jewish revolutionary youth in Brest. His restless spirit drove him to leave his hometown and he arrived in Warsaw in late 1905. He arrived literally with his right foot in the door of the Jewish literary world. His first writings were printed in the Peretz journal Der Weg (The Path) it was a great achievement in those times. He was also amongst the first Yiddish writers whose works were translated into Polish and Hebrew. His book Poland was translated into Polish and Hebrew in 1913. However the real flowering of his literary career came in 1915 when he left the Old World and came to New York. Then came his books: The Link In the Chain, Sand, and the huge interest evoked by his novel: Zavel Rimmer, partly because it was an autobiographical novel, but also because it was the first Yiddish novel to use psychological realism. Menachem possessed special powers and strengths in describing psychological situations, but after the publication of Zavel Rimmer there was a marked change in his creativity, and he began writing in a style of symbolism and mysticism. His work almost completely descended from his former realism into mysticism. In his works The Gilgul and The Shepherd David the characters are saturated with symbolism and a pure aestheticism. Menachem can be considered as an outright aesthete, which can be observed in The Shepherd David although the theme is that of a genuine historical character. Menachem's crowning effort is in his poem The Newcomer in which he brings together all the styles that he had formerly used hand in hand with the realism, one finds the symbolism and deep mysticism
One feels that he is awaking the spirit of the great Rabbi Luria of Brest the exclusive mystic and man of Kabala.
His work The Walker' elicited strong reactions, both positive and negative, but the most strident and unjustified of his critics were those who completely wanted to negate his work by the measure of a political majority, because it had a clear biographical character. The author searched for ways to be true to himself: which cannot be falsified and must be authentic.
Menachem was an outstanding author as well as a writer he was also a community activist. For a certain period he headed the Yiddish press of the Joint Organization, and then he worked with the American Jewish Congress, and edited the Congress Weekly in English. His literary articles set the tone for this publication style and Dr.Stephen ,the President of the American Jewish Congress at that time, held him in great esteem.
These three figures are links in the chain of Brest attributes to Jewish culture. However, it does not stop there although to tell the truth, the recent times have produced more than just literary figures, the modern writers also have more political flavour than literary content. The modern Brest writers include the novelist B.Shlevin, the storyteller Yitzchak Perlov, Betzalel Freidman, the two female authors Dora Teitelbaum and Anna Margolin, the journalist Pesach Novick, the revisionist Menachem Begin, and the newspaper columnist Y. Mikunis.
B. Shlevin belongs to the younger group of Brest writers he is primarily a fiction writer with a leaning to the great novelists. His first novel The March on Brest is an epic about the revolution and the Russian Civil War - in this novel the writer is faithful to the historical truth. He strives to be as accurate as possible as he writes of events that actually occurred. This novel has an absolute historical value, no less than his following novels: The Jews of Belville in which he characterizes Jewish life in Paris. This novel also contains some psychological insights, but not at the expense of realism. He only uses this to clarify the whole sociological character of the book.
By his work we can judge that Shlevin is of a leftist progressive ideology he was also a member of the French underground resistance against the Nazis, the theme of the contents of: It Happened Yesterday, his new novel was The Family Biekin, about Jewish family life in Paris. In this novel one feels that the author had arrived at a new style, entirely different from that of The Jews of Belville or The March On Brest. Shlevin belongs to the younger generation as he enters his maturity as a writer one can expect much more interesting and important works from him.
Y. Perlov also belongs to this younger generation he now resides in Israel and recently published a novel: The Returnee, which describes the situation of Polish Jews. A book of stories about life in Israel, called ' In Ones Own Land, also was published in Buenos Aires by Yiddish Books. It is difficult to judge Perlov's style by these two books, but he undoubtedly possesses great talent, knows the technique of writing and has the skill to develop dramatic scenarios. From his writings it is difficult to judge his political leanings, but from his stories one feels his great love for Israel and it's people that had arrived there to start a new life and participate in the Jewish renaissance there.
Regarding B. Freidman, his literary career had already begun in Poland his poems were published in the Weisenberg collection. In 1920 he left Poland for Israel and worked there in agriculture and road building. In 1922 he came to the U.S. and became a teacher. His began publishing his poems in the Freiheit newspaper. He resigned from the 'Poale Zion' party in New York and joined the communist party. In 1929 he published a book of his poems called: Illuminated Paths as well as two books for school children.
Illuminated Paths mainly contains poems with realistic themes, by the way, one can also find in this collection eighteen poems by men and women that have no relevance to the subject of Illuminated Paths, but are general poems interpreting the first and second great revolutionary events.
Freidman usually writes for children, his greatest work is: The Path of Nottaleh the Tailor.
The two female writers are especially interesting. Anna Margolin and Dora Teitelbaum both unique and utterly interesting from the literary sense. Anna Margolin is the literary name of Rosa Levensbaum she received a high school education and studied Hebrew under the pseudonym of Hannah Gross. Her stories received much attention, the majority of her poems appeared in the book: Flickering 0Eyes, and Poems. The tone of her poems is dreamy one reads them with the impression that they are prayers in a strange way it ties Anna to both religion and heresy. Generally her poems express the fate of mankind. It is also interesting that she is the only Brest writer ever to have written a poem titled Brisk, that illuminated and enhanced that name.
The writings of Dora Teitelbaum have an entirely different character. Arriving in New York in 1933, her literary career began with the publication of her first poems in Morgen Freiheit (morning freedom) in 1941. Dora's poems convey a revolutionary character they are saturated with her working class influences, and her poems convey her belief in absolute political confrontation. She herself says that she lights up a new direction in the still blue horizon and that she is ready for a holy class war against those that want to stop the revolutionary impetus.
Dora is a very prolific writer and generally a creative and dynamic literary force. She says of herself that she is carried forward by a locomotive and not by her feet. However, she is not lacking in femininity in her famous poem For Men. From you to me my poem, from me to you my song, and the pressure of your body, I'll never tire of being your wife. Dora's literary output is very productive until now there have already been several volumes of her poetry published, as well as a book of travelling impressions'. She is presently at the height of her literary creativity. Thus we can expect many more contributions from her and interesting poetry.
On the subject of modern Yiddish journalism, Pesach Novick has distinguished himself. Born in Brest 1891, he received a traditional Jewish upbringing and went to work in a factory aged 16. He joined the Bund organization after arriving in the U.S. from Switzerland in 1913. He immediately became the assistant secretary of the Jewish Socialist Federation. He began his literary career by editing the Federation's newspaper: Neie Welt.
In 1917 Novick returned to Russia, but did not stay long. In 1919 he went to Vilna and was the editor of the Bundist newspaper there. In 1920 he became one of the editors of the Vilna Yiddishen Tog, published by Zalman Reizen. In that same year, he returned to New York and went to work for the Vorverts newspaper - in this paper he began a debate about socialism, and in the second split, he left the party and joined the U.S. Workers Party (communist). He later resigned from the communist party, but rejoined in 1936. He helped establish the newspaper Freiheit, and also edited the newspaper of the needleworkers (textile) union and Einikeit (unity). He visited the Soviet Union in 1929 and 1932. At that time he wrote the Swearing In in Mineola. He wrote The 16th Zionist conference and the emerging status of Palestine, The Situation of Jews in The Soviet Union, American Blessings, The Whirlwind in Poland, and other pamphlets of political character.
Immediately after W.W.2, Novick made a trip through Europe and published his impressions in Europe Between War and Peace. He has been the editor of Morgen Freiheit for many years until the present day.
Besides the above-mentioned names, and to complete the picture, one should not omit M. Begin, Y. Mikunis who came to communism crossing out the road to Zionism, was more of a political activist than a writer, exactly just as Begin was more of a practical doer for the revisionist movement, and Chaim Finkelstein of Brest. One can rightly say that in Finkelstein, a piece of the history of Brest was evoked the self improvement of an A. Goldberg the fighter for a Jewish national (Zionist) renaissance, and the self improvement of a Beinish Michalovitch who wrote the most beautiful chapter in the history of Jewish socialism. One cannot say how much Chaim Finkelstein learned from his Brest predecessors, but their spirit and the battle for the national Jewish homeland was instilled in him, on the foundation of humanitarian socialism with all its social and ethical aspects.
In this manner Brest wrote an important and significant chapter in the history of the Jewish socialist and revolutionary movement, as well as in Jewish history and culture.
If the barbaric and wild enemy has erased the physical existence of the Jewish Brest with it's working masses and it's orthodox Jews, the spiritual Brest will remain forever more through its writers and cultural figures. These figures are a link in the golden chain of Jewish history, beginning with Shlomo Luria, Shaul and Meier Wahl, Michael Yesopovitch, and Mendel Frank and the famous Brest yeshiva that stood until our modern times, through to all the Brest fighters in deeds and words for a better world and a free Jewish nation. stronger and hardier than before, more ready to do battle for a free world, free of racial discrimination.
I recall the printing trade in Brest from 1909, the year I began as an apprentice typesetter. My first position was at the printing and bookbinding business of the old Gendler and Sons. The sons were Moshe, Itzik, and Shmulik, who ran the business although they themselves were not trained printers. The oldest typesetter in this business was Noach Kleiner, and the elderly Stavski worked there as well. I began there together with a few other apprentices Shevach Buchbinder was one of them, he was the son of Gershon the bookbinder who also worked at Gendler's. The elderly Gelman had begun as an apprentice there and he controlled the printing press. The press operator was called Aryeh there was no electricity then, in order to operate the press one needed a wheel turner to manually turn the wheel all day. This was a terrible job, but they found two old bachelor brothers, Israel Leizor and Feivish who would turn the wheel all day long with great 'expertise'.
The second printing press that I worked for belonged to Ginsberg (Gendler's son in law). There I worked together with Yudel Pack and the Barenboim brothers, and later the printer David Katz. Orchov's printing press was mostly occupied with printing political (propaganda) material. The two largest printing presses were Rakov's on Shossenaya St., and the second one was on the Nevski Prospect. Both were involved in larger scale works Rakov's printed the daily newspaper Nashe Slovo(Our Word). Also the Kobrynetz Printing Company printed a newspaper called Nashe Kray (Our Country), whose editor was named Stern he was a very nice man and I worked there as a typesetter until the front line of W.W.1 neared the city and all the inhabitants of Brest were exiled from the city.
After W.W.1, I returned to my hometown of Brest and the printing presses were re-established. The following printing businesses opened: Ginsberg, Gendler's Sons, Tenenbaum, and Kleinman. The latter two were newcomers to Brest. This was the situation in Brest in 1920 when I left for Argentina.
Thanks to the construction of the main Brest railway station, which was renowned as one of the largest and most beautiful in Russia, and the position of the Brest Fortress that housed several hundred military families people from all the towns and villages in the Brest district would come into Brest with full wagons and carts to sell their produce. They would then buy their supplies and merchandise from the Jewish merchants. These were some of the factors that made Brest an important and large centre of trade, with many Jewish merchants of the first and second guild, who had the right to travel throughout Russia.
Therefore there were many wealthy businessmen and merchants who lived in extravagant luxury with their families, whilst many more Brest families hungered and struggled to survive.
Jews wholly owned all the large import and export businesses. It was therefore natural that the various branches of these trading enterprises employed large amounts of the working masses that were exploited in the worst sense.
Already then the workers fought for improvement in their working conditions. But these masses of untrained proletariat were very difficult to organize. When called on to protest they were very reluctant to cooperate, as the majority were middle-aged family men who would accompany their employers and pray with them at the same synagogue. How then, could they unite against their fellow 'orthodox' Jews?
Firstly, they were also afraid of dismissal. Secondly, they were afraid to break the law and would only belong to a legal organization such as the Soyuz Prokashov, the government sanctioned union of employees. Thereby they could show their loyalty to their employer and to the Tsar.
But the revolutionaries and the professional unions of workers made giant steps of progress at that time and attracted to their ranks embittered and disillusioned workers that worked in slave labor conditions. They began to form professional workers organizations based on the example of the workers unions, of which the author of this article was one of the founders.
After this the union successfully carried out several strikes that included the following:
A strike at Grosleits Hat Factory and store there were seven employees, the two younger worker/ apprentices resigned in protest, but the older five did not want to. The union used all its power to try to 'persuade' them but nothing helped. On a certain evening several union members visited three of the strike breakers with the splendid result that Grosleit stood with his key at the factory the next morning and waited as usual for his employees to arrive but nobody came. After a while he was forced to open the store himself, and in a great rage this prominent Jew and gabbeh (deacon) of his synagogue hired five gentiles workers in place of the strikers. After the union explained the situation, the Christian workers decided not to turn up for work. After a few days, Grosleit conceded to their demands.
Representatives of the Polish Socialist Party would often come to Brest. One of them was a pleasant and very good speaker named Arl. He presence in Brest was always a great lift to the morale of the workers and employees. To make the most of his oratory skills we decided to hold a mass meeting with the participation of the older employees.
In those days the reactionary authorities were very active and there was much repression against everyone that came to Brest - the governor Orgeniev did a great deal of evil to the worker's movement. He subsequently paid for his crimes with his life. His executioner was a Brisker now living in North America.
It was impossible to rent a hall for this meeting so we decided to take over the Chassidic prayer house at Domachevo, (40 kilometres from Brest). After the close of business in Brest the employees began to go to Domachevo for the meeting. It did not take long and the prayer house was fully packed. In the middle of comrade Arl's speech the shammes (beadle) of the prayer house began to shout in spite of the threats of those comrades that stood around him. There was a terrible rush as people fled through the doors and windows. The police arrived to find everyone had gone, but the shammes gave them all the details of the meeting.
We discovered that a meeting was to be called on a certain day by the employers and business owners at Bikur Cholim offices to discuss a general lock out of their employees because they could not tolerate any more of their chutzpah. On the same evening at Berl Serlin's (the employee of a timber mill) house, we were convinced that this meeting had to be disrupted. To this end, it was decided that comrade Yossel Shafir, the female comrade Chaytche, and the author of this article were to take on this mission. Our aim was to fire a few shots from two revolvers into the air and immediately hand them to Chaytche so that they would not be found on us if we were detained. The next morning in the Russian newspaper - if I'm not mistaken it was called Bresti Listok there was a report of a shooting at the employers meeting, and that Bromberg who owned a galoshes business, fell to the ground in fright and screamed Shma Israel.
O where are you now, you dear comrades, every one of you fought heroically and bravely for a better and more beautiful morning, unafraid of the tsarist prisons and Siberia.
By Hershel Pachinski
When we remember our hometown of Brest, we must not forget the role that the Brest pioneer organization played in the development of the youth of Brest. In addition to preparing the Zionist youth with training in agriculture and trades, there was much education in the social and cultural spheres, especially local politics. This began after W.W.1 when life in the burnt out city began to normalize. A group of the city Zionist elders decided to establish a youth movement of Brest Pioneer Youth with the aim of training them for emigration to Israel.
However, with the development of this organization, the pioneer youth movement faced great problems that it could not overcome, and these factors caused the organization to be the way it was until the outbreak of W.W.2. - It was the most important Zionist pioneer organization in the entire Polessie district and in all of the Kressy (the former Russian territory of eastern Poland 1921-1939). It was a working class organization that took a stand on all national and international issues. The Brest pioneer movement spread through all the sections and levels of the professional movements. The representatives of the Brest Zionist pioneers could be found at 5 Kosciusko St., where they battled together with the other socialist progressive forces for the betterment of the Brest working masses.
There were also language problems that plagued the Brest pioneer movement, such as the struggle for education in the Hebrew language.
Thanks to the healthy attitudes and strong beliefs of the Brest pioneer founders that were on the correct path there are hundreds of former Brest pioneers now in Israel, class-conscious workers who have contributed to their professions and risen through the ranks for the benefit of all workers in Israel and the whole world.
Former Brest pioneers who benefited from the training and education they received from the Brest pioneer movement have also immigrated to other countries like Argentina where they are involved in and conduct important social and communal work.
It is with great pain that everything that was in our birthplace was torn apart and destroyed in W.W.2 therefore making it essential that we should continue on our path of building a healthy Jewish life.
On a Saturday evening in the middle of the month of May, before the war of 1914, we returned tired and exhausted from a meeting in the city gardens of the Brest Jewish Voluntary Fire-fighters.
I accepted my companion's invitation to come to his home as it was the nearest to my own home. Steps away from the city gardens, we were already at the punt - my friend lived in the well-known 'Punt shteibl' that stood between the old and new Mukhavets River. My friend, Yitzhak Morde, was one of the many sons of Hersh Wolf Margolis who held many types of leasehold. For years he was the arendar (leaseholder) of the punt that spanned the River Mukhavets and linked the small towns and villages on the other side to Brest. Hersh Wolf felt and acted as if he was the captain of the gang of the riverbank workers, who would haul the timber logs that came down the river to Brest - out of the water and taken to the timber mills to be cut into planks. He would stand on a moving log and give orders on how to untie the logs so that his workers could take them out of the water individually.
The leaseholder Hersh Wolf was not alone he had seven sturdy sons:
Yossel, Isser, Noach, Yankel, Yitzhak, Peretz and Leibl. It is difficult to enumerate their assets they easily overtook their capable father. The whole city resonated with tales about them as they dominated the river, they saved people from drowning, and would carry people safely across in a storm, or row them in a fishing boat when the waves were too rough and the punt could not be used. Hersh Wolf's sons were all excellent swimmers.
Hersh Wolf lived in the isolated shteibl (hut) that stood on the riverbank with his family. Two of his sons, Yankel and Noach were professional boat builders they were expert craftsmen and conducted this business. They built and repaired boats they specialized in building comfortable pleasure crafts that were often seen floating on the river, painted in bright colours. In the summer evenings when the youth of Brest would promenade along the riverbank, these two would also be the lifeguards. Devoted to their work, they erected a little watchtower and would keep guard at night, their eyes and ears alerted like a hunter straining to hear any call for help. People would use the punt to cross over the river 24 hours a day, it was only one kilometre across from Brest to Kotelne, with many paths and tracks, none of them were really safe and there were always risks at night.
Among the workers that Hersh Wolf employed were two - Koszick and Kolas. These two were known by all especially the young who would come to the river to amuse themselves on the Sabbath and holydays. On those days the Margolis family would rest from their supervision of the punt and the boat hire, and entrust their business to the two men, who were not just their employees, but also their friends. The two 'Goyim', who spoke Yiddish, would assume all the responsibilities including that of saving lives. Koszick and Kolas later perished at the hands of the bestial Germans together with the Margolis family, because of their connections to the Jews.
The Margolis family also had the franchise of providing Brest with ice. They would fill the hospital cellars so that there would be enough ice for the patients until the next winter. The same was for the meat and milk cellars. They conducted this winter business with the greatest of energy from frosty morning until nightfall the whole family would work digging the large blocks of ice from the frozen river.
The people of Brest held the leaseholder of the punt in the greatest respect everyone knew the 'Captain' of the river and his seven strong sons.
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