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Home and Surroundings in My Formative Years (cont.)

Political Activity and New Splits

The liberation of Poland and the aftermath of the Russian Revolution brought in a lot of impulsiveness in Ciechanow Jewish and non-Jewish life. Political and economic strikes began. I recall the large agrarian strike with its gigantic demonstrations throughout the land. When the demonstration was to take place in Ciechanow, the joint Polish-Jewish committee sent out some chaverim, who called upon people to close the stores at the time of the demonstration. The chaverim got arrested. At the beginning of the demonstration the police demanded to disband and they shot into the air. The demonstration continued to grow and stood firmly in the marketplace not far from the magistrature. In spite of the fact that a Military group on horses chased with swords, and demanded that they scatter, nobody moved from the spot until the release of the arrested chaverim was promised.

That day perhaps the majority of precious working youth formed the uprising for the future battle. I recall the tears of joy when the chaverim met afterwards and told what they had lived through that day of struggle.

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A new wave of strikes erupted. The elections for the municipality were approaching. In the Jewish street the fight grew stronger between the working class and the others. We decided not to allow the shul to be used for an election meeting that the Rov wanted to have at the reading of the Torah. A group of us went and demanded to have a word and did not allow any election talk in shul. Later, police came looking for me at home. I had to hide for a whole week in a loft at the home of the Pravdes on the Jewish Street.

The election campaign was a tough one, but we succeeded in electing two of our people: Yidl Bronshtein and Mlinek. I want to take this opportunity to state that many religious tradesmen voted for our people since they had more trust in us. The strikes of the tailors and other tradesmen that we conducted cost us much effort and our youth spared no energy and helped in any way they could.

We also took part in the elections for the Workers Council that was established in 1919. I remember the large mass meeting in “Paraflyonem House” to elect delegates to the Workers' Council, in which many peasant workers participated and some not so wealthy farmers as well. It was a stormy meeting because of the differences of opinion regarding the nature of the council. It did not come to any excesses against the Jews in spite of the fact that the priest and his assistants nearly openly called for a pogrom.

*

The difficult economic situation in Poland, the great unemployment, the October Revolution in Russia – affected the Jewish workers in Ciechanow as well. Once again sharp discussions took place. Stormy meetings took place. Discussions went on all night. New ideas started to crystallize. Some members of the Bund: M.Gotliber, M. Rozen and others were stirred up because of the communist agitation, and started to bring material and appeals on very thin paper, that we used to take home and read in secret, hidden from the eyes of the Bund leaders.

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Tag Day to raise money for the victims of the Ukrainian pogrom
Tag Day to raise money for the victims of the Ukrainian pogrom

Picture Index

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The entry of Poland into the war with the Bolsheviks, the terror throughout the land, did not escape us either. At the beginning of the winter of 1920, one evening, an officer with a regiment of soldiers attacked the “Graus Club”, broke the furniture, tore the pictures and books, beat many of those present and arrested a few people, amongst them Bronshtein and Aigengold. The soldiers beat up the arrested ones so badly that they were sick in bed for a long time afterwards.

In a few days we put everything back in order. We went on working, arranged readings and performances and also carried out political action.

One evening, when we were preparing for the May 1st celebration and for a performances, police once again attacked the club and chased everyone out. I hid beneath the stairs. They dragged me out of there even though I was serving in the Military, they took me to the P.K.O. (recruiting office). I remained working there a few days. I remember the devotion of the chaverim who came to say farewell to me and brought me good things. With particular warmth, Kostsheva and Lazniks behaved towards me. I was living with them since my parents lived in Warsaw at the time. With great respect I recall the mother, Nekhe Laznik, as one of the fine persons, a type of woman like Sara Bas Tovim.

 

Yugnt (Youth) “Tzukunft” and Comtzukunft

On August 16, 1920, I was wounded at the front and after being in the Military hospital for nine months, I came to Ciechanow in March 1921 on sick leave. The situation in the land was a difficult one. The Workers' Organization in the shtetlech was weakened because of the police terror that was prevalent during the war. The communist mood increased amongst the workers and the poor folk that also influenced the Jewish working people in Ciechanow. At the front, and afterwards in Bialystok, where I was serving with the Forty-Second Regiment, I often used to come to meetings where I met with true factory proletariats. I began to see events in a different light.

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In Ciechanow area I started to organize the youth, but no longer in the Bundist spirit. A strong fight was held against the Bund, that stubbornly defended its position. Finally, a large portion of the Bund “Tzukunft” joined the “Comtzukunft” organization that slowly started to set up a regular organizational educational work program. The active members were: Margolis, Kersh, N. Laznik, I. Mlotzker, T. Remboim, Misher, Sasskover, Plate, M. Zieloner, I. Gallek, Z. Apel (Khlevak) and others. Our meetings used to take place in the forest near the sugar factory as well as in private homes. At the end of 1921 I, while still in the army, was sent as a delegate for the Ciechanow region to the congress of “Comtzukunft” that took place in Danzig.

The election campaign to the Polish Siyum in 1922 we carried on under difficult half-legal conditions. The police terror demanded from our chaverim much self-sacrifice and devotion. The chaverim used to sit whole nights, wrote placards and appeals. They also contributed their last groshns for election work A few nights before the elections the police attacked our election office, arrested those present and held them for a few days until after the election in order to hinder our work in that way. In spite of this we had a large number of votes in Ciechanow region.

At the same time we carried on cultural activities through readings and lectures on various communal matters and library themes. With the participation of progressive people, we organized a lecture by the well-known progressive journalist at that time and activist, Vienyava Dlugoshevsky, about: “Erev Friling” (Before Spring) by Djiromsky, that attracted a large crowd of Jewish and Polish workers and intellectuals. Academics such as I. Mushinsky lectured on “New Forms in Modern Literature” and others. We influenced a circle of intellectuals and teachers and used to meet in the homes of the teachers Hoifnagl and Fuchs and there we had discussions about cultural and political issues.

We organized a non-Party inter-shtetl initiative group of representatives from Mlawa and Ciechanow. the group organized lectures about the new Jewish literature and brought the writers Melekh Ravitch and Peretz Markish, who were warmly received, particularly in Mlawa, but an honorary committee consisting of Kuba Kleinetz, Greenberg, Alter, Kanarik and others.

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The leaders of the Revolutionary Workers Youth in the year 1919
The leaders of the Revolutionary Workers Youth in the year 1919
From R: Noshelsker, Sh. Grosbard, N. Loznik, N. Apel, Shifra Loznik, H. Crystal

Picture Index

 

Marxist Self-learning Group
Marxist Self-learning Group

Picture Index

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In Ciechanow, at that time, the great Jewish writer, Yisroel Shtern, spent an extended period, after he came out of hospital. His mother, brother and sister lived in our shtetl. We tried to arrange for him to lecture on literature and organize his lecture in Ciechanow as well as in other cities. I myself tried to arrange for the writer to stay with my friends -- Vielgalaski and Schgave, where Shtern spent a long time.

*

In 1927, the Ciechanow elections took place for the city administration. The influence of the communists was great. We went to the election at that time under the name Arbeiter Ainheit (United Workers). We suffered much from police terror yet we came out of the election victorious. We got four representatives: Nieshkovsky -- a shoemaker, and Kaminsky -- a handler in the marketplace. The Bund got one representative -- Yudl Bronshtein; P.P.S. representative -- a feldsher (medic) from the Sick Society – Uguschak. After the election we approached the Bund and the P.P.S. (Polish Socialist Party) about forming a united representation of the workers. The dealing with the Bund and the P.P.S., which took place in the course of a few weeks in the Bund's premises, did not yield results in this respect.

In the year 1928, we sent delegates to the parliamentary Freethinkers Congress that took place during Pesach in Lodz. From Ciechanow the delegates were: Balbinsky, Z. Apel and Sh. Grosbard. The congress lasted a few days. In the end it was declared illegal and the majority of the delegates were arrested. When our delegates returned to Ciechanow they gave reports of the congress to small groups. Discussions were held and decisions were made for the future work.

We also organized a cultural institution called An-ski Biblioteque, where lectures were continually given on political, social and literary themes. In the executive and in the commissions those active were: Binyamin Apel, Melovsky, Yudl Galek, Singer, Zigmunt, Rikl Misher, N. Loznik, Chayche, Yosl Grossbard, Gutmakher and others.

It is worthwhile to mention a friendship outing

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 Workers' Cultural Activists.  In the middle: Binyamin Apel
Workers' Cultural Activists
In the middle: Binyamin Apel

Picture Index

that the Anski Biblioteque arranged together with the Peretz Biblioteque of Mlawa, legally organized in the forests in the Mlawa region. We went to Mlawa Friday evening. On Shabbat morning, when we started to gather in the Mlawa Gardens and in closed rows marched in the forest, police came and chased us away, in spite of the permission that we had.

Our youth was devoted with all their heart and suited themselves to work under the most difficult conditions. In later years, when I was in Warsaw, I was amazed at the news I heard about how our youth conducted themselves during the grand trial of arrested communists in the Mlawa court house, where the main witness was the stool-pigeon Con. A sentence of nearly a hundred years in prison for those charges was given.

The youthful communists participated in organizing the large demonstration of the unemployed in the Thirties that forced the established of committees for the distribution of cheap and also free products for the poor and unemployed.

Also, the first concentration camp in Poland -- Carhuz Bereze did not overlook Ciechanow: Laibl Souckover and Nathan Fizner were arrested and sent there to that torture camp.

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Just before World War II, our chaverim, together with the Bund and Left Poele Tzion, organized the Peretz Library where the archives once were: A. Margolis, B. Apel and Yosl Grosbard; from the Bund: Wolf Kostsheva and Tchurek. From the Left Poele Tzion: Litwin and others.

*

The above-written is just a small part of the activities of our chaverim and of all branches of our Ciechanow youth that perished at the hands of the Nazi fascists, together with their near and dear ones. May lines be a modest monument for all those whom I have mentioned and whom I have not mentioned.

Blessed be their memory.

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