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[Page 179]

Political and Cultural Activities (cont.)

The Chaverim of Yugnt-Bund-Tzukunft

(The Friends of the Young Bund Future)

Regional Conference of 'Tzukunft'
Regional Conference of “Tzukunft”

Picture Index

 

A group of Tzukunft
A group of “Tzukunft”
Standing R: Gitl Singer, V. Kostsheva, I. Gallek, Frumche Loznick, Senskover, Srebnagara, Kostsheva.
Seated: Yidl Bronshtein, Gevelber

Picture Index

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than the Yugnt Bund Tzukunft leader of that time, and one of the editors of the Warsaw Folks Zeitung (Folk Newspaper),Sholem Hertz. He had come to Ciechanow to fulfill his citizen obligation as an army reservist, to service in the army for four weeks, as was the rule at that time in Poland.

We were acquainted only through correspondence that we carried on because of the newspaper Yugnt Shtime (Voice of Youth). I was the secretary at that time of the press committee in Ciechanow that was responsible for distributing the paper of Yugnt Bund Tzukunft. I quickly went to my friend Shifra, because there was the “headquarters”. There people came to bring and get news. I let Shifra know that the chaver Sholem Hertz is in town from Warsaw.

As was her custom, she showed her joy by clapping her hands and immediately said, with a smile: “Such a guest, if even not specifically to us, we must prepare something, a bit of a lameh (which is what the Bundists of those days called a party seudah/meal). Right away we took Shifra's mother into the circle, a dear Yiddish mama, a dear mother. Everyone called her Aunt Nekhe. Everyone who entered the house such as: Sh. Grosbard, Sh. Kostsheva, Avigdor, Wolf Kostsheva and others felt like one big family.

Humble little I sneaked into this dear family, a bit of a distant one, so what? And isn't a neighbor like one of the family? -- So Shifra's mother Nekhe was everyone's aunt, and if we asked her a “banquet” was born. There was no need for special salons, as is the style today, but simply in a proletarian way as was customary then, but with warmth, with more intimacy than nowadays.

As though the news had spread through the air, chaverim/friends appeared from all corners and it was a real celebration. We all rejoiced together. The guest felt right at home, as with family.

I still remember the words of Sholem Hertz: “Chaverim, I feel so good amongst you, but aside from rejoicing with you, we have something to discuss.” And soon the joyfulness got serious. Sholem reported on the Tz. K. of Yungt-Bund-Tzukunft. Soon we will have to submerge ourselves with all our energy in important political work.

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After rejoicing and hearing reports, we took a walk in the shtetl marketplace. It started to get late. We each went our way. I remained standing for a while with the guest and he said: “The whole shtetl has fallen asleep, and the town clock marches on, as usual, ticking away.” With a hoarse voice it struck out twelve. “A strange clock you have here.” He reminded me that very early tomorrow morning I have to be at the army barracks. And one has to sleep a little also. “And I want very much to write a few words to my kindelekh/children.”

With all my naiveté I asked: “How many do you have, may they be well.” Oh, we have many. They are not only mine but yours also.”

I remain standing with an open mouth, like a true small-town boy, until I gathered from the rest of his talk that he means the Orphan/Children's Home in Warsaw.

“If so,” I told him, “come home with me, so you'll be able to write to the kinderlekh, and you'll sleep at my place also…”

What a pity that I do not have the talent to write stories and novels. I would surely not have a shortage of material nor heroes for the best and finest historical novel that would be the best contribution to world literature.

*

My beloved Yiddish shtetl Ciechanow, that was so brutally wiped out.


[Page 183]

Vigdor Kesler (Kostsheva)

The Split in the Jewish Workers Movement

In the years 1918-19, when Poland was freed form the German occupation and Became an independent democratic state, opportunities arose for legalized life of cultural societies, professional organizations, political parties. That's how it was in Ciechanow also.

From the cultural club Hazamir that had existed from previous years, and also during the German occupation, different groups emerged, with different political ideologies. From them there was constructed the Zionist organization, Poele Tzion, Tzirei Tzion, and the Bund.

Each of the above-mentioned Parties had its culture-club. The Bund -- the Grauser Club. There the activities of the Yungt-Bund-Tzukunft also took place. I had an influence on the working youth. The large library and the readings that took place often brought a renewed spirit for the youth who came from bais hamedresh and from workshops.

Reading circles were founded where lecturers, together with their listeners, learned and discussed all important current events in the social and political life. Isaac Greenberg, Mlinek, Vaveh Burshtein, Aigngold, Shaiye Grosbard, Yudl and Laibish Bronshtein, were the leaders in this cultural work.

The drama group, together with the help of the Warsaw registrar, presented theater performances. Those belonging to the group were: Greenberg, Yosl Maier Perlmutter, Noske Apel, Shifra Loznik, Faige Perlmutter, Shaiye Grosbard and others. The performances took place in the large hall of the Grauser Club, or at other locations that were always packed. The group of artists became very popular in the cities around Ciechanow and they traveled around, giving performances in Proshnitz, Mlawa, Makow and other cities. Those who helped a lot with the drama circle were: Moishe Klainyud, Faige Perlmutter, Malcha Pafa. They did not belong to the Bund, but did the work solely for pure cultural-literary motives.

In 1920, during the Polish-Soviet war, the situation declined decidedly. The Polish government became reactionary and started to persecute political parties that had a connection to socialism.

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A period of repression started, including arrests, and soon all previously-won freedoms were taken away But the work in the movement did not stop. Just the opposite, with more devotion the Ciechanow youth , together with the older chaverim of the Bund, answered all appeals, circulars and decisions of the Warsaw headquarters. Our meetings, consultations and regional conferences took place normally but understandably in secret.

The Ciechanow Jewish cemetery, the small forest, private homes, these were the places where we met and made decisions about our activities. More that once our parents would wait with fast-beating hearts for the safe return of their “children” who went out at night to paste proclamations for the “May First” parade and for other political action that could lead to long prison terms.

We also had to solve difficult problems in our own ranks. It was the period when a split happened in the Bund. It was in the Twenties when the problem arose in the Bund regarding joining the “Third International” (Comintern) that put forth “twenty-one points.” The Party that accepted the “twenty-one points” had to dissolve and become part of the existing Communist Land Party.

In the Bund and in the Ciechanow Bund as well, three factions were established: those who wanted to continue with the demand for “National-Cultural Autonomy” and accept the sixteen points (of the twenty-one-one), more leftist followers of nineteen and a half points, and the so-called Combundists who agreed with all the twenty-one points, who also demanded to get rid of all right-wing leaders.

After weeks and months of heated discussions the Bund split up. A Combund was established. The twenty-one points group was a great disruptive force right from the start in the movement. For the Ciechanow chaverim it was hard to decide to which Party to belong. It did not take long, however, and with the help of literature and local and Warsaw Party lectures from two streams, everything crystallized and in a short time two opposing Bund Parties fought.

The previously united professional movement split according to trades. The Bund in Ciechanow had the influence in the tailors' union, the “Needle”, later in the Garment Union. The Combund, together with the communists, had an influence on the cobblers, boot-makers and everything that had to do with leather, and actually called itself the leather-central that had sections in the province.

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Member's booklet of the Needle Union
Member's booklet of the Needle Union

Picture Index

[Page 186]

The tailors'-professional union “Needle” existed in Ciechanow for a length of time, and was under the influence of the Bund. The workers were very well organized and worked according to the union's agreement.

At the head of the union were: Noske Apel, president and Vigdor Kostsheva, secretary. The “Leather,” cobbler boot-makers were not organized. They worked 12-14 hours a day and for very low pay. The Combund gained influence with the leather-workers. It took an interest in the conditions of the workers and with the help of active people and from the Warsaw leather headquarters there started to be organized in Ciechanow a cobbler and boot-makers' union. The Bund, not wanting to lose its influence with the Ciechanow leather-workers, also began to organize the cobblers and boot-makers into a professional union. The battle continued. Each Party tried with all means to prove to the workers the justice of its ideas.

The enthusiasm and interest to improve the situation of the workers was very great on the part of the membership of both Parties. Finally, the general meeting took place. A representative of the Warsaw leather-central and a leather union was legalized in Ciechanow. The workers there were enriched by one more professional union.

After the legalization of the “Leather” the Ciechanow cobbler-bosses and workers' representatives sat down for the first time at one table, and not only did they work out better conditions for the workers with an eight-hour work day, but actually gave recognition to the cobblers and later treated them as equals.

The Combund later united with the communists and the further struggle in the professional workers movement in Ciechanow was between the Bund and communists.


[Page 187]

Yosl Mundzak, Paris

The 'Club' and its Welfare Work for Ciechanow's Jews

Ciechanow was a Yiddish shtetl, not particularly lovely nor picturesque, a shtetl like all surrounding Jewish yishuvim in our area, with a Jewish Kehillah, religious functionaries, social benefit institutions, etc. The small river, Lidinya, with the beautiful lawns around the old historical castle in which the Polish Queen Bana, in the fifteenth century, used to spend her time, constituted the view around the shtetl.

A few kilometers away there were beautiful Polish pine forests and beyond there were towns and villages whose peasants provided income for the merchants and tradesmen of the urban population.

In my eyes Ciechanow was a very lovely shtetl that I love to this day. And though I now live in Paris, where there are thousands of wonderful monuments, palaces and gardens, I still get lonesome for that old castle with its walls, for the old Ciechanow park, for the forests of Krubinek, Ashtzislov or Gallat.

I long for that little shtetl, Ciechanow, because that's where I was born, there I felt the loving care of my dear parents. There I spent my youth in shul, cheder, and there I had the best friends of my youth. In that shtetl I dreamt about love and of a better, more just world.

And now, when my Yiddish shtetl of birth, with the once so lively Kehillah has been destroyed by the murderous German murderers, I want to bring into the Yizkor Book all that was lovely and elevating in Jewish life there. Let it be allowed for me to erect a monument for a group of young people who gave their time and energy for the benefit of all.

* * *

The survivors of Ciechanow Jews certainly must remember the word “Club.”

What was this “Club”?

It is easy to understand that young people in their twenties do not have a desire to sleep a lot. The day is long and it stretched into the evening. There's lots of energy -- so there is a desire to create something, do something, that should be of general benefit. Possibly our parents spent their young years differently. I imagine that they spent their evenings sitting in the bais medreshim, learned from the sacred texts and hoped for Mashiach ben David to come riding on a white horse. I understand our parents very well, but our generation was more realistic, and we, the young people, occupied ourselves with other things.

After a day's work we would, in the summer evenings, enjoy ourselves sitting in the garden (near the cinema) and told stories (not about devils/spirits), discussed politics or a football game, sometimes we sang a new “Tango” but that was not all. The Polish government at that time also supplied us with work for such evenings.

[Page 188]

At that time it was officially allowed to boycott Jewish stalls in the marketplace. The fascists, without any hindrance by the government, were allowed to plaster the walls of the shtetl with notices for the population not to patronize the Jews, because they are the enemies of Poland, the endekes (editor's note: Naradave Democratzia, a Polish anti-Semitic Party whose program it was to chase the Jews out of Poland). There was, therefore, no shortage of money to pay young hooligans, who were outfitted with green and white bands and station them beside the Jewish shops or stalls in order not to let any Poles buy. So we young people mobilized ourselves and in the evenings spread out throughout the shtetl to remove the freshly-pasted announcements, as well as to chase away those who were pasting them. More than once we have to return home when the sun was already rising.

Once, returning home late at night, we heard a woman sobbing. We followed the cries and entered a house where we learned that her son was very sick and the parents don't have the possibility of healing him. We immediately decided to do whatever we could to help this woman and her son in their hour of need. The sick son was a young football player, beloved by all young people.

That same night we went to the doctor and asked him to go to the sick boy as many times as will be necessary, and not to take any money from the parents because we will pay him for everything. We did not go to sleep. Though there were boys amongst us from all political streams, we nevertheless had a common language when someone needed help. We unanimously agreed to organize a ball for this purpose. Each chaverim was assigned a job: to prepare a hall, an orchestra, and to organize a buffet.

[Page 189]

Work began: Invitations were printed and sent out to and distributed in all surrounding shtetlech. Our girlfriends sewed themselves white aprons in order to serve the guests. The hall was nicely decorated. The buffet stood ready with fat roasted ducks and geese, with baked goods and bottles of schnapps and wine. It was the first time that there were such preparations in Ciechanow. Everyone prepared themselves for a good time that Saturday evening and with the income to save the sick boy.

Dark destiny, however, wanted otherwise. The young boy died Saturday morning.

The grief on everyone's part was very great. Immediately, different opinions were expressed. The closest friends of the one who had died felt that the ball should not take place because they are in sorrow and the dead one must be brought to burial. A second opinion dominated, however, because great expense had been put out and people from surrounding shtetlech were coming so it should not be canceled. After a heated discussion it was decided: some of us should involve ourselves in the funeral as soon as Shabbat will end. The others should go on with the work that had started. The opponents of this drastic decision we gave a clear reply: True that we had organized the ball for the sick boy, but there are in Ciechanow many poor needy so that the income from the evening would go to help those in need.

In order to make protests impossible, asked the president of the Linat Hatzedek Society, A.V. Katz, to be in charge of the treasury and that's how it was.

A tidy sum of money was realized that was turned over to the Linat-Hatzedek Society so that they would be able to better assist the needy sick. They, on their part, to show their appreciation, took in one of our “Club” members to their committee.

[Page 190]

That ball was a beginning of our activities to help people. We saw that there is much good work to do for the general good. We organized many such balls: for poor children of the public school to buy milk for them, and to send weak children to rest in a sanitarium.

I recall as well once at a meeting of the Kehillah when the question of financial difficulty was discussed, the Rov Bronrot expressed that if no other means will be found, an appeal will be made to the “Club” for help. That's the kind of reputation the “Club” had in Ciechanow.

The terrible war scattered all of us chaverim and we went in different directions. I left my dear home, my birthplace Ciechanow -- on September 3, 1939, six o'clock in the morning. Is it possible to forget such a date?

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