[Page 87]Yakov Berliner
Yakov Berliner, born in Piotrkow, was a barber by trade. Until World War I, he worked in Warsaw. During his free time he studied Jewish, Polish and Russian literature. He belonged to the existing proletarian literature circles and was a regular in the home of I.L. Peretz. Toward the end of the war, when poverty and anti-Semitism made life in Warsaw very difficult, Yakov Berliner returned to his hometown, Piotrkow, and started to work at the barbershop of his uncle Pinkusewicz.
Berliner began his public community activities in Piotrkow at the end of 1917, when Hazamir became the Bundist movement. By vote of the new managing committee, Berliner was picked as a member. He immediately assumed an important position in the Bund. He became their representative in various committees which the Joint had created for the Jewish people. Their goals were to distribute relief to the poor and to assist the existing cultural and economic institutions.
In the vote for city council in free Poland, held at the end of 1919, Berliner was the first on the list from the Bund and he was chosen with three other councilmen, Rachel Wolinska, Abram Weisshoff and Zalman Stashewski. With the rise of state health care for workers, he became an official in that area, and although at first he had no qualifications, his intelligence and hard work soon won him recognition from the leadership.
He was intelligent and devoted and these qualities gained him respect and friendship from all those who came in contact with him, even when they were political opponents.
Berliner's community work brought him great acclaim and also brought popularity to the Bund.
In 1924, elections were held for the Board of the Health Care Fund and the Bund obtained two mandates: for Yakov Berliner and Abraham Ruven Pinkusewicz. In the same year, Yakov Berliner was voted onto the managing committee of the Jewish Kehila, where he was very active.
He was active in many important institutions and societies, but his main activity was in the City Council and its various committees. While on the City Council, his public presentations were renowned for their brevity and logic, but he could also be very severe
when he had to answer the Councilmen's obnoxious attacks on the Socialist majority in the City Council and in the management, which was organized through a block of the PPS and the Jewish Socialist councilmen. This opposition made venomous public attacks against Berliner's block and used common anti-Semitic tactics when they fought reforms aimed at helping the working class.
The City Council made Yakov Berliner a member of the Committee which ran the Hospital. On this committee, Berliner had to fight the Polish interests, which wanted to take the Jewish Hospital and incorporate it into the General Hospital.
Little is known about his battles behind closed doors and his success in overcoming the evil decree against the Jewish Hospital; it was in the best interest of all to shun the publicity.
He was reelected every time to serve on the City Council. The Band was not involved in the Jewish Kehila at the beginning of Berliner's thirty years of public service, but in September of 1937, the Bund gained a majority in the Jewish Kehila and Yakov Berliner, the first candidate on their list, became the first leader of the Bund Party.
Berliner remained involved with the Jewish Community until the outbreak of the second World War. The city was quickly occupied by Hitler's outlaws. The Commander of the city ordered that the management of the Jewish Community should be transferred into a Judenrat. However, Yakov Berliner refused to participate as a member of the Judenrat. He chose underground activities in order to lead his fellow Socialists and organize resistance. In April 1941, a courier from the Warsaw Underground was arrested by the Gestapo. She carried a full list of the Piotrkow Resistance members. All of the Judenrat Bund activists were arrested. Yakov Berliner went into hiding. He surrendered shortly afterward in order to avoid atrocious sanctions by the Gestapo against his captive friends. They were all deported to Auschwitz. Yakov Berliner, one of the most dignified personalities of our home town, gave his life for high ideals and for humanity.
The Legend of a Man
Abraham Reuven Pinkusewicz
Ben Giladi New York
Abraham Reuven Pinkusewicz (Pinkus)
If you remember our pre-war home town, you probably remember this tall, handsome, witty and charming man. You could meet him to the City Hall, where he played an important role as a councilman in representing the Jewish community of Piotrkow. If you attended a meeting of the Jewish Kehila, he was there handling all the complicated tasks of secretarial and public relations work as a trustee of the Board. You could see him on the streets riding his motorcycle on his way to a meeting of the Jewish Health Society (TOZ), where he was the guiding force or on his way to the ORT school, the orphanage home, the Kropla Mleka center or to many other places where life pulsated in Piotrkow. This man was simply part of the creative scenery in our life; he was respected and adored by most of the people. His name was Abraham Reuven Pinkusewicz but they called him Pinkus.
Pinkus was the son of a barber-surgeon (felczer) and started his medical education early in life. Unfortunately, after finishing at the Russian Alexandrovka high school, he could not continue his studies due to economic difficulties. Forced to support his family, he started to work as a medical practitioner at the Jewish Hospital in Piotrkow. Here, over the years, through self-education and outstanding administrative ability, he became the hospital's administrator and the chief assistant to the great Dr. Weinzier. He spent many sleepless nights tending to the seriously ill or even balancing the hospital's shaky budget.
Pinkus was one of the most popular personalities in Piotrkow, and his great talent was for friendship. I never knew anyone with such an ability to gain friendship simply by giving it. Even his political opponents acknowledged his many virtues. For example, Jacob Maltz, the spiritual leader of the Labor-Zionists was his best friend and companion. They would have political discussions; however, their human relationship was really unique.
His cozy apartment at the Jewish Hospital was always full of people. The door was open to all. They came to satisfy their hunger, some the hunger for spiritual fulfillment and some the hunger for food. I remember how he greeted everyone with a warm, broad smile on his face. I also remember all those wonderful, mysterious pieces of equipment in his place. He had a complete wine distillery and made all kinds of wine. His achievements in the photographic field were remarkable. Not only did he take excellent pictures, but he also developed them in his sophisticated laboratory. And so, this man really applied his creativity to all matters in life.
Pinkus had a religion, and this religion was the Jewish Labor Movement the Bund party. He used to reply, when asked, that as far as he remembered, he was always a Bundist heart and soul. In the Piotrkower political arena he played a prominent role. As a youngster, he already directed party meetings and various committees. As a member of the City Council, he was known as the most courageous defender of the Jewish community, fighting off the vicious attacks of the Endeks. The survivors of the Bund's younger generation remember Pinkus with admiration and nostalgia. He was their mentor and educator in the branches of Skif, Soms, Zukunft and Morgenstern. As an expert in sports, he inspired not only political and cultural ideas but also physical fitness.
Pinkus was a great nature lover. He gave the younger generation a longing for green pastures and wide horizons. Full of vitality and zest, he played with the youngsters and shared their dreams.
The theatrical circle enjoyed his great ability as an actor. He performed many dramatic roles in plays of literary, historical and sociological interest.
He also played excellent bridge. He wrote the editorial column in his party's newspaper weekly. He was a connoisseur of books, being an avid reader. He was an amateur in radio and an expert in art; and I could quote many other things that he was capable of.
One bright, intense memory pierces my mind. It could involve any clear, happy summer day, it could happen in the Wolborski forest, at the old racetrack in Piotrkow, or at the green, charming farm Kleszcze not far from Bugai. It was a wonderful thing, this summer camp of TOZ for the poor children of Piotrkow, the place where they also shared a bit of sunshine. For the youngsters, the summer camp was the land over the rainbow. There they played, learned, sang and were not hungry. Their most precious instincts were awakened. On such clear summer evenings, all these youngsters listened to Pinkus. He was the man who had brought this recreation project into existence. And after his chat, the beautiful, Jewish song Arum dem faier could be heard far and wide.
Pinkus fell in love with Hela Gelade and they were married in 1933. They had two wonderful boys, Moishele and Fishele. After his marriage, life became even more intense and stimulating for Pinkus. However, the inevitable came September 1939.
They had kept running from the Germans until they came to a place near the old Polish-Russian border, where Pinkus worked in a hospital. In 1941, the sudden German invasion separated the family. Pinkus was sent to Russia; Hela with the boys returned to Piotrkow ghetto to her parents. After the war, in Bergen-Belsen, Hela, who had lost the children, received the most wonderful news: Pinkus was alive in Moscow. There was a letter from him at the Piotrkow Magistrate. He asked about his wife and the boys. She hurried to Poland, came to Piotrkow, and here another letter awaited her. A Russian doctor, a friend of Pinkus, wrote and informed her with the deepest regret about the tremendous loss he and his friends had suffered on June 1st, 1945. Pinkus, the symbol of all humanity, had died.
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