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[Page 122]

Zionism in Sierpc 60 Years Ago

by Shmuel Lanter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I was a young lad when it was proposed that I purchase a shekel[1] and become a member of the Zionist organization. This was at the end of the 1800s. I purchased a shekel and became active in selling shekels. This work had to be carried out in complete secrecy. Even my parents could not know about that “heretical” activity.

I used to visit Chaim Nachum Tanwel, where I became acquainted with Zionism, and with Reb Eliezer Wesselek, who was considered a “heretic” in Hassidic circles. He was knowledgeable in Talmud as well as general subjects.

It was not long before my father found out about the “terrible secret.” He was not that fanatical, but he was afraid that my Zionist activity might damage my chances to find a marriage partner. He would tell me, “What will people say, you are a young lad, and we will have to discuss a match.” This motive had no effect on me. Later, when the Mizrachi Organization was founded, my parents kept away from the subject and “looked away” from the Zionist heresy. I became a member of Mizrachi.

We organized a group for Bible study, and every day between Mincha and Maariv, we studied a portion of Chumash and a chapter of Bible with working youths. We rented a room from Feivel Boda for that purpose. The Hassidim fought against us. They attempted to interfere with our work, but they did not succeed.

Our organizational work strengthened. We founded a group for Talmud study, and we studied Gemara and commentaries every night in the new beis midrash. I recall the following names from that Mizrachi group: Eliezer Wesselek, Chaim Nachum Tanwel, Yehuda Leib Itzkowicz who was a military tailor, a great scholar, and a student

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of Reb Yehoshele Kutner of blessed memory, Eliezer Podskacz, Avraham Chaim Senk, Mordechai Hirsch Mintz, Shlomo Yehuda Belet, Moshe Belet, Yaakov Wluke, Avraham Wluke, my cousin Moshe Lastner, and others.

A library for the lending of books was founded in the home of Mordechai Hirsch Mintz.

*

My Mizrachi Zionist activity indeed impeded my marriage prospects… Even though this is a strictly private matter, it is important to mention this fact in order to understand how Orthodox householders related to Zionism at that time.

My parents wanted to arrange a marriage for me into the family of a wealthy kulak[2], Pasternak, an owner of a water mill. As was the custom, they came for a meeting at our house. My parents served a good snack, and we began to discuss household matters, and worldly affairs, until we came to the topic of the current heretics, the Zionists, who do not put on tefillin and dare to smoke a cigarette on the Sabbath… I, the potential groom, could not control myself, and I declared to my future father-in-law that this is a simple misunderstanding. I myself am a Zionist, and I go to pray in the beis midrash every day. We have a Talmud study group, and we study Gemara and commentaries every day…

After that declaration, it became silent at the table. The kulak and his family left, and we did not see them again. Nothing came of that match.

In later years, the Zionist idea penetrated to all strata of Sierpc Jews. A large Zionist organization was founded that helped greatly in the founding of the State of Israel.


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Poale Zion Movement in the years 1904-1912

by Ch. L. Pukacz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The following memoirs of Ch. L. Pukacz, who died in the year[3], were published in the Jewish Workers Ledger, volume I, published in Warsaw in 1927. The memoirs are included here with certain abbreviations and editorial changes. The details of the Poale Zion activity at that time are presented unchanged. The subheadings were also added by the editor.

Among the Poale Zionists in the Polish Social Democracy

In the story year of 1905, I had three friends – Yitzchak Kone, Itche Karpe, and Yaakov Schnitzer. We four held together as a group and discussed socialist issues. Our group attracted the attention of the Sierpc student Lea Kahane, who studied

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in Warsaw. She would come back to our town from Warsaw with a mission from the S.D.K.P.L. (Social Democratic Krolestowa Polskiego in Litwa) which was shortened to P.S.D. (Polish Social Democratic). The student took it upon herself to set up a P.S.D. organization in our town. From all the Sierpc youth, she chose our group.

She communicated with Yitzchak Kone, and held a long, conspiratorial discussion with him, asking him to discuss with his friends about coming to a conference.

Yitzchak Kone came to us all worked up, and brought with him two brochures by Liebknecht[4], The Spinning and Flying.

We sat down in a separate room and literally thrashed through the words. Then, Ch. Kone told us that his friend Kahane had spoken to him very nicely and sincerely about the brochures… “We are eager for the time when we will meet up with the student in her home territory, in which we cannot speak even with our eyes” – that is what he had told Kahane, and his word must be sacred.

As we went through the mountains and valleys until we reached the Dolines, we crawled deeper into the bushes. There, we saw the slender, recognizable figure of the student with her good-natured, dreamy, blue eyes. We remained there a bit, afraid and speechless. However, she made us bolder with her good natured smile and warm greeting. With her own, nice, ringing voice, she painted for us one picture after another: “The great suffering of the proletariat, the liberation of mankind from pain and troubles, which could come only through a revolution, only through overthrowing Czar Nikolai II. Now, after the prelude war with Japan, the time has come where the proletariat can liberate itself from the Czarist yoke...”

Her fiery words had their effect on us. She understood what was inside us, and accepted us as youth who were fitting for the “holy work.” She laid out a plan for future activity: creating conspiratorial groups of ten people, and bringing her an account of the activities from time to time.

We firmly became involved in the work. Within a period of four weeks, we had cobbled together an organization of over 60 members. Comrade Kahane was happy with our activity, and suggested calling a general meeting. Already by the next morning, we formed a committee and put together a plan on how to conduct a general meeting. However, there was an obstacle that brought the agitation of Comrade Kahane to a halt.

The student Beniek Niedzwiecz, who had already become involved with the Poale Zion idea, suddenly appeared in Sierpc. He detected that there was a Socialist movement in town. He found his way to us four friends, and found out from us in a very “diplomatic” fashion that we were conducting P.S.D. activities. We had a firm organization and were preparing for a general meeting.

Beniek also knew how to conduct discussions. He talked with us

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and broke down our muddled cosmopolitan ideas of that time. He demonstrated to us that the Jewish people have unique needs that can only find a resolution in a Jewish land. Comrade Beniek's words had their effect on us, and we accepted the program of Poale Zion.

We stopped going to Comrade Kahane as often, and stopped giving her reports. This became obvious to her, and she came to us wanting to know why we were not conducting any activity. We had expected such a visit and had prepared a response from the outset. We told her that we were planning to conduct the general meeting with a discussion in which Comrade Beniek would participate. The meeting was to take place in a few days in a secret location. Comrade Beniek held a discussion with Comrade Kahane, and we were on his side. Comrade Kahane left the meeting defeated, and, during the workers' songs, the organization took on the name of Poale Zion.

Comrade Beniek returned to his studies in Plock. We ordered a party insignia from him. At Sukkot, we waited for him together with the insignia. He indeed came for the holiday together with his brother, who was also a Poale Zionist. On the first day of Sukkot, we convened a general meeting with approximately 80 worker members. We were so amazed when Comrade Beniek showed us an insignia of the S.S. “Sionistn Socialistn” and declared that the S.S. is the only appropriate party for the current times.

Those gathered remained motionless and amazed. The glances turned to us, the leaders, as they wanted us to speak. We stood confused for a while, and could not orient ourselves as quickly as our Comrade Beniek was able to do so. Beniek's younger brother, Salomon Niedzwiecz, came to our aid.

“Comrades!” he shouted, “Down with such false saviors! Long live Poale Zionism!”

We immediately caught on and answered, “It lives!” This was supported by all those gathered. We all left the meeting singing workers' songs, and told the members that we will have a meeting with discussions on the latter days of Sukkot.

Comrade Salomon Niedzwiecz sent an urgent telegram to Comrade Yaakov Kowalski, a son of Rabbi Kowalski, in Włocławek, and Comrade Yaakov was already with us on the latter days of Sukkot. We conducted a discussion meeting in a grove in which Comrade Beniek and Comrade Kahane appeared as opponents. However, Comrade Yaakov defeated her, and we left in high spirits due to our victory.

From that time, we began to conduct Poale Zion activities. We conducted wage protests with tailors and shoemakers, and simultaneously conducted a large scale publicity effort regarding the Poale Zion program. To that end, we brought two “professionals” from Warsaw on our own account: Comrade Ish-Ivri (Sh. Landinski) and Comrade Perle.

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Strikes and Wage Actions

At the head of the organization stood our four friends who always held together: Yitzchak Kone, Itche Karpe, Yaakov Schnitzer and the writer of these lines. We formed the committee that led the economic struggle in a systematic manner. We were immersed in the work for entire days, and everything was conducted in a strongly illegal fashion.

Our organizational activity resonated in the neighboring towns such as Raciaz, Żuromin, Bieżuń, and others, all of which joined our movement. We sent to them our members, and from time to time also our professionals, and set up Poale Zion organizations in the town. Even though there was already a regional committee in Włocławek to which we affiliated, Włocławek was unable to be satisfied with us. We conducted our party work entirely independently, and we established a contact with the Polish union of Poale Zion.

The surrounding towns caused us a great deal of work. The strikes that we conducted in those towns were very bitter, and were frequently accompanied by bloody battles. We conducted a strike against the leader shapers in Raciaz, and the factories declared a lockout. This was still not enough, and they organized and hired Polish hooligans who attacked the workers on a Friday night. The hired hooligans beat the workers with sticks, and badly wounded a large number of them. The committee leader barely escaped with his life. He was taken to the nearby hospital in serious condition, and was bandaged up by a medic. At night, he was brought to us, very ill, in Sierpc.

After hearing his report, we found no other way than to send to the town a “penal expedition” from our B.A. (Bojowo Organizacia – Combat Organization). Three “Bojowces” (Combat personnel) set out with the wounded comrade to go to the residence of the organizer of the attack against the workers.

The leader of the lockout was a Hassidic manufacturer with sons, daughters, and sons-in-law. We decided to settle scores with him on Friday night, at the time when he would be celebrating the Sabbath meal with the finest delicacies. This would be a revenge for the attack that was perpetrated against the workers also on a Friday night. Our wounded comrade was the first to open the door, and the three comrades shouted, “Do not move. Hands up.” The wounded comrade noted, “These are them!” Then, a few shots were fired. A large window was shattered by a shot. The bullet ricocheted off the glass and went through the foot of the manufacturer's son.

This was an unfortunate accident, for it was decided to avoid creating any victims, but rather to shoot as a demonstration. The “penal expedition” left and issued an order to not leave the house sooner than two hours from that time, and to pay a monetary fine to the

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chief who would be designated by our organization. After conducting this piece of work, the comrades set out for home very calmly in the fine summer night.

On Saturday morning, the “penal expedition” had already given us a report, and we were satisfied. First of all, on Sunday, all the workers showed up to work. All of their demands were met. We also received the monetary fine, which created great possibilities for our organization.

 

The Discussion with the Bundists

The Bundist press was unable to be silent about the fact that the Poale Zion organization, which called itself Social Democrat, had perpetrated a terrorist act. The Bund held the Central Committee of the Poale Zion party responsible for the actions of the Sierpc organization. The Central Committee was unable to offer any clarification to the public until it could ascertain what had taken place. To that end, the Central Committee sent Comrades Shmuel Warszewer and David Grün (today the Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion) from Plonsk to collect all the necessary materials at the location.

Mr. David Grün came to me, along with Comrade Sh. Warszewer on Friday morning, acting as a plenipotentiary of the Central Committee. I, the two delegates, and our permanent secretary Comrade Itche immediately set out in a carriage for Raciaz to clarify the entire matter.

At about 2:00 p.m., we were already in the large, fenced-in yard of the manufacturer. The manufacturer and his relatives came out with terror in their eyes, thinking that they were accused of something once again. We immediately calmed them and suggested that we go into a separate room, in which we could talk about several important issues. The representatives of the Central Committee heard all the details of the unfortunate incident. Our secretary, Comrade Itche, documented everything. The investigation lasted over four hours.

When we wanted to get back into the carriage, two policemen were close to us, as if they sprouted out of the earth. They asked us for our passports. We identified Comrade Shmuel, but instead of accepting the identification, they took hold of a revolver. However, I raised his hands in time, and whispered to the police that we could clarify the matter at an appropriate time.

The policemen took our documents. We turned to the manufacturer and asked him, for some price, to return the passports to us so that we could continue with our departure, and we would not hold him responsible for any outcome. The manufacturer was very afraid, and he immediately invited the policemen into a private room… Ten minutes later we received our passports. We left the town happily and traveled to Plonsk.

We arrived in town at about 10:00 p.m. and stopped by a friend. There, we ate something and found out that the Comrade Yitzchak Parizer, a student, had come to a “discussion” meeting to which

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Comrade Salomon (M. Jarblum) had incidentally come. We were very happy with that opportunity to hear the esteemed leaders of Poale Zion in discussion.

We fell asleep exhausted and woke up in the morning fresh, cheerful, full of life, and prepared to serve our party. Many guests from the surrounding towns came to the discussion that took place in the beis midrash at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and attracted the attention of the entire city. The police supervision completely disappeared. Due to this freedom, the meeting took place as a risk-free mass gathering with open doors.

Not only workers, but also older Jews, gathered around the beis midrash. The Bundists could not bring themselves to allow the Poale Zion to conduct the imposing free meeting without a sharp attack from the opposing parties, including the Bund. The members of the Bund therefore attempted to disrupt the meeting. Suddenly someone shouted: “Police are coming!” A tumult ensued. Order was restored through the efforts of all the forces. The meeting ended with a very exalted mood with the resonating sounds of the Poale Zion “oath.”

Comrade David Grün remained at home. I returned to Sierpc. The secretary Comrade Itche with Comrade Shmuel Warszewer traveled to Warsaw via Włocławek, bringing along with them the clarification material from Raciaz to give over to the Central Committee. As they arrived in Włocławek, they were all arrested by home agents. After a stringent search, all the papers were found with them. Comrade Itche was immediately freed because he had a passport and did not let on that he knew Comrade Shmuel. I found out later that the Central Committee sent a female comrade to Włocławek to intervene with the police chief to free Comrade Shmuel together with the collected material. The comrade was Sabina Rafalkes.

We breathed freely. If I am not mistaken, the union committee then published a leaflet in which they answered the Bundist attack with regard the terrorist assault of the Sierpc Poale Zion in the town of Raciaz.

The union committee remained in contact with us the entire time. They began to discuss the question of transferring the regional committee in Włocławek to Sierpc. However, this did not take place for two reasons: first, Sierpc did not have an appropriate center, and second, our town did not have the appropriate intelligence forces that were needed for the activities for the work of a regional committee. At our request, Comrade Salomon (M. Jarblum) was appointed as a permanent professional of the regional committee in Włocławek.

It was decided to publish a weekly pamphlet in Włocławek under the editorship of Comrade Salomon. The appearance of the Arbeiter Wort (Workers' Word) was a celebration for us as well as for the surrounding towns. However, the newspaper did not

[First unnumbered page after 128]

sie128a.jpg
Library Committee in 1916
From right to left, seated: Rivka Karpe, Yisrael Yaakov Kohn, Esther Podskacz
Standing: Fishel Szampan, Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi), Leib Hiller, Leib Mintz, Yeshayahu Friedman, Zalman Goldsztejn

 

sie128b.jpg
Library Committee in 1917/1918
Sitting from right to left: Yetta Feiga Cyna, Yisrael Yaakov Kohen, Mottel Grossman
Standing: Moshe Cypris, Rasha Parkel, Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi)

[Second unnumbered page after 128]

Agudat Zion in Sierpc

sie129a.jpg

sie129b.jpg
The committee of Agudat Zion in Sierpc in the year 5779 / 1919 at the
departure of the committee member Yitzchak Zommer to army work
Sitting from right to left: Tzerl Bergzon, Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi), Yitzchak Zommer, Yeta Feiga Cyna
Standing from right to left: Fishel Szampan, Hinda Roza Atlas, Mendel Blum, Yechiel Moshe Sendrowicz (Sidroni), Heja (Tzvi) Malowanczyk, Freida Ofenbach, Yeshayahu Friedman

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last long. It ceased publication after a few editions. Despite the absence of the newspaper that would bind the members together, the party work was conducted in a wide arena.

Our Sierpc professionals, comrade Ish-Ivri and comrade Perle, were sent out to the surrounding towns as lecturers. Comrade Salomon was a frequent guest lecturer for us. I wish to mention a few characteristic episodes from that time:

At that time, it was simply a holy duty that if a party invited an opposing group to a discussion meeting, nobody would be permitted to refuse.

Once, the Bund came and invited us to a discussion. At that time, our organization numbered over 150 male and female members. Even though we were a large organization, we had never refused a discussion. This time as well, even though we were concerned that the Bund might be able to convince the simple workers about their ideas, we did not refuse. In order to ensure our victory, we requested that the union committee provide us with responsible speakers. This time, we knew that a significant Bundist, named “Lasal the Second”[5], was coming.

Comrade Salomon had debated with “Lasal” and won in Kutno, Plock and Włocławek. Therefore, we asked the union to send Comrade Salomon (M. Jarblum) to us as well. The union office took our request into consideration and immediately informed us that Comrade Salomon was coming to the designated location.

We set up the discussion meeting in a private home. Over 50 members came. “Lasal” of the Bund did not come. A different speaker came, who talked about Marxism. After a 15-minute speech, he declared that he had finished speaking about the theory of Marxism, and now we could begin the discussion. In fact, there was nobody to oppose him. At the end, Comrade Salomon spoke about Marxism and the Jewish question. His performance was enthusiastically received by the entire audience with the shouts “Long live Poale Zion,” and the meeting ended.

The following is a second characteristic episode: On the holiday of Passover, the students Beniek and Fetel Gorfinkel, Mietek Glazer, Rivche Tac and Esther Grobard came for their vacation. They were all Bundists and they made efforts to secretly win over several members of our ranks. The student Bundists had an influence on a certain number of our members who were unable themselves to give an answer to the contentious questions between Bund and Poale Zion.

We knew that the student Bundists were conducting their agitation with our members behind closed doors. The best members of Poale Zion who could knock down the Bundist claims were not let in.

We consulted about how to

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react, and decided to send two members of our committee accompanied by our “B.A.”[6] to demand from the Bundists the possibility of participating in the discussion, as was the custom of all parties.

We issued that declaration on the spot, once we arrived. They responded through the door with a refusal. Within a few minutes, our “bojowkas[7] succeeded in breaking through the door and taking control. Our two designated members entered and declared before the gathering that the Bundist students had conducted themselves in an improper manner by conducting their agitation behind closed doors Our declaration had its effect, and the meeting was disbanded.

The student Bundists invited us to an open discussion. We accepted the invitation and asked the union committee to send us a good speaker for the latter days of Passover[8].

At 2:00 p.m. sharp, on the first day of the latter days of Passover, over 80 male and female members had already gathered in a grove behind the town. At the designated time, the speaker, Comrade Abosh, a 16-year-old youth with a sharp tongue, arrived via a side route with Comrade Pukacz. Comrade Pukacz opened the meeting and Comrade Abosh began his speech. Everyone, including the opponents, was enthused with the content-rich speech. Nobody spoke in opposition except for a young lad who asked, “What will be done with the Palestinian swamps and frogs which bring yellow fever with them?” Comrade Abosh gave a very succinct answer, and everyone remained still and rejoiced. After the meeting, we arranged ourselves in rows, and marched to the city and then through various alleyways singing workers' songs.

 

Persecutions, Searches and Arrests

That activity of the Poale Zion in Sierpc, who often demonstrated in the streets singing workers's songs, attracted the attention of the Czarist police, who began to conduct searches of our members. Once, during such a search, the Polish union committee of Poale Zion, which was located in Łodz at that time, almost failed. During the search, the entire correspondence that was conducted with the union office was captured. We received all the documents back from the police chief in return for two golden coins[9].

A second serious failure took place when we conducted an action in the town of Bieżun. Due to its proximity to the city of Sierpc (15 kilometers), we set out for a walk on a fine summer day. The four-member committee participated in the walk – Comrade Gross, a military tailor, and the two professionals Ish-Ivri and Perle. Together we were a group of seven members.

When we had finished our work in Bieżun and set out in a wagon to return to Sierpc, we encountered a mounted soldier near the village of Nadólnik. Immediately behind him was an entire military unit with police, which surrounded us. The soldiers pointed their guns at us, and waited for a command from the most senior

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police commissar. The commissar ascended our wagon and declared in the name of the highest authorities that they had been sent by the authorities to conduct a search. He first asked Comrade Ish-Ivri (Sh. Landinski) to come down. They found two Russian text books on him.

Simultaneously, a soldier searched through the straw on the wagon and found two revolvers that we had taken along with us, and some written material. Comrade Gross, an acquaintance of the soldier, promised to sew him a pair of soldier's trousers if he would be quiet about this. The soldier accepted. Comrade Gross pretended to have a stomach ache and asked the soldier to accompany him into the grove… There, Gross buried the two notebooks of written material in the sand. Thus, the search produced no results for the police.

Surrounded by the police and soldiers with pointed guns, we were taken through the city to the town hall. The entire city was in a state of agitation. Good friends were sorry and, on the other hand, those with whom we conducted a day-to-day struggle were happy that they were once and for all freed from the strikers.

The police commissar went to the town hall. The higher authorities were waiting there. They took the report of the search and immediately freed us, since they did not have any grounds for holding us. Only Comrade Landinski – Ish-Ivri – received an order to leave the city “on his own free will.”

*

The dark clouds came over us more strongly and, as autumn came, we began to feel gloomy in our hearts when we received news on occasion that measures were taken against the revolutionaries in various places. The best leaders were hanged, sentenced to life in prison, or exiled to Siberia. Thus, the light of the workers' movement was weakened.

Our activity was also paralyzed on account of this situation. Our professionals, Comrade Ish-Ivri and Perle, left Sierpc, where arrests of Poale Zion activists were taking place. Comrade Bekman was arrested and sentenced to several years in prison, but he fortuitously ended up in Paris.

During that difficult and frightful time, the majority of our membership was made up of Orthodox youths. They would go to the beis midrash every day to pray and put on tefillin. Rumors came to us that a certain portion of our members, who had at one time blindly considered all the commands of our committee to be holy, were preparing to take revenge against those members who “seduced” them, and thereby atone for their sin against G-d. For a certain time, we had to protect ourselves and refrain from making ourselves overly conspicuous, until finally the matter was put to sleep in its entirety, and all the threads of party activity were torn up. From the four friends who stuck together and led the Poale Zion movement in Sierpc, Yitzchak

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Kone and Itche Karpe left for the Land of Israel, Yaakov Schnitzer left for America, and I remained alone.

Being alone for a long time, in 1910 I joined up with two other isolated individuals, a Bundist and an S.S. person. The three of us had the idea that, since the present time did not present a wide arena for party activity, we should form a culture center. We decided to take steps to create a library in Sierpc. We approached the authorities to obtain the appropriate permits. Within a few evenings, we had collected the necessary financial means. Later, we rented a premises, purchased books, and thereby created the first legal Jewish cultural institution in Sierpc.

I took upon myself almost the entire management of the library. By 1912, the library was established at such a level where it had a large number of Yiddish books, a respectable number of Polish books, a fine, orderly reading hall, and a superb inventory. This was the finest institution of the Jewish community in Sierpc. In 1912, I left Sierpc for private reasons and went to America.


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The Activities of the Leftist Poale Zion

by Yosef David Wajsrore

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Leftist Poale Zion played an important role in Jewish societal life in Sierpc. Many youths, including those from religious and Hassidic homes, gathered at the premises of the Leftist Poale Zion every evening to spend time together after a hard day of work. From far away, one could hear their songs, which imbued strength and hope into hearts of the working youth, who were raised in poor homes and had to go to work in their early youth.

Friday nights were turned into major cultural evenings with discussions on various issues. Very often, there were exquisite evenings when every member was able to ask questions about issues that were on his mind, and receive answers.

The Poale Zion had a fine library and a dramatic club led by Moshe Gutstat and Itche Binem Rosenberg.

The two Poale Zionist activists were known not only within the circles of their party, but also within the broader Sierpc society. They conducted a struggle for their Poale Zionist principles within the city council and the Jewish community. The organization also maintained a sports club, where the working youth could stretch their shoulders after a hard day of work at the machine or the workbench.

Aside from the aforementioned members, Eliahu Grossman, Mendel Goldsztejn and others from all segments of the population who held

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the movement in esteem were active in Poalei Zion.

I will take the opportunity to mention a fact that shows how far the Sierpc youth went with helping each other:

We, a group of six friends: Aba Licht, Moshe Licht, Ber Flato, Moshe Meir Osteszewer, Berl Meir Najstadt and I, worked for Holender the gaiter maker. When he later became sick, traveled to Paris to convalesce, and died there during the operation, we six youths worked for a year without pay so that his wife and children would have what to live on.


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The Bundist Movement in Sierpc

by Avraham Gordon, Brasilia

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

The Beginning of the Sierpc Bund

The organization of the Bundist movement in Sierpc had already begun by the year 1905. However, since the Czarist authorities suppressed the entire political life after the infamous October Manifesto of 1905, the Bundist organization was also liquidated.

First in 1916, at the time of the First World War when the city was occupied by the Germans, the first illegal meeting took place during Passover of that year in the home of A. Gordon, in which 22 workers took part, including tailors, shoemakers, and several members of the intelligentsia. At the meeting, the importance of organization into a political party was discussed, and it was decided to found a Bundist organization in the city of Sierpc. A committee of five members was selected, and the illegal work began.

 

Lectures and Cultural Activity

The first tasks of the newly founded Bundist organization were to: establish contact with the central committee in Warsaw, disseminate the party publication Di Lebnsfragen, set up a lecture club every Sabbath, illegally conduct educational clubs, bring in lecturers from the larger cities, conduct readings, and conduct cultural events.

A decision was made to participate in the regional Bundist conference in Włocławek that was to take place shortly.

The regional conference in Włocławek brought a great deal of life to our work. We began to disseminate more of Di Lebnsfragen as well as other illegal publications. Our influence in the city strengthened. We obtained new members and sympathizers.

 

The First Open Meeting Hall and Professional Union

When the German attacks

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on the battlefields began and we already felt that they were beginning to enter the city, we quickly decided to rent a meeting hall and to legalize ourselves. The first Bundist meeting hall was at Baruch Konenbrand's home opposite the old beis midrash.

The Germans left the city completely, and the Poles declared the independence of Poland and conducted themselves with anti-Semitism and hooliganistic attacks. A bit later, when life had already begun to normalize and the decree regarding electing city councils throughout Poland was issued, Sierpc also prepared for the city council elections.

The Bund turned to the Leftist Poale Zion and the Communists regarding an organizational conference that would deal with the question of electoral representatives and the possibility of presenting a united list. The conference took place but produced no results, and the Bund entered the city council elections independently with its own Bundist candidate list.

At the same time, the Bund turned to the Leftist Poale Zion, the Communists and the General Zionists regarding creating a general professional union. A conference took place in the Bund headquarters, at which a decision was taken to organize a large general meeting of all the trades. At the general meeting at the Bund headquarters, with the participation of 200 workers, a unanimous decision was taken to form the “General Professional Union.” A committee of five members from all the directions was elected, under the chairmanship of A. Gordon. The secretary was the teacher Kohn.

The professional union developed well and was active during the city council elections.

 

Bundist Activity on the City Council and the Struggle Against Anti-Semitism

As in various other cities, the Bund had electoral list number four. We also took number four in the Bundist electoral list in Sierpc. At the elections, the Bund entered Sh. Gryn as a candidate for the city council, and A. Gordon as a deputy. Comrade Nathan Tac was elected on the general city list. He always voted with the Bundist councilor on the city council.

Immediately following the first sitting of the city council, the anti-Semitic Endeks[10] began their anti-Jewish activity that involved incitement and tearing Jews away from their businesses and livelihood. At a sitting in which several Jewish and P.P.S. (Polish Socialist Party) members were absent, they took the opportunity to push through an anti-Semitic decision to move the market days, which used to take place on Tuesdays and Fridays, to Saturday.

The decree caused a great commotion among the poor Jews, for they did not wish to desecrate the Sabbath, and the market days were their prime source of livelihood.

The law was soon to come into force. There were even some Jews who had come to terms with the idea, as long as not to stir up the anti-Semitism. The Bund, however, decided to call a large meeting, and turned to all the Jews

[Page 135]

of the city to conduct a battle against the anti-Semitic law.

The excitement in the city was so great that the chairman of the city council summoned a conference of all the Jewish parties at his home, and wanted to work something out so there would not be such a great tumult, and the law would be thrown out.

The representative of the Bund declared at the conference, “Despite the fact that we are not religious Jews, will fight with all our powers for the repeal of the law, so that Jews can continue to conduct their business.”

The conference produced no results. However, the Bund joined with the P.P.S. to demonstrate the anti-Semitic character of the law and demand an extra sitting of the city council that would deal with the anti-Semitic law once again. The P.P.S. agreed.

It was arranged that all of the Jewish and P.P.S. councilors would be present at the sitting. The Endeks used all means at their disposal to cancel the sitting, but they did not succeed. The anti-Semitic decision was repealed with the votes from the P.P.S. and the Jewish councilors from all the parties. The large crowd in the gallery, members of all Jewish parties as well as the P.P.S., reacted with joy at the downfall of the anti-Semites. They applauded and manifested themselves against the Endeks.

The activity surrounding the repeal of the anti-Semitic decree imparted a great deal of importance to the Bund and to all the other political groups.

At the second city council vote, the Bund presented the city councilor Leibush Asher and Mendel Fetbroit as representatives.

Leibush Asher was a very good orator in both Yiddish and Polish. He earned love and recognition both from the city council and from the populist masses.

 

Cultural Work and the First of May

The Bund organized a dramatic club that conducted open literary and musical evenings. Some of the events took place in the Rudawskin movie hall on Plocker Street.

The first time we observed the First of May in a legal fashion was in 1918, when a First of May demonstration by the P.P.S., Bund, Peasants Party, and General Professional Union took place. Each party had its red flag and floats with various slogans.

 

Youth Organization

The Bund also had a large youth organization lead by Shimon and Chaim Jurkewicz and the Gornes brothers. The youth organization conducted literary and musical events, and brought in talented and good speakers.

*

From the 1930s until the outbreak of the Second World War, despite the great anti-Semitism of the Poles, a large-scale cultural and political movement among the Jewish folkist masses in Sierpc grew and developed. The youth were imbued with Socialist and nationalist ideals.

[Page 136]

A battle against nationalist Polish anti-Semitism and chauvinism was conducted.

The outbreak of the Second World War and the entry of the German Nazi destroyers with the help of the local anti-Semitic Poles put an end to the vibrant Jewish life.


[Page 136]

SKIF – The Socialist Children's Organization

by Chaim Jurkewicz, Santas Brazil

Translated by Jerrold Landau

SKIF, the Socialist children's union of the Bundist organization in Sierpc, conducted fine cultural work that expressed itself in open events in the city theater. The song of the workers and populist songs, the march to the stage, the threefold declamation, the performance of various single act plays – elicited the admiration of everyone.

Once, after a SKIF performance in the city theater, Yitzchak Reichgot, a Zionist, came to me and said, “The conduct on the stage and the acting of those children from poor homes is amazing. It is truly a pleasure to see the children acting.”

The children were also the first and most punctual in participating in all organization activities – the first in the club, in the library, and in the circle.


[Page 136]

The Herzliya Youth Organization

by Shmuel Cyna of Rechovot

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I recall from the years of my early youth that the sole movement in our town of Sierpc was the General Zionist Organization, founded by Avraham Fried, Yeshayahu Frajdman, Tzvi Malowanczyk and others. This was the only expression of nationalist life within the Zionist movement.

During the 1920s, the Herzliya Youth Organization was founded by the Zionist organization. I had the honor of belonging to it and obtaining the appropriate education in the path of Zionism from it.

The activity of the Herzliya Youth Organization was conducted by the members; Shmuel Wluka, Efraim Wluka, Leibel Horn, Moshe Podskacz, Mordechai Reszatka, Ber Czarka, and Yossel Prasnicki. Later, the members David Dobroszklanka, Moshe Smolinski, Baruch Lielanek, Eliezer and Yeshaya Kurta, Dvora Skornuk, Rachel Lea Reszatka, Dvora Szapira, Eliezer Reszatka, Yisrael Sosnkowski, Pesach Skurka, Menachem Podskacz,

[Page following 136]

sie136a.jpg
Right to left, seated: Moshe Belt, Henik Gorfinkel, David Manimczuwka
Standing: Yosef Potolski, Eliahu Jalonowski, Yitzchak Bergzon, Mula (Shmuel) Bluman

 

sie136b.jpg
The Agudat Zion board in Sierpc, 5687 / 1927
Seated from right to left: Yitzchak Zylberberg (Simchoni), Tzvi Malowanczyk, Moshe Belt
Standing: Feivush Kirsz, Noach Lesman, Yisraelik Smolinski

[Second page following 136]

sie136c.jpg
The Herzliya board in Sierpc, 5689 / 1929
Seated from right to left: Yuta Grefo, Shmuelik Wluka, Mordechai Jeszutka, Ber Czarka, Sara Skurka
Standing: Shmuel Cyna, Zalman Najemski, Wolf Buda, Hena Uberfeld, Yitzchak Miranc, Eliezer Jasutka

[Third page following 136]

 

sie136d.jpg
On the aliya of Efraim Yosel Wluka to the land of Israel
Right to left, first row: Ezriel Szampa, Chilik (Yechiel) Bachrach
Second row: Elya Grossman, Yosel Mrasznicki, Moshe Podskacz, Efraim Yosel Wluka (Talmai), Yosel Myuncyn

 

sie136e.jpg
On the aliya of Tova Lencner to the Land of Israel, Cheshvan 5686 / 1925
Sitting right to left: Chana Gongola, Tzirel Czarka, Tova Lencner, Aidel Gorfinkel, Fradel Mac
Standing: Sara Gotlwowski, Reizel Skurnik, Bluman, Golda Wluka, Gotza Flato, Sara Dvora Skurnik, Fradel Goldsztejn

[Fourth page following 136]

sie136f.jpg

sie136g.jpg
The city committee of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael
(Jewish National Fund) in Sierpc, 5686 / 1926
First row, right to left: Ber Czarka, Mordechai Jaszutka, Yisrael Oszulk (Yizraeli)
Second row: Yaakov Shimon Rozenfeld, Yosef Apelbaum, Shmulik Wluka, Leib Horn, Hirsch Kristel (Elgabish)
Third row: Gershon Mintz, Naftali Czarnoczupka, Mina Konic, Gutking Rozinek, Noah Lesman

[Page 137]

Chanoch Podskacz and tens of other male and female members came aboard. They were active, and conducted the activity in which they were involved with dedication and wisdom.

The Herzliya activity was expressed first and foremost through Zionist education, learning about general Jewish history and the history of Zionism beginning from the beginnings of Chovevei Zion[11], and following the happenings in the Zionist world. They also studied Yiddish and Hebrew literature, and some world classics. Special consideration was given to the workers of the Zionist funds: the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund), and Keren Hayesod. The crown of the Herzliya organization was the library that numbered more than 2,000 books in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. It was directed by a special committee that had the task of purchasing newly published books from time to time, adding subscribers and conducting the day-to-day work.

The readings and lecturers in which the brothers Shmulik and Efraim Wluka appeared attracted a large crowd. For me, it was the greatest experience in those times to be present at a reading by the two brothers. Efraim Wluka was the first native of Sierpc who traveled with a certificate and made aliya to the Land of Israel. His place was filled by Leibel Horn, who was ebullient with Jewish and worldly knowledge. At the same time, he was also very familiar with the history of Zionism. Lectures by Mordechai Reszatka on Palestinian themes and by Ber Czarka took place every Friday night as well as Saturday.

Literary evenings and gala evenings also took place, at which actual questions were presented and discussed. The Lebedike Zeitung, in which our members were able to publish their activities and write articles and feuillitons, was very popular and aroused great interest. Zalman Narzemski excelled with his satirical feuillitons.

From time to time, we also conducted literary critiques that enjoyed great success. The consciousness of the youth increased, and time had its effect. There was pressure both from the right and from the left, and the Herzliya movement was split into two sections: Hashomer Haleumi from one side under the leadership of David Dobroszklanka and Moshe Smolinski, and Hashomer Hatzair on the other side under the leadership of Baruch Lielanek, Chanoch Podskacz and others.

The memories from my young days, when I participated in the Herzliya movement in our city, will accompany me forever. We, the surviving members in Israel as well as in the Diaspora must always carry in our hearts the holy memory of those idealistic members who imparted to us the Zionist ideal but themselves unfortunately did not witness the realization of their holy strivings. They are among the six million martyrs who were tortured by the Germans.


[Page 138]

Personalities from the Herzliya Youth Organization

by Mordechai Reshatka

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The meeting hall of the Herzliya youth organization was located in the yard of Melech Cyna, on the corner of the old market on Fara Street. The majority of the young people from that time are no longer here. They were murdered in a cruel fashion by the murderous hand of the German murderers… Only a few of that group have survived.

Permit me to recall in our Yizkor Book a few of those who were the leaders of that organization.

 

Leibel Horn

He was born in 1905 and soon became an orphan. His father died, and he grew up under the supervision of his mother Pese. They lived in poverty and want in a basement dwelling. Under such conditions, Leibel grew up physically weak and very nearsighted. Therefore, he became spiritually strong.

When he finished studying in cheder, he continued his studies in the beis midrash. Together with the Gemara, he also studied “external books” and delved into the content of Zionism. He quickly found his way to the Sierpc Zionist organization, and became one of its leaders and spokesmen. However, his demeanor was not that of a leader, but rather of a friend, like a son of the people.

After getting married with his chosen one, Tova Koplowicz, he tried to establish his family life in Sierpc, but without success. He had no luck, and he moved to Paris along with his wife and child. However, the matter of livelihood did not come easy for him there as well.

They lived in Paris until France was occupied by the Germans. As a Polish Jew, Leibel was sent to a concentration camp. He spent nine months there, and was freed by luck.

One night, when the Germans came to arrest his pregnant wife, he declared that he wanted to take the place of his wife. The Gestapo men agreed to the proposition, and took Leibel along with them…

We never heard from Leibel again… We, his friends as well as his relatives will always remember him.

 

Ber Czarka

As a young child, he came to Sierpc from the village in which his parents lived, so that he cold attend Sierpc cheder and study Torah. After concluding cheder, he studied in the beis midrash. However, the yoke of livelihood did not let him remain there for long. He had to become a “merchant” in order to help feed the family, who by then were living in the city.

The business consisted of street commerce. He also traveled to the fairs. His spiritual life found expression in Herzliya, where he was one of the teachers and leaders. Later, when he was older,

[Page 139]

he joined the Zionist party. He was a representative on the Jewish communal council, and he helped organize the institutions of the Jewish community. As a representative of the community, he also corresponded with the Sierpc Relief Committee in New York and described the difficult living conditions of the Jews in Poland during the years before the Second World War.

During the German extermination of the Jews, he suffered the same fate as the vast majority of the Sierpc Jews. Together with his wife, Sara Skurka, who herself was active in society; they fled to the part of Poland that was under Soviet occupation. After the Germans occupied those areas as well, Ber Czarka and his wife were murdered there.

 

Moshe and Menachem Podskacz

These were the two youngest of the wealthy Podskacz family. Moshe was a few years older than Menachem. From their wealthy home, they entered Herzliya, whereas for a girl or boy of lesser means, there was no other place in Sierpc to live one's societal life. As was the custom of children from wealthy homes, they received an appropriate education. They came to the youth of Sierpc in order to participate with them and their education. The youth held them in esteem and treated them with friendship and love.

The two Podskacz brothers were murdered together with the majority of Sierpc Jews.

There were other youths who served the Herzliya organization with heart and soul.

Let my lines be a memory to their young, snuffed out lives.

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A token of membership in the Zionist movement. Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulak Return
  3. There is a blank space in the text here. Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Liebknecht Return
  5. There is a footnote in the text as follows: At that time, the later Jewish-American Socialist and social activist B. Wladek, the brother of the well-known literary critic Shmuel Neiger, went by that name. Return
  6. I am not sure what this abbreviation means – but it is evidently some leadership title within Poale Zion. Return
  7. In Polish, “bojówka” means a fighting group or armed band. Return
  8. The final two days of Passover are full festival days, as are the first two days. Return
  9. Finferlech – literally five dollar bills, or coins denominated in fives. Return
  10. The fascist, anti-Semitic National Democratic Party of Poland. Return
  11. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hovevei_Zion Return

 

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