By Khaye Solnik, Haifa
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
The Jewish population of Staszów was not large in number, but it was impressive in its quality. True, this population lived in poverty and want, but that did not result in dullness or indifference to fate. On the contrary, the difficult economic conditions in the town, and the special socio-political situation of the Jewish masses in general, served as a powerful force to impel people to understand their environment in order to find the best possible solution to their daily socio-political and material problems. Trade union activities, political parties, youth organizations and the like, were a direct result of this drive to understand and to take fate into one's own hands.
One of the most important factors in awakening social consciousness among the town's working class youth was the Poalei Zion (Labor Zionist) organization, which could take credit for many gains in the realm of organizing the workers to fight for an eight-hour workday, and for better social and occupational health and safety conditions in general. The party's widespread enlightenment efforts penetrated into wider and wider spheres, and exerted its influence through word and deed.
The party's central focus was on union activity, and it sent its best personnel to serve as delegates to the union leadership. Quite prominent in this area was Comrade Yankev Bloch.
Whenever he had a free evening, Bloch would spend it at the labor union, putting his energy and knowledge at the service of the workers' cause. He related to all the workers with patience and love, seeking to solve the various, often painful, problems of each one. Appearing at public town meetings, organizing strikes, dealing with other [political] parties or with employers –Yankev Bloch had his hand in everything. He carried out every mission successfully, to the degree permitted by the existing objective conditions.
In accordance with the principle: Solidarity is the best guarantee of success, the party did not limit itself to working with the Jewish population, but conducted its organizing and enlightenment activities also among the town's Polish working class. The comrades J. Buchman, Y. Bloch, A. Goldflus, M. Kanias, and this writer, dealt with the Polish organization PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, the Polish Socialist Party], in order to organize the cobblers, a trade almost exclusively in non-Jewish hands.
Exhausted by working a 16 hour day, under unhealthy conditions, for very low pay, the Polish worker was understandably very embittered. Despite that, it was not easy to organize this population, because of their very low cultural level. It was much easier to incite them –to their own detriment – against the Jews, as their supposed national enemy, than to convince them, for their own benefit, to work together in the social arena with Jewish workers for their common interests. But the Poalei Zion did not cease its strenuous efforts to bring together the backward Polish element, to make clear to him his difficult situation, convincing him of the real possibility of improving his condition and encouraging him, through the trade union, to join in a united struggle for better conditions.
Often these gatherings were disrupted by the Polish police, armed with guns and billy clubs, who, at every sentence that displeased them, threatened the speakers with breaking up the meeting and arresting them. Despite the persecution by the police, and the above mentioned difficulties, which, justifiably or not, drew their nourishment from the long, deep- rooted antagonism between Jews and Poles, we managed to carry on with our important work, trying at these meetings to clarify the questions of the daily struggle for bread and freedom.
The working class youth of Staszów, who were unable for lack of financial resources, to continue their studies beyond elementary school, never stopped following all the current events, and closely studying scholarly texts, in seeking an answer to tormenting problems. The life of Jewish young people, who not only had to support themselves, but often also their poor parents and overburdened families, provided fertile ground for social and political consciousness. To transform this consciousness into an organized and socially transformative power – this is what the young worker sought and found in the ranks of Poalei Zion.
When the party was declared illegal, it reappeared under the name Society for Evening Classes, and continued its organizing activity. But, in order not to be surprised by the police, it was absolutely necessary to set up a system of lookouts, complete with a pre-determined signal, all along the entire length of Tume Street [Jewish name for Kościelna, or Church Street], where our premises were located.
At that time, our party meetings took place in private homes, each time in a different place. Also, the party's circulars and appeals, which urged the population to fight against economic and socio-political oppression, were produced and distributed in secret. Despite these security measures, the police tirelessly continued their wild dance and, hovered like birds of prey, trying to catch people.
Every meeting they uncovered led to arrests and confinement in the koza [town jail]. The party's executive committee-- consisting of J. Buchman, Y. Bloch, A. Goldflus, M. Czapnik, and Kh. Solnik – paid no attention to the difficulties. They not only continued with their work, but expanded it, establishing contact with neighboring towns like Stopnica, Chmielnik, Pacanów, Iwaniska, and others, in order, with the help of our members, to strengthen the local branches.
Yung Bor, a youth organization established by the party, recruited children from age 10 and up. Mainly, these children came from the poorest segments of the Jewish population, from homes often consisting of only one room, in which there lived a large family, and which at the same time served as a workshop. These children of poverty, who were deprived of the most basic necessities, and grew up in hunger and cold, were, through the hard work of the organization, transformed into future party activists and cultural representatives of the town. Those participating in the educational program of Yung Bor were: Sh. Erlichman, Y. Bloch, T. Wassercier, Kh. Solnik and others.
The party was in close contact with the Central Committee, whose representatives would visit from time to time and encourage us in our political-cultural work. At our invitation, cultural figures from the town, who weren't members of the party, would participate in our cultural work. One of these was Majer Wajl, a teacher, pedagogue, and literary expert.
In the box evenings which took place every Saturday night, anyone could throw into the box [for discussion by the group] a question on any topic that weighed on his soul. It often happened, that after a lecture or other intellectual gathering, the audience went off into the fields, bursting with joy and song, marching in step. The members enjoyed these opportunities to the fullest extent, inhaling the fresh-smelling air so necessary after a difficult workday at a machine in crowded, stifling homes.
Often, our joy was maliciously spoiled by the so-called defenders of morality, the Polish police, who couldn't stand to see us enjoying ourselves in the midst of nature. When they approached us in their heavy hob-nailed shoes, threatening us with beatings and arrest, we had no choice but to disperse. But after leaving the fields, we went to the market square; chased from the market square, we appeared in the town park. So went the game we played until late at night. But we never got tired, never gave in, continuing our collective excursions in the expanses beyond the town.
When we heard the footsteps of the police, we thought: There go the destroyers of our freedom. But our convictions were unshakeable, and soon would come the day of liberation, the day when this arm of power would be removed and in its place would be established a regime of rights and justice for all of the oppressed.
In this unbalanced struggle we saw not only the expression of oppression by a different social class, but also, and more importantly, the revelation of an eternally enrooted hatred toward our people. Conscious that we were being persecuted mostly because of our nationality, we were strengthened in our determination to fight for the ideal of national liberation, just as we did for social liberation – the ideal that after so many generations of oppression would be realized in the land of Israel.
p.206 The Youth Committee of the Left Paolei Zion
Seated: Khaye Solnik, I. Czapnik, Yankev Yosef Bloch
Standing: K. Wassercier, T. Wassercier, M.L. Czapnik
By Ya'akov Buchman, Paris
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Geographically, Staszów was located 22 kilometers from the Wisła [Vistula River], which divided Russian Poland from Galician Poland. It was part of Kielce Wojewódstwo [Voivodship], Sandomierz Powiat [District]. The town numbered 10,000, of which one half were Jews.
With the exception of a few rich men, great poverty reigned among us. As a result, our town –here, I mean our Jews—lived a rich spiritual and intellectual life. Staszów had two besmedroshim [sing. besmedresh –study house, also used as house of worship] and the voice of the Torah resounded throughout the town. The besmedroshim produced not only rabbis, but also activists of the political, social and cultural movements. Staszów boasted a rich library, which was renowned even in the farther reaches of the region. Not only did we partake of the intellectual influences that came to us from Warsaw or Vilna (Wilno), we passed them on to the smaller towns nearby.
On our own initiative, we established drama circles, educational institutions, sports clubs and reading rooms. Most of our events were attended not only by our own Staszower audiences, but also by people from the surrounding areas. Interestingly, larger groups would chip in to rent a wagon, travelling 3 or 4 miles by oxcart, to arrive, singing, in town. Those who couldn't afford to hire a wagon, but who were impelled by a fervent interest in Yiddish, would come by foot from the surrounding towns. And it should be noted that often these events would start at 11 o'clock at night, because they waited for people who were trudging along the roads and didn't want them to worry that they might be late.
The pioneer of the Socialist movement in Staszów was the Bund. It sowed the first seeds. But, slowly, in response to the Russian Revolution, new winds began to blow. The impoverished population, especially the youth, earnestly believed that the revolution would solve all of its painful problems. This belief tore the youth away from the besmedroshim, and from their fathers' influence. Various organizations were created and developed, which completely changed the intellectual character of the town.
The bourgeois parties in Staszów operated legally, but we, the Left Poalei Zionists, were considered by the Polish police to be a destructive element and we had to endure much trouble from them. The police often came to our premises, which bore the name, Society for Evening Classes, where we conducted our cultural-educational activities. Finally, we were forced to conduct our programs outdoors, or in private residences, in a purely conspiratorial fashion, because in the eyes of the extremely reactionary and anti-Semitic police, every one of our activities was considered treyf [non-kosher, unclean].
It would happen that the police would drop in at our premises and as soon as they encountered some kind of gathering, they would curse us in the vilest language, threatening to close our hangout. At one such occurrence, the Staszów police chief demanded that I, as the person in charge, should resign as chairman of the Society for Evening Classes. Insisting on my resignation, he threatened me, and even my parents, with economic ruin. Not only was I not frightened off, but I served my ideals with even greater dedication and proudly spread it among the young, in the belief that by realizing the socialist ideal, we would be rid of such scoundrels.
We were especially concerned with drawing into the movement the children of poor homes, who suffered from an inferiority complex. Because of their social background, the children of tailors, cobblers, wagon drivers and the like, were considered by our upper crust to be inferior human beings. The socialist movement in general, and the Jewish socialist circles everywhere, as well as in our town –such as the Bund, Hashomer Hatzair, and Poalei Zion –fought against this prejudice. We had an impact on these social groups, and in fact, from these young people there emerged adults with a healthy worker's psychology, and Jews with a proud social and national consciousness.
We suffered greatly from a shortage of teachers and educators, as a result of two factors. First, we had a rather small intelligentsia of our own because our party consisted of workers, who because of their poverty, were not in a position to continue their studies. The second factor was emigration, through which we very often lost well-trained party leaders, cultural leaders, educators and trade union activists. All of them were children of poor parents, and they themselves were unable to make a living and were forced to emigrate.
At that time, the Palestine authorities did not allow any Left Paolei Zionists into Israel, and those members for whom emigration was a necessity and whose greatest desire was to go to Israel, had to emigrate, against their will, to somewhere else. So, time and again, another member of the leadership was snatched from us as by a bird of prey. So it was with our comrades Penczyna, Sh. Tenenbaum, M. Czapnik, A. Krakauer, F. Ajzenberg, who live today in the Americas. A few, like Y. Bloch and Khaye Solnik were able to break through the gates of the Palestine authorities and live today in Israel.
Each time we lost an active leading member, another took his place and had to work hard to replace him, by educating and developing himself. In this way, we continued to create new cadres of members, who were previously backward and limited in their knowledge and party experience, but who, as a result of their efforts, rose on the party ladder.
Of course, the comrades from Hashomer Hatzair also helped us in our educational work, because they were recruited from the prosperous class, and a lot of them already had cultural experience: they were students in the town gimnazjum [academic high school], a thing the children of the poor could only dream of. Comrade Majer Wajl (lives today in Israel) deserves special mention in this area.
The Hashomer Hatzair, which did not conduct any political activities in the lands of the diaspora, nevertheless understood that we, the Poalei Zion, were the party closest to their ideology, and they often supported us in the trade union, in cultural work, in political work, and in election campaigns.
We also had to put up with and to fight against the anti-Semitic movement, which penetrated into Staszów from the big city. We especially had to defend ourselves against the students of the Polish gimnazjum, who organized boycotts and attacks upon the Jewish youth, who liked to read and study in the midst of beautiful, free nature, in the town's public garden, and on the Golejów Road, which led to the fields and woods, and which was our favorite place to walk. The Polish gimnazjum students tried to drive us away from all of these places, and we were forced to set up a self-defense organization, in which all the Jewish parties participated. Reacting with physical force against those who sought to drive us into a cramped ghetto, we reclaimed our right to enjoy fresh air.
In writing and describing the anti-Semitic actions of the Polish students against the Jews, I recall bitter memories of the behavior of the adult Polish population, the endeks [member of the ND, the Polish National Democratic Party], and especially of the so-called [class] conscious Polish working class, I mean the Polish socialists, during the Nazi occupation. But I will write more about this below.
Until the outbreak of the war I was one of the two members of the Staszów town council from the Left Poalei Zion; the other was Comrade Mordka Goldfeder.  Despite the fact that the Polish Socialist Party also had two councilmen, it was I, who, at the council meetings, very often spoke out against the clergy, against reactionism, and in defense of the working class, Polish as well as Jewish.
The meetings of the town council would attract many Polish socialist and communist leaning workers, who would listen to my speeches, applaud me, and finally, after the meeting, they would come up to me and shake my hand for my devoted defense of the workers' interests.
All of this was well and good, until the war broke out and the Germans invaded. Then I immediately saw, actually from the very first day, the tragic degradation of the supposedly class conscious Polish workers. Only one thing remained of their socialism: Anti-Semitism. All of them, just like the rest of the Polish people, were crazed with hatred of the Jews and the desire to annihilate them.
Here I will relate the following facts:
Immediately after the Germans arrived and began persecuting the Jews, they promulgated a law, forbidding Christian doctors from seeing or providing any kind of medical treatment to Jews. It just happened that my wife fell gravely ill, and I took her to the Polish Doctor Niewirowicz, also a former councilman, with whom I had been quite friendly. How great was my surprise when Niewirowicz not only refused to help my sick wife, he didn't even want to shake my hand.
The debasement of the Poles and especially of the Polish working masses, who had so quickly united with the enemies of the Jews, was one more tragic experience for my Jewish socialist consciousness.
Just like all of Poland, which was in such a tragic way emptied of all of its Jews, so is Staszów today free of Jews. There is no longer any Jewish life there, and certainly no Jewish youth, who used to walk while singing along the Golejów Road to the fields and woods and enjoy their best hours there. The trees of the forest would listen to the voices and to the laughter of the Jewish young people, who in the lap of nature, dreamed of liberating the world, loved, and felt happy. This Jewish youth was cut down, killed and the forest there has been orphaned; it remembers and thinks about those golden dreams and days, which were so tragically cut off.
[p 209] A group of members of Poalei Zion
[p210] Left Poalei Zion with Yankev Buchman at its head
By Yeshayohu Lowczyk, Montevideo
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
In the heroic battle fought by the united workers' movement in Poland in the period after the First World War, the workers and masses of Staszów –inspired by the October Revolution [Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, 1917], and other factors – contributed an interesting chapter on the stubborn, fearless struggle for a better tomorrow.
In the time period we are talking about, the Jewish community in Staszów was among the most developed –both socio-politically and culturally—in the Kielce area. Who does not remember how our communal life bubbled over with [political] parties, institutions, choruses, clubs, schools, libraries, reading rooms, etc.? Who can forget, how after work, our books under our arms, we would fill the streets, gardens and fields with song and conversation, that resounded for kilometers around? And the meetings, lectures, and masuvkes [outdoor gatherings] of the various political orientations, from extreme right to extreme left.
When a lecturer appeared in town –and we used to bring in the best speakers – the biggest locations, mostly the big besmedresh, would be packed with listeners, who lusted after knowledge and information, following everything that was going on in the wide world. Often we invited speakers to secret meetings, of course in private homes, given the danger of discovery by the police, which poked its nose into every corner.
And the ardor and fanaticism of the election battles for the Sejm (Parliament), or for the town council, during which each party tried to outdo the others with its agitation and sensational sloganeering! I remember how, during one such election, one party posted on banners this slogan, among others: Do you want bread, a home, work? Then vote for our slate!
Against the background of this politically impassioned Jewish community, the Jewish workers of Staszów – almost 100% of them organized in strong trade unions and other organizations and institutions – carried out successful strikes, taking over an array of socio-economic and political posts. But it must be emphasized that among this aware, dynamic, working class of Staszów, a significant place was occupied by the radical left wing.
Despite the illegal status under which the radical left was forced to carry out the work of enlightenment, when mere membership posed the threat of years of imprisonment, we fearlessly continued our activities in all areas. Years before the outbreak of the Second World War, this revolutionary part of the Staszów working class instinctively perceived the danger of the coming war, and even then, in the proclamations it distributed under the noses of the hostile police, emphasized the need to fight against the danger of war.
Also at this time, there were risky attempts to organize May Day demonstrations, which even important industrial cities with much larger proletariats didn't dare to carry out, because of the prevailing political conditions in Poland. In fact, their boldness ended very badly.
Because of a provocateur, a wave of arrests and long prison sentences fell upon our betrayed comrades. But, despite this heavy blow, we did not give up our ideological and organizational enlightenment work. Moreover, the very same comrades, returning to the town after serving their prison sentences, voluntarily signed up again to work for the party, despite the personal danger this presented.
This unceasing, stubborn workers' struggle against the enslaving socio-economic and cultural-political conditions, despite its futility and constant victimization, continued until the outbreak of the Holocaust of the Second World War –that very Holocaust in which Hitlerism, unfortunately supported by other powers, destroyed all the Jewish communities that fell under its odious regime, including our dear Staszów.
Honor to their eternal memory.
By Yonatan Tochterman, Tel Aviv
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
As soon as life began to normalize after the end of the First World War, and a handful of young fellows, amateurs, began to play futbol on the wide meadows outside the town, or on the pipale, a group of dedicated fanatics, under the leadership of this writer, seized the initiative to begin to organize a soccer club worthy of the name.
The group began its work with extremely modest resources. In addition, the number of players who were ready to devote a large portion of their free time to physical development was very, very small. This was entirely unsurprising, considering the general cultural climate in which the youth of Staszów lived. Thus, they barely managed to assemble a single section of soccer players, a bit more than a team, whose entire possessions consisted of a 4 by 4 [meters] room somewhere in a corner on Stodolni [Barn] Street, a playing ball, and a pair of short underwear.
It didn’t take long, before this modest sport club, which at that time called itself Blitz, began to grow rapidly. New members streamed in, and the soccer team grew significantly stronger. They also added a number of sections of light athletics, such as bicycling, gymnastics, etc.
The work of the greatly expanded club went beyond sports activities. Even externally, it could be seen that the club was becoming more established. At its new, much nicer and larger premises, which were behind the movie theater, it already was offering a whole array of sports activities, such as gymnastics, ping-pong and the like. In addition, every team in each section was provided with uniforms. From time to time, they held evening events at the new premises, the significant proceeds of which were used to sustain the already existing sports programs and to add new ones.
The club, which had in the meantime changed its name to HaKoach, in recognition of the then-renowned Viennese sport club by that name, would often engage various theater troupes, such as that of Sigmund Turkow, or sports appearances by the well-known Jewish athlete Gerszon Brajtbard and his ensemble. These events, which took place in the movie theater or the firemen’s hall, brought in significant income, which enabled the club to improve and expand the sports program, with all kinds of new equipment, etc. At the same time, the sportsmen and their supporters satisfied their cultural needs, a factor which, by Staszower standards, was very important.
As noted, the activity of HaKoach was greatly expanded, encompassing a whole array of sports, providing necessary, suitable equipment, etc. But it must be stressed that the main emphasis was on the development and technical training of the soccer section. In this regard, it should be noted that from time to time, we were visited by one of the best players from the łódź HaKoach, Romek Segal, a fellow townsman of ours, who devoted a lot of time and effort to training our soccer players, especially when they were getting ready for a match with other clubs.
This intensive program brought honor to our athletes, as well as to the whole Jewish population of the town, when, as often occurred, they emerged the victors in their matches with military sports units, or with Jewish or Christian teams from the surrounding area.
When the club later moved, for the third time, to a new location, at Yechezkiel Herszkowicz’s building on Kościelna Street, and was also legalized by the starostwo [town administration], it organized a wind orchestra. This was accomplished through the efforts of members of the leadership, who worked devotedly with me, including: Mordka Tenenbaum (called Patekl); Noyekh Frydman; Herszel Nisencwajg; White Meyer (Wajnryb); Yisroeletsh Tenenbaum; Leybush Wajsbrod, and others.
In the beginning, the orchestra had very few participants, and a limited number of instruments. But, with time, the orchestra, like the club before it, expanded its activities, after it got more, new instruments. Then it became possible to hire a special teacher, and to acquire an impressive collection of sheet music. At that time, the club orchestra was already being invited to Polish parades, at which it would play various musical pieces, mostly marches.
Although the membership of the club was politically diverse, as a whole it was nationalist-leaning, so that the orchestra took special satisfaction in participating in the annual Lag Ba’omer celebrations of the town’s Zionist youth.
These important sports activities of the HaKoach club, and its positive influence on the physical development of the youth of Staszów, continued until the last day of the existence of Staszów’s Jewish community. During the Nazi catastrophe, a significant portion of them fought for their lives, and many of them managed to survive and live today in other countries.
p.214 Members of the sports club Blitz
p.215 Members of the sports club HaKoach
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