Written in Yiddish by
Now that I have passed my 60th year of life, I have the idea to start the story of what has transpired in my life for these past years. I do not have any special desires, neither to have it printed, nor for anyone in particular to read this, and as long as I live, I will try not to have anyone read it.
I do not undertake to write exact dates because it will be impossible for me to try and remember all of them exactly and it will not be written in chronological order. Some events will be written earlier and other events will come out of sequence at later times.
Before I really get into writing this manuscript, I have been wondering about the reason that I wish to write about myself. Is this really a nearness to the end of my life-years? And is there a desire to leave something behind to be remembered by future generations?. I often have the feeling that my life will shortly end, but then again even though I often have internal pain, I do feel strong and healthy.
I have not figured out my exact date of birth, but I remember that in one of my father's books he had written the date Av 15, 1889 (August 12) next to my name. In this book, my father had written the names of all of his children with their birthdays. We were 12 children, a pair of twins died several days after their birth, so there were 10 left; 4 brothers and 6 sisters. I was the seventh of those that lived. I remember myself, when I was very young, with very blond hair and even remember that people were amazed at the lightness of the color. But when I started to go to school it had turned black already. I started school (chaider) when I was 4 years old. I went with very little desire. Until I was 7, I hated the chaider and the "Rabbis" that taught me. Later I realized that one had to learn and not grow up as an "ignorant peasant". So I made an effort to have a good relationship with the teachers and became knowledgeable. In this way I was also able to please my parents so they would not have any aggravation with me and would truly love me. My parents came from very Chasidic families and were not poor, but they were very far from being rich. They earned a hard living but maintained very high standards. It bothered me greatly when I saw how hard my parents worked. I helped them as much as I had the strength to. I remember a time, on a Friday evening, coming home from market with a heavy metal wagon with my father pulling at the front and with me dragging along near the front wheel, when I dozed off and fell and two wheels went over my hand crushing two fingers. My father realized that something was amiss, turned around and saw me laying on the ground. He ran over, picked me up and trembled with fear when he saw my bloody hand. He bound it with a cloth, left the wagon in the middle of the street and ran with me to the doctor. I saw the tears in my father's eyes so I held in the bitter pain as the doctor took off the cloth and treated the injury. When I came into our house, my mother thought that I had brought in some herring for Sabbath. As she asking why we had brought herring she noticed that it was a bandage on my hand and realized that an accident had occurred. From that event one of my fingers remained flattened but the other healed perfectly.
Beside the chaider, we had to learn Russian, Polish and German. So I started attending a Government school. I did well in my studies and liked it as well as the chaider and we had great respect for the
teachers, I was a star pupil and the teachers enjoyed having me in their classes. Because of the difficult economic situation at home, which grew progressively worse, I had to leave school and decide on a trade to earn a living. I was apprenticed to a goldsmith. During the first weeks, the boys, as usual were used for various menial jobs, sweeping, rubbing and polishing. I came home with my hands and face blackened. The school boys that I met in the street, laughed at me. I looked like a chimney sweep. My parents, and especially my mother, were very aggravated when they heard about this. Several weeks more passed without my learning anything about the trade and thus they ended my career as a goldsmith. So I became a "watchmaker". The owner had a clock-maker's establishment and started to teach me. After about 2 weeks, he told me to bring my father to see him. He explained to my father that I was learning very well and that I could easily become a watchmaker, but it would be a 3 year apprenticeship and that he wanted to be paid 200 rubles. They started to negotiate, but nothing came of it and that ended my career as a watchmaker. After lengthy discussions between my parents and other people it was decide that I become a shoemaker, which is the trade I remained most of my life. In later years in America, I was forced out of the Shoemakers Union and became an operator on women's suits.
When I started working, the teachers of the Government school pleaded with my parents that I return to school. It was a pity for them to lose me as a student. One teacher even came to the shop where I was working and wanted to take me out of there with force. But the economic situation demanded that I be a worker and I remained as such forever. I was supposed to work for two years without pay as an apprentice, but I learned the trade quickly and after 6 months I was given a pair of boots as pay. For the second half of the year he promised me another pair of shoes as well as 5 rubles. But another master, during Chalemoid-Passover, when we were not working , met me and asked what I had already learnt. He then said to me: "Come to me after the Holidays and I will pay you 25 rubles for the half year". Understandably I accepted. I remember all of the episodes regarding the work and the workshops, but the telling of it will stretch out into too long a tale , so I will omit it.
I will continue with the beginning of the political and social life that it was my fate to live. This was often very difficult, with many dangers and discomforts. I caused my parents great distress and suffering while doing this work, but this I could not help. The love for my parents and the rest of the family could not separate me from the work of the Party and the social activities that it became my lot, at an early age, to conduct. While I was in chaider, about 8 and 9 years old, every Saturday after dinner I would read to my mother various novels that we would rent for a kopeck a novel. Sometimes I would take certain books that my mother was not too enthusiastic about, but that I liked. These were by such writers as Perez, A. Raisen etc. My mother asked that I bring novels like "Tsubira and the Lamp", "Simcha Flachta" etc. They were not interesting to me and I would often ask one of my older sisters to read these books to her while I read "my" books.
The first sparks of the revolutionary movement in our town, as I remember, started in 1900. My brother Berish was a pocketbook maker, He was the second oldest brother. As I was going to school I
would take along breakfast for him. He started work then, as did all workers, at 6 in the morning and worked until 9 at night. Before the Holidays they would work until midnight and would work the night through just before the Holiday. When I came to the workshop with food for my brother, I would hear the workers at their machines, often singing songs that seemed to appeal to me and they often had to chase me out to go to chaider. One time, in 1902, on a Saturday after dinner, I saw several young men who I knew worked with my brother, go up one by one to the apartment of a young seamstress. Amongst them was my brother and my curiosity became very great. I had to know what they were doing there.
As I was standing there, outside, I noticed a young man who was not from our town of Wloclawek.. A stranger with long black hair, a large hat and who on the Sabbath was carrying a walking stick. He also went up to the young girl's apartment. I waited a few minutes and quietly went up the stairs and put my ear to the door. I heard someone speaking quietly and reasoned that this was the stranger talking, but the words were incomprehensible to me. I made an unconscious movement and was heard through the door. It became quiet inside and the seamstress came out and slapped me for listening at her door. I quickly ran away but understood that what was going on there was a secret. A little while later it became common knowledge that a "Group" of young people were gathering secretly on Saturdays and were speaking of overthrowing the Tsar Nicholai. From this I understood that these meetings were being held at the seamstress's apartment and that there was great danger involved in it. If they were caught they would "beg from Siberia". I undertook quietly, on my own, to watch for any danger to my brother. Weeks later, when it was already winter, also an a Saturday after dinner, I was standing hidden near the house when I noticed my brother Berish together with 2 strangers, a man and a woman, go up together. I decided to watch and if there were any danger, I would warn them. But because of the cold I decided I could not stay out any longer and started to go home. As I was leaving I noticed from afar that coming up the street were 2 policemen and 3 soldiers. My heart told me that here was a tragedy in the making. Instinctively I ran up the stairs and banged on the door yelling that the police and soldiers were coming. People started running through the house and yard and scattering over town. Everyone managed to escape except for the stranger. The people of the town heard about the arrest and they cursed the "trouble-makers" who would make problems for the town. But the group that I had warned didn't know what to do with me. My brother brought me cookies, one of the group was a baker. But when he told me not to tell anybody about the meeting, I felt very insulted and answered that I knew how to conduct myself. But after that, I would not rest and pestered my brother to bring me books to read about the revolution. He was afraid to bring them into the house but I got them from the baker. And with a feeling of awe and secretiveness I received each pamphlet. Sometimes in an open field or sometimes even on a deserted street I ,would read, and reread each of them.
In 1903 there broke out the first strike of the shoemakers. By that time I was no longer an apprentice, but a qualified worker. We demanded a 12 hour work-day, higher wages and pay for the time we were on strike. The bosses wanted to know what we would do after work. Stay home? It took some
time to explain the importance of working only 12 hours and than having the time to study at home after work. And getting paid for holidays was also unheard of. The bosses were certain that these demands would ruin them financially.
The owners threatened that we would all be sent off to Siberia. But the strike had been planned for 6 weeks before Passover, the busiest time of the year, so they were forced to meet all of our demands. The reverberations of this victory of the shoemakers affected other trades, and the first tailors strike that occurred in 1904 was organized (not officially) by the Jewish Labor Bund. But at the meeting with the owners, the news broke that the Jewish Socialists formed a Party. This Party would see to it that people were no longer treated as slaves but as human beings entitled to freedom and justice. The Party was called "Bund".
This strike lasted longer than the shoemakers but was also won by the workers. With this the Bund began to expand. On Saturdays there were various discussion groups and meetings of the Zionists, Poli-Zionists and the Bund. We went to all the meetings to hear opinions and explanations from the leaders. We participated in the discussions, but to me and my close friend and comrade, Kalman, the Zionist movement did not have any appeal. We felt that as workers we did not belong there. Therefore in 1905 we joined the Bund.
The revolution of October 1905 gave the Party a great push. We recognized the Polish Workers movement in the P.P.S. and P.S.D. We went to their meetings, became known to many of them and became good friends even though we could not fully agree with many of their ideas and concepts. I remember one occasion when the P.P.S. organized the acts that led to what became known as the Bloody Monday of 1907. During the day, a friend of mine came to the shop. He was a Polish worker belonging to the P.P.S. We went out and he told me that he had been selected to perform an act of terrorism against a police outpost about 2 miles from Wloclawek. There was the possibility that he would not return, and wanted to see me again and say farewell. I told him that because of the conspiracy he should not have told anyone what he was going to do, not even me. But it showed how deep and honest our friendship was and how fully he trusted me. I embraced him and wished him luck on the attack with hopes we should see each other the next day. I could not work anymore that day. This act was to be performed the next morning. I could not sleep this night and in the morning I was on the road towards the police station. I had to hide often on the way to escape the police patrols. By 10 o'clock my friend was approaching towards me. We greeted each other like long lost brothers. He had accomplished his mission which was to kill a particular policeman. There was another officer there, that he had missed at first but had managed to also hit and so had carried his mission off with great success. We did not have a chance to be together again after that day . Several weeks later, on an attack on a post-office near Lipno, he was killed.
The Bund was held in very high regard at that time. Almost all of the Jewish workers belonged to it. The Poli-Zionist had few workers. Their support came mainly from the small town groups and
elements. Most of it consisted of girls. The word was at that time that beautiful girls could be found at their meetings. During the week and every Saturday, we would be busy with meetings and discussions. Our entire souls were steeped in the work of the "Party", until the reactionary forces in 1907, undertook to suppress the Socialist movement in all of Russia and Poland. In 1908 we had a well disciplined organization, but then specific arrests were made and many of the "intelligentsia" started to leave the country and take on other interests such as card- playing, a "free-life" and in general lead a fast life. The political parties as well as the Bund started to fall apart. In 1909 there were only 2 Bundists left who could think of nothing else, day and night, but what to do next. We could not dream of renewing the Party at this time. The reactionary movement was very strong and we were only two people barely 18 years old, and surely did not feel like leaders. We knew an old bachelor who was very miserly and who had two rooms. So we made a proposition that we rent one of these rooms and keep a case of books there. Each evening we would be able to go there and spend 2 or 3 hours and have people come and borrow them. He agreed to this and this is how the first illegal Jewish library was founded in town. We spread the news among the workers that these books were available and by having a slight charge we were able to buy more books and pay for the rent. Not everyone could come up to our newly founded library and often we would put some books under our coats and secretly exchange them on the street. Our group of readers gradually expanded and we began to think about reorganizing the Bund.
My writing has been interrupted for two weeks. I knew that I would not be able to sit and write without any interruptions, but I did not figure that it would be for this long a period of time. Now I must bring myself back to the distant past.
I remember that my mother told me that I was born enclosed in a "membrane". This film was cut away from me with a pair of scissors . This film was saved by my mother and she put it away in a closet wrapped in a clean cloth. When I was 6 years old and my mother told me about this, I naturally wanted to see this film of skin. But she would not show it to me. She did always tell me that I would have a lot of good luck as everyone who was born within the membrane was lucky. But now I don't think that it did me much good. I have lived through some very hard and bitter years along with many very interesting ones. But luck was very much with me. The mantle helped very little. My dear mother loved me very much and I often thought that it was not good for her that she loved me that much, because I felt that I would come to a lot of grief. When I got into trouble she would suffer more than I would. But as much as I loved my mother and father and as often as I tried to explain to them, that parents should not devote themselves so fully to their children and that I was not as "unique" as they thought and that there were ten children in the house, they would not listen. Often as I tried to again explain my feelings She would embrace me and with tears in her eyes say that she would not want to live if something dreadful happened to me. But my love for my parents, brothers and sisters did not stop me from continuing further with my political activities, regardless of the dangers involved.
As I continued deeper in this work without being caught, I often wondered whether my "mantle" didn't really protect me. The year 1909 was very dark for those in political life. The repression in the cities was very great. There was a fear to even carry a legal book on the street. But our illegal library continued to expand. We continued to buy new books, mostly in Vilna. Messengers would go to Vilna with the money and deliver the purchased books to my house. Saturday after dinner, we would meet in our illegal room, a group of 30 to 40 workers. We subscribed to the Vilna "Folks-Tsaitung" and we would read the articles and discuss them. We had a great desire to reform and bring others into the Bund so we would try tests with small groups of people. But it was not very successful. We did not have any connections with Warsaw and as much as we asked in Vilna and the "Folks-Tsaitung" for someone to come and help us organize, they could not. But coincidences do happen. One Saturday before Passover in 1909, my friend Kalman and I were walking on the main street when we saw an unfamiliar man of about 21. We figured him to be a Russian student, he had a short beard and a blue blouse under an open coat. We felt that he had the look of a revolutionary. We passed him at the same time each day. We became anxious and curios to find out who he was. We followed him and saw that he entered a basement apartment. We tried to see what was going on there but were not successful. Often we sold old copies of the "Folks-Tsaitung to the newspaper-man. One day we saw this man go over and buy a copy of the paper. We were astonished. Was this man Jewish? Could he also be a revolutionary? We couldn't rest, but neither did we have the courage to go over right then. We had to discuss it first. Going home that evening we decided that come what may, we would meet with him the next day. But we had to have a plan. Just to go up to him and start talking didn't seem right. But the next day early in the evening we were out in the street. A light snow was falling, but the air was warm. It was only a week before Passover. At the same time, as on each previous day, we saw the stranger on the street. My friend pushed me and I tried to push him forward, but he won out and I was appointed to make the introduction. As I approached the young man I blurted out "Good evening, Comrade". He turned around and in a good Jewish answered "Good evening. Do you know me? And who are you?" We replied that we didn't know him but that we were very eager to get acquainted with him. That we had often seen him walking the streets alone and felt that we had many interest in common. We were standing in the street and the snow continued to fall and the young man said that we should continue the conversation in his apartment. As soon as we got into his room and closed the door, he took us around like lost brothers. He had seen us following him and figured that we wanted to meet him, but he was also a little afraid, even though he felt we had a common bond. After a while we introduced , in a sly manner the subject of the Bund and then he was very happy. We spent the evening talking and he told us about himself. He came from wealthy parents but in 1906 he joined the Bund. He was attending the university at Riga but because of political activities, he was expelled. He had been arrested several times and his mother had a heart attack at that time. If this was due to his activities or not we did not know. The last time that he was arrested, he was sentenced to 10 years hard labor. By bribing the police and the judge, his parents were able to have the sentence changed to expulsion from Poland. Since another friend of his was sent to Wloclawek, they came together. He told us that he was giving Russian lessons to the children of a Zionist family and had asked them if they knew of any Bundists in town.
They told him that there were none. He knew that there had been a group in our town as he had heard a rumor about it. We decided that evening to form an official Bund organization. This started with the three of us. Because he had to remain an underground figure, he took the name of Nachman and even we did not want to know his real name. We were completely captivated by this man. He was a fine and interesting person and I will write more about him later.
Our organization methods were very simple. We spoke to as many of the younger workers as we possibly could to find those who might be interested in joining the Bund. At first everyone was afraid to even talk about it, but by using a little "persuasion" and the use of our illegal library to help us, we got a group together. We held the first meetings at the home of an old woman and paid her a few "groshen" for the use of her room. We had 18 people at the first meeting and felt guilty that after two weeks we could only bring such a small group together. Comrade Nachman told us that we had done a really fine piece of work and should be proud of our accomplishment. This was the first time that we heard him speak before a group (since it was the first group meeting). He was so wonderful that even though it was an illegal gathering, we could not help but shout for joy at the end. We immediately formed a committee of 7 to carry on the work of the Bund. We had to be very secretive about our activities and at each meeting stressed the "conspiracy" aspect of our group. We came to the meeting alone and made sure that we were not followed. In a short while we were a group of 40 people. We broke up into groups of 10, as it was impossible to hold large meetings. And now the First of May was approaching. We did not have any idea that this year ( 1909 ) we would be able to do anything openly. But Comrade Nachman had other ideas. His 4 years of forced inactivity had to be released. He told us that if he had not met us, he would have illegally returned to Vilna and become active there, regardless of the risk. Comrade Nachman wanted an opportunity to talk to a group of workers and convince them to march openly on this workers holiday. Near the police station was located one of the largest cloak-shops in town. Over 75 people were employed there. The shop was owned by two bosses who exploited the workers terribly. But every Saturday afternoon they would serve bread, beer and herring to everyone there. We had spoken to the workers in this shop and had been able to convince only 5 or 6 workers to come to the meeting. This is the shop that Comrade Nachman wanted to talk to first. We pointed out the dangers involved but he was firm. We spoke to the members and many were frightened when they heard of the plan. But it was carried by the committee. We arranged that the 6 strongest of our group stand near the door and if either of the bosses tried to come in, he would be surrounded and kept quiet. Exactly at 2 o'clock, the three of us entered the shop, Nachman, Kalman and I. Backing us up were the 6 strong comrades. The workers were sitting at the long tables eating and waiting for the beer to arrive. A hush descended as they realized that something was up. I explained that we had come to discuss something of great importance to all. We would tell what could be done to make them lead easier lives and have more out of life than what was their current fate. With that as an introduction, Comrade Nachman started to speak. No sooner had he started when one of the bosses, named Sher came in and demanded that we leave. He was surrounded according to our plan and told to keep quiet or his life was forfeit. Comrade Nachman started by saying that he took full responsibility for what was happening. When
we would leave than he (Mr. Sher) was free to do what he wanted. But if he ran to the police, we had ways of dealing with him and would soon find himself in the other world.
Comrade Nachman talked about the birth of the workers movement, its suppression by the reactionary forces and the rebirth that was now taking place. He spoke of the working condition, especially in that shop, that with some bread, herring and beer once a week, the owners were able to abuse everyone all week long. He spoke directly to the boss asking if it wouldn't be better for him to treat the workers fairly and with dignity. They would then be able to work better and would like him instead of hating as they did now. The talk lasted for over two hours.
Not a fly moved on the walls, everyone was enthralled by the speech. We were prepared for the worst when he was to tell them about closing the shop at 10 o'clock on May First. He said that we would come to the shop and see that no one interfered if they wanted to march with us. With this the boss got so excited that he jumped up and yelled that he would close the shop at that time and lead the workers himself to the march area. He was excited with the new thoughts and could not stop thanking Comrade Nachman enough. He offered us money, the use of a meeting hall and furniture all for use by the Bund. Also, he asked if there was anything that he could do immediately. One of the workers suggested that two hours less work and 1 ruble more for the week would be very nice. The boss asked Nachman what he thought about the idea and Nachman answered that this would be a very good way to start. That this would show everyone in the town that he was a progressive boss, that productivity would not be lost as the workers would do as much in 48 hours as they had done in 60. The boss immediately agreed to this and that it would start the next day. We were all overjoyed that so much had been accomplished and we had a hard time leaving, as everyone wanted to thank us. The boss invited us over to the bar and listened to some of the stories that Nachman told. The next day this boss made good on his promises.
At 10 o'clock an May 1, ours was the first shop to stop working. We had also organized the other tailor-shops, shoemakers and several of the other smaller trades. Comrade Nachman went to the shops that were the hardest to organize and most of them listened to him. As the workers began to appear on the streets, in the middle of the day the other people began to wonder what was going on. We also gave out leaflets in those comrades that Yiddish and Polish. These we had run on a hectograph ( a type of duplication process) and they proclaimed May 1 as a Workers Holiday. Some of these were distributed amongst the Polish workers in the shoemakers and printers trades. Many of these workers came out of their shops and joined us. About 1 o'clock the Polish workers cried out " Long live the Bund". The Jewish workers answered with "Long live , the solidarity of the Jewish and Polish workers". We walked on the main street for about another half hour and then the police and soldiers came to break up the crowds. We were scattered very quickly and there were no arrests that day. But for days after, the streets were full of soldiers and spies and it was impossible to form any group. But our committee of 7 was able to meet secretly. We were overwhelmed by what had happened and started to work on plans on how to continue. We did not want to do anything that
would cause arrests as this would create a situation where many sympathizers would be even too frightened to listen to us. Two weeks later, things quieted down and we were again able to move around . We started to meet again where we had our library. Our organization now numbered over 100 members. The groups started to meet again and we made contact with the exiled Central Committee of the Bund.
Large group gatherings were held in the woods outside of town and often our "watchers" would warn us that the police were coming. One time an official of the Central Committee of the Bund came to talk to us, (he stayed at my house on that visit) and we held the meeting in the shop that we had first organized. The boss had given us permission to meet there but he was afraid to attend. We had a request from the Central Committee to raise money for the Bund. These funds were to be used to help those comrades who had been arrested. Our committee met to figure out how to do this. Our dues until now had been very small. Just enough to cover the cost of renting the room, buying some books and for the occasional papers that we put out. Amongst the workers there was not enough money to raise the amounts that we had set for a goal for ourselves. So we decided to go to the people that did have money in town. After all, we were helping them, too. We were an organization that wanted to eliminate capitalism. When that would happen everybody would be free, and so would they. We were fighting for the equality of all people and they would then join us as equals. That meant that we were also fighting for them, but we were the ones who were being arrested. So the least that they could do in the struggle was to contribute. So a little in jest and a little in earnest, we made a list of those whom we wished to approach and how much their contribution should be. There was the possibility that some would willingly donate to our cause but also others who would call the police to have us arrested. This we could not allow as it would then not be able to raise the required amount and besides, the Bund would then need more money to help us. We wanted 2,000 rubles but would have settled for 1,000. We also then figured that it would be a good idea to take a revolver along to help us persuade those who might give us a problem. A revolver would be more convincing than just talk. My friend and I went to see the first person on our list. His parents had been Socialists but now lived out of the country. He owned the factory that made china dishes. But it was difficult to meet him at home as the servants would not let us in. One morning we met him as he was going into the factory and told him that we had something very important to discuss. That it was about helping political prisoners. He took us into his office and, closed and locked the door and asked us how there could be political prisoners when there were no political activities going on. We explained that there were old as well as new prisoners and that the Bund was indeed very active. With that we took out the list with his name on top and the amount that we expected from him. To give the list the authenticity that we felt it needed, we had impressed the Bund seal on top in red ink. When he saw this he was very frightened and pleaded that we burn this immediately, because if we were caught , everyone on the list could be accused of helping this illegal organization. He offered us 25 Ruble but we had him down for 100 and would not leave with less. He gave us the money only when we had burned the list in front of him. We sent him a receipt and thank you letter that the money had been received in the proper place. This was on the official Bund stationary. Our meeting with him gave us
the courage to continue. But that was the only time that we received the amounts that we wanted. Most of the time we received only a small amount. Another incident comes to mind as I am writing. My friend and I went to see a banker. He was a bachelor and very stingy and very mean. The maid would not let us in because he was eating supper, but we forced our way past her and locked the door behind us. We told her to go and tell him that 2 young men were very insistent about seeing him now. In a short while he came into the hall where we were waiting. We tried to tell him quietly what we wanted and what it was for.
But as soon as he heard that it was for the Bund he started yelling. My friend took out his revolver and the banker was soon quiet. I took out the new list that we had made up with the Bund seal on top and with his name and 50 Ruble next to it. He offered us 10. My friend told him that if he didn't give us the 50 right away we would add a 1 in front to make it 150 for all the time he was taking. After he cried a little more he relented and gave us the 50 Ruble. But he also pleaded that we do not tell anyone about it. This way we collected over 1,000 Ruble. Sometimes with a little force, like with the banker and sometimes with people wishing us luck as they began to understand what was involved. But this activity also had its dangers and several of our comrades were called on by the police and had their rooms searched, but no one was arrested. At the same time we were trying to organize the workers in the smaller surrounding towns. One of the problems we had , was that none of the older party members (from 1905-6) were willing to rejoin the movement and become active. The younger members were willing to go but they were inexperienced and we were afraid that they would make a poor impression and if they were not successful in recruiting anybody, it would be more difficult for someone trying at a later date.
I now want to interrupt to describe several personal episodes. My oldest sister Rasia and later the younger one, Etia, married men from Lipno (husband was Pollster Gibbering) and moved there. Before a holiday or when I could take a few days off from work, I would visit them. They were very happy when I came and Rasia would run after me and made sure that I ate enough. She worked very hard as a seamstress because her husband, Michael Berman, did not earn much and she was sorry that she did not have all the time that she wanted to spend with me when I was there. I loved all of my brothers and sisters very much but I had a difficult time in expressing and showing my affections. But I always felt that they understood and knew what my feelings truly were.
For a long time I worked as a shoe-maker for a Christian with the name of Babushka. He considered me a very good worker and I often wondered how I could do the work so well. Where did the talent come from? I do not remember that anyone had stood over me while I was learning the trade. It was more like watching the other workers and seeing what they were doing. I would then try it until the work came out well. I would try out different methods and ways of working so that the work would be done faster and better. Babushka, as most Poles were in our town, was anti-Semitic. But in my presence he never showed it. There were 16 workers in the shop and I was the only Jewish one. Often as I came to work I would hear the others laughing and talking and this would stop as I
entered. I felt that they were making fun of the Jews and I felt bad about it. Babouski noticed this and tried to reassure me that nothing was being said about me, just that they were passing some time. He liked me a lot and trusted me. I often acted as peacemaker between him and his wife when they had fought, which was very often. His wife was a very nice person. They had 3 children. Once a month he went to Warsaw to buy leather and other supplies and if they had been fighting, he would say goodbye by throwing pots and other things at her while she was still in bed. We were already at work when he would leave, but they slept in a room next to the shop and the walls were very thin. But by the time he returned, they had both forgotten all about the argument. The boss trusted me so, that he would let me cut the leather for the next days work if he was too busy or he was not there. In 1906, there was no work for the three days before Christmas so I decided to go visit my sisters in Lipno. In the winter, the bridge across the Vistula River was taken down and stored on the shore. The river would freeze over and we would walk or ride across and on the other bank would get transportation to Lipno. My mother made sure that I was dressed warmly and I took along a blanket and large feather pillow as well as a few other things for my sisters. It was a clear day and when I got to the river there were not many people on the ice crossing. When I was almost half way across I saw that there was a group of three people standing still and looking around. I realized that the ice was probably not very thick and when I got there it was so. They said that I should go first and see if it was safe, while I tried to talk them into doing the same. They would not and returned to the bank. I really wanted to see my sisters, so even though I was a little afraid, I started across the ice I tried to walk carefully and lightly so that there would be less weight on the weak ice. I had made quite a bit of progress when I heard what sounded like a shot. It was a sound that we knew very well. The ice had cracked someplace in back of me. I was afraid to turn around and see where it was and how close to me. But I heard more sounds and shouting and turned around to see that one of the men had fallen through on the way back. Every time he grabbed the ice to climb up, another piece broke off. I cried out for someone on shore to help him but the wind took my voice from my throat. I went to help him but as I took a step forward I could feel the ice give under me. I put the blanket down and grabbed the sheet that had been packed. I threw it to him and tried to pull him up. But the ice was slippery and I was being pulled in with him, so I had to let go. As I stood there I saw him drown. I ran to the shore, to the blacksmith shop that was nearby and told him what had happened. He called to his helpers and they grabbed long poles with hooks on the end and ran out to the river. When they came back, they had only half a sheet which they gave back to me. They had not found the young man's body. The man that had drowned was one of those that I had asked to go in front of me. He had decided to return to the town but when he saw that I was crossing without any trouble he must have decided to come across the river also. But he was much heavier than me, even with my pack and the ice could not hold him. This moment engraved itself in my mind so deeply that even now as I write about it, I see the event as though it had just happened. When I arrived at my sister's house with the torn sheet, with the ice still on it and told what had happened and everyone cried. If the other man had gone first, it might have been me that had fallen through. Returning home three days later was no problem as the river was again frozen solid and was as strong as the best bridge. Speaking of water reminds me of what the workers in the shop used to say. I had a tuft of hair that would not stay down
and they said that this was a sign that I would die by drowning. No matter how hard I tried and what I did, it would not lie flat and I often felt that I would be better off without any hair (now I don't have any problem on that account). As luck would have it, I had very thick hair. The workers began to make so much about my hair and drowning, that I began to take them seriously and avoided the rivers and lakes. This is probably the reason that I never learned how to swim when we did go swimming, I was always afraid to go into the deeper waters.
I became very friendly with one of the workers, who was my age, and we would often go home together. We passed his house before we came to mine. His parents were very religious and went to church every Sunday. One Sunday he invited me to go ice skating with him As a young boy I used to go skating on the ice with boards tied to my shoes or at best with one skate that I had borrowed. When my friend asked me to go with him I told him that I did not know how to skate and he offered to teach me. That Sunday I went to his house and from there we went into the woods to a lake known as "Black Lake". It was a beautiful cold day, the woods sang with the frost and the clear cold air was a pleasure to breath. We had the woods and lake all to ourselves. My friend put on his skates, took off his coat and told me to watch him as he skated. He was showing me how to balance and push with the skate blades when he suddenly disappeared from view. The middle of the lake had not frozen solid and he had fallen through the ice. I cried out for help but we were alone. I went out on the ice as far as it would hold me but could not see him. There was nothing that I could do. I took his coat and started back to town. How could I go to his house and tell his parents what a tragedy had befallen? As soon as I walked in with the coat on my arm his mother cried out "Did Bolek drown?" I could not answer her, I was crying so much. After a while I calmed myself enough to tell them exactly what had happened. They got some neighbors and went to the lake with long poles and a sled to try and get me friend out of the lake. They used the poles and were finally able to bring his body up. When he had fallen through his skates had become stuck in the black mud at the bottom. From that moment on I decided that water was something that I had to be very careful of.
I don't remember the date that my mother was stricken with typhus. The doctor warned us to be very careful as the disease was very contagious. To take her to a hospital was unthinkable as the saying went that from a hospital one did not come out except in a box. I remained with her the entire time. Her temperature was very high and she had terrible headaches and her face was flushed and red. She couldn't even take the medicine as it disagreed with her. One day when she wouldn't take the medicine , I swallowed it myself. This frightened her and from that time on there was little trouble on that score. If she wavered in taking the medicine, I only had to make believe that I would swallow it and that was the end of that. Our thoughts were occupied with mothers illness and who would catch it next. Everyone was certain that I would be the one, but I was spared as well as the rest of the family. After several weeks my mother recovered but as was usual, had a long recovery period to regain her full health. I do not remember any of us as being sick except for mother. We seemed to have very strong constitutions but my mother always had some illness. She was always coming down with something or other.
Time to interrupt the personal memoirs and return to the political and social activities.
We accomplished our "fund-raising" with great success and accumulated a large sum of money. There were many political prisoners who were in the Brest-Litovsk prison for several years already and we wanted to help them in particular. We were also in touch with the Wloclawek City Committee and sent them money for the medical units that were formed. We kept some of the money for our local political activities. The influence of Comrade Nachman spread, not only through Wloclawek, but also into the provinces surrounding the town. Letters came constantly for him to speak around the district, but we were afraid of the risk, since he had been convicted and could not leave the city. We were afraid that in showing himself in a small town, looking like a revolutionist, he would be questioned by the authorities. One weekday evening, Nachman told us that he had received a letter from home letting him know that the police had been bribed to let him return and that within the month he would be leaving. He asked that my friend Kalman and I take over the reports and accounts and work out a system for the continuation of the political work. We were very happy that Nachman was released from his sentence but on the other hand we were worried that the political activities would not continue as well. Nachman understood our feelings and told us how much he had enjoyed working with us. He assured us that if he had any opportunities he would return. He also told us about his sister who was attending the Riga University. She did not know any Yiddish but was very active in the Russian Social-Democratic Party. She had one more year to finish but he would talk to her and ask if she would spend her vacation with us and help us. We told Nachman that we had a comrade from Dobzin who would take over all the records and he decided that he would take the records there, he would hold a meeting and they might be able to raise at least 300 rubles.
We tried to persuade Nachman not to go but he figured that he could be there and back in one day, that the money was needed and it might be possible to use that town as another center. The next morning we went to see him off. He had lists of people to see and to collect money from. These lists had the red stamp of the Wloclawek Bund. In the evening we waited at the station for the train but instead of Nachman, one of the comrades that we knew from Dobzin arrived. He told us that during the meeting, the place had been surrounded and Nachman and two others had been arrested and that the police had the lists. We could not contain ourselves and cried like little children. But we had to do something and so we took 500 rubles and sent someone to see if the police could be bribed to release our comrades. The police figured that they had such a great person that they could not let him go free. But for a price they returned our lists without looking at them. Nachman was sent to Lipno and a little while later to a prison in Plotsk. We tried to arrange easier accommodations for him but he sent us a letter that he was doing quite well and for us to be more concerned with others and save our money for more needy projects.
We tried to imagine what this news would have upon his poor sick mother, whether she would be able to stand the shock of finding out that her son had again been arrested and this time put in prison without any immediate hope of release. His friend, "the Bundist from Latvia" wrote to his sister in Riga and she left school to come to Wloclawek. We were afraid to meet her as we felt that we should be blamed for his arrest. But when she came we told her all that had happened and why. She told us that we had done everything that we could and not to blame ourselves for what had happened. She said that she would write her mother and say that Nachman had to stay here for some time and that she would remain until he left. She looked a lot like her brother with short dark hair and dark flashing eyes and was also a wonderful speaker. We asked that she change her style of dress as she stood out as a revolutionary and could possibly be picked up by the police simply because she was so different. She laughed at this and said that she was leaving the next day for Plotsk. We gave her 300 rubles to take along to be used as bribes if necessary. The time was getting close when he would be sentenced but the energy and money that she spent saved him. She influenced the chief of police and was even seen on the street of Plotsk with his wife. It took 5 months but he was freed. We were naturally very happy when we heard the news. During this time our organization became a little weaker. We felt that when he came back Nachman would take his belongings and go home. But he sent a message through his sister that when he arrived on Saturday we should get together. Against our better judgment we called a meeting. We had a large illegal room and with great secrecy we advised everyone within our group to come, and keep it very quiet. All were frightened but we had a group of about 60 people there. There was a lot of anxiety because the train was late. When Kalman and I saw Nachman get off the train we wanted to rush up and embrace him, but were afraid that there might be spies about to see who would greet the arrival. There were enough spies around town. He arrived with a new black beard that he had grown in prison. He left the station and we followed at a distance. He came from the prison straight to our illegal meeting. The meeting lasted late into the night. Later we took him to the train and it was hard to part with him, he had such an aura of friendship and love about him. We had news from him later. He changed his name and continued in the Bund. His mother died about 3 weeks after his return. Those of us that worked with him never forgot him and often spoke of him and his wonderful personality.
Because of the strong repressions that were instituted by the government at the end of 1908 and during 1909 and 1910, our political work was greatly disturbed. Under the guise of a library, we were able to continue our political work. We were very crowded in our small room and tried several times to get a larger room, but were not successful. Meanwhile the number of books increased greatly and the number of readers also increased. Too many people started to come to our illegal room. We were afraid that the police would become aware of our activities. There was a legal library in town that was run by the Zionists. Their works were mainly in Polish, Russian, German and Hebrew. They had very few Jewish books and we had well over one thousand. We decided to hold discussions with them regarding our joining the two libraries into one larger unit. After many meetings and long discussion we arrived at a working arrangement. We would put in all of our books, 25% of all the money allotted for new books would be in Jewish and if the library were disbanded than we would
get back all of our original books and half of the newly purchased books would also come to us. We would also have 30% representation on the governing board. There was a little bit of a holiday in the town when the merger was completed and we had a rousing opening. We started to put a lot of work into the library and adjoining reading room. Our activities started to disturb the Zionists as they were afraid that we would take over the entire library. One of the things that we were doing was agitating among the youth that they take more interest in Jewish and that they read more of the books that were written in Jewish. The Zionists didn't like that either. Sometimes when there were special Zionist gatherings or meetings and we knew that they would be busy elsewhere, we held meetings in the library. Sitting with our illegal newspapers and books we conducted our meeting. This made the Zionists very unhappy when they found out about it. The library directors accused us of holding illegal meetings but we replied that these were simple gatherings to discuss literature. They demanded that whenever a Zionist meeting was held elsewhere the reading room be locked . We compromised the issue by agreeing that the only time the room was not to be used by us was when a speaker came from out of town, like Warsaw, then we would hold our meetings elsewhere.
In 1909 or 1910 the Zionists arranged for Nathan Sokolov to lecture. We knew that Sokolov was a good speaker but not a friend of the Jewish language. At the board meeting we asked what language Sokolov would speak in and they answered that of course it would be Polish. We demanded that he speak in Jewish. This created an uproar and we were almost beaten up for having the nerve to suggest something like this. We left the meeting after leaving them the ultimatum, that he would speak in Jewish or we would not be responsible if the meeting were disrupted. The news quickly spread around the town and soon there was a complete split. Many people supported us but most people felt that the Zionists were correct. The feeling was that since they were arranging the meting they could decide on the language that it was to be held in. For us it was a struggle for use of the Jewish language. In fact we were nick-named "Yiddishists". The announcements for the meeting were already printed and they were in Polish. We did not feel hat this was the end. We decided to write to Mr. Sokolov and tell him what our feelings were and also that if the lecture were not held in Jewish we did not feel it would conclude peacefully.
The Zionists held themselves to be the leaders of the community and looked upon us as a group of young upstarts trying to give their elders advice. They were determined to see the lecture go through even if it meant calling the police and having us arrested. We decided that we would get tickets for the gallery. We would , when Sokolov appeared, applaud and shout his praises for the entire time that he was on stage and for this we would surely not be arrested Several days before the lecture we received a letter from Sokolov suggesting that we sit down together and discuss the problem that we presented. Amongst ourselves we had decided that if the lecture were to start in Jewish and than went to Polish it would be acceptable to us. The important issue was that Jewish was a language to be recognized. At the meeting with the Zionists we proposed this and it was finally accepted. They felt that Sokolov could not lecture in Jewish. Sokolov agreed to this and we wished each other that the lecture be successful and be held in peace. On the day of the lecture when Sokolov came to town
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