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[Page 60]

Jews in Zaglembie
during the Second World War

Leib Shpeizman (United States)


Zaglembie, similarly to the near-by Silesia, was before the Second World War a highly industrialized area. It could boast the highest percentage of population drawing its means of livelihood from industry and mining.

According to the statistics of 1931, in BEDZIN – 57.7% of the populationwere employed in industry and mining; in SOSNOWIEC – 63%; in DABROWA – 70.1%; in ZAWIERCIE – 71.4%; and in CZELADZ – 84.2%. In thedistrict of ZAWIERCIE the population sustaining itself from farming amounted to 50.7% of the total, whilst in the district of BEDZIN it did not surmount 15.4%. One must remember that at that period the average of the agricultural population for the whole of the country was as high as 77%.

Furthermore, 75.2 percent of the workers employed in mining and industry were working for large-scale enterprises. In the year 1938 Zaglembie was responsible for 18% of the general Polish output of coal (Silesia – 75%, Krakow – 7%).

The population counting of 1931 revealed that 13.6 percent of Zaglembie population were Jews – 63,215 Jews among about 470,000 inhabitants.

Jews comprised about 22% of the towns-population. Again, according to the statistics of 1931, the number of Jews in the bigger towns was as follows:

Sosnowiec 20,605 for the total of 108,959 inhabitants.
Zawiercie 5,671 for the total of 32,872 inhabitants.
Bedzin 21,625 for the total of 47,597 inhabitants.
Dabrowa 5,150 for the total of 36,942 inhabitants.
On the eve of the World War II there appeared two accounts of the Jews in Zaglembie in the YIVO-paperJewish Economics, one of them by A. Kleiner, "Light Industry in Sosnowiec", and another by M. Kleiner, "Industry in Bedzin" (in the issues of May-June and September-October 1938).

In the field of heavy industry Jews were represented as undertakers only. But the various branches of light industry which developed there were far from negligible, and there the percentage of Jewish workers was very high indeed. Compared to other districts of Poland, the Jews of Zaglembie were reasonably well off, though even there over a half of the Jewish inhabitants had to be freed from the congregation taxes an account of their poverty.

Zaglembie was taken by the Germans in the very first days of the war.



Zaglembie under the Nazis

On the 26th of January 1941 the German rulers ordered the division of Upper Silesia into two administrative parts, namely into Upper and Lower Silesia. Lower Silesia was to comprise of the formerly Polish parts of the same region, parts of the Kielce-district (Sosnowiec, Bedzin, Dabrowa) and parts of the Krakow-district (Chrzanow, Jaworzno, Trzebinia, Oswiecim, Biala, Zywice and Wadowice). The residence of the Gauleiter of Upper Silesia, Fritz Bracht, was in Katowice.

Both Upper and Lower Silesia together were populated by about 7,500,000 inhabitants, 4,300,000 of which were living in Upper Silesia.

About 3,004,000 of the whole population of Upper Silesia lived in the district of Katowice, and about 1,300,000 in the district of Opole. 3,200,000 of the 4,300,000 inhabitants of Upper Silesia were Polish (75%) and over 1,000,000 –Jewish.

The Germans introduced a policy of forced Germanization. In contrast to the allowances made in the General-Government, the existent of Polish schools in Upper Silesia was completely forbidden and in the towns the German communal jurisdiction had been established.

Fritz Bracht had been appointed to the office of the Gauleiter over Upper Silesia an the 9th of February 1941. At the ceremony was present Hess in his own person, then one of Hitler's most faithful helpers (now imprisoned in England). In his speech an that occasion Hess declared that Upper Silesia would turn into a Germanized area in no time. Great numbers of Polish peasants were being regularly expelled and settled in the General Government, while German colonists were being transferred from Bessarabia and other areas, and resettled in Zaglembie. At the same time German children were being evacuated to Upper Silesia from West Germany, which was being constantly bombarded by the English.

The danger of English bombardments caused the Germans also to press an the rapid development of industry in Upper Silesia – they believed no bombs would reach there, 900 kilometers from England. In 1940 the Germans produced from the whole of Silesia 100 million tons of coal. Except coal, they also exploited large quantities of iron since the district of Dabrowa was an area particularly rich in it (it provided the Poland of before the war with about million tons of iron per year).

Furthermore, the Germans were well aware of the possibilities of zinc mining in Silesia. A German specialists' investigation stated that the zinc output of Zaglembie together with that of West Germany would suffice to cover the needs of the whole of Germany (including the occupied territories). Neither did the Germans overlook the importance of the textile and paper industries, nor did they neglect the wide range of possibilities concerning the local transformation of the raw material into finished products.

The extraordinary importance, which the Germans attached to the district of Upper Silesia became even more evident with the Order published by Hitler himself in May of 1941. This order stated that it was of primary importance that Silesia should be converted into an utterly German area. The Gauleiter Bracht pictured the future of Silesia as that of an industrial center, which would supply its produce to the agrarian "rear country" – the General Government, which was looked at as the future consumer of German industry.



Jews in Zaglembie under the Nazis

The first reliable information about the situation of Jews in Zaglembie dates from as late as July 1940, when a Jewish newspaper had been issued in Krakow. This was the "Gazeta Zydowska", the only Jewish paper to appear in all of the occupied territories of Poland. But a number of facts about the first days of the Nazi-occupation in Zaglembie is to be found in the collection of documents published by the Polish exile-government in London, and from those documents we also extracted the facts as given below.

The first German action started in Sosnowiec, on the 4th of September 1939, about 5 p.m. There the German soldiers passed from house to house, ordering the people to gather at the marketplace. From among the assembled they chose 25-30 men, nearly all of them Jewish, and shot them on the spot. Those who still showed signs of life were given a final shot from a Nazi-officer's pistol. The dead bodies, watched by a mass of people, were left there, in the marketplace, for a couple of hours, and then thrown into a common grave. That execution constituted a reprisal-act for the four dead German soldiers who had been found before.

In Sosnowiec three synagogues had been set on fire and burnt down, which act was followed by an arrest of 259 Jews.

In Bedzin the Jews were told to assemble in the Synagogue, which was then set on fire. Many of the assembled there found their death in fire, and those who succeeded in getting out were being shot after while they were trying to escape. Also in Katowice had the Synagogue been burnt down.

According to an official German statement from the 15th of December 1939, eighty-one Jews had been, executed in a number of towns under the accusation of having hidden weapons. Whoever knows anything about the goings on in those places at that time, will undoubtedly realize that in most cases the weapons were placed by the agents of the Gestapo. Among the towns in which these proceedings took place was also Katowice, where 5 Jews had been shot.

In addition to the general anti-Jewish measures introduced in the Nazi-occupied Poland, we learn of a few arrangements made for the benefit of the Jews of Upper Silesia only. Among these last: special wagons for Jews on the train line Dabrowa-Bedzin-Sosnowiec. The Jewish wagons were operated by 14 Jewish conductors and 4 controllers. Special hours had been assigned for the Jewish customers at the offices. Furthermore, Jews had been forbidden to pass through certain streets in Sosnowiec. On those particular streets they were allowed in special cases only, i.e. by an official permit and between 7 and 10 o'clock in the morning only. Jews travelling to or from Sosnowiec by train were allowed to alight or get on the trains at the Modrzejewska Street station only. The Jewish train-wagons were crowded as a rule – during the first ten days after they had been introduced they were used by 3,000 passengers.

In Katowice the chief of police ordered that no Jew would be permitted to use either train or bus except by a special permit.

Both Bedzin and Sosnowiec saw the establishment of Jewish militia, whose activities stretched over Jewish problems. They wore blue hats and armbands in Bedzin, and yellow ones in Sosnowiec. The militia in Sosnowiec had been organized in June 1940, and in August of the same year it numbered 30 men.

It is not clear whether there really existed Jewish ghettos in Zaglembie. The above-mentioned facts about the existence of Jewish militia and its range of responsibilities would indicate that there were no isolated, fenced around ghettos in the towns of Zaglembie. Moreover, the traffic on the Jewish streets continued to be regulated by the Polish policemen, contradictory to the towns where ghettos had been established and where there were no Polish policemen. The existence of streets on which Jews were not allowed strengthens further the view that there were no shut up ghettos there. Generally, the limitations ordered there were similar to those existing in Warsaw, Krakow, and other towns before the creating of ghettos there.



Employment

In the months September – October 1940 a general registration of all the Jewish healthy men aged 18-45 had been carried out in Zaglembie, for the purpose of sending them to the labor-Camps in the west of Upper Silesia. At that stage a certain pay was still being given for this compulsory work. The Jews mobilized to the labor-camps were being taken care of by the Center of the Jewish Congregations in Sosnowiec. It was the task of the congregations to supply the workers with medical help, clothing, and to support their families. To every group of fifty workers had been appointed an attendant from the congregation.

A piece of information from Bedzin says that six hundred families there had been freed from the rent-pay after their providers were taken to the labor-camps. Dabrowa was supplying 100 workers daily. During the winter two hundred Jews were being daily employed in the clearing of snow. Jews working in public enterprises were being regularly paid at that particular period.

In December 1939 a Center of Jewish Congregations of Upper Silesia had been set up in Sosnowiec following an order by the German rulers. A certain M. Merin, a person formerly completely unknown from any social activities, had been appointed the head of this new institution. Jewish congregations were active in eight districts: Blachow, Chrzanow, Dabrowa, Elkisz, Zywice, Cieszyn and Zawiercie. Each district-congregation embraced all the Jews living in that particular district. Apart from the eight district-congregation, there were two separate town-congregations: in Bedzin and in Sosnowiec. District-instructors were assigned the task of communicating between the various districts. At the headquarters of the Congregational Union a special Emigration Department was operating in the period between the 1st of February and the end of April 1940. It dealt with the then still existing meagre possibilities of emigration. But it was liquidated together with the last chances of escape. The Congregations Union was divided into the departments of jurisdiction, social help, health, provision, education, finances and budget, administration, employment, and statistics-archive.

The Union was apparently very well organized. We learn that delegations from Lodz and even Vienna came at one time to Sosnowiec to get acquainted with the Union's activities and institutions.

Sosnowiec was the first among the Jewish congregations to have established collective workshops. One of these workshops employed three hundred Jewish shoemakers; another – five hundred carpenters.

Similar workshops opened also in Bedzin and there the equipment had been supplied by the representatives of various trades. As the orders for all of these workshops came from the German military units and from German firms, they did not, naturally, encounter any difficulties on the part of the Nazi-rulers. And under this safety-cover they were also able to produce the tools and accessories essential to the existence of the Jewish settlement.

In the documents of Bedzin, Sosnowiec, Dabrowa and Zawiercie we come across numerous details of building-works carried out by Jewish workers. These building as well as agricultural works were directed and controlled by the Central Work Office at the Congregational Union in Sosnowiec. A great number of Orders for building works was reported in Dabrowa, and these were dealt for building the provision-department of the local congregation. In Bedzin 250 men were being daily employed in public works during the month of January 1941. The Building Unit there was given work for the total sum of 8000 Reich-marks. A special shift-unit had been created there to deal with all the offers.

Apart from all the available employment sources already mentioned, the feeble possibilities of agricultural work had not been forgotten. And it was in this particular field that the persisting pioneering Spirit of Jewish youth came to its full expression. The case of Szrodula Dolna, a small, neglected village near Bedzin, may be considered a typical example of this spirit. An area of waste fields, it had been lying covered with litter and excretions and avoided by the farmers for over forty years, until a group of 34 Jewish boys and 27 Jewish girls settled there. Their work there bore fruit, the fields covered with tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers and other greens. This farm provided some additional food for Bedzin. Another similar farm had been set up in Strzemieszyc. And in Sosnowiec an especially established farming-committee acquired some land-property, which had been promptly divided among small groups of Jews. More projects and plans of furthering the agricultural activities were under way, among them a plan for the establishment of an agricultural school and a project for acquiring new farms. In this agricultural activity participated chiefly the members of the "He'Halutz" who were supported by the local "Ort".

The Jewish Congregational Center developed a wide ranged activity of professional schooling. Trade-classes had been organized wherever it was only possible. In Sosnowiec courses for electricians, for embroidery and for corset making had been opened. In Bedzin similar courses opened – electricians and watchmakers classes for boys, embroidery and corset-making classes for girls. A course for carpenters had been organized in Dabrowa, where the groups of students were working in two shifts, five hours each. Whenever they could lay their hands on any amount of raw materials, they would produce accessories essential for the Jewish community. Additional courses for mechanics opened on the 11th of March 1941 and the students attending there were of 15-16 years of age. At the opening of these courses a representative of the Center of Sosnowiec could still declare optimistically, in spite of the surrounding circumstances of the Nazi-occupation: "We are looking hopefully forward to the future development. With every day more and more Jews grow more and more productive in various fields. We are bringing up a generation of labor and craft!"

Trade courses existed also in Strziemieszyce, Elkish and Slawkow, for students aged 14-18.



Welfare

For the purpose of directing welfare activities the Jewish Community had established the Union for Jewish Social Help.

The "Joint" had also opened an office in Sosnowiec, from which it directed its activities while keeping in close coordination with the Union's activities. The Union's special concern was to provide occupation for children, particularly those children whose parents had been taken to the labor-camps. We learn, among many other details, that on several occasions the Health-Department distributed free fish-oil and food. But the Union considered the creation of organized children-houses preferable to the distribution of charity-gifts. The cost of keeping a child in a children-home was 8 marks per month. In the children-homes the atmosphere was warm and homely, and the children were being given two meals a day there.

The means at the Union's disposal were far from being sufficient. We learn that in Sosnowiec no more than 100 children aged from 4 to 12 could enjoy the privilege of medical care and have a dinner every day, and ways were being sought in which to extend this help over 400 more children. 225 of the children aged under 14 were under the care of a dentist. In the children-home existing there care was being taken of 117 children, 57 boys and 60 girls, all of them under the age of ten. The children were coming in two shifts, one in the mornings, another in the afternoons.

In Bedzin there existed an orphanage for 83 children. The cost of keeping a child in that orphanage was 31.20 marks per month. An additional number of outside children was being given regular meals at the orphanage.

In the summer of 1941 the Jewish children of Bedzin organized a "campaign for children help". This campaign could not, of course, be of much practical use, yet its whole character was touching and unforgettable. An especially created committee of the Zionist youth had delegated house-supervisors. At the time of the publication of the first notice about this sort of activity, 178 supervisors were already active. They succeeded in collecting the sum of 469.95 marks for the purpose of educational and social help. In addition to this activity, 12 girls from youth organizations were permanently helping with the educational work at the orphanage. For the few children who could be sent to summer-camps a special clothing-collection had been organized.

In Dabrowa a special children-home for the poor had been opened on the 17th December 1910. It contained about 50 children and its staff consisted of two teachers. In the same month a children-home in Mondzew had been established. This was a special house for the children whose fathers had been taken to the labor-camps. The children there were given clothes and shoes. In Slawkow 30 children were being given free meals.

The welfare-department in Sosnowiec found it possible to provide meals for 100 children and it had worked out a plan for widening this action over 400 more children. Each child was being given daily some milk and a dinner comprised of two dishes. But in order to enjoy this privilege the children had to pass a medical examination,

The constantly spreading diseases were being fought with in every way possible. The number of earnest disease-cases in Sosnowiec increased so rapidly, that a permission to add 40 more beds to the local Jewish hospital had been granted. Additional beds had to be put even in the rooms of the hospital-staff. Also the Homes for the Elderly were overcrowded because of the flow of the old Jews expelled from various villages in Upper Silesia.

The Central Health-Office by the Congregational Union was operating under the direction of Dr. S. Mitelman. Among its many various activities there were such as the distribution of fish-oil for the children of 20 communities, and the transportation of the mentally ill to an institution in Otwock, at the expense of the Zaglembie-congregations.

In the Home for the Elderly in Bedzin care was being taken of 50 residents. In an ambulatory operating there anti-typhus injections were being given. The health-condition of the Jewish population at the time is well illustrated by the fact, that in a short space of time the ambulatory had been visited by over 3000 persons. A similar ambulatory was also operating in Dabrowa. And it was Dabrowa in which hundreds of Jews expelled from other villages of Silesia found a shelter in private homes, by total strangers.

In the outcome of the increased title of refugees from the surrounding small villages, the typhus-epidemic spread rapidly in the summer-months of 1941. A disinfectant had been purchased in order to clean the clothes of the already sick, but proved to be of no effect in the prevention of the further spreading of the disease.

A clothing collection on a large scale had been arranged in Bedzin. In its result, 459 poor families had been provided with shoes, underwear etc. A considerable amount of the collected clothes had been sent to the labor-camps.

In the period from the 13th October 1940 till the 31st January 1941 a special Jewish winter-help campaign had been held in the whole of Zaglembie. This campaign brought the income of 179,000 Reich-marks, which formed only about 86 % of the sum collected at the previous year's campaign. The number of contributors declined, while the number of the needy –grew.



Nutrition

We have information about the following details of the activity of the communal kitchens: in the first months of 1940 there were only 11 kitchens existing; towards the end of 1940 there were 29 public kitchens operating in the east of Upper Silesia. In January 1940 a total of 277,000 meals had been given out, in June of the same year – 525,000. From August 1940 till the end of that year 386,000 meals per month had been given out – obviously there were no sufficient means to provide for more. The total number of meals given out in 1940 amounted to 5 millions. The over-all cost of these meals was 387,000, a sum forming 35% of the general expenditure on welfare.

The average price of a meal was 7.5 pfennig, which nil charge is enough to indicate the poor quality of those meals. A great part of those meals was given free of any charge. Apart from the above-mentioned 29 kitchens, there existed three special kitchens for the unemployed intelligentsia, manual workers etc. 40% of the meals there were given free of charge, 35% – for the price of 10 pfennig, and 25% – for 27 pfennig per meal.

A special food-center was operating in order to procure the products necessary for the kitchens, trying also to accumulate as many stores as possible, and flour in particular.

The communal kitchen in Sosnowiec was (in March 1941) giving out 7000 meals daily. The monthly budget was as low as 12,000 marks. The staff consisted of 20 persons. Only those who were working on paid jobs were being charged for their meals, 8 pfennig each. A meat consisted of soup and bread three days a week, and of soup only on the other four days. Another kitchen was giving 250 meals daily, at the price of 50 pfennig each.

A communal kitchen in Bedzin was serving 580 families, i.e. 2219 persons. At the time at which our source was published, 251,947 meals had already been given out. The same report stated that each portion was being given at the price of 7.5 pfennig. As time went on, more and more people had to rely on the communal kitchens for their sustenance.

In Dabrowa over 1000 persons had to rely on the public kitchens, which number was relatively a very high one, as compared to Bedzin. The reason for this being so is difficult to find out; we may assume that either the number of the needy there increased with the refugees coming in from the villages, or that the possibilities of food-provision were better there.



Help-Activity

April of 1941 saw the expulsion of the 5000 Oswiecim-Jews. The Jews of Zaglembie, and those of Sosnowiec in particular, did not waste time in organizing a truly brotherly help. Over a thousand Jewish workers from all over Zaglembie had been mobilized to transport the Jewish families with their belongings from Oswiecim. All that the Jews were allowed to take with them had been loaded on several hundreds of carts and brought to the nearest railway Station in Brzezynika. From there it had been transported on freight wagons to Sosnowiec. The transportation committee, as well as the house supervisors, worked hard for seven days and nights without a break. They were being helped by various transportation-firms from Bielsk, Cieszyn, Katowice, Breslau and Sosnowiec, who worked with all the means of locomotion standing at their disposal. The Jewish militia of Sosnowiec was responsible for the exemplary order of this operation. All the Jewish institutions, workshops, kitchens and also the Home for the Elderly had been transported in a couple of days. The sick had been transported to Sosnowiec. The last to leave the town were the members of the Jewish Council.

The refugees were received in Sosnowiec with extraordinary warmth and affection. Special Camps had been prepared for them, and all the men able to work had been mobilized to unload the refugees' belongings, despite the bitter frost.

Apart from the various activities described above, there also existed a number of cultural and artistic organizations. A symphonic orchestra of 25 members and a choir of 30 members were active in Bedzin and we learn that eight consequent music evenings took place there.

The above review of the Jewish life in Zaglembie is based on the information contained in the "Gazeta Zydowska" and does not extend beyond September 1941. Since that only Jewish magazine had been liquidated, it became difficult to obtain any reliable information about Jewish life in Zaglembie in particular, and in the Nazi-occupied Poland in general. The information given in the German and foreign press was always superficial, lacking in details and facts, and generally very tendentious. But though the bunch of facts we could get hold of is very fragmentary, one thing is obvious: The Nazis failed in destroying the Jew spiritually; until his very last breath the Jew was fighting for his life.





[Page 71]

Itzchok Mordechai Peisachzon

Emmanuel Nowogrodzki


I shall not venture to write any detailed biography of Itzchok Mordechai Peisachzon, the pioneer of the general union of the Jewish workers "Bund" in Russia, Lithuania, and Poland. Such a task is beyond my present-day possibilities. I myself belong to a later generation of the Bundists; Itzchok Peisachzon's path in the Bund did not cross, or meet with my own until the years of the independent Poland between the two World Wars. Those wishing to learn about the outstanding life of Itzchok Mordechai Peisachzon in more detail will have to content themselves with the information available in the first volume of "Doires Bundisth" ("Generations of Bundists"), edited by "Undzer Zeit" at the World Coordination Committee of the "Bund" in New York.

As already mentioned, the following is no more than a bunch of memories I owe my friend and comrade who devoted his whole life to the "Bund" and died the death of a hero. I. M. Peisachzon was shot by a Nazi murderer because he refused to submit to the armed power of the Hitlerists.

Who was this Jew, who dared to call for an uprising against the Hitler-bandits occupying Bedzin?

I met him through my uncle Lipe Nowogrodzki, in the years after the failure of the first Russian revolution. Lipe Nowogrodzki lived with his parents at Pokorna Street, in Warsaw. The apartment was very small, but I always enjoyed visiting it.

I used to meet there young Jewish writers, who were later to become the giants of the modern Jewish literature: Abraham Raizen, Hersh David Nomberg, L. Shapiro, and many others.

Except these Jewish writers, Lipe Nowogrodzki used to entertain also young Bundists, Yiddishists, and "Iskrovists". At my grandfather's place on the Pokorna, I used to see a mixed lot seated around the samovar. They all used to sit for hours and discuss heatedly topics such as: the place of a man in the world, revolution, and literature. Those were endless discussions, and I remember listening to them with a feeling of complete enchantment.

It was there that I first met Peisachzon. Lipe Nowogrodzki, M. Rosenblum and Itzchok Peisachzon were very good friends. They were drawn together not only by their common illegal activities in the Jewish workers movement, but also by their literary interests. All three were fervent admirers of I. L. Peretz.

From those distant times I can still remember how Peisachzon, Nowogrodzki and Rosenblum sat for hours, passionately discussing the movement of Hasidism. This particular discussion stayed deeply impressed in my memory because of my grandfather, the very religious David Laizer Nowogrodzki, who has never opened his mouth while the "youngsters" were talking among themselves. But an that particular occasion he became very upset. Being himself a "misnaged", i.e. strongly opposed to the Hasidic movement, and a follower of the Gaon of Vilna, my grandfather would not listen to Itzchok Peisachzon's defence of Hasidism.

Lipe Nowogrodzki never stayed for long anywhere. He used to leave Warsaw quite often, and to stay for months in Bedzin, where he kept a separate apartment. Bedzin was situated near the German border. Nowogrodzki was active in the illegal transportation of various revolutionary personalities, and also of the revolutionary literature, to and from Russia. This smuggling activity, which was all-important to the development of the illegal movement of the workers at that time, was probably the main reason for his becoming installed in Bedzin.

Whatever the reasons, Lipe was successful in convincing Itzchok Peisachzon to come down to Bedzin. Apart from short intervals, Peisachzon soon turned into a permanent Bendiner.

The First World War, which started in the summer of 1914, caught both Itzchok Peisachzon and Lipe Nowogrodzki in Bedzin. Straight from the beginning of the war they became disconnected from the rest of Poland and Russia. In Bedzin, as in a great many of the other occupied villages of Poland, the Jews began to suffer from hunger and poverty. Itzchok Peisachzon and Lipe Nowogrodzki emerged as the leaders of the Jewish masses, and organized them for their future bitter struggle against the official Jewish committee.

Their main point was, that the Jewish rich and wealthy showed no feeling whatever for the others' needs, and concerned themselves about their own welfare only. I heard many a story about Peisachzon's bitter struggle for the provision of the wide masses of Jewish people in Bedzin with the necessary food-products; Lipe Nowogrodzki, when he came back from Bedzin to Warsaw, already after the war was over, was full of these stories.

The apartment on Pokorna Street had already been liquidated. Lipe's father (and my grandfather) was not alive anymore. By that time I was already an active member of the "Bund" in Warsaw. Lipe Nowogrodzki also told me, how often he and Itzchok Peisachzon had risked their freedom because they had been reported to the Germans as dangerous rebels.

The popularity of Itzchok Peisachzon in Bedzin came to light in the year 1917, when the German occupation-forces ordered elections to the city council.

The election-system was not, evidently, a democratic one; in fact, it was openly reactionary. The majority of the Jewish population had been squashed into one special voting area, which had been allotted a very limited number of council-members. But even under those conditions, almost 50 percent of all the Jewish votes were given to Itzchok Peisachzon, who was the candidate of the "Bund".

Such a result of the elections among the Hasidic-religious Jewish population came as a real surprise to all of us. Peisachzon was elected to the city council. From that election in 1917 and until 1943, the year in which the Germans murdered him, Peisachzon remained in this office. He came to be known as the defender of the broad Jewish masses and as the representative of the "Bund". The Jews of Bedzin came to think of him as one of their own.

When the First World War was over, already in the independent Poland, Peisachzon became the secretary of the Jewish Congregation in Bedzin. The two offices provided him with the excellent opportunity to put into practice his Bundism, i.e. his very devotion to the vital demands of the Jewish working masses. In the city council he was one of the most courageous fighters against the anti-Semitic reactionary elements. In the congregation itself he continued his fight against the Jewish rich and mighty, and against the Jewish orthodox religious rulers. More than once did he happen to come into sharp conflicts with the rabbi of Bedzin. But everybody knew all the same that Peisachzon, the freethinker, wants nothing but the general welfare. Years later, I was told by S. S. Trunk, that the very rabbi whom Peisachzon used to attack, so sharply was a relative of Trunk himself. When talking about Peisachzon this rabbi said that Peisachzon must have belonged to the lamed-vovnikes (the thirty-six Jewish saints).

In the years 1910-11 I became acquainted with his first wife, Sonia Gliksman. She lived together with her son and her sister Liza in Otwock near Warsaw. She was sick with tuberculosis and she died in 1911. I made her acquaintance through Roza Arshanski-Nowogrodzki, the wife of Moshe Nowogrodzki, a member of the group of "Iskrovists" in Warsaw. Sonia was an activist of the Bund, and she was a Bund-representative among the clothing-workers.


*

I must have met Itzchok Mordechai Peisachzon once before the end of the First World War. He was a delegate to a convention of Bund, which took place in Lublin towards the end of December 1917.

I was to take care of the technical-organizational side of that convention. In order in carry my task out properly, I came to Lublin weeks before the convention began. But I must confess, that I do not recall seeing I. Peisachzon at that convention; and were it not for the many mutual friends who kept assuring me that Peisachzon actually was a delegate to that very convention, I could "swear" that I did not meet him at all until the war was over. This is only to prove that one cannot rely on human memory.


*

After the end of the First World War and until 1939 – the Start of the Second World War – I used to meet Peisachzon quite often, and during our meetings we became closer and closer. Our roles in the party changed, I became a member of the central committee instead of him, and yet our deep friendship stayed untouched.

Whenever I came down to Bedzin as a party functionary, I used to spend long hours talking with Peisachzon. He liked to remember the "old" times, when I was still a young boy and he was unwilling to let me participate in their passionate discussions at my grandfather's table.

Sometimes Lipe Nowogrodzki would come down to Bedzin, and then all the three of us would sit and remember those good years. Peisachzon used to come quite often to Warsaw, an account of various political and organizational affairs of the "Bund". On those occasions he used to be my guest; he had his meals at my place. I remember one evening, when he was in a particularly good mood and told us episodes from the pioneering work he did in his young years in Lodz. He was sent there by the central committee of the "Bund" in the very first years of the movement. He was an excellent storyteller. All of our friends who were present that evening, as well as Sonia and myself, listened with our breaths drown in to his extraordinary stories of the Jewish weavers from Baluty in Lodz. The Jewish weavers of that time were enslaved not only physically, but also spiritually. They were unable to understand, why Peisachzon and other Bundists should speak so sharply against Poznanski, one of the greatest manufacturers in Lodz. "Poznanski is a Jew, after all, and we ought to be proud of him being such a personality", they used to argue in favor of him, and against Peisachzon. Peisachzon's stories showed clearly, that the Jewish weavers of that time saw the only ray of light in the very fact of Poznanski's existence, his reaches, and his having been able to rise that high in the social rank.

The facts seem difficult to believe in, and yet, after only a few years of strenuous agitation an the part of the "Bund", those same weavers of Lodz would be found among the best and most advanced revolutionary fighters of the Czarist Empire.


*

I remember I. M. Peisachzon as bursting with lust for life, always ready to take of the best things life could offer him. He used to enjoy a good book, theater, music. A good meal with a glass of wine would always raise his spirits. In that he differed from his nearest friend, Lipe Nowogrodzki. For my uncle Lipe was a definite ascetic throughout his whole life; he stayed a bachelor and he had no understanding for Peisachzon's deep joy of life. Lipe's idea of a revolutionary was that of a total ascetic.


*

The long years of illegal political activity, prison and exile, undermined the health of Itzchok Peisachzon. I remember running into him quite unexpectedly in Zakopane, several years before the Second World War. I was spending several weeks touring in the hills, which I used to do every summer, and it was on a highway in the midst of the hills that I met Peisachzon. He was dressed as if he himself, too, was about to set out on a mountain-climbing trip, but when I invited him to join me, he had to confess that he was unable to do so because of his swollen feet. Yet he was trying to get all the joy out of watching other people enjoying that, which he could not do anymore. This episode is very typical of our "Motele"; it reveals some of the inner essence of his personality.

Peisachzon joined the "Bund" in 1892, even before it became an organized political party. He was then a sixteen years old Hasidic Boy, who had adopted the socialist ideas of a Jewish worker, and the whole of his life since was to be devoted to the establishing and strengthening of the Bundistic movement.

A bullet from a Nazi bandit, a representative of the "higher rate", cut short the life of this pioneer – a soldier in the fight for human freedom. "Motele" never ceased serving his party "Bund", not till the last minute of his life.

These few memories of my friend and comrade, of our "Motele", as we used to call him in the "Bund", are a debt, which I pay to one of those, who had shaped my youth, to one of those who formed the elite of our socialist movement.


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