[Pages 146-157]

Professional Activity, Cultural Work, Personalities

by Moshe Wasserman, Tel Aviv


In my recollections I would like to discuss the youth activity of my dear, beloved and beautiful town. I want to bring out the suffering and pain of Demblin's Jews, workers and menial laborers, the bitter struggle that Demblin Jews had throughout the year to make a living.

It is with trembling that I write these lines. My heart bleeds, the tears run, when one remembers that once upon a time, a lovely blossoming Jewish town lived with warm hearted mothers, fathers, and little children who filled the streets with joy. In my Demblin there was a flowering, strong, conscious youth who wanted to take advantage of culture and knowledge, who struggled and went a long way to carry the burden of new ideas. These ideas from the broader world which promised a new era to come.

The youth of Demblin, deep in their heart and soul, carried these new ideas of justice. They didn't get scared off by any difficulties which were placed in their paths. With great, youthful ardor they believed that time would come when hatred would be replaced by love between peoples, when hunger, need and wars would be replaced by friendship among peoples. They carried around these beautiful ideas of national and socialist liberation, with great affection, and in all of the most difficult times. The whole of Demblin youth was like one organism ready to fight back against the attacks of the Endex and other anti-Semitic organizations, who wanted to trample on the rights of the Jewish inhabitants until the blackest clouds spread and a murderous hand with a sharp ax came down over our beautiful and beloved own and exterminated almost all of the Jews of Demblin. All of our families were annihilated and the little handful of survivors will with reverence remember the destroyed Demblin community and their families, and will forever carry great sorrow in their hearts.



In the First World War

The year 1914. Like lightning the news traveled through the town that the War had started. Mothers run around ringing their hands because children and husbands are being called to the front and they walk weeping spasmodically over the narrow streets of the town. There was hardly one house that they didn't take away a father or a son.

Suddenly an order arrives that all Jews must get out of town. It was a Sunday. And all Jews evacuated. A horrible hardship prevailed among the Jews of Modzjitz, who were uprooted from their homes and sent wandering without any means of making a living. We longed for our old home, Modzjitz. Or at least some place to lay our head down. A year later the Austrians took our town. Demblin was unrecognizable. A great section of the town lay in ruins as a result of the retreat of the Russian army. The people too, were hardly recognizable. There was a stamp of wandering and homelessness on their faces. And the old life in which almost the entire population made their living from the Russian soldiers stationed at Ivangorod, was gone.

The Austrian army, by contrast, bought absolutely nothing. Terrible poverty reigned in the town. The young people didn't have any work, and living conditions were truly miserable as a result of the lack of dwellings. Several families were forced to share a single room. In the midst of the greatest desperation, they began to enlist workers to build the bridge over the Vistula. A large number of adult and young Jews went to work on the Vistula bridge, and from that were able to make a little money to survive on. Also smuggling became a means of making a living. As soon as it got dark, Jews would slip out of town loaded with containers of kerosene, as well as with other kinds of goods. The leader of each group was somebody who knew the roads and byways that led to Ryki and he was called the engineer. He had to have very finely tuned senses and be able to sense in the depths of the Ryki forest where the German border police lay in wait, hidden. When he sensed danger, he would steer the whole group onto anther path. One of the leaders had a reputation for moving his group around with great success. This was Avram Greenberg, a shoemaker. When the group safely got to the other side of the border, there was waiting for them in Ryki, merchants, and they made their exchanges of merchandise. In this way the smuggling continued during practically the whole Austrian occupation.

In the same epic, cultural activity began in Demblin. The first culture circle opened up where the first library was located as well as the first drama circle. The culture union was located in the house of Itche Handelsman. Almost all of the Demblin youth would make their way there. You could read newspapers, hear lectures by one of our own friends, as well as by speakers who came from Warsaw and there were also question evenings and you could take books home to read them. The first posters began to appear in town which invited the population of Demblin to musical and vocal evenings. These evenings I'll never forget. It was in the middle of summer and there was a big crowd and commotion in Kalman Zucker's courtyard. I went there myself, of course. At the door tickets were sold by Hindela Berentzweig. There was quite a commotion. It didn't take long for all of the tickets to be sold out. A big part of the audience had to go home because they couldn't get in. Darkness fell. The doors of Kalman Zucker's shop opened up and the concert began. In the street you could hear little bits of the song in the streets. One song I remember until today, it's branded in my memory, although I was only 9 years old at the time:
“Great God, we sing songs / an you alone are our help /
Gather us the sheaves, brothers / until the sun goes down…”
I wanted to hear more, but they didn't let the little kids hang around because they were making too much commotion.

A little later I remember, a Sunday morning, a little boy and girl carried collection cans which were inscribed, “For poor children”. The same thing repeated itself a second time, this time it was to raise money for the Jewish library. The culture center was very, very popular. It was greatly respected by the youth. You could find books that had been out of the library in many, many homes. The first book of my life I opened up and read, it was called. “The Shtetl”, by Sholom Asch. My father fiercely criticized my sister, Hannah-Gitel, because of her trayf [he considered the books garbage]. In this realm, in the same way, there were plenty of conflicts between adults and parents and children, the parents feeling the children were going down a very slippery road.

As long as I'm at it, I'll remember and give great tribute and honor to the creator and the founders of the first culture center in Demblin, Yarmeyohu Vanapol, Alter Rubenstein, Laibel Bubis, the Rozenfeld brothers, the Heldman brothers, Shmuel Fang, Chaskel Lozeres' father, Eliya Tzirklevitch, Hindele Berentzweig, David Kestenberg, Nechemiah Erlich, Chana Gitel Wasserman, Rafael Baigelman, Dinah Baigelman, Yankel Bubis, Samson Zyman, the Apelhot brothers and others whose names I can't remember.

With the installation of the culture center, the youth began to conduct themselves with a little bit more freedom. Because, until then, the religious fanaticism had its influence not only on the older Jews but also on the youth. For the first time Jewish girls would show up in pony tails. Boys would exchange their Jewish hats for caps. Every evening when the culture center closed own you could see couples walking together on the Demblin road and conducting heated discussions into late at night. By day, the youth would go in and exchange books, and there were lots and lots of young people who would go in and out of that library.

The town began to normalize and get back to itself and the ruins were swept aside and in the empty lots, modest houses were built and the tradesmen were able to repair their workshops. You could feel a change. Posters announced that the drama circle at the culture center would perform Sholom Asch's “God of Vengeance”.



Poland becomes independent

After the installation of the Polish state in 1918, the workers and journeymen and professional labor movements got started again in Demblin. A union of leather and needle workers was founded which began to conduct many activities.

To the founders and activists of the union and to the establishment of the professional and cultural movement in Demblin, many of the previously mentioned young people belonged and a number of them had come from very religious backgrounds: Motel Botner and Alter Rubenstein; the well-known writer in America, B. Demblin, Binyomen Taitelboim is his real name; my sister Chana-Gitel Wasserman, today in Moscow; Eliya Tzirkelevitch; Yichiel Sharfhartz (killed by the Nazis); David Kestenberg (today in Israel). The first one, Alter Rubenstein, has passed away. All of them, with their knowledge, energy and talent brought a great renewal of life and light to the town. They did a tremendous amount in the whole realm of enlightenment and culture.

The union center began to organize in its ranks the workshops in Demblin on behalf of better living conditions. A strike was carried out on a very broad scope for an 8 hour day and for salary increases.

The employers, of course, didn't want to yield to any of the demands. The strike took on a very stormy character and its scope was so great that even the sons of the employers, the business owners, their children took part in it. It's enough to bring forth as an example the fact the young Shmuel, son of the master tailor Katskka, was one of the organizers of the strike.

Thanks to the decisive and uncompromising conduct of the workers, all the demands were won.

The needle workers conducted a very bitter struggle which lasted 2 months, but they won. However, the Polish authorities weren't about to grant this victory to the Demblin needle workers. The union was very popular among the needle workers who were proud of their organization and its leaders, but at this time reprisals began against left activists and sympathizers in the professional unions. On a certain evening, just as it was getting dark, the police showed up at the needle workers union and arrested its leader, the chairman.

The carpenter's section of the union, as well, found itself in the same circumstances. The wood worker, Laibel Radovsky, was arrested along with Yisrael Zalthendler and other young people. The police accused them of being leaders of the communist party in Demblin. Although no real evidence was produced, there was no documentation for the charges, they were still judged guilty. The chairman Avram Avramovitz was sent to prison for 5 years, Laibel Radovsky and Shmuel Zaltzhendler for 2 years each. The Demblin needle workers, however, were not intimidated and they continued their activity in the street. The brother Mechel Avramovitz, Hersh-Nachum Nachtailer and others made continuing efforts to open the union.

One could feel in town the activity of a certain group of young people who felt the Jewish life in Poland was a dead end. They felt that one had to turn instead towards the ancient home which hadn't been home to the Jewish people for 2,000 years. That's where the youth should be turning their glances and that should be where they devoted their energy, in that direction. The Demblin airport, which was a source of employment and livelihood for many Polish workers and clerks, didn't allow any Jewish workers, from Demblin to be employed there. For a big section of the youth, the thought of wondering away and getting out of town and going into the big, broader world, became very meaningful. Because at home and fell in with the Zionist movement and repaired themselves to travel to the land of their dreams.



The Wood Workers Union

In the middle of the 1920's, the carpenters union was a very, very important factor in the whole craft union movement in our town. There wasn't one carpenter who wasn't outside of the union. This section used to set an example and great encouragement for all of the workers in Demblin. The 8 hour work day was strictly observed. The way work was apportioned was admirable. In the leadership in the carpenter section there were experienced, trusted and very dedicated unionists like Chaim Meir Goldberg (today in Israel), Hershel Nisenboim (in Paris), Yisrael Yom-Tov (in Canada), Shmuel Zalthendler (in Paris), Laibel Radovsky (in Israel), Moshe Apelhot (Brazil), Moshe Baigelman, and others.

Each action which the carpentry workers undertook seemed to be successful. It was crowned with success. The carpenter's section was the largest division of the professional union in Demblin. The employers had to take them seriously. When on occasion there was an attempt to take action against the carpenters' union by these employers, they had to give it up very, very quickly, because it was clear that they were trying to push against a solid wall of cement, which was absolutely unbreakable.

In the cultural realm, as well, the carpenters never took a back seat. Many of those who survived remember very well the part that Moshe Apelhot and Moshe Baigelman took in the drama circle. They really elevated the level of the performance with their own contributions and hoped to create great respect for the accomplishments of the drama group.

In this way the carpenters of our town sustained the struggle which Jewish workers conducted in that time. By far the greatest percentage of them were murdered by Nazis.



Struggle with anti-Semitism

The first time that the local Demblin anti-Semites went into action, they sent a group of carriage wagons with Polish drivers. On their hats they wore an insignia which said in big letters, “Polish Wagon”. All of the officers who used to ride in a carriage driven by a Jew to the train (most of the wagons were driven by Jewish drivers), decided when they saw this change that they would only patronize the Polish drivers. This created a condition in which Demblin's Jewish drivers, who in normal circumstances were extremely poor, started to literally die from hunger.

Each Wednesday when the market opened up in town, anti-Semitic hooligans stopped the Jewish tailors and shoemakers from selling their wares. Other groups gathered in front of Jewish stores and wouldn't let the peasants in to buy stuff. True, not all of the peasants followed the advice of these hooligans, but the livelihood of the Jews shrank and poverty was felt much more intensely in the town. It seemed that the Demblin anti-Semites inspired and were given hope and direction by the activities if their neighbors in Germany. The followers of Hitler, ruled the street.

That moment, a spontaneous kind of reaction began in the organizations of Demblin's Jewish youth and workers as well as the membership of the political parties. Every Wednesday when the anti-Semitic hooligans showed up at the stalls in the market and in front of the shops, they'd really get punished. They got it so bad that they'd run. They ran so fast that they forgot to take their hats. A second time when they came back with increased strength, more people, they got beat up so bad that hey didn't come back after that to terrorize the Jews of Demblin. That's the way the Demblin Jews wrote a heroic page in the history of the defense of Jewish rights and honor.

[See PHOTO-A26 at the end of Section A]

It should also be remembered on this occasion that a group of Demblin youth, with weapons in their hands, fought against the German occupiers. The leader of the group was the heroic young man Yirchmayel Federbush. Two versions exist of his heroic death. One says that he and his co-fighters were killed in a battle with the Nazis in the Ryki forest, the second version says they were killed in a battle with the A. K.



Culture Activity

The organized Jewish workshops in Demblin together with their professional labor related activities, began to conduct many branches of cultural work. A library and reading hall were organized where the youth was able to take advantage of and enjoy the best work of Jewish and European writers.

To the very, very distinguished and wonderful achievements of the union belongs the drama circle which possessed great and very capable resources and successes and presented plays of classical Yiddish plays as well as a repertoire of plays from other parts of the world. The drama circle was quite well known for the level and scope of its presentations and its reputation extended well beyond the borders of Demblin. The drama circle gave its guest performance in many other towns and was always received with great enthusiasm.

Among the participants in the drama circle were such people who with more professional training could have easily become really important performers.

Among those who were associated with and performed in the drama circle were such comrades as: Rafael Baigelman and Chemya Erlich (who is in Brazil today); Chana Gitel Wasserman (Moscow); Velvel-Leib Ruder and David Cholevinsky (killed by the Nazis); Efraim Zweiss and Moshe Gorfinkel (today in America); Chana Goldberg (today in Paris); and many other comrades and workers whose names I do not remember.

When a large number of activists and people who worked in professional associations emigrated from Demblin into the broader world, the following people kind of took the lead in the activities of the union: Yosef-Note Cholevinsky (chairman of the leather workers section); Avromel Avramowitz (chairman of the needle workers section), who as a result of their activitym their professional; labor and social activity, were not very well thought of by the Polish authorities and were sentenced to 5 years in prison from 1928 to 1933. Yosef-Note Cholevinsky was killed, still fighting in the Bialystok ghetto against the Germans, together with his family. Avromel Avramovitch died in Lodz after the War.

Besides those two comrades mentioned above, those who were very active in the union at that time included: Chaim-Meir Goldberg, Hershel Eichenbrenner and the writer of these lines, all of who find themselves today in Israel; and Hershel Nisenboim (today in Paris), Yaacov Fiztenboim (Paris).

The culture work in Demblin was at that time on a very, very high level. Not a Sabbath evening went by when there wasn't some kind of cultural performance or another presented.

The culture commission turned towards the most honored inhabitants of Demblin, for instance to Dr. Yarmeyohu Vanapol, who later was killed by the Germans. He gave a cycle of lectures about anatomy. And for quite a bit of time he was also a member of the drama circle and gave a lot of himself to social work.

The second person was the lawyer Kannaryenfogel (he was also killed by the Germans), and he gave a series of lectures about the cosmos.

There were also question evenings conducted later by Yankel Bubis, who was murdered by the Nazis, a very capable, talented person, who devoted all of his energies to the education of the youth.

During our undertakings, the meeting hall was absolutely jammed because so many wanted to attend. There were a lot of people who couldn't get in and they used to stand outside, behind the doors and windows, to listen to the lectures.

Every holiday our drama circle gave a performance and everybody streamed in to see it, young and old, free thinkers and religious people.

There were also concerts where there were solo performances by Rochtshe Baigelman (today in Brazil). With her majestic, sweet voice she won the sympathy of the whole audience. She use to have to sing many, many encores.

Miriam Shulman as well (who was killed in the camps) inspired the public with her Kolorater-Soprano. One marveled at her God given voice which was able to handle the most complicated melodies like a wonderful song bird.

In this way our culture work went forward until the conflagration of the War, which swallowed up Poland and destroyed our dear home town Demblin with all her population, young and old, big and little, and in this way, our wonderful, flowering youth was destroyed. The life of our dear town which had gone on for many generations and continued to bubble up and produce its own qualities was cut off completely for once and for all.



Miriam Shulman – May she rest in Peace

Who in Demblin didn't know or hadn't heard of Miriam Shulman. The dark, charming young woman with the fine features. Her dreamy eyes bespoke both a very refined personality and an artist of the highest order. But only the greatest respect came her way when one heard her in concert. It was enough that her name showed up on a poster and the success of the concert was assured. The union took advantage of that fact when there was a lack of money and organized a musical evening from the posters that in big letters shined the name “Miriam Shuman”. When the poster went up all of the tickets would be sold out a week before the concert.

She was able to sing the most beautiful compositions with a very light touch and with great feeling of the heart and everybody who was listening to her wanted only one thing, that was, that her majestic song should just go on and on and not stop. She possessed the voice of the highest class, a Kolorater-Soprano, a voice full of feeling and refinement. The movement from a higher octave to a lower one was something she did apparently very effortlessly. Schubbert's serenade she sang with so much charm that when asked the question, where did this young woman come from, born in Hasidic family, how did she come by so much musical skill. Besides that, in Demblin, there wasn't any music school. Nevertheless, she possessed, just like the greatest musical personalities, two superlative points. Those were a beautiful voice and a great musical range.

[See PHOTO-A27 at the end of Section A]

Miriam Shulman never showed any arrogance. She was very unpretentious and simple. Each time when she was asked to give a concert she agreed readily. She was one of the young women I've written about before who was very conscious, very well known, and very loved in our town. One would never tire throughout a whole evening of listening to her sing and speak.

There was one concert during which Miriam Shulman presented many songs and the audience found itself in the greatest ecstasy. The friend who conducted the evening said, let it be known that our friend Miss Shulman would end the concert with Maurice Rozenfeld's poem “As the myrtle grows green”. The audience became very restless but when her sweet voice began to float out over the hall and from her mouth one heard the majestic silver sounds, “you don't find me there my love”. And everybody felt the very strong impression as if they were no longer there in the hall but in heaven. The audience was struck dumb, her coloratura voice sounded into every little corner of the hall and poured out far into the street. It liberated the hearts of those who hadn't been able to get into the hall because of lack of space. There were really many people who were standing with their hearts in their throat, outside, who were just transported by her beautiful voice.

Miriam Shulman was able to reach the highest notes with her soprano, when she sang out, “I'm a slave sitting here by my sewing machine, and that's where my resting place will be.” This was really the high point of her artistic creation when she sang these lines.

With her beautiful singing the people who were in the audience were conducted to a better world of art and song. All those who have survived, who heard her sing, will remember with greatest reverence the beautiful and majestic folk singer who filled everybody's heart with joy and belief that there was beauty in the world, that both beauty and art and creation of music existed in the world and that in life as well. Something higher existed.

The great artist, Miriam Shulman, shared the same fate as all Demblin's Jews, she and her husband and children went on their last road, were sent away for the last time, and never came back.

Honored be her sacred memory!



The Demblin Sextons

Berela Shames I knew when I was 5 years old. A Jew of average height with a heavy white beard, but with the gait of a very young person, very light footed. When he banged on the reading desk, you could hear it throughout the whole synagogue.

Sabbath after eating, the small fry used to gather in the synagogue and get into trouble and make a big commotion. This would really get under the skin of the people who were concentrating on praying and saying their psalms. And this really made the gray bearded Shames furious. He took off his belt and with a very swift stride he strode away from the reading desk. As soon as everybody saw that he was striding around with his belt in his hand, they would stop running around the reading desk and when a few of them started to get smacked or as they were squeezing out the door, there was a big rush to get out, he would smack them around with his belt. Whoever got smacked by Berela did not show up again on the Sabbath inside the synagogue.

On Chanukah, before night fell, all of the heder children were let out of school and went to the synagogue. Every heder had staked out a little territory where they were going to sit on the benches by the wall, at the front of the building. Those that came late had to stand on the other side of the benches, by the tables. The mood was one of celebration. The synagogue was overflowing with people. The Cantor prepared to step down from the reading platform. Berela Shames banged the reading desk three times and then the Cantor began to walk with very slow steps. The moment he made that bang three times, with one voice, the little kids voices rang out, “He's walking, he's walking, he's walking, he's stepping, he's stepping, he's stepping, he's lighting, he's lighting, he's lighting.” The voices of little kids flowed together with the blessings of the miracle of Chanukah. Children were extremely happy. You didn't have to go to heder at night, and you got Chanukah gelt. The same thing happened in the synagogue for all 8 nights of Chanukah.

When I came in the second class to study in the synagogue, a very serious man stood on the reading platform davening, and his name was Reb Ahron, the son of Chaim-Yidels. With his seriousness and very refined features, he called out respect from people. He was tall and erect with eyes which were full of good will. He was very pious. He used to worry about our tearing up the holy books. More than once it happened that two yeshiva boys would get into some kind of fight because of who was supposed to use a version of the bible, and Reb Ahron used to go over and separate people and say something like, “Look, is the bible guilty? Why don't you leave the bible alone. You have to make up between yourselves and don't tear the bible to pieces.”

He also used to make sure there was always drinking water in the synagogue and the poor yeshiva students would have esin tag [meals at other people's houses]. He did whatever he could to make sure that all if that was accomplished and people were taken care of.

Each Friday Reb Ahron would walk through the town with very slow steps and bang on people's houses and call them to synagogue. He didn't miss one Jewish house or business. He saw a very holy mission in doing that.

Early on the Sabbath, Reb Ahron used to go to synagogue with Reb Gershon Rabinovitch. On the way they used to have a very pleasant chat. After they finished praying they emerged and were chatting again. When they came to Reb Ahron's house, they said good-bye to one another with a very hardy good Sabbath and the Rabbi went a few further and into his own dwelling.

When, 5 years later, I began to personally get to know Reb Ahron better at his house and to engage in conversation with him, he validated my sympathetic feelings towards him, those that I had originally had as a child.

There was no money for him in his function as a Shames, he just did this because he wanted to. He had to work in a little tiny bakery that he ran. That's how he made his living. And he said, “If I didn't have my children, Rafael, Meir and Hershel, I would have given up that little bakery long ago. But, it's ok, a lot of Jews in town are in a lot worse shape than me. I know this town from end to end, in a lot of houses, people are dying from hunger, not just because they never have meat and other good things to eat, but for some people, even a dry crust of bread is something that they rarely see. It really gets at you when you look around and you see the poverty that prevails in the town. God should be merciful.”

As he was saying these words, Reb Ahron got up and began to pace very slowly, back and forth, in the room. I had already regretted initiating this discussion. Maybe it was time for him to conclude it. Reb Ahron, it seemed, was able to read my thoughts, he added:

“Look, our fathers built this town. We have a cemetery already, and it's been seeded and planted quite a bit. Here the earth has already absorbed the blood and sweat of generations of Jews. Our children are torn away from their homes and carried off on the wings of the wind. We go around with our heads bent. The sun does not shine for us, from every little corner, need cries out. You find 8 people crammed into one room. Things get worse from day to day. And we hear taunting words to the effect that we're strangers here. Us, who have been here and built one of the most beautiful towns in Poland, thinking that our roots would go deep in the earth and be very firm. And in the end though, they will be savagely torn out.”

Reb Ahron was very thoughtful and said and very quietly:

“Jerusalem, why have you forgotten us?” His thoughts wandered far, far away. “I know that you're young, and that which I've said is not something that goes down very well. You believe that our roots are very strong here, and our braches blossom and leaves won't wither. For you, the young people, the eastern storm raised dust and put a mirage in front of your eyes. Our line hasn't really rooted itself here. Our line remains there, the place from where we were driven from two thousand years ago. That's where our roots will be renewed and where our branches will blossom and no storm will be able to wipe us out.”




[Pages 158-159]

Artisans and Merchants

by B. Zilberman, Holon


Demblin with her parties and institutions, distinguished itself with a lot of activity. Just as with all the political parties, the artisans also, with Shlomela Elenblum, the son of Beres Brosh [Yellow Bears], at the helm, lead a great deal of activity which embraced a big part of the Jewish population, without consideration to party membership. There were Zionists, leftists as well a religious people. Shlomela got into this work in order to find ways of doing everything that he could, to better the condition of the artisans who were struggling to make a living. Although it was known that most of the crafts people were able to make a living and some of them a little bit better than that. But the greatest part of them lived in poverty – they were able to make a living, but they didn't live very well. They would wait for the market day, which was Wednesday, when the peasants from the countryside came into town to buy things. The Jewish merchants in town felt the power of the boycott of the gentiles, because there were a lot of little shops that were not run by Jews in the countryside. The crafts people felt it less because there were far fewer gentile crafts people. The crafts people, just like the merchants, groaned under the burden of taxes.

I remember a gathering of artisans which took place around 1930 or 1931. Shlomela and others from the union management described the activity of the directorship, which devoted time and work on behalf of the membership, as always at war with the people in government who imposed the taxes, and was always demanding that on a commission of people who set the tax rates, there should be representatives of Jewish tax payers and of the unions of merchants and crafts people. Also that on the treasury board, which skins you alive with taxes, that they should have to deal with the concerns of the poor crafts person, and understand that not everybody is able to bear the terrible burden of the kinds of taxes that were being imposed.

But, as it became apparent that not everybody there was content with Shlomela's wonderful speech, a member named M. got up to speak. He banged on the table. “Comrades,” he said, “I have a lot to say, but it's better that I don't say it.” And then he went away and sat down. All of those who opposed the management of the union applauded him with great vigor. I don't remember, God forbid, his name, M. was known to be a very honest and honorable crafts person, nobody every accused him of trying to cheat anybody. He lived simply from his work as a shoemaker, and his not having said anything to the gathering created a much stronger impression than if he had spoken in very flowery words.

As it came out later, comrade M., with others, were not happy with the way Shlomela was leading the union, but they didn't want to throw dirt and insult on the management of the union and he satisfied himself with just the few words that he said, because everybody understood their implication, which was that, while it's true we were being skinned alive by taxes, at the same time the directorship of the union was taking advantage of privileges, those that only belonged to a very select group of people. In fact, their relatives.

The person who was always in the opposition within this group, Yisraelkela Gorfinkel, was forever going around and criticizing the activity of the leadership, wanting all the while to take it over himself. He wasn't able to succeed because all he had to offer was a lot of rhetoric of his own without any actions, and the vast majority of the crafts people in the union didn't trust him and they elected Shlomela again with his pals to be the leadership.

Also founded were the community credit union group and the group that helps Bikur-Cholim [sick people], these were under the leadership of Yarmeyohu Vanapol, Shlomela Elenboim, Levy Fictenboim, Yosef Hoftman and others. This activity was viewed with great respect and appreciation, because of its deeds. Can you imagine a greater mitzvah than to send somebody into a house, the house of a poor person who's sick, and there to be able to help him, serve him and take care of him, when the family of the sick person is all worn out and can't do anymore. Or, to take care of getting him medicines and help his family in a time of need, materially?

That's what the Demblin crafts people were like. They themselves lived poorly, without very much at all, but they were always ready to help somebody else who needed them, and often they would do that beyond their own means.

All of the institutions worked not to be rewarded.

May their memory be blessed.

[See PHOTO-A28 at the end of Section A]


[Pages 160-165]

Of the Life of Workers in Demblin

Hershel Nisenboim, Paris


My recollections of the strengths of workers in Demblin is first of all tied to personal memories. The writer of these lines has many such memories, and a direct relationship to the events that happened 40 years ago. It's true that in that era, there existed in Demblin other parties, organizations and institutions. But about them, certainly others will write.



The first cultural Organization

I was 10 years old at the time when the culture union was founded which was located in the last house on Dembliner Way. Although I was just a kid, I was the only kid who had the privilege to go there, because my older brother Chaim lived in a house neighboring the union and even belonged to one of the commissions within it. There also used to be little meetings in my brother's house where I stayed for a certain amount of time after I became an orphan following the death of my parents.

Of course, being just a kid at that time, it's hard for me to remember the details of the union's activity. I do remember that every Friday evening there was either a reading of some kind of question evening or a discussion. And the same thing would happen on Saturday, during the day. At that time the two little houses that belonged to the union, were overflowing. The speakers disputed and each one wanted to show that they were more right and profound than the other.

Once, at a meeting at my brother's house, people spoke openly with a conspiratorial tone and with new images, like a red banner, demonstrations, and a struggle, and things like that. That was in 1917. A little time after that, they shut down the union. The people who were running the organization at that time were, I remember: Motel Batmer, Yichzakal Hazenfeter and others.

In the 1920's, in independent Poland, there was a new cultural organization established in the town which had more general character, without political affiliation. Its activity limited itself to speakers and lectures about scientific, literary or cultural themes. There were also question evenings. Also a drama circle was created, as well as a library. The majority of the speakers were local Jews, like the folk doctor Yarmeyohu Vanapol, who spoke about anatomy and hygiene, the teacher Kannaryenfogel, who spoke about geography and astronomy. This last person Kannaryenfogel hailed from Austria, and he got married to somebody from Demblin. He was very well educated and knowledgeable man.

After a while they started to deal with social and political subjects as well. About these topics people like the following spoke: Ahron Tzitron, Yankel Sharfhartz, David Cholevinsky (who led the drama circle), Aly Tzirkelevitch, Ben-Tzion Kaminsky, Shloma Mekler and others, whose names I don't remember now. The majority of these people who were interested in these topics were former students in the yeshivas, they came from Hasidic homes. It was something to really wonder at, how quickly they oriented themselves and became involved in the new forms of science and idealism.



The professional Union

During the same time that the culture union organization began to conduct its activities, there was also funded not very far away, just a few buildings away from the synagogue, the professional union of the tailor trades. As was the practice in that era, the professional organizations didn't simply restrict themselves to the struggle for bettering the economic conditions of the workers and struggling for social betterment for improvements in the society. The union established its own library and had question evenings and they had lectures. Clearly, the police kept an eye on this kind of activity, and they even controlled the attendance so that only people in the tailor trades were allowed to attend these meetings. I, being a carpenter, wasn't allowed to visit that union headquarters, unless it was to borrow a book from the library where I had a card. From time to time, I was able to slip in to one of their question evenings. That was somewhere around the year of 1922.

The stormy events in Poland in the realm of social ideology began to erupt and reverberate in the Jewish community and had a very profound effect on the life of Demblin. Within the union, people divided themselves into various groups according to their interpretation of what the real task of such an organization should be. While some of the people involved thought that the union's activities should be limited, others thought that the emphasis should be on cultural and political work. The radically inclined workers thought, therefore, that neither the professional labor oriented kinds of issues nor the cultural activity should be separated from the general political struggle that was going on in the country. They demanded action, political struggle and social activity. The debates on this topic were extremely bitter and created a tremendous amount of friction. As a result a lot of people dropped out. There was a lot of passivity and apathy among those who stayed.



The TZ. Y. Sh. A. Society

A few weeks later, a chapter of the Central Jewish School Organization (TZ. Y. Sh. A.) was founded in Demblin. The new one was grouped around working people without specific skills and also people who did have skills but who's very limited income didn't permit them to be enrolled in the professional union. To the new organization, which was under the leadership of the TZ. Y. Sh. A., there was also as part of that, a section of people who worked in tailor and shoe shops as well as carpenters. A meeting building was rented beyond the bridge, not far from Zalman Feldshers, and this place truly became a home for the majority of the youth in Demblin. They chose a new leadership which got down to work with great energy, with a very different kind of basis and focus than had been the case until then.

[See PHOTO-A29 at the end of Section A]

The library was made much bigger. They installed a reading room with Yiddish and Polish newspapers and magazines. There were often political lecturers and literary readings, some of them by local individuals, and others by individuals who had traveled to Demblin. The question evenings, the drama circle and the various education circles, deepened the political consciousness as well as the cultural level of both Demblin's youth and adult population. The Jewish population read books and interested itself in social problems.

The anti-Semitism in Poland spread. Jews began to suffer from economic boycotts and anti-Jewish campaigns. And all of this strengthened the feelings of resistance among the youth. The union had its own little cadre of leadership, old as well as new. Yankel Bubis, Dina Tzigelman, Godel Milgroim, Chana-Gitel Wasserman, David Cholevinsky, Yosel-Natan Cholevinsky, Avraham Avramowitz, Yisrael Sharfhartz, Ali Tzirkelevitch, the author of these lines and others.

The first and most important task, which the Union set for itself was to enlarge the membership of the Union and to begin to regulate the work day, that is, the hours of the work day. At that time, the Jewish workers of Demblin still didn't know what it meant to have an 8 hour work day. Most people simply worked from very early in the morning until night. In the winter evenings, as soon as the candles were lit, the workers used to go back to their shop and work some more hours, which were included in the work week, but it certainly didn't earn them any more higher pay.

The struggle to shorten the workday was a very difficult one. The employed, the majority of them, were often family members, if not relatives, of the employers, and try and go and start a war about an 8 hour work day with people like that. There were just 3 of the businesses where there weren't family members involved. The leadership of the professional union understood though that if we couldn't regulate the question of the workday in Demblin there was no point for the union to even exist. The struggle began. First, for a 12 hour workday, after that, for an 11 hour work day. Of course, since the strike wasn't a general one, that meant it didn't include all of the Jewish workshops and factories, just certain trades, until we saw the first results.



The Strike of the Carpenters

The union of the wood workers, though it didn't have a very large membership, was nevertheless extremely well organized and saturated with a will to struggle and fight. When they declared a strike, it was carried out with great stubbornness and solidarity. At that time the carpenters worked 10 hours a day, which at that time in itself, was something of an achievement.

I remember once, after Passover, a bitter strike broke out by the Jewish carpenters of Demblin which lasted over 6 weeks. Neither side had any intention of giving in. The employers were also very well organized in their organization, and the demand for a 9 hour work day was, in their eyes, absolutely crazy, senseless, and impermissible. How long ago was it, they complained, that you worked a 14 hour day and then a 13 hour day, and now you want a 9 hour day? After the first 3 weeks of the strike, it became apparent that some of the workers were in very, very bad shape, without even a bit of bread. There wasn't anybody even to help the out. In a meeting of the strikers it was decided that we should turn to those who directed the public works, which at that time, paved the streets and roads of Demblin and that all of us, without exception, all of us striking carpenters, should take on that work. After a short period of negotiations, on the second day, with shovels on our shoulders, we went off to work very early and at night we got up like in the morning and marched back home.

The achievement of our wood workers, to which I belonged, inspired a lot of attention and respect among Jews, and no less among the Polish community. But the main thing was, the Jewish employers, who had demonstrated their stubbornness to the strikers, finally got the point that the fight was over.



Working together with the Polish Unions

The victorious strike of the carpenters was a great victory for the Jewish unions. If you add to that the wide cultural activity that they engaged in with which we were able to serve the surrounding towns as well as the sympathy that we gained among the Polish workers, the labor unions really had something to be proud of.

The Polish labor unions and the local organization of the P. P. S., the Polish Socialist Party, turned to us with a suggestion that we work together. Although our political orientation was somewhat different than theirs, nevertheless, in many respects we had a lot in common. The more conscious, leftist and progressive elements in the P. P. S. understood very well the specific problems and needs of the Jewish workers. And they really made a point of having two Jewish members of our union, Yosef-Nuach Cholevinsky and myself, attend regular meetings of the Polish unions representing the employees of the train line from the public works workers and others. Two other questions we were able to deal with in common, had to do with a fund for sick people and evening courses to study the Polish language. A course such as this did in fact get started, but it was located at the train station, which made it hard for our pupils to go there regularly.

At the meetings from the general counsel of the professional unions, there were often talks on political topics by speakers from the P. P. S. deputy from our congressional district. After a talk like that the discussion was free, and the mood was very brotherly.

Before the first of May, the Polish workers suggested that together we make a common demonstration, the Jewish and the Polish workers, under the banner of the P. P. S. party. The two of us who had been attending these meetings answered on the spot that we really couldn't respond, we had to bring it back to our people. From one side it seemed like simply an historical event, an opportunity for the Jewish and Polish workers to come together and demonstrate. It was appropriate because it was a holiday of international workers – solidarity. On the other side though, there was fear that the leftist Jewish workers in the town would not agree to demonstrate with the socialist party, because according to them, the socialist party was more like a socialist fascist party, if not a party of socialist traitors. Finally it was decided to demonstrate together, but each separate union would march under their own banner, so that it wouldn't appear that everybody was simply marching under the banner of the P. P. S.

A that point a feverish activity began to prepare the banners and everybody had to have their own banner. At that time we had wonderful professional organizations in Demblin, but nobody had a banner. So we bought red satin and with silk thread, we began to embroider in both Yiddish and Polish letters, the names of the union. There were also red ribbons for the decorations that had to be sewed on. There were placards with various slogans, which were attached to sticks. They spelled out the character of the workers' holiday. The work of embroidering and sewing these banners was one in which certain sisters distinguished themselves. For instance, the Tishelmam and Rotschild sisters, Rivka Shlimer and others. They sat until late at night at their work.

Until today, the memory of that majestic spring day is deeply engraved in me. We marched out from our union locals to a central gathering point by the town hall, in the center of town, where there were lots of Polish workers assembled. After everybody greeted each other, the train of people started going through the town and through the five little villages around until we got to the train station which was about 3 kilometers away. Along the whole way, Jews and Christians, together, were kind of astonished by the nature of the demonstration, which was an integrated one. It left an unforgettable impression on everybody.



Police Torture

The Demblin police also were extremely impressed by this demonstration. But the impression that they received was a very bad one. It seemed to them that there was a tremendous amount of danger in the commonality with which Jewish and Polish workers had found in their solidarity. That was very risky in a town where there was a rail head, a military fortress and garrison, and an airfield. The police were also acquainted with the fact that a large number of the Jewish workers were communist or communist minded. That very night, there were searches conducted of the houses of all the people who were the real movers and shakers in the Union, as well as in the Union hall, where they ripped open a door, took out all the books, all the documents, and all the placards and banners. They also arrested people. I was one of them. The took us to the holding cell of the police station. In the middle of the night they took us out for an interrogation and two Demblin secret agents had arrived from Lublin with a Jewish piece of crap, and together they tortured and beat us. Our banners lay on the table, the interrogators asked about the meanings of each Jewish letter and at the same time smacked people around murderously. We understood that this was an act of revenge for the Jewish-Polish solidarity that had been demonstrated that first day of May.

In the morning they let some of the people go. They took some of them to Lublin, to the infamous prison on “Zameck” street. They let me go as well, because I was the secretary of the legal union organization, the TZ. Y. Sh. organization.

Despite these arrests our work continued. In place of those who had been incarcerated and were on trial, others came forward. The police repression did not break our spirit and will and the youth continued to fight for a better tomorrow.



I take leave of Demblin

In January of 1930 I left Demblin to emigrate to France. A hundred young people and adults came, belonging to various groups and organizations. They came to say good-bye to me at a special evening. I was really moved by the gratitude and the honor from so many comrades and friends who had shared the same road and work with me. On the other side it really hurt to have to go away and leave behind my home, my family, my acquaintances, and who could have imagined at that time that this was going to be the last farewell with my brothers, Chaim, Ahron-Yitzhak, Efraim and Moshe; with my three sisters – Pesah, Libe and Leah-Hodis; that I would never again see my brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws with their children, a family of over 30 people, which was murdered by Hitler.

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