In democratic Poland, which came to life after a century of bondage, the Jews too, received equal rights, even though it was just on paper: active and passive voting rights to the municipal councils and the houses of legislature, and the right of self determination as a national minority. The Jewish community also took on a democratic form; its leaders were chosen in general elections in which all segments of the public participated.
At that period monies were arriving from America for reconstruction, to provide work-tools for those who had, during the wanderings and upsets of the war, become impoverished and lost their work-tools, and also to create new sources of livelihood for the Jewish inhabitants who had been deprived of their economic positions. Food and clothing arrived from there for distribution to the classes who had suffered the most from the events of the war.
All of these changes in the social and state political structure allowed individuals with energy and inspiration to stand out and rise up; they were given the opportunity to arrive at the level of respectable activists of some union or organization; and from there they could expect a higher level to be elected as a Parnas on the community council, as a member of the municipal council, in favorable conditions there was a chance, though distant, of being elected as a delegate to the houses of legislature.
Due to these opportunities, would-be guardians attacked the flock with no shepherd, the masses of the Jewish population living in the lowest conditions, from all directions. These guardians would gather the masses and with long speeches full of demagoguery would prove to them that the reason for their low state was lack of organization. Should they organize they would have a hand in the aid that was arriving from America, a representative in all of the public institutions. To the artisans they said that as long as they didn't organize and unite for a general purpose, to elevate their cultural and material state, their social status would also continue to remain low and disrespected and they would be destined for exploitation with no hope of improving the conditions of their lives.
At the founding meeting of the artisans, assimilated representatives from the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, the Polish Socialist Party] participated who wished to increase their influence upon the Jewish masses; Zionists arrived who wished to acquire the artisan masses for the camp that stood for national rebirth; representatives of Shlomei Emunei Yisra'el appeared in order to ensure that the flock remain with the shepherd [i.e., remain religiously observant]; people took part in it, also, who had not yet had time to chose themselves a direction in life, and who were always willing to follow the direction of the spirit that attempted total rule over the Jewish street, and meanwhile, they vacillated, not revealing their opinions openly, but showing a span and covering up two, leaving themselves an opening to leave this camp and move to another one everything according to the direction of the winds and the conditions which change from time to time.
From the assimilated camp, Messrs. Paradystal and Rawicki participated in this meeting. We will draw a brief caricature of these two men, who were active and who worked among the Jews of Kielce.
The first, Paradystal, was a bookkeeper at the Kielce branch of a Lodz commercial bank. He had an honest character, learned and knowledgeable in various branches of science, of a high cultural level; a man who aspired to advance, hated the old, the tradition of the ancestors, the moldy scrolls, as he once said openly. He had freed himself long ago from the suffering inflicted by the inheritance, tradition, the language of his nation, its hopes and hearts' desire all these did not find resonance in his soul. He was far from sentimental towards his nation.
His brother-in-law, Dr. Perelman, tried once to introduce him into the Zionist camp; but he could not remain there for long. Cut off from the tradition, a stranger to Hebrew culture and to its ancient and modern literature, a graduate of the progressive Polish school for him the atmosphere in the Zionist camp, was stifling and depressing. He went out and found his proper place in the camp of the progressive Poles, who concentrated, in Kielce, in the PPS party.
But he did not want to give up on the Jewish street entirely; from time to time he appeared at meetings of Jews. He sought to bring a bit of light, so to speak, into their darkness, and also on the chance of perhaps succeeding in catching some fish in the dirty waters and pulling someone into his own camp, that of the Polish socialists.
Paradystal did not hide his intentions. He came to the masses of Jews and told them openly, that his purpose was to spread Polish culture among the Jews, to draw the hearts of the two nations sitting upon one land closer together. He wanted to destroy the barriers of ancient laws that separated between them.
The Jews, in his opinion, could exist in independent Poland only if they removed their external symbols their strange costume and their jargon, for these were the main obstacles hindering greater closeness between Jews and Poles. The Jews must be Polish citizens. The chief way to acquire Polish citizenship was to absorb the values of Polish culture into the Jewish heart, then the gates of Polish society would open before them and they would be welcomed there with open arms, and the Jewish question would solve itself. He continued the ideology of the assimilated people from the previous generation, with his own additions. The earlier assimilated Jews ruled out only Jewish nationalism, but they treated religion positively. Their version was: Poles of the Mosaic Faith, but Paradystal and his friends took another step forward, they freed themselves completely from the burden of their inheritance, in their eyes religion was something that belonged to the past, a matter for old men and women; and the young generation, which sought freedom must first of all cut the ropes with which the capitalists had bound them. This generation must gather its strengths and fight with twice as much energy for the establishment of new social and economic rules, in which there would be no place for exploitation and parasitism. There was no battle of nations here, but a battle of classes.
This kind of assimilation was worse and more damaging to the national cause than the method of earlier assimilated Jews. The earlier ones remained in the Jewish camp, they would come to the synagogue to pray, would be active in charitable matters, and some of them were quite religiously devoted.
However those later assimilated Jews cut all ties with the Jewish. The path to mixed marriages and merging with the Gentiles was the logical consequence of their ideology.
However, this ideology was counterfeit on all sides, even from the point of view of the assimilated Jews themselves. The Poles were full of anti-Semitism and did not want to accept the Jews into their society. Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat viewed the Jews as dangerous competitors who threatened their very lives with their energy and hardworking habits, and they wanted to get rid of them somehow. And even conversion [shmad] was not welcomed by the anti-Semites because it did not eliminate the danger of the competition.
The nationalist Jews, on their part, were already so full of the idea of rebirth, that even this unusual wing did not move them from their attitude.
And indeed, Paradystal was not active in the Artisans Union for very long. After a few weeks he saw and understood that Jewish artisans are not raw material that one can knead into whatever shape one wants. The elder artisans were wholesome and God-fearing Jews, and some intellectual who speaks a foreign language wasn't going to change their minds; the young people there were influenced by the nationalist spirit and were not convinced by his lectures and reasoning.
The national movement put down deep roots in their hearts. The Jewish newspapers supplied them with spiritual food and broad knowledge about everything that was going on in our own world and in the outer world.
A cultured man like Paradystal didn't bring some new idea with him, some new method, which was not known to them in its every aspect. Jewish society at the time was well formed in all of its parts and rejected any foreign graft, which had not grown up from within itself. Finally, Paradystal left his position as the chairman of the Artisans Union; he felt himself alienated and isolated in an environment steeped in Judaism and nationalism without any foreign ingredients.
Also the second of these, Rawicki, who was also from the assimilated ranks, quickly left the company of the artisans, when he saw that these Jews, who up until now had respected him and would refer to him respectfully and admiringly, scorned him and did not elect him, not to the council and not to the executive committee.
Earlier, these members of the intelligentsia had acquired a certain importance among the Jews of Kielce. Their education, their clear Polish speech, their expertise at bookkeeping and business management made them efficient in Jewish society. Owners of large concerns even in Chassidic circles entrusted them with the management of their businesses because they found them worthy. They also functioned as mediators between the authorities and the Jews, and all of this added to their honor. They Jews of the previous generation treated them with great respect. At meetings, they were given a place at the head, and they were the speakers, the consultants, those in the know and the clever ones.
Over time, these members of the intelligentsia got used to this kind of treatment by the darkened masses (that is how they used to call the Jewish masses) in whose eyes this was a totally natural way to treat them, treatment that was their due according to tradition. The Jew was always groveling before the Poretz [estate owner], and whoever spoke Polish and wore Gentile clothing was considered a Poretz by the Jews, this is how it was and, they hoped, thus it would always be.
However, times change. A new generation arose, new winds began blowing. On the one hand, the workers' movement arose, which put out its own leaders, and they were scornful of members of the intelligentsia who served the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the movement for national rebirth was felt among the bourgeoisie as well, nationalist feelings began beating in their hearts; they too began to demand respect for themselves, their language and all they held holy. These members of the intelligentsia were left high and dry on all sides.
The clever ones among them, when they saw that their time had past, and in order not to lose the ground beneath their feet, moved rightward or leftward. And those who were frozen in their places, those who were slow moving physically or spiritually were suddenly disappointed when they saw that they had lost their charm in the eyes of the masses. At first they grew angry, left the meetings, distanced themselves from people; they still hoped, in their hearts, that their respect would somehow be restored. Eventually, they gave up on it, cast down their eyes and grew continually more atrophied.
This is what happened to Merber, the treasurer at the Lodzer Bank, and to Rawicki, who for many years was the manager of Icak Kaminer's press and book outlet. At the end of their days they were shrunken and humiliated without any influence. Whoever had known them during their days of greatness was astonished at the sight.
I have digressed somewhat, but I wanted to describe, in a few clear lines, the types who wished to infiltrate the Artisans' Union and who did not succeed.
In the committee that was elected at the founding meeting, the Zionists prevailed. Although Paradystal was elected as chairman, Icza Mejer Rajzman, who favored the Zionists and was the exact opposite of Paradystal, was elected as his assistant. The writer of these lines was elected as secretary, with Alter Ehrlich as his assistant. The committee members were also mostly either Zionists or people who tended towards Zionism, like Judel Gutman, Herszel Waksberg, Dawid Rozenberg, Szmuel Lajchter, Josef Goldszajder, who at the time also tended towards Zionism. There was just one Bundist.
In this group Paradystal found himself isolated; and it was no wonder that he was unable to stand it there; in addition, Rajzman began to undermine the position of his opponent, trying to take his place. After a short time, Paradystal handed in his resignation and Rajzman inherited the position.
The committee began first of all, to develop cultural, economic and community projects among the artisans. Lectures were held every Saturday. On weekdays the artisans would gather in their spacious apartment, which also functioned as a club, a reading room and a venue for lectures. They would spend the evening hours there in conversation with friends, settling disagreements, organizing projects to aid their less fortunate comrades. Some of them would read newspapers; some of them would play dominos or chess.
Instead of going to pubs, which was where the artisans were used to spending their free time, drinking a glass of beer, they would now choose to go to their club, in which they met with their friends and would hear the news and occasionally also an interesting lecture.
From the circles of the artisans themselves, young forces sprouted and grew who acted to raise the social and cultural level of the artisan class for the better. Outside forces, which they needed when they first founded the Artisans Union, became superfluous. They began to find lecturers, counselors and organizers from their own ranks. Two activists in particular excelled in their activity and cultural level Judel Gutman and Josef Goldszajder.
Judel Gutman was a painter by trade. He began his involvement in community matters while still a youth. He was one of the first Poalei Zion in the city of Kielce. But his Zionism overcame his socialism. Especially after he turned from a proletarian to a member of the bourgeoisie. His activism did not stop him from taking care of his own needs. Over time, he acquired property and became more distant from the affairs of the laborers. He had lots of energy and definite ideas and always knew how to find supporters in order to triumph in a clash with his rivals. Thanks to these qualities of his he established a permanent position for himself in the Artisans Union, and was the artisans' representative at all the community institutions, the municipality of Kielce, the community committee, the directors of the Popular Bank, the government Czechim institution, where the artisans received their licenses. At every opportunity he would appear as the representative of the Artisans Union. He participated in conventions, in parades and delegations. His desire was to emphasize himself at every opportunity, to publicize himself and to give the impression of a Tribune who protects the interests of his lowly class. At literary balls he was one of the lecturers and spoke even about matters that were far from his expertise; to participate in a meeting and not have his voice heard this to him was like participating in a feast and not tasting a thing.
This next episode will describe Gutman's personality. At a meeting, which was called by the old community authority, in order to discuss the composition of the new community committee, which was supposed to be elected according to the democratic rules of the government, representatives of the synagogues and houses of worship participated, among them Judel Gutman as the representative of the small synagogue alongside the Artisans Union. The goal of the organizers of the meeting was to seek the possibility of a mutual agreement and arrange the composition of the community committee with out the battle of an election campaign.
The outgoing Parnas invited M.P. Kaminer to chair the meeting. Then Gutman, still a young man, got up and demanded aggressively that the chairman of the meeting be elected by a show of hands of the participants. At the meeting, every matter must be decided by majority vote. There is not room here for 'honorable ones' he added, in the synagogue you may honor Mr. Kaminer with the first Hakafa [circuit with the Torah scroll] or a Fat Aliya, in a popular meeting there are no procedures like these, but everything, large and small, is decided by vote.
Joske Fiszman got up to respond to Gutman's words and said, that even without a vote, it was clear that most of the participants wanted Kaminer to run the meeting. And in the stream of his words he got angry and the following words escaped his mouth: See in what times we are living! Who participates, for our many sins, in our meetings! A fellow, who earlier would not have dared to push among important people and would not have had the chutzpa to open his mouth in front of Torah scholars, now jumps to the head and gives us opinions!
These words were like oil to the flames. Gutman got up and said: Please, gentlemen, allow me to respond to the words of defamation and insult that I heard from the mouth of Mr. Fiszman. He thinks, no doubt, that he is still living in a time when the aggressors in the city ruled the masses and rode upon them as on the back of an animal. Those times have passed never to return. We will no longer allow anyone to ride upon our backs and to make use of his cream as he sees fit; Mr. Fiszman included himself among important people what is your importance? Is it in the fact that you eat the large head of a mullet and another eats fish-paste? What advantage do you have over the others? Those who work with the sweat of their brow to find their daily bread are more important than all these parasites who live off of others.
Such talk had never been heard in the hall of the community committee, which had been ruled, up until now, by the most assertive members of the congregation without interference, and the secular authority had also supported them.
There was a noise in the hall. The participants in the meeting divided into two groups of rivals. Those who had gathered dispersed in the midst of yelling and curses without taking any decision.
However Gutman came out of there as the hero of the day. Everyone saw him as a man without fear and who knows how to tell the bare, unvarnished truth. On the one hand, people started to respect him, and on the other hand, to fear him.
Judel Gutman's friend was Josef Goldszajder. He was also a painter. But he was more of an expert in his profession than his friend Gutman. He wanted to be called an artist-painter. He would say: I learned the art of painting in Switzerland.
And truly his sense of taste and beauty were very developed. Everyone recognized and admitted the fact that his work was better than the work of other painters. Precision, order and seriousness were some of his traits. These qualities, together with the taste that dwelled in his soul gave him a certain importance in all circles. These qualities of his were expressed in his entire life, in his speech, his dress and also in his work. Therefore, he was more successful at his profession than his fellow painters. Anyone who wanted the walls of their homes painted with quality and knowledge would give it to Goldszajder, and they were certain that he would neither cheat them nor allow any work of his to stand that was not of quality. People did not bargain with him; they gave him the payment he demanded; in their opinion, he was worthy of receiving a higher wage than that paid to other painters, since he invested more energy, strength and even greater expenditures in his work.
He and Gutman were partners in contracting work; however on small jobs for private individuals, each of them worked separately.
They were also friends in their public work. The one did not oppose the other in public. Seen from the side by other people they were considered to have one skin, having the same opinion and outlook. At meetings and gatherings one saw them always together. If one requested the floor, it was clear that the other would do so afterwards.
However, whoever had ties of friendship with them knew that there were deep differences of opinion between them. The harmony and peace between them, which were so obvious, were only superficial. Whoever investigated and knew the essence of their souls learned that before us here were two different types, whom it was impossible to merge and knead into one dough. Gutman had a selfish personality, in all of his deeds and activities, he first of all sought advantage for himself.
In contrast, Goldszajder was devoted to the ideal that motivated him to action without noticing his own self interest. The first was warm tempered, easy to anger, prepared to assault his fellow for a slight injury to his honor; the second had a moderate temper, relaxed, defended his views and opinions calmly and logically, careful of others' honor. Gutman tended towards Zionism, Goldszajder, in contrast, tended towards The Peoples' Party (Folkisten) and was one of the disciples of Noach Prylucki and was indifferent to Zionism. Local affairs had his chief attention, and he would devote his free hours to activities that would elevate the condition of the workers, the artisans and the poor of his city.
Sometimes serious disagreements would break out between these two friends; however Goldszajder did not want to reveal a secret, to raise the curtain and show what was going on behind the scenes, and did everything to make peace between himself and his friend. He valued peace above all. Disagreement and hatred were despicable in his eyes. As a person with a sensitive nature he wanted to ply a smooth and straight path without bumps or crookedness.
I will bring an example here that will demonstrate Goldszajder's character.
The year after World War I, America sent food for the starving Polish population. For the Passover holiday, the Jews received flour for baking Matzo from America. A certain amount of Matzo was received by the Artisans Union for distribution among its members. Every member had to register in the office of the artisans and according to the number of souls in his home, he would receive a portion of Matzo.
Among those who were dealing with this matter were some who suggested that the members of the committee, who work and devote their time to the matter of distributing the Matzo should receive a double portion.
However, Goldszajder expressed his opinion against their suggestion, saying, that it would not be honest, that those who stand close to the community plate enjoy more than those who are distant from it do. They have no advantage over others. They must not demand a prize for the fact that they work and devote their time to the benefit of others. They are more able to do community work, it is their duty, therefore, to give of their strength and time for the benefit of the public.
Goldszajder, as one of the committee members who supervised the Jewish Popular Bank, guarded this financial institution like the apple of his eye. He guarded it from destructive elements that attempted to penetrate into it and to turn it into their own private territory.
Goldszajder's relatives in Canada kept trying to persuade him to leave Europe and immigrate to America, where he could find a good life. He was tempted by their words, left Kielce and set off for America. He left his family behind. He didn't want to bring them until he knew the conditions in the new place, and whether these would allow him to manage and live a regular and proper family life there.
However, American life did not suit him, he could not adjust to the giant machinery that has the general name America, which swallows millions of immigrants into itself and blurs their distinctions and denies their character and their initiative and turns them into an automatic machine and work force. This life was alien to him. His spirit tended towards individualism. He wanted to be an influence himself, and not be influenced. Being a personality with a definite shape that was his ideal. Personality that is the main thing. The concept personality was so high and exalted in his eyes that he was willing to give up the material benefits that American life promised him. Over there in America so he thought he would remain without shape, merged among the masses for his entire life.
This perspective drove him back to Kielce, to his birthplace, to the place where he found a broad field for his actions.
But after returning, he did not live long. A terminal disease attacked him and sent him to bed. After he had twisted with agony for several months, he died.
The people of the city, who had cherished him in his life, honored him greatly at this death. The local rabbi and activists of the city eulogized him and expressed their sorrow over a loss that would not return, at the death of an honest activist who was devoted heart and soul to community affairs.
A new faction started up in the Artisans Union that had a leftist direction; the chief spokesmen in this faction were the Strawczinski brothers. Szymon, the younger brother, was especially notable, since he had a talent for speaking and an educated tongue. They functioned as the opposition to the leaders of the artisans. At every meeting they would make their appearance as the chief critics of the activities of the committee members and would condemn the faults and mistakes of the members of the administration and the damage that they were bringing to all of the laboring workers. But their influence in the city was negligible and not noticeable.
The Artisans Union, which later changed its name to Artisans Club, did important work in the area of raising the laborer and worker from his low social status and it was also an important factor in elevating him in cultural and aesthetic areas. It introduced the representatives of the workers to various public institutions, and there they were treated seriously. All of these caused an improvement in their material state to a noticeable degree, even though, this latter was dependent upon the political situation of Polish Jewry.
The anti-Semitism that started to make waves among the Poles, with its slogan Sawoi do Sawgo prefer your brother to the stranger, which gained preeminence in Polish circles, caused the Polish population to turn its back on the Jewish artisan, who was impoverished by this and found himself forced to take a wandering staff in his hand and to emigrate over the sea, if he was fortunate enough to get a visa.
In such a political situation, the artisan's organization was essential. With joined forces they made the effort to withstand the waves of anti-Semitism, which attempted to swallow them up. The Peoples' Bank gave them credit, they developed mutual aid and their strength grew slightly in the war against the consequences of anti-Semitism.
Poland, despite its natural wealth, was always battling to balance its budget. The Jewish merchant class was a milk cow in its eyes, and all the governments that were established in Poland levied a tremendous burden of all sorts of taxes upon the Jewish merchant. Not a few collapsed and fell under this weight.
The merchants, therefore, organized into a special unit. The merchants of Kielce also got up and founded themselves a union. The task of this union was to function as a representative of the merchants to the government, to defend the individual from the arbitrariness of the treasury clerks who would levy huge sums as income tax, periodic tax, property tax and war profits tax on the Jewish merchant, to establish a merchant's bank which would give credit to the small merchant who needed money, and to elect from within its ranks a representative to the central government chamber of commerce, and to form a center to which the Jewish merchant could turn to get advice, clarify situations, where he would not feel himself isolated in his troubles.
The living spirit of this union was Herman Lewi, an enlightened industrialist, with energy and initiative from a family with roots in Poland going back for generations. He did not know any rest, at the call of a friend he was always ready to come and help him as much as he could.
Next to him were other merchants like Benjamin Lew, Aszer Kazlowski, Mejer Ajzenberg and others.
The merchants respected their union and willingly registered as members. At every annual meeting words of praise for the directors were heard and the criticism was limited to technical matters.
|In the first row: (from right to left) Herman Lewi, Mejer
Ajzenberg, B. Lew,
M.P. Kaminer, Josef Kohen, A. Piotrowski.
In the second row: R. Rafalowicz, Welisz, M. Horberg, Judel Kaminer, E. Justman.
In the third row: Mosze Ajzenberg, Mosze Kaufman, Fiszel Kochen, Icak Rapaport,
J. Gutman and S. B. Goldman
In 1932 this club was founded and called Civilian Club, which showed that every citizen could find something he wanted here: a reading room for those who wished to spend their free time reading newspapers; a games room in which players could sit, and where they could play dominos and chess and other games. A place was also found for those who enjoyed pleasant conversation, and from time to time a speaker came to give a lecture on literature and art.
This club was a favorite of the Jewish inhabitants, and the number of those visiting grew over time and it became also a cultural center. The enlivening spirit of this club was Mosze Kaufman. A Jewish merchant, on Sabbaths and holidays he wore silk clothing; in his youth he was also a Chassid, and he did not lose a degree of Chassidism even afterwards, when he began to keep company with enlightened and educated people. He was a Jew with a sense of humor; he always had a Jewish joke ready to tell. When he spoke, he continued to imitate the Chassidim in their gestures and facial expressions.
It was pleasant to speak with this Jew. He knew how to spice up ordinary conversation with episodes that were both funny and entertaining.
This method was expressed, first and foremost by the levying of heavy taxes on the commerce and production of the Jews (periodic tax, income tax, etc.) and with the well-known slogan of obszam according to the expletive of one of the ministers in the Pilsudski government, that he objects to pogroms against Jews, but economic oppressions obszam (certainly, certainly). According to these government patterns, the government banks Bank Polski, Bank Gospodarstwa, Krajowgo and others, as well as private Polish banks barely extended any credit to Jewish merchants, industrialists, artisans and in other professions. Running a business in Poland without credit from a bank, at a time when all of the wholesale trade and even the retail trade was conducted with notes whose redemption was many months away, was totally impossible a kind of cut off the head and not die; and that is actually what the authorities intended to remove the Jews from the economic cycle, especially from the trade and manufacturing of the country.
At that time Polish cooperative banks were being founded with a central bank Bank Zwiazlcu Spolek Zarobkowych at their head. This bank received large sums in a government loan whose purpose was to strengthen the cooperatives of the workshops and the commerce of the Poles, who, according to the desire of the authorities, were supposed to inherit the places of the Jewish merchants and artisans.
The situation became more difficult from day to day; and then the American Joint [Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] arrived to help the Jewish population in Poland and founded a central Jewish bank in Warsaw called Bank dla Spoldzielny, whose goal was to encourage the establishment of Jewish cooperative banks in every city and town, which would help with credit for the Jewish merchant and artisan.
A bank like this was founded in Kielce as well, called Bank Ludowy (Popular Bank). At its head, during its existence stood Messrs. Berza Blumenfeld, Icak Mejer Rajzman, Dawid Rozenberg and others.
This bank developed nicely; it encompassed many hundreds of artisans and small businessmen who joined it as members (the bank gave loans only to members) and for about ten years it was a blessing to the lower middle class Jews of Kielce.
The main activities of the bank, aside from disbursing loans from the monies it received from the Joint via the central bank (Bank dla Spoldzielny) in Warsaw, focused mainly on collecting the savings of the Jewish population, so that the Jews would not deposit their savings in the Polish banks (P.K.O., Bank Polski and others) and would thus practically be contributing to their own dispossession of commerce and manufacturing, rather, that they deposit them in the Jewish cooperative bank - and thus help the Jewish economic classes and established their position and their situation via inexpensive credit.
Understandably, these activities were a great blessing for the entire Jewish population in the city. The Bank Ludowy, however, concentrated in its activities only on the artisans and small businessmen (the grocers). The middle classes enjoyed credit from this bank only a little bit; and then there was the demand and the necessity to found banks that would serve these classes as well. Banks like these had to be founded as large banks (of shareholding companies), but since it was not possible to receive a permit from the Polish government to found a private Jewish bank, the entrepreneurs who were establishing these banks had to use the law of the cooperatives, which allowed any group of 10 people to found any cooperative they wanted, i.e., also a cooperative for giving out loans to members and for other banking activities (with almost no exceptions). For this sort of cooperative one did not need a special permit.
In this manner several banks were founded, technically cooperatives, and actually private, the most important among them was the Commercial Cooperative Bank (Spoldzielczy Bank Handlowy), which was headed by Aharon Josef Moszkowicz and Jakob Fridman and whose manager was Elazar Arten; the Discount Bank (Bank Diskontowy) headed by Chaim Wajnryb and Herszel Sercarz; the Credit Bank (Bank Kreditowy) headed by Melech Engelrad, Mejer Zloto, and Mosze Kohen; the Loan Bank (Bank Porzyczkowy) headed by Mordechai Fiszel and Judel Kaminer and others.
All of these banks brought relief to all the Jewish inhabitants of the city; for, as we mentioned, they filled a very important role in gathering the savings of the Jewish population and distributing them as loans to the various economic classes of Jews and having them flow into the financial cycle funds that would otherwise have gone to the coffers of the Polish banks and would have been another means of depriving them of their economic positions.
According to the law of cooperatives in Poland, every cooperative was required to be under the supervision of the Cooperative Council of the Treasury or of a Cooperative Oversight Union (Zwjonzek Rewizjeny) recognized by the government. The council or union had to audit all the activities of the cooperative once a year and to confirm its balance.
In Poland there were three Jewish cooperative unions; one in Warsaw of the cooperatives of the Joint, the second in Lwow headed by members of the Sejm (Parliament), the Zionist activists Dr. Henryk Rozmarin (who was later the Polish consul in Tel-Aviv) and Dr. Fiszel Rotensztrajch; and the third in Warsaw, around which the cooperatives of the Agudat Yisra'el clustered.
The Ludowy bank belonged to the Warsaw union of the Joint, the Handlowy, Diskontowy and Kreditowy banks, which were headed by Zionists, belonged to the Lwow union, and the Porzyczkowy bank to the Aguda union.
As we said, the banks underwent a precise audit every year of all of their activities and their financial condition and base was always strong.
The cooperative unions we just mentioned put out their own newsletters monthlies. The name of the Joint, Warsaw-based union's newsletter was Di Kooperative Bewegung; the Zionist union in Lwow had two newsletters/monthlies, one in Polish called Paszglund Spoldzielczy and another in Yiddish Der Kooperator.
A member of the editorial board of these two newsletters was Elazar Arten (manager of the Commercial bank) and his articles aroused considerable interest in all of the Jewish cooperative circles, and sometimes also in Polish government circles.
In one of his articles, which was published in 1929 in Paszglund Spoldzielczy, and was later copied in the daily press (Nasz Paszglund and others), he suggested exempting the savings funds, which were deposited in the cooperative banks, from income tax and from the interest which were due on these savings, in order to encourage the ordinary person, in this manner, to take his savings out of the sock and the mattress and to deposit them in a cooperative bank.
This suggestion found a welcome audience in the economic circles of the government and the Treasury Minister gave the instruction to exempt these savings from income tax and the interest, without consideration for the amount of the savings of each person; and together with this to require the cooperative banks with total secrecy towards all of the government institutions regarding the identity and name of each depositor or owner of a savings account.
In 1931 there was a great crisis in all branches of the economy in the state of Poland. This crisis was evident also in the banking industry in the state, in all of its variety.
First, one of the largest banks in the state Bank of Commerce and Industry (Bank dla Handlu i Przemysl), which had branches in nearly every city and town, stopped making its payments. After that the commercial bank in Lodz, which also had branches in many cities in the state, Kielce among them.
However, the Jewish cooperative banks received the worst blow, which shook up their existence, not from the bankruptcy of these Polish banks, but from the stopping of payments of the Joint's central bank for the cooperatives (Bank dla Spoldzielny) in Warsaw, headed by the well-known activist, Dr. Kalumel. This bankruptcy undermined, first and foremost, the foundations of the popular banks.
When this bankruptcy became known among the popular classes, which made up most of the savings depositors in these banks and in the popular bank (Ludowy) in Kielce, a fearful race began of the depositors and a demand of returning the deposits all at once. No bank in the world can stand up to such a demand without government backing, which can step in and help at a serious time like this.
The fears and the demands for the return of the deposits of hundreds of thousands of depositors spread like a contagious disease among everyone how had savings in the banks and especially in the Jewish cooperative banks and caused the destruction of their financial state in every way.
Aside from the savings funds, all of the banks also had monies from collections on notes and documents, which were given to the banks and whose value went into the checking account of the people who had handed in the documents for collections; these monies also were a large part of the cash flow of the banks which was lent to the members. The moment the banks were full of depositors all day long who demanded the return of their money without consideration if its maturation date had arrived or not, the people handing in collection documents stopped coming to the bank (they transferred their custom to the Polish banks), the money in their checking accounts they withdrew in its entirety and they too, with these actions of theirs, helped to undermine the existence of the banks.
Also those who owed loan money to the banks used this opportunity of chaos that took over all the Jewish banks and evaded paying back what they owed with the excuse that their credit had suddenly been cut off in all of the banks, and they didn't have any way to meet their obligations.
All of these circumstances caused a stoppage of payments of all the Jewish cooperative banks in all of the cities of Poland, including Kielce.
As we said, the first to stop its payments was the Popular Bank, (Ludowy), after that the Bank Kreditowy and the Bank Diskontowy were forced to follow suit and finally, the Spoldzielczy Bank Handlowy surrendered as well, after fighting for its life for a long time and returning most of its deposits in full.
After the destruction of these banks, new Jewish banks were established in the thirties, among them Dawid Rozenberg's private bank with a government license, and the banks Spoldzielnia Kreditiwa Kopczow i Przemyslowczow (Merchants and Industrialists Credit Cooperative) with Szmuel Lewartowski and Kalman Kluska at its head and the householder's bank whose manager was Chaim Judel Ajzenberg.
These banks developed and existed until the outbreak of the war in 1939.
|The council, directorate and staff members of the
Cooperative Commercial Bank (Spoldzielczy Bank Handlowy) in Kielce
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