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Chapter Three:

The Jewish Worker of Bialystok up to 1900


א    A

Information About Jewish
Textile Workers In the Year 1828

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We possess very little reliable information about the number of Jewish workers in the textile industry in the twenties and thirties of the 19th century. However, it appears that even then there were more Jewish workers than one thinks. It turns out to be the case, according to research by A. D. Judicki[1]. that he built on the basis of Russian archival material. Judicki presents a chart about the number of Jewish workers in Jewish textile factories. We see from this that in 1828 there were 940 Jewish workers in Grodna gubernia, who represented 30.10 percent of all workers in the textile factories. One hundred workers are specified for the Bialystok region.

However, it is difficult to determine the number of Jewish workers in the textile factories because the official statistical information does not provide the nationality or the faith of the worker. We have only found in one place[2] an indication that in 1828, 674 workers worked in 19 Jewish cloth factories and among them, 562 were Jewish. It means that 83.4 of the workers in Jewish factories were Jewish.

We further know that 404 Jewish workers worked in the 14 talisim [prayer shawl] factories in Mohilow, Minsk and Vitebsk gubernias.[3] However, the question is if Jews worked in the non-Jewish factories?

The workers can be divided into three categories: 1) the first category was mainly German, French master craftsmen, technicians, who

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were only in the large factories and in a smaller number; 2) the second category was of peasants in servitude, who worked mainly for the landowners or in capitalistic factories who were bought or were leased along with the factory; 3) the third category was called “free-hired” in the official sources. The latter worked mainly in the capitalistic factories in the cities and towns.

It is assumed that a large number of Jewish Wolyn factories employed Jewish workers. According to an official report, in 1828 there were 1,469 workers in all of the 40 Jewish factories in Wolyn gubernia; of them, 339 were serfs who transferred from landowners to Jews and the remaining 1,130 were freely serving workers. Naturally, we can assume that in the Wolyn cities and shtetlekh with dense Jewish masses they were Jewish.

This premise is confirmed from another official source. This is the report received at the end of 1827 from the official, who was entrusted to investigate the western gubernias as to the situation of the manufacturing industries.[4] Certain information appears in his report about the number of Jewish workers in Wolyn and Grodno gubernias.

The report states about Wolyn gubernia: “For a very long time there was no trace of manufacturing industry; only recently, a happy coincidence opened a wide field of activity in it. The government wanting to give employment to the factories in the fatherland demanded that all who have the desire should provide cloth for the uniforms for the Lithuanian corps. Many capitalists who were enticed by the earnings from supplying [such uniforms] began to found factories. From year to year they expanded their activity and in a short time they will be comparable to the largest ones. Some of the manufacturers are Jews. Of 3,285 workers, up to 1,000 were Jewish.”

The same official writes about Grodno gubernia: “The rules of the manufacturing industry in Grodno gubernia are compelling to note. The spirit of industry even has penetrated to the Jews. There are 10 cloth factories that belong to Jews, adequately large and well arranged, mainly it is notable that in them work more than 500 Jews, among them master craftsmen: cutters, mechanics, carpenters, dyers.” The information from the correspondent from the manufacturing council agrees that

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562 Jewish workers are found in the Jewish factories in Grodno gubernia.

The correspondent from the manufacturing council of 1828 provides information about two non-Jewish textile factories in the Bialystok region: of the factory of Count Grabowskaya in the shtetl Orla, where a factory was founded in 1827 in order to give employment to its Jewish residents and to be able to sell the wool from its sheep. Forty-one workers were located at the factory. The same correspondent tells about a factory that was created by the Count Niesiolowskaja in the shtetl of Haradok in 1828 in order to give the residents of the shtetl good employment and to better their conditions. “Jews” are not mentioned here. However, the residents of the shtetl were Jews. The correspondent from Grodno gubernia reports that in 1824 a textile factory was erected in Slomin by the privy councilor Novoseltsev in order to find a market for his good wool and to give the poor population a means of feeding themselves. The factory employed several German and French master craftsmen and 150 free-hired - in such a Jewish center as Slonim, free-hired should be understood to be Jews.

This, at least, is Judicki's inference. However, while it may be partly correct with regard to other places, it is surely false concerning Slonim, because there was not yet a non-Jewish weavers guild at the beginning of the 17th century. As a result, there were non-Jewish weavers there. In Horodok, too, there were always non-Jews as well as Jews. Only the non-Jewish factory in Orla employed Jews exclusively. This is an exceptional case. However, it is not entirely correct to deduce from this that where “free-hired” is mentioned, it means only Jews. There could also have been free-hired peasants. True, Jewish workers, without a doubt, were called free-hired.

Shabbos and holidays in those old, pious times certainly prevented the Jews from working for non-Jews and also prevented non-Jews from hiring Jewish workers for their weaving workshops. I, too, did not hear of such cases in Bialystok and in its region during my time of almost 60 years ago and before my time, according to the tradition of 100 years ago. Just, the opposite - Christian workers always worked and still work today for Jews.

True, it is found in the old lists, for example, that with Sopieha, 77 workers worked in his factory in Wisoka-Litowsk, of them 72 were Jews and 3 non-Jews. But there, the actual

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owner was Leib Warhaftig; Sopieha only was the founder of the factory. And this was how it was in all of the non-Jewish factories in which there were Jewish workers; the true owners were Jews; they had non-Jewish names for the government, the names of those who had once established the factories.


ב    B

General Characteristics of the Jewish Textile Workers

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We learn a great deal of information about the Jewish textile worker when we approach the 40's and 50's of the previous century [19th century]. Here we can build on local Bialystok tradition according to which it appears that there were only printed calico weavers and printed calico weaving mills in the 1840's. Their production was for local use.

The first Jewish weaving specialists were later recruited from them. One of them, Tzalel NOWAK, already was working in 1844 in Dovid Avraham KEMPNER's weaving mill for wool overcoat cloth. It was maintained that several later large manufacturers, such as Ahron SURAZSKI and the like, were printed calico weavers.

The number of Jewish textile weavers began to increase together with the Jewish textile factories.

Jews also worked in the earlier hand spinning mills. Spinning and finishing masters also were Jewish not only in the Jewish factory towns, but even in Bialystok, because their work was not physical.

All of the Christian factories were free of Jews, but the workers and masters in the Jewish factories were mainly Christians. Jews only worked in their weaving mills and there mainly with Christian weavers. I speak here only about handlooms; we will see further on about the later mechanical weaving mills. In any case, a concept emerged that all mechanical work belonged only to Christians and the Jews were excluded from it.

The work in the weaving mills also attracted more Jews because learning hand weaving was easier. One needed only up to a month to train in this work, while one had to have more information for spinning and finishing and longer to gain experience with them. Moreover, they were paid better for their work: the spinners were the greatest earners in the factory.

Since they could learn weaving easily and quickly and it was not required, as with other trades, to also go through seven levels of hell of humiliation during the school years with the master craftsman artisans, most of the time the adult Jews and well-educated

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[young men] from the middle class families therefore became weavers. In their youth, other trades were a disgrace for them, but because they were not capable of [working in] business or they had already been expelled from it and, as a result, lost their dowries, they had to seek a way of making a living from a trade – they had to become weavers. However, hand weaving is a difficult trade and not a healthy one. Until 1900 it provided weekly earnings, with continual work of 12 hours a day, from 7 to 12 and sometimes up to 15 rubles a week.[5]

At that time, the Jewish weaver was mainly a developing man. Found among the weavers were those who attended the house of study, learned men, Hasidim and followers of the Enlightenment. The Jewish weavers stood on a much higher cultural lever than their colleagues, the Christian weavers, who were recruited from the lower peasant and worker strata (their “Blue Monday” after their drunk Sunday was well known).


The Relationship of the Jewish Weaver to His Boss

The Jewish weaver developed a particular consciousness in the factory and developed into a particular type. The factory was his second home. He spent approximately 12 hours a day in it, excluding Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and religious holidays. Each factory and workshop was for its Jewish weavers, who worked together in a large, long room, a separate closed club. They ate there (the midday meal was brought by the wives or the children), drank tea or spent time talking.

Their conversations included various local and world questions, according to newspapers, which their enlightened ones would read. However, the main theme of their conversations was the manufacturer as a man and merchant and his manufactured products. The weavers would calculate their income from the completed work exactly against their debts and prepare the manufacturer's balance. They would critically analyze all the possible details and even his private life. The criticism was always bad. Jewish weavers always thought themselves better than manufacturers, because they were the most productive in the manufacturing. Compared to a manufacturer, an ignorant man, which was not a rarity, the Jewish weavers considered themselves higher and more important than him. In any case, as the manufacturer, whose better material and economic situation was still only

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an accident, which also could come to each weavers through good opportunities. And when the manufacturer would exhibit a bad relationship to the weavers, they began to hate him. As a result they developed an opposition to capitalism and searched for means to better the position of the workers. They did not have to learn this from anyone.

But conversely, the difference between the Christian German manufacturer and his weavers was much greater. The German manufacturer mainly was a qualified professional with a certain intelligence, from which the usual Christian weaver was distant. Therefore, the Christian weaver acted with respect to the Jewish manufacturer and thought of him almost as a higher creature. Therefore, they obeyed him more and were submissive to him. As a result, the Jewish manufacturer preferred to employ the Christian weaver before a Jewish one.

A large manufacturer described to me the difference that he felt between the two kinds of weavers in his weaving factory: when he came into his weaving factory for the first time, returning from a trade trip, he would go to the looms of the Christian workers and it would be mouse-quiet. They began to weave more fervently. Their heads were down as if a fear had descended on them. However, as he went to the Jewish weavers, they stopped working, left the looms and they put out their hand in a great “Sholem Aleykhem” [traditional greeting – hello]. This Jewish manufacturer did not understand how much higher, intellectually and morally the Jewish weaver stood compared to the Christian and to he himself. Consequently the average Jewish manufacturer had a greater desire to take in Christian workers with whom he never had any conflicts. It turned out that a large number of the Jewish manufacturers would divide their weaving factories into Jews and Christians, while the Christian manufacturers did not employ any Jewish weavers and workers and not only because of Shabbos [Sabbath] on which many Jews could not, in any case, work.

There were also women in the weaving factories, who comprised 25 percent of the weavers. They were bobbin threaders, nuperkes [whose job was to ensure that the threads moved at a steady pace], thread cutters (there were also men who were thread cutters). Only Jewish women worked in the Jewish factories.


ג    C

The weavers' strike

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette

The Jewish weaver was already, as the Jewish worker in general, having been educated in the principles of the Jewish Torah, which was

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against any slavery, mainly on the part of Jews, in his spirit a socialist not in name but in sense. He saw himself as equal in status with his master, the employer, and was always ready to demand an appropriate share of the master's income, i.e. a larger payment for his work. Already in the Talmud is found the technical expression for a strike- “Imur” and also for an employers' unification against the workers- “R'giah” [R'guah][6] (lockout). In the Bialystok industry the strikes started very early on.

Minor conflicts between manufacturers and weavers, who then worked per section, rose up even earlier, but they usually were settled between themselves. If earlier there were great strikes organized in the Jewish factories, it is not known. The first famous Jewish weaving-strike that we know of occurred in the complete factory of Aharon Surazski (a Kotzk Chassid); in 1882, 70 weavers went on strike against him concerning increase of wages and other demands. The strike continued for a long time, although most of his weavers were his shtiebel [small house or room used as synagogue and meeting place for Chassidim, followers of a common Rebbe] members.

The Jewish weavers' strikes became from then on a commonplace phenomenon. As soon as the Jewish weavers felt a rise in the improvement of the possibilities for the manufacturers to sell the merchandise, they immediately went on strike, presenting certain demands, mainly to higher the wages and lower the working hours.

Later it became a rule, that the indicator of better times for the manufacturer was the Jewish weavers' strike. But as soon as times became worse, they would start working with a great gusto at the Jewish weaving-plants. The Jewish weavers with their manufacturers were two contending camps, which regularly stepped into, from time to time, a state of war. This had a very negative effect on the course of the Jewish industry development, because in the competing Christian factories this was not the case.

The Jewish weavers would always begin the strike with the request for better settlements in the relationship with the weavers. The manufacturers, who were instituted from the earlier weavers, were always the worst and [most] unyielding to their former colleagues.

With the German manufacturers, where there wasn't a single Jewish worker, there was never in my time a strike (an exception, I think,

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was once a great strike at Hassbach's, the German manufacturer, in the last days before the war). This is explained, in my opinion, with the great cultural and psychological difference between the Jewish and German weaver and worker, as has been shown earlier. Habitually, the non-Jewish weavers in the Jewish factories were united with the Jews and would go on a strike, following instructions, to the beis sheni [second building] of the “Chayei Adam” study-hall in the synagogue courtyard, that was the general weavers' center.


The struggle against the freelance weavers

To the highest degree of bitterness reached the war not between weavers and manufacturers but between the weavers and the freelance weavers in the '90's. The freelance weaver always caused damage to the well-established factory-weaver, because: a.) he always brought new young weavers and thus increased the number of weavers, and consequently their prestige was lowered; b.) he consequently brought down the price of labour; c.) he freed the manufacturer from his dependence on the factory-weavers; the manufacturer could weave only when he needed the merchandise, but in his own weaving-plant he had to weave always, so as to provide a livelihood for his weavers.

The weavers could not go on strike [together] with the freelancers because for the freelancers this was a question of existence, although they would take part in the general factory strikes, because with improving the working conditions in the factories, consequently [the situation] was bettered for them as well. Therefore, the factory-weavers applied in their war with the freelancers even terror, but earlier, before they had used terror, - before they went on strike under the direction of the “Bund” [Jewish Labour party]- they used various other methods against the freelancers.

Around 1895 the weavers started a war against a great number of midlevel manufacturers, that they should not be allowed to give work out to the freelancers. The war came with a denouncement to the government. According to Russian law, anyone who paid for and was issued a Promislow (handcrafters') billet for 15 rubles, had the right to direct a workshop with 16 workers and also to sell the produced goods. The freelancers used that billet, but also the manufacturers, who only had weaving-plants, to work with only 16 workers and sell the produced goods. The rest of the work was usually given out to the freelancers. Therefore, the weavers accused the manufacturers before the government that, not being themselves

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workers, they had no right to use the Promislow billets. The Grodno gubernator, to whom the denouncement was made, immediately issued an order to close down the said manufacturers' weaving-plants and, in court, issued a large monetary fine, because they utilized falsely a cheap billet, and also confiscated their looms and their merchandise.

I was at the time also among the said manufacturers. I was taken before the Grodno gubernator. Being as I was the only one in the delegation who could speak Russian, I stood at the head. The gubernator, a certain Potiomkin, a great Jew-hater, whose wife was a mesumedes [ Jewish convert to Christianism, in this case female], received us very badly and immediately denied our plead. Then I said to him, that we would complain about him in a higher department, because he had proceeded unlawfully by closing our weaving-plants, before it was decreed by the court, that we have no right to use the Promislow billets, - he answered me that he would have us flogged with rods. From him, we went to the minister of finance in Grodno governorate, to whom the whole matter actually belonged. He answered us that, certainly we were in the right, but that he could not oppose the gubernator, who held with the weavers. In the end, the chairman of the Bialystok courthouse advised that each of us should present to the court a Guild-Master billet, even that of just a weaver, and that he would rule in our favour. And that is how it was: I inscribed myself for 25 rubles in the Bialystok weavers' guild and became master weaver, although I did not know how to weave.

At first, the strikes in Bialystok were only financial, with no political background. The government did not get involved at all. As we have seen, the gubernator even held for [supported] the weavers.


The great strike of 1894

The first strike that was directed against the government, but not a political one, was the great strike of 1894 in Bialystok of all Jewish and non-Jewish weavers, counting over 10000. The strike happened because the factory inspector introduced factory-ledgers for the weavers, that the workers viewed as a new evil decree from the exploiters, the manufacturers. The factory inspector, the chief of police and the commissaries called all weavers to a meeting on the large empty area at Old-Boyare. They made it clear to them

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that the booklets were only made for the workers' benefit, so that the manufacturer will be forced to pay according to the hours and that he will not be able to lay off a weaver without a two weeks' notice. Thus, eventually the weavers calmed down and in two and a half weeks returned to work.

In those times it happened once that a manufacturer employed strike-breaking weavers. The weavers surrounded the factory and entered into it, they chased off with blows the strike-breakers that were sat at the looms, and in their place set the earlier weavers, and the police did not bother itself.

Also with the weavers' strike of 1897 to increase the rent paid by the freelancers from 6 to 7 kopeks for a skein, and that the working day should only last 12 hours, from seven in the morning till dusk, including an hour for lunch, - the police helped the strikers to carry it out. The strike only lasted for a week, also because then the Kaiser [Emperor] was due to arrive in Bialystok.

As the Jewish Worker (number 10, page 63) reports, the police almost always (still in the year 1900) took the workers' side: the new police chief, who had come only recently to Bialystok, conducting himself, as it seems, like the Minister of Police in Moscow, would take the workers' side every time. Therefore, the workers, under any pretext, would run to the chief of police.

But the strikes received a political background through the “Bund”, that was founded in 1897 – and from then on the Bialystok weaver and workers, especially the youth, were under their leadership. The strikes ceased to be financial and at the same time, and possibly mainly, became political, the relationship of the government with the strikes changed completely.


The weavers' organization

In order to carry out strikes, the weavers had to be organized in a strong organization. This was not. The legal union which existed, had almost no function and also could not be developed, because the possibility of their activities was limited. The pressure of the power-holders was too strong on it. Therefore, it made no impression when it was closed. An illegal union did not yet exist and although the weavers were united

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they were so in an empty organization. The organization had no strongly designated rules, no steady income – and yet it existed and functioned. Instead of strongly designated rules, there functioned the presence of generally recognized individuals among the weavers, who were utilized at a time of trouble and who stood at the head of every collective movement.

When we were involved with the weavers' complaint regarding our “Promislow” billets, their leader was a tall, pale, young weaver, who was nicknamed, it seems, because of his appearance, “łabędź “[the swan]. He and the beis sheni of the “Chayei Odom” study hall were then the two departments to whom all the weavers turned, even the Christians.

The place of a strongbox was taken by the deeply-rooted tradition of supporting struggles and strikes. True, it only functioned in times of strikes and struggles, but therefore it was strong and true.

As soon as the strike was announced, the strikers called together an assembly of delegates of all factories. The assembly of delegates acknowledged the strike and designated a tax. According to tradition, the tax was decided one time for all: each worker pays one kopek a week for each striker, so as many as were striking, - ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred men- was the number of kopeks they received each week, regardless of how long the strike continued. The strikers themselves passed by the factories during the week and gathered the tax. They also took separately to the factories the accounts of the money-collection. In this manner, the strikers received up to 6,7,8 rubles a week and could strike in peace for even a year. Every worker feels it is his duty to pay the tax. Every striker demands the tax as his right. The reasons for striking were diverse.[7]


ד    D

About the number and condition
of Jewish workers in Bialystok in 1900

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


Before we talk about the subsequent struggle and confrontations, let us become acquainted with the general condition of Jewish workers in the main trades and present information about their number,[8] according to the trades in the year 1900.

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Textile Workers

The number of weavers who work in Jewish factories reaches approximately 3,000 men. Of these, 1,242 work for manufacturers and 1,600 are spinners for loynketnikes [working with customers' materials]. To them must be added 1,000 shpoliarkes [people who work with the bobbins to keep them from being overloaded], 200 nuperkes [people who keep thread moving to the bobbins], 100 shererkes [clippers, people who splice and cut the threads] and up to 40 shnelerkes [expeditors who keep the work moving smoothly], in total approximately 4,400. Two-thirds of this number are Jewish; this means close to 3,000. No Jews work at the very large factories, which belong to Christians.

The workers are employed in 70 factories and with about 200 working loynketnikes. The largest number of looms in the Jewish factories is 67; the smallest – 5. With the loynketnikes, the largest number of looms is 28; the smallest – 3. On average, each factory has 17 looms and the loynketnikes have eight and a half. In this way, the loynketnikes play a large role in the fabrication. The loynketnikes do not buy their own materials. They take the material from the manufacturers or from the merchants and bring back to them the finished pieces of woven goods.

The loynketnikes exploit the workers much more than the manufacturers. They pay less and the working conditions with them are much worse.

The workers everywhere achieved a 12-hour workday through strikes (12-hours including a mid-day meal time). The wages averaged from six to eight rubles a week at the factories, four to six rubles with the loyntetnikes; the nuperkes received two-three rubles a week, the shpularkes one and a half to two rubles a week, the shnelerkes and shererkes three to four rubles a week.



The tanning industry began to develop here at first in the 1880's starting with two not too large factories in Bialystok and in the shtetl Krinek [Krynki]. Each year more tanneries arrived in Bialystok, Sololke, Krynki, Sziszlewic,

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Zabludowa. The tanneries grew into large undertakings. Before wartime around 200 leather manufacturers with around 6,000 workers were located in Grodno gubernia [province].

The center of the entire leather industry was in Bialystok. This happened because of its large financial institutions that took care of money matters for all of the factories in the city and in all of the neighboring towns. Therefore, Bialystok also grew as a large center for the sale of raw leather, which came here from deep Siberia, Kavkaz as well as from Germany, Austria and France and directly from America, Argentina and Chile. Because of this the businesses for buying the materials – hides, tanning supplies and extracts that were received directly from Argentina – were opened by the manufacturers in Bialystok.

Bialystok also served as a market for finished leather. The buyers from southern Russia and the central gubernias would come here.

The monthly volume of business of the Bialystok leather market is estimated to have been about three-quarters of a million rubles.

The foreign exchanges would also be interested in the business spirit of the leather market in Bialystok.[10] In Bialystok there were then 14 tanneries in which 320 men worked (of them 100 were Christians). There were 50 middlemen. The workday for the Jews was a 12-hour day, 13 hours for the Christians. The wages were from four to six rubles a week. They worked for the market, not for orders. No mechanical methods were in use then. Six strikes took place among the workers during the last three years of the 19th century. Three hundred workers took part in the last strike, that is, almost all of the tanners. The main demand was that there not be any work for a flat rate, and for a shorter work day. They prevailed in all of the strikes.


Cigarette Makers

Three hundred and seventy Jews worked in JANOWSKI's cigarette factory: 200 cigarette makers, 70 cigar makers, 50 female wrapper makers, 50 female packers and others. No mechanical methods were used. The wages for the women were up to two rubles a week; the men, who made the better kind – from five to six rubles; [those] who made the worst kind – four to four and a half rubles a week.

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They worked for the market and [to fill] orders. Seven strikes took place during the last three years of the last century [19th century]. A varied number of workers, up to 200, took part in them. The strikers demanded that they be treated better and [receive] higher wages. The owners fought with the workers through the police; arrests took place.



In 1900, there were 80 bakeries in Bialystok. Four hundred and fifty Jewish bakery workers worked in them. They were divided into bread bakers, roll bakers, cake and bagel bakers. Fifty women aged from 15 to 25 worked in the last two trades.

They worked in the bakery 18 hours a day. The workers would not come home during the entire week, with the exception of Monday and Tuesday for four to six hours. The only pleasure they had was… to come to the baker's house of study early and to ask that they should once be asked to read the Torah from their Torah scroll which they had provided years before with their hard-earned groshns. This was a truly remarkable form of class warfare: to demand of the boss that they also should read from their Torah scroll! The school of education of the young boys in the bakeries lasted three years. The apprentices were paid from 30 to 50 kopekes a week. They were put in their proper place with all kinds of harassments on the part of the older workers and of the members of the baker's family.

The bakeries were in the worst hygienic condition. The most beloved talk of the adult workers at work was: girls and cards. Friday at night they would carry their hard-earned rubles to the taverns after 100 hours of work a week.

This description[11] can apply only to a portion of the Jewish workers. The Jewish working class, taken in general, was then religiously disposed. The delinquent element quickly became the exception to the rule. Pious Jews and Torah scholars came out of these bakery workers, such as

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for example, Rabbi Dovid BRAJNSKI, who in his old age was the shamas [synagogue caretaker] and rabbi of the Piaskower House of Study and was the author of the book, Minchas Dovid [David's Commentaries].



There were 50 tailor workshops with 200 workers. No mechanical methods had yet been applied. There were 20 middlemen, 50 apprentices. They worked [based on] orders and for the shops. The workday was 12 hours. The wages were from four to five rubles a week. Six strikes took place during the years 1898-1900. In the first three strikes, a total of 200 workers took part and in two strikes 400, in the last strike 100 men. All of the strikes achieved their goals, except the first one in which the owners were strongly united and they denounced the workers.

Three categories of workers were employed in the tailor shops in Bialystok: the first category manufactured men's clothing, the second manufactured women's clothing and the third – seamstresses. The manufacture of men's clothing was elevated to a craft with a workshop, with an owner, six to seven junior journeymen and one to two apprentices and work to orders. Capitalistic development also had an effect here; the warehouses of finished clothing began to take more of a part in the production; there were warehouses that employed from 15 to 20 workers and large artisans' workshops. The products were only sold here and in the surrounding areas. There was work for the entire year, but there was much work only for seven and a half months a year. At that time there were almost no tailors in the city who did not have work.[12]


Key Makers (Locksmiths) and Tinsmiths

There were 50 locksmith workshops with 100 workers. There were no mechanized methods. The wages were five rubles a week. They worked to orders. Eleven strikes took place in the course of the last three years of the 19th century. The workers won eight strikes. They had mainly demanded a shorter workday. There were 75 apprentices.

There were 25 tinsmith workshops where 40 workers labored. There were no mechanized methods used. The workday was 12 hours; the wages were five rubles a week. They worked for the market. There was only one strike during the entire time (in

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1899). The strike achieved its goals. Mainly they had demanded a shorter workday. There were five middlemen and 30 apprentices.


Furniture Makers

There were 50 furniture workshops in Bialystok. Seventy workers worked in the 50 workshops. No mechanized methods were used. The workday was 12 hours. The wages were five rubles a week. They worked for the market and from orders. Five strikes took place. Fifty men went on strike. All of the strikes achieved their goals. They mainly demanded a shorter workday and higher wages. There were no middlemen. There were 100 apprentices. Denunciations and arrests took place.


Building Crafts and Others

Jewish workers were in many other trades that we do not have the occasion to present. There were many Jews among the building workers. Of the 250 masons who were officially counted in the workers movement, 150 were Jews. Of the 200 construction carpenters in the movement the greatest majority were Jewish. There were approximately 100 painters.

As for other trades, cap making was almost only in Jewish hands, about 70 men. Bookbinding was a Jewish trade. Twenty-five bookbinding workers were members of the workers movement.


Mechanical Workshops and Metal Industry

WIECZOREK's was the largest among the mechanical workshops. W. WIECZOREK's mechanical workshops were founded in 1865 outside Bialystok by MAYNER and GITNER and they were moved into the city in 1888. In 1901 WIECZOREK's factory employed 400 workers with an output of goods [worth] 220,000 rubles.

The workers in the workshops were exclusively Christian.

There also were small Jewish mechanical workshops.

Among the workshops, the one (on Bielosczanski Street, in his house) belonged to Moshe CZICHOCKI, a son of Berl Leib the mechanic with his workshop on Waszlikower (Sienkewicza) Street. Moshe CZICHOCKI was the best mechanic in the city to repair boilers

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and steam machines and all parts of machines. Even in his deep old age, when he relinquished his workshop, he would be called to repair machines that had broken, to show their faults and how to repair them. – The mechanical workshops of Ayzyk SZTURMAK, Moshe AYZNSZMID and Chaim Dovid FARBER were also well known.[1*]


Steam Mills

The first steam roller-mill in the entire region of Bialystok was founded at the end of the 1860's or the beginning of the 1870's by Reb Moshe BACER in his courtyard, which today belongs to the Artisans School The mill stood on the spot on which today is found the First Hebrew School; the mill later burned.

The second steam mill, a one-story brick building, was erected by Leib PERELMAN, near JANOWSKI'S tobacco factory. Today it belongs to the government alcohol monopoly.

After Moshe's water mill on Mill (Palacowa) Street burned, he erected a two-story steam mill on Piaskes [sand]. ZAKHAJM and DAWIDOWSKI'S (a Christian) steam mill was located on Mill Street. All of the mills burned. One of the largest roller mills was a stone mill that the Russian government burned before its withdrawal.[2*]

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Today (in about 1935) are located in Bialystok: a two-story roller mill on Mazowiecka Street owned by Shmuel SZTUPLER, in addition to Christian windmills around the city and a Jewish [mill] down from Khona the miller on Piaskowa.


A Jewish Beer Brewery

There was a Jewish beer brewery in Bialystok owned by Sender MIODOWNIK on Legionowa Street, which was liquidated after the [First World] War.

  1. A.D. Yuditsky, “Yevrei v tekstilnoy promyshlennosti XIX veka,” Istorichesky Sbornik Akademii Nauk SSSR [“Jews in the Textile Industry of the 19th Century,” Historical Collection of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR], 1935, IV, pp. 107-133. Return
  2. Zhurnal Manufaktury i Torgovli [Journal of Manufacturing and Trade], 1831, IX. Return
  3. In his report, Arszenovski explains that the Dubrowner talisim manufacturers, Shlomo Ginzburg and Shimkha Edelzon, who manufactured tailism at 29 work stations, deserve attention because earlier talisim were bought in Turkey and today Russian Jews and even German [Jews] buy only [talisim made] in Russia. In the previous year, they manufactured 24,623 arshin [Russian measure of length equaling 29 inches or seven tenths of a meter] of talisim. Return
  4. Zhurnal Manufaktury i Torgovli [Journal of Manufacturing and Trade], 1828, IV. Return
  5. An energetic weaver who worked with me became a moneylender and later a house owner. Another became a spinner working with customers' materials and later a manufacturer. Return
  6. See Tosefta Bava Metziah 11 [section 12]: The bakers have the right to make a lockout amongst themselves. Return
  7. See collection Questions of Life, #2-3, Bialystok 1912, the article by A. Ziskind. Return
  8. I provide here the statistics according to the Bundist newspaper, Der Yidisher Arbeter [The Jewish Worker], number 10 from the year 1900. The number agrees with the reality of the time. Return
  9. Because the tanning industry played a great role before the [First World] War in Bialystok and in its region, I provide here the contents of the article of the deceased Leymo EPSZTAJN who was one of the most educated men born in Bialystok. The article is in Sprovotshni kalendar po gorodu belastoku [Guide to the City of Bialystok] in the 1913 publication of Krasnyi Krest [Red Cross]. Return
  10. Der Yidisher Arbeter [The Jewish Worker], no. 10, pages 60-61. Return
  11. The describer of the bad conditions is the former Bialystok bakery worker Bentsl ZALEWICZ, who today lives in Tel Aviv. He wrote it in the Bundist Folkszeitung [Peoples Newspaper] in Warsaw; see the excerpt in Unzer Lebn [Our Life] 1930, numbers 236, 237. He exaggerates, since the same bakers who created their own Torah scroll and built a large, beautiful house of prayer could not have fallen so low morally and, at the same time, had their enjoyment in coming to the house of prayer early to pray on Shabbos [Sabbath]. Return
  12. Der Yidish Arbeter, no. 17, p. 47. Return


  1. In 1898 Elyokim DOLIDSKI founded an iron foundry under the firm, DOLIDSKI and DOBRICKI. In 1905 he leased it to MAZUR and SZKURNIK. His son, Leon DOLIDSKI, took over the factory in 1918 and founded a factory for nails and wire where he employed 120 workers. Return
  2. The largest mill in Bialystok was “Cerera” which was on the small Piaskes. The mill was known as “the officer's mill” because a Russian officer, who had been the commandant of the military provisions warehouse had built the mill on Wasilkowska Street that was torn down before the First World War.

    The mill was built around 1900 with all of the modern facilities of that time with the hope of grinding grain for the Russian military. However, nothing came of this. The mill had to be transformed into a commercial undertaking for the Bialystok market. Without the necessary capital, the mill had to close. Around 1908 the mill will taken over by the Bialystok private bankers, Samuel GOLDBERG and Aba MILECKI along with a third partner who was the actual manager. During the war 1914-1918 the mill failed. – Return


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ה    E

The worker becomes drawn into the political struggle

Translated by Dave Horowitz-Larochette


As we have seen, the Bialystok Jewish weavers as well as the other male and female workers came by themselves to the natural means of striking, through which to improve their financial situation and not to allow the employer to exploit them excessively for his benefit. Had they not thought of the strikes themselves, they could inform themselves from the Talmud which they studied in their youth at heider [religious boys' school][3].

So it is that the strike had an old Jewish source, long before Marx's socialism. As we have seen, at the beginning the police helped the strikers. But in the 90's the [St.] Petersburg and Moscow social-democrats and revolutionaries had started using the workers' strikes as a means to awaken in the Russian proletariat the class-war against the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary opposition to the Czar's self-rule government, which did not allow the workers to organize.

The political life in Russia was such, that every strike for increasing wages and better conditions at work, had to be bundled up with a political strike. The government viewed every social

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movement, every impression of disquiet as a danger, which prepares itself to upset the foundations of its power. It tried to bribe the workers, it tried to ingratiate itself to them; it even tried to organize them. But behind the flattery, behind the mask of friendship hid the dark face of the autocracy, which fidgeted and panicked, when it saw a new power growing over which it could have no control.

The average worker had actually no clear concept of it, but his heart was filled with protest and with revolutionary spirit. The reality was such, that the strong views lurked on every turn, from all sides.

The financial situation of the Russian factory-worker, especially in the textile industry in Moscow and Ivanovo-Voznesensk, was, according to the depiction of the economists, terribly bad. They were reduced to a state of slavery by the wealthy millionaire manufacturers. No comparison with the much better financial standing of the Jewish workers in the Pale of Settlement.

Our Jewish social-democrats and revolutionaries arrived from Russia to implement that which they had learnt from their friends there, [and] also from the Jewish workers in the Pale of Settlement. They came to the Jewish workers to [help] them develop and to build them into revolutionaries and to bundle up their financial strikes with political [ones], - to help free the great 140 million-strong Russian people from the Czarist government[4].

The first pioneers of the political struggle

The first pioneers who came down to Bialystok in 1895 were: Libe Eisenstat (Levinson), Shmuel Gozanski, Albert and Bashe Zalkind. They organized various circles in Bialystok and rented a conspirators' lodge, where Nachum Lifshitz printed proclamations and brochures on a hectograph. In 1896 the lodge was discovered, and immediately afterwards they arrested Eisenstat, Gozanski, Lifshitz, Albert and Mashe [should say Bashe, as above] Zalkind and others. All were sent to Eastern Siberia.

Nevertheless, the political movement in Bialystok was not liquidated. It was soon reestablished. In the meantime, was founded in

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Vilnius, in the convention of 25th until 27th September 1897, the “Bund” [Jewish Labor Party], and already sent its pioneers here. In the period [from] 1897 till 1900 there worked actively in Bialystok: Abram Benzie (a weaver), Munwes (a weaver), Pavel Rosenthal (P. Anman) [pseudonym], a medical doctor (brother of the local hospital-surgeon) and his wife Anna, Izbicki [Isbitski] (Michalewitz) and others[5].

The second strike against the freelance weavers

They had already instituted the strikes in Bialystok, which was their main work. This is seen already at the second strike (1898) against the freelancers (regarding the first strike, when the police helped the weavers, we spoke of above) to further increase the wage of their weavers from 7 to 8 kopeks per skein. They thought with this to become rid once and for all times of the freelancers. Because the difference in profit between the manufacturer and the freelancer would be very small, the latter would not have on what to exist. The strike, under the leadership of the “Bund”, had been held for 9 weeks and was a bitter one. The police already knew that this strike was now mainly political. The police and gendarmerie now persecuted the strikers. The strike made a great impression and tumult. From Grodno came the gubernator, the governorate's factory inspector and 6 gendarmes. The strikers were supported financially, mainly by the other Bialystok workers. But at the end they came to a compromise. From September first and on, work would be started at 7 and a half kopeks per skein. In the said strike the workers drenched the face of one of my freelancers Moshe Yitzhak Gebel, a Radzin Chassid, with sulfuric acid, to blind him, but he was saved from that – his face was only burnt.

But after a year, in March of 1899 (5 Nisan, 5659) on Saturday evening [after Shabbat] a freelancer, Mendel son of Zvi Liubel, who was called Mendel Kolner, was killed, when going from the shtiebel [privately owned small Chassidic study-hall] after Kiddush Hachodesh [“Sanctification of the Month” prayer ritual, held outdoors in moonlight] in the synagogue courtyard. They cut him up into pieces. The said cruel murder made a cataclysmic impression on the entire city. The prosecutor knelt by the mutilated corpse and screamed: “You, Earth, do not cover the blood of an innocent murder victim!”

The Bundist newspaper The Jewish Worker (#10, p.26) reports, that in the strike against the freelancers in March of 1899

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a slaughtered freelancer was found in the street, against him and several of his friends the worker-weavers harbored a great hatred in their hearts for their espionage and denouncements, which caused the dismissal of several workers. There were a few workers, in whom the revenge for their brethren burnt, and they killed one of the freelancers without reporting it to the rest of their comrades in the organization, who, following their principles, would not permit [the organization to] break up. Those who killed the freelancer were never found, but in their place, by indication of the freelancers, men were arrested, who had no part in the deed. Without an investigation, with no proof, they were jailed for a year and [then] sent administratively to Siberia.

Bialystok becomes temporarily the center of the “Bund”

In the year 1900 Bialystok became the center of the “Bund” for a year and a half. At the end of May 1901 the fourth assembly of the “Bund” was called, but during this time the great crisis[6] happened in Bialystok. A large part of the Bialystok factories halted [production]. Many weavers hungered. Consequently, no strikes could be held. The “Bund” was able to occupy itself by teaching the workers how to build themselves up via small circles. At the fourth assembly of the “Bund” in Bialystok is was estimated that the best means to draw the masses into the movement was through the financial struggle. As means in a political struggle, the assembly considered: 1.) the political minor and printed agitations, 2.) political demonstrations, 3.) strikes beginning the first of May presenting political demands.

The assembly represents the entire organized Jewish proletariat [together] with our Russian friends in their struggle against the political rightlessness of the masses, which has especially showed itself intensively during the last months in [St.] Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov and other cities, and besides, the assembly also represents the entire body of students, which struggles for academic freedom and against police Willkür [brutality][7].

It turns out, that the “Bund” organization became from the beginning political and mainly Russian, not financial, and, to put it simply, no longer specifically Jewish.

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True, a great split was created in the “Bund”. There were those who demanded, that the activity of the Jewish proletariat should be limited to the work of improving the economic situation alone and distance themselves from the political work.

At the head of the management [of this group] stood the well-known socialist and social activist Masha [Manya] Wilbushewitz. They were called “The Independents”, or they were called derogatorily “Zubatovchikes” (after Zubatov, the famous gendarme [head] of the Moscow Okhrana [secret police] who had promised to protect the workers' movement if it limited itself only to economic improvements).

[Vyacheslav von] Plehve, the great reactionary and anti-Semite, put an end to the “Independents”, considering them also revolutionaries, and the entire movement was destroyed.

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Chapter Four:

The Stormy Years 1900-1907


א    A

The Crisis of 1900

Translated by Dave Horowitz–Larochette

The yoke of government did not rest more heavily on Jewish merchants and manufacturers than on others. If they suffered by the Czarist might, it was because they, too, had to, obviously, abide by their evil laws with their “krome yevreyev” [“except Jews”]. Jews suffered severely by the army service, and the poor in a much greater measure than the wealthy. But the Czarist power did not especially persecute the Jewish merchant or the Jewish manufacturer.

For opening new shops no difficulties were made. For opening new factories, the manufacturers were not heckled. It was not evident that they should want to push out the manufacturer. If the times were long gone of helping the textile industry to expand, as was in the beginning of the 19th century, but it also was not evident that they should want to create difficulties for it, since it lay mainly in Jewish hands.

There were no large taxes and payments. For a 25-ruble billet, the so-called “Promislow billet”, a medium-sized manufacturer could produce and handle in the hundreds of thousands of rubles, not to mention a merchant of the second guild, for which the billet only costed 120 rubles. Even with the later additions the taxes were relatively small, especially compared to the taxes on part of the Polish government (after world war I). There was even a tax-inspector who would review, whether we had used the billets correctly and had bought the appropriate billets and guild-dues. But the tax-inspector was not independent. To him were appointed two deputies from the magistrate, a Jew and a Christian. They helped regulate his order. Besides that – the habitually “podatny” [submissive, in Russian] inspectors were payed off by the merchants' society, to not create difficulties with unnecessary demands. Jews as merchants or as manufacturers had no other separate payments [to make].

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The initiative came from the Grodno gubernator to forbid opening washing, dyeing and finishing-plants by the rivers Biala and Suprasl, in order not to pollute them. The Jews quickly found a way around this. They opened complete factories on the Narew, on the other side of Bialystok, that already belonged to the Łomża governorate, in the villages Zlotoria and Babin. These two villages were burned to the ground by the Russians at the beginning of the (first) world war.

But the convenient state of affairs, that is here described, did not protect the Jewish manufacturers when a great crisis came upon the entire textile industry. This same crisis was connected to a general crisis in industry and business, that enveloped the entire Russian-Polish industry and business world.

The crisis raged especially very strongly in the textile industry. All districts suffered, the large ones as well – Moscow, Ivanovo-Voznesensk and Lodz. But perhaps even stronger the crisis hit Bialystok.

These periodical crises in the textile industry were an understandable phenomenon. They were, so to say, “natural” to the capitalistic mode of production. They were repeated in the textile industry with almost mathematical precision, almost once every five years. The reason is simple: when the demand for merchandise increased, this automatically drove to increasing production. But this increase in production usually came on a higher level than what the realistic demand was. This always ended up causing the market to become over-saturated with goods. It was impossible to find consumers for the surplus merchandise.

For this not to be only a general scheme, we must take in mind also that then the increase in production was maintained by artificial means, mainly with free, completely uncontrolled credits, that both the manufacturers and the clientele received. Therefore, the demand for goods was much less than the supply. The clientele-consumers, and consequently the manufacturers, could not fulfill their obligation to cover their debts, [so] the general crisis emerged, with bankruptcies on both sides.

Then in Bialystok, in the time of a couple of years, the majority of smaller and medium and even large Jewish manufacturers with complete factories were brought down from their positions. Thus, for example, strongly

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suffered the Chassidic manufacturer-family Aharon Surazski with the son. Some emigrated from Bialystok and others remained, poor and helpless.

Factories were shut down, workers lost their jobs. As in every crisis, the workers suffer the most. Of course, they had no ready capital. There also could not be help for a specific individual [through charity] because literally the entire Jewish workforce was attacked.

There were workers who went from door to door begging[8]. The poverty was such that even when a cheap Jewish soup-kitchen was opened for the workers, where a lunch costed just 4 kopeks, many unemployed could not afford even this pittance. They were forced to ask the kitchen's administration to give them lunch for free. Until May in that year, up to 150 lunches a day were given for free.



  1. In Bava Metziah (p.76a) the strike is already considered as a juridical question: if the work became expensive and the workers struck or if the work became cheap and the master struck. Already then there was a Hebrew technical word "imur" for "strike".
    The root of imur is from "meri", to rebel, to revolt (see Lewy, New Hebrew and Chaldean Dictionary, Volume I, 100). But Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, a medieval French Rabbi; he was the main commentator of the Talmud] explains here: "Meaning detach and cut back and be distanced from the subject and it is used similarly in scripture: "Ka'et bamarom tamri" ["What time she lifteth up herself on high"] (Job 39:18). Rashi makes the strike not a mutiny, a rebellion, but only a departure, as a bird departs with its flight. According to a Talmudic ruling (Bava Metziah, 71) a worker may go back on his wages even in the middle of a [working] day. Return
  2. Here I used: Royte Pinkas [The Red Records], first collection, The Jewish worker and N.A. Buchbinder, The history of the Jewish workers' movement, Vilnius 1931. Return
  3. See P. Anman's article in Royte Pinkas [The Red Records], volume I, Warsaw 1921. Return
  4. A Bundist writer, casts the blame in The Jewish Worker, #10, p.25, of the crisis on the Jewish manufacturers, who always lived to excess. Actually, the crisis then was a world-crisis brought about by the usual reasons for crises. Return
  5. Details on this see in Buchbinder, the same book mentioned above. Return
  6. The Jewish Worker, #10, p.25. Return


ב    B

The rise of the Workers' movement

The strengthened activity of the “Bund

Since the year of the crisis, the “Bund” strongly expanded and fortified itself in Bialystok. In 1899 there were only 200, but in 1901 – already 700 organized workers. The Jewish Worker (#10, p. 65) writes: “The Bialystok masses are not politically developed, although the political consciousness is larger than in the neighboring towns, which is made clear by that here, it is almost impossible to agitate a little among the masses. The development of the masses is influenced particularly by the level of culture and education of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia, but both these strata of the population are very uncultured here. The movement had a good influence here in the sense that it developed the masses, the thirst for knowledge in the masses grows day by day. In the “jargonistic” literature (nobody else understands it) answers are sought to the many questions it is concerned with. Literature demands so much, that it is not possible to meet all demands. The organization develops the political consciousness in the workers through speeches, through propagandistic circles, by spreading general literature (this literature has over 200 regular readers), through a local organ (The Bialystok Worker, which has already published

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its second issue), through fliers (# 1-2). The fliers are propagated to all the masses.

The “Bund” expanded its agitation through proclamations to the business-staff as well, besides through Bundist literature it worked mainly by assemblies, mainly in the Bialystok forest in the summer time. May-assemblies were arranged. Celebrating the “Bund's” jubilee, from the workers' voice, from the Decemberists [unknown]. In 1901, the 30th anniversary of the Paris Commune was celebrated, as well as the [anniversary of the] revolution of 1848 and the anniversary of Karl Marx's death. A union of professional tanners was also created.

From Bialystok emerged the initiative to all Russian social-democratic organizations. Many agitators stemmed from Bialystok. But the second conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Party in Bialystok, in April of 1902, with the participation of the Bund, fell through and thereby the ring-leaders were arrested. Therewith, the Bialystok period ended[2].

But although Bialystok was no longer the center for the entire “Bund”, still, the local activity was not weakened. Through the “Bund” the Bialystok Jewish worker became entangled with occurrences in the general strife against Czarism. Bialystok workers strongly survived the two forthcoming important and bloody events:

  1. The Bundistic demonstrations of May 1, 1902 in Vilnius terminated with cruel executions of the demonstrators. This was the first time corporal punishment was applied over Jewish workers, by command of the Vilnius gubernator [Victor] von Wahl. On the 5th of May, the workers'-Bundist Hirsch Lekert shot him twice and only wounded him, but did not kill him. Lekert was hung on May 27th.

  2. In 1903, [Vyacheslav von] Plehve organized a pogrom in Kishinev [Chişinău], on the 6th and 7th of April, which made a great impression on the world, and in Homyel a pogrom – from August 24th until September 1st.

In 1904 there was in Bialystok, simultaneously with the Russian-Japanese war, a marked rising in the local workers' movement, just as with the Russian workers in [St.] Petersburg, Moscow and in the other large places. The Bundist organization carried out intensive work.

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The factual leader of the “Bund” in Bialystok in the years 1903-1905 was Boris Cohen, known under the name Virgili, from Vilnius. He was the official leader of the revolutionary workers' movement in Bialystok.

Very often great meetings were held in the woods and other places behind the city. On February 22 and August 4 of 1904 the labor force organized two large demonstrations. The police took notice of this revival. It awaited the convenient moment to deal with the Jewish workers.

The Bialystok police force was famous for its cruelty. They simply rampaged, their actions knew no limits. The second-in-command of the gendarmerie division in the Bialystok area was Corporal Griboyedov, who was later killed in Grodno. They would seize workers in the streets and without any reason beat them to a pulp in the police stations. The police behaved murderously with the workers, the Bialystok police allowed itself what it did not allow itself in other cities.

The slaughter of September 12, 1904

On September 12, 1904, the second day of Sukkos, an assembly of 300 workers was held in the forest. When the meeting had already come to an end and the workers were returning to town as a group they stumbled into the police at the edge of the forest. The policemen were all dressed in black and could not be seen in the dark. A yell was heard: Halt! and the workers stopped; some of them tried to flee. But the comrades made them stay. For a few minutes the crowd stood quietly, peacefully face to face with the police. Suddenly, shots rang out, and the forest echoed with heart-rending cries. The policemen shot into the peaceful crowd not with blanks but with live ammunition. Terror seized the crowd. The rows dispersed and the workers began to run, with the police chasing them. The bullets whizzed, the wounded fell powerless. And the police did not stop shooting and slashing with swords to the right and to the left. Individual groups turned and tried to make a stand. But they had to flee under the hail of police bullets. The worst was the plight of the female workers; their cries were heard deep into the forest.

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This was truly a slaughter of the defenseless; it is characteristic that the bullets were found in the backs, which shows that the police did not shoot a crowd standing up to them but one that was fleeing. A couple of tens were wounded severely and lightly[3].

The “Bund's” Central Committee distributed a circular, that in all localities people should go on protests against the Bialystok slaughter, with demonstrations, one-day strikes, protest-assemblies. All the Bundist committees assembled and fulfilled the circular's instructions: in Bobruisk, Kovno, Minsk, Pinsk, Borisov, Lodz, Rovno, Slonim, Kreslawka, Zhitomir, Mogilev, Porzecze, Dvinsk, Riga, Berdychiv, Warsaw, Szawle, Mozyrz, Grodno and many other cities. Particularly fiery was the protest demonstration in Vitebsk, which was held at the theater in the middle of the opera “Halka” …

The police department in [St.] Petersburg, which was uneasy about the strengthened position of the labor-force, petitioned the Grodno gubernator to reinforce the military division in Bialystok, for disquietude was to be expected there.

The response to the events of January 4, 1904

The “Bund” responded to the events of January 4, 1904 in [St.] Petersburg, when the Czarist government treacherously slaughtered peaceful Russian workers, whilst on their way, with the priest [Father] Gapon at their head, to present a petition to the Czar - “Batiuschka” [“Little Father”] himself. It organized in the entire Pale of Settlement mass walkouts of the Jewish proletariat in all cities and shtetls. There surged a wave of political strikes that took place between the 21st and 25th of January in Vilnius, Minsk, Gomel, Dvinsk, Mogilev, Borisov, Smorgon, Vitebsk, Horodok, Bialystok and so in all cities and shtetls, where from a few hundreds to a few thousands of workers went on strike. The strike lasted between a few days to a week and a fortnight. Individual agitators employed even forceful means when they encountered resistance on part of the workers, they let out the steam, took off the belts, and the factories were forced to stop working.

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The Russians did not go on strike, there were localities where the Russians opposed i[4].

But how far the mass psychosis actually effected the Jewish workers is to be seen from the events that took place at the time in the shtetl Krynki, next to Bialystok: the Jewish workers (especially the tanners) there made a complete revolution. They called a mass assembly in the synagogue. The entire crowd, more than 2000 people, set itself loose in town. They plundered the post-office, the police station and the city hall. The “Bund” appointed special patrols to keep order in the town. And when on the morrow a great number of soldiers and policemen arrived, the workers armed themselves with whatever was at hand. The women took up stones and shouted: “Brothers! We will fight for life and death! We will not surrender!” The officers began to negotiate with the workers and promised not to shoot if they disbanded peacefully. So the workers dispersed[5]. The Russian officers here were, it seems, liberals. They did not wish then to spill blood needlessly.

Summarizing the general result of the movement, which was formed due to the [events of] 9th of January and organized by the “Bund”, says a writer of the history of the Jewish workers' movement: “In those same days the Jewish workers showed their full heroism, courage, and readiness to die in the battle against autocracy”[6].

This is an exaggeration[7]. The real result was that, almost everywhere, the military and the police did not remain silent. In many localities they very cruelly killed, beat with sticks, with swords, with gunstocks, trampled with feet, pulled by the hair. In an entire series of towns they

[Page 103]

opened fire on the crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The funerals of the comrades killed were always held with grandiose demonstrations against the old regime[8].

From June 1905 the police repressions increased notably. They would often shoot at the workers' stock-exchange. The number of killed and wounded reached in some places the tens and hundreds. In Berdychiv 3 were killed and over 60 wounded; in Gomel - up to 30, in Pinsk, in Minsk in a clash with the Cossacks 2 were killed and many injured. In Riga - many casualties. In Warsaw more than 350 men were beaten and arrested, and in Vilnius - up to 100.

[Then] came the manifesto of October 17, 1905, published by Czar Nikolai the Second, by proposition of Count Witte. The intention was to compensate the nation for Russia's great defeat in the misfortunate war with Japan. But the Russian reactionists, the so-called “Black Hundred” were opposed to the founding of the State Duma and convinced the foolish Czar to close it. Repressions again came against the people, especially against the revolutionary Jews. And truly, the Russian government began mass killings of Jews in general, at the smallest opportunity.


  1. See The Red Records, first collection, p.65-70. Return
  2. See Buchbinder, the same book mentioned above, p.317-319, Последнияя Известия [The Latest News], an organ of the “Bund” abroad. Return
  3. See Buchbinder, the same book mentioned above, p.328. Return
  4. The same book mentioned above, p.330-331. Return
  5. There, p.334. Return
  6. As the same writer later admits (there, p.418) and says: “It is laughable to think that through illegal circles with an illegal propaganda we would be able to attract a significant layer of the working intelligentsia at the time, which up to October had not come to us. Equally utopic is also the aspiration that with the help of an illegal leadership we would wage an organized and methodical battle of the working class against the legally organized economic, political, spiritual powers of the bourgeoisie, i.e. going out with a wooden stick against machine-guns, with an illegal printing house against a rotary printing machine, with an illegal assembly against the All-Russian tribunal.” Return
  7. There, p.332-333. Return

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