by Rafal Federman
My environment, Czenstochow, my home city, was savagely annihilated by the German beasts; all of my closest family members, hundreds of friends and comrades with whom I lived and struggled for a better and more humane world, did not even obtain any kind of burial place on this earth. Therefore, let my memories serve as a Kaddish [memorial prayer].
In general, I did not know my grandfathers. I only knew my Grandmother Rywka on my mother's side. Her maiden name was Rudnik. She lived with my parents for many years and helped in the work of earning a living.
My father, Dovid, was employed in the whiskey warehouse of Kruk, the father of the well-known socialist activist, Dr. Josef Kruk The whiskey warehouse was located in Kruk's own house on Tilne Street (later Straczacke).
My mother Gitl
My father was dressed long [he wore a traditional kaftan], but already wore a stiff collar [was more modern]. He trimmed his beard. He prayed in the Rozprza shtibl [one-room house of prayer, usually associated with a Hasidic rebbe] and traveled to the Rozprza Rebbe for advice when he found himself in a critical situation. My mother, Gitl, ran a tavern on Garncarska Street in German Holer's house.
I was born in the house where the tavern was located. The records of birth dates for all of the children were written into some sort of Yiddish book. The exact hour was even shown. The book no longer exists and I take my birth date according to the official Russian and, later, according to the Polish passport: the 24th of March 1892. It appears that I was not entered correctly. My father later reminded me that he had done it because of my older brother, Zalman, for whom he thought that in order to have definite relief from the draft he should be too many years older than me.
When a law was issued that Jews could not own taverns with whiskey, we moved to the other corner of Garncarska Street, near the old market, near the old synagogue and beis-hamedrash [house of prayer], in Bentkowska's house. My father lost his long-time position with Kruk because of the whiskey monopoly, but because he had Kruk's protection, he received permission to open a beer tavern (without whiskey). This tavern was found in Bentkowska's house.
The struggle for income was difficult. My mother; Hinda, my older sister; Fraydl, my youngest sister; and even my grandmother Rywka; worked hard in order to earn a livelihood for the entire household. My brother, Yeshayahu, studied in the beis-hamedrash and my brother, Zalman went to school and was preparing to enter Retke's pro-gymnazie [preparatory school for entry into secondary school]. I, the youngest of the sons, went to the kheder [primary religious school] of Yehiel Sh (this was how we referred to him) and later to Meir Gliksman on Warszawer Street in Goldman's house and still later to Feywl Avigdor, who prayed in the same shtibl [one-room prayer house] as my father.
There in the kheder, which consisted of only a few students, I became friends with Leyzer Berkowicz, with whom my friendship endured until the ripest youth. The kheder was located on Garjeszne Street not far from the crates near the Warta. During the winter I would go to kheder with a lit lantern in the morning when it was still dark.
I was very obedient and pious as a child. When my mother did not have time to say a blessing with me, I would run in to our neighbor, Reb Itamar Joskowicz, a Jew with a white beard, with large eyeglasses on his nose; he looked like a rabbi. He said the blessing with me. Otherwise, I did not want to taste anything. He loved me very much and had a great influence on me.
I went with my father to pray in the Rozprza shtibl and often also went to the rebbe in Rozprza. Of the men in the shtibl,
those who remain in my memory are the men who recited the prayers on the holidays, Yekl Kelcziglowski, Reb Itshe Meir Frank the father of my friend, Shmuel Frank Moshe Shabtai, the usual gabbai [assistant to rabbi], with whom the rebbe lived when he came to Czenstochow. I most strongly remember Reb Itshe Meir Frank, a tall Jew, always with a pipe in his mouth. His business was selling hides and he recited the prayers in the shtibl, which was located in his own house. He would pray musaf [supplementary Shabbos and holiday prayer] and he also blew the shofar [ram's horn]. His sons, Josef and Shmuel helped him as choirboys.
I remember a case when his oldest son, with a fine, long face and curled peyos [side curls], who was then a grown man, did not obey him and he received a slap. One of his teeth fell out. From then on I was very afraid of Reb Itshe Meir. Reb Yekl was a wide Jew, happy, a singer and good-natured. I remember him best from his Shimkhas-Torah [autumn holiday celebrating the completion of the annual Torah reading] dance; his ecstasy transported me. As young as I was, I was also well known for my Shimkhas-Torah dance, a kozak [Cossack dance]. Year in, year out, the finale of the Hasidim's dancing in the shtibl was: Fulthsa (that is what I was called) will dance a kozak!
All of the children from the shtibl, as well as Shmuel Frank, befriended me because of my dancing success. He stuck to me although he was more of a scholar than me. Perhaps I was popular because the barrels of beer were bought from us for all of the meals concluding Shabbos and we often dragged the barrels of beer from the tavern into the shtibl.
After me were two more sisters, Tsirl and Rayzele. I do not exactly remember their births; I remember them only as something foggy, where my mother lay in childbirth with the youngest, with Rayzele. Therefore, I remember very well when Rayzele, a gorgeous little girl of 4 or 5, suddenly became ill with scarlet fever and died immediately after. This was a great misfortune in the house. My mother and father did not permit me to go to the funeral. I remember that for years my father and particularly my mother did not go to sleep until they had had a good cry over the great misfortune. I remember how I would go to the old cemetery and would look for hours at the small headstone on which was written, Here lies Rayzele Federman and the dates of her birth and death. Therefore I had even stronger love for my younger sister, Tsirl.
Our material situation was not great. Although we had a tavern, even a piece of herring was something important for us. My mother would divide only the leftover head or tail of the herring for us. We had to eat a roll without butter. The usual fear of the smotshikes (inspectors) was great. Whiskey was also sold secretly in our tavern. My mother or my oldest sister would carry the bottle of whiskey under their aprons and it was sold only to Jews or well-acquainted Christians. The inspectors often sniffed the glasses, wanting to find out if there was whiskey in them. And it happened that bribes would cost a considerable amount to have the sin erased.
My father despised the constant fear with this situation and in every way he looked for a new, more respectable income.
My Father Wins the Lottery
Once, on a winter morning, when I arrived at kheder, my rabbi, Feywl Avigdor, greeted me with an expansive Good morning and gave me a Mazel Tov [congratulations]. I did not understand what this meant and thought that the teacher was making fun of me, but the rabbi and the rebbitzen [rabbi's wife] told me earnestly that my father had won the grand prize in the lottery. I did not want to believe this, but they assured me that it was true because the shoemaker who lived in the cellar of the same house had also won with the same lottery ticket that was divided among a group of neighbors.
I got up immediately and ran home at full speed, telling my parents the good news. Arriving at home, I found my mother fixing the oven in the kitchen and my father was getting ready to go down to the tavern (we lived over the tavern, on the first floor). My father listened to me and said to me the words: Go my child, back to kheder. If it was true that I won the grand prize in the lottery, I would have been told, and, in addition, I do not have any receipt. I play there at Yehoshaya Leyzer's on a note something like a half ruble. He was here with me last night and said nothing to me about it. Evidently,
the 'stake' was won (the amount invested), so people are saying, the grand prize!
Mournfully I returned to kheder with my heart embittered by the rabbi because he had fooled me. However, the rabbi again assured me that he had not made any kind of joke and that people knew better, that if it was being said, then it was true. He just suspected that perhaps my father would not admit it about his grand prize, not to be arrogant about it.
I went home with my friend, Leyzer Berkowicz, after studying lessons for several hours to grab something to eat. Getting closer to the house, I noticed that the tavern was closed. I understood that something had happened and I had the idea that it was true, that my father had won the grand prize.
I found my mother tearful at home and my father occupied as if he were preparing for something. To my question of whether the news I brought in the morning was true, my mother's crying grew louder and my father came to me and with wet, teary eyes, he hugged me and kissed my head saying to me: It is true, Fultshe, you were the first to tell us the joyful news! And I, myself, also broke out in a loud cry and I, therewith, expressed my resentment that they did not want to believe me earlier. I immediately knew that the rabbi would not fool me! I cried out.
This was the only kiss that I remember my father giving me, although he loved my very much. He always was delighted with me, when I danced the kozak in the shtibl on Shimkhas-Torah.
I did not return to kheder that day. I only ran back to the rabbi to tell him it was true. We were partners in a grand prize, that my father had a receipt for an entire ruble. The rabbi again wished me mazel-tov and told me to bring cake and whiskey to kheder the next day.
There was turmoil in the house as in a kettle. People came; they talked secretly and spoke loudly; my father was congratulated and negotiations began about the size of my father's portion of the winnings. A long time passed until an understanding was reached about how much was in our portion. I only remember that my father took me along to the negotiations and made calculations with me. My father's portion was supposed to be more than 3,000 rubles, but they did not want to give more than 2,000 rubles. I only remember that I made a speech at the meeting (my first speech) and with my calculations showed that much more was coming to us and I protested against the sin (my first protest against sins) that they wanted to do to my father. My words helped because we were paid a hundred rubles more. Yehoshaya Leyzer said later to my father that he only gave the hundred rubles because of me and he asked that the remaining partners should learn of this.
Dozens of Jews were comforted by the grand prize. They all took part in the same ticket. These were the largest winnings with a prize from the Braunschweiger Lottery that fell on Czenstochow. I still remember the number of the ticket 52935.
The winnings brought joy and great hope in our house. My father paid debts and thought about ways to put away a dowry and make a match for my oldest sister, Hinda, and about ways to better our income.
The conduct in relation to the education of the children changed a little in our home. My older brother, Zalman, who had earlier studied with Zlatnik, entered Retke's pro-gymnazie and I again took after my friend, Leyzer Berkowicz and entered the Narodnoje Ucziliszcze (People's School), directed by Leder the teacher for many years.
During the several weeks I went to the school in the Wstepne (initial training), I had to endure much trouble from my friends in the shtibl [one room prayer house]. When I came to pray with my father on Shabbos, they accused me of becoming a gentile. I took off my short jacket, my cap with the shiny visor and put back on my long kaftan and again began to study with Feywl Avigdor with great zeal. Every Shabbos morning I studied a bit of Gemara at home; Maariv [afternoon service], it was the Torah portion and my parents beamed with joy and bragged about me, saying that I was growing to be a young genius.
The pogrom in our city in 1902 was a shock for my childish soul.
I was then around nine years old. Even today, frightening images float before my eyes: all of the shops were closed at night. Windowpanes were knocked out of Jewish windows. The neighbors and the mistress of the house, Bentkowska, who was acquainted with us, calmed all of us. Suddenly a large stone hit the window of our house and the windowpane was broken into small pieces. We began to move along the wall. The mistress of the house lit candles and put crosses in the windows. Each time, the master of the house, Bentkowska's husband, ran into the street and brought back the news from there. However, I had the impression that he himself was helping with the pogrom and, ostensibly, from time to time, came to calm us. Several hours later, opposite our house, on the next corner, in the coffee-roaster Szmulewicz-Hasenfeld's house, a band of gentile boys ran in and looted the store and set it on fire. Through a window in our house we saw a red glare and the grieving among us became greater.
In the middle of the night we heard several shots. It was calm in the city. Bentkowski, the master of the house, came running breathlessly and told us that we should sit calmly; the Russian soldiers were shooting. There were wounded in the streets. I took my youngest sister, Tsyrl, with me and went to Piotrkow to my Aunt Hinde Staszewski, my mother's sister. Several days later in Piotrkow, my sister became sick with scarlet fever and had a high fever. I felt guilty because I had taken her away from home. My father and mother came quickly to Piotrkow and wanted to send me home so that I would not be infected. However, in no way did I want to leave my sick little sister's bedside. I finally returned to Czenstochow when my little sister could get up from her bed.
Several days later there was again talk about a pogrom in the city. I was so afraid that I began to beg my parents to send me away somewhere.
Tsyrl. my little sister, later we called her Tsheshe, went to Wolf Yakov Szacher's school as a child. [He was] a tall, wide Jew with a long, wide, beautifully cared for beard. My mother had also studied with this teacher.
The Fire in Landau's Factory
A giant fire in Landau's celluloid factory made a great impression in our city. Around five to six girls were burned there, a number of them from Garncarska Street where we lived. The funerals took place from there in which thousands of people took part. Speakers stood on the shoulders of the surrounding people. I swallowed every word. I went to the cemetery in secret, without the knowledge of my parents, along with the thousand-headed multitude and there cried along during the burial.
The flaming gold young man with the long face still stands alive before me and his Lithuanian Yiddish speech still rings in my ears. This was Ahron Czenstochower (the blond Ahron), today Dr. Ahron Singalowski, the general secretary of ORT [Obshestvo Remeslenofo zemledelcheskofo Truda Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor]. His words reached my soul and my brain.
I no longer went to kheder. I benefited from my brother Zalman, who went to the progymnazie, with a little Russian and arithmetic, and I attempted to return to Leder's Narodnoje Ucziliszcze. I entered the second class. My teachers were Leder and Abner
I Make Demands
Josef Zajdman and Lajzer Genendelman, my school friends, lived in the house at Dojazd 30, not far from Herczn's barracks. Our favorite pastime is school was playing soldiers. We drew almost all of the classes of the school into this play. We carried out wars and we gave gifts to those taking part. Everyone received a small book that cost from one to five kopekes. It was inscribed in the books that it was being given to him and him for good achievements in the battle. It was signed General Josef Zajdman and Colonel Rafal Federman. Zajdman was the practical one, because he knew the drills and I was the theoretical one.
We persuaded all of the students in the second division of the above-mentioned school that the black caps with the shiny peaks that we, the students wore were plain compared to the caps worn by the gymnazie students. Each would wear various colored ribbons and stars in the front of the cap. Therefore, we
turned to the school inspector and asked that the students in the Folks-Shul [public school] also receive other uniforms and caps.
The demand of the students was filled after long negotiations and after a personal visit by the school inspector to the school and several weeks later we all paraded in the tabelny dens [red-letter days] or in the galuwkes [celebration of a Czar's birthday or anniversary of his death] in caps of dark blue cloth circled in green. The form of hat also spread to the Folks-Shuln [public schools] in other cities.
I graduated from the second class with distinction. We desired greater things in the third class and I was always the organizer. The new request was that we learn Polish and Russian in school. In order to achieve this, I recorded all of the students in the class as on duty, that they had done wrong and I also included I, myself. When the teacher entered the class and saw my report on the blackboard about the guiltiness of the students, he punished us with everyone having to stay in class after the lecture.
We were happy with this, because we then had the opportunity to issue our demands. The main one for us was Polish, the language of the country that the Russians had oppressed. We proposed German as a camouflage, giving as the reason that whereas we lived not far from the German border we needed to know the language of our neighboring country.
The teacher understood that this was an organized mutiny by the students and that the demands had a political component. This was at the time when student strikes took place in universities. The teacher punished us and reproached us over the course of two days. He reminded us that we were receiving our education entirely without cost; that we were poor people's children and if we did not calm down and give up our demands, the school would be closed.
He also sent for the children's parents and reported to them about this. The meeting was fatal; several students cried and the entire class gave up the demands.
I no longer appeared at the school after losing the strike. However, I did appear for the exams and graduated from the school with an award that consisted of some sort of small red Russian book. I explained not coming to school for a few months with the fact that my father was sick and I had to help in the house.
I Speak to the Governor
My father suffered from an illness for a long time and I helped earn income in the soda factory that my father ran at that time.
In order to open a soda-water factory, it was necessary to have special permission from the Piotrkow governor. My father had to present the best certificates of integrity and had to bear various denunciations on the part of the existing soda-water manufacturers. The highest local police official had to be untershmirn mit opsmen [smeared with poison in other words, bribed], as the Jews said, so that all of the denunciations were removed. The police also constantly let my father know where the matter stood with higher authorities. My father squandered a great deal in order to receive permission for this undertaking on which he built his entire future. He was refused several times and he had great heartache because of this. His illness came from this.
The last hope to receive the permission was connected to me. I was sent to Piotrkow to my aunt and I, personally, went with her to the governor and asked for an audience with him. I stood with a proszenia (request) in my hand before the governor and asked that he grant us permission for the soda-water factory. I told him in Russian that I had come because my father was ill. When my aunt quietly advised that I should kiss the governor's hand I cried in front of him. The governor patted me on the head and said to me: I would receive an answer in three days; all will be fine.
When I left the governor with my aunt, she said to me: I have the impression that you have succeeded and let God help with what remains. And in three days, this was in the morning on Shabbos, the police commissioner of our street called to my father through the window and told him the joyful news that permission for him for the soda-water factory had come. My father left to pray with a beaming
face of joy and in the belief that this was my good luck.
We arranged the soda-water factory in the same courtyard in which we had the beer tavern, in the house of the Bentkowska. We carried the siphons of soda-water in a hand cart to the shops in the nearby streets. I helped my father instead of going to school. I learned how to make the gas with great interest. One had to be very careful at this work. A bottle could explode if the gas was not precisely made.
I was trained in the trade and it was left for me to do more than once. From time to time I also helped to push the hand wagon with the siphons of soda-water and to collect the money.
In time a law was issued that the soda-water factories could not be located in any inhabited houses. Our factory was moved to a neighboring house owned by Yankl Dawidowicz, who built a special small house with several rooms for the factory. According to the regulations, Jacob Ber Silver's tshaynik (tea house) was also located in the same house, where the Bundists would come together.
I Enter the Movement
In my free time, after work, I read a great deal. I read Russian, Polish and Yiddish. When the Russo-Japanese War began I devoured the newspapers with the news. From time to time I began to bring into the house the thin books, published on Bible paper [thin, lightweight paper], that I received from kheder friend Leyzer Berkowicz.
I began to go to the birzshe that was located on Ogrodowa Street on the corner of the new market up to the Kapeluszarnia [hat factory]. The agitators at the birzshe were: Mordekhai Kopertszki, Dilewski, a shoemaker with long hair and a fine intelligent countenance, Ira, Dora Warszawski, Avraham Lemanski, Dzialowski, Avraham Kawa, Jarkowizne, quilter, Doctor Itshe Czanszinski and others. This was the birzshe of the S.D.K.P.L [Polish socialist party] (later communists), the Jewish group under the name Czargonowo [czargon or jargon is a derogatory term for Yiddish] group. I was accepted in the organization and became an active member of it. The organization was divided into dzielnicas (quarters). There was also a Jewish quarter to which I did belong. Each quarter had its committee. From time to time conferences of all of the quarters took place. Koperczuk was the representative of the Czargonowa group.
The Jewish dzielnica had its group gatherings from time to time. Kuperczuk (now in America, a union leader in the leftist movement) and Ira led the group. Masuvkes (mass meetings) would also often take place at which a delegate from the central committee appeared. The masuvkes took place in the Polish language and also in Yiddish, although very rarely. The more evolved workers were taught the Polish language. Several groups studied with Miss Bril (later the wife of Stanislaw Przicki, director of the Merchants and Manufacturers' Bank). Adolf Bril, who gave lectures of a higher level in the Polish language, was popular among the Jewish workers. He was famous as a theoretician of the party. Ira also very often taught and gave various readings in Polish. Leon Kapinski, who had just come from Germany, once held a masuvke in the forest in the Yiddish language. At that time a second dzielnica member conference took place to which comrade Josef Feliks Dzerzhinsky (famous after the Bolshevik Revolution as the head of the Cheka [secret police]) of the central committee came. A heated discussion took place at this conference about the above-mentioned dzielnica groups. I defended, and only in the Polish language, the point of national independence of the organization and the publication of literature in Yiddish against a series of other Jewish members of the intelligentsia.
Kuperczik was elected as a delegate to the first national conference of the Jewish group. After this conference, the publication began of Di Royter Fan [The Red Flag] and the brochure, What Do We Want? by Rosa Luxemburg and others.
Large discussion gatherings were also held very often in Wajnberg's celluloid factory where the representatives of various workers unions would appear. These gatherings remain very much in my memories. Ruwin Rubinsztajn of the S.D.K.P.L., Ahron Signalowski (today the ORT worker, Dr. Signalowski), Benyamin, Golda, Litwakow of the S.S [Zionist Socialists], Oril Flaszer, Lasal-Wladek of the Bund, also took part. The gatherings were entirely instructive,
interesting and were visited by hundreds of workers.
As for my activity, I was the contact person with one of the Polish dzielnicas where I received the literature for the Jewish dzielnica, the newspapers, Czerwony Sztandar [Red Banner], Przeglad Spoleczny [Social Review] and the various proclamations for the Jewish dzielnica. It often happened that I also brought the literature from Warsaw for the entire region, that is, for Czenstochow and Zaglembie-Dambrowskie.
Here I will describe one such trip that was, incidentally, my first trip to Warsaw:
I changed into the clothing of my friend Leyzer Berkowicz, who dressed in a short jacket and a hat; I also took his passport and left on the trip. Arriving in Warsaw I went to an address that I had been given. From there I was taken to a confectioner's shop where a student was waiting for me. It should be understood that I did not know his name. He spoke to me briefly, and convinced that I was kosher, he gave me another address where I went to receive literature. A Polish worker lived at this address. This was somewhere in the Wolya (a Polish working area in Warsaw). They drank a considerable amount there and I was also treated to a glass of whiskey and snacks. I barely tasted the whiskey because I was afraid of becoming drunk, jeopardizing my entire trip, which was complicated enough.
In my young brain, I remember, an unpleasant thought then sneaked in: how could I drink during such important and responsible illegal work? But I did not say anything, and took my goods that were packed in an elegant valise. I entered a droshky [open carriage] and went to the WarsawVienna train station. On the way, a young man with a package had been stopped and from the droshky I saw how the police officer cut open the package with his sword and the entire package of literature was lost. A large crowd of eager people gathered around them and watched the incident. Possibly as a result, I escaped with my package of goods.
The danger from this was not yet past. Police and gendarmes stood at the entrance of the train station as usual and they searched everyone the packages of everyone on whom fell a bit of suspicion. Therefore, when I arrived at the train station I spoke loudly, like a rich man, called a nosilsacaik (porter) to take my package from the droshky and in a loud voice I also ordered him to buy a second-class ticket on the courier. First of all, I was freed from the package. Understand that if the porter was stopped I would not be.
I also moved away from the package in the train wagon. I sat on another seat and lay the package on a distant shelf. The careful action was not excessive because searches were often carried out in the train wagons. Thus I arrived in Czenstochow. The same procedure happened there: I took a porter, asked him to take the package to a droshky with which I rode in the direction of Stradom. Descending from the droshky, I left on foot for a nearby field as had been previously arranged and there placed the valise among the wheat. Several comrades arrived at a designated hour, took the valise and carried it to a house of a Polish worker. On the road, they had to avoid the border guards who often looked for contraband, because Czenstochow was close to the German border. They organized their own guard who went in front and when they noticed a patrol of border guards approaching, we were given a sign and we hid in a courtyard until the patrol passed.
After much hardship and gambling my freedom, the valise finally arrived at the designated address.
In addition to the local workers in the various factories, among whom I knew: Roman Wowczinski, Pietrek, Domanski and the intelligent Josef Olszewski, the sons and daughters of the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia also took part in the workers movement: the daughters of Yokhl Lerner, the Szwarces, Dadek Szajnweksler, Momloks, Senjar, Birnbaum, the German Khun's son. Of those from the intelligentsia sent from the central office, who would appear at the various mass meetings in the Czenstochow factories, I was acquainted with: Adam Kanrach, Bashke (Sholem Asch's sister-in-law, today a high official in the government in Moscow), Janek and Ksower.
The storehouse of illegal literature could not be kept in the Polish areas. They were raided too often. The storehouse was moved to the Jewish quarter where it was quiet for over a year. A room at a Jewish baker was found across the bridge over the Warta in the so-called Zawoja. Leyzer Berkowicz was registered in this cavalry residence. He did live there at first, but later the room was packed with various illegal publications, even several guns that the organization had the opportunity to acquire during an attack. Only a few comrades knew about this illegal book storehouse; the designated managers from the central office, Leyzer Berkowicz, Zelik Rotbard (the son of Itshe the stable owner) and me. From there, the illegal literature was divided among all of the Czenstochower factories and throughout the area.
However, finally the owner of the bakery, a Jew whose son, incidentally, was also in the movement, sensed what was happening in the rented room. However, he already was mixed up in the matter, was afraid for himself and he had to be quiet. But in time the police discovered the traces of the storehouse. They knew that the illegal literature that was found so often during searches and the proclamations came from Zawoja, but they did not yet know from which house. And they began tracking. They even once made a raid in the entire area and carried out searches of houses, but they searched the lime ovens that were next door.
In time the storehouse had to be liquidated by the organization. On a beautiful clear day, with the help of Nekhemia Warszawski, a Jewish worker from the Djubos soap factory, who drove up with a horse and wagon from the factory, all of the archives were taken and they moved them to the Pelcer and Son factory. A comrade of the organization worked there and he took it under his protection. The rest of the material that was not very needed was burned on the fields near the lime ovens during the course of two nights and a red glow covered the quiet sky. Only the Jewish organized workers of the S.D.K.P.L. knew about this.
There was also a case of a failed storehouse of illegal literature that has a connection to me:
My Failure and My Mother Is Arrested
In 1904-1905 I was strongly engaged in the illegal movement, although I simultaneously was the wage earner for my family. In 1905 my father died of stomach cancer at the age of 42 after a long illness that swallowed much money. My mother cried for years about his premature death. She would always say, Thus the lottery money runs out
I became the wage earner and worked in the soda-water factory. There was a Polish worker there Pietrek. He was the main master craftsman in the factory and, under my influence, he became a member of the S.D. Party.
The Bundist teahouse was also in the courtyard of our factory, as mentioned above. I sat in the teahouse and was busier with party agitation and singing revolutionary songs than with working in the factory. In the attic over the factory, to which there was no staircase, but one needed to place a ladder, lay the balloons [gas containers] and broken soda water siphons and there I found the most appropriate place to hide the illegal literature. Several issues of Der Royter Fon [The Red Flag], the organ of the Social Democratic Party, the brochure, Wos Wiln Mir? [What Do We Want?] by Rosa Luxemburg and dozens of packs of other unkosher goods lay there. A number of these books were bound with the same binding as my legal books at home. If the police found both libraries they would immediately know who was their actual owner
Once, on a cold, frosty winter night our factory was attacked by the police and a military division with the then police commissioner, Abruzow, in the lead, and they began a thorough search. They woke up our entire family (we lived in the neighboring house) and demanded the keys to the soda-water factory from us. The search also had to concern my mother; she was certain that she was responsible to God and calmly went along with the police. She laughed to herself at their foolishness: found a spot to look for illegal literature
But my soul almost rose [I almost died] from fear and dread. I went along to the factory. The police carefully went through all of the corners and did not find anything; Abruzow, the police commissioner, asked where is the ascent to the attic. It all became dark for me and I felt as if my feet were breaking under me out of fear.
The entry to the attic is from the courtyard! my mother calmly answered.
The police placed a ladder and several seconds later they did not have to look for long the commanding voice of the police commissioner was heard:
Vsiech arestovat! (arrest everyone).
My mother began to lament and cry and she expressed her innocence, that the attic is open. There was not even a lock for it. She did not know about anything and this was true. She really did not know about anything. I was the only one in our entire family who knew.
In the blink of an eye a flash came into my head; the remaining legal books at our home that were bound with the same binding as the illegal ones still could carry the particular traces. I decided that my books at home must be destroyed at any cost But how?
As the books from the attic began to fall down like rain and as the order came from the police commissioner: Arrest everyone, I maintained an innocent facial expression and moved closer to the police commissioner, who had come down from the attic with a triumphant look, and asked him, Me, too?
Poshol van! [go about your business] the police commissioner shouted at me and gave me a resounding slap in the face.
I took the slap as an earned gift and quickly ran home. When I came into the house breathlessly, I gave a choked shout to my sister: Take out all of the books! My entire library collected with so much effort was immediately thrown into the toilet and no more library!
My mother and Dawidowicz, the owner of the house, were taken to a small church. The entire city was electrified by this arrest. Everyone made a false accusation against the Bundist teahouse. Only I, unfortunately, knew the entire truth.
After several days in jail and after strong efforts, the governor punished my mother as well as the host of the house in an administrative manner with three months of arrest for having kept the attic open and, therefore, allowing it to become a nest of seditious literature. A sufficient sum of money was collected with great effort to pay for my mother's penalty so that my mother would not have to go to jail.
For many years, my sister and brothers blamed me at every opportunity: This was your bit of work, Fultshe! However, they were not certain about this accusation. I confessed to them for the first time when Poland became independent and there was no longer any trace of the Tsarist gendarmes.
As I assumed then, Pietrek, the worker in the factory, had revealed the warehouse with illegal literature to a policeman while having a glass of whisky in the tavern. However, during the investigation, he did not say who had placed the packages of literature there. This saved me from years in prison.
During the Revolutionary Years 1905-1906
In 1905, during the general strike, I and a group of comrades such as Leyzer Berkowicz, Chaim Dovid Wolhendler and others were among those who were ordered to take part in stopping [the work] of the Pelcer and Sons factory. We stood guard on the outside, having weapons with us. However, the police and the military blocked the road in advance. We only heard a few interrupted calls of the factory sirens and several shots. Several soldiers and police fell then including the legendary hero Juczek, about whom the Czenstochower working class later sang: Juczek bil odwieczni s'parta bojowej [Juczek is the eternal leader of the fighting organization] I parted with him at his grave with the beloved revolutionary song: Shalet'she triani [Crazy Tyrant].
After this, when the new constitution was proclaimed, the party appeared in public for a certain period. The office of the S.D.K.P.L. [Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania] was located in Szwarc's house at Teatralna Street. The freedom was too short and, therefore, little remains in my memory about the activity during those days. I only remember that it was livelier.
At that time, I was almost arrested and I escaped thanks to my
comrade Fajersztajn. At that time, we had both left the Polish neighborhood at Warszawer Street at the hour when the workers left the factory and I had literature with me to distribute. Suddenly, a patrol of policemen and soldiers approached us and stopped us. I, who was carrying literature with me, ran away and my comrade, Fajersztajn, who had nothing on him remained standing and they arrested him. He was freed after several days in jail He had argued that he did not know me; we had been walking near each other only by chance.
However, I was nevertheless destined to taste the charm of being arrested, which was impossible to avoid with illegal work: we took part in the elections to the second Duma and agitated for our own candidate from the S.D.K.P.L., Emanuel Klajnman. He, by the way, was my good friend, although he was much older than I and he had a great influence on me. In connection with our lively agitation, my comrade Zelig Rotbard and I were arrested. We spent several days at the police station of the regional supervisor, Denisow, and then we were actually freed by this regional supervisor. Later, we learned that the regional supervisor was in the movement; he died as an arrestee in the Piotrkow prison.
The comrade Bashka, who was a party functionary in Czenstochow for a long time, made a great impression on us. A fair, woman with chestnut hair, smoothly combed, she always wore a long black dress; she was in mourning for her brother Izak, who was shot after a court sentence in Warsaw for belonging to the S.D. Party [Stronnictwo Democratyczne Democratic Party]. With her appearances, she made herself very beloved among the Polish workers. She spoke only Polish. She did not know how to speak Yiddish, but she understood everything. The priests in the churches were very concerned about her. They preached for their believers that the Zydowke [Jewish woman] demoralized the Polish worker, that she had even once permitted the defilementg of a cemetery, speaking at the funeral of a worker who had perished during a bloody demonstration.
The Polish workers gnashed their teeth when they learned about the propaganda of the priests. Bashke would appear at the mass meetings at all of the large Czenstochow factories, such as Rakow, Czêstochowianka, Szpagaczarnia and others. She had had a very hard life among us in the city. She did not spend the day where she spent the night. I was her companion for a time. She sometimes spent the night with the Lerners, with Leibish Kopinski at the factory in Zawodzie.
In independent Poland, I learned that her family name was Szapiro and she was Sholem Asch's sister-in-law. Today she occupies an esteemed position in the Soviet Union.
I Join the Zionist-Socialist Workers Party S.S.
I no longer was the breadwinner in our house. My spot was taken by my older brother, Yeshaya. I received the post of an office employee with Moris Lipski. After several months work, I was removed from there. I had studied bit by bit and was again engaged in political work. I then became acquainted with the activists from the S.S., Mendl Szuchter, Yeshaya Yakov Mientkewicz (Minkof), Hershl Gotajner and others. It became very restricted for me at home. I lived with my closest comrades and our discussion of the various problems were interesting and lively. Above all, our discussions concerned the Jewish question. Under the influence of Mendl Szuchter, my comrade Emanuel Klajnman and I joined the S.S. Party. At home, they believed that I would finally wind up in jail; my brother Zalman, who worked at a post with Dr. Wolberg at the paint factory, took the responsibility to support me and said that I should go abroad. I shortly went away but only to Krakow with the purpose of achieving a gymnazie matura [secondary school certificate].
On Migration in Krakow
In Krakow, I lived in Podgórze at Kolontaja Street; there I lived among the immigrants from Kingdom Poland who were called Krolewscy [royals]. I had decided that I would get my matura during the year. Meanwhile, I met many Czenstochowers there who had returned from exile and even from Siberia or had just run away because of the heavy repression that had then begun in Poland. Coming were Hershl Gotajner (escaped from Siberia, after previously serving several years
in Piotrokow prison), Dovid Gerichter, who received an earlier wisilke (banishment) to leave the country; Mikhal Alter. Motl Asz, Aleksander Haftke (in independent Poland, he was a high official in the Polish Interior Ministry; he is now in America) and Dovid Borzykowski were here as extramural students. Avraham Wiewiorske (well-known writer, died in Moscow after the war), who had to leave Czenstochow as one of the leaders of the Poalei-Zion [Labor Zionists]; Dovid Guterman (Dovid Jajczorcz) and tens of immigrant members of the Zionist Socialists were also in Krakow. Di Freiheit [The Freedom], the S.S. newspaper, was published then in Krakow. I did not give up my party work, although my studies required it of me. Little by little I became involved with the work for Freiheit. Later came the periodical Freiland [Freeland] published in Vienna, of which I took several issues and transported them to Poland. I then came together in Krakow with Josef Hilel Lewi, a poet, and with my neighbor Zagan, a Poalei-Zionist. The Poalei-Zion had their club and we all were grouped around this club. We often were visitors of the Folks-Universitet [People's University] under the influence of the P.P.S.D. [Polska Partia Socjalno-Demokratyczna Polish Social Democratic Party], heard Ignacy Daszyńsk speak and were present at the large May demonstrations.
Many times, I had the occasion during this time to go to Czenstochow and, in the names of Friends Lewi and Zagan, I went across the Austrian border. My material situation was not satisfactory. I often was forced to sell my school books in order to buy bread and then I had to buy back the books when the monthly allowance came from my brother Zalman and from time to time, the support from my cousin, the son of my mother's sister Zalman Staszewski (he later was a councilman for the Bund at the Piotrkow city council).
Strange information about Bashke made a heavy impression on me in Krakow at that time. I once met with the Democratic Party member, Josef Domanski of Czenstochow, and he showed me an issue of Czerwony Sztandar [Red Banner], in which a warning was published that the comrade Bashke, the Democratic Party activist in Czenstochow, for whom I had so much respect and idolized, was in the service of the Tsarist secret police. I was truly shocked by this information. A group of comrades and I as much as took to drink in despair. I got drunk and, on the way home, I lost all of my study books. I could not forget this fact for a very long time. My surprise was so great (years later, Sholem Asch explained about this painful matter: it simply was an error by Feliks Dzierżyński. He had accused her of treason).
I spent almost two years in Krakow. I did not achieve my purpose to receive a matura, but nevertheless, I acquired a little knowledge. During the time of my stay in Krakow, the S.S. Party activists Mendl Szuchter, Yeshaya Yakov Mientkewicz, Hershl Epsztajn from Radomsk, Bugajski, Shlomo Diner and others passed through on their way to America. They all had to escape from Czenstochow or even from Siberia
During the Reactionary Years
I returned home when the repressions in Czenstochow had quieted down a little. I obtained work in Moris Najfeld's pharmacy warehouse as an employee. My friend Ira (Doro Warszawska) worked there as a higher official; I felt a great deal of sympathy toward her. This was the time when the movement was dead. We read books, were embraced by a romantic mood. Dwoyra (Dorke Szacher), the daughter of my mother's teacher, Wolf Yankl Szacher, had a large place in my heart then. I gave her a great deal of time and energy so that she could climb the ladder of life and go along with the spirit of that time. I drew her into the communal life of the Jewish Literary Society, Lira. I interested her in the Yiddish theatrical art. Under my influence, she performed with success, in declamations and in theatrical pieces, but she had an inclination toward fantastic exaggeration and wanted to impress me with it. However, this had the opposite effect on me and I withdrew from her. Later, she was the wife of my party comrade, Yakov Yitzhak Czarnowiecki, who perished at Auschwitz.
During our friendship, she was certain to be part of my life. At the same time, I also had a friend named Yetshe Pakula who went along our youthful path with our group. We often came together in her house. Her room was
a modest one; her father, Mendl Kowal [the blacksmith], with his great love for his wife and children, created a warm atmosphere of love and friendship in his house. Mendl Kowal was the Yekl der Shmid type. Ideas, feelings for a new life, were born in this house. Many friends and comrade came through this house, such as Mendl Szuchter (became the husband of his [Mendl Kowal's] daughter, Sheindl), Yehoshua Jakov Mientkewicz, Jakov Yitzhak Czarnowiecki, Elkone Chrachalawski and others. When Mendl Kowal died after an operation in a Warsaw hospital, his death left a deep tear in my soul. I felt as if I had lost my second home.
During the Time of the Renaissance of Jewish Literature
That was the time of the renaissance of Jewish literature. The Jewish Literary Society was founded as a contradiction to the existing assimilationist-Hebraic Lira [cultural group]. Sharp fights for Yiddish took place then. Then I also gave my first lecture about the Yiddish language and I even remember how I ended with a citation from a brochure that was written by the writer Sh. L. Kawa and how toykhekhe [chapter of Biblical curses] was heaped on those who were ashamed of Yiddish. A second lecture by Leon Kapinski, who defended Hebrew as the national language of Jews, took place as an answer to my lecture.
Mark Szweid and Miryam Izraels then came to Czenstochow. She was the wife of [Szymon] Kratka, the artist. This was a holiday time for us. I took part in several one-act plays by Peretz with them and under their direction. I looked at Miryam Izraels then as a biblical figure. She spent several months with small interruptions in our city. She was a visitor to Ahron Perec's house. I remember when she had to come from Warsaw for the second time. I already had a feeling of great sympathy for her at that time, but I never said anything to her about it. I waited for her at the train with a bouquet of flowers, but to my great despair she did not come that day. However I hid the flowers and I brought them to her at Ahron Perec's house.
It was warm in her company. She sincerely interpreted songs, playing on a box with metal plates and rhythmically dancing to the sound of the music. At the same time that she performed one-act plays in Yiddish, Lira invited her to perform [Gerhart] Hauptmann's Khanusia in Polish with Kuszminski as a partner.
My telling her the truth greatly irked her then. Yes, why was she performing in Polish and, yes, why was she giving more attention to the Polish partner than to me Two photographs of her remain a keepsake for me. In one is seen her genteel biblical face in profile in a hat with a large original feather and in the second one she is sitting in a sports costume and Kuszminski is standing in front of her declaiming. I saved these photographs in my archive until the last day I was in Poland. Years later I met her by chance in Warsaw on the tramway as Maria Arciszewska. We spoke Polish to each other. Mendl Kowal's [a kowal is a blacksmith) son-in-law, Mendl Szuchter, and his wife and, later, Yecze Pakula left for America. A deep longing for a warm house that reminded me of the struggles of my youth remained.
I met Yeta Pakula, a sincere and unforgettable comrade, years later when I came to America. She was very active in Los Angeles in the Poalei-Zion movement. I also met her 82-year old mother with her. I again felt the warmth of my youth in Czenstochow in her house. The love and humane warmth of Mendl Kowal floated in her house.
I Travel to Vienna to the Territorialist Conference
At a time when the reaction began to ease its restraint, Comrade Berl Gutman appeared as an emissary from the Central Committee of the Socialist-Zionist party and a group of Socialist-Zionist followers was called together. The gathering took place in the hair salon of Wolf Pakula (Mendl Kowal's son). The emissary spoke about the conference of the Territorialist organization that would take place in Vienna and about the conference of the Socialist-Zionists that would be held there at that opportunity. Three comrades traveled as guests to the conference from Czenstochow on their own accord: Pinkhas Kalka, my humble self and my brother, Zalman.
There were then in Vienna the Czenstochower activists, Dr. Josef Kruk, Meir Fajnrajch and Yitzhak Gurski, who was one of the organizers of the conference and the convention.
After returning from the Vienna conference, we no longer had the soda water factory. The factory was operated by our first son-in-law, the husband of my oldest sister, Hinda, Mates Fuks. We lived together with my mother and my youngest sister, Tsirl, on Ogradowe Street in Tenenbaum's house. We lived a little quieter because I, my brother and sisters were all suitably employed and materially it was not bad for us.
A Search of Our House
Our house was attacked one night by gendarmes and police and they carried out a search. They did not find any illegal things. During the search, several books from the library were taken, but no one was arrested. We did not know who they were looking for with this search, my brother or me. Later, when I was called to the gendarmerie for an investigation, I sensed that the search had a connection to the Vienna conference.
How My Brother Was Freed From Military Service
My brother, Zalman, had to appear for military service. He then was working for Dr. Walberg in the paint factory and his earnings were not bad. The problem was how to save him from the gentile hands, because if he had to serve in the military
we would lose our family's main wage earner . He made a few mistakes, but even with the mistakes they took him. In time, he was freed through a makher [fixer] from Lublin and in his place an angel began to serve (It was referred to as an angel when a person was sent to the military in the place of the one called to serve).
The problem of income changed when my brother safely returned home from military service. But two years later, the question of me appearing for military service arose.
I Write the Articles of Engagement According to the Laws of Moses and Israel and Go to Serve Fonye
Until the draft I normally worked for Moric Najfeld in the apothecary warehouse as an assistant bookkeeper. Najfeld, my boss, as well as his wife Klara, Polishized Jews, had the best relationship with me. Moric Najfeld, himself, also was a radical man and he had been exiled abroad because of his political beliefs. He lived in German Herby near Czenstochow and carried out his business from there. In 1905 he took part in the large demonstrations. When Tsar Nikolai gave the Constitution, he carried a Torah ark curtain embroidered with a Polish eagle from Napoleon's time. He was punished for this sin. His daughter, Wanda, a musician, had married a Czech named Kapezk. Also a musician, he would give concerts from time to time for charitable purposes. In her youth, Wanda belonged to the Bund and the home of her parents was the place for various socialist gatherings.
His second daughter, Dr. Natalia Najfeld, fell a victim of the typhus epidemic that reigned over Czenstochow during the First World War. Having sat for three days with a person sick with typhus, a worker from the Rakower factory, not permitting anyone to take her place, she became infected with this illness and in the course of a week left the world. She gave her life in the struggle against the epidemic. Moric Najfeld lived his last years alone (his son and daughters all died tragically) and only his daughter Wanda remained, whose husband, the Czech, had left. He died a normal death under the Nazi rule.
There was a silence in communal life. The young danced, I survived certain disappointments. I lacked someone close with whom I could share my joy and suffering.
At this time I became acquainted with a girl named Hela. She was the daughter of my mother's friend, the lame Gitl Hasenfeld. I thought I had found [someone with whom to share my joy and suffering] in this girl. She was an intelligent girl, always
walked around with a book under her arm. An emaciated daughter of her very wealthy parents, a small, dainty face, her constant laughter, purity and proficiency in literature drew me and I fell in love with her. I acquainted her with Yiddish literature, about which she had no knowledge. I read to her often. In time we signed an engagement agreement according to the laws of Moses and Israel, even though her parents were against it because I did not earn enough of an income. There could not yet be talk of marriage because I was not then free of the draft.
In 1913 I finally reported for the draft and at the first evaluation I was sent to Piotrkow for a gubernia [administrative division] evaluation and there I was recognized as godien, that is, as capable of military service. It should be understood that I did not desire to serve Fonye and I searched for various ways to escape from it. Meanwhile, one night the gendarmerie came and I was arrested and placed in the Czenstochow jail. I was again investigated in connection with my trip to Vienna to the convention of the Socialist Zionists; I was in jail for four weeks until I was informed that the case against me was void. But I was immediately sent to military service in a special convoy to the zborni-punkt [meeting place]. I was successful in extracting myself from there. I was helped by Baum, the military tailor from Czenstochow, who then lived in Piotrkow. I then appeared together with the makher, a Hasidic Jew from Lublin, who had freed my brother Zalman. First of all, he tried to have the additional paper that I was a political suspect removed from my military papers. He came to Piotrkow from Lublin especially because of this. Then I received the paper in my own hands and had to report myself to Yuryew (Dorpat [Tartu, Estonia]) to my designated pulk [regiment], where I started to carry out my military service.
The makher stipulated that for 1,000 rubles he would free me completely. He would take 500 rubles in cash and the other 500 rubles in a promissory note that was given to him by my employer, Moric Najfeld.
I traveled to Winice with my papers. The makher waited for me there in a hotel. He took the papers from me and asked me to travel to Lublin or another city and to wait there until he would let me know that I was free. A so-called angel went to serve in my place I never learned his name. I saw him only once in Winice in the corridor of the hotel. Later, several Czenstochower, who served in Yuryew, told me that they served with a certain Rafal Federman who was a slight cripple and was immediately freed from the regiment.
I Become My Mother's Shadkhen [marriage broker]
During the time that my angel was supposed to serve, I had to hide in a strange city where I was not known. I spent a little time in Warsaw, but I could not remain there for long because Czenstochowers came there; several times I was with the makher in his house in Lublin. Until I got the idea to visit one of my great-uncles, who I did not know at all but who I often heard discussed in our home. This was my father's uncle, Dovid Federman. He was a Nikolajevska soldier [soldier in the army of Tsar Nikolai] and had been married in Russia. Because of this he became estranged from his family and he never came to visit us. He settled in Augustow and was a feldsher [barber-surgeon] there.
After being with him for several days, I told him of the untimely death of my father, about the surviving children and about the material situation of our family. He also complained to me about his loneliness. His wife had died not long ago. His two daughters were married; one was in America and the second one in Charkow. However, he explained that his income was good. He had plenty of good things. The peasants considered him a doctor and the Jews thought highly of him, too. I felt a longing in his words for a family life and instantly had the thought: my lonely, crying mother what would be the result for her? Perhaps I am the emissary perhaps my mother would no longer be a widow My uncle had the same name Yes, it was an idea.
Before leaving my uncle, I spoke openly with him about this, of what had occurred to me and we agreed that after I had spoken to my mother, I would send him a telegram and he would come to Czenstochow.
Several days later, when I received
a telegram that I should come to Winice, I understood that my military service had ended and I was a free man. I received my liberation ticket in Winice and I was shorn like a true Russian soldier, grew a moustache, put on a pair of boots and traveled with my soldier's pack to Czenstochow. When all of my friends and acquaintances saw me they said: Look at what several weeks of service as a soldier can make of a man! The barracks lay a stamp on the face
This was in January 1914.
I returned home from the military a freed man and with the mission to have my mother married. I immediately interested the entire family in this matter, had, so to say, a family conference. I assembled my sister, brothers, my Aunt Hinde Staszewska, my mother's sister from Piotrkow, my Uncle Sholem Federman, my father's brother. I discussed the match for my mother with everyone and everyone was in agreement that it was a good thing. Several weeks later, after receiving my telegraph, my uncle, Dovid Federman, came to Czenstochow. And my mother married with luck for the second time. It is interesting that my mother never called her second husband by his name, but uncle. She spoke to him in the third person, Zol der feter geyn, Zol der feter tuen, [Let the uncle go, let the uncle do] and so on.
My mother left Czenstochow and only my brother, Zalman, my sister, Tsirl, and I remained in our house. Several months later came the outbreak of the First World War.
Under the German Occupation
Czenstochow was occupied immediately by the Germans. We remained in our workplaces for the entire duration of the war. My sister, Tsirl, ran our household. Life became more difficult from week to week. The workers in the city began to organize and professional unions arose. The existing, rickety professional unions at the time of tsarism also began to exhibit lively activity. Certain aid work, such as a tea-house for workers, was organized around the unions and, simultaneously with this, the political life began to sprout. I took part in the organization of this work. Although separated from the rest of the world, we, however, hoped for the revolution that would come after the defeat of tsarism.
A library and an educational union were founded for Jewish workers. The dispersed former Socialist-Zionists came together and the organization was revived. When Warsaw was taken by the Germans, we sought contact and with an entry pass from a suburb of Warsaw, I arrived there and immediately established a connection with Comrade Shlomo Zisman, who then stood at the head of the Social-Zionist Party in Warsaw.
Elections to the city council took place at that time in Czenstochow according to a curia system [reserved political seats]. The Social-Zionist organization decided to take part in the elections. The candidates had to be not younger than 30 and since it was difficult to find such comrades we had to join those who were sympathetic to or those who once had some connection with the party. We then carried all four candidates to the curia: Shlomo Horowicz, a former trade employee; Dovid Tobeczko, a feldsher [barber-surgeon] who never belonged to the party; Yeshaya Nirenberg and Lipszic were once Territorialists. Approaching the municipal elections it was very difficult to create a platform with which we could go to the masses because we were not connected to Warsaw. Therefore, we took the platform of the Lodz Bund and added a point about immigration and colonization and this became the platform of the Socialist-Zionists.
The history of the Socialist-Zionists in Czenstochow is rich in interesting episodes. At the end of the war, when the news reached us that Wilhelm II had abdicated, I quickly called together all of those active in the Socialist-Zionist organization and also advised all of the other organizations, such as the Bund and Paolei-Zion. I proposed having a joint demonstration across the city. The proposal was accepted. It was in the evening. The Jewish workers were the first who went out into the street with red flags and demonstrated for the victory of the German revolution and for an independent Poland.
The German patrols that still strolled through the streets did not react immediately with great surprise; on the contrary they saluted with great respect and honored the demonstration. However,
the Polish hooligan-students, who attacked the Jewish demonstrators with great hate, could not bear this and disbursed them. The red flags were saved with great self-sacrifice; several male and female comrades were very badly beaten. The next morning, the German secret police searched for the leaders of the organizations.
Being committed to the communal work that was so important at that moment, under the influence of Dr. Josef Kruk, I left my position in the apothecary warehouse and took over the leadership of the widespread activity of the movement. The communal work became the content of my life and I completely abandoned the idea of family life. My new employment did not please the parents of my fiancée and on my side I, too, was afraid of the duties of a family man. On a beautiful, clear day I sent back the engagement agreement. In a short time my fiancée married and moved to Piotrkow. On the day of her wedding, she came to say goodbye to me. We parted very friendly. I was accompanied out of the house with a bouquet of flowers and we remained good friends. We met each other again after 30 years in Boston. She is the mother of three successful grown children. She recently became a widow.
In Independent Poland
After the First World War, my mother and her husband, Dovid Federman, who had gone with the Russian Army deep into Russia, returned to Augustow. They had gone through the Russian Revolution, suffered a great deal, but finally, returned to the shtetl in independent Poland.
I was absorbed in the turbulence of Jewish communal life in newly independent Poland. I carried out my party duties with intense energy. The Social-Zionist organization in Czenstochow and its branch institutions grew robustly. It fell upon me to be the chairman of the organization representatives in the city council, councilman and secretary in the city council. As representative in the main commissions at the city hall, I would appear at many meetings and I took part in various campaigns.
The Social Zionist organization in our city or, as it was later called, di Fareinikte [the United], was the liveliest division of the party in the nation. Therefore, the representatives of the Central Committee willingly came to Czenstochow. Everyone, without exception, visited our city and found the warmest atmosphere there. At that time we were visited by: Sh. Zisman, Gilinski, Jakov Pat, Yitzhak Gordin, Berl Gutman, Leon Fajgenbaum, Dr. Josek Kruk, Pinye Bukshorn, Mendlsberg, Wiktor Fiszman, Gute Margolis, Dr Ejger, Izer Goldberg, Sh. Bastomski, Jankele Danciger, Halpern, Chaim Rozenbest, Gajst and others. The first school convention occurred during the flourishing period of the party, at which Fareinikte took part with a conspicuous faction. A considerable number of delegates came from Czenstochow. When the party experienced its ideological crisis, many left for the Communist Party, for the Bund. However, Czenstochow stood firm and this was thanks to the personal influence of Dr. Josef Kruk, the Czenstochower The discussions about the crisis were very fervid.
The faction, Fareinikte, at the first conference in Warsaw
For example, good friends were enamored with Czenstochow; that is, in the people in the Czenstochower organizations. When they wanted to rest and draw courage, they came to Czenstochow. They lived intimately with the Czenstochow comrades. I was then against joining the Bund and I expressed this in a discussion, that the Bund was an ideological matter. A good comrade then sprung up and, with a bang on the table, called me to order. You have to have respect for the party that has such a rich past behind it, she cried out.
If the word luck is a reality, this was the lucky period of my life. I
found complete satisfaction in my communal work, in the worthwhile struggle for human rights for my people.
From right to left: Rafal Federman, Gute Margulis, Ester Fuks, Shmuel Landau, Chaya Waga, Rayzele Fajertag Berkensztat
The movement continued and grew and advanced and I with it. We had need of new, young people; we needed to have teachers for our schools, professional workers in the unions. We looked for these people everywhere among the studying young, among the workers at the machines. And many of them were drawn into the work. One of them was a young, blooming girl. Her name was Chaya Waga.
Chaya Waga took upon herself an internal, deep devotion to learn and simultaneously to take this to a children's home or colony that was created and into every other branch of the movement. To the children, Chayele [diminutive of Chaya] was the teacher Wagele [diminutive of Waga]. If music was needed for the children for their rhythmic dancing and singing, she learned music, if the organization needed a female speaker for a women's meeting, she was the speaker, when the organization arranged a masked ball for economic purposes, she was at the masked ball in a mask and helped with the success of the evening. When the opposition spoke and she found what he said incorrect, she would innocently add a heckler's interjection and if we needed to demonstrate, she summoned everyone, but she was in the first ranks. She received the devotion of the children and of the adults. She was beloved by everyone. Everyone knew that she was honest and devoted to the general thing in which she believed and that she was unequivocal. When Chayele was given a compliment, she accepted it with pleasure, but she blushed and lowered her eyes. If someone did an injustice to her, more than once she went to the side and cried. The important thing was to ignite her belief and this was not difficult Chayele undertook work with her entire soul, not saying one word about it.
In the confusion of the whirling life I often felt that I was alone; Zalman, my older brother, was married; my youngest sister, Tsirl (Tseshe), who understood me best and was proud of my activity and to whom I was bound with all the threads of family feeling, also found a young man and married him. This was Mikhal Alter, for many years a devoted worker in the Socialist Zionist movement. I suddenly felt all alone. My loneliness began to disappear with my close friendship with Chayele.
The movement Fareinikte grew. The Jewish Folkes-Shul [public school] was located in Krotka and Strazacka Streets. The teaching personnel consisted of several teachers who had been sent by TSHISHO [acronym for Central Yiddish Schools Organization secular Yiddish schools]. Among them were: Jozsha Stam, Terenya Fajenblat, Rayzele Berkensztat, Yokhoved Zisman, Roza Kantor-Lichtensztajn, Mashe Kolobus and Manya Frydman, Rywka Cuker and others.
The personnel employed by all of the existing Fareinikte economic and cultural institutions numbered from 25 to 30 people. A Jewish secular environment was created. The male and female teachers, who were young and gifted, created a warm family atmosphere and participated in general communal life despite the difficult economic situation.
I was sick then. I was operated on and my life hung by a hair. My male and female comrades, particularly Chayele and Rywka Cuker; both comrades nursed me and did not leave my bedside.
When I became healthy, I had to rest for a long time and was not supposed to take part in any communal work. I then
became close friends with Rywka and we got married in Warsaw in 1922.
I Enter the Bund
Important events took place in party life during the same year. The Fareinikte had united with Drobner's socialist group and formed the Independent Socialistic Party. The unification conference took place in Czenstochow. I took part in all conferences that took place after the unification. Elections also took place then to the Sejm [lower house of Polish parliament] and we were all certain that the Czenstochow region would carry Dr. Josef Kruk, who was the first candidate on the list.
The result was that Kruk did not succeed. Therefore, the tense mood in the Czenstochow area led to the candidacy of the Jewish kolo [faction], Professor Meir Balaban. Later, Czulowski, a worker for the Polish Socialist Party, told a joke at a meeting about the failure of the independents, that if only those who loved him would have voted for him he would have won, he would have drawn more votes than the entire 'independent' party.
During the unification with the Drobnerowtses [followers of the Polish socialist, Boleslaw Drobner], I represented the viewpoint that the aim of Dr. Kruk [a leader of the territorialist Zionist Socialist Workers Party] and his followers, centralized emigration and concentrated colonization territorialism, was not the principle point of the unification project. During the election campaign itself, I had to appear before a large audience in Krakow where the main speech was given in Polish by Dr. Drobner. In his formulation of the election platform, he showed how very little he was versed in the Jewish question. Comrade Dembicer answered him very successfully. His [Drobner's] speech was so crushed that I was forced to go up to the dais and give a statement that the formulation by Dr. Drobner was not exact and that this was the result of not being proficient in the Jewish question.
I was still more convinced that the unification actually only had an organizational purpose, far from which was the Territorialist ideology.
For me personally, this was an interruption in my idealistic development which led me to enter the Bund.
I traveled home from this meeting in an depressed mood. I immediately saw the comrades in Czenstochow and I told them that I had decided to leave the party.
At an official meeting of the municipal collective of the independent organization that last several hours, I gave a detailed declaration about my departure from the party and my transfer to the Bund. Several active comrades, such as Rayzl and Moshe Berkensztat and others, went with me. It was a painful moment in my life. It took several months until I became active in the Bund. The comrades with whom I was bound and connected in this work tried to convince me that I should not join the Bund and remain at my work in the cultural institutions.
My first appearance for the Bund was at a meeting of the Professional Unions together with Comrade Berl Gutman, who had joined the Bund even earlier. My declaration about joining the Bund took place at a banquet at which Comrad Henrik Erlich was present. For me it was one of the most elevated moments in my life. I felt that I had been liberated from the utopian idea of the so-called Territorialists, who did not match the idea of socialism.
However, when it delivered credentials to everyone, the independent party did not ask me to give up my mandate as councilman in the city council. I gave a declaration about this in the city council and I immediately joined the Bund faction.
My second public appearance was with Dr. Ahron Singalowski, who came especially from Berlin to the memorial for Comrade Vladimir Medem. Working in the party was elevating for me. The organization grew. Several intellectual powers joined the party, such as Yitzhak Samsonowicz, Zigmund Epsztajn, Kh. Wilczinski and sympathizers, such as the teachers from the schools.
The Arbeiter Zeitung [Workers Newspaper] began to be published. Readings and meetings took place often. The party workers passed through my house.
Arczech, Sura Szweber, Wiktor Szulman, Jakob Pat. Sz. Gilinski, the Misters Henrikh Erlich, Wiktor Alter, Chaim Waser, Gershon Zibert, Artur Zigelboim, Maniek, female comrade Dina, female comrade Hister, Dr. Aleksandrowicz, Baum, Dr. Emanuel Szerer, Zigmunt Muczkat. Comrade Moshe Lederman returned from Berlin then with his wife Chaya. He was a shoemaker worker at a workshop. An example of a Bundist. His devotion to the Bund was really without limits. His house breathed Bundism. We became very good friends and we were always seen together. As comrades we often exchanged names: I was called Lederman and he Federman. Therefore, they began to call us by our first names: I, comrade Rafael and he, comrade Moshe.
The meat worker, Yisroel Jaronowski, also joined the party. An esteemed member of the Fareinikte independents, despite his trade, he grew into one of the most class-conscious workers. He was honest in his work and devoted to worker matters with his entire soul. In later years, he was elected as parnes [elected member] of the kehile [organized Jewish community] and took my place as chairman of the Czenstochow Bund organization.
I took part in all central conferences of the party and in all branches of the movement. At the election to the kehilus [organized Jewish communities], the organization voted in two councilmen, Ahron Perc and me. Our appearance in the kehile placed the organization face to face in a struggle with the Jewish clergy. We brought in dozens of proposals and we acquired great sympathy among the Jewish population. The elected kehile representatives of the opposing parties received our speeches with great respect, although the struggle was embittered. In the kehile I met with Shmuel Goldsztajn, Viktor Alter was his father, a Jew, a scholar, smart. He represented Mizrakhi [religious Zionists], which stubbornly struggled against all parties, but most sharply against the Bund. The Rabbi, Reb Nakhum Asz, a man of stately appearance, who attended the sessions of the kehile council, principally fought the Bund, however, in the highest cultural manner. And I must confess that although I fought against the budget for religious needs, I could never prevail upon myself to not stand up with all of the representatives at his entrance to the session. When we said goodbye before I left Czenstochow for Paris, he felt it necessary to give me his book with an appropriate written educational inscription. All Jewish parties, such as Mizrakhi, Agudas Yisroel were represented in the kehile. Their leaders were Kac and Nimierowski; the artisans the leader was Avraham Dzialowski, the former Esdek [Social Democrat].
Elections took place both to the city council and to the kehile several times before the independence of Poland. The Bundist organization received the largest number of votes each time.
In spite of the growth of the organization, my material situation was not satisfactory. My only child, Chaya-Surale, who was raised in the Peretz nursery, was a very bright child and was the joy in the lives of her parents.
Every comrade who visited Czenstochow fell in love with her. There was never a time that I arrived in Warsaw that Berish Michalewicz or Henrik Erlich would not remind me of a song of my dear daughter with whom they had sincere fun.
When my wife's sister Tirtsa came as a guest to Czenstochow from Paris and saw our battle and struggle for existence, she strongly urged that we move to Paris.
Pilsudski's Party Takes Over the Health Fund and I Am Forced to Leave Czenstochow
For two years I was working then at an office of the Health Fund in the insurance for the spiritual worker (employee) division. My office became the office of the organization. When the so-called Sanacja [Polish word for purification a political movement] came to power, all socialist elements were removed from there in a real way. I also fell a victim because I refused to sign a loyalty declaration to the Pilsudski regime. I became unemployed and was forced to send my wife and child to Paris.
My little daughter Chaya-Surale began to attend school in Paris and her mother did not want to separate from the child. I had to begin to think of leaving Poland and settling in Paris.
I cannot continue without stating a fact that tarnished Czenstochow at the time of the Sanacja rule [Sanation Józef Piłsudski's regime] and unsettled the entire city.
An old member of the P.P.S. [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna Polish Socialist Party], a devoted party activist named Jan Koszczewa whose home was always in the premises of the P.P.S. club, could not indifferently bear the fact that the Sanacja members together with the former N.P.R. [Narodowa Partia Robotnicza National Workers' Party] activists, in their wild rampages demolished the P.P.S. Party premises and publicly dishonored the red flag at Magistracke Square. This took place at the same time that all of the members of the P.P.S. were ousted from the sick fund. Without the knowledge of his party, he burst into the magnificently built sick fund building just when a meeting of the Sanacja activists was taking place and with his revolver he shot almost all of those present at this meeting, in total six men, among them the commissar and several high officials of the Sanacja who worked there. With his seventh bullet, he shot himself.
Koszczewa was the wozczni (porter) at the municipal sanitary museum and he lived there. He left a note in his room with a few saved zlotes that he asked to be given to renovate the party premises and he designated his books for the club library.
The members of the P.P.S. organization distanced themselves from the assassination, although the repressions against the P.P.S. rained down from all sides. Tens of them were arrested and a trial was held against two of the members of the P.P.S. in connection with the assassination and they were sentenced to death. The trial took place in the auditorium of the city hall. Defending these two innocent workers was lawyer Ludwig Honigwil (a Bundist) and other lawyers. They succeeded in completely freeing them at the highest court. Jan Koszczewa, who carried out the assassination, surely did it at his own initiative. One had to know this man. He was a typical P.P.S. member, a conscious socialist. Walking with the flag during a May Day demonstration was like a sacred worship [for him] and represented a deep belief in the idea with which he was permeated.
At his funeral, although it was forbidden by the police, tens of thousands of workers came from the factories and lay a wreath of flowers on his coffin with an appropriate inscription. His own party kept silent about his death and deed.
Let my few words be our wreath for this modest, dear fighter against fascism and for socialism, Jan Koszczewa, the hero who today should have a monument erected for him, because it was the first shot against Polish fascism in our city.
I traveled to Paris twice during that time to settle with my family. However, I was drawn to the movement and to the Jewish working class. During my second time in Paris when I really wanted to become acclimated there, I worked for a time publishing the Parizer Wokhnblat [Paris Weekly Newspaper] with my friends Sh. Rozenberg and Sh. L. Sznajderman.
I Return to Communal Work in Poland
At the call of the central committee of the party, I immediately returned to Warsaw and took over the work in the Business Employees Union as one of the secretaries.
The work was intensive. Under my leadership several Italian strikes [the tactic of working according to the rules, slowing down production] were successfully carried out. I also requested of the central [organization] that I go to Lodz for a time and direct the workers of the Business Employees Union there, which later grew into a very large organization.
Then in Czenstochow, during my work as chairman of the Business Employees Union, I had several incidents with Markus Herszlikowicz, who was secretary of the Czentochower Business Employees Union and represented the leftist faction. He aspired, by legal and illegal means, to rule the Business Employees Union in Czenstochow. He published pamphlets that were actually an open provocation against the union.
Later, he also worked in Warsaw at the so-called leftist Union of Business Employees at Leszno as a rival to the Union of Business Employees at Zamenhof 5. The leadership of the union at Leszno then lay in the hands of comrade Mirski-Tabacznik. I avoided encountering Herszlikowicz in Warsaw because of his unethical actions in Czenstochow, although he looked for such an encounter at every opportunity.
A few months later Comrade Mirski and several other activists were arrested and they were exiled to Kartus-Bereza [Byaroza, Belarus] and Hershlikowicz was shot by his own comrades, about which they themselves reported. It was revealed that he had served in the Polish secret police.
I Become Secretary of the Printers Union
With the departure from Poland to Australia of Comrade Bunem Warsawski, the secretary of the Printers Union, the national council of the Professional Unions nominated me for the office of secretary of the Central Managing Committee of the Printers Union in Poland. I held this office from 1935 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
As the secretary of the Printers Union, I carried out several successful strikes in the Oksidenc Printing Press as well as at a series of newspapers. The last strike at Moment even took on a political character. I was arrested twice; once at a strike at the Warsaw Polish-Yiddish newspaper, 5-to Rano [Five This Morning], which agreed to the arrest of the delegates of the union in a provocative manner. The publisher and editor of the newspaper was the well-known Zionist Swislocki. However, under the pressure of the union, he himself had to try to obtain our freedom. I was arrested a second time during an ambush of the union by the police when a lecture by Comrade Sh. Mendelson took place. Dozens of Jewish workers then fought and were arrested My wife, Rywka, who had returned from Paris, my sister Tsirl Alter, who was then visiting us in Warsaw, and another friend, Pala Kestersztajn, also were arrested with me. All of the arrestees were released after the investigation that lasted several days. I was held the longest because during the investigation I was questioned forcefully in connection with the shooting of the provocateur, Herszlikowicz. The suspicion resulted from the fact that they had a report that I had fought with him in the Trade Employees Union in Czenstochow and because he had been killed. I went straight to Paris for a short time.
My Daughter Chaya-Surale Dies
My departure for Paris was connected with the most tragic event in my life. My daughter, Chaya-Surale was in Paris with her mother and went to school there. In 1936, at age 14, she came to Poland with her mother on a visit. After several months spent in Poland on vacation, she traveled back to Paris alone. My wife remained with me in Warsaw. Surale arrived in Paris safely. She suddenly became ill with appendicitis right at the beginning of the school year and despite an operation by the greatest professors she did not survive. My wife arrived in Paris and found her fully conscious. Her last words said to her mother before breathing out her soul were: I have two mothers, you and Aunt Tirtsa. She asked about me, but when I came to Paris, I found only a grave. She died on the 24th of October 1936.
This great misfortune brought gloom to my personal life and even more to the life of my wife. A deep sadness covered both of our lives.
I showed police documentation for the cause of my sudden departure to Paris and this time it probably had an effect, the investigation against me was ended.
Returning to Warsaw with my wife, I continued the work in the printers union. I must add that only thanks to the comradely environment that reigned around the printers union was I able to more lightly bear the personal tragic loss of my only child, Chaya-Surale.
We cannot go without remembering the superb figure of the dear, sincere and always optimistic smiling chairman of the Printers Union, Klog. Lozer Klog, with whom we worked and lived communally as with a sincere devoted father in an exemplary family. Birthdays for communal workers very rarely were celebrated in Poland. However, it was not without reason that we celebrated the 50th birthday of Comrade Lozer Klog with so much joy and real enthusiasm. Not only the members of the Printers Union, but all of Jewish
proletarian Warsaw. All of our activists from the Bund and all of the printing workers without difference as to parties, who were capable and had something to say or to write, took part in the book compellation in honor of Comrade Klog's birthday. He was one of the most active workers in the underground work of the Warsaw Ghetto and perished there with his large family to which he was so paternally bound. As long as my eyes are open and my memory works I will see his image and remember him with exaltation and respect.
The Printers Union was an exemplary union for all of Poland. There were never any splits. All factions of the proletarian movements worked together in it. In May 1939 the fourth conference took place in Warsaw and a plenary meeting of the central managing committee in Vilna. I aided this work with all of my strength. Only two to three weeks before the outbreak of the war I represented the Printers Union at a conference of the Polish print workers in Katowice. The frightening picture of the war stood before my eyes. I appeared with the then Sejm deputy, Stonczik (now Minister in Poland), and spoke about the importance of solidarity in the struggle for a new Poland, for a Poland led by the representatives of the peasants and workers.
When I returned from the conference the union already had organized work battalions at the request of the party to dig trenches around Warsaw. Every day the Printers Union voluntarily marched to work to help in the war against Hitler. Bundists, Paolei-Zion, communists, unaffiliated young and old appeared for the work.
Right on that day, on the very eve of the war, my wife left Warsaw. She wanted to see our closest family in Paris and she also intended to extend her consular passport whose validity was about to expire. She could not manage to return because several days later, the 1st of September 1939, the war broke out.
The Second World War and My Refugee Road
The military events ran lightning quick. Bombs over Warsaw, thousands wounded and dead, military itineraries, refugees from cities and shtetlekh. The war approached the gates of Warsaw with giant steps. It became clear on the 4th and 5th day of the war that Warsaw would fall into the hands of the Germans. On the order of the party authorities, all of the important documents and the membership books for the party were removed so that they would not fall into the hands of the Hitlerists.
The leadership of the party decided that whichever party members wanted should leave Warsaw and that they should go to the other side of the Vistula River where it was hoped to stage a resistance. The party leaders decided that they were leaving on the 6th of September at 10 o'clock in the morning and we all had to meet at the Vilna train station.
This moment was more than painfully difficult. It was very difficult for me to decide to leave Warsaw; I was then in Comrade Midler's house.
The leadership of the party left Warsaw at 10 in the morning and we had to meet at the Vilna train station. When we arrived at the designated time at the Vilna train station, we found groups of comrades here and there. We were supposed to take the train. However, the hail of bombs from incoming German airplanes scattered us to all sides.
There was no longer any talk of traveling by train and we, a group of comrades, decided to march on foot. The march route was through Minsk-Mazowiecki, Kaluszyn, Siedlec, Mezrich [Miedzyrzec Podlask], Biala Padolska, Janow, Wysoko-Litwesk, Kamieniec, Pruszani, Kartuz-Bereska, Drohiczyn, Pinsk and we were chased by German airplanes in every shtetl and city in which we arrived. Burning cities, piles of dead and wounded, roads clogged with autos and people. A group came walking from Siedlec in which were found Henrik Erlich and his wife and their son, Shlomo Mendelson, Emanuel Szerer and his wife, Chaim Waser and others.
Thus we reached Pinsk. Who knows if we would have reached there if not for the devotion of the Bundist comrades who met me on our wandering road? I drew a great deal of strength from Comrade Erlich's example. We had to throw ourselves to the ground dozens of times because of the incoming German airplanes. Comrade Erlich with his dignified figure and self-control and his firm step and smart smile magnetically gave over to us his will to go farther and farther and he strengthened everyone.
We heard the last blast of the German bombs when we arrived in Pinsk in the morning of the 17th of September. Several of
the local Pinsk residents fell dead and several were wounded. In Pinsk, we learned that we did not have to go farther because the Red Army was coming from the other side. We waited two days for the Red Army.
On the 20th of September 1939 the Red Army marched into Pinsk. I remained in this city until the 13th of October. Then, still other comrades arrived, such as: Noach, Sura Szweber and others. The material situation was very difficult. I presented myself to the professional union of trade employees, which was organized then, and asked for work. They took my entire pedigree, both personal and political. I did not receive any work. Meanwhile, news arrived from the entire area that my party comrades were being arrested in a series of cities and among the arrestees also was Comrade Wiktor Alter. The last time I saw Wiktor Alter in Mezrich was at a conference and he then was chosen to go to Lublin with a group and to set up his work there and to start a fight against the Hitlerist invasion. I shook his hand for the last time there, in Mezrich.
After hearing the disturbing news about the attitude to Bundists on the part of the Soviet regime, it was decided that Comrade Henrik Erlich should leave Pinsk. The moment of leave-taking was moving and tragic for everyone. I remember how we kissed him with stinging tears and it is certain that everyone had the thought that this was the last bleib gezunt [remain healthy a parting statement] to our leader and teacher.
Of course, it was a great disappointment for me when I learned several days later that Comrade Erlich was arrested in Brisk and under what circumstances.
When it was learned that Vilna would be returned to Lithuania and there was also no work, a group and I decided to move to Vilna. On the 14th of October 1939, the group of comrades, Szerer, Chaim Waser, Andje Monowicz and I left Pinsk. We arrived in Vilna on the 15th of October. The news reached us while we were still at the railroad station that my dear Comrade, Josef Aronowicz, who worked so much in the development of the workers movement in Czenstochow, was arrested the night before in Vilna by the Soviet regime along with all of the remaining members of the Bundist committee. It was another tear in the soul: Why? and dozens of times: Why? Who could give me answer to this?
When Vilna was given to Lithuania, the situation changed again. Thousands of refugees arrived in Vilna, Jews and Christians. A refugee committee was created. Comrade Andje Monowicz and I were among the first who began to organize a kitchen for the Jewish refugees. Comrade Giterman from the Joint [Distribution Committee] helped me a great deal in supplying the kitchen. The local comrades from the Bund also worked, particularly Kac the teacher and her husband, who with self sacrifice and great effort provided the first food products for the kitchen and showed great friendliness and devotion to our work. I took part in the newly created worker aid committee the entire time of its existence. A strong connection was established with the outside world. Letters from Poland, France began to arrive as soon as the Lithuanians took over the regime. However, we also were not spared from a small pogrom by Lithuanians and Poles. In this area, two enemies made peace. They broke windowpanes and beat Jews.
After several months the work of the aid committee had strengthened so much and spread arranging dormitories for the night and distributing clothing that it also began to establish cultural activities connected with the kitchen in which over 500 lunches a day were given out.
However, the Lithuanian regime was envious of the workers refugee committee and cast an evil eye on it. Once the police attacked the premises, arrested a few dozen people and many were forced to leave Vilna and they were forced to settle in other Lithuanian cities, such as Panevezys and Ukemerge and other shtetlekh. It was our fate to travel to Ukemerge. There I received letters from my wife in Paris and from my sister in Czenstochow. I also received a letter from America. My friend, Chayale Waga-Rotman, heard of my existence and how great was my joy and how encouraged I was when I received her first letter and the first 15 dollars. This was already during the beginning of 1940.
A normal life was established in Lithuania under a provisional Lithuanian regime.
Politics was interpreted in various ways at that time. When I had the opportunity in
1940 to be present in Vilna for a glass of tea among our own comrades, on the 1st of May, where we spoke about the situation, I remember only that I said the following in my speech: I am not a mathematician with numbers in my hand to show what will happen, but I have a deep belief that salvation in the war will come from the Soviet Union.
The arrest of the Bundists still continued. The persecutions against our comrades threw fear into the ranks of the mass of Bundist refugees in Lithuania. The connections that were established with America awoke the hope of leaving Lithuania for America. It even appeared as a fantastic dream. But what fantasy did a person not carry with him them!
In time I received the news from my friend, Chayale Waga-Rotman, that the Jewish Labor Committee in New York during the time of the war was making efforts to save the worker activists who were in Lithuania. In short, the fantasy looked as if it was no longer a fantasy; it could become a reality. Chayale also wrote that she would hurry and make possible my coming.
Meanwhile the situation on the battlefields became worse and worse. The Germans went from victory to victory. The consulates of the lands where it was possible to save one's self began to close little by little. Therefore, it was self-evident that when I entered the American consulate and the consul said to me that he was ready to give me a visa to America, I did not believe my own ears. He asked me if I knew who William Green was in America. My answer was that I knew who William Green was, that he was the president of the American Federation of Labor and that I had the opportunity to see him once at a convention of the Professional Unions in Poland. This is enough! the consul answered me Try to obtain the visa more quickly, because the consulate is about to close.
After I received the American visa, actually several days before the close of the consulate, the rush and the bustle to receive transit visas through the Soviet Union and Japan first began. This was the only way to go to America. After several weeks of efforts, fear and heart palpitations every time I needed to obtain a paper, a document, I finally left Lithuania on the 22nd of September 1940.
Our comrade, Rywka Pat, the wife of Jakob Pat, also had an American visa as I did. However, she did not live to obtain a Soviet transit visa; she died of a heart attack and I was one of the few comrades who accompanied her to the Vilna cemetery. This was my last funeral for a close comrade in Poland.
I went through the following main cities during my trip: Minsk, Moscow, Sverdlov, Birsk, Tatarsk, Krasnoyarsk, Bajkal, Irkutsk, Tchita, Kuybyshev, Biro-Bidzhan, and others. I was in Vladivostok on Rosh Hashanah. On the 7th of October I was placed on a Japanese ship in Vladivostok along with the entire group of 30 people who were the first to be saved by the Jewish Labor Committee and on the 9th of October we arrived in Tsuruga, on the 10th in Kobe. We left Kobe on the ship Heian Maru on the 16th of October 1940. We were in Yokohama on the 30th of October. We traveled through to Vancouver on the 31st of October, and on the 31st of October we got off the ship in Seattle, Washington. Comrade Minkof, the representative of the Labor Committee, met us.
The first encounter with the American friends took place in Chicago and the next day I went to see my Czenstochower landsman [person from the same town], the well-known Jewish publisher, Moshe Ceszinski. On the 5th of November we finally arrived in New York, the worldly city I had dreamed of visiting and which I had almost visited before the war as a delegate of Czenstochow organized labor, but because of obstacles I did not come. Now I came here as a refugee.
I did not have family or relatives in America, but I knew that I possessed comrades and friends and even intimate friends here. However, I had almost never corresponded with them.
New York did not make any special impression on me, not even the skyscrapers. The greatest wonder for me was the greenery, the parks that I found. I always imagined that America was one big factory and
in the end I saw grass, actually green grass, trees and heard the singing of
At encounters with friends and acquaintances, they often asked me, How do you like America? I shrugged my soldiers and did not have an answer and not waiting for my answer, they immediately said that I would make a living and I would be alright in America. This stuck me in my heart; my answer was, I did not come to America to make a living, I have only come for the time being I could not make peace in any way with the idea that I was already someone from here. I still thought only of there. And with my entire soul and being I went to great lengths to be active and serve the there.
My desire to work for my landsleit [people from the same town] remaining there became stronger. In addition, the arrival in America of Comrade Artur Zigelboim brought a living greeting from the tortured and struggling Jewish masses to whom I felt such a deep and devoted closeness; I believed that all of the saved Bundist comrades who had been brought all the way to New York by the tide of war would themselves build a voluntary camp and we would live on bread and salt and experience here the martyr-filled roads of those who remained there devoted to our ideas, the ideas of the Bund. How could it then be different! However, who should we lean upon? In the Jewish working neighborhood enmity reigned, civil war instead of international solidarity!
Weeks, months flew by. I looked around: the majority of my comrades were consumed in the shops. They carried on a normal life. They made a living.
They were alright They spoke of a great longing for the old home. They wrote letters and received bad news and worse, they sent aid and they felt that they were slipping into the small circle of American life.
In order to be able to exist, I had to go to work in a shop and my communal activity was connected to the Czenstochower Relief Committee. I set as a goal for myself to weave together and connect the simple Jews, landsleit, without distinction to persuade them that when the bright hour came we would be able to take over the role of the annihilated kehile [organized Jewish community] of the old home, Czenstochow.
During the entire time that I was in America I thought of myself as a member of the party of the Polish Bund. I searched for ways to physically rejoin it. Alas, meanwhile, I was powerless to achieve this and I relive this painfully.
I made the activity I did for the United Czenstochower Relief Committee my main goal. Here, working with Czenstochower landsleit from all factions, beginning with religious people and ending with communists, I tried to strengthen the warm atmosphere and to spread the idea for which the Relief worked. The idea emerged of publishing a book, Czenstochower Yidn [The Jews of Czenstochow]; the idea was cemented.
In connection with this activity, I came in personal contact with hundreds and even thousands of landsleit in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal all without exception, party comrades and party opponents, all gave me a friendly and comradely welcome and reacted with devotion to the thing with which I had come to them. I felt understanding among them, a deep feeling of love for their landsleit in the old home, for their sisters and brothers on the other side of the ocean who survived our bloody enemy. May their hand be strengthened!
Rywka Federman [came to America from Paris on the 9th of September 1946], the wife of R. Federman
As I finish writing these words I am just 55 years old. I find myself satisfied in rich, large America. However, I am still in exile. I remained the only one of my family, the inheritance of my family the ash dispersed over the world, that is a part of the six million annihilated Jewry. I absorb this. I will carry this for as long as my eyes see the world. I will dedicate my further strength to this, that the ash shall go and demand that the earth, which was fertilized by the ashes of ours sisters and brothers, will be able to bear on itself only a world of fairness and justice and humane love of one to the other, of people to people and my Jewish people shall be among them.
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