by Yehoshua ELBAUM, Givatayim
Let the following words be an anniversary light on the unknown graves of my dear mother, three sisters and three brothers, the comrades and friends, who perished in Kiddush Hashem.
On August 1, 1914, when World War I broke out, we lived in Łódź. Just as in times of trouble, wanting to be with our close and our own people, my father, may he rest in peace, Mr. Zalman Elbaum, a native of Kutno, decided to return to his hometown.
My parents and grandparents have been associated with Kutno for generations. The Elbaums lived in the city for about 250 years. My great grandfather, Mr. Yaakov-Leib zl, was a mohel in the days of Rabbi Shie'le Kutner and he performed the sacred work only when the great gaon in his own right was the godfather. Of course, my grandfather did not get paid for the mitzvah.
Over 50 years ago, when we returned to Kutno, there lived: my uncle Abraham and aunt Rywka Bender, as well as other relatives. Our apartment was located in Sztrum's house, opposite the Great Synagogue. Of the nine children (4 sisters and 5 brothers), seven perished. My sister Rywka Freund (now in Israel) and I escaped.
First of all, as they say, I came to Kutno. Here I grew up in a pious Chassidic home. My first cheder teacher was Mr. Eli-Gershon Klingbajl zl. At a long table, behind a curtain, I, the 7-year-old boy, was seated with other such children, taught Parasha Chumash with Rashi. But Rabbi's rigor and his whip did not arouse any strong desire to learn there. I was attracted by public schools, secular studies.
But my father, the Gerer Chassid, who often used to go to the amud in the Gerer shtiebel and also teach a class there, could not imagine that his youngest should grow up to be anything else than a rabbi. He handed me over to a teacher from Zgierz, who led a modernized cheder (Beit Ulpana), where he also taught Polish, arithmetic. Several years passed, the Zgierz cheder became too small, and I had to go higher in the yeshiva Yesodei HaTorah, near the Beit Midrash.
My complete cheder-epic took place during the war years. With food at that time which was not so birdish, everything on cards, not a single Jewish family in Kutno was starving. But we, in the Yeshiva, received a hearty dinner every day, thanks to the products of America, sent by the Joint. In our home, too, people were satisfied, because my father received a concession from the Germans to bake pasta, it goes without saying from the distributed flour. My parent was not a specialist in the industry. But what would one not do for a living? A special oven had been set up at home and there was a job of baking goods. The whole household was occupied with kneading, weeding, cutting and baking. The business prospered and the furnace became too small for such a mature enterprise. We went to uncle Abraham's house, set up a big furnace in the basement and the whole family had a job and a livelihood.
My older brother Samuel was a musician, by the way a secular, modern man. He founded an orchestra with the Maccabi and conducted it in the years 1918-19. I remember the big tour festivals on which he performed with his orchestra. He also gave music lessons. Material independence made it easier for him to deal with his father, to be independent and to progress.
On the other hand, my brother Yaakov-Leib followed in his father's footsteps. A devout fellow, Chassidic dressed, with a beard, he studied day and night in the Beit Midrash and later joined the Agudat Israel. In a heretical sea of brothers and sisters, he was a pious exception. But we have never mocked him. On the contrary, he was esteemed and loved.
The third brother, Aba, had already joined the Bund. His profession a sugar-baker. It turns out that in baking the pasta, he used to test the product. He shared his political activities in the party with sports in Morgenstern as a gymnastic demonstrator.
In such an atmosphere and environment, I celebrated my Bar-Mitzvah. My father still believed that I would succeed in avoiding conversion, God save us as he used to claim.
The liberation of Poland in 1918 is engraved in my memory with the incursion of a Polish military unit into Kutno. Barefoot, incorrectly dressed, they marched on Królewska Street and sang… antisemitic songs. Later came the Hallercziks, pulling and cutting beards of Jews, who became afraid to show up in the street. The antisemitic propaganda was also great because of the shooting of the Płocker rabbi for spying for the Russians.
(At that time, I remember, the antisemitic Poznańczyks suddenly appeared in the city, attacking the Jews in the New Market, beating the grain-merchant's soul out of Synagogue Street. The hooligans, however, encountered resistance from Nathan Fiszer's son, Stuczinski, Mechl Treger and others. Out of anger at the beating, Shaul Zgersky cut off a piece of his beard at the presidency of the Chevra Kadisha).
The national awakening of the Jewish youth in that period, their interest in social and general problems, the storm-and-urge-period that accompanied the young Jewish generation in Poland also had their effect in Kutno. In the year 1922, the breakthrough came to me: I left the Beit Midrash and began to study a profession, only an honorable one, accepted at that time, so as not to increase the resentment of my parents, who also had suffered from my interrupting religious studies. Here is what my mother Fajga Malka, a descendant of the Sochaczew court, and my great-grandfather Joseph-Shmuel Klein zl sent me to learn… upper-boot making. My mother suffered all these years, no less from my father, regarding our heresy, but as a genuine Jewish mother she forgot everything, imagined, indulged, not willingly teasing the father and the children. On more than one
Standing (from right) - B. Piotrkówski, Y. Elbaum. Sitting: Eliahu Klingbajl, L. Piotrkówski, M. Sztajn
occasion, my father told her that because of her, the children were away on bad paths, bat culture… but she no less than him experienced the transformations of her sons.
As an upper-boot sewer, I became independent from home. After work, I met with my colleagues, listened and talked about Bund, Poalei-Zion, Communists. Most of all, I liked the idea of transferring, making productive, a national Jewish labor center in Eretz Israel which Poalei-Zion propagated. I joined the Kutner organization of the left-wing Poalei-Zion youth union Yugnt.
But to get started, you had to take a special exam. And this is what I want to say about it:
Leading members at the time were Klingbajl Eliyahu (now in Israel), Szlajfer Henech (now in Paris). Every evening after work, we young people waited for Comrade Eliyahu. He worked in Lewin's pharmacy on Królewska street. As soon as he got out of there, he came to us, spread out his firm, muscular hands and placed under them as many youths as he could. There was no meeting room yet, so he led us
behind the mikveh, where the exam took place. First, he gave us a lecture on a current topic, then ordered everyone to turn their faces to the wall and asked questions about the lecture. At the same time, he waved a long stick behind our backs and whoever was afraid of the stick, not even receiving a blow was prohibited from becoming a member of a revolutionary youth organization, which conducted its activities in partial conspiracy. We all passed the exam and became active, committed youth workers.
The socio-political and cultural work, as with the other parties, proceeded with great vigor and temperament. At the same time, a verbal campaign was carried out to increase the ranks with more and more young people. And the youth union attracted both people from the sports club Sztern and from the Society for Evening Courses, with its successful literary and cultural activities, the discussion groups every Friday night.
Moshe Blank (now in Israel) used to remind me of the Saturdays in Kutno, after dinner, when the parents went to sleep, and the youth wandered over the fields and forests around Kutno, plucked fruits in the orchards, strolled and had fun.
My brother Berish recalled Moshe himself a football player in ‘Sztern’, once took me to a match. From then on there was also a strong attraction to ball games, although the serious enlightenment work was not neglected either.…
A special attraction for the youth was the dramatic circle at the legalized Society for Evening Course, with the active collaboration of Nisan Frenkel hyd, Moshe Zaks (now in the United States), Natan Kac zl and others.
In the years 1923-25, a stronger growth of the organization was noticed. Of course, the tireless teacher Tajchman helped her grow. The Chanukka evenings in the hall Polonia, the theatrical performances of serious Warsaw companies, the regular and serious cultural-political activity brought the best results. From time to time, flower-days were organized to the benefit of the Society for Evening Courses, which brought in a not-so-bad income.
I do not recall that we already had a respectable party-club at that time. People met at the house of Shija Kuczinski. Their whole family belonged to the party so they held meetings, organized meetings and assemblies in their homes and discussed. From that apartment we took the Yugnt-newspaper Free Youth, which used to come from Warsaw and also spread among youth workers from other places.
When Eliyahu Klingbajl immigrated to Israel in 1923 and Henech Szlajfer left for Paris, the younger members took over the burden and responsibility for the organization. The new Yugnt Committee elected: Leibish and Benjamin Piotrkówski, Abraham Kac, Zelig Lustigman (all deceased), Mordechai Sztajn, Ciolek Yosef (both now in Paris) and the writer of these lines. At Menche's in the Old Market, we rented an attic room, which was accessed by wooden stairs. It did not take long and a library was set up in the room, not a large one but she got the latest books, which the youth devoured with curiosity and enthusiasm. The box-talks every Friday night attracted a large crowd. Veterans of the Poalei-Zion party, Yaakov Mroz, the Piotrkówski brothers and others responded to the questions raised.
A chapter in itself is the fruitful work of our dramatic circle. On Saturday nights, literary evenings took place and the drama circle (under my direction), prepared enactments, recitations and various plays with light effects and makeup. Nisan Frenkel put a lot of effort and affection into this circle. Of the players who excelled, I remember: Moshe-Aharon Kowalski with his beautiful voice and Chana Sochaczewski (although she stammered, but on stage her language and singing appeared smooth and fluid).
The activity of the Yugnt in Kutno had developed so much that the small premises did not correspond at all to the new reality. We all came to the decision that one needs to rent larger premises. But where does one get money? We did not have it and someone throws the idea that we should turn to the youth committees in places like Zychlin, Łeczyca, Ozorków. There were strong organizations there and it was believed that they would come to Kutno for help. But in order for them to move and stir up the action, our messengers had to be sent there. This raised again the problem of travel expenses. Where can I get the money for the train ticket, whether to pay for a bus or a buggy? There was no choice you have to leave from this place on foot. Zelig Lustigman, Abraham Kac and I, the small one, have taken on the mission. Most of the members of the organization escorted us to the outskirts of the city and when they said goodbye, the Yugnt oath was sung spontaneously and we felt that the looks of dozens of colleagues accompanied
us with envy until they lost sight of us and at the same time, they wished us much success.
The walk was difficult, the number of shocks and blows on the feet increased but after a week, we returned from the journey and rented a new place at Yehuda Nosal, on the Old Market. Only in the vast space did the cultural-educational work take a completely different character and scope. The youth enjoyed the readings and performances of the dramatic circle, as we arranged a stage with a curtain. Such genuine theatrical facility has already prompted us to put on a serious play. No less than J. Gordin's. The main character was a shoemaker there. Comrade Berish Blank had the profession, but not the artistic qualifications. Of course, everyone was amazed when he hit the nail on the shoe with such mastery and sang Hemerl, hemerl clap…!
We even allowed ourselves to organize dance evenings, which were no less successful than the serious endeavors…
A refreshment and encouragement were the spirited lectures of the delegates who came to Kutno on behalf of the Central Committee, such as: Y. Zerubavel, Y. Rozen zl, Dr. Rafael Mahler, Y. Lev zl and others. The audience swallowed every word, whispered fresh enthusiasm and courage.
In 1928, I left Kutno and went to work in Łódź. But my link with the town and its people was a more frequent and a firmer one. I came home every holiday for two reasons: first, to see my family, friends and acquaintances. Secondly, I sang for years (as a religious singer) in the Great Synagogue, with such cantors and conductors as Sokolowski, Frenkel and others. I did not want to sever ties with the environment and people.
As a 12-year-old boy, I started singing with various cantors in the Great Synagogue. The first of them was the cantor Maroko, conducted by Sokolowski, came from Brest Litovsk. A great musician, with a strong bass voice. He also recruited students from the schools, who performed with great success in various social and national endeavors.
Very popular and well-known in Kutno was our townsman Frenkel. A short man, with a prominent hunch. However, he possessed a great deal of musical knowledge and showed great proficiency in liturgical as well as in modern music. From where he learned the Torah I do not know, but he was an unconditional musical authority.
He was appointed conductor of the choir in the Great Synagogue, then formed the choir HaZamir, in which almost all singers, including several female singers, sang. The Pranzer sisters excelled in their glorious voices and were indeed the soloists of HaZamir. Of the male voices, I remember the tenor Nahum Sztark, with his tremolo voice (today in America), Chaimke a deeper bass. Not a great know-it-all, but his deep, metallic voice gave him the status of a soloist. Living in the Old Market, in a big room. There the youth gathered in the evenings, learned to dance with him.
Fishel Fogelman sang from an early age with
cantors. His resounding voice foretold a great cantorial destiny. He always sang solo. When he sang I will not die, for I will live people held their breath. In later years, he had the habit to push his voice to an upper C… He became a cantor in Johannesburg (South Africa), today in America.
Such singers had in his choir the conductor Frenkel. Whether he also got from this an income I do not know. He lived in a small cottage, in poverty. Of course, he had a lot of respect and affection from everyone, as a living encyclopedia of Jewish popular music, cantorial words and Jewish cultural treasure. He was proficient in our literature, with purely secular views, although he conducted a synagogue choir.
Returning to the youth memories, still of Kutno, I must bring out the figures of some colleagues and comrades. The one at the top of the list is without a doubt the comrade Yaakov Mroz, a well-known and beloved leader of the movement.
The house of Shia Kuczinski, as I have already mentioned, has long served as a meeting place for the members of Poalei-Zion and its youth organization, because the whole family was connected with the ideas of Borochov.
Mr. Shia, an elderly Jew, a pious man, lived from his boot-sewing work. He, a widower, was left with numerous daughters and the eldest of them, Rachel, married Yaakov Mroz. Thus, the old Shia was included, in a family way, in the Poalei-Zion circle.
Yaakov was by profession an embroiderer. I remember with what joy and pride he looked at the flag of the youth that he raised before us. Particularly beautiful were the letters of the caption Proletarians of all countries Unite! The flag was flown during the joint Jewish-Polish demonstration on May 1, 1926, and it was more than symbolic of the fact that Comrade Mroz, who had given body and soul to the Poalei-Zion flag also created it…
Yaakov Mroz has always been at the top of the list of candidates during elections to the Kutner Jewish community and to the City Council. He also appeared at the center of list of candidates to the Sejm, for the left-wing of Poalei-Zion in Poland.
One of the Kuczinski sisters, Comrade Prywe, was at the time fully active in the Yugnt. Because of her constant worry, for all and everyone, she was crowned with the name Mother. Slim, tall, taken over by the party and family, all appreciated and loved her. She owed a great deal to her father for allowing her to do all the party work at home.
Quite unique was the Piotrkówski family. The father Meir was a widower, short, working day and night at his tailor's shop to support himself and his four sons: Leibish, Benjamin, Zelig and Wolf. Unable to do anything to raise the young children, he remarried to a woman in complete contrast with himself: tall, thin, young and very handsome. Everyone loved her, even the stepchildren, because she was to them like a mother and a good master at home. She also gave birth to three children, but I did not know them.
Leibish Piotrkówski, whom we considered a theorist, liked to refer to literary topics with a great deal of depth and scholarship. By profession a tailor, he became an erudite through reading and learning. He married Fajga Grinbaum, lived in the old market, in the house of the Kenigs.
Concerning Benjamin Piotrkówski, we considered him a politician and a social worker. He really was such. He managed the boxing-evenings, answered most questions with a lot of talent and knowledge. A tall, noble fellow, by profession a tailor for ladies. He married Ita Zander, later leaving Kutno, emigrating to Paris and joining the local party.
Abraham Kac was a handsome young man, and he loved to be seen. By profession, an upper boot maker. Everyone admired
his loyalty and devotion to the idea. He was instrumental in shaping the spiritual face of our Yugnt organization.
Zelig Lustigman, hailed from a Chassidic home, numerous brothers and a sister. He was a shy and honest worker, an upper boot maker. Very active in the Yugnt, he was ready at any call to carry out the decisions of the party.
During the Hitlerite occupation, he was forced to work on the railway in Kutno. The noble fellow was not capable of hard work, he was beaten to death by the German assassins. In the morning, his cousin, Zelig Lipszic, took over as Zelig Lustigman. Some time later, Zelig was killed by a German with a piece of iron, at railway work.
Years past, years of dreams and hopes, disappointments and transformations. Remembering that time, the close friends and colleagues with whom we longed and fought for a better and better world also come to mind. For most of the young dreamers and fighters, some of whose characters I tried to bring to mind, the year 1939 brought a whole different world: persecution of Jews, ghettos, and tragic destruction in the gaseous cars and furnaces of Chelmno. Even today the wound is deep because of the loss of the people who helped shape my spiritual world, raised me to love my own people and country…
by Chenoch CHABUS, Paris
Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz
I remember the Bund organization in our town even from the First World War. As a lad of 16 years old I entered the movement which was then working illegally. From the foggy recollections remaining in my memory, I knew that the party had organized the Jewish workers to fight for higher wages and a shorter work day, which is those days was reckoned from sun rise until sun set. This was an important work issue for the discussion groups, at debates and meetings in what we called the stock exchange.
In Kutno, the Bund had made a home for itself in the library building where many members, workers and ordinary people met. The major activists were the Szotan brothers Jeszajahu, Mosze Jechiel and Naftali.
With the outbreak of the First World War, Kutno was occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm's army. Then the new, freer regime allowed the institutions which had previously been working underground to come out into the open. True, the political parties had been forbidden during the war time, but since the library was a normal place for the working public, in that way the library became the usual place for Bundist activities.
In 1918, when Poland became independent the party developed a lively social policy and cultural program. At the same time, very serious competitors had already appeared from the municipal parties and most important, from the working man in the street. In the craftsmen's' association which the Bund created, I was selected to serve in the administration.
In the year 1920, I emigrated to Paris. In the capital city of France I was a better social activist, but that is a separate chapter by itself.
by Natan MOSZKOWICZ, Herzliya
Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron
The year 1918. The war-fire has just burnt out. Poland becomes independent. Complicated problems, especially on the Jewish street, call for solutions. Jewish life begins to organize, the political parties reveal immense organizational and political activity. As if a blocked spring suddenly spurted up on high
In the foreground of the Jewish workers' movement in Poland, as also in Kutno, is seen the general Jewish workers' organization, Bund. The Jewish tradesman, worker, man in the street, and small trader begin to set up their political, social, cultural and professional organizations, the Bund encourages the process, works it into its own party framework. There is also a consumer-cooperative.
The work grows with difficulty. The available locations are too small. In the year 1930, thanks to contributions of the Kutno Jewish working class, a two-storey structure was erected in which the whole Bundist activity of the town was concentrated the Bajnish Michalewicz House.
The Bund became a mass movement. It stood against injustices, from whichever side they came: evictions of poor Jewish families that don't have with what to pay the rent; it carried on the war with the local antisemites and their boycott-politics, or hooligan attacks on Jewish passers-by, carried on meanwhile a broad education program during the election for the Sjem, for the town council and for the Jewish community. After the pogrom in Przytyk, on the initiative of the Bund a protest strike was carried out, the workshops and businesses were closed, and the Jews of Kutno flowed en masse to the united protest-meeting.
Tzukunft and Skif
The Bundist youth-organization Tsukunft absorbed enthusiastically and by storm important sections of the Jewish working-class youth in Kutno. Their circles were transformed into political and cultural smithies, where the consciousness of the young folk was forged. The same youth also became the loyal consumers of the Yiddish book, the attentive audience for various presentations and readings. They brought into their traditional Jewish and pious homes not only modern Yiddish culture and literature, but also socialist awareness.
Those in the Konstancja ghetto who had, in the worst circumstance, carried on cultural activity and political work, belonged to the Youth-Bund Tsukunft. The poet Bajnish Zilbersztajn was shot in Auschwitz while throwing a stone at a murderer. Bajnish was a subtle poet and prose-writer, editor of the monthly literary journal Belgian Pages. He began his writing career in the central organ of Tsukunft Youth-Awakener.
From the ranks of Tsukunft come also Yosef Turko (Okrutny), the author of 10 belle-lettrist books (now in Argentina), Gradom, Szrank and Sobutki active in the underground of the Kutno ghetto.
Love of the Yiddish language, of Yiddish writers and of the Yiddish book began in the youngest Bundist generation, in the child-organization Skif. And to that was added sport, jogging, hiking.
The young Glowinski, Goldberg, Haller, who had their upbringing
in Skif, were in the ghetto among those who created a secret radio-station and twice a day gave out news, encouraged the people, and called to resistance.
Professional activity in Kutno was in practice carried out by a coalition of the three worker parties: Bund, Communists, and Left-wing Poalei-Zion.
One of the strongest and best-supported unions was the Needle Workers' Union, which took in all those employed in the trade. Even members of Beitar belonged to the union. The leadership courageously defended the interests of the wage-workers.
|'Bund' cooperative Standing by the entrance,
the director Gnendel Gecel
The youth-section drew the special attention of the union. Besides working to further their trade interests, there was a wide-branched cultural program, especially involving evening courses. The aim was to root out illiteracy, which had become accepted among the Jewish youth living in poverty.
The second union in importance was the transport-union, to which belonged the porters and drivers. This was an older element, with big families and small revenues, always overwhelmed with worries about a living. In order to keep such Jews, with pious ones also involved, it was necessary to maintain an especially warm, comradely atmosphere. The leadership set up a loan fund, from which members could obtain loans without interest. They also fought for and got the right to benefit from the workers' sickness-fund, for minimal dues.
To the professional activity of the Bund must be added also the blessed work of the Socialist Manual Workers' Union, to which belonged tens of home artisans, craftsmen and tradesmen from all trades, and many political hues.
Sports and physical education
Almost every evening, more than 200 youngsters filled the gymnasium in the Michalewicz House in Kutno, where the Bundist sport-club Morgenstern (Jutrznia) carried on its productive activity. On the wall hung a large print-out: In a healthy body, a healthy mind. The instructor, Kopel Kirszbaum, a volunteer, conscientiously led the young workers in gymnastic exercises and truly strove for healthy physiques for all. The sport-club was renowned in Kutno. Everyone admired this institution.
Once a year there was a public display by the Morgenstern sport-club, accompanied by its own wind-orchestra.
The club's football team was the best in the city. Its achievements were spoken of with admiration, and not only by Jews.
Jewish Schools and Culture League
In the early 1930s, a morning school with Yiddish as the language of instruction was created in Kutno. Let us take the opportunity to recall an episode which led to some bad blood:
Just before the opening of the school, when almost all preparations had been made, there came to Kutno our fellow-townsman, the great writer Shalom Asz. On a Shabbat, together with his brother Wolf, he visited the Perec Library, where a meeting of the organizing-committee of the school was going on. The guest asked first about the library, its readers, what kind of books interested them, and generally about the cultural life of the town. On the spot he handed over a letter to the publishing-house Culture-League in Warsaw to send to the library, as a gift, all his published books. Afterwards, we told him about the opening of the school, which was soon to take place. Suddenly he put to us the startling question:
Would we not agree that the school should bear his name?For that, he was prepared to contribute 50 percent of the school's budget.
I remember, as a participant in the meeting, that Asz's suggestion embarrassed everyone. The chairman promised the author to give him an answer in a short time.
And the answer was in the negative. The school was already named after the late Bundist theorician and leader Vladimir Medem.
Returning to the school. It soon had four classes, 40-50 children in a class. It was at first supported by voluntary contributions of Bundists, Left-wing Poalei-Zion and non-party people.
Thanks to the Socialist majority in the city council (7 P.P.S., 5 Bund and 1 Communist), the school received an annual subsidy. The Jewish community also provided in its budget a partial subsidy, as for the other cultural institutions in the city.
Today we know that many children, who received their education in the Medem school became, in time, industrious members of the kibbutz movement in Eretz Israel.
Among the teachers with high pedagogic qualifications, I remember: Jeruchemzon from Warsaw, Mandelman, Hancze Fiszzacer and Mann from Vilnius.
A separate chapter is that of the Culture League, with its rich Perec library with a book treasury of tens of thousands of Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish books and a
special division of children's literature. The family tree of the Culture League stemmed from the society HaZamir, from before the First World War. In his time, Shalom Aleichem came to HaZamir, gave a lecture and read from his works. A share of the receipts was reserved for the library, which later went to the Culture-League.
The readers were recruited from all strata of the Jewish population and reached the number of several hundred.
The People's University of the Culture League played an important role in strengthening the consciousness of its members, thanks to the presentations, readings and lectures on scientific, literary and socio-political themes. Among the speakers: Bertisz and Grosfeld teachers of Am HaSefer; the historian Comber Lipman (perished in Warsaw); the guests from Warsaw Henryk Erlich and Wictor Alter; our writer and scholar, Israel-Yeshayahu Trunk, the eldest son of the Kutner Rabbi, who had a calling to literature and exact sciences, is a contributor to the literary monthly magazine Letter in Łódź. His lectures always drew a big audience. His goal in particular was to popularize the psychoanalysis of Freud and his follower Alfred Adler.
In Kutno there were also lectures by the literary critic Sh. Niger, the educator Shlomo Mendelssohn and the essayist Leo Finkelsztajn, as well as Dr. Kruk, D. B. Malkin, Y. Halperin, the poet Itzik Manger, the literary recitalist Hertz Grosbard.
Great is the register of the achievements and of the doers of the Bund and its institutions. But the brutal, murderous hand of the Hitlerites made all waste
by Pola MANCZUKGOLDBERG, Montreal
Much more needs to be written about the varied activities of the Jewish Socialist Children's Association in Kutno than the following lines. It was obviously a blessed and creative work for the benefit of Jewish children.
By the time I joined SKIF, it handled about 50 children, most of them from workhouses. The work went in three directions:
It was considered very important to send the children to a summer camp during the hot months of the school holidays. Such an undertaking cost a lot of money. Young and old spent a whole year collecting money and carrying out the activities for the benefit of the colony. We knew that the larger the amount we raised, the more poor Jewish children would benefit from the colony.
The last summer colony of SKIF was conducted in partnership with other neighboring towns, not far away from [page 199] Wloclawek, on the banks of the Vistula. The Jewish children of Kutno, Gostynin, Lipno, and Krośniewice, in the summer of 1939, enjoyed the beauty of nature, spent in a peaceful and warmer atmosphere, but everything was suddenly shattered. Later in July, representatives of the Polish administrative authorities arrived and closed the colony. The war was already raging in the air, but the children did not care much about it. Little did they know, just like the elders, that this was the last summer colony and that they would share the tragic fate of the murdered third of our nation.
May my memories be a memorial to all the children and adults who have found their spiritual world in SKIF …
by Chaim Ben MENSZE, Holon
I first saw him in the Perec Library. He sat quietly, with a cigarette in his mouth. The slow rise of the smoke made his face serious and added an air of dissatisfaction. This face and pitch-black fringe were etched in my memory. Also, he cast a sharp, piercing gaze on everyone.
When I and my friend Osher came in, we scoured the catalog and found the number of the book we were looking for and we both happily ran to the librarian Shmuel Sobutki and asked for the book. We got the book and impatiently flipped through it. At the same time, my friend was quoting a piece of prose by heart and Hersh-Meir Glowinski, who was sitting there, was watching us both. He must have noticed our confusion, mixed with contentment. The thing intrigued him, apparently. He immediately asked:
Who is rehearsing with you? What is the name of the play you are preparing to perform?Without wasting any time, my friend Osher immediately sung two stanzas and asked Glowinski:
I am, Osher replied proudly.
Who are you and what is your name?, asked Glowinski with a good-natured smile, but in a contemptuous tone.
My name is Osher and I am the grandson of the Ciechocinek shoemaker. I have long been playing theater. According to my mother, as a child I used to show a penchant for theater. Now, when I work in my grandfather's workshop, we both sing to the beat of the hammer. After my grandfather has drunk a couple of glasses, he immediately put the hammer away and dances like an eighteen-year-old boy. Him. Dancing a kazaczok, a kind of dance, so much so that the neighbors come together to see that wonder.
Are you at least an expert of this song?, showing at the same time an idiotic face.This freedom of speech and bold attitude made a good impression on Glowinski.
And you, my young fellow? He turned to me with irony. Do you also play theater?Glowinski asked us for the address of the house where the rehearsals were taking place. He began to show himself and pay attention to the improvements that Osher made from time to time. Hearing the mangled Yiddish we used made him very upset.
I did not start so early, I replied a little bit embarrassed. At the synagogue, I recited various poems, we made a show on Purim and also played Goliath and the Philistines. This was the first time that, during the evening classes, I was incited to participate to the dramatic circle, with Nisan Frenkel, Menche and Pessa Prync, in Shalom Aleichem's one-act play The Doctor. The director was Shaje Trunk, the Rabbi's son. I played Chaim Lajb, I answered with pride. Now we have a team of ten girls and boys, we want to play Motie Melech the Carpenter. This is an American drama (I did not even know the author's name). We've been rehearsing for several weeks, but because of the outdated script of the rewritten drama, it was hard for us to read. We have therefore made some research and, indeed, we found the original.
Boys, do you want to play in a theater?, he asked, quite upset Teach yourself to speak as you need to and throw away the useless pathos. Speak simple, humanly, do not overdo it.We asked him to take over the direction. He does this with satisfaction. We torment ourselves, as a matter of fact, strive to meet his demands, adapt to his comments. After several weeks of hard work, we prepare for the performance. Glowinski changed the name to The Dancer. The name is more attractive he said. Glowinski got the approval from the Cultural League and the performance happens at the set time.
Glowinski and Osher share the profits equally. We are content to have our names written down on the posters and inside, in the programs.
The team disintegrated because Glowinski could not tolerate Osher who, by the way, had great impudence. They quarreled. Osher left Kutno and went to play in his hometown Koło.
We formed a second team. Glowinski recalled his famous amateurs: Yosef Pakulski, Israel Epsztajn, Shaje Lichtensztajn, Pesa Prync, Ruzge, Chaim Grinbaum, etc. We began the repetitions for the Wild Man. Glowinski put effort and work into the performance. He demanded from us a pure language, a clear Yiddish word and good Hebrew.
Artists, he shouted, you will never be, but let's hear at least a word in a correct Yiddish.He could not demand this from Shimshe Maczik, or from Reuven Treger, or from the guy standing around in the market. But from the stage he wanted to hear Hebrew. Also, curiosities were not lacking. When Israel Epsztajn said in his prose with pathos: Today is Shabbat, laughters are on the table, Glowinski shouted in a tooth-grinding outcry:
It is not laughters, but candlesticks. How many times will I tell you, eh? Why are you shedding my blood?! And when Szaja Lichtensztajn needed to repeat two words of Hebrew, as nekevim nekevim, chalulim chalulim, darkness fell. Glowinski awarded Lichtensztajn with all the epiteths he had in his repertoire, for his analphabetism.An interesting episode reminds me of when our prompter, Yaakov Meir zl, stood in the prompt corner and looked at a player and meanwhile forgot to give the required words. Shaja Lichtensztajn hit the chair on which she was sitting, shouting Enter the mother in delicious Russian The spectators, who seemed to have recovered from the sudden eruption, gave Lichtensztajn a long-lasting applause. Hersh-Meir on the other hand pulled his hair and shouted: Gevald, what has he done?!
Later, a curiosity was done by Mendel Kohn. He played as a cantor. In the first act, of course, with a beard this was in Russia. The second act was then taking place in America, where our cantor had to perform without a beard. A Jew native of Russia meets him and asks:
Eh? Where did you put your beard and peyot?Hersh Meir created a framework for our team and gave it a special name YAB Jewish Workers' Stage in the Cultural League. Young extras were attracted, especially girls with good and lovely voices. Their names: Necha Caler, Rozenblatt, Rachel-Leah, Esther Frenkl, Roiza Pitl and others. Among boys: Zaken Asz, Fajwisz and Chana Blum. Zalman Kam became the technical stage leader and took care of the repertoire. Glowinski wanted to prepare a revue, something extraordinary, surprising. Scenery, music, and props were required for the revue. Kopel Kirszbaum took advantage of his relationship with Abraham Opoczinski. We allowed him to be present at our rehearsals. He listened and organized various parties and became an ardent supporter of our drama. His decorations were of great importance and significance to us.
Here, you understand, it's America, he replied. Nobody wears a beard here so I took it off
Glowinski saw this, was pleased with the new forces and that our team was developing and moving forward. He put his whole talent and even more forces into the performances. He also created the music. Anshel Freund and Abraham Sztift helped him. The play Chai Gelebt that was just prepared, was created in the same way. It had a great success. Several times it was played in the old theater and partly also in Michalewicz House. It was a revue performance. The popular program was presented with taste and flavor, pleasing to the eye and ear. The sketches and enactments of Shalom Aleichem, Perec and others, stood on a very high level and were also masterfully executed. More than half of the program included songs, poems, humorous dialogues, and staging. The Gypsy Camp with its rich musical content got a great reception from the public. Its dances in special costumes, accompanied by various soft instruments, light reflectors, etc. literally captivated the audience.
With great love and appreciation, a serenade was recorded, sung by a stubbornly in love young man with his chosen one a maid, who is afraid of her mistress. This was carried out by Necha Cyler and Zaken Asz.
A big surprise was the performance of Chelemer Cantor with his poets, performed by Cuper, Nisan Frenkl and other members of the team.
It was an evening of humor, satire and grotesque. The extraordinary success was naturally a result of the effort and effort of the team, and especially of Hersh-Meir Glowinski.
Nor should the great contribution and achievement shown by Abraham Opoczinski with his artistic talent for selecting and adapting the decorative part to each item be diminished. The success was the recognition of the team and a great satisfaction for Glowinski.
With the performance Chai Gelebt, we also traveled around the neighboring towns, where we were received with great warmth. In the town of Kowal, near Włocławek, we had a bit of a failure due to the strong influence of the left-wing Poalei-Zion. This town was very much of a fortress.
Our arrival was planned on a certain Friday by night. As the placards carried the caption YAB in the Cultural League, it turned out that it smelled like Bund. This made a lot of fuss in town. The posters were torn down. With some effort we got the key to the room, which had been booked before. The police came to the room and demanded our permit. Our arguments did not help and evidence did not help and the evening was reported at the police station. We had to cancel the performance.
But Glowinski did not give up so easily. In a few weeks' time, he once again, with the help of the Włocławek Bundists, organized an evening, which passed with success. We later tried Perec Hirszbajn's The Green Fields, but without success, because Glowinski did not stop demanding from us more than we could give.
This is how it ended, until he left Kutno in 1933. He traveled, giving recitations in the western part of Poland and trying to alleviate his pain due to his unsuccessful career in the artistic world. Most recently, he has been an active artist in Danzig.
Honor his memory!
By Chaim GRINBAUM, Holon
Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron
The Situation of the Jewish Population
Kutno had more than 33,000 people, and Jews made up about 25 percent of the population.
The city had a whole set of factories, mostly doing alterations, connected with the town. Along with the agriculturalmachine factory, the city had a few mills, an oil factory, a tannery, a sugarrefinery, a distillery, a matchfactory, and others. The whole of Przemysłowa Street was built up with factories, workhouses, and workshops, and, renowned throughout the whole country and Europe, Rozlewnia a oilrefinery, whose production even HitlerGermany bought. This did not however prevent the Nazi fliers, while bombing the city, from striking the underground cisterns, creating a giant conflagration in the entire area.
All these factories and important workplaces were, with some exceptions, closed to Jewish workers and tradesmen. The Jewish owners of the mills and other enterprises also closed their doors to the Jewish toilers, under the pretext of not profaning the Shabbat. Besides that, there was no shortage of other excuses, such as that the Jewish worker was a bit lazy, too clever, and too weak to lift a heavy load.
As a result, it is no wonder that Jewish workers were engaged in specifically Jewish occupations, such as tailoring, baking, hatmaking, brushmaking, clockmaking. A large part of the Jewish population was occupied in small business on the market haberdashery, textiles, kitchenware, confections, and so on, not to mention the Jewish stalls with greens and fruit and the Jewish female marketvendors.
Especially strongly developed was the clothing business. There could be seen attractive wellequipped enterprises. This branch (like others) had as its foundation the toil of Jewish homeartisans. With the onset of the season, Jewish tradesmen did not see the outside world. From dawn to late at night they worked, harnessing the entire household, in order to earn a livelihood; also in the dead season, when the workshops were closed for cleaning, the floors sprinkled with sand…but even in midseason, the pay was such that it scarcely sufficed to support a family of four to six people. It is no surprise that need was a regular resident in many Jewish homes in Kutno.
Surrounding the rich streets, where the small wealthy part of the Jewish population lived, were found the streets and alleys of the Jewish poor and unemployed, like Senatorska, Podrzeczna, the groatslane. The Jewish toilers, who for the most part worked in their own homes, had almost no support from unemployment assistance. If it happened that City Hall sometimes created an opportunity to work openly, Jewish people could not take part, either because of their own frumkeit, or because of fear of the Jewish clergy. When the worker Meir Kenig, of the Left PoaleiZion, had the boldness to go out on Saturday to work, along with the Christian workers, the religious Jews made a frightful uproar: How can it be that a Jew goes out on Shabbat with a shovel in his hand?!
Kutno, the birthplace of Shalom Asz, was a long way from being the patriarchalromantic shtetl of Mr. Yechezkel Gombiner, in whose broad hospitable courtyard all were at home… It was closer to the shtetl of Mendele Mocher Sforim, burdened with troublesome social contradictions.
Crowded into the narrow Jewish specialties, where the mostly poor tradesmen from dawn to midnight tried to drive out the seventh sweat in order to work up a bit of bread, their struggle against the rich Jewish merchants had often a tough, bitter outcome. Further, the Jewish toilers were compelled, in hard struggles, to yield such achievements as the laws of the state had ordered for the great private undertakings. But the Jewish workers, between the discriminatory policies of the Polish reaction and the antiJewish politics of the Jewish manufacturers themselves, had no access.
Social Conflicts, Clashes, Strikes
The trade associations in Kutno, and especially the strong needletradeunion, always under difficult political conditions, had to carry on a struggle for the eighthour day, which was never fully realized, especially in the framework of small workshops and seasonal work. Jewish workers had to tear from Jewish employers with their fingernails the possibility of benefiting from medical help from the sickfunds. At the same time the Jewish unionized workers carried on a stubborn struggle to support the younger workers against exploitation and chicanery on the part of the employer, against the mediaeval custom of threeyear unpaid drudgery while learning a trade; against holding back for months the hardearned wages, against not paying bills for delivered work… All these difficult, stubborn, longdragged out struggles, were carried out by the Jewish toilers on the initiative of the leftwing workers' movement, together with the Bundists and the PoaleiZion workers.
The strike in the tailorworkshop of Alter Hazenfeld was not a single case, but may serve as an example of the conflicts that
we went through. In that workshop around 15 men workedone of the biggest workplaces. The frequent conflicts were in part resolved through the needleunion, led by the communists, the Bund and the Left PoaleiZionists. But whenever the employers felt that the union was weakened, they began to attack the workers' gains. In the workshops of Mroz and Falc serious happenings broke out, as the result of spying and provocations by the police. So, Mendel Zhurowski was brutally beaten (not a tailor, by the way) as the result of a provocation. So, also the tailor Avram Holcman was sentenced to a year in jail when the employer betrayed him as a communist during a conflict.
In the year 1932 this was the status of the Jewish workers: wages not paid on time; the workers not enrolled in the sickbenefitfunds; work given out to nonunion homeartisans, Jewish and Christian; disrespectful attitudes by the bosses. All these together created an atmosphere loaded with dynamite. The outcome was unavoidable. The needle union at that time was weakened. The comrades Henech Chabus and Isaac Wecler (communists) declared, so long as we don't get paid what is owed to us, we don't work. The bosses wanted to shut these comrades out of the work. But the collective was united, and the bosses didn't succeed. We declared an Italian strike, but the employers had already prepared strikebreakers, precisely from the hooliganish Endeks, known antisemites. This enraged the workers still more. In the moment when we took a determined stand, the police intervened and dealt out blows with rubber truncheons. Later taken to the police station. And at the same time the police neglected to get the bosses to pay the workers what they were owed. Then, when we were being held under arrest, other comrades carried out an action.
All the workers abandoned the workshops, which were then boycotted by the entire Kutno working class.
Very interesting was the conduct of the Jewish houseproprietors, who picked Friday night exactly as the time to evict poor tenants from their dwellings.
In Jewish Kutno were active the Marxist Group, with Shaul Rozanski, Yehoshua Moszkowicz, Jenkel Jakubowicz, Rusak, Aaron Szuster, Fiszel Sztajn, and others. This group, which had split off from the Bund and Tsukunft (the communist Tsukunft) above all with Jenkel Kilbert, Gradom Zyskind, Zosze Gradom, Hersz Kersz. These two groups in the year 1921/22 joined the rising Communist Party of Poland (one of the first secretaries of the united Communist Party organization in Kutno was the wellknown Yiddish poet Bajnisz Zylbersztajn).
The political activity of the Communist Party was difficult because of its illegality. This did not however deter the enthusiastic Jenkel Kilbert and the selfsacrificing Zosze Gradom from carrying on a broad campaign of enlightenment among the Jewish homeartisams.
The Kutno Party Organization developed a large and active project in organizing illegal mass meetings in the streets, or in closed locations, with secretly printed material, calls to action, newspapers, in secretly pasting on the walls actual party notices in connection with local and wider events, or in celebrating proletarian holidays by hanging banners on electric cables, and so on. In addition, Kutno was the location of the district committee of the Communist Party, and on the Kutno organization fell the task of serving the surrounding villages.
Especially intense was the work of the comrades on the eve of the proletarian holidays, the First of May, the anniversaries of the deaths of the three L's (Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht), the Seventh of November (October Revolution). The police were active on those days, many comrades were dragged out of their beds, or captured in illegal work, and thrust into prison, often for long years. More than once was there also terrible torture, even to death. So, in fact, were Chaim Zakszewski, Tova Klar, Rusak, Ruben Goldman, Andrze Kenig, Rutke Rozen, and other comrades, sentenced to long prison terms. And the refined, gentle, charming, beautiful blackhaired daughter of workers Gutsze Zelkowicz was sentenced to long years in prison, endured terrible tortures for not giving up her comrades in the struggle, and, in the year 1937, she was murdered in the Łęczyca prison because she had undertaken, as a political prisoner, not to wear prison clothing, meant for criminals. Her funeral was associated with a mighty protestdemonstration against Sanationpolice terror. Thousands of workers, Poles and Jews, marched together through the streets of Kutno, giving the last honor to the fallen Jewish fighter. The police agents, with Szuda at their head, stood helpless in the face of such a powerful
solidaritydemonstration, though later in the night they had who to drag from their beds.
The captured comrades however were not abandoned. On the loose, there was an active organization of international help for political prisoners (MOPR), which organized legal and material help for the arrested persons and their needy families by sending foodpackages into the prison, hiring lawyers, collecting money and so on. All this was done very much undercover, with the help of many nonparty sympathizers. In Kutno there were many bourgeois people, who regularly contributed to MOPR, setting only one condition, that their names should not, God forbid, be mentioned or written down.
People of the left were for many years the most active workers in the union movement. Some Communist workers were for their devoted professional activity sent to the infamous concentration camp of Bereza Kartuska. One of those comrades, Joseph Kam, today lives in France.
The Bloody First of May of 1932
With frequent searches a few days before the First of May the Police used to create an ambience, instilling fear by dragging from their beds the most active comrades, in order to disorganize the preparations for the MayDemonstration. But the Left workers also worked out their own strategy: on the eve of the First of May the activists didn't sleep at home. The same thing was repeated every year. On account of the growth of opposition moods in the country, we were prepared for greater Maydemonstrations, but for such a massparticipation and for such embitterment of the demonstrators we had for a long time not been prepared, as happened in 1932.
Seven o'clock in the morning the workers began to gather at the designated points. Communists gathered at the locality of Koło, by Jakob Fuks. Some of the comrades addressed the people about the meaning of the proletarian holiday. Suddenly a stranger leapt up on the table and put a question:
Do you want to hear from a Deputy of the Communist SejmFaction?
At length he began to recall the most important Maydemonstrations of the C.P.P. against the regime, which was carrying out a bloody pacification in the Crescent. The police on the scene began to use force on the people, who moved away to the old theatre, where were gathered hundreds of workers with their red banners. It didn't take long till the mass marched up the hill, in the direction of the church. The police blocked the way. The demonstrators forced their way through. On the way hundreds of people joined and on the main street a great mass of thousands of people gathered. At the City Hall the police erected large barricades to keep the demonstrators from reaching the prison. A great clash followed, and a battle with flags, wooden and iron clubs, and shafts from the peasants' carriages. There was a great uproar. The peasants wanted to harness their wagons and leave the battlefield, but the huge throng prevented them.
At last, the police began to shoot in the air. The demonstration separated into two parts one part confronted the police, while the other marched on to the prison, from which were heard revolutionary songs and Mayslogans. Soon there came police reinforcements and there was a clash. At the same time in the market there was a bitter battle between the attacking police and the demonstrators. All were jumbled together: peasants, unharnessed horses, customers. The police, not seeing how else to control the situation, began to shoot into the crowd. In the result of the battle, a Jewish woman fell.
In these events, which reverberated in the foreign press, many Jewish workers and students participated, and among them there were many arrests. The bloody Maydays in Kutno had an effect on the Jewish student youth. The students Mietek Buki. Wajnberger, Baum, Lipszic, Shaje Szatan, and others, as a result joined the Party. Some later enrolled among the fighters of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War (in 1936). Szatan, himself a former Bundist, is the author of a brochure against the Bund.
HungerDemonstration in the Year 1934
When support for the unemployed was suspended, a group of youth went to the train station and took some coal to warm the cold homes. Police began shooting and wounded a young person, who remained an invalid the rest of his life. From the railway station the demonstration marched on to the City Hall. Just then came a wagon of bread, which was meant for the shop across from Witkowski's kiosk. The worker Juzwiak jumped up on the wagon and gave out the bread among the hungry workers, including Jews. One of the Jews, Nachman Treger, also found himself among those arrested. Juzwiak was sentenced to a year in jail.
The Kutno Prison
The Kutno prison was well known to all the people, children and grown, big and small, because when going to the Jewish cemetery or to the Christian one, like it or not, one had to pass the prison building, which was surrounded by barbed wire on a thick wall, to which was added broken glass. But what was going on behind the wall was known only to those who were boarding there…
From time to time, political prisoners were held there, awaiting sentence. So, for example, Rutke Rozen (now Ozhel), with Ruben Goldman, when organizing the Pioneer movement, were taken into prison and shared the same cell with criminals. The relations were very good. The political prisoners
succeeded in arousing in the criminals' sympathy and respect. When the guards, not rarely, displayed brutality, especially to the criminals, all protested together. And when the political prisoners undertook a protest against preparing food in dirty vessels, left over from tsarist times, and demanded to be heard by a high official of the prison, the criminals supported the action.
After Rutke Rozen was received by the high jail officer, the vessels were scrubbed and the food was more tasty and cleaner. This was an important gain, but more important than the food, was the united stand of all the prisoners together. The political prisoners were once allowed to wear their own garments. But later that privilege was liquidated. The political prisoners more than once undertook protests against the brutal regulations of the prison administration. In consequence of these struggles the Comrade Gutsze Zelkowicz was transferred to Łęczyca and in her underwear confined in a dungeon. In the process she was beaten on the kidneys and murdered for not wanting to put on the prisonclothes.
Unity Actions of the Worker Parties
As is known, the Communist Party of Poland, throughout its whole history, was bitterly fought against by the ruling regime, which saw in it the greatest danger to its survival. But so were the other workers' parties, on the Polish as on the Jewish street, fought against by it, by all methods… Things began to change when the Piłsudskiregime began to tread on the feet of the Bund and the P.P.S. Gradually the idea began to grow of uniting against the common enemy.
I recall an episode, when the leader of the C.P.P. in Kutno, Ankersztajn, in the 1930s, together with the Bundist worker Herman Kirszbaum, held an illegal mass meeting at a corner of KrólewskaOld Market. Many members of both parties attended. When the police came, nobody was there anymore. Later there were a lot of arrests, but for want of evidence, all were released after 24 hours.
Here is a second characteristic episode from the infamous days of Składkowski and his owszempolicy:
Once on a marketday, when the Jewish small traders had brought out their bit of goods and placed them in their stalls, there suddenly appeared antisemitic picketniks, who did not allow the peasants to buy their needs from the Jews. This happened just before the Christmas holidays, when the peasants come en masse into town.
The workerparties had been informed that antisemitic actions were being prepared. In the true spirit of the unityfront, a selfdefence was prepared to protect the Jewish property. In the morning, at Hirszbaum's and Rabinowicz's, groups of workers gathered with clubs and iron bars. When the first picketniks appeared and began to shout, Nie kup u żyda, swój do swego! the defenders chased them away to where the pepper grows… Once again at this time, the police showed their antisemitic face, but did not intervene, fearing that with the resistance of the workers, it would come to a bloodbath.
In this way the Communists, Socialists, and Bundists workers, porters, Bundists and tailorapprentices defended the interests of the Jewish population.
You Old Bolshevik!…
Just at that Old Market, in an apartment with two not very big rooms, on the second floor, lived Man Zylber, a tailor, a homeartisan with his family a wife and five children. The windows of his dwelling looked out on the market. Man's home was however not devoted only to living in it and working, but also for other things: not thinking about any dangers, he committed his home to the Communist movement.
What then did not come to pass in that home? Deeply conspiratorial meetings of Jewish and Polish activists, and always a table set with drinks and hors d'oeuvres; in the attic there was a whole warehouse of illegal literature, which was intended to be distributed in the surrounding shetlech and towns. Not concerned that Man's apartment was under steady observation by police agents, people from the province came regularly to collect the literature intended for them and the related notices, because the attic had a double exit.
The police agent Flichte more than once warned Zylber:
Remember, you old Bolshevik, you will rot in jail…
But that did not in the least frighten such a brave comrade as Man Zylber was. It often happened that in the back room Rutke Rozen was sitting and leading a cell, while in the front room the police were sitting, waiting for guests. The frequent searches led to this, that the apartment always had a new shape… The police on purpose did not let him work, in order to compel him to give up the apartment. The police agent Szuda ground his teeth, seeing how the old Communist Man Zylber observed the First of May, and right in the front rows…
The youthful Mietek Buki studied in a Gymnasium in Kutno. In one of the History classes, he stood up and said to the Professor that he was misstating, that it didn't happen as the Professor had told the pupils. Buki then gave a complete exposition of the Marxist standpoint, to the amazement and discomfort of the Professor and the students. The result of Buki's intervention was
expulsion from the Gymnasium. From then on, he devoted himself completely to the movement. In the year 1932, he was arrested in Poznan and brought before a court. He abstained from having a government lawyer, and defended himself…
It is worthwhile to underline, that after the verdict the judge went to Mietek's mother to say it was sad that such a talented person could not use his abilities to better purposes than in Communist work. The mother, a widow, wept with joy and pride at hearing such an opinion about her son, but at the same time she was heartbroken that he had been sentenced to a year in jail. After serving his sentence he came back to Kutno and was again active in the Party. He published two books of poems, just before the outbreak of war.
Chaim Zakszewski came from a family of small businessmen, but even in his youth he turned to the Leftist movement. A tailor by trade, he worked together with his brother in Hazenfeld's workshop, and took part in the whole struggle that took place there. Whoever knew him from the area knew that he had a stormy character, with great obstinacy, and a firm belief in the cause of the working class. As his father's youngest son, he was greatly loved in his family, and his brother did everything he could to protect him from dangers. Chaim did not yield to the pressure from his family, especially from his beloved brother, to ease somewhat his activity in the movement, to stop making himself so visible. Nothing helped. He believed in the holy cause of Communism, for which he was always prepared to give his life. His audacious character constantly brought him to the most dangerous places, until he fell into the hands of the police. His arrest disturbed the whole city. What did his brother not do, to try to get him out of his trouble? He brought from Warsaw the best lawyer and moved heaven and earth, but Chaim was sentenced to five years in prison.
His eventful life was ended in the struggle with the Hitlerite murderers. In 1941 he volunteered for the Red Army and in 1943 he fell in the defence of Moscow. After his death his wife Salje received a decoration for his heroism. His grave is in a Belarussian town.
His wife Salje Rozen was also an activist and spent time in the Polish prisons. Now she lives in Poland.
They Also Fought
A major activity was shown by HerszFajwisz, the brother of Man Zylber, whose home was also a location for the left elements of Kutno. Like his brother, he was constantly under observation by the policeagent Shuda.
Jankel Zandberg was active among the factoryworkers, both on the Jewish street and the Polish street. It was not an accident that in our town, antisemitism had a meagre effect. This was the result of the education work in the factories, schools and other places, including the Polish military… Here, beside the Polish comrades, worked Chaim David Klingbajl, Malka Frenkel (deported from France with her husband and son), Avraham Sztift and so on.
These heroic comrades are no longer living. Klingbajl died in the Soviet Union during the World War, Malka Frenkel was killed in a deathcamp, and Avraham Sztift fell in battle with the German forces.
Jankel Kilberta founder of the C.P.P. of Kutno, a man of great education (born in 1902), was murdered in 1939.
Gradom Zyskind also among the founders of the C.P.P. (together with Kilbert), stemming from a traditional Jewish home, studied in a yeshiva. As a young man he joined the movement and later worked as a functionary in the Leftist needleunion in Lodz, killed in 1939.
Fiszel Sztajn a son of a workingclass family, a tailor, later went to Danzig and there became one of the most devoted partyworkers.
The students: Mietek Buki, (joined the movement in the 1930s), became very active.
Salek Wajnberg fought in Spain, today lives in France.
Lipszic fought in Spain.
Bauman stemmed from tailoring homeartisans, devoted party worker, did much for the youth.
In the Kutno Jewish sportorganizations were active many comrades and sympathizers:
Shaje Fajber, Freunt, the brothers Dukat, Bricman, all together, with the previously mentioned comrades Klingbajl, Sztift, Rutke Rozen, Abek, were active in the Jewish sportclubs ż.T.G.S.… Maccabi, later in Morgenstern, in the left sportclub Iskra.
Honor to their memory!
by Joseph KAM, Lyon
Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron
The following lines do not pretend to describe the detailed history and development of the Communist Party in our city, but only to bring out some recollections of events and figures which helped to shape in Kutno the local organization of the Communist Party, the sufficiently important factor in the general Jewish labor movement in and around the city.
The 'misfortune' comes into the house
It is now almost 30 years since I left Kutno (in 1937), and since I was freed from the infamous internment camp Kartuz-Bereza, where I was confined for 5 months. I earned that punishment by my activism for Jewish workers and as secretary of the professional union of the needle-workers in Kutno. I was freed thanks to the unceasing efforts of my father, may he rest in peace, and the advocate Henrik Erlich, may his memory be a blessing, the leader of the Bund in Poland between the two world wars.
Our great fellow-townsman Shalom Asz once wrote that, Though we are miles away from out hometown, something pulls us back. My great distance in time and space from Kutno has even today not blurred in my memory the picture of the shtetl, with its beautiful countryside, the velvety green forests and the green meadows where we held our conspiratorial meetings; I remember well the hometown with her 30,000 residents, a third of themJews. Although Kutno was not a center for heavy industry, she was still well known for her agricultural machines, her 7 to 8 mills, oil plants, and above all as a great railway junction on the line Warsaw-Poznań.
Kutno Jews were for the most part tradesmen: tailors, shoemakers, bakers, porters, coachmen, leather-cutters and trepiarz (as those were called who worked on the wooden shoes, clappers in the years of the First World War).
I come from a successful Chassidic family. My father was a merchant. In our house there were twelve children. In those years, after the 1905 revolution, there came into our house the new winds and ideas. I remember that my oldest brother was the recognized leader of the Bund in Kutno. My father would complain that he had brought misfortune into the house, meaning my brother My older sisters belonged to the Achdutniks. In fact, the whole family went over to the Bund, except for two sisters Zionists, who are now in Israel.
From Tsukunft to the communist-youth
In 1923, as a boy of 16, I joined the Bundist youth-group Tsukunft, became active there, a member of the leadership. At that time the Communist Party was also active, with important influence among the Jewish and Polish workers in the city. Among their activists I remember Aarons-Henech Kenig (now in Paris), who founded the ComBund, the first representative of Jewish workers in the city council; Comrade Kac, who as a Communist, in his twenties had to flee to the Soviet Union (now in Paris); Aaron Skrobek (David Kutner), who came from the neighboring shtetl Żychlin, who developed later into a recognized activist of the Communist Party of Poland, a delegate in Warsaw to the Council of Workers and Soldiers, who was detained for 17 months in Kartuz-Bereza, and who since 1936 has lived in Paris, where he edited the Neue Presse and later, during the World War II, in illegal circumstances. He was deported in 1942: also, the Warcki family had its honored place in defending the interests of the Jewish population of Kutno; and the Szlenk family, especially the wujaszek (uncle).
From the beginning of the 1930s there was wide discussion in the Bund and in Tsukunft of the problems of socialism, the Jewish question, the Soviet Union, and so on. The discussions were sharpened when Henri Barbusse suggested holding in Amsterdam (Netherlands), an international congress for peace. Yes or no, whether or not to take part in the congress, became the central theme of discussion with which the Kutno Bund was occupied during a special assembly, with the participation of Arthur Ziegelbaum from Warsaw. When I spoke, I supported the idea of the congress, and as a result I had the honor of being heckled by Ziegelbaum, who said, You are standing already with one foot in the Communist Party
It didn't take long till I was over with the other foot also into the Communist Youth.
In the struggle against antisemitism
The Party entrusted me with a series of important posts and missions, such as Secretary of the Needle-Union, the biggest Jewish trade organization, member of town and district committees, instructor and lecturer in the surrounding province. After an appearance on the First of May, in Żychlin, in the HaShomer HaTzair hall, I was arrested. I also visited the surrounding villages, where the Party had influence. In 1934, I travelled together with Nathan Moskowicz as a delegate from the Kutno Needle-Union to the national congress of all clothing-workers in Poland, which took place at that time in Warsaw. Comrade Moskowicz represented the Bundist section of our union.
Meantime a wave of anti-Semitism inundated Poland. The pogroms in Przytyk and in Mińsk Mazowiecki showed the real danger. We approached the P.P.S. and the Bund about a joint protest-action. On the synagogue street, not far from the old market, a great meeting took place one of the best manifestations of worker solidarity. Appearances were made by Herman
Kopel, Juzek Kirszbaum, Lajbisz and Zalman Kam, Nathan Moskowicz.
After the meeting there were arrests. Over sixty people were arrested. Later only Juzek, Gucze Zelmanowicz and I remained for a longer time under arrest.
A second demonstration for worker-unity, and resistance against the antisemitic agitators and pogromists, was in the year 1936.
One Saturday night there was a knock at the door of our house. My brother Lajbisz answered. Herman Kirszbaum appeared and said that he had a sure report, according to which the Endeks were preparing for the morning, Sunday, a pogrom in Kutno. It was necessary to prepare for self-defense. In the middle of the night there had been a consultation and it was decided that at 6 in the morning there would be a bigger meeting at the Bundist house named for Bajnisz Michalewicz. I and Jechiel Zauerbach represented the Communist Party. On that day nobody worked. Jewish tailors, butchers, porters and coachmen, as well as Polish factory-workers, waited in battle-readiness for the Endeks' provocation, in order to smother it at the outset.
I was responsible for the Podrzeczna Street.
Just at sundown the police came to the Michalewicz house and asked that all patrols be removed from the streets.
I still remember a united action with the Bund, following the establishment of the Popular Front in France and after the suppression of the Socialist uprising in Austria. In the Michalewicz House there was a joint meeting, under the chairmanship of Lajbisz Kam. Nathan Moskowicz spoke in the name of the Bund, I as representative of the Com-Party.
As is known, the Communist Party in Poland worked in conditions of illegality. In Kutno, however, it was possible for us to go on with the forbidden work using the framework of the professional unions.
Let us make their names eternal!
The three Zilber brothers greatly helped the Party. One of them, who was in good circumstances, with his money and home address, made things easier for the comrades in their party work. A daughter of the Zilbers, Golda, devoted herself to MOPR activity (aid for the political prisoners). When I returned from Kartuz-Bereza, and she brought Dr. Kleinerman to examine me.
Zigmunt Gradomone of the first Jewish communists in Kutno, a son of a Kutno religious judge, came into the movement right out of the Beit-Midrash.
Chana Kenig is still alive to my eyes. She lived by the Old Market. A gymnasium-student, she would appear with fiery speeches, moving the youth. She was killed in the Sieradz prison.
Gucze Zelmanowicz, a tailor-worker, active in the communist youth. Killed in the Łęczyca prison.
Goldman sat five years in Wronki prison. A son of a dorożkarz, he was active in the party.
Isaac Wecler, active in the Red faction of Needle Union. A committed Party member. I believe he lives in Poland today.
Also remembered should be: Mendel Rak (Paje), the Zandberg brothers, Moshe Rozenbaum, Chaim Zakszewski (sat a long time in the Płock prison), the Rozen sisters of the Old Market, Ite Kenig (Falc), whose address was available for our use.
They all dreamed and fought for a better life
by Yeszayah TAUB, Melbourne
After many years of living and studying in Warsaw, I later found a teaching position in the province. But I was happy to leave for a work in Kutno, because it was the famous and idealized shtetl with a branched and beautifully developed social Jewish life, which resonated far and wide among Polish Jewry.
The job there as a teacher did not satisfy me very much, but for that reason I enjoyed myself in the warmer environment of friends of YIVO in Vilnius - and I want to tell a little about that.
The Yiddish Scientific Institute was less than 5 years old at the time. In many countries, reconnaissance work and various actions for YIVO have been carried out. But the foundation, which was established in Vilnius, only received its imprimatur after Jewish cultural workers and organizations had fought for subsidies in the communities and city councils, over many cities in Poland.
Kutno was one of the first to introduce a permanent annual subsidy for YIVO both from the Jewish community and from the city administration. A Society of Friends of YIVO was established and even legalized with difficulty in Kutno, and at the first YIVO Conference in 1929 in Vilnius, a delegate from Kutno (Zalman Kirsztajn) was already present.
Among the founders of the Society of Friends are: the aforementioned conference delegate Zalman Kirsztajn, the community secretary Yoel Borowski, Herman and Ewa Kirszbaum leaders of the Bund, Mordechai Tiger and others. The main work initially revolved around the material assistance and actions for the center in Vilnius.
Upon my arrival began an
intense activity at the Society of Friends of YIVO in Kutno. An ethnographic-folkloric collector's circle has been established in the name of Sz. Ansky, under the direction of a recent teacher an old acquaintance, collector and collaborator of the YIVO Scripts.
About 20 active members have met regularly every Wednesday evening, holding scientific meetings with lectures, discussions, discussing various instructions and procedures on how to protect, retrieve, process and send to Vilnius all kinds of materials and ethnographic material. Each of us has always carried a good and beautifully bound notebook in our bags (especially made for the YIVO Society by the famous Kutno binder-artist Metal), and considered it a necessity, a whole week, between one Wednesday and the next. Write, record and record at every opportunity all kinds of songs, languages, customs, curses, local words, jokes, legends or addresses of different people and places, where you will find historical objects, documents, pictures, rare books etc.
At each meeting, the individual works were sorted out and then sent to Vilnius. There wasn't a month when we did not have to carry a large pack or box of answers to various YIVO surveys, collections of poems, sayings, legends, current publications and books for the Bibliographic Center and YIVO Library, rare theater posters and pictures of past performances of local dramatic circles, old Hanukkah lamps, spices, tobacco pots and hundreds of other items.
I will never forget the hardships, sufferings and torments we endured when getting out and sending the train to Vilnius in a large, heavy iron and old-fashioned box, which used to stand for years in the courtroom of Rabbi Kutner, Mr. Yitzchak Yehuda Trunk, a grandson of the famous Tzaddik Rabbi Yehoszua Kutner and son-in-law of Rabbi Shmuel Borensztajn, who was a son of Rabbi Abraham Sochaczewer, the student of Rabbi Mendele Kocker. The ornate and rare suitcase later occupied a prominent and prominent place in the YIVO Museum on Wiwulski Street in Vilnius.
There was in Kutno an old YIVO-friend and devoted collector Elbaum. He once received with joy, from an old Jewish woman, an heirloom dress from her grandmother, made of black velvet and silk, with beautiful handiwork and rare artistic stitching of over a hundred years old. This was an important contribution to the history of Jewish clothing in Vilnius, a subject on which an YIVO-aspirant worked and wrote a treatise.
Among the collectors was a Chassidic fellow from the Poalei Agudat Yisrael, Yitzhak Kraut, who devoted much time, effort and trouble to collecting in his circles various interesting folkloric materials. His submissions often appeared in issues of Yediot of YIVO, which have always been used in the various YIVO editions.
The Society of Friends and through it the YIVO itself, were an important and honorable factor in the cultural life of the Jewish community in Kutno. Large-scale fundraising and the distribution of YIVO spending have always been carried out with the greatest success, and the Jewish community has appealed to all who bore the stamp of YIVO, with the utmost respect and politeness.
Falek Halpern, Dr. Gerszoni and Dr. Max Wajnreich have, in their honor and by themselves while in Kutno on a mission from YIVO, refreshed the lively interest, which our city has always shown to every call of YIVO:
There was an incident with a census on December 1931. The Polish semi-fascist Sanation Government then deliberately omitted from the census sheets the rubric of nationality for obvious reasons. Who is out to fight for the Yiddish language (which had a rubric) even though Jewish? The YIVO Society in Kutno. We have printed, with the spirits in the printing press, a great appeal to the Jewish population, that everyone should remember to indicate Jewish on the day of the census and thereby mark their nationality. However, the posters were confiscated and its author (the writer of these lines) kept under close watch by the police, who wanted to find out who compiled it.
Our YIVO had another task: lectures by renowned lecturers on scientific topics, such as: Leo Finkelsztajn, Noah Prilucki and others. The events were attended by hundreds of people and the great Polonia Hall or the Firefighter Theater were always full.
I remember a case when two Kutno residents had a dispute over the meaning of a Yiddish word, during which one eventually abused the other... they came to YIVO as the arbiter and have accepted the judgment with humility. I myself was once summoned on the eve of Yom Kippur to the Kutno Court as an expert and specialist in deciphering and translating a Jewish manuscript of a trade agreement between the well-known millers, the grinders, who had a money trial among themselves.
There has not been a single manifestation of a social or cultural character in Kutno that the YIVO did not take part in. Among our friends we had people from all political directions and parties, from all classes and strata of the population old and young; There were also a significant number of conscious and educated women.
We have collected not only historical and ancient documents, but every printed Yiddish word, or about Jews in other languages. We have strived to collect every crumb and scrap that needed to be preserved and contributed to the perpetuation of our lives in Kutno. We wanted to save her from destruction, catastrophe and oblivion.
Then came the terrible flood that wiped it all out, along with the Jewish life in Kutno. All that was so dear, dear, and close to us disappeared. And on the cemetery of Kutno Jewry the Yizkor book the Society Friends of YIVO and its loyal devoted bearers must be placed on a monument. They must not be forgotten!
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