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[Page 537]

A May the First in Mezritsh

by Yaakov Blank of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Preparations at the Bund chapter for the celebrations of May 1 lasted for a long time. The leading members went about the headquarters in a more serious mood than usual. They went in and out of a special room and locked the door behind them. People knew that they were sitting behind the locked door deliberating over the details and fine points of the plans for the celebrations of May 1st that were to take place the next day. The finalized plans and instructions would later be transmitted to every section leader.

Most of the time when general gatherings or special celebrations took place, we would equip ourselves with red flags bearing the portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Medem[1], and Ferdinand Lasalle[2]. The few members who had gathered in the headquarters were also in a serious mood. We were finishing up posting the May 1st announcements on the wall and decorating the headquarters. It was festive and bright in all corners. The sense of seriousness was felt by everyone, for no one knew what the authorities and city police were preparing to do.

Earlier, each section had been given its special assignment. The sport section prepared special gymnastic processions and pyramids. The mandolin section practiced an entire set of workers songs of need and struggle. The drama section conducted final preparations for the staging of “S'Brent” [It is Burning] by Y. L. Peretz, which they were to perform at the First of May Academy. Designated male and female members were given First of May brochures that they were to distribute to the marchers as well as to the people who would be standing on the sidewalk to watch the demonstration.

We went home late at night with the hope that the next day would be a nice day, and that everything would proceed peacefully in accordance to our plans.

Spring, with all of its aromas from the sprouting vegetation, was already in the street and in the air. A warm spring wind blew lightly. The Krzna River, which had been frozen over throughout the long winter, no longer had any trace of ice. Now its water flowed into

[Page 538]

the large Bug River. The moon shone over the town with its sleeping houses. It seemed to give more light, as if compensating for a difficult winter. The various aromas of blooming flowers, lilacs and acacias were already carried on the wind. It was literally a shame to go home to sleep. The large city market also took on a different appearance. It had been cleaned up from the snowy winter and the mud, and now appeared wider and longer. The surrounding trees were already blooming. It was quiet, with no noise. We posted the First of May the announcements on the few telegraph poles. We all said goodnight and went home.

The “Reds” prepared for the First of May in a unique, very powerful way. They had begun to intensively disseminate their proclamations weeks earlier. They often threw red pennants over the [utility] wires, which aroused a great deal of concern from the police.

The Poalei Zion also prepared for the First of May. Male and female members of the Poalei Zion youth, “Freiheit[3] were heavily involved in decorating their headquarters on the day before the First of May. The picture of Borochov[4] on the eastern wall was surrounded with a red silk ribbon. The walls and ceiling were decorated with red paper chains. Lads with talent for writing block–letters prepared posters and placards. It felt like the preparations of the eve of a festival, or the eve of Passover in Jewish homes.

The next day, the sun rolled through the sky and lit up every window with its rays, opening the eyes of the sleeping people and summoning them out to the streets: Today is the First of May!

The Mezritsh workers began walking through the streets at dawn, dressed in festive clothes with red bows in their lapels. The girls wore red ribbons over their blouses. Some of the people went to the “Koze” where a several of the leading members had already been imprisoned, for the police had earlier dragged them out of their beds, arrested them and taken them to the city prison.

The youth of the Bund and Poalei Zion were already at their party headquarters, ready to arrange themselves into rows and join the general demonstration.

Similar activities took place in the headquarters of the professional unions, especially that of the brush–makers union.

[Page 539]

They were prepared, with their banners and various placards. They met on Warsawer Street, and stationed people to maintain order – especially near the Koze where the demonstration would begin. The Bund leadership arrived exactly at 10:00. Berka, Borowski, and Moszinski were at the head with comrade Motel, the veteran of the Mezritsh brush workers. He stood at the head of the large crowd, raised his hands and called out:

“Comrades, long live the proletariat holiday, the First of May! Down with capitalism! Long live the working class! Let us begin our march!”

A loud hurrah wafted through the air. The shouts of hurrah emanated from the entire crowd as if from a single, powerful voice.

The faces of the arrested comrades could be seen through the small windows of the jail. They glanced at the sticks with the red ribbons. All the demonstrators shouted to them, “Long live the leaders of the workers! Long live the First of May!”

Comrade Motel gave a sign that the march to the Mezritsh market should begin. The crowd began to move in an orderly, Mezritsh style formation. The slogans called out by the ushers on both sides as well as the demonstrators followed one after another. Simultaneously, the hymn of the Bund could be heard from one end of the procession: “Brothers and sisters from work and need.” From afar, from another end, the oath of Poalei Zion: “We swear, we swear an oath from blood and from tears.”

The demonstrators passed through Lubliner Street and formed a large circle in the Mezritsh market. Countless people stood on the sidewalks and in the surrounding alleyways, and followed the demonstration with great sympathy.

There was not one cloud in the sky, as if the sky wished to honor the First of May by divesting itself of its grey holes and dressing up in clean garments.

The sun in the middle of the sky also shone with its warm love…

[Page 540]

First of May Demonstration in 1935

 


Professional unions
(a portion of the participants)

 


Professional unions
(a portion of the participants)

 


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Vladimir Medem was a Russian Jewish activist of the Bund.For more information on Medem, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Medem Back
  2. Ferdinand Lasalle was a German Jewish jurist, philosopher and political activist. For more information on Lasalle, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Lassalle Back
  3. Freiheit” – literally “liberty”, or “political freedom”, was the name of the youth movement affiliated with the Poalei Zion party. Back
  4. Dov Ber Borochov was a Russian Jew, and a founder of the Labor Zionist movement. For more information on Borochov, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ber_Borochov Back


[Pages 541-549]

The Folkspartei (People's Party)

by Fajwel Fiterman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It is not with great enthusiasm that I write about the Folkspartei of Mezritsh. A Folkist or even a former Folkist would certainly write otherwise about this. Unfortunately, we did not find such a person, and it would be a historical injustice that, after three books on Mezritsh, we suffice ourselves in the fourth book with brief innuendoes about a party that played such a major role in the political and social life of our city of Mezritsh. I want to note here that writing only about the Folkists in our city and not about the Folkspartei in general is almost impossible, as we will see later. I therefore begin with the rise of the Folkspartei in general.

The Folkspartei in Poland rose under the third occupation in 1916, and played a very significant role in the political life of Congress Poland during the years of the independent Polish regime. Within a brief period of time, the Folkspartei established strong organizations in Warsaw, łodz, Lublin and, among others, in our own Mezritsh.

Noach Pryłucki, the founder of the party and its recognized leader, spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism in the Sejm [Polish parliament] during the early years. Influenced ideologically by Dubnow's Autonomism[1], Pryłucki spoke out against the regime, which recognized Jews only as a religious group, and fought strongly against the national rights of the Jews in Poland. His oppositional performance in the Sejm at that time can be compared to the brave performances of the leader of Polish Jewry Yitzchak Grynbaum.

With his struggle for a Jewish school system and for equal rights for Jewish citizens, Pryłucki attracted the attention of the Jewish public and earned the sympathy of a segment of the Jewish writers, including [Hersh David] Nomberg[2] (Nomberg even served as a Sejm deputy at one time), Hillel Zeitlin[3], and others.

For various reasons, and particularly due to the struggle against Zionism, which, as time went on, became a main principle for Pryłucki, he

[Page 542]

lost some of his friends. Members abandoned the organizations in the small towns. The number of Folkists declined in the centers of Warsaw, Łodz, and Lublin, but it remained stable in Mezritsh. In the best of times, the Folkists did not elect as many representatives in the city councils and communal councils as they did in Mezritsh, where the Folkists had the majority of the votes and formed the largest faction in the city council as well as the communal council, as shown in the following table:

In the City Council in 1927

Folkists 5, Zionists 3, Bundists 4, Hitachdut 1, Poale Zion 1, Communists 1, Small Businessmen 1, Householders 1.

In the city hall, the Folkists had one alderman; and one of their representatives, Shlomo Kamien, served as vice mayor. The Bund also had an alderman. The other factions had no representation in city hall.

Communal Administrators [Parnassim]

Folkists 4, Zionists 3, Bundists 3, Orthodox 2.

It is therefore no wonder that Pryłucki considered Mezritsh to be his fortress. Three members of Mezritsh belonged to the Central Committee. Velvel Twardeszewo, the Folkist activist in our city, was among them.

Why was Mezritsh in particular so attracted to Folkism? It can be stated that in Mezritsh, the cradle of the Bund, there were hundreds of young former Bundists who went to work and had lost their earlier association with issues of class. Those who were influenced by the Bund ideology and were now part of the petit bourgeois class found a home in that party, with its anti-Zionist bent and struggle to elevate Yiddish. Our city, therefore, was no longer the center of Zionist activity that it had been prior to the First World War. Few of the early Zionist leaders had an influence on the town. In general, postwar Zionism manifested itself in pioneering energy, primarily amongst the youth and which of them had voting rights? Poale Zion, Hitachdut, the General Zionists, Mizrachi all of them together could not counteract the influence of the Folkists.

[Page 543]

Therefore, it was difficult for them to achieve significant representation on the city council or in the community.

Through the power of the positions that they managed to achieve at that time, they made efforts primarily to help their voters, as was described later on by a Folkist in an article in the Mezritscher Wachenblatt from April 4, 1930. That also applied to the earlier years. This article refers to a proposal presented with respect to the 1930-1931 budget at a meeting of the communal council. I cite: “In presenting the proposal, our representatives were concerned only with the interests of our voters. Our voters never make fools of us, and thanks to that, we have had victories, and will continue to have victories.” This was indeed the truth. If an individual was numbered among their voters, he might request that the communal taxes be lowered, and might advocate on his behalf in the city council.

It is important to note that, unlike other parties, this political party had no youth organization. It was not involved in any educational work. They party was primarily composed of a small number of “activists”. Their influence over the handworkers and small businessmen (in our city, that class consisted primarily of merchants of pig bristles, former brush workers) was not only based on the anti-Zionist past of that element. Their connection with the masses was reinforced by the personalities involved no less than by their ideology. The Folkist activists consisted of those who were raised among the masses and remained part of them. The “common folk” saw in them the embodiment of themselves, and they gave them their trust.

 

The Jewish Folkshule (Public School) in Mezritsh

One of the main ideas, if not the main idea of the Folkist ideology was the struggle for a Jewish school system to educate the younger generation in the spirit of modern Jewish culture. The Folkists were devoted to the Jewish Folkshule in Mezritsh. They desired exclusive control of the Folkshule. To that end, they battled against the Bund in Mezritsh. The Bund school, which had earlier been under the leadership of its founder Anuszka Adler, and was so beloved and popular among the Mezritsh Jewish people, had declined from its

[Page 544]

former pedagogical level. The involvement of the Folkists with their partners from the Bund caused the Bund to collaborate for the benefit of the school for an extended period. In contrast to the Tarbut School, where the student population grew from year to year, the Jewish Folkshule remained small and did not develop. The members themselves, with the exception of a small number, sent their children to the Tarbut School, in opposition to their own stated ideology. These students became good Zionists. The result was that the Jewish Folkshule with its few dozen children struggled and was never able to pay its teachers, who were primarily Bundists rather than Folkists. These were teachers who believed that modern Jewish culture was a necessity for the Yiddish speaking masses. They were idealists who believed in the mission of the Jewish teacher and dedicated themselves to that endeavor with their full hearts.

 

The Jewish Justification of Anti-Zionism

The members of the Folkspartei in Mezritsh, the enthusiastic followers of Pryłucki, reiterated the statements of their leader with regard to Zionism, believing that it would turn the Jewish masses away from their struggle for the “here and now”, and lead the Jewish people toward false illusions of a Jewish home in Palestine…

Today, after the rise of the Jewish State and the murder of six million Jews, and through the vantage point of time, things seem entirely different to us. But in that time and under those circumstances, Anti-Zionism seemed entirely otherwise. Fundamentally, Jewish anti-Semitism, among the Folkists, the Bund and extreme left (and by assimilationists who were few in our city) led to a powerful belief in a “New Order” and a “Democracy of the Citizenry”, which was promoted by the Folkists. Others claimed that Socialism would lead to a free development of all peoples, with our people included.

That idea was no less inspiring than Zionism. The anti-Zionists struggled for their ideals with no less dedication than we, the Zionists.

[Page 545]

The Details of the Dispute Between the Folkists and Zionists

The quarrels between the Folkists and the Zionist parties were not based on ideology. Rather they were based on the Folkspartei's claim that its program best represented the interests of the handworkers and small businessmen. As a result, the Folkspartei found itself in sharp competition with the Zionist parties, which also, represented, or wished to represent, the same element.

In elections to the Sejm, as well as the city council and communal council, both attempted to attract votes from each other. The Folkists interfered and disrupted the rallies organized by the Zionist parties. Things came to blows, let alone the trading of curses. In all cases, youths who likely did not have voting rights took part.

In his “Mezritsh” anthology (published in Argentina, page 144), Dr. Chaim Shashkes talks about his visit to Mezritsh on the eve of the Sejm elections of 1928. He was brought into a meeting in the marketplace against Pryłucki and for the benefit of the Zionist candidate Hartglassen. He writes, “In those days, the large marketplace turned into a seething discussion club, with shouts and blows. Sticks flew in the air. Good brothers acted as if they did not know each other if they supported competing candidates, as the verse states, “Who says of his father and his mother: I have not seen them, his brother he does not recognize, and his children he does not acknowledge”[4]. At the time of the meeting in the evening, the struggle took place in the red brick fire hall. From the podium, I witnessed a large drama, featuring opposing political movements, which would have brought honor to Maurice Schwartz's[5] Kunst theater had he been able to achieve among his actors the same temperamental state as existed among Mezritsh's youth during the elections…”

The Zionists conducted a fierce, bitter battle against the influence of the Folkists. The Folkists did everything they could to maintain their influence. To that end, they first aspired to rule over the Handworkers' Union, and to have hegemony over the guilds. In order to strengthen their power, they also attempted to exert control over the opinion makers of the hospital. They even aspired to the trusteeship of the synagogue and to exert influence over the choice of a rabbi.

[Page 546]

The New Direction in Noach Pryłucki's Politics: Solidarity with the Pilsudski Regime Instead of a Struggle of Opposition

The changing politics of Noach Pryłucki became clear during the elections to the third Sejm in 1928. The Folkists of Congress Poland decided to join the Aguda list, which had always supported the Sanacja Party. Together the two parties drew up their joint list of candidates for the government elections. This was not only a result of a technical agreement, but rather an acknowledged line of the Folkspartei of Noach Pryłucki.

The Vilna Folkists did not agree with this. Faithful to the true Folkism, they, just like Grynbaum, did not give up their oppositional struggle against the regime. As is known, Grynbaum, the leader of the Zionists in Congress Poland, always struggled with the Zionist leaders in Galicia because of their submissiveness. These representatives of Galician Jewry, were the opposites of Grynbaum, and did not follow the path of oppositional struggle. The Folkists of Vilna, Folks-democrats, therefore regarded Grynbaum as an appropriate partner for the elections, and decided to join his list. This list was opposed to the “lobbyist” style of politics and pledged to preside over the struggle for full Jewish national rights.

Instead of opposing the regime, which restricted the national rights of the Jews, the Folkists of Noach Pryłucki's persuasion struggled only against the Zionists. They had no Sejm deputy at this point, so they could not implement anything.

A conference of several Folkists of Noach Pryłucki's group along with Vilna Folkists took place on October 10, 1929, in Lublin, with the goal of uniting both sides. That conference, which demonstrated how weak and small both groups were, brought no results.

In an article published in the Mezritsh Tribune on November 8, 1929, it was stated among other things, that at that conference, the well-known publisher of Moment and one of the pillars of the Folkspartei, Sh. Y. Stopnicki, proposed that they [Folkspartei supporters] join the Zionist Agency, stop the fight against Zionism, and cease tearing the children away from Hebrew culture. Pryłucki stuck to his opinion, however, that the struggle must be directed against Zionism and not against the regime. Prylucki's attitude was supported by his disciples in Mezritsh, as we see from an article by one of

[Page 547]

the Folkist commentators in the Mezritsher Wachenblatt of August 2, 1929:

“The creation of the illusion of a Jewish State has worsened the situation of the Jews in the places in which they live, and has made the struggle for equal rights in their locations more difficult, or reduced it to nothing. On account of the Jewish State, they do not make the appropriate Jewish demands, for they look toward their fatherland in Asia…” (Emphasis is mine F. F..)

Today it is superfluous to conduct polemics with them. However, I have quoted this excerpt in order to illustrate the basis of their political-organizational activity: a struggle against Zionism and solidarity with the organs of the regime. In the city council, for example, the Polish councilors were always incensed at the Jewish brazenness with every proposal of the Zionists or the Bundist representatives. The Folkists representatives were the ones with whom they could talk. In truth, both the Bund and the Folkists were united in the struggle against Zionism, but it must be stated that, in the city council, the Bundists were not afraid of telling the Polish representatives the straight truth. On the other hand, the Folkists very often kept quiet about the travesties of the anti-Semitic Christian councilors. Various facts that were stated in the newspapers of Mezritsh about those years give us a clear picture of the Folkist activity in the city. The Folkists constantly referred to the divisions in the Zionist-leaning Mezritsh Tribune. I do not want to cite them all here, so I will only bring one citation in an article in Głos Międzyrzec: “Why is it that the Zionists attack specifically those Jewish groups that primarily support the regime and the creativity of the regime? The assault on the Folkists leads every reasonable person toward affiliation with the “ratselhafter[6] company of the Zionists.”

This citation demonstrates the political beliefs of our Folkists. I nevertheless do not intend to imply that the Folkists had evil intentions. The Folkspartei of Noach Pryłucki, to which they belonged, was not alone in believing that we could accomplish more by communicating with the regime than by conducting an oppositional struggle. In their way, the Folkists in Mezritsh, followed that methodology.

[Page 548]

Later on, in the 1930s, the Folkists and others considered the Hitler epidemic to be a transient episode. Also at that time, when the knife was already hovering over the neck, the Folkists still did not lose their faith in the future of the Jews in Poland. We all know what the situation of the Jews in Poland looked like at that time. The types of things that took place in Przytyk, Kielce and Brisk[7] generally passed over Mezritsh. In 1937, Polish hooligans burned down the wooden building of the Jewish Folkshule in Mezritsh. The Jews of Mezritsh, both Folkists and non-Folkists, each had their own ideas about the significance of that criminal act. With the belief that “in every generation, they rise up against us”[8], the Jews of Mezritsh did not lose their faith, and helped the Folkists to build a new, larger and finer building for the Jewish Folkshule.

I wish to state the following about the Folkist activists in general: all of them were good, honorable people of the masses[9]. In their activities, they did not act out of self-interest, nor did they utilize their positions in order to enrich themselves. The following were the most important individuals in the Folkspartei of Mezritsh:

Velvel Twardeszewo: A “heimish[10] Jew, not wealthy, who earned his living by processing a bit of pig bristles with his own ten fingers.

Moshe Cukierman: A fat man. In those days, he was not wealthy.

Shlomo Kamien: He was the former vice mayor. He was a friendly, heartwarming Jew.

Bentzi Szajnmel: He was a co-owner of the large iron factory. He had what to live on even when he was not an alderman.

Chaim Kronhartz: He was a photographer, and well-known in town with his studio. He was a calm, modest man.

Dr. Semiatycki: He was known as the “analyst-doctor” by the people of Mezritsh. He was quite witty by nature. It was told: Once, when someone came to him and requested an analysis, Dr. Semiatycki asked, “With my material, or with your material?…” He did not want to speak Polish with his Jewish patients. The Jews of Mezritsh complained, “A doctor who speaks Yiddish, what type of a doctor is he?…” Such was the character of Dr. Semiatycki, the Folkist, and the writer of the Medical Discussions in the Mezritsher Wachenblatt.

All of them were simple, “heimish” Jews, with whom the common folk could carry on a discussion in their simple, poor language.

Finally, a few words about the organ of the Folkists, the Mezritsher Wachenblatt. The newspaper was not at a higher or lower publication standard than the Mezritsh Tribune or the Podliaszer Zeitung. The

[Page 549]

mutual hostility, often written in a tone of personal insult, brought no honor to any of them. However, the Mezritsher Wachenblatt had nothing to be ashamed of from a literary perspective. Incidentally, the newspaper owed its high-quality Yiddish to the teacher Lejb Lew, who left his imprint on the publication. It was not for naught that it was said in Warsaw literary circles that in the sea of provincial newspapers, the Mezritsher Wachenblatt was a golden fish this was also for the good.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Jewish Autonomism, according to Simon Dubnow, was a non-Zionist movement dedicated to the survival of the Jewish nation in the diaspora by means of spiritual and cultural strength. This included the support of self-rule of Jewish communities within their “host” nations, and the rejection of assimilation. See also: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0002_0_01628.html Back
  2. See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0015_0_14905.html Back
  3. See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Zeitlin_Family Back
  4. Deuteronomy 33:9. Back
  5. A famous stage and film director. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Schwartz Back
  6. I am not sure what this term refers to. The German word means “puzzling” or “enigmatic”. Back
  7. For the 1936 disturbances of Przytyk, see http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Przytyk/prz157.html . Back
  8. A quote from the Passover Haggadah. For the full text in context, see http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1737/jewish/Maggid.htm . Search for the paragraph beginning with “This is what has stood by”. Back
  9. Yiddish “Folksmentchen”. This could mean “people of the Folkist inclination,” but I chose to translate it as “people of the masses.” I believe the double entendre exists in the original. Back
  10. Literally “homey” or “homelike”. Generally referring to a person who is unpretentious, warm, and fits in well with the local milieu. Back


[Page 551]

The Jewish People's School in Mezritsh[1]

by Gershon Frydman of Los Angeles

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the later years of life, episodes of our childhood years come to our memories with sharp, picturesque clarity. Such a clear and bright image from an earlier period of my life now swims around in my mind: the Jewish People's School of Mezritsh.

A group of the Jewish intelligentsia headed by Madam Anna Adler laid its foundations. They organized the “Flaszczadka,” a place where they gathered together young children and neglected orphans, and spent the entire day with them: they played with them and brought a bit of joy into their young hearts.

After a few years, the Flaszczadka turned into a regular kindergarten, and even later, into a regular elementary school, with a new class entering every year.

I was still a young child learning at the Talmud Torah at that time. My observations were only from the outside. Only later, when Poland became an independent country and I began to attend the school, did the People's School become the brightest, warmest point of my childhood years. The [First World] war had just ended. Poland lay in ruins. The Jews of Mezritsh lived in poverty. The children from the dark, cold, and hungry homes found a Garden of Eden in the bright, warm, classrooms of the People's School, under the loving supervision of their teachers. The support of the American “Joint”[2] had already begun to reach Mezritsh, so the school had a kitchen where the children received a free meal every day provided by the Joint.

The sudden transfer of a cheder child who had already begun to learn Gemara to a worldly People's School opened for him a new world of play, song and colors, which enthralled and directed this sensitive lad. During the walks and excursions outside the city, the teacher demonstrated the beauty of nature to the children. We absorbed the colors and aromas of the flowers and vegetation, the songs and the fluttering of the birds, insects and butterflies with great enthusiasm.

[Page 552]

A tremendous sense of gratitude and appreciation towards their teacher and educator, who was prepared to go through fire and water for them, sprouted and gushed in the hearts of the youth.

 

mie552.jpg
Students and their teacher in the Jewish People's School
Last row, lying down (with a stick in his hand) Gershon Frydman

 

My teacher and educator, Madam Anna Adler, “Anishka” as she was called in the city, stands before my eyes as if she were alive today. She was the wife of the city dentist Shepke Adler, the commander of the Jewish voluntary firefighting command. She knew every child, the situation of every child's family, and often literally helped to improve the material situation of a poor child. She would often take children home with her after school hours. There, in her wealthy home, she talked to us, played the piano for us, and permitted us to play melodies on the keys with our little hands. She treated us to fruit and sweets, taught us to read, paint and sing, and took part in our games as if she were an equal.

There were three teachers from the Lew family. Rivka Lew taught children in the 2nd and 3rd grade. Tauba Lew taught the 4th grade, where I

[Page 553]

started. Chaim Lew taught singing and conducted the mandolin orchestra at the school. I began to learn to play the instrument, entered into the magical world of music, and opened my ears to its harmonic resonance.

During that time, the Lew family made many contributions to culture and education in Mezritsh. Incidentally, Rivka Lew was the librarian of the Jewish city library, which was subsidized by the community. The Lew's father, Reb Gedalyahu Lew (Reb Zalman Czype's son–in–law) was a scholarly Jew who studied day and night in the Beis Midrash near the bridge. He was a very observant, pious Jew, and a warm, sincere person.

The teacher Cyna Palewski, a subtle and intelligent woman, taught us arithmetic, natural science, geography, botany, zoology, anatomy, as well as Hebrew. She encouraged us to learn about the secrets of nature, which were concealed from us. With every new recognition, our desire to know and experience more increased.

The teacher Itche Birski taught us Jewish literature from grade five onward. Teacher Birski's interpretations and critical analyses of the works of our great writers such as Mendele, Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, Asch, Bialik, Reyzen, Morris Rosenfeld, and many others still resonate in my ears. He had a very fine teaching methodology, and the students related to him with expectancy and love. The minds were opened to absorb everything with clarity and understanding. It was said that he was already a Bundist during the Czarist times, and spent time in jail for his revolutionary activities. He was also a leader of the Mezritsh Bund Party[3] during my student years. He was elected to the city council by the Bund. He was also paid to give evening courses to adult workers. Teacher Birski was a person of high moral caliber and refinement. He had the character of a populist person, while being from the intelligentsia, something which cannot be found these days. He used to speak with a calm voice, and addressed everyone, even his ten year old students, in the polite form[4] .

Jadwiga Gerechter from Warsaw was our Polish language teacher. She was active in the Hashomer Hatzair movement in Mezritsh[5] . The grade 1 teacher was Fejgele Rozonszyk (Yeshayah–Yosef the bookseller's brother). Sara Grynsztejn taught the girls of the upper grades sewing and knitting.

[Page 554]

During the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, I organized an afternoon club for the students, where the students were active in committees that pursued cultural and literary themes during their free evenings. Every committee was led by a teacher. This was a veritable children's republic: a literature committee in which the children wrote prose and poetry in a hectographic monthly journal.[6] From time to time, the creations of our active students were published in the “Grininke Beimelech” children's journal of Warsaw.[7] There was a drama club, which prepared theatrical performances a few times a year in front of large audiences at the city theater. The mandolin orchestra took part in the performances. There was an art committee, where the children developed their talents in painting, drawing, and embroidering with various materials. There was also a course in women's tailoring.

When I entered grade 5 in our Mezritsh People's School, it decided to join the Tsisho[8] central Jewish school organization. Guests from Warsaw often came to visit us: writers, educators, and regular people who played an important role in Jewish life in Poland.

Years later, the school had to close due to the lack of an appropriate premises as well as competition from The Tarbut School and the Polish government elementary schools which were free.

Years later, the Folkspartei[9] took initiative and built a building on the Brisker Highway for a Jewish People's School. This school operated until the Second World War, when it was destroyed together with all the Jews of the Jewish city of Mezritsh.

What became of my beloved teachers? They suffered the general Jewish fate and were murdered by the Nazis. One teacher, Jadwiga Gerechter, today Prager, lives in Metz, France. I do not know if any others survived. A small group of students survived the destruction. These were the children of the orphanage, who moved to Canada before the war. A few of my schoolmates immigrated to Argentina and Australia. Those that remained in Mezritsh, with a few exceptions, were murdered.

Let my memories of the People's School serve as a monument for the creators, teachers, and students of the Jewish People's School, who were murdered together with the entire holy community of Mezritsh.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. The “Yiddishe Folskschul” – the Jewish People's School – was a school that operated under the philosophy of the Folkspartei, which espoused a socialist (even perhaps radical socialist) bent, and emphasized a Yiddish based Jewish secular education. For more information on the Folkspartei in Mezritsh, see p. 541 of this Yizkor Book. Back
  2. The American Joint refers to the American Joint Distribution Committee, an association of three philanthropic Jewish organizations: American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, and People's Relief Committee. For more information on the “Joint”, see: http://www.jdc.org/about–jdc/history.html Back
  3. For more information on the Mezritsh Bund Party, see the chapters beginning on p. 431 and p. 519 of this Yizkor Book. Back
  4. “In the polite form” – This refers to using the grammatical usage of the second person plural pronoun, even when addressing an individual person. Back
  5. For more information on Hashomer Hatzair in Mezritsh, see pp 159–177 of this Yizkor Book. Back
  6. Hectographic – a form of printing. For more information on the hectograph, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hectograph Back
  7. Grininke Beimelech” – “Green Trees”. This was an illustrated Yiddish bi–weekly for children. “Grininke Beimelech” was the first Yiddish newspaper for children, which appeared consistently over many years in Poland, from 1914–1939, with two breaks in the middle. Vilna, October 1926 – June 1927. Among the participants: Moshe Broderzon, Daniel Czarny, and Shlomo Bastamsky (who was the newspaper's editor). Back
  8. Tsisho – a Yiddish acronym for the Central Yiddish School Organization Back
  9. Folkspartei – the Jewish People's Party, founded by Simon Dubnow after the 1905 pogroms in Russia. The party followed Dubnow's belief that the Jews were a spiritual and cultural nation that needed autonomy. This could best be achieved in the diaspora through social and cultural autonomy. This was in contradistinction to the Zionist belief that Jewish spiritual and cultural autonomy could only be achieved by building its own nation – in the Land of Israel. For more information on the Folkspartei, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folkspartei Back


[Page 555]

Jewish People's School in Mezritsh

by Leah Diament of Ramat Appel

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Jewish People's School[1] in Mezritsh was founded in 1915. It was the first Jewish secular school in Poland.

There were many refugees from Brisk among us. They left their hometown during the war and settled in Mezritsh. Among them were teachers who were fluent in the Russian Language, but were not prepared to deliver the lessons in Yiddish. The teachers, headed by Madam Anna Adler, or Anishka as we called her, began to energetically study the Yiddish Language in their meager material premises. Literally by candlelight, the teachers prepared their lessons in the evening, translating geography, natural sciences and other subjects from Russian to Yiddish. Thanks to Madam Adler, the school reached the highest levels of pedagogy. Under her leadership, the small Jewish school grew into two schools: the first Jewish school for children of parents of means with a set payment, and a second Jewish school for poor children, with no tuition.

Madam Adler gave her heart, soul, knowledge, and intelligence to the Jewish children, orphans from cramped, small, half–broken hovels. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the schools would develop, and to create an environment of culture among the common folk – the mothers and fathers of her [school]–children. Her organizational skills helped her in her efforts. She connected school and home in accordance with the principles of modern pedagogy.

The Jewish houses on Szmulewizna Street and the surrounding alleyways were grey, and there were no grass or trees. [The children] never sensed the beauty of an aromatic flower. The school, therefore, looked like a garden with multicolored flowers and plants. Madam Adler taught us children to observe everything with great gentleness. She loved nature deeply, and also instilled a full love of nature in us. We brought this joyous appreciation home with us.

One of the most important tasks was to instill in the children a feeling of esthetics. Anna Adler's school exuded cleanliness and tidiness from every corner. She tried with all

[Page 556]

her might to ensure that the children's homes as well as the streets be neat and tidy.

Anna Adler organized a sanitation committee with the task of ensuring and promoting cleanliness in every home and every street. As soon as spring arrived, the committee, headed by Anishka, began its intensive labor. With trumpeters in the streets, they announced in the morning that people should bring their bedding outside, wash the windows and floors, re–chalk the gutters, and sweep and clean every section of the street. Anishka would be coming around for an inspection. The women ran about, saying to each other: “Anishka is coming! Anishka is coming!” They hurried to scour, polish, and dry the rest of the house.

 

mie556.jpg
Students with their teacher in the Jewish People's School
The third person in the third row (from the right): Leah Diament

 

I always saw Anishka smiling as she went about her difficult, responsible work. During the inspection, however, she was strict, as she had to ensure that all the details were covered. Anishka made sure that people lived in exemplary cleanliness. Her discussions with the parents were especially educational. They began to understand that uncleanliness and filth were threats to health.

[Page 557]

[Anishka] the purifier, with her holidays, children's activities, and walks, filled our hearts with joy and happiness. She also instilled inner discipline within us. We used to fulfill all requests from the school, and carried out the duties [she assigned] with great love and dedication. I recall that the people on duty from every class would arrive at 5:00 a.m. in the winter, when it was still dark outside, with lamps in their hands in order to accompany us on our way. We lit the ovens in the school. The school was our home. Even as the worry, concern for livelihood and weariness of the overworked parents pervaded the homes, the school lifted the sadness from us, giving us teachings, warmth, and joy.

Anna Adler was also the founder of the Jewish Gymnazjum in Mezritsh, and she had to leave it due to the disputes regarding the political character of the school. She had to leave the Jewish People's School for the same reason. She was against the politicization of the school system. Adler declared that pedagogy should be free of politics. In school, it was necessary to instill knowledge and culture to the students, not politics.

 

The Jewish People's School in Mezritsh in Other Hands

I myself, a student of Anna Adler, later worked in the Jewish School in Mezritsh for five years. At that time, the school had joined Tsisho[2]. The Folkists[3] and the Bund took over the leadership of the Jewish School. The leadership included Berl Wernicki, Sobelman, Y. Horn and others from Bund, and Moshe Cukierman, Velvel Twardezewo, Chaim Kronharc, Finkelsztejn, and others from the Folkspartei.

The parents' committee, together with friends of the Jewish School, stood like a protective wall to ensure its existence. They collected money for the school through a flower sale and from the low tuition fees for the children.

Before that time, the bitter life and material need caused the children to go off to work and toil. With the rise of the Jewish School in Mezritsh, the children found a warm home under the protection of their teachers. Among others, I recall the teacher Kremien, Lejb Alicki, his brother Baruch Alicki, Kohn and his wife Rabinowicz, Atlas, and Fejga Rogoszyk. A bit later, Fejgel Pawyn came. The Jewish School was an elementary school that ended with the 7th grade.

After a short time, the teachers, through Yiddish literature, instilled in the children an interest in Jewish national and spiritual life. The teachers created an attachment to Jewish thinkers, writers, and artists. Through this, they led [their students] out of the

[Page 558]

cramped, poor surroundings. Assimilation had no effect on the Jewish youth, in whose souls the kernels of Jewish culture had penetrated deeply.

The methodology was independent work. Our children created self–managed committees to broaden the cultural efforts of the school: excursions, dance groups, a mandolin orchestra, preparations for children's performances, exhibitions of the children's creations, and a library committee. Organizers of creative social–political undertakings arose from our school.

After years of independent work, the children expressed the results in wonderful performances that brought a festive mood to the parents and the Jews of Mezritsh.

The wonderful creations and drawings of the children stand before my eyes. Everything was done under the direction of the teachers and pedagogues.

The school in Mezritsh did not have its own premises in those days. It had to pay rent. The school on Brisker Street, where I worked, consisted of one room with two classes. (The school was situated in two locations, the other being on Tzebrachener Street, with three classes.) In the winter, the children came from home frozen, and we had to push the snow away from the classroom. We were never able to pay the rent for the premises on time.

One cold, frosty morning, I arrived at the school and found the benches on the street and the room locked. The children sat with their satchels on the benches, which were frozen and covered with snow. The children stayed and waited, ignoring the fierce cold. The parents' committee was alerted by passers–by who witnessed the tragic picture. The sequestrator[4], sent by the owner, had tossed out the benches and locked the classroom where the young children studied. The fathers left work and went to the police along with the parents' committee in order to ask that the classrooms be reopened. The children did not move until they opened their school.

The teachers of the Jewish School in Mezritsh never received their full salary. That was the case during this incident as well, but it did not prevent them from dedicating their entire lives to the school.

The inhumane act of letting the children remain on the street in the cold, the malevolent inspections and visits – we had to endure all of these and conduct a battle for the existence of our school.

[Page 559]

One of the bravest teachers at the Jewish School was Fejgel Pawyn. The inspectors had to respect her for her energy and dedication to the school.

In addition to the external factors that we battled, we also had to endure unexpected issues that arose due to various divisions that existed within the school committee.


Editor's Footnotes

  1. The “Yiddishe Folskschul” – the Jewish People's School – was a school that operated under the philosophy of the Folkspartei, which espoused a socialist (even perhaps radical socialist) bent, and emphasized a Yiddish based Jewish secular education. For more information on the Folkspartei in Mezritsh, see p. 541 of this Yizkor Book. Back
  2. Tsisho – a Yiddish acronym for the Central Yiddish School Organization Back
  3. Folkists – Members of the Folkspartei – the Jewish People's Party, founded by Simon Dubnow after the 1905 pogroms in Russia. The party followed Dubnow's belief that the Jews were a spiritual and cultural nation that needed autonomy. This could best be achieved in the diaspora through social and cultural autonomy. This was in contradistinction to the Zionist belief that Jewish spiritual and cultural autonomy could only be achieved by building its own nation – in the Land of Israel. For more information on the Folkspartei, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folkspartei. For more information on the Bund in Mezritsh, see the chapters of this Yizkor Book starting on pp. 431 and 519. Back
  4. A sequestrator is one who takes possession of a property to satisfy a creditor's demands. Back


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