[Pages 97 - 98]
The workers' movement in our city grew and developed under these underground conditions. In the year 1905, it excelled with stormy and fruitful activism. During that era, members from far off places came to us and developed a wide array of activities among the community of workers. It is worthwhile to make mention of the members Yankel and Avraham the Kovalies (blacksmiths). They were workers ingrained with revolutionary enthusiasm and gifted with the power of expression. They were prepared to dedicate themselves to the idea of liberation.
During the time that they lived in our city, they succeeded in organizing the community of workers by profession, such as: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bakers, coopers, and others.
From lone, isolated, downtrodden workers, a strong workers' union was established, with an understanding of its status and knowledge of its place in the movement. It watched everything that was before it with vigilant eyes.
With enlightened enthusiasm and dedication, the local workers and socialist intelligentsia stepped toward the revolution.
I remember May 1, 1905. That was the first time we celebrated with great festivity, despite the underground conditions.
From the morning hours, word spread that the workers of the city would gather in the Seleshty Forest, a thick, ancient forest that was 5 kilometers from the city. The workers streamed toward the forest in isolation, excited about the issue of the day. We heard from the members Fania and her brother Yosef Suslik, activists of the local working intelligentsia. We also heard from Menashe Feinsilver and his sister, as well as Amalya Branover (young people with a high level of culture, experts in socialist theory, dedicated and prepared to sacrifice themselves on the altar of revolution). In their speeches, they instilled in the hearts of the gathering the value of the First of May for the unity of workers.
The deep impression that this large gathering had upon myself and those gathered is still etched in my memory. A strong spirit of battle was awakened in the hearts of each participant. Indeed, the activists of the movement succeeded in organizing the community of workers for the general strike of all branches of labor in the city. The strike broke out in the middle of the summer of 1905, the time when the need for working hands increased. It encompassed all the workers of the city, even the apprentices in the workshops. The demands for improvement of working conditions were modest:
1) A 10 hour workday (instead of 14-16 hours).
2) Higher wages.
The strike lasted for three days, with general solidarity. The army from Kishinev arrived on the third day. The commander invited a delegation of workers in order to hear their demands. Two young people dedicated to workers' issues were deliberately sent first myself and Tuviya Nudelman (Yosinkes). The demands were rejected and the commander ordered everyone to return to work immediately.
Indeed, the strike failed, but the spirit of the workers was not harmed. The professional unions continued their efforts and propaganda among their members with increased vigor, to prepare for the time to come.
With the declaration of the freedom by the government on October 17, 1905, the movement spread out and grew with greater vigor. Widespread activity took place in the villages of our region. Activists would appear during the days of the fairs. They would issue broadcasts, deliver lectures to the farmers, and explain the value of revolution. However, the Czarist government was not silent for any period of time. It was disgusted by the freedom of the workers from the yoke of oppressive labor, and it reacted by fomenting pogroms in the cities and towns with mixed Christian and Jewish populations.
The reactionary powers also raised their head in our city, and prepared to arrange a slaughter of the Jewish population among us. However, to their ill fortune, they erred in their calculations. Self Defense (Samoborona) was immediately arranged by the Jewish and Christian workers who belonged to all streams of the workers' movement. For many days, joint watches of Jews and Christians guarded the city, and prepared to respond to any blow in a twofold fashion. Thus the Jewish population was saved from a pogrom.
The Traktir (teahouse) of Yankel Ukner, that was opened that winter, served as a gathering place for our members. It is fitting to make note of this simple Jew, the carpenter who endangered his family and himself by hosting the workers of the movement, those who came from afar as well as the local members in our city. They would gather in this house on a daily basis and, over a cup of tea, deliberate over questions of the times, establish the ways of the movement, and conduct propaganda activities under the nose of the officials of the secret police. Christian members of the Iskra socialist workers' party were also among the visitors of that house.
It is appropriate to note that organizations of workers under the auspices of the Zionist organization Tzs and Poalei Zion were also founded at that time. There was also an attempt to organize an anarchist group in our city. To finance this activity, they confiscated the home of M. Volovsky, a resident of our city, and fined him 1,000 Rubles for the benefit of their faction. However, this action failed, and as a result of it, Zeidel Bakovsky was arrested. He had spoken at the outset of this action. He was sentenced to ten years of hard labor.
In 1907, the reaction in Russia was in full strength. Despite this, the activities of the movement continued. They produced propaganda by spreading out revolutionary declarations. During one action, I was imprisoned and sentenced to nine months of jail.
The political activity of the movement weakened under the conditions of cruel persecution, and was replaced by cultural activity. Evening classes for the workers and the youth, and presentations on Socialist topics filled the spiritual gap that existed at that time in the city. (There was also no shortage of talks on Zionist topics.) The halls of the Talmud Torah were generally available for this cultural activity. These halls were most appropriate due to their closeness to home, as well as for the purpose of hiding the activity from the eyes of the secret police.
As has been stated, the political activity weakened. Nevertheless, we continued to inject energy into it in order to keep the movement in a state of preparedness until the desired day of revolution would approach. The First World War with all of its tribulations broke out in 1914. Our city was emptied of its youth, including activists of the movement. Activities took a break until the year 1917, when the corrupt army was weakening in Russia.
Indeed, the evil Russian Czarist government fell. The workers' movement was freed from its shackles. All branches of the professional unions, previously enslaved and downtrodden, once again awakened to life. It seemed as if the end came to slavery, and liberty, brotherhood and peace would take its place.
These bright days were very brief. The Romanians invaded Bessarabia in December 1917. They cruelly persecuted anybody who was suspected of belonging to the revolutionary guard. Dozens of Jewish and Christian youth were persecuted, and many were imprisoned. A resident of our town, Bendik Naychin, the son of a well-known Zionist family, was murdered in Kishinev. This murder had an unpleasant effect on all the residents of our city. (1924)
The status of the workers did not weaken. From time to time, when they found it necessary to protect their issues, they stood up to the test. The following story will testify to this.
A tobacco processing and cigarette factory was opened in the spring of 1918. (The region of Orheyev was very rich in tobacco growing.) More than one hundred workers, men and women, Jews and Christians immediately organized the workers to protect their interests. Veterans of the workers' movement, who invested a great deal of effort in organizing activities for the improvement of the conditions of the work in the factory, stood at the helm of this activity. (I had the opportunity to lead it.) More than once, the workers threatened to declare a strike. The members went hand in hand with the organizers of the strike, until the employers were forced to fulfill their demands. During the three years of the existence of this factory, numerous strikes broke out. Most of them ended successfully.
In 1921, the Romanian government decided to take the growing of tobacco under its own supervision. All private tobacco enterprises in the country were closed.
During those years, with the Balfour Declarations, a new era of Zionist activity began. The activity was conducted by the older working youths, with the aim of organizing themselves for pioneering in the Land of Israel. We can see the fruits of this effort now in our Land. Graduates of the working Zionist youth groups from Orheyev can be found on many Kibbutzim and throughout the country.
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It was in the days preceding Passover of 1903, and I was not yet 12 years old. In my father's poor home, Baruch Melamed (the teacher) from the village of Chekolteny, everything was shiny. Outside there was mud and mire. Across the courtyard, there were puddles of water covering the Shes, almost coming to the door of our house. Beggars were making their monthly rounds to collect donations. Among them were women covered with dirty kerchiefs, carrying babies in their arms and wearing tattered rags. The sounds of stifled cries came from the babies. This gloomy picture that appeared before my eyes touched my heart, the heart of a young girl. In my innocence I thought that you, my city, were guilty for all the tribulations that fell into the lot of these poor people.
During those days, news of pogroms against the Jews spread. There were also conversations about Palestine. One night, news reached me that a lecturer was coming to our neighborhood. Men, women and children gathered in the synagogue on the Post Office Street (Postova Gasse) to hear the lecturer. This was my dear Avraham Borsutsky. The lecturer spoke at length, and I only understood the content of his talk with difficulty. His final sentence is etched in my mind. He declared: Jews, independent defense is demanded of us!!!
It was close to morning. My father was ill and confined to bed, and I was with him alone in the room. After a sleepless night, I went outside at dawn. I was covered in a sheepskin mantle, and my father's winter hat was on my head. I looked out at the area. Suddenly, from afar I saw three riders on horses, and a group of people marching on foot accompanying them. They were approaching in the direction of our house. Frozen in fear, I clung to the threshold of the house. However, as they approached, I recognized my dear Avraham Borsutsky, Gershon Vaynshtok and other activists of the city. The three horseback riders were students of the agricultural school (The Ferme). These were members of the defense that made the rounds to all areas of the city on a nightly basis until the threat passed. Orheyev was saved from the fear of the pogroms that broke out in Bessarabia that spring.
It was after Passover. The spring season in its full splendor spread light and warmth. New winds were blowing The workers were organizing. Workers and working youth gathered in the Bulvar each evening. Police detectives followed us. Great caution was required. We moved our meeting location from place to place on account of the evil eye. What did we speak about? About the improvement of working conditions, first and foremost about shortening the working day to eight hours for workers and apprentices, so that the workers could improve their cultural situation during their free hours. The first signs of revolution reached us. I remember that two students with blond hair appeared suddenly in a large, well-lit room to teach us Russian. These were the Dinin brothers. The members Tuberman and Gilishensky, Bund activists, taught the classes in Yiddish and other elementary subjects. We felt that we were better protected from the police in the framework of classes. However, the agents of the Czar did not leave us be. They followed the goings on of the community of workers in the town to the best of their ability. I recall the Nadziratel (ed. note: supervisor) Lazinski, who excelled in his diligence and his detective sense. He knew the activists of the movement by name and persecuted them. The Dinin teachers were forced to leave the city. We had to move to a place that was hidden from the eyes of the police. We found a cellar that was filled with mud, into which the rain dripped. We studied in the cold and the dark, as we deliberated about matters of the movement. However, the premises were too small and dangerous for larger meetings. We then had the idea to gather in a field outside the city. Someone advised that the Ivanus would be a wonderful place for meetings. Indeed, that wonderful mountain, with its orchards and vineyards would serve as a most ideal place, and the eyes of Lazinski will not reach us. We all agreed.
Every Sabbath, we would gather at twilight behind the vineyards, about three kilometers from the city, under the cover of the heavens. There, we would listen to lectures on events in the world at large, in the workers' movement, and about the approaching revolution. Then the world appeared to me through a new lens. I began to understand that you, my dear Orheyev, were not guilty for all the suffering and oppression that was in your midst. The evil came from deeper, more obscure roots.
One Sabbath, a lecturer from Odessa arrived. Also my brother Avraham, who was there for an extended period, was sent to us for activity by the Socialist movement. The news of the arrival of these guests immediately reached all circles of the community, despite the secrecy. We, workers, students, and ordinary youth gathered on the Ivanus at the set time, in the safest place. The guards took their places and the lecturer from Odessa opened the meeting. He started at first with a low voice, and slowly raised his voice. He broke out with fiery flames against the tyrannical police, the capitalists, and the parasites that suck the blood of the workers. He declared: Members! If the police appear, do not be cowards. Do not scatter! Gird yourselves with strength!!! Let it be a war of classes. Hurray! Before the gathering had a chance to cheer, a member of the guard ran up and hinted something with a gesture of his hand, and then continued to run further. (I believe that this was my dear Moshe Bondovitz, one of the activists in our city, today in Philadelphia.) The entire gathering jumped up from their places in confusion and scattered in all directions. Many fled to the side of the Yas, and others to the water mill, to behind the river, etc. My brother, who remained there with the limping Gilishensky, lagged behind the fleeing crowd and was arrested by the police. They remained in prison for one week, and the authorities did not allow us to visit them. Rachel Ravich (Moshe Ravich's wife) who was one of the leaders of the workers in the city, concerned herself with bringing food to the prisoners in jail. Moshe Ravich involved himself with trying to free them, and they were freed at the end of the week. (With deep sorrow and a grieving heart, I hereby recall this noble family who gave so much of their energy to the benefit of the workers, and were killed in such a tragic manner during the Holocaust.)
It was October 17, 1905. This was the day of the Czarist declaration of Freedom. This included freedom of speech and the printed word. Joy and gladness broke out in Orheyev. The crowds gathered in the courtyard of the large Kloiz (the Kloiz was too small for the gathering). Yaakov Krasner spoke very well from the podium. (He was the son of Yisrael Krasner, one of the wealthy people of the city). He spoke enthusiastically about this great historical event, the freeing of the nations from the shackles of the mighty Romanov kingdom, the liberation of the workers, etc. Suddenly word spread that a telegram arrived from Kishinev that the authorities were conducting pogroms against the workers who were celebrating there. And what about us? There was word that the infantry guards had appeared on Alexandrovskia Street, scattered the workers, and were approaching in the direction of Torgovia. The perplexed and dejected gathering immediately scattered to their houses. This was a hard blow to the movement in general, and to the community of workers of our city in particular. From then on, life was gray, without hope and without purpose. Even the antagonism between the workers and the employers abated. Complete indifference pervaded among everyone. Only after two months did the group of activists of the movement reawaken. They decided to do something to dispel the ennui. The idea was hatched to perform the play The Zvi Family of D. Pinsky. They took it upon themselves to broach the subject with the members V. Shaposhnik, Avraham Lipshin, Nachman Krasner, Chava Spivak, and others. The group invested great effort in rehearsals and preparations. However, the authorities forbade performing this play. All of the hard work to obtain a permit was for naught. The winter passed, and left behind gloomy thoughts
It was the summer of 1906. The summer vacation arrived. The students of our city returned from the universities. They brought a stream of awakening to the community of workers and youth. The meetings on the Ivanus, the splendid mountain, were renewed, each group in accordance with its ideological stream Young Zion, Poalei Zion, Bund, and general youth each group with its dreamers, each group with its mottoes, each group with its aspirations. And the individual? Who would understand his secrets? Who knows what is transpiring inside his heart? Suddenly, the humming of a lone melody comes. From the other side, a second voice joins in, a third, and a fourth, until the tune unites them all Bundists, Zionists from all stripes into one choir. Everyone is singing, the songs of Bund, the songs of Frug, and the echo bounces back from afar. It seems as if the sky above and the rocks below have joined into the singing, to sing the song of our enlightenment
Is it possible to forget those wonderful nights, enlightened nights, on the cold rocks of the Ivanus? Whether on an enchanting moonlight night or a night of darkness enveloped with enlightened secrets, to the twinkling light of stars in the calm silence of night, dreams were knit, and enlightened, bubbly futures were decided Who will tell me, when and who crowned this mountain with a wonderful view that looks out to the right, left and in front?
The summer passed. The fall gave forth its signs. The days were short and the nights were long. The workload in all aspects of farming increased as the population prepared for winter. The hired workers were forced to work until a late hour of the night without extra wages. The feeling that after the fall season, the worker and his family would be left without livelihood grates upon you, however the trade union no longer exists. The reaction in the country increased. The intelligentsia distanced themselves from the workers movement, who were left on their own Boredom to the point of oppression overtook you And here was a ray of light! A group of activists stirred up cultural activity. The members Ravich, Pisarevsky, Yisrael Mishkis and others organized literary discussions on various topics of the movement in the hall of the public library. The great participation by all strata of the population testified to the importance of culture to the worker.
I recall the wonderful influence that the community of listeners had upon me. Light in space the glow from the gas lantern is pasted upon the faces glowing with internal satisfaction. Indeed, in the oppressive environment that pervaded, this cultural activity awakened longings and hopes for the day of social equality, for a time when the workers would be freed from tyranny and exploitation, and would no longer be hungry or limited.
Fifty years passed since then
How great is the disappointment
Translated from Yiddish by M. R.
[Page 101 - 102]
At the same time, a group of friends with an activist bent arose and organized themselves with the aim of improving the work conditions of the workers and apprentices. A committee of workers was chosen, and they set out to work immediately.
The first two demands that the committee issued to the employers of the city were: a) a shortening of the workday to ten hours; b) a two-hour noontime break during the day, patterned after the customary siesta that was observed by the stores in accordance with the law. The committee conducted a difficult battle until it forced the employers to agree to the demands. However, it became clear very quickly that the employers were ignoring the agreement: a) many of the employers employed members of their family, and therefore, the status of the worker was weaker than that of the workers who were family members; b) fear of the police fell upon many of the workers, lest they be accused of Bolshevism; c) fear of dismissal. In addition, labor-related knowledge was weak among the workers. I recall one member of the hat workers' union who did not observe the directives of the workers' committee. The committee invited her for an inquiry. To our question asking her to explain her actions, she answered that she was afraid of dismissal. With this, she asked the committee to send two representatives to influence the employer to fill the directives of the organization, and free the worker after the set hours. The committee asked me and one other member to undertake this mission. When we came to her employer and explained to him the purpose of our visit, he began to complain about his difficult life and depressed state of economic well-being.
As the discussion was still in progress, the member who had invited us arose, turned to her employer, and said: I beg of you, do not be upset, whatever you will tell me, I will do It is easy to understand how ridiculous our situation was We left as we had come
It is obvious that the weakness in understanding of the situation on the one hand, and the persecution of the government on the other hand, weakened the hands of the workers in the trade union of our city. A few of our members, workers of trades, moved to larger cities in Romania. Their leaving of the city had a bad influence on the few people in our group who remained. The shameful work conditions, the political police who persecuted and oppressed all of these put so much pressure on our souls that it was hard to bear.
However, the camp of directors also did not sit with folded hands. On the evening of the meeting that took place in the Talmud Torah building, we discovered that our efforts to become the majority did not succeed. We could not make peace with the situation as it was, that the library would continue to be run in the future without our active participation. As the proceedings progressed, the representatives of both camps entered into a dispute. Sharp, stormy arguments turned the meeting into a literal battleground. We recognized that we were fighting over whether each member would be able to benefit from the services of the institution without deprivation. This recognition strengthened our hand in the battle. However, we were not able to convince the other side, and the only thing we could do was to leave the meeting. As we were leaving the meeting, we already came upon the idea of founding an independent library through our own power, dedicated to the needs of the community of workers in our city.
The next day, we turned to the activists of the Culture League, advising them to set up a fund to purchase books and to rent a building for the library. We set out to realize the objective with youthful enthusiasm. Despite the fact that the economic situation in the city was difficult, we gathered many donations from the working class, some of money and others of books. Within a short time, the fund grew to the point where we were able to rent premises and purchase books. A committee to organize the establishment of the library was formed. The following were chosen as directors of the library from among the workers: Chava Nepomnyashcha (the only one who received a meager salary), Yisrael Keyser, myself and others. From the Culture League, there was the teacher Fania Isakovna and her husband Piatr Abramovitz Rabinovitz, and the teacher Yitzchak Sherman. (They were also our teachers in our youth.) We rented a two room premises a reading room and a room for books and the librarian. We were very happy about the fact that we were able to overcome the birth pangs of our dear endeavor. The assistance that many people extended to us helped us maintain ourselves despite the fact that the financial situation imposed serious pressure. Our desire to expand the collection of books could not be met by the income from reading money alone. Therefore, we conducted various events, including dance night, raffles, etc. We were not helped from the communal coffers. Within a short time, we acquired many new and important books. The circle of readers grew, and many supported the institution. We arranged lectures and literary discussions, in which the activists of the aforementioned Culture League played an active role. Our efforts were not for naught. However, after a year and a half, agents of the sigurnatza (ed. note: security police) started to follow our actions and began to suspect our members of Communism. Even though nothing suspicious was found, an order was issued to close the library. They also confiscated the books. They even imprisoned some of our members and tortured them badly.
We were deeply distressed that all of this property that had cost us so much money fell into the hands of the mortal enemies of the workers. We succeeded in transferring the books to some of our members through a wide variety of means (to Fania Isakovna, Chava Nepomnyashcha, to the home of my parents, and other members), lest they fall into the hands of the sigurnatza. Thus ended the period of communal cultural activity of the workers of Orheyev during the dark days of Romanian reactionism in Bessarabia in the years 1929-1930.
Translated by Marsha Kayser In the year 1908 I received information from my friend from Kishinev that two comrades, political prisoners, had been transported from their local prison to the Orheyev jail, and no one was permitted near them. He beseeched me to do everything I could so that we should be able to visit them. I did not see a way to take on this dangerous duty by myself. The risk was especially great; therefore Hertz Gilishensky and another comrade stored two boxes containing illegal literature and Siberian addresses under the bed in my room. My visiting the prisoners would have served as a clear demonstration of political connection with them, and then we should be doomed after a brief hesitation I and my comrades decided to go to the prison alone to request permission to visit them. After our persistent follow-up and pestering of the prison authorities, we at last got the permission to visit them. Our shock (at the sight of two naïve 16 year-old girls) was indescribable but, when we encountered the joyous looks from the two young people, we felt at once how significant our feat was in their eyes. How happy they were, after long months of seeing no friendly face, hearing no warm word, that they had obviously found someone who would take an interest in them. (Although we had to talk in the presence of the overseer.)
We visited them almost a year's time, twice a week, with good things: fruit, meat, fish, cigarettes, and ordinary snacks. In the end my dear David Feinman (the uncle of Moyshe Feinman, a resident of Nezhia here in the country) also participated in the action and made it easier for us. I still remember the nice challah and nice meals with a little shnaps to boot, that David would deliver for them on Shabbos or a holiday.
Our joy was indescribable when within a year's time they were freed and said good-bye, showering us with heart-felt and passionate thanks. On behalf of their parents (one Shpirberg from Kiev and one from Poltava) they also conveyed very warm regards and wishes.
I and my friends felt proud that our shtetl, because of us, will be reminded of good deeds, between big cities, from the oppressed Russian proletariat.
[Pages 102 - 103]
On one boring winter evening, the young and older workers in our group were sitting and shmoozing, about what to do to drive away the shtetl boredom and at the same time benefit the community.
One of us called out - a ball! A workers' ball! - Let us do it. Yes, a ball! Others took up the suggestion with enthusiasm. Said and done. On the spot we quickly gathered a committee, which took upon itself the preparation of a work plan; we, the young people, took upon ourselves the gathering of items for a lottery and the decoration of the hall.
With youthful passion we threw ourselves into the work. From the bridge up to the hospital and back we (I, Rivka Shaposhnik and others) went from house to house and to the credit of our small town obtained pretty sewn and embroidered things: towels, table cloths and cushions - wonderful handwork. We also got nice things from the shops for the lottery. Encouraged by the supportive attitude from the town, we threw ourselves into the work with even more intensity and although the time to the New-Year was soon too short, we completed all work necessary to start the ball on time.
But now something happened which caused a serious disagreement among us. The proletariat from that time did not have a lot of the city intelligentsia except for two families: Ravich, Nayman, and a couple of students, who were close to the worker circles. Suddenly one of those actively involved issues a warning, that we should not allow the intelligentsia to take part in the ball, just because they accompanied friends from the committee. The idea caused a lot of agitation among us. People immediately took sides in the dispute. Each side had strong arguments; the one side, for allowing everyone who wants to, to participate in the ball; the second side the opposite, proposing that in no case should they be admitted. There was much excitement and it threatened the ball.
At last good judgment won out and the fateful sentence was revoked on the eve of the ball. The Stolyars, Avrum Iddel and Yankel rush to complete the kiosks, others put up curtains on the windows, others decorate the hall for a dance and the others arrange the buffet. Runners, hikers rush to collect donated and purchased products, and we experience a warm holiday spirit.
Eight o'clock in the evening. The Klezmer musician, with his band, gives the signal to start the ball with a gay march. The crowd streams in, the halls of Talmud-Torah become overcrowded. The bright light from the luxurious lamp (there was not yet electric) beams on the festively dressed guests, the music elevates the spirits and after a whole dreary year of being overworked, the workers are seized with ecstasy, swayed by the intoxicating music - sounds from Melech with his band. Our hearts are filled to overflowing with sweet joy, as we receive expressions of gratitude from the guests, especially from the intelligentsia; we are uplifted by the proud feeling, that the intelligentsia also recognized the ability of the workers to carry out such a tasteful and responsible undertaking.
During darker times, what predominated on the workers-street was the memory of what turned out well, bringing together the downhearted workers and craftsmen, lifting them up from sadness and boredom in order to make possible a well-intentioned event to restore their spirits, indeed at the right time and with the right result. For a long time the Orheyev workers inhaled the enthusiasm from the Workers' Ball in the year 1909.
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