Labour Zionist Activity and the
Written by Mojsza Banet (Buenos Aires)
The manual weavers and their organizations
Weaving on manual looms was the main income of Jews in Pabianice. It was concentrated in the old part of town, in a few streets with large buildings. Each building housed a dozen or so bosses. Each one of them employed three or more looms. The bosses were Orthodox, religious Jews, who attended shul or shtiblakh at least twice a day to pray, to recite psalms and
to study a page of Mishna. Their main aim was to improve themselves, in order to be able to add a few more looms or even to become factory owners.
Even staff in associated industries cutters and some employees were followers of the rebbes of Ger and Aleksandr. Drivers and steppers were the daughters of middle-class Jewish families. This was the make-up of the Jewish proletariat in the old part of town in 1905. Other Jewish industries included tailoring, shoe-making, furniture making, tanning, tin smithing and painting.
The most popular trade was working at manual looms. These workers were divided into three categories: apprentices, journeymen and masters. Besides learning their trade, the apprentices were used as messengers (first of all by the boss's wife, then by the master-workers, the boss and finally by the journeymen). The hours spent learning the trade and the work conditions were decided in an agreement between the boss and the apprentice's father. The boy was apprenticed for three years. During the third year he was actually paid something. The conditions were the same in every other industry as well. Work hours were between sixteen and eighteen hours per day, except for Thursday night, when they worked through the night.
Exploitation ran rampant, the work was difficult and wages were low. Friday was payday. That meant that after a whole week of handing in woven fabric, on Friday pay was decided. The bosses didn't live well either. They worked on the looms together with their employees. As the boss, they had the honour of working even longer hours. All were exploited by the factory owner. Most factory owners had once been employees, or else they were the sons of weavers who had worked their way up in the world.
As we have already noted, manual weavers were mostly located in the old part of town, mainly on Widzew Street, Tuszyn Street and Nowopolna Street. These streets were then known as the Priest's hamlet. Ninety percent of the Jewish manual weavers lived there. About two hundred weavers and apprentices worked between Pawlowski's and Zatler's houses on Widzew Street, in addition to the bosses and their family members.
It is worthwhile to mention in this memorial book the names of the bosses of the day. They were:
Mojsza-Jechiel Lipnycki, and Isser Gothajner.
Each of them had five or six hand looms.
Wolf Leczynski (or as we called him, Red Wolf) was one of the biggest bosses and had more looms. There were a lot of looms going at Matczynkowski's house. These weavers lived on the first floor: Symcha Rodoszycer,
and Ester (who wasn't a weaver, but because she had sons and a daughter, meetings used to take place at her house).
The Poeli-Zion organization began its activities by fighting against exploitation. Meetings occurred in the homes of these weaver families. The homes of Ester and of Lejbka the hunchback whose children were the main organisers were looked upon with great respect.
Most meetings occurred on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. Teenage boys and girls gathered over barrels of beer. The neighbours complained, but the lovely Ester ignored them. She understood another sort of life. Lejbka also ignored the neighbours and their talk, because he looked up to his children. Ester's and Lejbka's children were amongst the few adult children who lived in Matczynkowski's house. The master weavers wanted to have larger families so that they would have more workers which would improve the family's financial situation. Matczynkowski's house was not the exception to the rule in this way. Hundreds of young people lived in this centre of the manual weaving industry, grew up together on Widzew Street and felt like they were one big family.
The revolutionary movement shook Tsarist Russia during the years 1904-1905, but it reached Pabianice a bit later. This was a result of the religious nature of the Pabianice weavers, which was not so easy to change. In time, secular work began, which was carried out by Jewish members of the Polish Socialist Party's Jewish section. The older journeymen who were employed by Jewish weavers led the underground work. They were joined by some middle-class teenagers from Chassidic families, who participated in the organization amidst great secrecy. They couldn't participate openly because of who they were and out of fear that their parents would either throw them out of the house or even have them excommunicated.
Most of the young weavers had nothing to lose. They were newcomers to Pabianice and had a hard existence. I remember the names of some of these unity people:
Deaf Szulem, and
Mendel the hairdresser (Mendel the unity boy).
Self-defence against pogroms
The pogroms and attacks that were the greatest problem for Jews living in Tsarist Russia were, understandably, resisted by Jewish and non-Jewish agitators. They argued that it was necessary to organise a Jewish self-defence group that would be able to stand up to the Black Hundreds [Sotnyes anti-Semitic group known to organize attacks on Jews at that time] who were carrying out pogroms against Jews. This argument even attracted middle-class Pabianice Jews, who looked
the other way when their children attended secret meetings. Jews complained about the bitter times that they were forced to live through and that they had no choice but to depend on the tsitsilists, because at least they were ready to defend Jewish honour.
In this way, local boys and girls were inducted into the movement including yeshiva boys and students, and, especially, girls.
The organization of the self-defence groups was arranged so that in every large house a leader was chosen. This person was responsible for the defence of his/her area. All of the inhabitants of the house were under his/her leadership. Spears and swords were made in preparation for pogroms.
Children as young as six and eight were engaged in this work. No one suspected them of anti-pogrom activities, like carrying weapons from one place to another. Even the assistants to the teachers who ran the cheders for the youngest children [age 3-6] helped out. During winter, when the children were dressed in heavy winter clothing, it was easy to carry arms from one street to another, hidden in the children's clothing.
The main weapons' arsenals were located at the Priest's Hamlet, where the families Segal, Szylit, and Lejzerowicz (or as we called him, Suchecki from Stychow) lived. Both sons of Joel Garber (Kochman) were involved in the organization of the self-defence group.
Towards the end of 1906 a rumour spread that the Black Hundreds were heading for Poland, where they were going to make pogroms against Polish Jews. Of course, the organization worked intensively. House committees were soon organized that attracted not only teenagers, but also young householders especially those who had served in the military. The gates of the houses were strengthened. As I remember, it was a time of serious danger. Gates were kept locked almost all day, except for a few hours in the morning when the shopping for life's necessities was done. We were ready to defend ourselves from the pogromists. We knew that we would suffer losses. Each building was ruled by strict order. You would admire the responsibility shown by everyone at this serious time. Everyone who took a turn guarding the gates felt that not only the lives of his family, but also the lives of all the inhabitants, were literally in his hands.
There were houses where up to twenty families lived, and there were cases where we had to evacuate some families because the majority of families in that building weren't Jewish. We didn't trust the Poles totally. There were houses like this on Widzew Street, where the families of Mojsze Jechiel Lipnycki, Isser Gothajner, Mojsza Lejzer Lutomirski and others lived.
The beginning of Labour Zionism in Pabianice
An independent Jewish labour movement began to be organized at about this time. The leaders and the members of this movement came from the religious circles. The more secular young Jews in Pabianice who were interested in Zionism and in Socialism were not happy with the Jewish activities of the Polish Socialist Party, which had organized the Jewish workers (weavers and others) in Pabianice. The parties Poeli Zion and Bund began to organize and competed with the Polish Socialist Party for the loyalty of our city. The leaders were:
Ber Segal, Fajwel Szylit,
Blind Jichak (Kolski),
Mendel Lejzerowicz, and
At first it seemed that Pabianice could not sustain a Jewish Socialist movement. The Jewish workers were more impressed by the Polish Socialist Party and its activities. They also wanted to be connected with the Polish workers, with the weavers and spinners who were very close to the Jewish textile workers. The Bundist agitators did not succeed in establishing their philosophy in Pabianice. The experience of the Poeli Zion was different. They did succeed in creating a Labour Zionist organization in Pabianice.
The leaders of the Poeli Zion were:
Hersz Josel Giska,
Mojsza Z. Strumutki,
From this moment on, amongst Pabianice Jews there was open competition between the Poeli Zion and the Polish Socialist Party.
The Poeli Zion began to create a youth movement. Simultaneously they began to organize solely Jewish trade unions, as well as they could at that time. This was not so easy to do. The Polish Socialist Party already had a legal trade union. Jewish workers had to organize in the house of study, in the synagogue and in places where they had to be very careful not to attract the attention of the police.
I remember an incident that shook Pabianice at that time. It was Tisha B'Av, 1908. According to custom, Jews went to the cemetery to visit their dead. The Poeli Zion used the occasion to have a meeting there, with a few hundred Jewish workers and teens, many of whom were yeshiva boys and/or came from Chassidic families.
The police found out about the illegal meeting and everyone was arrested.
The chief of police personally handled the matter. When he saw who the arrestees were, he chained boys and girls together, four across, led them into town like that and announced that they would stay that way for forty-eight hours.
One can imagine what kind of impression this made in town. Parents and the families of the arrestees had a real Tisha B'Av. At that time, Reb Jakob Kuczynski (of blessed memory) was the rabbi of Pabianice. He was in his fifties, with a snow-white beard and a patriarchal appearance. He took the shame of the parents to heart and went straight to the police. As a result of his intervention, the girls were freed. The men remained under arrest. Although no one knew what the fate of the arrestees would be, everyone was sure that the girls would not be in jail with strange men.
At that time Pabianice didn't even have a decent prison. There was just a holding cell and a courtroom, all on the marketplace. The prison was called the goat, and only had room for a few people, and there were over two hundred arrestees in there all at one time! This was the first time in the history of our city that such a thing had happened, with so many arrestees and all of them Jewish!
The arrestees had to be billeted overnight in the courtroom. During the day they were kept in the courthouse yard. Of course, the whole town stood near the gate to see this amazing sight. At the same time, they talked to the arrestees and brought them kosher food. In the end, the authorities were convinced that the arrestees were all middle-class children, and freed them all except for one Comrade Dowid, from Blaszk. He was sent back to his home town, near Kalisz. It is worth noting that none of the arrestees ever admitted who the organizers of the meeting were. At their hearing, they all said that it was traditional for Jews to go to the cemetery on Tisha B'Av and that there had never been any meeting. Of course some bribes were given, which saved everyone from serious punishment. Even Comrade Dowid was allowed to return to Pabianice after a few weeks.
When the revolutionary movement quietened down a bit, a new disaster befell Pabianice. The government ordered that all children must attend government schools which had not been obligatory up until this point. For the most part this new law effected cheders. Even the shtiblakh where boys studied Torah were now counted as cheders. This meant that almost all Jewish children were forced to attend government schools.
At this time there were two official government schools in Pabianice. One was in a large, two-storey building. It was in the market place, near the courthouse. They taught three sessions there. In the morning they had Christian children. During the day they had the students from the smaller cheders. At night they had adults and the students from the larger cheders. The second government school was only for Jews. The principal and the teachers were from the Szopocznyk family. The father was the principal and the sons and daughters were the teachers. The school was on Warszawski Street in Majerewski's house.
There were also private schools that were recognised by the government. One school was run by a woman who they called Mrs. Rosensaft. Only girls from middle-class Chassidic families went there.
The library that Moric Faust founded (see more about the library elsewhere) was very important to the development of communal and cultural life in Pabianice. At first it seemed that the library was founded only for the more intellectual readers. Those who were already enlightened used to meet there, including:
The Frankenberg sisters,
The Szapocznyk family, Sztahl Jelinkowicz, and Others.
It wasn't long before the library was put at the disposal of everyone who was interested in Yiddish and in secular literature and knowledge generally. The above-mentioned intellectuals, who led the library, attracted dozens of teenagers from other walks of life with their tact and with their warm attitude. We literally stole out of the house of study especially on long winter nights to hang out in the library together with the above-mentioned people. We taught them bible and they taught us natural sciences.
The only ones who knew about the Moric Faust library were those who were interested in it. It wasn't popular amongst the broader population. Young people (mostly girls and yeshiva boys) hung out at the library, coming secretly so that they could read secular books. There were also some young people there who were already thinking about the way Jewish life in Pabianice was changing.
Political activity was illegal and so, of course, we had nowhere to meet legally. So we met on the street, at the stock exchange, so that it looked like we were just going walking. This is where we heard the latest news, what to do secretly and how to do it. This was also where the existing parties discussed important political issues.
The manual weavers and their struggle for the right to work
The situation of the Jewish manual weaver, which became worse from day to day, began to receive more attention. They had strong competition from the growing number of non-Jewish weavers and from the mechanized looms in the factories where no Jews were employed.
Poverty and unemployment rose constantly. Growing Jewish teenagers suffered the most. All doors were closed to them. Then there came the movement to mechanize the handlooms. Jewish youth aimed to educate themselves as first class textile professionals. The possibilities for achieving such an education were very limited. Financial support was missing and there was no textile school in Pabianice. You could learn to draw from the Szwalba brothers who did carding. They were called the masters of the jacquard machines. Very few teenagers studied with them: those who did included the Lipnycki brothers, Feder and others.
There was already an artisans' school in Lodz at this time, the so-called Jaroczynski's School. Jewish teenagers learned to become master textile workers and technicians there, with the possibility of getting positions in mechanized factories. Once they graduated as master craftsmen they faced the problem of finding work. This problem became more serious from day to day what to do about the
youth and with the manual weavers, who were losing their livings. Jewish communal activists considered this problem. One of them, Nusbojm (the director of Jaroczynski's School) approached Jewish factory owners. He succeeded in convincing some of the more assimilated Jewish industrialists to try and employ Jewish workers in their factories. Amongst them were:
Hirszberg, Julius Rozental
and others in Lodz.
Hirszberg's firm was the first to have a factory for Jewish weavers. They also gave young Jews the possibility of learning to work the mechanized looms. Thanks to this company, many teenagers were able to train as mechanized weavers and also as textile masters and as technicians.
The following people from Pabianice worked in Hirszberg's factory:
Josef Mendel Gliksman,
The author of these lines worked in Julius Rozental's factory where both Jews and non-Jews worked together, thanks to my uncle Jichak, who held a high position in the company and who wanted more Jews to work in Rozental's factories.
When we, the youth, worked in Lodz, there was a movement in Pabianice amongst Jewish weavers to change over to mechanized looms. The first ones to attempt this were ten manual weavers:
Mojsza Jechiel Lipnycki,
Hersz Josef Giska,
Each of them bought two machines and they started up the first Jewish weaving business in Pabianice.
They didn't have any factories of their own, so it was difficult to set up in business. Finally, after long negotiations, Aron Dombek convinced his uncle Mojsza, that he should donate a building that happened to be empty. They brought a motor for the first twenty looms and they set up the factory. It wasn't so easy. In fact, it was painful to see, and at the same time you had to respect the stubbornness of these ten people and their adult children. For weeks and months they stood until the machines began to move. The weavers felt great responsibility. They knew that the fate of Jewish youth was in their hands and also the fate of hundreds of Jewish weavers in Pabianice.
The experiment succeeded. The production from these twenty machines was of good quality and large in volume. This was very important, because the factory owners didn't trust the new Jewish mechanized weavers. Since when did Jewish weavers know how to use mechanized looms?
The example of these twenty Jewish mechanized weavers encouraged others to copy them. All Jewish manual weavers began to mechanize. It wasn't long before Mojsza Dombek, who at first had questioned the wisdom of renting them his building, built a modern factory. He installed a large electric motor and rented out space to anyone who owned a machine. Businessmen competed in building factories for the use of Jewish mechanized weavers. Jews built factories and rented them out to any weaver who bought mechanized looms. A major industry developed in Pabianice.
About eighty percent of the Jewish manual weaving industry disappeared. The non-Jewish manual weavers also suffered, because a lot of factory owners built mechanized factories. The non-Jewish manual weavers started out from a better position, because they could find work in the new factories, even those that were owned by Jews. Jewish workers, however, had to stand by as the new factories built by Jewish owners were filled with non-Jewish workers and even with under-age workers. There was no place for qualified Jewish workers, except as cutters and stoppers. Sometimes there were positions for women who were drivers, who were very highly qualified.
Polish workers, who had been employed for a long time, didn't allow Jewish weavers to be hired. The Jewish factory owners used the excuse that they didn't want Jews to desecrate the Sabbath.
The situation in Pabianice was very difficult for young Jewish workers. The older workers resigned themselves to the situation and stayed with manual weaving. The younger generation couldn't do this. The Poeli Zion, as the only Jewish political party in Pabianice, had to decide how to fight the boycott against Jewish employment and how to create more jobs for the growing number of young Jewish workers who had trained to run the mechanized looms.
At the time, the leaders of the party were the following past members of the Polish Socialist Party:
The older comrades:
Hersz Josel Giska,
Mojsza Zyndel Srumutki,
M. Wolf Kochman,
Some of these comrades had worked in Lodz and were in constant contact with the party comrades in Lodz with the regional committee. Other younger comrades included:
Chaim Jecheskel Lipnycki,
The brothers Jichak and Mordcha Frejlich,
Ber and Jenkel Wagman,
Josel and Abram Lipnycki,
Herszel and Szulem Papjernyk,
The sons of the midwife.
Others, including girls, who participated in our political activities were:
Fradel Chana Lutomirska,
The Wygodski sisters.
They didn't all work in the textile industry. All of those listed above, the activists of Poeli Zion, took it upon themselves to organize as many teenagers as possible to work in mechanized workshops. We sent the better educated mechanized weavers to those workshops that worked for the factory owners. This only gave employment to a small minority, since most of these workshops were staffed by family members.
We were constantly in negotiations with the Jewish factory owners, hoping that they would take on more Jewish workers, but the negotiations were not fruitful. If the boss agreed, then the Polish workers refused. The party took advantage of every possibility, for example approaching family members, acquaintances and even the factory owners' children. Yet the doors remained closed. We also had to fight the great mass of Polish workers. We negotiated with the trade unions of the Polish Socialist Party, but we did not succeed in coming to an agreement with them. Every day the situation became worse and worse.
In 1913, due to the intervention of Mojsza Zelychowski, Eliasz Banet, Szymon Klepkarszczyk, Fajwelowicz and Henech Frejman, the Jewish firm Urbach and Szinycki agreed to take on four Jewish workers in their factory, where many Polish workers were employed, on the condition that other Jewish firms would also employ Jewish workers.
We sent the best workers that we had at the time to their factory. The four Jewish workers were not to replace four Polish workers, but took on brand new positions. The Polish workers protested immediately, went on strike for a few hours each day and finally threatened to kill the Jewish workers if they didn't leave the factory. Naturally, we ensured that nothing would happen to them. At the same time we negotiated with the trade union of the Polish Socialist Party and explained to them that this factory was owned by Jews, that Jewish workers had just as much right to work there as Polish workers, and more such arguments but we were unsuccessful. They didn't want to understand us and their decision was that the Jewish workers must leave the factory.
The committee of the Poeli Zion party in Pabianice came together to decide what to do.
The Polish workers strike against allowing Jewish workers into the mechanised factories
I still remember the historic meeting of the committee members together with sympathisers, which lasted from Saturday night until Monday morning. At that time we decided not to leave the factory. The trade union of the Polish Socialist Party called a strike and all the workers remained in the factory, including the four Jewish weavers, who didn't realize what was happening at first, and therefore stopped work as well. They fooled the German foreman, who was called Fat Otto. He informed the Jewish workers, that the strike was over wages. Mendel Szinycki's son, the young and good natured Jankel Szinycki, who was one of the owners and who was always on site at the factory since Urbach lived in Lodz remained together with the Jewish workers in the factory despite the protests of the foreman and the workers' delegates. He explained the real reason for the strike to the Jewish workers and simultaneously assured them that every new machine brought into the factory would be staffed by Jewish workers.
The leaders of the trade union could not imagine that we would take them on. They were sure that there would not be any conflict over four Jewish workers. Once the conflict broke out, they decided after a 19-hour sit-down strike to leave the building and to declare a strike, determined not to negotiate until the Jewish workers left the factory. The situation was serious. The Poeli Zion party committee was totally responsible for the situation it had created. On the one hand we were fighting all the Polish workers in the Lodz region, but on the other hand we had to stand constant guard in a very large factory so as not to forfeit our basic demand, the employment of four Jewish workers.
Our struggle should not only have decided the fate of Jewish workers in Pabianice, but also that of Jewish workers in other textile centres, such as Zdunska Wolja, Belchatow, Zgerzsz and, to a certain extent, Lodz. This forced the members of the Poeli Zion committee in Pabianice and also the regional committee in Lodz to consider the situation very seriously. The firm of Urbach-Szinycki, as industrialists, were also in a very uncomfortable position. The only person that kept the company from caving in to the Polish workers was Jankel Szitnycki. It was his ambition to employ Jewish workers in his factory. He was ready to run the factory with only the four Jewish workers, but we understood that this could cause trouble, due to the huge cost if the motor, which powered dozens of machines, was only being used to power four machines.
Thanks to the intervention of members of the committee Szymon Klepkarczyk and Henech Frejman - the firm decided to close down the factory for nine days. We assured the company that during this time we would come to an agreement with the union if the company held its ground. The company promised to do this. We stood guards around the building and in the factory to protect it from sabotage or an attack by irresponsible people.
The entire Jewish population of Pabianice wondered what the outcome would be. Meetings were organized to explain the reasons for the strike and why we had acted the way we did, why we were forced to take on this fight and what could be expected. Suffice to say that the entire Jewish population from the old part of town and from the new part of town understood the seriousness of the situation at that moment. Most of all the former Jewish members of the Polish Socialist Party understood the situation. They put themselves at the disposal of the Poeli Zion committee, and were the first to demand that the most extreme measures be taken even armed struggle if necessary. This, of course, was a suggestion by the naive hotheads.
Once again we tried to contact the representatives of the Polish Socialist Party's trade union Kowalski, who was actually their dictator in Pabianice. We delegated the comrades Giska, Dymand and Sznejberg to speak for us. They were to prepare the base for negotiations for percentages of Jewish employment in all the factories that belonged to Jews. A few days later they informed us of the answer: first, the Jewish weavers must leave the factory and then the union would decide whether or not to talk to us.
After this negative answer, the committee called an important meeting and took a resolution, that instead of the previous figure, ten percent, we would demand that twenty-five percent of the workers employed in Jewish owned factories should be Jewish. We spread the word throughout the city and waited for a reaction from the union. After two days they called us, but they only tried to convince us that things couldn't continue like this and that we, as class-conscious proletarians, should not allow workers to starve because of us.
We heard them out calmly and then informed them of our decision that twenty-five percent of all employees in Jewish owned factories must now be Jewish workers. The representatives of the Polish workers responded with threats. The meeting ended inconclusively.
As per our agreement with the company, the factory was meant to reopen at 6 a.m. on Monday. We still had no final decision. We were hoping for a useful outcome from the discussions with the union. By Friday morning, there was still no sign of a good outcome. Finally we decided to give the union an ultimatum. If they didn't accept our terms, we would take over the factory and continue the struggle.
This brought forth a strong reaction from the Polish workers. What do you mean? What gall! Jewish workers will take over a factory where Polish workers are employed?
We prepared for anti-Jewish demonstrations and mobilized everyone who was capable of holding any weapon in his hand. We strengthened the guard around the factory. Since it was Friday, Jewish wagon-drivers were not heading to Lodz and the butchers were also free: they took responsibility for guarding the factory and the home of Mendel Szitnycki.
The entire Jewish population of Pabianice was informed exactly what we required of them. On hearing the resistance that we were facing, one and all were ready to join the struggle and they simply forced us not to stand down.
On Saturday morning, we were once again invited to a meeting attended by the previously mentioned secretary of the Polish Socialist Party in Pabianice, Kowalski. The meeting ended without any results. They explained to us that we could eat cholent but that we could not be organized workers. How could Jews work in mechanized factories? the Poles argued. This anti-Jewish onslaught only made us angry. Comrade Hersz Josef Giska declared angrily that the discussions were over and that we were filling the factory with Jewish workers. We left the meeting and called a discussion with members and sympathisers. We began to organize the running of the factory. We also arranged to protect the lives of those who were going to staff the factory.
At 6 a.m. on Sunday a fully Jewish workforce arrived at the factory to work two shifts. And the plan worked; we organized it successfully. The Poeli Zion committee and the Jewish section of the Polish Socialist Party were responsible for carrying it out. We had thought through every detail and were ready for anything that could possibly happen.
Specific groups were assigned to guard the factory and to see that the Jewish workers who lived a bit further away arrived at work on time. Those who lived close by organized themselves into groups and came to work together. They were accompanied by appropriate forces made up of voluntary guards. I would like to mention two comrades here who really dedicated themselves to the security of the factory and of the Jewish workers. They were Mendel Szustak and the sons of the midwife. They accompanied the workers to and from work. It is also right to mention Choncza Klepkarczyk, the only Jewish naturopath in Pabianice. He led our First Aid force. From Sunday until Friday he remained in the quarters set aside for First Aid instead of looking after his other patients. He understood the seriousness of the moment and volunteered his services to support the valid demands of the Jewish workers. Like every other Jew in Pabianice, Klepkarczyk understood the difficulties and needs of Jewish life and supported equal rights in employment for Jewish workers who needed to support their families.
The atmosphere was stressful and we were ready for sacrifices. The committee and all responsible comrades were constantly on guard and were ready for any eventuality. We guarded the factory internally and externally.
During the first few days acts of sabotage were carried out by the foreman Fat Otto. At first the factory owners were frightened. The committee heard about the acts of sabotage in the factory and sent Hersz Josl Giska to sack Otto. That same day he was removed from the building. The other foremen were informed that they would be held responsible for everything until his position was filled. Comrade Giska now remained in the factory as the responsible person.
The first tense days passed. The committee worked intensively to reassure the factory owners and also ensured that the production and quality remained stable, which is what we had promised would happen. The Polish union did not rest. They spread lies in the municipality, saying that the factory was not running in accordance with the sanitary code and that we were employing only under-age workers who had false papers. Some inspectors came to do an inspection. They stopped all production and checked out every worker individually, asking to which party he belonged, whether or not he was religious and whether or not we would be open on Saturday (at that time, the law allowed the factory to be open on Sunday if it was closed on Saturday).
Of course the inspectors did not find anything wrong. We gave them a petition that was signed by all the workers, which stated that we would work on Sunday instead of Saturday. We also gave them a general answer about whether or not we were religious. On Friday we finished the first week in this way as the first one hundred percent Jewish factory in Pabianice.
The tension lessened a bit after the first week. The responsible comrades remained on their guard. We decided that, no matter what, we would hold on to what we had achieved up to this point.
The situation became a bit more complicated. The factory was without a foreman, but we solved this problem quickly. We took the foreman from the large workshop of course with the agreement of its owners. His name was Piryk and he was then known as the best master-weaver in Pabianice.
There were some young people working in the workshop at this time who were learning to be master-weavers under Piryk's supervision. They were:
Grojnem Lubnycki, and
They were assigned to work in the workshop and Piryk was assigned to the factory.
The situation improved after Piryk came into the factory as foreman. He was a German but was a very liberal person who truly understood the situation. He understood the psychology of the Jewish workers and he was happy to take on the position of foreman in the first all-Jewish factory in town. The owners were also very happy with their new foreman. Jankel Szinycki was the happiest of all with the change from the regime of Fat Otto to the liberal one of Piryk.
Piryk did not disappoint us. The owners noted happily that production had increased and that the quality of the merchandise had improved. Discipline was exemplary. We had won the battle and the Poeli Zion passed the test of being a party that represented Jewish workers.
Our example showed all the Jewish owners of mechanized factories that Jewish workers were not afraid of non-Jewish workers. Polish workers began to think of us as a political power and it now became a daily occurrence for Jewish factory owners to employ Jewish workers, and later even to employ Jewish master-weavers.
The development of Labour Zionism after the strike for the right to work was won
With the growth of the Jewish proletariat in Pabianice came the growth of the power of Poeli Zion as a political party. We spread our political work out in all directions. We began to organize all the trades and we began to feel the need for a place of our own where we could carry out broad political work and where the youth could gather. We had now to concentrate and coordinate our work.
Of course, in the harsh conditions we faced under Tsarist Russia, we couldn't have our own offices. Who would rent space out to us when they knew that we were a political party and a revolutionary one at that? Things were very difficult until shortly before the outbreak of World War I. This was the end of 1913. We had a good record for well-carried-out political work and socialists and Zionists in Pabianice trusted that we would continue in this way into the future.
Thanks to great efforts on the part of a group of comrades (male and female), we were finally able to get one of the largest premises in Pabianice. Up until this time it was a wedding hall that belonged to a Jewish owner who was known as Icza the Stuffer (Czerkoski). We rented the premises for supposed entertainments and we were finally able to all meet together. This is when we started to organize cultural activities.
Aid during World War One and the dangers facing Jews
One evening at the beginning of August 1914, by the light of the moon we sadly read the posters informing us of mobilization. The First World War had broken out. Pabianice Jewish workers suffered immediately. On the second day after the mobilization we were already facing the problem of how to help unemployed workers and small shopkeepers, who were already facing hunger and want.
The military operations did not pan out to the advantage of the Russians, who responded by blaming Jews who lived in the Piotrykow province. Nikolai Nikolovitch, the head of the tsarist military, blamed the Jews for their defeat on the German front. It was decided that all Jews would have to leave this province and to head deeper into Russia. We succeeded in having this decree withdrawn, but the military leadership was held responsible for the security of the train and telegraph lines throughout the province. This meant that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews were affected. They were all endangered if anything happened to the trains or to the telegraph lines.
Each city immediately created its own militia, which was responsible for guarding the lines. Jewish Pabianice created a militia, which recruited amongst the members of Poeli Zion, Zionists and artisans. Guards were placed on the train and telegraph lines between Lask and Lodz.
The worst thing was guarding at night. On one side was the forest, on the other side was the Russian army, and in the middle was the train and telegraph line. The Jewish militiamen wore special armbands on their right sleeves. The house of study was the headquarters of the Jewish militia, located on Warszawska Street. Guards left from there to go to their assigned locations, which were closer to the front.
I represented my father, who was incapable of participating in the militia. He didn't want any privileges while all Jews were being endangered. Therefore he asked me, his oldest son, to take his place (I was then 19 years old).
Of course I respected my father's wishes and presented myself for service in the Jewish militia. I was assigned guard duty together with other young men. It was autumn and the evenings were cold and rainy. The forest was dark, and under these difficult circumstances we were held responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Once while I was on guard duty, at about 2 a.m., on the eight kilometres between Lask and the Pabianice train station, something happened that could have had serious consequences. I was in the third group, which met up with the group from Lask at an agreed spot between the two cities. There were seven of us from Pabianice:
Jojna Izraelewicz (who was killed by the Arabs in 1936),
Poznanski and I (who was the youngest in the group).
Szwalba was the group leader.
Kantorowicz and I were guarding the dark forest side. We could see the Russian army sitting around their camp fires on the other side. All of a sudden we heard a commotion in the forest. Both of us froze. We lay down and shivered from fear. We heard the commotion grow.
We both lay down, holding our breath, and I wondered what we could do. At that moment the fellow from Lask arrived. He was very well built. We told him what we had heard. We could hear approaching footsteps and divided up, so that if necessary we could attack someone from three sides. We didn't have to wait long. We saw that someone was approaching the telegraph line with a long stick. We all threw ourselves on the criminal, a young peasant, and disarmed him. He tried to fight us off, but we called out for help and some Russian soldiers and an officer came over. With their help we tied him up and brought him to headquarters.
The officer wrote a report stating what had happened and sent it to the chief of police in Pabianice by messenger. We let out our bitterness on our prisoner, who was then taken to the police and shot. The officer was very understanding of what we had done and spoke sympathetically about those who always suffer despite their innocence. We understood that he meant us Jews and wondered whether he might be Jewish himself.
The Germans close down the textile industry in Pabianice during World War One
When the Germans conquered Poland a new painful chapter began in the lives of both working and poor Jews in Pabianice. This was especially true for the young people, who were caught by the Germans and sent to various locations in the occupied territories as forced labourers. The poverty of the population continued to grow. The Germans took all raw and finished materials and removed the machines from the factories. In this way the population was forced to work for the Germans. There simply was no other option, and people still needed to eat.
In Pabianice we created the Workers' Home, the library, the drama group and a chess club. These all served in the political education of the youth. The following female comrades were active in organizing cultural and other activities:
The Frankenberg sisters,
The following male comrades were also involved:
Ch. L. Zitnycki (who later became a writer),
M. W. Kochman,
These comrades, male and female, were active in the dramatic circle:
The Frankenberg sisters,
The cultural activities led us to enlarge our political activities, which had to be conducted quietly. At the end of 1915 we celebrated the opening of the Workers' Home in Pabianice. The Lodz district committee was happy with our activities and sent comrades to help with organizational work twice a week.
We were visited by these comrades to help with youth activities:
They gave lectures on political topics. We organized performances, which were attended by comrades from Lodz. We also often travelled to Lodz for cultural activities that were organized there. Our work continued to grow and develop, covering all aspects of Jewish social and political life.
The committee of the Poeli Zion party began to organize self-help activities. There was a public kitchen and a tea hall in the Workers' Home, which made life easier in many ways for hundreds of families. With the growth of the difficulties being faced, our work needed to expand. The executive of the Workers' Home rented more space from the same landlord. It was built to serve as a factory, but we made it into a dining-room that served hundreds of needy people. In addition, we served hundreds of dinners to families who couldn't come to the dining-room every day. Those Pabianice Jews who were in a better financial situation supported our work. The grocers were very generous when it came to helping in this way.
The longer the war lasted, the more Jews in Pabianice went hungry. During the winter months the situation bordered on catastrophic. We weren't able to supply enough heating materials for those members of the Jewish population who needed them. A committee was organized to solve this problem, including:
Abram Hersz Adler,
They made every effort but only occasionally succeeded in dulling the pain and need. In order to keep the public kitchen and the tea hall open, we organized performances by our drama circle, which strengthened our budget to some extent. This group earned an amazing reputation and began to tour other cities between Pabianice and Kalisz. Their success was both financial and artistic. In this way we managed until spring.
In the spring of 1915 the situation got even worse, especially for young people. The Germans renewed their efforts to seize men for labour. There were even cases when people volunteered for forced labour in order not to die of hunger. Entire groups travelled to workplaces together.
After a short time they returned home and remained in Pabianice.
The party committee decided to expand the self-help and cultural activities of the Workers' Home. All capable comrades were mobilized to help and soon the kitchen was able to expand its activities. Hundreds of dinners were served daily to those who were in need. At the same time we expanded the activities of the tea hall, where the Jewish youth of Pabianice gathered. They could move freely here and develop politically. The library had already been organized and could boast a collection of a few hundred books. The chess club also renewed its activities. The brothers Menasza and Efrajim Gwiazda made special chess sets for the Workers' Home. Some comrades were particularly good chess masters. Amongst them was Hersz Lejb Zitnycki, who had already begun to write.
The Poeli Zion party used its various connections in the hope of retaining young people in Pabianice, but was not always successful. Of course our political work continued, but our youth lived in constant fear of being taken for forced labour. This influenced the activities of our youth movement. Despite all our efforts, most young men had to perform forced labour in Germany and in occupied territories.
The activities of the American Committee after World War One
In November 1918, after the outbreak of revolution in Germany and the defeat of the German military, young men began to return home. Once again we had a movement filled with politically developed workers, who understood and defended its principles. More than once this led to heated discussions in the premises of the Workers' Home. Hersz Josef Giska was the head of the movement and the chairman of the Workers' Home at this time. He was a quiet and shy comrade,
who nevertheless was full of initiative and was ready to fight for the principles of labour Zionism whenever necessary. It was a time of splits and explosions amongst Jewish socialists. One had to be sufficiently mature politically to be able to lead political and professional life in Pabianice, where eighty percent of the local Jewish population were workers most of whom were unemployed. During the four years of German occupation, the military had emptied the factories and sent all the machines and raw materials away. As soon as the war ended, the problem of creating employment became more and more urgent. Pabianice Jews returned from Germany some younger and some older but there was no work for them. There were only a few manual looms left in the city, and they couldn't possibly supply the number of jobs required.
The Poeli Zion's trade union, under the leadership of Hersz Josef Giska, had to find these jobs any way it could, at least for some of the mass of unemployed. We created a committee together with all existing political parties in Pabianice in order to lessen the poverty of the Jewish population. Later this committee became the so-called American Committee, which functioned within the Kehila with representatives from all the political parties.
The American Committee of Pabianice received financial support from the Joint, as well as flour and other foodstuffs. The Poeli Zion's representative on this committee passed a resolution suggesting that each organization be responsible for handing out the foodstuffs to its members. The Poeli Zion received a large amount of flour. Hersz Josef Giska, the chairman of the Workers' Home, immediately organized a bakery, so that the needy of Pabianice had bread at cheaper prices than those charged by the local bakers.
A bitter struggle began over the bakery at the Workers' Home. The General Zionists, who were led by the headmaster of the Hebrew secondary school, Engineer Jichak Zelinski (and later Henech Wigdorowicz), stated strongly at the committee meetings that they were against putting the boys in charge of such an important matter as supplying bread to the Jewish population.
This struggle ended with the victory of the Poeli Zion. The bakery at the Workers' Home received the entire supply of flour that the Joint sent to feed the Jewish population. The representatives of the other parties had to agree that this bakery did its work honestly and on time. Later the flour stopped coming from America. Now the Pabianice city council was responsible for handing out flour. Poeli Zion only had one representative on the city council, Comrade Abram Jakob Dymand. The General Zionists and Engineer Zelinski led a battle on the city council to prevent giving the bakery at the Workers' Home more flour. In the end the bakery was closed down on the basis of tales told to the city council.
Aid given by the Joint to rebuild the Jewish mechanised weaving factories
The question of how to put the workshops' mechanized looms back to work continued to hound us. Before the war, ninety percent of Jewish workers worked in the factories of Mojsza Dombek, Emanuel Szeracki (Griska) and Grosman (Nosek), which were destroyed during the war. In order to get them up and running we needed new motors, because the Germans had taken the old ones and the owners lacked the capital to be able to buy new ones, although there was work for them.
The Poeli Zion called some meetings of independent weavers. I remember the meetings that occurred at Isser Gothajner's, Josel Geler's and others. It was impossible to do anything, since after four years of war all that people had left was good will. It was, however, a question of the survival or demise of hundreds of Jewish families. Our Hersz Josef Giska, who was nicknamed the lamed- vovnik [one of the 36 saints whose goodness upholds the world] within the party, felt the greatest responsibility was on his own shoulders to ensure work and bread for hundreds of Jewish working families. After scouting about for a short time, he came to us one day and happily announced to his party comrades that during his travels he had found near Kalisz a motor that could drive hundreds of looms. If you hadn't seen Hersz Josef just at that moment you cannot imagine what a truly happy person looks like. He announced the successful end to his mission. Then we were presented with another problem where would we find the money to pay for the motor?
We turned to the factory owners and suggested purchase schemes, but no one responded. No one wanted to give us credit. This was the work of the owners. They weren't interested in the need of hundreds of Jewish families. It was decided that we would directly approach the Joint in Warsaw. There was an office in Lodz as well, but we understood that fourteen kilometres was too small a distance for them to want to do us a favour. So we went to Warsaw. Hersz Josef Giska and Mojsza Banet were delegated. In Warsaw we were met by the director of the Joint at that time, Mr Bernstein. We explained the entire issue and described the situation of these hundreds of Jewish families, who could be saved from need by buying a motor, which would cost $1,400. To ensure the sale we would need a ten percent down payment, with the remaining ninety percent due within thirty days. We won Mr Bernstein's trust and received instructions for the Lodz office to pay us $138.00.
The next day Hersz Josef travelled to the farm near Kalisz to buy the motor, because he was the only one who knew where it was. It is impossible to describe the joy and enthusiasm of the entire Jewish population of Pabianice when Hersz Josef arrived back with the bill of sale, which was written by an attorney. Very soon the four-storey factory building that had stood empty for four years would once again provide for hundreds of Jewish parents and children. People cried for joy. Hope that life would soon return to normal was renewed.
The Poeli Zion party's influence and numbers both grew. That Saturday we were greeted by all parts of society. Mojsza Gedalja Zelichowski, a follower of the Rebbe of Ger, sent his son to the Workers' Home and invited us for kidush.
The owners of the mechanized looms enthusiastically began to get their machines ready, secure in the knowledge that they would be running soon.
Since we possessed the bill of sale, we turned to the Joint in Warsaw once again. We met with the director, Mr Bernstein. He expressed his appreciation of what we had done, which impressed him. It wasn't hard then to get the money to cover the rest of the cost of the motor.
According to the bill of sale, the ninety percent difference was supposed to be paid once the motor was brought to Pabianice. Since there was a building society in Pabianice that was connected with the Joint, the $1,260 was paid out directly.
A struggle broke out around this motor, which fed hundreds of weaver families, between the Poeli Zion and the General Zionists in Pabianice. In general, the relations between these two parties were seldom good. The General Zionists were the enemies of the Labour Zionists. After the motor arrived, the General Zionists spread a rumour that the comrades at the Workers' Home had arranged for a monthly income for their party. Despite this rumour, they did not succeed in lessening the prestige of the Poeli Zion movement. Most independent weavers and their families were sympathetic to the comrades of the Workers' Home and to the Poeli Zion party. Yet another matter gave ammunition to the General Zionists in their battle against the Poeli Zion in Pabianice. This is what happened.
The factory on Papszeczna Street into which the motor was installed bordered the yard of Szymon Kirszbojm on Mejdan Street, where there was a tannery. Of course, the textile industry was a problem for the tanneries and the press-works. Efrajim Lipski opened a press-works in this building. Since the motor could supply more energy than we needed for the looms, Lipski and his press-works demanded that they be allowed to use the excess power for this private press-works business. The weaving workshop refused this demand because the motor was bought with communal money and therefore couldn't be made available for private use. The General Zionists used this to incite an open conflict. There were now two sides in Pabianice supporters and enemies of Poeli Zion.
After long negotiations, the matter was passed over to the executive of the Jewish community council. This is where the real battle began. The General Zionists, led by Henech Wigdorowicz, used their influence to denounce the injustice that the comrades were inflicting on Lipski, whose just demand was the right to use power from the motor, which belonged to the community.
Nights, weeks and months passed and the discussions continued. Eventually the majority rejected Lipski's demand to be allowed to use communal property for private purposes. The General Zionists did not give in and approached the Joint in America directly. They complained about us and proved that representatives in Poland didn't know how to help or whom to help.
It came to the point that the top leadership of the Joint ordered the Warsaw office to research the matter in great detail. How could it be that some boys there in a town called Pabianice could succeed in fooling the Joint? Of course, the matter was sent to Lodz with an instruction that the report about what was happening in Pabianice should be sent as quickly as possible.
The Lodz office of the Joint secretly sent an employee to Pabianice who collected materials dealing with the conflict that had arisen due to the demand by Lipski's firm. One day the community received a message from the Joint, stating that it would like to deal with this matter again. This caused a storm amongst the general community.
The chairman of the community at that time was the General Zionist leader Joska Dawidowicz. He was a very liberal and pure person. He answered the Joint's representative right away, stating that on such and such a date he had decided to consider this matter again, on the single condition that the chief director of the Joint in Poland, Mr. Bernstein, who had agreed to the payment in the first place, must be present at the meeting.
The Joint's representative accepted the invitation and came to the meeting in Pabianice. Representatives of all the parties were present as well as three representatives of the rabbinate.
Of course everyone was interested in this meeting. Almost half the Jewish population gathered in front of the offices of the community and waited impatiently for the meeting to finish. The meeting lasted all night, with normal business being suspended for these discussions. At dawn, when everyone was exhausted after a whole night of discussion, the Joint representative suggested that neither the General Zionists nor the Poeli Zion should be allowed to participate in the vote. The final decision was to be carried out by the three rabbinical representatives and the Mizrachi.
Now a new battle developed with fresh discussions. The Poeli Zion correctly judged the new situation and decided to accept Mr. Bernstein's suggestions. The meeting was adjourned for a few hours. Neither the General Zionists nor the Poeli Zion were admitted to the discussions. The representatives of the Orthodox sector of Pabianice met and decided that the machine, which was purchased with the help of the Joint, could only be used by those who work on their own with their children, and absolutely not by any entrepreneur who employed workers.
This was the end of this very unpleasant episode. The battles between the General Zionists and the comrades of the Workers' Home Poeli Zion continued until I left Poland, and even after that.
Written by Chaim Papjernik (Montreal)
During the 1920s the left wing Poeli Zion worked hard to attract new comrades and sympathisers to Socialist Zionism and to strengthen the cultural institutions that were founded during World War I under German occupation. These included the Workers' Home in the Czerkowski halls; the kitchen and tea rooms that fed hundreds of people every day; the courses for adults; the famous drama group and the library. Comrades came to Pabianice from Warsaw to give public readings, as did Comrade Lejzer Lewin from Lodz and other leading comrades.
Note the portraits of the writers Sholem Aleichem (R) and I.L. Peretz hanging on the wall
After World War I the Workers' Home shifted to 39 Tuszynski Street, where it distributed clothing and food that arrived from America at that time. The kitchen and tea hall stopped functioning. Once the Polish Republic was granted its independence, Workers' Councils were set up in cities. The Poeli Zion in Pabianice, under the leadership of Hersz Josef Giska, was very active on the councils.
During this time the workers in the large weaving factories were supported by the industrialists. The Jewish mechanised weavers, who had worked for Mendl Szynycki before, organized the Workers' Home and demanded similar support. The Jewish weavers received the support they demanded after a multiweek strike.
During the war between Poland and the Soviet Union, the premises of the Workers' Home were taken over for a time by the Polish army. Hersz Josef Giska and a group of comrades slept on the premises to protect the library and the inventory.
Only once life in Poland regained normality did we begin to feel the insecurity of our position. A large number of comrades left Pabianice. They emigrated to Germany, France, Belgium and the Americas. The majority, however, remained in Pabianice. The textile factories began to function and people were employed, but the country suffered from high inflation. Workers' wages lost their value. Hersz Josef Gyski and other leading comrades immediately began to organize professional sections at the Workers' Home for weavers, barbers, tailors, bakers and shoemakers. Organizing the apprentices was a separate chapter. They had to not only work in their fields for years without salary, but also to do housework for the master's family.
Row Two: H. Segal, H.L. Zytnicki, J.M. Gliksman, A.J. Dymant, M.Z. Srumutki, J. Szneberg.
Row Three: Ms. L. Finkelsztejn, Ms. W. Bresler, Ms. J. Klepkarczuk, Ms. Ch. Dambek, Ms. K. Szeracka, J. Grinbaum.
Row Four: J. Harczark, R. Frieda, Ms. Ch. Czechanowska, J. Lipynski.
The work of enlightenment was carried out by comrades Mojsza Cytrinowski (now in America), Baruch Szapyra (tortured in the Warsaw Ghetto together with his wife and child), Mijetek Brand and Jisroel Stolarski (now in America). They came to Pabianice from Lodz. From time to time Comrade Zarubabel [a Zionist leader] came to Pabianice, where he was greeted with much enthusiasm. At this time the library in the Workers' Home was led by Szlama Jelenkewicz.
The activities of the [Ber] Borochow Youth movement were very important to our movement. Hundreds of young people were saved from the anarchy of the streets. They became politically aware, cultural, and knowledgable about both Jewish and general matters. Those who remained became active in their service to the community. Those who left for the broader world had a better understanding of how to fit into their new surroundings and became useful members of society. The one who did most of the work for the youth movement in Pabianice was Abram Stycki from Lodz. Quite often Chaim Turner (who died in Israel) visited the young people.
Pabianice also boasted a wellfunctioning section of the society Evening Courses for Adults, where hundreds of teenagers from poor homes who had no formal education could learn to read and write, as well as learn about history and the natural sciences. The society also organized public readings by wellknown Yiddish writers. Amongst the active organizers Szulem Papjernik showed the greatest initiative.
The Drama Group of the society Evening Courses performed both in Pabianice and in other cities. They staged dramas from the best repertoire. The director was Natan Goldberg.
Row Two: Redlich, Mrs. Najman, Waksman, Mrs. Najman, Frejlich.
Row Three: Aleksandrowicz, Hartsztark, M. Abramczyk.
This group later produced the fine actor Majer Federman and the ingenious director Mojsza Czernijak. Teaching about Eretz Israel was always of primary importance.
Political activity before Sejm [Polish Parliament] elections and local elections brought new believers in contact with the ideals of Poeli Zion. The following comrades were very active: Mendl Szyf, Zalman Moskowicz and others. Many participated very seriously in the mass demonstrations, public readings, theatrical performances, concerts and discussion evenings, which raised their spirits.
The leaders included:
Fajwel Szeracki, and
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