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[Page 366]

The Jewish National Fund Bazaar in Siedlce

by Avraham Friedman

Beginning in 1930, there were eight traditional bazaars in Siedlce. They were held in the large, beautiful hall of the “Ezras Y'somim”, on the intermediate days of Passover, when the larger Jewish world would all go walking through the city, after throwing off the heavy yoke of winter.

Conducting such a bazaar was truly a difficult job. Preparations lasted for three months, with a well devised plan that involved a number of large and small steps. In particular, every year they had to find new attractions to grab the interest of the Siedlce populace so that they would visit the bazaars, so that despite their frequency, attendance at the bazaars always increased.

Activities always began with an advertisement in the newspaper “Siedlce Vochenblatt.” Simultaneously, hundreds of letters were sent to domestic and foreign firms inviting them to advertise their products. The soap manufacturer “Stock,” the chocolate company “Flutas,” and the pen–and–ink company “Pelikan” held prominent spots in the bazaar. Also the large Siedlce firms, like Czibuczki, Rodzinski, and others waited the whole year for the three bazaar days in order to show their goods to the thousands of visitors,

The craftsmen, with their fine exhibits, “WIZO” with its delicate embroidery, were not left behind.

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Almost all of the young people took part in the “home activities,” and almost no household failed to have a large or small display.

The opening of the bazaar was marked by a torchlight parade by the well–organized pioneering youth through Siedlce's streets and an advertisement in the movie theater “Szwietawid” which was shown at al three showings that evening. The opening address was almost always delivered by the longstanding leader of the KK”L [Keren Kayemes L'Yisroel, the Jewish National Fund], A. Sh. Englander. After that came a talk by the representative of the Center. A frequent speaker was Avraham Bialopolski (who died in Israel run 1951). Immediately afterward, the kiosks were opened and everyone bought “treasures” until late in the night.

During the days of the bazaar, aside from the trade in material things, the youth groups held lotteries, lectures about the Jewish National Fund, and dance evenings, which the young people took advantage of before beginning their strenuous work. No other party or organization conducted activities during those days, not wanting to come in conflict with the Jewish National Fund.

The concluding words were always delivered by Mr. H. Fishl Popowski (later Dromi, who lives now in Israel), who worked in the central office of the Jewish National Fund in Warsaw and would come to Siedlce as a guest for Passover.

The nicest bazaar was the fourth, which captivated Siedlce with its more than 1400 displays on 8 decorated tables and two splendid kiosks painted with original and Israel–themed motifs. The work was led by the members if “Ha–shomer Ha–Tza'ir,” Silberstein and Silberberg, under the direction of their teachers, David Lederman and Eliezer Berenholz (now Bar Chaim, who lives in Israel, in Haifa).

The appropriate lighting, with multi–colored little bulbs, was arranged by the Halberstam firm, together with Mr. Shmuel Domb (who lives now in Israel).

The province, too, took part with goods, especially Makabidm with its living stock of 5 doves and a large hen, which from time to time would make a noise…and amuse the hall. Everything at the bazaar was sold and the entrance fee alone brought in more than

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3000 zlotys, more than a third of the year's budget for the Siedlce Jewish National Fund. I was then in charge of the bazaar and was given the honor of cutting the ribbon. A great deal of help in the bazaar was given by Miss Bella Finkelstein, who devoted so much energy to it.

Others helpers in the bazaar were Velvel Lev (living today in America), D. Pasawski (now in Israel), Yehoshua Eckerman, Chava Domb, and Mrs. Miriam Czibucki.

Sadly, scores of those who worked at the bazaar did not survive to see the fulfillment of their ideals – Eretz Yisroel. My heart breaks at their terrible deaths.


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The Ger Prayer House

by A. Friedman
(from my memories)

In Siedlce there were Chasidim of all stripes. The number of such Chasidim amounted to over a thousand. Mostly these were Ger Chasidim, who numbered over 500.

At the time of the “Sfas Emes” [the Chasidic rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847 – 1905], z”l, and later, in the time of his son R. Avraham–Mordechai Alter, z”l, who had the merit of dying in Jerusalem – the Ger prayer house in Siedlce was located at number 9 Pienkne Street and occupied two large rooms with comfortable open spaces on both sides.

On Shabboses and holidays, Jews would relax there. On Yom Kippur, during prayers, many people stayed outside and then traded places with those inside, where the heat was extraordinary.

The building of the Chasidic prayer house was set deeply in the courtyard in order to separate it from the surrounding buildings on Pienkne Street, numbers 7 and 11, with their hotels, drunks, and loose elements.

The “elite” of the Ger prayer house, one could say, comprised the best part of Siedlce's Chasidic life. It is appropriate to recall their names: the devisor R. Yisroel Mardicks (whose son Shlomo, lives today in Israel, in Ra'anana); the three Siedlce ritual slaughterers – Zalmen Greenberg (whose son Mordechai, who lived for a short time in Israel, died there in 1954); Shimon Kleinlehrer (whose son Yisroel–Meir lives in Jerusalem); Yitzchak–Meir Appelbaum. Also in the prayer house were: R. Yisroel Gutgeld, R.

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Shlomo–Shmuel Abarbanel (whose two daughters Sheyndl and Toybe live in Israel); Henech Steinberg (whose two sons Moshe and a younger one live in Tel Aviv); Yoel Slushni, Ben–Tzion Zucker, Yisroel Lieberman (whose son Shimon lives in Tel Aviv); the brothers Yechiel and Nachum Halberstadt, whose children live in Israel; the old Talmud scholars – R. Chaim Shub, R. Yisroel Sinai (Zeidntzeig), R. Yakov–Baer Arubenshtein, R. Shimon Pursever (a mohel), and the brothers Yoshe and Mottl Mintz.

My father, R. Kalman Friedman, was then a gabbai in the prayer house, and the writer of accounts – the bookkeeper for death records and Simchas Torah hakofos.

This was not a simple thing – on holidays he had to create paper “banknotes” and make envelopes for all those who prayed; and on holidays, when he was not allowed to write, for everyone who purchased the honor of a hakofo or an allya, he had to put the “banknotes” in the proper envelope. [This was a way for synagogues to keep track of donations.]. This had to be done very quickly in order not to delay the purchaser of the hakofo or the aliyah.

Because of the crowded conditions and because of differences of opinion among the attendees of the prayer house, the congregants later divided into three separate prayer houses.

In the circle of the Ger Chasidim there were bitter opponents of Zionism. For them, the thought of Eretz Yisroel or the Jewish National Fund were not kosher.

There were also so–called “pareve” Chasidim who did not totally follow the Ger path and were a bit worldly and had some sympathy for Eretz Yisroel.

It is interesting that from all these “half–kosher” Chasidim, their children are now in Israel, and it is too bad that their parents did not survive to see it with their own eyes; they would to be true citizens of the Jewish state.


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The Activities of “Workers
Of Zion” [Po'alei Tzion] in Siedlce

by Yisrael Tabakman (Netanya)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In my following memoirs, I will deal with everything I know about the Zionist–Socialist activities in Siedlce before the development of the “Po'alei–Tzion” [Labor Zionist] party and after the Minsk conference, when the Zionist–Socialist groups organized and created the “Po'alei Tzion Workers Association,” which was joined by the nationalistically–minded workers who earlier belonged to the “Bund” or to the general Zionist movement. My memoirs cover the period from 1903 until by departure from Poland in 1921.

* * *

In the middle of 1903, a group of young men and women from Siedlce who were dissatisfied with the program of the “Bund” abandoned that movement. The circumstances surrounding that split from the “Bund” were the following:

We were all brought up politically on the Bundist propaganda leaflets, simple booklets, that instructed us about the heroic battle of the Russian proletariat against czarism, about the enormous strikes by thousands and thousands of workers against the capitalists, about arrests, prisons, and death sentences. All of this played on our ethical feelings, and we were ready to fight against czarism and against exploitation. We carried out the battle on the Jewish streets of Siedlce–battles against long workdays, for better pay for better treatment, and so on. But when we encountered our opponents on the

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Jewish streets, the so–called Siedlce “capitalists,” whose workshops were in their bedrooms, when we met at the time of a strike with the laments of the “industrial” women, who pleaded with us: “What do you want from us? On the contrary: get work for my husband so at least I'll have something for Shabbos,–then we began to look on reality with different eyes.

With our daily practical professional activities among the Jewish workers, our enthusiasm cooled down a bit. Disappointed, we asked, “Is this the same struggle that we read about in the leaflets? Will the Jewish workers lead this kind of class fight for socialism?” New ideas began to arise in our minds. We began to understand that class warfare must employ other methods on the Jewish street, that one must have a different approach to Jewish life. The methodology of the Bund became too narrow for us. The Siedlce “Bund” considered us a foreign element and our group–about ten of us–were expelled from the party. I was already considered an agitator in the Bundist exchange and had an “influence on the masses.” It fell upon me to attract from the “Bund” another twenty young people. Thus the thirty of us stumbled around unto we were taken in by the Zionists.

 

The Rise of “Po'alei Tzion”

But we also found little satisfaction in the ranks of the Zionists. As I recall, in 1903 there was in Siedlce a social and ideological spurt on the Jewish street. There were economic battle. Jewish youth were shaken by the pogrom in Kishinev. Jewish workers were all organized in the already existing parties–“Bund” and P.P.S, general Zionists, in “Ha–T'khiya,” and also in minyanim. Many shoemakers belonged to a minyan of young people that had its own “prayer house” where they prayed each Shabbos and celebrated joyous occasions.

Every event in Jewish life in czarist Russia,

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and in the whole world, the battles over the Zionist congresses about Palestine and Uganda–all caused reactions among the knowledgeable Jewish workers in Siedlce. In the midst of this Jewish struggle was born in Siedlce, the Zionist–socialist movement. Those who had been expelled from the “Bund,” who were not allowed to come to the Bundist center, formed their own center opposed to that of the Bund. We would gather there three times a week to discuss and determine what we should do next. We decided not to split with our comrades and the workers of the “Bund” and to strive to bring them to our side. We had a definite program for agitation that we conducted among the new arrivals. It was an interesting program that we had devised: the Jewish workers had to conduct the class warfare for their day–to–day interests, even though the battle led to totally different results, like for people who had a totally normal way of life. Often the battle entailed having the poor master worker, with his workers, emigrate to America. Other people led the technical development and the battle of the workers for the decline of small undertakings and the creation of large industrial factories where thousands of workers could be concentrated. The masses were “proletarianized” and capital was concentrated in few hands, and that was the path to socialism. Contrarily, the result of the class warfare led by the Jewish workers was emigration. This emigration should have been directed toward Palestine, where a base for class warfare leading to socialism should be created.

With this program we attracted scores of workers to our center. But we were not secure in our intentions and with the way to deal with our problems. We feared the movement that we had called forth. The theoreticians of the new movement were: I and Mottl Koszinicki. Not knowing what to call ourselves, we gave ourselves the name “The New Worker–Zionists.”

We decided to send a comrade to Bialystok because we heard that that was the center for such bumbling groups. The lot fell to me to go and determine whether there was such a party and whether they had a literature and

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whether there was a name for such a party, and, most important–unite with the center and bring back a comrade. Meanwhile, there was chaos for us in the city over the new movement. Properly said: with the new center, which on certain evenings drew a good number of workers, most of them boot makers who were employed. In all the parties people spoke about our daring, and it appeared that the Zionists were very interested in us. As I described above, there was at the time a certain dissatisfaction in the Zionist ranks. Zionists with leftist inclinations wanted to unite with our group.

On a certain day I received an invitation to come to Florianske Street to Asher Kramarsz, where a person named Gurewitsch was waiting for me. I quickly guessed what that meant, and I decided to take with me Mottl Kaszenicki. On that evening we went to Asher Kramarsz and there met two people. One introduced himself as Gurewitsch and the other as Kaplanski. Gurewitsch got to the point immediately.

He explained to us that he knew our history and our current work, and he proposed to us that we should join the organization “Ha–T'khiyah,” which consisted of workers and intellectuals. The idea behind “Ha–T'khiyah” was to revive the Jewish people on a social foundation. “Ha–T'khiya” had a current program for workers in the diaspora, including: cultural work, organizing self–defense, and so on. After a two–hour long explanation, along with questions and answers, we promised to respond in a couple of days, We said goodbye and left.

After this visit, we were confused b all the new thoughts that had been presented to us. So clearly and logically had he laid out for us the actually situation of the Jewish people in the whole world, especially in the Russian empire, so clearly had he spoken about anti–semitism, emigration, that it was not possible to disagree. Gurewitsch had made a double impression on us–on the one hand as an intelligent person, full of knowledge, reasonable but profound, and on the other hand almost dismissing the class warfare that the Jewish workers were conducting to better their situation. His solution for all the Jewish problems was

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almost religious, which shocked us a bit. We dd not want to dismiss Marxism, but after a long discussion, that lasted a couple of days, we decided to align ourselves with “Ha–T'khiyah” in order to have a roof over our heads and a name.

At the first solemn meeting we sent three people: Yisroel Tabakman [the author of this chapter], Mottl Kaszenicki, and Avraham Silberschein. The whole committee from “Ha–T'khiyah” was there, including: Gurewitsch, Peretz Kamar (a shoemaker), Shlomo Weintraub (a student at the gymnasium), Meir Rozenwasser (who worked in the cigarette trade with his father), Liebe Eisenstadt ( a student at the gymnasium), and Mottl Bernbaum (a bookbinder). The meeting was quite solemn. They decided that we would continue our proletarian wok at the center and that we would rent a room for illegal activities, because at the center we only delivered propaganda.

We quickly accustomed ourselves to the comrades of “Ha–T'Khiyah.” I felt that the members of “Ha–T'khiyah” were not too happy with not only with the organization but also with their leader Gurewitsch, who got his socialism from the Torah. In the meantime, we became familiar with Zionism. The articles of Her Borochov about Jewish economic questions made quite an impression on me. They were published in the Russian Zionist journal “Yevreioskaya Szizn.” We devoured each one. We saw a new world of learning and thinking. From these articles we realized that our program was in agreement with Borochov's articles. We redoubled our efforts, organized a self–defense unit and procured arms, revolvers and daggers, made specially for us. We led individual strikes of the boot makers and their employees that were successful. We also held discussions with the “Bund” on all of Borochov's articles from “Yevreiskaya Szizn”–which we had translated into Yiddish and distributed to the workers, who enthusiastically devoured every word. The whole enterprise was conducted in the spirit of Ber Borochov.

Our comrades numbered in the hundreds. We felt too confined by “Ha–T'khiyah” and we sought a way to free ourselves from their name and from their leader

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Gurewitsch. Gurewitsch took little part in our work, because, as I explained above, he was a bourgeois and could not take part in any illegal mass activities. He also had an official position as a teacher for the Zionists in the Hebrew school and would not take part in illegal gatherings. Consequently he took no part in practical activities. In the city we were already known by the party name of “Poalei–Tzion,” though officially we were still “Ha–T'khiyah,” until we had the opportunity to organize ourselves as “Poalei–Tzion” in Siedlce.

During the time when we were known as “”Ha–T'khiyah,” we added hundreds of members. Among the active leaders were: “Yisroel Tabakman, Mottl Kaszenicki, Mottl Teiblum (Mottl Chasid), Menachem (now in Israel, calling himself Menachem Ben Hillel), Nahum Slushny, Moshe Greengold, Avraham Silberstein. We owned quite a library of literature. The latest series of articles by Ber Borochov in “Yevreiskaya Szizn” made quite an impression on us–“The Class Interests and the Nationalistic Question.”

We were, overall, Borochov's students. We learned and taught other members at the center. We also conducted our work among the young women. Liebe Eisenstadt brought a whole group of women: Itke Kahan, Itke Slushny, Chana Slushny. All of these members enriched our movement.

At the same time, a party that called itself “Zionist–Socialist” was established in Siedlce. It was led by a certain Boyarski, (a student in the seventh level at the gymnasium. He came from deep in Russia with his sister and brother to study in the Siedlce gymnasium.), Moyshe Zucker, Avraham Nebel, and Zilke Kawa (the registrar's son). They led vigorous discussions. This was at the time of the revolution and the October pogroms (1905). The Jewish masses were in an uproar. The Zionist–Socialists argued that the Jewish people were going under and one could no longer wait for Palestine. We must immediately have our own territory. This called forth in their ranks a

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large number of workers. Our discussions were only with the “Poalei–Tzion,” because we did not want to set up an opposition party.

People in Bialystok knew about the existence of “Poalei–Tzion” in Siedlce. From there they sent a man with a monthly journal–“Proletarian Thought.” The articles from the journal were truly worth studying. The author gave us practical organizational lessons and left an address where we could reach him. Then he left. At that time there appeared in Siedlce a certain Alter Gottlieb (today in Israel with the name Ben Tzion Yedidiah). He made a true “revolution” in Siedlce. He represented to me that he was from “Poalei–Tzion.” His first speech was arranged at the Zionist study beis–medresh, which was then at Itze Maleh's on Pienke Street. The hall was full. The most well–known people from all the parties were there. Such a talk Siedlce had never heard. He gave a three–hour long analysis of the actual state of the Jewish people. Everyone was carried away by his talk.

Gottlieb's departure did not end the discussion. Using the election of two delegates to the sixth Zionist Congress, Yosef Shprinczak (today chair of the Knesset) and Yakov Steinberg, people called a discussion evening for a Friday night. Legally this could not be done. Rusze Lehrer, a member of “Ha–T'khiyah,” provided us a place in the new house that her father, Yakov Lehrer, had built on Ogradowa Street. No one lived there yet. The discussion took place there, lasting from Friday night until Saturday night, without interruption. It was attended by all the Zionist factions, as well as the “S.S.” The speakers were Gurewitsch, the two delegates, and Alter Gottlieb. In the morning, at the last session, after a short report and a brief discussion, we decided to start a “Poalei–Tzion” party. Thus was established the “Poaleio–Tzion” in Siedlce. Members of the new party committee were: Yisroel Tabakman, Meir Rosenwasser, Gavriel Schlechter, Mottl Teibloom, Mottl Daszenicki, Liebe Eisenstadt, Mottl Berenbaum.

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In the Time of the Revolution (1905)

We grew so much in Siedlce that no political or economic actions were carried out without us. We were represented in the self–defense that had been organized by the “Bund” and the “P.P.S.” We divided the city into sections where each night groups watched with weapons. We also sent self–defense groups into the provinces.

The great strike of the business employees in Siedlce was led by the three parties with three designations: “Bund,” “P.P.S.,” and “Poalei–Tzion,” and it was led successfully. It is also appropriate to remember the strike of the shoemakers that lasted for many weeks.

In Siedlce there were several families who were called “Koshetzes.” They controlled the business in fruits. They controlled all the fruit orchards, all the kiosks, and the fish business. Their chief executive was Vigdor Koshetz, a tall, broad–backed Jew, who was feared by the whole town. The head of the fish business was Yidl Hol, a tall, well–built man. He was tall, but his shoulders were bowed. Among the “Koshetzes” were two brothers–Shmilke and Itsche, who had shoe factories. They were hit by a strike. Shmilke was the one against whom the strike lasted for weeks. The comrades in Siedlce let them know in Warsaw that these comrades would reckon with Shmilke. At the same time, fights broke out. The “Koshetzes” in Siedlce decided to get even with the workers movement and to eliminate their centers. They especially wanted vengeance against the leaders of the three parties–the “Bund,” the “P.P.S.” and the “Poalei–Tzion”: Shalke Zubrowicz (Shalke Wietrik), Zalmen Burstein (Zalmen Paritz), Yisrolke Tabakman (Srolke the Glazier's) who live now in Israel.

The Koshetze” clan came out with weapons against the centers and dispersed the members, and the three leaders were forced to hide. The city boiled like a kettle. We quickly sent a messenger to Warsaw, because Warsaw always suffered from conflicts. (So it was, too, with the carpenters' strike and others.). A battle began

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with the “Koshetzes.” With the help of the organizations in other cities, the fish and fruit merchants were thrown out of the markets and the fish business. The struggle with their forces lasted for weeks. Yidl Hol was beaten up and left without fish. Jews in Siedlce had no fish for Shabbos. Fruits and vegetables became rare in the city. This war lasted for two weeks. A large group of young reinforcements came to Siedlce from Minsk

The “Koshetzes,” seeing that they could not win and that the city was beginning to suffer, since for a second Shabbos there was no fish or fruit, sent messengers to the centers asking for a truce. We went to someone's home and there prepared beer and schnapps; both sides put down their weapons on the table and began negotiations. The upshot was that Shmilke was fined a certain sum–I do not remember how much–and they promised to acknowledge the victory of the strike and persuade the employers to pay the workers for the time during the strike. On our side, we sent letters to all the cities, sealed with our insignias–“Bund,” “P.P.S.,” and “Poalei Tzion”–that no one should harass the “Koshetzes” and they should be allowed to return to normal business.

Bialystok, becoming aware that the “Poalei–Tzion” movement was growing from day to day, sent us a comrade from Semiaticz, Moyshe Pakhter. There was also a woman, Kaplan, from Semiaticz. We arranged for lectures in the Ger prayer house and at Moyshe Goldberg's. We also had two illegal rooms. One room was on Kolya Street across from the Orthodox Church; we did not know that the “Bund” and the “P.P.S.” also had secret rooms there. One day we were spied upon and those rooms fell through. We then decided to hide our literature and our weapons that we had been keeping in the second room on Pienke Street. That night, inspectors came, but there was nothing for them to find.

We also used to participate in illegal demonstrations and to demonstrate with banners. Before the Cossacks could arrive, we would fold up the banners and just walk on the sidewalks. This deception made them murderously angry,

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so that they killed anyone they encountered. But there was no aspect of labor in the city in which “Poalei–Tzion” was not involved.

After the failure of our illegal quarters, we moved to Florianski Street, at Avraham Slushny's, on the third floor. Two of the comrades lived in this illegal room: Meir Rozenwasser and Yisroel Tabakman. From there we organized all our work. We were in regular contact with Bialystok. through a comrade who was available to us, and we knew about the ideological dispute in the Zionist factions throughout Russia and Poland. Different ideologies with different aspirations fought among themselves: the Minsk Poalei–Tzion, practical Palestinians, “Ha–T'khiyah,” Saint–Simonists, Sirkin's group, Zionist–Socialists, those who approved of class warfare and those who did not. Ber Borochov ruled over all of them with his evaluations of all the pressing Jewish questions. Siedlce, too, was caught up in the controversies. When Later Gottliev went over to the Saint–Simonists, we immediately cut off contact with him.

In our new room, we called together the first regional conference, embracing 10 cities and towns. At the conference, we devised a uniform organization under the name “Poalei–Tzion.” We elected a regional committee. We received relevant literature, monthly journals, pamphlets. We had a full stock of illegal literature. In the building of our illegal room, there were other illegal rooms. The door next to ours led to the room of the “P.P.S.,” which was led by Berish Stoler. The first floor was taken by Boyarski and his sister. That was the illegal room of the “Zionist–Socialists.”

The year 1905 held for us, “Poalei–Tzion” in Siedlce, many serious responsibilities. The revolutionary events in the Russian Empire did not avoid our city. Our committee decided to organize, separately from the general self–defense, a party militia of volunteers, well armed with revolvers and light Mauser rifles, which we

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obtained from the garrison in Siedlce. In Siedlce there was a regiment of soldiers called the Ostolenker Regiment. The soldiers were selected by a special military committee made up of all the parties. “Poalei–Tzion” was not directly represented but only by the representative of the S.S., Boyarski. He gave us the last shipment of weapons a couple of days before he was arrested. The weapons were, as I recall, six broken–down revolvers and six Mauser rifles, new from the factory but without bullets. On the night when he brought us the cartridges, he was arrested. In the morning we went to Boyarski's and we found everything in chaos: suitcases torn open, bookshelves overturned, mattresses thrown off the beds, the floor covered with papers, newspapers torn up, shredded. Boyarski's sister told us:

When they heard knocking on their door and cries of “Open up,” 26 packages of cartridges lay on the table, newly brought from the military storehouse. The younger brother grabbed the packages and threw them out the window that overlooked a field. That is where were had buried our weapons. One package had ripped and many cartridges had fallen on the table. He could not clean them up because they had to open the door. Soldiers came in, and gendarmes with rifles at the ready, and they asked for Boyarski. Among them were Ostrolenker soldiers. They put the cartridges that they found into their pockets, so that the gendarmes could not see. The gendarmes found a military appeal and a stamp from the military storehouse. They showed a warrant for Boyarski. He did not want to go, but they called a carriage and took him away. In the morning we all went carefully into the field and collected the cartridges.

The upshot of the arrest was, as his sister related, that because a son of a gendarme official was involved in the matter of the stamp, the whole affair was hushed up and Boyarski was sent two his birthplace deep in Russia. I believe that was Tiflis. Shortly after, his brother and sister also went there.

The revolutionary events also seized Siedlce. There were demonstrations and strikes. On the first of May, the population was urged to

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leave their work. There were demonstrations in which members of “Poalei–Tzion” predominated. Certain members were assigned particular areas of work. For the province, those assigned were: Yisroel Tabakman and David Orszekh. For the center and for taking care of the illegal literature–Comrade Menachem. For professional worko–Mottl Kaszenicki and Avraham Silberstein, a carpenter who was called Avraham Partzever because when he was traveling with the self–defense force to Partzeve to defend against a pogrom, the police seized him and brought him with the convicts,, so he was given the name Partzever. For agitation and propaganda on site those designated were: Tabakman, Rosenwasser, Schlechter. Responsible for the Bayawka [?] were: Berish (Berish of the lambs), Mottl Teiblum, and others whose names I have forgotten.

In 1906, the Siedlce “Poalei–Tzion” suffered from czarist repression. Many comrades were arrested. Menachem was detained at the train station with a package of illegal literature. I saw him taken away in a carriage and I never saw him again until later, here in Israel. Ignoring those repressive acts, we busily went about our Poalei–Tzion work. We were preparing for our convention, which required us to unite in a single large Poalei–Tzion party. Aside from independent conflicts between workers and bosses, we participated in the great strike of the boot makers. The Poalei–Tzion proposal to the conference that the strike should not affect the poorer bosses but only the larger shoe merchants and the big manufacturers, so that they would open factories and centralize the workers together with the poorer bosses, this proposal was accepted by the whole conference. At the time of this strike, a bomb was thrown. It killed the police chief, Golczow, and several others. The soldiers sot, killing several and wounding others. Arrests were made. But the bloody panic did not stop our work. We continued the strike and were completely victorious. Four large factories were opened, employing 80 workers. The work of Poalei–Tzion was in full force. We were then a party with a name: “The Social

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Democratic Workers Party Poalei–Tzion” and with a program that was adopted at the conference in Poltawa in March of 1906.

The repressive actions of the czarist government did not let up. In Siedlce there was resistance. At night, no one left their homes. The dragoon patrols wandered the streets with rifles at the ready. The city was like a war camp where the enemy was expected. However, we were happy with our victory. The factories were working. The shoemakers decided to close the small factories and to concentrate all of the shoemaking work of the smaller bosses in several large factories, but this was delayed until the repressions would cease. But the opposite happened. The repression increased, until the outbreak of the Siedlce pogrom, which Y. Kaspi wrote about in an earlier chapter.

During the pogrom in Siedlce, I was arrested. I was taken to jail where there were hundreds of arrested men, women, and children. We younger men were taken to a second building to a large hall. The warden came and warned us that we were being held for court martial. A little later, Yankel Tenenbaum was brought in with his head bandaged so that he could hardly be recognized. He was taken to a separate room on the second floor.

In the evening, the warden told us what we were being charged with.. The physically weak were guilty of agitating for revolution. I also was charged with this. The healthy and strong young people were guilty of being seized with revolvers in their hands. We were held for a week under threat of a court martial.

At the end of the week we were told that we would be sent to Archangelsk. But on erev Rosh Hashanah, nearly all of us were released. At that time we were informed that we were receiving a “free expulsion,” that is, that we had to leave Siedlce gubernia. I decided to leave the country. But until then I remained in Siedlce. In the city

[Page 384]

all the parties had formed an American committee. I represented the Poaleio–Tzion. We fought to come to the aid of the robbed and fallen worker–families and to give them the possibility of getting on their feet. Yisroel Gutgelt and all the other representatives on the committee held that we should reestablish the robbed and burned out businesses on Warsaw Street.

In the meantime, the time for our leaving the country had arrived. I went with a group to Paris, and all the exiles met there. I remember some of their names: two Stalava brothers–one of them, Max, was a leader in the “Bund,” and the other was a young man. Two Zucker brothers–Moyshe Zucker, living now in America, then a Zionist–Socialist, Mottl Kaszenicki (Poalei–Tzion), Yenkel Tenenbaum (“Bund”), and the writer of these lines.

After six months in Paris, I became homesick. Individually people began to steal back to Russia and back to Siedlce. The mood at home had begun to settle down. The ruins of the burned businesses were being repaired. The revolutionary movement had been suspended. The party leaders were abroad. Many had become apathetic. Many of them remained at home and interested themselves only with their private lives. The parties ceased to exist. So it was until the Russian powers left Siedlce during the First World War.

 

Activities during the First World War

When Siedlce was taken by the Germans, community life quickly revived for the Jewish workers. A non–partisan club called the “Workers Home” was established, and, as I recall, the directorship consisted of: Moyshe Menderszecki, Itshe Altshuler, and Henech Saltzman. It soon had many members. Their hall contained a large reading room. At the same time, two Poalei–Tzion committees were established in Siedlce, oblivious to each other. On e committee consisted of Zavl Rosenzumen, Groman, Scherzman, Dovid Greenfarb , and others. The

[Page 385]

second committee: Yisroel Tabakman, David Arshekh, Yosef Slushny, and Henech Saltzman (who later joined the Bund); the two committees eventually combined.

 

Sie385.jpg
Leftist Poalei–Tzion leaders: Yosef Slushny Meir Salzman, Henech Saltzman, Yisroel Tabakman, Reizel Shivek, and Rosezuman

 

The two “Poalei–Tzion” committees met accidentally. We knew that. a representative of the Poalei–Tzion was coming from Warsaw–comrade Yisroel Vesher (Reichman), so we went to the station to meet him. I had already known Reichman for a long time, so I went to wait for him; meanwhile, a member of the other committee also waited for him–he was actually coming for them–and so there we became aware that there were two Poalei–Tzion committees. The first meeting took place in the home of comrade Groman. Comrade Reichman was aware that in Siedlce there was an unaffiliated

[Page 386]

club called the Workers Home, and he informed us that throughout Poland there were Workers Home societies that were “Poalei–Tzion” clubs, so in Siedlce the Workers Home must also be associated with Poalei Tzion.

We began to conduct a secret project around the Workers Home. Thus began a struggle with the “Bund,” which wanted to convert the club into a “Tzukunft” organization. The club had about 600 member and had a fine location. The “Poalei–Tzion” party had then in Siedlce active and prominent party members, such as: Slushny, Yisroel Tabakman, Groman, Zanvil Rozenzumen, and others. The arguments over the Workers Home grew heated. Finally the steering committee resigned. In the new election, there were lists from the “Poalei–Tzion” and the “Bund.” All the members came to the election. The result was that the “Poalei–Tzion” received twenty–some more votes and was victorious–the first victory in the new era. The Bundists and the non–affiliated would not accept our victory. They held that the hall was theirs and they obstructed our work. It became a scandal. The new steering committee consisted of: Yosef Slushny, Yisroel Tabakman, Henech Saltzman, Dovid Arszech, Groman, Sanvil Rozenzumen, and David Greenfarb. At their first meeting they decided to find a second location and assigned a couple of members to do so. Thus was rented the hall at 41 Agradowa Street, and so began the revival of “Poalei–Tzion” in Siedlce. The number of members in the Workers Home increased. Soon, within the first months, the society numbered 100. We had new people who were active: Melech Heinsdorf (now in Israel), Zanvil Gurnicki, Avrahamele Zikberstein, Meir Saltzman, Shlifke, Rozenzumen, and others whose names I forget. The work was divided up into categories: political (party) activities, economic, professional work, and cultural activities. A specially created cultural committee organized lectures, formed a huge library and reading room. At the first of May demonstration that was organized by the “Poalei–Tzion,” speakers from the balcony included: Slushny, Tabakmanm and Zanvil Rozenzumen. Thousands of Jewish workers and everyday people gathered at the

[Page 387]

Workers Home. The German occupation rulers came too late, when no one was left there.

 

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Young people from the leftist Poalei–Tzion

 

The economic committee, led by Melech Heinsdorf, created a people's kitchen where hundreds of workers ate daily, a consumers cooperative, and a bread sale based on [membership or ration] cards, where people could also get other products. The Germans then had a card system for products.

These economic institutions worked quite well. The professional activities were led by comrades Yosef Slushny, Chana Handlasz, and Yisroel Tabakman. The work was very difficult. Unemployment in the trades with which we had to deal, was enormous. All of our economic activities were directed at the unemployed. We let no one go hungry. We tried to create work for the unemployed and we sent people to work in Jewish undertakings and lumberyards and iron works. No one opposed us. You must understand that our activities called forth kindness and sympathy. We also created a war fund and collected money for weapons. The American committee gave

[Page 388]

us two crates with clothes and other products to distribute.

All the areas of work grew so much that our hall at 41 Ogradowa became too small and we had to find other locales. Luckily they were also on Ogradowa Street. People in the city said that the Poalei–Tzion was occupying Ogradowa Street. The party was well–liked in Siedlce by both the religious and non–religious.

It is appropriate to recall the following fact: It was before Rosh Hashanah during the time of the German occupation. Unemployment and poverty were enormous. Our social welfare institutions had to remain active. Before Rosh Hashanah, the Poalei–Tzion committee received an invitation from the Siedce rabbi. A delegation comprised of Yosef Slushny and Yisroel Tabakman went to see him. When we arrived at the rabbi's, there was a whole cluster of Jews there, judges and dozors and city officials. They greeted us. One of the crowd approached us: “Here is why we summoned you. Because we know how much you do in the city, helping a great many people who are in need and hungry, you are greatly respected. We ask that you shut down your institutions during the coming holidays, because Ogradowa Street is a Christian street. It would not be seemly for the non–Jews and it would be a desecration of the holy name.” Our answer: “If the rabbi and and all the influential people get the bosses to pay the workers for the holidays, we will close up. If you want to avoid such a desecration, the religious must also make a sacrifice. We await your response.”

The people of the city approved of our answer. Everyone thought we were right. But there was no answer from the side of the bosses, so our welfare institutions remained open on the holidays to feed the hungry.

Our activities became broader. We were represented in the folk choir under the leadership of Yosef Sonnshein and in the drama group under the directorship of Mr. Heinsdorf. Every Shabbos, the Shtern Sports Club played against other clubs and Jews went to see the competitions.

[Page 389]

The comrades of Polei–Tzion and the activists showed great generosity in working in all of our undertakings. Comrade Hochberg from Sokolow was with us. He led much of the work. The following comrades were active in my time: Yosef Slushny, Hochberg, Yisroel Tabakman, Zanvil Rozenzumen, Gralman, Avrahamele Silbershtein, Melech Heinsdorf, Meir Saltzman, Dovid Aszher, the Mozes brothers, Dor [sic] Greenfarb, Chanah Hanlasz, Shlifke, Shlomo Kainski, and Avraham Yossl Karnicki.

Poalei–Tzion in Siedlce was also in constant constant contact with the province in the district; we organized district conferences and sent comrades from Siedlce to the surrounding towns. The central committee also used many of the Siedlce comrades and sent them to more distant provincial towns. For the first united conference of Poalei–Tzion from Galicia that was held in Warsaw, the Siedlce Poalei–Tzion sent three delegates: Groman, Slushny, and Tabakman, along with scores of guests

 

In Independent Poland

At the time of the first city council elections in independent Poland, the lawyer Hartglassm stood as a candidate from the Poalei–Tzion. But he made one condition, that the election list not say “Jewish Socialist Democratic Workers Party Poalei–Tzion,” but only “Workers Party Poalei–Tzion.” We did not agree. Our list then won six seats on the council: Yosef Slushny, Shlomo Hochberg, Zanvil Rozenzumen, Meir Saltzman, Mozes Greenfarb, and Ch. Shlifke. The Poalei–Tzion constituted a strong faction on the Siedlce city council and fought for workers' rights, for subsidies for the folk school, and for our institutions.

During the Polish–Soviet War, in 1920, when the Red army was in Siedlce and all of the workers' parties participated in the newly created “Revcom” (Revolutionary Committee), the Poalei–Tzion conducted heated discussions about our attitude toward the Bolshevik army and its government. The Poalei–Tzion committee called to a discussion meeting all the representatives from its

[Page 390]

welfare institutions, professional unions, and considered the situation. We discussed whether we could, whether we should, dance after all the other parties and take part in Bolshevik activities in Siedlce. We came to the decision, that no, we should not go along with the game. Each comrade understand and felt the responsibility and what it entailed. We decided to send a delegation to welcome their entry into Poland and particularly into Siedlce and to declare that we were awaiting a decision from our central committee and could meanwhile not take part in any activities. At the same time, we gave full permission to our comrades that they could do what they liked. The delegation consisted of Meir Saltzman, Groman, and Yisroel Tabakman.

It could have been that the Russian comrades would agree to our decision and would leave us in peace. There were, however, two traitors–Mendel Radzinski from the Jewish P.P.S. and Moyshe Altschuler from the Bund–who interfered in the matter. Hearing of our decision, they began to speak out against us, saying that we were involved in sabotage. As things developed, in the morning the military commander ordered up carpenters, locksmiths, and bakers, and our central office was closed down.

Comrade Shlifke, who was then secretary of the central committee went off somewhere. One had to seek private work, but no one wanted to go to work because the workers saw how they were paid–with “money” that one cut with scissors, and no one trusted the system. The conduct of the military was not proper. They besieged businesses, poor dwellings. They bought things, paying or not paying, just as in the days of a new occupation. And the “Revcom” made it seem like we were sabotaging things.

We were informed that we would all be arrested. We called a meeting of workers, explained the situation, and called on them to seek private work, and they complied.

A day later we were called to a meeting with “Revcom” and we were made to explain why we were sabotaging the

[Page 391]

labor, why we did not organize the professional unions with the Polish ones, and so on. They said we were in a war time and that we must quickly reorganize the unions. We responded that we were under the control of recent events and that we could not control the situation. One could not reorganize scores of unions on the spur of the moment. We promised to give a definite answer in a few days.

In the meantime, things in the city were chaotic. Everything was fragmented. Soldiers came from all sides. Seeing that people were paying with rolls of papers marked with numbers, people began to hide valuable articles. There was panic in the city. The Polish militia, wanting to appear like communists, seized Jews who were hiding merchandise. The “Revcom” commandeered workers: carpenters, locksmiths, bakers, and they began to hide, not wanting to work. There were rumors that the “Revcom” would arrest all active members of Poalei–Tzion and at the same time rumors spread that the Bolshevik army was entering Warsaw. They were already in Prague. Warsaw would surely be taken that night.

That same evening there came from Moscow highly placed people. They took over Warsaw Street, where “Revcom” was located. Soon there was an order that representatives of all parties must come to a “conference with the guests from Moscow.” The delegation from Poalei–Tzion (comrades Saltzman, Groman and Tabakman) were also summoned to the conference. Warsaw Street around the directorate was besieged by Jews. It was a very to evening. The windows of the directorate were open, so that on the street one could hear every word. When we arrived, the great hall was already full. We were summoned to a long table, where all the parties had their places, as well as the guests from Moscow. Then the speeches began. The guests from Moscow spoke about the freeing of Poland, which was not free of the capitalists, and of the necessity of uniting all of the professional unions.

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The comrades from Poalei–Tzion took part in the speeches. Saltzman would speak in Russian, Groman in Polish, and Tabakman in Yiddish. Then I, in the name of the Poalei–Tzion party, greeted the Polish revolutionary government and wished them success. About the professional unions I said: “We cannot all at one time merge with the non–Jewish unions. That would be a blow to the Jewish workers in their daily struggles. Even if we decided in favor, it could not be done at once. It would not be healthy for both sides. It would cause more friction. I propose that for the present, the Jewish professional unions should remain separate while the directors of both sides remain in constant contact.”

After me, A. Groman spoke in Polish. He described our position until today. “Tomorrow we will certainly have instructions from Warsaw.”

After the speeches by the official representatives from the Bolshevik government, the conference ended.

What happened to the Jews in Siedlce after the retreat of the Bolsheviks is well known. The slaughter that the Poles inflicted on the Jews cannot be forgotten, even today, after Hitler's massacres. Comrade Groman was surely shot after a trial by a Polish court martial when he could not prove that he and his comrades had cooperated with the Bolsheviks.

In the same year as the Polish–Bolshevik War, weary by all our experiences, I decided to leave Siedlce and go to Belgium, Brussels, and there not to sever my ties with Siedlce and with the party.


[Page 393]

The Leftist Workers Movement in Siedlce

by M. Yudengloibn, Buenos Aires

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Siedlce, like many other cities in Poland, had no real industry. The small number of workers were concentrated in the leather and needle crafts; even so, the workers played an important role in the revolutionary battle against czarism. Often the battle against czarist absolutism took on a folk character, when the whole population, under the leadership of the workers parties at that time, came out into the streets in the unequal battle for a free and independent Poland.

In 1905, the police chief of Siedlce was killed by a bomb, an act that reverberated throughout Poland, and the innumerable arrests and exiles could not halt the revolutionary advance of the workers, who fought without pause for their economic betterment and political rights.

The workers movement took a new turn in Siedlce in 1916, after Poland was occupied by the Germans and the workers began to organize openly and legally, forming around the “Bund” and the “Poalei-Tzion,” who increased their activities with more zest and force in all areas of community political life, This legal opportunity that had opened up gave the Jewish workers toe ability to form an actual workers institution, where all could congregate. This was the “Workers' House” on Ogrodowa Street, where nearly all of the workers became members. This was the site of broad cultural work, which involved

[Page 394]

allowing each party to bring its own people, its own leaders, to organize talks, discussions, and social events, as the town looked the other way. With the rise of the community “Workers' House,” political positions began to crystalize in the workers movement. Bitter inter-party battles flared up, and the discussions that took place night after night, often with brutal arguments, increased the schism between the workers camps, the “Bund” and the “Poalei-Tzion.” This situation could not long endure, as you can understand. The result was two clearly defined political directions that could not coexist under one roof, so that the “Bund” separated from the “Workers' House” and established its own home, the community workers “Tzukunft,” on Dluge Street, where it conducted its activities and began to play a major role among the Jewish workers in Siedlce.

A similar process of differentiation occurred among the young people, among whom both existing parties conducted a broad-based educational program, and each one claimed to have enrolled in its circle of influence a greater number of young people; Both the “Bund” and the “Poalei-Tzion” formed separate educational youth groups, where the young people received a broad proletarian education. In a short period of time, two active youth organizations grew, which included not only almost all of the working youth but also bourgeois youth, so that two youth organizations emerged, the Bundist workers youth organization “Tzukunft” and the “Poalei-Tzion” youth organization “Borochov.” Each was affiliated with its older party organization, from which they took their ideals of political orientation.

The political situation after the First World War, the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, brought with it a troublesome development in the International world, in particular, understandably, in Poland as well. The Germans, becoming aware of the revolutionary events in the country quickly left Poland; the country would be independent, and the P.P.S, led by Pilsudski

[Page 395]

took over the country. The Jewish workers in Siedlce, taking advantage of the favorable conditions, established an array of new unions, such as those for leather workers, needle workers, transport workers, bakers, and others. This development in the movement of the professions betokened an improvement in the economic condition of the workers and, indeed, of the entire population.

 

Sie395.jpg

 

The leather industry had many branches, and Siedlce would send large shipments of shoes to different cities in the country, and later abroad. One could say that 70% of the Jewish laborers in Siedlce were employed in the shoe business.

The needle craft workers worked exclusively for the same purpose, except for a few second-raters who worked for the fairs.

The professional unions were directed and led by the workers parties; thus, for example, the “Bund” at that time had influence over the leather workers, the bakers, the porters, and hairdressers. “Poalei-Tzion” led the needle workers. As time passed, the unions gained strength: they fought for better wages, and a 46-hour work week was established. Piecework was abolished and

[Page 396]

overtime pay was established. Each union also had a youth division that looked after the interests of the younger workers. Simply put, it was the unions that led the working class, looked after their interests, from young to old and from small to big, and took everything under their control. A particular disturbance in the professional activities of the unions was caused by this who worked for themselves at home. They went beyond the eight-hour workday and therefore served the cause of the bosses; the union found a solution to this scourge; those who worked at home were organized and then contributed to the united workers front that worked in everyone's best interests.

 

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A group of young men from the leather workers union

 

As for the political parties, they found in the professional unions united strength, and for the masses, on whom they depended in order to cement their status and win new adherents, they brought their best leaders from Warsaw and organized lectures and discussions in the largest halls, which were always packed. More than once it happened that one party had split off

[Page 397]

from another's gathering to hold special lectures and discussions.

A consequence of the different lively activities, the reputation of Siedlce grew throughout the country and even played a role in the leading sections of the parties. The workers movement grew, and thanks to its organization, institutions, trade unions, cooperatives, and soup kitchens, where a worker could get a cheap—and when unemployed, even a free—nourishing lunch, it was transformed into a potential powerhouse with which everyone had to contend.

In 1920, stirred up by England and France, Poland entered war with Soviet Russia, forgetting that it had achieved its independence thanks to the Russian Revolution. The government allowed the population to wade in blood, and, you must understand, among the first to suffer were the working masses, a situation which was aided by the hostile attitude of the P.P.S. toward the Soviet Union. The Red army entered entered Warsaw, and thus taking Siedlce, where it created a “Revcom,” made up of all the workers parties, to come up with solutions to all the problems that could eventually arise. After being in our city for eight days, the Red army began to move back, and this retreat created a panic, and a large number of workers went with the Red army, many of whom later fell into the hands of the Polish army, where some were shot and some received heavy prison sentences. The whole communal political life was, through the terror of the Pilsudski reaction, wiped out.

A short time later, when peace was concluded between Poland and the Soviet Union, life began to return to normal; on Pienke Street there was a tearoom around which workers began to congregate; they opened evening courses for young people, and later they were allowed to reopen the professional unions, and the working class people came to them. Thus was revived the work of the leather workers, needle workers, and other unions, and in no time at all these unions conducted again their far-flung activities.

[Page 398]

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A group of students in the Esperanto course

 

The working masses in Siedlce learned from past times. They began to understand firmly the meaning of unity and grasped the power of organization; for sure, at that time it was not difficult to organize the working class; rather, this work was strengthened by a hundred percent. The professional unions won their old positions of an eight-hour working day and higher pay. Understand that this did not just fall from the sky; there were a number of strikes that ended in victory, which gave more clout to the professional unions and firmed up the workers movement in Siedlce. One of the most interesting strikes of the leather workers union happened in February of 1926. In Siedlce there were two leather workers unions: one for Polish workers and the other for Jewish workers. Both unions, through pressure from the workers, were committed to go on strike together against the leather bosses. Their demands were: better pay and to be paid with cash, not promissory notes. At that time the leather workers experienced a severe crisis: since there were a large number of not organized people who worked from home, they agreed

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to be paid for their labor with promissory notes. The bosses maintained that if they insisted on being paid in cash, they could not work at all and they would soon have to stop their labor. You must understand that this was simply a maneuver on their part, because they themselves had discounted the promissory notes, subtracting 20% from the amount. This maneuver worked for them, so that not only the workers from home but also the salaried workers were compelled to receive their pay in promissory notes. In this situation, every worker who earned a hundred zlotys actually received only eighty; soon there arose usurers or even family members of the employers who robbed the workers of their meager wages.

The Jewish leather workers union worked hard against the persecutions of the Pilsudski regime; the leaders of the Polish leather workers union (P..P.S) did not want to be in contact with the Jewish union, and they did whatever they could to prevent unity among the leather workers; and the bosses, you may be sure, turned this to their own advantage, to the great disadvantage of the working class. But something happened that no one expected: the. mass of the Polish leather workers at a meeting convinced their leaders to go out on strike together with the Jewish workers. You have to understand that this came as a terrific surprise to the bosses, who soon felt the combined strength of the workers. First they decided not to meet the demands and tried to create dissension among the workers, thinking they could “divide and conquer.” They considered the Polish workers as a separate category, that is, they were machine workers, so they could deal with them separately, and they agreed not to deal with either group or to give in to their demands. The strike went on for two months, and the strike committee took advantage of their unity and organized the community's working class, which now felt for the first time the meaning of unity. A central council for all of the unions was created, and it

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organized the solidarity actions for the benefit of the striking leather workers. This was conducted not only on the side of Siedlce's working class but it also received aid from the whole region. The bosses tried to farm out the work in neighboring towns, but they did not succeed because at that time (and this should be noted!) strikebreakers could not be found in Siedlce or in the surrounding area, so that this maneuver failed. The huge mass meetings that took place in the premises of the P.P.S. and the enthusiastic voices of the strikers broke the bosses' unity and a split arose among them, with mutual recriminations. They began to negotiate with the strike committee on the leather workers' demands, and the strike ended in total victory for the leather workers.

I remember a curious fact: at the closing meeting of the strike, the strike committee gave thanks to the heroic conduct of the striking masses and to the feeling of solidarity shown by all the workers of Siedlce, as well as from the whole region, which led to total victory. At that moment, Polish and Jewish workers called out, “Long live the united working class! Long live the united movement of the professions!” But the leaders of the P.P.S. union, trembling at there thought of such unity, asserted that unity between the two unions was not possible, but that there should only be (apparently) contact between the two movements. But the masses, against the will of the P.P.S., upheld the unity between the Jewish and Polish workers until the outbreak of the Second World War

* *

*

In the years 1919-1921 discussions began throughout the country of the “21 points” from the Third International, including in our town of Siedlce. The “21 points” quickly won as adherents the greatest part of the “Bund” membership. This same discussion, which occupied every worker's home, also took place among the “Poalei-Tzion,” but with a smaller following. After several

[Page 401]

months of “battle” the “Combund” was established. It took about 95% of the Bundist party, and the “Combund” stood by the unions, the professional unions, the premises, and, above all, the workers.

With the rise of the “Combund,” the panorama of life changed for the worker class in Siedlce, The combat took on greater proportions and paid no attention to the illegality of the “Combund. From day to day it became stronger and more ideologically secure. The Jewish mass of workers from Siedlce became sincere fighters in the workers' cause and through “Combund” they found the means to their end,

The same process, with the same results, came with the workers youth organization “Tzukunft,” and so was formed the “Comtzukunft.” The young people, as the vanguard of the newly formed revolutionary movement, moved ahead with their active leading fighters on all fronts, conveying their great organizational strength, though most of them lacked even an elementary education, for which, of course, they were not responsible. They began to develop learning circles that strengthened the cultural and political level of the young people and soon awoke hidden strengths that with their labor and political orientation amazed the central agency.

The “Combund” allied itself with the general communist party because over all there was no ideological difference between them, and the existence of two communist parties would not improve their work, which was hard enough because of the Pilsudski reactionaries. Thus on both sides there were monolithic and strong parties. The same course was taken by the “Comtzukunft.” Thus was created in Siedlce the “P.P.K.” (Polish Communist Party).

On the other side, however, the reactionary and fascist part of Poland grew stronger from day to day; the communist party was declared illegal and had to go under ground, while the best sons of the Polish working class were thrown into prison. The Pilsudski government, wanted

[Page 402]

to drown the workers movement in a river of blood. They threw themselves murderously on the professional unions, considering that the workers had adopted a revolutionary stance that opposed the welfare of the wealthy and their servants.

The working masses again called forth their own leaders who held fast to the revolutionary Marxist doctrine, and class warfare was everywhere as the goal of the endeavor. This did not please our rulers, who organized what was then known as the “Defense,” which could not deter the working masses, led by the Comparty, from the battle for their political and economic rights.

In 1923, at the time of the elections for the Sejm, work for the election preoccupied Siedlce. The communist candidates were arrested, as were their speakers, who were caught in the act. But then the Comparty won so many significant voices that it aroused the wrath of the reactionaries, so that they returned to those who had been arrested and sentenced them to four years in prison.

A special chapter in the workers movement concerns the “Red Help,” in which all the workers participated and which took care that the arrested and their families should lack for nothing; the arrested were not concerned about food but only with party responsibilities, a spiritual nourishment, that was smuggled in through the thick prison walls without regard for the great difficulty and disorder. Thus the arrested comrades were not cut off from general party life but could focus on self-education and cultivating their spiritual strength so that they could be good and useful advocates for the working class from the moment when they would be released.

In 1925, in reactionary Independent Poland, there were in Siedlce massive police raids, and many of the leading comrades were arrested, such as Avraham Slushny, Moshe Kaddish, Weinappel, and others. These arrested men could not maintain the revolutionary growth of the working masses in Siedlce. The

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Comparty, which continued to lead the professional movement, exercised its total hegemony, while the Bundists attracted only a small portion of the workers despite their propaganda machine that operated all over: the workers avoided them; and if the Bund appeared here or there and did not disappear completely from the arena—that was thanks to the strength of the “rabbinate,” the P.PS. Party and the government that gave it the legal right to operate for the professional unions

Thus we can see how the worker in Siedlce stood on a high revolutionary plane, and his way of thinking and outlook on the world were Marxist, without regard for the persecutions and provocations from hostile elements. He was always true to his ideals, and in this way he wrote a heroic page in the general labor history of Poland.

 

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