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[Page 404]

Activity of the “Bund”
in the Period Between the Two World Wars

by Getzel Lustgartn

We will write elsewhere about the illegal work of the “Bund” in czarist times. Here we will describe briefly the Bandits activity in the period between the two world wars.

Soon after the establishment of Independent Poland the “Bund” undertook the organization of Jewish workers in Siedlce. Through this party the following workers groups were established: the trade unions, which were located at 14 Warsaw Street; the “Tzukunft” at 20 Dluge, a nursery, a consumer cooperative, and a library. Leading the Bandits organization were the comrades: Moyshe Altschuler, Yakov Fishman, Dovid Neumark (living now in America), Avraham Slushni, and Shalke Zebrawicz. The “Bund” was a mass movement. In addition, the youth organization, which then was known as the “Social–Democratic Youth Organization ‘Tzukunft’ in Poland,” had grown to about 500 members. The leaders of the youth organization were: Yechezkel Lublinerman, David Koperant (living now in America), Sanne Weinshlbaum, and Alter Noutshitshel (living now in Argentina).

All of these organizations, which were established through hard work and which conducted a broad array of cultural and professional activities, were disrupted at the time of the Polish–Bolshevik War. The Jewish labor activists from Siedlce were sent to a concentration camp – Dombia, near Cracow.

After the war, when Jewish community life in Siedlce

[Page 405]

The leadership committee of the “Bund” and “Tzukunft.” B. Kramarsh center


was revived, the Bund began to reconstruct its organizations. There were no good facilities. The trade unions and other organizations met at 7 Pienke, near the Ger prayer house, but there was no conflict. Later on were built the consumer cooperative and the library. New organizations were created, such as the Workers Corner, the sports club “Morgenstern,” and the “Youth Bund Tzukunft.”

These organizations presented a wide variety of cultural activities. Every week there were a number of presentations: lectures, readings, chess evenings, recitations, and other events. The “Youth Bund Tzukunft” contributed to the cultural activities youth from the furthest corners of Siedlce. The young workers felt that their organization was like a second home. The youth organization also had a drama circle whose members participated in the recitations.

A branch of the Tzukunft group was the “SKF” (the Socialist Children's Association) – its members were children from 12 years up, mainly schoolchildren.

[Page 406]

The activities of the “Bund” touched deep roots in Siedlce's Jewish workers. The general professional union, under the leadership of the “Bund,” grew in strength and regulated the wages and hours of the shoemakers, garment workers, and bakers. Before the outbreak of the Polish–Soviet War the union had 1,000 members aside from the youth division. Yakov Fishman was the secretary of the union.

The Polish–Soviet War, and later the terror of the Polish reactionary forces, the economic crisis in the

The leadership committee the youth Bund “Tzukunft”

[Page 407]

Jewish professions, and also the ideological strife among the Jewish workers destroyed the Jewish trade movement in Siedlce. The most prominent Bundist activists went to the big cities. Finally the Jewish parties found a common language for the trade movement and successfully conducted several economic actions.

In 1927, at the time of the elections for the city council, two Bundists were elected: Binyamin Kramarzh and Rochel Barg. On the council an understanding was reached among the P.P.S, the “Bund,” and the “Poalei Tzion,” which together comprised a socialist majority. They passed its subsidies for the folks school and social aid for poor Jews.

Also on the health insurance board there were two Bandits representatives: Yosef Rozenzumen and Yakov–Yitzchok Liebman. Liebman was the longstanding secretary of the transport union in Siedlce.

In the Jewish community elections of 1933, the Bund came in second and placed 4 members on the community council: Yosef Rozenzumen, Binyamin Kramarzh, Yosef Barg, and Yakov–Yitzchok Liebrman.

On May Day, the “Bund” often held demonstrations together with the P.P.S.

In 1931, the Bundist organization took over the Siedlce Jewish folk school, which had earlier belonged to the folkist party.

The “Bund” in Siedlce conducted its activities until Hitler's hordes came to Siedlce. The Bundists were murdered along with Siedlce's Jews.

[Page 408]

Jewish Workers of Siedlce after the First World War

by David ben-Yosef (Pasovsky)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

A collection of memories and facts about the life of Jewish workers in the years 1923-1931—the time when I was a community activist in Siedlce.

Siedlce was not an industrial city, but consequently there grew up a strong small artisanal culture. There were hundreds of workshops of different types. About 3,500 Jewish families lived from such work. There were about 2,000 members in the various unions—a respected laboring mass. A good percentage of Jews who did not live from moneylending, business, or odd jobs, but only from labor, people with calluses, exemplified the biblical passage—“By the sweat of your brow will you eat.”

The professional unions were led by: the “Bund,” the leftist “Poalei-Tzion,” the “Reds” (communists), and partially also the rightist “Poalei-Tzion,” which organized the unskilled workers.

The leftist “Poalei-Tzion” also conducted evening classes in the community, led by comrade Yosef Slushny. The evening classes were conducted at 46 Ogradowa Street and 16 Warsaw Street, and concerned cultural activities.

The largest craft, according to the number of workers, was the leather workers: shoemakers, boot makers, bootblacks, and makers of sports equipment. About 500 workers were employed in these professions. They were organized

[Page 409]

in the leather workers union. Second place was taken by the needle workers, with about 400 Jewish tailoring workers.

The professional unions were not only concerned with such labor matters as unemployment, the dead season, social problems, support in the winter, and so on—they were also concerned with cultural matters. They organized different social events, gatherings, lectures, and chess evenings. In the leather workers union, which was influenced by the “Reds,” there was also a drama club and a workers chorus. More than once these cultural undertakings were undermined by opponents, who would interrupt and make a commotion until the intervention of the “third side”—the police, who restored order by disbanding the gathering and arresting some of the workers for being communists…

In my days, the head of the leather workers union was the well-known Bundist M. Greenberg, and the secretary was—Friedrich. This union was a 4 Milne, but the workers were known to gather as a group for their heated discussions in the square across from the magistrate's and in the large beis-medresh between minchah and ma'ariv. They did not come to pray but only to discuss and agitate among the Jews about the salvation of mankind.

The service workers and wage earners were miserable: record keeping, for low wages and promissory notes and no social concerns.


In the Clothing Industry

There was a time when the needle workers in Siedlce had a strong professional union that watched out for their interests. But then it happened that the main worker, Yosef Slushny, who had devoted so much energy to the union, passed away.

After his death, a battle broke out among the parties over who should control the workers of Siedlce.

In the union there was a battle among the “Bund,” the “Reds,” and the leftist “Poalei-Tzion” and there were ideological arguments

[Page 410]

to draw workers to one side or the other. The arguments became violent. There were scandals and intrigues. The union became weaker. There was no money to pay the rent and the needle workers were evicted from the hall of the leatherworkers union on Milne.

The party friction stopped the development of the union and made it impossible for it to care for the interests of the needle workers.


In the Knitwear Industry

The knitwear industry began to develop in Siedlce after the Polish-Bolshevik War. It made great progress until 1930. Siedlce began to be counted as one of the great centers for the knitwear industry in the Polish province. During the season, 60 machines would be in operation twenty-four hours a day.

The knitwear workers were for the most part recruited from the so called genteel circles. A young man who had not succeeded in business and sought a new profession to support himself took up the knitwear industry. This was a job that one could learn quickly and soon begin to earn money.

I recall how these young people in 1927 organized the first strike for better wages. The union was then at 7 Pienke, under the auspices of the leather union. After the strike, the knitwear workers joined with the textile union in Lodz and opened a branch in Siedlce. The textile union was under the auspices of the P.P.S.

In season, the knitwear industry employed, counting also the workers from the small towns around Siedlce, around 800 workers. A number of workers learned the trade and then went to Warsaw or left the country—for Belgium, France, and South America. They settled there with their skill and today occupy honored places in the textile industry.

[Page 411]

There were also in Siedlce many workers in trades that lacked organization, like builders, milliners, carpenters, housepainters, hatmakers, and others. They seldom appeared in the organized professional workers movement. Before the Second World War, a branch of the business employees union opened in Siedlce, led by Chaim Reise.

A special spot in Siedlce was held by the “pioneer” training camps. Those who were associated with these camps learned skills in preparation for making aliyah to Eretz Yisroel, mostly in construction.

Over all, Jewish Siedlce had nothing to be ashamed of in regard to its productive workers. We can only regret that it was all brutally cut short and lives now only in our memories.

* *


The Jewish workers of Siedlce, like the workers throughout Poland, often had a taste of difficult crises, especially in the so-called “dead seasons. In order to complete our description of the lives of Siedlce's Jewish workers, we add a section called “The Dead Season” that was printed in the “Siedlcer Vochenblat.”


The “Dead Season”

From early in the morning until after dark you can encounter Jewish workers by the city hall or across from the magistrate's. They stand in groups, long rows stretched out—the unemployed, victims of the time.

Hungry people whose pale faces stare out as if from skeletons. They would turn their hands to work, but no one is interested.

More than one of them has a wife waiting at home with small children in a small dwelling where the wind blows in and the poor children cry out in a single voice: “Mama, bread!”

When night falls, you can still run into many of them in the beis-medresh where they come to warm up. They sit on a long bench by the stove, wiping off saliva, and more than one sighs out the questions, “From whence cometh my help?”

[Page 412]

There, too, in the beis-hamedresh, they sit in groups, like in a club, and speak among themselves about wars, world politics, crises, and so on.

Attention shifts to the Jew in the colorful torn clothing, with his sorrowful face; he tells everyone that in his dwelling are his wife and six children, as well as a son-in-law who lives with him—and he has no income. A year ago, he says, things were a little better. He was helped by the support for the unemployed that was provided by the magistrate and the community. He could afford a little warm food for his children, a bit of coal, wood, enough for survival, but today—there is nothing. No one hears about or sees any help. In such conditions there is nothing left but to die of hunger. “That's for sure”—everyone in the circle around him agrees. A second worker, a younger man, apparently self-confident, directs the whole anger of his starving stomach toward the heads of our busybodies, to our different providers. Even our designated work activists—he says—do not consider this catastrophic situation that comes with the “dead season.”

“Yes, yes, the dead season”—another takes over, a strongly optimistic young man who really believes that it will not always be so. “In fact,” he says, “all workers should be registered at the labor office for work mediation. Go to our Jewish work providers over whom the awfulness of high taxes hang like a heavy sword.”

“But oy, what can one do?” Screams a trembling older Jew, the father of four children, including two daughters. “Where does one get shoes for one's children? They can't go barefoot. And as for bread, potatoes, and other food,” he says, wtth tears in his eyes, “everything is cheap. 'An ox for a groschen, but there are no groschen.'”

Seeing this sad picture causes one's heart to ache.

[Page 413]

The Community

by P. Drumy (Popowsky)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Before 1926 people called the Siedlce community “The Dozor Prayer House.” In fact, that name described the state of the community, because both in its internal appearance and in the operations of its doors, it was like a “prayer house.”

As for the internal appearance: a long stable–like room. In the corner by the door sat R. Yitzchak Tenenbaum and recorded the newborn children, giving a notice to the magistrate so that the child could be registered–or to erase it in case of a death (rest in peace). In the other corner of the eastern wall sat his son, Hershel Tenenbaum, the secretary of the Jewish community. When a dozor arrives and wants to know something or when there is a meeting, the secretary's table is used, because there is no room for more than two tables.

The community organization had little effect on the population. Its activity consisted of collecting the community tax and paying the salary of the rabbinate. And this activity was conducted sloppily. The tax was collected, because this was done by the non–Jews, but the payment to the rabbis was always a couple of months behind. The income from slaughtering [there was a tax on kosher slaughtering], which affected the budget, was the business of the slaughterers, who divided the income among themselves. When a rebellion was led by the donor Yisroel Gutgelt, who persuaded the secular authority to help, and the slaughtering became a community issue, because he wanted the Talmud Torah to have a certain percentage of the slaughtering feels, it still seemed like a fiction. The slaughter of fowl seemed to be a kind of in–house business of the slaughterers.

[Page 414]

Each shochet slaughtered them in his home and the money went into his pocket. Although the shochets gave a percentage of the income from the slaughterhouse, they did not consent to slaughter for an agreed upon fee.

The small, puny subsidies for the “Ezras Y'somim” [the orphan home] and “Moshav Z'kaynim” [the old people's home] that were in the budget were collected with great difficulty and were always late.

Also the “Chevra Kadisha” [the burial society] and the “Mourners Society” were particularly unreasonable in serving their own interests. If even a moderately well–off person died and his relatives come to the “dozor prayer house” to get permission to carry out a burial, they had to go to the “Chevra Kadisha” to “complete the deal.” This was not so easy. The gabbais of the Chevra Kadisha were always “unavailable.” After the interested parties were exhausted from running from one to the other, they were given a price for what it would cost, and if they did not agree, the gabbais again became unavailable until they were informed by the head of the “Chevra Kadisha” that agreement had been reached. Then began the haggling with the “Mourners Society.”

The “Mourners Society” filled a real need. Before it existed, people would take the deceased to the cemetery in a wagon. If a rich person died or a big shot, friends and acquaintances would carry him and the wagon would follow behind. At a poor person's funeral, the deceased would go on the wagon and often there were not even ten men, a minyan, at the cemetery. So a group of men established the “Mourners Society.” The wagon with the horse was done away with. It was decided that people would carry anyone, with no distinction between rich or poor, a distinguished person or a common person. The “Mourners Society” took their mission seriously. Even in the hardest rains or in frost they carried out their job, or their business, and they gave the dead the “grace of truth.”

[Page 415]

The council of the Mourners Society

Seated: Moyshe Shmooklosz, Aryeh Galitzky, Yitzchak Rozengarten, Mordechai Gornicki, Berel Srebrenik
Standing: Moyshe Felshpan, Naftali Koopershmit, and Yerachmiel Levin


If a woman died, one had to go to the women's committee. They also took their work seriously and made no distinctions between rich and poor. For their services the Mourners Society received payment, and the community received no benefit from their income.

The only real source of income for the community–the tax–was not used as it should have been. From 4,000 families that were in Siedlce, only 360 paid the tax, that is, approximately ten percent. Even if we say that everyone in the 4,000 could pay the tax, seventy–five percent could, that is, 3,000. But the dozors did not want to increase the number of the “bosses.” The Zionist organization made a strong case the people should go to the community and say that they wanted to pay the tax. And truly, a number of comrades from the Zionist organization in Siedlce

[Page 416]

went to the “dozor prayer house” and asked that the tax be imposed on them. The dozors did not understand their prerogatives and duties even so far as, for example, hiring a cantor of the Great Synagogue, which was one of their activities. Thus was the cantorial contract for R. Yosef Posowski signed not only by the dozors but first by the rabbinate,


The contract for hiring the city cantor D. B. Posowskyu, signed by the rabbis, dozors, and by the respected, homeowning taxpayers

[Page 417]

and later by the dozors and then by all the taxpayers, although the cantor was hired by the community organization.

Thus had existed the situation until 1926, when elections were ordered for the community. The election ordinance was for the most part democratic. All men over 21 had voting rights, even those who paid no taxes. Women had no voting rights, because the Jewish community was counted as a religion. The following took part in that election for the Siedlce community: Zionists, Mizrachi, Agudah, Folkists, and the artisans. The “Bund” and the “Poalei Tzion” boycotted the election because of paragraph 20, which denied voting rights to the non–religious. The main battle in the election was played out between the “Agudah” and the Zionists. In every Chasidic prayer house and minyan there were calls from the rabbis, who implored the Jews to vote in the election for the “Agudah,” in order to prevent the community from falling into the hands of the Zionists, of sinners, who would destroy the Talmud Torahs and yeshivas and who would bring in Reform rabbis.

The result of the election was the following: of the 20 members of the community council, the “Agudah” won 10, 50%, and had no majority. The Zionist list–4, artisans–4. Three of the artisans were friends of the Zionist committee, so there were, in effect, 7 Zionists, and the fourth artisan sympathized with the Zionists. The Folkists and the “Mizrachi” each had one member.

The 20 members of the community council were supposed to elect a 10–person starring committee, and the Folkists and “Mizrachi” had no chance of placing a member on the steering committee, and they had no interest in placing anyone else there. Therefore they took no part in electing the steering committee. Consequently, the “Agudah” received 6 seats and the Zionists and artisans (8 voices) only 4 seats.

The members of the “Agudah” on the community council were: Yakov Szczerancki, Shimon Ridel, Moyshe Shlifke, Eliyahu Tenenbaum, Sender Kantor, Bunim Huberman, Moyshe Zakan, Yisroel Zlotowski, Berish Gurzalke, Yakov Zucker.

[Page 418]

From the Zionists: Y.N. Weintraub, Asher Urzel, M.A. Eisenstadt, and (making a division between the living and the dead) Dr. M Schleicher (now living in Israel); artisan–Zionists were Z.N. Malin, Shmuel Wahrman, Aaron Morecki, and Berl Srebnik. Folkist: Yosef Rosenzumen. Mizrachi: V. Arlavski.

Steering committee members were: From the “Agudah”: Yisroel Gutgelt, Ephraim Halberg, Berish Jakubowicz, Tuvia Shiffer, Yoel Slushni, Asher–Moyshe Gelkenbaum; Zionist and artisans: Moyshe Goldb erg, Yehuda Vodeh, Noson–Hersh Gurstein, and (making a division between the living and the dead) Fishl Popowski (now Dromi, living in Israel).

The first open meeting took place with the participation of the of the local official Mr. Kasztliosz. The agenda consisted of a single item: the election of a chair for the community council by the council members and a chair for the steering committee, elected by the committee members.

There were two candidates for chair of the community council: from the Zionists, the old Zionist activist Y.N. Weintraub, and from the “Agudah,” Yakov Szczeranski. This time the Folkists and Mizrachi went for our candidate. The result was: ten votes for the Zionist candidate Weintraub and ten for the Agudah candidate Szczeranski. According to the election rules, there had to be another vote. The third time, after a similar result, lots had to be drawn between the two candidates. The local official, Mr. Kasztliosz, who was taking part in the meeting, ruled, however, that since there had been a tie, that Szczeranski, the Agudah candidate, would be chair, and he ordered the election of a chair of the steering committee.

The writer of these words requested a word in order to explain the election. When I started to speak in Yiddish, the official interrupted and asked why I was not speaking in Polish. Was it because I did not want to or because I could not? I responded that according to the rules, only the chair was required to speak Polish. When a representative of the government was taking part, however, the members could speak in Yiddish and the representative could read the speech in the minutes or people could translate it into Polish for him. The audience that filled

[Page 419]

the hall was very happy with my answer.

After this incident, I made the following declaration:

“Over the course of years, the Zionist organization has led a cultural war against the character of the Jewish community organization. We are saying that the Jewish community organization should not be solely religious but also secular, that it should embrace the whole of Jewish life, that is, not only supporting the Talmud Torahs but also secular schools, if that is what the community wants. We have said, that the Jewish community should be concerned with all of the religious, cultural and social needs of Jewish society: starting libraries, evening courses, sports clubs, supporting the building up of Eretz Yisroel, and so on. Voting rights should be given to all persons over 18, without regard to gender, whether they pay taxes or not. But the government will not change the character of the Jewish community organization and continues to consider it as a religious organization. They took away from women the right to vote for this Jewish institution. Even though we are unhappy with the voting rules, we decided to take part in the community organization, but we really feel that the Jewish community organization should and must be not only a religious but also a secular institution.”

“But seeing the ruling by Mr. Official that violates the rules with the intention of boosting the “Agudah” against the Zionists, I declare that we will not recognize the chair of the Jewish community organization but will consider him as the chair of Mr. Official. We will not recognize his instructions until things are done according to the rules. And as a protest, I declare, in the name of the Zionists and the artisans, that we will not participate in the election for a chair of the steering committee.”

Dr. Schleicher translated my speech into Polish, and then he shouted, “I wish good luck to the to the government's nominee!” The official answered that he would send my declaration to the voyevoda . R. Yisroel Gutgelt was elected with six votes from the Agudah. With that, the first open meeting ended.

The “Agudah,” encouraged by the machinations of the official,

[Page 420]

undertook to ram through their program of “B'yad Khazakah” and in their new budget, supported by their majority, they supported only religious undertakings. Only one option remained for us–Zionists, artisans, and Folkists–to make long speeches and not allow the matter to come to a vote.

This abnormal situation of the community organization lasted for several months. Each meeting was fruitless. We could not vote on the budget, and the work of the organization was as if paralyzed, until there arrived an order from the voyevoda to cancel the nomination from the official for chair and to hold a lottery between the two candidates, that is, between Mr. Weintraub and Mr. Szceranski. An open meeting was called. The lottery was won by the veteran Zionist activist Mr. Weintraub. Most of the Jewish population of Siedlce, even some from the Agudah, received the results happily.

With the conclusion of the chair problem, the Agudah lost the majority on the council. The Agudah members, who were interested in a normal operation of the community organization, primarily R. Yisroel Gutgelt, broke with their prior principles and began to pay attention to our desires. They inserted in the budget subsidies for the Tarbus and Folk schools (admittedly, not as much as for the Talmud Torah), for Hebrew courses, and a subsidy for “Keren Kayames L'Yisroel.” Also, my proposal was approved that every pioneer who went up to Eretz Yisroel should receive a grant.

Thus did our Zionist activities in the community organization bring in a bit of worldliness and Jewish nationalism to the legal Jewish institution. On the steering committee it became difficult to tell the positions of the Agudah representatives. The officials from the Agudah often voted for Zionist proposals. How often some of the Agudists were influenced by our Zionist activities can be illustrated by the following:

When the education minister Miklaszewski visited Siedlce, the chair of the steering committee, Yisroel Gutgelt

[Page 421]

called a meeting and proposed that a delegation from the community organization should greet the minister. I was opposed this proposal and I gave the following reasons: 1) We were not invited, and 2) The minister, who had sent Jewish students to Jablona, and he should not be greeted, because greeting him without being bidden would show that we were happy with him, when the opposite was the case. At the time of the vote over my proposal, 2 members from the “Agudah” voted with me, and the proposal to offer greetings was defeated.


The soldiers under the leadership of Sergeant Zalman Freilich, who lives now in Israel (Netanya)
In the middle is David Popowski, who was in charge of the kosher kitchen


The town official, who learned about the vote, was quite let down and said, “What does Popowski think, that he and Lukaszewicz (a former deputy from the minority–bloc) will bring down Poland? I'll get even with those who voted with him.” He meant the “Agudah” members. The “Agudah” trustees were frightened, and when the chair called for another meeting to revise the vote, the 2 Agudah members voted in favor of the greeting.

As I have already explained, the election of Y.N. Weintraub

[Page 422]

as chair of the community organization had created the possibility of progressive work in the community. We began to bring a little bit of order to the life of the Jewish community.

The community organization took over the supervision of slaughtering as well as slaughtering of fowl, and the slaughterers became salaried workers. Also for the Chevra Kadisha we ordered that people did not have to go around searching for the gabbais in their private dwellings. I must praise the gabbais of the Chevra Kadisha. It was not difficult to persuade them that it was more appropriate and better for them as well that the natter if paying final honors to the dead was centered in the community organization. Understand that they voted to approve what we had assured them that all the expenses of the Chevra would be taken care of by the organization, even the traditional kiddush on the eve of the 8th of Shevat. But things were difficult with the Mourners Society. After long negotiations, we came to an agreement that burials would be coordinated by the community organization. Only the women's group, that was responsible for the care of women who had died, remained independent as a concession. The women's group was led by: Puryah from the Soda Water, the wife of R. Leibele Rosenberg, Chanah Ribawski, Chanah Popowski, and others.


The Jewish soldiers with the committee at the seder


In the institutions that received larger subsidies

[Page 423]

there was a representative from the community organization. I was the representative for the “Ezras–Y'somim.” At Pesach, the steering committee organized a kitchen for the Jewish soldiers. We also founded a “G'milas–Chesed” [charity] fund where hundreds of people received loans of of up to 200 zlotys without interest. This helped them get on their feet. Small merchants and workers who could not get loans in the banks used the charity fund.

Thanks to these activities in the Siedlce community organization, there began a true Jewish representation that everyone had to deal with. Yisroel Gutgelt, although he had been elected by the Agudah and was one of their leaders, when he saw that we Zionists would invigorate the Jewish community, he would often ask important questions and hold consultations with the Zionist leaders. The Zionists fulfilled their promise that they had made at the first meeting of the Siedlce community organization, that they would institute secular concerns.

[Page 424]

After I left Siedlce at the end of 1932, cooperative work was accomplished by the steering committee members.

At the last election of the organization, there were also Bundists and “Poalei–Tzion” members.

After there was an election for a rabbi, which brought about a battle between the “Mizrachi” and “Agudah” candidates, the cooperation between the Zionists and the “Agudah” came to an end. And so it was until the world war, when the Nazis erased and ended the life of the Jewish community in Siedlce.


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