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[Pages 28-40]



After the fall of the January Uprising,a the Polish administration was abolished and was replaced by a new administrative division based on that in Russia. The country was divided into 10 provinces [gubernias]: Warsaw, Płock, Lublin, Łomża, Kalisz, Kielce, Piotrków, Radom, Siedlce, and Suwałki. Supreme authority was held by the Warsaw governor-general. He functioned as the commander of the Warsaw military district and stood at the head of the entire administration of the country. The Warsaw governor-general was the intermediary between the central authorities in St. Petersburg and the administrations subordinated to him on the territory of the Kingdom.b

Siedlce Province was founded on 1 January 1867 out of the northern part of the former Lublin Province and the small part of Stanisławów County that had been separated from Warsaw Province. In terms of area, Siedlce Province was the third largest in the Kingdom after Warsaw Province and Lublin Province. The province consisted of 12 cities, and Siedlce became the provincial capital. This event was followed by the city's development, which could be seen in the area of construction and the occupations connected with it: masonry, carpentry, woodwork, metalwork, and house painting. Arriving tsarist office workers needed housing of an appropriate standard. Houses were thus built for them or apartments rented. Housing rental became a good and regular source of income. A Municipal Credit Society was appointed, which issued construction loans. Between 1860 and 1890, construction work was mostly done by Jews. Only at the beginning of the twentieth century did Polish workers organize their own guild and successfully compete with Jewish trade workers, who were not successful in uniting and forming their own national guild. Shoemakers also enjoyed economic prosperity. They prepared whole transports of footwear, which was shipped into the depths of Russia. Master shoemakers were divided into two categories at that time. The first consisted of so-called authorized ones. These were trade workers who worked on their own and were distinguished by good, professional merchandise. The others were so-called outworkers [cottage workers]. These were shoemakers who worked for a larger middleman, who provided them with material and commissioned them to do the work. They did their work in their homes, thus their name. Their sales were highest in the winter, when they sold inventory made during the summer. Shoemakers were well organized; there were about 150 “authorized shoemakers” and about 200 “outworkers,” so at least 350 trade workers and their families in the city supported themselves through shoemaking. That was a considerable number in those days. If any one of them had financial troubles, he could get credit in cash or goods from such potentates as Orzeł or money changer S. B. Minel. Gaiter makers also experienced a period of prosperity. They were involved in the production of boot tops and gaiters. They were divided into two categories: authorized and trade. The “authorized” ones had the same status as authorized shoemakers. The “trade” ones, however, prepared merchandise for export. There were about 34 masters and about 100 workers among the gaiter makers. Unlike the shoemakers, the gaiter makers did not see a decrease in supply due to the outbreak of World War I because the military placed orders. Tailors formed another group of prosperous trade workers. There were about 35 master tailors in the city, and they were divided into five categories. The first were called “regimental” because they sewed for the needs of the army stationed in the city. Five masters and their helpers worked in this category. The second group contained twelve Jewish tailors and one Christian. They serviced the local Polish landowners and nobility as well as tsarist office workers. The third group comprised tailors for women, numbering five masters. The next group comprised nine so-called “cut-raters,” who sewed using inferior materials and with less precision. The final group, comprising four masters, was specialized in servicing clients from the countryside and was thus called the “rural” group. About 100 people made a living at tailoring, including dressmakers and seamstresses.

Training someone for a trade took place in a practical way, when a boy was around 13 and his parents determined that their son has a “bad head for study.” They then placed him in the care of a master, who was paid for four years. Such a youngster was called a “boy to be taught a trade.” During this time he could learn very little, because he was more often used for housework than for the trade work itself. And so he would chop wood for fuel, carry water, buy produce for the master's wife, and even rock the cradle. After four years, he “got off training” and became a “yearly boy.” He would get a small compensation once a year. After this he became a “time boy,” that is, he would be paid for half a year after working through this time. Only after working through several half-years would he become a “weekly”—he would receive his pay after each week of work. The workday lasted from sunup to sundown during the summer and longer in winter. On Fridays before Shabbat, he worked shorter hours but without breakfast breaks. There were no vacations, and the master had complete power over the workers.

The post-uprising period in Podlasie was characterized by intensified Russification. Facts about the forcible conversion of the followers of the Uniate Church to Russian Orthodoxy are well known.c Jews were also subject to attempts at Russification. A story circulated among the Jewish population of Siedlce, written down by Icchak Nachum Weintraub, about how the wife of a convert along with pious and less pious Jews sued her husband, Icchak Josel, who had converted to Russian Orthodoxy. He forcibly kidnapped and christened his younger son, who lived with his mother. The Jews, to whom the court did not return the child, kidnapped the boy from the home of the Russian to whom he had been entrusted and brought him up in the faith of his fathers so as to save him from Russification.1
The turn of the century found the Siedlce Jews in the situation that was described by Z. Zchuchit, correspondent for Hamelitz (The Advocate):

Siedlce, one of the provincial seats in Poland, must be counted among the cities suffering such a bad fate. It is not often spoken of in the press, both to the good and to the ill, and it was for this reason that I decided to visit it and offer my impressions to public opinion. The number of Jews residing in Siedlce before the census was 18 thousand. Among them, thank God, are to be found both the wealthy and the very rich who could do much for the benefit of existing institutions and also to influence their brothers, impoverished both spiritually and materially. This is what the reader who is far from this city might think, but this is how the matter stands. Let us look just at the material condition of the population. The situation in commerce has worsened lately worldwide. Wages are low, especially since there is stagnation in trade and industry throughout Poland. Thus there is no industry or any branch of trade in a provincial seat such a Siedlce aside from booths and trade workers, whom we know from every small town and who earn their living through their hard work. Every resident of Siedlce who has any cash opens up a little booth, places his meager wares on the shelves, and sells it on credit. Understandably, he cannot get any earnings from this, but alas, what is he to do when there is no other way? This is why in Siedlce there are more booths than buyers and there is not a house in which one would not find a shop. The battle for existence is terrible. If someone crosses the street, he is set upon by hucksters who pull at him, each toward his own booth. The passer-by is stunned. People who have money in their pockets become moneylenders, and the helpless borrowers have no other way out and are forced to pay whatever interest is asked of them, and even interest for the interest. It is therefore no surprise that in a short time they become bankrupts and cannot make ends meet. […] If they only understood they would start building factories, and thousands of Jews could find work there. Is in not laughable, that in a provincial seat such a Siedlce there is not a single factory? Every Jew likes to fake [imitate—author's note] another. If only one Jew would try to build a factory and be successful, many others would decide to compete with him. The proof is the stores that grow like mushrooms after a rain. […] The moral situation is no better than the material. Charitable organizations that could ameliorate the situation of the needy are completely nonexistent in the city. To the extent that there are societies called “Visiting the Sick” or “Medical Aid,” they, too, are in a state of disorder. The directors do not issue reports, and no one requires them to be accountable. Does an institution such as a “Loan Fund,” which is in such great need, even exist, especially now when the situation is so grave? Will anyone believe me when I say that even that institution is lacking? If someone becomes impoverished, then he should die of hunger. There is no prospect of a loan, except from those extortionists. To tell the truth, that are a few people here with good hearts who have willing hands for helping and improving the fallen and the impoverished, but one swallow does not make it spring . . . How distant are the rich Siedlce Jews from their brothers. The poverty of these people does not concern them in the least, about which we can be convinced by the following: In the published list of donors for the benefit of Bessarabian farmers who have suffered from the drought there is not one name from Siedlce! They did not offer even a kopeck. Why do the people of Siedlce distance and isolate themselves from the wider world and do not want to know what is happening under their noses?2

A [local branch of] the General Union of Jewish Workers in Russia and Poland—the Bundd—was founded in Siedlce in 1902. The Siedlce Socialist Committee stood at its head. It was created by Abraham Jabłoń, a woodworker, the grandson of the colonial merchant Chaim Szlomo Jabłoń, who was well known in the city at the time. The leading activists of the Committee were Eliasz Wicha, Zelman Jankiel Bursztyn, Tobiasz Kogan, Majer Liberand, Moszko Lias, Jankiel Ratyniewicz, Abram Lewin, Jakub Szczupak, Dawid Kunin, Etna Abramowicz, and Paja Leńska-Barszcz.3 The Bund strove for a socialist revolution, as a result of which the proletariat was to take power. It also recognized the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat during the transitional phase. It fought against the emerging Zionist movement, whose aim was the formation of a Jewish state. The Bund saw the solution of the Jewish problem through the victory of socialism. Socialism was to bring the solution to their social and national problems to the Jews where they lived and where they would continue to live. This was to be achieved through the formation of national-cultural autonomy for them. It is for this reason that they voiced a need for the organizational autonomy of Jewish socialists. The Siedlce Bund at the beginning of 1906 was one of the more numerous organizations on the territory of the Kingdom after Warsaw, Łódź, and Białystok and counted about 200 members.4 Bund combat troops for the province as a whole numbered about 80 people. These combat units were organized in Siedlce, Sokołów Podlaski, Węgrów, Parczew, Włodawa, and Biała Podlaska.

Just a year after its formation, the Bund was organizing a variety of efforts. During the night on 1 May 1903, Bund members distributed flyers calling for the celebration of Labor Day. Those who were in the Siedlce prison hung red flags from their windows, yelled out anti-tsarist slogans, and sang revolutionary songs during prison exercise sessions. Etna Abramowicz was the most active participant in these events.5 What was happening in the Siedlce prison reached many people. It also reached Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote in The Family Moskat, “One of the men started to talk about the prison in Siedlce and the political prisoners confined there. They created their own self-rule. On 1 May, they dyed a piece of a white shirt with blood and made a flag out of it. There was a girl there, a consumptive, who was locked in a single cell. She poured kerosene on herself and set herself on fire.”6

There was a poem, “In Battle,” that was popular among Siedlce Bundists:

We are hated and expelled
We are persecuted and tormented
And all because we love
The people, poor and underfed.

They hang us and they shoot at us
They take our lives and our rights
Because we genuinely demand
Freedom for the hated peasants.7

In 1902, the Municipal Committee for Promoting Public Sobriety built a grand building that was popularly called the Public Teahouse. This was a cultural center for czarist functionaries and a place for propagating the Russian language and culture. One could there find all the most important newspapers appearing on the territory of the Russian Empire. It was important that one could get boiling water at no cost, and also tea and sugar at a small cost. This building, which exists to this day, became the meeting place for young socialists.8 They would come here and over a cup of hot water or tea acquaint themselves with the official press, exchange conspiratorial writings, and discuss the revolution in a warm and esthetically pleasing environment. The tsarist gendarmes, however, discovered the true goal of these social get-togethers and put the building under surveillance. Several people were arrested, and some were searched. So the socialists went deeper underground. The head Bundist, Meir Wicha, rented an apartment in the attic on Przechodnia Street. The owner of the house was Mendel Liwerant. A signboard was hung on the front of the building announcing that this apartment housed a bookbinder's workshop. This was to justify the large number of people visiting this apartment, all the more so since Meir Wicha was a bookbinder by trade. Only initiated comrades, as the Bundists called themselves, met in this apartment, and a printing press was run with the use of a hectograph. Proclamations, flyers, and brochures were printed by Zelman Bursztajn, Jakow Liwerant, and Ratyniewicz. When the socialist movement gained more and more followers, it was decided to form a so-called guild. At a designated time, especially on Saturdays after the midday meal, groups of conspirators would go out onto Warszawska Street (currently Piłsudski Street) and stroll between Szpitalna Street (currently Kochanowski Street) and Wojskowy Square (currently Pogoń Stadium). During these strolls, they would exchange papers and brochures. Agitators would try to talk young people into joining the party.

The intense agitation of the socialists soon led to the first strike. It was staged in the spring of 1902 among construction workers, especially carpenters. After agreements and secret balloting, it was decided that the following demands were to be presented to all the city's masters: 1. a twelve-hour workday; 2. a 90-minute break for the midday meal and a 30-minute break for breakfast; 3. work to take place during specific and constant hours; 4. masters should treat their workers better; 5. apprentices should be learning their trade and not be humiliated and exploited for household work.

Cards with the demands were stamped with a round stamp with the inscription “Org. Jewish Union of Russia, Lithuania, and Poland, Siedlce.” In the middle of the stamp was a pair of clasped hands, a symbol of brotherhood. At first all the masters disregarded the demands. As soon as the season for construction work began, however, they acceded to the demands. The example of the construction workers influenced the house painters and the workers of the leather and tailoring industries. They all went on strike and won. After these successful strike actions, the tsarist police increased surveillance and in the spring of 1903 discovered the concealed apartment. Its owner, Meir Wicha, and Tojwele Kagan, an apprentice, were arrested. The police confiscated the hectograph, the party archive, and numerous brochures. During the investigation, Jankiel Ratyniewicz, Maks Szlomo Stołowy, Mosze Lias, and a person with the pseudonym “Long Kiwa” were detained. After spending a year in jail, Mosze Lias came home with advanced tuberculosis and soon died. His funeral turned into a demonstration. At the request of the family, the Bundists did not sing revolutionary songs or give speeches at the gravesite. When the funeral procession came to the “guild,” that is, Szpitalna Street (currently Kochanowski Street), the Bundists unhitched the horse from the hearse and pulled it to the cemetery themselves. There they merely put down wreaths. The arrests did not stop the robust activity of the Bund. New activists appeared: Estera Mastbaum (the sister of Judl, “The Sloven”), Icie Stalow, Jehuda Liwerant, Herszel Liwerant, Jehoszua Szpigielman, and Izrael Chruściel. Their new leader was “Boris,” sent from Warsaw. During the summer, larger party gatherings took place in the fields outside the city or in the orchard of the tailor Alter Bulc. In winter, they would meet in the apartments of party members; they also tried to organize meetings in houses of prayer,9 but the religious congregants would chase them out or would continue their services during the meeting. Jostling and fighting would even break out. In connection with the many arrests that followed upon such energetic activity, a Committee for Aid to Political Prisoners was formed. Its main task was to collect funds to help the imprisoned. It was headed by a bookkeeper who worked in the S. B. Minz firm. He was helped, among others, by Jankiel Goldsztern “The Diplomat,” Abraham Zygielwaks, Meir the son of Alter Słuszny, and Meir the son of Abram Słuszny.

In 1904, Siedlce had a population of about 24,000, of which 15,320 were Jews.10 The cities of Siedlce Province, especially Terespol, Włodawa, Międzyrzec, and Sokołów Podlaski, were populated by Jews who had emigrated from Russia after the intense persecution that took place during 1870–1890.11

On the eve of 1 May 1904, the tsarist authorities, in an attempt to thwart the prepared demonstration, arrested PPS [Polish Socialist Party—trans. note] activist Romański along with his son and the apprentice Stępiński, as well as Bund activists “Georgii” and Pricel “The Squirt.” The arrests did not frighten the socialist activists, however. Numerous groups with red ribbons appeared on the streets 1 May and forced the peddlers to close their stalls. In answer, mounted and foot military patrols appeared on the streets. A demonstration took place, which was described by a witness: “A multihued crowd of workers immediately appeared on Warszawska Street [currently Piłsudski Street—author's note]. Red flags flew. The street was flooded with slogans and workers' songs. In the front rank walked PPS members, workers, peasants, Jewish youths from Chassidic homes, and slaughterhouse workers. The parade walked down a few blocks. Siedlce was seeing such a unique sight for the first time. Mounted soldiers rode up and dispelled the demonstration with the hilts of their sabers. There were no casualties. It made a sensational impression on the city.”12 On 27 May 1904, the Bund organized a picnic in Ignanie Grove, where a battle had taken place on 10 April 1831 during the November Uprising in which the Poles were victorious. The location was not chosen randomly. By alluding to this historical battle, the socialists wanted to show that the Russian army could be defeated. About 200 people attended the rally. In his speech, Abraham Jabłoński presented the difficult position of workers and the needed solutions. After him, a “Litwak”e who had arrived for the occasion, discussed conditions in the Russo–Japanese War. The area on which the rally was taking place was suddenly surrounded by dragoons led by Kusakov, and the whole action was coordinated by chief of police Shedever. The members of the rally were surrounded by a double cordon. After they were all gathered in one place and tightly surrounded, the dragoons, with curses on their lips, rode into the crowd and hacked with their sabers, aiming for heads. The wounded and fleeing were stopped and arrested by the soldiers in the second cordon. About 50 people were wounded, among whom 11 severely. These were, among others, Grinka Isz, a student of the Public Secondary School [gimnazjum], who received a saber cut on the neck and was only just saved by Siedlce doctors; Golda Eta Simes, a young Bund activist, received head and chest wounds, as a result of which she ailed for several years and died; “Yellow Stelmach,” a young man from Łuków, who received a saber cut on his hand; a young unknown woman, whose ear was cut off with a saber.

About 200 people were detained and taken to prison, where right past the gates they were brutally beaten. The prisoners were gathered in the yard, where the preliminary hearings were held. All the detainees maintained that this was not a political meeting but just a picnic. The judges, who sat behind a long, solid table, were Voikov, the deputy governor; Skariatin, the prosecutor; Shedever, the chief of police; V. Bilich, the captain of horse of the gendarmerie; Sawicki, a municipal doctor; Dawid Szwarc, a municipal paramedic; and Abraham Kamieński, a watchman of the Jewish community council.13 The doctor and the paramedic directed the wounded to the prison hospital or the Jewish hospital, and watchman Kamieński confirmed or denied that someone was a member of the local community. The point was to catch and arrest “outsiders.” The most severely wounded were taken to the Jewish hospital, which was manned by medical director Maurycy Sztein, his assistant and student Abramowski, paramedic Aharon Gran, and trustee Icchak Nachum Weintraub.14 During the time the hearings were taking place, a crowd gathered in front of the prison, made up mostly of the family members of those who were arrested. The brutal action of the police and army caused greater sympathy to be felt by the residents of the city toward the Bund. The victims were given support in the form of monetary donations and food. The wounded placed in the Jewish hospital were ostentatiously visited and brought gifts and comfort. After these incidents, it was determined to expand the “self-defense,” whose goal would be the prevention of future pacificatory actions of this kind as well as the implementation of retaliatory measures.

On 3 February 1905, the students of the Public Secondary School for Boys proclaimed a school strike. On the day before the strike, students of other nationalities were informed that the strike was of a national nature, which meant that participation in it was not compulsory for others, that is, Jews and Russians. The main demand was the Polonization of the school. In this situation the Jewish youth made an independent decision. At the end of February, 33 Jewish students of the upper classes stopped going to school and sent a letter by mail to the administration. They stated that they were joining the petition submitted by their Polish schoolmates. After this incident, Kazimierz Stein was made the Jewish delegate on the strike committee. The school was attended at that time by 314 children, including 53 Jews, of which 33 supported the strike, even though in the early period it was run by supporters of the National Democratic movement.e Twenty-three students were expelled for participation in the strike, while ten were able to present “important circumstances for [their] absence.”15

An intensification of the revolutionary movement took place in 1905. During that year, under the influence of the Seventh Conference of the PPS, this party became more closely connected with the Bund. A joint action was the celebration of 1 May in the form of a general strike. The planned demonstration did not take place in Siedlce because a large number of Russian troops were stationed in the city. In the evening, however, a small demonstration took place spontaneously as well as a clash between the Jewish population and the military on Warszawska Street. These people hid from the street into the synagogue, where clashes also took place. Twenty-three people were wounded; forty members of the Bund and one member of the PPS were arrested. The demonstration was joined in a symbolic way by the political prisoners in the Siedlce prison. They hung red scarves and flags from the windows of their cells.16

For the terror of the tsarist authorities toward the revolutionaries, the PPS and the Bund issued several death sentences against the most zealous tsarist functionaries. The first organized terrorist act of the revolutionaries was the successful bomb attack against police chief Shedever on 22 May 1905. The attack was carried out by one of the “combat ten” of the PPS led by Tytus Bobrowski.17 Within the framework of these acts, the Bund combat unit headed by Mendel Rychter was successful in assassinating Bartniczuk, a member of the Rural Guard. The Rural Guard fulfilled a role similar to the gendarmerie. On 21 and 28 June, the combat units assassinated the guard Muszyc and cavalry sergeant Michalewski.

On 28 June 1905, a sympathy strike took place in Siedlce connected with demonstrations by the Jewish population supporting the workers of Łódź. On 23–25 August, another strike took place that also encompassed the railroad station. The authorities took energetic action to combat it. Ten “agitators” were arrested, half of whom were Bund members and half were from the PPS. In retaliation, a squad of dragoons were fired upon that evening on Wojskowy Square (currently Pogoń Stadium on Piłsudski Street), and Grzegorz Kubik, a patrolling guard, was fired upon on Piękna Street (currently Pułaski Street). On 25 August on Wojskowy Square, Feliks Zaremba from the PPS carried out an armed assassination attempt on an officer of the dragoons, and the following evening the patrols on Długa Street (currently Bishop I. Świrski Street) and Ogrodowa Street (currently Sienkiewicz Street) were fired upon.

In addition to political battles, the Bund also fought against the “criminal underground.” The Bundists performed their first action on 10 October 1905. This was the day for setting the cornerstone under the new Catholic church, which is currently a cathedral. The ceremony attracted a large number of the faithful. The Jewish thieves and burglars from Mińsk Mazowiecki decided to take advantage of this occasion. The Siedlce Bund members found out about this and scattered volunteers from the “self-defense” group throughout the gathered crowd. They noticed that a certain Josel (characteristically called “the Louse”), a pickpocket, was stealing from the assembled people. The attempt to apprehend him led to fierce fighting, as a result of which Josel was taken to the hospital. After this physical and moral victory, the Bundists decided to wage war against brothels and prostitutes. At that time the so-called Moscow Cottage was functioning legally in Siedlce. It was called that because its owner was a veteran of the tsarist army who “serviced” the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Siedlce garrison. A Bundist combat unit chased out the prostitutes and burned down the house. The workers also tried to convince the prostitutes to change their occupation. There were apparently positive cases where the ladies abandoned their occupation and developed relationships with their “benefactors.”18 In response to the attacks, the criminals made retaliatory attacks, but not in the city, where the Bund controlled everything. Those who were attacked were Siedlce trade workers and merchants in nearby towns such as Mordy, Łosice, or Sokołów Podlaski. The criminals were supported by the merchants from these towns, who pointed out the “outsiders.” In response, the Bund combat units, especially on market days, would blockade the roads leading into Siedlce and turn back residents from the above-named towns who were coming to the provincial seat. In this way, they not only prevented them from engaging in trade but also from taking care of official business. The conflict ended with an agreement reached with the delegates from the particular towns and the leadership of the party. A fierce conflict occurred during the strike at the shoe factory belonging to the Seber brothers, Szmilke and Icie, called “Koszeces.”19 The factory was automated. Its owners were known for the brutal treatment of their several dozen workers: they would swear at them and even beat them. Knowing the brutality of the Seber brothers, the Bundists long delayed taking up action against them. However, their roughness toward their workers and the prestige of the party tipped the scales in favor of calling a strike. The Bund sent the Seber brothers demands whose goal was a bettering of the lot of the workers. The “Koszeces” reacted with derision and threats against the Bundists. So when one of the brothers, Szmilke, went to Warsaw, the Bund combat units there sentenced him and exacted “corporal punishment.” After returning to Siedlce, the Seber brothers along with other “Koszeces” severely beat two Bundist activists: Chaim Golberg “Bone” and Zalman Bursztajn “Priel,” who sustained a head injury. Combat units made up of “Koszeces” workers dispersed the “guilds” on the streets with revolvers in their hands. The Bund decided to use force to deal with the Seber brothers and brought in members of combat units from Kałuszyn and Mińsk Mazowiecki. The fight against other merchants connected with the “Koszeces,” namely, Wiktor Koszec, who was a monopolist in the fruit trade in the region, and Ibl Hol, dealing in fish. Ibl Hol was attacked, severely beaten, and robbed of his merchandise. This attack had broad repercussions because not enough fish was delivered to the city for Shabbat. The fruit stalls of selected merchants were demolished. Some serious incidents seemed inevitable. Seeing this, the “Koszeces” offered a proposition of coming to an understanding and easing the situation. The leadership of the Bund accepted such an outcome of the matter with pleasure. The prestige of the party grew substantially among the residents.

A heightening in a revolutionary mood took place before 1 May 1906. Red flags and banners appeared with the signs “Away with the Cossack Duma” and “Long live the revolution.” The banners were “decorated” with mock-up bombs. The demonstration on the day of 1 May did not take place because the military and the police were placed on high alert.

As part of the Duma boycott on 2 May 1906, a Bund combat unit intended to launch an attack in Siedlce on the province-wide meeting that was called in connection with the opening of the Duma session. This meeting took place in the building of the Rural Credit Society. The action did not succeed. The bomb slipped from the hands of the assassin on the street and exploded. The tsarist police managed to arrest two assassins: Josek Międzyrzecki and Jankiel Rychter. During the arrest, an exchange of fire took place between the police and the cover group.20

In Siedlce there was also a Jewish Organization of the Polish Socialist Party [hereafter referred to by its Polish acronym: ŻO PPS—trans. note]. It was most influential among the gaiter makers. ŻO PPS had about 70 members and about 100 sympathizers. It was founded by Abraham Kadysz.21 The most active members were Mosze Kalmanowicz (the son of the well-known Chassid, the follower of the tzadik from Kock), Isroel Cymerman, Michał Agresbaum, Mosze “the Chassid,” Abraham Federman, Oszer Levite, Josel Sztos, and Chaim Serbaj. The regional leader was Mendel Radzyński.22 The calling of a meeting for 22 December 1905 that was attended by about 3,000 people attests to its activity. At this meeting, a resolution was adopted postulating the convocation of a Constitutional Assembly in St. Petersburg and in Warsaw.23 In April 1905, with the cooperation of Judl Mastbaum “the Sloven,” the ŻO PPS organized a combat unit consisting of 15 combatants.24 The ŻO PPS acted in the shadow of the Siedlce PPS and Bund. The socialist movement had significant support in Siedlce. Joel Mastbaum, Judl's brother, who along with his mother was the only one in the whole family who did not support the socialist movement, thus described his father's views in his characteristic memoirs titled Red Years: “My father was wont to lean his hands against the taproom bar and either himself tell or listen to heroic tales of Christians and Jews about the uprising against the Russians. He would listen to the peasants cursing the Russian tsar or would swear himself and tell the peasants that Jesus was only a man and the Jews that Moses the Law-Giver was a socialist.”25 In 1904, an attempt was made to establish a secret press for “Robotnik” [the Worker—trans.], the mouthpiece of the PPS. The press was to be housed in the apartment of Doctor Majerczak, a Polonized Jew and member of the PPS. A large house was even bought in the doctor's name that would be suitable for this purpose. A typesetter, Mojżesz Chirurg, even came to Siedlce to set it up properly. Unfortunately, as a result of the start of the Russo–Japanese War, Doctor Majerczak was mobilized into the tsarist army and left Siedlce.26 This is how Józef Piłsudski recalled that time: “During the Japanese war, I happened upon Siedlce in my underground work. The address of a certain factory was recommended to me; it was actually a plain dye workshop, and the owner [Garbiec—author's note], a kind-hearted chubby man, was to receive me. […] After a lengthy conversation, when I had already taken care of all my business, he felt some kind of exceptional sympathy toward me and turned to me before my departure: 'We cannot part like this. Allow me to share with you the greatest souvenir as a farewell gift.' And from behind the ceiling of his little factory he pulled out two small pieces of tissue wrapped in a multitude of small sheets of paper. One could see on them the stamp of the National Government. I asked where this came from. He told me the story: These tissues had survived the hell of Siberian penal servitude and then returned to Poland. A certain mayoral aide, a Jew, returned from penal servitude and could not find a place for himself in his new life, having left one shore and not arrived at the other. When he was dying in cramps and pain, he gave this sacred relic to the father of this trade worker. Now this heir to the tradition of Rawicz's work is sharing this holy relic with me as one would share a communion wafer; he kept one tissue and gave the other to me for my later life.”27

The Siedlce ŻO PPS ceased to exist at the end of 1909. At that time the most vigorous Jewish activists were arrested: Michał Agresbaum, a Bundist and coworker of the ŻO PPS; Mendel Radzyński, the leader of the ŻO PPS; as well as Judel Mastbaum, Modest Zieliński, and Modzko Kalmanowicz.28 The activity of the ŻO PPS died out after the arrest of these activists. Only the distribution of PPS declarations printed outside of Siedlce in Yiddish continued. Jankiel Langer and Jankiel Fejlich took care of this. Jankiel Langer was arrested in 1913.29

In 1903, a group of ten people, with Izrael Tabakman at their head, was removed from the Bund. In his memoirs, he justifies this action in the following way: “We were all politically educated on Bundist propaganda brochures, books that told us of the battle of the heroic Russian proletariat against the tsar, of the huge strikes of many thousands of workers against the capitalists, of the arrests, imprisonments, and executions. All of this had an effect on our moral sensibilities, and we were prepared for the battle against tsarism and the exploitation of workers. This was the battle we waged on the 'Jewish street' in Siedlce, a battle against a long workday, for better pay, and for better treatment of us. But as soon as we encountered our opponents on the 'Jewish street,' our 'pitiful' Siedlce capitalists, whose workshops were located between their beds, when during a strike we met the tears of the wives of the 'manufacturers,' who lamented, 'What do you want from us? Do the opposite, get my husband work; then at least I'll have something for Shabbat'—then we started to look at this reality with different eyes.”30 After another 20 people joined them, they created an organization called New Workers—Zionists. It was headed by Izrael Tabakman and Motl Korzenicki. Their goal was to create a Jewish state in Palestine with a socialist political system. For agitational purposes, they set up their guild on one of the streets of Siedlce. Then they became part of the Zionist organization that was operating in Siedlce, Ha-Tkhiya (“Rebirth”). Izrael Tabakman, Motl Korzenicki, and Abraham Zilbersztajn were coopted into the existing Ha-Techiya Committee, which was composed of Górewicz, the leader of the Siedlce Zionists and a teacher in the Hebrew school; Perec Komar, a shoemaker; Szlomo Weintraub, a secondary-school student; Mejer Rozenwaser, the son of a cigarette producer; Luba Ajzensztat, a secondary-school student; and Motl Berenbojm, a bookbinder.31

In 1905, the Siedlce Zionist community was enlivened by Alter Gotlib. The meeting place for various Zionist groups was the Beit Hamidrash at Icie Mały's on Piękna Street. There propaganda campaigns were led by local Zionists, such as Górewicz or the above-mentioned Gotlib, as well as by invited activists, among them Josef Szpryncak and Jakow Szajnberg, delegates to the Sixth Zionist Congress. A large group of Zionists with socialist views took part in these discussions. A result of these meetings was the emergence of the Poalei Zion party, which brought together dissatisfied members of Ha-Techiya. The dissatisfaction stemmed largely from the differences of opinion on the subject of the social program. The split was brought about by the group of activists who were under the influence of the articles of Dov Ber Borokhov printed in Evreyskaya zhizn [Jewish Life, Russian periodical—trans.].32 This is how Izrael Tabakman recalled that day: “Róża Lerner, a member Ha-Techiya, made available to us premises in a new house that her father, Jakow Lerner, had built on Ogrodowa Street. There were no tenants there yet. A discussion took place in this house that lasted from Friday evening to Saturday night without interruption. All the Zionist groupings, including the Socialist Zionists, were present at this discussion. Speeches were made by Górewicz, the two delegates, and Alter Gotlip. The next day, at the last session, after a short report and a brief discussion, we decided to form the Poalei Zion party.33 The Poalei Zion committee was made up of Izrael Tabakman, Mejer Rozenwaser, Gabiel Szlechter, Motl Tajblum, Motl Korzenicki, Luba Ajzensztat, and Motl Berenbojm.34 In 1905, Poalei Zion supported the shoemakers' strikes and fought against the so-called Koszeces family. Dov Ber Borokhov was on the side of combining the socialist and Zionist ideologies. He considered the mass emigration of Jews and the creation by them of a Jewish state in Palestine to be an inevitable process, being an expression of the aspirations of the Jewish proletariat. He considered Jews living in diaspora (dispersion) to be a transitional and inappropriate situation. Regardless of the progress of emancipation, he was also an opponent of assimilation.

Between 1903 and 1905, [a branch of] the Zionist-Socialist party was created in Siedlce at whose head was Bojarski, a student of the Siedlce secondary school. Mosze Cukier, Abraham Giebel, and Zilkie Kawa were active members of this party.35 The Zionists-Socialists supported the immediate need of creating a Jewish state with a socialist system. They did not specify the place where this state was to be formed. The Zionists-Socialists formed armed combat units, buying arms from the Ostrołęka Regiment that was stationed in Siedlce. Bojarski 's arrest and deportation to the place of his birth, that is, to the depths of Russia, slowed the developing activity of the Zionists-Socialists. They continued to be active but no longer found as many followers. In 1907, Apolinary Hartglas gave a speech to them. This is how he recalled those moments: “Shortly thereafter I received an invitation to a meeting of the local Zionist-Socialist Organization in Siedlce. I went there out of curiosity. The meeting at a secret location was quite large. There were quite a few workers, members of this organization, but present also were members of other organizations, particularly workers from the Jewish section of the PPS [Revolutionary—trans.] Fraction, and there were also Christian members of the PPS Fraction. I listened to papers and discussions. This was all rather paltry and on a low level: well-worn clichés and desperate efforts to pull in by the hair and tie together a worldwide socialist revolution and the realization of Zionism. The only thing I got out of this visit was to become acquainted with the representative of the PPS, who was present there, the sympathetic and handsome polytechnic student Girtler, a Pole and a Christian.36

Editor's Notes, Chapter 2

  1. An uprising against the Russian Empire. It began on 22 January 1863 and lasted until the last insurgents were captured in 1865. Return
  2. Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland) — a part of Poland under Russian rule from 1815 to 1918. Return
  3. Uniate Church — a branch of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that united with the Catholic Church in 1596. Return
  4. A good resource for the Bund is Nora Levin's While Messiah Tarried: Jewish Socialist Movements 1871-1917 (New York: Schocken, 1977). Return
  5. “Litwak” — A Russian Jew, as opposed to a native Polish Jew. Litwaks arrived in two waves: in 1881–1882, as a result of repressions following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II; and in 1905–1907, in connection with the 1905 revolution in Russia. Litwaks were often looked upon with suspicion by the more orthodox Polish, “genuine” Jews. Return
  6. The National Democratic party was always, from its founding in the late 19th century, a nationalistic organization, so anti-Semitism was inherent. It did not become militantly anti-Semitic, however, until the time of the Second Republic. Perhaps not ironically, its support for Zionism was based on its desire for all Polish Jews to emigrate. Return

Author's Notes, Chapter 2

  1. I. N. Weintraub, “A Siedlce Story of Conversion,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, pp. 604–605; see Appendix 18. Return
  2. Z. Zchuchit, „Korespondencja z Siedlec,” in Hamelitz (The Advocate), no. 149 (1900). Return
  3. Archiwum Państwowe w Siedlcach (hereafter APS), Siedlecki Gubernialny Zarząd Żandarmerii (hereafter SGZŻ), sig. 192, pp. 5–6. Return
  4. APS, SGZŻ, sig. 192, pp. 13, 24, 25. Return
  5. U. Głowacka-Maksymiuk, Gubernia siedlecka w latach rewolucji 1905–1907 (Warsaw, 1985), p. 64. Return
  6. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Rodzina Muszkatów, vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1996), p. 12. Return
  7. Its author is Edelsztats; translated from the Yiddish by Adam Bielecki. Return
  8. This building still exists today. After the Russians withdrew from the city, it functioned as a Community Center. After World War II, it functioned as the cinema Podlasie, and currently it is in the possession of the Municipal Center of Culture. Return
  9. That is, Beit Hamidrash—in Judaism, a house of prayer serves for the acquisition of knowledge and the study of the Bible; it does not have the sacral nature that Christianity does. Return
  10. Głowacka-Maksymiuk, Gubernia siedlecka w latach rewolucji 1905–1907, pp. 22–23. Return
  11. B. Wasiutyńska, Ludność żydowska w Królestwie Polskim (Warsaw, 1911), pp. 19–25. Return
  12. Kaspi, ”History of the Jews in Siedlce,” p. 90. Return
  13. A member of the prayer house watch, a self-government body of the Jewish community council, created by a tsarist decree. The Russian authorities wanted tighter control over Jewish community councils. Return
  14. Kaspi, “History of the Jews in Siedlce,” p. 92; Głowacka-Maksymiuk, Gubernia siedlecka w latach rewolucji 1905–1907, p. 92 (the author, however, gives the year as 1905). Return
  15. S. Lewin, Żydowska młodzież w strajku szkolnym 1905r. (Warsaw, 1996), pp. 79–80. Return
  16. Kaspi, “History of the Jews in Siedlce,” p. 93, Return
  17. APS, SGZŻ, sig. 192, pp. 24, 40. Return
  18. In 1905, the Bund led similar actions in Warsaw, Lublin, and Łódź. The problem of Jewish prostitutes at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is addressed by Małgorzata Kozerowska and Joanna Podolska in the article “Piranie czekają na kadisz,” in Wysokie obcasy, no. 3, issue 404 (20 January 2007): 10–17 (supplement to Gazeta Wyborcza). Return
  19. The name “Koszeces” comes from the Polish koszyk or kosz [basket—trans.], usually made of wicker, from which goods were sold in the market. Return
  20. It has not been explained why this assassination attempt was made by Jewish fighters. Their main demand during this period was the acquisition of broad cultural autonomy. They did not, however, fight against the opening of the Duma (parliament), which was done intensely by the PPS. Return
  21. In later years, he left for the United States, and in 1947 he opened a Cultural Center in Acre (Akko), Israel, which he called “Siedlce,” to honor the destroyed Jewish life in this city in this way. Return
  22. H. Piasecki, Żydowska Organizacja PPS (Wrocław, 1978), p. 214. Return
  23. Ibid., p. 215, Return
  24. Ibid., p. 216. The pseudonym “Sloven” stuck to him from his childhood, when as a young boy he stubbornly looked for a button he had lost in the city's gutter. He was 17 when he commenced his political activity. Return
  25. Kaspi, “History of the Jews in Siedlce,” p. 79. Return
  26. M. Król, „Dr Wiktor Majerczak (1875–1919),” in Kronika Ruchu Rewolucyjnego w Polsce, vol. 3 (1937), no. 4 (12), pp. 167–169. Return
  27. J. Piłsudski, 1863 (Warsaw, 1989), pp. 152–153. Return
  28. P. L. Maksymiuk, Konspiracja w Siedlcach w latach 1907–1914, p. 58 (typescript of a master's thesis in the possession of the National Archive in Siedlce). Judel Mastbaum was exiled for life to a camp in Siberia and was not heard from again. Return
  29. Ibid., p. 59. Return
  30. I. Tabakman, “The Activity of Poalei Zion in Siedlce,” in Book of Remembrance of the Siedlce Community, pp. 371–374. Return
  31. Ibid., p. 375. Return
  32. Dov Ber Borokhov lived from 1881 to 1917. He was an ideologue and leader of the Poalei Zion party. He came from a family of the intelligentsia, and he also received a traditional religious education. Independently he studied languages, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences. He did research on the subject of the Jewish labor movement and the Yiddish language. Among other things, he wrote The Jewish Labor Movement in Numbers 1895–1904 and The Economic Movement of the Jewish Nation. Return
  33. Tabakman, „The Activity of Poalei Zion in Siedlce,” p. 377. Return
  34. Ibid., p. 377. Return
  35. Ibid., p. 376. Return
  36. A. Hartglas, Na pograniczu dwóch światów (Warsaw, 1996), pp. 101–102; Jan Girtler (born 1879, date of death unknown) was a PPS activist starting in 1904. He came from Łuków. He studied at the Warsaw Polytechnic. He was arrested in 1905; after his release he headed the work of the PPS organization in Siedlce. He was arrested again in early 1906 and spent half a year in the Siedlce prison. From 1907, he was a lecturer of technical subjects at the University for Everyone [Uniwersytet dla Wszystkish—trans.]. He was evacuated to Russian in 1915. During that time he was active in Kiev in the Committee for Aid to Victims of War. In 1918 he returned to Poland and was employed as an office worker in Warsaw. Return


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