« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[page 62]

Memories of Wloclawek and Beyond (Cont'd)

There was a large red censors stamp denying permission for that material and for the meeting. I took the material and left without a word.

As I went down the street I could hear someone calling after me. It was this same Bernstein. He had run out of the office and wanted to talk with me. He wanted to shake hands, but I refused and went onwards. He followed me and grabbed my arm to stop me. He told me that he had come to work for the Germans as an interpreter of Yiddish and that now this work had been given to him. He realized that he had done us some harm but that if the knowledge remained between us, regardless of the fact that he was a little afraid that he would be caught by the Germans if he did not give them exact translations, he would let our material pass through if it were not too inflammatory. And we would be able to conduct most of our activities without any more interference. We took the side streets to a park on the "new Market" street and sat down on a bench there and he told me exactly how he had come to do this work. He wanted me to remain quiet about the work that he was doing and also the story he was going to tell me. He was very frightened and actually shaking. I felt pity for him and sat listening to his story and thinking about what I should do. He again pleaded that I keep my silence and that he would let all of the Bund's material go through. I told him that this was a foolish promise and foolish thought. So much had been rejected in the past , it would look very funny if everything suddenly was accepted.. I also told him that I would talk to him in a day or two after I had discussed the matter with my committee. We then held a special meeting and some were of the opinion that we should unmask him immediately. Others felt that the better idea would be to try and exploit the situation and see what could be done. What had to be done later, could always be done later. It was decided that another comrade would go with me to tell him of our decision to let him continue in the work. My friend Kalman was chosen and the two of us went to meet with Bernstein. When we met he was a lot calmer and we told him in a calm manner that meanwhile we would go along with his request and keep our silence. We agreed that if he came across anything that was too strongly worded and which he was certain the censor would catch, we would be advised by him, before the red stamp could be applied. We wanted to gradually reach a point where nothing would be denied by the censor and therefore they would not look as closely at our "routine" items and meetings. In this manner we were able to restart evening entertainment programs.

We decided to renew the dramatic presentations first. Moishe Kahn was the director and he decided to present the play "The Inheritance" by Paula Prilutska, the wife of Nachman. When we gave the play to be censored, Bernstein asked to meet with us. He wanted the main role of the shoemaker. In this way he wanted to show that he was fully with us. We said as long as the director agreed it would be fine. We received permission right away and they convinced me to take the role of "Soofler". The drama was successfully produced and was well received both morally and financially. In fact it was so good that we decided to present it again. Just before the second performance Bernstein demanded that part of the proceeds go to the Poli-Zionists. Otherwise he would not take part. The committee insisted that I play the part, rather than give in to his blackmail. From the rehearsals that we had, I knew all the roles. After the first rehearsal, I was told that I performed the role better than Bernstein

[page 63]

did. He found out about this and came back several days before the performance to ask for the role back. We agreed, but told him that he had better not try playing any games with us, for we always had a replacement for him in the wings. The second show was also a great success and Bernstein played the part very well. But we always felt that he was a demoralizing influence and was always tearing down the Bund and our accomplishments with small lies, innuendoes and intrigues. We decided that the time had come for the break in our relationship and I was elected to write the letter to the "Folks Tsaitung". When the paper was received, a storm broke out in the city. The Poli-Zionists answered in their paper that it was all lies and it was decided that we would have a court convened that would determine the truth. This was accepted by both sides and representatives of the Bund, Poli-Zionists and P.P.S. were selected. In this case, the P.P.S. were the neutral judges. Everybody prepared themselves for the court. We prepared all the documents, the agenda of the meeting where I had first raised the question and a list of those who would be witnesses. The Poli-Zionists also had their witness "prepared". Both sides had defenders and the trial lasted two days. The court agreed fully with us that Bernstein was the "censor" for the Germans, that the red stamps on our efforts were done because of him and that most of the repressions against us by the Germans was directly due to his efforts. The decision was signed by the three judges and it was printed in the papers of all three parties. Naturally it was not proper to have a man with this reputation as one of the leaders of his party and soon after that he left the city of Wloclawek.

The activities of the Party took up a major part of my time and during this period I neglected my work. My parents were not happy about this. Firstly, I was the main support of the family. Secondly, they were afraid that I would be caught for some illegal activity and be sent away to prison. My father was a great enemy of the Germans, he hated them intensely. Whenever people said that they wanted the Germans to win the war, he said that the worst Russian was better than the best German. That buried within the German was the greatest Jew-hater and that when the opportunity presented itself, that hatred would come out into a great tragedy. But notwithstanding the restrictions placed on them in the occupied lands, most of the Jews were afraid that if the Germans lost and the Russians and Poles came back into power, the repressions and pogroms would be terrible.

But there was quite a time when we were not overly disturbed by the occupation. Our "Tzukunft" organization blossomed and grew. We had a large number of members from the community and had their support and admiration. Almost all were workers and many of them poor and without a good education. Through the community activities they were helped and gradually began to change. Their knowledge expanded and their awareness, through the education that we were able to give them, increased. Many of the people told us that only through the work of the Bund and the "Tzukunft" were they able to advance themselves. If not for us, they said, they would have remained ignorant and many would not even have been able to read or write more than their names. We had formed special groups from those who were a little richer and were sympathetic with our views and they held classes in reading and writing.

[page 64]

And this way the year 1917 approached. It was planned that since at the end of this (1916) year there was to be a conference of the Bund, which would be the first large meeting since the occupation, that there were several questions we wanted brought up. We were to hold a meeting at which we were to discuss the questions that were to be brought up at the national meeting. It was during the month of July, on a Saturday, that this was to be held. This was to take place in Wloclawek and would take all day. There were to be 30 delegates coming and they would arrive on a Friday and the next day the meeting was to open. All this was transmitted to the committee in Warsaw, as they were also to send delegates. Each delegate was instructed where to go to spend the night and were given passes that would admit them to the meeting. Naturally it was illegal to hold this meeting. We had to be careful of the German spies who were now found in Poland in great numbers. One day when I came home from lunch, I found I had a guest. It was the comrade Manya Mairovitch from Warsaw. We had met several times previously at meetings and conferences in Warsaw. I could not imagine what she was doing here for this was only Wednesday and she would not have been sent to represent the central committee. We greeted each other and she saw that I was really surprised. When we were alone, she told me with great sorrow that the committee had learned that the Germans were familiar with the conference to be held. Therefore the meeting had to be postponed. If the delegates attending were to be caught in this illegal activity, it would be a great loss both in the urban as well as the suburban areas. I asked if they were certain the Germans were familiar with the plans and she replied that the people who had told us, were in a good position to know. When I heard this confirmation, it was as if someone had hit me over the head with a club. I asked " How could we put it off now, it had cost so much in time and money to get it organized. In addition, not everyone could be notified in time not to come. Some would come and there would be great disruptions within the organization. But all my complaints and arguments did not help. She had been sent to see that the conference was not to be held. Those that did come, were to be told that because of the betrayal, the conference was canceled and would be held at another time. I tried again at the station to convince her that possibly the rumors were wrong, but she would not hear of it. My head was so confused and full of plans that were alternates and each one that I brought up she objected to. I left her sitting on the train to Warsaw and we separated with the thought that the conference would not take place. When I left her I sat on a bench in the nearby park and again tried to figure out what to do. I came up with the idea that if the Germans were fully aware the conference would take place on Saturday, then the thing to do was to hold it at another time. Friday would be when they all arrived and so we would start the meeting that night and by morning it would be over and everyone would be on the first trains to go back to their home towns.

This idea carried quite a bit of risk with it. I felt that I could not discuss it with anyone, Kalman or others of the committee. Most were basically afraid. If there was the slightest risk, they would refuse to do anything. As there was a slight amount of risk, none of them would want to go along with this idea . I also felt that I could not leave the decision or the blame on anyone else's shoulders if it did not work out. I would not have them carry the responsibility on their backs. In addition, I had found out that people were very much inclined to procrastinate, delay and put off anything that was not

[page 65]

extremely easy. So I decided to take the responsibility upon myself. I would tell several of the members of the organizing committee that because of some new secret items that had come up, the meeting had to start Friday night, as soon as all the delegates were in town. They tried to get the reasons out of me, but I told them that by the end of the meeting, all would be known. That at this time nobody was to hear of it. They were not very happy about this but they did not have any choice at this time, other than listening to me. We had decided that each delegate was to register as they arrived and we decided that once they came into the room, they would not leave. As soon as the last person was there, the meeting would start. This meeting was held at Kalman's house and since the yard gate and door were closed at 10:00 p.m. that would be the time to start the meeting. The superintendent went to sleep then and there would be no one to disturb us. But I went around full of worry and tried not to show it, for if I looked worried, the others were sure to cancel the conference. The next day, Thursday, I went around where I felt I would not meet any of the comrades.

I realized that there were several German soldiers we knew who belonged to the Social-Democrats and I felt that they could be helpful to us. I met with them that night and we had a little discussion until I brought up the reason why I wanted to see them. I told them that we had an important meeting and I wanted them to watch and stand guard t the house, until the meeting was over. If they saw any danger from the authorities, one of them was to warn us so we would have a chance to escape. They agreed to this and promised they would do us this favor and we were able to work out signals that would warn us in plenty of time and would not put them in danger. They reassured me and told me that I could depend on them and that I did not have to worry about security.

Friday afternoon the delegates started to arrive and we all met at Kalman's house and there we advised them that they should stay. Since there was not anything they could do in town anyway, all agreed. I went over several times during the day to reassure all assembled that everything was going well. At a few minutes before 10 o'clock I went over to Kalman's apartment on the second floor and I was the last to enter. From the other side of the street I saw that our two "guards" were in position and I felt a lot better. We locked the door and the windows were already covered with dark cloths. It was a hot, close room and we soon took off our jackets and ties. As secretary, it was my function to open the meeting and then Kalman presented the agenda. We discussed and reviewed all the questions that were proposed and that had been brought up. Sometimes there were people that were coming into the house and the bell rang for the super, then we were very quiet and waited for them to settle down before we continued talking. But my heart stopped every time the bell rang. Everything worked out well and soon it was beginning to get light outside. It was about 4 o'clock in the morning. Some of the delegates did not understand why there were no representatives from Warsaw. We only had elections for the members of the new committee to do and the meeting was finished. I then had the job of telling them just why there were no members of the Central Committee present and exactly what had happened. I started from the end, about the two "guards" that we had , what good Social-Democrats they were and then forward to the visit from Comrade Mania Mairovitch. I asked the committee to excuse my heavy-handed handling of the situation earlier in the week for the

[page 66]

arranging of the meeting and that I knew the great responsibility that I had taken upon myself. I knew that if the meeting had been raided it would have looked as if I were a spy and that the only way that I knew that I would be able to clear myself would be by committing suicide. No matter what the decision was on what my actions had been I was happy that the meeting had been held and that it was now successfully concluded. We should now have more courage and inspiration to carry on the great work for the growth of Socialism. The strain of the evening had been very great. Many of the men had been up all day and all night and the close quarters and the hot air contributed to the tension. But many of the delegates jumped up to shake my hand and embrace me for the strong approach I had taken. But Kalman pleaded that we remain quiet, for the dangers were not passed yet. He expressed a protest about the way I had handled the situation. If he had any idea of the true conditions, then he would not have agreed to the meeting. But it was in the past and the meeting so far had been secure. We should all be happy that nothing had happened and now we should not linger but finish and leave. Even though he was my best friend, closer than a brother, we should nevertheless pass a resolution that no one should take such a responsibility upon themselves again. Several of the comrades took the opposite position, that I had been entirely correct and even held that I was a hero for the boldness of my thoughts and actions in insisting that we not put off the meeting. A resolution was passed that thanked me for the action that I had taken and the boldness of my thoughts. That ended the meeting and Kalman came up and embraced me and cried on my shoulder for joy that nothing had happened. I told the delegates that as they left the house they might be able to see the two soldiers that had been on guard all night and that they should give them a wave in silent thanks for the work that they had done for us that night. This was agreed to and with the singing of the "Bundishe Shvue "(Bund Oath) in hushed tones, we silently left the meeting room. We warned the men not to form any groups in town, as there were many spies on the lookout for the meeting that was to have taken and that those who could should leave as soon as possible. When we went down it was already 6 o'clock in the morning and the two German soldiers were still standing. I went over to them and with a strong handshake thanked them and allowed them to now go back to their quarters and go to sleep.

At about 10 o'clock in the morning, an agent of the German secret police appeared at Kalman's house. The only one present was Mania, his wife and they questioned her. A few minutes later he was followed by other agents and several police. They looked all over the apartment and in several others. They were very mad when they did not find anything incriminating and for being fooled. They had been tipped off and now there was nothing here. It proved that the warning that I had received from Warsaw was entirely correct. We were doubly lucky that the meeting had been held and no one was caught. In a short while the conference at Lublin was to take place and we discussed several topics that were to be voted upon there. The "left" part of the party was very weak and we were only allowed two delegates. They were chosen from the right and so Shlomah Hiller and I were selected to go.

[page 67]

Lublin was in the Austrian occupied sector. The conference of course was illegal, but in that time the repressions and controls under the Austrian command were much weaker. That was the reason it was decided the conference would be held there. We had to receive special passes from the German government to travel there. This was difficult to get legally, but for a "gold piece" it was possible to get anything from the Germans. We got two ten mark gold pieces, which cost a lot more than the ten mark that was stamped on it and we took these , together with some excuse of why we had to go, to the commander's office. There we met one of the soldiers in the office and we were given the necessary papers completely filled out. We had to give them also an additional two marks, which was the official cost of obtaining these papers. I believe that one of these gold pieces cost 200 marks. The meeting took place at the end of December 1916. Shlomah was already concerned about getting enough to eat there, even though we knew that conditions there were better than by us. He did not want to depend upon miracles, so we took some food that would not spoil, with us. We had to wait in the town of Auvengrad for the train to Austria, as this was the agreed upon border town. It was a freezing night and the deep snows were all frozen solid. It snapped underfoot as we walked upon it. We were in a poorly lit, small waiting room and there we met the delegates Paysechson from Csenstochov, Artur who was the delegate from Chelm and from Lodge the delegates Israel Liechtenstein and Anders. We had to wait several hours as we had just missed the train. As fate would have it, the train that we missed had been in an accident with the train from Lublin. Our train finally arrived and we went on our way, but part way there we had to get off, as the train still blocked the tracks. We walked around the wreck and on the other side was the train that would now take us into Lublin. We passed the wrecks, which were in a very high area in the mountains. Many of the dead were still laying on the tracks and we could see that some of the cars had fallen down the ravine and had been destroyed. Most of the dead were from Lublin. They had been traveling with food to sell at the border and now the food was all mixed up with their bodies. We entered the train and saw that all the wounded had been brought here. There were doctors and nurses working here and the cars were full with the cries of the ones that were suffering. When the train arrived in Lublin, the station was full with hundreds of people who had already heard of the tragedy and had come to find out about their families and friends. A new tragedy was played out here. The cries of men, women and children who did not see their loved ones, or saw them already crippled, was terrible to hear.

We left the station and went over to the agreed address, where we were met and taken over to another place, where there were two rooms for us. We took one and the other was occupied by Liechtenstein and Anders. They told us to be careful around town because of the spies that were always out , but even so we felt much freer than we did at home, under the occupation of the Germans. The meetings took place in private rooms and homes as we could not assemble in regular meeting places. The rooms were always small and terribly overcrowded and full of cigarette smoke. At one of the meetings, Liechtenstein fainted because of the overcrowding and the lack of air. We had to interrupt the meeting until he recovered and came back to his senses. The last meeting was held in the kitchen that was maintained by the comrades in Lublin. There we had a meal and the meeting lasted the whole night. By the time it ended, daylight was upon us. The work that the

[page 68]

comrades had to do in preparing for the meeting was very difficult, but they made everyone feel welcome and at ease and the meeting was a great success. We returned to our homes without any incidents and there we gave our reports to the executive committee. After that we called a general meeting in town and again reported what had taken place and set up schedules whereby these reports would be transmitted to all the smaller groups within the town and the areas that were near us which we were responsible for. The greatest number of towns to report to were given to me. I then had occasion to travel for several weeks in various neighborhoods giving these reports. Wherever I went people were interested in hearing what I had to say and we had a question and answer period, as well as discussions on the various topics. It was like a fresh breeze that blew through the organization and many new members were brought in at that time. Some time later, I don't remember exactly when, Warsaw was the scene of a large scale arrest of many of the leaders. Some were sent to Hafelberg (Germany) and some were sent to Madliner Prison. At that time Janick Kelovitch, with whom I was well acquainted and also a good friend, was in Hafelberg. He was Mania Mairovitch's husband. Our organization decided that we would send them food packages each week. We knew that these would be shared by all those that were imprisoned with them. All these were sent in Janick's name and we received a letter of thanks from him each one. In this way we also knew that all had been received as sent.

Some time later, the well known Leon Schwartzman, arrived in our town to give a lecture. He was renowned throughout the district as a strong speaker. He came to help us during the "Vote Campaigns" that were held. A while after he had been with us, we learned that he had also been arrested and was in the same Madliner Prison. I believe he was arrested while in Rupine. We received letters from him and included him amongst those receiving packages from us every week. One day we received a letter asking that we send him 300 marks as soon as possible. From the tone of the letter we felt that he was getting ready to make a break from prison. We assembled the money quickly and sent it out to him, using my address as the sender. We did not get the reply that we expected to this letter. We found out later from other comrades, that he had been working in the postal section of the prison and had an opportunity to escape and had taken it. Our money arrived after he had run off and the Germans had confiscated it. I went over to the post office to reclaim the package, since my friend had not received it but they told me that it had been properly delivered and he was no longer there to verify the receipt. That ended the story of those 300 marks.

At about this time I became acquainted with and got to know a comrade who made a very good impression on me. In these years of my involvement with the Bund, I never thought to change my private life. I was living at home and had all that I needed for my comforts around me. The fact was that my mother was always concerned about my well-being, seeing that I ate properly, took care of my clothes and so forth. My brother and sisters also provided a comforting atmosphere and life was going along very smoothly there. But with this comrade from Sierpc I began to take an interest in her and found that I was interested in talking to her. Sometimes, while I was checking out the books at the library, I would take a special interest and be aware of what books she was reading. It then

[page 69]

dawned on me that I had years ago decided that I would not get married until I was at least 30 years old, and that time was approaching. But I kept pushing this reminder away and did not wish to think about my personal life. I felt that the organizational life was much more important at this time and did not want to take time away from it. About that time I received a notice about a large children's home that was being formed in Warsaw and had to deliver the news to the other side of the Vistula River. I went over to the home of this comrade, Ryva Ishievitch, when I came to Sierpc, and we became closer than just comrades. But we did not declare ourselves or speak of it and the feelings seemed to grow just by themselves. From there I went to Rupine, to a man that we always knew would make us welcome. He was a large tall man with a large head of dark hair and his name was Plotsker. He was a tailor by trade and worked as I did, for himself. His bride was also a Bundist and a very sympathetic person. I went to see him as soon as I arrived and told him we had to organize a meeting for that night at his house. This time I felt a coldness as he said we could not use his house for the meeting. This was certainly not the same man that I knew from before. I had the address of another comrade by the name of Fleecberg and went over to see him. He was very glad to see me and told me that something had happened to Plotsker, but that he did not know what it was. He, Fleecberg could not give us his room, so the only thing to do was to rent a hotel room. This hotel was opposite a theater that had a performance that night and there were always large groups of people around that area. That way, our comrades would not be noticed particularly as they came and went. Fleecberg went around and notified everyone concerned, including Plotsker and his wife. When we were all assembled and ready to start, there were about 30 of us in the room, we noticed that Plotsker was missing. His wife told us to start anyway as he had told her that he had a headache and could not come. We had just started the meeting, when in the middle of the report that I was giving, we heard banging on the door and the familiar German cry to open up. Some of the comrades told me to try and escape through the window and they would delay the Germans and I would be able to evade any charges. I immediately tore up and disposed of the report that I had, together with some other papers about the Bund, but I could not get out of the room.

Among the passes that I had was a correspondent card from the Jewish newspaper that was published in Vilna, called the "Vilna News". This paper was legal and had the permission of the occupation forces to operate. True it was censored, but so was everything else. Shortly after the Germans entered, this paper began to grow. The way I got this card was not my doing. They had written to me and asked that I act as their reporter in Wloclawek as well as the surrounding areas. At the same time, they began sending me a copy of the paper every day. I did not know how they got my address and did not know anything about the paper and its editors, and did not reply. About a week later I received another letter saying that they were very willing to pay me for all the reports that I would send in. I sent this correspondence over to the Bund in Warsaw together with the paper and asked if anything was known about it. I did not want to fall into any traps that might have been set. I also felt that if this were a legitimate undertaking, I could possibly make good use of the status. The answer was that I should do what I wanted as there was nothing wrong with the paper. Later that week I received another letter from the paper and this time they included an official looking card that named

[page 70]

me as their official correspondent and a letter asking that I send them some material which they could include in future issues. I kept the card but had not had an opportunity to send them any reports.

Meanwhile the banging continued and we finally opened the door. Three Germans in civilian clothes entered and began asking questions of everyone about what was going on. We told them that we were just a few friends who had gotten together, but the excuse did not work and they began to search everyone and write the information down. I realized that if I gave them my real name and address, I would be in trouble when they contacted the Wloclawek authorities. So I passed my passport and the correspondence card to one of the comrades to hold while I was examined and searched. They found that I had a small towel, a toothbrush and a small piece of soap with me. I always carried these when I went on a trip. I explained that I lived in a rooming house and brought these along when I left, so that others would not use them. The excuse was a little thin and I fell under suspicion. I said that I was from Rupine and gave them an address I made up. When they were finished with me, I slowly made my way to the comrade that was holding my papers and he returned them to me. He did not return the correspondent's card and when he realized that, it was already too late, as it was almost time for his examination, so he put it under the mattress of the bed. Meanwhile I did not realize that I did not have it and was gradually making my way to the door. I was almost there when I realized that I did not have my coat, so I had to work my way over to it and then to the door again. I figured that if there was someone standing at the other side, all would be lost anyway. The comrades were in constant motion to hide what I was up to and the Germans said that they would "shoot everyone like dogs" if they did not stay still and quiet. But in a few minutes I had my coat and because the room was so full and the constant motion of the people, I was able to slip out. In a second, it seemed I was out on the street. I felt that I was being chased, but it was only my shadow. As I reached the street I realized that we had chosen the correct area. People were just coming out of the theater and I mixed myself in amongst them as though I was also just leaving. I wandered around a little and soon realized that I was on the street where Plotsker lived and that there was a light on in his apartment. I felt that this was his piece of work. The first time that he did not show up at a meeting, we were raided. I did not go up to accuse him, as I had my safety to think of first. It turned out that my thoughts were correct and he was boycotted by all his friends. It seems that the Germans had caught him in a weak moment and he was forced to serve them, but his usefulness to them was short-lived as a short time later he got sick and died.

As I was told later, my correspondent's card was found later in the bed. They counted everyone before leaving and had come up one short. They asked if the card was from the one who had left, but all denied that this was my name and that they did not know where the card had come from. Ten of the comrades were arrested and questioned at police headquarters and all denied knowing anything about me or the card. They were sentenced for periods ranging from one to three months and served the entire time. There was a lot of activity in the towns on their behalf and we helped as much as we possibly could.

[page 71]

I could not get any transportation to leave that night and I could not just walk around. So I decided to return to Sierpc on foot. There were no signs and there were two roads leaving town and naturally, I ended up taking the wrong one. Several times I heard horses approaching and I hid in the woods until they passed. They were either German soldiers or police on patrol. When it was clear I continued on my way. After about two hours I met a farmer and found out that I was on the way towards Strasburg, Germany rather that Sierpc. I would have to turn around and go through town in order to get on the correct road. There was nothing else that I could do so I went back. By the time I returned to town, it was just getting light. Now I was concerned about the local patrols but I passed without incident and started on the new road. After another hour or so, I became so tired that I thought that no matter what happened I had to rest. I went into a small area in the woods and fell asleep on the ground. I awoke hungry, thirsty and stiff and my feet did not want to move at all. I went to the road and started out again at a slower pace. A little while later a horse and wagon came from town and I cried to the driver to take me to Sierpc. He stopped and I started to climb up, but I was so exhausted that I could not get up the side. I told him that I had just recovered from a long illness and that he had to help me up. He turned out to be a good peasant and he came down and lifted me up as if I were a small child and I ended up on a bed of straw in the bottom of the wagon. I spun him a story that my mother was very sick and not having a horse had started out on foot and that I would be happy to pay him when we arrived in Sierpc. He had some food and shared his black bread with me. By the time we arrived, I had recovered my energy and felt great. I gave him some money and thanked him for the ride.

I arrived in Sierpc about ten o'clock in the morning. I figured that the German agents in Rupine had gotten hold of my card and that I would have a lot of trouble in Wloclawek. But the smaller surrounding towns would be safe for me to travel to as they would not look for me there. I would still be able to give my reports and continue with the work as well as setting up new activities. I sat down in a small square and wrote a letter to the comrades in town and explained what had happened and what I would be doing. I figured out a date that I would be coming back and told them to send a letter to my sister in Lipno or to have someone standing on the bridge outside of town on the scheduled day. This way, I would know whether or not it was safe to return. If not, then I could return and move about freely. By coincidence, as I was finishing the letter, Comrade Ryva passed and we were happy to meet again. She was not entirely without concern at seeing me. I told her everything which had occurred at Rupine and about my immediate plans. I felt she was impressed with my boldness and daring and the courage that I had shown. When I suggested that she accompany me on my trips to several of the towns in the area, she quickly agreed. I believe we went to Zeramin, to the family Scotelski, old comrades from the Bund, whom the war had dislodged from Warsaw to this small town. They were very sympathetic and fine people and we were able to have a meeting there before leaving for Dobreshene. Even before the meeting we were aware that what had happened in Rupine was common knowledge. By coincidence, a local Jew, who was known to deal with the Germans, was sitting in a café that belonged to Comrade Gottlieb, whose daughter lived in Wloclawek. She

[page 72]

had overheard how this person had related what had happened in Rupine and about the stranger who had run away. I was warned not to stay here too long as it was believed that I was the stranger and that I could be picked up and questioned. Even so, I held the meetings in the woods and they turned out to be very successful and lively. I said good-by in an intimate manner to Ryva when we returned to Sierpc and then I went on my way to Lipno. I arrived at night at my sister's house, Rasia, who was as always happy to see me. She worked very hard as a seamstress since her husband, Michael did not earn very much and their two sons, Abraham and Jacob, were still very small children.

There were no letters waiting for me there and I took this as a good sign. I went out into the street to meet with the leaders and to arrange for the meeting that was to be held. The news of what had happened in Rupine had also reached here, in addition to the news of the arrest of the 10 men. There was a great deal of wondering who the "stranger" was who had escaped and I was asked if it was someone from the Central Committee. They could not image that it was me as I was carrying on as if nothing had happened. This meeting also was well represented and very good. The next morning I took transportation back to Wloclawek.. I approached the bridge and did not see anyone waiting for me. This was a good sign. I thought that possibly my "card " had not been found. I carried on as I usually did after a trip which was to go to one of the comrades first. This way I could find out if any "surprises" were waiting for me at the house. This time I went up to the office of the "Tzukunft" (Future). Just as I sat down at a desk to do some work, one of the comrades came over and whispered that it would be better if I left immediately. Better still would be if I left town altogether. There had been an inspection at my house already and there were agents standing in front of it. The police had also been to these offices looking for me. I went through the back streets to Schwartz's house but that wasn't any good as there were too many people about. So I went to Abraham Tarentchick. They lived near the river in a very quiet district. Abraham and his wife were very fine and very devoted to our cause. They, as well as their two children, were very delighted to see me. I told them the news and they wondered why I had returned. They had sent a letter to Lipno but obviously it did not arrive until after I had left. In addition there was someone waiting for me at the bridge to warn me but we missed each other. While I was not there, they had inquired from the comrades in Warsaw and I had been sent a pass with a false name and I was told to go back to Lublin, where I was not known to the police. I did not have a great desire to leave Wloclawek as the work and the community were well organized and I had many good friends living here. In Lublin, even though I was familiar with the town and the people, it would still take me a long time to get established the way I was here. Also, who knew when I would be able to return and what would my parents, especially my mother, do if I were not to return for a long period of time? We sat a long time discussing the pros and cons and by this time Kalman came over. Suddenly the comrade Esther Tarentchick got up and said "Alter, you aren't going anyplace yet. Meanwhile you will stay here. You will sleep in the back room, not leave the house and no one need know that you have returned. We will find out what is going on and possibly bribe an official or two to look the other way. The Germans have already learned how to take bribes. Going to Lublin will be the last alternative."

[page 73]

And that is how it remained. They let my parents know that I was safe and that there was nothing to worry about and I would be home in a few days.

Several days passed and it seemed that the Germans had forgotten about me or were busy with other things. I decided to go home. My mother cried for joy when she saw me and my father wanted to know if the authorities would be coming back to look for me. I assured them that everything was in order, that I should not be bothered any more. I started to work again at my trade ( I took work home and did not work in the shops ). I went back to the "Tzukunft" and took my place as secretary and resumed my former activities. But I tried to keep a lower profile than previously. There were sections of the town that I tried to avoid. Such as the "Piekorski Street", where the German secret police was located. In this way several weeks went by. But one day I forgot myself and did go down that street and as I was passing the building, I heard someone calling out, "Mr. Alter, come over here please." I could not understand why I had voluntarily placed myself into their hands. Now who would know for how long I would be sent away and where they would send me ? But at that point there was nothing else that I could do but cross the street and enter the building. We went to an office on the first floor and he left me sitting at a desk while he went to get the head of the section and almost immediately a large mass of papers was brought in. Everything was in proper order, in the German manner. The questioning began with an official writing down everything that was said. According to the list of accusations, I would have to be shot three times. But I stayed calm under their shouts, threats and questioning, for after all I had been through this once before. They asked why I had been in Rupine and why I had run away. They also brought up the question of why I had sent 300 mark to Schwartzman in the Madliner Prison. He had not received the money, and I became a little naive and asked for its return. No, I had not sent him the money to escape but only for him to be able to buy a little bit of food and some clothing. He was a cousin and I wanted to help him out. But they again threatened to beat me and I decided that it would be better to remain quiet. They continued shouting and questioning and then said that they would close the "Tzukunft" entirely. I felt that I had now bought the whole package. I had been able to escape from the authorities many times, but now it would be impossible. In addition, how would I let anyone know that I had been arrested? My thoughts were running along these lines and I was not fully aware of what they were even asking of me. I happened to look around and noticed through the open door, that a package of leather was laying on a table in the connecting room and I got an idea. Ignoring the two of them I got up and went into the next room and began to handle the leather. They thought that I was trying to make an escape and quickly reached for the revolvers that they wore, but I started talking about what beautiful pieces of leather they had and what nice footwear I could make from such merchandise. The questioning immediately took on a different tone. They now wanted to know if I was a good shoemaker and if I was as good as I said I was , how many pairs of shoes could I get from the leather that was there. I sorted out what they had and told them which was good for men's wear and which for women and children. The leather would be used to make the uppers and then sent to Germany to have the soles put on. I told them that I could have the work done for them in a few days and as soon as I got, the measurements of their family members, I could finish the work. I saw that the head man

[page 74]

was gathering up the papers and asked him if I could take them along with the leather. But that generous he wasn't. I measured the two of them right there and the agent and I left with the leather that I needed. They did not trust me to take the leather, even knowing the poor position that I stood with them. As we left the office building, several people that knew me saw where I was and word soon spread that I had been arrested.

When we came to our house and my parents saw me coming with this agent (who had also been in on several of the raids that had been made) they were literally speechless with fright. But in a cheerful loud voice, I introduced my parents and told them that everything was fine , that this was a new customer. Knowing how I had felt about working for the Germans they did not fully understand what was going on. I sat the agent down and in his sight, cut out the leather for two pairs of uppers, for him and his chief. I told him that I would bring the finished work in a day or two but he answered that it might be better if he came and picked them up, rather than my appearing at the headquarters. I guaranteed that they would be ready and would be well made. With that he took the rest of the materials, shook hands like friends and left. After he had gone I explained all the had happened and how I came to get this work, they said that it was a miracle and that I had an angel sitting on my shoulder. That night, when I got to the "Tzukunft" office, there was "dancing on the tables and the benches". They were all certain I had been arrested and that I would not be seen for a long time, if at all. They were even starting to make plans on how I could be released or at least helped. A special executive committee was called and I related in detail, from beginning to the end, all that had transpired. We rolled in the aisles with laughter and decided that I would now be doing work for the secret police. No one of them ever imagined that I was doing anything more for the police, than making shoes. A special fund was raised and maintained so that I could continue doing all their work and for the entire time that the Germans occupied the town and until their defeat on the battle- field, I was not again questioned. I was able to continue our work and at the same time, sometimes, I would even learn of plans that they were making and be able to take advantage of this information.

We felt that with the entry of America, victory was assured against the Germans. Even though the news was not always of the best, the tone of the news began to change slightly. It took several months and it drastically changed about the "front lines". On November 11, 1918, the great news was received about the end of the war. Immediately the German soldier changed. They tore off their stripes and buttons and other insignia. Many of them put on red arm-bands or other red insignia and instead of singing "Deutchsland Uber Alles" they learned the words to the "International" and other of revolutionary songs. We heard that on the trains bringing the soldiers back from the fronts, the trains were bedecked with red banners and flags. We ran to meet these trains and were astonished to see that it was so. It sounded as if the army that was passing were not the losers but rather those that had won the war, for they were so full of spirit and good feelings.

At that time we were scheduled to have a lecture at the offices of the "Tzukunft", I believe that comrade Victor Schulman was to come from Warsaw to speak. Understandably, the lecture now

[page 75]

revolved around the events that were happening so fast in Germany. We received news that there had been a revolution there. That the Social-Democrats and the Communists had grabbed the power from the government. The next day we heard about the impression this news made in Warsaw. Comrade Medem was supposed to have spoken from the balcony of the "Lodge Club" to thousands of massed people in the street below, declaring that the "revolution in Germany is a revolution over the whole world". The astonishment was very great that he could do this and not be arrested. But we felt that a reaction would set in and it concerned us. We were proved correct very quickly after this event with the rise of organized anti-Semitism throughout Poland. There was no state police set up yet and the local police had been under the control of the Germans. After they left , there was no one to fill the gap and they became Polish Patriots. The accusation was thrown up that the Jews had worked with the Germans, even though many Poles made up the police forces. This reaction did not set in immediately and meanwhile we hung out red flags from the office balcony of the "Tzukunft". We held discussions with the P.P.S. (Communists) about setting up defenses for the Jewish population and institutions for when the Germans would leave the country and the "N.V." would grab power. But we could not come to any sort of agreement with them. They felt that it would be better for anarchy to reign. In that way it would be easier for the workers to take over the power. With the right wing P.P.S. (Prakas) it was also extremely difficult to get together because they were such patriots .They said that they did not want to do any planning as Poland was now a free country and that was the best thing that could happen. We held an executive meeting and formed the organization "Workers and Soldiers Group". But it again was impossible to do anything with the Polish workers groups. So we finally decided that we would have to go it alone. We would have to organize and defend ourselves. The next thing decided was to get the arms that the Germans had used.

As we were leaving the hall, my friend Kalman and I were met by a soldier that was acquainted with us. He was a Social-Democrat and we had met several times previously and had long, interesting discussions with him. He told us that he had been looking for us. He had been sent by the "German Soldier's Government (RAAT) of Vladevostock" to find us. They did not want to turn over their arms to the Polish soldiers and wanted us to have them. We were to take as much as we could handle and the rest they would destroy rather than turn them over. He told us the time and date when we should come, give the proper code words and we would get all the arms that we wanted. We immediately recalled the meeting and appointed three members to go and get these arms. These three were Tarentchick, Buks and me. When we approached the meeting place, two soldiers with red arm-bands stopped us. The bands had the words "German Soldier's Government" written on them. We gave the agreed password and were admitted to the camp. An officer met us and told us that everything here was ours for the taking. It got dark before our eyes (Es is unds gevoren finster far di eigen). We were completely astonished by what we saw. A ocean of revolvers, rifles, mortars, shells, bombs and all kinds of other armament was spread out before us. He saw our amazement and, said that he understood that we could not take everything. If it were possible, they were going to take the heavy arms back to Germany or else destroy them here. But the rifles, hand guns and other smaller arms together with the ammunition, were for us. We explained that we were only a small group and it

[page 76]

would be impossible for us to take over the government, once they left. We were primarily interested in getting enough arms to be able to defend ourselves in case we were attacked. He understood our desires and agreed to set aside 100 revolvers and ammunition for us. We agreed to send a group over to get them. Meanwhile we took 10 guns and ammunition with us. But the situation in town changed almost immediately and it meant the death penalty to be found with arms in your possession. A provisional government was established. The P.P.S. (both right and left wings) were represented but most of it was from the very reactionary elements. One of the first rulings was that by a certain date all the arms were to be turned in. After that set date, anyone found with arms would be executed, without even a trial. We decided that we not only would not take the guns that had been offered, but those we had would be thrown away. So one night, one of the comrades and I boxed the guns and ammunition and went into the woods and buried them there. For all that I know they may still be laying there. So from all of our talk about self defense, nothing came of it.

The Germans started to pull out and the Poles were able to get a lot of the arms that were supposed to have been destroyed. The Germans began a systematic withdrawal from the town and the surrounding areas. When I was in Warsaw a few days later, I noticed there were certain streets that the Germans still controlled. Where the Germans wanted to remain, the Poles could do nothing about it. The Marachevski faction came into power at that time. This was a progressive government, but the reactionaries and hooligans were not quiet, especially in the outlying districts. At this time in Wloclawek there was a large meeting called by the left wing of the P.P.S.. There were many speakers from Warsaw who attended that meeting as well as a large contingent from the Bund. There had been reports in the papers concerning this meeting and the night of the meeting, the hate-mongers crowded the streets with Polish demonstrators shouting "Death to the Jews" and other similar slogans. We heard that people were being beaten up outside and the mood in the hall became one of nervousness. With each moment the noises from outside became louder and louder. They cried through the windows that the Jews should come out and get what was coming to them. We appealed to the leaders of the P.P.S. and they replied there was nothing that they could do. In the end, the hooligans broke into the hall and there was fighting everywhere. The meeting broke up and everyone who got out was beat up as they left the hall. I was amongst the victims, but I was able to fight back and ran off to the "Shule Street". There I was again accosted by a large group and again had to fight my way out. I had some money that fell out of my pocket and my attackers began to fight amongst themselves to see who would get the most. This gave me the opportunity to escape from them. I went up to the offices of the "Tzukunft". There a "hospital" was being set up to take care of the injured. The rooms were full of bloodied and hurt people. The comrades that could, were acting as nurses. I do not think that any one came out of that meeting without having some kind of injury and all were bandaged in some way. When the attackers were finished at the meeting hall, many of them came to our office and wanted to attack those who were there. They threw stones at the windows and talked of rushing upstairs. We turned out all the lights and went downstairs to barricade the door. We jammed ourselves into the narrow hallway and blocked the door with our bodies. Sometimes it seemed as if the door would break under the pressure, but it held up. The attackers finally gave up and with cries

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Wloclawek, Poland
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Aug 2005 by LA