1. Bobruisk at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century
Bobruisk of the twentieth century on the whole already had another face than the old city of Bobruisk. The changes that came in the Jewish world in the 19th century were late in coming to Bobruisk, albeit in in their full swing, but upon reaching the city, which had fallen asleep in the bosom of tradition, severe alterations broke in, and the life in the city had radical realms.
Historians are wont to snatch away a singular manifestation in a certain year and set it as the beginning of a new era. It is more than clear that this is an artificial procedure, because every change in the life of human society is, according to the rabbi, a product of a long and slow developement. A person has a nature to seek road signs in the stream of time, which flows unceasingly.
What is the event which could be singled out as the coming of a new era in Bobruisk? Was it the day when Rabbi Rafel Shapiro went away (in the month of Eyr, 1899)? --this the last of the Bobruisk rabbis whose name and the sound of praise about his toyreh advanced over the borders of the city and were heard in all of Russia--did not his leaving symbolize the decline of the influence which the old synagogue had held in the city?
Would it be the death of the wealthy Khaim Boyez Rabinovitsh (Kislev 1903), the last of the wealthy men in whom the Bobruisk citizens saw the sine qua non in all city matters?
Would it be, perhaps, the opposition of the illegal Bundist pressure in Bobruisk--in July 1898--an opposition which announced the new powers in Jewish Bobruisk--powers which were subject to arousing her basic spiritual world during of a score of years?
Would it not be equal to name for a signpost of the end of an era the great fire in Bobruisk, in Nisan (April) 1902 - on the face of it an outward event, but which on the whole ended the face of the city, leading to the building of stone houses on its streets, to plaster, brick and sidewalks, to build superb houses of business, movie-houses and various other attributes of the new times?
Thus by all means - Bobruisk of the beginning of the 20th century is a fully-established new city in all details. The old generation, which was bound to tradtion in Torah, was yet also now the greater part of the community, but it felt itself in the air, that it did not belong to the future. The younger generation had left behind the old cusotms and took for themselves new ways. The old synagogue was lost, in its place came the progeny, whose name was the Russian high school. To it bowed, to it aspired even the prominent and aristocratic families in the city, who were the faithful conservers of traditional yidishkayt in the nineteenth century. Instead of the old ideals of Torah and the fear of God, there strengthend in the next generation new ideals, which stemmed from foreign sources: the Socialist ideas and the national conciousness. Instead of the old customs, which the head hamdbrim were in them the wealthy and rabbis, and Jewish charity, in it the old idea, there came a new ordering of life, which in it the word was in all intelligentsia of all colors and nuances: Social Democrats, Bundists, Zionists, Tseiri"-Zion, etc. It comes upon new intstitutions, economic and cultural, which based themselves on ideas from the new times.
This Jewish Bobruisk is full of social and cultural spurts. She reaches a climax of her development, whether in the number of her citizens or in her economic standing. But with this development comes the axe of history and seals her fate upon the city. After a hundred years of peace and tranquility, Bobruisk becomes carried away in a gevirbl of revolution, war, and citizen conflict, and after all this comes the harsh winter of the Soviet regime and brings an utter standstill to the Bobruisk community, as in all other communities of the Ukraine and Belarus.
2. The Great Fire
If we arise without writing about the era of the great fire, this is therefore nothing short of , because of this event which had a great effect upon the development of Bobruisk, was not the result of an internal development which had its beginning in continuation, only just a bizarre plague which came upon the city and influenced her, whether externally or internally.
The great fire broke out at 10 AM, Friday, April 19th, 1902. Sparks, which were emanating from the locomotive smokestack at the Berezina railway station, were carried by the wind upon the roof of a stable near to the station. In several minutes, all of the old houses were in flames. The fire spread itself over the houses by the station and there - over the city. The firemen could not control the broad area and had to escape. Abandoning their tools to the infernal fire, and then this fire, undisturbed, carried itself from house to house, from street to street, and in five hour's time devoured the greater part of the city.
The result was frightening. Especially hard was to encounter the central part of the city, which was inhabited by Jews. About a thousand houses, which were occupied by approximately 2,500 families, went up in smoke, among them 650 businesses, the entire market and many banks. Also all the buildings of the social and charitable institutions: the Jewish hospital, the city library, the soup kitchens, etc. Fifteen schools and synagogues were destroyed with their nearly 100 Torah scrolls. This burned property - mostly not insured - was estimated at seven million rubles, and there were also casualties in people and many wounded.
Thousands of refugees, men and women, old, young, and children, came with remnants of saved belongings to the Polygon Plaza" and the bank of the Berezina. The news of the great accident spread instantly across the entire Minsk Gubernia and all of Russia. More than ten thousand men and women, old ones and children, lie hungry and barefoot on the ground" - wrote in Hamelits Jacob Hacohen Ginzburg.
Saturday, there were sent, with permission of the rabbis, wagons loaded with bread from Minsk, Mohilev, Homel, and other cities, and the hungry masses revived themselves with dry bread. It melts the heart," wrote Hamelits, to see how children and old men and women fall upon the bread wagons which come from the nearby cities. With the side of their shoulder they shove one another aside in order to get a bit of bread and refresh the soul."
Soon after the fire, a help committee was created for those who lost their property, headed by Fredvoditel Dvorianstva (cheif of aristocratic standing) Kologrivov, but actually active in the committee were the Jewish members - Rabbi Shemaria Nokh Shnieuson, Hirsh Halbershtat, Itskhak Ayzik Estrin, the Kazioner Rabbi Y. Vilenski, Dr. N. Reygorodski and Poltiel Katsenelson.
The first question which arose on the agenda was quartering the thousands of homeless. In a house which earlier there lived a family in crowdedness," wrote Dr. A. Paperna, now live three or four families, hundreds of families live in stables and granaries. They are also placed in provisional barracks. Many arrange themselves in various barracks which are temporarily very miserable, after the soldiers go out on maneuvers, as also in the living quarters of the officers, which they had temporarily leased."
There had begun a fund collection for the fire victims in many cities and towns of Russia. The all-Russia Red Cross had itself contributed 3,000 rubles for claims help. It established a kitchen barrack, and the 21st of May a kitchen was opened. The kitchen was opened until the 16th of August - 87 days - and it distributed on the average 700-900 portions a day. Clothing was also distributed among those who needed it.
The frightening impression which the fire had made called forth a great spiritual awakening among Jews in the whole country to come with immediate help. From Kesheniev the local charity society sent in 500 rubles - all that there was in the treasury - and undertook to gather further contributions. In Berditshev, on the first day of the fire they collected together 2,000 rubles. In Kiev the money collection reached the sum of 8,000 rubles. Large money collections were carried out with the help of the Jewish press. Upon the appeal of the newspapers, Jews were called upon from the whole of Russia and from outside the country, from Siberia to America.
"Yk. A." sent from Paris 22,000 francs jointly certified for the artisans. An envoy of the Yk. A.," the historian F. Mark, came to Bobruisk and brought 10,000 rubles to establish a fund for the fire victims. A separate impression was made by the contribution of Tsar Nicholas of a sum of 50,000 rubles. The donation of the Tsar was distributed among the victims according to a list, which was prepared through the Governor, who came to Bobruisk specially because of them on the 5th of June. The Jews, who were not used to such generosity on the part of the imperial leader, saw in it a sign to the good. All told, there was collected for the fire victims of Bobruisk a sum of 500,000 rubles.
The railroad director, who felt guilty in the fire, allowed the victims of the fire to travel for free in the wagons of third class and drive building materials and food for the ticket price of one one-hundredth of a kopek for a pood (40 Russian pounds).
But not merely the collected monies helped the speedy rebuilding of the city. Bobruisk had just in that time found itself in the phase of advancing development as a business city. After 1896, when the arms of the fortress were unloaded, it was permitted to build stone houses. After the fire which broke out in the city in October 1901, the magistrate forbade the building of wooden houses in the central streets and permitted erecting buildings of wood only in the courtyards, on the condition that the roofs should be covered with tin. Nevertheless, there were built up until the Great Fire not more than 25 stone houses. After the fire, traders and other businessmen began to secure loans to build houses, mostly wooden, which were, because of the assassins prohibition, built in the courtyards and in a great crowding; but partly they also built houses of brick, and in the summer of the fire year we hear also about over a hundred new houses of brick, which were built in the city and one sees also a boom in business and in every craft."
The boom in the city in such a broad scope, and in the course of several beautiful years, artisans and workers were provided with work. The four brick factories of Rozenberg, Lozinski, the Fruzshinin brothers, and the partnership of Y. Cohen and Tomashov - were overloaded with work, and brick transport also came by railway from Minsk, according to cheap tarrifs. There was also built after the fire, with the help of the Yk. A.", inexpensive sanitary residence-buildings," which were designated for the poor families. These were two-story houses whose building cost 180,000 rubles. The inhabitants themselves lamented on the dampness in the rooms and on those who had to bring up water from the well to the higher floors."
Several years passed and on the ruins of the burned-up Bobruisk - the wooden Bobruisk - there arose a new city, in which one saw not a few houses of brick. The Great Fire was - in a certain reckoning - a turning point in the history of Bobruisk, superficially she only changed the outward appearance of the city, but with the outward change of the houses she felt a need to beautify the streets, do away with the mud in autumn, to plaster sidewalks. In short - to bring themselves closer, as distantly possible, to the appearance of a modern European city.
3. Beginning of the Socialist Movement. The Bund in Bobruisk
The fire of 1902 made a ruin of the old Bobruisk and brought the building of a new and more beautiful city. But a greater fire in those years broke out in internal life of Jewish Bobruisk. The changes, which she brought on herself, were a lot deeper and penetrated the very heart of the societal and cultural life of the city.
A dangerous explosion-material gathered itself in the poor alleys of the Sloboda, but a [gebundener] himself alone doesn't know how to tie together." - needed only a spark for a dreadful explosion to shake up the old society, whose leaders were the rich people, the benefactors, the rabbis and religious teachers, and brought upon the arena new social forces - the the revolutionary intellectuals, the masses and the youth whom they followed - this spark was the Socialist idea.
In Vilna and Misk there arose circles of workers and artisans where educated young people opened their eyes and explained, relatively, the torah of Lasalle, Marx, and other [muri-horos], that they were not men of dust, who were doomed to poverty and hardship in the world and their their only hope is only that world, - only they were members of that class - the proletariat - which to rule the world he is able to throw out the old regime, the regime of self-government, and establish a regime of freedom, equality, and brotherhood - a paradise in our world.
At the end of the nineties the tide of revolution also reached Bobruisk. Several intellectuals, among them the son of the pharmacist Bernstein, the pharmacist Fein, the young doctor Kheydin, were the cheif agitators. With them stood several Jewish soldiers from the fortress and several artisans. The agitation is primitive, but it hits the mark. No one shames himself with poverty." - mused the agitators - and if anyone should be ashamed, it is the rich, the rabbi, the Catholic priest, and the landlord, who suckle off of the blood of the poor. To the verbal agitation is added pamphlets, to which the conspiracy as such gives them appeal and significance.
"When I read this little book Domik Na Volge, in which it told of the attempted assasination of Tsar Alexander II and about the brave death of the plotters - told in the words of one of the leaders in the movement, Artshe (Ahron) Gorelik - it seemed to me that the walls hear, the windows see, and all know my thoughts...I looked around in the street, whether I walked any more. I avoided meeting a Gorodovoi and intermittently I felt my pocket, to see whether I had, God forbid, not lost this."
"We learned," he related later, that we were a proletariat, which owned merely its hands, and our interests - it doesn't matter to which trade one belonged - were of one and the same class."
With the revolutionary literature came the new Yiddish literature - Mendele, Spektor, Dinezon, and Perets - which clearly brought out the Socialist point of view. The story Bontshe Shveyg of Y. L. Perets," relates Gorelik I read with every new one, this is called, in all what we became they 'opened our eyes' faster."
And thus was created the first kruzshok (circle) in the city. Included in it were artisans, tailors, and also even servant girls. And since the number of members in the movement grew and clubs multiplied, they created a center and selected a committee.
Little by little, contacts allied between the centers in Minsk and Vilne. Envoys came from these cities and met with elected young men of the local organization, among them Meyshke the oboishtshik of Minsk and Itsik Yafe, a brushmaker from Vilne, who had served in the military in Bobruisk.
Such as these sat together with the intelligentsia," sons of the aristocratic families, raised the mood of the depressed Sloboda people. I feel myself as an adult," writes Gorelik with equal people. With such as Bernshtein as friend and teacher, I felt a brightness in my soul, which steadily illuminates my fight for the working class, for the proletariat. A scapegoat emperor, generals and business-owners. The world-proletariat shall rule! A new titled man becomes, thus a pauper, - the entire proletariat becomes a trivial child."
Clubs were also created to learn Russian, because the Jewish worker will not free himself alone, only with the help of the Russian people.
The first strikes break out, the business owners attempt to call for help to the Butcher's Khevre" reckoning themselves with the strikers, but the Socialists also found a way to several of the "Yatn" ["Lads" street gang] and pull them over to their side. They were led to a peace with the chief fixers of the Butcher's Khevre and the Wagon Driver's Khevre - Leybitshke Kolesnik and Yankel Vubatin - and they persuade, that they should stand on the side of the workers.
In this atmosphere is felt on high as a thunderbolt from heaven the news, that there was discovered a secret printing press of the revolutionaries. This was the illegal press of the United Worker Bund [Alliance] in Russia," known under the shortened name, Bund," which was founded in Vilna in the month of October 1897. Several months after the founding they arrested one of the founders of the Bund, Yisroel Mikhl Kaplinski, establishing a secret priinting press, which would serve the Bund and the Russian Social-Democratic Worker Party," whose founding conference occurred in March, 1898 in Minsk. As it turns out, Bobruisk was selected as the appropriate place for the conspirators' press necessarily therefore, because the movement" was a weak one there and the local police had not yet had an eye on it.
Kaplinski and his wife Mere (Miriam Krigel) had rented an apartment in the house of R. Yakov Nemiets, Berel Katsnelson's grandfather. This was an apartment of three rooms with a kitchen. The first room appeared as someone was living there and no extraneous things were there, in the second room stood a long table, the top of the table one could take apart the back, under the top was a container the length of the entire table, two vershkes deep. In this partition was the printing apparatus with all the instruments to print" (N. Bukhbinder). The third room served as a storage for paper, for compostion and printing material.
In the printing press worked Kaplinski and his wife, two girls from Minsk, and two lads, one from Vilna and the second (Hershl the cabinetmaker or Grishe Soroke) from Minsk. Among other things, the press printed the Worker's Voice and the founding proclamation of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, in two languages: Yiddish and Russian.
The Tsarist okhranke (political secret police) under the command of the famous Zubatov spread a broad espionage network and tracked the new movement, which had grown in all of Lithuania and Belarus. Spies hung around in all the cities and towns. They learned that Hershl Soroke drove from Homel to Bobruisk four pood of printing paper. The spies, whom Zubatov had sent up to Bobruisk, quickly failed. In a little village, where every new person became rapidly noticed, the agents attracted attention to themselves: they shut themselves in the best hotel, conducted themselves generously, going to the theater. By every move they were upon the train station, declined to have social dealings or consult with the various commissioners, who had access to the hotel. Continually, by the hotel administration summoned a suspect, the police interested themselves, in the city they spread rumors, that the strangers were spies who wanted to confiscate in the shops the gold and silver of an inferior assay, that they gathered themselves to rob Kleynerman's bank-house, etc. Zubatov had to call back the agents and replace them with others, who had already previously settled themselves in a suburb." (N. Bukhbinder)
Also Kaplinov and his colleagues detected that they spied on them after and under pressure drove over to Grodno, but the 26th of July 1898 the signal was given, and in all of the Pale of Settlement the political secret police conducted audits and arrests. On that day were arrested Kaplinksy with his wife and two of theri collaborators: Grisha Soroke and his wife Mikhl Sirkin.
The impression in the city was a mighty one, I became a community of the first hunting, which they made upon the Jewish youth." related many years afterward a descendant of Bobruisk, Berel Katsenelson, who was during the downfall of the press in Bobruisk a child of eleven. The movement members understood that what they did was quite a serious matter and was connected with not a few dangers. Feeble and well-to-do children fall" related Ahron Gorelik in his memoirs, opposed to, were those that remain - ready to give up their lives. The Bobruisk clubs connected themselves with the Bund" and become an integral part of the movement, which grew from day to day. A part of the first Bundist activists left the city, fearful of the police. In their place came new ones, and among them pushed ahead quite quickly the future leader of the Bund" in Bobruisk, Nokhke Yokhbad, who joined the movement in 1900, then a 16-year-old boy.
4. The Revolutionary Movement on the Eve of the First Russian Revolution (1905)
The first activity of the Bund turned out to raise the situation of the worker in Bobruisk. The workers were organized in professional societies, obtained clarifications concerning the professional and political battle. At the end of 1898 there was founded one of the strongest professional unions in the city - the cabinetmakers union. This union was especially strengthened when there began the feverish rebuilding of the city after the fire. Strikes of cabinetmakers and house painters led to visible heightening of the pay value in these trades and raised the prestige of the Bund. Efficient organizational work was carried out among the tailors, stocking-makers, et. al.
Besides the professional unions was a circle of propogandist-agitators," which numbered some 30-40 members. The circle stemmed from intellectuals and conscious workers. From time to time there were arrests. The first of the Bobruisk Bundists who were arrested, was Moshe Baksht, the son of the old assistant rabbi, R. Yoysef Baksht. He was convicted to a term of several years.
The political secret police followed the new development in Bobruisk and in 1902 there came to Bobruisk several representatives of the Jewish Indepenent Worker Party," which was created at the initiative of the political secret police with the goal of founding a professional apolitical movement, which would restrain the spreading of revolutionary Socialism in the Jewish streets. This movement became known among Jewish workers A. N. Zubatovshtshina," after the name of its founder, the chief of the Moscow secret police Zubatov. At the end of 1902, the new movement, which had the full support of the Tsarist government and counted some two hundred members, dared to come out in public openly. The 4th of January, 1903, the movement, with the permission of the police chief in the city, called a worker assembly, upon which was published the representative of the Minsk Committee of the Independent Worker Party" (Zubatovtses). The Bund sent there a large number of members, which exploded the meeting and ended it with a scuffle.
Rumors about the Democrats," as the Bundists were then called in the Jewish streets, were carried over the entire city. From time to time there would be illegal assemblies, and hundreds of proclamations in Yiddish and Russian would be spread among the assembled. In that time,there would come to the assemblies from a hundred to 150 persons. These assemblies were arranged in relation to various revolutionary events: the 14th of December - the memorial of the Bund of the Decembrists in 1825; the 19th of February - the day of freeing the peasants in 1861; the 1st of March - day of attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander II and, obviously, the 1st of May. On the 15th of March 1903, the provocateur Reuben Lubin was shot to death for informing against Socialists and handing them over to the police.
In that time also the Bund had its birzshe in Bobruisk, as it was the leader in all cities where the Bund was active. The birzshe was on Muraviov Street, between the streets Skabelievskaya and Stolipinskaya. In the evening there used to be the followers of the Bund - workers, journeymen, artisans - coming together there, walking around in the street, shmuesn, discussing, speaking about party meetings, etc.
The pogrom in Kishniev made a horrible impression in Bobruisk, as in all other Jewish communities in Russia. The Bund created its battle unit" (boyuvke), whose chief goal was self-defence. Bobruisk itself was not apprehensive of a pogrom, but in September 1903, when the news of a pogrom in Homel came, a self-defence group from Bobruisk went out to join the Jewish self-defence unit of Homel. In the same year, (9/13/1903), Erev Yom Kipur, a rumor spread that peasants from the vicinity were getting ready to fall upon the Jews in Bobruisk. The Jewish self-defence unit sent its people to their positions, to stand against the drunken rioters, but it was quite quickly seen that it was a false alarm.
In that year (1903), the Bund was out with the first street demonstrations under the masquerade of funerals. Such a demonstration happened December 17th, 1903 upon the funeral of one of the party officers Leyb Abner, who died young. It was decided to carry the funeral stretcher not through the side streets, although this would have shortened the route, but through the central streets, Shoseynaya and Muraviovskaya. The crowd marched in locked rows. Workers left the workshops and many of the citizens joined the funeral/demonstration, so that on Muraviovska Street there was already a crowd of several thousand people. The crowd went in complete stillness - and a power which threw without a fear was felt in this tense stillness. From the houses and businesses one could see this extraordinary manifestation." When the funeral first came near to the cemetery, the police detected the revolutionary character of the funeral, and a police unit showed up at the plaza. Some of the money lenders separated themselves, but a thousand people, among them the organized workers and many volunteers, remained in the plaza. They restrained hespeydim [funeral orations], which were revolutionary speeches, and afterward a Bund representative begged all escorts to quietly separate.
The success of this disguised demonstration gave courage and prestige to the organizers. On the 1st of May, 1904, which in Russian fell on the 18th of April, a general strike was celebrated in Bobruisk. Even in the train station, in the buildings which were built under the supervision of the chief of the secret police, they didn't work," writes the correspondent of the central Bundist newspaper. Great assemblies, in which were counted around 700-800 persons, occurred in the forests behind the city; proclamations were spread by the thousands. Around 1,000 workers were out upon the central street, as if on a holiday. Many workers were not satisfied with this and demanded a sharper action. Not thus - they argued until mornings - should one celebrate the 1st of May. We must demonstratively react to everything our government does."
In the summer of 1904, the Bund in Bobruisk counted 700 members and was reckoned among the 10 largest Bundist organizations in all of Russia. The members of the organization were making [umzumn] to that revolutionary axis. On Saturday, September 25 1904, there broke out in Bobruisk a spontaneous revolutionary protest demonstration, after the police had discovered an illegal assembly of 300 persons in the forest behind the city. The assembled armed themselves with sticks and poles and retuned to the city in a narrow, locked mass of people. With a calling out: Down with the war!" (thinking of the Russo-Japanese War), Long live Peace!" The police, who were not prepared for such a kind of manifestation, feigned ignorance and didn't show themselves to the Democrats."
The next Saturday, October 2 1904, the Bund led the first organized demonstration in the streets of Bobruisk, which came as an answer to the attack of the police upon Bundist demonstrators in Bialistok at Sukkos-time. Around 600 people assembled on Muraviovske Street, which was then, after several days of rain, very muddy. The demonstrators marched on the sidewalks, carrying a red flag and singing the revolutionary song Varshavianka. Proclamations in Yiddish and Russian were distributed among the crowd. At the peak of the demonstration action there went the boyuvke, armed with revolvers and bayonets. A policeman, who stood in the way of the demonstration, received blows. The police opened fire, and the boyuvke answered with a volley of fire. The shooting between the police and the boyuvke did not stop until an [otriad] of soldiers came and forcibly dispersed the crowd.
This demonstration led to many arrests. This shrank the Bundist activity; but the revolutionary wave which flooded Russia after the murder of the peaceful demonstrators, who were out to implore the Tsar in the bloody Sunday" (Krovavoye Voskresnye), January 9, 1905, aroused the Socialist movement in Bobruisk to new revolutionary actions.
5. Zionists and Labor Zionists at the End of the 19th Century
The publications of Dr. Herzl heightened a new soul in the narrow circles of the Lovers of Zion in Bobruisk. In the First Congress (1897) two delegates from Bobruisk participated - Boris Katsenelson and Moyshe Khayim Lozinski. M. Kh. Lozinski, an able young man and son of a prominent family, quickly took an eminent place in the central Zionist work. He studied law in Kiev and there he was the secretary of the Morsheh over the Kiev region, Dr. M. Mandelshtat. He was also sent to London to concern himself with the founding of the Utser Hatishbot Hehodim. Because of the deterioraton of the state of his health, he was forced to return to the city of his birth, where he was ranked amongst the most active Zionist officers, until his demise in 1902.
In the Zionist movement also pursued their activity the active leaders of the Lovers of Zion, Itskhak Ayzik Estrin and Yoysef Dobkin, with them also stood Arieh Leyb Maza"h, who settled in Bobruisk in 1897, afterward he married a daughter of Bobruisk, and bacame secretary representing Bobruisk in the 5th (1901), sixth of Zionist [mrkhz] in Bobruisk. Maza"h (1903) and seventh (1905) Congress. Upon the second conference of Russian Zionism in Minsk, four delegates from Bobruisk took part: Yikhiel Davidson, M. Kh. Lozinski, A. L. Maza"h and Soreh Katsenelson.
The quite important activity in the Zionist movement of Dr. Nisan Katsenelson, a son of a rich and aristocratic family in Bobruisk, who was born in Libave, but had business and family ties to his family in Bobruisk - had an influence among the business circles in the city to the advantage of Zionism.
One of the Zionist officers and its [mtifim] was Shmuel Alexandrov - an original character, who stood between two worlds - the world of Torah and the world of Haskole. He was one of the founders of Mizrakh in Russia. In the years 1898-1899 there lived in Bobruisk the famous mtif Shimon Moyshe Diskin of Khalovitsh. He held forth for Zionism without taking any payment.
From the newspapers of that time we learn about the [fartsveygter] activity of the Zionists in spreading Zionist thought, in selling [shklim] and action of Utser Hatishbos Hehodim, in spreading Hebrew journals and literature.
From time to time Zionist evenings would be planned. The yuntif of the Maccabees," wrote a Bobruisker in Hatsefireh (1901), was fomented with a great parade in the synagogue, in order that the broad masses should know participation in the national yuntif. The synagogue was packed full with people of all parties. Cantors with their choirs and musicians sang and played songs of Zion; the famous mtifim Sh. Alexandrov, Sh. Diskin, and Berger held talks, which made a mighty impression on the crowd, and many then volunteered in the Zionist organization; On Purim there was organized a Purim evening through the Sons of Zion union , and Y. L. Berger held a talk there. The receipts of the evening were designated for the Keren Kimat L'Yisroel, which was founded a year earlier.
In November 1902 there was founded in Bobruisk a Zionist union of the pious A. N. Sheri Tsion," which numbered 250-300 members. The active leaders were Sh. Alexandrov and Yoysef Dobkin. In the union were active two committees - a Committee for Zionism" which conducted purely Zionist work (buying shklim, markets for Keren Kimat L'Yisroel, and shares of the Colonial Bank) and a Committee Building the Keren Hatorah," whose first work was organizing informal clubs to study Torah in the synagogue.
We know also about Zionist women's union Akhios-Zion" and Daughters of Yehuda. The Akhios-Zion" union conducted an enlightenment work among the poor strata and the uneducated. To the Daughters of Yehuda." belonged the educated and well-to-do women.
At the end of 1903 there began to be activity in Bobruisk, upon the initiative of the Zionists, of the union Devray Evrit whose chief goal was to get the members accustomed to speaking Hebrew and spreading the knowledge of Hebrew among the local Jewish citizens. The union worked energetically, and many took up spreading the Hebrew language, especially the girls of Bobruisk. The Zionists were the vital spirit in the help actions of Bobruisk Jews after the accident which befell the Jews of Kishenev. After the pogrom, the rabbis called for a fast and arranged a mourning assembly. In the city there was held a fund collection to benefit the victims of the pogrom, in which participated rich and poor. 2,000 rubles were collected.
In the year 1901, Zev Gershovski (Gershon) was sent from Minsk through Mikhl Halperin to lead a propaganda in Bobrisk for Labor Zion. With a great rapture then Z. Gershon visits in Bobruisk," writes Mendel Zinger, who had a conversation with Z. Gershon, already in his deep old age, and published it in his book, Socialist Zionist Leaders. With great rapture Z. Gershon mentions his visit to Bobruisk--he stood before a wonderful phenomenon: all who belonged to the Lovers of Zion were permeated with a deep faith in the Zionist-Socialist thought and were prepared to give up their lives for it. And the members of the organization - mostly hard-working people - shoemaker, tailors, tinsmiths, leatherworkers, and construction workers, and the female members - cloth-cutters, stocking-makers, tobacco factory workers - all people of hard work, thirsty for learning and knowledge"
"My interlocutor mentions the first L. Z. comrades in Bobruisk: here is Velvel Levkovits, a young man with a blonde beard, who wanted to know whether we were not atheists and whether we were not desecrators of the Sabbath. A pious Jew, kind, inclined to deep examination of his thoughts and deeds; and here is Leybke Flakun, a construction worker, a naive lad with a healthy proletariat spirit, who simply and sincerely was posessed by us above all; the two brothers Neyman were makers of low-laced boots, who reckoned themselves for the intellectuals in their trade; and one Hershl Timfin, who also concerning our affairs used to talk with a Talmudic chant: according to what pilpul [Talmudic argument]? We are of course Jewish workers and we have to plead for our affairs obviously in the Diaspora and perhaps more in the Land of Israel. We must organize a strong force of our workers in the entire world, in order that we should able to, when the time comes, lead them to the Land of Israel and they will be there a creative and constructive force. He remembered very well Berel (Berel Katsenelson), a young man of 13-14 years. With diseased eyes, standing alert, often having something to tell the adult Zionists, and all used to listen to the speech of the sharp youngster - Our young genius, Berele, stood as an equal with the group of comrades. He was not a worker, only a son of a businessman-intellectual family and he studied. This Berele quickly became the moving spirit in the group Lovers of Zion" in Bobruisk."
In Zev Gershon's opinion, the organization in Bobruisk in the years 1901-2 was the cornerstone of the Lovers of Zion affairs in Russia and Poland in the coming years.
The Lovers of Zion organization stood in a difficult battle with the Bund for the soul of the workers and youth. She layed upon the worker circles, which were near to the Jewish tradition, that which came of a better Jewish education. She garnered many adherents among the business employees, but also among other workers and artisans. We know about a union of painters-Zionists, of 35 members which distinguished themselves, in that once a week they used to come together to study Tanakh and Jewish history. The Lovers of Zion Party stood in connection with the general Zionist organization in the city through the mediation of A. L. Maza"h, who was very taken up with the broad strata of the people.
In the memoirs of the first Lovers of Zion in Bobruisk, Mikhal Margolin and Meir Solof (Soloviov) we learn that in the beginning of the 20th century there was in Bobruisk a strong organization of the Lovers of Zion, which counted 300 comrades. The organization took part in the informal clubs for self-education. This was not brought to light to organize around twenty conspirators here and there for this club. From time to time all the comrades of the organization used to gather for a skhodke (general assembly) and select the committee. The election was held in quite a peculiar way: every circle gave over a list of candidates to one of the comrades, who was called the confidence-man:" the voters used to gather around the confidence-man" and give him slips of paper with the names of the comrades which they beat for all members of the committee - and he used to select from them the eligible comrades, so that the ordinary comrades didn't know who was the committee members.
The birzshe of the Lovers of Zion was at first also on Muraviovskaya Street, from Barashe's pharmacy to the end of the street. Later they moved over to Shoseynaya. The birzshe," writes Margolin, was the living pulse of the organization...in the birzshe there was a constant racket, incessantly, discussions were led there. For male and female members, who had to meet or do something, the birzshe was their meeting place. It was as noisy as a beehive there, they walked to and fro without ceasing."
General assemblies used to be arranged wintertime in factories in Sloboda, and a vigil of comrades - young couples, lads and girls, used to walk around outdoors on guard, so that the police wouldn't surprise the assembly. Margolin relates that for the assemblies they used even miserable barracks that the soldiers had abandoned for various reasons. In summer they held meetings in the forests on that side of the Berezina. Also of course watches were stationed around there; they used to also scramble up the trees and in [lornetes] look around and around.
In the Lovers of Zion there existed a youth organization of 15-18-year-old youngsters, A. N. Lovers of Zion B. At the head was the comrade Elihu Neyman. They also had their clubs in the assembly.
Both the Bund and the Lovers of Zion had a battle-divisions" (boyuvke). Their goal was to learn to wield weapons, attack strike-breakers, free comrades arrested by the police, etc. From them, after the Kishnev pogrom, developed the self-defence organization of the Lovers of Zion, which owned revolvers and bombs of the same manufacture, held in the attics of the talmid-toyres. Weapons exersises were held on that side of the Berezina.
On the anniversary of the Kishnev pogrom, or, precisely, a shabes before it, the Lovers of Zion organized a protest demonstration. The demonstration was organized thus: the comrades came to daven in the large shul on Shoseyne Street, after davnen a few healthy comrades placed themselves by the exits of the shul and didn't leave any of the exiters. They held speeches and read fragments of Bialik's Slaughter City. Subsequently, the comrades went out into the street, which was, incidentally, full of mud, and marched with raised flags, deafening the street with cries against the Tsarist government and with shooting revolvers . To this demonstration, which was the first political demonstration in the city (the Bund had begun its demonstrations in the summer of 1904), the comrades rallied.
In the summer of 1903, elections were held for the 16th Zionist Congress. Bobruisk sent six delegates to the Congress, including three from the general Zionist organization: P. Katsenelson, Moyshe Katsenelson, and Arie Leyb Maza"h. Two of the Sheri Zion (Eastern) - Yoysef Dobkin and Yoysef Lurieh (Lurieh took his place for the Rabbi Henokh Hendel Fridland of Paritsh), and of the Lovers of Zion - Zev Velvl Levkovitsh.
Herzl's death in 1904 deeply shook up the Bobruisk Jews. With the permission of the government a memorial was organized in the courtyard of the cemetery to the [shloshim] after his death. During the funeral orations, the great crowd broke out in tears. A group of Bundists also came, it turns out, to quarrel with the gathering. They but withdrew, seeing such a big crowd. But the organizers of the mourning assembly managed to end it with a mi shabeyrekh [blessing] on the Tsar, the Bundists began a tumult , and there was a scuffle between the Lovers of Zion and the Bundists. This left a hard feeling and a bitter reminder with many who were there.
The first year of the revolution was a year of decline in the Zionist movement; from one side stormed the arguments about Uganda; from the second side, the revolution diverted the youth and weakened the attraction of the Zionist ideology. Especialy the Lovers of Zion movement encountered it, which split itself; a part - and this was the majority - was away to the Territorialists (Zionist-Socialists - S. S.) and the rest remained in Lovers of Zion.
6. In the Time of the First Russian Revolution (1905)
The first year of the Russian revolution was in Bobruisk under the sign of the Bund's hegemony upon the Jewish streets and of course, in the entire city. At the head of the Bund stood the young Nokhke Yokhoved, who was worthy of the nickname "Nokhke Polits-meyster." Other organizations: the Russian S. D. (mostly Jewish boys and girls), the S. R. (Socialist-Revolutianaries), the Lovers of Zion, Zionist-Socialists (S. S.), and the Society to AchieveJustice for the Jewish People in Russia (Achiever), which was founded in the spring of 1905 and embraced liberal clubs -- all of them played a secondary role.
The pace of events in Bobruisk was, understood, narrowly connected with the events in all of Russia, and upon as much as the revolutionary movement strengthened in the large cities, upon so much it itself developed and strengthened in Bobruisk.
In the beginning of the revolution, in January 1905, the Bund - after the wave of arrests in October 1904 - was substantially weakened. When the news came about the murder which the Tsarist servants carried out upon the workers in St. Petersberg on January 9th, the Bund began a broad propaganda work among some hundred workers. The local party leaders held back from declaring a strike, only afterward they received an explicit instruction from the Central Committee of the Bund, they insisted to the Russian S. D. Group, she should move the Christian workers of the factories to co-participate in the strike. Saturday there was arranged an assembly in the great shul, in which took part some 700 persons. The assembly was called to support the war upon the Far East and give the people a constitution. In the morning the repesentatives of the Bund went into the workshops and called upon the workers to interrupt their work. A thousand people accomodated the call. It is worthwhile to note that the business establishments which belonged to the Lovers of Zion had been persuaded to join the strike, though their party did not participate in organizing the strike. But the next morning it was known that the Russian factory workers had no desire to strike. The Jewish agitators of the Russian" S. D. had no effect upon them. The machines in the factory made noise," one of the S.D. group wrote around that time, and a bitter pain called out in the hearts of the conscious workers the treacherous smoke of the factory chimneys. This failure made a severe impression upon the Jewish workers, their courage fell and many of them returned to their work. On the sixth day of the strike, it became clear that the strike was dying - and it was decided to directly interrupt it. The organized workers took to the work with great [shevon-lev]."
The sixth of March, a strike of the business establishments broke out in the city. which was organized, it turns out, through the Lovers of Zion. Economic demands were put forth (closing businesses 9 evenings, midday break, higher pay, etc.). After 3 days the employers gave in to the demands of the strikers.
The bitter experience with the failed strike moved the Bundist leader Nokhke Yokhoved and his comrades to begin strong organizational work, which they felt had been first lost several months previously. There was formed a United Committee of All Revolutionary Parties" in the city, in which participated the Bundists, the Iskra people (General S. D.), Lovers of Zion, and S. R. (Socialist-Revolutionaries). This time it was decided to proclaim a general strike for two days. Purim (8th of March), they organized a meeting of sympathizers, upon which they declared the workers the meaning of the economic battle and the turning point to adding to it a political character. Afterwards were organized seven meetings, according to professional unions, where there appeared enlightenments, also contributors of Lovers of Zion and S. S.
March 13th the Bundists called nearly six hundred workers to the construction workers shul in Sloboda. A Bund representative then began the political strike and called the meeting already standing together with the demonstration and Socialism. The demonstrations went out on Muraviovske Street, which then happened to be one big muddy, and not a little impeded the march of the demonstrations. At the apex of the demonstration went the boyevke shooting from time to time with revolvers. A division of Cossacks, who were alerted by the terrified policemen, came upon the plaza when the demonstration was already begnning to disperse.
After the demonstration, the workers converged on the birzshes, distributing proclamations about the strike, and their interruption. The citizens," wrote the central newspaper of the Bund, connected with open sympathy, the determination of the worker - a lofty one, the authority of the organization (Bund) strengthened the battle-readiness of the masses is advanced."
On May 1st, the police forces stood on alert. Work had stopped in all work benches and in some factories. Thus, since the day fell on the Christian Easter, the Russian workers also didn't work and international solidarity this time was not led astray. Proclamations were spread in the city and also in the fortress. Groups of workers walked in the streets and Cossack units - accompanied by exclamations Down with self-government" - here and there chased away groups of workers.
In May Bobruisk achieved a wave of strikes, which overtook all of Russia. On May 7th the cabinetmaker workshops struck, on the 11th - the shoemakers, after that the workers in the sawmills (mosty Christians), who had as a result of the strike achieved higher pay and a shorter workday. The strike of the meat workers, which the S. S. organized and which lasted more than a month's time, was quite a serious one. In the city there was no meat, they (the strikers) left not even slaughtered poultry, unless for a sick person or according to a doctor's note," wrote the correspondent of Friend. The city managers suggested the ritual slaughteres to slaughter under the watch of the Cossacks, but the ritual slaughterers refused, out of fear of the journeymen butchers. Characteristically, not only workers struck in those days: on May 1st a strike broke out in the trade school, which the Lovers of Zion had organized. The students demanded: 1. an appropriate attitude; 2. a larger portion and an improvement in the food; 3. abolishing the established arrangement to send the students to eat at foreign tables; 4. abolishing the punishment of not giving breakfast or lunch. Small traders were also organized against their exploiters - the big traders and the wholesalers.
The pogroms in Zhitomir (April 1905) by and large strengthened the sympathy towards the revolution in the Jewish streets . Saturday, the second day of Shavues (May 28th), in the cemetery there was a memorial for the pogrom victims in Zhitomir, organized by the Society for Equal Justice," with the permission of the government. It is worthwhile to notice by the situation, that the state government, civil and military, showed in relation to the revolutionary movement great self-restraint, making allowances for, it turned out, the special character of the city, which was nearly completely a Jewish one. It is possible that behind the scenes, other factors also played a role - personal relations and anonymous charity. At any rate, in Bobruisk the Jews did not undergo the same as the Jews in Minsk, Bialistok, Shedlets and in many other cities.
The Novoye Vremya lamented in those times, that the Jews (in Bobruisk) don't need permission to arm themselves for self-government purposes - they do it upon their own responsibility...they practice shooting, outside of the city, and fall without their rifles upon soldiers...they go through the streets and cry, Long live Japan!"
The Bund decided to take part in the meetings in the cemeteries. Some 3,000 men assembled there. Talks were given by Bundists, Zionists, and the Kazioner Rabbi. A Bundist speaker called upon the whole crowd to go out for a demontration in the street. By the gates of the cemeteries, a police watch demanded they disperse themselves. But some of the prominent city businessmen went to the police chief and informed him concerning the decision of the assembly, he directly took away his people. The procession went through the streets of the city; the Cossacks stood at a distance. After in a plaza there was a clash and the Cossacks detained several people. The same evening the police commissioner apologized, that a regretful mistake had happened, and the arrestees were directly released.
When the news came to Bobruisk about the rebellion in Lodzsh, Odessa, and other cities, the Bund called on Saturday, July 2nd, a mass meeting in the great beys hamedresh (house of study). 1,200 people gathered. Upon the building fluttered two flags, red and black; talks were held and revolutionary songs were sung. A united committee of the Bund and the Russian S. D. was created to prepare for a general strike on July 7th. This time the strike was successful. The shops were locked up. Upon the demand of the police to open them, the shopkeepers answered: they are ours today, and they (the revolutionaries or, as they were called in the Jewish streets - the democrats") will always find us. In the Turkish konditerey" which was open the day of the strike under a police watch, they called out a social boycott. But the government was also well-prepared. The city was full of policemen and Cossacks and it looked like a military camp. It was impossible to conduct what was a demonstration, because there was no possibility of gathering together for one even ten people.
Four days later, a Cossack killed with his sablieh (swowrd) , during a quarrell in the city market, the cobblestone worker Berl Hankin, who at the time was repairing the cobblestones on Muraviovske Street, this death provoked the entire city. There educated themselves an intra-party social committee to arrange the funeral of the murdered man.
The military powers, which felt guilty in the death, made contact through a mediator, the dentist Mendl Elkin, with Nokhke Yokhoved and M'aiz came to an agreement that the police would not meddle and not disturb the funeral - and the organizers obligated themselves not to carry red flags, only singing. Instead of flags they carried the bloody clothing of the murder victim, and more than ten thousand attendees marched in utter silence following the casket. At the cemetery, the chief speaker at Hankin's grave was Kolieh Teper of Odessa, one of the greatest tribunes of that time, who was several year earlier head of the Zionist camp in the Bund. He held the crowd of listeners in suspense for several hours. In the evening the meeting quietly dispersed. Characteristic of the atmosphere on that day was the phenomenon of a police unit whose commander resolved before Mendl Elkin (he was responsible for faithfully enforcing the mutual agreement), that he must come with his people, in order to make a stand, that the police watched out for the arrangement. He asked Elkin to speed up the meeting, so they would disperse.
7. The Bourgeoisie in the Time of the First Revolution
The mood of revolution did not avoid also the middle-class and balebotishe circles, and this was a bit conspicuous in such a city as Bobruisk, where these circles were inclined to conservatism. The tradition of loyalty to Russia arose in the city more from Napoleon's time, when the martyr Nisan Katsenelson fell into the hands of the French for this loyalty. The economic connections of the Bobruisk rich with the Russian government, while building the fortress, bound together strategic highways and supplied all that was needed for the military - these [kashirim] were long-standing and close. Also, the contribution of the Tsar for the Bobruisk fire victims in 1902 remained in memory. A short time before the outswing of the revolution (December 21, 1904) Tsar Nicholas II visited the military garrison in the Bobruisk fortress. At the train station there acquiesed to him a delegation of the Jewish community composed of the Kazioner rabbi, Vilenski, Y. A. Estrin, P. Katsenelson, and Dr. Feyertag. The rabbi blessed the Tsar in tradtional Jewish style and the delegation gave him a Torah scroll in a small Holy Ark - an art work by the Bobruisk artist Mendl Toker.
Several months went by and the mood in all of Russia was everywhere, even the Jewish middle-class circles were gone with the spirit of the time, and they also expressed their protest. In truth, in a more modest forum, opposing the regime of opression, by which the Jews were especially victimized.
In the middle of March, the representatives of various middle-class cirlces in in Zionist clubs held a meeting and discussed the matter of passing a petition to the committee ministers, to give equal rights to the Jews.
At the end of March 1905, representatives of the Bobruisk kehila took part in a conference which took place in Vilna and where there was created a Union to Achieve Full Rights for the Jewish People in Russia. They also signed the memorandum which submitted that the government desist from making all restrictions against the Jews. Afterwards there was created in the city a sort of unit of union (which in the city was called by the shortened name Alliance of Jews"), around which concentrated the liberal circles, which sympathized with the kadetish party (the Russian liberals).
In connection with the city manager elections, which took place in August 1905, the middle-class circles developed a broad activity. Since the year 1892, the Jews had taken the right to elect their representatives to the city management. The administration nominated Jews, at its discretion; their number could not be more than a tenth of the manager members. Thus a strange situation was created, that in the city of Bobruisk, as in other cities in Russia, where Jews were a majority of the population, the management of the city lay in the hands of the Christian minority, which by and large did not reckon with the requirements of the Jewish citizens, and they discriminated.
On the 19th of May, the city management of Bobruisk passed a memorandum, signed by 211 eminent Jews of the city, in which it said, granting upon the 12th of December, 1904, which called for the contribution of all citizens to cooperate in the city institutions, demanding the underwriters which belong to various strata of the Jewish population," include the Jews in the voter lists equally with the rest of the citizens. The city management also demanded to follow the path of the city management in Odessa, Kovno, and other cities, which insisted to the government a request which quickly equalized Jews in municipal rights with the other citizens," and that the deadline of the elections should be delayed until the this question is resolved."
The city management dealt with the matter of the Jews on the 16th of May, and by a secret ballot took a decision with a majority of 20 votes against 3 not to deal with the message, because it was not authorized thereto. After this decision, the representative of the Jews nominated to the management, Z. M. Rabinovitsh, resigned his office.
As an answer to the decision of the city management (June 8th, 1905), the Jews advised that these, in whom the fate of the city lies in their hands, cover themselves malevolently with the calcualtion that they are not authorized. The truth is that they don't want amongst themselves Jewish representatives, which stand with them the chief population of the city and nearly always manage to hold back its institutions;" they protested against the bunch of reactionariess, which had taken the city management by force. Thereby they declared that no Jews in Bobruisk would commit to undertake the office as a member of the city management, unless he were freely elected by the Jewish population.
As in all of Russia, also in Bobruisk the protest did not bring any results, and the Jews happily withdrew from every cooperation with the city management, until the second Russian Revolution broke out, which annulled all restrictions against the Jews.
The sympathy of the middle-class circles to the Revolution also expressed itself in their williness to take a part in the political strikes, through closing their businesses while a strike was called, as also through contributing to the funds of the revolutionary parties. In truth, there played a certain role in this readiness the fear of force of the democrats," as the revolutionaries were then known in the Jewish streets, but it was without a doubt that the pogroms upon the Jews and the political oppression moved the middle-class circles to support the enemy of the regime, which was on the whole obligated - and was severely discriminated against, how many were coerced and how many voluntarily were there in their participation in the strikes and the money contributions.
8. On the Climax Day of the Revolution--October 1905
In October, the strike of the railroad workers broke out. Bobruisk, which stood upon one of the very most mobile railroad lines, soon felt the interruption of the movement. The United Committee of the Revolutionary Parties" proclaimed a three-day general strike. In spite of the orders of the police, all businesses in the city were closed and the workshops interrupted their work. Several shopkeepers wanted to attempt to open the doors on the 3rd day of the strike, battle-units of the parties came to the plaza and immediately forcibly interrupted them. In one, a wholesale business where one worked behind closed shutters, several young people invaded and took to damaging the merchandise, until the owner gave in to the demand to close the business. In the meat market , one of the butchers gave a clap and all the rest closed the butcher shops. From a policeman who showed up at the market, they took his revolver and severly beat him. On Muraviovske Street a Cossack unit led a battle-detail" and several members were killed. But the goal - maintaining the strike until the last day - was acheived.
The news of the Tsarist manifesto, which refused a constitution, aroused the entire city. They were out in the streets. The government was bewildered, and in the streets no policemen or Cossacks were seen. In the evening, a people's assembly was held on Shoseyne Street, which was thereafter turned into a triumphant event. The entire night, there were walking around in the streets youths and workers, singing revolutionary songs and listening to speakers. Here and there shooting was heard, with which the battle detail" welcomed freedom.
In the morning, in the theater garden there was arranged a great people's assembly, a great crowd came to hear the democrats, to whom luck had now played. The Bundists, who saw themselves as the heroes of the day, with cries of mockery put down the speakers of the smaller parties - the S. R., Lovers of Zion, and S. S. - the last left the meeting with their members, After such a concrete lesson in the subject of democracy, and as a Lovers of Zion thereof, the United Committe of the Revolutionary Parties failed. In the evening the Bund called a big meeting, which lasted until midnight. By the end of the meeting came the news about the murder, which the governor Kurlov had ordered upon the mass demonstration in Minsk, at the railway station. The news clouded the atmosphere of joy and spiritual exhaltation.
Nearly a month's time passed after the freedom day. The police lost their grip over the city and it went to the revolutionaries, [lmts'sheh] to Nokhke Yokhoved, who in those days got the name Nokhke Policemaster. In the city there ruled a sort of khal-hamoyed [intermediary weekdays between the first and last days of Sukos and Pesakh] mood, the workers and the journeymen often used to interrupt their work and go away to the meetings and demonstrations.
The news about the wave of pogroms, which had flooded hundreds of cities and villages in the Pale of Settlement, destroyed the mood. The parties began to strengthen their boyuvkes. Party leaders visited the prominent and rich Jews and demanded that they contribute to the purchasing of weapons. This money was given with the best of goodwill. They bought new weapons and the self-defense people studied the use of them. They also distributed cold weapons, hammers worked on spears and bayonets; [naheykes] with leaden razor blades at the tip. The firefighters held watch. A Red Cross was formed, in which participated girls and weaker boys; doctors gave lessons in giving first aid. Patrols went around at night in the streets of the city.
But the pogrom wave avoided Bobruisk. The government in those days was not readily open to supporting the pogrom-mongers, and because those who were ready to commit pogroms were well aware that they would encounter strong resistance on the part of the Jews, they rather would not make an attempt. Incidentally, there were no pogroms in all of the Minsk gubernia, except in Retshitse.
9. The Rebellion in the Fortress
At the end of 1905, there shocked the city the rebellion of the soldiers in the disciplinary regiment." which was sitting in the military fortress jail. In those times there were 800 men, mostly [matoyosn], were held in the fortress. They were thrown under a severe regime of bad food, corporal punishment, and hard work. Early one morning, in the month of December, the soldiers did not come out from their barracks, when the whistle signal called them to their work. Later they gathered in the courtyard of the military jail and demanded that the authority of the jail come to hear their complaints. They demanded: immediate freeing of all of those who had already served their punishment; to curtail the arrest of the rest of the [asirim]; cancel corporal punishment and improve the food. The authority promised to give over their demands to the higher powers.
Until there was an answer to their demands, the [asirim] ruled the barracks, expelled the officers of the jail area, siezed all the food storage, also the weapons arsenal, and waited for the answer. The government decided to supress the rebellion with force. To strengthen the local garrison, which was already for several months under the influence of revolutionary propaganda, there came a special punishment battalion from Minsk. In the early morning hours, military units surrounded the prison barracks, and artillery guns were placed upon the residences of the rebels. After a term of 3 days they gave up the weapons and surrendered the organizers of the rebellion. After this they did not accept the demands, there were in the courtyard three units and they began to seize the weapons, not encountering those of the rebellion. Forty men of the organizers were arrested. Several of them turned themselves in and the rest were handed over through other soldiers.
In January 1906 there stood before the military court over thirteen main guilty ones, ten of whom, with the leader of the rebellion, the soldier Yakushev, were sentenced to death and three to hard labor.
The revolutionaries in Bobruisk decided to organize the escape of those sentenced to death. In the action took part the people of the Bundist boyuvke (among them Nokhke Yokhoved, Yitskhok Gorbati, Efrayim Itshe Gorelik and V. Norkin) and members of the Military-Revolutionaries Organization, in which took part several of the fortress people and several of the Iskra in Bobruisk.
Through the mediation of Mendl Elkin, who was close to the Bundists, Dr. Alexander Paperna (a son of the writer A. Y. Paperna), doctor of the military hospital, agreed to give to the condemned men a ride out and later took them, as suspects in a contagious disease, to an isolation room of the hospital. The room was on the third floor and two security soldiers kept watch by it day and night.
With the help of the hospital cook, who was a man of the Military-Revolutionary Organization, they treated the watch soldiers to cigarettes into which were put a strong sleep agent (the agent the organizers got from the pharmacist K. Roginski). After midnight, the organizers, some 10 men, deployed themselves around the hospital. The prisoners sawed in two the iron bars of their windows and lowered themselves by a rope from the third floor. They were led to a secure hide-out, from there to the train station and on the train - to one of the nearby stations. All told, 12 men escaped, among them three whose sentences had not yet ended. The majority of the escapees were smuggled out of the country. The leader of the rebels, Yakushev, found himself in an isolated cell. His death sentence was later commuted to life with hard labor.
10. The Revolution in Decline
After the suppression of the rebellion in the disciplinary regiment, the organs of power began anew to spread their nets out over the city. The revolutionaries had come to a blind alley; there was nothing they could do. They didn't have the strength to defeat the government in battle. In the city there began the era of the expropriations. The first began necessarily with the local Bund. A small group of the 'battle division," under the leadership of Nokhke Yokhoved, was away in the shtel of Shtshedrin, to attack there two government enterprises - the whiskey store, a monopoly of the government, and the post office, and they robbed four thousand rubles in cash and postage stamps. Nokhke directed this stolen money to the Central Committee of the Bund in Vilna, but there he got a severe reproach from the Central Committee members, that the Bund had then categorically thrown out any kind of terror. It went as far as the C. C. taking up the question of disbanding the Bundist organization in Bobruisk. A compromise was made - the C. C. took the money, but strictly forbade such activity in the future.
But in the city the seizures didn't cease untl as late as the end of 1907. They were partly executed by people who were called anarchists," and partly by the underworld society, which carried on terror under the mask of political activity. In one of the robberies a tobacco factory owner, Satison, was killed. The robbers were caught and several of them, including the anarchist Shmuel Shapiro, were hanged.
Also, the professionals managed to lead the battle with the terrorists in the city. During the strike of the bakery workers in the fall of 1906, who demanded a 10-hour workday and Saturday nights to begin work only after midnight - a large group of the Bundist boyuvke attempted to swing the bakery owners, who worked without the workers, to close the bakeries. In the bakery of the brothers Korobeyev, a clash came between the boyuvke fighters and the bakers with their families. The commander of the battle unit" (boyuvke) Bernshteyn, shot his revolver and killed one of the brothers. The fighters directly retreated. Bernshteyn hid himself and later escaped to America. The strike ended itself with a compromise: the number of working hours was lowered to 10, but also the pay was proportionally lowered.
In January 1906 there came to the city the priziv (the yearly mobilization to military service). Scores of young people, of the active leaders in the revolutionary parties, were called up to stand before the priziv, among them Nokhke Yokhoved and the members of the boyevke Avrom Ashkenazi and Hershl Volfson. Each one of the mobilized Bundist members, upon the question, Your religion" answered, Social Democrat. According to other information, the draftees declared that they would not use their guns against the people, only against the enemies of the people and the enemies of freedom. Among the prizivniks of Bobruisk and of the nearby villages and hamlets were arranged revolutionary assemblies, afterwards the organs of power looked through their fingers" (pretended not to see) at all those events. After being drafted to the army, half of the draftees deserted (in the event that a prizivnik deserted before he was mobilized, if he was a Jew, the family had to pay a fine of 300 rubles). Some of the deserters found a refuge in Vilna, others in other cities; many escaped to America. Nokhke Yokhoved stood before the priziv in Vilna, and notwithstanding the weak state of his health, he was taken into the army. A month later he escaped from his barracks. He wandered for two years around various cities in southern Russia, until they caught him and again took him into the army. He served two years in Vilna. Afterward they freed him. First in 1910 he returned and settled in Bobruisk.
In the spring of 1906 came the elections to the first Duma. The Bund boycotted the elections and strove to disrupt the voting meetings and threw a fear upon the voters, so they would not go to the polls. In that year the Bundists killed the policeman Karpenko, who had distinguished himself with his battle against the revolutionaries. During his funeral, self-defence units stood watch, out of fear of an attack on the part of the Christian rabble, but only one robbery on a bakery was committed by the attendees, returining from the funeral, and the funeral was soon dispersed by the police and self-defence people.
From day to day the revolutionary movement became weaker. Its active members, who the police knew well, left the city, there had begun a great emigration of the revolutionary officers and those close to them to America. Upon the seventh convention of the Bund (summer 1906) in Lemberg, the delegates from Bobruisk represented, all told, 456 comrades. To restrain the professional battle, which had, thanks to the new services in the country, gotten a semi-legal character, in 1907 a Central Bureau was created of all professional unions which were connected with the Bund.
At the end of 1907, there were active in Bobruisk professional unions of cabinetmakers, tailors, metal-workers, shoemakers and bootmakers, bakers, factory workers, and cooks, who all belonged then to the top of the Central Bureau, in which a representative of the Bund also took part. The position of the unions was not at all lofty. Only a small number of the comrades paid membership dues. They were no known for their cultural work. To the best held themselves the unions of the shoemakers, cabinetmakers, and metal-workers. The Bund held as their task to observe that there should not infiltrate into the union the S.S. circles. which fought to neutralize the professional unions and make them into non-party organizations.
Also the businessmen studied somewhat, they organized and often reacted to the strikes with lockouts. The feuds were mostly ended with compromises. Thus in the year 1906 was ended with a compromise the great work feud between the owners of the cabinetmaker workshops and their workers. The workers recognized the union of the owners of the cabinetmaker workshops as the representative of all their employers, and the workday was shortened from 11 to 9 hours. A larger strike of the painters failed, the long battle of the needle workers ended in 1908 with the agreement of the employers to an eight hour workday. In the year 1908, professional activity also finally ceased. The revolution was suppressed.
And of course in the city there remained an organized nucleus of Bundists. In the years 1908-1911 - the bitter years" of the revolutionary movement, when most of the organizations disintegrated and thousands of their comrades became inactive, writes a comrade of the Bundist Ts. K. A., Lithuanian, that only in the cities Pinsk, Homel, Bobruisk, Lodzsh, and Riga remained with the Bund strong organizations. In an account from that time it was reported that in Bobruisk, they were engaged in debates in narrow circles about legal and illegal forms of Bundist work, for the time being one doesn't do any. To the eighth convention of the Bund (autumn 1910) in Lemberg, there came delegates, all told, from 10 cities. Bobruisk was represented by Berl Katsenelson.
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