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[Pages 129- 130]

The “Bund” in Chelm
and its Socialist-Revolutionary Work


by Nochum Winik

Translated by Howard Bergman

The Socialist-Revolutionary activity of the “Bund” in Chelm was widespread and it has a rich and great history. Regretfully, however, we are lacking historic sources for wide and detailed recounting. There has not been an adequate response from the landsmen Bundists to the requests by the Chelmer Landsmanschaft in Johannesburg to send in material about the labor movement in Chelm. The Bund archives in New York only sent some correspondence from the years 1905-1906, from 1916, and from 1923-1939. I therefore relied mostly on the published articles by Faivel Fried (one of the first socialist pioneers in the Jewish quarter in Chelm since the beginning of this century), on the letters from the Chelmer landsmen in Paris: Joseph {illegible name} Milner, Feige Rajn-Parobek, and Feige Shperling, and on my own recollections.


Nochum Winik


Certainly, my work now will not be exhaustive and for the periods up to the outbreak of World War II only an overview is given. Perhaps there will be some inaccuracies, but there will at least be a partial mirroring of the “Bund”, a revolutionary mass party in the Jewish society of Chelm, calling on Jewish and non-Jewish workers to organize themselves into trade unions and to fight for freedom and socialism.

* * *

In 1934 in New York, Faivel Fried published in the edition of the Chelmer branch of the National Labor Association, The Chelmer, a dissertation entitled “Political Parties in the Chelmer Jewish Society”, relating to the earliest years of national enlightenment and social activity in Chelm. Among others, he wrote the following:

”Until the year 1904 no political-social movement in the real sense of the word existed in Chelm. In 1904 the Zionist Organization in Chelm, under the influence of the late publisher of the Warsaw Haint, A. Goldberg - who at that time was a Hebrew teacher in Chelm - together with E. Dubkowski, began to conduct educational work among the Jewish masses and, at the same time fought with the elements of orthodoxy.

This work was, however, washed away quickly from the revolutionary wave that engulfed all of Russia and also spilled over into the sleepy town of Chelm.

Peretz Schiffer, a former Chelmer child prodigy, organized at that time in Chelm revolutionary circles among the Jewish and non-Jewish workers, but those circles did not have any determined party direction. At the end of 1904 the author of these lines (Faivel Fried) returned to Chelm from London and together with Niske Mandelbojm, Tsimerman, Chinke Yantche Foyas, and Joseph Milner, founded a Zionist-Socialist Circle, S-S, which grew into a mass movement within a short time. This S-S party was the first one in Chelm to organize economic strikes, first to lead political activities within the Jewish quarters, and from time to time organize open demonstrations in the area of the officers club. But as soon as there arrived in Chelm “professionals” from the “Bund”, the S-S Zionist-Socialist movement receded into the shadows and the “Bund” assumed the hegemony over the Jewish working class.

In early 1905, the “Bund” organized outings in the surrounding forests, led all economic and political strikes, made contact with the non-Jewish revolutionary parties, and became the dominant political power in Jewish society. How strong the “Bund” was at that time can be deduced from the fact that the local police were simply afraid to enter the “teahouse” of Chaim Tuchman, the gathering place of the Bundists.

On the evening of October 12 the news spread in Chelm with lightning speed that the Czar had signed the Constitution. The “Bund” organized a mass meeting, and a speech was delivered by Ruevele Szocher's son, Meyer Tselnik, who was a baker. The historic 17th October was approaching. A general strike had been declared for several days throughout the country, and Chelm would not remain aloof.

The next day a joint demonstration of Jewish and non-Jewish workers, consisting of several thousand people, was organized by all parties. The banner bearer was a penitent from the “Chelmer Strong Men”, a certain Abish “Gorb”. Suddenly, a racket broke out, the mass of people began to stir, and Abish “Gorb” threw away the banner and was the first one to run off. In a stampede the crowd dispersed in various directions. The author, who was in the front rows, picked up the banner and together with several dozen unafraid comrades conscious of the cause, continued the demonstration.

As it later became clear, the disturbance was caused by several gendarmes who on seeing from a distance the enormous demonstration, became scared and started to run. A large number of the demonstrators thought that they were being chased, and therefore became confused.

Several days went by, but there was hardly time to enjoy the Czar's Constitution, and already foreboding messages began to arrive about slaughters of revolutionaries and Jews. Chelm also expected a pogrom, and the worker parties quickly created a well-armed self-defense. Fortunately, Chelm got by with only fear and a pathetic counter-demonstration by the local anti-Semites (the “black hundred”).

At the end of October, a State of Emergency was declared, and a hail of repressions fell on the labor parties. The P.P. S. (Polish Socialist Party) responded with individual acts of terror. The “Bund” as well as the S-S could no longer conduct their work legally, and they were compelled to start underground activities. The outside professionals left town and the author of this article and other comrades in leadership positions were sought by the police. All this had a bad effect on our work. The “Bund” had therefore determined that at all costs a professional activist must be engaged. I had to travel to Lublin myself to see Comrade Samuel (Comrade Chanin) to demand from him that a “representative” be sent to Chelm to conduct the Bund activities there.

But by that time the “Bund” was no longer legal in Lublin. Comrades Dovid, Samuel, and Sara Szweber were already imprisoned in the Lublin Castle. After a great deal of searching, I reached Comrade Fishl Gelenter with whom I was later smuggled into Chelm.

But it was destined that Comrade Gelenter would spend only one night in Chelm. The next day, after we stole ourselves into my home, the police arrested us. From the prison I managed to send out a request that pressure should be put on my rich uncle, Fishl Lewensztajn; that he should come to the police station and free Comrade Gelenter under the pretext that the latter was one of his representatives in the hardware merchandise who happened to become acquainted with me in the store.

That idea succeeded, and Comrade Gelenter was released right away. I was taken to the Lublin prison, where I spent several years, and then I was sent out of Poland. Some time later it became known who the stool pigeon was.”

(The above are excerpts from F. Fried's article which give us information about the initial activities of the “Bund”.)

* * *

In his Reminiscences, Faivel Fried writes that from prison, he let it be known that a neighbor who lived in Fishl Berele's courtyard was the stool pigeon who “buried” him and who denounced everyone, and how the neighbor's brother, Szmul, who was also in the movement, took upon himself the task of removing the stool pigeon. Some time later that stool pigeon was shot and his body was thrown into the River Bug near the town of Wlodawa, about 30 kilometers from Chelm. The police traced their search of the perpetrator to Szmul Fried who was arrested in Warsaw and brought before a military court where he was sentenced to death. However, because of Szmul's young age, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. His defender was the famous lawyer Landau.

Several notices about the revolutionary activities of the “Bund” in Chelm are found in the Folks Tsaitung editions of October 24 and November 6, 1906, published in Vilna. In the section dealing with political party life, the following correspondence from Chelm is published:

”In most recent times our party work in Chelm (Lublin Gubernia) started to be more normal. Regular circles, gatherings, organizational meetings, etc. are being conducted. With regard to cultural aspects, the achievement of the local workers is quite low. There is a lack of intellectual strength. We do not receive any support from the regional Lublin Committee, as if it did not exist”.
Signed: Sholem

In one edition of the Folks Tsaitung, in the section “Professional Life”, we read the following correspondence:

“Thanks to the “Bund” Organization, which already exists in Chelm for a long time, the economic condition of the local workers has greatly improved. Instead of earlier working between 16-18 hours a day, Jewish workers today only work 14 hours a day. At almost all trades workers have higher wages and better treatment.”

”But because of the repressions and arrests which took place recently, the proprietors declared a lockout and made the following demands: 1) a 15-hour workday; 2) a reduction in the wages; 3) work on Saturday nights, 4) piece work, and 5) firing certain workers known to be seditious, and so on.”

”The proprietors threatened to arrest the troublemakers, with the help of the police. But all of that did not frighten the workers. The proprietors, through their delegates, turned to the Organization, demanding that the long strike be ended. But the workers accomplished their objectives.”

Signed:        Sholem

In a letter, Faivel Fried writes the following:

”In 1904 I and Shmulke Winer (now in America) organized the first illegal meeting, which took place in the courtyard of Tsale Bereles. At that time the illegal library was also created. At the illegal meeting the speakers were Peretz and Efroim Shiyes, the latter appearing at various meetings of Jewish and even non-Jewish workers.”

“When I returned from London in 1905 1 was arrested, together with Joseph Milner (now in Paris), in an apartment of a midwife who was also a dentist. In that apartment revolutionary work was conducted. The midwife was in charge of political circles of the S-S and to her apartment would also come Russian revolutionaries. One of them, a certain Bielakov, was the leader of the political work among the Russian groups”.

“In those days there appeared on the horizon a baker fellow, Meyer Tselnik, a Bundist, and quite an original type. He organized all maidservants in town. He also became the “mediator” between the housewives and the maidservants. He, Meyer Tselnik, took an active part in the political circles of the town.”

The Jewish workers' exchange at that time was in the “teahouse” of Sheva and Chaim Tuchman, near the steps of the new customs house. Yankele Dantsiker was the leader of the S-S group. He spoke at various meetings and helped organize demonstrations of Jewish and non-Jewish workers. In those years, 1904-1906, the seamstress Chinke Yantche Foyas, or as her father was called, “Yantche of Soda-Water”, was very active in the Bund Movement in Chelm. It is told that she was one of the most ardent activists among the Chelm Bundists. In 1906 she was deported and she never returned”.

* * *

I, the writer of these pages, remember an illegal meeting which took place a Friday evening in the Kuznar (prayer) “House” number “Piervy” (there were two such houses, one was called “Piervy” and the other “Vtoroy”, meaning “First” and “Second”- translator). I was 9 years old and I remember how an organized worker group arrived at the Piervy House as if to pray. The room was full of the faithful, and when the cantor stood at the pulpit to start the prayers, the workers declared that the meeting was starting. Nobody was allowed to leave. Speeches were made by Faivel Fried, Meyer Tselnik, and others. Right after the meeting, arrests were made.

While I was in Paris in 1952, 1 met with Joseph Milner. He informed me that, according to his recollections of the years 1904-1906, at a gathering organized by the group “Freiheit” (Freedom) in Chelm at the house of Tsale Berele (Faivel Fried's father), Nochum Brofman also appeared in the name of the “Bund”. He spoke very well and the subject was the political situation in Russia and Poland. He became very popular and there was no Bund meeting or “celebration” at which Brofman would not be present and participate. His mother lived across from the barracks and throughout the years she made a living selling milk. The same Nochum Brofman was seen in Chelm in 1919-1920, was present at all Bund meetings, but no longer took any active part in the Bundist Movement, nor in any other movement.

Due to the arrests and repressions, as happened in many other towns, a standstill occurred among the workers in Chelm after the revolutionary years of 1904-1906. Because of the informers who appeared in the Jewish quarter in Chelm in the years 1906-1907, most members of the Bund Organization were arrested.

In 1911 there appeared on the Jewish workers exchange, at that time located in the Lublin quarter next to the Polish Church, Shiye (the Nose) Tenenboim. A house painter by profession, he was a devoted Bundist. He started to organize the Jewish painters and related trades. Later, with the outbreak of World War I, Tenenboim was drafted into the army and was never heard from again.

* * *

World War I broke out. The Germans occupied Chelm. They kept the population in fear and dread, not allowing any freedom of expression. The situation became somewhat better when the Austrians took over the occupation of Chelm. Young people took the liberty of gathering in various private homes and took walks until late into the night. The Lublin Jewish society was full of young couples taking walks between the Sobor and the Saxony Garden and farther. The occasion then arose to meet and to convey to one another information about a gathering or about an illegal meeting. On account of caution, almost no one knew, until an hour before the meeting, where the meeting would take place, what the agenda would be, who the speakers would be, etc.

The day before the Purim Holiday of 1916 it became known that a special Purim evening was in preparation. On Purim day, one told the other person about a get-together. The people making the announcements, responsible party activists, were then the following: Moshe Shimel (dressed in his black cape which still remained with him from the years 1905-1906; he seldom walked without it and without eye glasses), Yakov Shtekn, Szmul Mordkhe Zygielbojm, Mechal Lindenboim, Sara Lindenboim, Note Tom, Kaplan (the only Litvak and a very original person), and Motl Shechterzon (now in Australia).


Moshe Shimel


The first Purim evening which took place in the shared apartment of Moshe Shimel and Mechal and Sara Lindenboim left a great impression on the Chelmer Jewish workforce. A new spark of life entered the hearts of all assembled. Lectures were delivered and workers songs were sung and recited. Sara Shalit very beautifully recited I. L. Peretz's “Mein Nit Az Di Velt Iz A Kretchme” (Do Not Think The World Is A Tavern--translator.)

To the extent that I can remember, the following older Bundists were present at the Purim evening: Moshe Shimel, Sara and Mechal Lindenboim, Kaplan, Sara Shaht, Rueven Shechterzon, Aaron Dovid Hipshman, Dovid and Meyer Bojm, Henoch Flajszer, Mrs. Flajszer (now in Israel), Motl Shechterzon, Note Tom, and other comrades who already had some seniority in the activities of political organizations. Among the younger comrades, who had not yet been able to show participation in any movement or organization, were: Szmul (Artur) Zygielbojm, Yekl Dreksler, Isroel Dreksler, Vovke Gotlieb, Avrom Yakov Shnobel (now in Israel), Sheva Shnobel (died in Israel), Yakov Palman (now in South Africa), Yochevet Palman (died in Israel in 1947), Golde and Keyle Shperling, Feige Rajn (now in France), Szmul Parobek (died in Paris), Itsil Reif, and Rikel Rajchbind (in South Africa).

During the same evening the first administration was selected whose task it was to create a workers home. The committee included: Moshe Shimel, M. Lindenboim, Kaplan, Y. Shtekn, Szmul Zygielbojm, Aaron Dovid Hipshman, and Yudl Graber.

A youth commission was selected which was to carry on the work among the young people. This youth commission included: S. Parobik, A. Y. Shnobel, Feige Rajn, and N. Winik. It was not easy to find a suitable hall where we could meet. The first room rented was from the “grobn kop” (thick head) on the market square. After long searches, a house was finally rented on Ablanski Street (opposite the bath house). Several months later we celebrated the joyous occasion of the first gathering in the house which was named Workers Home. It did not take long before almost all Jewish workers in Chelm began to concentrate around the Workers Home. Active cultural work was being conducted.

The most important tasks for the Committee then were: a) to create a library at the Workers Home; b) to arrange meetings in the evenings in general, and particularly on the Sabbaths and holidays, with artistic programs, and c) to enlighten the populace in the political situation of the world.

In a very short time several hundred books were assembled and the Jewish workers began to read them with great eagerness. Saturday afternoons became very lively events when almost all Jewish workers gathered to listen to various lectures on social and political issues.

At that time the question arose--to which party direction should the “Workers Home” belong? On that issue party frictions and opinion variations began. The discussions were heated and the bickering went on till late in the nights.

A drama group was created and it included M. Shechterzon, Rueven Shechterzon, Meyer Bojm, Sara Shalit, Sheva Binsztok, Faivel Dreksler, and others.

The first performance took place in the theater “Syrena” on the market square. The play was “Zhan un Madlena” and it made a great impression on all people in town who had seen the performance. Especially effective was the mass scene when actors came on the stage with red banners and sang revolutionary and workers songs. The performance encouraged many workers, especially the young ones, to join the just created political parties. The second performance, also in the same theater, was “Beide Kune Lerffls”, with the main parts played by M. and R. Shechterzon. In the courtyard of the Syrena theater was a sawmill where a group of Russian soldiers, war prisoners, worked at that time. Among that group were several Jewish workers, former Bundists from Lithuania and Russia. They had seen the performance and established a connection with the members of the Bund Committee. After that a “Bund Circle” was created among the imprisoned soldiers, and from time to time they also visited and participated in the general debates. Thanks to that Circle, and also due to the position taken by some members of the Committee, the majority of the Committee of the “Workers Home” adopted a pro Bund point of view. After dozens of committee meetings, after many hot discussions, the seal of the “Bund” was put on the “Workers Home”

There were frequent meetings. At one meeting the “bread” issue was considered, a very realistic issue during that time of hunger. Many people came to the meetings and the hall simply became too small. Discussions also took place outside. At one stormy meeting on a Saturday afternoon Austrian police showed up at the “Workers Home” and ordered all participants to disperse and they arrested the members of the presidium. It later turned out that the police came at the requests and demands of neighbors from the closest houses who could not sleep because of the screaming and rackets coming every night from the meetings at the “Home”.

After the stormy meetings at which the “Workers Home” took on the Bundist ideology, certain members of the “Home”, as well as the group of Poalei Zion, left the “Workers Home”. At the head of the group that left was Aaron Dovid Hipshman.

After the comrades from the presidium were released under the condition of no more gathering in the street and creating rackets, it was decided to look for new and larger quarters. In 1917 the Committee of the “Workers Home” succeeded in appealing to the commandant of the city, an Austrian and a sympathetic and democratic person, concerning a larger building for the Workers. To the astonishment of many people in the city, the commandant transferred to the “Workers Home” a 3-story house at Lublin Street 13 in the center of town, not far from Sobor. In December, 1917, a Bundist convention took place in Lublin and the Bundist Organization in Chelm sent two delegates, Comrades Szmul (Artur) Zygielbojm and Szmul Parobik.

The Bund Committee became very active and right away selected a special commission to handle the renovation of the new building in a way to provide for all needs of the work and to satisfy the “Workers Home” in all respects. On one floor of the house a stage was installed where theater performances and concerts could be provided for the members. The library was enlarged and it was named “Groser Bibliotek”. The first librarian was Moshe Shimel and his assistant was Michal Bankirer.

It was also decided to open a children's home, to provide evening courses for workers, to organize the workers according to separate trade, to open an inexpensive kitchen for the workers, to form a cooperative which would sell products for less, and to open our own bakery for all the members.


Members of the “Bund” Committee in Chelm in 1930

Standing (from right): --?, Avroml Shteinberg, Note Torn. Sitting (from right): --?, --?, Moshe Lustiger; Leibele Rajzman


At that time a Press Commission was created which had the task of distributing the workers' press, particularly the Bund's Folks Tsaitutig and Yugtit Veker.

Preparations were made to open the children's home. In accordance with the decisions, the first children to be accepted were full- or half orphans and later the children of workers and members.

The first floor was prepared for the children's home by purchasing special furniture and pictures, as the first temporary teacher, Rozhe Shafran from Warsaw, was invited. Later the kindergarten teachers Toshe and Zoshe were invited. To the festive opening of the children's home a special visit from Warsaw was made by B. Michalewicz. The esteem of the “Bund” grew in town. A special committee to administer all questions with regard to the children's home was selected and included Comrades S. M. Zygielbojm, Polye Fruchtgartn, Esther Tuchman, Note Tom, N. Winik, Yakov Shtekn, and Golde Shperling-Zygielbojm. Of course, it was not easy to provide the needed budget the children's home required, as the population was impoverished from the war years and there was also great unemployment.

Various enterprises were undertaken, including flower-days, in order to secure the needed funds to maintain the children's home. Then, when the American products began to arrive and the children's home received a certain quantity, the children experienced a piece of paradise receiving both food and beverages. At the end of 1919 the two teachers left and they were replaced by Chana Heftman, a sister of the well-known writer, and journalist Yosif Heftman (Israel). When financial conditions became more difficult - already under the Polish government - the children's home was transferred to a smaller place in the Bukler courtyard on the second floor, at the corner of Lubliner and Podwalna Streets. Although the TSISHO (Central Jewish School Organization--translator) sent in monthly support for the children's home, it still was not sufficient. The community subsidized the children's home for a long period of time. But in the end, in the year 1924, the children's home was closed.

A large number of young people enrolled in the workers courses. The subjects offered were: Yiddish, Jewish Literature, Accounting, and History. The teachers were Faivel Fried, Moshe Lerer, Dr. Nerlas, Dr. Kanfer, and others. A People's University was created where political economy was taught and lectures were given on political and cultural problems. Among the lecturers included were Dr. Fensterblau (also a brother of Dr. Mirlas), Kaminski, Director Y. Lipman, Shlomo Samet, and others. The Peoples University drew many people of the town; not only workers or members of the Workers Home, but anyone who yearned for knowledge came to hear the interesting lectures. Sometimes the hall was too small to hold all listeners.

The Committee of the “Bund” was also concerned about organizing the workers with regard to their trades. A special commission including Yakov Shtekn, S. Parobek, Itzler, Feige Rajn, Golde and Keyle Szperling, and others was appointed. In a short time they managed to organize almost all Jewish needle workers in Chelm. Separate commissions were also set up to organize other trades, such as construction workers, furniture-workers, leather-workers, and those who worked in the nutrition branches. Active in the Trades Commission were: Asher Grinbojm, Note Tom, N. Winik, and Motl Shechterzon.

From all the trade commissions a Trade Council was created which had control over the trade movement and was concerned about securing better wages for the workers, a large number of whom were under the influence of the “Bund”.

* * *

In the same location, around the end of 1917 and beginning of 1918, a workers kitchen opened up. A large number of workers with their families came to eat and spend free time in their own worker environment. At the head of the workers kitchen stood Yakov Shtekn.

A special place in the Bund Movement was occupied by a cooperative. This cooperative was located next to the Kuznar House on Andrjanowska Street. The responsible leader was Henoch Flajszer.

Since bread was then distributed with ration cards and was of poor quality, it was decided to open our own bakery for the members. The bakery was established in the courtyard of Mr. Evry in a basement. Later, at the end of 1919-1920, during the Polish-Russian War when the Polish Government was looking for and trying to arrest all those political leaders it considered “non-kosher”, and especially the active Jewish political and trade union leaders, the bakery served as a good hiding place for many comrades. Next to the big baking oven where there was always a large amount of firewood, the basement was dug a little deeper and where there always stood the big boiler with boiling water for the bagels, a special opening was made for a person to crawl into. The area between the oven and the wall of the building was filled in with a very thick brick wall. The opening under the boiler led to the hiding place which was small, but in need it could hold several persons. Needless to say, there always had to be a person present to put the boiler back in its place so that nothing could be detected. Often, during searches and also during wild outbursts by hooligans against the Jews, people had to hide there. Some people spent entire nights in that stifling place to avoid being caught by the Polish reactionaries.

The man in charge of the bakery was Yossif Bankirer, now in Israel.


Workers Children's Home at the Bund in Chelm in 1922

Sitting in upper row from right to left: Mager, Esther Tuchman, an American delegate, N. Winik, Note Tom, Avrom Shteinberg, Polye Fruchtgartn, and {illegible name}
Sitting in the middle of the second row is the teacher Chana Heftman


In 191? {illegible date} a drama group of the youth was created under the leadership of Meyer Tom (Meyer Fentak). In this drama group ably participated H. Handelsman, Frenkel, Akerman, Sara Baigel, Feige Shperling, Faivel Zygielbojm, Pinye Zygielbojm (perished in the Warsaw Ghetto). The first performance took place in city hall. There was also a drama group of adults. That group included: Faivele Dreksler, “Black” Chaim (Sheva Binsztok's husband), Israel Zygielbojm, Feige Rajn (Parobek), Keyle Shperling, and others.

A lot of time and energy was then devoted to organizing the youth. A large youth meeting was called and a committee of young people was established which included the following: Feige Shperling, Moshe Zygielbojm (a brother of Artur's who later left for Russia with the Red Army), Guterman, S. Nachtman, Beirach Sher, Hersh Handelsman, Yosif Elye (now in America), Leibele Rajzman, Feige Rozenkop, and others. The Youth Committee worked very energetically.

A very successful and imposing May demonstration took place in 1918. Participants in the beautiful train included all labor parties, such as the “Bund”, the Labor Zionists, the Polish Socialist Party, and a part of the Ukrainian workers. Among the speakers was S. M. Zygielbojm, representing the “Bund”, who spoke in Yiddish and all Christian workers listened to him calmly and respectfully.

In general, the years 1917 and 1918 saw an increase in the Bund Movement in all areas. In the political as well as in the trade movements; in the cultural as well as in the economic areas in all branches of social life in Chelm.

When the Poles took over power in the city, a rumor spread that the peasants were preparing a pogrom. On the initiative of the “Bund” a general meeting of all Jewish parties was called, in order to form a self-defense. Announcements in Yiddish and Polish were hung throughout about a mass meeting to take place in the Big Synagogue. A special appeal was also made to the Polish population to condemn this wave of incitement, otherwise it would have to bear full responsibility. At the meeting of the parties it was decided to adopt energetic means of self protection against any attack. It was decided to post guards of young workers at the roads on which the peasants would usually come to town. To the call from the “Bund” almost the entire Jewish population assembled in the Synagogue during the daytime.

On the Synagogue platform the first to speak was Dr. Nfirlas. Suddenly, a detachment of Polish policemen appeared in the street next to the Synagogue demanding that the crowd disperse. The Bund commander responsible for the meeting was then S. Guterman, and the person in charge of our weapons arsenal was Chaim Lang, who had just returned from Russia. When the police commandant turned to Guterman with the demand that he tell the crowd to disperse, and the policemen lined up in two rows with rifles in their hands, Chaim Lang walked up to the police commandant from the side and quietly, in a quick motion with a sharp knife, cut off the policeman's revolver and leather holster.

When the police commandant noticed that his revolver was taken from him, he asked that the revolver be returned to him and that everyone should quietly depart. He at the same time gave the guarantee that no excesses, no attacks on Jews would occur. There was no other choice but to disperse, because the police stood around the Synagogue with bayonets drawn, ready to attack. Not wanting to allow the spilling of blood, the joint committee decided to cancel the meeting and asked the people to return quietly to their homes. The special self-defense guards, however, walked around the Jewish sections of town, the houses of prayer, during the nights to make sure that no attacks on Jews took place. It should be stressed that the self-defense group was trained primarily and prepared some time earlier by Chaim Lang. The weapons arsenal was located in the home of Bashe Shneiderman (a seamstress).

Several days later, S. M. Zygielbojm was arrested and put in the Chelm prison (on LublinerStreet). The news about Zygielbojm's arrest spread quickly throughout town. The Bund Committee decided that under all circumstances and by all means necessary he must be freed.

The next day (Saturday), a large meeting was arranged next to the dwelling of the police commandant. Dr. Fensterblau then spoke to the assembled crowd in Polish and stated that if Zygielbojm was not released right away, the crowd would go to the prison and break the gate.

When the crowd arrived at the gates of the prison, after the police commandant received a delegation and the prison warden listened to the plea of the delegates, the two people in charge must have communicated by telephone about the consequences of such a collision, and they decided to release Zygielbojm. The crowd received him with such enthusiasm that the people simply carried him out of the prison courtyard on their hands.

The crowd dispersed very quickly. The freeing of Artur Zygielbojm made a colossal impression.


Dr. S. Fensterblau, leader of the “Bund”, died in Treblinka

* * *

At the end of November 1918, the Bund Party celebrated the wedding of Szmul Mordkhe Zygielbojm to Golde Shperling who had been a member of the Bund Party all the time. The Family Shperling played a significant role in the Bund Movement in Chelm at that time. The father was a shoemaker and burdened with children; four girls and three boys. The main breadwinner was Golde. She was a seamstress who worked a lot. Still, she found time to occupy herself with Bund Party work. After her wedding to Zygielbojm, the couple lived in a basement apartment at Leibl Rozen's in the courtyard on Boykes Street.

After the wedding, she had to work more and harder than before because she had to help her widowed mother with the children, and in the free hours Golde helped Zygielbojm in the Movement. The Bundist youth saw in Golde a devoted wife and an active party member. Her tirelessness helped her husband Artur to acquire knowledge. In 1920 Zygielbojm was called to Warsaw by the Central Committee, where he was given a party position in the Bund Movement In 1922 Golde and her two children moved to Warsaw. She perished in the Warsaw Ghetto together with her daughter Rivke. Her son Yoske is now in America.

Keyle, Golde's sister, was a committee member in the needle-trade union and she also worked very intensively in the Bund Movement. She read a great deal and was interested in all issues of social life. Keyle was also a member of the choir in the Workers Home. Later, she married Yakov Shtekn. In the 1930's. after a long illness, her husband Yakov died. Today she lives in Argentina.

Their younger sister, Feige, joined the youth Bund “Tsukunft” (Future-translator) in Chelm. For a long time she was the leader of the “Yugnt-Bund”. She has always participated in the issues of the trade union movement, and even in the political issues of the Party. In 1921 Feige joined the Bund Committee where she was active in all areas. Now she is in France.

Their youngest sister, Teme, married Avromtshe Zygielbojm. They are now in Los Angeles (USA).

Both their brothers, Yosif and Peretz Shperling, are now in Argentina (Buenos Aires). Peretz is the president of the Chelmer Landsmanschaft.

* * *

During the first democratic elections to city council in Chelm in 1919, the Bund Party made an enormous promotional effort, announcing at meetings, through leaflets and posters, the postulates of the Party. The oppositions, both Polish and Jewish, were frightened by the Bund's large election work. On the list of candidates for city council all trade unions were represented The first person on the list was S. M. Zygielbojm. To the great admiration of the whole Chelm population, 19 of 24 candidates to be elected came from the Bund list. The elections were then voided by the governor's office in Lublin. Not until 1921 were new elections held for city council, when the “Bund” received only one seat--for Hershl Fruchtgartn.

In 1920 a notice was received from the Chelm city clerk stating that the house occupied by the Workers Home since 1917, which was in the hands of the “Bund”, must be returned to the heirs of the owners. No appeals had any effect; only 3 months were granted to vacate the building and find other quarters.

A house was rented on Budowska (Boykes) Street for the “Bund” and trade union work. But the work, however, began to suffer. A number of Party leaders had left Chelm: Artur Zygielbojm was already in Warsaw; Dr. Fensterblau also left Chelm; Flajsher settled in Falenica. Several other comrades also left and the Bund activities in Chelm were reduced significantly.

The trade union movement, especially the needle-trade union, continued its work through the leadership of S. Parobek-Mager, Feige Rajn-Parobek (now in France), Keyle Shperling, Yochevet Palman, Chana Bakalarz, and others. To the first needle-trade union convention, which took place in Warsaw, the Chelm delegates were Yakov Shtekn and Szmul Parobek. In 1921, at the national convention of the leather industry, the Bund delegate was H. Handelsman, the youngest delegate at that convention.

The Library, “Groser-Bibliotek” at the Workers Home, was also transferred to the new quarters on Budowska Street. The library leaders then were Leibele Rajzman and Michal Bankirer. The Bund Committee in 1920 included: Note Tom, Mager, Polye Fruchtgartn, Leibele Rajzman, N. Winik, Kaplan, Feige Rajn-Parobek, and Avrom Shteinberg.

In 1920, during the war between the Poles and the Soviets, on a certain night, arrests were made which did not avoid Chelm. By chance I did not stay overnight in my home. When the secret police came to arrest me as a representative of the “Bund”, they in the meanwhile arrested my younger brother, Akiva, a Labor-Zionist. He spent about 14 weeks in the Chelm and Kielce prisons (together with others from Chelm placed under political arrest).


Dr. Dovid Mirlas, chairman of the worker Cooperative “Einikajt” in Chelm. He died in 1920


Also arrested then as a representative of the “Bund” was Dr. Mirlas, who spent 3-4 weeks in the Chelm prison and about 10 weeks in the Kielce prison. Originally from Warsaw, Dr. Mirlas was a teacher of physics and chemistry in the Yiddish/Polish High School. In prison he caught a cold, which turned into an inflammation of the lungs. When he was released, he was bed- ridden for several weeks and died.

Huge masses of the Jewish population in Chelm accompanied him as he went to his eternal rest.

* * *

To the above-listed reasons for the weakening of the “Bund”, we also have to mention the creation of the “Com-Bund”. In 1921, during the well known negotiations between the “Bund” and the Third International about the 21 conditions of entry, the “Bund” accepted only 19 and a half points; a split occurred in the Bund Party and the “Com-Bund” Party arose in Poland.

From the Chelm Bund Party the following important members left: S. Guterman, Yosif Elye, Moshe Shimel, Feige Shperling, H. Shechterzon, and others.

For a long time the members who split off did not conduct any separate work or activity in Chelm. But they created the first cell for the later strong Communist movement in Chelm.

After the departure of Motl Shechterzon to Israel (now in Australia), R. Shechterzon to America, Yakov Shtekn to Warsaw, Dr. Fensterblau to Galicia-Szmul, Chana Parobek to Warsaw, Itzler and Yakov Palman to Israel, and Avrom Yakov Shnobel to Israel, the situation developed that only a few of the older Bundist leaders remained in Chelm, such as Hershel and Polye Fruchtgartn, N. Winik, Note Tom, Esther Tuchman, Mager and his wife Feige, Avroml Shteinberg and his wife Molye.

At that time a new member joined , S. Berger. Also, the teacher Avrom Wajnsztajn would from time to time come to Chelm during the school vacations and help with the cultural work. Active with the young people were: Hersh Handelsman, Leibele Rajzman, Michal Bankirer, I. Palman, Feivel Zygielbojm, Nosn Bojm, and others. However, there was a lack of strength to replace those comrades who left Chelm.

On November 7 1923, a bomb exploded in the Citadel in Warsaw, and during the same night arrests were made throughout Poland. Some of the arrested were from Chelm: Orensztajn from the Zionists and N. Winik from “Bund”. The leader of the Chelm security, M. N. Wikusz, a drunkard, wanted to know during the investigation if we, the few Jewish representatives, had our own airplane and flew the night before to Warsaw to bomb the Citadel. After being detained for several days, and proving that that night we were in Chelm and not in Warsaw, we were released.

* * *

In 1924 the “Bund” moved over to Lubliner Street 15-17. The Groser Bibliotek opened again and the Bund work continued, albeit on a smaller scale but quite active. From time to time, certain instructors and lecturers arrived from Bund Central.

At that time the “Bund” established a union of artisans and home manufacturers, under the leadership of M, Mager, H. Handelsman, A. Shteinberg and Note Tom. The transport workers were also organized by the “Bund”.

The committee of the Youth-”Bund”, “Tsukunft”, also conducted some work among the young people. The Folks Tsaitzitig and other Bund publications were widely distributed. The “Bund” also participated in all May meetings and celebrated the Bund holidays. In a modest way the “Bund” renewed the work of political enlightenment.

From 1936 until the outbreak of World War II we saw again active Bund activity in Chelm. For example, we read in the Naye Folks Tsaitzitig number 90 of March 29, 1937, that Chelm ordered an additional 1,000 copies of the Naye Folks Tsaitzitig of the first three issues, April 1-3.

In a book, The Jewish Working Class, published in Lodz in 1937, we read on page 128 correspondence from Chelm describing a strike by Jewish workers and how it was joined by Christian workers, such as Polish and Ukrainian workers from the mills and sawmills. There was a demonstration in town by the striking workers (Perhaps a thousand people--Jews and Christians--participated in the demonstration) which made an enormous impression in town, (The strikes and demonstrations took place already after the pogrom in Przytyk).

In the February 4, 1938, edition of the Naye Folks Tsaitzitig we read about a jubilee celebration in Chelm: “Chelm, like all other towns, suffers greatly from the crisis, Working conditions are bad; the wages are small; working time is increased; the trade unions, for various reasons are not active and some are not even functioning”. The correspondence continued: “Representatives of the Chelm workers, bakers, leather workers, and tailors appealed to the National Council of the Trade Unions about organizing trade unions. Some workers are already organizing themselves, others are still waiting for help from the political parties or from the National Council”.

With assistance from the Bund Central Committee, the Chelm Committee started again to conduct some systematic work. There started to arrive from Warsaw frequent speakers and lecturers who gave public lectures, mostly under the heading “The most important events in Poland in 1937”.

For the 40th anniversary of the “Bund”, a festive celebration took place under the chairmanship of Comrade A. Shteinberg, with participation by Comrade Friedman, who lectured on the various stages of the 40-year history of the “Bund”. The youth organization entertained with readings and songs, which left a great impression on the audience.

In the Warsaw edition of the Naye Folks Tsaitzitig for May 5, 1938, we read in the correspondence from Chelm that the Chelm Bund Committee approached the P. P. S. (Polish Socialist Party) before May 1st about organizing a joint demonstration. The P.P.S. had agreed but the city manager forbade it. The correspondent, Avrom Shteinberg, further reported that a few weeks before May 1st, local agents of the Polish security came in and took away all the stamps (of the “Bund”, the “Tsukunft”, the “Kultur Lige”, and others) and until the last day it was not known if the May meetings on the premises would even be permitted. As soon as the permit was received, two separate meetings were organized--one for the members of the Bund Party, and the other for the youth. The speakers were A. Shteinberg, Ajzenshtein and Friedman. Two new banners were displayed at the May meeting.

In the October 8th, 1938, edition of the Naye Folks Tsaitzitig, we find a notice that the Chelm Bund Party had ordered 700 copies of the newspaper. In the October 28th edition we find in the list of stock workers two names from Chelm: Shiye Ajzenshtein and Isaschar Palman, each of whom had sold 50 copies.

In the working log of 1920 we find interesting information from the “Bund” regarding the social work in Chelm, such as: In the Bund Party in Chelm were registered 100 members. The Central Bureau of the Trade Unions counts 620 members, divided according to the following professions:

The Needle Trade 200
Nutrition Trade 50
Leather Trade 120
Wood and Building Trade 200
Other smaller trades 50
Total 620

About the cultural institutions, we found in the log the following items: The “Groser Bibliotek” has 800 books and 200 readers; The Yiddish Public School has a joint committee of the Labor Zionists and the “Bund”; evening classes are being offered to workers; there is a workers children's home by the name of B. Groser; two cooperatives are functioning, one of the “Bund” with 260 members and the other one operated by the Left Labor Zionists. The cooperatives also run bakeries


Participants in a “flower-day” for the benefit of the “Groser Bibliotek in Chelm


In conclusion, I want to remark that the Central Authorities of the “Bund” had always been in contact with the Chelm “Bund”. From 1916 onward, the following Bund leaders had visited Chelm: Beinish Mahalewicz, Hershl Erlich (the latter was the first candidate from the Lublin Region to the Polish Sejm - National Congress, translator.), Wiktor Alter, Yakov Pat (Wilner), Gershon Ziebert (city councilman from Warsaw. He died in South Africa in 1937. He came to South Africa as an emissary from TSISHO to raise funds for the Yiddish public schools in Poland. World War II broke out and he could no longer return to Poland), B. Shefn?r {illegible name}, Hershl M??farb {illegible name}, Berl Kamashenmacher, Comrade Dina, Dr. B. Eisurowicz, Arye, Mordkhe Feigenbojm, S. Gilinski, Zusman, and others.

Chelm belonged to the Lublin Region and very often comrades would come from Lublin to give lectures, speeches, or for general visits. Comrades such as Dr. Hershom, Bela Shapiro, Fishel Wajs, Fan, Arbuz, Hecman, Yechiel Najman, D. Celeminski. The Lublin Comrades would frequently come to consult about various political issues in the Region and just for friendly visits.

In general, a lively social activity was going on in Chelm where the “Bund”, in its way and fashion, contributed a lot to the political maturity of the Jewish workers, to the trade union organizing, to the economic improvement of the Jewish masses in Chelm, and to the cultural development of the Jews in Chelm.

[Editor's note: The following notes are in the translation, but there are no footnotes in the text to reference them.]


  1. Meyer Tseblik was later sent to Siberia. He escaped and settled in New York, where he took an active part in the Bakers Union.
  2. The Revolution of 1917 set Szmul Fried free from Siberian hard labor and he received the highest awards from the Revolutionary Government in Russia. But for unexplained reasons he tried to commit suicide. He did not succeed but remained a cripple without a leg. He was murdered by the Hitler beasts in Chelm.
  3. I believe that was Sholem Zilberman, a house painter, Chaitche the baker's son, who escaped to Africa because of political persecutions.
  4. By profession he was a bookbinder, but he was never seen at this kind of work. He always had time and he liked to associate with people younger than himself, and he was friendly to everyone.
  5. {illegible name} he was for many years the chairman of the Central School Organization.
  6. Dr. {illegible name} held the rank of captain in the Austrian Army. He was Vice Commandant and Governor of Chelm. Thanks to him, the “Bund” obtained the large premises on Lubliner Street 13 for the Workers Home.

[Page 149]

How Chelm Was Saved
From a Pogrom in 1905

(A page of history)

By Shmuel Winer, New York

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Right after the dawn of the 1905 revolution, just as the despotic tsarist regime again felt itself firm in the saddle, it did not lose a minute and immediately took to its old bloody deeds – but with more zest, with still more fury than earlier. He [the Tsar] had to even things with the people, for the small concessions that had been torn violently from him. The first scapegoat was, as always, the Jew. To divert the anger of the people against the tsarist regime, the corrupt tsarist satraps turned to their old tested technique – provoke the dark masses against the Jews, [claiming] that the Jews were the sources of all troubles.

Their furious roar carried from one corner of the land to the other: Bey zhidov – spasay Rossiyu – beat the Jews and save Russia. A wave of frightening pogroms in which tsarism sought to drown the revolution in Jewish blood, spilled over Jewish cities and shtetlekh [towns] the length and breath of the land. Jewish blood poured like water, our sisters defiled, shamed, Jewish possessions were reduced to nothing. All of the atrocities were carried out according to a designated prepared plan – following the pattern of the terrible Kishinev slaughter at the beginning of the present century [20th], Passover, 1903 – a pogrom that in time horrified the conscience of the world. The cynical answer to the sharp protests from all part of the world against the inhumane outrages is well known – that the Jews themselves had made the pogroms, the “classic” answer of all those who have made pogroms from the Middle Ages until now.

The sad fate of passing through this tragic road also fell on Chelm. All of the stubborn ones began to carry around rumors that the regime was preparing a pogrom on the city with all of the last details. There no longer was any doubt. Everyone walked around deeply worried and afraid – what can we do! Finally, our city fathers' thought of old ways – mediation! A delegation of prominent Jews was dispatched to the main ruling Provoslavner [Eastern Orthodox] church in Chelm – to Bishop Jevlogi, famous at that time throughout Russia. The delegation was admitted to the synod, stood before the bishop and prevailed upon him to intercede for us, to help us in this difficult hour of need. The delegation came out as if slapped in the face. Their tears and pleas had hit deaf ears. “Now you have come!” he ranted at them with rage. “Where were you earlier? Why did you not pay attention to the insolent, young Chelm Jews [and tell them] not to agitate against the Tsar Batiushka [Little Father]! You brought the misfortune on yourselves,” was his

[Page 150]

sharp verdict. “I cannot help you.” And with that [the meeting] ended.

In sum, it was bitter.

However, the Jewish young people and the Chelm worker organizations did not sit with idle hands. The self–defense of the Bund and of the S.S. (Socialist–Territorialists) began, each separately, to feverishly prepare to encounter the pogrom “heroes” with armed resistance. Several Christian students and workers joined the self–defense, ready to defend Jewish lives.

Through our connection with non–Jewish students who where revolutionary sons of tsarist functionaries and officers, we learned accurately the day when the pogrom would break out. We had our spies in the camp of the enemy. This was supposed to occur in the middle of November 1905. This friend of ours told us that the police had mobilized the trash, gangsters and “heroes” with knives of the city and surrounding villages for this purpose. Now they only were waiting for the signal to start the “work” under the leadership of policemen who had changed [into civilian clothing]. This practice by the tsarist pogromists was one and the same in all of the cities and shtetlekh that experienced pogroms. The position of self–defense everywhere, therefore, was doubly dangerous. Whereas the fight against the hooligans alone would be half of a calamity, they might be able to cope with them alone. The worst thing consisted of this, that not only did the police not protect them, but [the police themselves] led them.

The last night arrived. Tomorrow was the fatal day. The S.S. self–defense gathered in a deep cellar in Berish Kuper's brick building on Lubliner Street. Berish Kuper's oldest son, Yankele Kuper, a secret member of the S.S., had quietly led us all here in the darkness of the night along with our poor, little bit of weapons. Everyone prepared for the morning in a firmly resolved mood to meet the bloody enemy face–to–face. Meanwhile, the night was used to organize. They divided themselves into small groups. The unflinching Yoyer Mendlbaum was the first to arrive with a group. We were also given a group and among others I can remember now was Nakhman Szafran. A young worker, a butcher, tall, broadly built, powerful, a true hero stood out among the quickly organized self–defense group in the cellar; we called him Shlomo Kalb. He had still other young,

[Page 151]

strong butchers, all with shiny, sharp butcher–knives in the leg of their boots. Woe to those hooligans who would come into contact with them. I remember, too, Ben–Tzion Zemelman, a carpenter, with several of his carpenter comrades – they were armed with carpentry hatchets. In addition, we possessed more than ten revolvers with which the group learned to shoot at a target throughout the night.

Day began to dawn. The designated moment neared. Everyone was in a serious mood and resolved, prepared to protect their fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers with their lives.

A small patrol was sent out of the cellar, quietly looked around to see if the sinister band was gathering together somewhere.

A bit of time thus passed – for us it seemed almost an eternity – until our spies returned. They entered the cellar very agitated and stirred up. Hearts were racing – Who knew what kind of news they carried with them?! Everyone perked up their ears when they began to speak:

They walked quietly during the entire time, searching to see if the hooligans already were gathering somewhere. However, they did not notice anything unusual. It was quiet, calm as usual. A little later, a distant echo of some sort of tumult that constantly grew clearer reached their ears. The muffled stamping of horse hooves and the cheerful rolling of the wheels of heavy wagons over pointy stones, with which Lubliner Street was paved, began to echo even more loudly. A real shiver caught them at first – who knew what misfortune awaited them?

It did not take long; they noticed a large wagon in the distance pulled by two strong horses, chased after by nasty dogs, coming closer to the center of the city. On a clear, sunny, frosty morning the familiar faces of young Jewish men emerged before their eyes on the bridge. Around two dozen young people placed themselves on the bridge, all well–armed, even with bombs, open for everyone to see, unafraid, without any dread of the tsarist police. This simply meant putting one's life at risk! Our spies were dumbfounded by this unusual, fantastic scene. This meant that our brothers had come to help us in our difficult hour.

It did not take long and we learned that the Lubliner Bund had sent a division of its self–defense [group] to Chelm to help us ward off the pogromists. They had rushed their horses the entire night to arrive in time.

[Page 152]

To make it short now – no pogrom took place that day in Chelm! A day of sadness became a day of joy.

* * *

How can we actually declare this, that Chelm avoided a pogrom then?

Surely first, that if it had come to a contest between the two strengths – on one side the armed–to–the–teeth police and on the other side the two dozen young men from Lublin – it would have been a terrible tragedy for our brothers who had come here to help us. However, this sudden, unexpected and unafraid invasion of the Lubliner self–defense [group], displaying weapons in their hands, had such a terrific psychological effect on the police that it simply paralyzed them. This manifestation of Jewish strength and self–sacrifice of the forerunners of the ghetto fighters against the bestial Hitlerists 40 years later so overwhelmed the police power that they simply were thrown into a panic.

And the fact that the waves of the 1905 revolution then beat high also had a great deal to say. Mainly, however, the fact was that we did not have to depend on any miracles, that we resolutely decided to stage an armed resistance no matter how large a price we would pay. They sensed that if blood must flow, this time it would not be only our blood, and also that we would not just withdraw. They lowered their hands and withdrew quickly from their positions.

In short, thanks to all of the listed reason, a mere half a century ago, Chelm was saved from a bloody pogrom with who knows how many victims, and the Jews suffered only from fear.


A group of young Jews from the Makabi* Sports Club in Chelm in 1933.)


* A Zionist sports organization that organizes sports competitions for Jewish athletes similar to the Olympics


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