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The General Jewish Workers Bund

by Sh. Y. Herc

The Rise of the Bund

The Jewish socialist movement in Congress Poland arose later than in Lithuania and White Russia [Belarus]. Jewish wage–workers already were in many Polish cities during the last decade of the 19th century, but they were not yet politically organized. With the exception of Warsaw and some other cities where the Bund was active at the end of the 19th century, the Jewish socialist movement in Congress Poland spread out a few years later, mainly during the first five years of this century [20th century] when the waves of revolution reached all corners of the country.

One of the reasons for the late arrival of the Jewish workers movement in Congress Poland was without a doubt the fact that the traditional, pious life of the masses was strongly rooted in the life of the Polish Jews and lasted longer. The old Sephardic[1] Jewish life in Poland first began to change greatly in the epoch of 1905.

The rise of the Bund in Czenstochow also occurred during this time.

In 1902 the Bund made contact with the city for the first time. The pogrom took place that year during the summer. In addition, the Bund sent one its most important activists, the later well–known leader of the Bund during the Russian Revolution in 1917 – Mark Liber. After thoroughly investigating the events, Liber published a detailed description of the Czenstochow pogrom in the overseas organ of the Bund, Poslednie Izvestia [Latest News] (no. 92, 30 October 1902). With the severe Tsarist censorship and a [failure by] the usual Jewish press, Liber's printed report that brought out the truth about the pogrom was of great importance.

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In the Revolutionary Period

The Bundist movement in Czenstochow grew widely starting in 1905. Large strikes, demonstrations and other important actions were carried out during that revolutionary year.

It is worth mentioning a few of them.

In August 1905 the Bund in Czenstochow took part in carrying out a three–day political strike.

At about the same time the local Bundist organization carried out widespread activity in connection with the great misfortune that occurred in Landau's factory. Five female workers and three male workers were burned during a fire in August 1905. In addition, several people received severe burns.

 


A group of Bundists in 1905 in Czenstochow
Standing: on the ladder – Avraham Goldsztajn; near him – Mendl Braun;standing from the left: Grajcel

 

The Bund called a general strike on the day of the funeral. None of the Jewish workers appeared at work. From morning on, a great mass began to flow to Garncarska Street where a deceased worker, a victim of the fire, lay. A crowd of 6,000 men came together. The windows, balconies and roofs were covered with people.

The Bundist speakers, who were lifted up onto the shoulders of their comrades, spoke before the thousands assembled. There were sharp words, loaded with immense bitterness and rage that was felt in everyone's heart. There were nine speeches. The typical funeral gathering in front of the house of a worker–victim lasted 12 hours.

The burial took place at the cemetery at one o'clock where speeches again were given before the excited masses.

The Bund also issued 2,000 copies of an illegal appeal. The appeal, which began with the words, “In the name of the victims,” made a strong impression.

An interesting financial account of the Czenstochow Bund organization for the half–year from the 1st of September 1905 to the 1st of March 1906 gives us an idea of the scope of the Bundist work at that time.

Income: Literature 21 rubles and 14 kopekes; Zawierce 83 r. 50 k.; Noworadomsk 30 r. 20 k.; lottery 10 r. collected 450 r. 20 k.; remaining 59 r. 39 k.; Sosnowiec 9 r. 70 k.; tailor 2 r. 72 k.; carpenter 3 r. 5 k.; baker 20 k.; clerks 95 k.; feldsher [barber–surgeon] 10 k.; watchmaker 10 k.; tinsmith 2 r. 72 k.; cabinetmaker 3 r. 5 k.; baker 20 k.; painter 5 k.; lathe operator 35 k.; lost pamphlet 50 k.; for A.R. 4 r.; wood pile 2 rubles 15 k.; through birth – 6 r.; Blond 50 k.; legal literature 9 r. 98 k.; pictures 7 r. 40 k.; received 30 r.; for a special purpose 300 r.; from the striker's aid committee 29 r. 38 k.; borrowed 12 r. 59 k.; intelligentsia 5 r. 45 k.; receipts 5 r.; through H. 10 r.; through H. 7r.; through Sh. 5 r.; a worker 1 r.; number 10 – 40 k.; number 2 – 4 r. 50 k.; various 22 rubles; from the regional committee of the Bund 160 rubles; from committee abroad 73 rubles 50 k.; “small Bund” 50 kopekes.

Total 1,329 rubles 77 kopekes.

Expenses: region 98 rubles 7 kopekes; travel costs 54 r. 75 k.; support for workers 41 r. 72 k.; technical 62 r. 3 k.; arrestees 49 r. 30 k.; the Polish regional committee of the Bund 366 r. 46 k.; providing loans 110 r. k.; apartments 60 r. 75 k.; mail 13 r. 45 k.; for special purposes 394 r. 15 k.; meetings

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35 r.; passages 34 r. 20 k.; permits 2 r. unemployed 166 r.; strikes 85 r. 28 k.; for legal literature 25 r. 60 k. binding 12 r. 25 k.; miscellaneous 7 r. 85 k.

Total 1,619 rubles 2 kopekes.

Deficit of 289 rubles 2 kopekes.

With the then poor conditions, the expenditure of 1,619 rubles for a half–year was a considerable sum and showed the scope of the movement. It is conspicuous that there was no payment for salaries; all of the diversified work in the ghetto was done voluntarily by members. It can be seen from the income and expenses that the Czenstochower organization also served the surrounding cities. Only three cities were mentioned in the financial account. However, the number of surrounding cities actually helped by Czenstochow was a lot larger.

The connection to Noworadomsk, which is mentioned in the financial report, was that very lively activity took place there. In a report published in the Folks–Zeitung no. 49 of the 8th of May 1906, we read:

“There are present here about 400 Jewish workers who stand mainly under the influence of the local Bund group. The group carried out its work with great energy and its influence grew even more and more in the city and in the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] of Plawno, Przedborz and others.

The working masses still related to their bosses as in the old patriarchal times. The salaries were very low; their needs even smaller. It was even worse for the Christian masses. They were sympathetic to the Narodowa Demokraczja – [anti–Semitic, Polish Nationalist Democratic Party].

Despite the backwardness of both the Jewish and the Polish neighborhoods, the Noworadomsk Bundists carried on strong revolutionary activity. Their work among the large military garrison was particularly done with self–sacrifice. They made a connection with many soldiers in the military division and other formations. In 1906, the Noworadomsk organization of the Bund, among others, distributed military proclamations, which the military–revolutionary organization had published about the Bialystok pogrom carried out by the garrison there [in Bialystok].

It can be seen from the treasurer's report that there was close contact between Czenstochow and the Polish regional committee of the Bund. A series of Bundist activists, who helped to better establish the work and gave speeches at gatherings, came on assignment from the regional committee. Among others, Eidl Motalski and Alter Epsztajn, activists from the Polish regional committee, came to visit Czenstochow many times. A. Litwak and B. Wladek, well–known Bundist leaders, came.

One entry in the cashbook demands a clarification: both in the income and in the expenses there is an entry “for a special purpose.” The income is 300 rubles, the expense is 394 rubles 15 kopikes. The “special purpose” was weapons.

Special fighting divisions or B.O. [Battle Organization, known in Polish as Organizacja Bojowa] existed then among local Bundist organizations. Their tasks were to support the movement against police spying and to support the Jewish population against pogroms. Such a B.O. existed at the Czenstochow organization of the Bund. In his memoirs, In Loyf fun Yorn [Through the Years], Leibeczke Berman explains that in 1906 the important Bundist activist, Dovid Kac (Toras), came to Czenstochow regarding this matter. He came here as a representative of the “Mim” commission, which existed at the central committee of the Bund and which had the task of organizing the instruction and arming of the B.O. on the ground.

For example, about the work of the B.O. in Czenstochow:

In June 1906 a frightening pogrom was organized in Bialystok by the Tsarist regime. They thought about doing something similar in other cities. Then, the B.O. appeared on the scene, which organized special self–defense divisions. In a letter about Czenstochow that was published in the Bundist daily newspaper, Folks–Zeitung [People's Newspaper], no. 109 of the 20th of July 1906:

“Recently the mood here was uneasy. The Bialystok pogrom brought fear to the entire area and even more to Czenstochow, which had tasted the flavor of a pogrom several years ago.

“The Polish and Jewish revolutionary parties (Bund, P.S.D. and P.P.S. [Polish Social Democrats and Polish Socialist Party]) began to carry out energetic propaganda activity among the working masses. They also prepared for self–defense and they divided the city into various sectors. A number of the self–defense groups also were prepared for the region, but they were not needed there.

“The local Jewish community is

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nonchalant toward the self–defense groups. Of course, it is no wonder now that a large number of the Jewish population believes little in self–defense because everyone knows that the police carry out the pogrom with the help of the soldiers and one cannot do anything against Browning guns. Yet one did not have to wait with indifference, because even the Bialystok pogrom showed the usefulness of the self–defense groups.

“An outrageous movement against self–defense must be noted among most Jewish manufacturers. They wanted to take revenge on their workers for the days in which they had to take part in the self–defense groups and could not work. One local rich man, Mr. W., closed the doors of his house and would not allow a division of the self–defense group to enter, which wanted to make use of the apartment for a few hours until the procession ended.”

“Polish society did not protest and did not adopt any resolutions about the Bialystok pogrom. They only had a ball and the income from it went to those [who experienced destruction]. It is also a wonder that the local Polish society, in general, said nothing. They believe, it seems, that the tactic of the “successful” is to be quiet. But the proletariat is not quiet. Many mass meetings took place then, where they spoke about the Bialystok pogrom and about other political questions of the present moment. The organization of the Bund also held two such meetings. There were more than 600 people at each meeting.”

We see cited here the indifference to self–defense on the part of the “community,” that is, the rich strata and the intelligentsia.

In a series of places, the B.O. actively fought not only against the police and pogromists, but also against the Jewish hooligans who aided the Tsarists in their fight against the revolutionary Akhdesnikes [members of the association of Jewish workers] with the blessing of the middle class and the rabbi.

The B.O. used weapons against the Jewish hooligans who had serious crimes on their consciences. During the second half of 1905, the middle–class in Piotrkow and Czentochow hired “brawlers” who attacked the workers under the protection of the police, brutally beat them and turned them over to the Tsarist police. Armed Jewish workers answered them by shooting a number of organizers and those taking part in the reactionary, anti–Semitic attack on the socialists in Piotrkow and Czenstochow.

 

The Internal Party Life

At the end of 1905, the committee of the Bund in Czenstochow consisted of the comrades Avraham Lipnik. Aleksander Golde, Uriel Flajsher, Ester Alter, Henya Garelik and Anjute.

Lipnik was the chairman of the committee (he later was known as an eminent Bundist activist and medical doctor in Grodno). In independent Poland, Ester Alter (a sister of the later Bundist leader, Viktor Alter) was active as lawyer Ester Iwinska in Warsaw where she was a well–known Bundist activist and councilman in the Warsaw city council.

The Czenstochow organization took an active part in the internal life of the Bund, debated and decided upon a series of questions that were on the agenda then.

On the 8th of October 1905 a gathering of 200 Bundists took place in honor of the 8th anniversary of the Bund. After the speeches, the party meeting adopted a resolution, which expressed satisfaction with the successful struggles and activities of the Bund. The success of the struggle against all bourgeois political leanings among the Jewish people themselves and the determination and struggle of the Jewish proletariat, who were found in the front ranks of the worker–fighters in the entire country, were underlined separately.

The gathering expressed its thank you to the 6th Conference of the Bund for accepting the decision to found a Polish regional committee in the Central Committee and for quickly making the decision a reality.

The accepted resolution of the gathering of the Bundist organization ended with the following words:

“We Czenstochower Jewish workers celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Bund express our full readiness to fight against the existing political and social order for full political and social liberation, never ceasing to make any sacrifices. We also promise to carry on a constant ideological fight against those who want to use the energy and readiness to fight of the Jewish proletariat for ideas that are foreign to them.

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“Acknowledging the importance of the organization and strategy of the fight, we commit ourselves to be ready at every call of the Czenstochow organization of the Bund and support its successful activities with all our strength.”

Those assembled voting for the resolution considered it an oath, as a sacred commitment, which they had taken upon themselves.

We will mention a few more of the various Bundist party meetings during that period: a holiday gathering took place on Purim 1906 dedicated to the 1st of March. A series of speakers spoke on various themes and particularly about the 1st of March. (This date was celebrated as the holiday anniversary of the murder of the Russian Tsar Aleksander II). The previous Haman was connected to the tsarist Haman in the speeches.

Of very important significance was the Bundist party gathering in the summer of 1906. The question of the Bund rejoining the Russian Social–Democratic Workers Party was considered then. Fervent debates about the circumstances of the reunification took place in all of the Bund organizations in the country [Poland]. Two main schools of thought were cultivated that were known as “hard” and “soft,” that is more and less flexible. The Czenstochow organization sided with “hard.” The general meeting of the council in Czenstochow (that is, the leaders of the separate Bundist groups – the central municipal meeting) debated passionately, accepting the resolution of the “hard,” with 16 votes for, seven abstentions. The most important points of the resolution were:

  1. The Bund is the social–democratic organization of the Jewish proletariat, unlimited in its activity by any regional forces.
  2. No other organization that joins the Russian Social–Democratic Party beside the Bund can have as its purpose leading the social democratic activity among the Jewish masses.
  3. The Bund has representatives in the Central Committee of the Russian S.D. Party.
  4. The program of the Russian S.D. Party is the program of the Bund, but the Bund maintains the right to retain its program on the national question that was adopted at the 6th Conference of the Bund.
  5. The Bund has the right to raise money independently for all matters of their organization.
  6. The Bund organization will send its representatives to all general congresses and conferences of the Russian Social–Democratic Party on the same basis as the organizations of the Russian party.
  7. The basic points can be changed at the general conference of the Russian Social–Democratic Party, only with the consent of the Bund.
On the 27th and 28th of March 1907, a conference of representatives of the Bundist organizations in Poland took place to elect delegates to the 5th conference of the Russian Social–Democratic Party, which took place in London. The Czenstochow area also was represented at the election conference of the Bundist organizations.

Like many other cities, a “small Bund” also existed in Czenstochow – today, a legendary revolutionary children's organization, which excells in its naïveté, heroic excitement and devotion. The later well–known lawyer, Stanislaw Nojfeld, and Shlamek Birnbaum, the son of the well–known khazan [cantor], Avraham Ber, among others, were in the Czenstochow “small Bund.”

 

The Fight to Improve the Economic Situation of the Jewish Workers

The political fight of the awakening Jewish worker went hand in hand with the fight to improve their terrible economic situation. The professional unions in various trades were active along with the political organization. The unions, which were led by the political organization, carried out both large and small strikes. A managing committee stood at the head of each union, which was concerned with the interests of the workers in its trade. At first there was a tendency among the workers to use very primitive fighting means, such as making use of economic terror, threats and such methods. The Bund organization tried to combat this atmosphere and carried on widespread educational work as to why such methods could not be effective and were inappropriate for an aware worker. It was not easy work to eliminate the wild fighting methods. However, the workers themselves

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finally were persuaded with their own successes that the road that the Bund recommended was much better and more secure, that with a stronger, disciplined organization one could reach more permanent success than by applying blows at the boss or destroying goods.

At that time the professional unions were party ones. The Bund was involved with the metal and construction trades, leather trades, tailor and other trade unions. The Bund was involved with five local professional unions in 1906.

The Bund began activity to create a central office for Czenstochow and the region that would take in all professional unions of both Jewish and Polish workers. A conference of the managing committees of the Jewish professional unions was called for this purpose at the end of 1906 and it was decided to turn to the P.S.D. (Social–Democratic [Party] of Poland and Lithuania) with a proposal about unification. Lively professional activity was carried out at that time and many strikes were won.

 

The Last Revolutionary Chords

Tsarism mobilized all the dark strength of its giant empire and all of the organs of its power to suffocate the revolution. Weariness and despair began to dominate the ranks of the workers. The large number of victims, the overflowing jails, the shootings and hangings broke the fighting spirit. The revolutionary wave began to abate and the workers carried out a long rearguard campaign, fighting in groups that met under the pressure of decisive–aggressive strength. New tasks emerged everywhere then that the Czenstochow Bund organization had to fulfill.

One of the most important tasks at that time was to help the victims of the revolution, the imprisoned fighters in the jails. The work was carried out by the so–called “red circle” of the Bundist organization.

In a letter from the “red circle” of the Bund, printed in the daily Bundist Folks–Zeitung [People's Newspaper] (the 20th of Nov. 1906), we read:

“The situation for the arrestees and suppressed gets even worse and more severe from day to day. The various measures, which once would support those exiled and were never sufficient, are of almost no significance now with such frightfully [large] numbers of arrestees and exiled. It is absolutely necessary that every sympathetic person, to whom the fate of the unfortunate victims is dear, set aside [money] from their own use, to help the forlorn exiled to the distant deserts.

“The sacred duty to use all means to gather money for them particularly lies with our comrades. If every city or shtetl [town] would send something, this would become a great sum. We can imagine that this would only be a drop in the ocean. However, we cannot say that this will not be of help.

“The old appeal should be spread everywhere: “Help the arrestees and exiled!” And help will come from all sides.

“Meanwhile, 28 rubles and 50 kopikes have been collected in Czenstochow from a number of Bundist comrades for this purpose.

“May this letter by a signal for an active collection for our languishing comrades in distant Siberia…”

We did not have to be occupied only with help for the arrestees and exiles. The local Bund organization also had the occasion to help Jewish workers who stopped in the city before emigrating abroad and illegally crossing the border. It should be understood that the organization did not possess the necessary finances for this. At most, they could give a little monetary support. Often, people were left on the long road [of emigration] without the necessary financial means and required more help. The only effective help that we could give and we did give to the emigrants was making sure they did not fall into the hands of the swindlers who promised [help in] crossing the border and cheated and swindled the emigrants. Therefore, the local organization published warnings in the labor press. Here is an extract from one such warning (end of summer 1906):

“The Czenstochower Bund organization reported that many workers arrive to cross the border. The organization does not have enough financial means and therefore those arriving wander around through the streets and are dying of hunger. Therefore, the organization warns that no one should rely on it for support. Only those should come who have

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the necessary [financial] means. The organization will help them, so that they do not fall into the hands of swindlers.”

However, it would be an error to think that the Bundist movement was only involved with aid activity during the period of the decline of the revolution. Despite the increasing apathy, fear and even hate from the surrounding bourgeois environment, the Bund tried to maintain the fighting spirit of the Jewish worker.

Before the elections to the Russian Duma [parliament] at the end of 1906, the Bundist organization, ignoring the strong apathy, endeavored to awake the far–reaching masses. A total of 3,398 voters were registered in Czenstochow during the Duma elections; of them not more than 1,000 Poles. The majority of the registered consisted of Jews. The Bund carried out its campaigning among the working strata. The Bundists arranged a series of meetings of various trades and several in factories in connection with the election campaign. Then the Bundists carried out self–taxation of one day's wages for the fund of the central committee of the Bund.

So the work was carried out under a hail of repressions. The police even stopped passers–by in the street and searched their pockets and patted their bodies. House searches were a frequent phenomena. Arrestees were beaten.

Despite the repressions, the Polish and Jewish worker organizations issued an appeal for the 1st of May. Red flags had been hung out on the telegraph lines and on the chimneys of the factories in honor of the international workers holiday. On the 1st of May, all of the police were on foot and they had difficult work removing the red flags. Almost all of the workers were on strike from the workshops and factories. Only two factories were not on strike because the majority [of workers] there consisted of Endekes [members of the anti–Semitic Polish National Party].

The picture would not be complete if we did not remember the sharp, idealistic fighters (who did not always take on purely ideological identities) among the Bund and Zionist–Socialists. Czenstochow was one of the few cities where the Zionist–Socialists were strong. Here the Zionist–Socialist movement began earlier and lasted the longest while it declined everywhere else. The P.S.D. [Polish Social Democrats] also had a certain effect on the Jewish street, although it was very small. The majority of the Jewish intelligentsia was assimilated or supported [Jewish] nationalism. Therefore, it was mainly distant from the Jewish workers movement.

 

In the Yoke of Heavy Reaction

The reaction that came after the revolutionary period of 1905 hit the workers movement in the Tsarist Empire hard. The masses were terrorized and apathetic. A large number of activists were held in jails and in Siberia; the organizations collapsed. Only here and there, in a small number of cities, groups of devoted and tireless, small remnants of the previously powerful organizations held together, carried out a conspiratorial life deeply underground. They were like rare oases in a giant desert. All of the revolutionary parties lived through such conditions, although not all in the same measure. The Bund in this regard was no exception, although, perhaps more than others it was rescued from the reactionary catastrophe. This was thanks to its massive size and the deep roots it had struck in Jewish life.

One of these cases was Czenstochow. The city belonged to the fortunate exceptions where the Bundist movement was not interrupted even in the difficult years of the reaction. Once it took root in the earth of the Jewish workers life in Czenstochow, it was impossible to pull it out even in the darkest cloudburst of reaction.

It should be understood that the activity of the years 1908–1915 had to be limited due to general conditions in the country. However, it is important [to know] that the organization constantly functioned and, in the frame of limited possibilities, kept on supporting the beliefs and the strivings of the Jewish worker.

As has been said, the work had to be very conspiratorial; only in very rare cases were signs of life shown in public. One of these cases was after the death of Bronislaw Grosser, the leader of the Bund. A short announcement was printed in Di Zeit [The Time], no. 2, which was published in Petersburg:

“Czenstochow. A group of Czenstochow friends

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expresses its sympathy on the untimely death of Bronislaw Grosser.”

The same year, on Shabbos [Sabbath], the 2nd of October 1913, a mass arrest of Bundists took place in Czenstochow. A meeting took place at the field near the klejarnia [adhesive factory]. Many police and gendarmes with the chief of the gendarmes and the regional police superintendent Arbuzow at the head surrounded the meeting and arrested around 60 people.

The majority of the arrestees consisted of tailors, among whom were young people. All were taken to the police station under heavy guard and from there to jail. The following people were arrested then:

Avraham Rotbard, Avraham Granek, Yakov Laska, Avraham Kaczka, Tovya Mas, Icek Gelbard, Avraham Walman, Yosef Rozenblat, Benyamin Rozenblat, Ruwin Luks, Leibele [diminutive of Leibl] Rajzblat, Shlomo Haneman, Chaim Buchalter, Yakov Dlugonogi, Leyzer Berkensztat, Moshe Grinberg, Avraham Tovya Frajermauer, Mordekhai Wajsfelner, Nakhman Epsztajn, Yosef Izraelowicz, Wolf Tapenberg, Leibish Dilewski, Dovid Panriser, Kalman Gelber, Shlomo Markowicz, Kalman Szklarcz, Wolf Wien, Yakov Kogun, Yonatan Gutman, Henekh Feldman, Hershl Wargan, Yehuda Frajermauer, Y. Jadnur, Mordekhai Wajntraub, Yisroel Gutfrajnd, Avraham Ferenger, Daniel Goldberg, Kopel Tajchner, Daniel Chlapak, G. Drajzner, Ayzyk Libgut, Yudl Lipszuc, Ahron Niedziela, Shmuel Enzl, Perec Fintowicz, Yehuda Kernik, Faygel Fridman, Nakha Szturkman, Meir Golach, Avraham Fridman, Chaim Grinblat, Shlomo Buchner, Dovid Futerhendler, Moshe Pedszt, Yisroel Lublinski, Shlomo Lewkowicz, Leibish Zajdman, Yisroel Iman, Yakov Kagut, Marian Staszkowski and Wladislaw Szuster (the last two were Poles).

Sixty–one people in total were arrested. The arrestees were sentenced administratively to three months in jail. Twenty–five of them were sent to Piotrków in a procession under escort; the remainder sat in the Czenstochow jail. Only one, Leibl Rajzblat, was freed.

This was a meeting of Bundist workers. The arrest made a great impression in the city. The police and gendarmerie, which undertook to eradicate sedition from the soil of Czenstochow, were not satisfied by the large [number of] arrests and carried out another series of searches and arrests.

In connection with the strong persecutions at the beginning of 1914, the Bund organization in Czenstochow sent an appeal to the Socialist Democratic faction in the Russian Duma [parliament] to deliver to the government an interpellation [parliamentary maneuver demanding an official explanation for a government policy or act] and thereby bring the matter before a wider public. Because of the interpellation, the press in Russia wrote about the searches and arrests among the Jewish workers and socialists in Czenstochow.

The majority of the arrestees consisted of members of professional unions, which existed despite the great interference of the tsarist regime.

A short time before the outbreak of the First World War, summer 1914, Wiktor Szulman, the Bundist activist, came to Czenstochow in connection with the 8th Congress of the Bund that was supposed to take place in 1914 in Vienna and was called off because of the outbreak of war. Czenstochow and Noworadomsk had to send delegates together. In addition, Szulman had to set up contact in Czenstochow, Bedzin and Sosnowiec for bringing the delegates across the border.

 

During the Years of the First World War

Czenstochow was taken by German troops right at the beginning of the First World War. The Germans exhibited brutality in various ways then, but in general their behavior was more civilized than the previous Russian satrap. Therefore, a communal revival began with the arrival of the Germans.

The Bund organization often arranged public readings that drew a large crowd. Among those who held gatherings in Czenstochow was the famous leader of the Bund, Vladimir Medem. The room was overflowing with an audience of 800 men, who listened to his report with keen interest during his appearance on the 17th of January 1917. Not only workers, but people of various other Jewish political beliefs came to hear Medem's speeches about “the communal strivings of Jews.” An important means then for spreading the word among Jewish workers was the only Yiddish workers newspaper in occupied Poland – the Bundist weekly Lebns Fragn [Life Questions] that was published in Warsaw under the editor, Vladimir Medem. In Czenstochow in 1916

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100 copies of Lebns Fragn were sold weekly. The newspaper was spread among the workers of the wood, leather, paper, garment, celluloid and other trades. In 1917 the number of each issue of Lebns Fragn sold in Czenstochow exceeded 200 copies. At the end of 1916 the Bundists founded a club named for the deceased Bundist leader, Bronislaw Grosser. Bundists and sympathizers gathered at the club. The club was not only a home in which one enjoyed a comradely environment, but was also a center of cultural activities. In 1917 the club received great monetary support from Bundists from outside [Poland]. In its first three months of existence, the club carried out nine readings and gatherings with 1,800 attendees.

At the time of the German occupation during the First World War, members of the Czenstochow Bund committee were: Yakov Rozenberg – chairman, Yosef Aronowicz – secretary, Hershl Frajman, Avraham Rotbard and others. Comrade Straus, known as A. Galicianer, later a Bundist activist in Lemberg and correspondent for the Bundist Folks–Zeitung [People's Newspaper], was among the active Bundist community workers at that time.

The most esteemed leader for the local Bundist organization at that time was Yosef Aronowicz. With his readings he helped break the communal influence of the former assimilated circles in the city.

The election campaign for the city council occupied a significant place in communal life at the time of the First World War. The election ordinances, which the German occupying regime established, were not very favorable for the poor classes of the population. There were six curiae and they left just one mandate [seat] in the sixth curia for the workers.[2] The Bund voted independently and it contested the bloc of the Jewish bourgeois parties. In one of the Bundist appeals at the end of 1916, it said:

“The Poles of Moses' belief [the Jews], the Zionists, the Hasids – all of those who during the war speculated with our groshns hard–earned with our sweat and blood and with the outbreak of the war threw out the workers and trade employees from their factories and businesses – have united in a bloc, They speak now of the interests of the Jewish people. We, workers, do not believe their beautiful phrases.

“We know what is hidden under the words of peace and unity.

“The truth of the words was confirmed by the action of the Jewish–bourgeois bloc, which joined in unity with the Polish bourgeois parties about dividing among themselves the mandates in the first six election curiae.

“During the election campaign, the Jewish group of the Polish Socialist–Democratic Party (P.S.D., later the Communist Party) split off. The splinter group joined the Bund. In a public declaration those who had left [the P.S.D. party] emphasized that they consider the Bund as a Socialist–Democratic Party and their demands for national equal rights as an expression of the demands of the Jewish proletariat. Considering the national program of the Bund – the declaration further states – we have come to the belief that the demands are just and the Jewish workers need to say this often and loudly.”

There was a transition in Jewish life during the fourth year of the First World War, a transfer from tsarist rule to the changed conditions of independent Poland. A new era began that was the most intensive and most colorful in the history of the Jewish community in Czenstochow.

 

In Independent Poland

The Bundist movement constantly grew and strengthened during the 20 years between the two world wars. New fields of activity arrived – in the city council, kehile [organized Jewish community], sick fund. The party professional and cultural work was expanded. New branches of the movement joined in, such as a Youth Bund, Zukunft [Future]; the children's organization, SKIF [Sotsyalistishe Kinder Farband – Socialist Children's Union]; the sports organization, Morgnshtern [Morning Star], the women's organization; YAF [Yidisher Arbeter Froy – Jewish Women Workers]; the school organization, Undzer Kinder [Our Children]; the general workers' cooperative and the publishing cooperative, Kultura [Culture].

New, young people from the generation that grew up after the First World War joined the old activists and members. The former possessed tradition, experience, class–consciousness; the later, enthusiasm, daring, dynamism; and both groups, the old and the new, were fused into a unity through their idealism and unlimited devotion.

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On a New Foundation

The Bund approached widespread, challenging work in independent Poland with different conditions, a new communal atmosphere [and] with an influx of young strength.

The first, broader activity was connected to the rise of a workers council. All of the worker movements in the city belonged to it. From the Poles – the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S.), communist party, the nationalist grouping, Narodowy Związek Robotniczy (N.Z.R.) [National Workers' Union], the Christian Democrats (C.D.); from the Jewish workers – the Bund, Fareinikte (Z.S.) [United] and Poalei–Zion [Workers of Zion]. Yosef Aronowciz, Zalman Tenenberg, Maks Brum, the baker–worker Avraham Rozenblat and others belonged to the Bund faction.

The speeches by Yosef Aronowicz, particularly his appearances against the anti–Semitic proposals of the Cadekes [Christian Democrats], made a strong impression. The Cadekes proposed among other [resolutions] that Jews could not belong to the workers council. The Cadekes remained alone. All of the other groupings rejected the arrogant, anti–Semitic proposal.

In addition to the workers council, which was the expression of the revolutionary mood in the work force during the first years after the [First] World War, a people's militia also existed for a few weeks. Many Jewish workers participated in it. Jewish workers armed with rifles stood guard, patrolled the streets or carried out other police functions. However, the people's militia, as is said, lived even a shorter time than the workers council.

The city council remained a lasting institution of main significance to the city. Its significance was great, as was its competence as a communal self–managing organ. It simultaneously became a political tribunal.

The Bund had its representative there elected by the Jewish workers. Yosef Aronowicz, the Bundist representative to the first city council of independent Poland that was elected in 1919, in principled declarations and speeches expressed the stand of the Bund on a series of political and social questions in the city and in the country. The Bundist representative also made a strong declaration against the Polish–Soviet War.

A series of repressions against the Bund began in connection with the strong declaration (the same thing happened in the entire country). The Polish regime arrested the Bund's entire Czenstochow committee headed by Mr. Yosef Aronowicz. In later years Aronowicz moved to Vilna where he was an esteemed worker in the Bund, in the professional unions and in the Jewish–World School–Organization (TS.B.K. [Tsentraler Bildungs Komitet – Central Education Committee]). After occupying Vilna in October 1939, the Soviet regime arrested him along with a group of other Bundist workers and all traces of him disappeared.

The following Bundist workers were arrested in Czenstochow with Aronowicz in 1920: Zalman Tenenberg (later a Bundist worker and head of the kehile [organized Jewish community] in Piotrkow; perished during the Second World War in the Auschwitz death camp after a sweeping arrest of Piotrkow Bundists, when a transport of illegal literature was seized); Grinbaum, Chencinski, and Chaim Dovid Wolhendler. They then also came to arrest the Bund activist and leader of the baker–workers, Tsine Orczech (now in Canada). As he was then a convalescent after [suffering from] typhus, he was left alone. Orczech threw himself into the aid work for his arrested comrades. He founded an inter–party aid committee (with Fareinikte [United] and Poaeli–Zion [Workers of Zion]). Then, he, himself, was arrested in Krakow when he went there with help for the arrestees who were being held in a camp in Dąbie, near Krakow.

The first committee of the Bund in Czenstochow in independent Poland consisted of the following comrades: Yosef Aronowicz, Zalman Tenenberg, Moshe Lederman, Tsine Orczech, Yosef Izraelewicz, Avraham Fridman, Avraham Rotbard and M. Borzykowski. Some were taken into the military at the time when a number of the committee members were confined at the camp in Dąbie. Of the committee members, only Tsine Orczech was left to [continue the] work.

When he needed to decide important questions, the remaining committee member went to the military barracks and conversed with comrades Moshe Lederman, Avraham Fridman and Moshe Tuchmajer through the barbed wire. “Meetings” of the committee were held in that way then.

The arrested Bundist activists were held at

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the Dąbie concentration camp until the end of the Polish–Soviet War. In connection with the arrest of the councilman, Yosef Aronowicz, the representative of Fareinikte, Rafal Federman, brought a proposal that the city council demands the freeing of the arrestees in order to provide an opportunity for him [Aronowicz] to continue to fulfill his functions as an elected representative of the population. The P.P.S. [Polish Socialist Party] councilmen also supported the proposal and it was adopted by the city council.

Of the appearances at the city council at the beginning it is particularly worthwhile to remember the declarations and resolutions proposed by the socialist councilmen in connection with the pogrom of 1919, which ostensibly broke out because a Jew had thrown a stone at a soldier in Haller's Army.[3] The speeches by Yosef Aronowicz, the Bundist representative, made a great impression at the time.

The Bund also joined the Jewish kehile [organized community] several years later. The Bundist parnosim [elected heads of the community] led a fight for the kehile to take on a worldly character. At every opportunity they raised political questions that had a connection to the condition of the Jewish population. The principal fight with the civil majority was held in considering ethics. The Bundist representatives demanded that no taxes be placed on the poorer population and using the expenditures mainly to satisfy the needs of the poor, to raise the social and spiritual conditions of the poorest, underprivileged strata.

The Bundist movement in Czenstochow vastly expanded in the first few years of Polish independence. The number of organized Bundists and their influence among the Jewish workers, in general, grew in the professional movement, which found itself under Bundist influence, such as the unions of garment workers, woodworkers, bakers and others. The influence of the Bund rose in the large organization of trade workers. In the assimilated stowarzyszenia [association], the Bundists headed by Yosef Aronowicz and Yakov Rozenberg (later head of the Czenstochow kehile) led a fight against the ruling assimilationist group and for a Jewish proletarian character of the union.

A group of new activists joined, who had an influence in the various areas of Jewish life in Czenstochow. From time to time eminent leaders and members of the central committee would arrive from Warsaw.

 

Fareinikte [United] Joins the Bund

The Zionist–Socialists, who had been called Fareinikte since 1919, was one of the oldest and strongest organizations in Czenstochow. The process of decline, which seized this movement everywhere, did not by–pass Czenstochow. Although here, Fareinikte hung on the longest. The first great crisis came in 1922 when a significant number, headed by Rafal Federman, the chairman of the city committee and councilman at the city council, moved to the Bund.

A short time later (February 1923), a public gathering of the Bund took place in Czenstochow at which, in addition to Federman, Ahron Singalowski (Ahron Czenstochower), one of the most eminent founders and leaders of the Zionist–Socialists, appeared as a speaker.

In addition, disappointment in the founding principles of Fareinikte was another reason for a large group leaving this party. It actually dissolved and joined with smaller, splinter group of the P.P.S. [Polish Socialist Party] under the leadership of Dr. Drobner. Together, they built a so–called independent socialist party.

 

Its Own Newspaper

In February 1923, the Bundist organization began to publish its own newspaper, which served Czenstochow and the surrounding area. Its name was Arbeter–Zeitung [Workers Newspaper] (see more in the article, “Yiddish Press in Czenstochow”).

 

The Work for the Jewish Secular School

In June 1922, the unification of the secular Jewish schools created by each party came about as a result of the demands of the Central Jewish School Organization in Poland. Three movements entered the general Czenstochow organization, Fareinikte, the Bund and the left Paolei–Zion [Marxist–Zionists].

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In February 1923, a division of the Undzer Kinder [Our Children] society was founded in Czenstochow through which the local Bundist organization carried out its educational work. At the founding meeting, where the tasks and obligations of the Jewish working class in relation to the Jewish secular schools was widely discussed, the actions at that time of the bourgeois Jewish deputies in the Sejm [Polish parliament] were heatedly criticized. The Jewish Kolo [“circle” – faction in parliament), the union of the Jewish deputies and Senators, voted against the secular schools [using] the Yiddish language. The gathering accepted the following resolution about this:

“By voting against the Jewish schools, the Jewish Kolo, which consists of Zionist and Orthodox deputies, has shown to the entire world that it stands in the camp of hate of the Jewish schools and strives toward its collapse. The Jewish Kolo indirectly took under its protection all repressions against the Jewish school system and gave the government a certain justification to continue with the repressions. The Jewish masses branded this action as a criminal one. The gathering asked that the Jewish working masses stand guard over their schools and to support them with ever more energy against the reactionary wave.

“The representatives of the professional unions of the garment workers, the wood workers, the nutrition workers and the paper [workers], as well as the delegation of the young Bund, Zukunft, delivered declarations that their organizations join in the protest.”

The Bundist organization surrounded the Jewish secular schools with love and warmth and did everything to strengthen their position. In 1925 the Bundist faction in the city council led a campaign for the city to help the Jewish secular schools through the giving of subsidies. The campaign also was supported by the rada [council] of the professional unions (Polish and Jewish). The campaign and efforts of the Bundist city council faction was crowned with success. City hall decided to give subsidies to the Jewish worker schools.

According to the proposal of the Bundist councilman, Rafal Federman, the city council, in December 1926, decided to raise the subsidy of the Jewish secular schools, 4,000 zlotes instead of the previous 1,500. The Bundist weekly newspaper in Czenstochow, Arbeter–Zeitung, (24 December 1926) wrote about the decision:

“This time the Jewish bourgeois councilmen, such as Goldsztajn and others who would always abstain from voting on such a question or would leave the room, also voted for the proposal. (This time) the avowed Endekes [members of the anti–Semitic Polish National Party], such as Dr. Nowak and friends who always voted against, abstained. Only four Cadekes [Christian Democrats] voted against.

At that time there was a well–established six–grade public school and a children's nursery in Czenstochow, which was led by the Jewish School Organization. The public school bore the name of the great Yiddish writer, Y.L. Peretz.

In 1936, the government powers disbanded the Czenstochow division of the Jewish School Organization (Tsysho [Tsentrale Yidishe Shul–Organizatsye – Central Yiddish School Organization]). At the initiative of the Bund, the division was reopened in 1938. There was a new managing committee, which consisted of A. Peretz, M. Berkensztat, Y. Jaronowski, W. Fajga, Sh. Yakukowicz, A. Brat, G. Prenski, Y. Kaufman and Y. Yakubowicz. At the beginning of 1939, the new division of Tsysho opened an afternoon school, Powszechny [public] school for the children of the Polish state. They taught Yiddish and Jewish history in the afternoon school.

 

Struggle in the City Council

The Socialist faction at the Czenstochow city council, Jewish and Polish, fought an embittered fight against the municipal majority. The city council lengthened the period of its existence for a few years after its term of office had been supposed to end. Finally, in 1925, the Socialist faction decided to leave and in this way force elections to be held for a new city council.

On the 24th of June 1925, a declaration in connection with this was read in the name of the Bundist faction at a meeting of the city council that provided a picture of the bad municipal economy and of the struggle of the Bundist councilmen, among others. Among other things, the declaration said:

“The politics of the city council in the course of its six–year existence was supported by a majority of the Polish–Jewish bourgeois and capitalist elements that were supported by the ostensible representatives of the Cadekes [Christian Democrats] and Enprowces [National Party]. The latter went hand and hand

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with the rightist groups against the interests of the working class.

“Our faction at every opportunity in considering the budget or through urgent proposals tried to unmask the politics hostile to workers and at least to partly alleviate the situation for the working masses who always carried the entire load of conditions of war or industrial crises in the form of unemployment.

“Only for belonging to the Bundist city council faction and for his open activity in the area was the councilman, Yosef Aronowicz, interned in a concentration camp and only after eight months, under the pressure of the Socialist councilmen, did the city council decide to accept a proposal to free him. He was finally, in general, forced to leave our city.

“The proposal about distributing subsides for the Jewish public schools that carry on the work and in which up to 200 children from the poorest strata of the population study was presented several times.

“The enthusiasm of the city council and city hall clearly shows their position toward the excesses of the 27th of May 1919, as well as the fact that until this day no Jewish worker or official has been employed in the city hall.

On the question of the continued existence of the old city council and city hall, just as in the other important cases, one group of the socialist councilmen, Polish and Jewish, was fostered against the united front of the bourgeois and reactionary councilmen of both nationalities.

A short [term of office] came after the long city council, which contrinued its existence for one and a half years and in May 1927 was dissolved. At the last meeting, before the dissolution a declaration from the Bundist faction was read in which among other things it was shown that although the working class had a majority in the city council, the city hall served the interests of the owner classes. This was possible because the non–socialist workers movement, mainly the Cadekes, had reached an agreement with the representatives of the capitalists. The Cadekes (Christian Democrats) went hand and hand with the Jewish and Polish bourgeois in all economic questions with harm to the working masses.

 

The Fight for Democratizing and Secularizing the Jewish Kehile

There were several more public–legal institutions on the soil of Czenstochow in which the Jewish workers took part through their elected representatives.

One of these was the Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community] leadership. The Bundists always attempted to raise the state of the institution. They therefore fought the disorder and negligence, the influence and bias and other bad qualities, which were so characteristic of many kehilus [plural of kehile] in Poland. The Bundist representatives tried to transform the kehilus into institutions that would serve the poor strata of the people, help their cultural development and also satisfy their other needs, such as the health system, help when in need and the like.

A bitter struggle about this was carried out with the Orthodox, who wanted the kehile to mainly to take care of the religious needs, as well as with the powerful men who wanted to dominate with a strong hand, with their own strength and with the strength of their protectors, the regime representatives.

The Bundist parnosim [elected members of the kehile] also attempted, at appropriate opportunities, to deal with the question of general Jewish interests. One such case was during the well–known pogrom in Romania. On the 9th of January 1927, at a meeting of the kehile council, a representative of the Bund made such a proposal:

“The Czenstochow kehile council protests in an energetic manner against the continuing politics of the Romanian reaction that found its most recent expression in the bloody anti–Jewish pogroms in a series of Romanian cities. The Czenstochow kehile council protests against the shameful politics of the bourgeois reactionary Jewish parties in Romania that support the anti–Semitic Romanian government and, during the last elections to the Romanian parliament, worked hand in hand with the anti–Semitic reaction.”

The bourgeois majority of the kehile council

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rejected the Bundist proposal and adopted its own text of the protest resolution.

Therefore, the Bund, in general, fought so that the kehile managing committee would be democratized and [would] listen to the needs of the wider, Jewish masses and not become a tool in the hands of the clergy.

The Bund received 478 votes and two mandates [seats] during the election, which took place in September 1936. The elected Bundist parnosim then were Ahron Peretz and Yisroel Jaronowski.

The activists Rafal Federman, Ahron Peretz, Yisroel Jaronowski and Moshe Berkensztat were Bund representatives at the Czenstochow kehile at various times. The last head of the kehile was Yakov Rozenberg, a former Bundist.

In addition to the kehile, the Bund also represented the Jewish worker at the sick fund – an obligatory institution, which needed to provide medical aid to all workers and employees. The Bundist faction with other worker representatives carried on a struggle for improving the institution on behalf of the working class. The Bundist faction particularly fought so that the Jewish workers and employees would not be wronged. They also demanded in connection with this the right to use the Yiddish language at the sick fund and also to carry out the educational work in Yiddish.

 

The 1st of May

The international workers holiday – the 1st of May – evolved into a firmly rooted tradition among the Jewish workers in Poland. They did not work on the day. An account of the previous year was made at meetings and demonstrations in many cities together with the Polish workers and the recent and continuing work was recorded. The spiritual appraisal made by every worker – the young as well as the old – was more important than the dry examination of their conscience. It was a day of total celebration in the socialist sense.

The Czenstochow Jewish workers were no exception in this regard. They celebrated the day of the 1st of May every year. The Arbeter–Zeitung [The Workers Newspaper], the Bundist weekly in Czenstochow of the 6th of May, wrote about the celebration in 1927:

“The Jewish masses poured out of their lairs, crowded cellars and attic rooms. There were the tailors, shoemakers and other workers with their callused hands. The porters came in their Shabbos [Sabbath] garments.

“The educational work of the Bund brought the appropriate results. New people came from everywhere to the ranks of the socialist camp. Innumerable workers placed themselves in the jurisdiction of their party and were required to lead them in the streets. The bourgeois watched with envy and wonder as the Jewish workers marched in closed ranks, soaked by rain, which had fallen the entire morning.

“The Bund can take pride with great satisfaction that their crowds grow from year to year. The cadres, which gather under their wing, grow still larger. This was seen in this year's demonstration in Czenstochow where the entire organized Jewish working class demonstrated under the banner of the Bund.”

The demonstration itself was described in the Arbeter–Zeitung in this way:

“The magnificent Bundist flag was carried first, then the flag of the Jewish cultural office, then the flag of the Youth Bund, Zukunft, the flags of the professional unions of garment, wood, meat, transport (which marched for the first time with the Bund), nutrition, chemical [workers]. The members of the professional unions walked under the flags. Banners were carried in the demonstration with the inscriptions, “We demand political amnesty! Let the worker and peasant government live! Let live the national–cultural autonomy! Let live the eight–hour work–day! Down with night work in the bakeries!” and others.

Seven hundred workers took part in the Bundist demonstration procession. Several meetings took place in addition to the demonstration.

The 1st of May demonstrations looked the same in later years. Not only the adult young people marched in the demonstrations, but also several elderly workers, a number of whom had been active fighters against Russian Tsarism.

The Bund almost always demonstrated with the Polish worker organizations on the 1st of May. The Jewish workers were attacked several times by the anti–Semitic hooligans during joint demonstrations with the Polish workers. In several cases, the well–organized militia of

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the Polish Socialist Party came to help and helped the Jewish workers drive away the hooligan attackers.

During the last years before the Second World War, the Polish government, which became more and more anti–Semitic, did not permit joint demonstrations by Polish and Jewish workers in a series of cities. It was the same in Czenstochow. And above all, the regime did not permit any separate street demonstrations by Jewish workers. Therefore, they had to come together only at meetings, which drew large crowds (up to 1,000 men), which expressed their anger and protest against the action of the government powers. Thus it was, for example, in 1937 and in the later years.

 

Youth Bund – Zukunft

From the first moment on, during the time of the First World War and in the years after it, the Bund had a large youth movement across the entire nation. When the revived Bundist youth movement took shape, the young workers in Czenstochow also began to gather under the flag of the Bund. As in other cities, they also linked the torn threads of the former “small Bund” and, in 1919, created Zukunft [Future], a youth organization.

Youth sections were created in the professional unions (in 1922), which had the task of caring for the economic interests of the young workers. Three youth sections existed at the beginning of 1925, in the garment, wood and brushmaker trades. Zukunft, the Youth Bund, educated the Jewish working young people politically, raised their cultural level, created a communal home for them and included them in the fight carried on by the entire working class. For the children of the poor Jewish streets, the self–education circles of the Youth Bund's Zukunft were like the university for the rich sons and daughters. From time to time, the youth organization also arranged public meetings and gatherings to which large crowds of young people came. Among others was the undertaking under the name, Yugnt Zeitung in Lebedikn Wort [Youth Newspaper in Living Word]. The speakers and activists came from the youth masses themselves. More than one Czenstochow Jewish worker–activist had his first communal school in the Youth Bund, Zukunft.

A Bundist children's organization, SKIF [Sotsyalistishe Kinder Farband – Socialist Children's Union] and Morgnstern [Morning Star], a sports organization, arose in later years.

The Bundist youth were in contact with the Polish socialist youth [organization] and at times arranged joint appearances with it, such as, for example, a joint meeting dedicated to the struggle against nationalism took place on the 17th of June 1933. A large crowd of young people came; all were dressed in blue shirts and red ties, which was the uniform of the socialist youth. The young people waved red flags over their heads. The speeches were delivered in two languages – Polish and Yiddish. The young people sang the Polish workers' hymn, Czwewoni Sztandar (The Red Flag) and the Jewish workers' hymn, Di Shuve [The Oath] of the Bund. This demonstration of Polish–Jewish fraternity and of international workers solidarity took place in the residence of Polish clericalism, where for years, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all corners of the land came to the miracle–working picture in the church at Jasna Gora.

There also were camps and excursions among the various activities carried out by the Bund. There is a description of one such summer camp in the Warsaw Folks–Zeitung [People's Newspaper] of the 23rd of August 1936:

“The Youth Bund, Zukunft, as every year, this year, too, organized its own summer camp in the beautiful area of Cszanstow outside Czenstochow. The necessary sum was collected from savings and voluntary taxation of comrades and friends. Our young people joyfully spent time in a Bundist, comradely environment in their own camp, which was led by the comrades M. Lederman and M. Kuszir. Our Zukunftists returned cheerful and ready for combat and they took part in our work with new fervor.

The Czenstochow Zukunftists took part in a series of excursions organized by the Youth Bund on the staff's quarter acre of land or in the region.

One such excursion – in 1935 – took place in Czenstochow itself. In addition to those from Czenstochow, Zukunftists from Zaglembie (Bedzin and Sosnowiec, Dambrowa Gonica), Piotrkow, Radomsk and other neighboring shtetlekh [towns] took part in the excursion. The excursion made a great impression in the city. The socialist city hall provided the city park for the arrangement of a

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a parade. The Polish socialist movement took part with a delegation.

 


Youth Bund, Zukunft
The Excursion in the City Park

 

Morgnshtern [Morning Star], the Bundist sports organization in Czenstochow, was founded in 1937. Its achievements could already by seen in the summer of 1938, at the anniversary of Morgnshtern. A tour–fest took place in the Makkabi's hall. Its success was so great that it had to be repeated a short time later. The second time, the tour–fest took place in the firemen's hall and Zalman Fridrich, the representative of the central managing committee of Morgnshtern in Poland, also gave a report then about the significance of sports for the Jewish workers and young people. (Zalman Fridrich later played a great role in the underground movement and in the Warsaw ghetto uprising of April–May 1943 and he perished at that time.)

In 1939 the Czenstochow Morgnshtern organization had hundreds of members. Its activists also established organizations in neighboring cities such as Sosnowiec, Radomsk, Zawiercie, Klobuck and others.

Yitzhak Stopnicer, Zisa Cincinatus, Hershl Prozwer, Motl Kusznir, Yadza Stopnicer, Shimshon Jakubowicz, Eliash Sztajgic, Simkha Zilberberg and others stood at the head of the Bundist Youth organization through the years. They were all activists from the young themselves. Ahron Peretz, the old Bundist activist, Henrik Lajzerowicz, the former Zionist–Socialist activist who moved to the Bund, Gerszonowicz, Kusznir and others stood at the head of the sports organization, Morgnshtern. The teacher, Liber Brener, Melman, Krul, Moshe Lederman, the Bundist activist, Itka Lazar (murdered by the Nazis in Warsaw during the Second World War) and others led the Bundist children's Organization SKIF.

 

Anti–Semitism and Boycott

The bacillus of anti–Semitism found a suitable place to fertilize itself in the thick Catholic atmosphere of the city where great fanatics were clouded by glorification and superstitions. Czenstochow was one of those Polish cities where anti–Semitism was intensive and aggressive. The Endekes [members of the Endecja – Narodowa Demokraczja – anti–Semitic, Polish Nationalist Democratic Party] and the Nara–followers (Polish fascists) led strong boycott campaigns and organized various anti–Jewish excesses during the last years before the Second World War.

Thus, in 1937, a week before Shavous [spring holiday celebrating the “Giving of the Torah”], they proclaimed a propaganda campaign for the Polish merchants and artisans. An extensive boycott campaign was carried out during the week of the 2nd to the 9th of May. Special calls for boycotts and placards were printed. Pickets in green armbands stood in front of Jewish businesses and shops and did not allow any Polish customers to enter. The slogans were: “Do not be a fool; buy only from Poles.” “You do not want to destroy Poland, buy only from Poles.”

From time to time, the Endekes carried out anti–Jewish demonstrations. On the 15th of August 1938, during one street appearance of this kind, they shouted the chorus: “Żydzi na latarniach, niech zginą marnie” (Jewish are hanging on the lamppost, may they

 


The Bundist Militia in Czenstochow
Sitting first from right to left – in the second row – Y. Pendrak

 

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die in loneliness). The Endeke demonstrators also attacked Jews and began to break windowpanes. When they entered the Jewish neighborhoods, groups of Bundists came out into the street and chased the hooligans. Several were bloodied. Many police arrived and “restored order.”

At the end of 1937 the Polish workers, socialist Pepesowces [members of the Polish Socialist Party], organized groups to fight against the Endeke pickets and drive them from the street.

 

The Polish Socialist Movement and its Solidarity with the Jewish Workers

The Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S.) was strong in Czenstochow. Its great influence was expressed in various elections and during meetings and street demonstrations. It was strongly represented in the city managing committee sick fund and other institutions.

The Bund stood in friendly contact with the Polish workers movement. There were many cases in which Polish socialists actively appeared against the anti–Semitic rampaging.

Czenstochow was a nest of Catholic clericalism and this could not remain this way without the influence of a certain part of the working class. The city was relatively greatly influenced by the power of the C.D. (Christian Democrats) and N.P.R. (National Workers Party) – both nationalist, anti–Semitic workers organizations. The majority of the Polish workers did not go with them. They mainly belonged to the Socialist Party and a much smaller number, to the communist movement. The P.P.S. always had a large faction in the city council, although not a majority. Pepesowces were elected president or vice president of the city with the votes of the Jewish socialist and bourgeois councilmen.

During the years when the Sanacja [“healing” – an authoritarian political movement] government had a strong policy against the opposition, the repression also began to be felt in Czenstochow. There was a time when the followers of the government regime began to mimic the methods of Rome and Berlin. They then removed all socialist employees from city hall and from the sick fund. There also were repressions against the Bund because the Bundist organization refused to give a declaration of loyalty to the government. The Bundist activist, Rafal Federman, who was the only Jewish employee at the sick fund, was removed from his job. He was told he could remain if he would resign from his opposition position in the government.

The repression reached its highpoint when a band of senators (followers of the government camp) attacked the party premises of the P.P.S. They took out the red flags and publicly burned them. As an answer to this, Jan Kosczewo, an old Pepesowce fighter, an official at the city council, attempted an assassination of activists of the Sanacja (government camp) and shot six men. In the end, Jan Kosczewo ended his own life. Thus, an old Polish revolutionary erased the shame of the burning of the flags of his party.

The Polish worker movement not only carried out a bitter fight with the Sanacja. It also did the same with the Endekes. The Polish socialists often had direct confrontations with the Endekes. One of the bloodiest confrontations with the Endekes took place on the 1st of May 1937. The P.P.S. led 12,000 workers under its flags into the street. Bottles of poisoned liquid were thrown out of the Endekes hall and shooting began when the procession marched past. The Pepesowces strongly resisted. They attacked the Endekes hall and made a ruin of it. One of the Endekes was killed and 11 lay wounded. Two Pepesowces were lightly wounded and two were heavily wounded.

In an earlier chapter, we mentioned the active appearance of the Polish socialists against the picketers who carried out the boycott actions against the Jews. They fought the anti–Semitic actions in other ways, too. It was described in the Warsaw Folks–Zeitung [People's Newspaper] of the 13th of August 1938:

“Factory meetings recently took place in a series of large factories in the Czenstochow region at which representatives of the rada [council] distributed the appeals of the national council about the struggle against anti–Semitism and the rights of the Jewish masses.” (The rada was the central municipal administration of the professional unions, Polish and Jewish, in

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Czenstochow: the national council was the highest administration of the Jewish professional unions in Poland. A series of Polish workers organizations also spread the appeals of the national council against anti–Semitism.)

The Polish and Jewish workers showed their international solidarity more than once in the Polish capital of Catholicism, in the fortress of clericalism and hatred of Jews. One of the last acts of this kind, before the catastrophe of September 1939, was the yearly municipal conference of the professional unions, which took place on the 2nd of April 1939. Rafal Federman was elected a representative of the Jewish workers on the presidium along with representatives of the Polish workers. Among the 134 delegates from the 29 professional unions were 23 delegates who represented the professional unions of the Jewish workers. Three representatives of the Jewish workers, the Bundists – Yisroel Jaronowski, Moshe Berkensztat and Motl Kusznir – were elected to the rada of the new city central administration.

 

The Bundist Organization and its People

The Bund in Poland grew enormously in the last five years before the Second World War. It extended its influence to all corners of the country and drew in the largest number [of members] from the Jewish masses.

The growth and the spread of the Bundist movement also were noticed in Czenstochow. The party organization of the Bund grew with its various institutions that had as their purpose to satisfy a series of needs of the working strata and to serve their need in every way possible. The Bundist organization, itself a justification of the progressive and [class] conscious part of the Jewish working class and people's institutions, simultaneously was a servant and guide for the most inclusive strata of the people.

The Jewish masses answered warmly when the Bund called them to political actions and appearances. In the last year before 1939, the Bund itself called or was the initiator of large political strikes against the anti–Semitic rampages in the country. It called on the entire Jewish population to come out and it carried out protest strikes with extraordinary solidarity. Czenstochow was no exception is this regard.

One of these strikes, on the 19th of October 1927, a half–day protest strike against the installation of ghetto benches[4] at the college, appeared this way:

All Jewish workshops, all Jewish businesses were closed. The Jewish workers in all trades, without exception, went on strike. In the factories and workshops in which mixed personnel of Polish and Jewish workers worked, the Polish workers also went on strike as a sign of solidarity with their Jewish comrades. The Polish workers in a series of other factories went on strike for an hour. The following factories with Polish workers went on strike: Horowicz, Vulkan, Kosmos 1 and 2, Stal. Polish workers in these factories gave short speeches about the significance of the protest strike. Despite the fact that meetings of the Bund were forbidden, thousands of striking workers stormed the courtyard of the party hall. The surrounding streets were dark with the giant mass of people. Police surrounded the courtyard and did not let anyone enter. Yet the crowd gathered in the nearby streets. The police arrested several young people while dispersing those gathered. The arrestees were later freed. More than 15,000 people took part in the strike. The children in all “public” state Folks–Shuln [public schools] for Jewish children as well as the khederim [religious primary schools] went on strike. Large placards hung in front of four schools with the inscription, “We protest against the ghetto benches.” (Neie Folks–Zeitung [New People's Newspaper], the 20th of October 1937).

During the same year, at the end of 1937, the 40–year anniversary of the Bund was celebrated in an impassioned way. Five hundred people came to the ceremonial meeting.

Sitting on the presidium during the meeting were Ahron Peretz, the veteran of the Bundist movement in Czenstochow, Engineer Avraham Blum, the emissary of the Central Committee of the Bund in Poland (he was a legendary figure in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, one of the pillars of the underground movement – he perished after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising [1943], in which he played a leading role). Representatives of various Polish Workers (Polish Socialist Party and the rada [council] of the professional unions) also sat on the presidium.

In the name of the regional committee of the Polish Socialist Party,

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the well–known Socialist activist, Yosef Kaczierczak, greeted [the meeting and] in a sharp speech described the situation in the country and declared that the Polish worker would not remain aloof in the fight against anti–Semitism.

Motl Kusznir spoke in the name of the Youth Bund, Zukunft. He had brought a gift for the Bund on its anniversary – 25 members of the Youth Bund, Zukunft, joined the party.

Yisroel Jaronowski spoke in the name of the Central Committee of the Professional Unions of the Jewish Workers. There were speeches and greetings from still more Jewish and Polish organizations, among them as well, from the rada [council] of the professional unions, from the Polish Socialist Cultural Organization, Tur, and from the Polish Socialist Party women's organization.

The most solemn act was giving an anniversary flag to the Czenstochow organization of the Bund. The act of giving the flag was carried out by an emissary from the Central Committee. Taking the flag from Ch. Blum, Yisroel Jaronowski declared that the Czenstochow Bundists would devotedly serve the ideals of the Bund and would not let the red flag out of their hands.

“Hundreds of young boys and girls from the Youth Bund, Zukunft, marched in, dressed in blue blouses and red ties. Twenty–five of them joined the party ranks and Liber Segal spoke in their name. He took an oath of unlimited devotion to the Bund. Avraham Blum, the representative from the central committee, then gave a spirited speech about the 40 years of the Bund.”

The years of work and struggle, the effort and the victims were not fruitless. The Jewish workers became powerful, a class–conscious, creative collective that looked with a clear vision and went with a sure step toward their goal.

The people who represented the Bundist movement in Czenstochow were diverse: from those with university degrees to the porter, from the effervescent young people to the old man with a grey head [of hair], from the highly educated to the illiterate, sons of illustrious–descended families to children of the back alleys. However, they all were united in the same ideal; they were forged in the movement, and from themselves they created a harmonious unity, the Bund in Czenstochow. Hundreds and hundreds built the movement year in and year out in the course of 40 years and developed it further. It is impossible to list everyone; we will remember a few here.

Ahron Peretz, a relative of the great Jewish writer, Y.L. Peretz. He already was active in the Bund in 1905 and devotedly served the Jewish workers movement without interruption. He represented the Bund at the kehile during the last years before the war. He worked a great deal to elevate the cultural level of the Jewish masses in Czenstochow. He was greatly loved in the city. He was a dentist by trade. He always was ready to help the needy. He was the Bundist city councilman in the city council and chairman of the school organization during the last years before the Second World War. He continues to be active in the Bund.

Moshe Lederman. A specialty shoemaker by trade. He already was active in the Bund at the time of the First World War. He was a member of the Bundist committee and an important worker in the professional [union] movement for many years. Starting in 1935, he was active in Lodz with the garment workers among whom he was very beloved. He was a member of the Lodz underground committee of the Bund during the years of the Second World War. He spent the entire time in the Lodz ghetto and now is again active in the Bundist movement in Czenstochow.

Yitzhak Stopnicer. A hat maker. He was active in Zukunft [Future], the Bundist youth [organization]. He was chairman of the Zukunft organization for many years and the main leader of the youth faction of the clothing union. He also had great stature with the Bundist youth movement in the shtetlekh [towns] of the Czenstochow region. He served the Zukunft organizations of the surrounding area with advice and action. He moved to Bedzin before the Second World War where he was an esteemed activist for the party and the youth organization. His further fate is unknown.

Motl Kusznir. A clothing worker. He was an activist in the Bundist youth organization for many years. He was a good speaker. He later was the secretary of the garment union. He went through all of the pain in the ghetto during the last war [Second World War] and finally was taken to the German concentration camp, Bergen–Belzen. After the liberation, he returned to Bundist work in Czenstochow.

“Karl Marx” – thus we called him because of his outward appearance, because of his head of hair and beard that made him look very similar to the face of Karl Marx. This was an older man who excelled with his extraordinary

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devotion and attachment to the party. Although he was poor, he always was the first to pay into any assessments carried out. He never missed any Bundist meeting or demonstration, as a fervidly pious Jew cannot fail to pray in a minyon [10 men needed for prayer].

Wolfowicz. An older man, a baker–worker. He showed a strong connection to the Bund and to the professional unions. He was a religious Jew and he really showed a religious relationship to the organization to which he belonged. To him a strike was a sacred object and he related to a strike–breaker as to one who was a blasphemer. He could not understand how one could break from unity. Wolfowicz was burdened with nine children. During a strike there was hunger in his home. His wife and children tormented him and demanded food. The old baker–worker was afraid that, God forbid, he would not be able to resist the temptation and break down. In such cases, he would not go home and spent the night at the Bund meeting hall.

Avraham Rozenblat. Also a baker–worker. He was active in the Bund starting in 1905. He belonged to the “Iron Guard” of the Bund. He came from the lowest strata. Refined and uplifting, he devoted his entire soul to the Jewish workers movement. He was very beloved among the workers and would often be sent to party or professional union congresses in Warsaw.

Yisroel Jaronowski. A meat worker. He also came to the workers' movement from the lower strata and raised himself to a moral height from which he never descended. The meat trade, and particularly employment with kosher meat, provided an opportunity for lucrative non–kosher earnings. As a leader of a professional union, he was a guard of purity and honesty. He became an active worker–activist and, finally, chairman of the Bundist organization and parnes [an elected head of the Jewish community] at the kehile [organized Jewish community] in Czenstochow. The Jewish and Polish food workers in the city elected him many times as their delegate to the national congresses of the professional unions of the food workers. He showed strength of character during various difficult situations and justified the trust in him. He also was among the leaders of the secret underground movement in the ghetto during the terrible [rule] of the Nazi murderers. He also took part in preparing to arm the uprising. When the Nazis came to arrest him he jumped out of the second story and broke a leg. He fell into their hands and perished.

Moshe and Rayzele Berkensztat. Husband and wife. He a leather worker, she a teacher. Both joined the Zionist Socialist organization during the First World War. And from 1922 on they were active workers in the Bund. Moshe was a child of poor parents. A vision of a better life always shone in him. Despite the difficult circumstances, this man who excelled with his simplicity and gentleness, never lost the pleasant smile on his lips. He was the secretary of the local Bundist organization for many years. He was a member of the committee of the underground Bund during the Second World War. The Gestapo arrested him and his wife on the 6th of June 1941 and they were terribly tortured during the investigation. Moshe Berkensztat was sent to Auschwitz where he perished.

Rayzele Fajertag–Berkensztat was a child of the Yatke–Gas [the street of butchers], the daughter of a butcher. Her environment of toiling people did not prevent her from acquiring a great deal of knowledge and great intelligence. In the best way possible, she found herself in the world of thought and books. She became a Fröbelist[5] and was one of the founders of the Y.L. Peretz Workers Nursery. In later years she was the librarian at the Medem Library, the same function she also carried out for almost two years under the Nazi rule. Twenty–thousand books were brought to her house and over 1,000 people secretly took books to read from her. She was arrested with her husband and tortured. In the end, the Czenstochower Bundists worked to extract her from the nails of the Gestapo. She later perished.

The Bund was a real cross–section of the Jewish masses in Czenstochow, a meeting place for all who wanted to join forces in the duty of serving in the freeing of all oppressed and underprivileged.

The last committee of the Bund of September 1939 consisted of the following comrades: Yisroel

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A. Peretz and his family   The Vilner Committee of the Bund with Yosef Aronowicz (standing in the middle)   Hershl Frajman and his family
 
 
 
Moshe Lederman   Rajzele Berkensztat   Moshe Berkensztat
 
 
 
Henokh Fefer   Zalman Tenenberg   Motil[6] Kusznir

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Jaronowski – chairman; Moshe Berkensztat – secretary. The other members of the committee were: Moshe Tuchmajer, Motl Kusznir, Rayzele Berkensztat, Avraham Rozenblat, Yitzhak Rozenfeld and L. Brener.

In various years, the comrades Yosef Aronowicz, Rafal Federman, Avraham Fridman, Hershl Frajman (fell in the fight with the Nazis on the 4th of January 1943), Henekh Fefer (secretary for many years), Moshe Lederman, Dovid Klin and a series of others were on the committee.

The majority of activists and members, who in life and death connected themselves with the ideals of the Bund, perished in the Czenstochow ghetto and in various other ghettos or in concentration camps. Only a small group succeeded in weathering the difficulties of the seven gates of the Nazi hell and continuing their work in the new, liberated Poland.

 


The Czenstochow committee of the Bund in 1929
Standing from right to left: Moshe Tuchmajer, Z. Cincinatus, B. Cincinatus, L. Kaminski, A. Rozenblat, Zilberberg
Sitting from right to left: The wife of Z. Cincinatus, R. Federman, H. Halberg–Cincinatus, Moshe Lederman, H. Lederman
Near the photograph of B[einish] Michalewicz – on the right: Shimshon Jakubowicz; on the left: Yitzhak Stopnicer

Translator's Footnotes

  1. the term “Sephardic” is used in a very broad sense. It possibly refers to the nusakh or liturgical tradition of the prayer book and religious traditions used in a synagogue. Many Hasidim and other pious Jews used the Sephardic nusakh even though they were of Ashkenazi origin. Return
  2. The curiae system of voting divided voters into electoral groups designated by class. Return
  3. A military contingent led by General Jozef Haller during the First World War. The soldiers in Haller's Army often held anti–Semitic beliefs and participated in anti–Jewish actions. Return
  4. “Ghetto benches” were used at Polish universities starting in 1935 to keep Jewish students segregated from the general student population. The ghetto benches occupied a side section in the lecture halls. Return
  5. Friedrich Fröbel was a founder of kindergartens and gave them the name. Return
  6. Spelled Motl in the text of this article. Return

 

 

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