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[Page 192]

Memoirs of a Bundist

by Chenoch CHABUS, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz

I remember the Bund organization in our town even from the First World War. As a lad of 16 years old I entered the movement which was then working illegally. From the foggy recollections remaining in my memory, I knew that the party had organized the Jewish workers to fight for higher wages and a shorter work day, which is those days was reckoned “from sun rise until sun set”. This was an important work issue for the discussion groups, at debates and meetings in what we called the “stock exchange”.

In Kutno, the Bund had made a home for itself in the library building where many members, workers and ordinary people met. The major activists were the Szotan brothers – Jeszajahu, Mosze Jechiel and Naftali.


A group of members of the Bund


With the outbreak of the First World War, Kutno was occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm's army. Then the new, freer regime allowed the institutions which had previously been working underground to come out into the open. True, the political parties had been forbidden during the war time, but since the library was a normal place for the working public, in that way the library became the usual place for Bundist activities.

In 1918, when Poland became independent the party developed a lively social policy and cultural program. At the same time, very serious competitors had already appeared from the municipal parties and most important, from the working man in the street. In the craftsmen's' association which the Bund created, I was selected to serve in the administration.

In the year 1920, I emigrated to Paris. In the capital city of France I was a better social activist, but that is a separate chapter by itself.

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The “Bund” and its Institutions

by Natan MOSZKOWICZ, Herzliya

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron

The year 1918. The war-fire has just burnt out. Poland becomes independent. Complicated problems, especially on the Jewish street, call for solutions. Jewish life begins to organize, the political parties reveal immense organizational and political activity. As if a blocked spring suddenly spurted up on high…

In the foreground of the Jewish workers' movement in Poland, as also in Kutno, is seen the general Jewish workers' organization, “Bund.” The Jewish tradesman, worker, man in the street, and small trader begin to set up their political, social, cultural and professional organizations, the “Bund” encourages the process, works it into its own party framework. There is also a consumer-cooperative.


Youth Committee of Bund “Tzukunft” (“Future”) —1927


The work grows with difficulty. The available locations are too small. In the year 1930, thanks to contributions of the Kutno Jewish working class, a two-storey structure was erected in which the whole Bundist activity of the town was concentrated — the Bajnish Michalewicz House.


Political Actions

The Bund became a mass movement. It stood against injustices, from whichever side they came: evictions of poor Jewish families that don't have with what to pay the rent; it carried on the war with the local antisemites and their boycott-politics, or hooligan attacks on Jewish passers-by, carried on meanwhile a broad education program during the election for the Sjem, for the town council and for the Jewish community. After the pogrom in Przytyk, on the initiative of the Bund a protest strike was carried out, the workshops and businesses were closed, and the Jews of Kutno flowed en masse to the united protest-meeting.


Tzukunft” and “Skif

The Bundist youth-organization “Tsukunft” absorbed enthusiastically and by storm important sections of the Jewish working-class youth in Kutno. Their circles were transformed into political and cultural smithies, where the consciousness of the young folk was forged. The same youth also became the loyal consumers of the Yiddish book, the attentive audience for various presentations and readings. They brought into their traditional Jewish and pious homes not only modern Yiddish culture and literature, but also socialist awareness.

Those in the Konstancja ghetto who had, in the worst circumstance, carried on cultural activity and political work, belonged to the Youth-Bund “Tsukunft.” The poet Bajnish Zilbersztajn was shot in Auschwitz while throwing a stone at a murderer. Bajnish was a subtle poet and prose-writer, editor of the monthly literary journal “Belgian Pages.” He began his writing career in the central organ of “Tsukunft” — “Youth-Awakener.”

From the ranks of “Tsukunft” come also Yosef Turko (Okrutny), the author of 10 belle-lettrist books (now in Argentina), Gradom, Szrank and Sobutki — active in the underground of the Kutno ghetto.

Love of the Yiddish language, of Yiddish writers and of the Yiddish book — began in the youngest Bundist generation, in the child-organization “Skif.” And to that was added sport, jogging, hiking.

The young Glowinski, Goldberg, Haller, who had their upbringing

[Page 197]

in “Skif,” were in the ghetto among those who created a secret radio-station and twice a day gave out news, encouraged the people, and called to resistance.


Professional Activity

Professional activity in Kutno was in practice carried out by a coalition of the three worker parties: Bund, Communists, and Left-wing Poalei-Zion.

One of the strongest and best-supported unions was the Needle Workers' Union, which took in all those employed in the trade. Even members of Beitar belonged to the union. The leadership courageously defended the interests of the wage-workers.


'Bund' cooperative — Standing by the entrance,
the director Gnendel Gecel


The youth-section drew the special attention of the union. Besides working to further their trade interests, there was a wide-branched cultural program, especially involving evening courses. The aim was to root out illiteracy, which had become accepted among the Jewish youth living in poverty.

The second union in importance was the transport-union, to which belonged the porters and drivers. This was an older element, with big families and small revenues, always overwhelmed with worries about a living. In order to keep such Jews, with pious ones also involved, it was necessary to maintain an especially warm, comradely atmosphere. The leadership set up a loan fund, from which members could obtain loans without interest. They also fought for and got the right to benefit from the workers' sickness-fund, for minimal dues.

To the professional activity of the “Bund” must be added also the blessed work of the Socialist Manual Workers' Union, to which belonged tens of home artisans, craftsmen and tradesmen from all trades, and …many political hues.


Sports and physical education

Almost every evening, more than 200 youngsters filled the gymnasium in the Michalewicz House in Kutno, where the Bundist sport-club “Morgenstern” (“Jutrznia”) carried on its productive activity. On the wall hung a large print-out: “In a healthy body, a healthy mind.” The instructor, Kopel Kirszbaum, a volunteer, conscientiously led the young workers in gymnastic exercises and truly strove for healthy physiques for all. The sport-club was renowned in Kutno. Everyone admired this institution.

Once a year there was a public display by the “Morgenstern” sport-club, accompanied by its own wind-orchestra.

The club's football team was the best in the city. Its achievements were spoken of with admiration, and not only by Jews.


Jewish Schools and Culture League

In the early 1930s, a morning school with Yiddish as the language of instruction was created in Kutno. Let us take the opportunity to recall an episode which led to some bad blood:

Just before the opening of the school, when almost all preparations had been made, there came to Kutno our fellow-townsman, the great writer Shalom Asz. On a Shabbat, together with his brother Wolf, he visited the Perec Library, where a meeting of the organizing-committee of the school was going on. The guest asked first about the library, its readers, what kind of books interested them, and generally about the cultural life of the town. On the spot he handed over a letter to the publishing-house “Culture-League” in Warsaw to send to the library, as a gift, all his published books. Afterwards, we told him about the opening of the school, which was soon to take place. Suddenly he put to us the startling question:

— Would we not agree that the school should bear his[1] name?
For that, he was prepared to contribute 50 percent of the school's budget.

I remember, as a participant in the meeting, that Asz's suggestion embarrassed everyone. The chairman promised the author to give him an answer in a short time.

And the answer was in the negative. The school was already named after the late Bundist theorician and leader Vladimir Medem.

Returning to the school. It soon had four classes, 40-50 children in a class. It was at first supported by voluntary contributions of Bundists, Left-wing Poalei-Zion and non-party people.

Thanks to the Socialist majority in the city council (7 P.P.S., 5 “Bund” and 1 Communist), the school received an annual subsidy. The Jewish community also provided in its budget a partial subsidy, as for the other cultural institutions in the city.

Today we know that many children, who received their education in the Medem school became, in time, industrious members of the kibbutz movement in Eretz Israel.

Among the teachers with high pedagogic qualifications, I remember: Jeruchemzon from Warsaw, Mandelman, Hancze Fiszzacer and Mann from Vilnius.

A separate chapter is that of the “Culture League”, with its rich Perec library with a book treasury of tens of thousands of Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish books and a

[Page 198]

special division of children's literature. The “family tree” of the “Culture League” stemmed from the society “HaZamir”, from before the First World War. In his time, Shalom Aleichem came to “HaZamir”, gave a lecture and read from his works. A share of the receipts was reserved for the library, which later went to the “Culture-League.”

The readers were recruited from all strata of the Jewish population and reached the number of several hundred.

The People's University of the Culture League played an important role in strengthening the consciousness of its members, thanks to the presentations, readings and lectures on scientific, literary and socio-political themes. Among the speakers: Bertisz and Grosfeld — teachers of “Am HaSefer”; the historian Comber Lipman (perished in Warsaw); the guests from Warsaw — Henryk Erlich and Wictor Alter[2]; our writer and scholar, Israel-Yeshayahu Trunk, the eldest son of the Kutner Rabbi, who had a calling to literature and exact sciences, is a contributor to the literary monthly magazine “Letter”[3] in Łódź. His lectures always drew a big audience. His goal in particular was to popularize the psychoanalysis of Freud and his follower Alfred Adler.

In Kutno there were also lectures by the literary critic Sh. Niger[4], the educator Shlomo Mendelssohn and the essayist Leo Finkelsztajn, as well as Dr. Kruk[5], D. B. Malkin[6], Y. Halperin, the poet Itzik Manger, the literary recitalist Hertz Grosbard[7].

Great is the register of the achievements and of the doers of the “Bund” and its institutions. But the brutal, murderous hand of the Hitlerites made all waste…

Translator's footnotes

  1. Shalom Asz's name. The writer is speaking about himself at the third person. Return
  2. both leaders of Bund and both executed on Stalin's order, in December 1942. Return
  3. of the alphabet. Return
  4. Shmuel Niger, writer, literary critic and historian, June 15 1883 – December 24, 1955 New Yor. Return
  5. Dr Józef Kruk, December 5, 1885 Czėstochowa – July 6, 1972 Jerusalem. Return
  6. Dov Ber Malkin, active in the “Culture League”, 1901 Grodno - February 12, 1966 Haifa. Return
  7. reciter of modern Yiddish literature, June 21, 1892 Lodz – 1994 Holon. Return

My Childhood in “SKIF”

by Pola MANCZUK–GOLDBERG, Montreal

Much more needs to be written about the varied activities of the Jewish Socialist Children's Association in Kutno than the following lines. It was obviously a blessed and creative work for the benefit of Jewish children.

By the time I joined “SKIF”, it handled about 50 children, most of them from workhouses. The work went in three directions:

  1. writing and reading Yiddish. This was considered the most important activity of “SKIF”. It was led by M. Ch. Tiger z”l

Trip of the “Tsukunft” in Gabin (1931)

    and N. Moszkowicz (now in Israel). The children were also taught to sing Yiddish songs. The teacher of the Medem school in Kutno, Chana'cze Fizacer, did this with great love and knowledge.
  1. a special highlight was the organization's dramatic circle, led by Medem schoolteacher Rywka Mandelman and Eva Kirszbaum, a Bundist councilor in the Kutno city council (who died in Warsaw in 1945, during the exhumation and burial of her husband Herman Kirszbaum, the fighter and underground worker).
  2. no small effort was put into sports and skiing. The poor children laughed so hard to spend time in the fresh air, in the woods, the fields and the water. The brothers Joseph and Kopel Kirszbaum (both deceased) worked in this area.

“SKIF” (Youth organization of Bund)


It was considered very important to send the children to a summer camp during the hot months of the school holidays. Such an undertaking cost a lot of money. Young and old spent a whole year collecting money and carrying out the activities for the benefit of the colony. We knew that the larger the amount we raised, the more poor Jewish children would benefit from the colony.

The last summer colony of “SKIF” was conducted in partnership with other neighboring towns, not far away from [page 199] Wloclawek, on the banks of the Vistula. The Jewish children of Kutno, Gostynin, Lipno, and Krośniewice, in the summer of 1939, enjoyed the beauty of nature, spent in a peaceful and warmer atmosphere, but everything was suddenly shattered. Later in July, representatives of the Polish administrative authorities arrived and closed the colony. The war was already raging in the air, but the children did not care much about it. Little did they know, just like the elders, that this was the last summer colony and that they would share the tragic fate of the murdered third of our nation.

May my memories be a memorial to all the children and adults who have found their spiritual world in “SKIF” …

[Page 199]

The Dramatic Circle “Yab”
(A bunch of memories of the “Yiddishe Arbeter Bine”
and its director Hersh-Meir Glowinski)

by Chaim Ben MENSZE, Holon


I first saw him in the Perec Library. He sat quietly, with a cigarette in his mouth. The slow rise of the smoke made his face serious and added an air of dissatisfaction. This face and pitch-black fringe were etched in my memory. Also, he cast a sharp, piercing gaze on everyone.

When I and my friend Osher came in, we scoured the catalog and found the number of the book we were looking for and we both happily ran to the librarian Shmuel Sobutki and asked for the book. We got the book and impatiently flipped through it. At the same time, my friend was quoting a piece of prose by heart and Hersh-Meir Glowinski, who was sitting there, was watching us both. He must have noticed our confusion, mixed with contentment. The thing intrigued him, apparently. He immediately asked:

— Who is rehearsing with you? What is the name of the play you are preparing to perform?

— “I am”, Osher replied proudly.

— Who are you and what is your name?, asked Glowinski with a good-natured smile, but in a contemptuous tone.

— My name is Osher and I am the grandson of the Ciechocinek shoemaker. I have long been playing theater. According to my mother, as a child I used to show a penchant for theater. Now, when I work in my grandfather's workshop, we both sing to the beat of the hammer. After my grandfather has drunk a couple of glasses, he immediately put the hammer away and dances like an eighteen-year-old boy. Him. Dancing a kazaczok, a kind of dance, so much so that the neighbors come together to see that wonder.

Without wasting any time, my friend Osher immediately sung two stanzas and asked Glowinski:
— Are you at least an expert of this song?, showing at the same time an idiotic face.
This freedom of speech and bold attitude made a good impression on Glowinski.
— And you, my young fellow? He turned to me with irony. Do you also play “theater”?

— I did not start so early, I replied a little bit embarrassed. At the synagogue, I recited various poems, we made a show on Purim and also played Goliath and the Philistines. This was the first time that, during the evening classes, I was incited to participate to the dramatic circle, with Nisan Frenkel, Menche and Pessa Prync, in Shalom Aleichem's one-act play “The Doctor”. The director was Shaje Trunk, the Rabbi's son. I played Chaim Lajb, — I answered with pride. — Now we have a team of ten girls and boys, we want to play “Motie Melech the Carpenter”. This is an American drama (I did not even know the author's name). We've been rehearsing for several weeks, but because of the outdated script of the rewritten drama, it was hard for us to read. We have therefore made some research and, indeed, we found the original.

Glowinski asked us for the address of the house where the rehearsals were taking place. He began to show himself and pay attention to the improvements that Osher made from time to time. Hearing the mangled Yiddish we used made him very upset.
— Boys, do you want to play in a theater?, he asked, quite upset — Teach yourself to speak as you need to and throw away the useless pathos. Speak simple, humanly, do not overdo it.
We asked him to take over the direction. He does this with satisfaction. We torment ourselves, as a matter of fact, strive to meet his demands, adapt to his comments. After several weeks of hard work, we prepare for the performance. Glowinski changed the name to “The Dancer”. The name is more attractive — he said. Glowinski got the approval from the “Cultural League” and the performance happens at the set time.

Glowinski and Osher share the profits equally. We are content to have our names written down on the posters and inside, in the programs.

The team disintegrated because Glowinski could not tolerate Osher who, by the way, had great impudence. They quarreled. Osher left Kutno and went to play in his hometown — Koło.

We formed a second team. Glowinski recalled his famous amateurs: Yosef Pakulski, Israel Epsztajn, Shaje Lichtensztajn, Pesa Prync, Ruzge, Chaim Grinbaum, etc. We began the repetitions for the “Wild Man”. Glowinski put effort and work into the performance. He demanded from us a pure language, a clear Yiddish word and good Hebrew.

[Page 200]

— Artists, he shouted, you will never be, but let's hear at least a word in a correct Yiddish.
He could not demand this from Shimshe Maczik, or from Reuven Treger, or from the guy standing around in the market. But from the stage he wanted to hear Hebrew. Also, curiosities were not lacking. When Israel Epsztajn said in his prose with pathos: “Today is Shabbat, laughters are on the table”, Glowinski shouted in a tooth-grinding outcry:
— It is not “laughters”, but “candlesticks”[2]. How many times will I tell you, eh? Why are you shedding my blood?! And when Szaja Lichtensztajn needed to repeat two words of Hebrew, as “nekevim nekevim, chalulim chalulim[3], darkness fell. Glowinski awarded Lichtensztajn with all the epiteths he had in his “repertoire,” for his analphabetism.
An interesting episode reminds me of when our prompter, Yaakov Meir z”l, stood in the prompt corner and looked at a player and meanwhile forgot to give the required words. Shaja Lichtensztajn hit the chair on which she was sitting, shouting “Enter the mother” in delicious Russian… The spectators, who seemed to have recovered from the sudden eruption, gave Lichtensztajn a long-lasting applause. Hersh-Meir on the other hand pulled his hair and shouted: “Gevald, what has he done?!”

Later, a curiosity was done by Mendel Kohn. He played as a cantor. In the first act, of course, with a beard — this was in Russia. The second act was then taking place in America, where our cantor had to perform without a beard. A Jew native of Russia meets him and asks:

— Eh? Where did you put your beard and peyot?

— Here, you understand, it's America, he replied. Nobody wears a beard here so I took it off…

Hersh Meir created a framework for our team and gave it a special name “YAB” — “Jewish Workers' Stage” in the Cultural League. Young extras were attracted, especially girls with good and lovely voices. Their names: Necha Caler, Rozenblatt, Rachel-Leah, Esther Frenkl, Roiza Pitl and others. Among boys: Zaken Asz, Fajwisz and Chana Blum. Zalman Kam became the technical stage leader and took care of the repertoire. Glowinski wanted to prepare a revue, something extraordinary, surprising. Scenery, music, and props were required for the revue. Kopel Kirszbaum took advantage of his relationship with Abraham Opoczinski. We allowed him to be present at our rehearsals. He listened and organized various parties and became an ardent supporter of our drama. His decorations were of great importance and significance to us.

Glowinski saw this, was pleased with the new forces and that our team was developing and moving forward. He put his whole talent and even more forces into the performances. He also created the music. Anshel Freund and Abraham Sztift helped him. The play “Chai Gelebt[4] that was just prepared, was created in the same way. It had a great success. Several times it was played in the old theater and partly also in Michalewicz House[5]. It was a revue performance. The popular program was presented with taste and flavor, pleasing to the eye and ear. The sketches and enactments of Shalom Aleichem, Perec and others, stood on a very high level and were also masterfully executed. More than half of the program included songs, poems, humorous dialogues, and staging. The Gypsy Camp with its rich musical content got a great reception from the public. Its dances in special costumes, accompanied by various soft instruments, light reflectors, etc. — literally captivated the audience.

With great love and appreciation, a serenade was recorded, sung by a stubbornly in love young man with his chosen one — a maid, who is afraid of her mistress. This was carried out by Necha Cyler[6] and Zaken Asz.

A big surprise was the performance of Chelemer Cantor with his poets, performed by Cuper, Nisan Frenkl and other members of the team.

It was an evening of humor, satire and grotesque. The extraordinary success was naturally a result of the effort and effort of the team, and especially of Hersh-Meir Glowinski.

Nor should the great contribution and achievement shown by Abraham Opoczinski with his artistic talent for selecting and adapting the decorative part to each item be diminished. The success was the recognition of the team and a great satisfaction for Glowinski.

With the performance “Chai Gelebt”, we also traveled around the neighboring towns, where we were received with great warmth. In the town of Kowal, near Włocławek, we had a bit of a failure due to the strong influence of the left-wing Poalei-Zion. This town was very much of a fortress.

Our arrival was planned on a certain Friday by night. As the placards carried the caption “YAB” in the Cultural League, it turned out that it smelled like “Bund”. This made a lot of fuss in town. The posters were torn down. With some effort we got the key to the room, which had been booked before. The police came to the room and demanded our permit. Our arguments did not help and evidence did not help and the evening was reported at the police station. We had to cancel the performance.

But Glowinski did not give up so easily. In a few weeks' time, he once again, with the help of the Włocławek Bundists, organized an evening, which passed with success. We later tried Perec Hirszbajn's “The Green Fields”, but without success, because Glowinski did not stop demanding from us more than we could give.

This is how it ended, until he left Kutno in 1933. He traveled, giving recitations in the western part of Poland and trying to alleviate his pain due to his unsuccessful career in the artistic world. Most recently, he has been an active artist in Danzig.

Honor his memory!


Translator's footnotes:
  1. Yiddish for “Jewish Worker's Stage”, hence “YAB”. Return
  2. Yiddish “laachter” ( “laughter”) and “leychter” ( “candlesticks”). Return
  3. Hebrew, words of the Prayer to the Creator, meaning “openings and hollows”. Return
  4. Hebrew and Yiddish, could mean “live lived”. Return
  5. the building of the Bund, in Kutno. Return
  6. probably the one referred as “Necha Caler”, above. Return

[Page 201]

The Communist Party and its Members[1]

By Chaim GRINBAUM, Holon

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron


The Situation of the Jewish Population

Kutno had more than 33,000 people, and Jews made up about 25 percent of the population.

The city had a whole set of factories, mostly doing alterations, connected with the town. Along with the agricultural–machine factory, the city had a few mills, an oil factory, a tannery, a sugar–refinery, a distillery, a match–factory, and others. The whole of Przemysłowa Street was built up with factories, workhouses, and workshops, and, renowned throughout the whole country and Europe, “Rozlewnia” –– a oil–refinery, whose production even Hitler–Germany bought. This did not however prevent the Nazi fliers, while bombing the city, from striking the underground cisterns, creating a giant conflagration in the entire area.

All these factories and important workplaces were, with some exceptions, closed to Jewish workers and tradesmen. The Jewish owners of the mills and other enterprises also closed their doors to the Jewish toilers, under the pretext of not profaning the Shabbat. Besides that, there was no shortage of other excuses, such as that the Jewish worker was a bit lazy, too clever, and too weak to lift a heavy load.

As a result, it is no wonder that Jewish workers were engaged in specifically Jewish occupations, such as tailoring, baking, hat–making, brush–making, clock–making. A large part of the Jewish population was occupied in small business on the market – haberdashery, textiles, kitchenware, confections, and so on, not to mention the Jewish stalls with greens and fruit and the Jewish female market–vendors.

Especially strongly developed was the clothing business. There could be seen attractive well–equipped enterprises. This branch (like others) had as its foundation the toil of Jewish home–artisans. With the onset of the season, Jewish tradesmen did not see the outside world. From dawn to late at night they worked, harnessing the entire household, in order to earn a livelihood; also in the dead season, when the workshops were closed for cleaning, the floors sprinkled with sand…but even in mid–season, the pay was such that it scarcely sufficed to support a family of four to six people. It is no surprise that need was a regular resident in many Jewish homes in Kutno.

Surrounding the rich streets, where the small wealthy part of the Jewish population lived, were found the streets and alleys of the Jewish poor and unemployed, like Senatorska, Podrzeczna, the groats–lane. The Jewish toilers, who for the most part worked in their own homes, had almost no support from unemployment assistance. If it happened that City Hall sometimes created an opportunity to work openly, Jewish people could not take part, either because of their own frumkeit, or because of fear of the Jewish clergy. When the worker Meir Kenig, of the Left Poalei–Zion, had the boldness to go out on Saturday to work, along with the Christian workers, the religious Jews made a frightful uproar: “How can it be that a Jew goes out on Shabbat with a shovel in his hand?!”

Kutno, the birthplace of Shalom Asz, was a long way from being the patriarchal–romantic shtetl of Mr. Yechezkel Gombiner, in whose broad hospitable courtyard “all were at home…” It was closer to the shtetl of Mendele Mocher Sforim, burdened with troublesome social contradictions.

Crowded into the narrow Jewish specialties, where the mostly poor tradesmen from dawn to midnight tried to drive out the seventh sweat in order to work up a bit of bread, their struggle against the rich Jewish merchants had often a tough, bitter outcome. Further, the Jewish toilers were compelled, in hard struggles, to yield such achievements as the laws of the state had ordered for the great private undertakings. But the Jewish workers, between the discriminatory policies of the Polish reaction and the anti–Jewish politics of the Jewish manufacturers themselves, had no access.


Social Conflicts, Clashes, Strikes

The trade associations in Kutno, and especially the strong needle–trade–union, always under difficult political conditions, had to carry on a struggle for the eight–hour day, which was never fully realized, especially in the framework of small workshops and seasonal work. Jewish workers had to tear from Jewish employers with their fingernails the possibility of benefiting from medical help from the sick–funds. At the same time the Jewish unionized workers carried on a stubborn struggle to support the younger workers against exploitation and chicanery on the part of the employer, against the mediaeval custom of three–year unpaid drudgery while learning a trade; against holding back for months the hard–earned wages, against not paying bills for delivered work… All these difficult, stubborn, long–dragged out struggles, were carried out by the Jewish toilers on the initiative of the left–wing workers' movement, together with the Bundists and the Poalei–Zion workers.

The strike in the tailor–workshop of Alter Hazenfeld was not a single case, but may serve as an example of the conflicts that

[Page 202]

we went through. In that workshop around 15 men worked–one of the biggest workplaces. The frequent conflicts were in part resolved through the needle–union, led by the communists, the Bund and the Left Poalei–Zionists. But whenever the employers felt that the union was weakened, they began to attack the workers' gains. In the workshops of Mroz and Falc serious happenings broke out, as the result of spying and provocations by the police. So, Mendel Zhurowski was brutally beaten (not a tailor, by the way) as the result of a provocation. So, also the tailor Avram Holcman was sentenced to a year in jail when the employer betrayed him as a communist during a conflict.

In the year 1932 this was the status of the Jewish workers: wages not paid on time; the workers not enrolled in the sick–benefit–funds; work given out to non–union home–artisans, Jewish and Christian; disrespectful attitudes by the bosses. All these together created an atmosphere loaded with dynamite. The outcome was unavoidable. The needle union at that time was weakened. The comrades Henech Chabus and Isaac Wecler (communists) declared, so long as we don't get paid what is owed to us, we don't work. The bosses wanted to shut these comrades out of the work. But the collective was united, and the bosses didn't succeed. We declared an Italian strike[2], but the employers had already prepared strike–breakers, precisely from the hooliganish Endeks[3], known antisemites. This enraged the workers still more. In the moment when we took a determined stand, the police intervened and dealt out blows with rubber truncheons. Later – taken to the police station. And at the same time the police neglected to get the bosses to pay the workers what they were owed. Then, when we were being held under arrest, other comrades carried out an action.

All the workers abandoned the workshops, which were then boycotted by the entire Kutno working class.

Very interesting was the conduct of the Jewish house–proprietors, who picked Friday night exactly as the time to evict poor tenants from their dwellings.



In Jewish Kutno were active the “Marxist Group,” with Shaul Rozanski, Yehoshua Moszkowicz, Jenkel Jakubowicz, Rusak, Aaron Szuster, Fiszel Sztajn, and others. This group, which had split off from the Bund and Tsukunft (“the communist Tsukunft”) above all with Jenkel Kilbert, Gradom Zyskind, Zosze Gradom, Hersz Kersz. These two groups in the year 1921/22 joined the rising Communist Party of Poland (one of the first secretaries of the united Communist Party organization in Kutno was the well–known Yiddish poet Bajnisz Zylbersztajn).

The political activity of the Communist Party was difficult because of its illegality. This did not however deter the enthusiastic Jenkel Kilbert and the self–sacrificing Zosze Gradom from carrying on a broad campaign of enlightenment among the Jewish home–artisams.

The Kutno Party Organization developed a large and active project in organizing illegal mass meetings in the streets, or in closed locations, with secretly printed material, calls to action, newspapers, in secretly pasting on the walls actual party notices in connection with local and wider events, or in celebrating proletarian holidays by hanging banners on electric cables, and so on. In addition, Kutno was the location of the district committee of the Communist Party, and on the Kutno organization fell the task of serving the surrounding villages.




Especially intense was the work of the comrades on the eve of the proletarian holidays, the First of May, the anniversaries of the deaths of the “three L's” (Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht), the Seventh of November (October Revolution). The police were active on those days, many comrades were dragged out of their beds, or captured in illegal work, and thrust into prison, often for long years. More than once was there also terrible torture, even to death. So, in fact, were Chaim Zakszewski, Tova Klar, Rusak, Ruben Goldman, Andrze Kenig, Rutke Rozen, and other comrades, sentenced to long prison terms. And the refined, gentle, charming, beautiful black–haired daughter of workers Gutsze Zelkowicz was sentenced to long years in prison, endured terrible tortures for not giving up her comrades in the struggle, and, in the year 1937, she was murdered in the Łęczyca prison because she had undertaken, as a political prisoner, not to wear prison clothing, meant for criminals. Her funeral was associated with a mighty protest–demonstration against Sanation[4]–police terror. Thousands of workers, Poles and Jews, marched together through the streets of Kutno, giving the last honor to the fallen Jewish fighter. The police agents, with Szuda at their head, stood helpless in the face of such a powerful

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solidarity–demonstration, though later in the night they had who to drag from their beds.

The captured comrades however were not abandoned. On the loose, there was an active organization of international help for political prisoners (MOPR), which organized legal and material help for the arrested persons and their needy families by sending food–packages into the prison, hiring lawyers, collecting money and so on. All this was done very much undercover, with the help of many non–party sympathizers. In Kutno there were many bourgeois people, who regularly contributed to MOPR, setting only one condition, that their names should not, God forbid, be mentioned or written down.

People of the left were for many years the most active workers in the union movement. Some Communist workers were for their devoted professional activity sent to the infamous concentration camp of Bereza Kartuska[5]. One of those comrades, Joseph Kam, today lives in France.


The Bloody First of May of 1932

With frequent searches a few days before the First of May the Police used to “create an ambience,” instilling fear by dragging from their beds the most active comrades, in order to disorganize the preparations for the May–Demonstration. But the Left workers also worked out their own strategy: on the eve of the First of May the activists didn't sleep at home. The same thing was repeated every year. On account of the growth of opposition moods in the country, we were prepared for greater May–demonstrations, but for such a mass–participation and for such embitterment of the demonstrators we had for a long time not been prepared, as happened in 1932.

Seven o'clock in the morning the workers began to gather at the designated points. Communists gathered at the locality of “Koło,” by Jakob Fuks. Some of the comrades addressed the people about the meaning of the proletarian holiday. Suddenly a stranger leapt up on the table and put a question:

– “Do you want to hear from a Deputy of the Communist Sejm–Faction?”

At length he began to recall the most important May–demonstrations of the C.P.P. against the regime, which was carrying out a bloody pacification in the Crescent[6]. The police on the scene began to use force on the people, who moved away to the old theatre, where were gathered hundreds of workers with their red banners. It didn't take long till the mass marched up the hill, in the direction of the church. The police blocked the way. The demonstrators forced their way through. On the way hundreds of people joined and on the main street a great mass of thousands of people gathered. At the City Hall the police erected large barricades to keep the demonstrators from reaching the prison. A great clash followed, and a battle with flags, wooden and iron clubs, and shafts from the peasants' carriages. There was a great uproar. The peasants wanted to harness their wagons and leave the battlefield, but the huge throng prevented them.

At last, the police began to shoot in the air. The demonstration separated into two parts – one part confronted the police, while the other marched on to the prison, from which were heard revolutionary songs and May–slogans. Soon there came police reinforcements and there was a clash. At the same time in the market there was a bitter battle between the attacking police and the demonstrators. All were jumbled together: peasants, unharnessed horses, customers. The police, not seeing how else to control the situation, began to shoot into the crowd. In the result of the battle, a Jewish woman fell.

In these events, which reverberated in the foreign press, many Jewish workers and students participated, and among them there were many arrests. The bloody May–days in Kutno had an effect on the Jewish student youth. The students Mietek Buki. Wajnberger, Baum, Lipszic, Shaje Szatan, and others, as a result joined the Party. Some later enrolled among the fighters of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War (in 1936). Szatan, himself a former Bundist, is the author of a brochure against the Bund.


Hunger–Demonstration in the Year 1934

When support for the unemployed was suspended, a group of youth went to the train station and took some coal to warm the cold homes. Police began shooting and wounded a young person, who remained an invalid the rest of his life. From the railway station the demonstration marched on to the City Hall. Just then came a wagon of bread, which was meant for the shop across from Witkowski's kiosk. The worker Juzwiak jumped up on the wagon and gave out the bread among the hungry workers, including Jews. One of the Jews, Nachman Treger, also found himself among those arrested. Juzwiak was sentenced to a year in jail.


The Kutno Prison

The Kutno prison was well known to all the people, children and grown, big and small, because when going to the Jewish cemetery or to the Christian one, like it or not, one had to pass the prison building, which was surrounded by barbed wire on a thick wall, to which was added broken glass. But what was going on behind the wall was known only to those who were boarding there…

From time to time, political prisoners were held there, awaiting sentence. So, for example, Rutke Rozen (now Ozhel), with Ruben Goldman, when organizing the Pioneer movement[7], were taken into prison and shared the same cell with criminals. The relations were very good. The political prisoners

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succeeded in arousing in the criminals' sympathy and respect. When the guards, not rarely, displayed brutality, especially to the criminals, all protested together. And when the political prisoners undertook a protest against preparing food in dirty vessels, left over from tsarist times, and demanded to be heard by a high official of the prison, the criminals supported the action.

After Rutke Rozen was received by the high jail officer, the vessels were scrubbed and the food was more tasty and cleaner. This was an important gain, but more important than the food, was the united stand of all the prisoners together. The political prisoners were once allowed to wear their own garments. But later that privilege was liquidated. The political prisoners more than once undertook protests against the brutal regulations of the prison administration. In consequence of these struggles the Comrade Gutsze Zelkowicz was transferred to Łęczyca and in her underwear confined in a dungeon. In the process she was beaten on the kidneys – and murdered for not wanting to put on the prison–clothes.


Unity Actions of the Worker Parties

As is known, the Communist Party of Poland, throughout its whole history, was bitterly fought against by the ruling regime, which saw in it the greatest danger to its survival. But so were the other workers' parties, on the Polish as on the Jewish street, fought against by it, by all methods… Things began to change when the Piłsudski–regime began to tread on the feet of the Bund and the P.P.S. Gradually the idea began to grow of uniting against the common enemy.

I recall an episode, when the leader of the C.P.P. in Kutno, Ankersztajn, in the 1930s, together with the Bundist worker Herman Kirszbaum, held an illegal mass meeting at a corner of Królewska–Old Market. Many members of both parties attended. When the police came, nobody was there anymore. Later there were a lot of arrests, but for want of evidence, all were released after 24 hours.

Here is a second characteristic episode from the infamous days of Składkowski[8] and his “owszem[9]”–policy:

Once on a market–day, when the Jewish small traders had brought out their bit of goods and placed them in their stalls, there suddenly appeared antisemitic “picketniks”, who did not allow the peasants to buy their needs from the Jews. This happened just before the Christmas holidays, when the peasants come en masse into town.

The worker–parties had been informed that antisemitic actions were being prepared. In the true spirit of the unity–front, a self–defence was prepared to protect the Jewish property. In the morning, at Hirszbaum's and Rabinowicz's, groups of workers gathered with clubs and iron bars. When the first “picketniks” appeared and began to shout, “Nie kup u żyda, swój do swego![10]” the defenders chased them away to where the pepper grows… Once again at this time, the police showed their antisemitic face, but did not intervene, fearing that with the resistance of the workers, it would come to a bloodbath.

In this way the Communists, Socialists, and Bundists – workers, porters, Bundists and tailor–apprentices – defended the interests of the Jewish population.


“You Old Bolshevik!…”

Just at that Old Market, in an apartment with two not very big rooms, on the second floor, lived Man Zylber, a tailor, a home–artisan with his family – a wife and five children. The windows of his dwelling looked out on the market. Man's home was however not devoted only to living in it and working, but also for other things: not thinking about any dangers, he committed his home to the Communist movement.

What then did not come to pass in that home? Deeply conspiratorial meetings of Jewish and Polish activists, and always – a table set with drinks and hors d'oeuvres; in the attic there was a whole warehouse of illegal literature, which was intended to be distributed in the surrounding shetlech and towns. Not concerned that Man's apartment was under steady observation by police agents, people from the province came regularly to collect the literature intended for them and the related notices, because the attic had a double exit.

The police agent Flichte more than once warned Zylber:

– Remember, you old Bolshevik, you will rot in jail…

But that did not in the least frighten such a brave comrade as Man Zylber was. It often happened that in the back room Rutke Rozen was sitting and leading a cell, while in the front room the police were sitting, waiting for guests. The frequent searches led to this, that the apartment always had a new shape… The police on purpose did not let him work, in order to compel him to give up the apartment. The police agent Szuda ground his teeth, seeing how the old Communist Man Zylber observed the First of May, and right in the front rows…


Mietek Buki

The youthful Mietek Buki studied in a Gymnasium in Kutno. In one of the History classes, he stood up and said to the Professor that he was misstating, that it didn't happen as the Professor had told the pupils. Buki then gave a complete exposition of the Marxist standpoint, to the amazement and discomfort of the Professor and the students. The result of Buki's intervention was

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expulsion from the Gymnasium. From then on, he devoted himself completely to the movement. In the year 1932, he was arrested in Poznan and brought before a court. He abstained from having a government lawyer, and defended himself…

It is worthwhile to underline, that after the verdict the judge went to Mietek's mother to say it was sad that such a talented person could not use his abilities to better purposes than in Communist work. The mother, a widow, wept with joy and pride at hearing such an opinion about her son, but at the same time she was heartbroken that he had been sentenced to a year in jail. After serving his sentence he came back to Kutno and was again active in the Party. He published two books of poems, just before the outbreak of war.


Chaim Zakszewski

Chaim Zakszewski came from a family of small businessmen, but even in his youth he turned to the Leftist movement. A tailor by trade, he worked together with his brother in Hazenfeld's workshop, and took part in the whole struggle that took place there. Whoever knew him from the area knew that he had a stormy character, with great obstinacy, and a firm belief in the cause of the working class. As his father's youngest son, he was greatly loved in his family, and his brother did everything he could to protect him from dangers. Chaim did not yield to the pressure from his family, especially from his beloved brother, to ease somewhat his activity in the movement, to stop making himself so visible. Nothing helped. He believed in the holy cause of Communism, for which he was always prepared to give his life. His audacious character constantly brought him to the most dangerous places, until he fell into the hands of the police. His arrest disturbed the whole city. What did his brother not do, to try to get him out of his trouble? He brought from Warsaw the best lawyer and moved heaven and earth, but Chaim was sentenced to five years in prison.

His eventful life was ended in the struggle with the Hitlerite murderers. In 1941 he volunteered for the Red Army and in 1943 he fell in the defence of Moscow. After his death his wife Salje received a decoration for his heroism. His grave is in a Belarussian town.

His wife Salje Rozen was also an activist and spent time in the Polish prisons. Now she lives in Poland.


They Also Fought

A major activity was shown by Hersz–Fajwisz, the brother of Man Zylber, whose home was also a location for the left elements of Kutno. Like his brother, he was constantly under observation by the police–agent Shuda.

Jankel Zandberg was active among the factory–workers, both on the Jewish street and the Polish street. It was not an accident that in our town, antisemitism had a meagre effect. This was the result of the education work in the factories, schools and other places, including the Polish military… Here, beside the Polish comrades, worked Chaim David Klingbajl, Malka Frenkel (deported from France with her husband and son), Avraham Sztift and so on.

These heroic comrades are no longer living. Klingbajl died in the Soviet Union during the World War, Malka Frenkel was killed in a death–camp, and Avraham Sztift fell in battle with the German forces.

Jankel Kilbert–a founder of the C.P.P. of Kutno, a man of great education (born in 1902), was murdered in 1939.

Gradom Zyskind – also among the founders of the C.P.P. (together with Kilbert), stemming from a traditional Jewish home, studied in a yeshiva. As a young man he joined the movement and later worked as a functionary in the Leftist needle–union in Lodz, killed in 1939.

Fiszel Sztajn – a son of a working–class family, a tailor, later went to Danzig and there became one of the most devoted party–workers.

The students: Mietek Buki, (joined the movement in the 1930s), became very active.

Salek Wajnberg – fought in Spain, today lives in France.

Lipszic – fought in Spain.

Bauman – stemmed from tailoring home–artisans, devoted party worker, did much for the youth.

In the Kutno Jewish sport–organizations were active many comrades and sympathizers:

Shaje Fajber, Freunt, the brothers Dukat, Bricman, all together, with the previously mentioned comrades Klingbajl, Sztift, Rutke Rozen, Abek, were active in the Jewish sport–clubs ż.T.G.S.[11]… Maccabi, later in “Morgenstern,” in the left sport–club “Iskra[12]”.

Honor to their memory!


  1. From materials of deceased activists, such as Leon Izbicki, Natan Klar and others, collected and arranged by Chaim Grinbaum Return
  2. TN: over–zealous respect of safety rules, refusing do work overtime etc., in a way that impedes productivity. Return
  3. TN: supporters of the antisemitic Narodowa Demokracja Party (“National Democracy”), abbreviated as ND, hence “Endeks” for their supporters. Return
  4. TN: Polish coalition of parties, authoritarian, mostly right–wing and antisemitic, based on Józef Piłsudski's ideas. It came to power after the May 1926 Coup d'Etat and remained until WWII. Return
  5. TN: now in Western Belarus. Return
  6. TN: western parts of Ukraine and Belarus, which were still Polish between the two World Wars. Return
  7. TN: organization for children operated by a communist party, modeled on the Scouts movement. Return
  8. TN: Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski, 28th Prime Minister of Poland (June 9, 1885, Gąbin – August 31, 1962, London). Return
  9. TN: Polish: “indeed”. Składkowski said he opposed physical violence against Jews, but added “but economic struggle [against Jews] – I indeed [support]Return
  10. TN: Polish: “Don't buy from the Jew, each to his own!” Return
  11. TN: Polish “żydowskie Towarzystwo Gimnastyczno–Sportowe”, “Jewish Association of Gymnastics Sports.” Return
  12. TN: Polish “Spark”. Return

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Events and Characters in the Communist Party

by Joseph KAM, Lyon

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron

The following lines do not pretend to describe the detailed history and development of the Communist Party in our city, but only to bring out some recollections of events and figures which helped to shape in Kutno the local organization of the Communist Party, the sufficiently important factor in the general Jewish labor movement in and around the city.


The 'misfortune' comes into the house

It is now almost 30 years since I left Kutno (in 1937), and since I was freed from the infamous internment camp Kartuz-Bereza[1], where I was confined for 5 months. I earned that punishment by my activism for Jewish workers and as secretary of the professional union of the needle-workers in Kutno. I was freed thanks to the unceasing efforts of my father, may he rest in peace, and the advocate Henrik Erlich, may his memory be a blessing, the leader of the Bund in Poland between the two world wars.

Our great fellow-townsman Shalom Asz once wrote that, “Though we are miles away from out hometown, something pulls us back.” My great distance in time and space from Kutno has even today not blurred in my memory the picture of the shtetl, with its beautiful countryside, the velvety green forests and the green meadows where we held our conspiratorial meetings; I remember well the hometown with her 30,000 residents, a third of them—Jews. Although Kutno was not a center for heavy industry, she was still well known for her agricultural machines, her 7 to 8 mills, oil plants, and above all as a great railway junction on the line Warsaw-Poznań.

Kutno Jews were for the most part tradesmen: tailors, shoemakers, bakers, porters, coachmen, leather-cutters and trepiarz (as those were called who worked on the wooden shoes, “clappers” in the years of the First World War).

I come from a successful Chassidic family. My father was a merchant. In our house there were twelve children. In “those years,” after the 1905 revolution, there came into our house the new winds and ideas. I remember that my oldest brother was the recognized leader of the Bund in Kutno. My father would complain that he had brought misfortune into the house, meaning my brother… My older sisters belonged to the Achdutniks[2]. In fact, the whole family went over to the Bund, except for two sisters — Zionists, who are now in Israel.


From “Tsukunft” — to the communist-youth

In 1923, as a boy of 16, I joined the Bundist youth-group “Tsukunft”, became active there, a member of the leadership. At that time the Communist Party was also active, with important influence among the Jewish and Polish workers in the city. Among their activists I remember Aarons-Henech Kenig (now in Paris), who founded the “ComBund”, the first representative of Jewish workers in the city council; Comrade Kac, who as a Communist, in his twenties had to flee to the Soviet Union (now in Paris); Aaron Skrobek (David Kutner), who came from the neighboring shtetl Żychlin, who developed later into a recognized activist of the Communist Party of Poland, a delegate in Warsaw to the Council of Workers and Soldiers, who was detained for 17 months in Kartuz-Bereza, and who since 1936 has lived in Paris, where he edited the “Neue Presse[3] and later, during the World War II, in illegal circumstances. He was deported in 1942: also, the Warcki family had its honored place in defending the interests of the Jewish population of Kutno; and the Szlenk family, especially the “wujaszek[4] (“uncle”).

From the beginning of the 1930s there was wide discussion in the Bund and in Tsukunft of the problems of socialism, the Jewish question, the Soviet Union, and so on. The discussions were sharpened when Henri Barbusse[5] suggested holding in Amsterdam (Netherlands), an international congress for peace. Yes or no, whether or not to take part in the congress, became the central theme of discussion with which the Kutno “Bund” was occupied during a special assembly, with the participation of Arthur Ziegelbaum from Warsaw. When I spoke, I supported the idea of the congress, and as a result I had the honor of being heckled by Ziegelbaum, who said, “You are standing already with one foot in the Communist Party…”

It didn't take long till I was over with the other foot also into the Communist Youth.


In the struggle against antisemitism

The Party entrusted me with a series of important posts and missions, such as Secretary of the Needle-Union, the biggest Jewish trade organization, member of town and district committees, instructor and lecturer in the surrounding province. After an appearance on the First of May, in Żychlin, in the HaShomer HaTzair hall, I was arrested. I also visited the surrounding villages, where the Party had influence. In 1934, I travelled together with Nathan Moskowicz as a delegate from the Kutno Needle-Union to the national congress of all clothing-workers in Poland, which took place at that time in Warsaw. Comrade Moskowicz represented the Bundist section of our union.

Meantime a wave of anti-Semitism inundated Poland. The pogroms in Przytyk and in Mińsk Mazowiecki showed the real danger. We approached the P.P.S. and the “Bund” about a joint protest-action. On the synagogue street, not far from the old market, a great meeting took place — one of the best manifestations of worker solidarity. Appearances were made by Herman

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Kopel, Juzek Kirszbaum, Lajbisz and Zalman Kam, Nathan Moskowicz.

After the meeting there were arrests. Over sixty people were arrested. Later only Juzek, Gucze Zelmanowicz and I remained for a longer time under arrest.

A second demonstration for worker-unity, and resistance against the antisemitic agitators and pogromists, was in the year 1936.

One Saturday night there was a knock at the door of our house. My brother Lajbisz answered. Herman Kirszbaum appeared and said that he had a sure report, according to which the Endeks[6] were preparing for the morning, Sunday, a pogrom in Kutno. It was necessary to prepare for self-defense. In the middle of the night there had been a consultation and it was decided that at 6 in the morning there would be a bigger meeting at the Bundist house named for Bajnisz Michalewicz. I and Jechiel Zauerbach represented the Communist Party. On that day nobody worked. Jewish tailors, butchers, porters and coachmen, as well as Polish factory-workers, waited in battle-readiness for the Endeks' provocation, in order to smother it at the outset.

I was responsible for the Podrzeczna Street.

Just at sundown the police came to the Michalewicz house and asked that all patrols be removed from the streets.

I still remember a united action with the “Bund”, following the establishment of the Popular Front in France and after the suppression of the Socialist uprising in Austria. In the Michalewicz House there was a joint meeting, under the chairmanship of Lajbisz Kam. Nathan Moskowicz spoke in the name of the “Bund”, I — as representative of the Com-Party.

As is known, the Communist Party in Poland worked in conditions of illegality. In Kutno, however, it was possible for us to go on with the forbidden work using the framework of the professional unions.


Let us make their names eternal!

The three Zilber brothers greatly helped the Party. One of them, who was in good circumstances, with his money and home address, made things easier for the comrades in their party work. A daughter of the Zilbers, Golda, devoted herself to “MOPR”[7] activity (aid for the political prisoners). When I returned from Kartuz-Bereza, and she brought Dr. Kleinerman to examine me.

Zigmunt Gradom—one of the first Jewish communists in Kutno, a son of a Kutno religious judge, came into the movement right out of the Beit-Midrash.

Chana Kenig is still alive to my eyes. She lived by the Old Market. A gymnasium-student, she would appear with fiery speeches, moving the youth. She was killed in the Sieradz prison.

Gucze Zelmanowicz, a tailor-worker, active in the communist youth. Killed in the Łęczyca prison.

Goldman sat five years in Wronki prison. A son of a dorożkarz[8], he was active in the party.

Isaac Wecler, active in the “Red” faction of Needle Union. A committed Party member. I believe he lives in Poland today.

Also remembered should be: Mendel Rak (“Paje”), the Zandberg brothers, Moshe Rozenbaum, Chaim Zakszewski (sat a long time in the Płock prison), the Rozen sisters of the Old Market, Ite Kenig (Falc), whose address was available for our use.

They all dreamed and fought for a better life…

Translator's footnotes

  1. today, Biaroza, Belarus. Return
  2. members of “Achdut Ha'Avoda” (Hebrew, “Unity of Workers”), faction of the Labor movement in Israel. Return
  3. “New Press”, a Yiddish newspaper. Return
  4. Polish, “wujek” is a maternal uncle. Return
  5. French Communist. Return
  6. members of the “National Democracy” party, right-wing, nationalist, antisemitic. Return
  7. Russian acronym for “International Red Aid” Return
  8. cabby. Return

Ten Years in the Society of Friends of YIVO

by Yeszayah TAUB, Melbourne

After many years of living and studying in Warsaw, I later found a teaching position in the province. But I was happy to leave for a work in Kutno, because it was the famous and idealized “shtetl” with a branched and beautifully developed social Jewish life, which resonated far and wide among Polish Jewry.

The job there as a teacher did not satisfy me very much, but for that reason I enjoyed myself in the warmer environment of friends of YIVO in Vilnius - and I want to tell a little about that.

The Yiddish Scientific Institute was less than 5 years old at the time. In many countries, reconnaissance work and various actions for YIVO have been carried out. But the foundation, which was established in Vilnius, only received its imprimatur after Jewish cultural workers and organizations had fought for subsidies in the communities and city councils, over many cities in Poland.

Kutno was one of the first to introduce a permanent annual subsidy for YIVO — both from the Jewish community and from the city administration. A “Society of Friends of YIVO” was established and even legalized with difficulty in Kutno, and at the first YIVO Conference in 1929 in Vilnius, a delegate from Kutno (Zalman Kirsztajn) was already present.

Among the founders of the “Society of Friends” are: the aforementioned conference delegate Zalman Kirsztajn, the community secretary Yoel Borowski, Herman and Ewa Kirszbaum — leaders of the “Bund”, Mordechai Tiger and others. The main work initially revolved around the material assistance and actions for the center in Vilnius.

Upon my arrival began an

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intense activity at the “Society of Friends of YIVO” in Kutno. An ethnographic-folkloric collector's circle has been established in the name of Sz. Ansky[1], under the direction of a recent teacher — an old acquaintance, collector and collaborator of the YIVO Scripts.

About 20 active members have met regularly every Wednesday evening, holding scientific meetings with lectures, discussions, discussing various instructions and procedures on how to protect, retrieve, process and send to Vilnius all kinds of materials and ethnographic material. Each of us has always carried a good and beautifully bound notebook in our bags (especially made for the YIVO Society by the famous Kutno binder-artist Metal), and considered it a necessity, a whole week, between one Wednesday and the next. Write, record and record at every opportunity all kinds of songs, languages, customs, curses, local words, jokes, legends or addresses of different people and places, where you will find historical objects, documents, pictures, rare books etc.

At each meeting, the individual works were sorted out and then sent to Vilnius. There wasn't a month when we did not have to carry a large pack or box of answers to various YIVO surveys, collections of poems, sayings, legends, current publications and books for the Bibliographic Center and YIVO Library, rare theater posters and pictures of past performances of local dramatic circles, old Hanukkah lamps, spices, tobacco pots and hundreds of other items.

I will never forget the hardships, sufferings and torments we endured when getting out and sending the train to Vilnius in a large, heavy iron and old-fashioned box, which used to stand for years in the courtroom of Rabbi Kutner, Mr. Yitzchak Yehuda Trunk, a grandson of the famous Tzaddik Rabbi Yehoszua Kutner and son-in-law of Rabbi Shmuel Borensztajn, who was a son of Rabbi Abraham Sochaczewer, the student of Rabbi Mendele Kocker. The ornate and rare suitcase later occupied a prominent and prominent place in the YIVO Museum on Wiwulski Street in Vilnius.

There was in Kutno an old YIVO-friend and devoted collector — Elbaum. He once received with joy, from an old Jewish woman, an heirloom dress from her grandmother, made of black velvet and silk, with beautiful handiwork and rare artistic stitching — of over a hundred years old. This was an important contribution to the history of Jewish clothing in Vilnius, a subject on which an YIVO-aspirant worked and wrote a treatise.

Among the collectors was a Chassidic fellow from the Poalei Agudat Yisrael, Yitzhak Kraut, who devoted much time, effort and trouble to collecting in his circles various interesting folkloric materials. His submissions often appeared in issues of “Yediot of YIVO”, which have always been used in the various YIVO editions.

The “Society of Friends” and through it the YIVO itself, were an important and honorable factor in the cultural life of the Jewish community in Kutno. Large-scale fundraising and the distribution of YIVO spending have always been carried out with the greatest success, and the Jewish community has appealed to all who bore the stamp of YIVO, with the utmost respect and politeness.

Falek Halpern, Dr. Gerszoni and Dr. Max Wajnreich have, in their honor and by themselves while in Kutno on a mission from YIVO, refreshed the lively interest, which our city has always shown to every call of YIVO:

There was an incident with a census on December 1931. The Polish semi-fascist Sanation Government then deliberately omitted from the census sheets the rubric of nationality — for obvious reasons. Who is out to fight for the Yiddish language (which had a rubric) even though Jewish? The YIVO Society in Kutno. We have printed, with the spirits in the printing press, a great appeal to the Jewish population, that everyone should remember to indicate Jewish on the day of the census and thereby mark their nationality. However, the posters were confiscated and its author (the writer of these lines) kept under close watch by the police, who wanted to find out who compiled it.

Our YIVO had another task: lectures by renowned lecturers on scientific topics, such as: Leo Finkelsztajn, Noah Prilucki and others. The events were attended by hundreds of people and the great “Polonia Hall” or the Firefighter Theater were always full.

I remember a case when two Kutno residents had a dispute over the meaning of a Yiddish word, during which one eventually abused the other... they came to YIVO as the arbiter — and have accepted the judgment with humility. I myself was once summoned on the eve of Yom Kippur to the Kutno Court as an expert and specialist in deciphering and translating a Jewish manuscript of a trade agreement between the well-known millers, the grinders, who had a money trial among themselves.

There has not been a single manifestation of a social or cultural character in Kutno that the YIVO did not take part in. Among our friends we had people from all political directions and parties, from all classes and strata of the population — old and young; There were also a significant number of conscious and educated women.

We have collected not only historical and ancient documents, but every printed Yiddish word, or about Jews — in other languages. We have strived to collect every crumb and scrap that needed to be preserved and contributed to the perpetuation of our lives in Kutno. We wanted to save her from destruction, catastrophe and oblivion.

Then came the terrible flood that wiped it all out, along with the Jewish life in Kutno. All that was so dear, dear, and close to us disappeared. And on the cemetery of Kutno Jewry — the Yizkor book — the “Society Friends of YIVO” and its loyal devoted bearers must be placed on a monument. They must not be forgotten!

Translator's footnote

  1. Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport (Chashniki Belarus October 27, 1863 – Otwok, Poland November 8, 1920), Yiddish writer. Return


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