The Jewish Socialist Party Zh. P. S[a]
by Yehosha Landau (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
At the beginning of this century (20th century) I placed myself in conflict with my home; I left my home and moved to Tarnow in order to begin living an independent life against the will of my father. The sturm un drang [turmoil] period then turned me into an agitator in the Jewish neighborhoods, more correct, in the voluntary Jewish ghettos in Galicia.
In Tarnow I first felt what it meant to be an independent person. I went to the Pilzner Gate, where young people waited in the tens or hundreds until a customer appeared for the labor force and would hire them in various trades and businesses for at least two years. There, on the exchange, the unemployed and the employers would come together. The boss would carefully look over the person whom he was going to employ, evaluate his work capabilities with his eyes, tap his muscles with his hands and hire a journeyman.
I also was hired in this way. Luckily, my boss was a cultured man; he asked me outright if I could read and write. His conversation with me was carried out in German, Polish and Yiddish. It happened that my answers pleased him because he hired me for two years as a sales clerk (sales employee). The first months I had to do all work without exception, also including housework. Incidentally, without exception, all entrepreneurs acted this way with their newly hired workers. I also was given various other work and my boss felt that this irritated me; they knew my ancestry and this, it
appears, led to me becoming a visitor in their home, actually a frequent visitor. In those times there was a complete upheaval in the hierarchical relationship between boss and journeyman. And I was lucky in this house. The son of my boss, an attorney and leader of the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S. - Polska Partia Socjalistyczna], possessed a rich library of which I was permitted to make use. His sister recommended that I become familiar with the Communist Manifesto. We studied the works of [Friedrich] Engels, [Georgi] Plekhanov, [Moshe] Hess and other socialist theoreticians together. In addition I began going into the beautiful literature; [Adam] Mickiewicz, [Juliusz] Slowacki, [Heinrich] Heine, [Leo] Tolstoy and other great writers became close to me, and my own.
|Yehosha Landau in 1904 in Tarnow (now in Tel Aviv)|
The Bundists' propaganda literature also had an influence with which I, as a Jew, was strongly pleased and brought me close to Jewish socialism. It is true, the P.P.S. had many, many Jews in its ranks, but we felt that as Jews we were only tolerated there. Despite the strong opposition on the part of the socialist leaders then such as Karol Sobelson (later Karol Radek), Dr. Diamant, Dr. Liberman, Dr. Perl, Heker, Dr. Drobner (who later joined another group), both Dr. Alders from Vienna, Dr. Elenbogn, Dr. Otto Bauer, Ignaci Daszinski, Josef Pilsudski (who then lived in Galicia as a conspirator) we founded the Jewish Socialist Party.
The chief founders of the Zh. P. S. were: Henrik Grosman, Yakov Bros, Henrik Szrajber, Moshe Papier, Yehosha Neker, Yona Blum and Dr. Fajner all from Krakow; Dr. Landau, Dr. Rozen, Dovid Fast, Dr. Eineigler, Winik, Dr. Mozler and Teper all from western Galicia; Leo Geldsztajn, Braw, Zomerman and I from Tarnow
The end of 1904 is the correct date to be recorded for the rise of the Zh. P. S., but this was done in secret. The first public appearance of the Zh. P. S. took place on the 1st of May 1905 when a call was published from the party in the Yiddish, Polish, Ukrainian and German languages. It should be understood that everyone who joined the ranks of the Zh. P. S. was removed from the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S). Thus were we, the Tarnow members of the Zh. P. S., expelled on an evening before the eve of the 1st of May 1905. The expulsion was carried out by Karol Radek, Szczalkowski, Zigmunt Czulawski, Dr. Simba and Huter. We [worked] to widen the expulsion and, in time, made sure that the professional unions of tailors, bakery journeymen, candle makers and hat makers would go with us. If as the Jewish Socialist Party we would have appeared in the May demonstration with separate slogans in Yiddish and in Polish, the P.P.S. would surely not have permitted us in the general May parade. But thanks to the intervention of Dr. Zigmunt Marek, we were not only tolerated in the general May parade, but we also were permitted, in the name of our 2,000 demonstrators, to make a statement to the 10,000 assembled workers. This first public appearance in the name of Jewish workers aroused the assembled crowd like a bomb Jews as well as non-Jews. The surprise was even greater that right on the 1st of May, the day of international workers solidarity, we Jewish workers came and declared ourselves as an autonomous party in the framework of the larger general socialist movement. Our declaration at the meeting, given in the Polish language, ended with
the words: We march separately, but fight together with the other national social-democratic parties, for the liberation of the proletariat.
The national question was one of the most vexing political problems in Austria at that time. The Austrian-Hungarian monarchy consisted of nine nationalities, and the Austrian social-democratic movement also had many nationality groups in its ranks. Characteristically, when all nationalities in the parties were recognized as ethnic groups, there was only one exception the Jews. According to programmatic attitudes of the Austrian social democracy, every national group had its own party with the rights of national autonomy. Only the Jews were not given this autonomy. They were not recognized as an ethnic group in the party. Dr. Adler, himself a Jew, could not decide according to the general social principle to give Jews national self-determination rights. He, like most social-democratic leaders of Jewish origin, did not want to recognize autonomy for Jewish socialist parties because that would mean for them joining these parties and thus give up their entire influence and dominion in the general Social-Democratic Party. On this terrain, the Zh. P. S. had to endure a difficult struggle with the P.P.S. and with the Austrian S.D.P (Social-Democratic Party) a struggle that cost a great deal of time, effort and energy. And not only were we not recognized as an ethnic group, they also did not want to give us recognition as proletarian in the actual sense of the word.
The Zh. P. S. did not have an easy task in such a situation. In the struggle to be recognized as a national group, it had to carry on educational work among Jewish workers, organize them, culturally and socially educate them in the spirit of class struggle. However, all of our efforts went toward organizing the Jewish worker, who was exploited in a terrible way. His workday was from 12 to 14 hours for a starvation wage. This reactionary-clerical Austria did not permit the introduction of the 8-hour day. At that time a fight for a 10-hour workday arrived in the industrial area of Austria. The S.D.P. carried on this fight. There were only 11 socialist deputies in the Austrian parliament because the reactionary election law with its curia-system permitted 20 property owners to elect one deputy and 48,000 workers, also one deputy. From this one fact can be seen how the political situation regarding the rights of the Austrian worker looked at the beginning of the present century [20th century]. However,
the situation in backward Galicia, where a feudal regime still reigned, was much worse.
And in the Jewish neighborhood? The greatest number of people, among them workers, could not read and right correctly. Religious enslavement and darkness ruled in Jewish homes. The clergy and the kehile [organized Jewish community] imposed their stamp on all of Jewish public life. How often had our important meetings come to nothing because most of the members were at prayer. I, myself, would strongly experience such people when we set a meeting at the union premises and it could not always take place on time; the members had turned the premises into a minyon [10 men needed for group prayer] and prayed Minkhah-Maariv [afternoon and evening prayers] there. Thus we had to work among an element among whom on one hand we had found illiteracy and on the other hand the constant fear of losing their workplace and income at a time when hunger and need reigned in the Jewish neighborhood.
However, the fighting spirit did not leave us. The opposite, the Tarnow committee of the Zh. P. S. decided just in that atmosphere that is described above to proclaim a strike, actually provoked it. Our demands were: higher wages and a shorter workday. We were uncertain about the outcome of this gigantic challenge. Two thousand five hundred tailors stopped working, which meant that 6,000-7,000 people remained without bread. The party treasury always was empty. At the beginning of the strike, the professional central office in Vienna sent several thousand kronen to us, but mentioned that we had no hope of receiving further support. The fact of help being sent from Vienna strongly encouraged us and we released a rumor for the employers that the capitol city would support our strike. This information forced the employers to enter negotiations with us, which lasted for a long time and were very difficult. There was a conspiracy against us on the part of everyone: the entrepreneurs, the kehile, the clergy and the regime organs. All of them wanted to stamp out the strike of the journeymen the first mass strike of Jewish workers not only in Tarnow, but also in all of Galicia. A great deal was at stake in connection with this strike not only the prestige of the Zh. P. S., but also the prestige of the entire Jewish workers movement. And therefore our efforts were multiplied. On me, then a 20-year old young man, was laid the great responsibility to lead the strike and I felt as if it was a difficult burden for me. Dr. Yakov Bros from Krakow and Winik, a tailor from Lemberg, came to help me.
A question of prestige suddenly arose during the strike and the negotiations. The employers were ready to carry on negotiations with the strikers, but not with me. But the strikers were stubborn and demanded that no one else but I (not a tailor) should carry on the arguments in their name (today I think that this was reckless on my part to provoke this strike, which at that time meant placing on the scale the fate and survival of the Jewish socialist movement in Tarnow). However, I was resolved in my youthful fervor and in my connection to the Jewish masses. With good fortune, there were no strike-breakers and the strike ended with success. The employers, with the exception of one firm, agreed to all of the conditions that had been demanded by the strikers.
The victory of a Jewish workers party evoked wonder. The Zh. P. S. became the strongest party in Tarnow; its influence grew higher than our strength. The elder in our party committee was Zomerman, 26 years old. I, the youngest, was mostly responsible for the party and professional activities. There could be no talk about receiving payment for such work. Without the material help of my father, younger brother, in-laws and my present wife, who knows if I would have been able to fulfill my assignment. Often, the Austrian regime would place active socialists, like Karol Radek, Zigmunt Czulawski, Stczalkowski, Dr. Y. Drobner, Zomerman and others in jail. I would also be taken in police arrest and lost my freedom for periods of time because of our political activity. My family did not forget me during those times and provided the necessary help.
As a Jewish socialist party, we had to carry on not only an economic struggle, but also a political one, connected with concrete slogans against the actions of the central government, municipalities and the kehile. In 1906, the Austrian S.D.P. proclaimed the struggle for general voting rights and held demonstrations throughout the country. We organized the demonstrations in Tarnow together with the P.P.S. [Polish Socialist Party] and Poalei-Zion [Marxist-Zionists], which were carried out with such a size and power, as if a general strike had broken out. All businesses, workshops and factories were closed. The post officials and the train employees joined the demonstration parade. The gathering began at the barracks of the cavalrymen in Tarnow. Over 20,000 people came to hear the joint demands of the Tarnow workers. Appearing before the giant crowd with speeches were Dr. Zigmunt Marek in the name of the P.P.S., the peasant leader [Wincenty] Witos (later the prime minister of the Polish government),
in the name of the peasants party, and I, in the name of the Jewish workers. Each speaker gave a short statement and we brought the adopted resolution to the district chief, Count [Julian Ritter von] Dunajewski, who threatened us to send the gendarmes and military against us. An answer to this threat came from me that he should not dare to do this because we could cover his people with our hats. He then sentenced me to 14 days in jail, but I did not serve the sentence because an amnesty for political prisoners was issued and I benefitted from it.
The political battle was fought with great bitterness with the arrival of general voting rights to the Austrian parliament. As the Zh. P. S. did not present its own candidate, we united to support the candidate of the P.P.S., Dr. Drobner, against the government's candidate [Roger] Battaglia. The Zionist Party presented Dr. Malc as its candidate. Therefore, the Zh. P. S. made a technical election pact with the Zionists, to vote for the Jewish candidate who would reach a run-off. Dr. Malc did not reach the run-off, which took place between Dr. Drobner and Baron Battaglia. We were sure that the progressive parties would vote for Dr. Drobner.
From left to right: Herman Kliger, of blessed memory, Yehosha Landau and Moshe Zajden, of blessed memory
The entire reaction [reactionary politicians] the Austrian, Jewish and Polish, with the help of the Catholic spiritualists, Jewish rabbis and the citizens of all ethnic groups began terrible activity against the socialist candidate, labeling him as a godless man, bribing non-Jewish voters with money and whiskey; the merchants made threats of repression and with whatever was possible they paid bribes. My father-in-law was asked to corrupt me with 5,000 krones so I would not carry on any agitation for Drobner. The brave, honest man refused this abominable proposal, but I was placed under arrest until a day after the voting. Despite this terror, corruption and other bad actions, Count Battaglia was elected with only a negligible majority of the votes.
Not yet having forgotten the election struggle to parliament, there came the election to the Tarnow city council. Our candidates, Dr. Zigmunt Szicer (one of the most ingenious heads among the Tarnow socialist intellectuals), Dr. Borgenicht, Zilbiger and Ch. Najger of the Zionists, won the election. I was elected as a representative, but my election was annulled because I was a year too young to have passive voting rights (24 years old). The Zh. P. S. joined the Zionist parties and Jewish democratic groups during the kehile elections of 1907.
We published an election newspaper with the Zionists, with Zionists co-workers Berkelhamer, Dr. Szpan, Dr. Yitzhak Sziper, Daniel Leibl, Elihu Tisz and Leo Feldsztajn, Zigmunt Braw and I from the Zh. P. S. The Jewish Democratic Zionist list won here, too. The Jewish workers then did not have voting rights for the kehile the reactionary, assimilated and clericalist institution in Galicia. Dr. Zalc was correct in the statement he gave during the kehile voting after the victory of the Zionists in Tarnow: We have stormed the Bastille like the French revolutionaries.
The open appearance of the Jewish Socialist Party, particularly its activists in Tarnow, created for it the appropriate relationship with the widest [number of people] in the masses. The party organized the young and stimulated their interest in socialist literature, books and newspapers. Thanks to the devoted work of Dovid Batist there was success in creating a magnificent youth organization of over 100 young people who thirsted for knowledge. They were particularly interested in Yiddish literature, acquainting themselves with the works of [Y.L.] Peretz, [Peretz] Hirschbein, Anchi [Zalman Yitzhak Aaronsohn], Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch. They organized public discussion evenings about books and writers.
We had to endure many accusations and fuss from the parents of the young people who were drawn into the organization. However, we continued with our work of organizing the young, mainly
the homeless and impoverished, and we made them proud Jews and class-conscious fighters. And we succeeded with this work.
I had to leave Tarnow in 1911 for grave reasons and when I returned to Tarnow in 1918 from the battlefield, anti-Semitic unrest had broken out there. We [Zh. P. S.] and Poalei-Zion [Marxist-Zionists] and the Zionists created a Jewish self-defense [organization] and gave the anti-Semitic hooligans into its hands. Many of the Zh. P. S. young people excelled in the self-defense [organization], and I met many of my students here in Israel from the organization who continued that tradition of Tarnow effervescence with their work and zeal in Jewish communal life in the kibbutzim [communal settlements], in the city and in the village, in the Haganah [Jewish paramilitary force during the British mandate] and the Israeli Army.
I again was threatened with arrest. I left Tarnow and emigrated to Berlin and from there, later, to Eretz-Yisroel. It is difficult for me to speak further about the activities of the Zh. P. S. Since then, I have always remembered with emotion and strong tenderness that time of youthful temperament, high idealism and self-sacrifice.
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