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[Page 198]

The Revisionist Organization

by Jacob Bernstein: Tel Aviv

Translated by Ofra Anson

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

It is difficult to write about the period that the revisionist organization operated in Biala after such a long time. Without any documents or written sources, I will do the best I can and remember.

At the end of 1926, a group of young people from the General Zionists Party were caught up by the ideas and slogans propagandized by the Zionist Activists headed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. We youngsters demanded an immediate change in the tactics of the Zionist organization. This demand brought about constant conflict with the local Zionist committee, of course. As a result, five of us were charged and appeared before the Party Court. The trial lasted a few weeks, and was a stormy event. As far as I remember the chair of the court was Binyamin Kliger, and Jacob Aron Rosenboim and Asher Hoffer were members of the court; Israel Goldstein was the prosecutor, and we were our own defenders. Our verdict was to avoid any Zionist activity in Biala for six months. The accused were Leibel Bialer, Moshe Leibson, Haim Miodek, and Jacob Bernstein. We appealed to the party court of the central Zionist committee in Warsaw, which cancelled the verdict and granted us full rehabilitation.

Despite the rehabilitation, our dissatisfaction kept increasing, until we started the first revisionist group in Biala in the beginning of 1927.

 

bia198.jpg
A Revisionist group
From the right by the flag: Henia Tzeplinski, Rachel Rosenbloom; standing: Tepermann, Sara Shwartzberg, Franie Argess, Rivka Teitelboim, Slove Hershberg, Haia Weissmann, name unknown, Ita Gefen, Rivka Belmann, Leibel Bialer, Rachel Weissmann, Josef Salmanovitch, Tchipe Jak, Simha Grinberg;
sitting: Eliyahu Lerner, Jacov Goldfarb, Golde Davidson, Kreidstein, Jacob Cohen, Israel Loevenberg, Hana Shneimann, Fishel Loevenberg, Srebernik;
kneeling: Maya Kramarsash, Haia Urmacher, Tzirl Sheinboim;
in front: Sara Rubinstein, Feige Weinstein

 

The members of the first committee of the revisionist organization were: Jacob Cohen, Isaak Goldberg, Abraham Rotenberg, Leib Bialer, Moshe Leibson, and myself.

Two to three years later, Revisionism was already deeply rooted in Biala. People from all social standing joined the organization, Beitar [revisionist youth movement] and Hatzohar Alliance [revisionist Zionist organization] were the most popular. Each revisionist event and each activity became a big happening in Biala and attracted a lot of attention and recognition. On Passover 1932 a Bazaar for the Jewish National Fund was organized in the movie theater Mirazsh. All Zionist youth movements took part in this activity, competing with one another. Beitar had a corner in the bazaar and excelled in the way it was laid out.

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The cultural and sporting activities of Beitar consisted of courses in Hebrew, Yiddish literature, singing and sport. Most popular were lectures and talks delivered by persons from the central committee. These always attracted many people. It is worth noting that among the visitors were Aba Achimeir, Dr. Wolfgang von Wiesel, Aron Propes, and Menachem Begin. Every year Beitar organized summer camps for the young members and sent the older ones to trade study and military training.

The Beitar convention which took place in Biala in 1934 made a strong impression. We celebrated the seventh anniversary of Hatzohar and five years of Beitar, with the participation of Menachem Begin. During the assembly Biala's Beitar received a standard.

Among the big events organized by the revisionist party in the city was a petition to evacuate the Jewish population from Poland. Despite the objection of the left–wing party, the majority of Biala Jews signed the petition.

I would like to mention some members of the revisionist party who were active during this period.

Baruch (Boleck) Hoffer was an example of a devoted member. He was an officer in the Polish army and used his expertise to give Beitar members military training. He was the founder of the revisionist organization The Soldiers' Alliance, and led it for several years.

Leib Bialer was the secretary of the party for five–six years. He initiated some of the most important activities in the city.

Samuel Glucksberg and Sender Glucksberg, who later became the commanders of Beitar, promoted the spread of nationalist ideas among Biala youth with enthusiasm and devotion.

The following were active in Beitar and in Hatzohar during different periods: Joel Shapiro, Samuel Swartz, Ita Gefen, Eli Goldstein, Haim Silberberg, Sara Swartzberg, Heinech Bialer, Shalom Feigenboim, and Blooma Kalichstein. All were killed during the German occupation.


The Mizrachi

by Moshe Bravermann, Avraham Brandweinman, and Yehuda Beitl

Translated by Ofra Anson

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

The Mizrachi organization in Biala started in 1916. No need was felt for it before that. The religious persons who sympathized with the Zionist idea were integrated into the general Zionist movement in the city. The first dispute between the orthodox and the free Zionists occurred in Beit Ha'am [the house of the people] which was located in Meir Korman's home, with the first signs of desecration of the Sabbath. Joshua Fisher, Joshua Baruch Rabinowitz, Moshe Bravermann and some others, seeing that their protests did not help, left the Zionist organization of the city and established the Mizrachi.

As the Zionist organization lost the apartment of Meir Korman, it was rented by Asher Blumenkrantz, who gave most of its space to the Mizrachi. A year later, when this place grew too small for the party, it moved to a three–room apartment in Motl Mintz's house, on Yanever Street.

Members of the committee were: Moshe Bravermann – chair, Joshua Fisher, Moshe Frishtick, Isaak Hochberg, Berl Zshelazo, Moshe Bankhalter and others.

A permanent contact between the local party and the Mizrachi center in Warsaw was established, who sent directions regarding the daily running and the activities to be held. Most of the work concerned recruiting the youngsters into the party's lines and attracting the adult population, who were not interested in Zionism, to the Zionist idea. The general Zionist activity, such as the National Fund, Keren Hayesod, elections to the Sejm and the municipality were performed together with the Zionist organization.

Members often gathered in the party's office, where they held cultural activities such as Hebrew evening classes taught by the teacher Jacob Steinman, talking and discussing Zionist issues and Eretz Israel matters. For the people in the city, hearing Hebrew singing from people that were truly devoted orthodox Jews, was a novel experience.

The visit of the Member of the Sejm Heshl Farbstein, the chairman of the Mizrachi federation in Poland, aroused a lot of excitement. It was in 1922, the eve of the elections to the first Sejm. Two other representatives came to the Mizrachi conference in Biala, Isaak Grinboim and Apolinari Hartglass. The visits of Zionist

[Page 200]

leaders were festive days for Biala's Jewish population. Farbstein's appearance in the Beit–Midrash left a strong impression on the religious audience and increased the flow of new members.

 

bia200.jpg
A group of members of the Mizrachi on the occasion of the Aliya
of Yehoshua Fisher and Moshe Braverman in 1924
Standing from the right: name unknown, Gedaliahu Kramarejsh, Moshe Levi, Berish Liebman, Rotenberg, Jacob Nirenberg
sitting: Itzhak Hochberg, Asher Hoffer, Moshe Braverman, Joshua Fisher, Moshe Frishtik, Abraham Brandweinmann;
in front: Motl Hoffer, Moshe Bankhalter, Jacob Kramarjsh, David Orbach, Samuel Koltan, Menachem Goldsac, Motl Hochberg

 

In the context of Heshl Farbstein's visit in Biala, a characteristic episode comes to my mind. The representatives stayed at Isaak Pizshitz's place. It was during the nine days before 9th of Av, and Farbstein avoided meat dishes. Grinboim and Hartglass followed him. Therefore they called Yakir Cohen–Tzedek's son, who was just about to finish a Masechet [Tractate], and they joined him in his study. When they were done they had the customary Seudat Mitzvah [ceremonial meal]. In Seudat Mitzvah they could eat meat.

After Joshua Fisher and Moshe Bravermann left for Israel, the activity of the organization declined. After a while the activity resumed, led by Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Levi, Jacob David Rubinstein, Leibel Migdal, Berl Zshelazo, Avraham Brandweinmann and others. New members were recruited and a general assembly was called by the committee of the party. The party was located in Berl Zshelazo's apartment, on Yanever Street. The first activity to be organized was Hebrew evening classes. From time to time Avraham Zhito from Lakov, a well–known activist in the Mizrachi Party, came to Biala. He used to lecture with a lot of enthusiasm about Mizrachi's goals and affairs.

In 1925 the committee brought from Warsaw Samuel Landau z”l, one of the Mizrachi leaders. Agudat Yisrael [an orthodox party] tried to interrupt his speech in Bet Hamidrash, but failed. Samuel Landau's manners strongly impressed the people who came to hear him. In a meeting between Samuel Landau and the local committee it was decided to establish a farm where the local Mizrachi members could train for the kind of work awaiting them in Eretz Yisrael. Samuel Landau with some local members went to Isaak Pizshitz, who owned a piece of land in Valla, a neighborhood outside Biala, next to his sawmill. Isaak Pizshitz agreed and with the financial support of the Mizrachi center in Warsaw a farm was founded.

Some 50 members stayed permanently on the farm, and learned agriculture in order to become agronomists. Cultural activity was also an important part of the farm's life. On Saturdays people from the city used to go out to the farm, to take a look at the fields cultivated by young religious men and women. After a year of training in the farm many youngsters made Aliya to Eretz Yisrael. The farm contributed to the recognition of the Mizrachi in the city.

[Page 201]

When the airplane factory was built in the neighborhood, the farm was disassembled, because the land was sold to a non–Jew.

The visit of the preacher Rabbi Isaak Dines, who came to Biala for the National Fund, was used by the Mizrachi for its activity. His appearance in Bet Hamidrash left a strong impression on the large audience. Parties were held in the apartments of Israel Finkelstein and Moshe Isaak Biderman, and Rabbi Dines sang beautifully songs of Zion.

In 1927, there were about 70 members in the party. A Talmud class was operating, led by the Melamed Benjamin Hersh Eidelman, who also learnt with the Beit Hamidrash attenders. Yet after a short while he stopped coming. We believed that the Agudat Yisrael rabbi convinced him to leave the Mizrachi. Some members went to the rabbi and argued that they wanted to study the Tora, but it did not help. His argument was that if we want to learn Tora we should come to Beit Hamidrash. Yet the Mizrachi members would not compromise and Berl Zshelazo taught the class.

Agudat Yisrael constantly fought against the activity of the Mizrachi in Biala, and the rabbi supported that struggle. Despite that, the number of Mizrachi members increased to 80 in 1927/8. That year the committee members were: Israel Finkelstein, Berl Zshelazo, Avraham Brandweinmann, Leibel Migdal and Jacob Weissmann.

In 1928 the lawyer Simha Bunim Feldman, a Mizrachi activist and former Member of Parliament, settled in Biala. Dr. Feldman enjoyed much sympathy from the local Jewish population, thanks to his simple ways. His presence in the city strengthened the Zionist movement; some people became devoted advocates for its promotion. Thanks to the energetic behavior of Dr. Feldman, many people became involved in the successful communal activity on behalf of the settlements in Eretz Yisrael after the bloody clashes of 1929.

Dr. Feldman was especially respected by the people for his religious devotion. Biala had never seen a lawyer who prays with the public in Beit Hamidrash day in and day out, walking with the Tallit under his arm in the streets. He would not appear in court on Saturdays. Even the Hasidim used to say that he is “a righteous man”.

Those days Yehuda Beitel, a member of the central committee of the Mizrachi youth in Poland, settled in Biala. Thanks to him a Mizrachi youth organizations, Hashomer Hadati for religious boys and Bruria for religious girls, were established in the city. The evening Hebrew classes resumed.

In 1931 the Mizrachi youth and the Mizrachi pioneers organization held a regional conference in Biala. The president of these organizations in Poland, Rabbi Elimelech Neufeld came from Warsaw. That year three other members of the central committee in Warsaw paid a visit to Biala's branch: Levi Youngster, Moshe Krone, and Josef Zimberknop. These visits revived the spirit of the Mizrachi members in Biala.

In 1932 a delegate from the religious workers of Eretz Yisrael visited Biala, Nathan Gardy from kibbutz Rodges. He took part in fund raising for the religious workers in Israel, Keren Tora ve'Avoda [the Fund for Tora and work]. A special talk was organized for the religious women in the city. After his speech the leader of the women in the Aguda synagogue, Beit–Yaakov, came to the presidential table and committed the synagogue to raise a monthly contribution for the fund. This commitment was an important step, which gave moral and material support to the joint activity in the city.

The Mizrachi in Biala strongly encouraged its members to make Aliya, taking every opportunity to do so. Thus, members went to Israel as rabbis.

Those days the members of the committee were: Avraham Brandweinmann, Yehuda Beitl, Leibel Migdal, Gedalyahu Cohen, Jacob Weissmann, Jacob Gefen, Shalom Kreiselman, Rachel Lustigman and others.

Mizrachi operated in the city until 1938, when Poland was conquered by the German Hordes, and the terrible sentence on the Jewish people in Poland was signed.


[Page 202]

Poalei Zion Left

by Avraham Lavi (Lemberger) Haifa

Translated by Ofra Anson

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

August 1917. In the middle of the First World War, a group of young people gathered on a Saturday afternoon in a small attic on Miedzyrzec Street and laid the cornerstone for Poalei Zion Left in the city. Their names – the teacher Yona Steinman, the brothers Avraham and Moshe Solski, Zisl Greenberg, Israel Yitzhak Sapir, Josef Singer, Menachem Finkelstein and others. The meeting was illegal, and the activity has been delayed until the German army evacuated Biala in the winter of 1918.

After the war Poalei Zion in Biala started different activities, gaining support from different parts of the population. In some respects, this was due to the influence of Yona Steinman, popular in all circles, who led the new party and displayed the theoretical background for its program. The party worked from a small place in the house of Shmerele Hochman (Shmerele the baker) on Grabanover Street.

For legal reasons, the work was under the umbrella of the library, which was registered in the Polish government as a branch of “The association for evening education for workers in Warsaw”.

Poalei Zion was started not only because of traditional Jewish reasons, but also for reasons of socialist ideology. Many members already felt the yoke of work on their backs. True, some members came from petit bourgeois homes, but they were on their way to becoming workers. They could not join the Bund because they were devoted to Zionism; and they did not find their place in the Zionist organization in the city because of its bourgeois reputation, so they looked for the golden middle way which will meet both needs.

The proportion of the elderly among the members was small in comparison to the other parties which operated in the city. But the number of young members, organized in the “Youth” movement constantly grew and most of the party's work was devoted to them. The small location of the party was always busy and bubbling with life.

The small, modest, party soon gained support among a large portion of the Jewish people, and two of its members, Yona Steinman and Josef Singer, were elected to the Municipal Council.

The leadership of the party consisted of distinguished people, who were among the founders of the party: Yona Steinman, Zissel Grinberg, Avraham Solski, Josef Singer, and Menachem Finkelstein. Later – Avraham Solski, Sheine Weinstein, Sara Weissman, Avraham Lemberger, Nachum Heibloom, Moshe Friedman, and Avraham Semiatitzki.

The party had a big library, which was enriched from time to time with new, high quality books. After a year, when the party felt the signs of hardship, the library remained the only activity and became the center where members could get together.

Similar to other parties in the city, Poalei Zion experienced a dramatic crisis, its income declined, including the contribution of the father–organization for local activity and new books.

During its existence, the party experienced many difficulties and crises. Nonetheless, it succeeded in avoiding inner conflicts. When the dispute between “right” and “left” took place in the party in Poland, in Biala all members joined the “left”, thus avoiding struggle and splitting. Since then the party was called Poalei Zion Left.

When it was operating, the party used to invite party leaders from other places to clarify the essence of Poalei Zion and its calling. Among others, Isaac Shipper, the well–known and well respected historian, came before the election to the Sejm (before the split between “right” and “left”). His visit remained etched in the audience's memory for a long time. After the split, Jacob Zerubbabel, Moshe Erem, and Shimon Ibshitzer (member of the Brisk City Council) came for a visit.

From the small location on Grabanover Street the party moved to Miedzyrzec Street, with the library. During the move, however, Avraham Solski, who faithfully worked for the library, felt sick, and it was moved to his house so that he could continue to take care of this cultural treasure in his free time, as he always did with endless devotion.

[Page 203]

 

bia203.jpg
A flower sale by the Left wing of Poalei Zion
Standing from the left: Levinstein, Abraham Semyatitzki, Lea Feigenboim, Haim Kave, Singer, Adlerstein, Moshe Feigenboim;
second row sitting from the right: name unknown, Hershel Felsenstein, Josef Singer, Abraham Solski, Menachem Finkelstein, Fradel Feingenboim, Mindel Woletzki;
third row, sitting from right: Sara Warshawski, Dostche Appleboim, Kamien, Cohen, Eliyahu Knizhnik, Semiatitzki, B. Srebernik, B. Levin;
in front: Haim Rubinstein, Hana Rosmarin, Sara Bednarosh, Haim Eidelmann

 

With time, many of the members passed away, but three founders who out–lived their friends could still be seen taking a walk on the Brieten Trotuar [the wide sidewalk]: Avraham Solski, Josef Singer, and Menachem Finkelstein. With the death of Avraham Solski, not only the two remaining friends, but the whole party felt orphaned.

In 1930–1933 the party started to renew its lines. New members filled the abandoned locality. Yet there was something missing: the idealism and romanticism of the first years; the cultural events; even the party's propaganda was weak. Only one thing was in common to all: the will to get to the top of the list to go to Eretz Israel and leave the suffocating atmosphere of the diaspora as quickly as possible.

In a short while many of the alia–candidates of Poalei Zion in Biala, including the writer of this chapter, met in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel–Aviv, and Haifa. They fulfilled the role of the party and became true Poalim [workers] in Zion.

During the 1930's, when Poalei Zion ceased to exist in Biala, the archive was sent to the center of the party in Warsaw.

* * *

In the 1930's the party became Poalei Zion Right. Its chairman was Aizik Shein (until he made Aliya). Together with Hashomer Hatza'ir and Hechalutz they became affiliated with the “League for the Workers in Eretz Yisrael” which was very active at the time.

(M. I. P…m)


[Page 204]

The National Funds
(Keren Kayemet le'Israel and Keren Hayesod)

Translated by Ofra Anson (Ideltuch)

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Working for the national funds was always an important part of the activity of all Zionist parties. The activities of the Zionist parties in the town were often accompanied by drama, competition and struggles; yet all these stopped when it came to collecting money for the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal). For this, special committees were established, made up of members of the different Zionist groups.

Money for the Jewish National Fund was raised on set days during the year: Tamuz 20th (the anniversary of Herzl's death), 15th of Shevat (by selling bags of fruit from Eretz Israel), Hanukah, Purim, and Lag Ba'omer. On top of these special days, Jewish National Fund boxes were distributed to households and were emptied from time to time; money was collected from vows, Yizkor, and collecting plates in synagogues for Kol Nidrei; greeting cards and calendars were sold too. Jewish National Fund tokens were also sold at every family celebration.

At the beginning, Jewish National Fund work was organized by a committee from “Beit Ha'am”, headed by an authorized signatory. Later, the committee was comprised of representatives of all Zionist organizations, who chose the authorized signatory. The authorized signatories were (in different times): Moshe Morgenstern, Yitzhak Hochberg, Abraham Brandweinman, Jacob Aron Rosenboim, and Aron Ribak.

A few details are worth noting. In 1920, during the Polish–Bolshevik war, Binyamin Kliger had to leave Biala and to flee east. He had some money belonging to the Jewish National Fund, which he had no chance to give to the committee. During all the time he was away this money was hidden, sewn into his clothes. When he returned to Biala he returned the full sum.

In 1922, when Ytzhak Hochberg served as the authorized signatory, a movie showing life in Eretz Israel was brought to Biala. The film played during a full week in the H. Y. Kastenboim's movie theater and was seen by all the Jewish population. For some of them it felt like a holiday, others carried the impression of the pictures from Eretz Israel for a long time. The income generated was quite high.

Another source of income was jewelry donated to the Jewish National Fund. A list of such donations was published in the “Jewish Folk”, Warsaw, number 94, 5.12.1918:

“From Biala 304. Feige Urmacher – a silver chain; 305. Rivka Fischer – a golden watch; 306. Rachel Rubinstein –– a golden ring; Rachel Weitzmann – a golden ring”.

 

bia204.jpg
Flower sale on behalf of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le'Israel)
Standing from right, first row: Hershel Heibloom, Hershel Cohen, name unknown, Motel Tietelboim, Joshua Piva;
Second row: name unknown (first name Roske), Judith Hopfer, Rachel Mann, her cousin Mann, Breindel Rosental, Sheinberg, Mindel Shlivke, Hana Goldapple, Joel Srebarnick;
Sitting: Moshe Preter, Binyamin Eisenstat, Rachel Listgarten, Yeshayahu Stalavi, Roise Rubinstein, Hana Shneimann;
In front: name unknown, Solomon Hochberg, Haya Sara Zubermann, name unknown, Rachel Holzheker

 

Income Report, Jewish National Fund, Biala Podlaska, 1933

Activity Hachalutz Hashomer
Hatzair
General
Zionists
Poalei
Zion
Visa Mizrachi
Youth
Mizrachi Beithar The
Worker
Boxes 266.09 65.89   22.75 17.33 31.24   12.5  
Greeting cards and calendars 5.95 17.15           0.8  
Bowls 4.48         2.25      
Vows and Yzkor 30.68   3.51            
Hanuka 24.05 4.9              
Shvat 15th 10.3 6.25       13.67      
Purim 3.9 9   5.15          
Lag Ba'Omer   11              
Tamuz 20th 4.05 4   9.7         6.8
Usishkin Village 303.24 106.38 200.12 27.49 28.34   35 1.5  
Flower days 110.57 106.63 2.27 7.37 8.37   68 1.72  
Family celebrations 22.85 10.57           3  
Notes and telegrams 19.5     4.5   4.75      
Foresting Eretz Israel   13.7              
Rain Donation 12.5 16.44              
Pocket boxes   17.59              
Special activity 1.5                
Left from 1932                  

 

Secretary and treasurer: Yeshayahu Stolovi
Authorized signatory: Y. A. Rosenboim

Minutes of the Audit committee

We have checked the books of the Jewish National Fund in Biala Podlaska, the income receipts and all documents related to the bookkeeping, and found that all has been done in good order.

The audit committee: M. Morgenstern, Rachel Listgarten, Y. Weismann.

Biala Podlaska, 5th of Heshvan, 1933.

(“Podlaska's Life”, number 40, 19.10. 1934

The financial report of 1934 presented above, shows that despite the diversity of Zionist groups operating in Biala before WWII, all were united in working for the Jewish National Fund.

During the week of Passover 1932, the Jewish National Fund held a bazaar in H.Y. Kastenboim's hall, and brought a festive feeling to the Jewish population. It left a very good impression.

* * *

Following the setting up of the United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod) at the Zionist international conference in London in 1920, Zionist activity in Biala resumed and the town started collecting money for a settlement fund, which was called “Keren Hageula” [Redemption Fund, O.A.]. The major operation on behalf of the United Israel Appeal started in 1922. Rabbi Yitzhak Dines and Shapiro came to Biala from the center in Warsaw. Their presence in the town shook the people, and a large sum of money was promised, of which some was given in cash, and some in periodical payments. These commitments were based on future income, and were far greater than the assets the Zionist already had. Contributions to the United Israel Appeal became an annual event, together with the annual collection of funds for Zionist organizations. Binyamin Kliger chaired the United Israel Appeal committee, which included delegates from the different Zionist groups.


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The “Bund”

Gedaliahu Braverman, (Petah Tikva [Israel])

Translated by Ofra Anson (Ideltuch)

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

a. From the start to 1918

Different stories have been told about the establishment of the Bund in Biala, some of which have become real legends. This is not surprising. In almost a hundred years, Jewish life in Biala had not changed. The dominant slogan was to go “baderech hayeshara” [in the righteous path]. To respect the rich man, who held the power to help others earn a few pennies; and of course, the religious officials, whom everyone was obliged to honor as they were Those who taught you to be a Jew. And what about the authorities? One would not dare to express a thought or a word of complaint.

When I was a young boy, I used to hear stories about the Bund, passed on by word of mouth. Like everywhere else, the women were first to get news of this wonder, and the first to spread the word. A woman in Biala, who happened to hear a noise or a rumor about this “nuisance”, could not rest in peace until she had whispered it in her neighbor's ear, adding, “let's keep it a secret”.

Each one passed the story on to the others, asking them to keep it secret. Slowly these secrets became stories, fantasies, and legends.

One of the many legends was that a group was established, who, heaven forbid, does not like the Emperor, and wish to choose another one instead. For that purpose, these people go out into the woods, where no one else goes, and there they choose their Emperor. He sits on a high place, and all those present swear their loyalty to him by raising two fingers of their right hand. Even the name of the chosen Emperor was spread around, Naske Hudesls, second only to king Matias (Matityahu). It was also known that the Emperor was chosen for a set number of months, after that, a new one was chosen.

I cannot say who first brought this “Treif” [abominable] idea to Biala, and took the risk of involving others, because I have heard so many different versions of this story. Some thought it was Baruch Srule (Israel) Mulyers (Weinberg), who came back from London at the time, where he adopted the idea of a free life. Others thought that workers from Biala, who were employed in Warsaw, became involved with the Bund there and were sent back with a mission to organize a group in Biala. What is undisputed is that the Bund pioneers in Biala were apprentice carpenters, led by Baruch Weinberg (who himself was a carpenter when he was young).

 

The first political process

It seems that the rumors and the legends which spread in town with regard to the Bundists in Biala reached the head of the police. At the end of 1900 several young carpenters were arrested, among them: Baruch Weinberg, Elye (Eliyahu) Bobkes (Hofman), Avraham Solomon Mendix and others. Shortly after, their trial started in the headquarters of the prison on Proster Street. The arrest, and then the trial, shook Jewish Biala like a storm. The Jewish community became fearful, because who knows what kind of problems and troubles the Bundists might bring upon them.

On the day of the trial, a group of Jews gathered in front of the prison. Some were relatives of the defendants; others were news seekers. The trial was a strange event in town: Jewish youth in trouble with the government? Never heard of such a thing! Shloimale Goldberg and Yosel Wetshik were present at the trial. They told the people that the defendants stood proudly in front of the judges, they fired their defense lawyers and presented their ideology themselves.

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Baruch Weinberg gave a three–hour speech, explaining to the judges the difference between Russia and West European countries, where the people are sovereign, and enjoy full political freedom; only Russia was left behind, and the people, who have no rights, are now struggling to achieve their aspirations. Baruch spoke with such glowing enthusiasm, that the judges were shaken. They could not understand from where this Jew took the courage to stand there and express such complaints and claims against the beloved Russian Czar. They were sentenced to exile in Siberia with hard labor, and soon after the trial, they were indeed sent to Siberia. A few years later, the Czar pardoned all political prisoners, and they returned to Biala. However, Avraham Shloimale Mendix had a nervous breakdown, and his father sent him to an asylum in Nizshne from which he never returned.

 

The Bund Goes Out in the Open

At the beginning of 1901, the Bund stopped hiding, with the slogans: “Out into the streets”; “Bring the tidings of freedom to the poor and downtrodden masses”; “Plow the abandoned field and see the new fruit”.

A committee was set up, with a mission to approach every young worker, men and women, to talk with them, and explain to each of them what they needed to know and understand. The meeting place was in an orchard, named “Birzshe” and to avoid the attention of the police, they used to say that they are going on a field trip. They decided to meet three times a week. They split up into groups, by occupations, each with its own meeting point in the park. Representatives from the party brought propaganda calling on the workers to wake up and get ready for the new times.

Among the shoemakers, the leaders were: Haim Fishtshatzer (a shoemaker) and Hersh Ber Aronovitch (a saddler). Among the carpenters: Shame Friedman, Elye Shimshele, and Itzale Stolier. Among the painters, who were quite a large group – Itzale Maler and Leizer Maler. Among the young women – Chinke Brachies and Sheindle Grinberg.

Although the movement recruited many youngsters, and everybody knew who the party representatives were, the committee continued to behave like an underground organization, for security reasons. The meeting place and time of the committee were kept secret. Party representatives reported their activity to the committee, including names of devoted and trustworthy followers; the latter were then promoted to a higher rank named “political members”. As such, they were allowed to accompany central–party members and sometimes meet with the committee. Initially, the committee consisted of the founding members, those who organized the party. When the party grew, committee members were elected.

 

Hidden Activist and the beginning of the political movement

At that time, the Tyomkin family lived on Proster Street. They were famous in town, though they were not involved with the religious community in Biala. Their son, Haim (Yevel), studied in the Petersburg University. During his visits to Biala he had direct contact with the Bund committee, and took part in their meetings and get–togethers.

When I was honored with the rank of “political member”, my contact member once ordered me to come to a certain street at a given time the next morning. When I arrived my contact told me to go to Braganaver Street, from where a second party member led me to Pesachl Mantcher's home, to a small chamber, half dark, lit only by an oil lamp standing in one corner; the flame spread a faint light on the people present, who were waiting in silence for the others. Soon, Elye Shimeles came in with the student Haim Tyomkin. The student climbed on a chair and started lecturing, explaining to us the idea of “social democracy”.

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In 1904 I met Tyomkin again, at a party meeting. By then the party had many members, and used to hold general meetings in a field. On sunny Saturdays, many came out to Lamas field to hear Tyomkin speak. These meetings have remained etched deep in my memory. In the middle of one talk, when all the people were totally involved in the speech, suddenly we heard a scream: “Oy”. We stood where we were, as if electrified, and the speaker stopped his words. Above our heads a red flag was flapping. When the speech was over, somebody from behind declared “It's a hard world we live in!” [Lit. “The night is dark!”]

 

The reforms introduced by the Bund

The Bund did not limit itself to propaganda and preaching about the wrongs of the present life. It also took action to improve working conditions, which were miserable, both economically and spiritually. The workers were strongly dependent on their employers; wages were extremely low and the working day often lasted from dawn to dusk. The Bund took upon itself to improve working conditions, and started negotiating with the employers. They established a strike committee, which started to teach the employers what exploitation and honesty meant. The first group to go on strike were the tailors, who were eager to improve their conditions, and included many old–serving workers. In order not to make too many waves in town, they started with modest demands: a 10–hour working day and a less derogatory attitude, particularly for the young apprentices.

As much as these demands look modest in today's terms, at the time they were revolutionary in Jewish economic life. The employers just could not grasp the idea that workers can have a say with regard to their working hours. How is it possible – they argued – to work only 10 or 12 hours a day before the holiday when they have to deliver the work to the customer? The demand that an apprentice–boy is not a servant was beyond their understanding. Although the employers were confused, they understood that the demands came from a social movement. In the end, they understood that they have to give ground, and after they gave in to the tailors, employers in other trades had to follow.

In one place, it was extremely difficult to improve working conditions, Motel Mintz's cigarette factory. Motel Mintz was a Hassid who owned a house on Yanever Street. Apart from the cigarette factory, he also owned a cloth shop in the market. He was an assertive person, who believed that nobody had the right to interfere with his business. When it was explained to him that new times had come, times when a young working woman also wants to be a human being and have a few hours for herself, he roared: “not in my business”; and added “they can stop working altogether and be completely free” – and refused to talk anymore. The girls left work and showed him that they can survive weeks and months without a job. At the end, when they realized that he was not going to listen, the town declared a boycott on his merchandize and his shop, and he had to give in.

 

The movement enters the orthodox schools and the Hassidic world

In those days, most parents wanted their children to grow to be distinguished students, good Jews, but not a crafts–person or a worker. What, a tailor? A shoemaker? These entailed no prestige for the family, and were doomed to a hard, and poor, future. A scholar, on the other hand, had a different path, lined with privileges and a comfortable life paid for by his rich father–in–law. For that reason, a large proportion of the young Jewish men avoided vocational training and turned to study the Torah in the Beit Midrash or Yeshiva.

The Bund members did not connect with the youth, whom they wanted to go into vocational training instead of living like parasites. They wanted them to learn about the wide world by reading Russian literature (secular Yiddish literature was still in its infancy). Under the influence of the Bund, David Kroses (Goldfarb), Joel Itzel, and Hanina'le Kling and others left their studies and joined the Bund.

The student members of the movement helped those who had left the Yeshiva and turned to general studies. David Kooses was one of them. He came from an extremely orthodox family and his father studied Mishnayot in the Beit Midrash between Minha and Ma'ariv [the two evening prayers]. David Kroses now studied secular books with the same devotion he had previously studied the Torah. He studied Russian so well that he later became a teacher of the language.

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Beside the workers, youngsters from rich homes also joined the movement, such as Motl Mintz, whom I mentioned earlier. In the movement, members developed a sense of solidarity, togetherness, and freedom, values for which one should be ready to sacrifice one's own life. The heroic behavior of Hirsh Lekert in Vilna was used as an example.

A short while after the Bund started its activity in Biala, traditional life started to change. Workers worked for a set number of hours a day, and after work they washed themselves, changed clothes, and went out to the “birzshe” to meet with other members, and enjoy political and cultural activities.

The older generation, which was deeply rooted in the traditional religious life, did not want their children to go astray. They warned the boys to keep away from the Bund, but were stricter with the girls. Parents were afraid that their daughters will meet, heaven forbid, a man. We have to understand that beside the Bund other radical changes were also taking place, against the old generation's will. They were angry with the girls, cursed the rebellious ones who wanted to leave the traditional life, but to no avail.

The Bund did not campaign against religion as such. However, when people started reading popular scientific and philosophical literature that explained to them many natural processes, their point of view changed, and it affected their religious beliefs. Many of them became anti–religious.

 

The assemblies of the Bund

As the party grew, it began to hold general assemblies. In summer – in a field or a grove; in winter – either in the Beit Midrash or in a Hassidic synagogue. These assemblies became an important part of the town's life, and had a festive and cultural nature. Problems, and the danger of falling into the hands of the Czar's soldiers, were forgotten. When the meeting was held in a field far from the town people really let go.

On New Year's Eve of 1903, it was agreed to meet outside the town, after dinner. At the set hour, masses of people gathered in the forest. Baruch Weinberg gave a speech. He spoke about life outside the country, the living conditions of laborers, and promised that the social–democratic parties, together with the Bund, would fight for the same conditions in Russia. When night fell and it became dark, they could not see each other, and only the excited words cut through the silence, promising to fight the darkness. When the assembly was over, some Bund members formed a gate through which all the participants passed. It was thus possible to count them – 400 men. On their way home, they were singing revolutionary songs.

The gatherings in Beit Hamidrash were organized in such a way that if the police approached, an agreed signal was given, and Beit Hamidrash was evacuated by jumping out of the windows. By the time the police arrived, nobody was to be found. Sometimes the people who came to Beit Hamidraash to pray did not like the “bond” using the place, and mimicked a false alarm so that the Bund members would flee.

In summer, getting together was not a problem, the forest, grove, and orchard could be used as meeting places. In winter, however, meeting places became a serious problem. They looked for a store where they could meet. In the courtyard of Hershl Lentchner's house on Grabanaver Street, a certain Shmuel had a sweet shop. They used to go in, stand by the shining shelves and discuss important issues, sometimes even quietly singing revolutionary songs. The store was so crowded, that it was difficult to move. The shopkeeper then moved his business to a larger store, and more people could take part in the meetings.

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The community cares for the poor

In those days, if a poor person fell ill, there was no one to care for them, and provide medical care. People with contagious diseases stayed at home and were not isolated. No effort was made to build a Jewish hospital for the poor.

One time, a young working orphan boy fell sick (he had no mother and his father had been taken to the army). He worked for Gershon Shuster, who himself was a very poor craftsman. He was lying in the workshop without any medical care, and when the Bund found out about him, it was too late. When the Bund activists Elie Shimsheles and Itzale Stalier went one evening to the workshop to look for the sick boy he was already dying. He asked them for help, but died within few hours. The next day, the Bund organized the workers, and turned the funeral into a demonstration against the leaders of the community. By the open grave, Elie Shimsheles described in tears the visit they had paid to the deceased the night before, and how the boy had cried for help.

The Bund took upon itself to ensure medical care for the poor. They searched for ways to collect money to build a Jewish hospital. The opportunity soon came. When one of the rich men of the community died, a delegation went to the deceased's family, asking for a sum of money, and the funeral was held up until the family donated the money. The family wanted to avoid the Bund's intervention, so they turned to Bharuch Weinberg and argued that it was a community affair, and the Bund should not interfere; they also understand the need for a Jewish hospital, but this had nothing to do with the Bund.

What Baruch answered them is not clear. According to one rumor, he said that donation is philanthropic in nature, and the Bund, indeed, should not interfere. Nevertheless, since it was a serious matter, the sum requested was raised and the funeral went ahead.

 

Political strikes

The Bund tried to organize strikes. However, in a small town it was not easy. We shall describe one such strike here.

After the tragic incident of the priest Gapon in St. Petersburg, the Bund stopped the protest strikes. In Biala, the Bund explained the incident in St. Petersburg to the public, and decided to hold a general strike that will include all employees, of industrial, service and sales workers.

A workers' strike was quite feasible, as the employers did not stand in the way. Closing stores, however, was a difficult matter. Closing shops used to be a punishment measure taken by the city's authorities to express dissatisfaction with the population. The Czar's police warned against the strike, and Jewish shopkeepers found it difficult to follow the Bund's request.

The night before the strike, Bund members went to the bakers and told them not to bake for the next day; they went to the butcheries and groceries and asked them not to open their shops the next day. That evening the Czar's police started to have a feeling that something was happening. In those days, the streets were lit by petrol–lamps, which were lit every evening and hung on a high post. That night all lamps were broken by heavy stones, and the town was dark.

When the police found out that a strike was planned for the next day, they raided the houses of Bund activists and arrested a few of them, such as, Elie Shimsheles; Shama Friedman, and Shiye Binyamin Leibeles (Joshua Mandelboim). Yet this did not stop the strike.

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The next day, a frozen winter day, the workers stayed at home, some groceries were open, some were closed. The police went to each shopkeeper who did not open his store, and brought him from his home to the store; yet as soon as the police left, Bund activists told him to close. It he refused they closed the doors from the outside. When they could not do that, they threw stones into the shop. The police were after the Bund activists throughout the day, but could not stop them; they considered calling in the army to help. The police did manage to catch about ten men, who were imprisoned for few months. Some were sent out to other regions after they were released. Among them was Feivel Mitten, nicknamed “Jabe”. [Frog]

 

The “The Fighting Unit” of the Bund

Officially, the Bund was against terror, but there was a group of armed activists, who were ready to take any action, and to use physical force if necessary. This armed group called itself “The Fighting Unit”, and included members of the movement with a very high level of commitment. People who wanted to join this group were examined carefully before they were admitted. The first question they were asked was, whether or not they were ready to sacrifice their life if needed. If the candidate answered “yes” with no hesitation, he was recruited; but if he thought for a second, he was rejected.

The armed group included 30 healthy young men. I remember a few of them, for example: Anchel Katzap (Bekerman); Moshe Ishtsher; Haim Fishtshatzer; Nachke Feldman; Shiya Benyamin Leibekes; the white Meir, and Haninale Kling. If I am not mistaken, Yesha'ayahu Weinbrg also belonged to this group. The armaments came from the center. They used to practice the equipment outside the town, overseen by Leiser Molyer who came from Lodz and was experienced in training such groups.

 

Informers

Informers troubled the Bund in Biala. They did not come from inside the Bund, but from the general public, and for several reasons: for easy money, which the police were ready to pay informers, and as a revenge on those who lead Jewish children astray. There were frequent arrests, and the prison in Biala often hosted members of the Bund.

The armed group of the Bund decided to find the informers and punish them. Three of the informers were indeed discovered. One of the informers, a craftsman, became so frightened that he left Biala with his family. The second one, a merchant, was shot and wounded in his store. The third was an embittered person, who was not afraid of anyone, and always carried a gun. He went to Warsaw by train quite often, in the Czar's service, riding first class. He used to hide, avoiding contact with strangers and thus suspicious people. But to no avail: one summer evening he was caught and punished as he deserved.

The way in which the death sentence was executed is interesting. From the train station the informer used to travel into town by carriage, with a covered roof so that he could not be seen. The evening of the operation, an elegantly dressed lady approached him, and asked him in Russian to allow her to travel with him in the same carriage. When the carriage reached the bridge over the river, the lady pulled out a gun, shot him a few times, and disappeared. It was not generally known that the lady was actually a disguised member of the “The Fighting Unit” of the Bund of Biala.

 

Open demonstrations

At the end of 1905, the Czar's government published a manifesto about the constitution and general elections to the parliament (Duma). The Bund in Biala called a general assembly to explain to the population the real meaning of the freedom the Czar was giving his subjects. The meeting took place in the synagogue, which was filled with people from all walks of life. The speaker came from the center, and his words enchanted the audience. After the meeting, the “The Fighting Unit” formed a ring, in which most of those present were caught, and lead them through the town for a demonstration, calling slogans against the Czar.

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The police were at that time in Pijshits's house in the market, at the end of Yanover Street. The chief of the police was Kareniov, who was known by his liberal attitudes. When the demonstration left the synagogue and started marching towards the police station, and the policemen heard the noise and the anti–Czar shouts, Kareniov left his room and prevented his men from confronting the crowd.

The demonstration went smoothly through the town up to the prison on Proster Street, where some Bund members were imprisoned. In front of the prison, they demanded to release the prisoners and sang revolutionary songs.

 

Fighting with the underworld

Before the Bund started to operate in Biala, the Jewish community had been terrorized by criminals. Thieves, delinquent youth, hooligans, and parasites bullied the Jews and blackmailed them in different ways. On Purim and Simchat Tora they used to get drunk, go into the synagogues and attack whoever came near them. Sometimes people had to hide behind closed doors for the fear of them, nobody stood up to them.

The Bund tried to work with these outlaws, to change them to normative workers. Yet they succeeded with only a few–; most remained untouched by these efforts. At the beginning these negative elements were upset by the new power which had arrived on the Jewish streets. It disturbed their freedom to do as they liked. They tried to behave provocatively during the meetings organized by the Bund; pull faces, talk and shout during speeches. Yet they were not met with fear, nor with submission, and were asked to leave. They tolerated this attitude for the time being, but prepared for a future confrontation.

The Bund in Biala had a strong belligerent spirit, some members were strong and heavily built. For example: Antshe Katsap (Backerman); Chonke Niskeles (the painter); the white Meir, Avraham Kamelmaker and others, who always carried guns. This group did not fear the criminals at all. One day it was found out that criminals were preparing to pick a fight the next day. That day Chone Niskeles met one of the criminals; he blocked his way and said: you want to fight? What are you waiting for? and pulled out his Browning revolver. The criminal fled without a word.

 

Self defense

During the pogroms in Russia, when the Czar's forces wanted to suppress the revolutionary spirit by setting the Russian population against the Jews and organized a pogrom, the Bund organized Jewish self–defense. They called the Jewish people to prepare for a possible attack. They organized an armed camp, recruiting people from the general, non–Bundist, population. They had different means of defense: spears, stakes, revolvers, weights and stones, and pieces of iron.

Biala's Jews did not fear the civilian population, which generally was not interested in politics, and had negative feelings towards the Russian regime. Rather, they were afraid of the Russian soldiers stationed in the town. There were eight artillery units in different army camps located around Biala, close to the highways to Warsaw and to Brisk.

On Sundays, when the soldiers were allowed to go into town, they used to get drunk and attack the Jews they happened to meet. They would make a disturbance, accompanied by Russian expressions such as: “jidi masheniki” (Jewish liar) and “rasresiat vas nada” (you should be cut to pieces). There was fear of a serious attack on the Jews which would result in loss of life.

One Sunday about 1903, news arrived that the soldiers planned to attack the Jews and their houses that evening. The self–defense group took their arms and stood in groups next to the Jewish homes. Indeed, in the evening drunk soldiers came shouting “davai Jidi!” [give us Jews] intending to storm Jewish houses. The waiting self–defense men resisted, prevented them from robbing, attacked them using their armaments, and the soldiers withdrew. It should be said the soldiers were unarmed; had they been armed, who knows what the results of their attack would have been.

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The next day the self–defense members were in a very high mood. Each group shared their previous night's experience with the others. Some of them had been attacked themselves. The soldiers never came back.

 

The crisis

In an effort to repress the revolutionary movement, the Czar decided to establish an organization of peoples' representatives, on the other hand kept looking for ways to destroy the revolutionary elements. The ruler wanted to subdue the revolutionary enthusiasm and encourage despair about possible change. The change in mood was felt in Biala too. Guides from the center stopped coming, and the work of the Bund almost ceased. The more energetic members turned to cultural and social activities, but these, of course, were on a smaller scale than activities lead by a party.

As long as the party was there, with a united ideology, people were more willing to put their own interests aside. However, when the party stopped its activities, the members started to look around, to seek out their own goals. One result of this process was emigration from Biala. Among those who left were: Leiser Maler; Elye Shimsheles and his fiancie; Avraham Kamelmaker with his sister; David Kroses (who went to Paris and returned after a short while); Hane Niskeles the white Meir and others.

The young heirs of the Bund in Biala started to take over the party and continue its work. When Haninale Kling (one of the Bund activists in Biala) started to get ready to leave, he told me, Elyahu Reiseles (Klatch); Moshe Benyamin Tsharni, and two others that he will hand us over the armaments collected by the armed Bund group, “The Fighting Unit”.

It was about 1908. At the set hour, we were led by Haninale Kling to “Zapye” forest. He pointed at a high tree with a bent, broken looking treetop, and said that the armaments are hidden under that tree.

When we arrived at the tree, he touched the ground with a piece of metal he had on him, and found the place after some time. We dug with some tools we had with us, until we found an iron box. We took it out, and only after a long time managed to open it because it was rusty. We were shocked when we opened the box: all the arms were lying in water. We counted more than thirty revolvers, some of them rusted beyond use. Parts of them were made of nickel and were still a little shiny. Knives and bullets were also rusted. We spilled out the water and started to clean the arms with our handkerchiefs. We were so busy, that we did not notice the time. When it got dark, we put oil on everything, and stuffed it back in the box. Haninale left with tears in his eyes.

What happened to the box later – I do not know. Some trees were uprooted by Christians to develop a business. I went there few times and found our tree in the middle of a flowering garden. During the First World War, the Germans occupied Biala and cut down all the forests, including our marker tree.

 

The Bund stops its activity

The bourgeoisie were overjoyed at the decline of the Bund. They were quite annoyed by the constant demands of their workers, the strikes, and the demand to close stores and groceries. It has been told that in the Gur Shtiebl [Hassidic synagogue] the fall of the Bund and the defeat of the strikers was celebrated on Simchat Tora, and that a special song was sang:

“Yente the beauty
A telegram arrived;
All strikes are finished,
No more threats
Be happy on Simchat Tora.”

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They maintained and developed the library. They used to go out to the forest on Saturdays were they held discussions on different problems. They were sure that the crisis was a short–term one. In 1910 they decided to celebrate May Day. The event was organized in the same way as it had been in previous years. Each member of the group, that is, Elyahu Klatch; Moshe Benyamin Tsharni; Moshe Finkelstien; Joel Fingerhut and I were responsible to encourage workshop workers and readers from the library to be out on the street on the evening of the First of May.

It was decided to hold the assembly on Yanover Avenue, to go down to the field, to a secluded corner next to the Jewish cemetery. That evening two of the organizers went down to the corner to wait for the people, while the other organizers went out to send the people to the meeting place. Only two or three people were on the streets so it would not look suspicious. In the meeting, Elyahu Klatch explained the meaning of May Day, and reviewed the political situation. After that, participants went home.

 

The first attempt to found a professional organization

In 1909, Nehemiah Hoffer set up a workshop for mechanical shoe making in Biala. After some time he recruited his two brothers, Asher and Mathithyahu, and his Brother–in–law, Benyamin Kliger, as partners. The workshop developed into a factory, which employed some forty workers. The work methods followed those of modern industry, with travelers (Mathithyahu Hoffer), who went to the distant towns to set up production. In this factory there developed the first professional organization in Biala. They conducted their activities under quite primitive conditions, without a secretary and without a location. They used to meet on the street to discuss their affairs. They even called a strike on behalf of the workers.

 

During the First World War

During the German occupation, the Bund could not be active in any way. They thus turned to social work. They helped set up a public kitchen, as well as organize literature and drama groups. New members joined the Bund: Mordechai Hachman, a refugee from Brisk; Miriam, born in Biala, but lived in Vilna and came to stay with her mother; an old–time Bund activist, Chone Freind, returned to Biala; Shimshon Blankleider (the fat); Avraham Striecher, Ester Eidelman and others.

At the end of the war, when news about the revolution in Russia arrived, the revolutionary spirit in Biala also revived. Bundists felt that the time for intensive activity had come, on a large scale if possible. Bund members who had stepped aside after the 1905 revolution failed, became active again: Shama Friedman; Bahum Vorek; Eliahu Hofman, Hersh Ber Aaronivitz and others.

With the establishment of Poland, a new chapter opened in the history of the Bund in Biala.


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b. Between Both World Wars

by V. Schuster

Translated by Libby Raichman

In Biale, In the years 1917 – 1919, there was an intensive process of awakening, and the organization of the workers. A youth–organization was established as well as professional trade unions like: needle–workers union, metal–union, wood–union, bakers union etc. A cultural club was founded, as well as a library and a dramatic circle. The best journals, books and newspapers in Yiddish, were acquired and read in a reading–hall facility. All these institutions were absorbed into the large Bundist club in Grabanover Street, named after Bronislav Grosser, in the home of Motl of the winery. A consumer–co–operative was also established to enable the members to purchase food items at normal prices.

Through these professional unions, the “Bund” influenced the working masses, both politically and economically, and strengthened their socialistic awareness. These professional unions were led by the most capable Bundists: Shimon Blankleider – secretary of the central professional union; Moshe Rodzinek – secretary of the tailoring–section and Shmuelke Goldberg – secretary of the leather–branch.

The organization of the young workers by the “Bund” was not an easy matter because one needs to consider the circumstances in which they lived at that time. As they were spiritually miserable and economically poor, it was necessary to awaken in them the feeling of a new world and to teach them the path to freedom. To teach these youth, the Bund appointed one of their most talented members, Tanna Fryned, an intelligent person who was very knowledgeable. He would deliver lectures to the youth, gave them the appropriate books to read and led social clubs. Their thoughts and passions brought the young Jewish workers out into a social environment that lifted their spirits above their grey everyday life and gave them the hope of a more beautiful tomorrow. Thanks to this cultural activity, workers and leaders of the Biale “Bund” later emerged.

The “Bund” were already organized, and having an influence on the professional unions, stepped into the electoral–action to the first town council, for the first time. It called together meetings in the synagogues and in the halls that local members frequented. Members also came from Warsaw such as Hershel Himmelfarb, Yakov Patt and others. They strove to persuade the population that the “Bund” was not just a class party, but also a defender of national Jewish interests. As a result of the propaganda that the “Bund” promoted, it managed to influence the appointment of 6 council members: Moshe Rodzinek, Shimon Blankleider, Nochum Vorek, Chaim Brodatsh, Gedalyahu Braverman and Mordechai Hochman.

In 1920, when the Polish military began their retreat from Kiev, a wave of arrests and persecutions on a large scale began, against the leaders of the Jewish working class. In the midst of this, the Grosser–club with all the institutions, was burnt down and everything was lost in the fire. Some time later, the whole Bundist committee was arrested and its members were deported to the Dombiye camp. Among those deported were: Shimon Blankleider, Nochum Vorek, Moshe Rodzinek, Tanna Fryned, Fyvel Gold, Zissel Izenberg, Eliyahu Goldman and others.

In the first months of 1921, after the war between Poland and Russia had ended, intensive construction work by the “Bund” in Biale, began again. Members returned from the army, from the prisons, and from the camps where they were interned. Many of the members who returned were no longer in a fit state to throw themselves back into political activity, because some of them were sick, or physically broken, and others began to prepare themselves to leave Poland. It therefore became the lot of the younger Bundists to proceed with the work. The young Bundists threw themselves into socialistic enlightenment activity with a new enthusiasm. A new committee of the following members was elected: Chaim Visegloz, Velvl Shuster, Eliezer Shnur and Berel Solman. Together with the fresh committee, older members became active again and guided the youth on how to proceed with Bundist activity. In addition, members of the older generation distinguished themselves; in particular: Tanna Fryned, Shimon Blankleider and Fyvel Gold.

At the outset, they undertook to rebuild the professional unions. The first, the needle–workers union, was organized in the home of Shragge the shoemaker, on Proster Street. The management consisted of these members: Velvl Shuster – chairman, and Berel Solman – secretary and treasurer. The union also became a place of cultural activity. Discussion evenings and various lectures were arranged there. Later the professional unions for leather, wood and metal were organized. All the unions were led by Bundists. At the head of the leather union was the member Yechezkel Vloss. The metal union was led by the member Fyvel Gold and the wood union – by the member Velvl Charash.

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The “Bund” brought the best lecturers from Warsaw to lecture to the Jewish population on topical political problems. The town had the opportunity to hear the voice of the “Bund” again.

The Jewish working youth with their strong drive for education, their yearning for joy and their desire to uplift themselves, sought to satisfy, to a great extent, the ideals of their own organization. For the “Bund–youth”, whose organisation was both an instrument of struggle and an educational institution, stood the difficult question of training the necessary core group of speakers and leaders for the organization. The core–group had to come from amongst the youth themselves; there could not be any talk of bringing unfamiliar teachers or those who stood outside of this camp. It had to be one of their own, kneaded from the same dough. From everywhere, individual youth came forward who had acquired a certain amount of knowledge, and also possessed the ability to impart their knowledge to others. However, it was necessary to give the younger lecturers and the culturally active speakers, a program and a method, in order for them to personally clarify the role that they were taking upon themselves. For this purpose, young Bundists would travel to Mezritsh, where the regional centre of the “Bund” was located, and there they would receive instructions in how to perform their tasks.

The institution “Culture–League” was created in Biale with the aim of centralizing all the work of the “Bund”. The “Bund” in Biale always aspired to uplift the worker spiritually and morally. They managed to achieve this by systematic club–activities, through courses, camps, gatherings, public readings, concerts, presentations and by various other means.

As has already been mentioned, the library that was established in 1917, was entirely destroyed in the fire at the house of Motl of the winery. At the professional unions, a library was again erected, that was later taken over the Communists. The “Culture League” therefore decided to turn to the Bundists in America, requesting that they assist in establishing a library. Thanks to the determined efforts of the member Fyvel Gold, it did not take long before 10 large crates arrived containing Yiddish books. Every month the “Culture–League” would receive the latest literary publications, and in that way the library became the second home for a large section of the young workers.

 

bia216.jpg
The committee of the Youth Bund “Tzukunft” (future)

From right: Volf Shuster, Devorah Shuster, Klieger, Vechterman, Zinger, Leah Goldshtein and Berel Bekkerman

 

The “Bund” as a political party, was not satisfied with only cultural activities. At a meeting of the “Bund” committee, it was decided to organize the porters, the coach drivers, bakers and meat workers. It was also decided to turn to the headquarters in Warsaw about sending a suitable person, who would be capable of managing these unions. The appeal was accepted in Warsaw and a member Leibl Kersh, was sent as an instructor. He was truly suited to the position, both as a speaker and in his management skills. He took to organizing the unions, enthusiastically.

Separate unions were organized with one central office. The porters voted in an election and selected Avigdor Richter as leader, and in addition, the “Bund” member, Yitzchak Vechterman. The secretary was L. Kersh, the official from Warsaw. At the head of the management of the meat union, stood Shlayme Stop's son, Yakov Tsharny; chairman of the management of the baker's union was Kolker.

In 1933, it was decided to turn to the PPS (Polish Socialist Party) about organizing a joint 1st May demonstration. Conferences were held with the Polish Party leadership and it was decided to celebrate the worker's holiday jointly. That year, the 1st May demonstration was an impressive event. The professional unions of the porters, bakers, meat–workers and tailors marched with their banners bearing inscriptions, with slogans against Fascism, against anti–Semitism and for workers' rights. The porters rode in front on horses and the demonstration made a strong impression on the townsfolk. After the demonstration, a meeting attended by a large crowd was held in the hall of the cinema “Mirage”, where Jewish and Polish speakers appeared and from both sides, the struggle for the worker and the peasant–government, was stressed.

[Page 217]

 

bia217.jpg
A flower sale on behalf of the “Culture League” 1927

Front from right: Feige Smolarzsh, Chaim Zinger, Tsirl Mayerzon, Moshe Shneiderman, Shayndl Zusman, Shualke Yurberg, Esther Shneiderman, Mannes Rodzinek
Sitting in the middle: Fyvel Virnik, Shlayme Kupershmidt, Shmuel Chaim Vinderboim, Elye Hofman, Chanah Bravarek, Gedalyahu Braverman, Avrom (surname unknown), Moshe Finkelshtein, Wolf Shuster, Shmuelke Goldberg
Standing: Gittel Aronovitsh, name unknown, Moshe Koralik, Menuchah Koralik, Hershl Eppelboim, Devorah Belman, Yitzchak Brodatsh, Leah Izen
4th row: Mintshe Aydelman, name unknown, Feige Potshtaruk, Avrom Koralik, name unknown

 

In 1938 Biale became a centre of anti–Semitic unrest. The anti–Semitism was already emerging in organized boycott of Jewish trade and Jews being beaten in the town; a fear came over the people.

The “Bund” decided to turn to the PPS (Polish Socialist Party) for help in combatting the organized boycott. The PPS then proposed its plan to fight against the boycott. Their plan was, that when the anti–Semites stood with placards at the Jewish shops and would not allow Christian customers to enter, then the “Bund” would create a money–fund and the PPS would use these funds to provide suitable people who would be prepared to repel anti–Semitic attacks. The “bund” however, did not have any money and therefore decided to organize a collective–action amongst the Jewish population. They went out to the Jewish merchants in the town and presented the proposition of the PPS. The merchants agreed to the proposition and raised a suitable sum for this purpose. It is understandable that the issue was complicated enough and not easy to accomplish. A few meetings were held with the leaders of the PPS and it resulted in the forging of a group of Jewish and Polish workers whose task it was, to form a resistance to the anti–Semitic hooligans. The PPS hired mostly, unemployed people for this group. The first fight with the anti–Semitic picketers, broke out at the shop of Glikke Mendiks (Lichtenboim – manufacturing store) and the hooligans were driven away. The Jewish population breathed more freely. In organising this action, the following members of the “Bund” were active: Yitzchak Vechterman, Avrom Koralik, Fyvel Virnik, Gedalyahu Braverman and Moshe Shneiderman.

In this way, the Bundist activity continued in Biale until 1939, when the town fell under the rule of German tyranny, during which, after a few years of a difficult struggle, no sign of the Jewish population remained in the town.

V. Shuster (New York)

 

Additional Details:

We will add details here that have a connection to the activities of the “Bund” in Biale, according to articles that we extracted from a number of copies of “Podlassier Life”, and from the Frans Kursky archive in New York.

In 1905, on a winter's evening, a discussion took place in the synagogue between the Bundist, Boruch Vineberg and the anarchist “Aydl, the laundress's” son. The “Bund's” “bo'yuvkes” (guards) stood around the synagogue, let everyone in, but allowed no one to leave (Podlassier Life”, number 31 of 10.8.1934).

A revolutionary military organization was established, with which Boruch Vineberg and Velvel Tyomkin were associated. Through a member of this military organization they managed to buy a whole sack of revolvers for 12 or 16 rubles (“Podlassier Life” number 33 of 24.8.1934).

Members of the “Bund” stole crates of revolvers from the stables in Kshiver Street, that belonged to the policeman, Mossik. The revolvers were

[Page 218]

confiscated from Chaim Zeidman (Chaim Zeidman had a permit to sell guns) – the editor “Podlassier Life”, number 34, 31.8.1934.

On the night of Simchat Torah, the mayor, the policeman Romanovsky, was found drunk on a pile of mud in the middle of the market place, without his sword. This was done because of his persecution of the Bundists. After a promise that he will no longer meddle in the affairs of the “Bund”, they returned his sword to him. (“Podlassier Life”, number 36, of 18.9.1934).

At the time of the proclamation of the constitution In Russia, the Biale “Bund” issued a written proclamation.

After the failure of the December uprising in 1905, the Russian High Official Kedrov, called the “official state Rabbi”, a certain Shlaymele, and warned him, that if the “Bund” in Biale did not stop their activities, there would be a pogrom in Biale. The “official state Rabbi” contacted Boruch Vineberg and asked him to see that the activities of the “Bund” did not bring about a pogrom in the town. Boruch Vineberg answered, that the “Bund” was not afraid of a pogrom.

While serving in the military in 1905, the Bundist “Samo'obrona”, came to blows with a band of Christian conscripts. Because of this incident, military service in Biale went through a calmer period than usual. (“Podlassier Life”, 5.10.1934).

Correspondence from Biale (Sedletz region)

“We began to prepare here for the 1st May, much earlier. A few meetings were held with attendances of 40 to 80 people – current events in Russia and the 1st May were discussed.

The entire population of the town said that the “strikers” were preparing for the 1st May.

At last the 15th April arrived (the old style), where 350 notifications from headquarters were distributed in Polish and Yiddish. The notifications were very well distributed.

On the morning of the sabbath, the 16th April, the police arrested 2 people who were interrogated and were then allowed to go free. In the town there was a mood of unrest. On Sunday 17th April, before nightfall, a few groups of people went around and ordered the workers not to go to work the next day.

The police were also restless. They ran around like poisoned mice, but without consequences. The police came to a few people at night –– but also without consequence – nobody was at home. They therefore prepared 4 brigades of soldiers for Monday 1st May.

It was nice to see, how all the workers walked around in the streets, in their sabbath clothing, everyone felt free and holy. It made a great impression on the workers that the Christians united with them, by going around to the workshops and removing those who were working.

The general strike was magnificent, but they could not demonstrate in the streets because the soldiers were spread throughout the town. It was enough that Biale had displayed such great courage, that the town had never seen – a general strike. They were unable to demonstrate, but from deep in our hearts, the cry rings out: Down with autocracy! The 1st May lives! Freedom in Russia lives!

On the sabbath, the night of the 16th April, the PPS distributed pamphlets but not with much success, because before anyone had time to read a pamphlet, the police had already collected them”.

(“The Bund”, mouthpiece of the general Jewish Labour Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia. May 1905, number 7, in its 2nd year).

“The Biale government commissioner distinguished himself with his own laws: public readings, meetings, dramatic presentations, were according to his laws, not allowed in “jargon”. In refusing, he often explains: “in Palestine you can perform in jargon”. Recently we wanted to present “The Broken Hearts”. This time the High commissioner gave in to a “compromise”. He announced that he would only allow the presentation, on 2 conditions: 1) that the booklet should be translated into Polish and 2) allow Russian censorship of the booklet. We complied, and he allowed it. However, on Saturday, when we came for the written permission, he changed his mind, said that he did not handle the matter correctly, and banned the presentation. No complaints and no pleading helped – the presentation did not take place. In addition, we suffered a great financial loss.”

(Life's issues” number 324, Tuesday 22nd July 1919).

Biale –Shedletz

Political members 50 – town councillors 6;
Preferential votes 772.

Cultural facilities

Workers Club, named after Br. Grosser – Prosta Street 32, members: 260

Co–operative movement
Labour Co–operative “Unity”.
“Worker's Calendar” 1920, according to the Jewish calendar 5680 – 5681, published by ”Life's Issues”, Warsaw).

(From the Bund archive of the Jewish Labour movement, named after Frans Kursky, New York; rewritten by co–writers from the archive, H. Kempinski, submitted by V. Shuster, New York).


[Page 219]

The Rise of “Agudat Yisrael”[1]

by Moshe Braverman, Tel Aviv

Translated by Libby Raichman

At the end of the German occupation, those Biale residents who went to Russia during the war, began to return. Among them was Yeshayahu Veitzman (Volvish Veitzman's older brother), who was called in the town, Yeshayahu Shlaymeles. Yeshayahu Veitzman was a distinguished Gerer Chassid, and thanks to him, the “Agudah” was established in Biale.

I would like to relate a few details of the rise of the party in Biale, as it is engraved in my memory.

One evening Yeshayahu Veitzman and Yechezkel Erlich met in the local “Achiezer” (the “Achiezer” served as a neutral place for all parties). Amongst various other topics, Yeshayahu then raised the question about establishing an “Agudah” party in Biale. Yeshayahu Shlaymeles began to provoke Yechezkel Erlich about the matter and then the following conversation took place:

Yeshayahu: “Haskel, an “Agudah” needs to be established in Biale”.

Yechezkal: “What do you mean by an “Agudah”? What do you mean, establishing?”

Yeshayahu: “Renting a unit with a few rooms where our kind of people can meet and experience life, because we see how all the sinners lead their Jewish life and they can be seen everywhere. We Chassidic Jews, also need to organize ourselves and become a power”.

Yechezkel: “You say, rent a couple of rooms, meet each other, when?”

Yeshayahu “Between the afternoon prayers and the evening prayers. A committee of 10 – 15 people will be chosen, and they will carry out the work. The committee will meet from time to time and every question that is on the agenda, will be dealt with. It is understandable that a chairman and a secretary will be chosen, who will lead the session, and each question that is dealt with, will have the opinion of every person. The opinion that receives the most votes will be accepted and implemented”.

Here Yechezkel was already becoming impatient and began to give Yeshayahu a piece of his mind. “Shaya, have you gone mad, God forbid, or did you become a skeptic there in Russia?” What has become of you? Why have you come with such heretical notions, with new ideas to introduce into Biale? Do you not remember how we conducted ourselves in the town before the war, when there were issues about a ritual slaughterer, a cantor, the ritual bath or similar town matters? We used to call a meeting in the Rabbi's house, we would call Reb Nachan, Moshe, the big one, Moshe the small one, Dovid Reb Isaacs and a few other community leaders. Each one gave his opinion. We argued, discussed, but in the end, we took the advice of Reb Noach or Moshe the big one”.

While in Russia, Yeshayahu became very skilled in such matters. He had a sharp mind and was very determined and was unmoved by Yechezkal Erlich's surprised response.

The Gerrer Chassidim were on Yeshayahu's side and the matter became a serious one. Yeshayahu's plans began to become a reality. In the town at that time, there were other powerful individuals like: Noach Gurfinkel from Lomaz, a talented speaker, Natan Rammes, Nachum Tennenboim and others, who were not as interested in an “Agudah–Party”, as in hindering the activities of the Zionists and “Mizrachi”, who then had control of Jewish life in the town. These individuals began to help Yeshayahu to accomplish his plan.

Although I too, was a member of “Mizrachi”, yet I was present at the gathering to establish the “Agudah”, that took place in the home of Itshe Meir Zishes. At this gathering a management committee was selected and at the end, they drank a toast. In this way the “Agudah” in Biale emerged. I think that the committee consisted of: Zusha Rozen, Nachum Tennenboim, Meir Yud and others.

* * *

Our fellow–townsman David Patshtaruk, relates the following about the “Agudah”:

In the latter years, before the 2nd World War, the committee of the “Agudah” consisted of the following persons: Meir Yud, Chaim Levi Rubinshtein, Motl Aydelsberg, Isaac Sheinberg and Aharon Viseman.

The “Agudah” also had a youth organization “Youth for peace and belief in Israel” and later “Workers for “Agudat Yisrael”. During its existence, the following served on the committee of “Workers for Agudat Yisrael”: Shlayme Asher Utshtein, Asher Goldzak, Avigdor Rubinshtein, Dovid Patshtaruk, Eliyahu Erlich, Henach Shteingart, Reuven Zilberberg, Eliyahu Henech – righteous–priest, Tzvi Rozenboim, Yosef Barnboim, Yakov Utshten, Shmuel Frankreich and others.

The members would get together every evening and study a page of Gemara with additions (critical commentaries on the Talmud).

Thanks to the “Agudah”, a one–grade Bet–Yakov–School for girls, was established.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Orthodox religious movement Return


[Page 220]

The Communist Movement

by Gottl Biederman

Translated by Libby Raichman

After the Russian revolution in 1917, when power came into the hands of the labour party “Bolsheviks” (Communists), a Communist party also emerged in Poland that organized branches in the province.

The echo of the Russian revolution was at first revived in the Bundist workers–ranks, and it came about in such a way.

At the end of the 1st World War, when Biale was still under German occupation, the news about the Russian revolution reached Biale, evoked in every worker that was versed in socialistic ideals, a joy and deep respect. In their hearts, lay a striving and a desire to unite with the activists in Russia.

The events in Russia were expressed at the meetings of the Biale Bundist organization. Friction arose within the party and as a result of this, a splinter group from within the Bund itself was created, that was called “Kombund”. A short time later, the group split from the “Bund” and began to exist as an independent political group of that time, under the name “Royte” [Reds].

The rise of the “Royte” began in Biale in the 20's. The greater part of the “Bund” members in Biale, mainly the youth, joined the “Royte”. The older and more prudent members remained in the “Bund”. The “Royte” began to pursue intensive activities in the economic, cultural and political realms.

Despite the fact that the “Royte” was an illegal organization, whose followers were severely persecuted by the regime, it did not deter the youth from joining its ranks. In these ranks one did not only meet youth from impoverished backgrounds who were always concentrated in radical left parties, but also youth from the middle classes, from wealthy homes and some from the student body.

The Communists controlled the professional unions and the large Bundist library, that was located there. The older active Bundists were not able to do anything, because most of them were tradesmen and therefore, could not join the professional unions.

The “Royte” carried out a few successful economic strikes in the Jewish workshops, and as a result their importance grew in the town.

In the premises of the professional union, discussions were organized on various themes, and active Bundists were invited. At that time in Biale, there was a movement that organized dramatic circles. In this area, the Communists refused to be excluded, and organized their own dramatic circle under the direction of G. Braverman. This cultural activity was conducted under the shield of the professional unions, that were, at that time, legalized by the regime.

In an altogether different chapter, the political activity of the “Royte” is presented. These activities would put the whole local government on alert, from time to time. Their propaganda and manifesto always had the aim of demonstrating affiliation to Soviet power in Russia, and their intention to spread this power over all other countries. This, understandably, brought out Polish people of power from the woodwork.

Sometimes at night, the “Royte” would stick slogans on all the fences in the town, that related to Soviet power in Russia. An altogether separate aspect of their activity was suspending red flags with matching slogans that they would throw over the highest telephone wires.

Sometimes the “Royte” would reveal their activity in a very risky way. On the days of the festivals, they would throw their pamphlets displaying the marching military, from behind fences or from the corridors of houses.

The police turned all their efforts to catch those who were distributing the pamphlets but for a long time they did not manage to do so. One youth who was engaged in this activity, excelled at playing tricks right under the noses of the police, and then disappear. The police eventually discovered the identity of the trickster who distributed the pamphlets and arrested him. During the investigation, the police tortured the youth so terribly, that he broke down and joined the police force as a colleague. He left Biale. It appears that the police transferred him to another location.

Some time later, after the arrest of the youth, the leaders of the communist group in Biale, were arrested. It is not known whether this happened as a result of the provocation by the arrested youth or by another person. The trial of those arrested took place in Biale and they were

[Page 221]

sentenced to many years in prison. When they were freed from prison, after serving their sentences, they were very weak and one of them was taken to a hospital in Warsaw, where he died. Another victim was the youth Moshe Rykler. While in the Biale prison, he became so ill that the authorities freed him before he served his full term. The state of his health, however, was already so critical that every attempt to save him, was unsuccessful, and in a short time he died.

The Jewish communist group kept in contact with the Christian communists in the surrounding villages, and it can be assumed that also in Biale itself, Jewish communists were in contact with Christians, that were communists.

During the elections to the town council in 1927, the communist group managed to put forward their own list of candidates, from which only one councillor was elected, a Jew. During their election meetings Christians also participated.

As already mentioned, the professional unions were legalized and had the right to organize meetings on the 1st May. The authorities knew well, that at the head of the unions stood a communist committee, but as long as the unions benefited from the legality, they were not prohibited from arranging such meetings. At one of these 1st May meetings, the authorities took revenge on the participants. It happened in this way: the meeting took place at the New Market and police with secret agents encircled the crowd. When the meeting ended, and the masses marched to the premises of the professional unions, in order to resolve matters, the police threw themselves at the marching crowd and beat them brutally with their rifle–butts.

Finally, the authorities locked the premises of the professional unions and their activities were declared illegal.

When an organization was established in Poland to gather funds for Jewish colonization in Biro–Bidjan, that needed to develop a Jewish republic, the communists in Biale organized one division of this organisation. Through them, a “Mofer”– group was created in the town, that was a branch of the central organization and whose aim it was, to collect money to help political prisoners. The Biale “Mofer” group used to come to weddings and social events to collect money for this purpose, and they would issue official receipts on writing pads that they received from their headquarters.

The decline in communist activity in the Jewish street in Biale began in the 30's. A few of the active members were dissatisfied and withdrew from their activities. Other activists went abroad and to Warsaw. The decline was also caused by the closing of the professional unions and the arrest of the leading members. It can, however, be assumed that the situation was also the result of the general circumstances in the Polish communist party, that was “kominteren” (“commented on”/viewed) with suspicion and as a result, the activities of the whole party were brought to a halt.

In the time mentioned, the Biale communists were almost not involved in any activity. They managed however, to gain access to various institutions and societies, so that they could, at every opportunity, express their political position. In this way they crept into the Bundist “Culture–League”, and as I believe, also into other Biale organizations.

This passive activity of the Jewish communists endured until the outbreak of the 2nd World War. During the occupation of the town by the Soviet army in 1939, the Jewish working class did not play a dynamic role, as they did in 1920, during the Bolshevik invasion of Poland. With the retreat of the Red army from Biale, a small part of the Jewish communists went too; a much larger part remained under German occupation.

 

Additional Details:

We will add here details about the communist activity in the town that we discovered in a few copies of “Podlassier Life”.

On Wednesday the 5th October 1932, an important political trial took place in the local district court. On the bench where the accused sat, were 7 young men and 2 young girls aged 17 to 21.

They were accused of the following:

On the 26th June there was a funeral of a young deceased worker9. At the funeral, the accused organized a communist demonstration at the cemetery, without their hats they sang songs and afterwards they formed a line and demonstrated in Sadover Street, throwing anti–government slogans at the same time.

Four of them were sentenced to 2 years in prison

[Page 222]

and the loss of their civil rights for 5 years; three were sentenced to 1 year in prison, taking into consideration the time that they were in prison before the trial; two were allowed to go free.

(“Podlassier Life” number 21, of the 7th October 1932)

On Tuesday evening the 13th June 1933, unknown persons hung 2 red flags on the telephone and electricity wires. One flag on Yanover Street and one on Grabanover Street. Simchah Platt of Biale who was accused of hanging the flags, was sentenced by the local district court to 4 years imprisonment, on the 20th September 1933.

(“Podlassier Life” number 23 and 38, of 16th June and 29th September 1933).

On Tuesday 2nd October, an important political trial began in the local district court.

On the bench where the accused sat, were 29 people – 17 Jews and 12 Christians.

The charges laid against them were, that in the region of Biale, from 1930, they carried on illegal communistic activity, whose aim was to bring change to the ruling order with force, and that they demonstrated by using propaganda, hanging banners etc.

After a 2–day court adjournment, the following judgement was handed down:

1, (a Jew) was sentenced to 5 years in prison; 2 (Jews) – to 4 years; 1 (a Christian) to 3 years; 4 (2 Jews and 2 Christians) – to 2 years; 6 (2 Jews and 4 Christians) to 1 year; 2 (Christians) – to 6 months in prison; the remaining were freed. All those convicted were regarded as preventz arrests.

(“Podlassier Life” number 38, of 5th October 1934)

9this means Moshe Rykler – M.Y. Feigenboim


An Anarchistic Group in Biale

by Gedalyahu Braverman

Translated by Libby Raichman

The widow, Aydl the laundress was known in Biale. When her oldest son Moshe, was twelve years old, she entrusted him to her relative, the shoemaker Shimon Karshnboim (Krempl), with the view to him teaching Moshe his trade of shoemaking. At that time, a man named Leibl worked for Shimon who originated from Lomaz and had previously worked for a few years in Cherson (Russia). At work Leibl would constantly talk about the beautiful life in Cherson, that shoemakers earn a lot of money there, that in the town there is a circus with many animals and a Russian theatre. Every Sunday the workers go to the circus and to the theatre. Watermelons lie around in the streets.

Moshe listened attentively to the stories that made a deep impression on him. Moshe was influenced by Leibl and wanted him to go with him to Cherson, and both of them set off. For a long time, not a word was heard from Moshe.

My parents were neighbours of Aydl the laundress, and I would hear how Aydl was heartbroken that her Moshe had left home years earlier and that she did not know what had happened to him, and she would shed tears of longing for her child.

In 1903, the door of my house opened, and an adolescent young man entered, with a small parcel under his arm. He limped a little on one leg. I recognized him immediately, that this was Moshe the son of Aydl the laundress.

A few days later, when he had already happily reconnected with his family, he came to me and had a conversation with me. He told me that he has returned from Odessa now, where he worked and was active in anarchistic circles. He had already sat in prison there, from where he had just escaped and where he was wounded in his leg. He said that he wanted to establish an anarchistic group in Biale.

Moshe began to meet with people with whom he was acquainted and managed to influence a few of the youth with his ideas and an anarchistic group emerged in the town. Aydl's son Moshe, began to attend Bundist gatherings and there he propagated anarchism.

Some time later, Moshe went to Argentina, but the anarchistic group in Biale continued its activity.

After Moshe, the son of Aydl departed for Argentina, an official came to Biale to lead the anarchistic group. If I am not mistaken, they called him Sashke. He was a young and handsome youth and did not give the impression of being a worker, rather a student.

My brother was also active in this group. Using a hectograph (copying machine), he helped to copy various appeals and policy statements that the group released from time to time.

The group attempted to draw into their net, the Christian workers at Ra'abes factory, who were under the influence of the PPS (Polish Socialist

[Page 223]

Party). On a certain day, I think, that on that day, both a Jewish and a Christian festival coincided, Sashke and I (Sashke was a frequent visitor in our house), went together to gathering of Christian workers, that took place in the home of a friend of theirs, who lived in the courtyard of Reb Aharon Landau.

In my conversations with Sashke, he would tell me that the anarchists were using terror tactics to acquire money for their movement. They would send demands to the rich and to wealthy firms, demanding specific sums, and if they did not receive the sums required, they would attack them with weapons, and even with bombs, and used violence to pressurize them into giving them the money.

Rumours actually began to circulate in the town about attacks that took place on the Lomaz Highway that has forests stretching on both sides. People used to tell that armed young men, in need of money, came out of the forests and when people refused to give them money, they threatened to shoot them to death.

Once, a wagon–driver from Lomaz was attacked on the Lomaz Highway and when he refused to stop, they shot his horse dead.

At that time there was a strike at Motl Mintz's cigarette factory. Motl Mintz was a stubborn Jew and could not under any circumstances, grow accustomed to the idea that these were different times, and that his attitude to the worker had to be more tolerant. This time the workers handed over the strike to the anarchists. One evening they treated Motl Mintz's factory to a small bomb, that tore away an entire wall. Only now, Motl Mintz understood with whom he was dealing.

Once, Purim time, at dusk on the sabbath, when the crowd went for a walk on the “broad sidewalk”, a terrible explosion suddenly resounded over the town. Within a few minutes, the street was emptied. The crowd dispersed in shock and returned home. When the tumult was over, it was discovered that a bomb had exploded in Yoske Kashtenboim's courtyard. The explosion was so strong that all the window panes in that area, fell out.

At the time of the activity of the anarchistic group in Biale, there were incidents where their members were arrested, but the arrest of a member of theirs, Binyamin Prikashtshik (a nickname) ended most tragically.

Binyamin was the son of a poor shoemaker who lived on the Volye, named Berel, whose nickname was Bonde. The young man had worked for many years as an employee in the factory of Motl Mintz, and there he earned the nickname Prikashtshik (a clerk).

Due to the fact that an informer had denounced him, Binyamin was arrested and transferred to the Warsaw Citadel, where he died in 1907.

 

Additional details:

The leadership of the Biale anarchists were: Masha Rubinshtein (Aryeh Mabatshnik's daughter), Froyem Fridman (Shmuel Shammai Zimmel's son), Leib Rubinshtein (nickname “Lopetik” – a shovel), Moshele Chaikel's. The latter two were arrested in Biale and sent to a penal colony.

The bomb in Chaim Yoske Kashtenboim's house, was the result of a conflict between Chaim Yoske and a shopkeeper, whom he wanted to evict from a shop in his house. The anarchists came to Chaim Yoske to say that he should not evict him from the shop, but instead of negotiating with them, Chaim Yoske called the police. The anarchists fled and then came the bomb.

Yonah Shteinman (New York)

 

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