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[Page 467]

Hershl Himlfarb in the Bundist Movement

by Y.Sh. Hertz

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

On January 19, death took our comrade Hershl Himelfarb. He died in New York, almost 75 years old. He had been a part of the Bund for over sixty years, just as the Bund had been a part of him.

He was born April 11, 1889, in Nowy Dwor. His father Borekh was a tailor, as were his brothers. His mother Blima, who had 10 children, had to help support the family as a shopkeeper.

Hershl studied in kheders [religious school for young children], in the besmedresh [house of study, where boys continued their religious studies], and in the Makower and Lomzer yeshivas. He obtained his secular education by attending a Russian primary school two hours a day. All of his studies ended with his bar mitzvah.

He came to the conclusion that the only way to perform mitzvahs [religious obligations, good deeds] was by participating in the Bund. And in 1903, when he was barely 14, he was among the founders of the Bund organization in Nowy Dwor. What caused this change of direction in his life? It was two events: The Kishinev pogrom and the arrest of his older brother Fayvl, who had been active in the Bund since 1899 and who was known by the name Fayvl the Tailor or Fayvl the Pockmarked. He was imprisoned in Tsarist prisons and sent to Siberia.

In the summer of 1905 Fayvl was a member of the Bundist organization in Lodz, and was a leader in the battles at the barricades. Fayvl's activism and arrest awakened the imagination and sense of protest of his younger brother. And when this was followed by the horrific pogrom in Kishenev, the rebellious boy quickly abandoned his yeshiva studies and resolutely joined the ranks of the revolutionary Jewish workers, from which only death could tear him away.

Although still quite young, Hershl quickly distinguished himself with his boldness, wisdom and innate talent as a speaker. His reputation spread from Nowy Dwor to Warsaw and the Warsaw Committee [of the Bund] began sending him to the towns of the region. He visited Nashelsk, Zakrotshin, Pultusk, Plonsk (where, incidentally, he engaged in a public debate in the besmedresh with Dovid Green, today Ben Gurion) and other places in the Warsaw, Mlawe and Plotsk regions.

He was known in the movement as Shmulik or Shmulekhl (his real name was Shmuel Hersh.) The tall, slender young man with golden hair and a sonorous voice enchanted his listeners. In his hometown Nowy Dwor he led a strike of 300 women underwear makers who worked for Warsaw manufacturers.

During the revolutionary years 1905–06 he participated in various dramatic events. He was arrested three times for his speeches and other activities. The first time was in the town Drobnin, after a speech in the besmedresh. He was brought in chains, together with several comrades, to Plotsk. He was imprisoned for a total of 18 months in Plotsk, Modlin and Warsaw. In 1907 he was released on bail pending trial. The revolution was quickly failing, the revolutionary spirit was evaporating, and the workers' movement fell apart. That year his family decided to emigrate to London and Shmulik left with them.

Shmulik quickly adapted to London and became an elegantly dressed young man named Sam. While previously he had worked very little, and spent his time in the revolutionary movement and in prison, now he worked regularly at a sewing machine, and did so

[Page 468]

for ten years, until 1917. At the same time, he was active in social movements, in the trade union, in the Bund and in the English Socialist movement.

He distinguished himself in London, too, as a good speaker and organizer. He became president of a club of the tailors' union, where he engaged in a bitter fight not only with the bosses, but also with anarchists. He was active in the Bundist association “Veker” [Awakener], and in the Jewish Socialist organization of England.

During World War I he was active in the anti–war movement, which was quite strong in England. Then came 1917. Tsarism fell in Russia. Revolutionary emigrants, among them the Himlfarb brothers and other Bundists, rushed back to Russia. The dream of generations of revolutionaries was no longer a dream; it had turned into reality.

Sam Himlfarb headed the Bund leadership. He was chosen to work in the northwest provinces and became a member of the northwest regional committee. He became a new man. His speeches at mass meetings in big and small towns became more spirited. He was inspired and inspired his audience, who breathed the air of a liberated land, which had been rid of the terrible Tsarist regime. He illuminated for his listeners the problems posed by the Revolution and the Bund's position on them, both general problems and specifically Jewish ones.

At first he was known as Sam Himelfarb, but that wasn't suitable in the Belarussian towns where he spoke. So he started to use his other name, Hershl Himelfarb. In Belarus and in some places in Ukraine he had a very good reputation as a speaker. By the way, he was also a good singer of revolutionary and folk songs, and that made him even more popular.

*

Hershl Himelfarb became a well– known name in Poland. He was renowned in the many big and small towns he visited as a representative of the Bund. He was an activist in the Bund and in the trade unions. In 1919–20 he became a member of the Central Committee of the Bund in Poland and for 29 years, until the outbreak of the Second World War, was a representative on the Central Committee. From 1919 to 1929, he was a member of the Warsaw Committee of the Bund. He was elected a member of the Jewish community council in Warsaw and in December, 1938, as a member of the Warsaw City Council.

For almost 20 years, beginning in 1920, Hershl Himlfarb was secretary of the largest Jewish labor union in Warsaw, the clothing workers. That was his daily job. He was the union's central figure.

*

The Second World War broke out and immediately the Germans closed in on Warsaw. Hershl Himlfarb joined the stream of refugees setting off for the eastern provinces and arrived in Vilna. Pursuant to the Stalin–Hitler pact, the Soviet army immediately occupied the city. As a Bundist, Hershl Himlfarb owed a debt to “Mother Russia.” In 1907, he had failed to appear for trial by the Tsarist regime. For the 32 years since then, his “debt” had accrued a lot of interest:

[Page 469]

new sins against the inheritors of power, the Communist rulers of “Mother Russia.” On October 6, 1939, the NKVD arrested him in Vilna. They held him in prisons in Vilna, Bialistok, Alt Vilayke and for 7 months in a prison camp, Karakanda. To the 18 months he had served in Tsarist prisons, there were now added 22 months in Soviet prisons. In 1941, he was freed pursuant to the amnesty for Polish citizens

The frightful night searches and inhumane conditions in the Soviet prisons ruined Hershl Himlfarb. He emerged physically and mentally broken. If not for several comrades who found him and helped him get back on his feet, he would have died in the street of hunger and exhaustion.

Hershl Himlfarb managed to get out of Russia in 1942, by joining divisions of the Polish army and civilian groups. In September, he arrived in the Persian capital Teheran, where he stayed almost 15 months. In December, 1943, he arrived in Tel Aviv, where he lived until after the end of the war.

He was tormented by the destruction of the Jews and his own inability to help. He lost his close family in the Holocaust. His letters from Teheran and Tel Aviv are full of sorrow. He was in despair, exhausted from suffering and illness, but not deterred from his basic beliefs. With his firm belief in the Bund, he left Tel Aviv for Western Europe – Belgium and France – where he helped create the world–coordinating committee of the Bund. From 1950, he was active in New York, until his final days.

*

Hershl Himlfarb served the Jewish working class loyally and with self sacrifice, and he worked for the renewal of Jewish life. He was an outspoken bold personality who will join the pantheon of the Bund and will go down in the history of the Jewish workers movement in our stormy and tragic century.

(From “Undzer Tsayt,” [Our Times], New York)


[Page 470]

Genye Pertshikow Dubnikow

by R. Klepfisz and Dov First

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

[Part 1 by R. Klepfisz]

Genye Pertshikow Dubnikow was born in Warsaw in 1903. Her father was a watchmaker who tried to give his children a thorough education. The impoverished times of the First World War prevented her from getting the education she desired, but thanks to her great energy she managed to graduate from gymnasium [academic high school].

While studying late into the night, she did not forget her younger sisters and helped them to follow the educational program of the gymnasium. Her younger sisters and brother were proud of their devoted sister. She also gave private lessons to younger children and she knew then that this would be her profession.

In 1929, she began working as a teacher in the evening courses for young Jewish workers in Warsaw. After completing the Warsaw teachers' seminary run by Tsysho [acronym for Tsentral Yidishe Shul Organizatsie (Central Yiddish School Organization), a network of secular schools sponsored by the Socialist movement, in which Yiddish was the language of instruction,] she became a teacher in its schools. She began teaching in Krinki, then went to Pietrikow, Zdunske–Wole and finally in Warsaw in the Tsysho schools at 6 Dzshike Street, 29 Karmelitski Street and 68 Novolipki Street, until that horrible day, September 1, 1939.

From the first day of the war, she suffered constant hunger and cold. With her husband and her 9 year–old son Maius, she was forced to move from town to town, until they reached Dubnow (Volyn province). There she again began to work in a school, but only for a short time. She was probably murdered, along with all the other Jews of Dubnow, during the German deportations.

Genye Pertshikow, with great sensitivity, always encouraged the young people who had to go to work too soon, and led them into a new world of knowledge, beauty and justice. She was a splendid idealist who, despite her difficult life, believed until her last moments in a better and more beautiful future.

Genye Pertshikow was always a member of the Bund and of her teachers' union in the Jewish folk schools. She participated in the teacher conventions organized by Tsysho and worked to prepare the exhibit on Sholem Aleichem.

(From the memorial book for murdered teachers of the Tsysho schools in Poland)

 

[Part 2, by Dov First]

now470.jpg
Genye Pertshikow with her husband Hertzl Dubnikow

 

Genia became the person we later knew in large part thanks to the few years she spent in Nowy Dwor, and to her husband, our unforgettable Nowy Dworer, Hertzl Dubnikow. The Pertshikow family was among those who came to Nowy Dwor during the time of the German occupation in Warsaw [during World War I], when hunger was raging there. A family with many children, the Pertshikows rented a dwelling on a quiet street near the German church and lived quietly on the father's earnings as a watchmaker, and starved even more quietly.

Genia was the oldest child. Her brother Genik lives today in Australia

[Page 471]

with one of their sisters. Another sister, the one who wrote the above memoir about Genye –Ruzshe Klepfisz, lives today in the United States. She was the wife of the renowned engineer Mikhl Klepfisz who was one of the most active fighters of the Bundist underground, and who fell in battle [in the Warsaw ghetto uprising] with the Nazi executioners.

We should not forget this fine family, who struggled with hunger all their lives, in Nowy Dwor and in Warsaw. When the large family was orphaned by the premature death of their father, the entire burden fell on their devoted mother and the oldest daughter Genye.

When Genye came to our town she was still a young girl with two blond braids wound around her head. Her glasses lent her an air of importance. She was quiet and reserved, a bit shy, with a small smile on her pale face. She spoke only Polish, and at that time knew only a few words of Yiddish.

By a happy accident she met the girl who would become her best friend, the young, slender Khave Roznshteyn. Khave had a very different character than Genye. She was keen– witted and obstinate, independent in her thinking and actions, free of all conventional restrictions and from the accepted ways of a daughter of the well–off petty bourgeoisie in a small town.

Khave Roznshteyn brought Genye into the Yiddish household of her “Uncle Shmuel,” the dentist Shmuel Grabman. There Genye heard for the first time a pure Yiddish splendidly interpreted by Shmuel Grabman when he read aloud to his usual guests from the works of the classic Yiddish writers. There she got to know the small group of lovers of Yiddish literature and language – the dear friend of my youth Sinek Hirshbeyn (lives today in Israel), Hertzl Dubnikow, and later Didek Zilbertal and Menashe Vronski.

From the Grabman household the road led to the Education Society, to the Sholem Aleichem Library, to long walks on summer evenings and winter night. Together they read, discussed and shouted

 

now471.jpg
Khave Roznshteyn

 

among themselves about the meaning of an author and his heroes. With great earnestness they immersed themselves in the works of Tolstoy, Zsheromski, Vispianski, Knut Hamsun and Peretz.

The new road led Genye to her Yiddish consciousness. In this milieu she made friends, engaged in a quiet loving relationship with her future husband, my quiet and idealistic comrade Hertzl Dubnikow. They are both gone. [In the words of the folk song} “The street is no more; the house is no more “– the entire Yiddish Nowy Dwor is gone. There remains only the memory of those heroic times and that searching youth. With such people as Genye and Hertzl Dubnikow Jewish life reached great heights, “if not yet higher” [title of story by I.L. Peretz.]


[Page 472]

Dovid (Dadek)Kaufman

by Avrom Kaufman

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

 

now472.jpg

 

My brother Dovid was born April 10, 1910 in the town Yelve, the son of our Zionist activist father Note Nosn Kaufman. During his childhood during World War I, he suffered many illnesses which left their traces, yet he distinguished himself as a student.

His teachers marveled at his intelligence and had great hopes for him. After finishing primary school in Nowy Dwor, Dadek passed a competitive exam that won him admission to a state gymnasium [academic high school] in Warsaw, where he was one of five Jews allowed by quota. He was one of the best students there.

Even as a student, Dadek evinced a strong interest in literature. He chose a life path of Socialism, in the Communist ranks. Because of his political agitation among the students, he was not permitted to take the qualifying exam for a certificate of completion and was expelled from the gymnasium, but he continued to study and entered a college, where he studied social science and humanities.

The government sent him to [the penal camp] Kartuz–Bereza, and he returned from there physically broken, but gradually his health improved and he continued his studies.

His comrades and friends always treated him with great sympathy and respect. His public performances on literary themes were appreciated even by his political opponents. He was always simple and unassuming in his public appearances but also very interesting and enchanting.

Before World War II he was a prominent member of the illegal Communist Party in Poland, and thanks to his hard work, became a member of the Central Executive Committee in Warsaw and participated in multi–party political activity to combat the anti–Semitic programs of the Sanation movement. [Sanation, in Polish Sanacja, from the Latin for healing, was a Polish nationalist political movement supporting authoritarian government.]

In the first days of World War II Dadek, along with the entire Central Committee of the Communist Party, set off from Warsaw for the Soviet Union, but there his service on behalf of the party was not recognized, and along with thousands of other refugees denoted as “enemies of Communism,” he was sent to Siberia. This affected him physically and mentally. After his liberation, during the amnesty of 1945, Dadek joined a Nowy Dwor landsman Melman in a town in central Russia. There he suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital.


[Page 473]

Avremele Guterman,
the Nowy Dwor Painter

by Dov First

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

 

now473.jpg

 

Avraham Guterman, the well known progressive painter of Pre–War Poland, was a Nowy Dworer from birth. He came from a prestigious Nowy Dwor family – the well–known wealthy townsman Moyshe Yenkl Blatt was his grandfather, the last rabbi of Nowy Dwor, Rabbi Ruvn Yehuda Neufeld was his uncle, and his father Pintshe Guterman was a close relative of the Radziminer rabbi.

His father, an ardent Radziminer Hasid, who spent more time with the rabbi in Radzimin than at home, died young, leaving a houseful of children. The family lost its money and lived in great poverty.

I got to know Avremele during World War I. I would visit his religious home, in the house of their grandmother, “Old Blate”. There the dreamy Avremele, even before he became a painter, began to write poetry which he would read aloud to his close friends

I was his first critic, and I strongly criticized him in a friendly manner. He then took up carving, then drawing, then painting everything – landscapes, houses, bridges, animals, but mostly portraits.

He once painted a hardworking Jew with a whip in his hand and titled it “Tevye the Dairyman” [after Sholem Aleichem's literary character.] I didn't like this picture at all and I told him that it didn't portray Tevye properly, that one should not paint Tevye as a Nowy Dwor coachman, that he didn't understand Sholem Aleichem or the milieu of his characters, and so forth. But he was deaf to my words and this quiet, reticent man had a single answer to all of my protests: “You don't understand art.”

He later disappeared from Nowy Dwor. I, too, left the town and we didn't see each other for many years. I ran into him at an exhibit of his work in Warsaw. I was looking around when he came up to me and asked, “What? You don't like this either?” To which I answered “I guess I just don't understand art, especially progressive art.”

With artistic stubbornness he continued on his path until the tragic moment when all that remained of him was his name and his fame.


[Page 474]

The Artist Avrom Guterman
From the book, “Murdered Jewish Artists”

by Yosef Sandel

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

The significance of the artist Avrom Guterman for progressive visual arts in Poland, is that he was among the exceptional few who appreciated that art must have a purpose, that of serving the masses, the workers.

While still a young man he confronted two great problems at the same time: Art and Socialism. He had an exceptional ability to portray nature and human experience in an artistic way, in painting and drawing both. He also had an eye for people, and their daily struggle. He attained spiritual maturity early on, and he thought visually. But his powers did not match his goals. Although he strived nobly to attain perfection, to reach his goal as a painter, he fell under a kind of spell, and his art became fantastical and abstract. In sum, many of his paintings were very unrealistic.

Avrom Guterman was therefore a tragic artist. Each work entailed great suffering. His artistic conception was one thing, the realization of the conception another. The work of art came out imperfectly, an interpretation of an interpretation, like a yeshiva student's analysis of the Talmud. Perhaps this was because he had been educated in the yeshiva.

Even after he became, in the narrow sense, a modern man, a Socialist, there remained in him a tendency to delve into details, to use art to uncover the deepest secrets. It is true that, as an enlightened person, he wanted to be a social painter. His world perspective was influenced by the stormy currents of his generation. That is to say, he adopted the language of the rebellious segments of the Jewish population, which were influential in his time. Every phenomenon was reflected in his thinking, every detail.

Impelled by love and kindness, he wanted to reflect his discoveries in a colorful picture, but his experimentalism made many of his works incomprehensible. The amazing conflicts that he wanted to portray artistically turned into a whirlwind, an irrational symphony of color in play.

Guterman did not create his own sphere connected to others of his kind, precisely because he was not part of an artistic tradition. But since he was gifted with talent and an acute intelligence, he was, as we noted at the beginning, a tragic artist.

He was not capable of creating a new form of abstraction and surrealism, while he was not fully versed in the classical tradition. But to his credit it should be said that he served art, he aspired to great heights, to serve the cause of progress.

In his thinking ,too, he soared to great heights. It was unusually interesting to converse with Guterman about art. He created for his listeners a refined, colorful atmosphere; colorful characters arose before one's eyes. Guterman wrote with spirit

[Page 475]

 

now475.jpg
Oil painting by Avrom Guterman

 

about his paintings. With his dynamic temperament he felt, as early as the age of 17, his mission to be an artist, a result of his early feeling for art. He left his religious studies and ran away to Krakow. He knew little Polish, and had almost no education, but his raw talent was enough to persuade the professors in Krakow to admit him into the renowned Krakow Academy of Art.

At the age of 19 he had an exhibition of his work. As a young artist, Guterman already understood the essence of an effective picture. Art must portray the working person. That is its main mission. Guterman was able through his paintings to develop a taste for art among the working masses. He twice exhibited his work at the Jewish literary society at 13 Tlomatska Street [Warsaw]. His exhibits there and at the art society always drew large numbers of visitors.

[Page 476]

In the winter of 1939 Guterman showed his paintings at an anniversary exhibit of the Jewish artists' association at 26 Dluga Street [Warsaw]. He showed cubist paintings with abstract elements. He tried hard to make his paintings different from others. Despite this, Guterman well knew, perhaps better than others, the faults in his painting, why his work was not acceptable to the broader population. While he wanted to express an idea on the canvas, he went astray on the ways of formalism. It is after all characteristic that the prosecutor, a member of the Sanation [nationalist, pro–authoritarian political party] confiscated a lot of the paintings at an exhibition of his, that did not have a realistic form. It could have been because many of Guterman's paintings reflected the theme of struggle. His pictures were very challenging.

He lived in great poverty on Dzshelna Street, in a smoke–filled room with old broken furniture. In the middle of the room there was a stand which held palettes and brushes. And in this atmosphere he created his paintings.

He was visited by worker–intellectuals. Each one had something to say. He was charming but also witty and instructive. He was one of those painters who are impractical in the way they live.

When war broke out in 1939, Guterman went to Bialystok. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union for the second time, Guterman evacuated with all the other comrades. But when the train was bombed by German planes, he disembarked along with his wife and child in Baranovitsh. He hoped to get through the forests on foot. The artist Mandltsvayg, who was in the same train car as Guterman, tried as hard as he could to keep him from doing this. But Guterman was nervous and upset by the bombing and left the train. There is no evidence that he was even in the Bialystok ghetto.

In killing Avrom Guterman the Fascist murderers killed a progressive artist and an interesting person, who had much to offer. The Jewish cultural world mourns a true and honorable artist–fighter.


[Page 477]

Once There Was a Town

by Eta Shimanovitsh–Pinker

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Once there was a town
that sparkled with life.
Once there was a town
But now it is no more.

Walls still stand there, blackened by fire;
they are silent, but they know so much.
They witnessed the death of all that is dear;
they know so much, but silent they remain.

The sound of the hammer is no longer heard there,
nor the din of the sewing machine.
Voices were silenced in the gas chambers,
in Auschwitz a town burnt to ash.

The conscience of the world is asleep.
New grasses cover the earth,
covers its wounds. You may shout and curse
but your voice remains unheard.

The streets are paved with stone,
with marble from your grandfather's grave.
The town has been cleansed of its Jews
and God himself is now impoverished.

The Narev river quietly flows.
Blood calls from its depths.
Naked Jews were driven
into its waves to die.

There once was a town,
and it will never be there again.
Its memory is covered with ash from the ovens,
everything covered with sorrow and death.

Somewhere, history begins to flow again.
The pages turn over, year after year.
Once there were six million souls.
Once there was a town called Nowy Dwor.

Poking [Germany], July 29, 1947

 

now477.jpg
A last glimpse of the Nowy Dwor ghetto

 

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