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[Page 153]

A Letter From Ben-Gurion

Elazar Prashker – Jerusalem

A Gift to the Research of the History of Piotrkow Jewry

Our friend Michael Shidlowski has given us several documents for the Piotrkow archives. Among them is a letter written by David Ben-Gurion on July 6, 1933 and addressed to the committee of the Eretz Israel League in Piotrkow. Michael Shidlowski was, at the time, chairman of the League and Joshua Ziegelman its secretary.

The letter takes us back to the time of the bitter interlude in the Zionist movement which preceded the 18th conference in Prague (Aug.–Sept. 1933). This was truly a period that would shape the future. In January of that year, Hitler had come to power in Germany. The Jewish communities in Israel suffered greatly after the anti-Zionist turn in British policy, which had begun in 1929 and had reached its culmination with the publication of the “white book” of the labor government, headed by Lord Pasfield, in 1930.

Britain's new anti-Zionist policy caused great divisions of opinion about which road the Zionist movement should take. Such divergences were heatedly debated during the 17th congress in Basel.

The Revisionists were extremists had remained outside Zionist administration. As a result, their influence with the workers' factions from “Mapai” and “Hashomer Hatzair” declined.

In 1933 the poison of internal rivalry between the Socialist-Zionists and the Revisionists filtered through the entire Zionist enterprise of the diaspora. Jabotinsky called for the dissolution of the Zionist organization. He asked that the rug be pulled from under its feet. There were heated arguments about which direction and policy ought to be pursued. Some of these led to assassinations.

Only six days after the arrival of Ben-Gurion's letter in Piotrkow, Haim Arlozorof was murdered; this climactic event, occurring, as it did, in a tense, hate-filled atmosphere, caused all havoc to break loose within the movement.

This background clearly explains Ben-Gurion's words about “a campaign of life and determination, the battle for the destiny of Zionism.”

Printed below, the letter is a document typical of Ben-Gurion. He wrote it in pencil on pages from one of the hundreds of his now-famous notebooks, and a copy of it remained with him. His spelling of the city name Warsaw (“Varsho”) is reminiscent of his particular pronunciation of words such as “Americo” and “Africo.” As no corrections have been made, and as there is no attempt at grammatical precision, we can assume that Ben-Gurion wrote the letter in a rush. It is a clear, brisk letter and the Hebrew word “et” (“so favored”) by Ben-Gurion appears only once.

At the time he wrote the Piotrkow letter, Ben-Gurion was the head of the united front of the labor movement in the Eretz Israel elections of the 18th Zionist conference. This was the conference which was to determine the face of the Zionist movement, but this hardly prevented him from being concerned with the details of every small unit of the movement. In this case, the unit was our small town, Piotrkow. Such attention makes Ben-Gurion's letter a valuable historical document for us Piotrkow Jews.

The Letter

Warsaw, June 7, 1933

To the League Committee in Piotrkow:

Dear Friends:

I received an answer to the shekel questionnaire from Piotrkow, signed by our colleague M. Shidlowski, and I was ashamed to read it. In your town there are 68 Poale Zion C.S. members, 30 Hitachdut members, 86 Freiheit members (of whom 64 are bogrim [those who have finished their youth organization training for life in the newly rebuilt land of Israel]), 280 in Hashomer Hatzair (45 seniors), 20 in Gordonia (14 seniors), 159 in Hehalutz, with 28 in the Hachshara [preparation for settling in the land of Israel], 170 in Hapoel (60 of whom are apolitical), 367 in the League of whom 85 are apolitical, which totals about seven hundred persons (not counting Hehalutz, who might be party members, and the youth organizations), and you are proposing to sell only 500 shekels? Our colleague Shidlowski further writes that a financial assistance in the sum of 300 zloty was given to you! The members, not counting their parents, should give at least 1,500 shekels, and, after all, in your town you have also 400 craftsmen who can be won over to labor Zionist in the land of Israel. What is the meaning of this delinquent negligence? In most towns the members increase their quotas five – six fold, and you can do the same if you fulfill your duty out of a sense of realizing that this time it is not an election campaign but a struggle for life and decision, crucial for the survival of Zionism, of the workers' union (the Histadrut), and the pioneer immigration!

Sell the shekels among all the parents of members in the youth organizations; impose a minimum of 60 groshen on every member of Freiheit, Gordonia and Hashomer Hatzair who cannot vote, for the shekel fund; sell the shekels to the craftsmen. You have to guarantee a minimum of 1,500 shekels for the bloc of labor Zionism.

I am awaiting your answer and I expect more encouraging news.

Fulfill your duty!

With fraternal greetings,
David Ben-Gurion


The original letter of Ben-Gurion
The original letter of Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion during his visit to the 'Migdal Or' (Tower of Light) house in Haifa in 1961
Ben-Gurion during his visit to the “Migdal Or” (Tower of Light) house in Haifa in 1961.
On his left is Pola Gelade-Glatter of Piotrkow. She was then the manager of this house for the blind.
They are surrounded by the blind inhabitants of this noble institution

[Page 156]

Leopold Lewin

The famous Polish poet and writer, Leopold Lewin, was born in Piotrkow. He graduated the Warsaw University in 1931, majoring in Law and Journalism. He survived World War II in the USSR, where he served as a Polish diplomat and later fought the Nazis when he joined the Polish Army.

After the war, he held various, important editorial positions serving a number of major Polish newspapers. He was also the Secretary General of the Polish Literary Society.

Leopold Lewin, who for the last 45 years lives in Warsaw, wrote poetry all his life and is widely acclaimed in Poland. He also translates from Russian and German literature.

In 1988, Lewin visited Israel for the first time. He immortalized this profound experience in yet another volume of precious poems about the Promised and Holy Land.

Born and raised in Piotrkow, the prolific writer fondly recalls his home town and his young years. Some of the poems express his precious feelings shared, undoubtedly, by many of us. Here is one of them:



Nie chciałbym przyjść na świat we Frankfurcie nad Menem
I mieszkać w miniaturze stolicy — Weimarze;
Nie chciałbym przyjść na świat we wsi Michajłowskoje
I mieszkać nad kanałem w złotym Petersburgu;
Lecz chciałbym przyjść na świat w Piotrkowie Trybunalskim,
Gdzie w zaułkach Starego Miasta, na Rycerskiej,
Na Trybunalskim rynku, na Grodzkiej, Zamkowej
Rozgrywały się sceny wzięte żywcem z Troi –
Ich siłą napędową pasja i namiętność.
Bitwy klanów, gonitwy, zasadzki, porwania,
Napady nienawiścią, zemstą dyktowane
I najazdy, którymi kierowała miłość.
Tu każda sieñ, piwnica sekrety odsłania,
Godne homeryckiego patosu i mocy.

Tak, chciałbym przyjść na świat w Piotrkowie Trybunalskim
I stąd wyruszyć na podbój Kolchidy.

* * *


I would not like to be born in Frankfurt am Main
Or to live in the miniature Weimar Republic;
I would not like to be born in Michajlowskoje domain
Or live on the gold, Petersburg channel – so unique;
I would like to greet the world in Piotrkow Trybunalski,
Where, among Rycerska, through the city alleys,
On Trybunalski Rynek, Grodzka and Zamkowa
Ancient Trojan images – sounding like reveilles –
Their driving power – desires, lust and passion.
Fights of klans, ambushes, chases and abductions,
Assaults and vendettas, hatred and compassion
And raids motivated by love and seductions.
Here, every cellar, hallway, beneath and above,
Unveils the Homeric-like epics full of pathos.

I would like to be born in Piotrkow Trybunalski
And from here set out for the conquest of Colchis. 1

Leopold Lewin
Translated from Polish by Ben Giladi
Heidim No. 25, 1984

The founders of the Jewish Library in Piotrkow in the early twenties
The founders of the Jewish Library in Piotrkow in the early twenties.
From the left: Leopold (Lolek) Lewin, Yakov Pais, Hela Horowicz-Staszewska,
Shimon Blausztajn and Eva Blausztajn

1 Colchis is the mythological land of Medea, the wife of Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, whom she assisted in obtaining the Golden Fleece.

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