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[Page 318]

Memoirs of Revolutionary Years

Shmuel Pyeker

Donated by Robert Cherniak

I remember when my father used to take me with him to Zionist gatherings in Semyatitch. The speakers were, for the most part: Peretz, Reb Tank hum and Moishe Pundik. Various sections of the Tanakh[1] were read aloud along with their commentaries. These were discussed and there was also talk about Israel. These were the first Zionist activities in our town. Some time later, Pundik emigrated to Israel.

My father had a small carpentry factory with two or three employees. One time, I overheard the workers saying that on Saturday there was to be a gathering on the “fiddlestick.”[2] Out of curiosity , I went there. There were about twenty people. The speaker was Meyer Kozhel's daughter. She spoke with great fervor. That was the founding meeting of the “Bund.”

On the first of May, a group of Jewish workers went into the woods to celebrate the holiday. It was illegal. As soon as the police heard of it, five young men were arrested. Among those arrested were Yankl Arishes and Sima Bonde. Later, they were let go.

The activists of the Bund were: a son of Meyer Kritchke (an eloquent speaker who was also a rabbi), the Shpalter brothers, Moishe Vaysman and Yankl Arishes. I don't remember the others.

Practically at the same time that the Bund started in Semyatitch, there also started a workers' Zionist organization. Actually it wasn't very successful. Pakhter led the group. Later the group brought in better speakers and then it attracted a lot of the young people.

In 1905, the revolutionary Jewish boys and girls of Semyatich staged a true uprising. It started this way: Rosh-Hashona night, when the young people go for walks in the city park, the police, without any warning at all, began to shoot at those happily strolling along. Tsalke, the cigarette maker's grandchild was killed and ten others were wounded. There was a general panic and everyone scattered.

During that night, the working class got organized. They formed armed groups and got ready to demonstrate. Early in the morning, these groups were ready. They caught every policeman that they saw, disarmed him and beat him soundly. The police who weren't caught ran away and the Jewish resisters took over the running of the town.

On the last days of Succos, two carriages of policemen rode into town with the express purpose of suppressing the resisters and getting the town back in order. The resisters met them with much shooting and, after a short, hard fight, the police retreated and went back to where they had come from.

This state lasted for almost three weeks. Then one day two brigades of soldiers road into town. They tore through town trying to scare people and then retreated to the barracks under the bridge. After them came a great number of policemen. It is true that the young people exhibited many heroic actions, but we couldn't hold our own for more than four days.

Many were arrested. Because of this and because of the Russian-Japanese War, there began a great immigration of the young people of Semyatitch to America. Among those leaving were many of the leaders of the resistance. Those who remained were like sheep without a shepherd. The activities of the revolutionary circles in town were paralyzed.

A few years later, Yeshaya Tsirulnik once again started to organize the youth. He was arrested and sent to do hard labor for eight years. In Moscow, after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1920, he was shot for being an active anarchist.

In 1918, six years after I left Semyatitch, I returned to my home town. That was just about the time of the collapse of the German Army. This created the situation where the city was left without any government any no one to keep order. Rumors about a possible pogrom were circulating. We, together with the Zionist, created a provisional community council, organized a self-governing body, bought arms and prepared our defense. At the same time, we also purposely spread the news that we possess huge weapon reserves and a large, well-organized company of fighters. Thanks to these rumors, the attack on the Jews never materialized.

When the Polacks took over the government and instituted a certain order, we finally got more political freedom. We, the Bundists, then began to renew our interrupted work of 1905 but now with different methods.

We created a club with a library. The first books were gathered in town. We also got a bit of money towards this goal.

We held meetings in our club, heard speeches and hosted discussions. Some of the speakers were from our own ranks and some were invited from outside the town. At the same time, we founded a Jewish elementary school, but supporting the school proved very difficult. We used to receive a bit of assistance from an American aid organization, but it was not enough.

In order to support the school, we created a “dramatic circle”. The “circle” brought in a bit of money and also raised our prestige. Some of the actors who distinguished themselves by exhibiting a great deal of talent in various roles were: Yankl Arishes, Peysekhke and Avraham Volker.

The teachers in the Jewish elementary school were: the two Rubins sisters, Yankl Levin, Yakov Tikatski, and Henye Tikotski.

Caption under picture on p. 319: From left to right: standing--Hershl Shevits, Moishe Loyfer, Yitskhok Kaplan, Khane Goldberg,--sitting--Pinkhes Kravyets, Anshl Tchabinavitch, Isser Rabinovitch

  1. The Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for Torah, Prophets and Writings Return
  2. Obviously the nickname for a certain area of town Return

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