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[Page 72]

The Jewish professional movement in Będzin

by M. W. Kaminski

Translated by Rachel Fassler

Donated by Erin Einhorn

The Jewish professional movement in Będzin, all told, is some 30 years old. The first inklings of a plan to organize a movement began in 1905-1906. Until then, there had not been any sort of corporate body, which dealt with various divisions of opinion between workers and owners (bosses). In most cases, the master craftsman used to make decisions by himself in disputes between the master craftsman and his apprentinces. He was not only the employer at that time but also the educator and master over the personal life of his “boys”. There wasn't, by the way, a great class difference between the Jewish master craftsmen and the apprentinces at that time. They led the same life style, had the same cultural needs and, mostly, the apprentinces became members of the master craftsmens' families.

The work itself used to begin on Shabbat on the sighting of the first three stars and ended Friday evening just before the lighting of the candles. There was a short intermission to quickly eat a meal, to go to evening prayers and a break late at night, for a few hours of sleep.

The apprentices – mainly those that came from outside looking for work – had severe problems dealing with the “voyle yingen” [“decent boys”] of Będzin, who extorted “payment” out of the poor apprentices seeking work with local master craftsmen. The “shtarke” [“strong people”] also used to act as arbitrators in disputes between master craftsmen and the apprentice. Only with the rise of the socialist parties and the professional trade movement was the domination of the “strong” abolished.

Surprisingly, the first to be organized in Będzin was the professional union for painters, coachmen and mercantile clerks. Later they also organized additional unions for the carpenters, mill workers (metal) and the “Poale Zion” and other associations. During the years 1905/6, the “Bund”, as an active party, was not yet operating in our city.

It is clear that the unions did not have the foresight and character that the professional unions have today. The leadership, as well as their activity, were chaotic; strikes took place sporadically; agreed salaries weren't adhered to because the Tsarist regime didn't tolerate free discussions – even in the completely professional field. Due to this, in later years, with the rising tide of reaction and the simultaneous banishment of the most important social activists, the unions quickly fell apart and up till 1915 there was no evidence of any kind that there a professional organization in Zagłębie.

To begin with, as the German occupation began, so did the professional movement in Zagłębie begin to rapidly take hold. As such, the Labor-Zionists were the first to begin to organize workers in the private sector, who in a short time numbered 300 members. This union did not exist for long, due to the fact that the type of members in those times were not yet prepared to value the interests of a professional union.

The same happened to the painters union, which for the most part consisted of young members. They initially had a difficult time establishing a professional union. At the time, the leather workers were the best organized. Almost 100% of this union's members fully upheld their organization's discipline. Since they were well organized they were able to win their demands. They exist up until the present day.

The carriers (porters) union had a completely different character and a different sense of collective organization. They did not interest themselves in social matters. They remained strong and amalgamated and active in the political organization with which they were connected.

Around the same time, the private men's and women's tailors also became organized. The first activity that the union undertook partly ended the organization itself. The demands, which they sought, met with an impasse on the part of the employers, who declared a lockout and the action was lost. A result of this breakdown was the establishment of the first cooperative of women's tailors, which soon became private, however, because of this the organization fell apart.

The previously mentioned organizations were, in spite of everything, a favorable and creative factor in the building of the professional party.

In 1917, the needle workers had reorganized under the influence of the “Bund”. Within two years of activity, the “Bund” in Będzin managed to absorb almost all the workers associated with the clothing trade, as members. Apart from tailors, members of the needle workers were also milliners, fashion designers, furriers, girdle-makers, underwear seamstresses and so on. The organization had more than 350 members, amongst them, a certain number of non-Jews.

[Please note that this is a partial translation of this article]

[Page 73]

The Carriers Union [22 KB]
The Carriers [Porters] Union

[Page 75]

The rise of the Będzin Jewish gymnazie [high school] “Yavne”

by J. Wygodzki

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In the tragic year 1916, at the time when the World War raged with its entire fiendish force and shook the foundation of the old world, a small group of idealists, a sort of “ten idle men,” gathered, consisting of the following people: Berysz Preger, Jeszaja Hendl Erlich, Salomon Gutman, Mosze Szajn, M. Aronowicz, Eliezer Rubinlicht, Jicchak Wygodzki, Mosze Kalman Erlich, Majer Potasz, Engineer Szymon Zmudzki, Mosze Grundman and others who after a comprehensive deliberation decided to create a Jewish national gymnazie [high school] in Będzin.

After much effort and intervention with the occupying regime of the time, a written concession to open a gymnazie under the historic name of “Yavne” [religious Zionists], was successfully received. The founders generated a large sum among themselves and the next year, 1917, three extensions and two normal classes were opened at Kołłątaja Street, no. 45 with the yearly right to continue to open additional classes up to the eighth grade. A supervisory council was created of the above mentioned men with Salomon Gutman as chairman and new members also worked together with Jeszaja Rotner as vice chairman and Mosze Kronental. Dr. Noach Braun (now an instructor at the Jerusalem University) was engaged as the director of the gymnazie. In the first year, the teaching institution went along a difficult, torturous road because of the small number of students. This happened as a consequence of the ignorance about the gymnazie on the part of the rich assimilated classes who sent their children to non-Jewish schools that had public rights.

The dismal situation constantly worsened and because of the difficult material condition, the best pedagogic powers, such as Dr. Sztajnberg, Dr. Barasz, Dr. Metalman, Dr. Infeld, and others, left the school. As a consequence of the intensely mournful situation, the supervisory council came together for a meeting in the office of the “brothers Szajn” in 1925 in order to consider the question of liquidating the school. The supervisory council gave an account of the seriousness of the problem and after long, passionate debates it was decided not to permit a liquidation that would throw an eternal stigma on the residents of Jewish Będzin.

With renewed strength the supervisory council set about to make the situation financially sound and first of all the members assessed themselves with large sums for that purpose. The chairman, Saloman Gutman, and the “brothers Szajn” particularly distinguished themselves. Gutman pledged to pay 3,000 zlotys yearly in addition to supporting 10 students with tuition and the brothers, Chaim and Jicchak Szajn, in addition to frequent large donations, obligated themselves to support several students. At the social events that took place twice a year for the benefit of the school, the wives, Cesia Szajn and the wives of Szlomo Frenkl and of Henrik Inwald, particularly excelled in their self sacrificing participation.

An action on behalf of the gymnazie was also undertaken at the local city council and at the kehila, which was crowned with appropriate success. New members were also incorporated into the supervisory council, among whom the social worker, Szlomo Frenkl and the energetic communal leaders, Abram Przesznik, Wolf Rechnic and others, particularly distinguished themselves. Also Majer Potasz, the school worker, voluntarily announced that he would be the administrator. And from that moment a new epoch for the school began. There were giant steps in the development and their frequency grew considerably. There were many effects from receiving the right to coeducation, but a great hindrance to the further development of the gymnazie was not possessing any public rights because the students had to attend a non-Jewish school for the baccalaureate exams and the result was such that of eight students who approached the exams, only one received a baccalaureate. It was understandable that the situation undermined the further development of the school and it could not long endure.

Bed-075.jpg [38 KB] - The front part of the "gymnazie" named after Fürstenberg
The front part of the gymnazie named after Fürstenberg

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