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[Page 265]
The “Poale Zion Smol”
[left-wing Zionist workers]

by Mordechai Hampel

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

It was a deeply-rooted and established party in our town during all the years of its existence. It maintained a wide range of activities on behalf of the Jewish workers in Będzin in all facets of life, to improve their financial situation, to improve their education, to care for their health. This movement had a number of devoted and talented members, with whose specialities raised it to top level of strong party branches in Poland, which was the pride of the Warsaw center, a branch which always knew how to dedicatedly fulfill its obligations and developed its branches amongst the youth, in sports organizations, in trade unions, in evening classes, in clubrooms for children and so on.

Even towards the end of the 19th century “Poale Zion” was active amongst the workers population there, of course illegally, persecuted by the Tsarist authorities. Herszl Sztatler (died in 1938), a party activist till his death, was arrested because of the organization of a strike and the distribution of socialist pamphlets, and in 1907 was sentenced under an administrative decree of the Interior Minister to be exiled to distant Russia, however the punishment was later changed – in exchange for this leaving the borders of the country.

The “Poale Zion” in Będzin excelled in the smuggling of socialist activists across the border to Russia through our town. Those that passed through amongst others were: Ber Borochov and his wife, President Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, M. Jarblum, the Knesset chairman Josef Szprincak, Jakob Zerubavel (who in a conversation with him in the Labor archives in Tel Aviv (Bet Lessin), reminded me of this period and friend Juda Lajb Fajner, who was an expert in “smuggling” across borders).

In praise of the “Poale Zion” members of this period it should be noted, that they didn't suffice merely with Zionist-Socialist propaganda but carried it out in deed. Around ten members rose up and made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael to realize their ideals: Eliezer Hampel, the sisters Malka and Rachel Sara-Blat Hampel, the brothers Szlomo and Dow Sznajderman, Chana Szajderman-Arieli, Josef Klodzinski-Arieli, Mosze Sztajnfeld-Shoham, Klajnman and Arie Szwajcer.

Years passed crowned with blessed clandestine activities. The First World War erupted, and two years later the party came out from the underground to open activity, that was permitted by the authorities of the German occupation in Będzin. The party breathed easier, and its experienced senior activists reorganized the party and were very successful.

[Page 266]

In the town council elections in 1916, they achieved three representatives. In the same year the “Arbeyter-Heym” [worker's home] organization was founded, that began with wide political and cultural activity, and attracted a considerable portion of the Jewish workers and the labor intelligentsia.

In conjunction with “Arbeyter-Heym”, a cheap kitchen was established and free evening meals were distributed from it to refugees from Germany that was impoverished and on the brink of starvation during World War One.

A cooperative was also founded in conjunction with the party, a sort of “Mashbir” [department store] that supplied its members with food supplies which were received in the main local committee, and which took care of the provisions of the population that suffered a lack of essential consumer goods like milk, eggs, vegetables, tea and so forth.

The rift that began in the international movement in 1920 on an ideological background, was not visible in the “Poale Zion” party in Będzin, that joined in its entirety with all its activists and leaders to the left wing. Only a few individuals, amongst them Tewel Klajman from the original members of the “Poale Zion” in Będzin remained outside the framework of the party, and expressed admiration for the “Poale Zion Yamin” [Right-wing] that didn't exist in our town as an organized party till the merge with the “Tzirei Zion Z. S.” [Young Zionist Socialists] in 1925.

In the movement bulletin “Naye Welt” [New World] (Warsaw, 1921, no. 25), we read: “In spite of the persecution by the police, that harasses us and doesn't leave us alone, we set out to carry out extensive activity. The number of our members continues to grow. In conjunction with the party 5 active trade unions have been organized for commerce workers (50 members), leather workers (125 members), metal (30 members), porters (46 members), barbers – this is the only trade union in all of Zagłębie (70 members). Also the trade union of the bakery workers (in this union the Bund dominated around the country) in Będzin, with their cooperative bakeries, joined us, and numbered 40 people. We also initiated the foundation of a workers support fund. We also approached the Bund in this regard to join this project, however after three of our approaches didn't yield anything – the fund was founded using our own resources. Together with the party there a youth organization exists. We will be soon be opening a “A kinder heym” – “a children's clubhouse”.

In the “Fraytik” [Friday] newspaper (Warsaw, no. 1 January, 1923) we read (following constant boycotting by the youth newspaper of the authorities, it appeared in those years each time with a different name):

“The “Gezelshaft far ovent-korsen” (the organization for evening classes), which was organized by our party, is developing this important activity. We will be soon be opening an evening school for workers, so that they can complete their education. Tens of students have already enrolled. The lecture by Zerubavel on the subject “The intelligentsia during this period” was successful from all aspects, however when it finished the police carried out a “surprise”: the theatre building was surrounded by policemen, and the audience, whose numbers were great – were forced on leaving the hall to identify themselves. Several “suspect” youths were arrested, however were released after a few hours, when the police realized, that there was no basis for their suspicions”.

From 1928, together with the party in Będzin a branch of the “Stern” (The Star) sports organization existed, which was founded in Poland in 1923, and this important activity is to its credit. The party also organized an orchestra, the only one in town amongst the workers' parties, which participated in various festivities and gave pleasure to the workers with its melodies. The musician renown in Będzin and all the surroundings, the late Symcha Lustig (killed), directed the orchestra and he was also a member of “Poale Zion Smol”.

In “Arbeyter Zeitung” [paper of the labor movement], no. 7, February, 1933, we read: “As of today our party has moved to a new and spacious clubhouse in the center of town (Modrzejowska Street). We have grown and greatly expanded our activities, also in the field of sport. The athletics division includes three boys' groups of boys and one girls' group, carrying out regular activities under the direction of trained leaders. The ping-pong division set out to competitive games that take place in Zagłębie, and we have all the chances of winning in the championship. The soccer division, that strode last year at the head of the Third League and has transferred this year to a higher league, is making preparations for the coming season. Our wind instrument orchestra which includes 25 members, purchased new wind instruments and is making progress thanks to our expert director, our comrade Lustig”.

In 1933 a fundraising campaign was conducted amongst the members of the movements in Poland for the foundation of “Bet Borochov”, a building of the “Poale Zion Smol” in Tel Aviv; widespread response was received for the campaign from the party in Poland, which made every effort for its success. In the movement newspaper, from time to time there were names of members in Będzin who participated in this project, who stove to exceed their quota. The success of the project which was called “Rojter Tzigel” (“Red bricks”, the price of each brick – 10 złotys) was assisted by Mosze Aram and Gerszoni (now in Israel) who visited Będzin.

The party carried out variegated cultural activity: evening classes run by Wajcenberg, courses in Esperanto run by Morowski, a bountiful library (the librarian – Rozen), popular lectures and so on.

A special issue was the party representation in the town administration. During almost all the years of its existence, apart from the nineteen thirties, it had representatives in the town council in Będzin. In the first town council, 1916, represented: Herszl Sztatler, J. L. Fajner and Henryk Wolf. In the nineteen twenties – Dr. Fajwel Widerman and Mosze Hamburger and afterwards J. L. Fajner, who specialized in municipal problems, and in the last town council – Anszel Wajcenbeg.

Regarding the elections that took place in Będzin in 1934, when the party suffered a defeat, we read about in the “Arbeyter Shtime”, [Worker's Voice] no. 23 of the same year:

“This time the struggle for the elections of the Będzin town council is very difficult, since we are being persecuted and subjugated from every direction. Our list was finally approved (we were frightened of being disqualified because of the plan against us) and we received the last number, however we delivered the list of candidates at the correct time in accordance with accepted procedure, but it was found that they “took care of” it so we wouldn't receive our usual number “5”, that was so popular in the previous elections. No theater manager was willing to lease their hall for meetings, and as a consequence we were behind in our publicity and propaganda. Only on the last Saturday did we hold a public meeting in the party courtyard, to which people from other parties came with an intention of causing a “blow-up”. And indeed, we weren't mistaken. Before our first speaker managed to open his mouth he was interrupted, and order was disrupted – and the audience was dispersed by the police.”

“After the Sabbath ended, on the same day, we tried holding a meeting in the “Stern” clubroom (Kollątaja Street). Once again the police appeared, saying that they had been sent to keep the peace… M. B. Rotenberg opened [the meeting], and following him Fajner filled us in on his activity in the town council ending his term of office. Finally, Natan Buksbaum (killed), the delegate of the main office, spoke about our platform towards the elections. In the middle of his speech, people broke through the entrance which wasn't guarded, by the people that had broken up our previous meeting in the afternoon in the party courtyard. They disrupted with continuous heckling and didn't allow the speaker to talk and even hit him with a stick. When we wanted to throw out the “bully” a commotion was raised, and the police who had waited for an appropriate opportunity – dispersed the meeting.

On the day of the elections the party and “Stern” clubrooms were closed, since a rumor had reached us, that bullies intended to damage them and as a consequence we directed the publicity in the streets only and here also we were persecuted, whilst the “Poale Zion Yamin” and “Bund “carried out their publicity with complete freedom the whole time without disturbances and oppression.

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Bed-267.jpg [22 KB] - Activists of the "Stern" sport's society
Activists of the “Stern” (Star) sport's society
of the “Poale Zion Smol” movement

We achieved 300 votes, and we were only missing 7 votes to attain a mandate. The “Bund” achieved 320 votes, and this result came as a surprise to them, since they didn't hope for such a result themselves. The “Poale Zion Yamin” attained a delegate, however we did not despair – and we will continue with our work”.

In the elections that took place in May 1939 “Poale Zion Smol” appeared as a united party with “Poale Zion Yamin” and attained their own delegates, however this city council almost didn't operate, because the war broke out – and an end came to everything.

To commemorate 10 years of the existence of the “Stern” sports society, in 1938, a celebration was held in town, and I read about this: “ We are getting ready for a mass celebration, in which once again our orchestra will participate that “recovered” after being injured during the 1st of May procession of 1935…”

On reading these lines I felt, that more was being obscured than what had appeared, and so I asked Abram Zonenlicht (“Menko”) from Tel Aviv, a member of the orchestra who survived, who told me: “On the 1st of May we set out, party members, the “Jugent” [The Youth], the “Stern” sports' society (known in the town by the name of “Gwiazda”) and trade unions, with our orchestra leading, in unified rows to demonstrate solidarity with international workers holiday, apart from the general workers' demonstrations that took place in the town. Our demonstration, in which hundreds of people participated with our red flags waving above their heads on which our socialist and “Palestinian” slogans appeared, was conducted suitably. However when we reached the junction of Kollątaja and Modrzejowska Streets, near the church, next to the Abramczyk building, communist banners were suddenly seen and provocative calls were heard: “Onwards the oppressive government!” “Long live the free state!”. The police which had accompanied the demonstration broke through into our ranks, and with rubber batons began striking in every direction and forcibly dispersed us. Confusion reigned and terrified scampering. Our instruments, that we purchased by our hard work and our savings, were mostly broken and damaged by the police. Jakob Potok bent over (killed some time later as a result of an accident in the Fürstenberg factory), who especially stood out with a large drum, was the worst beaten, however protected his head by covering it with the broken drum, and thus made an escape… some of our friends were bleeding from their injuries. The orchestra was silenced for several years, till we found the necessary means and bought new instruments.

The “Stern” – “Gwiazda” team was one of the strongest teams in Zagłębie. Its last public appearance was in July 1939, when it competed with the strong “Śmigły” soccer team in Sosnowiec and beat it with surprising results – 2:4. The goals were put in by the players Wajsburg and Szwajcer. This competition was preceded by a friendly match between “Stern” and “Nordia” that ended in a draw of 1:1. (News item from “Zaglembier Leben” [Zaglembian life])

Amongst the active members of the party in Będzin the following should be noted: Juda Lajb Fajner, Mordechai Berysz Rotenberg, Anszel Wajcenberg, Jechiel Kornfeld, Mosze Kurcfeld, Szlomo Wolhendler, Mosze Rozen, Alter Rolnicki (all of them killed), Lajbl Meryn (died after the war), Josef Rozenzaft (now in Switzerland), Josef Wajs (Israel), Herszl Szatler and Isacher Bajtner (both of them important party members who died before the war), and from the “Jugent”: Heniek Rubin, Noach Rolnicki (both in Israel), Jidl Majtles and others.

Following the death of Herszl Szatler in 1938, a detailed article appeared in “Zaglembier Leben” with a description of his personality, in which it was noted “A central figure has departed, from the pillars of the “Poale Zion Smol” party in Będzin. He always stood in the front rows of the freedom fighters. As early as 1905 he fought, was arrested and suffered in prisons and exiles. As a loyal soldier in the war he stood for all the years of his life at the front for the release of the workers' status from its limitations. In the first Będzin town council of 1916, he was publicized as a representative of “Poale Zion” and in his successful appearances on behalf of workers' issues and the Jewish town in general. We always met up with him in “Arbeyter-Heym”, in “Zamir” and in “Gezelshaft far ovent-korsen” and in the “Muze” troupe, for which he was its regular director. He wasn't discouraged from his public duty, which he carried out faithfully and dedicatedly. With his demise, the Jewish workers' movement lost an idealist, a brave fighter, a pioneer of the Jewish stage and an enthusiast of Yiddish and its culture”.

Isacher Bajtner was written about in “Arbeyter Zeitung” (Warsaw, March 1939): He was aged only 36 when he died. He had a sensitive heart and a gentle personality.

[Page 268]

In the past he belonged to the “Hashachar” youth movement in Będzin and Z.S. and “Poale Zion Yamin” parties. In 1925 he made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, however because of a grave illness he was compelled to leave the country. He returned to Będzin and joined our movement, in which he immediately dominated as a member dedicated with all his heart and soul. Although he was continuously ill, he abounded with life, even in his most difficult period. His home was open to all and served as a committee home for main office delegates when they came to Będzin. He was educated and cultured. Even though he knew his life was ending, he was never down in spirits, encouraged his family, his friends, and till his last breath he followed what was happening in the movement”.

The party continued its activities in Będzin during the last World War as well, as did the other parties, in underground conditions under threat by the Nazis. Only a few individuals managed to escape the crater of death in the labor and concentration camps.

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