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[Page 268]

The Zionist Workers party “Hahitachdut”

by D. L.

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

At the initiative of members Mosze Openhajm, Israel Gertner and Dawid Liwer, a branch of Hitachdut party was founded in our town after the party was established in 1921. The following is a collection of articles that were published in the movement magazine Folk on Land about the party branch in Będzin.

In the newspaper edition from July, 1921 we read: “When a notice was received from the main office, we convened a meeting, which welcomed the world organization of Hapoel Hatzair [Young worker] and Tzirei Zion [Young Zionists].” It was unanimously decided to join the new Hitachdut movement, whose political outlook was close to our hearts, and it had good prospects of wide development in our town and in the whole region. There is no doubt, that in the course of time that it will be an important entity in the Jewish public. The lack of an independent center is an impediment to the activities being carried out in not so convenient room of the Tarbut association. Hilel Lipszyc visited us and lectured on the subject of “What was learnt from the bloody riots in Eretz Yisrael (1921)”

In the July edition of 1924, it was written: “We were visited by Dr. Gur-Arje Tarlo, who lectured on the origins of Labor Zionism. Our branch has set out in heightened activity thanks to a visitor from the main office who motivated us to this. In the near future the number of our members will grow, since we declared a conscription drive for new members.”

In the edition of February 1925: “For some time the Zionist parties have been discussing the Hechalutz organization in our town. For this issue a committee of four members was founded, amongst them two of ours. This committee announced a collection drive for the “Hechalutz fund”. Members of ours who took part in this project were: Israel Gertler, Bencyjon Fogelewicz, Mordechai Korb, J. Openhajm and Dawid Liwer. Our member I. Gertner was appointed secretary of the collection drive. In the general meeting of our branch a great deal was spoken about the need for Hechalutz to be apolitical. Our member Israel Aron Liwer, who was given the distribution of “Folk on Land”, did good work for our magazine and acquired 30 additional conscriptions. In addition the weekly from Eretz Yisrael “Hapoel Hatzair” is distributed amongst our members with seven copies. The new committee of our party in comprised from our members: Mosze Rozekner (chairman) Rechnic, Gertler, I. A. Liwer, Dawid Liwer, M. Korb, Fogelewicz and D. Bajtner. We rented a spacious center in Nachum Cukierman's house that allowed us to increase our activity which has already been noticed: We founded the very promising Gordonia youth organization”.

Bed-268.jpg [22 KB] - A group of members of the 'Hitachdut' party
A group of members of the “Hitachdut” party
Standing from right to left: Alter, Szlomo Liwer, Spiegel (Israel), Dancygier, Cwi Ginsburg (Israel)
Seated: Yoro (America), Szlomo Feldman (London), Joel Openhajm, Fiszer, Elkana Manela, Dow Liwer (Israel)

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Not only Zionist education takes place in our new center, but also activity to spread knowledge and learning. A reading room was established which also includes newspapers from Eretz Yisrael. Evening classes have been organized for continuing education (folks-univerzites). The lecturers were: Frenkel – Hebrew literature, Dawid Liwer – Yiddish literature, Magister Erlich – Polish literature, I. Gertner – Zionism and the Eretz Yisrael, Rechnic – political economics, Gertler – Socialism.

On Sabbath evenings discussions were held on various current issues of Jewish life and Eretz Yisrael. There were questions and answers (kestel-oventen) evenings, free debates with representatives of other parties. From time to time the party published, in particular before various festivities, a humorous newspaper Der Knayper (the Whip) edited by Dawid Liwer.

Our branch took on an important position in the public life of the town, and was represented over the years up until the outbreak of war, in all the civic institutions by Mosze Rozenker – in the kehila, and Dr. Ruwen Rechtman – in the town council.

In 1925 our first members made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and amongst them the founders of our party: Openhajm, Gertner, Dunkelman, Fogelewicz and Liwer. Their aliyah was an event in the town and many came to bid farewell to them at the train station, which encouraged members of the party, who took on more intensive activity. A new committee was elected: I. Gertler, Berisz Liwer, I. A. Liwer, M. Korb, Mosze Groncki, Iser Londner and Fiszl Zygrajch.

In the Folk on Land (September and October 1926) we read amongst other things: “In the last town council elections we were very active. Our member Dr. Rechtman was nominated with the active town council members and is active in all fields. We have penetrated to the large towns in Zagłębie and Silesia. Our branches in Katowice and Sosnowiec are satisfactory. We have also managed to organize branches in Dąbrowa, Königshütte, Wolbrom, Olkusz and Ząbkowice. On Sunday, the 10th of October, a meeting of our party took place in which branches from all the Kielce region participated. The main office was represented by member Mordechai Jafe, a member of Hapoel Hatzair [Young labor] in Eretz Yisrael.

In edition no 4 from March 1927: “Last month a general meeting of our party took place in which all our members were present. After an opening by the chairman, Dr. Rechtman, reports were given by Mincberg (secretariat), Londner (treasury), Zygrajch (cultural committee), B. Liwer (newspapers). Members Hampel, Londner and Zygrajch lectured on coming activities. Many members participated in the discussions about the reports and in the lectures and they expressed their recognition of the committee which had done everything to strengthen and develop the party. The last to lecture was our member Hampel about the third conference of the labor Histadrut [union] in Eretz Yisrael. On the 29th of January of this year a founding meeting of Gordonia was held that had renewed its activity, comprised this time of youth from the common people based on pioneering principals. Arie Liwer opened [the evening], and Dr. Rechtman lectured on the importance of the Gordonia movement and its place amongst the Jewish youth movements. Greetings on behalf of the Hitachdut were heard – by member Sznycer, Hashachar [the Dawn] – by Lustiger, Hashomer Hatzair – by Szpajzer, Tarbut – by Altman and representatives of Hechalutz, K.K.L. and the League for a Working Eretz Yisrael. Member Mordechai Hampel lectured on A. D. Gordon and his doctrine, and Szlomo Najmark on the mission of youth at this time.”

In edition no. 14, July 1927, we read: “It is accepted that Tzirei Zion (Z. S.) [Young Zion], in their merge with Poalei Zion Yamin [Right-wing Zionist Labor] would forgo Hebrew, but they also placed a condition, that the secretariat of the K.K.L. committee in Będzin should not use Hebrew – something that was unheard of up until then. Yes, this happened here, purely and simply: Poalei Zion (most of who were from the former Tzirei Zion) affronted the K.K.L. committee with a threatening letter, that if they don't stop carrying out their correspondence and meeting protocols in Hebrew – they would leave. In order to ingratiate themselves with the Poalei Zion Smol [Left-wing Zionist Labor] they were willing to desecrate the dearest values of their party, Achdut Ha'ovada [Labor Unity] in Eretz Yisrael. Bravo, Poalei Zion Z. S., you are making progress!”…

Bed-269.jpg [23 KB] - The young guard of the 'Hitachdut' in 1936
The young guard of the “Hitachdut” in 1936 with Israel Gertler, the party chairman
First row: Dancygier (Israel), Stawski, Grosman, Noyman (Brazil), Golenzer, A. Liwer (America), Szwarc, Prager, Rozenberg, Broner (Israel), Rozyner (Israel), Fiszer
Second row: Szer, Rozyner (Israel), Himelfarb, Erlichman, Wolgryn, Israel Gertler, Frydman (America), Szapir
Third row: Benek, M. Grosfeld, S. Dafner, Wajsbord, Golenzer, Skoczylas-Szwarc, J. Lencner, Dancygier

In an article from June, 1930: “150 representatives participated in a regional conference of our party that took place in Będzin. In the opening speech M. Hampel reviewed the situation of Zionism, in Eretz Yisrael and in the movement. The state secretary of Hitachdut in Poland, Josef Lewi from Łódź, lectured on various current questions. Gedalia Geler, the Histadrut envoy in Eretz Yisrael (murdered in the bloody riots of 1936/39 – the editors) lectured on Hechalutz, hachshara [pioneer training] and aliyah.

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Bed-270.jpg [23 KB] - A group of 'Vitkinia realizers', 1932
A group of “Vitkinia realizers”, 1932, with the sponsor, Dawid Liwer
First row from right: G. Buchbinder, Wolf Golenzer (Israel), Aron Cukierman, Cwi Grosfeld (both in Israel), Carola Gutman, Josef Neufeld, Alter Rechnic (fell in the War of Independence), Dow Rapaport, Sara Skoczylas-Szwarc, Jecheskiel Syskind (Israel), Dow Londner (Paris)
Second row: Aron Werdygier, Tonia Neufeld, Arie Liwer, Jadzia Mirowski, David Liwer, Chedwa Honigman, Dow Liwer
Third row: Joszua Federman, Grosfeld, Tuwia Kokotek (all three of them are in Israel), Aron Golenzer, Wajsbort-Golenzer, Ruwen Alter

In a discussion the following participated: Gertler, Zygrajch, Regina Holander and Sznycer from Będzin, Introligator, Milsztajn and Drezner from Sosnowiec, Sztraus – Częstochowa, Hercberg – Pilicia, Szperling – Kłobuczyn and others. After the presentation of reports, various discussions and decision making – a new limited regional committee was elected: Dr. Rechtman, Gertler and Lajbl Kerner (later an editor of Zagłębie Zeitung – the editors). Decisions from the meeting:

  1. The conference condemns the restrictions on aliyah and formally declares that no obstacle would delay the Hitachdut members from realization and making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael by every means available to them.
  2. The conference is against the merge of the parties of the Zionist labor movement in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora, which could distort the ideological essence of our party.
  3. The conference placed right of center, endeavors to strengthen the party with a “Popular Jewish Socialist” spirit, in the light of the principals determined in Prague and Berlin.”
In the same edition we read: “A considerable effort was undertaken by our members in Będzin, in order to nullify the combined Poalei Zion and Z. S. attacks on our Zionist flag, that we suggested flying in a procession against the aliyah restrictions that took place in our town this month. Poalei Zion Yamin only wanted to protest under a red flag, however in order not to break up the general protest it was decided to fly both flags. The procession in which thousands of protestors participated was extremely impressive. Appearing amongst the other speeches was our member Josef Lewi from Łódź, and on behalf of Hechalutz, Mordechai Hampel who had just returned from Eretz Yisrael, in which he toured as the envoy of the local Zagłębie Zeitung newspaper.

When Gordonia, which we founded and nurtured over many years, became independent and unaffiliated, our party saw a need to organize a youth movement called Vitkinia. The first committee was comprised of the following members: Arie Liwer, Golzner, Tuwja Kokotek, Sara Skoczylas, Cwo Szwarc, Rozenberg and Grosfeld. Attached to the committee on behalf of the party was – D. Liwer. Over some time the Vitkinia comprised about 200 active members who were in all the Zionist activities and also in the Hechalutz. Its members left for hachshara in Królewska Huta (Silesia), Radomsko and other places, and at the end of their training made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. Evening Hebrew classes were organized run by a professional teacher.

With the development of the party, Vitkinia rented a spacious apartment with a number of rooms in the Duwidl Zmigrod home and our previous clubhouse, which had become too small for us, we left to Gordonia, which also grew and grew and didn't disappoint us on the day when their numbers were counted.

In the May 1933 edition Arie Liwer wrote: “The liquidation committee of the Hitachdut in Danzig [Gdańsk], which decided on the merge of our party with Poalei Zion, did not have an influence on us at all. On the contrary: our reply to the “capitalization” of our movement will be increased activity for the existence of an independent and sovereign Hitachdut. And indeed, the party in Będzin serves as an example, greatly increases its activity and is destined for greatness. The housewarming of our new clubhouse took place in high spirits. 250 members participated in the celebration, apart from our youth and many of those who were invited from our nearby branches. Our orchestra opened with the playing of the national anthem. Dr. Rechtman welcomed the visitors and representatives of the Histadrut and the Zionist institutions who came to celebrate together with us. The main office envoy Josef Lewi presented problems of the movement, which should under no circumstances be liquidated and should retain its ideological and organizational independence, and wished that the party building would serve as an abundant source of light to all sectors of the people. At this opportunity A. Liwer bade farewell to the first group of Vitkinia members leaving for hachshara. Ruwen Alter gave thanks on behalf of the Vitkinia pioneers. The celebration took place next to laid out tables and our orchestra played pleasant Hebrew and Eretz Yisrael tunes.

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Bed-270.jpg [23 KB] - Members of the 'Vitkinia'
Members of the “Vitkinia” on a Lag B'Omer outing

The humorous newspaper Der Knayper caused a wave of laughter and hilarity. We enjoyed the pleasant festivities till early light and whose impressions won't be readily forgotten”.

Activity continued at a tempo and with vigor till the outbreak of war, and didn't let up for a moment, and even though the ideological discomfiture relating to the merge with Poalei Zion brought the movement in Poland to a crisis point, the branch in Będzin was not rattled and remained faithful to the main office which intensely strove to retain existence as an independent party. Our branch was renown throughout the movement in Poland as the most established from all aspects that served as an example to others. Our members didn't rest their activity for a moment, even during the difficult period in the whole movement. Our senior members made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and in their place came the young generation – and the succession continued.

During the war years, as well, we didn't abandon our activities which took place in underground conditions, and we took a distinguished position in defense and in the well known agricultural farm in Będzin, that served as a camouflage for Zionist activity.

Thanks to our covert connections with Eretz Yisrael envoys in Switzerland, who equipped us with foreign passports, several Hitachdut activists managed to save their souls, and after the war settled in Israel.

The chapter of the Hitachdut life in Będzin is completely over, for which a glorious page in the movement history in Poland has been written.

Our Hitachdut party had a name for itself in the town and excelled in its activities to the credit of its dedicated members, of which I will note some of the most active: Julek Openhajm, Szlomo Liwer, Icchak Buchbinder, Elkana Manela, Sznycer, Dawid Richter, Efraim Goldminc, Najman and Ichaar Hozenes. All of them were killed in the Holocaust.

The “Hatzohar” Movement
[“The Revisionist Zionism Movement”]

Juda Fefer

Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

In 1927, Ze'ev Jabotinsky first visited Sosnowiec at the invitation of the then Maccabi's chairman, Yosef Kellerman. Shortly thereafter, the groundwork was laid to establish branches of Hatzohar [ The Revisionist Zionism movement] in Zagłębie, including Będzin.

Jabotinsky appeared at a public gathering of 1500 people in the Odzhielovi Hall, which became an impressive demonstration for the Zionist ideal. I was a boy of Bar Mitzvah age, and the details of the gathering are etched in my mind. Thousands gathered at the hall's entrances in the hope of listening to the words of the great Zionist speaker who enthused masses with his fiery speech.

My father's dedication to Jabotinsky's ideas meant that he was among those who were selected to enter the hall, and he brought me with him to listen to his detailed lecture on the bases of Hatzohar.

On the way home, my father explained to me the basic principles of the Revisionist movement, which the great speaker detailed and I had not fully understood.

And indeed, after not a long time, the Będzin branch of Hatzohar was the founded. It was led by the Zionist activists David Khaper and A. Diamond. Also worthy of mention are the youngsters who joined immediately: Y. Turner, Y. Silberberg, L. Hamer, B. Zuckerman, A. Stchegovski, Y. Zweigenheft, A. Zinamon, M. Kooperberg, A.G. Yeskerovits, Pshendazeh, Schanzer, Fuchs,

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[25 KB] A group of 'Revisionists' members (Pinkas Bendin, page 272)
A Group of Hatzohar Members
Standing right to left: David Zelikowitz, (Paris), Yitzchak Zweigenheft, Engineer Moshe Sternfeld (Israel), Yehuda Langfus
Seated: Leib Hamer, Shlomo Fuchs, Shlomo Schanzer, Reuven Danziger (Israel)

Berger, Bruner, Alter, Shyer, Schwartzbaum, (all perished in the Holocaust) Y. Langfus, D. Zelikowitz, M. Ehrlich, Y.Y. Yeskerovitz, R. Danziger, F. Kilstock, B. Rotner, and Y. Pragericht (all in Israel). Most of them came from Hashomer Haleumi and Hashachar, youth groups that had previously operated in the town.

Immediately with the founding of the branch, the founders began a multifaceted activism of political and practical Zionism.

In 1929, when the bloody [Arab] riots erupted in Israel, a large group of Revisionist youth from Będzin gathered for an impressive demonstration in front of the British consulate in Katowice. The local police responded to that illegal protest and arrested David Zweigenheft, Chaim Markowitz, and this author.

New members joined the Movement after the protest, including Pinchas Breiner, M. Megger, C. Potorka, Rachel Manheimer, Y. Pincus, Y. Velner, and Y. Feiner.

Next to the branch of the Revisionist movement, the Beitar [The Yosef Trumpeldor Association] movement was also founded in town, led by David Zelikowitz, Yehuda Turner, Fishel Kilstock, Reuven Danziger, Bezalel Rotner, and the deputy supervisor Avraham Kochman, who deserves a special mention as his every fiber was devoted to Beitar.

The Revisionist movement was represented in the Będzin Community Council by Zvi Kissner and its representative in City Hall was Avraham Montag.

Hatzohar members participated in the fundraisers for Keren Hayesod [known today as the Jewish National Fund] and Keren Kayemet [known today as the United Israel Appeal] and distributed the Shekel among the members of the movement and its admirers.

After the visit of the Beitar of Poland's commander Aharon Propes, the ranks of Beitar in Będzin expanded further and a new group of young forces joined it.

The Beitar flag, a beautiful, artfully crafted work, was inaugurated in 1931. (With the approaching destruction of Będzin, the flag was burned at the order of Beitar commander David Zalmanovich, HY”D (May God avenge his memory).

Nordia, a sports subsidiary, was founded next to Beitar and was led by L. Malach.

Another subsidiary, a women's organization named Veref [Editor's Note: This might have been associated with what is known today as Volta Educational Renaissance Forum], was founded and led by Mrs. Schwartzbaum, Mrs. Sherf, and others. An academic youth organization named Masada was led by S. Shaar ([now] in Israel), M. Sternfeld, magister Guterman, M. Rothenstein, Rosen, Leah Danziger, Helinke Sigel, Dora and Esther Schanzer, V. Frankel, M. Graizer, A. Pessachson (the son of a Bund activist in Będzin) and others.

As the Beitar branch in Będzin expanded, its offices were relocated to a spacious apartment on 13 Ma³achowska Street (Shimshon Rosenblum's building) where organizational work separate from Hatzohar took place.

In its last years, Beitar was led by David Stein, S. Shaar, Dov Danziger, Bruner, Zalmanovich, and others.

In 1933, a few training locations were established by the Beitar branch, in Będzin and elsewhere, where hundreds of branch members received training. Summer camps for Beitar members were established in Bielsko-Biala, Milowka, Z¹bkowice and other places.

The Revisionist movement grew and included many facets from all Jewish social classes in town. Many activists of the World Zionist Organization joined the ranks of Hatzohar, including Abba Tenenbaum, the engineer Zhamochki (who passed away in Israel), Solomon Gutman, and others.

A branch of Brit HaChayal [“the Soldier's Covenant”] was founded in 1933. Its members were military veterans only. The organization was officially recognized by the Polish government, grew considerably and included almost all army veterans of all

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'Beitar' members (Pinkas Bendin, page 273)
A group of Beitar of Zagłębie members at an instructors' training course in Będzin

ranks. Berit Hechayal was led by commander Moshe Glidman, who was succeeded as a commander by Y. Sigel (in Israel), who served until the outbreak of the Second World War. The other commanders included A. Parasol, M. Factor, A. Landau, A. Feldman, Selig Silberfenig (the latter two are in Israel). Another commander was Mordechai Weiner, a man of the people who was beloved by the Będzin community. He perished in an accident after he hurried to rescue his young employee who worked at repairing a sewage pit and they both died suffocating on the poisonous gasses emanating from the pit.

Brit Hachayal became an important defense body and, more than once, the anti-Semites who attempted to riot against the town's Jews retreated in shame after experiencing the prowess of its members.

They developed an extensive cultural activity led by Henik Ehrlich (passed away in Israel, 1957) and most of their work focused on Zionism. They managed to bring closer to Zionism many people who were distant from it.

In 1934, the religious organization Brit Yeshurun was established, led by David Brukner (in Israel), Moshe Heller, Michael Faktor and others. This organization was also joined by members of Hamizrachi and Agudat Israel.

During the ten years that the Revisionist movement operated in the town, it was visited by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Aba Ahimeir, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Dr. A. Altman, Meir Grossman, Dr. Ze'ev von Weisl, Isaac Rembah and others.

One of Beitar's larger operations was organizing illegal Aliyah (Aliyah Bet), which saved many of its members. Beitar member Yaakov Keiser, who was completely devoted to that mission, deserves a special mention. Another member who should be mentioned is Shmuel Bialka, who fell in the War of Independence in the Negev.

When the War began, the movement's activities decreased and it operated in secret until the extermination of Będzin's Jewish community.

The young Beitar female member Helinke Sigel deserves a special mention: during the War, she worked at the Jewish hospital in Sosnowiec, and despite having the opportunity to save herself, she didn't want to leave the patients behind and went with them to the Auschwitz crematoriums. May God avenge her memory (HY”D).

The “Wizo” organization


Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

Będzin had a strong branch of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), which was founded in our town in the 20s. WIZO possessed all of the traits that were necessary for a quick, blessed development because there were active women in our town who were devoted to it heart and soul and bore all of its concerns, including the dear ladies who are no longer with us, Necha Rotner, Chava Hutner and others.

They neglected personal and familial matters because of their extensive activism with WIZO, which they saw as a sacred mission. They always sought to glorify and expand the organization and to attract new members.

It seems to me that every consciously Zionist woman found a place in WIZO due to the energy of the two aforementioned activists and their loyal assistants. Necha Rotner was an educated woman, a gifted speaker whose speeches in fluent Hebrew enchanted everyone. I recall Nahum Sokolow's visit to Katowice when the late Rotner greeted him in poetic Hebrew, which impressed the great Zionist leader and he shook her hand and praised her. She was a member of WIZO's central institutions in Poland and participated in all its conferences.

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The women of WIZO participated extensively in Zionist activism in all fields and in particular they excelled in fundraising for the national funds. Their spirit of volunteering was impeccable, a model of public activism. Their club was in Moshe Kalman Ehrlich's house on 13 Œwiêtojañska Street, which bustled on evenings with members who gathered for lectures and social events.

The women of WIZO fully helped every envoy from Eretz Israel, be it Bialik, who worked with us to further Hebrew literature, Leib Yaffe on behalf of Keren Hayesod, Avraham Herzfeld for the Jewish Agency, Daniel Persky for Tarbut [“Culture”] and many more.

WIZO helped Kibbutz Hachalutz in Będzin, which used to approach WIZO when they needed help. They did not differentiate between a right-wing, left-wing, or religious kibbutz because they looked positively at all the halutzim and their factions who longed for Eretz Israel. WIZO members included women from the “general Zionist” stream, from haMizrachi or Zionist worker parties [Editor's note: the “general Zionist”, “haMizrachi” and several workers' parties would later become regular parties in the Knesset], because there was a single women's Zionist organization in Będzin (apart of the Revisionist women who left the Zionist organization and founded a separate nationalist women's organization). The women of WIZO occasionally held balls and bazaars, which gained a reputation among us, and all proceeds went to Keren Kayemet and WIZO institutions in Eretz Israel.

The crowning glory of WIZO activism was the Hebrew kindergarten, which was the only Jewish educational institution in Będzin that operated in Hebrew. Hundreds of children were educated in it during over a decade of existence. Bialik visited that kindergarten and feasted his eyes on the small children who sang songs in Hebrew.

A WIZO youth division existed alongside the parent organization. It also excelled in its activism and its members did not fall behind their older friends.

Necha Rotner (chairwoman), Chava Hutner (vice chairwoman), Zirele Shein (known for her devotion to orphans and for other contributions), Gutche Lifshitz, Iyta Bochowitz, Edele Strochlitz, Rachel Fefer, Rosenker, Esther Bialko, Dorke Lasker, Shifra Ehrlich, Dovale Ehrlich, Dafner, Chava Bozikovska, Menye Pearl, Lonye Liwer, Chana Lasker, Zila Fechter, and many more who excelled in their activism and charity were active WIZO members.

The “Bund”

Mordechai Hampel

Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

Despite the flourishing of the Bund movement in Russia and Poland, its influence, at first, was not visible in our town, although other socialist parties were very active among the Jewish working class.

Because the Russian authorities considered all socialist activity during those days as revolutionary and rebellious, the activity of the Bund in our town was also conspirative and anyone who was caught being involved in it was jailed and deported without trial.

Members of the Bund gathered for secret meetings in private homes and in quiet streets in town, near the train station, in the alleyways leading to “Góra Zamkowa” (where the remains of the ancient fortress were preserved), in the fields of “Malobunds” and the paths leading to CzeladŸ, which were considered “exchanges”, where members conducted propaganda and explained their cause and even held debates with members of other parties.

Despite Będzin being an industrial town, it did not have a pronounced proletariat; the working class was comprised mainly of minor craftsmen who employed apprentices or clerks and assistants in Jewish stores. The propaganda of all of the socialist parties targeted them. Every party promised “hills and mountains”: improving the very harsh working conditions, an increase in pay and more. The propagandists stormed workshops, and distributed pamphlets and manifests. Their work saw results as workers who were not yet organized and had not understood the values of the organization were captured by the new idea, the slogans of freedom, equality and brotherhood. They rallied around the red flag and began organizing and joining socialist unions. There was a “war” on every worker.

The Bund in Będzin also attracted hard-working people and did much for them: it strengthened in them an unshakable faith in the future, expanded their horizons, disseminated knowledge and education, and declared strikes, which were successful more than once.

The party entered the public arena during the First World War and the German occupation, when public activism was legal. The veteran members recovered and new members were added. They gathered every evening in the house of David Zmigrod, who was known for his large houses where many unions and institutions gathered. A subscription campaign started for the party's mouthpiece Lebens-Fragen [Life Questions], which deliberated the various problems and matters of the worker's movement and the Jewish world. According to a notice published in that periodical in 1917, the Bund branch of Będzin signed up nearly 300 subscribers and was in third place in Poland in distributing the party's weekly publication.

Night classes were held in the club to instill general and Jewish education to those who lacked basic education. Meetings were held, as were lectures, especially on Shabbat nights, about the Jewish worker's movement, Yiddish and its literature, socialism, and other topics. Among the speakers in our town, Yitzchak Pessachson stood out as being among the Bund's greatest members for about 50 years until the extermination of Jewish Będzin.

The 1917 city council elections brought a Jewish majority to the municipal government, in which the Bund was also represented and Pessachson was elected; he should be credited with many achievements for Jewish Będzin. We read about it in Lebens-Fragen (issue 6, February 1917): “the Bund in Będzin approached the municipal election war as the civil and socialist party P.S.D. (the Polish Social Democrats, which included Jewish members) and Poale Zion [Workers of Zion] were already active in the electoral field. This is the first time that our representatives appeared in a P.S.D. rally aimed at Jewish voters. Two speakers on behalf of the organizers spoke for and against establishing Yiddish-speaking schools for the Jews.

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'Bund' members (Pinkas Bendin, page 275)
A group of Bund members in Będzin, 1916, including Freilich, the community secretary, Kaminski, and Cornfeld

The people of Poale Zion also appeared and uttered lies and nonsense and raised such a scandal that the whole conference became a screaming match and nobody understood the other. The gathering would have 'exploded' but our comrade Pessachson saved the day and gave a popular speech in which he laid out the foundations of Bund and exposed the true face of Poale Zion.

…Our party also held a rally, which was under supervision of the police, who examined and interrogated the attendees whether they had a right to vote. Despite that, a crowd of 200 people appeared to carefully listen to our comrades.

…In the elections, Comrade Pessachson was chosen in the 6th 'curia' [Assembly]. Of 619 votes in that 'curia,' we received 292 votes. According to that number of votes, we were entitled to two deputies. Because the 2nd candidate, Comrade Sachs, does not know Polish, he was disqualified and only Comrade Pessachson remained. Poale Zion obtained two seats and P.S.D., which received only 52 votes, gained 1 seat.”

In another issue of Lebens-Fragen (Issue number 30, 1917), we read regarding a food shortage in the town:

“In Będzin, signatures are gathered for a petition aimed at the municipal authorities, which includes the following demands: 1) to remove the trade of milk, butter, eggs, tea, coffee and sugar from private hands and give it to city hall. 2) Milk, butter and eggs should be distributed to children and sick folks only, by medical certificate. 3) Tea, coffee and sugar should be distributed only to those who truly need them, and 4) the municipality should supply coal to all residents.

We empower Będzin City Hall member Pessachson to approach city council with the petition and ensure its implementation.

The success of Bund in Będzin did not last long because the changes that took place in Russia caused a crisis of ideas and internal divisions, which weakened it. The weakness of Bund on the Jewish streets was felt in its failure in municipal elections and in Jewish communal elections. Bund did not win a single seat since 1917, whereas Poale Zion won often and even the Zionist labor party Hitachdut [Unity] was well-represented. Only the municipal elections of 1934 saw a change and Bund was able to obtain one seat, which was filled by Dr. H. Pearl, a doctor and devoted activist. A new activist stood out during that time, a talented speaker with much energy, Yitzchak Stopincer (perished), a native of Czêstochowa who settled in Będzin and many of the party's successes can be attributed to him.

In the 30s, the movement in Poland strengthened and its influence and esteem rose among Polish Jews. The strengthening of the party also made a mark on Będzin as the local branch expanded itse range of activities in the party's clubhouse, “Grosser Club” (named after the known Bund activist), the “Culture League”, the “Hazamir” [The Nightingale] society, YIVO and more. Public gatherings were held, as well as lectures by writers and activists, and I will mention a few: Victor and Henrik Ehrlich (executed in Russia during WWII), Yisrael Lichtenstein (died in America), Shmuel Sigelbaum (known as Arthur, committed suicide in London during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), Yaakov Pat (now in America) and others.

A short while before the War, 50 communists of the Trotskyite faction, among the great members in Będzin, joined the Bund.

On Shabbat, June 4, 1938, a large rally was held under the slogan of “fighting for our rights,” about which we read in “Folks-Zeitung:” The Ludovy hall was jam-packed. All seats were taken and many people had to stand for two hours in the nearby yard as the large hall and its corridors were full. Comrade Sh. Sever (aka Shlome Ehrlich of the Będzin Trotskyites who joined the Bund), an envoy of the center, lectured.

[Page 276]

His speech and his conclusions were accepted by the large audience with applause, signaling relatedness to his words.”

Bund, which was an important factor in nurturing Yiddish, attempted to establish, along with other parties and institutions, a Yiddish school in our town modeled after the CYSO (Centralishe Yiddishe Schul Organizatzie, (Central Yiddish School Organization)) but encountered many obstacles and Jewish Będzin remained without a Yiddish school throughout the years.

The party operated the youth organization “Yungt-Bund Tsukunft” [The Future of Young Bund] and SKiF (Socialister Kinder Farband) [Socialist Children Association], which included children from age 12. SKF had dozens of members (est. 1936), children of old Bund members and a Scouts-like structure. The young members participated in most of the party's projects and also in the May 1st celebrations. Their last project was a summer camp in Zakopane (the Tatra Mountains) in 1939.

The party initiated the sports association Morgenstern [The Morning Star], which nourished football (soccer) in particular. Its players competed with other football teams, which existed near almost all Jewish workers parties.

The Bund in our town operated even during the Nazi occupation, in secret. According to the testimony in the book Bundist Generations (New York, 1956) special envoys came from the Warsaw headquarters and brought funds to conduct missions. They distributed covert propaganda against the Judenrat and called on people not to cooperate with it and to even rise up against it as it was a tool in the hands of the Nazis, our people's destroyers. However, active armed resistance did not take place although it was planned. Hundreds of Bund members suffered the same fate as all Jews in Będzin, and they walked arm in arm on their last journey to the valley of death; only a few survived.

Of the Bund activists in Będzin I will mention only a few`: Yitzchak Mordechai Pessachson, Yisrael Freilich (community secretary), Dr. Chaim Pearl, Leibel Cornfeld, Moshe Wolf Kaminski, Nutta Brodkevich, Mottel Seintz, Kalman Michawer (all perished) Ploznek and Yechiel Kaminski (both in France), David Weinstock, Henrik Fireman (both in America). Others also are worth mentioning, but I cannot recall.

“Folkspartei” (The People's Party)


Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

This party, which adhered to the mottos of the historian Dubnow about national-cultural autonomy, was founded during the First World War, in 1916. In its heyday it attracted masses in Jewish-populated areas (Warsaw, Lodz) and was also represented in the Polish Sejm, municipalities and communities. However, its branch in Będzin was weak and did not accomplish much. It had no influence and it never participated in our municipal or communal elections.

The party's headquarters in Warsaw occasionally sent to us its people, especially Chaim Rosner, the artists' activist, as it was an organized force in our town that aimed to establish a local branch and conquer the place, but the seedling did not sprout.

Among the residents of Będzin who were fond of the Folkists was Binyamin Graubart, an educated man beloved by the people because of his loyal activism and his noble traits, the legacy of his father the rabbi. During the War, he was the Będzin Jewish community chairman and sought to help the Jewish masses with their troubles, to bypass the Gestapo's commands, to change them or sweeten the decrees, but he had to resign because he could not walk the same path as the Judenrat, who were a tool for the Nazi authorities.

Moshe Hampel, among the talented and devoted craftsmen's activists on our town, was also a Folkist.

Poale Agudat Israel
[The workers of Agudat Israel]

Mosze Binjamin Klajnman

Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

The foundations for this religious workers' union in our town were laid in the 20s. Today, the existence of that organization is a given, but its establishment during those days in Poland was a daring move.

Poale Agudat Israel [PAGY]in Będzin was among the creators of the religious labor ideal and its initiators appealed to masses of Orthodox workers. {Editor's note: This sentence was slightly modified because the original was incomplete]. The movement was a subsidiary of Agudat Israel and was a youth movement made up of religious workers whose social conditions pushed them from the cheder or the yeshiva to work in workshops or stores. The desire to maintain allegiance to Judaism and the fear of the influence of the surroundings that were hostile to its values, united those youth under one flag and organization.

Poale Agudat Israel in Będzin operated in the first years of its existence in Cheder Yesodei Hatorah, where the town's Agudat Israel institutions were centered. Its first activities included establishing a Torah lovers' organization, a Gemilut Hasadim [a Charity], a reading hall, a prayer house and the like.

Among the first council members were: Yaakov Winter (tailor), Avraham Yedwabni (clockmaker), Shlomo Yitzchak Shnitzer (salesman), Naftoli Burstein (tailor), and the brothers Avraham, Yehuda, and Aharon Abramowitz (tailors), HY”D.

Later, as consciousness of social justice according to the Torah and Prophets was expanded, PAGY expanded to all areas

[Page 277]

of public life in the town and became an important factor in the community. We participated in activities of the general trade unions of Będzin workers. It was during the flourishing of socialism in Europe, which left its marks on our union as well. The new spirit that awakened the movement brought new people to us and we became a considerable force.

New members, men of imagination and initiative, were chosen to lead the organization, including Lipman Berkowitz, David Rosenwald (a tireless activist), Moshe Leib Guttenstein (all three are in Israel), Shlomo Swinkelstein (currently overseas), Shmuel Schweitzer (known at the time as a great chess player in Zagłębie and today he is active within the religious community in Belgium), Yaakov Shimon Orbas who was well-versed in Torah and excelled in spiritual talents (known as the “Genius of Ostrowiec”), Dovid Barcuh, a sharp Torah scholar and a Hasid of the of the Aleksander Rebbe, the young and energetic Eliezer Feldgeir and this author. A strong youth group called Sinai was established due to our efforts.

As our movement grew, we rented a spacious and comfortable office in Shimon Krok's house on Modrzejowska St. In our new and spacious hall, we achieved significant accomplishments. We founded a people's university (folk universetet) that was also joined by many of the secular working intelligentsia. Our organization participated in the Będzin municipal elections and even won its own seat, occupied by Hershel Ehrlich (record-keeper) This fact gained recognition for the organization's leadership in Poland, which had few representatives in local government.

PAGY in Będzin operated a cheder where 400 children studied. Tuition was fixed and minimal, which allowed Orthodox Jews from the working class to send their children to our education network. The school's principal was Dovid Baruch, the organizational administrator was Moshe Fuchs (now in Tel Aviv) and the teachers were members of our organization.

We were active in a general youth organization in our town “Tseirey Mishmorei Hacholim” [The Young Guardians of the Sick]. I served as vice-chairman of the organization. We participated in all public actions such as protests and demonstrations against the pogroms in Przytyk in 1936, the movement to boycott Germany in 1933, and more.

We published a newspaper Der Nyer Arbeter Veg [The New Worker's Way] edited by Y.S. Orbas, Lipman Berkowitz, and M.B. Kleinman (both in Israel) and the monthly publication Unser Tribune [Our Tribune], which published ideas that our organization in Będzin had raised in the organization in Poland. We had our own printing press for the papers.

We were the most established organization among the branches of our union in Poland in all aspects and we preached for new paths and principles, including independence of the movement, and an Eretz-Israel-based outlook. For this purpose, a regional council was founded for fundraising for Eretz Israel. The [local] movement had a decisive influence [on the general movement] and on the eve of the War we were on the verge of taking over the wheel for the entire movement, but the blood-drenched Nazi fist uprooted all of Jewish Będzin with all of its classes, parties and streams, and Poale Agudat Israel among them.

'Hachalutz' members (Pinkas Bendin, page 277)
Hachalutz – Poale Agudat Israel (PAGY)
Row A from right to left: Altman, Kaiser, M. Ungar, Guterman, Yedovni
Row B: Winter, Bloom, Kaiser (America), Tuchmeir, Tauba, Goldcorn, Greengers, M.C. Kaminer (editor of Das Yiddishe Vochenbalt), Burnstein, Briner, L. Ungar, Friedberg
Row C: Gutenstein, Feldgeir, Alderfligel, Herschkowitz, Tuchmeir, Weisbeker, Shnitzer, Ungar

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