Translated from the Yiddish by Jerome Silverbush
Edited by Roni Seibel Liebowitz The Poalei Zion movement in Belchatow was created in a very unusual way: It grew from the ranks of [the] Belchatow Bund.
So that, in order to understand the curious thing we are talking about, I have to turn to a chapter in our history, to that period in our shtetl, when the young men in the Beit Midrash, while studying our Talmud or other religious books, obtained books of worldly literature and read them in secret. One borrowed these books secretly for three kopeks a week from Yakob Elbinger, who was called Yankel Shpiliter in the Shtetl. Later, when we were discovered and we had already left the Beit Midrash, we became official members of the library, and one part joined the Zionistic movement, and the other part joined the Bund. We reorganized our library into the Zionist Club, which at that time existed upstairs in Yankel Ostrowski's house, the only two story house in Belchatow at that time.
A large part of the members of the Zionist Club originated from the poorer strata of workers, craftsmen and small businessmen who ideologically tried to solve the Jewish national problem through Eretz Israel, but intellectually, the environment of the Zionist club was strange because they tried to get the children of rich people and even several factory owners to join. In Bund circles the initiative then originated to divide the unsatisfied worker youth from the Zionist party and create the Poalei Zion Party in order to have a worker majority at the next general meeting of the library to determine the future fate of the library, which had about 900 books. It is clear that because of the Bundist's feat, Poalei Zion had become a self sufficient party and two branches of activity developed in the shtetl. The first leaders of the Belchatow Poalei Zion were Ruchel Lichtenfeld and Moshe Szmulewicz, two capable and intelligent young people who had been very valuable for the Bund.
That was in 1917, when the Bund took over the library from the Zionists. On a Shabbat afternoon we were called for an urgent meeting, which took place in the home of the teacher at 29 Pabianiczer Street. There Moshe Szmulewicz gave a program talk, and soon an organization committee was created on the spot made up of Shlomo Goldsztejn, the son of Avraham Yaakov Goldsztejn, who died in 1919 in Hungary, Avraham Warshawski, Yeshayahu Abramczyk, Yisrael Gelbard, Ruchel Szmulewicz, Ruchel Lichtenfeld, and the writer of this essay. The second Shabbat afternoon was the founding meeting to which a large number of people came, and immediately about 30 people joined the new party. An administration was elected in which were: Moshe Szmulewicz, Ruchel Lichtenfeld, Max Jakubowicz, Avram Szmulewicz, Fishel Szmulewicz, Yeshayahu Abramczyk, Miriam Buszikowski , Shlomo Goldsztejn and Moshe Pigel. In the Revision Committee were: Yisrael Gelbard, A. Warszawski, and Shlomo Pelcman.
Our first task was to recruit members and that went very well for us. From the Zionist organization we obtained a large number of members and, after some more discussion, the general meeting of the library was called. The Zionist organization had already found a place, on the second floor at Malja the baker, there where the post office used to be. The Chairman of the meeting was the leader of the Belchatow Zionists, the writer Yoel Leyb Goldsztejn.
Seeing that they no longer had a majority in the library, the representatives of the Zionist organization caused a tumult and broke up the meeting. Later all the organizers of the Poalei Zion party received a letter from the Zionist organization, stating that since the library was located in the Zionist meeting hall, it is declared as the Zionist library. If we didn't agree with that, we should meet them with a delegation from the Bund to discuss it. We, the Poalei Zion, had already about half the members of the library, and there had already been a split between us and the Bund because of the following reasons:
The Bund thought it would succeed in influencing our party, but one saw that this opinion was an error. Right from the beginning, we took the initiative to independently lead all the workers, and we didn't want to be subject to any outside influences; only alone would we be an effective factor in local Jewish life. Between the Bund and Poalei Zion negotiations were started concerning working together in cultural areas, with a complete autonomy for each party to lead its political activity. The cultural organization was then located in Rozner's house on Piotrkower Street and belonged to the Bund. We had to help keep the school open, which already existed in the culture organization, and all members in good standing belonged to the organization. In the organization we needed proportional voting for the administration. The agreement between the Bund and Poalei Zion was close in principal, and we started as an active political and cultural activity. From the two organizers of our party, Ruchel Lichtenfeld was quickly back in the Bund, in contrast, Moshe Szmulewicz remained in Poalei Zion, although not in a leading position. Intellectuals from among our young members had started to take over the leading offices. One of them, Shlomo Goldsztejn, a dynamic young man who came from the Yeshiva, became the party secretary. We also started to invite speakers, and one of our first guests was Comrade Krol from Lodz. The second guest speaker was Comrade Rapaport, also from Lodz, who gave a lecture called, Bund and the National Question. When he called the Bund members Bundistlekh [little Bund members], a disturbance started in the hall which turned into a fist fight and the meeting was broken up.
A short time later the general meeting of the Culture Association took place and the Bundist majority accepted a resolution: Poalei Zion members could individually belong to the Association, but not as an organized group. With that, our demand for proportional voting was thrown out; it was decided That only the candidate list which received a majority would administer the Culture Association. Then Poalei Zion closed the meeting and decided to create the Worker's Home. So, the library remained under the authority of the Zionist organization, and the Culture Association went totally to the authority of the Bundist majority. We had a consultation and decided to raid the Zionist library and seize the books. The Zionist library opened at 5 in the afternoon every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and on Shabbat the library was open the entire afternoon. Since very few people come into the library on Sunday afternoons, we decided to make our raid on Sunday afternoon as soon as the library was opened and there still weren't any people in it. We elected a group of strong young men who were to carry out the raid. We put men at the entrance to prevent anyone from entering the library, and one group under my leadership went in the library with sacks which we filled with books, and a second group under the leadership of Avraham Warszawski had to be on the outside of the fence and take the sack with books to a certain place where we had already dug a hole to hold the books until the storm caused by the attack had passed. Among the attackers of the library were also Moshe Abramczyk, Toybe Szmulewicz, Miriam Borszikowski, Ruchel Szmulewicz, Moshe Pigel, Pinye Naparstek, Yosef Morgensztern, and others.
A. Novak, K. M, Przedborski, S. Przedborski, A. Szmulewicz ,
S. Abramczyk, L. Safran, S. Yoab, David Altman, Feldman,
Yankel Grinszteyn, Abraham Gelbard, P. Szmulewicz,
David Szmulewicz, Y. Novak, Y. Morgensztern, M. Szmulewicz,
Yidel Feld, M. Abramczyk, and others.
When we went in the library at the designated time, we met there the librarian, Moshe Rajbenbach [Reybenbach], his assistant Moshe Ostrowski, and a girl who came to exchange a book. The whole plan for the raid was successful. We 19 took about 600 books. At night, the leaders of the library came with the police and pointed to us, all the perpetrators of the heist. But the police commandant, seeing that it was a political affair between Zionist groups, freed us immediately and didn't start a process.
After the storm caused by our skillful piece of work died down, we set up our library first at Moshe Przedborski's (Moshe [the] Grocholicer) on Pabianiczer Street and later, in a larger location, at Moshe Bohm's on Piotrokower Street, and we started to run our cultural activity. We had created a choir under the direction of Max Jakubowicz (today in Buenos Aires) and at the yahrzeit [anniversary of death] for Ber Borochowen (founder of Poalei Zion in Russia) we arranged for a mourning service at which our choir did almost the entire program and performed very strongly. Under the leadership of the same Max Jakubowicz, we also created a dramatic circle. A youth circle was created that developed very well, and since our work was developing in two directions, we rented for the worker home a nice apartment with several rooms from Ozer Szikowski, leaving the earlier smaller location for the youth.
The Zionist Organization, however, couldn't forget our raid on the library and decided to take revenge.
[Additional information provided by Dora Szczukocka Bornstein, daughter of Mendel Szczukocky:
While we together with the Bund put on a theater performance in the hall of the fire house, playing God, Man and Devil by Yaakov Gordin, the members of the Zionist organization came into our meeting hall and took approximately 400 books. The next day with the help of the police we found the books. They were, however sent to the court and the judge divided the books in two parts, one for each library and with that, the incident was forgotten. We also created our own school with about 100 children. The teachers were: Ruchel Szmulewicz, who died at the age of 23 years, Chia Blime Rubin, who taught Polish and Moshe Szmulewicz. We had 200 members in the Workers Home, but we couldn't afford to keep the hall with the school open and we then created a cooperative in order to cover the deficit from the school.
Between the guest speakers who we invited from Warsaw and Lodz were to be found the following: Zorobabel Natan Buchsboym, Aharon Wald, Yosef Rozen, Yisrael Stolarski and others.
We also carried out a cycle of lectures with our own speakers and so Moshe Szmulewicz lectured on Jewish history and about cultural history, Mr. Astler a student lectured on political economy and the history of socialism and the like. The cooperative had a very important place in our activities. We made the capital by selling shares to our members, sympathizers, and various consumers and even borrowed money for interest. Moshe Szmulewicz was elected administrator of the cooperative, Avraham Gelbard became secretary and Yaakov Flakowicz, the salesman. That was the most glorious time in the activity of our party in Belchatow because later amid the collapse of the cooperative also came the decline of the party itself. It became apparent that the leaders of the cooperative had no experience in that area, and also the Bund had its own cooperative and there was a strong competition between the two cooperatives. Many friends, who put their last penny into the stocks, lost the money and could hardly creep out from under the debt which they had accumulated by borrowing the money at interest. There was confusion in the shtetl and the prestige of the party suffered badly. We also had to close our school and make the location of the Worker Home smaller which we moved into the house of Chana Lipes. The activity was made more difficult because of the persecution of the worker organization by the police.
With these difficult conditions, however, we continued our activities, and among the more active members in the later years were: Yocheved Ekcztajn, who went on the fourth aliah to Eretz Israel but was forced to come back because of her health (she died in 1932), Yeshayahu Abramczyk, and Moshe Pelcman (both went later to Soviet Russia), Toybe Szmulewicz, Miriam Boszikowski, Avraham Warszawski, Yisrael Gelbard, Kalman Mendel Przedborski, who came to our movement from Labor Israel, Mendel Feld and Shlomo Szmulewicz (both were among the 10 Jews hung on Purim of 1942), Moshe Pigula, Avraham Gelbard, Yaakov Szeslawski (today in Israel), Pinya Naparstek, Yaakov Naparstek (today in North America).
In the years 1922 1923 a large emigration started from Belchatow. People went to North America, to Argentina, Brazil, Eretz Israel, Soviet Russia, and our party was not very active. The most active at that time were: Kalman Mendel Przedborski, Yisrael Jakubowicz, Zorach Feld, Avraham Ruszitski, Moshe Ali Niewinski, and the writer of this essay. We rented an attic room on Pabianiczer Street, and from time to time we bought a speaker from Lodz, but not in the former quantity. We still had, however, a good youth group among whom we can mention Itche Abramczyk, Melech Zilbersztejn, Avraham Hartman and others. Along with the death of the Polish Jews, the Belchatow Jews died along with their best men and heroic fighters.
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