by A. Steinberg (brought for publication)
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Lexicon of Modern Yiddish Literature, volume 6, New York.
Lexicon of Yiddish LiteratureZ. Rejzen, volume 2.
From my GenerationY. Greenboym, Tel Aviv, 1959, pp. 250-56.
[Hebrew] Jewish Publications in the Soviet UnionA. Shmarak, Jerusalem, 5721
Born in Bielsk, Grodno area, later in Russia. Received a Jewish education at home. Also attended a Russian gymnasium, then graduated from the Warsaw Polytechnic as a technological engineer. In the Polytechnic he founded an organization to give voice to studentsto reverse the assimilation of the majority of students in the school.
N.M. Syrkin belonged to the circle of Yiddish and Hebrew writers in Warsaw and often visited Nachum Sokolow and Y.L. Peretz, especially Nachum Sokolow, who invited him to work with him on Ha'Tzefirah, where Syrkin published articles from time to time (after 1897).
Among other things, Syrkin wrote a long treatise called An Attempt at a Territorial Grounding for Zionism, which, at the time, created great interest among readers.
After the rise of political Zionism, Syrkin was active in the movement. He participated in many Zionist congresses as a delegate and as a correspondent for Ha'Tzefirah.
An outstanding speaker, Nachum Moyshe Syrkin conducted Zionist propaganda, especially among the youthful intelligentsia. Under the influence of Y.L. Peretz, he became a proponent of Yiddish, and at Zionist gatherings and conferences he fought in favor of Yiddish and against the stubbornness of the Hebraists.
Aside from participating in Ha-Tzefirah, Syrkin published a number of articles in Sefer Ha-Shanah as well as in the Russian-Jewish Budushchnost and Voskhod, in Spector's The New World (in Warsaw), Sokolow's Telegraph, of which he was the de facto editor (1905-1907).
In 1907 he settled in Kiev. There he worked intensively for Yiddish and Yiddish literature. His lectures were imbued
with a spiritual love for Yiddish creativity. Having had a great effect on young people studying Yiddish, he also published an array of short pieces about Yiddish writers in the Yiddish-Russian Jewish Encyclopedia.
N.M. Syrkin also published articles on popular knowledge in the Russian journals Vyestnik Sakharnay Pramishlenasti, Vadnaya Diela, 1910, and others. During the years of the First World War, he became a political activist, elected to the Ukrainian Rada as well as to the Russian Constituent Assembly and to the National Council of Ukrainian Jews. He was also the chair of the democratic community council in Kiev and at the same time wrote publicity articles in the Zionist weekly Af der Vach (ed. M. Grossman appeared in ten issues from March 15 until August 9, 1918).
N.M. Syrkin was the author of these pamphlets: In Free Ukraine; Remarks, Facts, and Materials, chapter 3; For the People, 1917, pp. 9-16 (reprinted from the Telegraph, pamphlet number 1917); Are We Abandoned? Kiev, 1917, p. 9.
Syrkin was one of the few among the Zionist-Hebraists who did not hesitate to fight for Yiddish and who defended the language. He was beloved by Ukrainian intellectuals. He died in Kiev.
Aharon Steinberg (compiler)
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Born in Bielsk, in the Grodno area, Russian-Poland. Until the age of 13 he studied in cheder, then in the Lomzhe and Eyshishok yeshivas and in the beis-medresh before that. He impressed with his diligence in learning. He also mastered the Tanach, was involved in Haskalah literature as well as general studies and languages. He knew Hebrew, Russian, and German.
Under the influence of his friend, the Hebrew writer Ch. D. Klatzkin, in 1895 he set out without a passport and without money for Prague in order to attend its rabbinical school. With the support of the Etz ha-Da'at [Tree of Knowledge] organization, he became a rabbinical candidate, finished all of his religious studies that were necessary to become a rabbi, and in his free time studied secular works about the knowledge of Israel in the lavish community library.
At the end of 1897, he went to Heidelberg (Germany). There he spent a semester at the university and became familiar with the later famous Jewish writers who also studied in Heidelberg-with Dr. M. Eliashev (known as Baal Machshoves), Klauzner, Tchernichovsky, and others. In 1898 he went to Bern, where he studied philosophy, history, and Oriental languages, but under the influence of the socialist and radical environment at that time in Bern, he abandoned Oriental languages and became involved with social and national issues.
He was one of the founders of the Academic Zionist Union. In 1901 he came to Warsaw and became active in the circle of Polish socialists. He led small groups, wrote proclamations, and participated in the Yiddish press of the P.P.S [the Polish Socialist Party] and in Spektor's Jewish People's Newspaper.
In 1903 he went to Geneva (Switzerland). There he became the secretary of the Office for the Jewish high school (under the leadership of Chaim Weitzman).
In 1904, at the 7th Zionist Congress in Basle, he joined the territorialists. He settled in Minsk (White Russia) [Belarus]. He became active as a propagandist and theoretician for the Minsk movement of the Poalei Tzion. He took part in the illegal activities of the movement.
When the Poalei Tzion merged with the Autonomous-Socialists, Stupnitski left the party organization. Again he went to Warsaw. For a time he was secretary of the Emigration Office for Yita. After that, he turned entirely to newspaper work.
In 1908, when the Warsaw paper Haynt [Today] was established, Stupnitski became a regular contributor to the paper, wrote much for it, but felt held back by the Zionist editorial majority. He often had differences with the editors. In 1916, at the time of the elections for the Warsaw city council, Stupnitski left the paper and became active in the Jewish People's Party. He represented the party in the city council, the Jewish community board, and other institutions. He was also involved with political lectures in Jewish cities and towns of Poland. From 1918-1926 he lived in Lublin. There he edited the popular weekly Dos Folk [The People], then the Lublin Daily. After that he lived for several months in Riga (as editor of the daily paper Frimorgn [The Morning]). From there, he returned to Warsaw, where he lived until the Second World War. When the Nazis arrived in Warsaw, he traveled in a special train that the Polish government had put at the disposal of Polish and Jewish journalists, but in Lublin he left the group and returned on foot to Warsaw. In the Warsaw Ghetto he was active in the underground Jewish school and cultural work and, despite hunger, he worked on an array of scholarly works, some of which were found in the ruins of the ghetto among the materials in Dr. E. Ringelblum's Oneg Shabbas archive.
His authorial activities began with a series of articles: Letters from Bohemia in Ha-Melitz (Odesa, 1896), then articles in Ha-Maggid, Ha-Or, and other Hebrew periodicals. In 1903 he went over entirely to Yiddish with a piece on the Kuzari in the weekly Yiddish People's Paper (Warsaw, 1903, ed. M. Spektor and Ch. D. Hurvitz); later he became famous through a series of articles What is Nationalism? published in the Jewish Future, London, 1904 (ed. Dr. Y. Vartsman). He was on the editorial staff of Jewish Reality in Vilna from 1906-1907; also of The New Way and The Word in Vilna, of Our Way in Warsaw, the illegal Beam of Light and others in
Vilna and Warsaw. He wrote series of articles for Haynt and other papers that were later published as booklets: Government and Nation, published as The Right of the National Minority, Warsaw, 1910; Cooperatives, Professional Unions, and others. He was a sporadic collaborator on the Warsaw Daily (ed L. Cahan and H.D Nomberg); on the People's Party organ The People in Warsaw from 1918 until 1926 (with interruptions); edited the daily Lublin Daily and also began to publish serially his work Leaders and Dreamers-memoirs of the student- and emigrant colonies in Switzerland and Germany. The end of the series, as well as the second series, Times, People, and Images, appeared in March-July of 1926 in the Frimorgen in Riga. This series undertook describing yeshiva and student life in Lomzhe, Eyshisok, Radin, Prague, Heidelberg, and elsewhere. He also published monographs on Herzl, Zangwill, Ahad Ha-Am, Y. N. Simchoni, Jabotinski, Freud, and others. All of these were simultaneously published in the Lublin daily, in the Neyer Folksblat, Lodz; in the Jewish Newspaper, Buenos Aires; and others. From time to time he participated in the New People's Paper, The Word, Literary Pages-in Warsaw; The Word in Vilna, and in the Jewish Provincial Press in Poland. From August of 1926 until September of 1939 he collaborated on Moment in Warsaw. His articles on Scientific or Utopian Socialism, as well as his series on Jewish Colonization in Birobidzhan, were strongly attacked by the Yevsektsiya [the Jewish division of the Russian Communist Party] (Kh. Dunietz) on two fronts (Minsk, 1932, pages 6-11). In book form he published Baruch Spinoza: His Philosophy, Warsaw, 1916, 161 pages. This work appeared in many editions, the last one under the title Baruch Spinoza: His Philosophy, Bible Criticism, Political Thought, and his Significance in the Development of Humanistic Thought in Warsaw in 1936. One of the few original works in Yiddish on this subject (according to Z. Reizen); the first monograph on Spinoza to influence thousands of Jewish young people who have begun to stray and to seek... (according to Y. Bashevis). He also published On the Way to the People, Warsaw, 1920, 152 pages (a collection of articles about nations and national movements in Europe, as well as about the philosophy of Herman Cohen, Ahad ha-Am, and others). His work Jewish Race and Culture, Ideas and Parties on the Jewish Streets; the history of Jewish philosophy, chapters of which appeared in the Yiddish press, was not published as a book.
In the Warsaw Jewish-Polish ghetto newspaper Jewish Gazette, over the course of about two years he published articles on Jewish historical themes. Their essence was: -Do not despair! Even if we are murdered, we will not be spiritually or morally destroyed. Also
publishing were H. Edin, Ch. Kantor, Sh. Germiza, Nik, Riger, ben_Ami, Y. Mirlzon, and others.
There are two versions of his death: one, that he took poison on his way from the assembly point in Warsaw to the train that was supposed to take him to Treblinka; the other, that he took poison in Otvotzk as he fled from the Nazis.
From his scholarly work in the Warsaw Ghetto only his response to the poll on The Life of Jewish Scholarship in the Ghetto, was later found. It was published in Pages from History, volume 1, number 2, Warsaw, 1948, pages 111-123.
...A unique figure. In him were united traditional learning and Haskalah, philosophical thought with a political temperament, boldness of thought with noble grace, idealistic zealousness with skepticism... He had a philosophical grounding...for a calm, somewhat conservative approach to Jewish problems. He accentuated religious values, but he stood against Orthodoxy. He strove for political freedom, but he fought against radical thought. He loved Yiddish passionately, but he never accepted Yiddishism (Sh. Mendelssohn).
Born in Bielsk Podlaski around 1897. Just like his sister Sarah, Shepsl spent many years in Bielsk and later in Vilna.
Shepsl was a teacher of handicrafts and drawing. He had artistic talent and intuition, and in all of his work he displayed much idealism and warmth.
He took several teaching courses from Tzisha. He was very friendly with his students, and he married one of them. In his last years he was interested in dentistry, but he never left his school.
He was apparently killed in Bielsk.
Translator's and Editor's notes
From the Lerer Yizkor Book
Yosef (Yosl) Katz
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Born in November 1903, in Bielsk-Podlaski in a very religious home. (His father was Reb Yisroel, the shochet of the city.) Yosl studied with the teachers of the city, but soon there was no appropriate teacher to teach him. Then his father himself began to teach him Gemara for several hours each day. He was an industrious student. For secular studies, a tutor came to the house, because no one could argue that he should be sent to the Folk School. With his tutor, too, he showed rare abilities. Until he was fourteen, he studied with his father. At that time, he was tremendously religious [very devout]. His father hoped that as soon as the World War would end, he would send him to a yeshiva.
Even as a small child, Yosl read a great deal; whatever came into his handshe would read it. When the war ended and the various party movements flared up in the Jewish cities, Bielsk was not exempted. The city's young people saw that Yosl took a great many brochures. They flooded him with political literature. Yosl went through a tremendous transformation. He began to go in totally new ways. He became a member of the board of the city library. A new world opened for Yosl. Day and night he could not be torn away from the library rooms. He devoured one book after another. Whatever he learned, he never forgot. He had a phenomenal memory. Yosl was taken over by ideas of freedom. He became a strong proponent of Yiddish.
When in 1920 Yosl heard that people were opening a Jewish teacher's school in Vilna, he prepared to go there to study. And in 1921 he went to Vilna
and entered the school teacher's seminary that was named for Vl. [Vladimir] Medem. The school opened new horizons for him. He undertook systematic learning and labor. After long hours of lectures at the school, Yosl would spend whole days in the university library and the Strashun Library. He studied and worked constantly. He was blessed with a formidable skill for tireless work. He was consequently one of the best students in the whole school. He often prepared talks and delivered them to the students of the school. The school was for him a systematic school and a pointer to further research and self-education. In the school, Yosl became a member of the Bund [which had been founded by the school's namesake, Vl. Medem]. Yosl finished school in 1925 (after that time it became a four-year school). He was one of its best graduates.
He threw himself wholeheartedly into educational work. For him, education could not be separated from socialist teaching, which he gave to his students. Along with his work as a teacher in the school, he provided socialist teaching for the SKIF [Socialist Children's Union]. He was a magnificent teacher. He was greatly beloved in the Great School. His major subjects were Yiddish and Yiddish history in the higher grades.
But Yosl's thirst for knowledge was not slaked. He set out to find work in Vilna so that he could continue to study there. As an auxiliary teacher, he gave exams for eight classes in the gymnasium and entered the university. He pursued German studies. At that time he worked for the Yiddish Scientific Institute [YIVO]. He did research in the Yiddish language and worked on Yiddish philology. He wrote several articles for YIVO Bletter [the YIVO journal]. At the university, too, he was one of the best. In 1933, Yosl married the teacher N. Segalovitsh. Later on, he worked for a time in the Medem Sanatorium in Miedzeszyn [near Warsaw]. From time to time he came to Warsaw to do work for the party. He also gave lectures in the folk university. During the last years before the war, he worked in Bialystok in the Jewish gymnasium. He traveled around the province, delivering literary talks. He was well-known and beloved by the masses in and around Bialystok.
He tried even harder to absorb learning so that he could even more broadly serve his ideals.
An interesting chapter was Y. Katz's work in the Medem Sanatorium. His work in the school was too constricting for his character and energy. An educator of God-given talent, he sought broader possibilities in living with the children. He found such a place in the Medem Sanatorium, where he worked during its best and most fruitful period. His striving to join more closely and intimately with everyday Jewish
children-found its fulfillment in the Sanatorium. There he developed all of his talents and strengths as a teacher and leader of young people. His work there was not a school program, neither in space nor time. He had great possibilities for his educational work, and Y. Katz threw himself into it heart and soul.
In 1939, when the war broke out, Yosl and his family were in Bialystok, where he worked constantly in the Jewish gymnasium. In June of 1941, when the Germans suddenly fell upon the western areas of White Russia [Belarus] and Ukraine, Yosl and his family decided to head for Bielsk so that in those terrible days they could be together with his parents. On the day after the Germans took Bielsk, they chose thirty men from among the intelligentsia of the city. Yosl was one of this unfortunate group. The group was led to one of the nearby woods, where, after three days of torture, they were cruelly shot.
Yosef Katz belonged to the youngest generation of yeshiva world academics who ornamented the Tzisha [acronym for Tzentrale Yidishe Shul OrganizatziaCentral Yiddish (or Jewish) School Organization]. They had placed great hopes in Y. Katz. He was always invited to educator conferences in connection with programs and reforms for Jewish education. He wrote about these subjects in Tzisha's pedagogical publications. He wrote a popular book for school childrenthe rules of Yiddish spelling. In the education courses in Vilna in 1938-39, Y. Katz led one on Yiddish Grammar. Tzisha hoped that Y. Katz would prove to be not only a learned philologist but also a practical pedagogue, an authority on teaching in all aspects of Jewish learning.
His modest nature, his responsibility in everything he undertook, his good-natured and agreeable character, his commonsensical behavior among people, his remarkable industry, and his constant striving for perfection, his absorption of Hebrew-Talmudic knowledge, his devotion to the idea of Jewish secular schools tied to his socialist idealsall of this guaranteed that Yosef Katz would have had a glorious future, but the beautiful young life of Yosef Katzwas tragically snatched away by the Nazis.
Translator's and Editor's notes
by Libe Utzyski
Translated by Libe Utzyski (Ferber) Elson
Moyshe Jaungerman inherited his teaching abilities from his great father. Being himself a very capable man and possessing a great deal of intelligence, he enriched himself by constant learning and became a very excellent teacher.
His father's chader was the best and a very progressive one. The ultra religious people didn't send their children to him. When Moyshe's father left with his wife (Moyshe's mother) for the U.S. to the children that lived there, Moyshe took over his father's profession and became the outstanding teacher in our little town.
From his father, Moyshe took over the progressive way of educating the children. He felt that the future generation needed a proper upbringing in order to be prepared for the future needs in life and be prepared to face all kinds of challenges.
In 1918, the Yiddishe shule was opened (when Poland became again a state after the 1st World War). Moyshe took over the reins of this institute of learning. He devoted his whole life with heart and soul to bring up the children in a way that they could match any school and be better yet. All the necessary subjects were taught there. Three languages were taught, Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. Even the Tanach was introduced to the children.
The children loved him, because he helped them solve all their problems with understanding and warmth. Moyshe was very well learned in Russian, German and French literature and knew all these languages perfectly although he never attended a higher institute of learning. His favorite was Hebrew and he knew the Tanach by heart.
He tried to influence the children to take seriously everything they learn in order to grow up well-educated and well prepared for life and be able to solve future problems by themselves.
As a person, Moyshe wasn't well groomed. Always not properly dressed, not properly combed, the shoelaces many times untied in spite of all these uncomplimentary things the children loved him and the grownups respected him. In nature, he was a very excitable person when somebody annoyed him it looked that he'll tear apart but instead he started to walk across room back and forth rubbing his black mustache and slowly, slowly came back to his quiet status.
Nobody knew what was going on in the mind of this genius, who with his knowledge, sharp mind and ability could reach a very high position in his life, but was stuck in a little town, teaching children to aim high and become good human beings.
It once happened that a girl came to school all banged up and bruised. With fatherly love he asked her what happened. She told him that when she returned home, she had a feeling that somebody is walking after her. She started to run and in her panic ran into a tree. Moyshe was quiet for a while then said: Never run away from danger that you're not sure what they are. In your case you had to stop for one second, look around and I am sure nobody, nobody was running after you. The running away will increase your fear forever. This teaching was to learn to face danger and learn to fight it.
When Moyshe took over the Yiddishe shule he was the most popular beloved and respected teacher. The children simply adored him. He was a free-thinker and very progressive. He wanted to implement all his ideals and qualities into his children they listen to him and respond with love.
After a few years something terrible happened to him his only son of six years passed away from diphtheria. He was shaken up and all broken. He started to doubt his own philosophy. He started to think about himself, how little he was and how he sinned against the Almighty. Maybe he was punished by God for teaching children to stray away from their fundamental ways of thinking and religion.
Moyshe became very religious, isolated himself, left the Yiddishe shule. Prayed to God three times a day never mingled with anybody.
To make a living he opened his chader, accepted only very special children and taught them Gemora and Talmud. For the children of our town he was lost just a memory. Moyshe with his near family and all the children that he was teaching were killed by the Nazis, but his unusual personality will always be with the survivors of the town wherever they are.
by Wolf Yunin
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
The labor activist Aharon Yosef Levartovski, whom the Polish government sentenced to fifteen years in prison, has now, after his heroic death, been awarded the highest decoration for his fighting in the Warsaw and Bialystok Ghettoes.
The young Jewish heroine, Teibel Kleshtshelski-Agres, who helped French partisans with dynamite.
Her husband, Major Jeruchem Kleshtshelski, who helped liberate Paris.
--They were three Jews.
--Two of them died; one remains.
--They grew up in two world wars.
Aharon Yosef Levartovski
The oldest of the three is already counted among the martyrs in our heroic history. I still remember him from when I was young and we lived in the town of Bielsk Podlaski, outside of Bialystok.
He was good-natured, with a bit of a squint, as if the sun were always shining in his face. I used to go to their house to see his younger sisters, who went to the same folk school with me. It was a full house, with sons and daughters a many-branched family. Brilliant minds, but Aharon Yosef Levartovski was already too occupied by and experienced in the First World War and its consequences to be able to remain under Polish rule in the town. And Polish officials knew well that Aharon Yosef sought too much social justice and that he had such a fiery manner of speaking that they could not allow him to proceed freely, especially in those areas that the Poles had seized after the war from the Soviets.
Aharon Yosef appeared for a time in Warsaw. And Warsaw began to clamor about him. As a member of the leftist Poalei-Tzion, he was active in the professional unions and a speaker at mass meetings. The Polish defensive force, the Shpikes (secret agents),
sought him, but they could not find him. One afternoon he was with the metal workers and spoke in the factory courtyard, but just when the police arrived, he was nowhere to be seen. Where had he disappeared? Had not the informer just heard him speaking?
The workers had hidden him. And when the police looked for him in the metal foundry, Aharon Yosef was already standing with other workers in another factory, in another quarter, and was speaking to them...
Aharon Yosef was a legend among the many thousands of Jewish and Polish workers in Warsaw.
In 1928, antisemitism blazed through Poland. Polish prisons were packed with political detainees. Prisoners in Vilna and in the prison rooms of Bialystok told of tortures equal to those that the Germans would later use in the concentration camps...
I came to Warsaw for a short time and made good friends. I met Melech Ravitch. I met with Jewish young people. No writers.
Have you heard of Aharon Yosef?
Who has not heard of him?
Do you know where he is?
He's alive. When the police came to arrest him, Aharon Yosef jumped from the second story through a window. He broke a foot. He was captured. He's serving a prison term of 15 years. For what? Because he fought against Polish fascism, which had begun to flower then for the Germans.
The last greeting I received from him came at the time of the Nazi occupation. Aharon Yosef Levartavski led the underground efforts in the Warsaw and Bialystok Ghettoes.
And in 1944, the world heard about him. The writer M. Mark wrote about the martyrs who in the Warsaw and Bialystok Ghettoes mounted the last, difficult battle against the Nazis, and his name led the others.
1945. The new provisional Polish government in Warsaw rewarded the deceased hero and martyr Aharon Yosef Levartavski with the highest decoration for heroism and justice.
In the same town lived the father with his children, the housebuilding carpenters the Kleshtshelski family. The oldest son, called Avraham, left in the early twenties for Mexico. I went to school with the younger brother Nachum. But Jeruchem was several years younger than we were. I remember him as a little child.
He also graduated from the Jewish Folk School. Shortly after, I changed countries in Europe the way one changes a shirt.
And-at the time of the third destruction-Jeruchem was in France with his wife Teibel. Her maiden name was Agres.
The Nazis took Paris. Jeruchem joined the partisans. He was a leader and advanced quickly in rank. He led his troop of partisans in attacks on the Germans in Paris.
Jeruchem and his troops attacked with hand grenades about a hundred Nazis and left scores of dead and wounded Germans.
After 1943, Jeruchem was the leader of the Jewish partisans in Paris and successfully led many attacks. An attempted assassination conducted against Schomburg, the German commander of Paris, was one of those in which Jeruchem was avenged. That same summer, Jeruchem escaped to the south of France and conducted further partisan activities. He was arrested and then freed from prison by French partisans. He got back to work and organized aid for
Soviet war prisoners to help them escape from the camps. People led them to the maquis [armed resistance fighters]. They were given food and clothing, and the number of fighters against the Nazis increased.
Jeruchem returned to Paris on the eve of liberation and played an important role in the battle for liberation of the French capital. He took part in the battle against the Nazis on the streets of Paris. His battalion included Jewish, Polish, Italian, and Spanish partisans. When Paris was liberated, Jeruchem was automatically enrolled in the French army with the rank of captain. He became the leader of his battalion, a major, and he took part in the occupation of Germany.
This was Jeruchem, who had graduated from the Jewish Folk School in the town of Bielsk Podlaski, outside of Bialystok. This was the Jewish young man who had grown up on Mendele, Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, on Moyshe Kulbak, Avraham Reizen, and Dr. Zhitlovsky. This was Jeruchem, the son of Jewish housebuilders, who pretended to be a Czech during the Nazi occupation of Paris. This was Jeruchem Kleszczelski.
The Sacred Dove
What did his wife Teibel do at that time?
Teibel Agres came from the same town. She also studied at the Jewish Folk School. Her father was the Jewish letter carrier in the town when the Poles took over the government. When his asthma laid him up, her mother became the letter carrier.
Teibel was the youngest of the three sisters. They all sang well especially Yiddish folksongs. Teibel was still a young girl when I knew her. I was two classes ahead of her!...
The Nazi catastrophe erupted and Teibel was in Paris under their control, cut off from her husband. Jeruchem was working with the partisans, while she worked in a chemical laboratory to make explosives for the partisans. They got together under the worst peril. They each had their own hiding places.
Teibel was the contact. She undertook dangerous missions, connected the separate partisan units, and brought quantities of explosives to them from the laboratory. Her life was in danger at every moment.
A short time before the liberation of Paris, this happened: on the fourth of April in 1944, the Paris newspaper reported that in the forest of Sevres, 25 miles from Paris, the mutilated body of a woman had been found.
Jeruchem recognized from the description in the report and from reports of the secret partisan cell this was Teibel.
How had this happened?-No one knew. Whether the explosives that she carried to the partisans had gone off or whether the Germans had surrounded her and she had detonated them, who knew? Who could know?
Holy Jewish Teibele, you were not fated to experience the day of liberation.
Teibel Agres-Kleszczelski the unsung Jewish heroine.
Translator's and Editor's notes
by Sh. Zakhariash
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Yosef Levartovski was born in 1895 in the town of Bielsk (Bialystok District) into a family of Jewish laborers that included 12 children. Yosef's parents exhausted themselves trying to provide for their children. The difficult economic situation of his family, the hard labor of his father, the provider for 12 children, the poverty of the town on the one hand and the rich lifestyles of the higher-ups and the wealthy on the other drew the attention of the sensitive Yosef from his earliest years. Even as a child, Yosef showed great ability and a strong desire for learning. His progressive parents wanted their children to learn, but the situation in their home did not make it possible to realize the desire of the parents for their children. But Yosef's strong will defied this hardship, and he persevered in school. But he barely managed to get through four classes in the elementary school and two in the gymnasium. When he was sixteen, he was forced to go to work in order to contribute to the family's maintenance.
But Yosef did not abandon further education. He studied by himself. He read voraciously. He studied Russian, Polish, and Yiddish literature, especially the classics. He particularly loved poetry, about which he became very knowledgeable.
During the First World War, in the years of the German
occupation (1915-1918), Yosef did hard compulsory labor in the woods and paving roads. Within Yosef grew the feeling and desire for resistance. He took steps to organize the forest and road workers against the brutal treatment of the German occupation forces.
The war years and their terrible aftermath for the Polish and White Russian [Belarusian] masses, and especially for the Jewish poor, made Yosef's own experiences more widespread and enlarged his view of the social problems of the area. They prompted him to revolutionary struggle. The Poalei-Tzion, which under the influence of the greater socialist October Revolution adopted communist slogans for joining the Comintern [Communist International], drew Yosef into their ranks. But for Yosef, this did not last long.
The October Revolution, the establishment of workers councils in Poland, the union of the S.D.K.P.L. [Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania] with the leftist PPS [Polish Socialist Party] into a single communist party in Poland, the new split in the rightist PPS, the ferment in the Bund, the formation of the ComBund, the first split in the Poalei-Tzion organization, and the ferments and splits in other social-democratic organizations all had a great effect on Yosef's consciousness in the direction of Leninism.
In 1920, the Bolsheviks seized parts of Poland. Bielsk, too, was occupied.
From the first, Yosef was on the side of the Reds. He shook off Zionism and grew closer to the communist groups that had already existed in Bielsk. Even at the first mass gathering organized by the Red Army, Yosef delivered a fervent speech calling on the workers of the city and the villages to aid the Red Army in its march for freedom and to support the newly installed people’s government. Yosef was elected to the revolutionary committee (the Revkom), the governmental organization of the population.
Yosef was named as director of the division that was charged with building the Soviet-style organizations. He was very popular, beloved by the workers and the everyday people. He made time for everyone. Trust and affection for him grew every day.
In 1921, Poland took over the government.
The police searched for Yosef. He hid, with not a groschen [a very small amount of money] to his name but rich with inner experiences. With his maturing communist concepts, Yosef came to Warsaw.
Yosef gathered around himself the revolutionary elements, and in 1921
Yosef broke off from the Poalei Tzion. With a group of workers, he joined the communist party.
Yosef had the qualities that characterized a professional revolutionary, in the most severe conditions of political persecution. Because of his illegal status, he was persecuted and pursued by the Pilsudski-Endecja regime [the Endecja was an antisemitic Polish political party] and by their agents in the workers movementbut Yosef was always in control, never diverted from his mission, never thrown off-balance. Deeply analytical in evaluating his situation and adaptable, Yosef always presented a clever demeanor. Deeply principled in his ideological-political attitudes, Yosef did not rely on cliched tactics. For each new situation, he always came up with a new kind of tactic. He was enthusiastic about his work, but at the same time, he considered every situation coolly, without excitement.
An important characteristic of Yosef was his powerful persuasive ability. Yosef was always relaxed, quietly formulating his proposals so that he could better fight for the party positions. He had the ability to inspire the masses.
On September 1, 1939, the communists escaped from the prisons. After 10 days of wandering from village to village, from city to city, under bombardment, Yosef arrived in Warsaw, with feet swollen from injuries, worn out from the last more than five years in prison in Mokotov and Ravitsh. Nevertheless, he was prepared to defend the capital, Warsaw, which was under siege by the Hitlerites who stood at its doors.
After being separated from his family for 19 years, Yosef now had the opportunity to meet with his mother, his brother, and his sister. But just for a short time.
This is what the 18 years of life as a fighter and revolutionary for Levartovski looked like in the interval between the two world wars. Eighteen years of revolutionary activity, ten of them behind prison walls.
Here is how one person who met Yosef in the ghetto as they established anti-fascist resistance characterized him:
I marked him as a man of thought, of will, of great decisiveness, of unbendable characterfrom fragments of his unforgettable talks comes a picture of a person with the heart of a dove, with an endless love for humanity, for whose freedom and spirit he had fought throughout his life, most strongly in those nightmare years (The New Life, [a weekly Yiddish newspaper] number 68).
Participants in the ghetto organization write:
We dreamed about an organization that would realize our plans and that would in those tragic circumstances bring to fruition our thoughts and our plans. In our desolation at the beginning of 1942, the news electrified us that a group of men had appeared in the ghetto who were assembling our comrades and organizing them into circles of a new party (The New Life, number 16). Yosef's appearance in the ghetto was truly a bright beam of light cast into the darkness of our ghetto reality (Ibid.).
After several months of work by Levartovski, Stari, and Finkelstein, the party had grown to be the biggest and strongest organization in the ghetto, to which those who remained alive had pledged their faith and their hope.
Here is what a witness from the meeting at which the anti-fascist block was established says about Yosef:
He spoke quietly, so that he could barely be heard. His face showed no concern, no anguish, no emotion, but in his calm, in the example he set, in the planned self-control from his years of prison torture there lay a strange magic. Each of his words was measured, stated almost without passion, but entered forcibly into the minds of his listeners. Most of all, he was convincing.
In May of 1942, Yosef issued this call:
The Jewish masses dare not give in to feelings of despair, desperation, and passive waiting for what fate will bring. They must strive with all their might and join the battle of all oppressed peoples against fascism. Like everyone else they must join in bloody battle against their enemy...In the anti-fascist battle of the oppressed peoples the Jewish masses must play and important role.
The Call [a Yiddish periodical] wrote: After the annihilation of the powerful Hitlerite war machine by the anti-fascist armies and the masses of oppressed people with them, we will finally make an end to our enslavement and create conditions for a full social and national redemption of the Jewish masses.
While organizing military groups for ghetto fighting, Yosef simultaneously organized groups to go to the woods with the partisans. He told everyone with whom he spoke to stand firm. His duty
was to remain in the ghetto and organize the resistance. He organized the distribution of underground literature and the smuggling of weapons.
At that difficult time, although the ghetto was not yet prepared for a mass armed movement (these were the first few months of the existence of the PPR [the Polish Workers Party, a communist-led organization that organized resistance] in the ghetto), and although this was after the arrest of leaders of the anti-fascist bloc, Yosef saw no other way out of the situation than to begin the resistance. His motto was: Use the strength we have to storm the ghetto walls, head for the exits, don't settle for the status quo.
Yosef, in meetings and in written announcements, called on the Jewish population to resist, to fight for their lives and for the lives of their wives and children, not to allow themselves to be captured and not to go to the slaughter.
In its call for self-defense, the Warsaw committee of the party wrote:
The Germans have already murdered 700,000 Jews...From the ghetto we have received isolated reports of active resistance against banishment and robbery. The only salvation is to break out of the ghetto by force. The only correct stance at this dramatic moment is-to be active against passivity. To organize fighting groups and individual actions. Self-defense must take on a mass character. Some will be killed, but thousands will be saved.
At that time, under Yosef's leadership, many Jews were led to the woods and to the partisan divisions.
After the arrest of the prominent PPR leaders and of the anti-fascist bloc, Yosef built back the party organization, especially the leadership. Where his nearest co-fighters were taken from the ranks of the fighters, Yosef put others in their places. Piece by piece the enemy tore away from the organization, and the people were bloodied. But Yosef stood there like the captain of a ship at his battle post, true to the orders of the party, of the Polish Workers Party, true to himself.
Levartovski was sought by the Gestapo and by the Jewish Council police. His comrades hid him. But at the same time, he called meetings and conferences. He carried on his party work in basements and attics. He cemented the anti-fascist bloc.
The conditions were terrible for Yosef. It was difficult to hide him. Every movement, every step was tracked. His friends arranged for him to be in a carpentry shop. From there, Yosef sent out directives to the
party circles, to the fighting groups, and to the anti-fascists. From there he led the anti-fascist bloc and the fighting organization.
Preparing the resistance, gathering weapons, instructing the members, cementing the anti-fascist bloc, and above all worrying extraordinarily about building up the Jewish fighting organizationin this intense and exhausting time of work that would decide the fate of the Warsaw Ghetto, the value of the surviving JewsYosef was torn from his leadership. Hitler's executioners arrested this leader, the head and soul of the fighting ghetto. Yosef's arrest was a terrible blow to the party, to the fighting organization, to the population of the ghetto.
The Path that Led to Liberation
From the first days of its existence, the PPRthe heir of the fine, excellent traditions of the KPP [the Communist Party of Poland]united with the leaders of the communist party in the Warsaw Ghetto. The central committee of the PPR decided to bring Yosef Levartovski, the longtime, proven, responsible revolutionary leader from Bialystok to Warsaw, where he was given full power by the central committee to organize the PPR in the ghetto.
The loose contacts with the anti-fascist movement outside the ghetto were from then on organized and centralized by the regional committee of the PPR in the Warsaw Ghetto, of which Yosef Levartovski was the secretary.
Under the leadership of Levartovski and his true fighting comrades the newly established party assembled the best sons of the existing revolutionary groups under a single banner.
Yosef Levartovski and his comrades distributed in the ghetto the first appeal of the PPR, which was actually a program manifesto of the party, emphasizing the elements that pertained to the prostrate Jewish populace:
Hitler's Germanywe read in this documenthas defaced Polish soil with the most shameful crimes of horror over millions of JewsPolish citizens settled here on our soil for generations, expelling them to ghettoes. No one has the right to subdue a people that has fought on all battlefields for freedom
for the people, that has written on its banner, kin their own blood, the motto, 'For your freedom and ours...'
Yosef Levartovski arranged for the distribution in Yiddish of Tzum Kampf [To Battle] (This was the Yiddish name of the central organ of the Polish Communist Party). He edited the paper, wrote articles, shaped the Yiddish-language daily paper Eynikeyt [Unity], and other periodicals such as Der Funk [The Spark], Der Hamer [The Hammer], and others.
He was in close contact with the central committee, especially with the general-secretary Marceli Nowotko, who advised the Jewish comrades on how to conduct party business, how to organize the battle against the occupiers. Following the initiative of the PPR and thanks to the efforts of Yosef Levartovski, an anti-fascist bloc was established in the ghetto, which included, along with the Jewish communists, the fighters of Ha-Shomer ha-Tza'ir, of the left and right Poalei Tzion, and of other political parties. The bloc mobilized the ghetto masses to fight against the Hitlerite occupiers.
The organ of the anti-fascist bloc, the Ruf [the Call] in May of 1942 urged the subjugated Jews to:
Cast off the feeling of resignation, despair, and passive expectation for what fate will bring. They must gather all their strength and take up the anti-fascist struggle of all subjugated peoples. Like everyone else, they must engage in the bloody war against the enemy...The Jews must play an important role in the anti-fascist struggle of all subjugated people.
The anti-fascist bloc united the struggle for independence from Poland with the struggle for the social refashioning of the country that would create suitable conditions also for the national and social release of the Jewish masses. The PPR grew to be the strongest organization in the ghetto. If in July they had 30 cells of five people each, in 1943 they had 100 cells. The organization had in its roster 500 active members, devoted anti-fascist fighters.
Preparing for active resistance in the ghetto, creating a Jewish fighting organization from people of differing political perspectives, the PPR organized Jewish fighting groups to be trained militarily.
The increased Hitlerite terror, the consequent street round-ups, and especially the first liquidation action of July 1942, caused the party in general, and the ghetto organization in particular, great losses. At that extremely difficult time, Yosef Levartovski urged
the organization of armed resistance in both sectors: in the ghetto and in the woods with the partisans. He urged forcible escape from the ghetto, breaking through the ghetto walls to the partisan camps. His call was familiar: Individuals will be killed, but thousands will break through...
In August of 1942, the Gestapo succeeded in arresting Yosef Levartovski. He died heroically at his battle station.
A Street Named for Yosef Levartovski in Bielsk-Podlaski
In the Bialystok Gazettea publication from the district committee of the Polish United Workers Partyon February 9 of this year was published an open letter by a resident of Bielsk-Podlaski, Yosef Lev, who is now a member of the Community Cultural Association of Jews in Bialystok. He proposed honoring the memory of the revolutionary labor leader and organizer of heroic resistance in the Warsaw GhettoYosef Levartovskiby naming one of the streets in Bielsk-Podlaski after him. It should be emphasized that Bielsk Podlaski was the birthplace of Yosef Levartovski.
A few days later, that newspaper printed a response from the secretary of the directorate of the PXPR [The Polish United Workers Party], J. Piechowski, in which, among other things, he says:
We thank you for reminding us of the actions of Yosef Levartovski, who associated with the communist movement throughout his life and was among the central party activists during the interwar period and in the years of the Hitlerite occupation. Keeping in mind that Yosef Levartovski was so active in the Polish Communist Party, the directorate of the Polish Workers Party has decided to honor his memory at the time of the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Polish Communist Party, that is, in the coming year. We also think it is necessary to name one of the city's streets after him as of this year.
by Rivkah Littman (Felner)
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Bielsk lies sunk in greenery and trees. Orchards and meadows in the city and fields and woods outside the city.
As one comes out of the train station that has two rail lines, one from Bialystok and one from Brisk, one passes through a small road to the main street, Mickiewicz, which goes over a kilometer through the length of the city. You go through streets and byways through the length and width of the city.
Bielsk is the center of the whole district, and the market is the center of the city. For a whole week the marketplace is quiet, peaceful. But when Thursday arrives, the market comes to life; the whole town, with its large and small businesses, comes to life. The food stores and the shoes stores come to life. The taverns and the grain merchants. The peasants bring cheese and butter from their villages, hens and eggs, grain and potatoes. They buy herring and salt, sugar and oil, flowery material for clothing, pants and garments for men.
On Wednesdays there is a fair in Gaynevka. Bielskers travel in carts the whole night in order to buy their merchandise there, year in and year out.
In the middle of the street the beautiful two-story walls of Barchat, Kaplanski, Eizenshtat, London, the pharmacist, and others appear prominently. The rest of the houseswooden. They press up against each other, some with a shingled roof and some with their walls. A little further down the street is the Yefeh Einayim Beis-Medresh, surrounded by a garden. Inside one can see, sitting by a long table in the evenings, the rabbi, zl, and around him sit several men, modestly and respectfully doing their learning. Important people, Chasidim, and simple folk all learn. One hears a sigh or a cough. People sit wrapped up in their worries. They share with each otherit eases their hearts and gives them strength for the next day's burdens.
Further along the main road, one cannot miss Beis-Medresh Street (Berek Yoselevitsh Street) with its strong, tall, healthy butchers, who were famous for their beautiful daughters.
The Shneiders live there, who sew only pants for the peasants. Shoemakers and tailors, waggoners and horse dealers, musicians and village-goers [people who traveled on business to nearby villages], who in the summer tended orchards and bought the produce. On that street were also the bathhouse and the mikveh, the slaughterhouse and the poorhouse,
where poor people from out of town could spend the night. There were also several beis-medreshes and Chasidic prayer houses. There, too, one could see Leibke (Gotsh) hurrying by with two pails of water. All homeowners were concerned about water, whether from springs for tea or from wells. Some whispered that Leibke had something of a lamed-vovnik about him. [Lamed-vovniks were, according to legend, the secret thirty-six righteous people whose existence preserved the world.] The evidence: He was always good, he smiled all the time, he could never be brought to anger, and if someone in the city died, he laid aside his pails and went to the funeral. And he knew where each person was buried.
And when he finished carrying water on Beis-Medresh Street, he ran to Adler Street to furnish water for Tzalke the baker, the military officer, the sexton, Itzele Beis-Medresh. And his water was also enjoyed by the cab drivers who stood with their carriages on Orler Street, waiting to take passengers to and from the station.
Opposite Orler Street was Third of May Street. Comfortable and stately with trees and flowerbeds by the residences. The pharmacist lived there and Muzicant the lawyer and council member. Our dearly beloved rabbi, zl, lived there. For a short time his daughter was a teacher in the Jewish school, and his younger son graduated from there. There, too, was the city garden, where children played and in the summer saw films and festivities!
If one left the city, one saw many open places with fields and meadows, with flowers and trees, that created from afar a wonderful view: There were proud, tall pines, slim and strong, and a little woods that gave off fragrant aromas. Birds sang there, and everything was green and sunny. There children from the schools, along with their teachers, would go for walks, excursions, when they woke up or on Shabbos mornings. There one heard the loud, happy laughter of young peoplefull of the attraction to light and to nature. We girlfriends from school often went there, read together, shared our impressions, discussed, remembered things from school and from the city. And here I should recall several of my girlfriends with whom I went to school and with whom I graduated. Six young women, six girlfriends. Ettel Sukenik, Beltshe Sheinboim, Sheva Galaveski, Ritshe Levartovski [or Lewartowski], Doba Zinger, and Rivkeh L. Only the last two are still alive. The others were killed by the Germans, annihilated, stamped out, their lives ripped away.
Sitting there on their school benches, these six girlfriends dreamed
about learning. They were ruled by the desire to learn, to know, to see the greater world. With their limited means, they went to Vilna, to the teacher's college. But they could not remain there long. Because of the difficult economic conditions, they had to leave in the middle of their studies, some a year earlier, some a year later. Only Chaitsche and Rivkeh remained, thanks to their fierce ambition and strong wills. They did not give up. They survived for five years and graduated from the college. Here is Doba, who came from a traditional religious home. Returning from Vilna, she went to study photography with Duksin. Since she was good at drawing, she learned the profession quickly. Having read many books, she was possessed and inspired by a great humanistic idea. She protested every social injustice, scorned every oppression, could not tolerate the bourgeois environment to which she would neither bend nor yield. She hoped and longed for a world of rectitude and human brotherhood. Feeling certain that right and truth could be found in Russia, she left Poland, but her dream, without doubt, went unrealized. She was greatly disappointed. Soon all traces of her disappeared. After sixty years she was foundin Vilna.
The second girlfriend, Ettel, beautiful and proud, always went around with her head held high, feeling as if she was to be wondered at. Her demeanor was that of a person of great value, but she was also modest and tactful. She was often moody. She had a restless nature and was bold, but she paid dearly for her boldness. She tried out her luck by going to the college, but after a year she was forced to leave the college. The blow broke her pride. In 1940, she was seen working in a kindergarten, but not as a bookkeeper, not a teacher. Sheva - a beautiful, tall, sympathetic woman, with a lot of grace. She elicited affection and attention. She always had a warm smile, and her fine, deep eyes twinkled with affection. She sang very nicely. She lived near the school, and she often taught the children to dance for performances. She created the dances herself. She later took part in the Bielsk amateur theatrical group. Together with Avam'l Kash, Gewirtz, Minya, Aettel, Libe Utzyski, and others, they would go to such smaller villages as Orla, Bransk, Militshitz, and the country houses, bringing with them joy and laughter. In 1940 she was the supervisor of the orphans' home. Chaim Domb, who had also graduated from the teacher's college, worked there with her.
Far different was the participation in the group of Beltshe, a quiet,
modest young woman, shy and withdrawn. She embodied the ethical. She sought what was elevated in mankind. After studying in Vilna for a couple of years, she returned home, helpless and shaken and injured by life. Fate treated her painfully, and she was beset by need. She tried giving private lessons, and she wrote poems in which she found consolation and happiness.
And just as Beltshe was insecure because her longings were unattainable, so Ritshe was her exact opposite, loving, happy, and full of feelings. Always moving. She was an ebullient spring. She often spoke and argued heatedly. In her company one could not feel lonely. At home they called her Koza [Goat] because of her happiness and liveliness. With her healthy appreciation of reality and with her ability to see far, she achieved much. All of her desires were accomplished. She was a successful teacher, and her students loved her. She taught for a year in Konskie and later for many years in Bialystok. She came from a home of simple, common people, good and fine, but she entered an intellectual world of teachers, writers, artists, and so on. Together with her husband and her beautiful daughter Shulamith, she went on her last journey with her class and the schoolchildren to the gas chambers. Thus, they were all killed, wiped out, tragically effaced, tortured.
Their sacred legacy is engraved in our memory.
May their memory be blessed.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Bielsk-Podlaski, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 4 Aug 2023 by LA