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[Page 489]

The Bund

by Berl Kotlinsky, New York

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

I was a member of the Bund in Brest since 1905. In those days great revolutionary events occurred and strikes broke out throughout the Russian empire. The strike atmosphere also prevailed in Brest. The Bund – a Jewish worker's organization, conducted agitation in the workers groups, and also amongst the Christian workers, the Bund organized and addressed a meeting of the railway workers.

One of the best agitators amongst the Christian worker's groups was Sher the watchmaker; he was the son of Anschel Sher, a violinist with the Brest Orchestra. He spoke good Russian and achieved much influence with his oratory talents

The Brest branch of the Bund numbered 800 members, but 1000's of Jewish workers were ready to support them. The Bund was purely a workers organization – even it's leaders were workers. In order to assist the local leaders in their activities, the central committee of the party sent four officials to Brest who were expert in revolutionary activities. These 'professionals' were themselves not workers, they originated from other classes, but were passionate idealists who, instead of becoming doctors, lawyers, and businessmen – had adopted the revolutionary cause.

They rotted in prisons and Siberian exile – and some of them sacrificed their lives in the struggle against the Tsarist regime. At the head of these officials was a 'David'. This 'David' was one of the most outstanding personalities that I have ever met in my life. He was the treasurer of the Bund, and he allotted every employee three rubles a week for the purpose of living expenses and rent. Newspapers and books he purchased at his own expense –every Monday morning he would wait at the railway station for the delivery of newspapers and journals from St. Petersburg. As soon as they arrived he would run and collect them and immediately return to his humble room to read them.

The Bund in Brest was also the headquarters of the Bund for the entire Brest district. We wanted to be called the Brest committee, as was the Bialystok committee, the Dvinsk committee, and so on… we thought it was our entitlement as we had the greatest number of members and were very active, but the central committee had other ideas and refused to give us this right, so we were called the District Committee.

The Bund held an important position in the community life of Brest. It organized strikes and financially supported several groups whereby they could read socialist books and pamphlets, gave instructions to agitators, and spread revolutionary information.

We provided the information that was not printed in the government press to give the workers hope for a better world. We idealized the heroes and martyrs that were willing to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs – we were ready to follow their example. The party activities were banned – all the work was done in secret, we could not hold public meetings to address the people. Therefore, we organized large meetings in the synagogues and even at the cemetery. The Bund was strong in Brest and the synagogue officials did not dare denounce us to the authorities.

One of the largest meetings took place on the occasion of Wladek's visit to Brest. The synagogue was packed full and the workers listened to every word of his fiery speech, although this was an illegal meeting and attendance could result in imprisonment, there were several prominent people present.

I remember also a large meeting at the funeral of the Bundist 'Matil' who had drowned. On the day of the funeral, almost every worker in Brest left their workshops and factories and positioned themselves in an honor guard of two rows from the length of Matil's house to the cemetery. Then there took place one of the greatest revolutionary meetings ever held in Brest. The police did not dare interfere, they did not intervene in the funeral and it was an unforgettable event.

The most beloved leader of the workers at that time was Shloime the Shneider (tailor). Besides his great intelligence and personality he was a popular and loyal comrade. His home was a meeting place for Bund members from all the provinces. When a revolutionary would arrive and had no place to stay, Shloime would take him home and share his meal with him.

At Shloime's I met a member of the Central Committee, Beinish Michalovitch (Izbitzki), who arrived with important orders from the central committee. Izbitzki himself was a Brisker and had many relatives there. Shloime the tailor was liked and treasured by all the Bundists, and also by non-affiliated people. He was a very modest man – I remember in the 1905 revolution when practically the entire city was under Bundist control – the discussion in our group was about who would be the commandant of the Brest Fortress. Shloime was suggested as a candidate, but he refused emphatically.

A Bundist who was a legend in Brest was Fessel Kotlianski. She owned a dress salon for the wealthy, and the wives of the Russian officers. The first female members of the Bund thought it a great privilege to work for her. According to Tchernichevski (his rules of what to do), this was an exemplary example of how a workshop should be run in a socialist regime. Her workers were not treated as mere laborers but as equals in her factory – this was the first workplace that was conducted on an eight-hour working day basis.

Fessel was not the only female member of the Bund –we cannot forget Grandma – that's how she was known by all. She took care of all her comrades in Brest. Whenever a worker was ill or imprisoned, Grandma would appear to give help. She watched over all her members, she knew who needed clothes or a pair of shoes, and would fix it accordingly. Grandma's wedding was a great celebration in the city. All the workers came in large masses and the evening was spent singing revolutionary songs together.

The most respected activist and leader was Reuven Salzman “Reuven the Tailor”. He was the eternal optimist. With his simple and well-defined words he would give hope and courage in the worst of times. He would say:” All the tyrants will be defeated and we will win, because the truth is with us.” He was a capable and talented organizer and attracted many new members. After his arrest, little remained of the party. At that time the reactionaries reigned – they conducted many arrests and raids and all the members were affected.

When Pesach Novick took over the leadership of the organization, there were only remnants left of the former Bund Party. However, there were a few stubborn revolutionaries left who were not afraid of arrest. They resurrected the party and conducted agitation through the Jewish working classes; they gave lessons in socialism and provided revolutionary material for them to read.

Pesach and I would go every Saturday to visit Reuven in prison, in order to consult with him about party matters. Beforehand, we would bring books to the head warder of the prison and request permission to bring this with us into the prison. Often, permission would be granted – even for books that were not officially sanctioned. Then there would be great joy that we had tricked them. Food was brought to Reuven almost daily. His mother would prepare the food in a pot with a double lid in which forbidden items were hidden – circulars, proclamations, forged passports, and sometimes money.

It was a hard life to be a revolutionary under the Tsarist regime, but it was even harder for a Jewish revolutionary. Aside from the persecutions of the Tsarists, there were troubles from the religious Jewish fanatics around them.

Despite all this, there were thousands of stubborn young people who were willing to sacrifice their souls for their ideals. They all participated in the overthrow of the Tsarist regime, with the revolutionaries of Brest cooperating fully in this endeavor.

The Bund Conference in 1936
In the front are the 3 leaders of the Bundist Movement
- they were sent to Siberia in 1939 by the Russians and never returned -
R to L: Shtorch, David Shneider, and Israel Tennenbaum

[Page 493]

In the Underground

by Leizor Kling, New York

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

I was arrested by the Tsarist police in Biala Podlaska in1909. Because I was an active Bundist, after a period of six months the gendarmerie (police) informed me that I would be sentenced according to articles 102 and 129 – which meant six years hard labor and then exiled to Siberia for a long time. As the police had not managed to build an official case against me during these six months, I was temporarily released. My parents immediately left for Warsaw to consult with a famous lawyer – Fotek of the Polish Socialist Party. Fotek had much experience defending in political trials. His advice was that I should immediately leave for abroad whilst he studied the charges and considered what I should do.

I went to Cracow – which was then Austria, and after about six months Fotek informed me that the police had not found enough incriminating evidence according to paragraph 102, but that the secret police could banish me from the country and exile me to Siberia. I decided to return to Russia, and surrendered to the police who expelled me from 10 gubernias (provinces). In Russian it was called “Bestrochniya Tzelka”. My passport was confiscated and my record listed me as a danger to society.

In the beginning, I thought, well Russia is huge and I'll find a town to settle in, but I soon realized that the matter was not so simple. Wherever I went – Bialystok, Grodno, Kovno, Minsk or Vilna – I would have to report to the police and was ordered to immediately leave the town if I did not want to go to prison.

Upon arriving in Brest I was called to the office of His Honor the Grodno Chief of Police. He began to curse me, how I, a dangerous element, had the nerve to come to a city like Brest with it's large military fortress. In a great rage he grabbed me by the hair and threw me out of his office with a Russian “Misheberach” (blessing). Notwithstanding this, the Bundists in Brest were old friends, who wanted me to stay in Brest, and despite everything, stay legally.

In 1911-12 the Bundists in Brest, as everywhere else were self-supporting and had reorganized themselves. They needed useful speakers and activists. They knew that I was a veteran Bundist and a good orator, and it was decided that I should remain in Brest.

The renowned Bundist official, Shloime Shneider met with a police official of the city – A.Makorov, who registered me at his address. I would have to pay him monthly rent of three rubles. After obtaining the right of residency, I had to face the problem of earning a living. The Brest Bund was impoverished, and could not at that time cover my expenses – but just then the printing firm “Kobrynets” received an order to print a 500-page book – General Kurapatkia's memoirs of the Russo-Japanese War (1905). I received a position as a typesetter.

The Bund at that time was developing and organizing the worker's groups: bookmakers, tailors, metalsmiths, building laborers and associated trades as well as female workers. Especially active in these group meetings were: Moshe Shapiro, a student and editor of the student Russian newspaper in Brest. After the revolution, he became assistant Commissioner for Education in St. Petersburg. The brothers Chaim and Shimshon Riger – the sons of the Dayan (rabbinical judge), Simcha Zelig Riger. Shmulke Muller, who was later wounded in the Bundist self- defence force. Shloime Shneider, and others.

Our work grew rapidly and we printed daily proclamations. However, no printer would print our proclamations. We wanted to purchase printing machines and open a printing press, but no one would sell us the equipment. The party decided to simply steal the lettering machines from the Kobrynets plant, and to form a clandestine printing press.

Each day, I would take lead letters from their boxes, conceal them in a feather quilt, and pass it to a comrade who would be waiting outside to take it away. In three weeks time we had an illegal press with all the machinery. We achieved the matter in the following manner: the binder would make 20 cardboard boxes that we would fill with our pamphlets, the printing equipment we all carried in our pockets.

We rented a room from a poor elderly married couple and printed out our proclamations there. Chaim Riger was the head setter of the press. The elderly couple noticed that every evening the room would be full of well-dressed young people, and students who would stay there until late in the night, and they were most unhappy. They suspected that we were printing counterfeit money. One winter evening, they told comrade Riger, that if he didn't move out with all his boxes, they would report him to the police. All his begging to them to wait an hour until he brought boxes to move the material did not help. The couple demanded that he remove the suspect materials immediately. Riger bought an old sack from them, put all the printing tools in it and wanted to move this to a member's home until we could find an appropriate place. He put the large sack on his shoulder and began to walk, attracting the suspicions of a policeman who demanded that he stop and wanted to see the contents of the sack he was dragging. Riger stammered as he was nervous –the policeman opened a box and found lead letters. He took Riger to the police station. Several Bundist members of the boot makers group witnessed this and decided to rescue Riger from his predicament. With much chutzpah they announced to the policeman that it was a great shame for a rabbi's son to be taken to the police station. At the same time they pressed a ruble into the policeman's hand.

The policeman immediately changed his expression, returned the sack to Riger, and asked him to disappear at once, so that he would not have to share the ruble with his colleagues.

I had a lot of satisfaction from my life in Brest, beside the Bund activity I was close to my hometown of Biala Podlaska, where my family lived. At one point the Bialer Bund asked me to return secretly and make a speech there. I arrived in the morning and was given a place to stay in secret. I stayed there several weeks and was again arrested.

My fiancé exerted all her means to get only one policeman to escort me back to Brest and hand me over to the police commandant. This policeman duly transferred me to the police chief and said “have pity on your girl (fiance) and stay quiet here in Brest, if you don't want to end up in Siberia”.

I should mention that the entire time I stayed in Brest, there was not one Bundist denounced by the public to the police. Yet when I arrived in Biala Podlaska for a few weeks, I was denounced by someone to the police and found myself in the Bialer prison. This is a great credit to the Bund in Brest.

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