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[Pages 131-144]

Memories in Images


From Chasidic Synagogue to Revolutionary Activity


by Max Goodman (New York)

Translated by Phillip A. Applebaum

My father, Avraham Moshe, of blessed memory, was an Aleksander chasid[1], and from time to time, especially before Shabbat Nachamu[2], there was a bit of a holiday for my father and his friends: they went to Aleksander to the rebbe[3] They prepared themselves in a grand manner. My father and other chasidim hired Shmuel Leizern, the wagon driver. The passengers were Hershl Zalmans, Yosef Shochet, Yisrael Lederhandler and Shmuel Shalom, the teacher. The teamster was not one of those drivers that went to Warsaw and brought back merchandise, or drove passengers from train to train. He also was an Aleksander chasid and worshipped in the Aleksander shtiebl.[4]

I myself prayed in the Aleksander synagogue with my father. I remember all the holidays and especially Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot when the enthusiasm reached the highest level. They sang, they caroused and danced in the chasidic manner.

When I got to be about 14 or 15 years old, I became bored in Jadów because I had nothing to do. I made a few efforts to be like other boys a little older than I and to go every day to learn Torah in the study hall. My father wanted very much that his oldest son should grow up to be a religious Jew and also a ben-Torah[5]. For a little while, I studied in the study hall, but it was not satisfying. I then began talking with my father, telling him that I could not continue such a life. He told me that he reached an understanding with his friend, a teacher -- the “tall Shmuel Shalom,” as he was known --- who would have a session with me once a week, a special lesson. The study would begin around five o'clock in the morning and last until the first minyan, around seven o'clock.

In the cold, in the snow and in the rain of winter, I went through the dark little streets of Jadów to study Torah. I had a great deal of sympathy for my teacher, who had to get up so early and tear himself from sleep. For me also, the yoke of Torah was too heavy. And what would be the purpose of this? I did not intend to become a rabbi. My father was a great ben-Torah, but not an idler. So he paid attention to what I said about this and then told me: “My dear child, my dear Motl, one can be a religious Jew and also be a worker.”

My chasidic father came to the conclusion that he would do not one thing until he consulted with his rebbe. And thus it was: He went off to the tzadik[6], returned, and told me that the rebbe agreed that I should become a worker, but not in a trade that would not befit our family, such as shoemaker or tailor ...


In Warsaw in the Engraver's Trade

So we both traveled to Warsaw to Avraham Yitzhak the engraver who was the son-in-law of Rivka Rachel, the dressmaker of Jadów. We concurred that my father should pay 40 rubles and I should learn the trade for three years, with room and board included. Thus I came to Warsaw, and for me, a whole new life began.

The master of the house, Avraham Yitzhak, was a poor man. In Warsaw, to be poor was a bit worse than being poor in Jadów, but he managed. He was an Aleksander chasid and prayed at the Aleksander shtiebl in Warsaw on Franciscan Street[7].

This was in the time of the first Russian Revolution, at the end of 1904 and the beginning of 1905, when the great revolutionary events and general strikes in all parts of Russia began to develop, and social movements of workers, students and scientists emerged.

My first acquaintances in Warsaw were through the General Zionist Movement. It comprised groupings with Hebrew names: HaT'chiya, Poalei Tziyon[8]. Often, we met in the evenings after work in the markets, exactly like the other socialist parties: Bund, Polish Social Democrats and the Polish Socialist Party (the PPS, which, at that time, had a terrorist division)[9].

I remember that at one of our gatherings there developed a discussion between Yitzhak Grinbojm[10] and Noach Prilucki, who were then university students. At that time, the official Poalei Tziyon party was founded and played a role in the lives of Jewish workers.

In that time of revolutionary ways, anti-Semitism also was strengthened in every part of Russia where Jews lived, and also with us, in Warsaw. Horrendous anti-Jewish pogroms broke out which produced thousands of victims. We organized self-defense, of which I also was a member. In my room, under my bed, was a hidden weapon, ready, should anything happen, to defend Jewish honor and Jewish life.

When I was in Warsaw, I longed for my beloved little town of Jadów where my cradle stood. Every holiday, I went home and had an enjoyable stay in my father's house and even frequently went to pray at the shtiebl or synagogue. At that time, a great event occurred in my life. I fell in love with Devora Grinberg, the daughter of a fine and decent Jadów householder, Yaakov Yitzhak. She became my beloved wife, the mother of our dear children and my friend in life. With regret, to her loving name of Devora, I must now add, “of blessed memory.”

In the time written about above, we both went for a holiday in the little town [Jadów]. I cannot say for sure which holiday it was, maybe Shavuot or Pesach. After such a holiday we sometimes stayed for a day or two before we returned to Warsaw.

In that same week one of the big fairs was held in Jadów. The markets in town were packed. Peasants came to sell their produce and to procure necessities. They were full of merchants from various cities.


The Battle Against Pogrom Hooligans in Jadów

At that time, the pogroms were raging and many incidents occurred on the roads. We, in the self-defense, had a principle: when a member goes to his town or other places, he should take his weapon with him -- understandably, in a concealed manner.

I was not an exception and took my weapon with me. My girlfriend, Devora, did likewise. My beloved Devora hid her weapon in her dress, so that there should be no suspicion in traveling from Warsaw and also into Jadów. Of course, my parents and no one else knew about this. It had to be very conspiratorial.

In the morning of the market day, rumors started to spread that the gentiles, especially the youth, will rob businesses and also attack Jews -- meaning, a pogrom. At that time, I was in the home of Yona Finkelman, the taverner. There were doors leading to the common courtyard. One of his sons was my good friend. A neighbor was Butshe the baker. He had a store where he sold bread and rolls. I went directly to his house and saw that the doors to the shop were closed and barricaded with an iron bar from the inside. Outside, young gentiles were tearing at the doors.

I then decided to load my revolver, and with weaponry, to defend Jewish lives and Jewish honor. Yona, the shopkeeper, lunged at me. A giant Jew, he locked his arms around me, didn't let me go and with fear, said: “Dear Motl, I'm not letting you out, your life is in danger.” I tore myself loose from his hands, ran out into the marketplace and shot.

The shot reverberated through the entire marketplace. It was heard even in the houses. With quick steps, I approached the group of gentile youths. They stood around a Jew -- not from our town -- beating him, tearing up his merchandise and throwing it on the ground. Once again, I shot and the assailants ran away. It didn't take long for the large marketplace, where so many merchants and farmers with their horses and wagons had gathered, to be emptied. I was away again and let loose a third shot. In fear, the peasants ran away. Those that had a horse and wagon made it away quickly.

The police did not show themselves.

A little later, Aharon Meltzer (lives today in America) came to me. He was a wagon driver and said to me: “I'm going to sit on my horse (he was a very good rider) and I will help you drive away all the pogromchiks.” He did that, and with a revolver in his hand, rode through the entire market place until it was absolutely empty. A pogrom was avoided.

That day ended with the following episode: Late in the day when it was already quiet, a group of Poles from our town showed up. They came with the desire to help us and drove peasants from the market place who arrived late, making sure the peasants should return quickly to their homes and not try to join in the looting. I did not go home and stood at the side of a shop with my father-in-law, Yaakov Yitzhak (of blessed memory), and Avrumele the broker's son and also Kalman Yidl. Then, a group of five or six gentiles youths emerged, half drunk, and began harassing Jews. I shot into the air and placed myself not far from the youths and warned them. They exited the market place.

The revolutionary occurrences in in Russia, as is known, began on the 22nd of January 1905 (the 9th, according to the old Russian calendar). At that time, the St. Petersburg workers, with the priest, Gafan Brosh[11], marched in the tens of thousands to the royal winter palace with a petition to “Tsar Batushka[12].” And when they had gotten not far from the palace, the military shot directly into the assembly, and thousands, thousands of victims fell on that day. The revolutionary wave began to spread through all of Russia. Parties began to organize and they led the revolution: Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, and so on. Aside from the general socialist movement, there was also among Jews: The General Jewish Workers Alliance of Russia, Lithuania and Poland[13], the Zionist movement, which later brought out the Poalei Zion party. In Poland there was then the P.P.S. party[14], which had a strongly organized terrorist wing which carried out extraordinary terror acts in all of Poland. In Warsaw, where I was, the movement was strongly felt.


Arrest, Investigation and Prison

I personally was involved in the general Zionist movement at the that time, and later in Poalei Zion. The Bund the was largest organization and we used to have theoretical discussions on various topics with them. Being active in the movement, it was difficult to avoid arrest because the streets of Warsaw were patrolled day and night by military and police and separately by the infamous Russian Cossacks. Thousands were arrested, and thousands every day.

Also I was one of the victims. In the middle of the night, they took me out of bed.

In the arrest, they asked me if I knew someone named Avraham Pariser. A letter of his was addressed to me. His name was in the political division of the Warsaw police. You can understand that I lied about not hearing such a name or knowing such a person. I was jailed for about a week and then released. I was, however, in the files of the police, which soon led to my second arrest.

By chance, a couple of months later, I went into a small shop on Wolinski Street where they sold candy and other snacks. Two nice girls whom I knew were sitting there. I stopped to have a few words with them -- simply to greet them -- but they didn't respond. Just as I was about to leave, two persons in civilian clothes ran out and dragged me away. They told me who they were and immediately took out revolvers. They did not let me go. They were secret agents of the Tsarist regime.

Later, it was revealed that from time to time, people with a revolutionary past gathered in that store. A provocateur, indeed, that Jewish boy, Avraham Pariser, who according to the police, wrote to me about that store, was the one who called the police and this time my direction in life was entirely different.

Within a week I was taken to the police commissariat. There, in the Warsaw city hall, was the entire police department, along with the separate political division. Everyone arrested for revolutionary activity underwent a strenuous hearing by special officials who well versed in the programs of all the revolutionary parties.

They woke me in the middle of the night and a policeman took me to one of the divisions. Again began the familiar questions -- to which party I belong and why am I involved in things that are against the Russian government? My interrogators told me right away: If I want to be freed, I should give them the names and addresses of the persons whom I meet with to deal with questions about revolutionary activities ....

In the city hall, where I sat with hundreds of political arrestees, mostly Jews, it was rather lively. Conversations were carried on. Some of the arrestees were already sentenced to go to Siberia or to be exiled from the country. Very often my dear friend, Devora, and other friends visited and brought food. For a while, I was not informed as to the results of the investigation. Suddenly, one fine day, I received an order to gather my “things” because I was to be transferred to Alexeiv, a division in the Warsaw Citadel.

I was incarcerated there for several months. I received letters from my dear Devora -- they had to be in Russian only and I had to answer in Russian only.

Several months later -- it was already the end of summer -- I was further transferred to the Modlin Fortress. There I was informed that I was sentenced to four years banishment deep in Russia, Turukhansky Krai, deep in Siberia, where the climate is extraordinarily cold. The mail there was delivered only four times a year.

I was taken to prison in Praga, where arrestees from various areas of Poland were assembled and from there they were banished to the designated places. I and three other friends had the same sentence.


In the Moscow Prison and on the Way to Siberia

Once, late at night -- this must have been after the Jewish High Holy Days -- we were told to pack our things which we had ready. We were taken to the train which went from Poland straight to Moscow. It took almost a week until we got to Moscow. We were conveyed in convict railroad cars with barred windows. In every wagon -- part of a military division -- a stern guard.

We were not allowed to and were not able to leave the cars. Whoever wanted to buy something had to do so through the military patrol. When the cars came to a stop at a known station and the arrestees were allowed out in the open, I saw that the transport included several hundred prisoners.

When we arrived in Moscow, we were taken by night under strict guard to the sadly known Butyrka Prison which is very well known in our times through the tortures and shootings of political prisoners under the communist regime. We stayed in the Moscow prison for six or seven weeks. It was very bad there for the prisoners. We could not sleep at night, everything was bug-infested. Suddenly, on a cold night around midnight, around 400-500 prisoners were forced into the corridors of the prison administration and everyone was called out and informed where he was to be sent. I was told that I was not going to Turukhansk, but to Yeniseysky oblast.

When we were already moving in the wagons, we discovered the reason for changing the place of exile: In Turukhansky Krai there was a great rebellion of the prisoners. There were dead from both sides, from the prisoners and from the guards. In the train that went to Siberia there were prisoners from all the political parties in Russia with their important members from the central committees, all victims of the provocateur Azef and other provocateurs.

We rode from Moscow non-stop until we got to the city of Krasnoyarsk. After the train, pulled by two locomotives, stopped there, we were informed that our journey from Moscow had ended. Military divisions will take guard duty over us and we will be brought to the Krasnoyarsk prisons. There we'll be able to “rest up” a little.

Life in the prison was a little more free than in Moscow Butyrka Prison. From time to time we were able to go from one building to another (there were five immense blocks) and converse with friends. As it took more than a few weeks' time until prisoners were banished to various points, we undertook to make prison life interesting. There were persons there with superior education and from time to time we held gatherings and also heard lectures.

The prisoners held discussions. I became acquainted with one of the prisoners, a member of the Poltaver Social-Revolutionary Committee. He called himself Favel, slept near me. On a cold night, he covered me with his prisoner's pelt. I was very, very much younger than he and he must have had pity on me and wanted to warm me. This was the famous Felix Dzerzhinsky[15], later leader of the cruel Extraordinary Commission -- Cherezvychayka[16] -- which in Russia caused the demise of thousands of innocent people. We knew that he had a Jewish wife and his letters to her were very tender[17].

Thus we sat in the Krasnoyarsk Prison until about May 1907. The pair of months there were for me -- and surely for others -- like a university. I encountered great and interesting personalities: Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and also a small group with Zionist viewpoints, part of the Poalei Zion party. There were a considerable number of Jews, perhaps 25 or 30 percent with Jewish names who played important roles in the revolutionary movement.

We also found out the reasons as to why we stayed so long in the Krasnoyarsk prison. We should have been taken by ship across the great Yenisei River. A barzhe (barge) was attached to the ship which could hold several hundred exiles. It took a couple of days of sailing on the river until coming to a city which was called Rivne[18]. When we crossed the river and left the ship and the barges, then boats with oars were waiting for us and took us across another, smaller river in which were large blocks of floating ice. The boat pilots had to maneuver around the ice so that the boats wouldn't overturn.


From Siberian exile “running” home

In the city of Rivne we were turned over to an officer of the Cossack division. The prison in which we were quartered was without locked doors. We were not allowed to go too far or to seek work. We were there for about a week until new orders arrived. Groups were sent to various villages.

We went again by boat, but not under the control of police or soldiers, but of village peasants. I and two friends of my age were sent to the village of Bugatchane. It was a larger village settlement. The mail arrived only once a month. All communication went via the river, and in the autumn we had to wait to send or deliver the mail because the river was frozen. Thus also in spring, except that we had to wait until the river was clean of ice.

A friend and I were staying with a farm family -- plain, simple people. There, they didn't know what a Jew was. We had friendly relations with the farmers. We became friendly with our comrades and were invited as guests to the other exiles, got together, conversed and discussed.

We did not allow ourselves to accept the decision of the Russian administration that we should stay four years in exile. I decided that at the first opportunity I would escape back to Warsaw to my parents and especially to my beloved friend, Devora Grinberg. It was not so easy to escape. Two times a day -- in the morning and at night -- police arrived to see if I was in my place of confinement, and if not, they asked around as to where I was. After a day or two, if the exile did not turn up, they began to search for those who tried to escape back home.

After about two years of being in my place of exile, in May 1910, I decided that the time had come to make an attempt to “run” from exile and come back to Warsaw and also to the town of Jadów. You had to plan it so that it took a day until the police would catch on as to who it was that escaped.

The system of the police was: If the person was not seen for a day, and he was sought but not found, then one of the police rode a horse on the only road that led to another village, because one could not drive a vehicle, only walk or ride a horse. One had to inform the village that one came to after a day's walk that the political prisoners in that village should be on the lookout and seek a place secure from the police. After a couple of days, when the people of that village learned that the police reached the limit of their search and returned to the place from where the prisoner escaped, then you knew you were free to go -- by foot, of course -- until you got to the city of Omsk from which a train goes to Russia.

According to this drill, we ran. We had the address of a Jewish family in Omsk, veteran residents of the city. My two friends and I got acquainted with the family. The other two were a Russian seminarian and a Pole who belonged to the PPS. The family in Omsk received us with great friendliness. They lived in several rooms. There were two children, a son and a daughter. The father of the family advised us not to go alone to buy the train tickets, to avoid suspicion. He bought the tickets for us, all the way to Moscow.

The train ride to Moscow took around four days. The train was packed with peasants, some of them representing their villages to receive places where the government wanted to settle them in areas of Siberia. In those times, the Russian government wanted to take out residents, peasants, especially those in congested places in Russia and take them at the government's expense to Siberia and allocate pieces of land to them and their families. Among them we felt at home, and I, the only Jewish boy, in those days spoke Russian and my clothing was no different from the delegates and I felt very comfortable with them. Together we sang Russian songs. I took the train from Moscow to Warsaw.

I don't remember how many hours it took from Moscow to Warsaw with the Petersburg train. On a beautiful morning the last day of June 1910 I arrived in Poland's capital.

I went to a coffee house, drank a glass of tea, had a bite to eat, and decided first to see my dear, beloved Devora, who was a hat salesgirl in one Warsaw's major stores. She was already in the store. I stood about five or six steps from her until she turned her head and began looking in my direction, and my attention was directed to her.

For Devora this was an extraordinary surprise. A brief moment, and we kissed. A tear fell on my face. That day will surely remain in my memory forever. Another few days in Warsaw and I was off to my former landlord, Avraham Yitzhak, on Dzikie Street. This was a another surprise moment. We kissed. In the house, joy prevailed, but also concern that I not be arrested again.

In that same week I resolved to go to the beloved town of Jadów, for which I so strongly longed. Getting off the train in Urle, my spirits were lifted. Standing there were the wagons that transported passengers to Urle and back. The wagon driver was Moshe Denok. My attire at that time was entirely different from what it was when I left the town. I looked more like a gentile peasant than a Jewish boy.

I sat down in the wagon and we started off toward Jadów. The day was absolutely splendid, and for my soul, like a holiday. My gaze fell on the beauty of the fields on both sides of the road. When we arrived in the town, the wagon driver stopped at the building where Shmuel Yosl Schneider and Feivl Szkop resided. Moshe Danok jumped off the wagon and began crying aloud: “Motl is here, just back from Siberia Motl Avraham Moshe's is here!”

I don't know how long it took, but men, women and children came running and greeted me. Several boys circled the wagon in which I sat. One, with a smiling face, grabbed my hand and said something. I didn't hear him. He was Kalman Yisroelke's, the leather merchant. My step-mother, Esther, came. She ran toward me with all of her strength. She and I quickly went home where my father, Avraham Moshe, had impatiently awaited my arrival. We embraced, and I saw tears in his eyes.

From time to time I traveled from Jadów to Warsaw, and from Warsaw to back to the town without any fear.

The time came when all disseminations were forced to go out into the wide world. This was around the 15th of November 1910. I safely crossed the border out of Poland and arrived in America the 16th of November 1910 and began a new life with new worries: An industrious, social life with my dear wife, Devora, of blessed memory. The life was fortunate with two beloved children and now with precious grandchildren.

A social, interesting life until the present day, and, we hope, also further.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Aleksander chasidic dynasty was founded by Rabbi Yechiel Dancyger (1828-1894) in Aleksandrów Łódzki, 24 kilometers west-northwest of Lodz, Poland's second largest city. Yiddish-speaking Jews referred to the town as Aleksander. Rabbi Dancyger's descendants inherited his leadership, and between the world wars, Aleksander grew to be the second largest chasidic following in Poland (after Ger). Like most of Polish Jewry, the population of Aleksander chasidim was devastated in the Holocaust, but enough survived to revive the movement so that today it flourishes in Israel, with branches in the USA (New York state and Cleveland, Ohio), Europe and Australia. Return
  2. Shabbat Nachamu ("Shabbat of Consolation") is the first Shabbat after Tisha B'Av (a day of mourning that occurs in July or August). It takes its name from the haftarah of that Shabbat derived from Isaiah 40:1-26, which opens with the phrase, Nachamu, nachamu ami ("Be comforted, be comforted my people"). Return
  3. The honorific title of the charismatic leader of a chasidic group. A Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew rabbi. Return
  4. Shtiebel is the term applied to a chasidic synagogue. It is a diminutive derived from the Yiddish shtub (or shtieb, in Polish Yiddish), meaning "house," for in many cases -- especially at the beginning of the chasidic movement -- organized chasidic prayers were held in houses, rather than in purpose-built synagogues. Return
  5. A Jewish man learned in sacred texts and meticulous in his religious observance. Return
  6. Tzadik is Hebrew, meaning "righteous man" or "saint." The word is often used by chasidic Jews as an alternative term for rebbe. Return
  7. In Yiddish, Frantzishkaner Gas. In Polish, Ulica Franciszkańska. Return
  8. Ha-Tchiya ("the Rebirth"), general Zionists. Poalei Tziyon ("Workers of Zion"), Marxist Zionists. Return
  9. Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, 1892-1948. Among its early leaders was Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), head of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1935). Return
  10. This is the phonetic Polish spelling based on the text. Many Polish Jews with tree names also used the German ending, baum. Hence, this name could also be Grinbaum. Return
  11. Georgy Apollonovich Gapon (1870-1906), Russian Orthodox priest, popular working class leader and informer for the Russian secret police. In English, he is sometimes referred to as George Gapon. Return
  12. Tsar batushka in Russian means "little father tsar," a term of endearment. Return
  13. Also known as the Jewish Labor Bund, and generally, as the Bund. Return
  14. The Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, PPS). Return
  15. 1877-1926. Born into the Polish Catholic nobility, Dzerzhinsky subsequently joined the Bolsheviks. After the 1917 Communist takeover of Russia, Dzerzhinsky was appointed head of the Cheka, the first Soviet secret police. In 1922, the Cheka was dissolved and replaced by the OGPU, of which Dzerzhinsky was director. Return
  16. Chrezvychaynaya komissiya (чреэвычáйная койссия) "Emergency Commission." Return
  17. Dzerzhinsky's first fiancйe (who died before their marriage) and his wife were both Jewish. Dzerzhinsky learned to speak Yiddish fluently. Return
  18. Not to be confused with the Ukrainian city of Rivne, also known in Russian as Rovno. This city is in Siberia. Return


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