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[Page 265]

Social Movements in Kremenets

 

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Elections to the First Polish Parliament in Kremenets
From The Volhynia Collection, Book 1, 4 Tevet 5706 (December 8, 1945)

By Avraham Levinson (Israel)

English translation by Tina Lunson

What I will relate here is no more than a few memories about Volhynia in the era of the elections to the First Polish Sejm[1] (after that the Constitutional Sejm).

That was in 1922. Jewish politics then was under the flag of the minority bloc, which was the accomplishment of Yitschak Grinboym. I recall that under his leadership in Warsaw, meeting after meeting was conducted, during which the foundation was laid for the Polish bloc of national minorities.

The authorities, it seemed, did not value the quantitative or qualitative worth of national minorities. They regarded them only from a distance.

And among the Jewish masses, among the Union and the merchants, there was still not much mature recognition of patriotism for the land, and they supported the bloc. Besides that, there were only the Folksists (the creation of Noach Prilutski), who united with the Craftsman Folksists, who were organized in a central craftsmen's union under the direction of Chayim Rasner (the Zionists in that union did support the bloc). And led by the unity of all national energies, victory was secured in advance, although no one dared estimate that we would win such an extraordinary victory–getting 55 representatives for the national minorities to the Sejm and the senate.

I remember that one day I received a telegram from Warsaw at my residence in Lodz saying that I must travel to Volhynia for a month to lead the promotion of the bloc's Slate Number 8. The electoral district in which I was declared a candidate for Sejm deputy included these towns: Kremenets, Dubno, Ostrog, and a string of neighboring villages, among them Radzivilov, Berestechko, Gorokhov, and others. My chances of being elected were slim because in my electoral district I was in fifth place after four Ukrainians, and in addition, our slate was also an official state election slate.

But in the warlike atmosphere of the eve of elections, I was not bold enough to deny those who had sent me. I set out for Volhynia.

The head of the election committee was the attorney Binyamin Landesberg, a devoted Zionist, son of the esteemed old doctor Arye Landesberg, also a Zionist. I can see the old doctor before me now: a very approachable, goodhearted person. He was a real intellectual with cultural interests. He also knew a good deal of the old Yiddish literature. To this day I have on my bookshelf a gift that he gave me as a memento, a copy of the book Living Soul, by Menashe ben Yisrael. In the short breaks between one propaganda speech and the next, he told me about the important Jew who brought great honor and respect to the town, R' Y. B. Levinzon, who secluded himself in an attic room and dreamed the dream of Jewish enlightenment and the spread of agriculture and artisanry among Jews.

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There he authored the books Zurubavel and Yehuda for one part of his dream, and Bloodless for the other. The Kremenets house in which the RYB”L lived was preserved until recent times. Among the other prominent personalities who were born in Kremenets, Landesberg praised the memory of Lovers of Zion activist and one of the first Zionists in Poland Dr. Tovye Hindes, whom I knew well from when he was active in the Lovers of Zion movement in Warsaw.

The son was the opposite of Landesberg the father. The elder was devoted to his medical practice, although he was already advanced in years; he also already lived in the world of his memories, but his son Binyamin was very lively and active. Besides his legal practice, he was devoted heart and soul to social work and Zionism. His fine wife Tsile was a great help to him in that difficult time. Besides Landesberg, who was hard at work with the election process, his son–in–law Freydberg, Goldring, Dr. Litvak, and others were also involved at the time, all devoted Zionists.

Election work was not easy in Kremenets and environs. Disregarding the fact that the minorities bloc reverberated strongly in the progressive towns, it still awoke sad memories and anguish in Jewish hearts. They vividly remembered the pogroms that the Ukrainians carried out on the Jewish population during the Ukraine civil war. It was with no light spirit that they now agreed, those western Polish Jews, to pair up politically with the Ukrainians, their blood enemies. That argument was used more than once by Prilutski, who took refuge under the wings of the local Polish starosta, whose job it was to protect his district from falling under the influence of the Ukrainian autonomous irredentist movement.

That actually ended up helping me. The Kremenets starosta was from my town, Lodz, and was a friend of my father–in–law. Because of that, he kept my presentations from being interrupted. A psychological difficulty came along with that, which was quite shocking to me: to my bad luck, my political opponent, Noach Prilutski, who was known for his literary research and public social activity, was born in Kremenets, and all his family members lived back in Kremenets then. But I quickly realized that my fear was for nothing. The minority bloc that stood on the disputed ground of the Jews and the Polish reactionary government was very popular all over Volhynia, and Prilutski's close relatives supported our slate. The thing went so far that Noach Prilutski avoided visiting his relatives when he came to Kremenets and stayed in a private hotel.

I recall a rally in the Kremenets Great Synagogue. It was right before the election. The rally had been organized by the Folksists with Prilutski's participation. Before Prilutski began his speech, those gathered there demanded that I be given an opportunity to respond after he finished his speech. Of course, Prilutski rejected their request. The crowd drowned out his speech with loud shouts that echoed around the whole synagogue. Having no alternative, he agreed to give me a half hour to respond. Prilutski's speech was generally clear and calm. First he brought up his practical work for the Jewish community, and also his scientific work. The first part of his speech did not make much of an impression. Every sentence began with “I.” A large part of his presentation was dedicated to the political candidate in my election district, the writer Sh. Hirshhorn.

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The comparison was between a Folksist candidate who had long since acquired a reputation in Poland in the Jewish–Polish newspapers, and the candidate from the minorities bloc whom no one really knew (he had moved to Poland from Ukraine only two years before). That comparison did not sound good to my ears. The demagogic tactic of dismissing and denigrating the bloc's candidate forced me to respond in kind, and with the same tactic that I had always found ugly.

When Prilutski finished, my friends in the rally carried me to the pulpit over the heads of the crowd (it was impossible to walk to the pulpit because of the overcrowding). I was offended by the speech.

Above the sea of heads that surrounded me on every side rose the beautifully carved Holy Ark and over that, high up, the two tablets of the covenant. I placed the anokhi [“I am”] of the first commandment in the first words of my response. I rejected the human “I” that is full of self–importance and set against it what is etched into the tablets: against the personal program that is a foundational idea for the Folksists, and brought out the national idea of the national bloc and not the personal.

“Whoever gives his voice to Zionism,” I said, “votes for an eternal foundation for the masses, gives his possessions and soul for validation of the national freedom movement. Against that, whoever votes for a party of incidental individuals, he gives it away for the keren ha'tsvi[2], that is for Hirshhorn ….” My speech was drowned out in the tumult of the jubilant crowd. When Prilutski went up later to respond, he was met with a loud singing of Hatikva, and that decided the vote.

Zionist enthusiasm permeated electioneering in Dubno and Ostrog, where a group of activists from the bloc stood ready to serve. I remember exactly the promotional evening for the bloc in Dubno, after the Folksist rally. Responding to an urgent call from the committee, which was worried about the outcome of the vote, I arrived in Dubno that night. At the beginning of my talk, I was interrupted several times by rebels who were supporting the Folksist slate there. The Zionist atmosphere in the hall was aglow. It felt as though war clouds were gathering. A rebel pushed through and jumped up on the stage and interrupted my speech. Suddenly a policeman also appeared on the stage. My haughty opponent now had help in his disruption. We trembled, waiting for the crowd to be driven away. But what happened could not have been anticipated. The policeman not only removed my challenger, he later distributed my propaganda flyer favoring the bloc's slate among the crowd.

It was clear that the policeman was a Ukrainian and that he was also invested in the success of the partnership slate. The meeting, of course, ended with shouts of hurrah from all gathered. I took that atmosphere of sympathy for the bloc to Ostrog, the historically Polish–Jewish town located right on the Russian–Polish border.

After a committee meeting in Ostrog, I returned to Kremenets to reinforce electoral activity there. While there, I learned that the leader of the craftsmen of Poland, Chayim Rasner, was going to Ostrog for propaganda purposes. Someone later gave me to understand that his rally was disrupted by a strange, laughable incident that is worth mentioning. Like all Jewish towns, Ostrog was blessed with a town crazy person; Pakman was his name. A quiet person, he always wore a Cossack general's uniform, with red stripes down the trouser legs, a lot of medals of engraved coins on the breast, and a crumpled general's hat on his head.

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The point is that he believed that he was assigned by Tsarina Catherine II to take care of the wagons that brought foodstuffs into Ostrog (or something like that), but that people had stolen the food from the wagons and divided it up among themselves. When Marshal Pilsudski came to Ostrog to open a branch of the new railroad that was being laid then and received the military and civilian authorities among military units assembled in one of the plazas, Pakman was the only one who broke rank, approached Pilsudski, presented himself on his knees, and with his finger pointed out the eldest of the authorities, as they were the thieves who had taken the foodstuffs from the wagons and brought about this disgrace to both him and Poland.

It is easy to imagine the scene and Pilsudski's grimace or his look at the leaders of Poland implying that he was not far from … Pakman.

That same Pakman also materialized at the election rally in which Rasner was taking part. It seems that someone had tipped him off that a wagon of coal was coming from Warsaw for him in Ostrog and that he, Rasner, was to blame that the coal had disappeared. For Pakman that was enough–and there, just as the meeting was beginning, and Rasner had begun to explain the Folksist program with his beloved oratorical artistry, Pakman stood up and demanded an accounting for the coal. An unkind laughter broke out in the hall. Rasner, who did not know who was confronting him, in his naivete began to defend himself against this libel that his political opponents must have hung on him. Pakman held his position. And the more he tried to defend himself, the more the laughter and confusion grew, and the meeting ended.

I also had an invitation to visit Lutsk, the old Volhynia town where the lively leaders among the local Zionists were extremely vigilant: Yehoshue Berger, Chaykel Vayts, Avraham Vaksman, and others who had contributed a lot to national Jewish efforts in the election activity. Also in the villages of the region, in the dear Jewish villages of the sincere and devoted, in which the beat of national socialism was strong.

It is difficult to express the great love and endless devotion of the Jews of the far–flung villages for Zionism, Hebrew, and the national funds. The Zionists of Radzivilov–Menashe Zagerader and Moshe Duvid Balaban–were so active, as was Moshe Goldgurt, and with them were youth in nonleadership roles. Unselfishly, they took on the elections and concerned themselves with the funds and the national idea. Their loyalty reached so far that they accompanied me on my trips to the poor villages of Kozin, Pochayev, Vyshgorodok, and others.

Promotion work for the elections lasted for about a month. The result was clear: in my voting district, the bloc had a complete victory. All five candidates were elected to the Polish Sejm. That spoke well for the national solidarity of the Jewish population in Volhynia.

It is also worth indicating for our memories that the hearts of all the ordinary Jews in the Volhynia villages, the simple hardworking Jews burdened with large families who often did not have any livelihood, harbored an instinctive love for Zion, the Jewish holy book, and national liberation. For them, being in exile was a thing of the past. I saw masses of Jews at rallies in Kovel, Lutsk, Rozhishche, Rovno, Korets, Ludvipol, and other small villages. I visited the Jews in their nearly–empty shops and poor workshops, and everywhere their soulful attention to what is sacred, their generosity to the national funds, was wonderful.

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I once visited Berestechko, the wonderful town where all the Jews spoke Hebrew and most of their children had at various times moved to the Land of Israel. A few of the propaganda rallies under the direction of Dr. Furman were dedicated to the Foundation Fund. Before his lecture, the crowd asked to take a break, and when I agreed, the audience disappeared in the blink of an eye, but they all returned, and in a moment hoisted onto the table a great mountain of gold and silver coins, jewelry, all kinds of expensive treasures and sacred utensils. The same evening, a special messenger from Gorokhov arrived in Berestechko and secretly brought a sackful of jewelry for the Foundation Fund.

There is much more to tell about those dear communities. More than three decades have gone by since I visited the settlements in Volhynia, and I can still see the dear figures of those hearty Jews who were engrossed in building the land, rooting their best strength and possessions, their best offspring.

My heart contracts and shrinks when I remind myself that they are no more, those light–filled Jews, that we will never see them again.

May these pages be allowed to serve as a memory of the beautiful Jewish settlement that knew how to love and fight to build and create and secure an honorable place in the eternal national creativity.

 

Three of the oldest Kremenetsers in Israel

[right to left]: Messrs. Rubin, Fishman, and Shikhman, who lived in Buenos Aires for many years

 


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. Return
  2. Keren hatsvi means “stag's horn.” Putting your money or wares on the horns of a stag may cause it to get lost when the stag runs. This is a play on words, as the name Hirshhorn also means “stag's horn.” Return


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How We Once Disseminated Yiddish Literature
(A Few Memories)

Kremenitser Shtime [Kremenets Voice] 12 August 1932, No. (41) 28

By Duvid Rokhel (Warsaw)

Translated by Tina Lunson

It was in the summer of 1909, when I had just come to Kremenets for summer vacation from Odessa, where I was studying. In Odessa I was a participant in a Vestnik Znanya[1] circle, and coming back to my hometown, I was looking for something to do.

I contacted some other friends–students from several towns in Volhynia and Podolia provinces–and tried to establish a kind of connection so we could use our shared strength to interest the youth in those towns and villages in Vestnik Znanya circle activities. With our first steps, we encountered an unexpected difficulty. We had not dealt with “legalization” in the provincial towns where we wanted to take the first steps in distributing literature and holding intimate discussions; it was nothing urgent and it was completely superfluous to legitimize a society under the authorities. The difficulty was of a very different nature. We were half– and completely assimilated Jews, and the thought had never occurred to us that our work, if we wanted to be able to do it among the Jewish masses, would have to be in Yiddish.

We had simply written away for a whole package of books from Vestnik Znanya, brochures from the already liquidated publisher Ponomarev's Selected Speeches, Gorbunov–Pasadov's Posrednik [mediator], and collections dedicated to the life and work of the various peoples in Russia that were published under Sh. Anski's editorship. With that transport of literature, we had wanted to begin our activities. But from the very beginning we encountered a strange impediment. We had the books and wanted others to take them. None were taken, for a simple reason: “We do not know any Russian.”

So I just posed the question that we would have to find some advice and proposed that we get in touch with the [Yiddish] “literary society” in Petersburg, so that they could recommend what we should do. Some opposed this and thought it would be much easier just to teach the workers Russian. But in the end, we decided–really, with a heavy heart–to move over to Yiddish works.

In turning to Petersburg, we received an answer in which someone recommended that we correspond with the journal Life and Science in Vilna.

As to how far we were from any knowledge of Yiddish literature: the news that a journal named Life and Science existed, with its implication of a relationship to Vestnik Znanya, hit us all like a bombshell, and we immediately ordered a trial issue of the journal. On receiving it, I went to my friend Hirsh Yospe, who was employed in commerce (he was killed in the war) and asked him to read the journal with me. I wanted to see what kind of impression the journal had on him. We also invited Shmerel Feldman, a Labor Zionist (he poisoned himself in 1910). And even with a perfunctory acquaintance with its program article and the chronicle in the “language room,” it was clear that this was it; we had what we needed.

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I obstinately put away the Russian literature and took to teaching Yiddish and reading Yiddish literature with the greatest earnestness. I grouped several friends around me, and we went to work. We distributed 34 copies of Life and Science around Kremenets. We disseminated it like this: we received an agreement from someone that he would subscribe to the journal, and we subscribed him at his address. The money for the subscription (100 percent workers) was paid in installments of 10 kopeks a week. And since that effort was agreeable, we soon began to distribute the works of Mendele, Perets, Sholom Aleichem, Sholem Asch, and others. We kept in touch with the book dealer Sh. Shrebnik in Vilna and later with the “Central” publishers. We received the biggest discount, 40 percent; we paid for the books in cash and gave the same discount to our buyers. In this way we were able to recruit a lot of buyers who would get the books and pay pennies per installment. Characteristically, it should be noted, there was never any talk of “not paid.” There was even a case when one member went to America and simply paid his debt from there.

The initial fund was created by a few well–off friends. Some also often made a loan. The result that our work was encouraged, and in time almost every worker–of the better ones, more or less developed–had his own library. Two woodcutters distinguished themselves most in that detail, the brothers Mikhel and Lemel Sherman (now in the Soviet Union); then the carpenter Avraham Mardish (now an outstanding activist in the Soviet Union), the lame Mikhel Barshap (a very odd type–now in Kremenets–a painter who fell off a roof while working, lost both legs, and lay the whole time in the Jewish hospital; with the support he received from his relatives in America, he bought books).

Later the brothers Sender and Osher Manusovitsh (now in Chicago, both Jewish cultural activists) joined them, and the task just multiplied from there.

Life and Science was a teacher and a guide for us. We supplied the poor, thin little booklets, which were published irregularly, as material for our education and enlightenment work. We were least interested in or concerned with the belletristic articles. In those years [we appreciated] such articles as Blumshteyn's or Duvid Nianski's (now Professor Nianski, then still a student) on philosophy and the philosophy of Yiddish proverbs, Elena Ker's translations, and others. We also had articles about Jewish grammar and using the Latin alphabet for Yiddish by Dr. Z. (Dr. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto); folksy, simple monographs by A. Litvin about A. Mapu, Y. B. Levinzon, Y. M. Dik, Dr. Nahum Meir Schaikewitz, and others; historical articles by Ch. Shoys and G. Horvits; the work of Sh. Niger, the overviews, the language room–all of this was new to us, and we all learned from it together and educated ourselves.

So it is no surprise that the journal played such a large role for us, and there were no other such journals in Yiddish at that time. Right after the Literary Monthly–that purely artistic journal, which did not anticipate a mass readership– for our goals, Life and Science was just what we had wished for.


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. Vestnik Znanya is a popular science magazine. Return


[Page 274]

The Communist Movement in Kremenets

By Manus Goldenberg (Israel)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Kremenets got through the bloody years 1918 and 1920 with a small number of victims, but tension and fear of death at the dawn of every day lasted throughout the whole time.

There were already young people in Kremenets into whom those two short years of revolution breathed a spirit of pride and national self–consciousness. But unfortunately, they were not given any appropriate opportunity to transform that positive quality into action.

Somewhere on the fronts, Jews were already fighting in the ranks of the Red Army against the White pogrom–troops and bands of all sorts. Masses of Jewish workers, students, and school pupils mobilized in the various formations of the Red Army and took a conspicuous part in it.

In the summer of 1919, the long–awaited opportunity also came to Kremenets. One evening the Jewish residents–peeking out of their attic holes and through the splits in their shutters–saw the well–armed and fat Petliura troops fleeing in panic. After a short shoot–out, the first intelligence units of the attacking Tarashtshinski company tore into town.

From every lane and street, the Jewish residents, kith and kin, let themselves out onto Sheroka Street, there to greet the dusty, smoky–from–battle Red Army soldiers with red poppies on their caps and on the bayonets of their rifles.

By the morning after the Red Army's arrival, Jewish youth of all classes presented themselves, some of them so young that the commanders sent them back home on their parents' demand.

 

Workers' demonstration in the village of Berezhtsy, Kremenets district, 1905

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Among the volunteers were some who were already known Communists. Others were members of the Labor Zionists and the Bund.

The town was stunned by the sudden revelation that the Hebrew teacher Liubkin, a tall young man with a blonde beard who was among the regular worshippers in the Hasidic synagogue, appeared to be a flaming Communist.

From the first days of the Bolshevik reign in town, he was designated as a member of the revcom (revolutionary committee): he went around with a revolver in his belt giving agitation talks in the same synagogue where he had prayed with great devotion for some years.

Also in the revcom with Liubkin was his younger friend Y. Shnayder (mentioned here in the depiction of “Alterman's Courtyard”). High–schooler Tsinye Grinberg–a member of the Young Zionists who led a group that studied Zionism and national issues–also presented himself to the Kremenets volunteers. He later carried out important work as a political instructor in the Red Army.

Also among the first to join the ranks of the Communist Party was Bezdiezski, a son of the paper merchant Bezdiezski, a leader of the leftist Labor Zionists in Kremenets; a talented public speaker with the character of a genius, he later took a very high post in the justice commissariat in Ukraine.

In enumerating the names of some of the first Communists in Kremenets, it is worthwhile to dwell on the person of Shimon Gletshteyn. Already in the Russian–Jewish government school, Goldfarb, the school administrator, foresaw a brilliant future for him. At age 18, as a student in the second class of the biological institute and with the fire of a young idealist, he threw himself into organizational work. Accompanied by a group of Red Army soldiers, he traveled from village to village and hamlet to hamlet presenting fiery speeches calling for support of the revolution. He was especially active in organizing the so–called “Bezbozshniki movement” (an anti–religious movement during the years of militaristic communism).

After one such presentation in the Great Synagogue in Vishnevets, he and his fellows were attacked by an armed crowd of enraged peasants and brutally murdered.

It is also worthwhile to mention Barenboym, who was active in the various army–representative teams after the February Revolution. He would often come out with brilliant speeches at the military mass meetings that then took place in the big plaza at the old marketplace.

There were others, too, whose names I unfortunately do not remember; dynamic, stormy natures who only then found a place to unload their seething energies during their restless years. That place was a civil war battlefield. But one of them returned a year later as the head of a Cossack battalion: that was Avraham Bernshteyn. Kremenets looked at that case as at one of the wonders of the revolution. A courageous Cossack officer with a round Cuban hat, wrapped in Persian lamb, with red seams on his trousers, with a sword and a whip at his side, he showed himself to be such a Jew, everyone's well–known Abrashke.

There were also those from Kremenets, especially students, who joined the ranks of the active revolution far away in the university towns of Russia. Most vivid among them were the Ovadis brothers, two sons of the respected Ovadis family, who provided talented participants in many areas. Anyone who went into their house had the feeling that he was in a warm home, a nest of idealistic activists.

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That very atmosphere was created by the father, an enlightener and liberal leader, Chayim Ovadis and his beloved wife, Berish Perelmuter's daughter. Their two sons were mentioned in the Russian press even during the tsarist regime, when they were 15– or 16–year–old youths and completed the competitive exams at the Kharkov Polytechnic. They fought everywhere against Denikin's [White Russian] troops. They never returned to Kremenets. Rumor had it that one of them fell in battle and the other became one of the most distinguished engineers in Ukraine.

At the end of summer 1919, the Red battalions and Communist administration withdrew from Kremenets under pressure from a peasant rebellion in the area. Across from the train station, in a common grave they had dug themselves, several dozen nonnative Jewish Red Army soldiers from the last retreat had found their final rest. They were surrounded by the peasants at the train station and shot along with another 20 Russian Bolsheviks. Among them were also a few Kremenets youths who had accidentally been caught in the area.

In spring 1920, the attacking Budyonny cavalry tore into Kremenets in a storm. When the Polish military fled in disarray back to Kiev, they advised Kremenets to arm the town self–defense group, which consisted almost entirely of Jewish youths and demobilized soldiers.

The Communist authorities were settled in Kremenets for several months. As the administrative offices grew day by day, so did the number of Jewish workers.

A certain number of school youths were taken in as office workers in the Budyonny military's chancellery of the army, and they were sent to Lvov with the fighting units.

Communist youth groups (Komsomol) were established in town. A few dozen pupils were taken into their ranks.

In autumn 1920, the era of Polish domination began. There was almost no news about the fate of the Kremenetsers on the other side of the border. The Polish counter–espionage organization Defensywy ruled the town. It carried out many arrests among the progressive–thinking residents and other citizens on suspicion of communism. Some Zionist leaders, such as B. Landesberg, Y. Shafir, and others, were arrested.

At the same time, feverish Polonization activity was going on. Over a few months, the Russian schools were transformed into schools with Polish as the language of instruction. The thinning ranks of the former Russian–Jewish intellectuals gradually disappeared from the social horizon. A couple of dozen created the first Pioneer organization and immigrated to the Land of Israel, where they were pioneers in the Third Immigration. Some led Zionist youth organizations. Some carried on with the professional movement and became the leaders of communist organizations. A significant number sought a personal career.

A second generation of youth arose who had gone through the stormy days of the revolution as children. Their language of reading and writing was Polish. The best of them filled the ranks of Youth Guard, Young Pioneer, the Organization, and other organizations that had blossomed in the 1920s. Antisemitic persecution from all the Polish governments and especially from the Sanacja, blocked paths to higher education for Jewish students, and the almost total prohibition against emigration to the Land of Israel served as a major stimulus in pushing the youth to the left, in Kremenets as in all the border lands.

Russian literature in Polish translation, intellectual books, and reportage from foreign correspondents about the success of the gigantic building projects in the first “Five–Year Plan” excited and drew the youth, and they easily followed the influence of a group of local Communist leaders who cautiously ran an underground propaganda operation.

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There were great disturbances on the part of the national, Petliura–like Ukrainian movement. At the time it had little influence on the masses, but with the help of the government, it succeeded in winning over some peasant youth, especially from the richer strata. From the ranks of that movement came a large number of provocateurs who brought about frequent setbacks for the Communist Party.

Despite all their efforts, the Communist Party's influence in the villages was not very great.

Against that, they succeeded in drawing a number of gentile shoemakers who lived in the Kremenets suburbs into active service. A few shoemakers who were liberated from the border areas by the Bolsheviks in 1939 were placed at the top of the municipal organs, and one even became mayor.

The Communist organization in Kremenets was often harmed by experienced provocateurs. They suffered the biggest failure in 1932, by the sadly famous provocateur Triguba, a case that will be mentioned here later.

At the time of the setback, the party was concentrating on self–education in cells of four or five people. The cells convened in private homes, and there they studied the Torah of Communist teachers.

The salon communists were the largest participants in that activity, and they were gradually drawn into the Communist Party.

The Kremenets police patiently researched the Communist Party's work in Kremenets. They knew the participants in these groups because of their carelessness and chatting. But their goal was to liquidate the leadership.

The activity of the western Ukrainian Communist Party took on an earnest and menacing character because of the frequent rebellions by the peasants in eastern Galicia, the reverberations of which could also be heard in the Kremenets region.

The police knew very well that the professional movement and the multibranched cultural activities were led by allies, and that in Kremenets they were almost all under the Communist Party's influence.

But they did not have sufficient evidence against them. They used plain persecution and chicanery against the professional movement leaders as such. In time, the police succeeded in extracting statements from some of the weaker party members, and on that basis, they arrested the responsible leaders. The first time, the arrests ended with the freeing of those arrested due to lack of evidence. But in time, the police put energy into eradicating the nest of communists in Kremenets and the region.

As early as 1929, the police succeeded in bringing charges against Tovye Tsinberg, a student in the eighth class of the gymnasium; Hirshke Gun; and two others. They accused them of collecting money for the benefit of the Communist Party. Thanks to the brilliant defense by the famous attorneys Paskhalski and Etinger from Warsaw, they were freed.

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The defense activity involved enormous expenses. A large part was covered by Kremenets merchants, who supported them with a huge sum.

 

A group of Kremenets youth

In the middle, last row, is Yoni Bernshteyn, leader of the partisans in Kremenets, who fell in battle

 

There were a few years of relative suspension of arrests.

In 1927, the police went on the attack. They cast a net of provocateurs, and with their help, they carried out the first phase of the liquidation of the Communist Party in Kremenets.

They arrested Niokha Hoykhgelernter, Liora Gurvits, Chaneke Der, and Rasye Rozenberg. Niokha Hokhgelernter was sentenced to six years; due to amnesty, he was in the prison in Lutsk for only four years. Chaneke Der was arrested while pregnant; she was released on bail after six months and then went back and served her other two years.

In 1932, 60 people were arrested, among them Tsipe Roytberg, Ezra Freydkis, Yoni Bernshteyn[1], Shalom Sher, Mishe Rabinovitsh, Meir Pintshuk, and his fiancée, Roshke Holander, from Chenstokhov, who was a teacher in the Kremenets Tarbut school.

In 1937, there was also a wide–ranging arrest that included Abrashke Rays, Hadasa Rubin, Itsik and Yosl Trastinietski, Duvid Matshan, Rime Epelboym, Sonya Kagan, Feyge Brikman, Tovye Gluzman, Bunye Koyler, Munye Brik, Moshele Zaytler (later killed in battle near Stalingrad), Mekhele Shpigel, and others.

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Among others, the trial drew the general attention of Shprung, a Polish engineer. He was employed in the Kremenets region in of agricultural development for the agricultural ministry. Being in close contact with the Communists in Kremenets, he had served as a go–between for them in the villages; this engineer was also a reserve officer, and he appeared in court decorated with the highest military citation, Virtuti Militari, which he had received in the Polish–Soviet War.

His appearance before the judge was a powerful encounter for the ruling Polish circles. He presented himself proudly, and to the judge's interrogation he responded that the Poland that they had created was not worth fighting for. His dignified bearing encouraged the other Communists and their dejected parents.

Almost all the arrestees were sentenced to long years in prison. The terrible torment that the accused endured during the investigation did not stop after the sentencing. One of the Trastinietski brothers, who suffered from heart disease, died in jail. During Bolshevik rule in Kremenets, in 1939, a street was named for him.

The last arrests occurred in 1936. At that time, the leaders of the Communist intelligentsia fell into the hands of the police, among them Sima Makagon, Misha Rabinovitsh again, who had been acquitted in the large trial of 60, as well as Rozhke Holender, Meir Pintshuk's wife. Pintshuk himself was arrested somewhere in the Vilna area. He was then already one of the eminent underground activists in the Communist Party.

While the Bolsheviks were in Kremenets, Pintshuk and his wife were the heads of the Lyceum.

The arrestees of 1936 were also sentenced to five to ten years in prison. Others were sent for administrative reasons to the sadly famous concentration camp in Bereza Kartuska. Among those last were Avraham Rayz and Aynbinder.

All the Communists that were punished with jail terms were freed by the Bolshevik troops after the collapse of Poland.

An outstanding number of them were killed in the tempest of the world war. Some survived and found themselves in Russia, Poland, and other places throughout the world. It is difficult to know how many stayed true to their youthful ideal and how many became disenchanted.

In the Yiddish and Polish press of that time, one can find traces of a sharp reaction on the part of Polish progressive thought against the tortures that those accused of communism had to sustain in the Kremenets, Lodz, Lublin, and other prisons. That was a chapter of youth martyrology in which Kremenets youth had a large part.


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. *During the the German occupation, Yoni Bernshteyn was the leader of the Partisan troop in the Kremenets region. The Germans set a large price on his head as a reward for whoever turned him in. Yoni Bernshteyn fell in battle. [Note in original] Return


[Page 280]

Memories of Community Life in Kremenets

By Pesach Ditun (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Community work among the Jews in Kremenets dates back many long decades. There was already a pulsing Jewish life under the tsarist regime. I recall the celebration of Mendele the Bookseller's 75th birthday in 1912. I was then a boy of15. The main speaker was Henekh Hoykhgelernter. The celebratory evening was attended by the student body with Moshe Biberman, Bela Guz, the Manusovitshes, teachers, and a certain portion of the nationally inclined intelligentsia.

At that same time, a strike took place against Yankel Kremenetski, led by his son Aysak, then a student who was active in the social democratic movement. It was an economic strike, and the workers won. There were already party groups such as the Bund, Labor Zionists, and Zionists. There were mass meetings in the forests. Most eminent of all were the activities of the Bund, where the workers Avraham Markish, Barukh Barshap, Aron Hoykhgelernter, and the Bizhbeyns were active. Mekhel Barshap also had an important library. One could get a good Yiddish book there; people used to gather there to discuss and chat about many issues. Taking part in the discussions were Blume Rozental, Mirel Zeyger, Fishel Goldfarb, Sender and Leybke Rozental, and others.

Because of the brutal police oppression under the tsarist regime, all the activity was carried out in tight groups of workers. When the February Revolution of 1917 came, all the activity of the various Jewish parties took on a quite different flavor. All the workers in the various trades, such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, trade workers, and office workers began to organize into professional unions. They began to fight for better working conditions and higher wages; they carried out strikes, and they won.

Orphanages were created, a Jewish primary school, an ORT school, and an OZE[1] society. Workers everywhere sent delegates, established party organizations, and took part in political life.

So we see that it was thanks to the energetic and very young student R. Bezdezhik's founding of the Labor Zionist organization that developed and inspired sympathy in a large part of the laboring petite–bourgeois masses. The Labor Zionist party had a large influence on all branches of Jewish life, taking an active role in the CYShO [Central Yiddish School Organization], acting in the name of the Yiddish primary school, the orphanage, the ORT society, OZE, trade and office workers' professional union, creating a club, a reading room, a library, and courses for political economy, and he brought in the best speakers, drawing the youthful Mirel Zeyger, Ditun, Blume Rozental, Moshele Sroynde, Gantsberg, Avraham Shikhman, Simche Yospe, Shlome Priloynik, and many others whom I do not remember into the Labor Zionist organization's work.

Shlome Vaynshteyn from Belozirka took a very important role; he came from Vilna, where he had graduated from the teachers' institute. He gave a series of lectures with the full fire of a Labor Zionist. The daily Labor Zionist newspaper in Odessa, The New Life, the Labor Zionist journal Our Idea, and an array of Borochov–inspired brochures were distributed with his help.

[Page 281]

Needless to say, the Labor Zionist was not the only thing on the Jewish street. The Bund took first place in many branches of Jewish life. First of all, they had more intellectual strengths, which devoted body and soul to drawing in a larger number of working–class people. It was the teacher Krusman, Chait, Chayim Gibelbank, and Henekh Hoykhgelernter, although he was a Folksist, but with sympathy for the Bund–who developed cultural activity on the Jewish street. They brought out the best speakers and leaders, arranged a large number of lectures, and distributed the Bundist “Folks newspaper” and a lot of Bundist literature. Secondly, because the entire professional union apparatus was in their hands–because all the established professional unions in Kremenets were locked into the centrals, which were under the influence of the Bund–except the trade and office workers' professional unions, which were part of red central, though not for long because the reaction closed the central when they began persecuting the communists. So they were not successful, yet their entire effort to get the influence of all the workers, because the majority of the abovementioned organization of the working class was sympathetic and also active in the leftist movement. And one must admit that when the Labor Zionists raised funds for the local problems, they were beloved by most of the working class. But when it came to collecting for the Palestine workers' fund or other Zionist goals, the most energetic members remained passive. The workers had no patience for that Borochov principle about the elemental processes that lead to Yisrael, because the worker was too oppressed politically and economically to have time to busy himself with future music. And when the Red Army approached our borders and came into Kremenets, the leading member of the Labor Zionists, the Bund took an active part in consolidating power. But that did not last long. In a few weeks, the Red Army had to step in and mix into the politics. With that, many Labor Zionist and Bund members–like Avraham Mordish, Barukh Barshap, Bezdezhik, Vaysberg, Shnayder, and others, left.

I recall that when the Red Army came into the town and a workers' meeting took place, Avraham Mordish, Kruselman, Chait, and others came forward and addressed the party members:

“Members! We are confronted with a pact. Events have developed with blinding speed. We must now support the Red powers, the only point of support for workers in the entire world.”

The Labor Zionists then revised their program and called themselves the communist Labor Zionist movement.

When the Red Army withdrew and the Poles came in, they soon began their politics of oppression, and Russian worker life began to disappear from the face of the land.

And the Zionists developed activities on the Jewish street. Their influence was mainly on the middle class and also on the youth of the same circles. They had a club, a library, a Hebrew school, and Hebrew courses. The Bibermans, the Roykhels, Dr. Bozi Landesberg, and Shafir had a large influence on the youth. It was the Youth Guard organization that drew a lot of youth, educating them as good nationalist Jews, but afterward a large number went over to the leftist movement.

And so Jewish life pulsed in Kremenets, with all its hues and directions.


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. OZE stands for Obshchestvo okhraneniia zdorov'ia evreiskogo naseleniia (Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population. Return


[Page 282]

A Cabinetmakers' Strike in Kremenets

By H. G. (New York)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Before we tell about the strike, it is important to first acquaint you with the brotherly atmosphere that dominated among Kremenets craftsmen and working Jews at the beginning of the current century.

In general, the Jews lived out their lives in a religious environment. The scholarly Hasidic circle was rather limited, but the belief was widespread among the majority of Jews, as a tradition. All without exception had great regard for Rabbi Mordekhay'le, the son of Rabbi Yechiel Mikhel of Zlochow, the father–in–law of dynastically famous Rabbi Nachumtse of Chernobyl. Even the Christian population brought the name of the “zshidovski rabin” [Jewish rabbi] to their lips with trepidation. A group of Enlightened intelligentsia had already distinguished itself, beginning with Yitschak–Ber Levinzon's intimate follower Mendel Landesberg, his son Chayim, the Prilutski family, Aba Tsukerman, Meshulam Katz, the righteous kohen, Dr. M. Hindes and others. Influenced by the Enlightenment, their children went away to study in Zhitomir and university towns. Their group was a certain reflection of the Odessa “Sons of Moses” movement. It also brought the rebellious spirit of the '70s to Kremenets. One, Aron the bookbinder, a Jew with a large family of children, was apparently the receiver of messengers from the Folksist movement Narodnaya volkiya [people's will]. In the end, he was shipped off to Siberia.

So it was no surprise that the ground was prepared for the formation of two parties, Zionists and Bundists, in 1897. And like everywhere in those times, in Kremenets the labor element adhered more to the Bund. “Adhered” because its ideology was easy to comprehend, without the need for a theoretical basis. What could be simpler than doing away with a greatly wicked man, the tsar; than the idea that Jews should become equal with non–Jews, improving their living–conditions, eliminating their poverty and that of the enslaved peasants?

Among the young workers were many employed by their fathers' workshops; these were craftsmen like cabinetmakers, tailors, shoemakers, gaiter–makers, seamstresses, trade employees, and the like. But this had no influence over their brains in recognizing the fateful problem of living a humane life. For them alone, as really for their parents too, who were chained to the workshop day and night by the yoke of earning a living.

Three trades developed in a remarkable way due to the finished articles that were exported deep into the country: cabinetmaking, shoemaking, and wood–turning for cigar–tip holders, but most of all the cabinetmakers. Almost two whole streets were full of those workshops. The most prominent were Yankel Berman; Chatskel, with the nickname “boss”; Zindel Tshiptshik, Itsi Yosi–Yokel's; Yankel “Understood”; Peysi “the blind,” with a patch on one eye; Duvid “boytser” (nickname); and other smaller craftsmen.

The cabinetmakers had their own minyan in the community synagogue, along the entry hall of the Great Synagogue, and the tailors, in the Tailors' Synagogue. By custom, after praying on the Sabbath, they went to the home of Rivke “spoditshekhe”–a nickname (the woman wore a man's fur hat [spodek]; she was very efficient) to make Kiddush with little glasses of whisky and snacks that she herself had baked. They also did this on holidays.

[Page 283]

And all went well among them, and the fraternity grew strong. There was no envy, no hostility among them, always peace and tranquility only. They arranged for someone to bring whisky each week for everyone, each week a different person.

If someone lacked a piece of wood to finish a piece of furniture, he could borrow from another. Sometimes they even helped out with the work if necessary. And they worked late into the night.

The cabinetmakers were their own special group. Lineage had no place. But once a year, ancestral ambition arose in their synagogue: on Simchat Torah[1] at the “buying” of the honor of going up to the Torah as the Torah bridegroom or the Genesis bridegroom. That played with their moods, and there were competitions–not for themselves, but to honor their sons with an “fat” honor. Among the biggest wagerers were Duvid boytser, Pesach the blind, and Chayim–Yosel. Pesach was also the sexton of the Hasidic study hall.

When the Days of Penitence approached, like the weeks before the holidays, all the craftsmen also worked Saturday evening to get their merchandise ready on time, in order to be able to prepare themselves for the holiday, as they must. The night before a holiday eve, they had to stay up all night.

In 1900, the day came when a teacher with a diploma showed up in Kremenets, Berger was his name. He opened a school for Jewish children. No one suspected that besides teaching the children Russian, arithmetic, and other subjects according to the government school program, he would have other interests. He taught poor children for free, and especially workers' children. For them he–innocently–threw in that one should not have to work at night, that it was better to study. This made a strong impression on the youthful minds. In those days, there were already “embedded” Bundists: Isak Kremenetski, whose father, Yankel, had a dry goods shop, even with employees; Barukh Shvartsman, whose father, Mikhel, was a trustee for the tax collector,' and Y. Mints. A second pioneer of the Workers of Zion school was Shmuel Feldman, and there were others. The woman doctor Shklovin, a social democrat and Bundist activist, was very skillful in this “quiet” work. Two brothers from Berdichev, woodcarvers by trade, Bundists, had drawn in the local woodcutter Deser, a student, and Shlome Beker's son, A. Broytman, a Bundist.

“Enlightenment” among the workers was carried out in very mysteriously: either in the open while walking along the street in pairs, or on Sabbath afternoon after cholent in a forest under Mount Vidomka. Sometimes, to evade parental eyes, they gathered in one of the houses, ostensibly as a guest for Sabbath afternoon, cracking and eating sunflower seeds while telling stories, but in truth they were discussing a heretical brochure or flyer.

The teacher Berger's “tossed–in” words were like an incendiary device that stirred up the town. One Sabbath after praying, during the Kiddush in the “spodekshekhe's” house, the person who had brought the whisky said to put away the large jug of whisky, a quarter of an oke (about half a liter). The rally was already warmed up, and it had already been agreed that they would not work any more at night after the Sabbath. To be sure that no one would regret it later, and so they would be united on the subject, they marked the agreement by holding the corners of a handkerchief, thereby conceding that each of them must pledge to “stand as one.” They chose someone on the spot who would announce the news to the proprietors. That was Benye Barshap, who worked at this father's workshop.

After Havdalah, when the proprietors began to get the materials ready for the night's work, Barshap went around to all the workshops and announced that there was no more night work; they would no longer work on Saturday night, no one.

[Page 284]

There was quite a stir in town, a lot of talk about “prankster” rebels, until it reached the head of the town, the chief of police. The young people won over the butchers, good fighters when needed, to their side; almost all of them lived on the same street, on Butcher Street, the cabinetmakers' neighbors. The proprietors tried their luck–they hired poor workers to do the work. They warned their craftsmen that they would throw them out the window on the side where the river, the “Potek,” flowed.

The police chief (gorodovoy) Kazultshik, with his wide, thick brown beard, knew everyone. He even spoke Yiddish. As the man with influence, he laid aside his big hat, which usually came down over his ears, and called the rebel Benye in to the police chief for investigation. When Benye arrived at the chancellery, he found three of the town's proprietors, the respected Jews Moshe Eydes, Chayim Ovadis, and one more. They would be the trusted witnesses with their seals on the report on whether or not to permit people who were ready to work, to work.

That caused a stir among the workers; they immediately took the position against working Saturday night and declared a general strike: work was stopped entirely. The proprietors, for their part, declared a lockout and threatened to bring in workers from outside. They did indeed bring workers from Proskurov. Isak Kremenetski and B. Shvartsman arranged with the carriage drivers not to take the arriving workers from the train into town. In addition, they hired a band to play at the train station while the train was arriving with its passengers and to accompany them along with the proprietors on their walk into town. In that way, they made a mockery of everyone…

And so it was. As soon as the passengers stepped off the idling train car, the band began to play. Confused by this strange welcome, they got its meaning from the strike leaders, who explained the injustice that they were committing against their laboring brothers; the great sin of being a strike–breaker and the great value of worker solidarity. It did not take long before the passengers turned around and went back home.

In the meantime, the police chief realized that there was a statute that no worker could be made to work more than 12 hours a day, and also against night work, and that the strike was correct. The proprietors were forced to give in to the workers' demands, not only to be free from Saturday night work but also from working more than 12 hours on weekdays.

That is how the first strike in Kremenets was taken care of. In town, the Jews accepted the strike in a traditional Jewish way, just as the workers themselves honored the setting of their agreement at the Kiddush, and no one had any regrets. After that, the political scope of the Bundist ideology became the standard of worker life.

After the failed revolution of 1905, B. Shvartsman committed suicide, with a bullet in the head. All the workers attended the funeral. He was buried, according to Jewish law, at the far side of the cemetery, by the fence.

A year later, Feldman also committed suicide. His mother, the widow, cursed the “tsitsilistn” with the words “a beautiful, pure scapegoat for everyone.”

Shvartsman's father reacted differently. He was sickened by the death of his “accomplished son,” as he expressed it. He was beside himself about it, as “he possessed a great soul.” From then on, he showed great sympathy for the workers.


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. The two most important honors on Simchat Torah are to be called up for the reading of the end of the Torah (Chatan Torah) and for the reading of the beginning of the Torah (Chatan Bereshit). Return


[Page 285]

A Funeral for a Torah Scroll
(from Bedrik's kloyz)

By H. G. (New York)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Every place of prayer had its specific stamp, socially and spiritually. So, for example, the “Great Synagogue” (it will be described separately) gleamed with community customs of several kinds. They represented the Jews in the town's authority structure. There, the eastern wall was occupied by the representatives to the town council administration, such as Mekhel Shumski, or Dr. Meir Litvak, with officer's epaulets earned in the Russian–Japanese War, an energetic Zionist; or the pharmacist Moshe Eydes, or especially the Crown Rabbi M. Kunin and others. These were the so–called “potshotni”–respected, Russian–speaking intellectuals. The majority of the regular minyan's synagogue Jews were everyday folk who distinguished themselves only at a yearly assembly, when they gathered around the ballot box. Within the same walls, pushed off to a side, was the porters' small synagogue, where meetings of the organizations for pallbearers, corpse washers, and the burial society took place.

One group of worshippers that attended the Great Synagogue from time to time felt that they were quite important. These were the firefighters, who would parade for the mayor or during a visit by the starosta or just a holiday that the town's police chief had arranged.

It was different in the “old kloyz,” or as we also used to call it, Itsi Bedrik's kloyz. That kloyz shone with Enlightenment and princely riches. One of the town's Jewish notables who occupied the Eastern wall there was Tsukerman. His bass voice, like his incomparable combed grey beard, evoked a special reverence for him. He had educated his sons in the spirit of Enlightenment since the 19th century, and they studied in Mendele and Gotlober's teachers' college in Zhitomir. Drawn into the circle of people of Tsukerman's cut were such people as the future editor of the Warsaw Moment, Tsvi–Hersh Prilutski, and Dr. M. Hindes of Warsaw, both among the leaders of Zionism. They were a reflection of the spirit of Yitschak–Ber Levinzon. Among the well–regarded proprietors in Prilutski's family was Rabbi Hertse Frishberg, who excelled through his enterprising mind and provided shoes to the whole town and the surrounding towns and villages. His products also reached far–off Siberia. His attitude toward the community was one of plain, modest, gentle kindness, always a smile. He never raised his voice, never pushed his way around. Without a word, he reached his “hidden community” everywhere, a typical Kremenets Jew.

And the Perlmuters, the big grain exporters, who showed such concern for poor children; at the turn of the century, their house was suffused with the spirit of freedom of 1905. Their daughter, a student, Shklovina like a man's name, brought education to the workers in the spirit of the Bundist socialism. (See “The Destruction of Kremenets.”) She used her father Perlmuter's work among the poor for conspiracy, when needed, after the failure of the first Russian Revolution.

[Page 286]

The particular distinction of those kloyz members was especially notable in their reputation with the official leader of the town authorities. The kloyz members were an expression of a humanistic intelligence paired with the Jewish charm of the modern Enlightened. Tradition and Judaism had more to do with the mind than with strict observance.

The fullest expression of that Jewishness was the charming Jew, their cantor, Matus the cantor (family name, Kop). His extraordinary appearance gave the impression that he was a natural match for such an environment. He was of medium height, a straight, broad–boned figure with pitch–black thin hair that barely covered his soft, brownish face around his ears. His black, fiery, clever eyes always attracted people to him. The pure sound of his voice, especially his full laughter, aroused the eagerness of those around him. His clothing shone with the neatness of esthetic enjoyment. He was accompanied by a constant lightness.

The same lightness spread in the kloyz when he stood at the cantor's desk and the tones of his voice carried clearly in his comfortable arguments with the Ruler of the Universe as he recited “Here am I, poor in deeds,” as is appropriate for the prayer leader of his kloyz members.

But once he lost his composure. This was during a funeral for burned Torah scrolls, from when the synagogue was burned.

In that case, the rabbi usually gave a funeral oration at the kloyz, and the rabbinic judge, at the Great Synagogue. The “coffin” would be carried on a ritual body–cleansing board. The cleansing society would first go to the ritual bath. The funeral procession would go from the new study hall, to the Hasidic synagogue, to the Magid's small synagogue, and to the entrance of the Great Synagogue. Each cantor would speak at his house of prayer. The cleansing group would only receive the honor of carrying the Torah into the resting place. The burial society, after immersing in the ritual bath, would prepare the grave in the burial tomb of the sainted Rabbi Mordekhayle, near his own casket.

On the day of the funeral, the whole town was enveloped in sadness. The gentile neighbors did not appear, out of fear. There was literally mourning in heaven and on earth.

After the rabbi's long speech, when everyone's mood was deeply depressed and broken, a deathly–pale Matus the cantor appeared on the smoldering ruins of the kloyz. His entire internal struggle projected out from behind his tightly closed eyelids. With his smug head toward the burned face of the kloyz, it appeared as though he was going to present an argument to the burned “I stand in the presence of God always” [written on the wall across from the cantor's desk in the kloyz]. As soon as he started crying out the words “God, full of compassion,” his voice began to roar like a lion, such that God Himself would be startled. He singled out verses from Lamentations and wept at the words “He wept at night.” Gone was his ice–cutting frost. The tightly packed crowd deafened the cutting air with wailing. And when Matus the cantor belted out “the glow of the sky is shining,” people literally felt that the earth had opened and swallowed up all the evil spirits.

For once in his life, Matus the cantor was completely free from himself, completely in holiness, like the whole Jewish congregation of Kremenets.

After his speech, the Jews lunged for the four poles of the cleansing board on which the Torah parchment in its container, covered with a black cloth, was being carried. Everyone just wanted to touch the poles that bore the holiness to the true world. Like a heavy avalanche, the crowd tore away after the funeral and recited psalms the whole way.

Thus the enlightened, wealthy Jews from the Kremenets old kloyz sanctified the Torah and Greatness in one place. Such a funeral led the Jews into true eternity! May their souls be bound up in the bonds of life.


[Page 287]

The Zionist Movement in Poland and Polish Statehood

By Attorney B. Landsberg

Translated by Tina Lunson

Remarks from the Editor: This article by Dr. B. Landsberg appeared in Kremenitser Shtime on January 1, 1932. We reprint it unchanged, word for word, as evidence that the “anti–Zionism” of the local enemies of Israel is in no way news. Also, in interwar Poland, where they sent the Jews “to Palestine,” the same antisemitic hatred reigned under an “anti–Zionist” mask. The article from Attorney Landsberg is a good illustration of that atmosphere.

In many Polish social circles that are not well acquainted with the nature of Zionism in general and of Polish Zionism in particular, the idea spread that Zionism and the Jews who were under the influence of Zionism were–if not open enemies of Polish statehood–at least not very kindly disposed to the Polish state system and did not feel very duty–bound as faithful and loyal citizens of Poland. And when we demanded to be shown proof of this accusation, we always received the same answer: maybe there is not any actual, concrete evidence, but still … And wanting to come up with some kind of argument, they pointed to the open behavior of leaders of Polish Zionism in the Sejm, behavior that ostensibly indicates a negative attitude toward Polish statehood.

We believe that the time has come to change once and for all the myth that is so detrimental both to politics and to Jews and that impedes every step and effort toward the stabilization of normal relations between the two peoples, relations of mutual understanding and respect.

First of all, we must take into consideration that Zionism, which has established as its end goal the liberation of the Jewish people and the creation of a free Jewish state in the Land of Israel, must have an understanding of the state systems of other peoples and especially of Poland, which for so long has found itself under the yoke of foreign persecutors and had to conduct a heroic struggle for its liberation. The Zionists are the ones who, even during the Russian occupation, set out a point about liberation for Poland in their program, because that was in agreement with the principle of independence for all peoples. And it is completely natural, striving for the reality of the Zionist ideal–we must understand that each people has the right to freely determine its fate and build its political and economic life.

Our actions are always in accord with that abovementioned principle. In conducting our political struggle for our just national demands, we have not forgotten for one minute our obligations as Polish citizens, which work to the benefit of the Polish state and are concerned for her well–being.

It is true that the Zionists in the Sejm often come out against the government politics, if the government does not recognize the just demands of the Polish citizens of the Jewish nationality, or abuses the Jews, does not accept them for state positions, oppresses them with higher taxes, and so on.

[Page 288]

But conducting an oppositional politics against a government is not being a bad citizen, rather the opposite: because of just and reasonable state interests, the leaders of the Jews in Poland do want the government to deal with the Jews the same as with all others, that is, for the same equality of rights that is guaranteed in the constitution to be realized in daily life.

To end. Since the opponents of Zionism do not have any real arguments–they recall that the Zionists created a nationalist bloc for the Sejm elections and that was, according to their thinking, not favorable for the Polish state. But with that, they forget that the bloc was only a technicality and was created only so that Jews could have the minimum number of deputies, because the election ordinance was created in such a way that it allowed Jews the possibility of having appropriate representation. Moreover, the same tactic of a minority bloc was used recently by the Poles where they are a minority, and no one saw any treason against the state in that.

We believe that all the complaints have one cause: not knowing the contents of the Zionist movement's program. Therefore, we will lay it out for all the Poles who have no prejudice against Our Ideals, who occupy such an important place in the general societal and international life, so that they may be more closely acquainted with the efforts we are prepared to serve.

Then they will be convinced that all the accusations are false and without basis.

The Zionist Organization in Poland conducts extensive enlightenment work among Jews and stands fast on the ground of Polish statehood. We are interested no less than others that the Polish Republic be strong and great, economically strong and politically healthy. Because then it will be easier to achieve the happiness of all our just national demands, which build toward the goal and content of our mutual work.

 

A group of Young Pioneer members in Kremenets

 

[Page 289]

A Year of Jewish Life in Kremenets
(General Overview)

By Y. Otiker (Israel)

Translated by Tina Lunson

Remarks from the Editors: We present here Y. Otiker's report on a year of Jewish life in Kremenets, which is in large part a faithful reflection of Jewish life in our hometown, as in all of Poland, between the two world wars. The report was published in Kremenitser Shtime on January 1, 1932, and it depicts the situation in 1931. Its deals with, really, a time when the whole world was experiencing an economic crisis due to the tragically famous market crash in the United States, but for Jewish life in Poland it was the same life as was the norm between the world wars. We present the report without commentary because it reads almost like a chapter of history from Jewish life in Poland before the total destruction that wiped out that generations–long Jewish life.

 

Economic Situation

The Jewish population's economic situation, which was already bad enough, became much worse over the past year. But a large part of the population was finally ruined and had to seek other ways to earn a living.

Many eminent, formerly wealthy merchants, became completely impoverished over the year. Some even had to turn to charitable institutions and ask for support, or a 60–zloty loan. Among them were many who had themselves once given generously to charity.

The small shopkeepers' situation was even worse. Most sat in their shops all week without seeing a single penny of redemption, and if ever a dime arrived, it was used to buy dry bread. A large number were forced to liquidate their businesses and throw themselves into other work. Unfortunately, they were not successful in their new work either. Besides having to put on “the hat of shame” and try to earn with what was left of them, a few had enough just to be able to buy food.

You could see in various institutions and businesses and so on that dozens of former respected proprietors would apply for the lowest position with the smallest wages

And wages and donations from other parts of the population came to nothing, because the peasants were also very poor, and after the salary reductions, administrative workers bought much less.

The craftsmen were also had a difficult year. Many trades died out over the year, because those who had once bought clothing, furniture, and so on were buying only the basic necessities this year. Most people did not even think about it, making do with what they had or could earn. So many craftsmen were without work, though the local princes and a few individuals in the Jewish population whom the crisis had not affected so badly helped them a little.

[Page 290]

Also, Jewish office workers, teachers, and so on, who had been an object of envy to the small shopkeepers as “people with a secure livelihood,” suffered a lot this year. There were several reductions in salaries, so that most were left with hunger–level wages.

The workers were no better off, as obviously in that situation they did not have any work at their proprietors' and they remained at home, literally starving every day.

The other parts of the population were in similar hardship. Only a few kept their positions during the crisis. Unfortunately, it must be stated that those who remained did not feel obliged to their impoverished brothers, although in that difficult time it was even more their duty to accommodate the other few lucky ones.

The tax obligation fell hard on the Jewish population, as despite the crisis, taxes were not eased and, in many cases, increased. This had a fatal effect on many people in commerce.

Lack of credit also had a bad effect. Small tradesmen and craftsmen who could only grow with credit of a few hundred zlotys had no place to borrow from. The banks could not meet the demand for loans, and the same lack of credit affected the stock exchange.

People who still possessed capital hid in their homes and did not go out, afraid to trust even the most secure person.

Because of the difficult situation in America, many families lost the support they had had from their relatives, as well as the stipends from institutions, so the Jewish population was left to its own devices. Unfortunately, the self–help possibilities are also at their lowest, and one can find no hope or prospects here.

 

City Hall

The town was also in financial straits the previous year, and thus subsidies for Jewish institutions were not paid very regularly.

By the end of the year, the administration had assigned 2,000 zlotys for shoes for poor Jewish schoolchildren.

 

Jewish Community Council

First of all, the council roused itself from the “dead point” at which it had had been stuck the entire year. They stepped up to work out a preliminary budget, and they hoped that things could soon revert to more normal work.

There is almost nothing to qualify for the whole year except the unsuccessful effort to take over the cemetery, the establishment of a ritual slaughterhouse–which is still very far from the town, too many people involved, quarrels, and so on. Recently the council did take over the management of the local old–age home.

 

Community Institutions

The community institutions also had a very hard year.

“ORT” Society. ORT was first in line with a very sad situation because of the cessation of subsidies from the central administration.

The school was in such a difficult situation that it threatened to close. Thanks to active work by several devoted leaders, it opened with the help of one of the various ORT supporters, Mr. B. Aysurovitsh, in a rescue operation to benefit the school. A large information campaign was carried out, and the Jewish community delivered well beyond its capabilities.

[Page 291]

Within a short time, $400 was raised for the school, a sum that even the activists themselves had not reckoned on. Thanks to that, the school's dire situation was somewhat eased.

In general, the seamstress workshop founded two years ago developed well in the previous year and now has 40 female students successfully learning the trade. The locksmith workshop now numbers 35 male students.

“Tarbut” Secondary School. This year, the Tarbut school has already begun all seven classes and has developed very well in the spirit of a modern secular school. The school now has 130 students who are mastering Hebrew and Polish and relate to their school with love and interest.

But, unfortunately, the Jewish community pays little attention to this important national school and does not support it properly. The school suffers financially because of this, unable even to pay the teachers' salaries. The students come mostly from the poor classes, and a large number (about 80%) pay a discounted tuition.

Free Loan Society Fund. The Free Loan Society Fund is very important to impoverished small shopkeepers, craftsmen, and even former big merchants.

The fund has developed very well during this period and now has 70 members.

In a time when it is so difficult to procure even the smallest loan in town, the fund had the opportunity to meet the members with zero–percent loans. Thus over the past year they gave out 150 loans, a sum of about 70,000 zlotys. Loans were given in amounts from 50 to 100 zlotys. Before the new year, loans were given to 100 people, totaling 4,500 zlotys, to purchase licenses. Among those who came to the fund were former prominent merchants who did not have the money to purchase a license.

This year, the fund had difficulty because of the withdrawal of credit by the Joint [Distribution Committee]. In general, though, it overcame its difficulties. Loans to members were mostly repaid regularly in weekly payments, despite the borrowers' difficult economic situation.

Orphans' Society. Last year the orphanage building was completed, thanks to a few leaders' self–sacrificing devotion. Now there are 22 children there, under the direction of the administration. The Orphans' Society also has 88 children under supervision in town.

The independent orphans' group has also developed well. They do cultural work with teachers and so on. A drama circle presents some serious pieces to benefit the Orphans' Society. Many of the older orphans are now independent and have settled into various trades.

Jewish Hospital. The Jewish hospital admitted 541 patients last year, 95 with contagious diseases. Ambulatory patients over the year numbered 10,031.

Of the patients admitted, 120 were from town, 85 from the sick fund, 49 with no money, and 287 paid.

Thankfully, the population understands the importance of a hospital for the Jewish ill, and member payments were made more or less regularly. This is very significant for budget security.

[Page 292]

“TOZ”[1] Society. The local “TOZ” Society consists of about 120 members.

The children from private schools, cheders, and Talmud Torahs are under the hygienic supervision of doctors. An additional 60 children are also under hygienic supervision. Last summer a camp was organized, in which 115 children participated. During the winter, the poor children will also be given free fish oil.

***

And other Jewish institutions such as the Talmud Torah, the old–age home, and others find themselves in a difficult position materially, due to the crisis and weak support from the population.

Zionist Movement. The General Zionists' work, as was the custom over the years, was with the council. The vast majority of members were satisfied with coming occasionally to a general gathering, to a Simchat Torah service, or the like.

It was different in some regards for Zionist youth. The youth organizations had consolidated themselves internally during the years when emigrating to the Land of Israel was not possible.

Pioneer conducted regular cultural work among the members. Other youth organizations did the same. It should be indicated that in the previous year, “flight” to the left or right within the Zionist movement grew. Thus a Revisionist organization was founded and drew a large number of members, mostly youths.

The first concern among the youth was Working Land of Israel situation, which also got the largest number of votes won in the Congress elections.

In November a representative from Working Land of Israel visited Kremenets, Mr. Yehuda Kopilovitsh from the Land of Israel, and held several gatherings with the youth.

Jewish National Fund Revenue. Jewish National Fund revenue fell in the previous year. The reasons must be found in the population's poverty. In earlier years, the JNF organized its income around a bazaar in Kremenets, but last year they could not arrange for a bazaar. During the year, Engineer M. Gurari and Dr. Bernshteyn from the Land of Israel visited the town.

The Foundation Fund activities this year, on the other hand, were devoted to creating the same number of donors as in the previous year. The operation was carried out with the involvement of Mr. Y. Gorzshalko from Warsaw.

Professional Movement. The professional unions carried out operations last year to organize all the workers into their ranks, and in most cases were successful. Now cultural work is being carried out among the members. The workers now have their own sport club named after “Morgenshteyn,” their own library with several hundred books, a drama club, and so on. Thanks to all this, the union has been transformed into a real workers' home for the members who visit it, usually in the evenings.

 

Cultural Situation

The Zionist Organization's library possesses some 3,000 books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian; they now have 250 readers. It noteworthy that many subscribe because of the hard times and as a rule do not read anything else.

The Warsaw press is read less now, too. Haynt has no more than 150 readers; Moment, 120. In contrast, more read the cheaper, 10–groshen newsletters and sensational newspapers. Almost no books were purchased for the library.

[Page 293]

In town, much attention was given to the fact that, especially in this difficult time, we should set up a weekly newspaper called Kremenitser Shtime, because even in the best of times, many similar efforts were not successful.

In the first three months of its existence, Kremenitser Shtime soon drew general interest and was read by all levels of the society.

 

Antisemitic Events

The wave of antisemitic unrest last October and November engulfed the entire country, and our town was not spared: on Sunday, November 22, the [Polish] students tried to beat up Jews in the street, broke windows, and did other “fine deeds”. Thanks to the Jewish youth's resistance and to police intervention, the unrest was stopped on the spot. Moreover, the authorities were stringent in not allowing more anti–Jewish appearances.

 

Births, Marriages, Deaths

Over the year there were 121 births, 65 marriages, and 57 deaths.

Among those who passed away last year were M. Karsh, of blessed memory, a devoted community activist who completely dedicated himself to community work and who died in middle age.

Avraham Yakov Vaynberg, of blessed memory, the first head of the Kremenets Jewish Council, a great Talmud scholar and a person with a big Jewish heart; and Rabbi Y. Y. Rapoport, of blessed memory, an active Mizrachi member, great Torah reader, and Talmud scholar, a well–known rabbinic figure in Poland, who died in his young years.

With the passing of these, the Kremenets population lost three important pillars of fire [to light the way] from community life, for whom there is no replacement.

 

1937 gathering of the Kremenets cabinetmakers' union

 


Translation Editor's Note:

  1. TOZ stands for Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia, Polish for Association for the Protection of Health. Return

 

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