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[Pages 92-101

The HaShomer HaTsair Movement in Lite

by Yaakov Amit (Gottlieb)

Translated by Tina Lunson

The first sprouts

The year tav-reysh-fey-alef [1921-22] was the genesis year for the HaShomer HaTsair movement in Lite, just seven years later than the first seeds of HaShomer HaTsair had sprouted over the entire Jewish world.

The late blossoming of the HaShomer HaTsair movement in Lite was not by chance. It was a result of a specific situation of Lithuanian Jewry in those years of the First World War. In 1915 Jews were driven from their places of residence deeper into Russia. For a period of several years the social development of the Jews of the land lagged behind. Only in 1918 – when the refugees returned to Lite and the Lithuanian Republic was founded – was Jewish life revived as well.

A period of rebuilding and prosperity began – the realization of the National Autonomy, the revival of Zionism, the joyous event of the Balfour Declaration, San Remo and the expectation of great things. That is when the foundation was laid for the organization of the Tsufim Ivrim [Hebrew Scouts] in Lite, which was in general the first Hebrew youth organization in the land. The first flag-bearers of the movement were mostly grouped from the returnees from Russia, especially those from Moscow and Ukraine who had the experience and tradition of the Hebrew scout movement that had begun to develop after the February Revolution.

A scout troop was created during Purim 1922 in Kovne. Even earlier by several months, a HaShomer HaTsair organization had been created in Virbaln, at the initiative of a warden from Suvalk, modeled after the Polish HaShomer HaTsair.

The scouting cell that was created in the atmosphere of the Hebrew gimnazye very quickly attracted all the students who saw in the guard program the development of their ambitions, appropriate for the young generation of their time.

The HaShomer HaTsair movement in Lite was doubly influenced along the way of its development. From one side, the nature of the Hebrew scouts in Russia and, from the other side, the spirit of HaShomer HaTsair in Poland.

Here I will record a characteristic detail: at the movement's first conference the question of what name to give the organization was treated. Some proposed Histadrut HaTsufim HaIvrim, but others wanted HaShomer HaTsair. A synthetic name was decided upon: Histadrut HaTsufim HaIvrim “HaShomer HaTsair” [Organization of Hebrew Scouts “Youth Guard”].


Delegates from six troops participated in the first conference of the scout movement, during Peysakh 1922. At the conference, they heard two different interpretations of the aims of the movement. On one side there was youthful naiveté, and on the other were noticeable signs of positive social goals.

The conference stressed that the scout movement embodied in itself the doctrine of self-education that aims to educate the Jewish youth to correct the flaws of the old generation and to create a new generation of spiritually and physically healthy citizens, loyal and devoted. But when the earnest question “what does this talk mean?” was posed, and “what kind of future is there for the scouts when they are older?” the conference was instructed by the Maccabee [Jewish sports group] and HeKhaluts [Pioneer] organizations which were close in spirit to the scout movement.

Why Maccabee? Because that organization aimed to revive the spirit of the young Maccabee, and that was also the task of the scout movement.

And the HeKhaluts? HeKhaluts was the vision of our future. The inference is: the task of the Jewish scouts is the education of loyal citizens for a working Palestine (under the influence of the Russian language), therefore it is a duty to remain in close contact with the organization HeKhaluts.

The internal connection to the HeKhaluts movement was symbolized in the first summer camp that the scouts held near the Pioneer farm Filadnagi. That felicitous contact with HeKhaluts did not at the time avoid their identification, without undue reservations, with the scouting organization of the Englishmen Baden Paul. The first years the Jewish scout organization was an organic part of the general Lithuanian scouting association.

The first conference of the scout movement in Lite that gave it the name HaShomer HaTsair, was still far from a crystalized communal-national ideology. The movement wandered in a tangle of concepts and took wobbly steps toward an unknown future.

Who do we belong to?

The Hebrew scout cadres – which were initially like a decoration for the mature Zionist society – developed in time into a movement of Hebrew youth with its own worth. Belief grew in the youth culture that stressed youthfulness as an objective in itself, and its center of gravity was located in intimate communal, emotional, romanticism. It was said that the movement had reached its highest point of creativity. Intensive internal concentration and the feeling of Weltschmerz were the features that laid their mark on the character of the movement in that period. Meanwhile the scouts – gown up and mature – posed the question: where to? Would they be dragged along by the current of life into a sea of lies and emptiness? It appeared that the life of the movement had been drained, and the full difficulty of concerns about the future hovered in the atmosphere.

From the depths of the movement voices carried up: who are we for? Yes, loyalty to the folk, but… There were poor and rich, exploited and exploiters, workers and employers – so who are we for?

Erets yisroel and Zionism? The various Zionists differed and their programs for building the Land differed – so who are we for?

Two understandings were reached at the second conference of the movement in 1924: one, for a clear communal ideology and two, to protect the “independence” of the movement, so that it would not be infected with partisanism.

Time did her work. As soon as the question was raised, it was already off the daily schedule. The scouts were grown-up and mature, and as they say: kids become goats.


Before the individual had even found recourse for his problems, before the movement had even worked out the agent for its development, they already had the thought of “work in the present” in Exile. In the teacher and the HaShomer educator, in the freblistn and overseers – in all that dedicate themselves to the work of the folk – khalutsim could be seen. It should be noted that the pursuit of work in the present served as a source of social pathos. And not that alone, the HaShomer HaTsair movement initially consisted of student youths, but was gradually infiltrated by broader groups of worker youths, which transformed it into a creative movement for the young Jewish generation of all directions and classes. The meeting of both kinds of youth, the studying and the working, was not evaluated and momentous. The cell of the HaShomer HaTsair in Kovne obtained an important position in the educational institution, “children's house”.

The children's house, founded by Dr. Z. Lehman z”l , was well-known and praised for its exemplariness. (In later years Dr. Lehman founded the Kafer Hanuer in Ben-Shimen.) In the children's house they created groups of working scouts, that effected in life what had been an ambition of many of the guards: a collective of working scouts – a concretized center for labor thought and productivity. The educational horizons of the movement widened. The movement had always seen the personality as the carrier of positive commandments, and it consistently oriented itself around the moral personality. The “ten commandments” for the scout brought out renewed relationships regarding himself, his friend, and also to Nature. This gave an unintended push to the crystallization of a serious and positive worldview. It is no wonder, since the movement reaped ideas from A. D. Gordon, L. Tolstoy, and later also from Gustav Landauer.

The collective that was at first only an educational instrument, was later exchanged for an individual in a moral ascent for new community ambitions. Gradually the collective acquired a place in life. For the adult guard the platform became too narrow, he strained toward a broader horizon – life in a collective settlement. The readiness for collective fulfillment was here and there ahead of the readiness for life as workers in Erets yisroel. The collective tendency of the movement expressed itself only before it was acquainted with the reality of the collective settlement movement on the land. The subjective striving of the young Jewish generation, laden with educational and youth experiences, broke away in the historical storm of national-social creativity.

The struggle for fulfillment

Spring tav-reysh-fey-hey [1926]. The older scout circles were in a state of perplexity. After much searching, wandering and migration the path for the movement crystallized and found its expression in a magic word: khalutsim. It was not easy for one to come to a personal decision as a consequence of the common attitude that had formed in the movement. Thus the perplexity was great, the adult scouts immersed themselves in the questions of their future, to find advice for the morrow. They were called to a radical shift.

And it should be said here to the merit of the movement: It went over to the khalutsim in the era of the Fourth aliye, many predicting that with the building of Erets yisroel, the khalutsim era must come to an end. The transition to khalutsim was then not a widespread phenomenon among the youth and the elders of course did not demonstrate enough love and will for it. Summer of 1926 was the first settlement for preparing agricultural workers for Palestine and the older members of the movement joined the he-khaluts organization. In the fifth year of its existence the movement knew: The path had been found!

The ideological shaping

The thought process of the hashomer hatsair movement in Lite had its specific features. Lite in those years did not have a stormy political or social dynamic. In the late twenties a reactionary regime ruled. That social-political situation reduced the horizons in all tasks: Lite had been at war with Poland all those years. Because of that interrupted contact between the two countries the ha-shomer ha-tsair in Lite was distanced from the direct influence of the world movement, whose living center was in Poland. The Lithuanian movement met with delegates from other countries for the first time at the world conference of HaShomer HaTsair in Danzig, before the HaShomer HaTsair kibuts-ha'artsi [Hebrew: Kibbutz ha'artsi, movement begun in 1927, a group of 85 kibbutzim in Israel] was in erets yisroel. The movement still knew little about the experience of the guards' aliye to erets-yisroel.

The HaShomer HaTsair movement in Lite had its own origins. From the beginning it was in personal contact with the HaShomer HaTsair of SSSR. Lithuania was then a transit land to the west, and from time to time guards on the way from Russia to erets-yisroel stopped there. They told about the bravery of the shomrim in Soviet-land, and that was their example. At the same time the movement in Lite was going the “classic” route of HaShomer HaTsair, striving to transform the youth movement into a historic factor of lasting creative worth. The HaShomer HaTsair in Lite was, at first glance, like every HaShomer HaTsair movement in the world, believing in the specific ideological mission, but at the same time it was convinced that it was equal to the task of transferring the specific shomerishe values to the broad worker masses in erets yisroel, including in the framework general class-unity on the basis of educational-ideological autonomy among all orientations.

But here a problem was manifested: There was a part of the HaShomer HaTsair movement in Lite that put the emphasis on the shomrim experience, and opposite them a part that placed emphasis on class unification. The path was clear. In time, a minority split from the movement, identifying ideologically and politically with Mapai [Hebrew abbreviation: Mifleget Poalei Erets Yisrael or Workers' Party of Erets Yisroel] but the majority of the movement was bound to the fate of the khalutsih-socialist kibuts-haArtsi of the HaShomer HaTsair in erets yisroel.

The First Aliye

In Spring 1926 the first group of shomrim went out for agricultural training, but it was more than four years until the movement merited bringing to erets yisroel the first fruit of its realization. In the meanwhile the crisis broke out after the years of prosperity after the Fourth Aliye and the gates to the country were closed. The agricultural training points of hekhaluts which itself concentrated hundreds during the Great Aliye, gradually emptied out and the HaShomer HaTsair members who remained among the few, took care lest the khalutsim charge be extinguished.

The stratum of the movement that was ready to realize pioneerism was now prepared by the hundreds. The first aliye-settlement had been trained. The pioneer strength in the movement was ever stronger and just then, when Zionism and erets yisroel were in decline, the ranks of the Jewish youth in the movement caused powerful repercussions. All of them yearned for the day when the aliye would begin. And how powerfully the event affected them when six members of the movement were among the initiators of the Fourth Aliye!

For the movement that was not an ordinary aliye. With love and trembling accompanied the first swallows of that aliye. They hung their finest hopes on those members. Finally the movement had stood the test: the product of its training for the reality of erets yisroel.

In ideological resolution

The circumstances of the HaShomer HaTsair in the Lithuanian hekhaluts were unique. In other countries the HaShomer HaTsair had its autonomous training places; in Lite, further, the training was mainly through the majority which was Mapai and from kibuts hamaukhad – a mixed training. The struggle for the right to have their own autonomous training places for the educated youth movement went on in Lite for a long time and not having autonomous training places did not add anything good.

The first Lithuanian pioneers from ha-shomer ha-tsair set up their tents in Benyamina. The movement outside erets yisroel followed the development of its first kibuts in erets yisroel and prepared itself for the future. The positions were reinforced another time. The majority of the movement, as it appeared at the conference in 1930, was identical to the ideological foundation of the kibuts ha-artsi ha-shomer ha-tsair. The ha-shomer ha-tsair was criticized both from the right and from the left, but the movement stood stubbornly on its worth and its spirit, and even began to conduct a large educational effort with organizational zest. The publication of the paper Ziv [Hebrew: Glory] was renewed (the first paper was published in 1925 and from then on it appeared interruptedly). New troops of ha-shomer ha-tsair rose up in the towns and villages of Lite. Tremendous strengths were revealed and the movement massed with drive and vigor.

Problems with Education

The movement was then blessed with enormous growth. There were 4,500 young people organized in ha-shomer ha-tsair in Lite. Relative to the general sum of the Jewish population in the country the ha-shomer ha-tsair had, in the beginning of the 1930s, progressed forward. Eight hundred shomrim had joined He-haluts. In the 1933 summer season there were 250 members in preparatory training. There were three pioneer kibutsim plus the addition of the Lithuanian shomrim in erets yisroel which were concentrated in the kibutsim of Petakh-Tivka, Haifa and Netenya.

Because of the economic decline of the Lithuanian villages, the multitude of youth had no opportunity get a middle-school education. The movement had to take upon itself the mission of spreading education, because the educational level of the popular schools was continually sinking. The transition to physical work for many of the youth – and especially for the shomerishe youth – was a self-evident fact. The will of the parents was often encouraged by it too. The point was that the kibuts character dominated in educating the member to the loyalty of the collective, not to be carried away by either bad or good trends – that was the educational assignment that the movement set forward.

At the beginning of the 1930s the ha-shomer ha-tsair movement in Lite stood for a significant educational examination. The pioneer path was hidden by the vision of its complete purity. The members were acquainted with the reality of life, with all its contradictions and zigzags, bringing into agreement the feeling of reality and a whole idea-approach to the pioneer work – this was a great effort.

The End and the Lesson

We bring this history of the ha-shomer ha-tsair movement in Lite until 1934 with certain omissions and changes, as it was written in shevet 1934. After an intermission of two years living in the Land, I returned to Lite as an emissary for the movement. I met again with the cadres of ha-shomer ha-tsair, with the educators and the members. I told them the truth about erets-yisroel and the life of the kibuts. I again saw up close the sincere Jews of Lite, their love for Zion and Jerusalem, whose hearts are turned toward the Land of Israel. I saw the Jewish boys and girls siting in crowded youth clubs in the remote, repressed villages. Kosher childish eyes that flame up on hearing the reports and singing the songs of erets-yisroel.

It brings to mind the brave marches of the shomerishe troops over the streets of Kovne, with fluttering flags and with song on their lips. It reminds me of the gatherings of the members up there, on the Aleksotas hill, not far from Mapu's bungalow across the Nieman. Legend tells that A. Mapu used to sit in that bungalow and look at the lovely panorama of the area and in his creative imagination melded the Aleksotas hill with Mount Zion, and the river Nieman with the Jordan. Against the background of that scenery he dreamed up Ahavat Tsiyon [Hebrew: Love of Zion] and Ashmat Shomron [Hebrew: Guilt of Samaria]. We were all dreaming then – we sat by the Nieman River and sang the songs of Zion. Lite effervesced with Jewish life. The Hebrew language echoed loudly in the streets of the tonws and villages. The “erets-yisroel of Lite” we called it then. We were sure of ourselves and never thought that this land was strange to us. In passing we felt nothing nor suspected that in some hidden place the murderer was already sharpening his knife, and when the horrible day would come he would throw himself on our fathers and mothers, on our brothers and sisters who remained stuck in the Exile of Lite, as they were in other lands.

At the beginning of 1935 I left Lite and returned to the Land.

Until the outbreak of the Second World War the movement conducted a many-branched effort, sending the members to preparatory training places. The shomrim aliye increased and the shomerishe cadres from Lite were further concentrated: from Petakh-Tikva they placed place to Beit-Seyrea; from Khadera, members went out to found the kibuts amir in Galilee; the founders of Kefir Masarik came from Beit Golim and Haifa; and among the founders of Ramat Ha-shofet were members from Mitspa ha-sharon and Renena. Single shomrim from Lite became members of kibuts menit and in other kibutsim of ha-shomer ha-tsair.

At the beginning of the Second World War Lite, like the other Baltic countries, became part of the Soviet Union. The ha-shomer ha-tsair movement in Lite stood to a test to its loyalty, but the Zionist-Pioneer shomerish fire was not extinguished. With the Nazi invasion that bore destruction and death for Lithuanian Jewry, sparks of strength and sacrifice flickered in the ghettos and forests, but the masses of Jewish folk and also the homes of our movement were cut down and exterminated. Little was saved – perhaps only dozens arrived in Israel after the end of the Second World War – the remnant rescued from struggle and murder. They brought the gruesome greeting from a mowed down, slaughtered people and the last will of the martyrs who fell by the Nazi axe.

Between the glorious past of the ha-shomer ha-tsair movement in Lite and the present day there is the divide of a sea of blood. Lithuanian Jewry was Zionist and Hebraist, and there is probably not equal, nevertheless they were trapped by the illusion and were certain of the “integrity” if their strange environment. The Lithuanian Jews, they, like other Jewish settlements, were not aware that they were sitting on a fiery volcano – and they went slowly to the roads to redemption. Zionism was seldom for just itself, in order to scare up a larger emigration. Also necessary was a planned educational effort, a pioneer preparation training in order to bring hundreds of thousands onto the path to self-realization. Lithuanian Jewry recognized in time the abyss opening at their feet. Did other Jewish settlements see the abyss?

May it be a lesson and a warning for other Jewish settlements in the world, who are calm and secure since they wan to live far from danger and bitter experiences. Do not be calm, but penetrate with deep concern, do not delay, but hasten your step – this is the advice, the commandment!

[Pages 102-123]

The “Bund” in Lite*

by Viktor Shulman

Translated by Tina Lunson

*This work is limited only to the area of the so-called Kovne Lite – the former Kovne province and a part of Suvalk, which was economically and culturally tied to Kovne Lite. Vilne is not included here.

Lite, and especially its capital city Kovne, occupied an eminent place in the history of the socialist-revolutionary movement in one-time Russia. It is well known that in the 1870s there already existed circles of workers and craftsmen there, who participated in mutual help. Already effective in their youth, there were a number of personalities who later became famous for their role and activity in the area of the socialistic and revolutionary movement.

Morris Vintshevski, born in Yanove, near Kovne, was educated in Kovne from his seventh year. In the 1870s he established an acquaintance in Faynberg's office, which conducted business in particular with Prussia. Vintshevski was active in Kovne as a revolutionary socialist; under the influence of Aron Liberman's appeal El shlomei b'khurei yisroel [To the intelligent youth of Israel], he organized a circle to encourage handicrafts among the poor Jewish children.

In the 1880s the well-known populist Isak Dembo from Ponevezh was active in Kovne. He had to flee Vilne for foreign lands after an unsuccessful assassination attempt by the group Yunge narodovoltses [Youth of the Peoples' Way party] on Aleksander the Third (the first of March, 1887). Under the pseudonym Bronshteyn he became one of the most energetic organizers of Russian immigrants in Switzerland, organized a terrorist group from among them and was killed in 1889 in Zurich while testing a bomb.

Vladimir Kosovski (Nakhum Levinson) was educated in Kovne from childhood on. He was later a well-known theorist of the Bund; at the beginning of the 1890s he led a socialist group there among clerks, teachers, high-school and other students – for which he had to flee Kovne for Vilne.

The scholar Mutnik (Glieb) also studied at the Kovne gimnazye. He was later voted onto the first Central Committee of the Bund at their first conference in 1897. The well-known Marxist author Liuba Akselrod (orthodox) tells in her memoirs (Historic YIVO Writings, Volume 3, page 312) that Kosovski and Mutnik had in Kovne a conspiratorial apartment where they used to meet the revolutionaries who were traveling illegally through Kovne to the outside.

In the 1890s Neyekh Portnoy was active in Kovne; a teacher in the handicraft school for Jewish children, he led socialist circles among Jewish and Christian workers (in the big metalwork's factories in Kovne and Shants [Sanciai]; he was arrested in Kovne in 1895 and deported to Siberia. He later became known as a legendary personality in the underground Bund movement and one of the proprietary leaders of the Bund. Portnoy and Kosovski died in New York in 1941 as refugees from Poland.

Among the socialist activists in Kovne at the end of the 1890s was also M. Matis, who later played a distinguished role as a Jewish cultural activist in Kovne, where he lived until the Hitler murderers killed him. His wife A. M. Rubinshteyn was active in the 1890s too, along with Portnoy, in Kovne socialist circles. Matis belonged to the circle of the Peoples' Will of the already-mentioned Dembo. In 1889 he was arrested in connection with Dembo's bomb explosion in Zurich. In 1899 he arranged his own laboratory in Kovne, in the apothecary near the governor's garden. The laboratory also served as a meeting place for revolutionaries. In 1905 Matis was arrested again.

Photograph with caption: Dr. Meyshe Matis

Yeshaye Rozenberg was born and educated in Kovne. At the end of 1903 he came to America and was known by the name Dr. K. Fornberg, one of the most eminent socialist activists and a scholar, publicist, for many years the editor of Tsukunft [Future], Yidishe arbeter-velt [Jewish worker-world], one of the leaders of the Jewish socialist federation.

The beloved leader of the Jewish ladies' tailors, one of the founders of the International, Binyumin Shlezinger was born and reared in Kovne; a second leader of the Jewish workers in the United States, Sidney Hilman was born in Zhager, Kovne province.

Also born and raised in Zhager was A. Sh. Zaks, well-known socialist scholar and writer, author of many important socialist works such as Der historisher sotsializm [Historic socialism], Grunt strikhn fun politisher ekonomie [Basic features of political economy], Lere fun sotsializm [Precepts of socialism], Parizer commune [The Paris commune], and also his book Khureve veltn [Ruined worlds] – a half belletristic depiction of Jewish life-ways in the old home – made a deep impression.

Also in Kovne at the end of the 1890s, A. Viter (A. Devenishski) was active as a Bundist; he was later well known as a Yiddish writer and dramaturge. Peysakh Libman Hersh was reared in Lite (Shavl, Pilvishok), one of the most interesting Yiddish scholars, for many years active in the Bund. He was a professor at Geneva University for more than 30 years.

Jewish Kovne at the end of the last century excelled in its intelligentsia, in its idealistic youth on whom there was a stamp of a kind of pure intellectualism, a spiritually; they were first and foremost involved in world problems, seeking to repair the world. In just such an atmosphere the first sprouts of the socialist movement whose expression became the Bund, could grow deep and wide. It is also understandable why after Vilne, where the founding conference took place in 1897, Kovne became the second city appropriate for arranging the next two conferences of the Bund in 1898 and 1899. Organizing an illegal conference in those days was one of the most difficult and dangerous undertakings. The tsar's gendarmerie lay in wait to discover such a conference, which meant that they could annihilate the mind and heart of the revolutionary party with one blow, just like arresting the commanders of an army during a war. When Kovne was selected for the second conference, it was after the big arrest when the first Central Committee, which was elected at the first conference in Vilne and the printers of the central organ Arbeter shtime [Workers' voice] were “liquidated” (in the language of the tsarist witness-spy Zubatov who directed the arrests). There had to be a large periphery of sympathizers in town, with whom to arrange for apartments for the delegates, as well as an appropriate apartment for the conference itself. As stated, there was a large group of intellectuals in Kovne, sympathizers with the revolutionary movement. Almost every eminent family in town was connected in some way or another to the revolutionary movement.

The second conference took place during sukes on the Green Hill. The organizer on site was Leon Bernshteyn, who directed the movement in Kovne, a close colleague of the founder of the Bund Arkadi Kremer. The third conference: end of December 1899 during the Christian holidays. The apartment was on the bridge street near the Slabodke bridge, across from Yisroel Rukeakh's[1] factory for kosher soap. In the courtyard on a “salke” {?}, wooden steps led to a second floor where there was a separate attic to the apartment of a laborer couple, Alter the brush-maker and his wife Lize; both were very active in the Kovne Bund.

The third conference was an important stage in the development of the Bund. It was the first time that the national problem was presented, by the delegate from the foreign committee of the Bund, John Mills[2] who came specially from outside, illegally, through Verzshbolove. Twelve delegates participated in the conference, from nine large cities and from two large unions, the brush-makers and the tanners' unions, and the members of the central committee. The delegate from Kovne was Semion Klivanski, a student from a distinguished merchant family in Kovne.

At the beginning of the twentieth century we already see a broadly branched socialist movement in all Lite (Kovne province and a part of the Suvalk which bordered it). The Jewish population in that area was very large in number. According to the statistical material from YIKO [Jewish Cultural Organization] (1904) the number of Jews in Kovne province amounted to almost 60 percent of the general population; in Suvalk, almost 50 percent. The brush-makers took a prominent place in the workers' movement of that time; the brush-makers were concentrated in the shtetlekh along the Prussian border: Vilkovishk, Verzshbalove, Kalvarie, Mariampol, Ponevezsh, Vladislavove-Nay-shtot, Vishtenets and others. Brush-making was a typical small industry, but one that produced for a large foreign market (Leipzig and others). Terrible working conditions: working for 17 or 18 hours a day, for 3 or 4 rubles a week earnings. Horrible hygienic conditions: the workers developed tuberculosis and other lung diseases from the dust from boars' hair. The majority of them came from very small shtetlekh; a large percent had been recruited from among idlers, poor small shopkeepers. They lived ten or twenty people to a small room, sleeping on boards without air, without light.

Such a terrible situation certainly drove the brush-makers to raise the first flag of the struggle. Already in 1895, 300 brush-makers in Vilkovishk won, by striking, a 12-hour workday and a higher wage. In 1897 the manufacturers wanted to impose a 14-hour workday. The strike by 600 workers lasted for seven weeks, for maintaining the 12-hour workday. The police played to the side of the manufacturers, carried out arrests, escorted dozens of workers with troops to their places of origin – a special means of terror by the police during a strike. In 1898 the General Jewish Brush-workers Bund was founded in Lite and Poland. They began publication of their organ, Der veker [The rouser]. This brought out an enormous encouragement and the desire to fight in those dejected masses. Indeed in the very first issue of Veker the condition of the brush-maker class was depicted like this:

“We were thrown into jail for no reason at all. Whoever the manufacturer pointed out was sent off with a police escort, was set upon like a wolf on a flock of sheep, was sent to Siberia, treated like a law-breaking criminal, like a person of immoral conduct.”

The brush-makers' union was the first centralized professional union in all of Russia – so wrote the Arbeter shtime, the central organ of the Bund. Their political class-consciousness also grew along with the brush-makers. There was close contact between the Bund – the political party – and the central brush-makers' union. Representatives of the Bund central committee took part in the brush-makers' conventions, and delegates from the brush-makers union participated in the Bund conventions. It was proclaimed at the founding convention of the brush-makers' union that the union was in solidarity in its activity with the duties and goals of the General Jewish Workers' Bund in Russia and Poland. The convention sent a greeting to the central committee of the Bund. And the tsarist government qualified the brush-makers' union as a political organization. When the famous Zubatov, – chief of the Moscow okhrane (secret police), which had authority over the entire region of the Bund – took over creation of the so-called “legal” workers' movement in the beginning of the 20th century, he proposed giving the arrested activists of the brush-makers' union twenty thousand rubles to publish the Veker legally. Therefore he demanded that they operate exclusively a purely economic activity and not mix politics into it. Naturally the leaders of the brush-makers' union rejected the tsar's gift with contempt, for wanting to buy their loyalty to the tsarist regime.

If we follow the complete literature about the brush-makers' union we see the complete rise of a dejected, depressed workers' class to a new life, a more colorful, more interesting, more intellectually rich life. The brush-makers produced many loyal fighters, luminous figures of the socialist proletariat who played a large role in the Bund. The poisonous dust from the boar's hair was good for agitating and organizing.

The brush-makers' area, which lay by the Prussian border, served as a “window to Europe”, where there already existed a free socialist movement. From time to time a brochure would land in the border towns, an appeal, a newspaper from outside. Not yet seen words and not yet heard rumors flashed through the thick dust of boar's hair workshops and lit a spark of new thought and aspiration in the minds of the dejected proletarian workers. The brush-workers became the pioneers of illegal literature transport not only for the Bund but also for all the other revolutionary parties in tsarist Russia. One such excellent type of illegal literature smuggler was etched into my memory and I described him 13 years ago in a chapter of memoirs: they called him “Meysheke the Illegal Belly”.[3]

Short, with close-cropped dark blonde hair (I can see him now, almost 50 years later) a pointed nose, grey eyes, a little awkward in movement, heavy steps, bearish – that was Meysheke the brush-maker (“Meysheke the Rogover”). He used to carry the literature on himself, wrapped around his whole body, for which he had specially-sewn long sacks, with “compartments” for larger and smaller brochures, a whole “outfit”, separately for his back, for his belly and sides. Sometimes one of the few who knew about his secret would see him somewhere on the street with his “full” belly and wagon driver's coat with the hood in the back, trudging with his heavy steps in his high boots – and would know that a new shipment of “literature” was arriving. People would wait with pounding hearts for the hour when they could go to the conspiratorial apartment, and share in the brochures and journals that Meysheke had brought. Day and night he dragged himself through town and village, in heavy mud or in the snow, blizzards or downpours of rain: like a lamed-vovnik [one of 36 saintly people who hold up the world] he slipped into a town and emptied the “Bund” of the precious brochures and journals for which the spirits of the awakened Jewish proletariat so longed, who waited long weeks and months for them with deep pining.

The brush-makers' stubborn struggle for a shorter workday went on year in, year out; the threat of tuberculosis was the chief motivation that brought them to the movement. In the years 1903-1904, there was already in the Polish region of brush-making a 9- to 10-hour workday. But it was hard to maintain the shorter workday for long. In 1905 the manufacturers organized themselves at Leipzig, creating a trust against the brush-makers' union with the goal of breaking the organization and taking back all the gains from the workers, and introduce black lists, create a general fund to fight strikes, support part-timers in such cases.

The workers responded with a general strike that included all the brush-workers in Vilkovishk, Verzshbolove, Vishtinets, Nay-shtot and other places. The main demand was an 8-hour workday. The revolutionary atmosphere of 1905 helped the worker to victory: At a special convention in Vilkovishk the manufacturers decided to give in. The 8-hour workday became introduced in the entire region. During the revolutionary years 1905-1906 the hot breath of the revolutionary brush-worker proletariat could be felt throughout the whole region. Everywhere there were retinues for the fight of the brush-workers, who carried out all the decisions and orders from the political-revolutionary party of the Bund.

During the revolutionary period of 1907-1908 the manufacturers again began an offensive against the workers, the point being an effort to extend the workday. The manufacturers' lockout lasted for eleven weeks in 1907; this cost the brush-workers 3500 rubles, and the 8-hour workday was retained. The Bund had helped morally and materially to win the struggle, and at the brush-makers' convention (August 1907) they passed a special resolution of thanks for the central committee of the Bund for its help during the lockout. In 1908 the manufacturers, at their convention in Leipzig, renewed their demands again – reinstitute a 10-hour workday. The fight lasted for five months, filled with dramatic moments. The manufacturers tried to bring in Russian worker strikebreakers from Tshernigov province. Against that, the workers received large monetary support from outside the country, mostly from the German social-democratic party, according to the foreign committee of the Bund. The 8-hour workday was retained.

But the years of reaction left their mark on the brush-workers' movement too. The work of maintaining their hard-fought positions became ever harder, and police repression became more harmful. In 1912 we see an 11-hour workday in Ponevezsh; in 1913 piecework was introduced in Verzshbolove; in 1914 in Nayshtot, Vilkovishk, Verzshbolove, the centers of the brush industry, not a trace remained of organization, every initiative was suffocated, the spiritual state of the workers was very low. The smallest strike called out arrests and deportations. They arrested family men, often very ill, and held them in jails for months with no charges. The outbreak of the First World War gave the death blow to the brush-workers' movement, the whole region suddenly found itself in the line of fire along the front. The biggest factories were ruined, cut off from the rest of the world. The brush industry did not revive in that region that after the First World War became a part of Independent Lithuania.[4]

I have presented somewhat more of the brush-workers movement because of its particular social face and special characteristic stripes, which show the rise and development of capitalistic production system in Jewish economic life in Lite in the first time period. We will now take note of the main stages of development of the movement from the end of the previous century until the First World War.

The illegal period, as we have seen with the brush-makers, is rich with dramatic moments. The pioneers of the movement found expression in several ways, beginning with economic mass strikes, political circles and gatherings from street demonstrations, clashes with the police and military, agitation and propaganda among the military – not excluding attempted assassinations by bomb and revenge attacks on the various hated representatives of the tsarist power apparatus. The movement permeated the far-flung little towns. In the Bund's illegal newspapers like Arbeter shtime, Der Bund, Letste pasirungen, Poslednie izvestia, [Workers' voice, The Bund, Recent events, Latest Events] we continually find correspondence from shtetlekh like Kupishok, Yanove, Keydan, Kelm, Zhager, Kalvarie, Yanishik, Shadeve and so on. A meeting of 100 men in a forest near Yaneve with an unfurled red flag and revolutionary inscriptions was described in Poslednie izvestia (22 October 1902). “The Bund,” the speaker said, “is concerned like a father about his children even in a hole like Yaneve; we let the Bund know” (the speaker nods to the attending representative of the central committee) “that it should not forget us Yanevers when it calls the Jewish workers to the revolution; wherever it calls us we will go until death.”

An instance characteristic of workers interrupting a Torah service in that same town of Yaneve and about a matter that had no direct relationship to workers but which had to do with plain justice and right, was told about in the same publication (22 August 1902). A police commissioner severely battered the Jew Yankl Roker. The family of the maimed man demanded of the town “elite” that a doctor be brought from Kovne, so that a court case could be brought against the commissioner. The “elite” refused, afraid to start with the commissioner. The workers and the family of Yankl Roker went into the shul and did not allow the Torah reading and demanded that a case be brought against the commissioner. It turned into a big brawl in the shul itself and out in the street. The workers brought in a doctor from Kovne, took the battered man to a hospital in Kovne, and brought a case against the commissioner.

The organizations in the small shtetlekh sometimes helped out in an emergency. Such is told about in the same paper (Number 87, 1902) that the proprietors in Keydan (Meyshe Leyb Lilienblum's birthplace) hired hooligans to beat up the “dignitaries” and terrorize them. The police, of course, were on the side of the proprietors. The Keydan Jews called for help in Yaneve. A big group of strapping laborers came down from Yaneve. In the town – writes the correspondent – as it got dark, doors and gates were locked in fear. In the evening, when the police corporal and the Cossacks went out with the hooligans, they were so well beaten that they ran away bloodied, leaving behind the corporal with his head split. The hooligans were taught a good lesson. The proprietors sent a message to the governor about increasing the number of police. In a number of towns – Kupishok, Zhager, Kelm, Keydan and others – political demonstrations were reported from the shuln and bote-medroshim on Sabbaths and holidays: the assembled workers would not allow the blessing for the tsar to be made; they systematically put out the lights that specially lit the streets and the open areas during a state holiday in honor of the tsar or member of the ruling family. In those early years (1901-1903) the small town warmed itself with the fire of political struggle, which had been lit in the largest cities in Lite. Later, in 1904-1905, we can already feel the hot breath of revolution in the small towns too, and the far-flung provinces took on another face, its residents another disposition. A few facts just for illustration, from the above-mentioned journals:

Kupishok A joint street demonstration of Lithuanian and Jewish workers, with two banners, from the Bund and from the Lithuanian social democrats. A Lithuanian worker took the Bund flag into his hand and spoke about worker solidarity for all nations. The telephone and telegraph connections with Dvinsk and Libau were cut. The Bund organization issued its own proclamation “to the fight”.

Kalvarie Instead of reading the blessing for the tsar in the great shul, a worker read from the bime [speaker's platform] a call from the central committee of the Bund, “Pogroms or Counterrevolution” (concerning the pogrom in Zhitomir).

Aniksht In October Days, the Lithuanian social democratic party worked together [with the Bund]. The police commissioner Orlov, a murderous hooligan and sadist, was killed. At a large mass meeting, a resolution of protest against the Bialystok pogrom, a demand to dismantle the regular military and introduce a peoples' militia.

Yanishok During October Days a federation of Lithuanian social democrats was educated. Peasants from the surrounding villages asked the Bund for literature. Numerous meetings of thousands of peasants with Jewish speakers. A special commission [was established] for work among the military. The entire company of the local military joined the military “revolutionary organization” and swore by the red flag to remain loyal to freedom.

Vilkovishk Joint demonstrations of Lithuanians and Jews. Clashes between workers and soldiers; the commander orders that soldiers should always carry weapons. Gathering of 300 workers in the forest outside of town.

Keydan Street demonstrations last for an hour; a group of 20 soldiers marches out from the military organization. On the anniversary of the Kishinev pogrom workers in all the shuln give political speeches instead of the blessing for the tsar.

Shadeve Street demonstrations on the First of May, while the police commissioner stood bareheaded, confused.

And now the second document, which characterizes the intellectual face of those on the other side of the barricade:

Raseyn Notices were hung up in all the shuln, signed by the rov and the entire beys-din, with this language: “Since people in Raseyn want to have a revolution (that is, men and women want to go out in the street with red flags and want to sing forbidden songs) we ask parents to mind their children so that they do not do this, because Mr. Governor is very aggrieved about it.”

Supposedly, in order to improve the mood of Mr. Governor, the Jewish leaders of Raseyn organized in self-defense against the demonstrators. And at exactly the same time we heard a call from Kovne to another kind of self-defense: according to a decision by the central committee of the Bund about organizing self-defense against pogroms, the Kovne committee (after the pogrom in Homel) issued an announcement (in Yiddish and Russian) that ended with these brave, revolutionary words: “We call upon all Jews, all virtuous Christians in the organizations for struggle, for protection against pogroms. With our armed struggle we will teach the Plehves and the Romanovs about making pogroms.”

We can see clearly how the revolutionary movement radically changed the intellectual face, the disposition of the previously depressed and dulled masses. The feeling of generations of deep-rooted fear and servility toward those in power had disappeared altogether. They no longer felt repressed, worthless, without rights. They felt more connected to their ideological friends in other nations – both in great Russia itself and on a world scale.

Already in 1903 we read about a whole line of attempted assassinations and acts of revenge against the mostly hated servants of the tsar. A Jewish provocateur was killed for turning eight workers over to the police. In Ponevezsh in the center of town near the Treasury there was a police guard who poured out vitriol. Because of him there were some 500 house searches in town. The local Bund committee put up an appeal in all the shuln and in the streets, which explained the motive for the attack.

September 1905 in Kovne a bomb was thrown at the police chief while he was sitting in the avenue in the “New Plan” area, where the workers' office was also located. In 1906 a bomb was thrown near the governor's house. The assistant police commissioner Bielinski was killed. No one was arrested in either case. An immense impression was made in Kovne, March 1903, with the demonstration against the slaughter of workers in Zlataust (Ural), in the city theater. It came to blows with the police: a group of workers captured the assistant police chief and almost threw him down from the gallery. About fifty men were arrested and a court case was made against seven of them, which took place in the “Sudiebne Palace”. Due to a lack of evidence all were freed; the best attorneys from Petersburg defended them. An original demonstration was arranged because of the deportation of a large party of political arrestees from the Kovne jail. Members placed themselves at the gate to the train station on both sides of the way and when the train went by a thunder of revolutionary shouting accompanied it into the tunnel. A silent demonstration was made in honor of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievitsh (Tsar Nikolai's uncle) when he came to Kovne for some holiday for a troop of dragoons. Great masses of people stood on both sides of the street; the police chief, standing in a carriage with his face to the rear, toward the carriage with the Grand Duke who was traveling after him, roared to the crowd, “Shout out, shout hurrah” but the crowd was silent, there were heard only a few scattered calls from some officials and other apparatchiks. The Kovne committee of the Bund issued a special proclamation to the military in the name of the military revolutionary organization for the occasion of the visit by the Grand Duke.

The Kovne committee issued a fine appeal in October 1903, which made a huge impression on the whole population: “A Greeting to the Italian Proletariat”. Tsar Nikolai had decided to visit Italy. The Italian socialists had roused an immense protest movement in the land. In parliament the leader of the socialists, Morgori, openly declared to the foreign minister, “Let them know in Petersburg that if the tsar dares to come to our country, we will whistle him out!” The press wrote that all over Italy all kinds of whistles and other “musical” instruments were sold out within a few days. The world press was full of these strange events. Through the illegal press it also reached Russia and filled the spirits of the revolutionaries all over Russia with joy. In the above-mentioned appeal the Kovne committee of the Bund wrote:

“The Italian workers have not insulted the Russian people by this. The Russian despot is not a representative of the people. There is no place under the beautiful Italian sky for this dark despot who is splattered from head to toe with the blood of his countrymen. We proletarians from all Russia will reap courage and new strength for our struggle with tsarism from this brotherly treatment by the Italian socialists.”

The Ponevezsh organization was distinguished by its literary publications. During the Days of Awe in 1902, a very successful caricature spread all over the region: A worker shlogt kapeyres with Nikolai (a worker held in his hand a rooster, terrified and with bulging eyes, with Nikolai's face). Underneath was written: “This is the rooster to put to death”. A second caricature by the same artist was spread among recruits and soldiers: a withered worker stands before the “Presence”, and in the next room his parents are weeping and wailing. Underneath is written “Fit for Service”. In the second part a fat merchant stands with his healthy “benok” {?} full of blood and flesh. Underneath is written “Unfit for Service”. In February 1903 (on the anniversary of the “Peasant Liberation” of Aleksander the Second) there appeared yet another caricature: Nikolai sits mounted on a bent-over peasant whose hands are welded by chains to two big rocks on the ground. In one hand Nikolai holds a whip, in the other a cup of whisky, and he whips the peasant and drinks. Underneath is written “We drink to the health of our people”.

With the growth of the political movement among the masses, their preparedness to fight and their courage also rose; the servile laborer straightened his back, became drawn into the process of a grandiose political struggle.

The work among the military went on especially intensively in all the border regions with the Kovne fortress at the top, as it was flooded with military. To that end, as stated, a special military revolutionary organization was deployed, which had ties to all military formations. In the smaller towns the connections were very close, as isolating the soldiers from the civilized population could not be very strict. The organization would receive various secret military circulars and use them in their agitation, and find out certain secrets. So for example, it was known in Kalvarie that a soldier who had distinguished himself in espionage work in the military was designated as a bodyguard for Tsar Nikolai; his name with all its marks was sent to the Petersburg members. The appeals and flyers by the military revolutionary organization carried the official inscription across the top, in bold letters: “Read to all companies, squadrons, artillery batteries” and so on. Something curious happened that in Shants, near Kovne, an officer, not greatly wise, presumably, received a printed appeal to the officers in an envelope (with corresponding commentary, of course) the secret circular from the minister of war Kuropatnik about espionage in the military (against the revolutionary movement); he called his company together and read the order. Only later did he grasp his fatal error. They started searching all the barracks, in the soldiers' footlockers! They had to investigate and determine how the secret circular from the minister had fallen into the hands of the revolutionary organization. The terrible upset and the mass searches were the best agitation for the revolutionary movement and stirred up a great deal of interest in it.

During the Japanese War there was a constant stream of appeals against the war and mobilizations against the patriotic agitation by the officers of the tsar; [such] appeals made deep reverberations among the military. A good socialist-revolutionary organization existed in the 110th Donski Regiment, which was stationed in Mariampol. Members from the Bund dealt with them. In connection with the bloody 9th of January in Petersburg, mass meetings of soldiers took place, manifestations with the singing of revolutionary songs. The officials had no advice to offer.

In the revolutionary days we received through the military many revolvers and other types of weapons for self-defense and for fighting organizations (B. O. – “Boyevaia Organizatsia” in Russian). During the searches in Mariampol 25 revolvers and rifles were found that had come from the military. In a neighboring shtetl, Nay-shtot, several revolvers were found hidden in a prayer house. For that the military commander laid a fine on 300 rubles on the Jewish community.

The generations old, well-established lifestyle was shattered. New currents, new winds, tore it apart. The movement created new forms from the new lifestyles. The struggle for cultural ascent, the feeling that the workers must be competent for the new tasks that lay before them, forced them to create cultural institutions – libraries, educational circles, drama groups and the like which had a huge significance for raising their cultural level. In every shtetl where there was a Bund organization, there also existed an illegal library of legal books in Yiddish. Such was the awkward order under the tsarist regime: the fear of the enlightenment of the masses did not permit the existence of legal libraries. Even the founding anniversary of such a library was celebrated each year in secret gatherings, attended by delegates of all the trades from the surrounding shtetlekh. We read a description from Ponevezsh of how they celebrated the anniversary of a library there on rosh-hashone 1903: in a forest, with 100 men, a red flag fluttered over a portrait of Karl Marx, speeches were given about socialist enlightenment, true education, and so on.

Quite a large audience might come to such a kind of theatrical play in the small towns, where the policing situation was relatively lighter. In the larger cities they were arranged in a wedding hall, ostensibly like a wedding or another celebration. Important political gatherings were often conducted under the mask of a wedding. Just as Kovne and the border area played a large role in smuggling illegal literature, as I have mentioned, the libraries also held many socialist brochures and journals from America, such as the Tsukunft, Naye tsayt [Future, New time] and others.

The contact with the general Russian and with the European movements helped very much to fill in the new holidays and memorial days that the workers celebrated: the anniversary of the deaths of the Octoberists' Revolt, of the Peasants' Liberation of the March 1 (the murder of Aleksander the Second), the Paris Commune.

The new lifestyle broke the old ways with its impetus. Even, for example, such fortresses of the old traditions as the Slabodke Yeshive were infiltrated by the revolutionary spirit; the Kovne committee of the Bund issued several appeals to the yeshive students and shul-goers. Many of them joined the movement and became active, capable members. The 22nd of September 1903 the entire Kovne prison accompanied one Shmuel Moltshan with singing and shouting when he was taken out to be deported to Yakutsk for five years. It came that day to a bloody beating in the jail: windows and doors were chopped in, many political prisoners were beaten on the instructions of the vice governor, who was trying to silence the Bund. Incidentally that same Moltshan tried to commit suicide in jail because of the terrible conditions.

The custom of holding political meetings in the cemetery for large gatherings of Jews on tishe-bov had already been established, since many came to the cemetery on that day. We have already mentioned the counter “blessing for the tsar” demonstrations in the shuln; these were turned into tribunes for the large masses of prayers during important political events, election campaigns and the like. Sometimes they dealt with burning questions in the given town, for example, the tax and such issues. The shuln became literally meeting places, and such campaigns were conducted in Kovne, Shavl, Vilkomir and others. The same thing happened during the big election campaign for the duma [parliament] seats.

Among the most marked forms that the new lifestyle took were the groups of the so-called “Little Bund”, which had already started in 1903 – an echo of the ever-rising revolutionary movement of the larger group. The old lifestyle had established in Lite groups of ”parkhey shoshanim”, children who paid weekly money that bought holy books for the shuln and bote-medroshim. In every shul there were volumes of Talmud, shulkhn orekh, and Maimonides' commentary on the khumesh [first five books of the Torah] inscribed with the names of this or that donor group. “The Little Bund” followed the large one by collecting money for illegal literature, for supporting strikes, for the central committee of the Bund and so on. We saw the financial report from the Little Bund in Zhager, published in the Folksblat (Vilne 1906). Of the 8 rubles and 87 kopecks in their “treasury”, they paid out 3 rubles to the central committee of the Bund, 2.5 for literature, 17 kopecks for shipping literature, 1.1 for binding literature, 1 ruble for striking brush-workers in Mezeritsh. The Little Bund in Zhager wrote in its following report “We organized the Little Bund because it was only through organizing under the banner of the Bund that we could defend the interests of the Jewish proletariat, and we are definitely Jewish proletariat, even the children, but we are already exploited. We have here a very fine mass of people, and our organization is already one and a half years old. In the beginning we were weak, we lacked material support and intellectual strength. Now the situation has improved. We run circles all week and we have good literature. Signed: The Zhager Little Bund organization. Long life to the Little Bund in Lite, Poland and Russia.”

The Little Bund organizations for the most part were made up of apprentices and established artisans, and in the larger towns students also belonged to them. In Kovne, Mariampol, Ponevezsh, Vilkomir and Shavl the student organizations were especially strong; they carried out school strikes as a protest against the especially hated inspectors and directors and also political strikes (about the events of 9 January and others). The Kovne Little Bund also published (January 1907) an appeal for a boycott of “Aronovskes ogulne (wholesale shop) “for treating one of our members in a provocative way” (an employee of the business). The address of the business was given: Vilne Street, it own building. Organizations of the Little Bund existed (1903–1905) in such small towns as Vilkovishk, Keydan, and Yanove. Friend H. Shnayd, now a socialist activist in Los Angeles, relates:

“I joined the Little Bund in 1903, in my shtetl Shat, in the Kovne region. At that time there were also organizations of the Little Bund in Keydan, Yanove, Vilkomir, Shavl and a number of other shtetlekh with Kovne as the administrative center. A regional agitator came to Shat in 1903 or the beginning of 1904. They called him Mendl Keydanski. He worked with the boys. Then we were more than 25 boys in ages from 12 to 15 years old. Our work consisted of studying in a group. In the beginning we just learned to read. When we were used to that, we read Bund appeals and booklets.

“On the anniversary of the Kishenev pogrom we, children, carried out our first demonstration. While praying in shul we did not allow the blessing for the tsar to be read. Our prestige in the town rose as a result of it.

“Without a doubt, the Little Bund” – continues H. Shnayd – “rescued some of the boys from becoming criminals. Through the Little Bund the Jewish children glimpsed a lovely part of life and a higher ideal. It was something to live for. I myself am from a family of eleven, all common laborers. From my grandparents on down we were all hardened, oppressed and enslaved people. A bitterness had built up in my heart against hunger and need, and that was also true for other boys. In the Little Bund we found redress. We saw what we had to do.”[5]

As we have seen, the Jewish revolutionary-socialist movement under the direction of the Bund infiltrated every corner of Jewish life in the area of Lite. It radically changed the social face, the economic bases of the Jewish working masses, raised their cultural level to a higher degree, reinforced their dignity, and their outlook beyond the borders of the Jewish folk. With that it also inscribed a colorful page in the history of organized Jewish society in the last century.

About the Staff of Nasha Tribuna

At the beginning of winter in 1906 the central committee of the Bund decided to revive the Russian-language weekly that it had published over the summer and that had been closed down by the government. They thought – writes V. Medem[6] – on the eve of the elections to the Second Duma that the party was in need of a Russian-language cause-centered newspaper with factual, simple and lively material. The composition of the editorial staff was such that most of the members could not live in Vilne, where the official address of the editorial offices and administration of the newspaper was. They decided to move the headquarters of the editorial staff to Kovne.

The apartment that they rented for us was in “Kats's zaaulok” (official name, Pazsheskaya); the name stemmed from that fact that the largest building on that street belonged to a Mrs. Kats. We lived in that very house. It was a big, patrician apartment with six or seven rooms. The apartment was completely vacant – empty, dark and cold. Of that big empty apartment the proprietor rented us the first two rooms. In the first room we put two beds, a big table and a couple of chairs; in the second room stood a table and that was all. An old lamp hung over the big table, and it constantly leaked oil – drop after drop, splattering on the table. We found a clay pot someplace and tied it under the lamp with string, so the oil dripped into the pot and everything was fine. The first rooms were heated. One of the owner's servants – an old Catholic maid who spent her every free minute in a church, she was unusually ugly and half deaf to boot – heated the oven and brought in the samovar. The other rooms remained empty, dark and cold.

The remarkable residence was our editorial office (of the Nasha tribuna) and there we lived together, Zaslavski and I. The third member, Yudin-Ayznshtat, had set up someplace else in the city. As you can see the residence was not the homiest place and we received a welcome that was also not very pleasant. The first night, when we had just moved in, we stayed up late. Around one o'clock we suddenly heard someone knocking on the door. In those days in Russia such a knock was a bad sign. We sit there and look at one another. “Someone's knocking,” says Zaslovski. “Someone's knocking,” I call. “It's terrible,” he says. “It's rotten,” I answer. “But we have to open up.” “Of course we have to.” I go out into the first room. “Who is there?” “The night watchman.” “What do you want?” “Open the door immediately.” I open the door. In the doorway I see a figure in a sheepskin coat and a policeman. I look at them, they look at me, and both sides feel uncomfortable. “What do you want?” I ask the respectable people. “And what are you doing here?” they ask me. “I live here,” I say. “You live here? Really? Since when?” “Since today.” “Well, if that's so, everything is alright.” “Excuse me,” says the watchman. “I made an error, I saw that there was light in the window and we knew that the apartment was empty, so we were puzzled. I thought, maybe thieves have gotten in, and I called the police.” “Good night.” “Good night.” And we went to sleep.

We used to put the issue together on the last day, or, more correctly, on the last night before it had to go to the printer.

So we worked out a certain ceremonial for it. Yudin came to us in the evening, ate supper with us, and then we armed ourselves with the necessary instruments. First of all there was a samovar; second, a pair of siphon bottles of soda water and a package of tiny round candies that we used instead of cigarettes. We sat back so armed with our resources and the work proceeded. Yudin would write a big political article, very long, a little difficult, but the audience loved it. I discussed various tactical questions, and Zaslovski made his brilliant cavalry attacks. He was a lively, happy young man, Zaslovski. Strewing jokes, playing without a break. It was the election campaign and our paper took a fresh, biting, fighting tone. Zaslovski would sit down at the table, fold up his sleeves and ask with a merry smile, “So, today who shall we hit with such a clap that sparks fly?” Enemies, someone to hit, we had on every side. Today we had to give a slap to the Jewish liberals, tomorrow the Zionists, day after tomorrow the S. S. (who in Kovne had put forward one of their most important candidates). We had just received from America a Yiddish newspaper with a picture of a well-known S. S. activist (Tshernikhov-Daniel – V. Sh.), and under the picture an inscription: “The face of Jesus, the temperament of Vesuvius.” Zaslovski cut out the portrait with the caption, pasted it to the wall in our room, and every time he had to write something about the S. S. he would sit and look at the picture and get an inspiration for a few biting jokes.

Around two or three in the morning the work was finished. Yudin would lie back on the big table in the second room for a nap. I would also lie down, only for a couple of hours, because at 5 o'clock in the morning the train left for Vilne and I had to take along all the material for the issue. It was a long way to the train station; I used to arrange in advance with a wagon driver. He would come between 4 and 5 and knock on the window, and tired and sleepless I would get myself up from the warm bed and sit in the sleigh. It was bitterly cold, a very hard winter, and more than once I got frostbite in my feet. In the morning I would arrive in Vilne, stay there a few days until the issue was ready – make corrections, look in at the printer, and then go back to Kovne, and the work went on.

On our free days we took part in the election campaign. In Kovne our most important candidate, Abramovitsh, was put forward, and the work proceeded, fresh and lively. We used to speak in the bote-medroshim [synagogues], and we held big gatherings in the hall at city hall. The external conditions in Kovne were quite good. The police did not disturb us and even if a policeman came upon a gathering we gave him a couple of rubles or took him into the next room and treated him to a bottle of schnapps, and he did not bother us.


  1. Yisroel Rukeakh later emigrated to America and there founded the famous firm of kosher canned vegetables. Return
  2. Mill is in the United States. His memoirs were published by the publishing house Veker [Rouser], New York, from which we took the evidence about the third Bund conference. Also, Mill was educated in Lite, studied in a gimnazye in Ponevezh.
    “John Mill, the Pioneer Epoch of the Jewish Workers’ Movement”, Historical Sketches from YIVO, volume III, p. 375. Return
  3. V. Shulman, “How we distributed illegal literature”, FolkstsaytungI [Folk newspaperlet], Warsaw, 1933, No. 297. Return
  4. M. Dubnov-Erlikh “Tanners’ Bund and Brush-makers’ Bund” published by Kultur lige, Warsaw, 1937, pp. 254-255. Return
  5. In the book Tsu der geshikhte fun a yugnt [On the history of a youth] (“Little Bund – Youth Bund, “Tsukunft” in Poland) by Y. Sh. Herts. Return
  6. V. Medem: Fun mayn lebn [From my life], New York, 1923, 2nd Volume, Chapter “Kovne”. Return
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