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[Pages 162-172]

Episodes From The
Jewish Worker's Movement In Radzyn

by Tzvi Liberson (Hadera, Israel)

In 1905, Russia and the other occupied territories seethed like a boiling kettle. The opponents of the monarchy prepared to overthrow the Czarist rule. The Polish people struggled to gain independence. Among the Jews, the Bund (Jewish Socialist Party) mobilized the working masses in the struggle against the Czarist despotism and for Jewish national and socio-economic demands.

Our town was not an exception. The Bund organized action groups, the so-called “Fives”. The first ones who laid the foundation for the Bundist movement were one of Chaim Borver sons, Shmuel Meicher, Yaakov Peretsovitch, Eli Chaim Miller's daughter (Tennenboim), Chaim Simcha Nievieski, Shmuel Prizant, Roiselle Lichtenstein and many others.

In that same year the first strike by the tailoring workers broke out. Their conditions were unbearable. They worked sixteen hours a day .The bosses employed them from Pesach to Succoth in slave-like conditions. The first strike broke out because of a conflict in Yaakov Meirwasser's tailoring workshop. Velvel Adelman (Katshuveh) who worked there was the first one to strike. All the master craftsmen backed Meirwasser and fired all the workers. The Bundist parties in the surrounding shtetls supported the Radzyn tailoring workers.

When the peddlers of old clothes would come to the fairs in Miedzyrzec, Lukow or Parczew, the local Bundists would prevent them from unloading their wares and forced them to go back home. Once, on the spur of the moment, the peddlers went into Raizeleh Lichtenstein's house, beat her up, and took the Bund Party's official stamp. When they took the stamp they thought that the strikers would be defeated. Some of the peddlers, however, went to the police to denounce them. Nevertheless, the strike continued on and the peddlers saw that their livelihood was affected, so they broke down and sat down to negotiate. The tailoring workers then managed to win better conditions. The peddlers were forced to cancel the accusations that they had made before the police. This first economic success strengthened the Bund. All the workers saw that they had strength and that much could be obtained through unity.

The Bund not only confined itself to economic activities. It wanted to get even with the priest from Czemierniki who made an anti-Semitic speech in the church. The speech was also aimed at upsetting the solidarity between the Poles. The Bund in Radzyn decided to assassinate the priest. The attempt was not successful; the Christians carried out a pogrom on the Jews and killed Kupershmit , a Radzyner Jew. Shmuel Meicheren hid out and after a few days barely managed to escape from Czemierniki.

After the Czermierniki affair and after the failed revolution in Russia, came 'bloody Wednesday' in Warsaw (when the Czar's provincial governors carried out a Pogrom on the workers movement in Warsaw. Blood flowed in the streets and many of the leaders of the workers movement were hanged). These were followed by so called reaction years. There was a truce in the worker's movement in general as well as in the Bund, Radzyn included. This truce lasted almost until the outbreak of World War 1.

In 1915 the Germans and Austrians occupied the Polish territory. Radzyn belonged to the Germans. The war was a serious obstacle to the activities of the Bund. The Germans would round up the healthy men and send them to work in the forests. Police and military terror raged against the population. The Germans instituted a special 'Shperen Hour'. That meant that it was forbidden to walk in the streets at night and other such limitations. Despite that, in later years (1917-1918) a non-political literary circle was formed and many Bund members belonged to it. The circle engaged in arranging literary evenings, study groups devoted to Jewish writers, literary discussion groups and the like. Among those who belonged to this group were Ben Zion Greenboim, Shlomo Tzucker, Yechezkel Greenblatt, Mendel Lichtenstein, Yitzchak Butman, Moishe Shaiyeh Rotshtein, Yisroel and Meir Tennenboim, Avraham Leib Wassermann, Avraham Shuchmacher, Chanina Vetshtein, Aba Danilek, Yosef Danilak, Ben Zion Lichtenstein, Yehudit Lichtenstein, Moshe Zigelman. There was also a group of Yeshiva students that belonged to this circle. They still wore their 'Jewish hats' but when they got to the meeting room which was located in Malichava's house, they removed them. Many different political parties, the Bund, General Zionist, Poele Zion, etc. later emerged from this literary circle.

The founding meeting of the Bund in that period took place on the Vishnitz highway near the 'New Bridge'. Two German soldiers, who were Social Democrats, participated in this meeting, which was illegal. This was a renewal of Bund activities after a long period of dormancy.

On the morning of November 11, 1918 tension was felt in the shtetl. The Germans were apprehensive and soldiers patrolled the streets. The soldiers stationed near the Rabbi's house were packed and ready to flee. Tension was felt among the Poles too. The Polish Legionnaires wanted to disarm the Germans and take control. They waited for the proper moment. When the Germans began to leave, heavy firing broke out. The Legionnaires tried to disarm the Germans but the later resisted. Then the German mounted military police rode through the streets, firing continuously. Legionnaires and Germans fell, as did one Jew, Yosef Rabinovitch. The Germans left the town as if hurrying to go home.

The regime was now in the hands of the Poles. The first Polish government, actually a worker's government, was formed in Lublin. The Polish people breathed more freely and the Jews, too, felt better. The Jewish parties became legal including the Bund which became a force in the town. There was an immense upsurge of political and cultural activity in all of the parties. The Bund opened its first center in Shimon Danilak's place. A series of lectures on political economics took place there as well as lectures on natural sciences. The Bund also established cooperative of providers of basic necessities and its own bakery. Later an evening course for illiterate adults was established. There was a very strong desire for knowledge among both the youth and the adults. The first demonstration by the Bund took place on May 1, 1919. Yisroel Meicher marched at the head carrying the Red Flag. It started out from the 'courtyard' by the park where the Polish Communist Party joined them. The wagon was left standing on Ostroweicka Street and Yisroel Meir Tennenboim delivered a fiery speech from one of the balconies.

Just before Passover of the same year, the Bund organized a strike of the women who worked in matzo production. They worked 16 to 18 hours a day from very early in the morning until late at night. The Bund decided to put an end to this situation. The employers were forced to give in and the workday was limited to eight hours.

The Polish-Soviet War broke out in 1920. The Polish authorities arrested many labor leaders, and the Bund headquarters were impounded. Among those from the different parties who were arrested were Yitzchak Butman, Leon Rachlis, Moishe Laizer Pessachovitz, Shmuel Kimmel, Leibel Nissenboim, Yechezkel Greenblatt, Yisroel Tennenboim, Loezer Appleboim, Ziltshe Wiseman, Moishe Shayeh Ratshtein and others. All those who were arrested were sent to the prison in Dambia. The arrests made a grim impression in the town. In effect, the most capable people were imprisoned. After the Soviet-Polish War all those who had been arrested returned. While the town was temporarily occupied by the Soviets, the Bund carried out certain administrative functions in the town. When, after seven days, the Soviets left the town, many young people from labor movement left with them. Later many of them came back from either Russia, or from along the way.

With the return of those who were arrested, the activities of the Bund and of the Poele Zion were renewed and the social and political activities revived. In 1921 there was a split in the Bund in Poland. Part of the Bund was influenced by the Russian Revolution. The Bund split into two groups, right and left. On the left were the so- called Comm-Bund. Because of this split the most active part of the Radzyn Bund joined the Comm-Bund. They were the actual founders of the Communist movement in Radzyn.

Despite the split, the Bund remained a significant organization in the town. Zukunft, (Future) Bund Youth was founded in 1922-23. Among the organizers were Shlomo Kashtenbaum, Yaakov Melinasz, Shaul Lifshitz, Leitshe Gelibter and Lippe Wassermann. In that period the Bund established a Needle Workers Association, a library and a dramatic circle. In 1924 the Bund together with the Left Poele Zion established 'The Yiddish School Organization'. The school opened in the home of Leah Kleinman. The Bund brought the best speakers to Radzyn. It was more active in this than the other parties.

Two delegates, Yechezkel Greenblatt and Shmuel Kimmel, represented the Bund on the Radzyn city council. Later it was represented by a woman activist Leitshe Gelibter, and Shlomo Rosenfeld a youthful leader who was considered one of the best speakers in the town.

In 1925 the Bund, together with Communists, carried out a strike of all the mill workers. It lasted two weeks during which the mills were closed down. The Labor Inspector was forced to intercede and the strike ended in a victory for the workers.

In 1927 there was a new split in the Bund and more than twenty Radzyn Bund members went over to the Communists. This split was mainly among the members of Zukunft, Bund Youth, and the Communists again gained significant reinforcements.

The Bund continued with its activities, and although some new young people joined, it lost strength. It lacked the leadership that could educate and lead the new young people. The Needle Workers Association too, ceased being a force in Radzyn because people could not make a living in the needle trades and they had to go to Warsaw to do so.

In the last election to the city and the community council before the war (WWII) the Bund got a greater proportion of the votes. It remained active until the last minutes before the outbreak of the war that demolished the Bund together with all the rest of the Radzyn Jewish community.

The foundations for the Communist movement in Radzyn were laid by the already mentioned Comm.-Bund or even earlier by left leaning Bundists who just happened to be in the Bund at that time before the split. The foremost leaders of those who considered themselves Comm-Bund were as follows: Avraham Leib Wassermann, Avraham Shuchmacher, Velvel Tennenboim and Leibel Tzucker. The later was considered a good speaker and propagandist. He was the real leader of the Comm-Bund.

In the beginning the group was divided and did not belong to the Communists. In general, the Polish Communist party did not belong to the Communist International because of its extreme leftist orientation that Lenin fought against at that time. The Radzyn Communists did not participate in the first elections to the Polish Seim (legislature). That was the position taken by the Communists in Poland. They expressed their stand by propaganda against the parliament. They covered the walls of the town with slogans. A slogan that was displayed on Shkolna Street read: “Town and country proletarians Unite! ”

Officially the Communists in our town began their activities in 1921-22, after the Polish section joined the Commintern. The first Needle Workers Association that was established in 1923 under the Communists influence was located in the home of Moishe Ravniak (Bruder). The secretary of the association was Avraham Shuchmacher. This organization led a campaign to improve the conditions of the needle workers. It also had a section devoted to the needle workers apprentices. This association was utilized for Communist propaganda and lectures on current events. The association became the center for all the left oriented workers in the town.

As time passed, the police became interested in this trade union organization. Informers revealed its Communist activities. In 1924 the association was shut down and its activities moved to into private homes and onto the streets. The Communists carried on propaganda among the peasants in the surrounding villages and distributed literature there. In town they pasted slogans against the government on the walls and hung red flags on the telephone wires. Thus the Communist movement again began to attract the attention of the police. The police assigned both special uniformed and plain clothed personnel to observe these activities. However the police did not succeed in uncovering any conspiracies at that time.

In 1925 a new meeting hall was opened on Shkolna St., this time as the headquarters of the leather workers' trade union, but was utilized mostly for Communist propaganda purposes as well as for the needs of the leather workers. There were discussions about political problems almost every Saturday. The main leader of these discussions was Yudel Borochovsky. Whenever Yudel spoke the hall would be filled to overflowing. Announcers stood outside and repeated his speech. At that time Borochovsky was an official of the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party. He came to the Party from the yeshiva and in his speeches he used quotations from the Bible. He liked to engage in debates and to challenge his opponents. Woe was to anyone who tangled with him in a debate. So the police would lie in wait for him and were frequent guests in his house. However, they rarely found him there.

Elections to the municipal council were held at that time in 1925. The Communists appeared in the elections under the banner of the Leather Workers Union. Their candidate was Shimon Gansky who was not a politically attractive person. He could not even sign his signature and was being taught to do so in secret. There was no other candidate who would agree to stand, because such people were often targets for arrest. The Communist movement at that time was not so much interested in its representation on the council as it was to show its strength, and so it did. It got more than six hundred votes. However, Shimon Gansky did not bring it much esteem. He would sit there like a deaf mute. The Polish reactionary members had pity on him and the police did not bother him because he was not dangerous.

In 1926, before the month of May, Zanvel Zaltzshtein was arrested for carrying illegal May Day literature to Miedzyrzec. Usually such literature was sent directly from Warsaw to Miedzyrzec. Because of a Communist omission that road was heavily patrolled. Therefore the road that went to Miedzyrzec through Radzyn was chosen. The task was conferred on a certain member Zaltzshtefenikein who was going to Mezeritch with Yantel the wagoner. That road, too, was heavily patrolled, and near Kanklevntizeh the wagon was stopped and searched. The literature was found and Zaltzshtefenikein was put on trial. In court he acted very bravely. He sang Communist songs and shouted out anti- government slogans. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

On the thirteenth of May 1926, during the Pilsudski rebellion, Yudel Borochvski came to Radzyn and gave an order that every member should be prepared to leave his work, go into the streets wait for further orders. The situation was very unclear. In Warsaw the Communists, led by Varskin, were fighting alongside Pilsudski. In Radzyn the police were confused. The telephone connections with Warsaw were disconnected .The Communists expected to get an order any minute to take over control of the town. However this never came about.

In 1927 Yudel Borochvski was arrested together with a whole group of Jews and non-Jews from Radzyn, Vohin and the vicinity. They were arrested as the result of an informer. The group, together with Yudel, sat in jail for over a week. On Friday they were informed that on Saturday Yudel would be taken for the last time to the investigating magistrate whose office was in Dovid Liechtenstein's house. The Communists decided to free Yudel at any cost and prepared a raid. There was only one problem to be solved, namely, how could they inform Yudel of the plan so that he could be ready. They tried many different ways to do so without success. Because of that, the whole plan failed despite the thorough preparations of many of its details. Borochovski was not psychologically prepared and at the proper moment he could not flee. His feet became paralyzed. At the trial he was given five to six years in prison. After spending some time in the Sedlitz prison he was given temporary release because of his lung disease. He used this opportunity to flee to Russia where he was again unlucky. During a purge of Communist Party membership there, he was arrested and accused of being in the opposition, was exiled and disappeared.

Avraham Shuchmacher occupied a very honored position in the Radzyn labor movement. He came from a poor home and nevertheless he became a famous labor intellectual. He came to the Bund like many others from the Yeshiva during WWI. Later he joined the Com-Bund and he became the first secretary of the trade unions section. For a certain time he was the secretary of the trade unions in Likoveh .His greatest accomplishments were in the field of cultural activities where he also founded dramatic groups. In the last years of his life he was the secretary of Manual Workers organization. He died young (in 1928 or 1929) partly because of the years of hunger that he had experienced.

The name of Mottel Pshenitzeh must be added to the list of capable activists. He began by being active in the 'Youth League Zukunft' approximately in 1923. By profession he was a tailor. His father Yankel Pshenitzeh was a veteran Bundist who wanted his son Mottel to become a musician and bought him a violin. Motel's ambitions were different. He read a lot and wrote stories. In 1925 he joined the Communist movement and founded a youth group of some twenty young people and taught them Marxism. In 1932-33 he moved to Warsaw where he continued his literary activities. He joined the ranks of young writers and attempted to have a book of his, stories published. However he lacked the financial means. After great efforts he had the book published ('Fine') in which there are many descriptions of life in Radzyn.

In 1927 there was a split in 'Hashomer Hatzair' (“The Young Guard” a Socialist Zionist Youth Movement) and a group left the organization led by Shaul Ackerman and Moishe Hochbein. For a certain period the group could not decide where to go. Both the Communists and the Bund tried to attract them. Speakers from both parties tried to entice them. Finally some of them joined the Communist movement.

In the last years before WWII, the Communists, after a certain period of stagnation, again became a significant force in the town. Again a few more activists from Hashomer Hatzair joined them. Sometime in 1933-34 Yoel Lozer set up a party printing press with Polish typography. It was a rather primitive press but could print small proclamations. In that way the Polish Communists issued their own proclamations signed by the Polish Communist Party. When the anti-Semites in Radzyn urged the Polish citizens to boycott Jewish businesses, the Communists in Radzyn issued a proclamation saying, “Buy wherever it is cheaper.”

[Pages 173-175]

The Jewish Craftsman
And His Organization

by Tzvi Liberzan (Hadera, Israel)

After the Germans were expelled in 1918, there was a revival of the social life of the town and the founding of many economic institutions, and workers' professional organizations as well as independent Jewish political parties. The Jewish men began to think about their own organization, which would include all the Jewish craftsmen. Their desire for their own organization was influenced by a number of reasons:
  1. The Jewish artisans needed their own representatives in the Jewish Community Council to protect them from heavy taxation.
  2. They wanted their own representatives in the Credit Bank
  3. They were influenced by the psychological moment. They wanted to go along with the momentum of the developing social life of the town at that time.
Formally, such an organization came into existence after the Polish-Soviet war when it was called a Craftsmen's Organization. It included all the independent craftsmen, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, bakers, dyers and watchmakers. The largest trades were those of the shoemakers and tailors and they were also the most active. The headquarters of the Craftsmen's Organization was at that time in the home of Sarah-Feigeh Berman and its first secretary was Abba Danilak.

The organizer of the tailors was Avraham Nissenbaum the best tailor in town. He devoted a lot of energy to this task. His main goal was to reduce the competition between the tailors. He wanted them to institute fixed prices, however he did not have great success. Later he moved to Brisk and the tailors in Radzyn lost one of their best organizers. The organization also mediated conflicts between the second hand clothing merchants and the tailors who worked out of their homes.

The shoemakers were more successful at that time. In 1924 they founded the Leather Cooperative that sold leather and other materials of use to the shoemakers. This store was in the middle of the market place in the center of the town. The bookkeeper was Simcha Lieberfreint. At the beginning things went well for the cooperative. The merchandise was brought from Warsaw and the turnover grew regularly. However, after three years the coop was liquidated because of poor results. The shoemakers called meetings to discuss how to reduce the fierce competition, at least, partially, however these had no effect.

When Abba Danilak went to Mezeritch (and later abroad) the post of secretary was taken over by Simcha Fest (today in Poland) and Itzel Gottesdiner. In approximately 1925 the Craftsmen's Organization was moved to the beautiful house of Hershel Handelsman that he had purchased from Akiva Rubinstein.

The organization was also involved in cultural activities. Among others, they formed a dramatic group. Its first production was a popular piece 'The Sale of Joseph' which was presented exclusively by shoemakers. A second dramatic group was established that recruited talented men and women from all over the town. The director of this group was Avraham Shuchmacher. When Itzel Gottesdiner left for the Land of Israel, Avraham also became the secretary of the organization. Among others in his group were the three daughters of Hershel Handelsman, Feige, Heni and Ite who were very talented actresses. Other participants were Meir Migdael, Velvel Vishkovsky and others. They often performed in the surrounding shtetls and the income from the performances was devoted exclusively to the Craftsmen's Organization.

Avraham Shuchmacher also developed an intense program of activities for the organization .In his time the artisans got one of their members, Motel Smetankeh, into the city council. He worked very hard to reduce the local taxes levied upon the artisans. In the Credit Bank they were represented by Yosef Appeloig. They also had representatives in Gmilat Chesed (Free Loan) Association. Members of the organization were also on the appointed income tax committee where they represented the Craftsmen.

In later years the Bund tried to establish a Socialist Craftsmens' Association. However the attempt to tear away members from the old Craftsmens' Association was not very successful. Except for some inveterate Bundists, no one left and the Bundist Socialist Craftsmens' Association remained a fiction.

After the death of Avraham Shuchmacher, Akiva Lichtenberg became secretary. He was followed by Yitzchak Butesman's son. That was the way that the Jewish artisans carried on their activities for some twenty years, campaigned everywhere for their representatives, maintained social and cultural activities and fought for their existence up until the final moments of the life of Polish Jewry.

[Pages 175-179]

Interest Free Loans

by Dov Katzenelbogen (Tel-Aviv)

A cold winter morning descended on the market place. The crystal-like snowflakes that fell worried Rabbi Yitchak, the owner of the haberdashery store, lest the heavens were against him.” Just today of all days the snow is coming down so heavily! Who knows if any peasants will show up on a day like this?” Reb Yitzchak had gotten up and opened his store early. Therefore unlike his usual custom, he prayed the morning service with the first Minyan (prayer quorum) that was composed of ordinary people, the porters, craftsmen and the mill hands, who had to go to their work early. He joined the early risers today because he had many important things to attend to. First, he had to pay his promissory note to the Polish Bank due today. He could no longer postpone paying the non-Jews, because the Polish bank was not like a Jewish bank. Second, today he had to pay the hundred gold coins to Yaakov the carpenter, interest free loan from Yaakov that he had promised to repay on this day. If he did not keep his word, it would be very embarrassing, even though he was a learned and God fearing man, to hear the complaints of the commoner who was very successful financially. He also had to pay the tax collector of local authority who, although it was very early, was already running around in the market. Surely he would come into Reb Yitzchak's store and he would have to give him at least an advance. Where could he find all the money in one day? And now with the snowstorm, very few peasants' wagons could reach the town and among those that did, no one came to his store. It was two hours since he had opened it, and he was still worrying about where his help would come from.

He stood in the door of his store and pondered his situation. Reb Yitzchak understood that everything in his store did not really belong to him, that there was a heavy debt on everything and that he subsisted only on loans and credit. Would he be able to maintain his reputation which was all his strength and fortune and on which everything was so dependent now? If he lost the trust that most people had in him what then? A shudder passed through him at the thought of it, and a sigh like prayer burst forth from his mouth. ”Do not let my enemies rejoice and do not lead me to shame and disgrace. Do not make me dependent on gifts from human beings”. While he was thinking about this, he remembered the morning prayer and how he had found himself in a Minyan that was not his and not of his class. How these ordinary people honored him and immediately asked him to go up to the Holy Ark and lead the prayer. This he refused to do, because he wanted to be one of them. Really, was it not better to be one of them? He was very impressed by their prayers. They were very different from those of the respectable Jews who sat in the front row closest to the eastern wall and who considered themselves the privileged of the Holy One. They bring to the house the joy of self-satisfaction and as a result forget the commandment “Know before whom you stand”. Their prayer is like paying off a loan which the rich do without effort. Can it be compared to that of the poor that he witnessed this morning? How intense was his desire to be one of them and to do what they do after the prayers, to go to the sawmill and load heavy boards onto his shoulders and to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, even though it is a poor man's loaf. In his mind's eye, he saw himself sitting among common people, his colleagues during the day, in the synagogue for the evening prayer. He sees himself organizing Mishnah (Oral Law) studies group and also teaches them Torah. But then he immediately remembers his oldest son Mendele, who is a genius, sharp witted and erudite and knows Mishnah. Is he not entitled, because of his erudition, to become the husband of the daughter of a scholar? Both his daughters, too, were beautiful and had arrived at a marriageable age. Would he marry them off to a boor or an ignoramus? Reb Yitzchak mind returns from its earlier thoughts and he sighs. “For them…for them”.

Thus lost in his thoughts, he is suddenly awakened by the sound of a heavy male voice, that of a peasant who stood at the entrance to his shop. Reb Yitzchak was happy to see him, invited him in and gave him everything he wanted. Then the bargaining about the price began. At the beginning the peasant was very stubborn but as the negotiation continued he added to the price little by little until he satisfied Reb Yitzchak who was now ready to close the deal. Suddenly it occurred to Reb Yitzchak: “Isn't this as if Elijah the Prophet appeared at the hour of need dressed as a peasant?” However, he soon became disappointed when the peasant called in his wife to come consult with him, and then the peasant turned down the offer. Time passed and Reb Yitzchak became nervous. At least if his wife were here, he could go out for a walk around town and find an interest free loan. He was angry with his wife because today of all days she was late. Then he remembered her duties at home. In addition to helping him in his difficult business she also rigorously supervised the housekeeping. Memories of the distant past pass before him. He remembers their wedding day as if it was yesterday. His wife was from a good and wealthy home and, as an only daughter, was spoiled by her parents. Ever since she moved in with him, she did not experience a moment of plenty. Despite that she never complained and just did her duty in both the house and the store. Stubbornly, quietly and despite the shortages, she managed to balance the household needs without diminishing the family honor…and he sometime scolded her! Then he is so filled with contrition that he cannot look at himself. When he raises his eyes to look into the distance, behold what does he see but the figure of his wife coming out of one of the lanes. From afar he recognized her by the colorful scarf that was wrapped around her hips, the one that she had woven between their engagement and their wedding. It was still in good condition despite the forty three years that had passed since then. She walked proudly and calmly, her hair neatly combed, her shoes polished. The basket she carried, which she had made in the evenings, added to her dignity. However, she did not carry it for ornamentation only, but to put the supplies that she bought. She goes close to the entrance to the store kisses her hand and touches the Mezuzah that is attached to the door post and goes in saying: ”Good morning”. Reb Yitzchak, who is excited by her movements as if seeing them for the first time, turns his head away from her so that she will not see his excitement and without looking at her says: ”It is good that you came. I must go out into town”, and disappears while speaking.

When in the street, he shakes off all his previous reflections and thoughts because now his day's work begins: to find new sources for the loan that will make it possible for him to get through the day. Time passes and since only two hours remain before the bank's closing, Reb Yitzchak decides not to take any further chances and decides to apply to Rivka. If she does not have the money, she won't rest and will go to her neighbors and friends until she finds what she is looking for. However, it is not very pleasant to disturb her and so he has left her as a last resort.

Moshe Avman, a maker of ready-made clothing, lived in the Second Market near Shalom Pinkas's store. He made his living by going to the market days in the surrounding near and far towns to sell his clothing. In the days when there were no markets, he sat at home and sewed and prepared the clothing to sell to the peasants. His wife, Rivka, in addition to being a housewife like all the other women, would also help her husband by doing such things as making button holes, sewing on the buttons, ironing and finishing off her husband's handiwork. In addition to all this she was also the financial manager of the business and would worry about raising the money needed for her husband's trips to Warsaw to buy cloth and about paying off his promissory notes on time. Not only did she worry about paying of their promissory notes but also knew when the notes of all her friends and acquaintances and of those who did business with her came due. As the time passed and the situation worsened, so the number of her friends and acquaintances increased. Not only women of her status came to her house, but also respectable and intelligent men. However, their attitude to her was different, and they usually came to the back door so that their apprentices would not see them, since it was not normal to carry on negotiations with a woman. They would open the door and say: ”Good morning Rivka”, and that was all. Rivka would come out and say “Yes Reb Yitzchak, Reb Yosef etc. I will come immediately”.

The man would wish her well and go away feeling certain that Rivka would show up at his shop with money from an interest free loan. At such moments Rivka was very agile. With one hand she would wrap her heavy wool scarf, known as a Fartsheleh, around her and go out. Sometimes she would turn her head back toward the door and say to her husband: “Moishe, I left the meat cooking on the stove. Pay attention to it and stir it from time to time so that it does not burn”. Moshe would answer in a mocking but amused tone: “All right I will be a housewife”, to which she replied vigorously “I don't have time for you. Just stir the meat. Did you hear?”. “I heard I heard“. However, whenever his wife went out on such a mercy mission, he was forced to stop his work. His conscience bothered him without his understanding why. He understood his place in the world by the worktable and the road from his house to the Bible Study group in the Tailor's Synagogue, to which he went twice every day. All the rest of the concerns and worries, such as purchases, loans, bills and coins, he left to his wife, because there was no one like her for handling such complicated matters. Her own problems were not enough for her, so she went out of her way to help others including many well- known people who asked for her help. Moshe quickly awakened from his musings and continued with his work all the while thinking how proud he was of his wonderful wife. Then because of his excitement, he began quietly humming a tune as he pushed the needle.

When going around the town to help others, Rivka recognizes no difficulties that will prevent her from returning home without what she was looking for and disappointing those who were dependent on her. She goes into every place and, if it is necessary, promises to return the loan within a day or even within two hours. Her promises have a reputation for dependability everywhere. In such situations she acts very vigorously and hurries to give her takings to those that are waiting for them so that they may still make it to the bank. She then catches her breath, and, in a short time, goes out again to find new sources for loans in the two hours left to her to fulfill her promises.

This time it was Reb Yitzchak who headed for Rivka. As was suitable for a man of his status, he went in by the back door, delivered his message and turned around and went back to his store. Now he walked slowly and calmly but was dissatisfied with the success of his mission today. The feeling he had was one that that he had felt before, such as when, in times of need for Sabbath supplies, he would withdraw money from his daughter the seamstress' savings that were intended for the purpose of…

He approached his store and his wife, who was very well acquainted with the hardships involved in his transactions, seeing the peaceful look on his face, allowed herself to ask him what is happening. “I went to Rivka”, he answers, lowering his voice. She needs no further explanation .He checks the cash box to see what has come in during his absence-very little. Now both of them know that their deliverance depends on Rivka's arrival. He takes out his pocket watch, when his wife is not looking, and casts a quick look at it. Time is short and if she doesn't come soon…? However that is impossible, Rivka never disappoints people, he thinks to himself.

Rivka appears on the run and breathing heavily hands over the money.

[Pages 179-181]

The Founding Gathering of the Poale Zion
(Zionist Workers' Party)

by Tzipe Rosenfeld (Ness Ziona, Israel)

On a summer Saturday afternoon in 1917, while strolling on Ostroweicka Street with Friede Reichenberg, Shmuel Falshspan and someone else, whose name I cannot now remember, joined us. They handed us a small brochure: “The Contents of the Borochov Program” and invited us to a meeting on the following Friday.

The Germans were at that time well established in Poland and people were not allowed to be in the streets after nine o'clock in the evening. The organizers took a great risk by scheduling the illegal meeting later in the evening in Chaitsche, the woolen scarf maker's house, located near the German Headquarters which were then located in Mali Chava's house.

When we came to the meeting on Friday evening, we met many Radzyner young people there. Among those that I remember were Shimon Berman, Chanina Gellerman's brother-in-law, Sarah Zussman's father, Moshe Koptshak, Weingarten, Chaim Be'r Shpigel, Chiel Goldwasser, the two Finkelshtein brothers, Leah Berman, Toibtshe Richter and many more. A speaker from Lublin came to the meeting, and his speech made a great impression on us.

But then something unusual happened. It seems that the Germans found out about the event and in the middle of his speech they surrounded us and all the participants started to run away. I, together with Freide, had to run from one end of the town to the other, all the way to Warshavska St., all this when it was forbidden to be in the streets after nine o'clock. We were then 16-17 years old and very frightened. We ran through all the Beth Hamedrash (Jewish seminary) gardens until we reached home more dead than alive. On Saturday morning I heard that all the participants from Radzyn managed to run away, and only the speaker from Lublin was arrested and sent back there.

Early on Sunday morning Leah Berman came running and informed me that we must run away and hide because they are searching for all the participants. I remember that Freide and I put on shawls, such as those worn by non-Jewish women, so that we would not be recognized, and went to our garden where we spent the day the rest of the day. This was the beginning of the Poale Zion in Radzyn. After that we began be recruit new members, and our meetings took place each time in a different location.

When the party became legal with the retreat of the Germans from Poland in the year 1918, our headquarters were located in Nachum Goldfarb's place. From that time I recall that when a certain member, Tabatchnik, came from Warsaw to speak he was met by Bund members carrying sticks.

At that time a number of new committees, cultural, technical, etc. were created. Shimon Berman, Leon Rachlis from Rovno who was a teacher in the Yiddish School and Shlomo Mushkat were on the cultural committee; Chaim Ber Shpigel, Chiel Goldwasser, Hershel Tzukerblatt were on the technical committee,

When the first elections to the Polish Seim (parliament) took place, the Jewish community became activated. There were three Jewish lists, two of Workers parties and one General list that was composed of all the civil parties. We then had a strenuous struggle against the “Bund” in Radzyn and throughout the country. Despite that the Poele Zion in Poland succeeded in electing one of its members, Dr. Yitchak Shiffer as a deputy to the parliament.

I now remember the name of the speaker that we brought to Radzyn for the elections. His name was Shurek. As was then usual with big meetings, he spoke at the Bais Medrash and made a strong impression on the audience. After his speech in Radzyn, he took sick and died in Warsaw. Shlomo Tzucker then wrote a song about him that all of Radzyn sang.

[Page 182]

Poale Zion in Radzyn

by Shprintze Gottesdiner (Tel-Aviv)

The real beginning of the Poalei Zion in Radzyn started in 1916 before the split into Right and Left. At that time the Poalei Zion already had its 'worker's house' where the party members met and discussed and dealt with various problems. They also started evening courses for adults which were taught by Leon Machlis

In 1926, I was already an active member in the youth movement. Shlomo Mushkat and others were its leaders. The youth movement was then established by the so- called “Borochov Groups” but consisted of younger age groups. Together with the older members we carried out various educational programs. The members from Radzyn helped establish party branches in the surrounding smaller towns. We also

brought lecturers from the center in Warsaw to speak about literary, scientific and mainly political subjects. Poalei Zion also participated actively in the Yiddish Schools Organization and established, together with the Bund, the first Yiddish School in Leah'le Kleinman's house.

We participated very actively in the municipal and parliamentary election campaigns that took place at that time. In our discussions we often clashed with our opponents the Bund, the Communists and the right wing Zionists. We heatedly discussed our program that was very complicated and far from easily understood. How did Borochov put it? ”To be a Poalei Zionist, you have to be half a philosopher”. However we succeeded in explaining his teachings properly. Yes, all the questions that at that time seemed so complicated and difficult were eventually answered by the passage of time and life itself and today seem so ordinary and understandable.

The Poalei Zion stood steadfastly by their ideals, those of the Labor Zionist Movement.

[Pages 183-188]


(Descendants of Gottel Lichtenshtein)

Abba Danilak (Toronto)

1. Dovid Fishel's (Lichtenshtein)

A conspicuous proud large white wall stood out among the gray, moss covered houses and spread out and covered half of the market place. From early in the morning until late into the night the clang of iron and clatter of metals rang through the air and echoed out from there to get lost among the far away fields and woods. A row of brick steps led up to the entrance. On either side of the steps stood, like metal sphinxes, two huge anvils on which the metals were cut or fashioned .The profusion of iron and other building materials attracted the attention of the poor unemployed Jews who passed by. With great awe and respect they cast a glance at them and humbly continued on to the other end of the market place. This was the only shop in town where bearded Jewish employees waited on customers. Out of great respect and with lordly dignity, the peasants who entered removed their caps apprehensively and barely managed to get their Polish “good morning“ out of their mouths. Often huge wagons and lordly carriages drove up to the works, loaded up piles of iron and other materials and headed back to their lordly estates in the outskirts. Jewish customers often felt uncomfortable there and often avoided this wholesale concern. The servants, who constantly ran up and down hustling and bustling, looked askance at the Jewish penny customers who got in their way. The oldest son of the “Gottlakes”, Dovid Fishel's served the wealthy customers. He himself was imbued with an unusual business sense and blessed with an unusual source of energy that not only perpetuated the fortune but also expanded it. In his quest for material wealth he reflected the spirit of the time. He also tried to introduce other branches of modern industry. In this way he provided both the landowners and the peasants with all the latest technical inventions and modern machinery and completely changed the life style in both the town and in the surrounding countryside.

His crowning achievement, which required great ambition and industrial ingenuity, was the introduction of electricity. This last accomplishment almost completely changed the appearance of the town and the surrounding area. This increased his importance in the eyes of the inhabitants and together with his restlessness increased his prestige far and wide.

Not being a great student, formal studies did not impress him. He looked with disdain at the Torah stuffed Jews and felt closer to the hard working Jews of the town. With his tall figure and his humble behavior he made a great impression on the ordinary Jews. He spoke in a style, which they easily grasped and understood. His homespun jokes brought forth hearty laughter and made them consider him one of their own. However, from time to time outbursts of his inherited aggressiveness repelled those who came into contact with him

He completely reformed the communal life of the town. He overturned and modernized the established, generations old arrangements and modernized them, to suit them to the spirit of the times. His inherited daring and forcefulness as well as the trust of the ordinary Jews stood him well so as not to fail in the new revolutionary era. In the middle of World War I, he established a Modern Hebrew –Yiddish school where Jewish children learned both the Bible as well as non-religious subjects. His practical business sense more than his intelligence made him dare to establish such a project to which he donated a house that he owned. In place of 'Melamdim” (teachers of traditional Jewish subjects), he invited modern experienced teachers and tried with all his might to improve the school and make it more attractive. With the introduction of this new educational system he caused a break with the established, hundreds of years old, educational system. In this way he prepared the ground for a new generation of nationally conscious young people who became permeated with the pioneering spirit of Zionism and immigrated to the Land of Israel.

2. Yehoshua Lichtenstein

On the other hand, his brother Yehoshua personified the Jewish intellectual. His refined appearance, the golden eyeglasses on his nose and his closely trimmed beard bore evidence to his education and worldly knowledge. With the turn into the 20th Century, strange rumors about a Zionist movement in the Jewish World began reaching even the most remote shtetls of Poland. Jews shrugged their shoulders, not understanding the meaning of these strange rumors about a Dr. Hertzel who was wandering around the royal courts wanting to bring salvation to the Jews even before the arrival of the Messiah. Pious Jews immediately shrugged their shoulders saying “nonsense, another Shabbtai Tzvi !“ and spit three times. On the other hand, their rich genteel sons-in-law were captivated by the idea and searched for followers among ordinary Jews. In this way they created a narrow circle of enlightened young people, who with the help of booksellers subscribed to Hebrew periodicals and books. This was the first Enlightenment literature that reached the town and was passed from hand to hand. The main initiator of this group was Yehoshua Lichtenstein. He, however, set himself a much higher goal in life, which was to spread scientific knowledge among the backward Jewish youth. He collected the appropriate books and opened a lending library in his own house. In this way, there was added to the book packed libraries of the Batei Medrash (religious seminaries that had served Jewish youth as centers of religious learning for generations), a new cultural center in the town. Thus he opened the eyes of the youth to the greater world and stimulated their desire for education and science. Observant fathers struggled tooth and nail against these forbidden, non-kosher afflictions. They often tore the books out of the hands of their sons and daughters and threw them into the fire. They convened meetings to denounce this apostate who was tearing away their children from the true Judaism and poisoning their minds with heresy and threatened him with excommunication. However he inherited the same forcefulness of his brother. He was not easily frightened and continued his struggle with the fanatic and ignorant zealots. Some time later his job was taken over by his niece, David's daughter, Esther. She threw herself into the work with zest and moved the library to her home. Thanks to her energy and efforts the cultural center grew in size and quality. A new generation grew up of intelligent and cultured youth. For this generation the atmosphere in Radzyn became too constricting. Spurred on by the thirst for knowledge the educated young people strove to go to the larger centers where they enriched their education and culture. Others went out into the world to live as free people in a free world.

3. Shimon Kleinboim

The third branch of the family, that contributed more than a little to the cultural upsurge among the town's young people, was the brother-in-law of the above mentioned Dovid Fishel and Yehoshua, Shimon Kleinboim, the bookkeeper of the family business. With a gentle friendly look on his face and a quill behind his ear, he sat, underneath the office, which was built on a high platform, busy with papers and surrounded by books and papers of various of colors. One could immediately discern that this was the realm that he ruled alone. His brother-in-law, David, got lost in this labyrinth of numbers and therefore left the art of numbers to Shimon the aristocrat. Having brought from home a large supply of both Jewish and non-Jewish knowledge, Shimon immediately captured an honorable role in this aristocratic family. His manners and behavior created a barrier between himself and the ordinary Jews. He strode around in the streets like a stranger among strangers. Despite his stiff cold behavior his heart was open to Jewish pain and problems. Because of his straightforward thinking, he was favored by the city government. He used this to obtain favors for individuals as well as for moderating between the non-Jewish city administration and the Jewish community. In order to alleviate the bitter situation of the small businessmen or craftsmen, he contributed greatly to the establishment of a credit union. Like a real public servant he threw himself into this activity with his whole heart and soul. For many years he devoted his time, energy and knowledge to supporting this important institution. He was the most revered, important, and recognized leader in the Jewish community between the two world wars.

[Pages 188-191]

Nathan Shwalbe [1]

Nachman Maizil (New York)
(Excerpts from a longer article)

Nathan Shwalbe was one of the first and most important of Yiddish and Yiddish-Polish journalists who, from the very beginning, specialized in one realm, journalism. He was a journalist with very open eyes and ears for the political questions and problems that he constantly studied and researched, always only from primary sources. From his youthful years, after graduating from the Reali School and studying in Krakow University, he was associated with well-known, dependable Polish-Yiddish newspapers. From the very beginning, he carried out important journalistic assignments and missions. He did so with great competence and responsibility. The development of Jewish political and communal life, in Poland, was rife with jealousy and had many open and secret enemies who were searching for any flaw that could be used to attack Jews and their politics.

He began his journalistic activities in 1913 before World War I when Jewish-Polish relationships were very strained. He was associated with important Jewish and Polish-Jewish newspapers during the German occupation and up until 1938. During this period he was an important correspondent for foreign affairs in these papers, as well as their correspondent in the Polish Seim, (Legislature) which was always an important arena for Polish Jewish interests and problems. He was also a special correspondent for the meetings of the League of Nations in Geneva. He wrote about all the issues raised there in a correct, factual and comprehensive style without journalistic affectation.

Such a talented Polish-Jewish writer, with so many important acquaintances and connections in the outer world, could have made a career in the greater Polish press, as was done by many other less talented journalists than Shwalbeh. However, deep down in his soul, he was firstly a proud Jew with a powerful attachment to Jewish life, and a natural, interest in problems of Jewish nationalism and in its future existence. Therefore, he always stayed in a Jewish environment and was friendly with Jewish colleagues. Whenever he was free, he was a regular visitor at the Jewish Writer's Club at 13 Tolmatzke St. Other Polish-Jewish journalists rarely 'stepped down' from their 'high positions' to visit this journalistic 'shtibl' which was more than a place to eat a meal. It was more a 'holy place' or a place of 'refuge' for the different writers, journalists, teachers, actors, artists, cultural activists, and just plain champions of Jewish literature and journalism. He stood out for his activity in the Writer's Union, which was crowded with people and was the center for literary-artistic disputes.

Just as in his newspapers so too at the Jewish Writer's Club, he never mixed into other matters. He never became agitated, or took on any official position in the leading Jewish institutions. He was wholly and completely involved in his political world and always tried to be up to date on all matters having any connection to his field, which was the political-social world.

The Jewish Seim (Polish Legislature) members gladly listened to the logical, practical opinions of Nathan Shwalbe that often could point, to the straight path out of a difficult political situation. Nathan Shwalbe, who was straightforward and unflinching, was often very useful in the struggle for Jewish rights. Polish political and journalistic circles too, listened to the opinions of their colleague, Nathan Shwalbe, who impressed them with his arguments and opinions. More than one pro-Jewish piece appeared in the Polish press thanks to the influence Nathan Shwalbe.

I have before me the protest that Jewish writers publicized in Warsaw on the 4th of September 1922 when the Polish Minister of Education closed six Yiddish צ.י.ש.א (Central Yiddish School Organization) schools for Jewish children. In that sharp protest in the Yiddish and Polish-Jewish press it said: ”We protest against this violent injustice. The hand that was cruelly stretched out against the Yiddish school must be withdrawn” etc. Among the signatures of the 68 Yiddish writers, including many who were on the 'left', there appeared that of Nathan Shwalbe.

Here, it must be noted that if the Polish-Jewish press in all of Poland and especially in Warsaw was thoroughly nationalist and pro Jewish and pro Yiddish, it was to a great extent thanks to the quiet and resolute Nathan Shwalbe. Everything that was healthy and productive in Jewish life was near and dear to him.

Among the various Polish-Jewish writers, Nathan Shwalbeh, was the most modest and most Jewish and as such he will remain forever in the history of the Jewish press in Poland which has yet to be written.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. For further details about Nathan Shwalbe's activity in the Yiddish and Yiddish-Polish Press see: Zalmen Raisin's “Lexicon” Vilna 1929, Vol. 4, Pages 308-309. Return
  2. About Nathan Shwalbe- the beginning of the World War and the gruesome German occupation see: V. Segalovitch's book: ”The Burning Steps” Buenos Aries, 1947. Pages 7, 8, 35, 39, 67.

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