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{Page 57}

Self Defence in Slutsk

by S. Menachem

Translated by Sara Mages

During the period of pogroms in Ukraine, in 1905-6, there were no pogroms in Slutsk but the Jewish community, with all its parties, was ready for a day of trouble and distress and to defend itself.

The defense was organized from all walks of life, starting from the ordinary people, the General Zionist, Zionist Left and the “Bund.” A committee, which was composed of all streams, was elected, starting with Yisrael Brahon who was close to the authority, from the heads of the fire department to the “Bund.”

The writer of these lines was one of the committee members who visited, in pairs, the homes of the wealthy to solicit donations for the needs of the defence according to the committee's assessment. Many responded and donated generously and without opposition, while some objected and threatened to report us, and, of course, they avoided it because the fundraisers warned them not to do so.

My fundraising partner was a member of the “Bund” and when we arrived to M.G., one of the richest men in the city, he threatened that he would remember my hat and my glasses (for he didn't know me and didn't know my name). It is possible that it caused results in the future.

Another amusing story about a wealthy Jew named Y. M. that we found sitting on a stool in a house that was empty of furniture. We thought he was in mourning and prepared to leave, but he stopped us and asked: what do you want? We explained to him that we had come to receive a donation from him for the self defense and he replied: I'll give you ten times of what you demand of me, provided you will save me from my hooligans.

We were very curious to know who they were. It turned out that while he was away from his house for his business, his sons moved from their apartment in the old house on Tritshan Street to his house, which was purchased from one of the Polish landowners, on Broad Street (Breiter Gass).

 


On the right: Rachel Efrat

 

With the money collected we purchased firearms: a few dozen pistols and a large quantity of bullets which were hidden under the stove in my apartment on Zaretzer Street. When it seemed to me that undercover policeman was sniffing in the area, it was decided to move the weapons to a safer place.

 


Rivka Efrat

 

The act was done by female members who transferred the weapons to Bere Efrat's home. He was a wealthy widower who loaned money with interest to merchants, shopkeepers and just Jews, with the help of speculators who always came and left his house. The man was wise, involved with people and loved to talk about daily affairs. He was cynical in his conversation and also in his habit. He only walked in his underwear at home and sometimes appeared the same way outside to oversee his vast property that included a large number of stores in the middle of the market. During the emergency years of the revolution the lenders, and the borrowers alike, were impoverished, meaning, they were left without their pants...

I, and my dear friend Eliyahu Charnyi, were frequent visitors to his home. I taught Hebrew to his daughters and Charnyi, the wise and witty, was a friend of the family. That strict old man loved to talk to us. His daughters have long since reached adulthood and the amount of their clothing grew from year to year. The weapons, and the seal of self defense, were buried in the large cupboards, in bedding and stacks of embroidery and lace. Thanks to our friends, Rebecca and Rachel Efrat, no one could think, and no police officer could guess, where the weapons were hidden.

In 1921, during the hunger years in Russia, Rachel Efrat died of starvation in Petrograd. Rivka Efrat, who immigrated to Israel, told me that after I left Slutsk, Eliyahu Charnyi moved the weapons to another hiding place with the help of a number of female members.


{Pages 58-59}

Three Encounters
(In the presence of “Poalei Zion” and the “Bund”)

by Dr. Aaron Domnitz

Translated by Sara Mages

It was at the beginning of the winter, when I was a student at Yeshivat R' Nehemiah. Beit HaMidrash of R' Issar (R' Issarkes Shul), where the yeshiva was housed, was located near Synagogues Square (Der Shul Hoiyf). Houses of worship, and various Batei Midrash, concentrated there. It was the public center of Jewish Slutsk. The sound of Torah emerged from all the synagogues. In every house of worship were young men who “studied alone” (”Gelernt far zich”) and prepared for ordination. Boys, age eleven and above, flocked to the permanent yeshivot, most from the small towns near Slutsk. Among them were also from Babruysk, Mazyr and others. All of them ate by “days,” meaning: a regular day every week on the table of a particular homeowner. Sometimes, a homeowner also housed yeshiva students in his apartment, but for the most part they slept on hard benches in Beit HaMidrash.

Once, a rumor spread that there was a thief among the yeshiva students. It was discovered that a pillow and a blanket had been stolen from one of the boys. Also, a food package disappeared to one and to the other - a shirt for the Sabbath. The boys didn't know what to do and the concern encircled all Batei HaMidrash. In their grief, everyone began to suspect his neighbor and followed him. One evening, after “Ma'arive” prayer, a boy burst into R' Isarka's Beit Midrash and announced that the thief had been caught near the Butchers' Synagogue. Many burst out, I was slightly delayed. I remembered the stories that when the farmers in the village caught a thief, they beat him to death. I couldn't restrain myself. I went out. The boys ran and I among them. A horrific sight was revealed to me - a youth was lying on the ground, the boys were beating him and he screamed and shouted for help: Take pity of me! I raised my voice. “Enough! Leave him alone! To my surprise, they listened to me and released him. When the thief got to his feet, he straightened up, looked around, stared at his rescuer as his face expressed rage and hatred, and left.

He was from my hometown, a friend of mine from my youth in Romanova, the blacksmith's son. We studied Hebrew and the beginning of the Chumash in the same heder. He was seven at the time and didn't know his verse at the end of the week, and I was five and a half years old and was well versed in it. At the teacher's command I had to slap his cheek, as was the custom of those days, and he took revenge on me after that. When we left the heder I complained to my mother, with abundance of tears, that blacksmith's son is beating me.

Years later we met again in Slutsk, and what a big change that was: I am a student of R' Nehemiah in the upper class, and he steals the food and the meager bedding of the yeshiva boys.

Seven years have passed, and what are they in the life of the individual? Seemingly, there are also many changes from the age of twelve to nineteen, and even more so, during the years of the first revolution in Russia that its echoes reached the remote cities of White Russia.

In Slutsk, and its neighboring towns, the youth awoke to action. I went through adolescence in Minsk where I lived for five years. I was involved in the youth movement circles that sprang up in the Jewish street: Zionism, Socialism and Socialist Zionism. I joined “Poalei Zion” and also knew the Bund'aim [members of the “Bund”]. Among them I had many acquaintances, my schoolmates from the yeshivot. We spent days and nights debating: “which is better, Zionism or Socialism? Sometimes, the personal interaction between the opponents increased. There have been many instances where individuals have gone from party to party without a conscience. There was, indeed, a feeling of confusion in the hearts, rushing around between idea and emotion, a deliberation in the soul that was caught between two authorities. But, the mutual hatred, which was discovered later and turned former friends into enemies, was still missing.

When I came to Slutsk in 1905, I found in it almost everything that was in the big city, but on a small scale - youth movements of all the rebellious parties, with their flags and slogans, but something was missing in them. Instead of holiness, idealism and youthful purity, I found here insolence, bullying and ugly party quarrel. Instead of idea, the fist and the violence dominated. “Poalei Zion” got off the stage, split, disintegrated and was eliminated. The Zionist Socialist Party in Russia (S.S.), and its platform, inherited their place: just territory, but not Eretz Yisrael and socialism in the entire world. The territory is needed for the realization of socialism, the Jews will become proletarians and in this way the socialist redemption would come.

And the Bund'aim? They ruled the street, waved flags, demonstrated slogans and showed their strong arm. The “Bundbecame a mass movement. Already then I have discovered in them the buds of contempt for the “intelligent,” the dreamers and the theorists. I no longer recognized my Slutsk the quiet and humble, lawlessness took over its streets.

In those days a rumor spread in Slutsk that the villagers in the area were planning to come to the city and conduct a pogrom. It was told, that unknown people were wandering in the villages and inciting the crowds to gather on market day, to attack and rob. Self defence was organized. There were two separate organizations, the “Bund” and the Zionist Socialist Party. Out of my opposition to the Zionist Socialist Party, I signed up for the “Bund” defense organization. The center gave an order to all registrants to come at midnight to a secret meeting at the Great Beit Midrash. I felt as if I was desecrating a holy place. Indeed, I already abandoned Batei Midrash as a place of study, but to come in secret in the middle of the night to the Great Beit Midrash, which I knew in its greatness, and attend a socialist meeting, was to my dismay.

I came. The building was full. Speaker after a speaker climbed on the stage, spoke against the Czar, the police, the rich, and defamed Zionism, the “backward country” and the dead language. It was a typical “Bund” meeting. The defence matter was not mentioned at all. A knock on the door was heard. Those standing on guard opened it slightly, observed, exchanged words between them and let the man in. It was the head shamash: who knew nothing about the meeting. The shamash [beadle] stood at the door, alarmed and amazed and asking: What is going on here? - “Be silent, don't interrupt.” - “I do not obey your commend. I am in charge of this place and not you” - the shamash scolded and his lips trembled - “I'll call the police!” As he turned to leave, those standing on guards held him back, threatened with a gun in front of his face, sat him on a chair and warned him that if he kept silent nothing bad would happen to him. The shamash understood and obeyed. He murmured softly: “Who would have thought? ... I know many of them. They are the sons of important homeowners. Are they also among them? Indeed, a new and insolent generation has risen.”

A surprising incident occurred during the meeting. One of the speakers got on the stage bareheaded. The shamash jumped out of his seat, as if he had been beaten by a snake, and shouted: it's not possible by any means, you can shoot me, I will not allow to turn Beit HaMidrash into a cloister!! A commotion broke out. There was a danger that the noise would be heard outside. Two of the leader's bodyguards leapt off the stage with clubs in their hands to silence him. One intended to strike a blow on the shamash's head. In the blink of an eye I held his hand to prevent it. Meanwhile, the chairman ordered in a commanding voice: don't strike! Quiet! The violent man lowered his arm, looked at the chairman and also at me, we knew each other: the blacksmith's son from Romanova, “my friend” from the Chumash heder… Now he is a member of the “Bund” and his weapon - a strong club to defend the revolution with it.

In anger these words came out of his mouth: “You are also here? You rotten intelligent! Come. Let us confront each other.” I haven't seen him since.

These are my three encounters with him. That same winter I left Slutsk and Russia. I immigrated to America. Occasionally thoughts rise to my heart. Maybe a fourth meeting would have taken place during the October Revolution. He - armed and marching as the ruler of the Tsheke [prison], and I - a prisoner of Zion in the cellar, in the depths of that same building, waiting for further investigations and tortures by the rulers of the holy proletarian revolution.

Chills attack me from the fourth imaginary meeting that did not take place.


{Page 59}

Tzeirei Zion

by Noah

Translated by Sara Mages

The General Zionist Association, which was headed by the affluent Zionist, Leibush Gutzeit, existed, and continued its activities, until 1913. The Zionist activity was expressed in the sale of the Jewish National Fund stamps, shares of the Colonial Bank, the placing of bowls on Yom Kippur eve in the synagogues to raise funds for Eretz Yisrael on behalf of “Hovevei Zion,” conducting balls and lectures with Zionist and national content.

Since Gutzeit was known to the police as a man of great personality, it did not pay attention to the nature of the Zionist work and sometimes also turned a blind eye.

From among the well known Zionists in the city were: the slaughterer R' Alter Marschak, a learned Jew, intelligent and a lover of the Hebrew language in all his soul, the teachers Hazanovitsh, Shveydl, Gutzeit, and also the drug store owners Karmin and Shaykevitsh, Chipchin, the elderly Faynberg the owner of the flour mill and others.

However, at the beginning of 1913 a group of “Tzeirei Zion” began to organize. They set and marked for themselves an independent and responsible work: to get closer to the high school students, put them under the wings of Zionism, and create small classes for Zionism, Hebrew and lectures. In order not to get the attention of the police there were five to eight young people in each class. They read, discussed and argued. In addition, certain activities also took place in various places in the city.

The center of activity was in Shpilkin's house on Podblenya Street. This house was completely imbued with a Hebrew and Zionist spirit, and a great person lived there - R' Ben-Zion Shpilkin, son-in-law of the well known tzadik, R' Rafael Yosel. He was a scriber, a modest man who served as a shamash in the tailors' Beit Midrash. His wife was righteous, modest and kindhearted.

His son, Avraham Yitzchak Shpilkin (A.Y.S) was a scriber like his father. He read a lot and was a humble man. He undertook the Zionist activity and his apartment served as a center for fertile work. Papers and circulars were destroyed immediately after they were received. One evening the house was surrounded and the police conducted a thorough search. After a vigorous investigation all those gathered were released for lack of evidence.

The police eye watched and followed. Once, an emissary of “Tzeirei Zion” came from Vilna and, in order to talk with most of the young member, it was decided to gather behind the city in the “Syolka.” There, on the lawn, lay about sixty young men and women and in the center, the emissary, an educated young man and an enthusiastic Zionist. His words were brief and a plan of action was proposed. In the meantime, one of the members noticed a policeman approaching. All the pieces of paper were carefully destroyed and hidden and, therefore, the gatherers were not surprised when the police company appeared. They were surrounded and asked, why did you come to this place? It was explained to them that the day was a holiday and a trip was arranged for this occasion.

Indeed, the answer was unsatisfactory, but since nothing illegal was found - the gatherers were released and only two had to appear at the police station for a certain period of time.

On 20 Tamuz we, about 15 people, gathered at the home of the member Berkovitch. A female member recited the poem “Stile Alive.” A few members spoke briefly and read from Herzl's writings.

Active at that time were: the sons of the well known dentist, Dr. Epshteyn, his daughter Dunia (a doctor) and his son Sasha a student from Petersburg, Schmeril Noah Goldberg, Tzvi Razarn, Tarasova, Chaya Rachel, H.M. Apelsin, Shpilkin and Chinitz.

 


Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk, 1914

1) Moshe Brahon, 2) Dvora Epshteyn, 3) Musia Harcavi, 4)… 5) Masha Epshteyn, 6) Shmaryaho Brahon, 7) Shkolnik, 8)… 9) Nachum Chinitz, 10) Moma Lashovsky,
11) Trasova, 12) Z. Radunsky

 

In this manner the work continued in the underground until 1916. Speakers, who gave public lectures in Russian on well-known topics, were brought in. Dr. D. Pasmanik, the student Natan Greenblat from Minsk, Dr. Alexander Goldstein and Bistritzky (Agmon).

 


A group of “Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk

 

The days were difficult in the city and, since it was near the front, it was flooded with refugees. Many Jews were accused of espionage, a matter that caused a greater impact and prepared the hearts for a Zionist and national spirit.

Many of the Jewish soldiers at the front were eager for a Hebrew word and a lecture. Even though the subjects were literary - there was in them kind of a power of speech and longing for something hidden and out of sight. This discontent was expressed, in all its validity, at the outbreak of the revolution against the Tsarist rule.

Tzeirei Zion” participated in first procession. They gathered around the anonymous soldier (\member of “Tzeirei Zion”), who proudly carried and waved a blue and white flag on which was written, in Hebrew and Russian, “Land and Freedom.”

 


Membership card for “Tzeirei Zion

 

Tzeirei Zion” meetings were held during the German occupation, but it was necessary to give advance notice of their content and trend. Among the German soldiers were also Zionist Jews who wanted to vent their longing to Zion. Sometimes it was necessary to be careful and make sure that the soldier was not a spy.

The active members at that time were: Landa, Shpilkin, Chipchin, the Harkavi brothers, the son of Gutzeit Yasha, Gabai who was a passionate Zionist, Musya Harkavi, Avraham Tshernikhov, A.Y. Nozick and Altman.

With the Polish occupation in 1919, the Poles restricted the freedom of action of the Zionist activists.

Despite everything, “Tarbut” school was opened and various meetings were held in the school hall. Various activities were conducted under special permits. In 1920, groups of young people still managed to leave Slutsk and immigrate to Israel.

With the signing of the Peace of Riga, the Poles had to leave Slutsk and upon their withdrawal dozens of “Tzeirei Zion” members were able to move to Poland. Some immigrated to Israel and some to the United States.

 


Tzeirei Zion” in Slutsk , 1917

First row (on the floor, right to left): 1) Shalom Shpilkin, 2) Eliyahu Altman, 3) Dov Sheptel, 4) Ashka Lev.
Second row (seating): 1) Arnbaum, 2) Avraham Tshernikhov, 3) Avraham Yitzchak Shpilkin, 4) Mordechai Melinski 5) Moshe Harkavi, 6) Motya Pehmer-Melamed.
Third row (standing): 1) Lipa Yom-Tov Gabai, 2) Ester Rachel Tarasov, 3) Musya Harkavi-Katznelson, 4)… 5) Chaim Moshe Apelson, 6) Yisrael Noah Goldberg, 7) David Neimark, 8) Shmaryaho Brahon, 9) Fanya Krepkh

 


{Page 67}

The trial of the Zionist youth

by Azriel Nekritz

Translated by Sara Mages

At the beginning of 1922, a Zionist youth organization called “Kadima,” that I was among its organizers and instructors, was established in Slutsk. This organization developed and expanded. One of its activities was the publication of the central newspaper of the entire movement, also called “Kadima.”

On 12 March 1923, one of the newspaper's issues was printed in my house. Suddenly, in the middle of the printing, the men of the GPU[1] burst into my house (later we learned that one of the neighbors informed us), arrested the printers - four male members and one female member - and confiscated all the material.

 


Members of “Kadima” in Slutsk who were tried in November 1923

1) Azriel Nekritz (Shelef), 2) Baruch Lifshits, 3) Yehudah Skakolsky, 4) Krayna Maharshak-Baskin (Beit-Tzvi), 5) Tzvi Hazanovitsh (Hagivati) 

 

The GPU arrested us and four days later transferred us to Minsk. Along the way, we agreed that during the interrogation the members, who were young in age, would lay all the blame in regards to the newspaper on me, and I will answer all the questions that directly concern me. And indeed, so it was during our interrogation and we all stood the test.

At the end of the investigation we were told that we would have to stand trial, we will be released until the trial out of a commitment on our part not to leave Slutsk without a permit from the GPU. I had to report to the army to which I was drafted prior to imprisonment.

Our indictment contained two clauses: clause 72 of the criminal code which dealt with the ownership, preparation and distribution of illegal literature, and clause 83 which dealt with incitement and the seeding of international animosity. After a while they added to me, the adult among the prisoners, another clause - disrespect for the Yevsektsiya[2] as an integral part of the Communist Party. Our trial was set for 24.9.1923 in Minsk.

On the day designated for the trial in Minsk, the four members appeared without me because I did not get a release from army to appear in the trial.

The chairman of the court opened the trial and announced, that since the main defendant was absent the court decided to postpone the trial until a special announcement.

The Yevsektsiya in Slutsk was not interested that the trial would take place in Minsk, because it wanted to turn it into an “exemplary trial,” to prove to the masses of Jews the revolutionary nature of the Zionist movement. Therefore, it used the opportunity of the postponement of the trial

{Page 68}

and started to take care of the transfer of the trial from Minsk to Slutsk, a place were the defendants were known. The Yevsektsiya succeeded and the trial was set, for the second time, to 27.11,1923, and this time in Slutsk.

From the correspondence with the members, which did not stop all the time, I learned that our file in the hands of the investigator was getting fatter day by day. It was clear that there was a need for an early meeting of the members with me to clarify our position and coordinate our appearance at the trial.

I tried to get permission from the military authorities for an early travel. I explained to the commander that I have a political trial. I am being accused of counter-revolution, I want to prove my innocence at the trial and for that I want to be given the opportunity to arrive early in Slutsk to contact a lawyer. During our conversation a political debate developed over the Zionist issue, and even though the commander - a member of the Communist Party - was not a Jew, the question seemed reasonable. My stand in this debate was well-liked by this gentile and he helped me to get the permit. I managed to get to Slutsk a few days before the start of the trial for a joint meeting of the five “defendants.” I first went to the court house to review our file. I was referred to the judge himself, a local man, who was the only judge in the trial, and without his approval I could not get the file for a review. He graciously received me and said that he was happy to have the opportunity to talk to me as the central personality in the trial. We talked for a long time. The judge tried to influence me “to express my remorse” for my wrong way, and promised and declare, that from now on I will be loyal to the social revolution, etc., etc. For his part, he promised that he would do everything for the cancellation of the trial, or, that only a symbolic judgment would be given. I explained to him, during a convincing and serious conversation, that our path is not wrong and that we have nothing to regret. We are interested in a profound and serious public inquiry and we are sure that we will prove the righteousness of our war and actions. From our conversation it became clear to the judge that we would defend our way, vigorously and warmly, and that the trial could become a public political debate.

The next day we learned that the judge had approached Minsk and demanded to send a special session of the Supreme Court because he was unwilling to assume responsibility for the administration of this trial. His demand was fulfilled and a special session was sent in the composition of three judges with a chairman. I contacted a well-known Russian lawyer (Petkavitch), a former member of SRs [Socialist Revolutionary Party]. After I lectured the matter to him and answered his questions (which, by the way, proved to me that he understood the matter nicely, as if he were a Jew), he enthusiastically accepted the defense and refused to accept a payment for his work. “I do not get paid by politicians” - he declared. The layer had to read the file and I had to get an agreement from the presiding judge that the trial would be conducted in the Russian language. The next day, when I came to the court, I learned that a special assembly was already sent from Minsk. The new judge accepted me with a noticeable and deliberate coolness and refused to conduct the trial in the Russian language. My explanation that our lawyer is Russian and doesn't know Yiddish did not help. A few hours later, when I met with the lawyer Petkavitch, I told him about my conversation with the judge and the results of my request to conduct the trial in the Russian language he announced that he is forced to step away from our defense. From his remarks I understood that he was hinted about his political past and was advised not to stick his nose in a matter bordering on “counter-revolution.”

After consideration we came to the conclusion that we also wanted the trial to be conducted in Yiddish since most of the Jewish residents of Slutsk did not master the Russian language. And we, after all, needed a Jewish audience because we were interested in convincing the Jews of the righteousness of our ideas.

In a joint consultation with the members, in light of the situation that has arisen, we have decided to not to accept the official defense provided by the college of lawyers and take on the defense. We also decided not to publicize the matter ahead of time and announce it as a fact at the trial. The college of lawyers informed us that it has appointed the attorney Repp, as was customary by rotation.

The trial was set for Wednesday, 27.11.1923, at the Slutsk municipal theater, which was the largest hall in the city and contained more than a thousand people sitting and standing. The Yevsektsiya's choice of this hall, and setting the time for seven in the evening when everyone was free from work, proved the Yevsektsiya's intention to turn the trial into an event in the city.

And indeed, it was a powerful and wonderful Zionist demonstration that I do not remember anywhere else in Russia since the Zionist movement was declared counter-revolutionary by the government. Even though the entrance to the hall was by special tickets distributed to the members of the Communist Party, the Komsomol, the members of the professional associations, etc., many Jews, and members of the youth movement, also entered in various ways despite the efforts to prevent them from entering the hall.

The hall was full to capacity. The ushers couldn't control the large crowds that gathered at the entrance and sat on the windowsills. Outside the hall hundreds of people stood around the building and besieged it. The trial opened at seven in the evening as the three judges, the prosecutor and the appointed defense attorney - the lawyer Repp, sat on the stage, and on the side, on the defendants' bench, sat our five members. After the usual formal questions (names, age, profession, etc.), I announced, on behalf of all the accused members, that we are removing ourselves from the protection given to us by the law and take on the defense. The effect was full. The defense attorney - the lawyer Rapp, was confused and was forced to apologize. He left his seat next to the judges table and move to the audience benches.

The prosecutor's speech was in the well-known style: he started to talk about the social origins of the defendants, who were the children of traders, speculators and clerics (Krayna's father was a slaughterer), but, also here he had to be somewhat reluctant because I was a soldier in the Red Army and sat on the defendants' bench in military uniform. Before I joined the army I belonged to the working class, I worked (as a pharmacist) in pharmacies and was a member of the Professional Association of Medical Workers. After that came the political affair - the counter-revolutionary activity of Zionism in Russia. The agreement between Jabotinsky-Petlura,

{Page 69}

that came to prove the connection between Zionism and imperialism. Together with that, the prosecutor announced that he was removing the third clause in the indictment - disrespect for the Yevsektsiya as part of the Communist Party, a matter that was very unpleasant for the members of Yevsektsiya in Slutsk. He ended his speech demanding that the defendants, especially the main defendant, Azriel Nekritz, who guided the other defendants and had a devastating and criminal effect on them, will receive the maximum penalty.

After the prosecutor's speech, the judges turned to questions, more precisely, the presiding judge to the defendants. Among other questions I was asked about my attitude to the Red Army and whether I was serving out of choice or against my will. I replied that as a citizen of the Soviet Union I consider it my duty and fulfill my civil duty willingly and faithfully. With that I shut his mouth and disappointed him, and he lost the urge to ask me more questions. He only “commented” to me that the Red Army would not tolerate counter-revolutionary elements like me.

After the questions the members' speeches began, but, as we agreed earlier, the members spoke briefly and each touched one particular point. I gave the main defense speech and spoke last.

The trial lasted two consecutive nights, from seven in the evening to dawn on the 27th and 28th of November 1923, and during all hours of inquiry on both nights. The huge crowd didn't move from the place and remained tense and listening. My speech began on the second night of the trial, at about midnight, and lasted over three hours. I prepared for this speech while I was still in the army. I read, with great care, everything that was written about the national question by the leaders of the communist movement: Lenin, Stalin, Bukharin, etc., and copied many quotations from their words in a special notebook. Close to that time, the fourth All-Russian Conference of the Comintern [Communist International] was held, and I also drew a lot of material from it for my upcoming speech.

I lay before the judges, and the huge audience in the hall, the history of Zionism, the aspiration of the Jewish people for the homeland. I proved with many quotes from the words of the communist leaders, which I read from my notebook, that the national aspiration, the nation's longing for the homeland, is not counter-revolutionary, nationalism does not contradict socialism, if there is no territorial basis under its feet, and if it is without a homeland. I contradicted the prosecutor's accusing points. I proved that the Zionist youth movement is not chauvinistic and reactionary, and no less socialist than the Komsomol. I destroyed the blame that there was a connection between the Zionist movement and the Jabotinsky-Petlura agreement.

It was a typical public Zionist speech, which made a great impression on the audience who listened to every word with great tension, and angered the judges and the members of Yevsektsiya. The presiding judge stopped me from time to time and demanded that I should talk on the topic, but I informed that I answer, one by one, to the prosecutor's points of charges, and therefore I'm talking about the topic and the court does not have the right to deny, or restrict, the defendant's last speech. I continued to speak through the frequent interruptions of the presiding judge until I reached the point of proof based on the words of the communist leaders, that if to blame an idea and national ambition with counter-revolution, therefore, the Comintern is also counter-revolutionary. With that, I exaggerated and the chairman stopped me and announced that since I was not talking about the topic, in spite of his many warnings, he is not allowing me to continue and finish my words. I protested against it and demanded that my protest be entered to the protocol. The presiding judge stopped the court's meeting and entered the consultation room together with the other judges.

 

 

The consultation lasted approximately three hours, and in the early hours of the morning a verdict was issued: I was sentenced to one year in prison, expelled from the ranks of the Red Army and denied the right to vote. The member (Krayna Maharshak) was sentenced to one month imprisonment, but since she was already jailed for four weeks before the trial, she only had to stay in jail for two days. The other three members were released due to their young age.

I should point out that the maximum penalty of clauses 72 and 83 of the criminal code is: one year imprisonment under clause 72, two years under clause 83, together, three years in prison. And indeed, during the consultation of the judges with the prosecutor, as told to us by one of our members who secretly listened to their discussions, the latter strongly demanded this maximum penalty for me, but the judges told him that after the defense speech, clause 83 (incitement and the sowing of international hostility) should not be taken seriously and it is necessary to turn a blind eye to it without informing its cancellation. In this manner, a verdict was issued for only one year in prison and with that the Yevsektsiya suffered defeat. But, that was not enough. Its main defeat was that instead of proving to the general Jewish public, by turning this criminal trial into an exemplary political process, that the Zionist movement is counter-revolutionary and the Zionist youth movement is chauvinistic and reactionary, the Jewish public came to know the opposite, and expressed open sympathy for Zionism and our movement. Shortly after the trial, as I sat in prison, I learned that new members, from the working and studying youth, had entered the ranks of the youth organization “Kadima” in Slutsk and other locations in White Russia. It was a reward for our proud standing in this trial.

{Page 70}

The Yevsektsiya in Slutsk felt well the defeat brought by the trial. A closed meeting of the Yevsektsiya was held immediately afterwards and it was decided to turn to the party center and demand that it would no longer arrange public trials against the Zionists because the results of these trials were to their detriment (one of our members managed to copy several sections from the minutes of the Yevsektsiya's meeting). And indeed, it was the second public trial (after the Kiev trial) and the last of the Zionists in Soviet Russia.

Translator's footnotes

  1. GPU - the State Political Directorate (also translated as the State Political Administration) (GPU) was the intelligence service and secret police of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Return
  2. Yevsektsiya - the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party and its stated mission was the destruction of traditional Jewish life, the Zionist movement and Hebrew culture. Return
  3. Return

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