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[Cols. 283-284]

Political-Social Life

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

-- -- This is a rich panorama of ideas and directions, viewed as if in a dream, as if seen reflected in a thickly-fogged mirror of our nurturing, which has been gone for years, cut down by the cruel Holocaust. How rich, strong and meaningful was the political-social life in the Lithuanian towns. During the worst times of harsh decrees, loneliness and subjugation, the Jews of Sventsyen found and exhibited their pride and astonishing courage, and their minds encompassed the broadest world horizons. They may not have had a foundation under their feet, but they always had their ideals. Both those who felt connected to the rise of the Zionist Movement and saw their own restoration in the national salvation of the Jewish people, and those who struggled for Yiddish, Yiddish schools and Jewish culture… all of these who tried to forge a Jewish life, awoke, broke and built, disturbed and created—all of them in their unceasing struggles with these great problems inherent in social life, solidified their belief in man, his striving for great truths, and [exhibited] the desire to solve the Jewish problem according to their own temperament, according to their own view of the world and life. All of them distinguished themselves with that vital power that Jews have exhibited during the course of millennia both as individuals and as a nation throughout their various diasporas.
Shimon Kants


[Col. 285]

The Zionist Movement
– Toils and Achievements in Our Town

Yitzhak Shibovski (Zichron–Yakov)

Translated by Meir Razy

“Return to Zion” was the first form of the modern Zionist movement that arrived at Sventzian during a period of increasing disturbances in Russia and increased anti–Semitic government policies.

Even though there was no awakening of the “Return to Zion” movement in Sventzian and its surroundings (although this movement had already reached Russia), a few individuals who, by their observation of the events of that time and the hatred towards the Jews, and their fear of the desolate state of our people, arrived at the conclusion that only by promoting agriculture in the land of Israel and educating people to love the land of Israel will the Jews turn into a unified, self–respecting nation. There were only a few signs of Zionism in our town, and their influence was not enough to attract a wide circle. It lacked any method which would unite the aspirations and actions towards the idea of settling the Land of Israel.

The truth is that the Zionist movement in Sventzian was never quite strong. One of the main reasons was that our parents were preoccupied with their daily struggle for survival and livelihood. The second reason stemmed from the Bund's influence on the workers and the Jewish youth in our town: one of the founders of the Bund was a native of Sventzian. (The Jewish Labor Bund [”circle”] was a trade union as well as a political party; its initial purpose was to organize the Jewish proletariat in Russia, Poland and Lithuania.)

On the face of it – this is strange because several of the rabbis who founded the “Mizrahi” movement were the mainstays of the religious Zionist movement. They were Rabbis Reines, Rozovsky, Amiel and Palansky who resided and worked in Sventzian. Nevertheless, there was no noticeable Zionist activity in the area. The affluent class had no yearnings for redemption or a return to Zion. The middle class was preoccupied, as stated above, in the daily struggle of its existence, while the workers and youth were attracted to the ideology of socialism and Marxism of the Bund.

When the opportunity to escape the miserable life of the small town arrived, many immigrated to America. One family, the Templeman family, sold all its assets before the war and immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1910.

[Col. 286]

There was no Zionist movement in the full sense of the word at the time. There were indeed Jews who worked for the Jewish National Fund (created by the Zionist Congress of 1901) and engaged in the distribution of Shekels, shares of the Colonial–Bank, and the like. Among them were Rabbi David Korycki, Rabbi Mordechai Cohen, Zalman Swirsky, David Goisser and others.

During World War I, under German occupation, connections and communication among the towns in the Sventzian district and the city of Vilna ceased. Jews were cut off from the world and suffered under the strong hand of the occupiers. Young men were kidnapped and sent to all sorts of forced labor, not all returned home. There was poverty and depression in the town, and of course there was no public work, except for social matters, such as helping the poor and the homeless. At the end of the war in 1918 many changes throughout the world, especially in the life of the Jewish people, took place. The Balfour Declaration, promising a national Jewish home in Eretz Israel, was issued. The gates of Eretz Israel opened and a wave of joy, enthusiasm and elation flooded the entire house of Israel. The warm and strong awakening arrived also at Sventzian.

[Col. 287]

Sve0287.jpg
The Pioneers, 1922

Kneeling: Zev Shapiro, Shemueh Kruk, Leia Gorshein, Yochnan Sheiniak, Veiskunski
Sitting: Shalom Bushkanetz, Rivka Katcherginski, Shapiro, ?, Feiga Stolfer
Standing: Shmuel Gurwitz, Yeheskiel Kurlandchik, Shaoul Vilkomirski, Leib Pashumenski, Moishe Dembo, Meir Kuritzki, Abraham Levine, Yackov Gordon

 

The first person who started organizing a Zionist activity in Sventzian was Sasha Lolinsky. With his great enthusiasm and energy he gathered a few friends and tried to instill the Zionist idea in all the strata of the city. It was not an easy task.

 

Tzeirey Zion (the Youth of Zion)

After the conquest of Vilna by General Zeligowski's army, the atmosphere calmed down and the quieter time (the days of “Meital Lithuania”) allowed the Jewish society to reorganize, including the creation of the “Tzeirey Zion” organization. The enthusiastic activists were Borochovitch and Shmuel Margalit.

”Tzeirey Zion” arranged evening classes of general and Jewish education and a string orchestra was formed, headed by Shapira of Podbrodz.

The renewal of Zionist activity introduced a lively spirit and social alertness among the town's youth. Many of them began dreaming about immigration to Eretz Israel.

Many workers and the youth movements were not inclined to join the Zionist movement because of the propaganda of the “Kultur Ligue” against Zionism. Much of the time was devoted to arguments with opponents of the Zionist idea.

[Col. 288]

Interestingly, the most intense arguments were at home, with parents and relatives. Serious friction developed between children and their parents, who, for the most part, were not sympathetic to our project, and especially opposed the idea of us immigrating to Eretz Israel. We only got encouragement from one family. This was the teacher Rabbi Pesach Walak. Both he and his wife, Hannah, supported us and our movement with great sympathy.

Their house was engulfed in Zionist spirit. He, Pesach, boasted that his students were imbued with a nationalistic feeling and that the Zionist idea was beating in their hearts. His righteous and humble wife, Hannah, would greet us warmly. At the house, in a quiet and pleasant corner, with their girls Miriam, Chaya, Bathsheba Shayna, and their boys Leib and Avraham, we rehearsed plays and edited a funny newspaper. There, in their small, narrow apartment, we did not feel isolated and detached.

 

Keren Hayesod[1]

Our situation improved when a Hebrew elementary school was founded by “Tarbut”. The school was founded thanks to the great efforts of Borochovitch and the loyal help of Hannah Kagan and Shmuel Margalit. The older generation of Zionists was not active in the city. Only from time to time did they help the young people with fundraising for Zionist activities or for the “Tarbut” school.

[Col. 289]

Dr. Regensburg of Vilna came once and participated in a meeting on behalf of Keren Hayesod. With his quiet but penetrating voice and his folk style spiced with rabbinical passages, he fascinated the entire audience. Yosef Lolinsky (now in Binyamina) collected gold rings from the fingers of those present and gave them to Dr. Regensburg as the first donation to Keren Hayesod.

Outstanding participants in this work were: Rabbi David Korycki Z”L, a well–educated man with a spirit of Torah and Zionism, who was one of the first “Chovevei Zion” in the country and later immigrated to Eretz Israel with most of his family. He was a devoted friend, a symbol of gentleness, good–natured and generous, and with all his might and soul was devoted to the Zionist idea. The late David Gaviner, a quiet man and not too involved with people, worked extensively to raise funds for the Keren Kayemet Le Israel (The Jewish National Fund) and Keren Hayesod. The late Joseph Swirski, a prominent social man, active and involved in all matters of society, clever and pleasant, simple, popular and hearty (his wife, Batya Swirski, from a Zionist family, worked hard to spread the idea of immigrating to the Land of Israel). Pharmacist Tresysky Z”L, with his energy and initiatives helped our cause. The late Israel Levin, with a perpetual smile on his face, his maturity and his realistic approach, helped a lot in the success of our activities.

[Col. 290]

And among the living – Rabbi Reuven Abramowitz, who was not only a fan and a supporter, but also as a man of action who devoted his best energy to building the country.

 

The Pioneer (Hechalutz)

After the foundation of the Hechalutz in our district we created a branch in our town.

The movement instilled a new spirit in youth life, social awakening and willingness to immigrate to Eretz Israel. Thanks to the Pioneers, we worked in many types of physical labor, forestry and agriculture.

It is worthwhile mentioning now that it was not so easy to convince Rabbi Gershon Rodnicki of Kultenini to hire us to work in his forests. In particular, it was difficult to convince the landlady of Tserklisuk to allow us to organize an agricultural training group on her farm, but the pioneers overcame all obstacles.

Many members of the “Hechalutz” movement immigrated to Eretz Israel, but there were also those who did not manage to fulfill their vision and purpose. They perished together with all the Jews of the “Kehila Kedosha” (holy community) in the Holocaust.

“May their souls be bundled in the bond of life, and their memory shall be engraved in our hearts forever.”

 

Sve0289.jpg
Yitzhak Shibovski,–––, Zelig Kuritzki, Meir Kuritzki, Yitzhak Feigelman, Israel Volatski, Shlomo Matzkin, Yosef Shneiderovitch, Hanoch Kuritzki, Hetzkel Kurlandshick, Israel Volatski, Pinchas Vidochinski, Akiva Luninski, Yacov Levine

 


Translator's Footnote:

  1. Today: United Israel Appeal Return


[Col. 291]

The Pioneer Youth – its Orientation in Our Country

by Itzhak Feigelman

Translated by Meir Razy

 

Sve0291.jpg

 

The Russian Revolution influenced some of the Jewish youth by offering solutions to the “Jewish Problem”. However, the majority preferred a Zionist framework. They studied Hebrew, opened Hebrew and Yiddish libraries, participated in theatrical and drama assemblies, established an orchestra and a choir and helped and encouraged the “Tarbut” school and Yiddish schools. Against this backdrop of cultural activity and heated arguments, the “Hechalutz” (Pioneer) Federation was established in Sventzian, the first branch in the entire region.

The Pioneer movement instilled a revolutionary spirit in Zionist youth with the slogan of work, training and immigration to Eretz Israel.

[Col. 292]

Many mocked us when we crossed the streets of Sventzian with tools, shovels, axes and hammers. They did not believe that we would be able to perform physical hard work, and especially, become farmers in the Land of Israel.

However – youth from all walks of life and all the Zionist parties joined our branch which grew from one day to the next.

Evening study groups read the book “Auto–Emancipation” by Dr. Leon Pinsker (published 1882) and learned the history of socialism under the guidance of Zvi Polonsky, a handsome young man with a high education.

I remember a prominent figure, a Zionist activist and a youth educator, Mr. Goiser Z”L.

 

Sve0292.jpg
Meeting of Zionists and Socialists

Tzenia Demba, Hirsh Polanski, Raizel Cohen, Beinish Markelevitch, Lena Demba, Chana Zeidel, Leah Garshein, Moishe Shutan, Dov Shapiro, Yitzhak Feigelman, Rochel Garshein, Sara Rivka Bushkanetz

[Col. 293]

Sve0293.jpg
Zelig Demba, Moishe Klavir, ––, Israel Volatski, Yitzhak Feigelman, Leib Garshein, Leizer Okun, Avraham Levine, Leib Pashumenski, Hetzkel Kurlandshik, Yosef Shneiderovich, Meris Smorgonski, Moishe Mendel Shibovski, Shmuel Volatski, ––, Milsteyn

 

His home was always open to us for advice and guidance. Yoseph Lolinsky, who devoted himself both day and night to Keren Hayesod, should be remembered as well. He was proud and very happy when he collected all the donations expected from the Sventzian branch. He was also one of the first people who immigrated to Eretz Israel where, for a period, he worked in construction.

The “Hechalutz” period was the most interesting period in the life of the young people. We knew how to impart the conceptual and cultural actions among all age groups.

It was not long before we could realize our Zionist ambition – we received immigration certificates (from the British Mandate Government of Palestine). The first ones to move to Eretz Israel were Moshe Dembo and Rivka Kazerginski, and shortly after – Yitzhak Shibovski and Shmuel Horowitz, all of whom were socialistic Zionist, educators and counselors.

A turning point for the Alia (immigration) occurred with the call from the Hechalutz Center by Bogdanowski and Bancover to recruit members of the Hechalutz from Vilna and the surrounding towns to build a kibbutz. Candidates were identified in two meetings, one in Vilna and the other one in Warsaw and a kibbutz named Kibbutz Ha–Kovesh (The Conqueror) was created. On August 4, 1925 the first members arrived at Petach Tikva.

Many people from Sventzian were in the first kibbutz that came straight from the ship to the plot of land of the kibbutz: Hanna Seidel, Tzila Feigelman, Dvora Fogel, Lea Kloir, Chaya Soroka, Chana and Grunia Matzkin and others.

[Col. 294]

Many members came from towns around Sventzian. The members overcame many challenges during difficult times in Petach Tikva: hard work, great economic distress, lack of supplies, days without bread, no water, hot tents and overcrowding. There were those who gave up quickly, but the majority stayed and carried the heavy burden and performed all the tasks. Today in Israel you can find friends from Sventzian who took part in defense, worked in quarries and in the “labor battalion” in Jerusalem, Shmaryahu Seidel, Shaul Wilkomirski, Bernstein and others, and in the “Women labor brigade” – Hanna Garber.

The goal of Kibbutz Ha–Kovesh was not to join an existing kibbutz but rather to create a new collective settlement in the country, whose members are people from Vilna and the neighboring towns.

The goal was difficult to reach, as the long history of kibbutz Ha–Kovesh shows since August 4, 1925 to this day.

We will remember the young people whose dream was to come to Eretz Israel and join in building the country. We will be proud of those who created the Hechalutz organization and immigrated to Eretz Israel and met all the challenges of adjusting to different ways of life – working in the fields, laboring in quarries, paving roads, defending their homes and building new settlements for the glory of the people and the land.


[Col. 295]

The Zionist Movement in Our Town

Dr. Avigdor (Vigdor) Levin, Providence, R. I.

Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub

Photo

Today, it is very difficult to say when the Zionist Movement started in Sventzian. No archives have remained, no written records, no exact dates that can be relied on. Nor are there enough survivors, “old” Sventzian residents, activists, Zionists,
who could have given us historical facts, testimonies, stories, anecdotes, details and so on. These are all absolutely necessary elements without which a historical account cannot be written. Therefore, I will only relate a few reminiscences and recollections, which have etched themselves in my memory—without being chronologically accurate and without the one-hundred percent “confidence” of a historian. If I am mistaken in a fact, a name, a date – please forgive me, Sventsyaners. Let us resurrect and relive those practically forgotten details of a life, that was so tragically cut down. As much as our memories will permit, let us transport ourselves to the Sventzian of 45-50 years ago.

Place the square marketplace in the center, and in the middle of the market square place the pump and dig out the deep gutter in which the dirty water ran through the synagogue courtyard in the Kuna River. First face the old synagogue and then the synagogue courtyard, the Tailor's Synagogue, the poorhouse, the bathhouse and the town's poverty. To the right—the long Vidzer Street [which stretches] to the “idol.” To the left—Vilner Street, which led to Yuretski's Woods, to the small Christian shrine and to Khaletski's “palace.” On the other side was Pashminer Street, which led to the prison and to the famous Sablinski Meadow, a street—the central location of the teachers in Sventzian (Reb Moyshe Binyomin, Yankl Dovid, Aba Leyzer). Behind you stretches Yatkover[1] Street on which the butcher shops are located as well as the religious school and the cemetery. Parallel [to that street is] Lintuper Street on which [another] cemetery and the slaughterhouse are located.

 

Songs of Zion

On Simkhas Toyre, Jews are inebriated in honor of the holiday, some more some less. Leybitshke, the skinner, has just finished horsing around with the Sventsyaner young boys, playing “the martyred sheep” with a resounding “baa,” as they marched around with the Torah, arguing about the circuits, laughing and guffawing. Children standing on the benches have just finished singing the Zionist songs HaTikva[2] and Siu Tsiona[3] under the direction of Leyzer, the lame cantor, or Cantor Khorlaf. Yisroel Moyshe, the lefty (Tana the wagon driver's son) just finished a wonderful rendition of part of kedushe[4] in his golden alto voice…

On the corner of Vilner and Yatkover Streets, Hirshele Moyshe Antses is 'arguing' with a bunch of Jews wearing prayer shawls, who are half-drunk just like he is. “Take me wherever you want, but don't take me home!” he pleads with them, and the boys shout 'Hurray.” He stands near the tea shop and begins

[Col. 297]

to sing one of his new “compositions” on the [passage] “May our eyes behold your return to Zion.”[5] Yurshun the policeman, also drunk, starts to whistle and with his sword drives away those gathered, and Hirshele Moyshe-Antses [sic] shouts: “Oh, to Zion, to Zion, to Zion… “

This is how, it seems, he started the Zionist propaganda.

When Khatskl, the beadle, used to cock his head to one side like Sirote[6], roll the white cataract of his eye upwards and, standing in front of the congregation, trill “And our eyes will see your kingdom”[7]; that was the very beginning of Zionism in Sventzian.

I remember a Zionist evening with a choir under the direction of Leyzer the cantor, with the “wind instrument” orchestra of the fire-brigade (all Jews!). Volinski, the pharmacist, with the flat nose and the brass helmet on his head. [It was] a fiery, Zionist evening with Zionist potato pancakes.

Or around Purim time, when Templeman, the seltzer man, would stand on Yatkover Street near the religious school, dressed up in a summery white camlet[8] jacket and tell boys about the land of Israel[9], about its oranges, and how warm it was there, and as proof, you see that he was already wearing a summer jacket. He was certainly celebrating Zionism! He did not just speak about it, he did something as well; he later immigrated to Israel.

Or when Motl Kharmots, “the African” as we used to call him, used to sell us wormy St. John's bread on the 18th[10], he was actually reminding us of Israel. It was no small matter—he had, after all, been to Israel!

We also had another Motl: Motele Kharmots, the watchmaker. A small, lively Jew, a true copy of Sholem Aleykhem's Menakhem-Mendl! This Motele was an ardent Zionist. He used to sell 'shekels,' stamps for keren-kayemet[11], or distribute charity boxes which were labeled “Zion shall be redeemed through justice.”[12] He would do this with so much faith, just as if he were selling a customer a golden wristwatch!

 

The First Immigration

It doesn't really matter when the first event occurred, that is when a Jewish artisan became the first immigrant to Israel. I don't know from when I remember that sallow, pale shoemaker.

[Col. 298]

Perhaps from the synagogue courtyard, or from before his departure to the holy land “to live or to die there,” or even as a yored,[13] when he returned immediately after the first Germans came to Sventzian. In any case, this childless shoemaker, who was dirt poor, picked himself up along with his wife and his bedding and left for the land of Israel. During the First World War, the Turks arrested him as one of the enemy (a subject of Nikolai!), and deported him to Egypt. From there he returned to us. This was, after all, one of the earliest Zionist “manifestations” in Sventzian.

When Dovid Kuritski, Avram Kahan, Yisroel Levin, my father, or Dovid Gaviser used to canvass [the town] selling stocks for the Colonial Bank—this was definitely Zionist work par excellence.

I remember the three Mulyes: Mulye Margolis, Mulye Khesl Gurvitshe's, and Mulye Kupelovitsh (the soap maker's son)—this “cavalry” used to go around and sell kheyder boys the Zionist stamps for keren kayemet in Israel and portraits of Herzl in Basil, [pictures of] Rachel's tomb, the Cave of Makhpele[14]--so this could be called Zionist activities among the youth.

 

Zionist Events

All of this took place before the First World War, under the Czarist government, when Zionist activities were strictly forbidden. One, therefore, had to be clever and have Zionist meetings in synagogues; that is, secretly have Khanuka parties during the evening services, or a Purim party with cantorial music—but always with Zionist songs, with HaTikva and “There Where the Cedars [Grow]” and “The Hook Plow.” Those were, without a doubt, genuine Zionist events.

I am reminded of one such evening in the former Hebrew school on Yatkever Street. It was some time ago—several years before the First World War. I no longer recall if it was on the third or fourth night of Khanuka. All of the friends of the Zionist cause had gathered in the religious school. I remember how busy everyone was: Pintsov, the dear, small teacher, the principal of the religious school, the teacher Abramovitsh, a perfect person--he played the concertina masterfully, Kasar the teacher of Russian, Kadzhin another teacher and community members in general: Asher Kovarski; the lawyers, Tavroginski, Hirshe Levin, Yisroel Svirski, Nakhum Taraseyski, Dovid

[Col. 299]

Gaviser, Hirshe-Itse Feygl, Avram Kahan, Khaim Yavitsh and others. The golden youths: the Mulyes, Khane Kohen, Liza Margolis, Itse Ogulnik, Mulye Vidutsinski and others. Small boys were also to be found wandering around and I was also among them. Behind the wooden partition with the square windows, in the women's section, the Zionist women were working grating the potatoes and baking [sic][15] the pancakes.

In the meantime, things were really jumping on the men's side. [There were] sermons, bravos, hurrahs, good words, greetings in Yiddish and, of course, in Russian, “next year [in Jerusalem]s” and l'khaims. There were Zionistic songs and a concertina concert by Abramovitsh the teacher. The children were arrayed in rows and sang Hatikva under the leadership of “the group.”

This was how Zionism was celebrated.

The rabbis in Sventzian were, before the First World War, very much pro Zionism. They were: Rabbi Yitskhak Reynes, the co-founder and principal of the Mizrakhi [School] and later the Rabbi of Lideh: Rabbi Rozofski, the brilliant writer and preacher: the great teacher and Torah scholar, Rabbi Avigdor Amiel, who was also the fine orator and author of the “Sermons About My People,” and

[Col. 300]

the director of the Mizrakhi [School] and later the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv. There is no doubt at all that they greatly influenced the people in Sventzian to be Zionistic and to work [to support] the land of Israel.

The First World War for a few years (1915-1916) brutally interrupted all Zionist activities.

The great wave of “refugees” from Kovno, Vidz, Heydutsiskok and other towns forced the community activists of Sventzian to organize a relief committee, a soup kitchen, an emergency food fund, and other charitable organization. The “first” Germans arrived. [They were] no less brutal and murderous than the “second.” May their names be erased!

Who had Zionism on his mind then? Many of the Zionists escaped into Russia, and those who remained had to fight for a piece of bread.

The era of starvation began: bread cards, bread made with chaff, with straw. People walked around in tatters, swollen from hunger, typhus, mumps, influenza, dysentery and other ailments. [In addition, there were] delousings in the bathhouse, women having their heads shaved, forced labor to build roads, confiscations, [forced] contributions.

[Photo at the bottom of cols. 299-300]

[Caption under photo]

Kneeling: Broyman, Eliahu Margolis.
Sitting: Yudl Rutshteyn, Zenye Dembo, Leybov, Fride Gurvitsh, Dovid Yavitsh, Leah Shutan.
Standing: Yitskhak Shibavski, Moyshe Dembo, the teacher Shapiro, Leah Gurvitsh, Zundl Levin, Lulinski, Yankev Abramovitsh.

[Cols. 301-302]

[Photo that spans both columns: the sign being held reads-The Pioneers 1924]
[Caption under photo]

Sitting, from right to left, row 1: Rivka Volfson, Lande, Levin, Grinfeld, Reyzl Azinski, Tsile Feyglman, Lina Yavitsh, Leya Gorsheyn, Grunya Matskin, _____ [sic] Matskin, Yankev Levin.
Row 2: Tsipe Kruk, Rokhl Kovner, Beyla Mikhelson, Yekhezkl Kizlandtsik, a culture teacher, Teacher Shapiro, Sholem Bushkanyets, Yisroel Sheynyuk, Khane Garber, Rokhl Garviser.
Standing: Khaye Shpiz, Leya Klavir, Leya Gurvitsh, Rivka Kruk, Slaveh Bushkanyets, Sheyn Sragovitsh, Slaveh Zorokhovitsh, Sima Kil, Khaya Levin, Sonye Kharmats, Sheyne Volyak.
Standing near wall: Zev Shapiro, Dvoyre Feygl, Rokhl Kurlandtsik, Dovid Soroke, Sholem Shapiro, Zev Garber, Aron Rutshteyn, Yoykhanan Sheynyuk, Feyge Stolper, Lande, Kats.

Jews smuggled, putting their lives in danger. They set up stills, worked skins, made soap, stuffed sausages made out of intestines, and sold meatballs in the booths in the marketplace.

Children were forced to go to the German school in the Rambam Houses on Vidzer Street. Some had to tear out nettles and watch the straight thorny sticks. They picked white berele flowers by the kilo to make pillows for the soldiers in the clinics. Because they were hungry children used to steal the yellow sugar together with the straw right out from under the maws of horses. A square “find”—German brick-bread with marmalade was a marvelous thing. A pair of pants used to be sewn from hard, creaking tarpaulin, and a coat from a German blanket.

But when the first difficult times passed, the Jews of Sventzian slowly recovered. [Every once in a while] the young people managed to get a permission certificate, from the crazy mayor who wore a monocle in one eye, to hold a party for charitable cause—food for the poor, an indigent widow and so on. Or they used to send a female intermediary to [intercede with] the red-haired policeman, the murderous quarter-master, Matyelat, and wangle permission to hold a concert in the tea shop or “upstairs at the priest's.” [sic][16] In praise of the people of Sventzian (who always kept Sventzian's customs), one must say that our evenings were always on a high level. We performed (if one can call it that): Sholem Aleykhem, Sholem Ash, Kobrin and everyone else. The talented and tireless Rosenthal moved heaven and earth. Klara (the German woman who came later), Muleh Vidutsinsky, Itske Agulnik, Mereh Kovner and, most importantly, Freydele Gurvitsh-Kopl, the seamstress's [daughter]—were the main participants in these evenings. Such “evenings” used to close with dancing and selling food at a buffet, playing “Air Mail”, having an “American auction,” a lottery—and a good time [was had by all].

Very often at these events, there would also be a “dessert” of a few recitations in Yiddish or Hebrew and some solo singing. The writer of these lines, a small boy, more than once recited the whole “Diligent Student” by Bialik or “ “ by Y. L. G.

[Cols. 303-304]

[Photo spanning both columns]
[Caption under photo]

The “Hill 18” group of the Young Pioneers

Kneeling: Zalman Kuritski, Feyge Lulinski, Mordekhai Ginzburg, menashe and Devoyre Gaviser, Yitskhak Gilinski.
Sitting: Heshl Kantorovitsh, Yekhiel Okun, Khanokh Ginzburg, Zev Zeydl, Menakhem Kotler, Moyshe Kuritski, Leyb Gurvitsh, Aba Ginsburg.
Standing: Sholem Kuritski, Feye Kizberg, Binyumin Zeydl, Yoykhenan Mikhelson, Libe Katz, Perets Grazul, Shakhne Levin, Dovid Katz, Zalmen Shayevitsh.

Miriam Volyak used to sing “My G-d, My G-d,” and the Germans used to be delighted, applaud [and shout] “Bravo.” At the end Hatikava was sung.

 

“Bney Tsion,” “Pirkhey Tsion,” and “Kheyrut V'tikhye[17].

The government tolerated these Zionist events. This was at the time that the German general staff wanted to cultivate the Jewish population and get them on their side against the British. They promised the Jews all of Palestine, if only they would help them conquer England and choke the “damned Russians.”

As I have already mentioned—many Zionists had gone to Russia at the beginning of the war. Their place, however, was taken by Zionist intelligentsia from among the “immigrants:” the Dembo family from Ponyevezh, Yisroel Abramson, Ruben Abramovitsh, Solomyak from Heydutsishok, Shayevitsh from Vidz, the teacher Goldshteyn and Khane Musin from Postov, Tsefelevitsh and many others.

Those who knew Hebrew began to give Hebrew lessons, because the institution of the kheyder and its teachers had begun to fall apart. Moyshe-Binyumin and Aba-Leyzer were left without teaching positions. The Hebrew teachers taught a section of the TaNaKh[18] and a song by Y. L. G. There began to be a Zionist atmosphere among the growing youth. Young people used to gather in Abramson's house on Yatkever St. to sing Zionist songs, to study the geography of Palestine and to make Zionist flags for Bney Tsion and Pirkhey Tsion [groups]. They had Zionist outings in Yuritski's Woods and sometimes even as far as Berezovke.

The young people were not content to celebrate Zionism only in the area of Sventzian. They also got involved in “exported” Zionism.

I remember that two boys—Khaim Vigder Kutler and the writer of these lines—went by foot, of course, to found [a branch of] The Fruits of Zion in Sventsyanke [New Sventzian]. We arrived exhausted, with swollen feet, at the Yiddish school lead by teacher Helershteyn. We got there after the lessons were over and met a bunch of boys

[Col. 305]

and girls, who had been waiting for us: among them were Milner the teacher, who came later, Avrom Katz, Levenshteyn, Katz, a teacher who came later [sic]. We were greeted with excitement by the teacher, Hellershteyn, and I think, Gurdus also. We got into a heated debate. The Zionist “agents,” however, were not frightened away and, therefore, won. From that time on, there was a Zionist movement in New Sventzian—Pirkhey Tsion.

Boys and girls used to gather on Vilner Street at the house of the Kazianer Rabbi of that time. There, in dire condition, the Jewish library was to be found. The Russian books were packed up in crates and the Jewish ones, which were on the shelves, were torn and tattered, with no one to care for them.

If I am not mistaken, that was the first, official Zionist center. That was where the Kheyrut L'tikhya was founded: Fayvl Taytlboym, Dovid Vilkomirski's children, Khaya-Gitl Matskin's daughters, Lipe the mason's daughters, the Teytslers, Sholem Bushanyets, Shimen and Rokhl Flekser, Dvoyreke Meyerovitsh, Yankl Abramovitsh, Khane and Shmerke Zaydl's, Mordkhe and Rokhl Gaviser,

[Col. 306]

Khaye Volyak, Hindele Leyfer, Yoske Libman, Pesl Landes' daughter, the writer of these lines and one “Tsipke Fire” from Lintuper Street.
In this place, Rosenthal founded the Worker's for Zion and Young Zion, which the older Zionist intelligentsia joined. Until…
This happened one winter night in the teashop, when Sholem Ashe's “With the Stream” was being performed. It was after the “spectacle” of “Air Mail,” and people were cooling off in the cloakroom. All of a sudden, two regular German soldiers, without the “doodads” on their helmets, go over to an officer and tear off his epaulets and give him two burning smacks. One of the Germans, who was half drunk, climbed up on a chair and turned to the frightened audience using these very words:

“You should know that there is a revolution going on in Germany. The German Kaiser is finished. The war is over, and we are going home.”

It ended with insults toward Sventzian and its reputation.”

[Cols. 305-306]

[Photo]
[Caption under photo]

From the right, kneeling: Leya Kovarski, Tsipe Leyfer, Basha Luria, Elke Gurvitsh, Soreh Kats.
Sitting: Khane Gordon, Ester Gurvitsh, Soreh Gurvitsh, Tsivye Svintelski, Peshe Tayts, Sore-Mere Gilinski, Soreh Broydo.
Standing: Sheyne Lipkhin, Ester Shapiro, Rokhl Gilinskim Golde Feygl, Gershon Kuritski, Zev Zeydl, Khane Broyman, Reykhl Kats, Libe Zar

[Col. 307]

No small matter! Such a reversal! Tumult, panic [ensued]. Jews began to run to the cloakroom to get their coats and run home. It is appropriate to say: World history was being made right before our eyes!

We heard “rumors” of a big overthrow [of government] in Russia, about Bolsheviks and so forth, but we had no idea how this had come about.

The Germans left – the “first” Poles arrived.

The whole of the occupied area was out of political isolation. The western world opened freely for Polish-Lithuanian Jewry. We found out about the end of the war, about the peace, about Trotsky in Japan. Jews boasted about their Jewish diplomats and activists. We learned about how the end of the war affected Israel, about the Balfpur Declaration and later about the British Mandate over Israel, about Herbert Samuel, about [the founding of] The Zionist Committee, and about the new prospects for the Jewish people, about the increased popularity of Zionism.

In Sventzian: Polish anti-Semitism, border police, marauding gangs, cutting off of beards, beating of Jews, terror—Polish terror, arrests, informers…

The scene quickly changed: the “first” Bolsheviks arrived, Christian Lithuanians, Mitskevitsh-Kapsukas[19], and once again Bolsheviks, with all the paraphernalia of meetings, demonstrations, slogans; clubs at Shrayber, the pharmacist, and at Khaya-Etl Levinson's on the second floor. Reznikov ruled in Dovid Kuritski's house. The revolutionary tribunal took over the treasury. Arrests, prison, confiscation, bribes and so on.

The Brumbergs—Semyon, Yozef and Dora—arrive from Russia. Dr. Kovarski, Osip Kovarski, the Taraseyskis and others. The Folkists are organized, the “Bund,” Jewish youths are drawn into the Komsomol[20]. Zionism lost all of its appeal; it got shoved into back rooms.

Once again the whole landscape changed. The Bolsheviks left; the “second” Poles arrived. First—Zheligavski's “Lithuania Gang [?]” and later the regular Poles, who kept at it until the terrible Second World War in September 1939.

The younger ones used to gather at Svintelske the mason's on Poshmerna Street.

[Col. 308]

[Photo]
[Caption under photo]

The Drama Club of the Art Society
Kneeling: Lina Yavitsh, Shimon Flekser, Khaye Volyak.
Sitting: Teacher Shapiro, Avigdor Levin, Shibavski-Stalper, Yitskhak-Leyb Shibavski
Standing: Tsile Feyglman, Shaul Vilkomirski, Rokhl Gorshayn

The Trumpledor[21] Organization was established. It did not have anything to do with the “Covenant of Trumpledor” Movement that was organized much later. We were the very first to immortalize his name. Boys and girls studied Hebrew, sang Hebrew and Yiddish Zionist songs, read the latest newspapers from Israel, collected money for the National Fund of Israel and other causes.

The older, well-behaved Zionist adherents met in the front part of the building that housed the religious school. These “generalists”[22] attracted a very active young man, Leyb Margel, who got “stuck” in Sventzian after his demobilization from the Polish Army.

The Pioneers[23], ruled the courtyard of the religious school building, and they were later joined by the Young Pioneers.[24]

May events took place at the Rosenthal location: lectures, pot-luck dinners, concerts and so on. The first string orchestra was founded there under the direction of the teacher, Shapiro, from Podbradz. The auditions used to take place in the religious school building. It appeared that there was quite a lot of talent around: mandolinists, guitarist.

The orchestra rehearsed and planned evening concerts. People would stay and enjoy themselves half the night and when they got hungry would stop into “the cellar” on Vilner Street to grab a bagel or a string of sushkes, dried bagels for when one was really hungry.

The Hebrew teachers of the religious school (which was later transformed into a cultural school): Shifman, Shapiro (a very talented violinist!), and I as a young boy—used to

[Cols. 309-310]

[Photo]
[Caption under photo]

Sitting: Milkha Vayshteyn, Rivka Volfson, Bashe Vayskunski, a female teacher, Felye Tayts, Tsipore Leyfer, Khaye Feygel.
First row, standing: Sheyne Lipkhin, Khane Broyman, Gitl Feygel, Leye Kovarski, Khave Ulman, Soreh Rozovski, Rokhl Volyak, Miriam Smorgonski.
Second row, standing: Elke Gurvitsh, Golde Feygel, Leye Vayskunski, Mordkhe Lekhovitski, Soreh Katselnik, Shifra Leyfer, Bashe Lurye, Mie Bushknayets, Mordkhe Garviser, Ester Shapiro.

often organize literary trials, with prosecutors, lawyers, and folk judges. I remember the trials of Peretz's “The Rejected,” “Bontshe the Silent” and others. The teacher, Shapiro, often used to play the violin. Murmis's son-in-law [played] the cello, and Miriam Volyak sang songs.

Those involved in The Pioneers were: Motl Gaviser, Itse-Leyb Shibovski, Leybke Kovner, Leybke Desatnik (before the last two went to another camp). Later came: Milkhe Vaynshteyn, Pinye Shulheyfer, Mendl Kutler (Menakhem HaLevi), Gershon Kuritski, Zev Zeydl and others.

The active [members were]: Lipe the mason's daughter, Rutshteyn, Pesele, who was Urtsik the tailor's daughter, Sheynuk, Shimon Bushkanyets, Dovid Vilkomirski's children and others.

A young generation of pioneers was growing up in [the organization] The Young Pioneers, many of whom immigrated to Israel before the war. They live and work in Israel. Menashe Gavisher, Khayke Kutler, and dozens upon dozens of other pioneers grew up there. Their leaders were Mordkhe Gaviser and the Hebrew teacher, Yitskhok Perlis.

[Col. 310]

The Pioneers and The Young Pioneers used to organize day trips to travel to see other towns and organize groups for the Training Kibbutz.

They studied intensively: Hebrew, pioneering, the history of Zionism, the geography of Israel and so on. They also organized sports competitions in soccer [and held] bicycle races. They took an active part in the Culture School.

The “crown” of the pioneering experience was the Training Kibbutz. In the old prison building (at the end of Vidzer Street. [It] belonged to the health clinic) there boys and girls gathered, pioneers from various cities in Poland, and they organized themselves into work groups in order to pass the training [exam] so that they could obtain a certificate entitling them to immigrate to Israel. They did all kinds of physical labor: chopping wood, carrying water, makings felt boots and the most important thing—they learned how to be self-sufficient. The exams were held there [at the Training Kibbutz] given by a proctor from the center. Mock weddings were held there and fictional trips to Israel were played out. Sometimes a young man had to play the part of a tourist, to wear a leather jacket and

[Col. 311]

a camera slung over his back in order to fool the man from England…

In the Labor-Zionists, the tireless Rosenthal was active the whole time. Later it was the young lawyer, Leyb Gutvitsh (Reuben Abramovitsh's son-in-law).

The Labor-Zionists together with The Pioneer organized Zionist artisans in [the guild] “The Worker.”

Members of the middle-class: shopkeepers, merchants, artisans—those ruined by “Grobski's Wagon,” by high taxes or some business crisis, made an effort to get together the 1,000 pounds required, to become “ capitalist” immigrants and travel to Israel. Others made an effort to get “relative certificates.” In this way, [the following] traveled to Israel: Dembo, Dovid Kuritski, Yoysef Lulinski and others who left with their whole families.

The “general Zionists' were, for the most part, active on the local scene. Of course, they also took part in such Zionist activities as: shkolim, congresses, raising money to buy land in Israel and so on. The main thing they did, however, was to hold positions of leadership in the social and cultural life of Sventzian.

[Photo at bottom of page spanning cols. 311& 312]
[Caption under photo]

Pioneers in Sventzian tie up saplings for the orchards in Israel.
Standing: Gershon Kuritski, Shifra Leyfer, Khaye Yokh, Moyshe Kuritski, Sholem Kuritski, Paye Feykovski, Aba Ginsburg, Yehuda Khomont, Yafa Gershonovitsh, Yankev Epl.

[Col. 312]

[Photo]
[Caption under photo]

From right [to left]: Moyshe Beygel, Hirsh Fridman, Yisroel Tsinman, Tsherne Beygel, Katsherginski, Shmuel Vidutshinski, Khaye Beygel, Ben-Tsion Lishanski. The “general [Zionist]” took and controlled such positions as Manager of the Jewish Community (Yoysef Svirski and Yisroel Levin—who held the positions of Community Leaders for many years), magistrate (Boris Brumberg – assistant Mayor and Yisroel Levin, the “eternal” councilman); in the Culture School ( first Dovid Gaviser and later Dovid Kuritski); in the health clinic (first Yoysef Svirski and later Yisroel Levin); in the Folks Bank (Boris Brumberg and Yisroel Levin); in the Fund

[Col. 313]

for Purchasing Land in Israel ( Leyb Margel the deputy), and so on.

Besides those [already] mentioned, there were others who were active in various municipal institutions: Yisroel Abramson, Kraytser the bookkeeper, Dovid Ginzberg, Ruven, Abramovitsh, Solomyak, Shayevitsh, Refoyl Kutler, Perets Feygl, etc.

The Zionists from everywhere used to distribute their periodicals (in Yiddish and in Hebrew), as well as the Zionist Daily “Today,” “Moment,” the Vilna [paper] “Time” and the Hebrew “HaYom [Today].”

In Sventzian there was an on-going battle between the Zionist and their opponents. They fought by using “cartoons,” in the Jewish elementary school, and by spiting one another. [For example] If one were to hold a [cultural] evening, the other would, for spite, hold one the same evening at the same time. They competed

[Col. 314]

with parades[25], and plays, making [every] effort to out do one another in their school systems, children's programming, education and attract the “intellectuals.”. Sventzian created its own signature; its own characteristic way of doing things.

Where are you Sventzian? Where are you, the martyrs of Sventzian? You made peace among yourselves in the next world!

The graves of Ponar, the ovens of Shtuthof, the ditches of Poligon, the auto-de-fe in Klagen in Estonia have united you all!

The “Zionist” Yatkever Street became combined with the “Yiddishist” Pilsudski Street. The _______ and “Zionist Labor” and “The Pioneer” have all made peace.

The memory of your names, the holy and pure martyrs of Sventzian , will stay in our hearts forever.


[Cols. 313-314]

The Leftist “Worker-Zionists”:
Its Founders and Its Leaders

Tsadok Kharmats

Photo

It was a great, unforgettable, historical day in Sventzian, when we celebrated [the signing of] the Balfour Declaration. In the old synagogue at that time there was held an impressive Zionist gathering. The synagogue was decorated with dozens of white and blue flags and was full of people. “There was not one child left in its cradle.” Old and young came, women and children. The whole Jewish population took part in the great national holiday.

At that gathering, well-known folk-orators spoke. They explained to the people the great historical import of the Balfour Declaration. Now we will have the opportunity to found a Jewish national homeland in the land of Israel, and the dream of Dr. Theodore

[Col. 314]

Hertzl concerning a Jewish state will become a reality.

It was interesting to watch how Rabbi Meyerovitsh stood by the eastern [wall?] and listened in amazement and joy to the Zionist talks.

The old synagogue sexton, Reb Yisroel-Eli, stood on the stage and saw to it that it was quiet and that the children did not disturb [the activities]. Khatskl, the sexton's son, ran around quieting the children. The festivities of the great day were felt in every corner.

When the speakers finished talking, the thousand people in the audience began to sing Zionist songs.

No one will ever forget that gathering. Everyone felt that it heralded a new era in Jewish life.

[Col. 315]

The Founders and the First Leaders of the Leftist “Zionist Workers”

The war was over. England had received the mandate over the land of Israel. The pioneers began to emigrate to Israel. Various Zionist organizations were being founded all over Poland. Sventzian was no different. In our city, there were many proletarian elements, workers and folks people. It was therefore decided to found a branch of the leftist “Zionist Workers” and “Youth” in Sventsyin.

The founder and the first leader was Yitskhok Leyb Kharmats.

[Col. 316]

One September evening in 1927, in Rutshteyn's house on Gleyzer Street, there was a founders' meeting. As founding members of the new party, the following signed up: Gershon Hokhman, Nakhman Rutshteyn, Moyshe Feygl, Noyekh Kotler, Avraham Germanski, Noyekh Shaladukhe and the writer of these lines.

 

The First Step in Organizing the Cultural Activities

[Col. 315]

The first important task of the leftist “Zionist Workers” was to found a Needle Party in Sventzian. This had a great effect on all the professional circles, and the “Zionist Workers” party became a force to be reckoned with in Jewish society.

The party was quite active in the area of culture and used to bring the best speakers to Sventzian.

To this day, for example, I remember the speech given by Yankev Zruvl, which took place in the great hall

[Col. 316]

of the community center. The hall was so packed that many, who could not get in, stood on the courtyard and listened to his talk.

Of the later speakers, I remember Yankev Feterzayl and Yoysef Rozen.

Everyone in town already knew that if the “Zionist Workers” were having a lecture, it was worthwhile to attend.

In summer, most of the work was done in the Berezover Woods and in winter in Nakhum Rotshteyn's house or in the Needle Union's Hall.

 

The Figure of the Organizer and Leader Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats

[Col. 315]

As already mentioned, the organizer and leader of the leftist “Zionist Workers” was Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats. He was born in Sventzian in 1904. His father, Reb Mordkhe Meyer Kharmats, was a religious Jew and a true folk person. His mother, Sorl, was known in town as a woman with a “good heart.” Everyone could tell a story about her kindness and her desire to help someone else.

At first Yitskhok-Leyb studied in kheyder with Reb Khaim Itsin and later with the teacher, Yankev-Dovid. While still a child, he distinguished himself by his devotion to learning and his understanding [of what he had learned]. At the age of 15, he joined the “Zionist Youth” and became active there. His main task was, at that time, to spread the word of the central publication of the “Zionist Youth: “Freedom.”

As soon as the “Pioneer” was founded in town, he joined a kibbutz in Shidlovits in the county of Lublin and went for agricultural training preparatory to immigrating to Israel.

[Col. 316]

Photo
[Caption under photo]
Yitskhok-Leyb Kharmats

Upon returning from the kibbutz, he changed his political allegiance and became an ardent leftist

[Col. 317]

in the “Zionist Workers.” He began to give speeches and lead discussion and to stir up the workers, urging them to join the leftist “Zionist Workers.”

His campaigning was effective, and the new party was quickly established.

From then on he began to write frequent articles for the “Workers' Newspaper,” articles which showed great sensitivity and social consciousness.

At the end of the 20's he was sent as a delegate to the Pro-Palestine Workers' Congress, which was held in Warsaw.

Upon returning from the Congress, he presented his interesting talks on Socialist themes. Under his influence, many workers accepted the theory of Borokhovism and became Zionist Workers.

He got married in 1931 and settled in Vilna, where he worked and earned his living as a dental technician. He also became known in all the workers' groups in Vilna and became active in the

[Col. 318]

local parties there. He fought for a Zionist-Socialist Israel.

The Second World War found him in Vilna. He did not manage to escape and had to suffer, like all the Jews, the horrible torments of the Vilna Ghetto under the cruel Nazis.

As his friends tell it, even in the Vilna Ghetto he did not cease to fight for his ideals. He did much to save Jews from the bestial Nazis. His main endeavor was finding places, where Jews could hide.

When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated, he was sent to work [as slave labor] in Panyevezh, in Lithuania. After being in a work camp for a short time, he escaped to the woods and hid there, until the Lithuanians and Hitler's bandits caught him.

He died in the woods in November 1943, not far from Panyevezh.

Honor to his memory!


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Yatke in Yiddish means a butcher shop, so Yatkover Street means street of the butcher shops. Trans. Back
  2. Literally “The Hope”, now the national anthem of Israel. Trans. Back
  3. “Go to Zion.” Trans. Back
  4. Part of the repetition of the Eighteen Benedictions. Trans. Back
  5. This is from the shmone esra prayer, the “Eighteen Benedictions” that are the heart of the three daily services. Trans. Back
  6. Probably an allusion to the well-known Cantor Gershon Sirote, who is believed to have died in the Warsaw Ghetto. Trans. Back
  7. From the cantor's repetition of the shmone esra prayer on Shabbos Trans. Back
  8. A rich fabric made of camel's hair or angora. Trans. Back
  9. In Yiddish, it is Erets Yisroel, which translates as “the land of Israel,” but in English it was called Palestine until 1948. Trans. Back
  10. The 18th of the month of Shvat, also known as Tu B'shvat and the birthday of the trees, on which day it is customary to eat the fruit of Israel. St. John's bread, also known as carob, is one of them. Trans. Back
  11. Keren-kayemet was a fund to raise money to buy land in Israel. Stamps were given to those who contributed. Trans. Back
  12. Isaiah: 127 Trans. Back
  13. Someone who has left the land of Israel, a pejorative term. Trans. Back
  14. Where Abraham and Sarah are buried. Trans. Back
  15. Potato pancakes for Khanuka are usually fried. Trans. Back
  16. This is obviously local parlance for some generally known meeting place. Trans. Back
  17. Literally “Children of Zion” “Flowers of Zion” and “Freedom and Rebirth.” Trans. Back
  18. Torah writings, being an acronym for Toyre, Niviim and Ksuvim (Torah, Prophets and other Writings). Trans. Back
  19. Names of particularly evil people [?] Trans. Back
  20. A Communist organization in the Soviet Union for youths 16 years of age and older. Trans. Back
  21. Joseph Trumpeldor (b. 1880 – d. 3.1.1920) was an early Zionist activist, notable for helping to organize the Zion Mule Corps, the first regular Jewish fighting force (1915) and bringing Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Trans. Back
  22. Perhaps this means that they did not belong to any specific Zionist organization. Trans. Back
  23. HeKhaluts. Trans. Back
  24. HeKhaluts HaTsayir. Trans. Back
  25. The Yiddish word revye could also mean “(theatrical) revue.” Trans. Back


[Col. 319]

The “BUND”,
The “Territorialists” and their activities

by I. Ben–Ir

Translated by Meir Razy

The BUND in Sventzian did not make any noticeable impact until 1905. When the workers at a tailor shop went on a strike – the strike was attributed to the influence of “YAMED” (this was the nickname of one young man, a tailor's assistant, who, due to a speech impediment, could pronounce the Hebrew letter Lamed (=L) and was saying Yamed instead), who had incited the workers against their employers with demands for higher wages and shorter labour hours.

An eight hour working day was but a dream in those days. It was difficult, especially getting the workers on–board for shorter labour hours. Everyone supported higher wages, but many workers opposed shorter hours, contract workers in particular. Terror was used against stubborn employers at times.

In one case YAMED was successful in shortening the labor hours, without conflict and with the satisfaction of both the employers and the employees. This was in the case of matzah bakers.

The younger generation who did not personally witness this will find it hard to believe, but I promise you that I am not exaggerating and telling the truth. Preparing Passover matzahs in those days was a very different process from what you know today. One could not buy prepared matzahs and, instead, each housewife bought kosher flour and personally delivered it to one of the kosher bakeries that operated from the day following the holiday of Purim until two days before Passover.

The workday started at 4AM and continued, with minimal break times, until 11PM or even midnight, when everyone went home to sleep. The bakery owner was knocking on their windows at 4AM to start a new work day. There were no breaks for meals and the workers took turns to go outside and eat the chametz (leavened) meal that the woman brought when they delivered the flour.

Working conditions were hard. The bakery had sitting arrangements for the workers and the working women had to stand on their feet the whole time. The workers returned home after a month of extreme efforts with swollen feet and paralyzed hands.

Then YAMED came and organized all the bakeries, limiting the working day to no more than 12 hours!

[Col. 320]

I remember times when store owners opened and closed the store whenever they wanted. Some sat at their stores, summer and winter, until 11PM until the municipality passed a bylaw limiting business hours to between 7AM and 9:30PM. A few years later they moved closing time to 8PM.

The BUND at last, in the Jewish community, stopped hiding (worked underground or illegally before) in 1905. It then became clear that the BUND organized the strikes and its leaders were YAMED, Miron Tryesky who worked as a clerk in the Jewish bank, and the son of Bromberg, the owner of tannery factory that stood at the end of Vidzer Street.

 

Self defense

Following the pogroms in Homel and in Bialystok, people developed a great interest in buying arms and Jewish youth started training to use of “cold” weapons and firearms. A similar movement developed in our town too. People went in pairs to collect money for the purpose of buying arms. The spirit was high and we collected a few hundred rubles. The BUND as a whole joined this initiative. The young Bromberg and another man took the money to Vilna and bought 28 revolvers and a few dozen rubber whips with attached lead balls(probably referred to as “cold” weapons). People made other tools such as daggers, brass knuckles, and similar devices. Young and middle–age men volunteered for self–defense.

People could choose their preferred weapons, but firearms were kept in safe locations and distributed at times of danger to those people who were considered responsible with self–controll, according to a prepared list.

The leader of the defense organization was the young Bromberg, a BUND member, and everyone accepted his authority, even if they were not BUND members. In my house, for example, we hide four revolvers. I had never seen a revolver before in my life.

The town was tamed due to the four police informers among us. People knew that any illegal intention will be reported to the police, so they did not start up with us.

[Col. 321]

Young people used to assemble, near the Pravoslav church on Saturday nights during the months leading to the 1906 elections to the “Duma”(the Russian parliament), to discuss politics and the Jewish position and the ideology of different political parties. The BUND was very active promoting its ideology and arguments deteriorated to fist fights on many occasions.

 

Incidents

I was involved in two incidents with the BUND during that year. Once, just before a political assembly, we argued about politics in groups in the yard of the synagogue. Bund members distributed pamphlets and were nodding their heads as I spoke, then Chatzkel, the beadle, approached me saying “your mother came and asked you to come home immediately.” Another young man joined him standing between me and the BUND audience, shielding me, and I ran home, where I found my mother doing house work, saying she did not call for me. I returned to the synagogue and asked Chatzkel why he had tricked me? He said that when the BUND people realized I was winning the argument – they planned to attack me so he sent me home to defuse the situation.

The second event started at the New Synagogue on a Saturday where I was praying with my father. The BUND, no longer an underground movement, started spreading anti–government propaganda. A boy came in and distributed pamphlets during the reading of the Torah while two adult “keepers” were watching him. The beadles were not happy but were too afraid to protest. The boy tried giving my father a pamphlet, but he refused to take it, so the boy left it on the prayer book. My father threw it off, and the “keepers”(either helpers or protectors) noticed it and considered in an insult to the BUND.

Two men appeared in our house after the end of the Sabbat: David, the son of Yerchmiel the butcher, and Kopel Gurewitz. They told my father that he offended the BUND and their leadership sentenced him, in absentia, for two weeks of house arrest, and he was not allowed to leave town. They threatened a revenge for disobedience and knocked on the table with the revolvers.

I turned to David, who was my classmate, and told him: “First of all – you are lying! My father did not attack the kid; he only threw the pamphlet away. Putting it on the prayer book was blasphemy, so you should not be offended. Second – did you receive the Jewish defense revolvers to threaten your political opponents?”

[Col. 322]

He did not reply. I am sure he felt very uncomfortable, but he had to follow the instructions he got. They left.

My father did not pay any attention to their warnings and left for Vilna the next morning. In the evening I returned home from the store and as I set up a kettle in the kitchen I heard the sound of a breaking glass. I saw a paper–covered brick on the floor.

I turned the lights off and took the brick outside. The note said that they know that my father left the town so this was the first “present”, more to come.

I realized this is bad. I asked Mr. Templeman to mediate between my family and the BUND and he reached a compromise that I, not my father, would write an apology letter explaining that there was no intention to insult the BUND and I will “donate” five rubles.

Other than the BUND there was another movement in Sventzian, the H.S.S. It started after the Russian Zionists rejected the Uganda Proposal in the Sixth Zionist Congress of 1903. People who left the Zionist movement started a new movement that called itself the “Territorialists”, and the branch of the workers within the Territorialists was the H.S.S. The leaders in Sventzian were Abrashka, the son of lawyer Shmuel Gavenda and Meir Gurewitz, the nephew of Kopel the tailor. Meir's father was a Rabbi in the town of Griva near Devinsk. Meir was talented and a quick learner who used to argue on Saturdays, near the church with the BUND.

I met the H.S.S. in a unique situation: two famous wood merchants lived in Kaltinian: Hirsh Kremer and Gershon Rudnitzky. The woman who owned the land of the town demanded that the Jews vacate the synagogue they had built without her permission. She did not accept any proposed compromise including payment for the land. She sued and a good chance of winning in court.

Avraham Rudnitzky, an official of the synagogue asked me, in the name of his uncle, Gershon Rudnitzky, to ask the worker organizations to warn the land owner that if she will proceed with the court – her life will be in danger!

He gave me a hundred rubles for the worker organizations, which I gave the H.S.S. They sent a letter to woman and she withdrew the suit.

 

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