The Childrens' Organization Skif
by Tertze Wancjer (Bogotá, Colombia)
Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki
Among the different youth organizations that lead activities in Żelechów in that time when the Jewish life was so abundantly social, a special place held the Skif (Sotzialistisher KinderFarband, The Socialist Children Union). Here were organized mostly working children, children of shoemakers and tailors. This children organization stood under the leadership of the Bund.
The local of Skif in Żelechów was permanently alive. Songs were sung, excursions were prepared and they were raised socialist. For a Żelechów child that came here, a new world of ideas was opened. I remember the excursion we made in a hut not far from Żelechów. There were 50 children in the excursion. We knew that after the excursion we needed to answer a whole line of questions in the circle. Indeed we looked well into the working conditions in the hut. We noticed that 12 year old children work there and the made the question: Why children work while adults are unemployed? We received an answer: Because children working wages make Capitalism better, it has more profit. Like this we learned here marketing of practical lives.
We enjoyed everything that was done in the organization: The walks in Żelechów forest, the march on the street, going together to Warszawa, Siedlce or Kaluszyn. Normally we returned excited with new courage and new songs. Today I'm already a mother of 3 children and I sing often the songs to my children. We also helped to accept children from the children's home.
The Hitler hordes murdered the children of Skif together with their parents, but also from the Żelechów Skif there were grownup heroes which fought the Hitler enemy as partisans.
In our memory we remember with great sorrow the murdered youth and give honor to their heroes.
by Srul Wajsman (Roosevelt, New York)
Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki
My grandfather's house stood between two wealthy homes: on one side, Szarfharc's house, pompous and imposing as befitted the nouveau riche, and on the other side, Ber Ajger's house, whose isolation and mysteriousness filled us with the same fear as did the cemetery a bit further on. Our house, although still possessing traces of its former aristocratic grandeur, was nevertheless typical. My pious grandfather was deeply attached to the simple Jew, the artisan, but he couldn't stand the apostate upstarts with their unions and their Bund.
The personal sense of tragedy that my grandfather suffered when the Bund opened its first chapter in Żelechów, right across from our window, is sharply engraves in my memory. My Hasidic grandfather considered the misfortune to be a punishment from God personally directed at himself. I only wish the curses he and other Jews flung at the apostates had befallen those who later slaughtered our families. I remember that when the Bund used to hold a meeting or a small performance, my grandfather drove his grown children as well as myself into the house, to prevent us from seeing and hearing what was going on there. The impression remained with me that my grandfather Hersh Peretz saw in the apostates a danger to his version of Judaism, which he saw as the only way to ensure the existence of the Jewish people.
When I think about the extermination of those near to me, of the Jews of Żelechów and of the six million, I see before my eyes images of Jewish persecutions, which prepared the ground for their ultimate extermination.
During my childhood, I attended Shlomo Chantshe's cheder. It was during the First World War. Two German soldiers burst into the cheder as our teacher was napping. On the teacher's feet the Germans saw a pair of good boots, which his son had given him when he went into the army. The soldiers quickly began pulling the boots off Shlomo's feet. A bottle of water stood near the bed; our teacher, weak though he was, grabbed it and struck one of the soldiers in the face, making blood flow. We, the holy flock, didn't remain silent, but set up an alarm. People came running, and the soldiers left, leaving the boots behind.
Another antiSemitic incident befell the same Shlomo Chantshe's: a gang of drunk Polish soldiers came into the cheder and demanded that he give them horses. Otherwise they threatened to shoot us. One of the children managed to escape, shouting that our teacher was being beaten. Daszkiewicz came and led the rowdy gang out, promising to get them horses.
A final incident that I will never forget was the goingaway present that Pilsudski's soldiers gave me and my mother in 1920. We were on our way to Warszawa to pick up our American visas. It was the time of Pilsudski's campaign against the Soviet Union. Together with dozens or perhaps hundreds of people, we wandered around Sobolew for weeks waiting for a train, because all of the trains were occupied bearing wounded back from the battlefield. Once a train stopped in the middle of the night. A door opened, and those inside called out in Polish: Come in, come in, there's room for everybody. Several women, as well as my mother and myself, packed in. As soon as the door closed, we saw whose hands we had fallen into. The car was full of soldiers. As soon as the train began to move, they began to bully the women. I was picked up like a herring, and someone asked for suggestions of what to do with the little Jew.
It didn't require much thought. Throw him out! they all shouted; the door was opened, and out I went. My mother tore herself free of them and also jumped. Fortunately, the tracks were laid out on a raised embankment, and we fell into a field. In the morning, a peasant who passed by took us to Garwolin. What happened to the other women and to our baggage, God only knows.
There outrageous acts that took place in antiSemitic, reactionary Poland were hardly isolated cases. They happened not only in Żelechów, but all over Poland, where the antiSemitism of Pilsudski's faction and the National Democrats spread. I will always be filled with bitter enmity to that Poland, which paved the way for Majdanek and Treblinka.
by Moishe Cybulkiewicz (Colombia)
Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki
The Craftsmen Association in Żelechów was created immediately after the First World War, as soon as the first laws about patents, taxes and others were out. The first ones were the poor independent craftsmen.
On that time the only craftsmen held a meeting and decided to turn towards the Central Craftsmen Association in Warszawa so they could open a department in Żelechów. We received regulations and the Craftsmen Association was legalized. Almost all the craftsmen in town, shoemakers, leatherstitchers, tailors, furriers, carpenters and others, joined the association.
The job of the Craftsmen Association consisted in defending the interests of the poor craftsmen, not letting them get ripped by the taxes. We achieved a lot on that area. Our representative were respected both by the city council and by the taxes estimated commissions.
I had the honor to represent the Craftsmen Union in such commissions and I remember how not once, when the called the name of a Jewish craftsman and asked the commission: How much they contribute, the Major Pudlo ironically said Ask Cybulkiewicz and with all the possibilities I tried that the poor craftsmen wouldn't be discriminated. Often the same Pudlo used to burst in anger and cry out: If these and each one don't contribute, so where will we cover the expenses?
The Craftsmen Association defended the craftsmen not only in the Żelechów Magistrate but also in the district city of Garwolin: Representatives were sent from there to the local appealing commissions. Also in the Żelechów community the members from the Craftsmen Association fought for the rights of the craftsmen. A lot of times the craftsmen felt completely like slaves during Passover and needed to get Wheat Money. Indeed we demanded in the community that the Wheat Money shouldn't only be only for religious Jews but also for the toilers that dedicated the whole year, should not remain ashamed during Passover.
In 1920, Itzchak Brandwajn and myself, founded the Cooperative Bank for craftsmen and small traders. Each member paid 25 zlotys. The Central Bank in Warszawa, to which we were connected, gave a subsidy and we began to give loans for productive purposes. The size of the loans: From 100 to 300 zlotys. With the not so big amount, we actually maintained the existence from small traders and craftsmen.
With the time our activity grew and we operated with great amount of money. In 1929 I left for Colombia. The bank existed even further.
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