THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

The Jewish Labor Unions

Forty Years of the "Bund" in Łosice

By Yosef Fridman (Josel Bubik)

From Łosice; in Memory of a Jewish Community, Exterminated by Nazi Murderers (1963)

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I was unfamiliar with the history (forty years) of the Łosicer "Bund". To write about it I would need documents, data, facts and figures (so to speak), and names, all of which I don't have. I will only point out remembrances from the prospective of a co‑builder of the working environment in our shtetl, until I had to wander from there.

photo: A group of Łosicer "Bundists". From right to left, standing Mordechai Rozal and Herszel Zinger; Sitting: Mosze Woda and Yosef Tenenboim (Yosel Czop).

Łosice is in the Siedlcer region, and I was familiar with the cultural status of the shtetl. It belonged to a group of towns, where the majority of the inhabitants were poor, and suffered through hardships. One would have married, raised children, and lived to have grandchildren, always with the hope , that tomorrow will be Bethter; however from where, from which direction, would the Messiah come ‑ no one knew... The angel of death would come to the shtetl every year, during the winter, especially among the poor children: death would bring the undertaker, who would put the child in the grave, quickly leave, accompanied by the mother's silent crying.

 The beginning of the 1900s brought about changes to the shtetl. The truth is, the poor did not become richer, they however understood their lot; looking for an escape from their bitter existence, they saw, that they weren't alone in their hunger and together they looked for a way to change things. In the beginning of the 1900s, in Łosice, there was a formation of a movement, led by Mele Koke, who we called at that time, the Kaiser. Then the group was formed, which called itself, Unity. In it's infancy it had agreed upon a clear goal / direction, but it tried to protect and assist the poor people of the shtetl. Even in the battle with the Zapashnea (reservists  from the Russian Army)  against the rich people from the shtetl, the Unity group played a significant role. The Unity group prepared the grounds for the "Bund", which later had the support not only of the poor people, but also in the middle‑class houses, which previously stood aloof, now turned to the "Bund" to find solutions to their problems. From such homes, in later years, came the leaders of the "Bund" in Łosice: Yehoszua Rozal, Bajla Yona, Dawid Bekerman, and Iczl Rak.

The one encompassing trade in Łosice was shoemaking. But, at the same time, the maker of children's' shoes did not "lick any honey". The entire shoemaking production was run by a minimal number of people, who dictated the wages to the sub‑contractors, and those who worked by them. The workers' wages were terribly low; truthfully they were "hunger" wages. But that was the singular income "well" for the poor in Łosice. It attracted many youths, even children from more affluent homes, who wanted to learn the shoemaking trade.

 The year 1914, the outbreak of the W.W.I, worsened the lot of the already poor Jews in shtetl. The shoemaking industry came to a halt. Even the smallest "wells" from which one could draw any livelihood had dried up. Between the wars there came a terrible hunger. Death lurked at the workers' homes.

 From the depths of hunger came the "fortress" of the "Bund".

To Łosice, then, came, after his release from prison, Avramel Shtriker (Abraham Roznboim), who was nicknamed in the shtetl, "Gotele". He energetically organized work projects, which were aimed at staving off hunger and death. It is impossible, today, to imagine how much power the "Bund" had at this time to combat the poverty in Łosice. From the years 1919 until the last agonies inflicted by the abuses of the Nazi "beast", the breath of the "Bund" was felt in Łosice; the spirit of Avramel Shtriker.

 In the woods, which lie Between the villages of Zakre and Jiatich, which belonged to the Zakre land owner Kaminski, agreement was reached with the "Bund" to construct, during the summer months, a "Peoples' Kitchen" for the poor of Łosice. The organization had difficulties receiving financial support from the central leadership because the front was already very near Warsaw. It was agreed upon to look at certain means to force the rich to support the "Peoples' Kitchen". There were those rich people who refused to support the "kitchen". They forced the "Bund" to finance it from their cottage industry, the unemployed, and wages from other sources. But, all of this was not adequate. The "Bund" also canvassed the rich landowners to support the "kitchen" with the produce from their fields. They also refused.

In spite of this, the "Bund" was busy in the Jaticher woods. Every morning the workers, singing, would march out of the shtetl into the woods, spending the whole day, having meetings, lectures. The bourgeoisie in and around Łosice; the owner of the woods, did not approve. They, then, brought down from Janow a detachment of Russian police, who, together with a group of peasants led by the Zakrer land lord, armed with scythes and rakes, were notified by an informant when the "Bund" would be meeting in the woods. The result was a long, one‑sided fight. On one side, unarmed Jewish workers, and on the other, police and peasants armed to the teeth. The struggle lasted for some time. Many badly beaten Bundists, under a watchful eye, returned to the shtetl . When the police and their helpers came to the shtetl, Bundists came from the cemetery armed with sticks and stones, and the battle began anew. There, the "criminals" got paid back and fled in terror.

 The important Jews in shtetl, however, quickly saw that they had "cooked a kasha" which could end fatally because the arrested would be tried before a military court. The important Jews then came forward when it was needed in order to erase the affair. Frightened of the numbers which the "Bund" could attract to the fracas, they had to release those arrested. After the release of the arrested, the rich were forced to construct a "kitchen" not in the woods, but in the heart of the shtetl .

1915. The Germans who occupied Łosice immediately began to show their "wolfish" character. They began to enforce forced labour from which came horrible stories of hardships and many deaths. For forced labour, they took, only the poor, because the rich had already found out in what manner they could buy their way out of being pressed into forced labour. The occupation of such a small shtetl made it difficult to do something in order to oppose the "wolves". Łosice, for a long time, was part of the front, and the Germans would punish any opposition before a military court.

Hunger only increased in shtetl... the help from the magistrate, through the German Jew (M. Kohn) and the support of the U. S. ended up on the point of a bayonet. The saving news was the establishment of the new "Peoples' Kitchen" by the "Bund" and Michael Hodis. Everyone, for a few groschen, could be fed, and those who could not pay would still be fed. Could one, then, imagine what it would cost to feed hungry  relatives in the "Bund" Kitchen? The youth looked upon it as a second home; a place to thaw out, eat until full, and pass the time among comrades and friends.

The "Bund" quickly matured. It began to organize a choir. The shtetl began to breathe with life. Theater groups which would travel throughout the Polish province, sensed a thankful audience in Łosice and would delight to put on shows there. The "Bund"'s work expanded with the establishment of a cultural club and a library. The cultural club fostered strong feelings with references, lectures, "kestel" evenings (evening of questions and answers) meetings, theatrical performances, recitals, and declaration evenings. Members of the club were locally taught, and came from all segments of the Jewish population.

1916. A friendly delegation came to Łosice from Biala Podlaska. The "Bund" called the youth to participate in the big meeting. Up to now, meetings of the youth occurred, sometimes, at the cemetery, Shaindlen in Sod, in an open field, and at Jaszka Chaia Lifcze. Involving the youth of the "Bund" in this meeting was something new. The delegation put forward a plan, which not only involved the Jewish youth, but also the youth of other races. Tears were brought to those assembled with the discussion of the cruelty of the terrible war, which had already lasted two years, without purpose, without reason.

Child‑like hearts became enthusiastic, eyes filled with tears, burning with pride. Children were seen marching under red banners, among the millions of camps over the entire world, in order to stop the genocide, in order to bring in a new, free Socialistic life... I was only fifteen years old then. Surely, then, I didn't absorb all the thoughts of the friendly delegation. It, however, was enough, the thoughts that I did absorb, that I should my entire life be bound up with those ideals, with those Socialistic thoughts, which were then awakened.

Committee was established for the youth, which in turn became a strong driving force influencing political discussions among different age groups. The youth group wanted to take the ideals to a wider audience; something the older group leaders forbade. The location of the "Bund" soon became too small, and another location had to be rented for the youth group. There was much to do, which would distract the feelings of hunger... There was , however, no time to think about eating.

Our friend Mania, then came from Warsaw, who took over the leadership of the choir and the drama club, from which came able and talented members. At the beginning, there were only one act plays, but later entire performances.

The party had a broad political base. Then, in a short time, to Łosice, came L. Lewin, B. Ajserowicz, Artur,  Himelfarb, Emanuel Nowogrodzki, and Herszel Metalowicz, from Warsaw and Dawid Najmark from Siedlce. Łosice lived through the First World War, which was played out on the various fronts.

The war began. The anti‑war voices made themselves heard in greater numbers, and little by little their ideology crept into revolutionary thought. Knowledge about the revolutionary battles came from Russia. Łosicers hung on every word, and the people were bound together with the revolutionary storm. Two Łosicers came from Russia, and brought greetings from the Russian Revolution. Both of them brought a broad enthusiasm and ability; two essential qualities for political and organization strength. Berl Gutman ("Berl the Murder Glezer") came from Russia full of intelligence, culture, and knowledge. He spoke quietly. He, however, captivated his audiences with his sharp thoughts; for lectures, his knowledge was broad. His speeches packed the halls, not only with Bundists, but also with "middle" officials, and Zionists. Łosice, however, was too small for him, the Łosicer atmosphere too restricted. His energetic nature needed a broader audience. He didn't stay in Łosice for long, and left to help the cause of the Revolution. The second person to come from Russia was Yosel Czop, a honest character, worker intellectual with great organizational experiences. The "Bund" appointed him as the leader of the Professional Leather Union. He was sickly, but that did not affect his work.

A revolutionary storm bore down upon Europe; Russia, then Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Poland would become an independent country. Even though it was far from the revolutionary killing fields, the Łosicer Bundists would feel what the fighters feel. Avramel Shtriker was then called to Warsaw regarding leadership work at the center. The work of the "Gotele" became intertwined in Łosice along with a demonstration supporting the "Bund"; for Socialism. A few days later, Łosice was gripped in deep sadness. Avramel Shtriker, on his way to Warsaw, died suddenly in Siedlce. The stormy happenings in Europe did not allow for a long grieving period. Avramel's place was taken by Bajla Yonas, who later went to the Soviet Union, Yehoszua Rozal (in Argentina today), Dawid Bekerman (died while working in the Soviet Union), Iczel Rak (today in Israel), Yosel Czop, and others.

1920‑21. The Bolshevik Army nears Łosice. The "Bund" prepares a delegation to greet the Red Army which would soon be marching in town. Even then, there were signs of dissent. Mosze Chochm declared himself as a Communist, and the Red Army showed him more attention than the entire Rev‑Com (revolutionary committee). The happiness with the Bolsheviks did not last long. The Red Army beat a hasty retreat. The Bundist Rev‑Com retreated with the Bolshevik Army. It was cut‑off at Bialystok, and had to return to Łosice. They were detained and taken to the Siedlcer prison. A military court sentenced Chaim‑Nachum Fridman to death and the remainder received long sentences in prison. Chaim‑Nachum saved himself from death thanks to the aid which he received in prison. He threw himself from the second floor, breaking his hands and feet.

Reactionaries were causing hard times in Łosice and difficult days were going to come to the party. Discussions about the "twenty‑one points" were spirited, in Łosice, to say the least. Joining the discussions were Herszel Himelfarb and Artur Ziglboim from Warsaw and Sloszne from Siedlce. The Łosicer organization was eaten up by the ComBundists; the Bundists in town said that the "Com‑Bund" did not mean Communism... the split manifested itself in the leather union where both groups were present. Friends, who lived through hunger and years of combat, who together gave the content and the life to the movement in Łosice ‑ stood opposite each other, like bloodied enemies, and wanting to bite each others throats. The professional union of shoemakers fell apart, and the employers used this discord to willingly oppress the masses.

The "Bund" which had the majority of the rank and file workers began to reorganize slowly, and wanted to assist the workers against strikebreakers. The unjust incursion by Lubliner and Siedlcer organizations against our shtetl, saw members arrested and sentenced for long sentences, who had nothing to do with Communism, destroyed the town and the "Bund". The "Bund" had to recover and regain its strength.

1924. The"Bund", in shtetl, reorganized itself. The leather union struggled for it's existence. Part of the leadership sat in prison, a part was locked out, and yet others began to reject the shtetl. I, also had to leave. The party sent me to Zaglembie.
 

******

Difficult to remember all of those, who with deep commitments and sacrifices tried to reawaken the consciousness of the Łosicer workers. I, alone, admired the ideals of Avramel Shtriker, Berl Gutman, and Yoshke Minc! I want to remember one other name, among those, who led the Socialistic enlightenment in the shtetl, until their deaths reduced their numbers to only two or three, who now live in Israel and Argentina.

Bajla Yonas, a girl from a middle‑class home, who in her most mature years committed to "Bundism" and work with Avramel Shtriker in all areas of community life. Herself a teacher from Barof, she has an insightful view of work of the youth in Łosice. She went to the Soviet Union with the Bolsheviks in 1921.

Dawid Bekerman, a son from a rich home in Łosice; breaks from the richness and becomes a devoted Bundist working with zeal in the area of culture. Also went away with the Russian Army in 192 1. His fate ‑ unknown.

Yehosha Rozal (Szyia Falik), now in Argentina. Iczel Rak, now in Israel. Both children from middle‑class homes, barely youths, committed to Bundism, giving everything to widen and deepen the movement in Łosice.

Reuwen Tracz, became the future leader in Łosice. The Bolsheviks pulled him to places with or without purpose, and was killed, accused of being a Trotskyite.

Zalman Szymon and Yosel Man, both leaders of the "Bund" in Łosice, remained at their posts until the last moments, and suffered the same bitter fate of all the Jews in shtetl ‑ they were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Szamai Niewieski (now in Argentina), Yosel Chaja ‑ Malie (killed in Auschwitz) Menasze Wisnia (killed by the Nazis), and scores of others who had helped to promote Jewish life in Łosice.

Many, who later escaped, were also leaders of the movement in Łosice, I did not know because I had already left Łosice. One thing I do know and felt every time that I was scheduled to speak before the Łosicer workers, Bundists or not, the banner of the "Bund" and the banner of the leather union never were allowed to leave loyal hands. Often the banners were carried during terrible storms, terrible thunder, but always with the deep thoughts that not too far in the distant future the sun and happiness would envelop our little town.

1939. A night of rain escorted me back to Łosice. My "baggage" was made up of eight Communists and one Bundist from Zaglembie, who I wanted to rescue from the Nazis' nails and take them over the Bug, next to Łosice, to the Soviets. I was still able to have meeting with a few Bundists in Łosice. All thought that they should remain to continue in the tradition of the "Bund" and the Łosicer Workers' Movement.

 

Translated from Yiddish by Viktor Lewin.
 


 



 

 


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