Chapter 3: Bolshevik winds blowing from the east
On November 2nd, 1917 Lord Balfour wrote the following official letter to Lord Rothschild, which became known as the Balfour Declaration.
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild:
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:
His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
When the content of the letter was published in the press, the Jewish members of the city administration of Wloszczowa, organized a mass solidarity rally. All kindergartens and Jewish school children, including Hasidic schools and yeshiva students from the villages around came to the assembly. The town square was full of celebrating people. Wolf and his son David were among the participants at the rally. Speeches were made and the atmosphere was festive. The leaders of the Bonds organization were absent, but the rest of the Zionist movements, religious and secular participated.
This was one of the rare occasions when one could see bearded Hasidim embracing secular Jews and greeting them with blessings of thanks for the opportunity given to them by Her Majesty’s Government for the return to the Jewish people to their homeland. There were those who came although they did not understand the significance of the announcement. The feeling was that something grand was happening and that perhaps the Messiah had arrived to take them to the land of milk and honey.
Many knew that the goal was to leave their beloved country which had been their homeland for many generations; the country to which they were loyal, their culture, language, customs. They would have to leave all the wealth they had accumulated behind and start a new life elsewhere, in a hostile country, with a harsh climate and a Muslim population who didn’t not want them there.
A few days after the great euphoria, everything calmed down. Life in the town returned to normal and remained relatively quiet. The occupying army had brought in their own administrators, albeit German speaking, and all government institutions, courts and municipal offices re-opened once again. Many street names have been changed and the name of the Rynek (Market Square) was re-named Franz Josef Platz.
On market day, many soldiers came and bought merchandise even from Jewish vendors. The competition among the Polish vendors often led to riots and Rynek Square turned into a battlefield.
Roza and Emma, got along well. Roza was the oldest of the six daughters and one son of Isaac Friedberg, a businessman, whose business had failed and he died a broken man at an early age. He was one of the sons of the well-known Jewish writer Abraham Shalom Friedberg, who died in 1902 and was buried in Warsaw.
After Roza was born to Isaac and Leah, they had Ida and Bertha. When his first wife died, Isaac re-married and had daughters Eugenia and Cesia, son Muniek and youngest daughter Emma. Since Roza remained single, she “adopted” her younger sister Emma, and they lived together in a small apartment.
Once, when Emma returned from the all girls’ school where she learned the art of embroidery and weaving, she brought home a thin booklet which she had hidden under her shirt.
Roza noticed that everyday Emma locked herself in her room and hardly came out and she began to suspect something.
One day Roza surprised Emma and entered her room as she was reading the booklet.
“May I know what you are reading?” she asked curiously.
“What difference does it make? Better that you don’t know,” Emma answered.
“I demand that you tell me,” Roza insisted.
“It’s the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,” Emma replied.
“Do you know that you are taking trash into the house? Do you want us both to wind up in jail?” Roza screamed.
“You have nothing to worry about. The revolution is already here,” Emma replied in an authoritative voice of importance.
“What are you talking about? I do not want to hear this nonsense of yours,” Roza retorted.
“Did I not tell you that you were better off not knowing what I was reading. You don’t want to listen to me,” Emma began. “Poland is a nationalistic country, and we must get rid of the nationalism because the proletariat is in a national trance. The proletariat must unite into one nation, but on the condition that they get rid of the bourgeoisie.”
Losing her wits, Roza shouted on top of her lungs, “Shut up, I don’t want to hear what you’re saying. We will all go to jail because of you,” and began to attack Emma trying to grab the brochure from her hands.
“A new society will arise. Communism will rule the world where everybody will be equal. There will be no social classes and no religion. Don’t you see the progress?” Emma insisted.
Rose grabbed the booklet from Emma’s hand and began tearing out pages and chewing on them.
“They may not be found even in the garbage pail,” Roza screamed.
Emma did not get excited. She allowed Roza go wild with the booklet as she watched it disappear in her throat.
She stood up, pulled down her big backpack from on top of the closet and began to pack her clothes and belongings.
“What are you doing?” Roza asked.
“I’m packing because I am leaving,” Emma answered in a spine-chilling tone.
“Where will you go?” Roza asked as tremors of anxiety could be heard in her voice.
“To mother Russia, where I belong,” she replied.
Roza tried to dissuade her and said,” You are only seventeen years old. Do you know what can happen to you in Russia being all alone?”
“I am almost eighteen,” Emma snapped back. “I know exactly what I am doing. Don’t worry about me. I will not write anything to you, so as not to involve you.”
Roza approached her, hugged her and said, “I will miss you very much. You are like a daughter to me, even though you are my younger sister.”
Emma hugged Roza tightly and cried quietly and said, “I will not say good-bye to everyone. Please give them my love and ask them all for forgiveness. There is a fire burning inside me and I see in communism the future of the world. It will also reach Poland, at which time I will return home to my family.”
Roza took a wad of bills that she kept for a rainy day, from a jar that was hidden in an alcove beside the fire place.
With tears in her eyes Roza said, “This is for you, so that you can arrive safely wherever that may be.” Emma tried to push her away, but Roza stuffed the money into her coat pocket.
Emma was a physically developed young lady and was very active in sports. The clothes she wore were always a bit too big on her, and she had a masculine walk. She regularly wore a cap made of a coarse fabric that hid her young looking face. She went to an all girls’ school, but she did not see her future as a worker in a textile factory. She had other ambitions. She wanted to better the world, as she saw human suffering and human exploitation as the cause of all social ills.
As with the rest of her family members, she also did not attribute much importance to religion. She claimed to all those who would listen to her, that the time has come for the Jews to accept the customs of the Poles, dress like them, speak their language and assimilate with them. There ought not to be any distinction between a Polish Jew and a Polish Catholic. Religion should be considered secondary and unimportant in the eye of the law.
Emma’s first attempt to cross the border into Russia failed. Her misfortune came when she was deceived by some Polish fishermen who had promised her to take her across the River Bug. She paid them part of the fee, and then set a place and time where to meet. When she arrived at the appointed time, nobody was there waiting for her. Afraid that the Poles would betray her to the police, she fled and ran to the closest border town. There she got on to a carriage that took her to the county town of Kielce. From Kielce, it took her two more days to finally return home.
When Roza opened the door and saw Emma standing there, they fell into each other’s arms and wept uncontrollably. Roza never asked what had happened to her, and Emma considered herself lucky that she was not caught and thrown into jail. Nobody raised the issue again. She went back to her old routine, but never gave up on the idea of communism. She waited for the opportune time to join them.
Emma’s attempt to cross the border was a secret she shared only with Roza and it remained unknown to the rest of the family.
Emma, who closely followed the events happening in Russia, began preparing herself once again to run off to Russia. She decided not to go by herself again , and began talking to friends from the secular Jewish youth movement about joining her. She succeeded in convincing two of them.
Fiszel and Wladek both hailed from Wloszczowa. Fiszel was the eldest son of Simon Wasserman, a wealthy leather merchant who had a warehouse near the market and owned a spacious two-story house with a large yard. Simon was an ardent and active Zionist who sent his son, Fiszel, to the Beitar youth movement, and later on to the secular youth movement, where he met Emma.
Wladek hailed from the outskirts of town, where the people lived in wooden shacks. His father, Hirsch, was a pauper, who would clean Rynek square on market days. The stallholders would pay him with a bit of food, and more than once he came home from work empty-handed and his family went to bed with their stomachs grumbling from hunger.
Wladek, who was strong and trained in the youth movements, saw Emma’s enthusiasm about communism and it opened a new vision for him. He agreed to leave Poland with her and Fiszel and join the Bolsheviks in Russia.
Fiszel and Wladek, both in their twenties, were not such close friends, although they saw each other at times at the club. Both were fond of Emma who was now barely eighteen years old.
Thus, on November 3rd 1918, while the Austro – Hungarian army was leaving Poland and the day that Poland declared its independence, three youngsters left home. An acquaintance that had a small truck transported them close to the Ukrainian border, where a small boat was waiting for them to transport them to the Russian side.
Emma disappeared in the chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution, and her family never heard from her again.
Lilly was three years old when Emma left, never to return.