After the war, my mother pondered deeply, however, admitting to herself that a system of convictions she held so dear turned out to be deceptions was intolerable. It was simply easier to cling to the old falsehoods. I always think about this when I consider lining up behind and or pledge allegiance to an ideology. I recognize that the truth is found somewhere in the middle and not with any one belief system.
Polish Jews were attached to Poland and Polish culture. To both leftist and Jewish nationalist ideals. My mother was a Bundist. As a teenager my mother watched her older sister Anja join the Bund. Anja blossomed into a strong, independent woman. She and her friends took part in a growing worker’s movement, spreading the principles of Socialism. Her sister was among the small number of women who played an active role in the earlier worker movement in Warsaw, in the early 1930s. My mother heard her sister’s passionate speeches about the struggles of the working classes. Anja and my mother were six years apart; my mother decided to follow her sister’s example.
Called the General Union of Jewish Workers, which came to life in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia and was the Jewish Socialist political movement. Founded in Vilnius in 1897 by a small group of workers and intellectuals from the Jewish Pale of tsarists Russia. The Bundists came together to end discrimination against the Jews. They became a successful social organization, fighting for the rights of All Workers. In 1920 the Russian Bund for the most part merged with the Communist Party. The Polish Bund concentrated on labor activism, and by 1910 created legal Bundist trade unions in four cities. The Polish Bund became a separate entity, and in December 1917 the split was formalized in a secret meeting in Lublin. The Bund promoted the use of Yiddish as a Jewish national language and strongly opposed Zionism arguing that emigration to Palestine was a form of escape. WWII proved just how wrong this belief was.
My mother’s generation was different from that of her parents’ generation. A difficult, impoverished upbringing after WWI gave birth to a generation of Jews who participated in Polish culture as Jews. My mother participated diligently to improve conditions for working class people. She fought for social justice for All Workers. Bund’s ideology believed that Jews could coexist with other nationals anywhere in Europe while preserving their Jewish identity and heritage. Their generation broke away from the traditions of their parents and grandparents and looked at the world through a fresh set of eyes. They believed their world to be different. The focus was culture, rather than a state or a place, as the glue of “Jewish Nationalism.” Borrowing from the Austro-Marxist school, which immediately caused a rift between Bundists and Communists. The Austro-Marxist idea was to make the nation a non-territorial association, that “territory is a myth”. For nations not to be organized as territories, but as association of societies thus totally disconnecting a nation from a territory. In the 1930s, Bund was the most popular party among Polish Jews. Bund’s ideology spoke of a new kind of mindfulness but in the end, the ideology itself was flawed. As Poland entered the great depression, the pre Holocaust and Holocaust periods, Poles of Jewish faith who joined Polish culture were seen only as Jews. In July 1939, the pro-government newspaper Gazeta Polska wrote: “The fact that our relations with the Reich are worsening does not in the least deactivate our program toward Polish Jews and the Polish government’s desire to remove Jews from Poland.”
Primo Levi, Italian Auschwitz survivor, wrote about “unseen realities” my mother while still a Bundist in Warsaw also identified around her what she called “A Riddle”, “A greater riddle was about to envelop my generation as the political climate changed.”
In the 1930s, Bund was the most popular party among Polish Jews. During the interwar years most Jews were Bundists, this included my mother and most members of her family. My mother wrote how she mistrusted the Communist ideology, and how those doubts were further confirmed during the six years of war she lived in Stalin’s Russia. After the war in Poland my parents refused to join the communist party even when our lives were threatened. I grew up knowing that joining the party was never an option. Bund’s ideology also exposes the lie on the stereotype of Polish anti-Semites that Jews were conditioned from birth to be communist. And that Jews are responsible for communism in Poland.
After the war, my mother continually questioned what went so terribly wrong. Her generation dedicated everything to a worthy and a morally just cause, to an ideology of so much hope and change. She could not admit to herself that maybe it was possible that the cause itself was flawed. That their generation dreamed an impossible dream.
The other large movement at the time was Zionism. My mother was aware of it and wrote about how HeHalutz movement blossomed across Europe and Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. Their aim was to settle in the historic land of Israel. Halutzim or pioneers as they were called, were moving to Palestine. After a month or two traveling on foot, they would make their way toward their destination, a port city, where ships took them to their final destination, Palestine. Before the start of World War II, approximately 60,000 had already made aliyah.
Why history matters. The Treaty of Versailles, at the end of WWI is how most of European countries borders were formed after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is how the Second Polish Republic was reestablished. European countries borders were formed again after WWII. The same was done after the break up the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. In 1917 after the Ottoman Empire was dissolved the British promised that the Middle East will be divided between them, Arabs and using the Balfour Declaration, promised to mandate the historic Jewish Homeland in Palestine. Britain and France took control and re-arranged the Middle East. And because of Arab violence the Balfour Declaration did not materialize the way it was supposed to. If the historic Jewish Homeland was established according to the plan how many more of Europe’s Jews who perished in the Holocaust would have made aliyah.