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      Date Last Updated: 25-Feb-2022



This article is dedicated to my husband Mordechai Rechtschafner, who always has patience for my research.

Esther Rechtschafner
Kibutz Ein-Zurim
September 2009


History of the BUND

Information on the BUND in Vitebsk

Continuation of the Vitebsk BUND outside of Vitebsk




Footnotes: Please click here to open the footnotes in a new window


I became interested in the BUND in Vitebsk, after writing my articles(1) about Vitebsk. It became clear to me that I didn’t have enough information about the Bund in Vitebsk; for the BUND played an important part in the history of the Jews of Vitebsk. Their descendants understand and feel what the BUND did for their Families. There is an abundance of information on the BUND, but barely any about the BUND in Vitebsk. I understand that there is probably more information than I was able to find.

After I wrote these last two sentences I was quite lucky in receiving an abundance of information about the BUND in Vitebsk, from YIVO(2) , now in NY, USA. I would like to thank Leo Greenbaum, the Archivist and his staff for their help. I would also like to thank Professor Dov Levin(3) for the information he gave me and for his advice and help. I still would be happy to receive whatever information you may have.

Note- The abbreviations in parenthesis and in the footnotes refer to the bibliogrphy. A complete bibliography appears at the end of this article.

Esther Rechtschafner
September 2009

History of the BUND (EJ, BNP, BS, HE, HEW1, HO)

BUND is an abbreviation of Alegmeyner Yiddisher arbirer Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland (General Jewish Workers’ in Lithuania, Poland and Russia).

The Yiddish word BUND means treaty, alliance, covenant. It was founded in a secret meeting, in Vilna in 1897. The BUND was a worker’s association and an active political party (as much as this was possible) from the 1890’s through the 1930’s. After a short time the organization becme known as the BUND. Its’ members were called “BUNDisim” or “BUNDaim”. Most of the members were from the Jewish working class, but there were also supporters from the Jewish intellectuals. All of the BUNDISTS were very loyal and attached to their organization(5).

The original goal of the BUND was to organize and represent all the Jewish workers in the Russian Empire (Russia, Lithuania(6) , Belarus, Ukraine, and most of Poland [the majority of the Jews was then located in this area] of the Jews this area) in one political party and encourage their involvement in the Russian Socialist movement (the Social Democratic party). This was to help Russia become a socio-democratic state, which would consider the Jews a nation with a minority legal status. It called for equal rights for Jews within a Socialist framework in which Jews would be given cultural freedom. At first Hebrew was the official language of language, but this changed to Russian and then to Yiddish to make communication easier. Yiddish was considered the national language of Eastern European Jewry and thus the language of the BUND. The Bund was the Jewish Socialist secular party; however a few of the members were religious Jews(7). The BUND completely opposed Zionism and Hebrew culture and language. Zionism was related to as escapism (Many BUND members became Zionist-Socialists and came on Aliyah. This was a big loss to the BUND). The BUND considered itself foremost Socialist and then Jewish; but the program was for obtaining a cultural Autonomy for the Jewish people in Eastern Europe. The BUND was not willing to change from this belief and goal. Therefore the BUND had many enemies both inside and outside of the Jewish people.

The BUND left the Russian Socialist movement party in 1903, after not receiving recognition as the only representative of the Jewish workers. Bundists were active in Russian socialist circles, and the party was an important participant in the 1905 revolution. Then the BUND had 35,000 members, of which 4,500 were political prisioners in Russia and Siberia. The BUND joined forces with Poéli Zion(8) and other groups in order to form and lead a united defense front against the pogroms and riots of 1905.The BUND led the defense front in the Jewish villages, in the area that is now Belarus.

After this First Russian Revolution, the BUND became legal due to political reforms. Some members of the BUND sided with the Communists and this fact was destructive to the promotion of the BUND as a Jewish organization(9).

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the BUND split; for most of the members joined the Communist party. This was official in officially in 1921., The others remained in the BUND. The BUND became illegal again in Russia. The Communists wanted to destroy the BUND, even more than they wanted to destroy Zionist organizations(10). The BUND continued to operate in independent Poland and Lithuania mostly in places that had a large Jewish population. The center shifted to Poland, where it built up a large following with its extensive network of social and cultural organizations. The Polish BUND flourished after World War I and became an important force among Poland's Jews. The Polish BUND’s propaganda was that Jews should stay and fight for socialism and not seek refuge elsewhere.

Between the Wars, the BUND published more documents and propaganda than the Zionist organizations(11). The BUND charged Jabotinsky (leader of the Revisionists(12) ) as Anti-Semitic. Then small branches were also active in Lithuania, Romania, Belgium, France, and the United States (first in New York).

Before WWII the BUND fought Anti-Semitism in Poland, and even organized Jewish Self-defense units. BUND members also became members of Polish city councils. Then the BUND was one of the most popular organizations on the Jewish street. It included youth organizations, women’s organizations, sports, and was the strongest force in the founding of the Yiddish school organization. It joined the Soviet International and was associated with other Polish socialist parties.

The BUND leaders fled when World War II broke out, for many members were then arrested, exiled, or murdered. At the beginning of WWII the BUND went underground. During the WAR the BUND was active in the underground and as partisans in ghettoes and camps throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, and also sought to publicize the atrocities to the western world. It published the largest number of newspapers in Warsaw, which contained important information about the WAR, calls for a revolt, and even cultural information. As understood, this was very dangerous and many workers lost their lives doing so. The party elders of Warsaw refused to join the Zionists in order to form a united Jewish fighting alliance. They claimed they had ties with the underground outside the Ghetto. Younger leaders did support Jewish unity. All the Jews united after the major deportations from Warsaw in October 1942. There was a similar occurrence in Vilna, when the younger members joined the United Partisan Organization. Four BUND squads participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943.

The BUND leader Samuel Zygelbojm, who had fled to the US, was appointed to the Polish National Committee in London in 1942. After receiving reports of the mass murder of Polish Jewry, Zygelbojm desperately tried to enlist the help of international and Jewish organizations. He was shocked by the way the rest of the world reacted (didn’t react) to the Jewish Holocaust. Zygelbojm committed suicide in 1943, after failing to receive support.

The BUND leaders who got to the USA founded a support group. The BUND leaders of this period worked very hard for our people and their organization.

The Holocaust caused an end to the greatness of the Polish BUND. The Communist government in Poland was responsible for the final liquidation of the BUND in 1948. At the end of the War, in 1945, the number of BUNDists in Europe dwindled greatly. The BUND became a small Jewish organization in a few major Jewish communities in the USA, Canada, and Australia.

The BUND did not return to its previous position; but did have a role in Jewish communities around the world. The World Coordinating Committee of the BUND Organizations was founded in 1947; and then the BUND became a transnational movement. The BUND Archives was transferred to YIVO, by the BUND, in 1992. Aferwards Yivo had an exhibition about the BUND.

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Information on the BUND in Vitebsk (VT)

The following information is according the official police records, in addition to other sources.

Here is information about a few members of the BUND in Vitebsk:

1. Amsterdam, Volf Ber (Vladimer): 1882. He was the younger brother of Avraham Amsterdam who was one of the BUND leaders in Vitebsk. He was arrested in 1900 and released and arrested again a year later. He continued to work for the BUND.

2. Ginsberg, Aaron: 1878- Moscow, 1927. His party names were: Alfa, Sergi, and Leonard. He was a student in the Kazan University (located in central European Russia, 827 kilometers southeast of Moscow). In 1900 he was arrested in Vitebsk, and was freed in 1901 with a bale of 15,000 rubles. In 1903 he was exiled to Eastern Siberia, and again freed with bale of 15,000 rubles. In April 1903 he was exiled to Liapotsk, Eastern Siberia. In 1904 he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, but was pardoned in 1905. When he was in jail he translated a book about the French Revolution of 1848, from French. In 1917 he joined the Russian Socialist Party.

3. Aimov, Yosef: 1878-1920. He was arrested because of Russian propaganda. He was one of the main speakers from the Russian delegation in the Social Party Congress in London in 1907. He became a member of the Workers Committee in Moscow in 1917.

4. Kamrmacher, Mordechai: 1882-NY, 1943. He was a printer. His party name was Kapali. He was arrested in 1900 because he was a BUND member. He was arrested in Minsk and sent to Eastern Siberia for 4 years. He escaped twice and was caught twice. In 1904 he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. He was pardoned in 1905 and became one of the leaders of the printing workers in Petersburg and editor of their news bulletin. He was arrested and escaped to Paris, and lived there until 1943. He then returned to Russia, but was arrested at the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution. Afterwards he lived in Berlin, Paris, and New York. He was editor of the monthly The Vitebsk Socialist.

5. Luria, Hirsh: 1878. His party name was Albert. He was arrested in 1900. He was exiled to Liapotsk, Eastern Siberia. In 1904 he was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. He was the secretary of the Jewish section of the Revolutionaries there. He was an active member of the BUND for many years, and on the central committee. He published a few books.

6. Breslau, Boris: 1882. He was a shoemaker. He joined the BUND in 1899. He was arrested in 1901, sent to Eastern Siberia and escaped. He joined the Bolshevik Party in 1904. He was in Paris in 1909 and worked with Lenin. He was the chief Bolshevik agent in Russia in 1911-2. Then he was arrested in imprisoned in Moscow. After the October Revolution he was the head of the Vitebsk workers. He was Zseka chairman in Moscow in 1918-9. In 1930 he was the vice Soviet representative in Paris.

As I wrote in the Introduction, I was lucky enough to receive information about the BUND in Vitebsk from YIVO, N.Y. I received many documents about the Vitebsk BUND: 20 in Yiddish(13) and 45 in Russian(14). I numbered these documents to ease the referral to them. They are currently in my possession, and after finishing this article I plan to give copies to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAJHP)(15). The Yiddish is very difficult to understand. Professor Levin explained that this was because the members of the BUND developed their own expressions.(16)

The dates on these documents are from the beginning of the twentieth century (1899-1907). These documents were distributed secretly so that the police wouldn’t be aware of the BUND.

Important information from these documents, which relates to the BUND in Russia, Poland and Lithuania (Russian Empire), and was also circulated in Vitebsk is as follows:

1. Organization of The BUND(17)
A. Goals
I. An end to capitalism.(18)  The cause of unemployment was the capitalistic system.(19)
II. The hope for socialism, even to the extent of demonstrations to reach this goal.(20) 
III. Influencing the higher class Jews. The fact that all Jews should be united.(21)
IV. The importance of being a united Organization, with many chapters in Eastern Europe.(22)
V. Equality(23)
A. Equal rights for all citizens
I.  Property
II. Education
B. The aim of Pogroms
I.  Using the Jews to educate society
II. Knowledge that the pogroms are not a cause for pessimism; but    a reason to strengthen goals and principles.(24)
B. Membership.
I. New members(25)
II. Attending BUND meetings(26) 
III. Partaking in political demonstrations(27) 
IV. Elections(28)
A. National elections- a request to vote for Social-Democratic party
B. BUND elections.
C. Notices(29)
I. Copies of notices that were sent out to all the BUND offices in Russia, Poland and Lithuania.
II. They were printed again in these places.
III. They were addressed to BUND members and other people who   side with the BUND.
2. Social Aspects
A. Workers rights(30)
I.  Physical conditions
A.  Proper equipment and tools
B.  Hours
II.  Social conditions
A. Employer-employee relations: the same attitude to old and new workers.
B. Organization of the workers(31)  and meetings
C. An immediate end to the battle against workers
D. Allowing personal freedom and development: in language, religion, writing, etc.
E. Allowing refugees to return to their homes                      
F. Unemployment rights
III. Economic conditions
A. Proper wages
B. Overtime: 50-100%
IV.   May 1 celebration(32)  
A. Holiday and/or fast day, strike day
B. Symbol of the new world.
B.  Prisoners rights(33)
I. Hunger strikes
A. Aim- contributions
B. Reason- The need to pay the debt of the Red Cross (16.24 Rubels-15/1/904, etc.)(34) .
I. Money for food
II. Meetings without bars
III. Returning benches to the proper place
IV. Wrist watches
V. Wake-up time
VI. Freeing prisoners
C. The psychological state of the Jews.(35)
I. Knowledge that the Jewish people are a strong intelligent people with the strength to stand against the Tsar.(36)
II. People are asked not to pay attention to gossip about the BUND.(37)
III. Honoring those who gave their life for this cause.(38)
3. Financial aspects:
A. Contributions to the BUND.(39) 
B. Warning about the unfair use of BUND funds.(40)
C. Financial reports (from June 15,1906 to March 15, 1907)(41)  etc.
4. Political aspects:
A. Internal
I. Accomplishments and goals in major cities such as Warsaw, Vilna, Lodz, Petersburg, Odessa, Brest-Litovsk, Karkov,, Korlandia Rosov-Na-Dono(42)  and other places.
A. Vilna
I.  The strike of 25,000 Jewish workers(43)
II. The plight of the stocking-socks factory workers, the arresting of   workers and the suing of the factory owners.(44)
B. The Petersburg uprising caused a call for uprisings in Warsaw, Moscow, Riga, Kovno, Dvinsk, etc.(45)
C. The Moscow uprising(46)
I. Causes:
A.  Shooting of women and children
B. Organization of the "Black Hundred" (Z'rnosotinski)
II. Actions
A. Controlling of the railway station
B. Controlling of public buildings
D. Kishinev Pogroms(47)
I.  Intellectuals: organization and participation.
II.   Guilt: notary, student, police investigator
III.  Reason: the King's rule
IV.  Conclusion: The Jews should oppose the government
A. External
I.  The Tsar
A. Criticism of the Tsar and important people in his government because of their personal economic goals and not at all taking the working class into consideration.(48)
B. Knowledge that the Tsar was behind the pogroms.(49)
C.   Arresting the Tzar's aids
D. The importance of the coming revolution against the Tzar.(50)
II.  The Russian Constitution
A. Criticism of the "Russian Constitution"
B. Heart breaking promises made by the King.(51) 
I. Freedom
II. Laws
III. War
VI. Criticism of the Executive System
A. The rights of judges
B. Opposition to workers' rights.(52)
C. Police and spies.(53)
VII. The army(54) .
A. The demobilization of troops.
B. The end of the War with Japan (March, 1905).(55) 
C. The cause of an industrial problem and unemployed.(56)

There is also information that applied mainly to Vitebsk and the area.(57) All the distribution of Bund information had to be done secretly(58) , so that the police or government officials wouldn’t be aware of what was going on. This called for:

1. The organization of the Vitebsk BUND
A. Attending meetings.(59)
B. Elections
I. The importance of voting in local elections.(60)
II.  People should take a day vacation and work for these elections.(61)
C. Acknowledging that the Vitebsk BUND was a branch of the International BUND organization and particularly part of the Lithuanian, Polish and Russian (Russian Empire) BUND.(62) 
D. Notices
I. National and international BUND notices were received, printed and circulated in Vitebsk. Approximately 4000 copies of each circular were printed. They were all signed by the BUND Committee of Vitebsk.(63)
II.  There were also notices that only concerned the Vitebsk BUND.
2. Social aspects:
A. May 1(64)
I. Noting its' importance by uniting all the Jewish workers with all the workers in Russia and the entire world.
II. Celebrations: Holiday/ Fast-Day (1901, etc)(65) .
B.  General help for the BUND. 
I.  Drafting youth to help the BUND
II. Requesting help from Doctors.(67) 
III. The Jewish officials: Pisrovsky, Bezbozsky, Markowitz, etc were thanked for their aid.(68)
C. Granting acceptance of Jews to Universities.
D. Canceling anti- Jewish propaganda in newspapers.
E. Workers rights:
I. The importance of honoring strikes, boycotts(69)  and pressure on the factory owners,(70)  to thereby cause an improvement in the conditions of the workers.(71)
A.  The work day
I. The shortening of the work day to 10 hours(72) . Some people worked between 12 to18 hours.
II.  A two hour break: for breakfast and dinner
B. Wages.
I.  An increase
II.  Payment by the hour.
III.  Full payment for Fridays
IV. Receiving of wages every week
C. The improvement of the physical, social and technical conditions of   the workers in the factories.(73)
I.  Firing according to the law.
II. Distribution of needed materials by the owner.
III. Political freedom(74)
IV. Demanding May1, as free day with wages.(75)
V. Freedom to take part in BUND activities (76)
3.  Examples
A.  Demands of the workers in box manufacturing were  to work a 12 hour day with a half hour break for breakfast and a lunch break at exactly 14:00; and a rise in wages.(77)
I.     Similar demands of the carpenters.(78)
II.    Similar demands by the printers.(79)
III. Suggestion to clerks and office workers to also demand such conditions.(80)
IV. The hard conditions in the bakeries (especially the baking of matzoth).(81)
V.  The story of Aaron Lieb Bealkin , who agreed to work for Moshke Deaktin, and was therefore considered a strike-breaker. Afterwards he changed his mind, asked for forgiveness and was forgiven. Sometimes the local police(83)  had to be called to settle such an occurrence.(84)
VI. The story of the tailor Israel Poliovsky, who fired one of his workers. The others went on strike. He called the Russian police to break the strike. There was a plea not to sell him materials or buy from him. Mr. Poliovsky also had political ties with Zernosotinski(85) . He brought Russian help in order to break the strike.(86)
VII. Boycotting of the Bookkeeper Shevel Liborkin, owner of the pharmacy in Vitebsk, for he refused obey the BUND.(87)
VIII. Boycotting the store owner Yaákov Sapir because of his political connections (Shtivracher).(88)
IX.   Boycotting the tailor Marmon for spying. During a strike, he gave the police a list of the names of his 5 workers.(89) 
X.     Boycotting of Zlashufin, the owner of the bookstore(90) . His attitude to the workers who had participated in the strike changed for the worse (time for eating, free time). The committee that ran the store took new workers. The VPSPKB (brotherhood of clerks and bookkeepers) placed a boycott on Zlashufin, Shapira, Drizzer and Kunovlov because of their attitude to their Jewish workers , and a demand to return the previous workers. Students also became part of this fight(92) :
I.  Fourth year gymnasium students
II.  First and second year vocational students
III. Girls' gymnasium students.
B. The Red Cross
I. Aid from the "Red Cross"
II. Knowledge that the "Red Cross"(93)  had aided the BUND members who were in the local prison in Vitebsk,(94)  and those who  had been sent to Siberia.(95)
III. Problems of the Red Cross
A. Monetary problem, many contributors left the city
B. Reduction of aid  was due to terror
C. Difficulties in helping the prisoners
D. Need for food, clothing, shoes and books(96)
E. Conclusion- -Opposition to the government(97)
4. Political Aspects(98)
A. External
I. The Tzar
A. Opposition
B. Change in the government organization, which means the Czar.(99)
I. Revolution
II. Socialism
III. Political freedom
IV. Cultural freedom(100)
V. Cancellation of class structure.(101)
C. Putting an end to the government's support of pogroms and riots against Jews.
2.  Canceling of the draft to army service.
3. Defense
A. Forbidding the police to enter private houses. This was done without any respect for privacy, modesty and/or the sick. The Social-Democratic Party saw disgrace in such arrests.(102)
B. Jews who were arrested because they took part in BUND   activities.(103) 
C. The unfairness of the local police, the local and national government, and of their spies(104) . 
I.  Importance of being aware of the surroundings.
II. It was obvious that there were inside spies, for the police couldn't have been so capable. There were many complaints against these spies.(105)  The spies were requested to stop.(106) 
III. Referring such incidents to the BUND executive committee.(107)
D. Searching for The murderers of: Moroozov, Vitrov, Sichniko and Kivnson.(108) 
E. Punishments: Siberia, being cut off from Family and friends(109)
F. The Russian Christian workers had united in fear of a pogrom from the Jews.(110)
B. Internal
I. Uniting forces(111) 
A. The working class within themselves(112) 
B. All Jews, regardless of economic and/or social status or education.
C.   Property owners
I. Solving socio-economic problems with Schneerson, Vazvorsky, Levitt, Libshutz, Mintz and Markowitz.(113) 
II. Solving political problems with Sheinfinkel, Schneerson, Markowitz, Ribovsky, and Zavotzky who weren't entirely against the administration.(114) 
D.   Submitting names of Jews who didn't honor strikes or boycotts
I.  The hope that this may hurt the local government.(115)
5. Financial aspects:
A. Paying dues.(116) 
B. Financial reports(117) 
C. Organizing money for the families for the seven that were killed in the battle-Pogrom on October 17, 1905.(118)

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Continuation of the Vitebsk BUND outside of Vitebsk (VA,VT)

Members of the Vitebsk BUND came to the USA in 1908. They were organized as an extension of the Vitebsk BUND. Then they organized aid for other BUND members that arrived from Vitebsk. Afterwards this organization sponsored a cultural hall (with many varied activities), a sisterhood, cemetery plot, help for the elderly, an old-age home, and socio-economic aid. In 1938 they collected money for an orphanage. This organization was still in existence in 1956, when the Yiddish Memorial Book (Vitebsk Amol) was published. There is information about the people who were active in this organization in the Yiddish Memorial Book.

Pictures (HEW1)

BUND members in Odessa after the 1905 Revolution

A Bundist demonstration in 1917

The BUND monument in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw


The Picture below is from the Golden Jubilee of the Witebser Bund, Branch 224 W.C.,15/11/1958. (donated by SR)

Standing: Benza Senpard, SamDarfman, Shmuel Zatkin, Chaim Der Staler, Mendel Senford
Sitting left to right: Manka Zatkin, Avramel Brukavshzik, Marka Kahan, Izka Zadkin, david Tomarkin, Frishka Renkin.



After finishing this article, I do feel that now I do know a bit about what the BUND and the BUND in Vitebsk. I also know that I am missing quite a bit of information, which I hope to be able to somehow obtain. Then I will try to add the information to the article on the website.

The history of the BUND is similar to that of all the Jews in Eastern Europe. The BUND stood for changes for the good of the Jewish people. The BUND suffered very much as did all the Jewish factions of this period.

As a Religious Zionist I could state my opinion here. However, I feel that the important and correct thing to conclude this article in the following way: We should all honor the memory of the BUND, for the main goal was to make life easier for the Jewish people.

Bibliography (Abbreviations used in footnotes are in parentheses)

Encyclopedia Hebraica, Encyclopedia Publishing Company, 1963 Israel, Editor- Yeshiyahu Leibowitz, V7, pps.859-865 (EH)

Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Sifriat HaPoalim, Yad VaShem, Israel, 1990, V.1, Editor- Israel Guttman, pps. 162-164 (HO)

Encyclopedia Judiaca, Keter, Israel, 1972, Editor- Cecil Roth, V. 4, pps. 1497-1507, V.13, pps. 656-664, V.14, pps. 128-132, V. 16, pps. 837-839 (EJ)

The BUND Story 1897-1997, Goodman, Mathew etc., YIVO, NY, USA, 1998 , pps. 2-6 (BS)

Bund, Shoah Research Center, (OD)

Vitebsk, Editors: Moshe De Shalit, etc., Organization of the People of Vitebsk and the Vicinity in Israel, Israel, 1957, p. 470 (in Hebrew) (VT)

Vitebsk Amol, Editors: Gregory Aaronson, etc., Abrahamson etc., NY, USA, 1956, pps. 634-640 (in Yiddish) (VA)

YIVO Archives Files, NY, USA, BUND: RG 1400, MG7-35 and RG1401, f.332, (BAF)

General Jewish Labour Bund (Wikipedia)

Conversation with Rivka Yaffe, April, 2009 (RY)

Telephone conversation with Professor Dov Levin, May 26, 2009 (DL)

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