From Russian Hard Labor to American Freedom

Reminiscences by the well known American Jewish labor activist, Morris Goldowsky, about his years in Russia and his path as a labor activist in America.

Morris Goldowsky [Note: Romanization of the Yiddish: Moris Goldovski] – the well known American Jewish labor-activist, author of the book, Fun vayten amol un haynt [About the distant past and the present], is one of those who can look back over the years with pride. From his distant past until today he filled the days of his life with work and struggle for social justice, for freedom and equality of man, and for the revival of the Jewish national home in Erets Yisroel – today’s State of Israel.

There lies before me a book by Morris Goldowsky, in which he tells about his distant past and the present time. [It is] a book of memoirs of 60 years labor and struggle in the Labor Movement, reminiscences which describe a colorful life, rich in events, a life of struggle, of a continuous fight for an ideal.

Morris Goldowsky’s life begins in the springtime of [i.e., early in] the eighties of the preceding century. His crib stood in the shtetl Layev [romanized], in the Province of Minsk. The young Moysheh was raised by his father Reb Ben-Tsion, the musmakh [master? principal?] of the Chernobyl yeshiva, and the meshulakh [emissary] of the Layev Rebe, Reb Motele Chernobiler. With the death of his mother, he became an orphan when he was 12 years old. He studied in kheder until his Bar Mitsvah, managing to snatch the taste of a page Gemoreh. As a Bar Mitsvah boy, his father arranged for his apprenticeship to Reb Yosl the carpenter. With Reb Yosl the carpenter he experienced the taste of hunger. Therefore he did not last very long in carpentry. His father sent him away to a relative of his in Petrikov, to Reb Eli the shokhet, [ritual slaughterer] to learn in the yeshiva. In Petrikov he “ate days” [“gegesn teg” , i.e. ate at the homes of whatever householder volunteered to feed him on different days of the week], and also nourished himself with revolutionary proclamations that were handed out especially to yeshiva boys. The proclamations were distributed in those days by the Jewish Labor Bund, calling on the yeshiva boys to become workers and with their work to benefit society. The proclamations led the young Goldowsky from the Petrikov yeshiva to Mozir to work as an apprentice boy in a pharmacy, and from the Mozir pharmacy to activist work in the Russian revolutionary movement, to struggle against the Czarist power, to prisons, to hard labor in far away Siberia, and later to the shores of free America, where he became one of the pioneers in the building of the Jewish labor movement.

As one reads Goldowsky’s memoirs, there passes [before one] an array of the builders and activists of the Jewish workers movement. It would seem that one has already read very much about the gigantic strike of the “cloakmakers in the year 1910”. So what else can be said in addition to that which has already been said – that which has already been sealed into the tablets of history - about that Great Workers War which was conducted more than half a century ago against oppression and for the improvement of wages and workers conditions? But as one reads the memoirs of Morris Goldowsky concerning that time, one also feels the excitement of that strike.

Exciting as well are the chapters in the book which tell about the Russian period in Goldowsky’s life, about his work in the rows of the revolutionary movement which he had started as a young boy.

The reminiscences in the book include the notes by the author from his two visits to Israel. The first visit [occurred] in the year 1947, after the 22nd Zionist Congress that took place in Basel, on the eve of the establishment of the State, and the second visit when the State was already there, in the year 1958.

From both visits Morris Goldowsky returned inspired, full of faith and ardor for the activities of Jewish labor, which is organized in the workers federation – Histadrut ha-ovdim, and for everything that is being built and created in the Jewish State.

Morris Goldowsky’s book makes for interesting reading – parts of it, exciting reading.

by Pinkhas Shtaynvaks, Translated by Goldie Sigal