Bela Shapiro: A social leader / Moshe Salzman

According to unknown sources, Bela Shapiro was born in 1891 to a Hassidic religious family which its roots in a famous rabbis family. Her father was born in Pulawi and moved to Lublin after getting a large inheritance. In Lublin he had a writing materials store and a printing press. He wasn't very rich, but had managed to make a living and had a known Hassidic ascription.

As mentioned, the house was religious. The only son was educated in a Cheder and a Yeshiva. In their childhood the three daughters (Bela was the older among them) learned at home with a Melamed, but they had continued to learn in secondary school and university. Bela's sisters had completed their studies and taught in the Jewish-Polish secondary school in Lublin. Bela was a distinguished student in schools and loved to read books. After finishing her studies in secondary school, her parents had wedded her. It was a match, as common in religious families. The groom's and the bride's parents agreed their children would marry to each other, so Bela didn't know and didn't see the chosen until their marriage. She was eighteen years old.

The groom was the son a building owner and had no ascription. After their marriage he learned, and Bela worked in her farher's store. Two sons were born to the couple. There was a major problem: Bela believed in a progressive ideology, while her husband demanded she would stay at home. The two were divorced, and Bela stayed with her two sons. She left her work in the store and started working as a bookkeeper.

Bela was very connected to her mother. During the First World War Bela's father had died, and she returned with her sons to the mother's house. Their warm and loving connection continued also when Bela was recognizes as a leader of the Bund party in Lublin; even then she accompanied her mother to the synagogue during the High Holidays.

In November 1918 Bela joined the Bund party and found there a lot of room for diverse activities. Soon she showed her great ability in the cultural field (lecturing about it and teaching the youth), in the political and social fields, as human relations with all people who surrounded her.

In 1919 Bela was a candidate for the Lublin town council. She was elected and became a council member. She focused in social and welfare matters and was appreciated by the council members, though some of them hated Jews and were anti-Semites. At the same time she paved her way to the Bund leadership in Lublin.

In November 1919 the first elementary school for workers' children, which the educating language in it was Yiddish, was opened in Lublin. Shortly after also the Poale Zion Zionistic party opened in Lublin their own elementary school. Since on one hand the authorities didn't like the idea, and on the other hand the children's parents were not sure about these schools and had no money to finance those studies, in 1924 was established a Jewish Education Center (JEC) by the three political movements which were behind the various education centers in town: Bund, Poale Zion Left and The People's Party. The lessons' language at JEC schools was Yiddish. A committee was elected among these movements' members; the popular Bela Shapiro was elected as the chairman of this committee. Members of the committee collected money from Lublin people, Jewish organizations from other towns in Poland and even from philanthropists in America. Bela was the heart and soul of the school. She knew how to carry away the staff, and the pupils loved her. She had tried to fulfill her promise to build a new house for the school. Finally, thanks to donations Bela had managed to get, Y.L. Perec School was built. Unfortunately, the children and their parents had not entered it and couldn’t enjoy from the Culture House that was to serve them: at its planned housewarming at September 1st, 1939' the Second World War had started. During the war it was endorsed into a hospital for contagious sicknesses. After the war it served the medical school and the respectable agriculture faculty.

Bela's devoted and various activities in social and welfare matters had strengthened Bund's power. In 1927 it got 8 of the 16 seats for Jews in the town council; in 1938, when the situation of Jews was very sensitive, it got 8 of the 10 seats for Jews.

After the war in Poland began, Bund leaders in Lublin decided that if the Germans conquer Lublin, they would leave the town with their families and move to Eastern Poland which was under the Soviet occupation. And indeed, together with her second husband (Jacob Nissenbaum, the editor of Lubliner Shtime [Voice of Lublin]) and older son, Bela had left Lublin by foot in September 17th' 1939. Several weeks afterwards, after realizing how the Soviets treat political prisoners, they returned to the town. Right after returning to Lublin they began to try helping the many refugees in town. Bund messengers risked their lives in the dangerous travels.

In 1941 the Gestapo began looking for Bela. She managed to hide. The Germans arrested her husband, tortured him, but couldn't break him. He had managed to get free and was again active at the Lublin community. Finally he was shot in the street by the Gestapo with other Jewish workers.

Bela was probably connected to the Polish resistance group, AK (Armia Krajowa, Country's Army), which was active in Radom. Exposing this Radom group and the connection woman to Lublin led the Gestapo to Bela. She was caught in 1941 and was arrested in Lublin's castle prison. From there she was transferred to Radom, and from Radom to Ravensbruck in Germany. There she was killed in 1942.

Few words about the Bund

written by the Hebrew translator Shosh Grosbard-Orgad:

It was a secular social movement. Her aim was to improve the economic status of the Jewish workers in the little workshops and factories, and to spread among them general education. In the time between the two world wars Bund members struggled for the recognition in Yiddish as the only national language; they aided working class people; established school which the teaching language in it was Yiddish; published books and newspapers; wanted to establish a secular national committee and to reject the religious tradition. We should remember that Jewish Lublin had an established religious community, and many opposed the following ideological views of the Bund (mainly after the Second World War):

–          Solution of the Jewish problem by local Jewish autonomy, not necessarily in Israel. The Jewish worker should fight his survival war in the place he lives at.

–          Opposing Zionism, because it might arouse national feelings and damage the socialistic activity.

–          They were not against natural assimilation of Jews.

All of these contributed to the public debate among the Jews in Poland and the Diaspora regarding the Bund's activity.

Synopsis and translation to English: Shmulik Avidar

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