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"To the Workers' Masses in Poland"

To the workers masses in Poland, Yugnt shtime, Warsaw ghetto, newspaper article 1941
Yugnt shtime no. 5 (8), Warsaw ghetto, May 1941

Newspapers such as the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt or the Gazeta ┼╝ydowska (the equivalent of the Nachrichtenblatt in Kraków, the "capital" of the Generalgouvernement) reflected the reality of Nazi-dominated and increasingly precarious Jewish life in the zone of German occupation. Orders, regulations, restrictions and daily humiliations emanated from their pages as part of the general Nazi policy to control (and, eventually, extinguish) Jewish life in the realm under its control. But visible as they were, these newspapers were far outnumbered by "illegal" publications distributed in and outside the ghettos in German-occupied Europe.

The "underground press" was almost never as grand as the general rubric implies. Rather than consisting of regular newspaper sheets, the many publications that fell into this category were in fact typewritten or mimeographed, printed on bulk paper, and passed by hand to trusted contacts. It was difficult to find printing paper in wartime, especially for Jews intent on producing illegal publications, and distribution was a problem, because print is bulky and difficult to move around unnoticed. Even so, the publications produced under these difficult circumstances numbered in the dozens, and reached more than a few Jews in Europe, directly or indirectly. Even though the print run of all these newspapers was limited, because of the primitive nature of production, they were passed on by hand to other trusted readers; it is estimated that each copy thus reached dozens of voracious readers. Deciding whom to offer the news bulletin to next was tricky: it had to be a trusted person, for distributing illegal press—especially outlawed Jewish press—was an offense punished severely, often by death. But despite this, underground publications were distributed widely, and most people were aware of their existence.

The Warsaw ghetto alone boasted some fifty underground press titles.1 These newspapers differed in their outlooks, physical and literary qualities, and readership: the prewar political lines in the sand were rarely crossed in the press, and each newspaper voiced the worldview of its political constituency. The newspapers espoused ideological positions ranging from the various brands of mainstream and revisionist Zionism to the extreme left-wing, including communism, and were published in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew.

Despite the political differences, however, and largely owing to the severe constraints of ghettoization, most of the publications in the Warsaw ghetto—and the Jewish press at large—stuck to a more or less uniform organization of content. They opened with a political statement, depending on the paper's ideological persuasion, pertinent to the current political and Jewish situation, followed by the news from the front (usually obtained by listening to BBC or other allied broadcasts on secret radios that had not been turned over to the Germans), the news from the ghetto, and the general situation in which the Jews were living.

Yugnt shtime (Voice of the Youth) was one of several socialist underground newspapers in the Warsaw ghetto affiliated with the Bund. In 1941, on the occasion of International Workers' Day on May 1, it ran an editoral that put the current political situation and the historical moment into a much broader perspective of the "struggle between progress and barbarism." The closing off of the ghetto in Warsaw and other cities and towns across Poland and eastern Europe had catastrophic consequences, but mass murder had not yet started in the ghettos at the time of the editoral.

It is important not to forget that internationalist addresses such as the one translated here were not purely doctrinaire products of rigid ideological views: they still had—especially before the deportations of 1942—a Jewish audience receptive to their socialist message, which transcended the particular Jewish situation. It is also interesting to notice that this message embraced socialism that was not of the Stalinist stripe, and denounced "totalism" of all kinds as well as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that had allowed for the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland in 1939.

For more details about the underground press in the Warsaw ghetto, which also describes this phenomenon in general, see Israel Gutman, The Jews of Warsaw, 1939-1943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); and Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

May 1 is the International Workers’ Day, commemorating the victims of police violence at the workers rally in Chicago in 1886, in which the participants demanded an 8-hour work day. Yugnt Shtime was published in the Warsaw ghetto by the youth group of the Bund, the Jewish socialist movement.

A slogan used in Nazi propaganda both before the war and in its early years in order to criticize Britain's leadership and to vilify the English people as a whole as "the Jews among the Aryan race," by associating them with the antisemitic stereotype of a purported Jewish international economic cabal.

A Polish national slogan arising from decades of foreign rule.

The day of reckoning, or socialist revolution. The "Day of Judgment" is a reference that all Jewish workers would have understood to mean Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on which Jews believe that God judges each individual and determines his or her fate for the coming year. 

The English word "city" is transliterated here into Yiddish. The "City" refers to the City of London, the area of town in which the financial industry was traditionally located.

"Totalism" and "totalist" were probably neologisms at this time. They anticipate, however, the "totalitarianism" most famously analyzed by Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973).

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Voice of the Youth [Yugnt Shtime]

May 1941, No. 5(6)

Long live the First of May!1

 

To the working masses in Poland!

 

For the second [year in a row], the first of May finds us under the heavy burden of Hitler’s occupation.

The conquered peoples suffer under the yoke of total slavery. The guilt of the propertied classes, the heavy mass of dark interests of the capitalists, imperialists, ammunition dealers—all of this burdens the shoulders of the working masses of Europe... We and the other peoples of Europe have not had time to erect the great edifice of people's freedom on the war ruins of 1918; we do not have yet a powerful dam against violence and aggression. And now, twenty years later, capitalism and fascism have pushed the world down into a new abyss of slavery and death.

Armies of European gendarmes are realizing the goals of German, Italian, and Japanese imperialism under the slogan of the "fight against the English plutocracy."2

These armies convey with them the most terrible political oppression and social exploitation, they convey the most base methods of terror and provocation, wrapped up in the disgusting lies of hypocritical propaganda.

Their march has been accompanied by friendship agreements with the Soviets, who have bared their animal face to reveal a strange stronghold of a traitorous revolution, a people betrayed, and total slavery. 

The world is sinking in lies and crime.

A powerful and invincible impulse towards freedom is developing in opposition to the assailant. The English people maintains its positions in stubborn defense. Across seas and oceans, in Africa and China, in the mountains of heroic Greece and Yugoslavia, our brothers in uniform, workers and peasants from almost every country in the world, lead the struggle against the aggressor "for our freedom and yours."3 In the underground movements of occupied countries, workers' groups are gathering new strength for further struggle with the greatest enemy. A powerful and general resistance movement against the occupier continues. The occupier seeks to strangle the aspirations of millions of modern-day slaves in the drunkenness of racial hatred that he has incited. He seeks to drive away their vision of the Day of Judgment4 with countless murders and crimes. Yet his efforts are in vain.

This struggle that embraces all the peoples of Europe is the expression of the decided will of the masses to determine their own fate. The foremost goal within this struggle is the destruction of Hitlerism and Fascism. We can see better and more clearly today, thanks to our own experiences and suffering: it will not be possible for the world to develop properly, there will be no place for social or political freedom, and the building of socialism will remain out of the question—until this most vile and murderous form of exploitation is exterminated from the face of the earth.

Men, women, Comrades!

German propaganda seeks to weaken our position with arguments regarding the interests of the English plutocracy and the war against them. We say openly: the calculations of English City5 capitalists are foreign and repulsive to us, yet the position of the English people is close and dear, as is the pursuit of freedom for all peoples in the world.

Our power lies in the international solidarity of the working masses, in the shared idea of striking down totalism.6 Our power will awaken and blaze up, embracing the world with the bloody flames of liberation and revolution.

All systems of slavery will perish in this fire—whether capitalist, Hitlerist, or totalist. Not only the plans and schemes of the present-day occupiers will be burned in this fire but also the calculations of all capitalists and imperialists around the world. All hopes of building up fascism, whatever its form, will be burned in this fire, as will all systems of totalist slavery.

The folk masses are conscious of the fact that all forms of oppression and exploitation must be annihilated, so that the world can be jolted onto new tracks.

The folk masses strive towards a deep, revolutionary change that will destroy capitalism and with it, consequently, the foundations of imperialism, chauvinism, and fascism. They strive towards a change that will firmly establish a new, just, socialist economy with a system of people's democracy. They strive towards a change that will deliver power to the [world's] peoples, that will build peaceful, international coexistence on the basis of equality and freedom.

The struggle that is being waged is not a defense of the old [social] relations that were incapable of insuring the world against the death of millions of people; this is a fight for a new world of liberated labor and liberated peoples.

Men, women, Comrades!

In the world struggle between the forces of barbarism and progress, between Hitlerism and democracy, the worker masses of Poland, led by a real instinct of consciousness, have found the right path. This path leads them through the defense of Warsaw and other cities to the current, stubborn resistance that they maintain in all domains of life. 

What is Hitlerism? Distress, seizures of people, executions, horrible concentration camps and labor camps, in which thousands of people meet a terrible death, the crime of expelling masses of people to their hunger and death, the crime of the ghetto—hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated behind walls, persecuted and robbed of all human rights—this is Hitlerism!

Tens and hundreds of fighters for freedom have been wrenched from the lines of battle—but the fight continues, and the new, independent Poland will be born from it. It will not be capitalist or fascist, it will not be led by the nobility or the bourgeois—but rather a republic of the people, of peasants and workers. Those who would want to see in Poland a prison of social slavery should not aspire towards power! Defended by the working masses and liberated by them anew, Poland will be a land governed by them. It will be a land of social and national justice, a true fatherland for the working masses of Poland, a land that finds itself in brotherly union with the free peoples of liberated Europe. 

It will destroy privilege and liberate labor!

It will destroy national hatred and will build up true brotherhood!

It will break the prison bars forever, it will throw down the ghetto walls, it will tear off the wires from the concentration camps! 

It will redress the wrongs that have fallen for years on the shoulders of the working masses of all nationalities!

Long live the international solidarity of the folk masses!

Long live a Europe of free peoples!

Long live an independent people's Poland!

Long live freedom and social justice!

Long live socialism!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Yugnt shtime no. 5 (8), Warsaw ghetto, May 1941
Date Created
May 1941
Page(s) 3
Publisher
Yugnt shtime
Language(s)
Yiddish
Location
Warsaw, Poland
Document Type Newspaper Article
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