Wednesday, 29 April 2015

SHMUEL GOZHANSKI (SAMUEL GOZHANSKY)

SHMUEL GOZHANSKI (SAMUEL GOZHANSKY) (1867-1943)
            He was born to well-to-do parents in Grodno.  He graduated from the Russian Jewish teachers’ institute in Vilna in 1888.  He worked as a teacher in Russian Jewish schools, initially in Kovno and Bialystok, later in Vilna.  He was one of the most active members of the first Jewish revolutionary socialist circles in Vilna.  In 1889 he was one of the leaders of the first Jewish tailors’ strike in Vilna.  Under the party’s nickname for him, “Der lerer” (The teacher), he played an enormous role in guiding socialist propaganda among Jewish laborers in Vilna, as well as in the actual organization of study circles (kruzhki, using the Russian word at the time), as well to systematize and prepare appropriate teaching materials.  His role gained specially importance over the years 1893-1895, when the pioneering “Group of Jewish Social Democrats,” together with L. Martov, who was then undertaking revolutionary work in Vilna, decided to move the narrow work of their circle to broader means of political agitation.  This kind of work had to be done in Yiddish, and Gozhanski was among these pioneers the only person who had truly mastered the Yiddish language.  He therefore became one of the principal creators of the first socialist labor literature in Yiddish.  He also attracted young intellectuals to this work, people who under his editorial hand wrote or translated various articles and treatises on social themes.  Of his propaganda writings from this era, which he wrote under the pen name “Lonu” (he was later known principally by this literary pseudonym), especially distinguished was the historical importance of the brochure A briv tsu di agitatorn (A letter to the agitators) (initially written in Russian), which appeared in late 1893 or early 1894, as a practical, popularized addition to the brochure of Aleksander (Arkadi) Kremer, Vegn agitatsye (On agitation), which opened a new phase in the development of the entire labor movement—not just the Jewish one—in Russia.  Other pamphlets by him that were quite popular include: A vikuekh mitn mazl (A debate with good fortune), also called Din un yoysher (Judgment and justice)—an agitation against the persuasive belief that wealth and poverty are objects of luck or pure chance; A rede af purim (A speech about Purim), an allegorical agitation against the Hamans of all eras; Di iden frage in rusland far aleksander dem dritn (The Jewish question in Russia for Aleksander III), also known under the title Der hesped (The eulogy), “which was prepared on October 21, 1895,” a general political agitation against Tsarism; Erinerungen fun a papirosn makherke (Memoirs of a female cigarette maker), first published in 1928 in Unzer tsayt (Our time) 7-8 (Warsaw); Di glikn fun ruvn dem berditsever (The joys of Reuben from Berdichev), republished many times later with the title Di skhires (Wages) (Vilna: Di velt, 1906), 76 pp., an analysis of labor wages, based on numerous facts and figures (in compiling this pamphlet, contributions were made by Pati Srednitski-Kremer and Liube Levinson-Ayzenshtat); and a number of other booklets.  In 1896 he was exiled for his revolutionary work to the Yakut region in Siberia, where he joined the semi-anarchist, anti-intellectual movement of the Pole Jan Wacław Machajski.  Returning from banishment in 1902, Gozhanski worked for a short time on the central committee of the Bund in Warsaw, and he also contributed to the Bundist Arbeter-shtime (Voice of laborers), but because of his anarchist inclinations, he left their party activities and moved to Vilna where he worked as a private teacher.  Following the Bolshevik Revolution, as an adherent of the right wing of the Social Democrats (known as the Oborontses), he switched to the left, became a Communist, and for a time was a commissar in Tula.  He was later recalled to Moscow, where he worked in the trade movement and took part in editorial work on the first volume of the Yiddish edition of Lenin’s writings.  Rumors later emerged that, during the show trials of 1936-1938, he was deported.  His subsequent fate remains unknown.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (Vilna, 1927), pp. 204-8 (with bibliography); B. Mikhalevitsh, “Erev-bund” (Before the Bund), Royter pinkes 1 (Warsaw) (1921), pp. 35, 42, 44; P. Anman, in Royter pinkes 1 (1921), p. 54; L. Martov, Zapiski sot︠s︡ial-demokrata (Notes of a social democrat), vol. 1 (Berlin, 1922), pp. 162-212; Sh. Agurski, Di sotsyalistishe literature af yidish (Socialist literature in Yiddish) (Minsk, 1935), see index; Di historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO), vol. 3 (Vilna-Paris, 1939), see index; John Mill, Pyonern un boyer (Pioneers and builders), vol. 1 (New York, 1946), see index; P. Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (New York, 1952), see index; L. Bernshteyn, Ershte shprotsungen (First sprouts) (Buenos Aires, 1956), see index.

Yitskhok Kharlash

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