NOKHUM KHANIN (NATHAN CHANIN) (December 6, 1885 [or January 29, 1886]-August 8, 1965)
He was born in Kholopenitsh (Kholopenichi), Minsk district, Byelorussia. Until age eleven he studied in religious elementary school and for secular subject matter with the town teacher from a state school; later, his parents sent him to Borisov to study at a Talmud Torah. In 1898 he became an apprentice to a tailor for women’s clothing, and later he went on to apprentice with a furrier. In 1900 he moved to Orshe (Orshi), and there he worked in the furrier business and joined the Bund. After a strike of Orshe furriers that was won in 1901, he moved on to Minsk and from there to Borisov, where he played an important role in the revival of the Bundist movement after a lost strike in the local match factory. He was arrested and, after a year in prison in Borisov, he was sent to his parents in Krupke (Krupka) and placed under the supervision of the local police. In 1904 he left for Kiev, from whence the Bundist leader Isay Yudin-Ayzenshtadt sent him to Ekaterinoslav on Bundist work. After returning to Minsk, he worked in a tobacco factory, was known and beloved as a mass orator, and became a member of the “central organization” of the Bund, contributing to armed actions and attempted assassinations by the Minsk fighting division (among others, against Minsk Governor Krilov on June 28, 1905); he was also active in Smilevitsh (Smilavichy), Pukhovitsh (Pukhovichi), Smolevitsh (Smolevichi), Ihumen (Igumen), and Berezin (Berezina). (In Igumen he became acquainted at the time with the young Leyvik Halpern [H. Leivik], who was then active in the Bund.) He was involved in the attempted assassination of August 2, 1905 against the soldiers in Borisov. Using the party name Samuil, he took part in Lublin in seizing a print shop so as to publish revolutionary proclamations. He was later active in Warsaw, organizing the “gegrivete” cobblers (who used the shoemaker’s iron last and pins), and he was again arrested and taken from the Warsaw Citadel to prison in Lublin. There he participated in a bitter hunger strike of the political prisoners, and during the disturbances in the cells, when the soldiers pointed their rifles and set to fire on the rebellious inmates, Khanin in a dramatic speech influenced the troops, and they did not fire their guns. As a result Khanin received a severe punishment: he was deprived of all rights and sentenced to perpetual exile in Siberia. A military court at the Warsaw Citadel added four years of penal servitude, and shackled in chains he was taken to a prison for convict labor in Oriol. After spending two years there, he was transferred to the convict prison in Aleksandrovsk, Siberia. After the four years of penal servitude, Khanin was sent to “perpetual” exile in the village of Nizhny-Ilimsk, Yakutsk district, Siberia. From there he was able to keep in contact with his brothers and sister, as well as with comrades in the United States, and their assistance enabled him to successfully escape from Siberia. After a long period of illegal wandering through Russia, “Nokhum the furrier” arrived in New York in September of 1912. In New York he worked in a sweatshop in his trade and was a member of the cap-makers’ union. During WWI he was active in People’s Relief, stood with the pacifists in connection with the war, and was active in the Jewish Socialist Federation. With the split between the American Socialist Party and the Jewish Socialist Federation in 1921, Khanin stood with the opponents of the Comintern and together with the splintered minority proclaimed the founding of the Jewish Socialist Farband (Union) of the Socialist Party in America. He became general secretary of the Socialist Farband, remaining in this position for fifteen years, and over the course of this time he traveled through the Jewish communities of America and tilled the earth on behalf of the socialist movement. He strengthened the Workmen’s Circle, which in the 1920s was in danger of being taken over by Communist ideology, and he organized the anti-Communist opposition, initially in the Cap and Millinery Union, of which he was vice-president, and later in the Cloakmakers’ Union, furriers, the housepainters, the leather haberdashers, and other unions. In 1928 he was a delegate to the International Socialist Congress in Brussels, Belgium. He was also actively involved in the founding of the first Jewish socialist school in the then heavily Jewish residential area in New York of Harlem, and at the conference of the Workmen’s Circle and the Socialist Federation, he led a fierce fight with the opponents of Yiddish and Yiddish education; from 1936 (until 1952) he served as the educational director of the Workmen’s Circle. Under Khanin’s influence the Forverts (Forward) chose to support the Yiddish school and instituted the weekly rubric: “Kultur un shul-tetikeyt in arbeter-ring” (Culture and school activities in the Workmen’s Circle).
Khanin published his first correspondence piece in Folkstsaytung (People newspaper) in Vilna (November 15, 1906), which he signed “N.” With the emergence of the weekly of the Jewish Socialist Farband, Der veker (The alarm), in New York (1921), Khanin wrote on a variety of political and cultural-community issues, and over the course of several decades, he published there his permanent series: “A brivele tsu a fraynd” (A short letter to a friend). He also often wrote for the Forverts and for Fraynd (Friend), the monthly organ of the Workmen’s Circle. In addition, he placed work in the monthly journal Unzer shul (Our school), published by the national education committee of the Workmen’s Circle (9131-1937); later, this journal was transformed into Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education), of which Khanin was editor and ran the column entitled “Fun mayn shraybtish” (From my writing table). He also had pieces appear in Tsukunft (Future) and other publications in New York. He was as well a member of the editorial board of Kinder-tsaytung (Children’s newspaper), where he often published his beloved “Brivele tsu a kind” (Short letter to a child) which he signed “Feter nokhum” (Uncle Nokhum). In book form he published: Sovyet-rusland, vi ikh hob ir gezen (Soviet Russia, as I see it) (New York: Veker, 1929), 254 pp.; A rayze iber tsentral un dorem-amerike (A voyage through Central and South America), descriptions of Jewish life in Santo Domingo, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (New York: Workmen’s Circle, 1942), 284 pp.; Berele (Berele), “a story of a poor boy who grows up to be a fighter,” with drawings by Note Kozlovski (New York: Kinder ring, 1938), 128 pp., also published in a Hebrew translation by Shlomo Shenhod in Tel Aviv. When the Forward Association discontinued Tsukunft, Khanin took the initiative to strengthen the journal which would continue to be published by the World Jewish Culture Congress—linked to Tsiko (Tsentrale yidishe kultur-organizatsye, or Central Yiddish Cultural Organization), of which he was one of the founders and then chairman; he was also chair of the Tsukunft management. He also did a great deal so that new volumes on “Jews” in the Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia) would appear in America in Yiddish. Through the Jewish Labor Committee of which he was one of the founders and for many years was one of the administrators, as well as through the Workmen’s Circle and other organizations, he did a great deal to save the writers and communities leaders from the perils of Hitler in Europe at the time of WWII. On the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, there appeared in New York a collection entitled N. khanin, “published by the N. Khanin Jubilee Committee” (1946), 434 pp., with the participation of the most important Jewish writers, labor leaders, and cultural activists. Shortly after the war and the Holocaust of European Jewry, Khanin made a trip to Western Europe and brought material support from American organized labor to the relief organizations in Europe. In Paris he, together with local community and labor leaders, helped to settle the remaining Holocaust orphans among the survivors. In 1951 he made his first trip to the state of Israel. He was selected to be secretary general in 1952 of the Workmen’s Circle. In 1956 his seventieth birthday was celebrated, and in 1961 he made another trip to Israel. He died in New York.
Sources: B. Vaynshteyn, Di idishe yunyons in amerike, bleter geshikhte un erinerungen (The Jewish unions in America, pages from history and experience) (New York: United Hebrew Trades, 1929), p. 461; Dr. L. Fogelman, in Tsukunft (New York) (July 1930); Ab. Cahan, in Forverts (New York) (April 21, 1931); L. Finkelsteyn, in Tog (New York) (October 24, 1931; January 9, 1932; May 21, 1932; September 17, 1932; October 29, 1932; May 13, 1933; October 27, 1934); Y. Botoshanski, in Portretn fun yidishn shrayber (Portraits of Yiddish writers) (Warsaw, 1933), p. 168; Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (December 31, 1947); H. Rogof, in Forverts (December 27, 1934; September 11, 1952; December 30, 1952; August 1, 1953); Y. M. Budish, Geshikhte fun di kloth het, kep un milineri arbayter (History of the cloth hat, cap, and millinery workers) (New York, 1926), see index; Budish, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 29, 1956); E. Almi, in Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York) (March 25, 1938); Y. Levin-Shatskes, in Der veker (New York) (April 9, 1938; March 1, 1956); Dr. E. Noks, in The Call (New York) (July 1938); Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York, 1939); Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, in Der veker (November 1942), pp. 7-9; M. Osherovitsh, in Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in amerike (Seventy-five years of the Yiddish press in America) (New York, 1945); Osherovitsh, in Forverts (January 11, 1948); Y. Sh. Herts, in N. khanin (N. Khanin), anthology (New York, 1946), pp. 107-9; Herts, 50 yor arbeter ring in yidishn lebn (Fifty years of the Workmen’s Circle in Jewish life) (New York, 1950); Herts, Di yidishe sotsyalistishe bavegung in amerike (The Jewish socialist movement in America) (New York, 1954); Herts, in Der veker (January 15, 1956; February 15, 1956); F. Kurski, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (November 1946); Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected works) (New York, 1952), pp. 260-68; Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Shul-pinkes (Chicago, 1946), pp. 356, 372; Kazdan, in Shul-pinkes (1948), p. 356; Kazdan, in Foroys (Mexico City) (November 1, 1954); N. B. Minkov, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (May 1946); Minkov, in Tsukunft (April 1956), pp. 171-73; M. Elkin, H. Novak, and Sh. Mendelson, in Kultur un dertsiung (May 1946); V. Shulman, in Der veker (May 1, 1947); Y. Khaykin, Yidishe bleter in amerike (Yiddish newspapers in America) (New York, 1946), pp. 361-62; Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Kultur un dertsiung (March 1948); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 14, 1948); D. Naymark, in Der veker (September 15, 1952); ; Naymark, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (July 13, 1956); P. L. Goldman, in Unzer veg (October 1, 1952); Sh. Rozhanski, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (October 28, 1952); R. Abramovitsh, in Der veker (February 1, 1956); Z. Yefroykin, in Kultur un dertsiung (May 1956); B. Gebiner, in Der fraynd (New York) (May-June 1956; January-February 1957); H. Lang, in Der veker (June 1, 1956); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (March 5, 1957); G. Aronson, in Tsukunft (May-June 1957), pp. 225-30; D. Aynhorn, in Forverts (January 5, 1958); Osher Pen, Idishkeyt in amerike (Jewishness in America) (New York, 1958), see index; P. Shteynvaks, Siluetn fun a dor (Silhouettes of a generation) (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 243-46; L. Blekhman (“Avrom der Tate”), Bleter fun mayn yugnt, zikhroynes fun a bundist (Pages from my youth, memoirs of a Bundist) (New York: Unzer tsayt, 1959), pp. 196ff; B. Goldshteyn, 20 yor in varshever “bund”, 1919-1939 (Twenty years in the Warsaw Bund, 1919-1939) (New York: Unzer tsayt, 1960), pp. 249-51; “Yidn un yidishkeyt in amerike” (Jews and Jewishness in America), Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (September 24, 1961).