YOYSEF LESHTSHINSKI (YOYSEF KHMURNER, JÓZEF LESZCZYŃSKI) (January 2, 1884-July 30, 1935)
The brother of Yankev Leshtshinski, he was born in Horodishche (Gorodishche), Kiev district, Ukraine. Until age fourteen he attended religious primary school and yeshivas, and later, as an external student, he prepared for the high school examinations. At age fifteen he went to join his brother in Odessa, where he joined the Zionist movement and was active in the “cheder metukan” (improved religious elementary school) in which his brother worked as a teacher. He soon returned to his home town and in 1901, when his brother also returned from Odessa, he was active in local pioneer circles, in evening courses, and in the Jewish library. He arrived for the first time in Warsaw in the summer of 1903, lived by giving lessons, and became active in circles of the first Labor Zionists. In July 1904 he took part in the Warsaw pre-conference of the proletarian Zionist organization and was thought to be a member of the Russian organization bureau. At that time he was already an extraordinary speaker and polemicist and had acquired a name among Jewish laborers in Warsaw. In December 1904 he was a delegate from Warsaw to the founding conference of the Zionist socialists in Odessa, was brought on the central committee of the new party, and from that point in time was a party leader and theorist of territorialism in the Jewish labor movement. Over the years 1905-1907, he lived in Vilna, and thereafter, until 1910, in Kiev where he studied at the university. For a time he returned to Horodishche, and he then proceeded to Paris where he continued his studies of literature and socio-economic science at the Sorbonne. He supported himself the entire time giving private lessons and incidental literary work in Russian. In late 1912 he returned to Russia, spent some time in his home town, and then went on to Kiev again. When Jews in the western war arena in Poland and Lithuania, 1914-1915, were sent by the Tsarist war authorities away from their homes, he—as plenipotentiary of the relief committee for those made homeless by the war—led trains of refugees deep into Russia; at the same time, he again became active in the socialist movement. In 1917, in the first months of the revolution in Russia, he helped unify the Zionist socialists and the Sejmists, from which was established the new “United” (Fareynikte) party, and he became the representative of the new party on the Kiev city council, in the central Ukrainian rada (parliament), and on the Jewish national council. During the civil war in Ukraine, when the Jewish Ministry ceased to exist, Leshtshinski turned his attention to cultural work, helped fashion the Kultur-lige (Culture league) in Kiev, and became co-editor of virtually all of its publications. Politically, he had at this time gone with the left wing of the Jewish labor movement—both in the Bund and the Fareynikte as well—which split the old parties, established in Ukraine the “Komfarband” (Communist Union), and later the “Kombund” (Communist labor Bund) and finally flowed into the Communist Party. He experienced only a segment of this pathway. In the summer of 1920, when the Bolsheviks repulsed a proposal for autonomy from the Jewish labor movement within the ranks of the general party, Leshtshinski and his family left Russia and in February 1921 arrived in Warsaw. In postwar Poland, he (or Yoysef Khmurner, as he was known in Poland at the time) was one of the most active leaders of the Bund, of secular Jewish school curricula, and of the new formation in Yiddish culture and literature; theorist and author of the theses that formed the left fraction (the so-called “Tsveyer” or “twos”) in the Polish Bund; for many years he was a member of the central committee of the party; he was secretary of Central Dinezon School Committee, from which later emerged the Central Jewish School Organization (Tsisho) in Poland; at the first school conference, he was selected secretary, and in autumn 1928 (after the death of the first chair, B. Mikhlevitsh) he became chairman of Tsisho and, as its representative, visited a number of countries in Europe. He served for many years as a representative of the Bund to meetings of the Warsaw Jewish community council.
His literary and journalistic activities began in 1903 with a hectographically-produced proclamation concerning a strike in Warsaw. That year he wrote up an illegal leaflet, Vegn zelbstshuts (On self-defense), brought out by an informal group in Warsaw. Together with Shimen Dobin, he was co-author of the “Printsipn-deklaratsye” (Declaration of principles) of the party manifesto of the Zionist socialists. He authored the first leaflet of the territorialists for the seventh Zionist congress and of the report of the congress (Odessa, 1905, with a preface by his brother Yankev). He was a contributor and co-editor of nearly all publications of the Zionist socialist party: Der yudisher proletaryer (The Jewish proletarian) in Vilna (1905-1906); Der nayer veg (The new pathway) in Vilna, 25 issues (1906-1907)—later changed to Dos vort (The word), 12 issues, Unzer veg (Our way), 6 issues, and Folksshtime (Voice of the people), 14 issues—all in Vilna (1907). Together with Khayim Tshemerinski, the philologist and author of the fable “Reb Mortkhele,” he edited the first Yiddish-language daily newspaper in Kiev, Dos folk (The people), 23 issues in 1905, 1 issue in 1907. He also contributed to: the collection Der shtrahl (The beam [of light]) 1 and 2 (Vilna, 1907-1908); and Di yudishe folksshtime (The voice of the Jewish people) (Warsaw, 1909). Together with Ben-Adir, Litvakov, and others, he placed work in: the daily newspaper Kiever vort (Kiev word), ca. 11 issues in 1910; and the monthly journal Vuhin (Whither) in Kiev (1911-1912) in which, among other items, he published (in issue 2 , pp. 29-35) his article “Farvos iz teritoryalizm nisht gevorn keyn folks-bavegung?” (Why has territorialism not become a popular movement?), which at that time aroused a polemic (it also came out as a pamphlet in German, 1913); he was the special correspondent of Der fraynd (The friend) in Warsaw to cover the Beilis Trial in Kiev (1913), from whence, aside from correspondence pieces, he also wrote articles, images, and impressions of the trial. He was co-editor of the weekly newspaper Der yudisher proletaryer in Kiev (1917); he contributed to and later co-edited the daily Di naye tsayt (The new times) in Kiev (1917-1919), in which he published a large number of articles on educational and cultural issues and on Jewish national autonomy. From February 1921 until his death, he was one of the principal contributors and editors of the daily Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw (with all of its incarnations under various titles, due to police persecution), in which, aside from political journalism concerning quotidian topics, he also published polemical articles on Zionism, assimilation, Hebreism, territorialism, Birobidzhan, economic problems, and Yiddish literature. In 1933 he was a special correspondent of Folkstsaytung to the Zionist congress in Prague. He was co-editor of the monthly for literature, culture, and criticism, Bikher-velt (Book world) in Warsaw (1921-1929), and of the theoretical Bundist monthly Unzer tsayt (Our time) in Warsaw (1927-1930) (in which he was in charge of the section “Fun khodesh—tsu khodesh” [From month—to month] and “Vos shraybn sotsyalistishe zhurnaln?” [What are the socialist journals writing?], as well as editor of literary and artistic material). He was editor of the monthly magazine of the “Tsveyer” group in the Bund—Kegn shtrom (Against the current) in Warsaw (1930-July 1935); contributed as well to: Royte shlyakhtn (Red battles), 10 yor (Ten years), and Unzer ruf (Our call)—all in Warsaw (1931). He was a regular contributor to Vokhnshrift far literatur (Weekly writing for literature) in Warsaw (1931-1935), in which, among other items, he came out against the “pure aesthetic” approach to literature and art. He was also a co-editor of virtually all publications of Tsisho in Poland. His pamphlet, Vos lernen undz di gesheenishn in palestine? (What do the events in Palestine teach us?) (Warsaw, 1929), 24 pp. (initially published in Folkstsaytung), provoked a sharp polemic on the part of Zionist ideologues. Leshtshinski translated from German Eduard Bernstein’s monograph, Ferdinand lasal, opshatsung fun lerer un kemfer (Ferdinand Lassalle, an assessment of the teacher and fighter [original: Ferdinand Lassalle, eine Würdigung des Lehrers und Kämpfers]) (Warsaw, 1922), 211 pp.; the five volumes of Max Beer’s Geshikhte fun sotsyalizm (History of socialism [original: Allgemeine Geschichte des Sozialismus und der sozialen Kämpfe (General history of socialism and the social struggle)]) (Warsaw, 1926-1930), 765 pp.; Marx and Engels, Der komunistisher manifest (The Communist Manifesto [original: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei], with an introduction by Grigori Plekhanov (Warsaw, 1931), 158 pp.; and Ignazio Silone, Der fashizm, der antsheyung un entviklung (Fascism, its rise and development [original: Il Fascismo, Origini e Sviluppo] (Warsaw, 1931), 376 pp. His Russian-language essay on the nationality question was included in volume 3 of N. A. Rubakin’s popular encyclopedia Tvishn bikher (Among books) (Lausanne, 1911). He also published under such pseudonyms as: Y. Shvartser, Y. Khmurni, L.-, Y. L., Y. Kh-r, Y. Khm., Yud-khof, N. Noir, and the like. Always ill (from birth forward), he evinced an indefatigable energy in community activities and in his writing literally until his final days. In 1934 when Polish reaction intensified its assault on the Bund, he was arrested and spent a period of time in prison, which served to ruin his health further. He died in Otwock and was interred near the grave of B. Mikhlevitsh in the Warsaw cemetery.
To perpetuate his memory, secular Jewish schools in a number of cities were named for him, and there was founded the “Khmurner Fund” which until the war (1939) helped in the publication of textbooks and children’s literature for those in secular Jewish schools in Poland (fourteen books). In the school year 1935-1936, Tsisho brought out the monograph for children: Yoysef leshtshinski (Yoysef Leshtshinski) in Warsaw (September 1935), 4 pp. Also published was Khayim Shloyme Kazdan’s work, Yoysef leshtshinski (y. khmurner), zayn lebn, shafn un kamf (Yoysef Leshtshinski [Y. Khmurner], his life, work, and struggle) (Warsaw, 1937), 83 pp., and Khmurner-bukh (Volume for [Yoysef] Khmurner) (New York, 1958), 231 pp., which includes the works: L. Oler, “Di linke rikhtung in bund” (The leftist wing of the Bund); and S. Dubnov-Erlikh, “Yoysef leshtshinski, zayn lebn un shafn” (Yoysef Leshtshinski, his life and work) and “Fun Y. khmurners literarisher yerushe” (From Y. Khmurner’s literary heritage). Leshtshinski did not leave behind any written books, but “in the thousands of articles, which he wrote over the course of his life,” noted Kh. Sh. Kazdan, “his language and style was straightforward and clear, and the logic of his claims keen, succinct, and full of zeal and conviction.” “An idea for him was a reality,” wrote Sh. Mendelson, “perhaps the only reality that existed for him. He was thus prepared to intercede on every speck, every dot, every point. Everything had a meaning for him.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Reyzen, in Vilner tog (Vilna) (August 1, 1935); M. Gutman, in Royter pinkes (Warsaw) 1 (1921), pp. 169, 172-73; Dr. M. Zilberfarb, Fashizirter yidishizm (Fascist Yiddishism) (Minsk, 1930), p. 19; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (February 14, 1933); H. Erlikh, in Naye folkstsaytung (Warsaw) (August 2, 1935; July 31, 1937); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Shul-vezn (Warsaw) (September 1935); Kazdan, Yoysef leshtshinski (y. khmurner), zayn lebn, shafn un kamf (Yoysef Leshtshinski [Y. Khmurner], his life, works, and stuggle) (Warsaw, 1937); P. Shvarts, Leon, and A. Oler, in Kegn shtrom (Warsaw) (September-October 1935); Elye Shulman, in Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1936); Y. Tshernikhov, in Vilner tog (February 25, 1938; March 11, 1938; April 1, 1938); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1947), pp. 172-74; Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (February 2, 1959); Ravitsh, in Shloyme mendelson, zayn lebn un shafn (Shloyme Mendelson, his life and work) (New York, 1949), pp. 451, 452; N. Mayzil, Geven amol a lebn (Once was a life) (Buenos Aires, 1951), see index; Y. Y. Trunk, in Poyln (Poland), vol. 7 (New York, 1953), pp. 166-68; D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (August 16, 1953); M. Turkov, Di letste fun a groysn dor (The last of a great generation) (Buenos Aires, 1954), p. 120; B. Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Nowolipie 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 38-50; M. Astur, in Unzer shtime (Paris) (January 13, 1959); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; L. Hodes and S. Dubnov-Erlikh, Byografye un shriftn (Biography and writings) (New York, 1962), pp. 127-33.
Khayim Leyb Fuks