JOHN MILL (YOYSEF-SHLOYME MIL) (1870-October 1, 1952)
He was born in Ponevezh (Panevėžys), Lithuania. He attended religious elementary school and at home studied Russian, later going to the local Kazyonnoie Yevreskoie Uchilishche (State Jewish school), which the Russian government opened in Panevėžys in 1882. Concerning his knowledge of Judaism at the time, Mill explained in his memoirs: “[In elementary school] I learned nothing—not Hebrew, not prayer, not the simplest laws of the Jewish religion. And so it remained, even the Bible, it seemed to me, I never read all the way through in my life, and if I came to know a little bit about the ancient past of the Jewish people, it was not from religious primary school, but thanks to my incidental conversations with my elderly grandfather or the religion-hours (zakon-bozhiy) which one received once each week in senior high school.” In senior high school, Mill befriended Pavel Berman who would later play a role in the rising labor movement and was one of the participants in the founding conference of the Bund in 1897. This friendship served to enlist Mill in revolutionary circles and link him up with the Jewish labor movement. After graduation, he traveled from Panevėžys to Vilna and became one of the pioneers who at the time began to form the Jewish socialist movement. Together with Pavel Berman, Mill led illegal circles, as well as ran an illegal library. At the historical May Day celebrations in 1892 in Vilna, at which appeared “four workers and two intellectuals” to give speeches, Mill was counted as one of the “intellectuals” (the other one was Arkadi Kremer). That year he was arrested in connection with the liquidation of the “Young Narodniks” in St. Petersburg, and after being set free he went abroad, living for a time in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1894 he returned to Vilna. In 1896, in compliance with the decisions of the Jewish social-democratic pioneer group of the time, he settled in Warsaw, where he served as the organizer and the theoretician of an independent Jewish socialist organization. Mill’s literary activities also commenced in Warsaw with his writing of the first calls for the emergent movement. He composed these calls in Russian, and they were translated in Vilna into Yiddish. He was one of three delegates from Warsaw to the founding meeting of the Bund. At the time of Zubatov’s great “liquidation” of the Bund, Mill fled abroad, where he was to remain. In December 1898, Mill was most actively involved in creating the “foreign committee” of the Bund, with a publishing house run by Mill from 1898 to 1915. The foreign committee published dozens of publications, mainly in Yiddish, in-house. Mill contributed to the preparation and editing of manuscripts and then to transporting the published materials to Russia. He assumed an especially important position in preparing and producing the theoretical organ of the Bund—Der idisher arbayter (The Jewish worker)—which was published by the foreign committee of the Bund. From issue no. 6, Mill was the editor of the journal and filled out practically every issue himself. In subsequent issues, he filled out the regular sections: “Fun der prese” (From the press), “Di gantse velt” (The entire world), and “Fun partey-lebn” (From party life). Very important was Mill’s role in forming the national program of the Bund. With the outbreak of WWI, he left for the United States, settled in Chicago, and turned his attention to his trade (dental technician). Mill remained in the United States and was active in the Jewish socialist movement. Aside from his literary journalistic work in the illegal Bundist press, he greatly enriched the literature on the history of the Jewish labor movement. In America he wrote on daily issues for: Der veker (The alarm), Forverts (Forward), Tsukunft (Future), and Unzer tsayt (Our time)—in New York. Chapters of his memoirs concerning the first years of the revolutionary movement among Jews in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia were spread over a variety of Yiddish periodicals. Of extraordinary value is his work “Fun der pyonern-tsayt” (From the pioneer times)—memoirs published in the anthology Vilne (Vilna), edited by Y. Yeshurin (New York, 1935)—and his piece “Di pyonern-epokhe fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung” (The pioneer epoch in the Jewish labor movement)—concerning the era just before the Bund in Vilna and Warsaw, in the third volume of Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO). These essays belong to the most important chronicles of that era. In book form: two volumes of memoirs, Pyonern un boyer (Pioneers and builders) (New York: Veker, 1946), vol. 1, 308 pp., vol. 2, 307 pp., with an introduction by F. Kurski. These works are classics in the field of Jewish memoirs. Mill died in Miami, Florida. His funeral was held in New York on December 15, 1952. His grave is in the new cemetery of the Workmen’s Circle.
Sources: N. A. Bukhbinder, Di geshikhte fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung in rusland, loyt nit-gedrukte arkhiṿ-materyaln (History of the Jewish labor movement in Russia, according to unpublished archival materials) (Vilna, 1931), see index; F. Kurski, in Tsukunft (Future) (January 1933); Kurski, in anthology Lite (Lithuania) (New York, 1935), see index; Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (New York, 1952), see index; Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Vilna-Paris) 3 (1939), see index; Arkadi (Arkady) (New York, 1942), see index; V. Shulman, in Tsukunft (1946); Shulman, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 27 (pp. 354-59); Shulman, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (October-November 1950); N. Khanin, in Der veker (New York) (November 15, 1946); L. Gotlib, in Forverts (New York) (August 4, 1946); Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York) (1949); Shmuel Niger, in Der tog (New York) (October 8, 1950); D. Neymark, in Der veker (October 15, 1952); G. Aronson, in Unzer tsayt (November 1952); Professor L. Hersh, in Unzer tsayt (November 1952); P. Vald, in Undzer gedank (Buenos Aires) (November 1952); E. Novogrudzki, in Tsukunft (December 1952); B. Shefner, in Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) (December 1952); Y. Pat, in Der veker (November 15, 1953); Leo Bernshteyn, Ershte shprotsungen (First sprouts) (Buenos Aires, 1956), see index; Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen’s bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 5379; Avrom der Tate, Bleter fun mayn yugnt (Pages from my youth) (New York, 1959), see index; Di geshikhte fun bund (The history of the Bund), vol. 1 (New York, 1960), vol. 2 (New York, 1962), see index.