YIKUSIEL PORTNOY (August 13, 1972-September 17, 1941)
Known by his party name Noyekh, he was born in Podbrezye (Paberze), Vilna district. He attended religious elementary school and later a state crown school. He graduated from the Vilna teachers’ institute in 1892. It was there that he joined a revolutionary circle. He was a teacher, initially in the Vilna crown school and later in the Kovno crown school. The Vilna circle with which he was connected later produced the founding of the Bund. In Kovno, using the name Yanov, he was the most important leader of the inter-party, “federative” committee of the group of Jewish social democrats, the P. P. S. (Polish Socialist Party [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna]), and the Lithuanian Socialist Party. In the fall of 1895, he was arrested and given a three-year sentence in the Kresty prison in St. Petersburg and then six years of exile in eastern Siberia. From the latter in the fall of 1899 he fled to Warsaw and served as a member of the central committee of the Bund. He wrote important proclamations, and he was in fact the editor of Di arbayter shtime (The voice of labor); he wrote numerous articles himself and responded to significant issues of the time. He later directed the underground Bundist organizations and was the liaison among secret printers which printed in millions of copies appeals and pamphlets in Yiddish, Russian, and Polish (among them, concerning the execution of Hirsh Lekert and concerning the Kishinev pogrom with a call to establish self-defense). He participated in the conferences and meetings of the Bund, in which he played a noteworthy role. At the time of the first Russian Revolution (1905), he was twice arrested—in Vilna and in Warsaw. At the time of WWI he was working under the name Józef. He was a member of the editorial board of Lebns-fragn (Life issues). He published in it a series of articles entitled “Undzer profesyonele faraynen, zeyer organizatsye un taktik” (Our trade unions, their organization and tactics), also on the importance of Yiddish and other topics. In April 1917 he was arrested in Poland for eight months by the German occupiers. In independent Poland, he was for many years chairman of the central committee of the Warsaw committee of the Bund. He was one of the heads of the Jewish community in Warsaw as well. He was also among the leadership of the cooperative movement of Jewish laborers and of the children’s sanatorium named for Vladimir Medem. With the outbreak of WWII, he fled to Lithuania, and then through Soviet Russia and Japan, he made his way to the United States. In New York he was in the leadership of the established American representation of the Bund in Poland. He died in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life) (Vilna, 1929), part 1, pp. 229-30, part 2, p. 52; Unzer tsayt (New York) (October-November 1941, special issue dedicated to Portnoy’s memory); F. Kurski, in Unzer tsayt (December 1941; March 1942; June 1942; October 1942); R. Abramovitsh, In tsvey revolutsyes, di geshikhte fun a dor (In two revolutions, the history of a generation), vol. 1 (New York, 1944), pp. 58-61; Z. Segalovitsh, Tlomatske 13, fun farbrente nekhtn (13 Tłomackie St., of zealous nights) (Buenos Aires: Central Association of Polish Jews in Argentina, 1946), p. 102; Shloyme mendelson, zayn lebn un shafn (Shloyme Mendelson, his life and work) (New York, 1949), pp. 437-40; B. Shefner, in Forverts (New York) (October 6, 1951); Shefner, in Unzer tsayt (November-December 1951); Leon Bernshteyn, Ershte shprotsungen (First sprouts) (Buenos Aires, 1956), see index; Y. Sh. Herts, in Doyres bundistn (Generations of Bundists), vol. 1 (New York, 1956), pp. 68-122; D. Eynhorn, in Forverts (July 28, 1957; August 18, 1957); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Mentshn fun gayst un mut (Men of spirit and courage) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1962), pp. 149-212.