YOYSEF (JOSEPH) BASKIN (1880-June 26, 1952)
Born in Byale, Minsk district, the younger son of a poor elementary school teacher. Together with his older brother, Avrom, he was raised by his father’s second wife after the death of his [biological] mother. Until age twelve, he studied in religious elementary schools in Byale, Ilye, Hute, and Dolhinov (Daŭhinava). At the age of seven or eight, he was already “eating days” (boarding with different families each day of the week), working in a matzo bakery, and sleeping on hard benches. At age twelve, while a yeshiva student, he hired himself out as an elementary school teacher for two young boys. He later went to Vilna and studied there in R. Yoyel’s yeshiva, later elsewhere in the city. He worked as a kind of assistant synagogue sexton in the cobblers’ synagogue. At the same time, he studied Russian and secular subjects. Under the influence of his older brother, who had left the yeshiva to become a laborer, he became disposed to support the socialists at the age of fifteen. At seventeen, he became a member of the Bund, shortly after that party came into existence in 1897. One year later, he departed for Switzerland where Pavel Akselrod and Georgi Plekhanov helped support him so that he would be able to prepare to enter university. From 1900 he was studying in the University of Lausanne, later in the University of Nancy (France), from which in 1905 he received an engineering diploma. During his student years, he was a member of the Bundist student organization. At the start of 1901, he was one of two delegates from the Lausanne Bundist student group to the conference of Bundist student associations in European universities. Upon graduation, he left and returned to Russia. He lived through the 1905-1906 revolution and its suppression in Vilna. He was held under arrest for twelve days. He was the nominal owner and the actual proofreader for a publisher, set up with money from the Bund. At the end of 1907, when the Bundist press was suppressed, he emigrated to the United States. He worked in the Westinghouse factory in Pittsburgh, and he became involved in the local Jewish labor movement and separately from this—in the Workmen’s Circle. Due to a work-related accident, he was compelled to stop working. He then relocated to New York where he remained for the rest of his life, initially (1914-1917) as assistant to the general secretary of the Workmen’s Circle and from 1917 until the day of his death as the general secretary. He was also active in the managing organs of the Jewish workers’ committee, ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades), People’s Relief (after WWI), the Forverts Association, the Jewish socialist union, and more. He wrote for the Forverts (Forward), Fraynd (Friend), and Veker (Alarm), as well as in the Bundist press in Poland and the United States. From 1923 he served as editor of Fraynd, organ of the Workmen’s Circle, and he had a regular column there entitled “Shtiklekh un breklekh” (Bits and pieces). For his seventieth birthday, he composed an autobiography, compiled as a “Baskin-jubilee volume and published by the Workmen’s Circle in 1951.
Sources: Y. Sh. Herts, 50 yor arbeter-ring (Fifty years of the Workmen’s Circle) (New York, 1950); Y. Baskin, Zu zayn 70-yorikn yubilei (On his 70th birthday), an anthology (New York, 1951); Der fraynd (New York) (July-August, 1952); Tsviyon, in Forverts (May 26, 1951); Nokhum Yud, “Yoysef baskin” (Joseph Baskin), a poem in Der fraynd (December 1951); L. Faynberg, in Der tog (September 8, 1951); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (January 1952); Dzhei Greison, in Forverts (June 27, 1952); N. Khanin, in Forverts (January 1, June 27, June 28, June 30, July 1, 1952).