HILLEL KATZ-BLUM (November 10, 1868-February 12, 1943)
He was born in Pazelve (Paželvė), to a father who worked as a tailor. At age fifteen he arrived to study at the Vilkomir (Ukmergė) yeshiva, but he was drawn into becoming a laborer. At age sixteen he moved to Vilna and worked there at a dyer’s shop and other lines of work. He later served in the Tsar’s army. Around 1890-1891, when he returned to Vilna, he became involved in the revolutionary movement. He began studying Russian and reading Russian books. He also read Hebrew books and in general had a great interest in literature and even began to write up impressions and scenes himself. When he would depart with propaganda objectives, he would often read aloud from Yiddish literature before secret gatherings and from his own writings as well. He made a particularly bit hit at these gatherings with his story “A kholem” (A dream), a fantasy about twelve ministers who are sitting in a palace, drinking wine out of golden beakers, and each of them proposing a plan for how to maintain power over the country (an allusion to the Russian tsar and his ministers). In 1896 Katz-Blum was working in Bialystok as a weaver and was active there in the illegal revolutionary movement. In 1897 he was appointed correspondent for the Bialystok region of the Bundist illegal Arbayter shtime (Workers’ voice), and on the first page of the first number of this newspaper, he placed a correspondence piece entitled “A shtrayk bay de loynketnikes in byalistok” (A strike of textile workers in Bialystok). He was a delegate from the Bialystok region at the founding of the Bund in Vilna in October 1897. He lived in Vilna later for a while, later still in Vitebsk, Dvinsk (Daugavpils), and other cities where he was engaged in party work. In 1899 he was a delegate to the third conference of the Bund in Kovno. In 1900 he was arrested near the Russo-Prussian border at Verzhbolove (Virbalis). After being freed, he could no longer remain in Russia, and in 1901 he left for Switzerland, where he was active among the emigrant revolutionary circles in Berne and in Geneva; he worked there with the foreign committee of the Bund. In 1902 he left Switzerland for Paris, later moving on to London, where he worked for a year in a furniture factory and was active in the local publishing house for the foreign committee of the Bund. After a year in London, at the initiative and with assistance of his Bialystok admirers, he left for the United States (1904). He lived in Cleveland and published in Forverts (Forward), also in 1904, chapters of a memoir about the underground revolutionary movement in Russia. He published reminiscences as well in Veker (Alarm) in New York (1928) and in the 1930s in Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw. In 1939 his memoirs were published in Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO) (Vilna-Paris) 3 (pp. 348-68), under the title “Zikhroynes fun hilel kats-blum (klivlend)” (Memoirs of Hillel Katz-Blum, Cleveland). These memoirs aroused quite a stir. Encouraged by Shmuel Niger, Dr. Max Weinreich, A. Liessin, and Y. Leshtshinski, Katz-Blum continued the writing of his memoirs further and subsequently published a book, Zikhroynes fun a bundist, bilder fun untererdishn lebn in tsarishn rusland (Memoirs of a Bundist, impressions from underground life in Tsarist Russia) (New York, 1940), 188 pp., in which he included, aside from already published memoirs, new chapters of memoirs and several articles, with an introduction by B. Tsivyon. He died in Cleveland.
Sources: F. Kurski, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1933); Kurski, in Unzer tsayt (New York) 3 (1943); Kurski, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings) (New York, 1952); S. Dubnov-Erlikh, Garber bund un bershter bund, bletlekh geshikhte fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung (The tanners’ union and the brush union, pages from the history of the Jewish labor movement) (Warsaw, 1937); Dr. Max Weinreich, in Forverts (February 12, 1939); B. Tsivyon, in Veker (New York) (March 1, 1943); obituary notices in the Yiddish press and periodicals.
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