HENRIK (HERSH-VOLF) ERLIKH (HENRYK EHRLICH) (April 13, 1882-May 15, 1942)
The husband of Sofia Dubnov-Erlikh, he was born in Lublin. His father Moyshe, the owner of a mill, was in his younger years a fervent Gerer Hassid; over time he freed himself from Hassidism, became a Ḥovev-tsiyon (Lover of Zion), a member of “Bene Moshe” (Sons of Moses), and a follower of Aḥad-Haam. From age six Henryk attended religious elementary school, and from age nine he was studying with a Lithuanian teacher at home. At the same time he studied secular subject matter with a private tutor. In 1896 he entered the third-year class in high school and graduated in 1902 with a gold medal. His ethnic and Zionist sensibilities vaguely corresponded to his socialist sympathies. In the eighth-year class, he joined the illegal organization which had the goal of supporting Jewish graduates abroad who, because of numerus clausus, could not enter Russian senior high schools. In the summer of 1902 he took part in the meeting in Moscow to organize a conference of its Polish sections near Warsaw that autumn, and he was elected chair of the central committee for Poland. In 1902 he entered the law faculty of Warsaw University, though he was soon thereafter arrested and sentenced to three weeks in jail for taking part in a demonstration in the Warsaw municipal theater during the staging of the play Złoty Cielak (The golden calf) in which ethnic-minded Jewish academic youth saw the dangers of anti-Semitism. In the winter of 1904, he was arrested once again for participating in the demonstration at the funeral of the Bundist leader Birntsvayg. He spent three months in jail and was then expelled from Warsaw University. He went on at Berlin University to study political economy and political science. In 1903 he joined the Bund. After the 1905 Russian Revolution, he returned to Warsaw and began actively to work for the party, and together with Bronisław Grosser and others, took part in editing the illegal Bundist organ Nasze Hasło (Our password). Over the years 1906-1908, he studied at St. Petersburg University and upon graduation settled in Warsaw where he worked as a lawyer, though he was primarily concerning with party work. In 1909 he was arrested on the charge of belonging to the Social Democratic Party. He spent over three months in jail this time, and he was then administratively expelled beyond the borders of Poland. He lived for a time in Paris. In 1910 he received permission to return to Warsaw. In 1911 a court proceeding was brought against him and Grosser for belonging to the Bund. Grosser was arrested, and Erlich hid in Kiev Province, before departing for Munich. When the trial was abrogated, he traveled to St. Petersburg, was coopted onto the central committee of the Bund, and was named representative of the party on the organizing committee for the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party and the Social Democratic faction in the Fourth Duma. Together with Dovid Zaslovski, Beynish Mikhalevitsh, and later Yitskhok Rafes, in 1913 he joined the editorial board of the newly created Bundist organ, Di tsayt (The times). From 1912 he was also a contributor to the major Russian newspaper Den’ (Day). In the summer of 1913, he was arrested in Moscow at the All-Russian Conference of Business Employees and spent three months in jail. During WWI, while Di tsayt was shut down, he published with his comrades a Russian-language monthly Evreiskie vesti (Jewish news). He also took part in the labor office of the organization ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades). With the outbreak of the March Revolution in 1917, he assumed an active role on the executive committee of the labor council in St. Petersburg. At the first meeting of the council in June 1917, he was voted onto the central executive committee of the council. Together with the labor leaders Goldenberg, Smirnov, Rozanov, and Rusanov, he was delegated to go abroad and bring together in Stockholm an international socialist peace conference. He traveled to Sweden, Norway, England, France, and Italy, and in early August 1917 he returned to St. Petersburg, because the governments of the Entente refused to allow their socialists to attend the conference. Following the democratic conference on August 15, 1917, he was selected to the “pre-parliament” (Provisional Council of the Russian Republic). He participated in the second meeting of the Council, and in October 1917, together with the Bundist faction and the Mensheviks, left the meeting. He was a candidate to the foundational meeting of Kherson Province on the first position and in Kiev Province on the second. From November 1917 he was a member of the editorial board of the central organ of the Menshevik Party, Rabochaia gazeta (Workers’ gazette). In August 1918 he set off with his wife (Sofia Dubnov-Erlikh, daughter of Shimon Dubnov) and their two sons for Lublin, and two months later they settled in Warsaw, where initially he was mainly active in the Warsaw labor council. In March 1919 he was named to head the Bundist list of candidates with four Bundists on the Warsaw city council; until the outbreak of WWII he remained among the most prominent figures there. For a time he published the weekly Głos Bundu (Voice of the Bund), and as editor of the journal he was twice tried over a series of confiscated issues, but both judgments (six months and two months) were dismissed by an amnesty. He also contributed to the Bund’s Yiddish press. During the Russo-Polish War of 1920, he was arrested and sentenced to three months in jail, because his speech opposing the war at a meeting of the Warsaw city council led to a trial for his belonging to the Bund. The trial went on for three years until it was thrown out of court. At the Cracow unity conference of the Bund in 1920, he was voted onto the central committee, and from that time forward he was the leading figure there until WWII. From 1921 he was a contributor to the Bundist daily newspaper in Warsaw—Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper), also known as Unzer folkstsaytung (Our people’s newspaper)—and later its editor. He wrote for it almost daily journalistic articles, primarily on political issues and formulating the position of the Bund on the rapidly advancing events in the country and in the world. During these years: he was a member of the Warsaw city council (1939); twice (1924 and 1936) he was selected as a representative of the Bund to the Warsaw Jewish community council; and he was a Bund delegate to the congress of the Socialist International in Hamburg (1923), in Marseilles (1925), and in Vienna (1931). In the 1930s he represented the Bund at a meeting of the executive of the Socialist International. He also wrote for the Polish socialist press. He frequently appeared as a speaker at large Jewish and occasionally Polish mass meetings. As a lawyer he appeared at many political trials as well as at trials to defend Jews against anti-Semitic attacks. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, he rushed to the city of Brisk (Brest) by the Bug River. He wanted to reach Vilna, where the central committee of the Bund was set to meet. He was denounced by Jewish Communists, and on October 4, 1939 he was arrested in Brisk by the Soviets. From the Brisk jail he was quickly transferred to Moscow. He was charged with a variety of concocted crimes. In the summer of 1941 he was transferred from Moscow to the Saratov prison, where on August 2, 1941 he was sentenced to death. That same month, however, the highest Soviet court commuted the death sentence to ten years of labor in a concentration camp, and he was sent back to the Moscow prison. Following the agreement between the Sikorski government in London and Russia, the Polish embassy in Moscow began to intervene on his behalf (also on behalf of Viktor Alter, the second leader of the Bund who had faced the same fate of a death sentence). On September 11, 1941 Erlich was freed—the next day, so was Alter. The head of the NKVD [Soviet secret police], Lavrentiy Beria, deemed that Erlich and Alter were considered to have served two years in prison and had a death sentence for a “fatal error.” He proposed that they be put at the head of a world Jewish committee in the fight against fascism. When Erlich and Alter came up with a project to plan for an anti-fascist committee, they were welcomed by Beria, and he declared that the project should be forwarded to Stalin for confirmation. Erlich and Alter composed a letter to Stalin about the matter. In October 1941 when the German army was but a few dozen kilometers from Moscow, Erlich and Alter were evacuated to Kuibyshev, and there the best accommodations were made available to them. They were rearrested that same month. A series of interventions were made, including those of the Bund in New York and London, to have the two arrested Bundist leaders freed but without success. After severe treatment at the hands of his interrogators, Erlich hanged himself on May 15, 1942 in his cell in Kuibyshev (present-day Samsara). On February 23, 1943 the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Maksim Litvinov, made it known that both Erlich and Alter had been shot. A great protest movement developed around the world against their murder.
Erlich’s works in book form would include: In kamf farn revolutsyonern sotsyalizm (In the fight for revolutionary socialism) (Warsaw: Naye folkstsaytung, 1934), 104 pp., in English translation by Haim Kantorovitch and Anna Bercowitz as The Struggle for Revolutionary Socialism (New York: Bund Club of New York, 1934), 62 pp.; Der iker fun bundizm (Essence of Bundism) (New York: Bund Club of New York, 1935), 16 pp.; Der “forverts” un der “bund” (The Forverts and the Bund) (New York: Bund Club of New York, 1935), 48 pp.—the Bund also published (1937) Manifesṭ fun “Bund,” tsu di yidishe arbetndike masn in poyln (Manifesto of the Bund, to the Jewish working masses in Poland) (Warsaw), 21 pp., which was distributed in over 100,000 copies; Henrik erlikh un viktor alter, byografye (Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, a biography) (New York: Unzer tsayt, 1951), 472 pp., which includes a section entitled “from Henryk Erlich’s pen” (selected writings). A similar memorial volume with the same title was also published by a Bundist group in Buenos Aires in 1943 (205 pp.)
“He came from Lublin,” wrote Yankev-Sholem Herts, “a city rife with pious Jewishness. He left the riches of his own home for the poorest of the poor. He became their plaintiff and pioneer. He was an internationalist, but he never severed himself from his Jewish roots. He avoided extremism both in general socialist politics and in issues of Jewish life, but he was never opportunistic, and he was prepared to make the highest sacrifice for his principles.”
“They [Erlich and Alter] symbolize,” wrote Professor L. Hersh, “the social, political, and cultural revival of the Jewish proletariat and the popular Jewish masses in Eastern and Central Europe—the penetration of Jewish labor into city councils and Jewish community councils, the struggle of Jewish workers for Jewish honor and for Jewish rights, their trade union movement, their cooperative movement, their enthusiastic youth movement, their sports movement; their powerful, ancient, diverse cultural movement.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1945); N. Khanin, in Forverts (New York) (April 22, 1927); Y. Leshtshinski, in Forverts (October 2, 1931; January 11, 1935); Dovid Meyer, in Veker (New York) (February 17, 1934); Ab. Cahan, in Forverts (February 5, 1935); D. Shub, in Forverts (March 21, 1935); Y. Pat, in Veker (November 1, 1939; January 1, 1943); R. Abramovitsh, in Veker (March 1, 1943); Abramovitsh, in Forverts (January 15, 1952); Sh. Grodzenski, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 5, 1943); B. Sapir, in Havaner lebn (Havana) (March 10, 1943); M. Osherovitsh, in Veker (March 15, 1943); Y. Levin-Shatskis, in Veker (March 15, 1943); Dr. E. Sherer, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (April 1943; January 1962); Sherer, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1962); Unzer tsayt, special issue (April 1943); Y. Hart, in Unzer tsayt (December 1943); Hart, in Henrik erlikh un viktor alter, byografye (Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, a biography) (1943), p. 96; Mendl Mozes, in Der poylisher yid, annual (New York, 1944); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Di geshikhte fun yidishn shulvezn in umophengikn poyln (The history of the Jewish school system in independent Poland) (Mexico City, 1947); M. Khinoy, in Forverts (September 4, 1949); Shloyme mendelson, zayn lebn un shafn (Shloyme Mendelson, his life and work) (New York, 1949), pp. 461-67; Y. Okrutni, in Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) 2 (1951); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (December 21, 1951); Dr. L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (December 22, 1951); Unzer shtime (Paris), special issue (December 22-23, 1951); B. Shefner, in Forverts (January 12, 1952); Shefner, Novolipye 7, zikhroynes un eseyen (Nowolipie 7, memoirs and essays) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 59-70; A. Glants-Leyeles, in Tog (New York) (January 19, 1952); Glants-Leyeles, in Unzer tsayt (January 1952); Glants-Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 10, 1962); Professor L. Hersh, in Lebns-fragn (January 1952); D. Naymark, in Forverts (June 1, 1952); H. Leivick, in Tsukunft (1952); Y. Horn, in Ilustrirte literarishe bleter (Buenos Aires) (3-4 (1953); Sh. Shnayderman, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 16, 1956); B. Y. Rozen, Portretn (Portraits) (Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 139-48; Y. Grinboym, Fun mayn dor (From my generation) (Tel Aviv, 1959), pp. 459-65; H. Kruk, Tog-bukh fun vilner geto (Diary from the Vilna ghetto) (New York, 1961), pp. 477, 496-97, 575; Professor A. Lermer, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (December 17, 1961); Kh. Liberman, in Forverts (Janbuary 12, 1962); L. Oler, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (March 15, 1962); Oler, in Forverts (January 6, 1967; January 8, 1967); Grigori Aronson, Rusish-yidishe inteligents (Russian-Jewish intellectuals) (Buenos Aires: Yidbukh, 1962), pp. 154-65; and in the presses in other languages in America and elsewhere
 Translator’s note. For many years details about the fates and subsequent whereabouts of Erlich and Alter remained unknown. Only with the decline and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union were many of these facts brought to light—long after the entry in the Leksikon translated here was published. For example, our text states: “On the night of December 3-4, 1941, there were contacted by telephone to come to the NKVD, from whence they never returned.” The Soviets spread misinformation about their fates as well, as in Litvinov’s announcement to the press noted above. I have tried to integrate more recently uncovered information in Erlich’s biography. (JAF)
Post a Comment