The well know Bundist Motl Zelmanowicz, author of "A Bundist Comments on History As It Was Being Made - The Post–Cold War Era" (Xlibris: Philadelphia, PA 2009), passed away Saturday October 16, 2010. Below we publish the text of the eulogy that Professor Jack Jacobs delivered at Motl Zelmanowicz's funeral. We thank Jack Jacobs for making this text available to a broader public.
Eulogy for Motl Zelmanowicz
by Jack Jacobs
Khaver Motl was a socialist, a Yiddishist, a proudly secular Jew, and, a life-long, deeply committed, member of the Jewish Workers’ Bund. A Bundist mit leyb un lebn. He was, moreover, from a Bundist family, a Bundist ben Bundist – and justifiably proud of it. Lodz, an industrial city with a Jewish population of 200,000 in the years between the two world wars, was one of the Bund’s citadels – and Efrayim Luzer Zelmanowicz, Motl’s father, was one of the most prominent Bundists in that Bundist stronghold. Efrayim Luzer was elected, in the mid-1920s, to the board of the kehile, [that is: the board of the Jewish community of Lodz], and was then selected by the Bund to serve as a parnes [a high-ranking official] in the kehile’s governing body. Motl – like his dear brother Szlamek – was raised in the Bundist movement of Lodz, and accepted its ideas as his own at a very young age. He remembered, as a child of 7 or so, being lifted to an open window by his father, so that he could see the red flag which had been hung by Polish workers in honor of the First of May – and he later thought that that may well have been the moment at which he first became a socialist himself. Motl went on to serve as Chair of the Lodz branch of the Bund’s children’s organization, the Sotsialistishe kinder farband, SKIF, and spoke at meetings of the Bund’s youth movement, the Yugnt-bund tsukunft. In December, 1936, the Lodz Tsukunft organized a meeting in support of the Spanish Republic. Motl addressed the meeting, which ended with the singing of revolutionary songs, and with the collection of funds to be donated to the workers of Spain. That evening, the Polish police arrived at his parents’ home, and searched the premises – and Motl arrived home, dressed in a blue shirt and a red kerchief [the movement’s uniform] while the search was underway. Recognizing immediately the seriousness of the situation, he succeeded in slipping an incriminating document which was on his person to his mother. He was, however, arrested, and, while being interrogated, was punched in the face by a police officer, who accused him of being a Communist. But he was, thankfully, freed shortly thereafter, when it became clear that there was no evidence at all in support of this false accusation.
On August 26, 1939 – days before the German invasion of Poland – Motl was mobilized into the Polish army. He served on 3 fronts – but the Polish military was no match for the Wehrmacht. By the end of September, by which point Motl was in Warsaw, it was all too clear that the Polish capital was about to be captured by the Germans. In order to avoid having vast numbers of its soldiers taken as prisoners of war, the Polish army demobilized just as fast as it could, and two days before the fall of Warsaw, Motl was released from military service. He succeeded in reuniting with his father, succeeded in traveling to Vilna – which was, at that time, not occupied by the Nazis – and eventually learned that the New York-based Jewish Labor Committee, the JLC, with the aid of the American Federation of Labor, had succeeded in obtaining emergency visitor’s visas to the US for a limited number of European labor land social democratic leaders who were in extraordinary danger of being captured and incarcerated. Efrayim Luzer was one of those granted an American visitor’s visa – and was also one of those who was permitted to bring the members of his family with him to the States under the terms of this program. And so it happened, that the Zelmanowicz family travelled, together with other Bundist refugees, thousands of miles by train across the Soviet Union via Moscow to Vladivostock, from there to Japan, and by ship from Japan across the Pacific to the US – eventually succeeding in escaping the fate of most other Polish Jews.
Upon arriving in Seattle, Washington, Motl and his family were greeted with open arms by a group of people affiliated with the JLC and the Workmen’s Circle – and, for the rest of his life, Motl remained attached to those organizations, and to other Jewish and socialist organizations which were and are active in the US. He was, first and foremost, active in the Bund, for so long as that movement continued to exist, but he was also a leading figure in the Forward Association, in Democratic Socialists of America, and in the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, among other worthy groups, and contributed very generously, in many senses, to these and other like-minded entities. He and I worked closely in such organizations over a period of decades. I remember in particular the small group charged with creating a strategic plan for the Forward, in which the late Hershl Ostroff [who was a good friend of Motl’s], the late Manny Muravchik [who had been executive director of the JLC], Berl Zumoff [im tsu lange yorn], and Motl, played pivotal roles. Motl consistently and vigorously defended his Yiddishist and social democratic principles throughout our extended discussions and debates. I remember as well Motl’s impassioned Yiddish-language speeches at YIVO banquets – which I sometimes attended as Motl’s guest, on which occasions I would sit at his table and kibitz with Szlamek. I was the beneficiary of Motl’s generosity any number of times, and take this opportunity to inform those who may not know that a grant from the Zelmanowicz Foundation helped to make possible publication of my last book, which is on Bundist counterculture, and which appeared last year. I was, and am, very grateful.
Motl did well in his American years – and he liked to live well. But he remained deeply committed to his Bundist ideals even in the period during which his material position was markedly different than had been that of the Jewish workers of pre-War Lodz. At one point, I recall, he owned a very high quality great coat – a heavy, long winter coat, made of first-rate material, which, I imagine, must have cost a considerable sum. And it was very much like Motl that he had someone stitch a red falcon – the symbol of the Sotsialistishe Kinder Farband -- onto the breast of this coat, in such a position that the falcon was visible whenever he was wearing it. To his children and grandchildren, to Shlamek and Shlamek’s family, to all those assembled here: I say, in Motl’s language and in mine: Nem op a trayst. Geven iz er a breyt-hartsiker man, an idealistisher man, an optimist, un a guter khaver. Koved zayn ondenk. Ikh – punkt vi aykh -- vel im nisht fargesn.
bundism.net: October 21, 2010 (Frank Wolff)