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The Story of the Jewish Labor Bund, 1897-1997

About the Exhibition

In 1998, YIVO sponsored an exhibition that brought to life the rich 100-year history of the Jewish Labor Bund—the mass organization in czarist Russia and interwar Poland that sought to transform the lives of the Jewish working poor through socialist organizing and secular Yiddish culture.

The traveling exhibition, curated by Chief Archivist Marek Web and Associate Archivist Leo Greenbaum, opened on January 20, 1998 at New York University's Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. Drawing upon materials from the Bund Archives and Library (acquired by YIVO in 1992), it was accompanied by a lavishly illustrated booklet written by Matthew Goodman and the curators.

A Short History of the Bund

(Drawn from The Story of the Jewish Labor Bund, 1897-1997: A Centennial Exhibition, by Matthew Goodman, Leo Greenbaum, and Marek Web. YIVO, 1998).

The General Jewish Workers Union of Poland and Russia—the Bund—was founded in Vilna in 1897. From its inception, the Bund had a mission: an all-out campaign for socialist revolution that would link the particular struggles of Russian Jews with the general struggles of workers throughout Russia.

The Bundists spread their ideals to the Jewish community by organizing unions of Jewish workers and running study groups where Marxist works were read in Yiddish translation. Since the government provided Jewish communities with no protection from pogroms, the Bundists also organized self-defense units. The Bund advocated Jewish cultural autonomy in the Diaspora and promoted Yiddish (the everyday language of most East European Jews) as the Jewish national language.

When revolution finally came to Russia in February 1917, Bundists played an important role. Though the revolution overthrew the hated czarist regime, the hopes of the revolutionaries were soon betrayed as a new oppressive Soviet regime came to power. In the early 1920s, the Bund was outlawed along with all other political parties in the Soviet Union except the Communists.

The Bund survived, however, with new bases of activity in independent Poland, and other European countries, particularly Lithuania, Latvia, and Rumania. During the interwar period, the party took an active role in local, regional, and parliamentary politics; published Yiddish newspapers and books; and maintained networks of schools, libraries, and soup kitchens.

The invasion and occupation of Poland by the Nazis and their campaign to exterminate the Jewish people marked the beginning of the end of the history of the Bund in Eastern Europe. The Bund played a leading role in the underground Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere. Most of its members, however, did not survive the war. A few Bundists returned to Poland after the war and attempted to revive the party and its communal institutions. But in 1949, the Bund was outlawed by Poland's new Communist regime.

The Bund reestablished itself as a loose federation of national Bundist organizations in several countries, with its center in the United States. In the U.S., the Bund had never existed as an independent political party. Before and after World War II, Bundist immigrants in America lived up to their principles by becoming active in labor and socialist organizations, as well as in the movement for Yiddish culture. Bundists have played key roles in establishing and maintaining the Workmen's Circle, the Jewish Socialist Alliance, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Forward Association, and the Congress for Jewish Culture. Bundists such as David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman led the two major "needle" trade unions: the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalagamated Clothing Workers.