Sunday, November 20, 2005

A fine old Bundist militant

MAJER BOGDANSKI, above, speaking at a Warsaw ghetto revolt commemoration meeting held by the Jewish Socialists' Group;
and below, seated left of chair at a JSG conference in 2004.
Unfortunately Majer was taken ill during this conference, and it was the last one he managed to attend.

COMRADES and friends of a fine old Bundist militant from Poland will pay tribute to him at a meeting in London on Sunday, November 27.
Majer (pronounced Mayer) Bogdanski, tailor, singer and lifelong socialist, died at the beginning of September, aged 93 . Majer was born near Lodz, in Poland, the oldest of five children. His dad was a cabinet maker. Having to leave school young due to circumstances, Majer never lost his appetite for culture and learning.

Joining the youth movement of the Jewish socialist Bund, Majer entered a life of struggle. Called up to the Polish army, he was captured by the Russians when they invaded eastern Poland during the Nazi-Soviet pact, and taken to an Arctic labour camp where they told him "you'll die like a rat". But after the Soviet Union was invaded, Poles like Majer were freed to join General Anders' Polish army. Arguing with those influenced by Zionism who thought they should try and get away to Palestine, Majer served with distinction in Italy, taking part in the fierce fighting around Monte Cassino alongside British forces.His wife Esther, also a Bundist, and other family members, perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Majer settled in the East End of London, working as a tailor, and joining the Labour Party. He also became a founder of the Friends of Yiddish, keeping alive the language of the Jewish workers' movement and ghetto fighters. He wrote poems and stories, and having taken singing lessons, as well as playing the violin, in later life he recorded both Yiddish and Polish songs.

By then Majer had also become a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group, providing the younger generations of activists with a living link to the pre-war culture and labour movement of Eastern Europe. You could count on Majer to attend conferences; and to tell you if he thought you were wrong.

Majer had a genial sense of humour, but he countered any frivolity on serious issues. He had been there, seen where things lead, and though you might not always agree with him you could not dismiss where he was coming from. He did not go on about his experiences, but you knew. Despite, or perhaps because of his strong background and life history, he had time for all sorts of people and age-groups.

A few things I remember:
Majer's surprisingly strong, cantorial voice from such a small, sparse frame, rendering the Internationale in Yiddish at a May Day meeting in Toynbee Hall;
Meeting Majer near Victoria one evening with his violin case. He was off to Scotland to play some music for a friend who was ill. He had not been so well himself but he laughed when I asked how he was.
Majer in hospital towards the end, seriously ill and tired, short of breath,but discussing Tolstoy, Dosteyevsky and Shakespeare with some young visitors.

At Majer's funeral in Essex, there were Jews of all shades of religious adherance, from Orthodox Federation synagogue to atheists like myself, and non-Jews of all skin colours. We won't see his like again, and must hope we won't have to go through anything like he experienced. But as an inspiration and example he lives on.
This was takeh a mensch.

With songs, refreshments, time for people to reminisce, and a
short film about the Workers' Bund in which Majer appears.
Organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group.

(London Friends of Yiddish are also holding an event to commemorate Majer, it's in Toynbee Hall, near Aldgate East, on Sunday December 11).

BTW, the Jewish Socialists' Group website has sprung back to life at:
Mazel Tov to Julia, Cliff and Simon!



At 10:35 PM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

What a beautiful tribute to an obviously beautiful Mentch.


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