The Bund was a radical socialist Jewish
organisation active in Tsarist Russia
and particularly in Poland
during the first half of the 20th century
. Although almost eliminated by the holocaust
, ideas can never be killed
and a few people survived to continue the tradition
to both the inequalities of global capitalism
and the totalitarianism
of the Communist
Unlike traditional Zionist Jewish groups, the Bund made no demand for territory. They fought for the full civic equality of Poland's minorities and their right to develop their historical and cultural identity through their own language and institutions. It was a highly politicised multiculturalism that sought acceptance, not tolerance; equality for ordinary people rather than the crowning of "community leaders". The Bund emphasised "peoplehood" not statehood and was deeply suspicious of state power, especially when it claimed to operate on behalf of "the people". Although they supported Lenin's revolution in Russia in 1917 they then argued bitterly against the increasing centralisation of power in the hands of a few self-proclaimed leaders.
In 1938, in the last free municipal elections before the Nazi invasion, the Bund swept the large Jewish vote and looked forward to participating in a governing coalition with the Polish Socialist Party. The general election never happened. Instead the Nazis invaded and exterminated most of Poland's Jews. The Bund was almost destroyed, yet ironically also had the opportunity to present its finest achievements in the ghettoes.
With the establishment of Jewish ghettoes in Warsaw, Lodz and other major Polish cities, in many cases with the tacit support of local mayors and dignitaries, the Bund set about organising a resistance even from within these traumatic circumstances. This culminated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising where unarmed men, women and children succeeded in fighting back against the Nazis, the town officials and the official Jewish leaders within the ghetto, in a brave yet ultimately doomed attempt to improve their conditions.
Bundists abroad tried to organise resistance and to alert the world about what was happening in Nazi-occupied countries in Europe, but the world seemed not to care. In 1943 the Bund's representative in the Polish Parliament in Exile in London, Szmul Zygielbojm, killed himself in protest at the world's indifference to the slaughter of Poland's Jews. In his suicide note he laid the blame not at the German, but at the British government, for consistently ignoring his appeals to halt the atrocities which reports now said were occurring in places like Auschwitz and Dachau.
Despite its tragic story, the history of the Polish Bund shows that people can fight back against even the most extreme odds, and no matter how fierce the dictator or how vicious the army, ordinary people always have an opportunity to resist and to change the world they live in.