Kruk, Herman (Hersh)

views updated

KRUK, Herman (Hersh)

Nationality: Polish. Born: Plock, 19 September 1897. Military Service: Polish Army. Career: Involved with the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and Polish Socialist Party, ca. 1915; left the Communist Party and joined the Jewish Labor Bund, 1920. Founder and secretary, cultural department, National Council of Jewish Trade Unions, Warsaw; secretary, Yugntbund, youth organization of the bund, 1925; director, Grosser Library, Warsaw, 1930; head, "Library Center," Kultur-lige, ca. 1930; director, Kultur-lige, 1936; journalist for the bund's press. Escaped to Vilna, Lithuania, following the German attack on Warsaw. Restored and managed Strashun Library, Vilna, 1941-42; first chairman, underground committee of the bund, Vilna, ca. 1941; vice-chairman, Union of Writers and Artist, Vilna, ca. 1941; coerced by a Nazi agency to manage the Jewish library collections of Vilna for transport to Germany, 1942. Editor, Byuletin fun biblyotekntsenter, "Library Center," Kultur-lige.Died: Murdered, victim of the Holocaust, 1944.



Togbuch fun Vilner Geto [Diary of the Vilna Ghetto]. 1961.


Critical Studies:

Guardians of a Tragic Heritage: Reminiscences and Observations of an Eyewitness by Dina Abramowicz, 1999; Holocaust Chronicles: Individualizing the Holocaust through Diaries and Other Contemporaneous Personal Accounts by Robert Moses Shapiro, 1999; The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation, edited by Jonathan Rose, 2001.

* * *

Herman (Hersh) Kruk was born in Plock, in Russian Poland, on 19 September 1897. He was the eldest of three siblings who survived to adulthood. His younger brother, later known as Pinkhes Shvarts (Pinkhos Schwartz), was a prominent member of the Jewish Labor Bund and a journalist, writer, and cultural activist. When he was 17, Kruk lost his father and had to take on the full responsibilities of an adult, aiding his mother in support of the family.

Kruk was greatly affected by the cataclysmic events of World War I. Jewish social and political life, which had been repressed under the czarist regime, developed rapidly during the German occupation. Kruk read extensively and was strongly influenced by a number of the social, political, and cultural currents of the time. He was active for a while in Zionist circles. A permanent influence was his deep love of modern Yiddish literature, which developed in his youth. At the time his spiritual home was the Hazomir Library, founded in Plock during the Russian Revolution of 1905. It was a center of activity for the Jewish nationalist and socialist parties.

Kruk was drawn into the socialist movement in 1915, at the age of 18. When he began to read the Jewish Labor Bund's Lebns-fragn, he became an ardent enthusiast of Vladimir Medem and of the bund's program of national cultural autonomy for the Jews. At the same time Kruk joined a mixed Jewish and Polish circle of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) and attended meetings of a workers' club of the left wing of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS Lewica). Thus, his loyalties were divided between the modern, secular Jewish cultural nationalism of Hazomir and the revolutionary Marxist wing of Polish socialism. Under the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and of the revolution in Germany, the SDKPiL and the PPS Lewica united to form the Polish Communist Party, in which Kruk became a militant activist.

Kruk was drafted into the Polish army and, under great risk, conducted revolutionary propaganda in the ranks of the military. He soon developed serious doubts concerning the Bolshevik suppression of the other socialist parties in Soviet Russia, however, and he was deeply troubled by the communists' preference for assimilation as the solution to the Jewish question. During his military service in Warsaw he was drawn to the Jewish Labor Bund, in which his younger brother was active, and to his first love, modern Yiddish culture, which was growing by leaps and bounds in education, literature, the press, the theater, and other forms. Kruk quit the Communist Party and joined the bund in 1920. He cast off his leftist orientation, became an implacable opponent of communism, and identified with the right wing of social democracy. After completing his military service Kruk settled in Warsaw.

All his life Kruk was a zealous autodidact. Having rejected communism, he came to the conclusion that the working class had no better weapon in its struggle than the acquisition of education and knowledge. Kruk found his niche in the educational and cultural work of the Jewish Labor Bund. He took the initiative to found the cultural department of the National Council of Jewish Trade Unions in Warsaw and was not only its official secretary but also its most dynamic activist. Again thanks to his initiative, the cultural department of the Yugntbund-Tsukunft, the youth organization of the bund, was created in 1925, and he headed it as secretary. Around 1930 the Bundist Grosser Library was transferred to the Kultur-lige (Cultural League), and Kruk was appointed the library's director. He transformed the Grosser Library into the largest and most popular Jewish library in Warsaw, building up its collection to some 30,000 books. He also headed the Library Center of the Kultur-lige, which offered instruction in library science to some 400 affiliated Jewish libraries in the cities and towns of Poland. He edited the center's monthly Byuletin fun biblyotekntsenter, published several brochures in Yiddish and Polish on library science, and published many articles, in both professional journals and general periodicals, about Yiddish books, library science, the dissemination of culture, and other subjects. Kruk took over the leadership of the Kultur-lige in 1936. He also worked as a journalist for the bund's press.

At the outset of World War II, Kruk left Warsaw and managed to make his way to Vilna, which the Soviets had temporarily turned over to an independent Lithuania. There he kept his first Yiddish diary, now in the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, about his wanderings as a war refugee. Upon the Soviet annexation of Lithuania, he was forced to remain in Vilna. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Kruk decided not to attempt to flee but to remain in Vilna to record the martyrdom of its Jewish community in a diary and to share its fate. He restored the library of the Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah, was first chairman of the underground committee of the Jewish Labor Bund, and became vice chairman of the ghetto's Union of Writers and Artists. In 1942 the Nazis ordered Kruk to assemble a staff of ghetto Jews under his direction to work for Einsatzstab Rosenberg. Their task was to sort and pack the books, manuscripts, and other cultural treasures of Vilna Jewry, first and foremost of the YIVO Institute, to be sent to Germany or pulped in Vilna. Kruk and others hid as many of the valuable items as they could. During the final liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, on 23-24 September 1943, he was deported to the slave labor camp of Klooga in Estonia, where he continued to keep a diary. Part of this diary survived and was published in Hebrew translation by the Moreshet Institute in Israel. Kruk was murdered in the camp of Lagedi, in Estonia, on the night of 18 September 1944, just before the German retreat.

—Eugene Orenstein

See the essay on Togbuch fun Vilner Geto.