1887 – 1985
As chairwoman of the Bundist women’s organization YAF (Yidisher Arbeter Froy), Dina Blond was one of the most prominent representatives of the Jewish labor party in interwar Poland. From her youth on, her life was closely intertwined with the Bund, to which she remained loyal until her death in New York in 1985. At the same time, she was also one of the best-known Yiddish translators of her day.
Dina Blond, as she came to be known within the party, was born Shayne-Feygl Szapiro on March 1, 1887 in Vilna. Her parents, Shimen-Itskhak and Khane-Sara Szapiro, sent their daughter to middle school, but an educational circle formed by young people for the purpose of self-study proved a more important influence. There she experienced for the first time a strong feeling of community, which was further intensified by her active participation in the Russian Revolution of 1905. From that time on, Dina Blond was also a member of the Jewish labor party Bund.
After the Tsarist state crushed the Revolution, a new focus of political activities in the Russian Empire emerged in the area of trade and professional organizations. Dina Blond, too, became involved in this movement. She joined the Jewish commercial employees’ association in Vilna, which was politically dominated by the Bund. In 1913, Dina Blond defeated two other candidates and was sent to the “All-Russian Congress of Commercial and Bank Employees” in Moscow as a delegate of the Vilna commercial employees. In later years she attributed her successful selection to the fact that she had flouted the regulations and, in contrast to her fellow candidates, who had given their application speeches in Russian, had switched to Yiddish. For Dina Blond, participating in the Moscow Congress, whose chairman Aleksandr Kerensky (1881–1970) would become Russian prime minister for a time during the Revolution of 1917, was a crucial experience. At the congress Dina Blond met Henryk Erlich (1882–1941), one of the leaders of the Bund in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. She also spoke before a large audience for the first time. The years that followed witnessed her first publications in the Bundist journals Di tsayt and Lebnsfragn.
Until the outbreak of World War II, Dina Blond was active in two main areas in the Polish capital: party work and translating. Her first major translation into Yiddish, of Cities and Years (1924) by Konstantin Fedin (1892–1977) appeared in 1925. Dina Blond translated over thirty works of world literature in the period before 1939, some of which were serialized in the Bundist party newspaper Naye Folkstsaytung before being published as books. Most of these works were contemporary social critical novels. From the Russian (apart from Konstantin Fedin), she translated works by Alexei Tolstoi (1883–1945) (The Death Box, 1927–1928 in the Naye Folkstsaytung, 1929 in book form), Boris Pilnyak (1894–1937) (Birth of a Man) and Ilya Ehrenburg (1891–1967). Her English-language authors included Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), 100%: The Story of a Patriot, 1924 and Liam O’Flaherty (1896–1984), The Informer, 1925. From the German she translated books by Joseph Roth (1894–1939), Job, 1930, and Confession of a Murderer, 1937 and Ödön von Horvath (1901–1938), A Child of Our Time, 1937, among others. Apart from literary texts, Dina Blond also translated antifascist political literature in the 1930s.
During World War I Dina Blond lived in Vilna, where she met her future husband Beinish Michalewicz (1876–1928), also a leading Bundist. In 1920 they moved together to Warsaw, where the Bund had its center until 1939. In the Polish capital Blond belonged to the executive of the local branch of the party, which was the largest in the country. In the mid-1920s she became chairwoman of the YAF, the Bund women’s organization, and editor of the weekly Froyen-Vinkl, the women’s page of the party newspaper Naye Folkstsaytung. In this capacity she was a leader of the Bundist women’s movement, which however played only a minor role within the party. The central committee of the party was concerned above all with a stronger mobilization of potential female voters, since it was mainly working-class women who abstained from voting. As chairwoman of the YAF, Blond coordinated a variety of women’s activities in the Jewish working-class milieu, with a focus on educational and family programs. Thus, for example, the YAF organized numerous daycare centers and summer day camps.
Despite the principle of gender equality, which traditionally belonged to the basic socialist canon, the Bund, too, was dominated by a view of women that frequently relegated its female members to subordinate roles as helpers and as mothers of future proletarian heroes. Under the leadership of Dina Blond, the YAF fought this reduction of women’s activities, among other means with a very active campaign for birth control. In contrast to the party level, where relations between the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) were generally anything but “fraternal,” on this level there was a comparatively close collaboration between Jewish and Polish women activists.
In the late 1930s, Dina Blond was the most important female voice in a stormy inner-party debate over the woman question. While male comrades attributed women’s absence in the party to their allegedly greater attraction to bourgeois culture and values and their distance from the Jewish working-class milieu, Blond had a different interpretation. She analyzed the differing significance of women in the party before and after World War I, and concluded that the largely illegal underground work and resulting “martyrdom” of the period before 1914 had better corresponded to the reticence, modesty, and self-sacrifice inculcated in women than the legal actions in the public arena and before large audiences that characterized the image of the party leadership in the 1920s and 1930s. In order to participate on this level, women had first to overcome the patterns of behavior that their grandmothers had passed down to them.
In 1939 Dina Blond succeeded in fleeing the German Army, together with other Bundists, and returned to Vilna. From there she managed in 1941 to emigrate to New York, where she remained active in the workers’ movement until her death in 1985 (Bund Committee in New York, Workmen’s Circle). With her life-long activism in the Bund and her work as a translator, Dina Blond uniquely embodies the symbiotic relationship between the party and Yiddish language and culture.
Blond, Dina. My Sisters! A Word to the Jewish Worker-Woman (Yiddish). Warsaw: 1928; Blatman, Daniel. “Women in the Jewish Labor Bund in Interwar Poland.” In Women in the Holocaust. edited by Dalia Ofer and Leonore Weitzman, 68–84. New Haven and London: 1998; Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur. Vol. 1. New York: 1956. 315–316; Pickhan, Gertrud. “Gegen den Strom.” In Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund “Bund” in Polen 1918–1939. Schriften des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts, I. Stuttgart, Munich: 2001; Pickhan, Gertrud. “‘Wo sind die Frauen?’ Zur Diskussion um Weiblichkeit, Männlichkeit und Jüdischkeit im Allgemeinen Jüdischen Arbeiterbund (“Bund”) in Polen. Zwischen den Kriegen.” In Nationen, Nationalismen und Geschlechterverhältnisse in Mittel-und Osteuropa 1918–1939. Osnabrück 2003. Einzelveröffentlichungen des DHI Warschau 7; Obituaries: Unzer Tsayt. 3–4 (519). 31–35; 5 (520). 1985. 21–24.