Held Seven Weeks By The Bolsheviki

by Zack on July 7, 2010

On July 10 1920 Joseph Selig Kershner left New York for Europe after learning that his wife’s family was in danger in their Polish homeland. After a grueling four month journey, that included seven weeks in various Soviet jails and dungeons, Joseph returned to Ellis Island in New York harbor with 18 Polish Jews who would make America their new home. The following article ran in the Wednesday, November 10th 1920 edition of The Burlington Free Press, Joseph’s home town newspaper, just four days after his arrival back in America. I have transcribed the article and included a high-resolution scan of the article from microform. This isn’t the whole story, but it provides useful insight into Joseph’s journey.


Joseph Kershner has Thrilling Experience in Getting His Wife’s Family Out of Polish Russia – Accomplishes Mission, and 11 Reach Burlington

Captured by the Bolsheviki, held prisoner by them for seven weeks and later freed on the arrival of the Polish troops are some of the experiences of Joseph Kershner of 192 Park street, who yesterday returned with his wife’s family from Polish Russia.

Mr. Kershner reached New York Saturday on the S.S. “Zeeland” with his wife’s family consisting of eleven persons and arrived in Burlington at an early hour yesterday morning.

Mr. Kershner left New York on July 10 last on the S.S. “Kroonland,” going direct to Southampton, England, from which place he sailed to Danzig, the new Polish port. From Danzig Mr. Kershner went to Warsaw, arriving there July 28. The city at the time of Mr. Kershner’s arrival was in serious danger of being captured by the Bolsheviki, and he was warned by the American consul not to attempt to go into the interior where his relatives were. The city in which they resided was Wladiner-Wolinzk.

Mr. Kernsher, in order to reach Wladiner-Wolinzk, had to pass the Bolshevik lines and upon arriving at the city of Wladiner-Wolinzk was forced to remain concealed in the cellar of his relatives’ home during the night of August 7, while the Bolshevik troops were storming the city. Later that night he was found by the Red soldiers and was brought before the Red commander and, according to his story, he was there put through a “third degree.” He exhibited his American and Polish passports, but Mr. Kershner alleges that they were ignored by the commander who ordered him to be under arrest. Later, he was given the freedom of the city but was not allowed to leave it.

Mr. Kershner stated that the condition of the Bolsheviki was indescribable, as both officers and men were without necessary clothing and only a few of them were fortunate enough to have a pair of shoes. Mr. Kershner was ordered to report to them twice while they occupied the city. In the early part of the Bolshevik occupation Mr. Kershner stated that a thorough search was made of all houses and stores in the city, and that many articles were stolen by them, such as clothing, shoes, food and the like.

During the Bolshevik occupation Mr. Kershner had an opportunity to see and to note the actions of the Red troops with each other. He stated that there was no saluting between officers and enlisted men, and when they were addressing one another, instead of using a title, they would use the word “Comrade.”

Conditions grew so bad that bread made of oats, rye and corn by the inhabitants was selling at ten rubles per pound, about 25 cents in American money, and was very scarce at that.

The Poles, when they advanced upon the city, were accompanied by and aided by veteran French troops, who, according to Mr. Kershner, were very conspicuous, owing to their light blue uniforms and blue steel helmets. The city of Wladiner-Wolinzk was easily captured by the Poles and French from the Bolsheviki, according to Mr. Kershner.

Shortly after arrival of the Polish troops, Mr. Kershner, with his relatives, moved by wagon to Warsaw, where, aided by the American consul, he at last, with a great deal of difficulty, succeeded in getting accommodation on the S.S. “Zeeland” and sailed from Antwerp, Belgium, on October 27, arriving in New York on November 6. Some little difficulty was experienced at the immigration station on Ellis Island in the passing of Mr. Kershner’s father-in-law, who is an aged man. This was, however, accomplished and Mr. Kershner, with his eleven relatives, arrived in the city yesterday morning.

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