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Lekert, Hirsh

(ca. 1879–1902), bootmaker and revolutionary activist. Born into a poor family in the northeastern Lithuanian town of Onuskis (Anushishok), Hirsh Lekert was an apprentice bootmaker as a boy. In 1895, he moved to Vilna, where he worked in a shoemaking workshop and joined a group of Jewish revolutionaries. His dedication and stormy personality gained him early notoriety. In May 1900, Lekert took an active part in attacking the city’s police station in an effort to free a group of political prisoners; he himself was later arrested for attempting to free another prisoner. Lekert was sentenced to 15 months in prison, followed by two years of exile in Ekaterinoslav (Dnipropetrovs’k).

In April 1902, Lekert returned illegally to Vilna to visit his wife and mother. On May Day of that year, he participated in an illegal demonstration organized by the Bund. The governor of Vilna, Victor Von Wahl, ordered the arrest and flogging of 26 of the demonstrators, most of whom were Jews. In response, Lekert’s group of revolutionaries took revenge. Volunteering for the task, Lekert on 18 May shot and wounded Von Wahl. Lekert was arrested on the spot and was sentenced to death by a military court, and on 10 June he was hanged in public while maintaining defiance to the end.

In the Russian radical press, revolutionaries Vera Zasulich and Julius Martov praised Lekert’s action; by contrast, Lenin opposed revolutionary terror. Even though strongly divided opinions emerged in Bundist circles—the organization was opposed to assassination as a tactic—Lekert’s deed and his conduct as he faced execution made him a hero among the masses of Jewish workers, and not only in Vilna. A popular folk song was written to memorialize him. In the 1920s a Lekert monument was erected in Soviet Minsk.

For years afterward, Jewish workers marked the anniversary of Lekert’s execution. His story inspired many writers, for example Arn Kushnirov’s play Hirsh Lekert (1929) and H. Leyvik’s play of the same name (published in Vilna in 1931). There was also a film, directed by Grigori Roshal and produced in the USSR in 1928, titled Ego Prevokhodite’stvo (His Excellency [also known as Seeds of Freedom]).

Suggested Reading

Jacob Sholem Hertz, Hirsh Lekert (New York, 1952); Dov Noy, “Hirsh Lekert ba-metsi’ut, ba-baladah ha-‘amamit uve-maḥazehu shel Levik,” in Shtudyes in Leyvik, ed. Gershon Vayner, pp. 139–155 (Ramat Gan, Isr., 1992); S. Vitsenfeld, “Hirsh Lekert: Tsum 75stn yortog fun zayn toyt,” Sovetish heymland 5 (1977): 125–128.



Translated from Hebrew by the editorial staff