Foot race on a city street for Morgnshtern members during a gathering of Tsukunft, the youth movement of the Bund, Warsaw, 1932. Photograph by Kuper Foto. (YIVO)

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The sport organization of the Jewish Labor Bund in Poland from 1926 to 1939. Morgnshtern was also the name of the Polish Jewish section of the Socialist Workers Sport International (SWSI). With 5,000 members (more than 1,500 in Warsaw alone) and more than 170 branches, Morgnshtern was one of the largest sport organizations in Poland. Morgnshtern’s first national Congress (Land Tsuzamenfor) was held in 1929. Arbeter sportler, Morgnshtern’s monthly publication, was replaced in the 1930s by Folks-tsaytung far sport, a biweekly section of the Naye folks-tsaytung (the Bund’s daily newspaper).

Members of the Morgnshtern gymnastics team, Lublin, Poland, 1929. (YIVO)

Morgnshtern’s purpose was to attract young Jewish workers. It attempted to put key Bundist principles into practice in the specific area of sport: socialism, working-class consciousness, internationalism, and the promotion of Yiddish culture. Moreover, Morgnshtern, following Bundist ideology, rejected all forms of militarism and nationalism; Morgenshtern’s athletes therefore saw Zionism as a manifestation of bourgeois chauvinism among Jews and refrained from any collaboration with its organizations—not only Maccabi, but also Ha-Po‘el, and the Zionist-socialist sport organization, Gwiazda-Shtern.

The theory of workers’ sport that guided Morgnshtern’s activities was formulated by Julius Deutsch, chairman of the SWSI. Deutsch believed that the socialist movement must offer the working masses intellectual and ethical tools that would allow them to become historical agents and empower them to replace the bourgeois order. Workers’ sport, practiced according to socialist principles, was meant to provide such a framework—that is, to create a counterhegemonic proletarian cultural sphere. Morgnshtern organized and sponsored athletic activities for both working men and working women to help free their bodies and minds from the effects of their oppressive and monotonous daily physical work.

Morgnshtern emphasized participation in noncompetitive activities; indeed, a large majority of its membership belonged to its noncompetitive sections. The most popular activity was gymnastics and, after it, eurhythmics (ritmika), an overwhelmingly female-dominated form of exercise. While initially Morgnshtern opposed competitive or violent sports, its leaders had at the same time to face the increasing popularity of such sports. At the 1929 Congress of the SWSI, Morgnshtern proposed a total ban on boxing in all the affiliated federations, as well as new rules for soccer to oppose the escalating violence and competitiveness of “bourgeois” soccer. According to this proposal, soccer should be played according to humanist and socialist principles: the winning team would be decided not only on the basis of goals scored but also through a system of points rewarding “aesthetic and fair play” and “artful combinations.” The proposal failed, and soccer—played the standard way—continued to be immensely popular among Morgnshtern members just as among European workers in general. In the early 1930s, several Morgnshtern soccer teams represented different Jewish workers’ unions. The most successful among them, Czarny, was the club of the union of Jewish employees in commerce in Warsaw.

Members of the Bundist youth and sports organizations Tsukunft and Morgnshtern gathered for an event on the TOZ (Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish Population) sports field, Lublin, Poland, 1928. (YIVO)

Morgnshtern sent 300 worker athletes to the 1931 International Workers Olympic Games, who proudly marched along the avenues of “Red Vienna” displaying their Yiddish banners. Some 100,000 worker athletes from 26 countries participated in the games, in contrast to the 1,408 participants at the “standard” Olympic Games organized by International Olympic Committee in Los Angeles a year later. The workers’ games welcomed all athletes and encouraged mass participation rather than competition along national lines, while still stressing quality of performance. The next Workers Olympiad—planned for Barcelona in 1936, in opposition to the Nazi Olympics in Berlin—never took place because the Spanish Civil War broke out two weeks before the games were scheduled to begin. It was rescheduled for the following year in Antwerp, but the Polish government banned Morgnshtern from participation in this event.

Suggested Reading

Julius Deutsch, Sport un politik, ed. Khayim Pidzic (Warsaw, 1930); Roni Gechtman, “Socialist Mass Politics through Sport: The Bund’s Morgnshtern in Poland, 1926–1939,” Journal of Sport History 26.2 (Summer 1999): 326–352; Jacob Sholem Hertz, Di geshikhte fun a yugnt: Der kleyner Bund; Yugnt-Bund Tsukunft in Poyln (New York, 1946); Jack Jacobs, “Creating a Bundist Counter-Culture: Morgnshtern and the Significance of Cultural Hegemony,” in Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100, pp. 59–68 (New York, 2001).