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Sachs, Feliks

(1869–1935), Polish socialist, Yiddish writer and editor, and physician. Feliks Sachs was born in Warsaw to a lower middle-class Jewish family. A native Yiddish speaker, he completed gymnasium in 1888 and subsequently entered the faculty of medicine at Warsaw University, earning his degree in 1895. At the university, Sachs attended illegal meetings of radical students and became a convinced Marxist. In 1898, he joined the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and in 1899 sat on the executive committee of the party’s Warsaw division. Sachs coedited the party’s central organ, Robotnik, with Józef Piłsudski in 1899–1900.

In 1901, Sachs moved to London and was active on the party’s foreign committee. He became coeditor of Der arbayter, the party’s only Yiddish organ. In 1902, he relocated to Vilna, where he illegally brought out several issues of Der arbayter as sole editor. At the Sixth Party Congress of the PPS in June 1902, Sachs was elected to the central committee as head of a new Jewish Committee, charged with the task of organizing Jewish workers and disseminating party propaganda in Yiddish. Under his editorship, Der arbayter referred to Jews as a “nationality” and, for the first time, appeared regularly. Sachs was also instrumental in organizing the publication, in London, of Di proletarishe velt (1902–1903), a popular theoretical Yiddish party organ.

Sachs argued for a revision of the PPS’s assimilationist stand. He favored official recognition of East European Jews as a separate nationality entitled to collective rights. At the same time, he engaged in an open polemic with the Bund over the nationalities question, castigating it for alleged “indifference and hostility” to Polish independence. By favoring a nonterritorial solution to the national problem in tsarist Russia (i.e., national–cultural autonomy), the Bund, he claimed, acted against Polish interests.

In his efforts to propagate the PPS program among Jewish workers, Sachs played an important role in producing and disseminating Yiddish agitation brochures. He published, in Yiddish, Ferdinand Lasal (1906), a study of the nineteenth-century German socialist activist and theoretician (1825–1864) of Jewish origin whose writings favoring evolutionary over revolutionary change became popular among social democrats beginning in the 1890s. At the same time he assisted in the selection and translation of other party publications in Yiddish.

In the wake of the 1905 Revolution, Sachs was elected onto the PPS’s central committee. He was a delegate at the 1906 party congress, which led to a schism, and played a major role at the founding convention of the PPS-Left in 1907, remaining active until World War I. With the dissolution of the PPS-Left in 1918, Sachs withdrew from political life and practiced medicine in Warsaw until his death.

Suggested Reading

Alicja Pacholczykowa, “Sachs, Feliks,” Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 34, pp. 265–268 (Warsaw, Wrocław, and Kraków, 1992); Henryk Piasecki, Żydowska organizacja PPS, 1893–1907 (Wrocław, 1978); Joshua Zimmerman, Poles, Jews and the Politics of Nationality: The Bund and the Polish Socialist Party in Late Tsarist Russia, 1892–1914 (Madison, Wis., 2004).