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Autobiography of Bernard Wolf
Psychologists say that our personalities are molded by the thoughts and reactions of our entire life. I wish that the first few years of my existence had more significance in the molding of my personality....because that was the existence of a son of poor working-class parents. My parents came to the "promised land" in search of new life. Although the United States was thousands of miles away from the hillsides of Lithuania with a great ocean in between , the journey meant freedom from the cruel oppression of the Czar. It meant no more pogroms, no more hiding in cellars for the fear of the Cossacks. However, the land of "golden streets" soon became land of poverty for my parents. The house in which I (as well as my four older brothers and sister) was born is still standing. People are still living in that house which should have been torn down thirty years ago. No baths, no gas stoves, toilets in the hall on the second floor, rooms without windows ... these were just a few of the "luxuries" enjoyed in that lower-East-Side firetrap. My father earned his few dollars by selling pants. It was a hand-to-mouth existence. The future was as certain as the weather. It was not very long ago that I looked upon this background with shame. I also felt ashamed of my "greenhorn" parents. This shameful feeling of shame can undoubtedly be traced to my later background. After many hardships, my eldest brother finally secured a well-to-do middle-class existence for the family. Being the "Baby" of the family, it can be said that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I did not have to leave high-school to find work as all of my brothers did. My family looks forward to me because I am getting a college education. From the firetrap on Christy Street to a new elevator apartment on Mosholu Parkway Is the story of a gradual betterment of my standard of living.
If the working-class movement meant nothing more than the reestablishment of pride in my working-class parents, it was enough. I am proud the struggles that my parents went through to feed me. I an proud of their true love for America, not the hypocritical flag waving of our professional patriots.
Not only has the working-glass movement meant this for me, but it also has given me an accomplishable vision of a new society, a society which my parents thought they would find here. What made me a Communist has often puzzled me. You can guess as well as I as to the effect of my background. The only concrete point I can point to is that my brother, Hy, a few years older than I, became a Communist, and it was an easy task for him to convince me. Once convinced, I went in search of the Communists. I was then a fifth former at George Washington High School. At last I discovered a Peace Club under faculty advisorship of Mr. Charles Hendley. The next day I joined the National Student League. The first meeting of the NSL found me sitting in a corner listening to Marxists discussing "Principles or Expediency." Sitting in the corner like an unwanted addition seemed to be the general initiation in the NSL. Believer, I put my whole heart and soul into the movement. After a long initiation of speaking on street corners, arguing with teachers, staying up all night putting out lengthy leaflets and then distributing them, I was gradually promoted to the position of Organizer of the Chapter. Standing up against the discipline of Principal Boylan, the many threats of violence from the football team, as well as the threats of arrest for distributing literature must have been a good training for leadership. Because City College is much indebted to graduates of George Washington High School. There is Marvin Rothenberg, here at this school, who is at present the Publicity director of the CCNY ASU. There is Stanley Graze and Ed Hoffman, both very valuable leaders at City College. Our training at George Washington High School taught us that all was not glory in the student movement. We learnt not to despair in critical moments as well as to take defeats. I was honored by the G.W. chapter by being elected as delegate to the Columbus Convention of the ASU.
Turning down an opportunity to go to Columbia (which would have meant support from my eldest brother who is not sympathetic to the ASU, and consequently a restraint on my activities), I entered the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at CCNY. I joined the Young Communist League immediately. In High-School, I didn't see the need for having a YCL so long as there was a NSL. Again it was a matter of starting from the bottom and working myself up. To make it brief, my offices were Advocate Agent, then Peace Director, and I am supposed to be Personnel Director next term. For opportunistic reasons of getting a job, I am transfering to the School of Business at 23rd Street. So you really have the Day Session of City 23rd represented at this school.
Now, what do I expect to get out of this school? Of course, I will contribute as much as I cay, but one usually comes to school to be on the receiving end. Obviously, I intend to learn as much as I can about the ASU and world issues, so as to enable me to give more effective leadership to my chapter. However, if this school can overcome my greatest fault, it will have served its purpose. Although I have an immense amount of confidence in our district and national leadership, I have just as great a lack of confidence in new people. Consequently, I have found tremendous difficulty in working with new ASUers and in forming my committee. This lack of confidence usually results in piling all of the work upon myself. I would say that this tendency if continued could easily lead to bureaucratic practices.
So, dear professor, when you call for a testimonial from me over our beer at the beginning of August, let me say that this school has both given me an education and corrected my faults. Hallaluya and amen.
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