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[Page 467]

The Young Zionists (Zeirei Zion)

by A. Ludski

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

A. The first steps of the Zionist Youth movement in Brest were linked to the “Techiya” group, which was founded by them. This group was a narrow circle of dedicated idealists, who saw their future as being in Israel.

Despite the limited possibilities under the Tsarist regime, the community activity in Brest was well developed, with the Bund, Poale Zion, and active non-affiliated youth. These non-affiliated young people were attracted to the Zionist circles. There was a “Society for the Preservation of the Hebrew Language and Literature”, that was dedicated to spreading the Hebrew language both orally and in writing. It had followers who were fanatical in their dedication to this goal.

The young people voluntarily took on the collection of money for the Keren Kayemet at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, and delivered blue boxes to the homes of the community. Some of them would diligently read the Hebrew press ”Hasphirah” and other newspapers. They were interested in everything that had a link to Israel. They concentrated around the Zionist library and read books and newspapers from Israel, including the “Young Worker” and “Achdut”.

Several of these members of the Young Zionists traveled to Israel and their leaving made a deep impression on the other young people who began to think about going to Israel. Several of those who went, eventually returned, as they were not able to overcome the difficulties of settling in Israel.

During the expulsion from Brest in W.W.1, the youth was spread throughout the towns of Russia and wandered with all the homeless – some to Poland, some deeper into Russia…

B. In 1918-9, most of the homeless returned to Brest and a new wave of community activity began. The Zionist Youth had a very strong influence on the Zionist organization – some of them decided to form a branch of the Young Zionists that was directly linked to the central Zionist headquarters in Warsaw. The movement quickly spread throughout Congress Poland and was strengthened by the arrival of Russian refugees, especially in border areas such as Brest. The leaders of the Zionist movement in Brest were not pleased, but under pressure from the growing youth movement – the General Zionists were forced to give up their offices at Topolowa 12 to the Young Zionists. They left behind them the spacious hall and rooms, as well as the Techiya School, in the capable hands of the Young Zionists. The Young Zionists initiated compulsory cultural activities with Israel and Zionism as the central theme. They formed a link between the Zionist Brest and the awakening of the national dream of a Jewish State in Israel.

Some of the youth leaned toward the promised magic of the Russian revolution with its deep social reforms. But in truth, the majority of the youth yearned for 'Jewishness' and Jewish independence.

The economy of the whole movement and it's educational activities were founded on the financial assistance from the Joint (American United Relief Committee), in which the Zionists had representation on the board. Especially excelling themselves in their efforts were: Lamazhevski, Svirinowski, outsiders members such as Wertheim, Shneerson, Dr Wertaks and others. In the feverish activity of opening educational and cultural institutions the Young Zionists played a pivotal role. They seized the opportunity to open schools with Hebrew as the teaching language. The leftist organizations such as the Bund, Leftist Poale Zion had earlier already founded Yiddish schools. The Orphanage had a Hebrew Primary and Middle school. The students were mainly children who returned from exile without parents – homeless they lived in the synagogue schools and institutions. A battle broke out over these homeless children between the Zionist movement and the Workers groups that dominated, and the leftist parties that sympathized with communist Russia.

Intensive efforts were carried out in the offices in Topolowa 12 and the Techiya School under the directorship of Michael Berezowski, and later Nachum Chinitch. The Tel Chai School was conducted in two languages - Hebrew and Yiddish. In the education groups there were meetings and discussions about literary subjects, and specific subjects relating to Israel such as making aliyah and the problems facing the pioneers.

C. At the same time there was a stream of the young people from the working classes to the ranks of the Young Zionists, there were also “deserters” from the old party members to the extreme leftist circles. During the fighting and invasion of the Russians in 1920, many who belonged to the Young Zionists and their institutions declared themselves as against the Russian revolution, and would not participate in the anti government demonstrations under the Young Zionist banner, only as individuals with their professional group.

In 1919-1920 the Young Zionists managed to achieve a great deal in the fields of education, cultural activities, and social assistance (a community soup kitchen). At the same time several members were being prepared to make aliyah to Israel as the first pioneer group from Brest. This first group of Young Zionists made aliyah despite the difficulties. At their departure crowds of youths and adolescents formed a large demonstration to farewell them and show their support for the future workers of Israel.

With the stream of the third aliyah, the Young Zionists fully participated in the “working Fund”, actively collecting money for arms and equipment for the Haganah, which was sent through the central office in Warsaw. This fund raising involved widespread adult participation – the member's parents who supported this cause saw it as a holy mission

The Young Zionists had many members from the working class youth, from the workshop benches to tradesmen and white-collar workers. This is how they gained access to the professional unions. They were able to penetrate the organizations of woodworkers, carpenters, metal workers, and tradesmen, clerical employees – where the communists, the Bund and leftist Poale Zion had previously dominated.

The Jewish workers environment was dominated by demagoguery and one had to have great courage and strength of characters to make a stand against these strong mainstream currents. Some members penetrated the professional groups, with the purpose of influencing some of them to make aliyah.

With the election of the Polish Sjem (Parliament) in 1922, the Young Zionists participated together with the right Poale Zion on one electoral ticket. Although the results of this election were not favorable to either (in Polessie and all of Poland), from that time on the members became more involved in the political side of the organization.

At the National Congress in 1923 there was a renowned split – a part of the party went to the rightist Poale Zion. At a stormy meeting in Brest, the majority of members voted for a merger with the right Poale Zion. The members who remained loyal to the central committee in Warsaw categorically opposed this merger. Many others left the party at this time and formed their own party, which clung to the Young Zionist traditions. However, the majority of the members voted for a union with the rightist Poale Zion – a fierce drive to control the Tel Chai School ensued. The remainder of the Young Zionists made a firm stand to control the Tel Chai library, which existed on the basis of a permit issued to the Polessie Branch Committee of the Polish Zionists. And so the bitter wrangling and jostling for power continued between the two groups – it was not until two years later that they agreed to re-unite.

D. In the years 1923-24 the rightist Poale Zion did a great deal for the Tel Chai School with public appeals and lectures. Active members of the Young Zionist continued to go to Israel. Young people who had newly arrived in the town joined the Poale Zion - mainly because of the chance to make aliyah through the training opportunities provided through Hachshara in a kibbutz outside Brest.

In 1925-26 after a unification conference, the two split groups re-united into one party. The united party joined in a campaign for the city council and was successful.

In 1927 several of the members who had earlier made aliyah returned to Brest because of the very difficult economic situation in Israel. But this did not affect the morale of the group. The returnees actively participated in all the party work.

In the city council, the representatives of the party took on the responsibility of the cultural work and penetrated several professional groups. They held free open debates and lectures about Zionism and social problems. They supported the Tel Chai School against the discriminatory Polish authorities. The school, which did not identify with the aims of “Zishah” in Poland (an extreme YIddish Bundist institute) was closed down. Some of the parents sent their children to Hebrew schools, others to Polish schools.

A Grodzienski and S. Orchov remained dedicated workers for the Tel Chai School.

In 1923 the Hebrew primary school “Techiya” was transferred to the authority of the “Al Hamishmar” group, under the directorship of Z. Lutwak. Lutwak had established the school on strong foundations. Several years later the school became the Tarbut Hebrew High School, with full government accreditation.

The upsurge in Zionism had somewhat waned since the end of the Pioneer Aliyah, and at the municipal elections in 1929 the united list of Poale Zion and Zeirei Zion only managed to obtain one seat. On the other hand, the collection of funds for the workers in Israel was always successful.

The unrest (riots) in Israel in 1929 caused an awakening and brought a new stream of youth to the pioneer movement. The central branch of the party in Warsaw mobilized the young people to prepare for aliyah – and Brest was very active in this activity. The results of the 1930 election to the city council brought prestige to the party that had a prominent place in the communal life of the city.

Two ideologies dominated the Workers for Israel Party - one believed that the party should direct all it's energies to the protection and benefit of the local Jewish working classes, and conduct educational Zionist programs and work for Israel. Also to stand up and fight the leftist elements (Leftist Poale Zion and the Bundists). The second adopted the position of:“our main aim is for Eretz Israel, and there we will build on sand”. Opinions were divided – the workers organizations opposed this stand and had contact with socialist parties (P.P.S.- Polish Socialist Party). The supporters of building in Israel supported the League of the Workers in Israel, the issue of Hachshara, Aliyah, and raising funds through the Israel Bonds.

The Brest branch of Hapoel conducted a sports organization that attracted a large following and members from the youth circles.

On the 1st May (International Labor Day) in the early years they would hold a workers march in Brest without permission from the authorities. The Zeirei Zion (Young Zionists) did not participate in these demonstrations as they were invariably broken up by the police, with many of the participants beaten severely. After the union of the Young Zionists and the left Poale Zion there were united public demonstrations of the party that included the P.P.S. and the Bund. Years later these combined demonstrations were cancelled. Under pressure from the Bund, the P.P.S. demanded that that the united party should not come out with pro- Zionist proclamations at these rallies. Therefore the Polish Zionist party made their 1st official demonstration by themselves.

The stream of people wishing to make obtain family certificates for aliyah to Israel rose to new heights from 1931-32. In Brest the pioneer movement ran it's Hachshara (agricultural training) program from a kibbutz just outside the city – the political party was very involved with the management of this kibbutz.

With the rise of the Nazi regime, the striving to make aliyah became stronger as many decided to leave Poland. This caused a feverish quest for certificates for aliyah, and the Zionist work of the party was much strengthened. It's members were active in Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod and Aliyah bet and the membership grew daily.

At this time the rise of the revisionist movement began with it's various branches: Betar, Masada, Brit Hachayal and others who were active against out party. The United Zionist Party together with the general Zionists – with Y.L. Winnikoff from Al- Hamishmar and the Y. Greenboim group used all it's strength and energies to uphold the Zionist movement in Brest.

As soon as the swastikas cast their shadows and the terrible war was on the horizon –the will to make aliyah strengthened. A few members managed to leave with Aliyah Bet, but the majority had to remain in Brest against their will. They were murdered together with their brother Jews in the terrible Holocaust that followed.

The Founders of the Young Zionists in 1913
R. to L. M. Lubetkin, Y.S.Lubetkin, S. Tzemach, Rabinovitch, A. Tzemach

 

Officials of the Educational and Social Assistance Group

First row: H. Epstein, R. Distler, and R. Pregel
Second row: A. Shtrickman, S. Itzbitzer, M. Distler, B. Minivetski, R. Wertheim
(the Joint representative), Y. Gelerstein, L. Mular, and M. Lubetski
Third row: S. Gershboim, Y. Tennenbaum, G.Korman Lubelski, Z. Grynberg,
G. Goldberg, Dr. Mostovianski, M. Breinhendler, and Fanaberia

 

The Committee of the Poale Zion in 1922

Sitting right to left: A. Becker, M. Breinhendler, M. Machlis,
N.Chinich and B.Mackron (Ben-Tzvi)
Standing: K. Lubelski, A. Ludski, V. Shedrovitzki, and L Korman (Dagnit)

 

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