Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang When I recall the period of my youth, the vision of the Zionist youth organizations flash before my eyesHanoar Hatzioni, Herzliya, Betar, Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair. And, as one who headed one of these organizations, there will always be a place in my heart for them.
The Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist Youth] chapter in Działoszyce was the largest of all the youth organizations in town. As time went on, our chapter founded other chapters in neighboring towns, such as in Kazimierza Wielka, which were led by Herszel Doński, Lejbuś Zalcman, and Lejbel Miller. Fiszel Landau and Szydłowska headed a chapter in Wiślica; in Koszyce, [it was led by] J. M. Lewensztajn. Even in Nowy Korczyn (Neustadt) and Pińczów, there were chapters founded by us. And as time went on, the Działoszyce chapter became the regional headquarters for the Hanoar Hatzioni chapters in the area.
As to organizational preparedness and mutual closeness among the chapters from both far and near, our region united with the Miechów area. This was at the end of 1933, when during a celebratory parade, the Miechów, Miechów-Charsznica, Slomniki, Wolbrum, Żarnowiec, Książ Wielki, Wodzisław, Jędrzejów, and Sędziszów chapters united into one unit under the name Miechów-Działoszyce. Mejlech Frydrych, Moszek Pińczowski, and the author of this account were part of this [combined] chapter's leadership.
When we dreamt of emigrating to the Land [of Israel], all of our desires got caught up in the idea of making this come true, but when would the stage of really getting ready to emigrate begin?
In 1934, the work of the Miechów-Działoszyce region chapters resulted in the establishment of three hakhshara [pioneer training] camps in the towns of Wodzislaw, Sędziszów, and Szczekociny. The group worked mainly on paving roads and in the sawmills.
During the first period, when the Działoszyce chapter was founded, they operated out of the Zionist Union room in the Jewish community building in the town market square.
When the chapter grew, it moved to a new clubhouse, Nusyn Rolnicki's (Nusyn, the American's) house, where they also had a large yard at their disposal for holding processions. The yard buzzed with activity on summer nights. There were dozens and dozens of boys and girls in their uniforms with songs of Zion in their mouths echoing into the distance.
Due to various reasons, over time, the chapter moved to new clubhouseson Chmielowska Street (in the Palarz family home), on Kościelna Street (in the Karmioł family home), and on Skalbmierska Street (at a non-Jew's by the name of Laskowski).
Every move from clubhouse to clubhouse, from place to place, symbolized a different stage in the history of the chapter, its existence and its work, its troubles, the arguments and the conflicts that were then our lot. There were arguments and attempts to find a solution to ideological and organizational problems that plagued our movement. Of course, there was no lack of arguments with other Zionist youth movements, and certainly with opponents of Zionism.
I must point out, with great satisfaction and pride, that the chapter in Działoszyce consisted of the best of those in Hanoar Halomed Vehaoved in the town. It was also the largest in number of all the youth movements in the area, and in terms of quality, it ranked right up there with all the other movements.
This chapter was alive and exciting, full of active members; it organized a meeting of the regional directors in Działoszyce in cooperation with the leaders of the Zagłębie area, in which candidates from all of the regions participated. Representing the head leadership chapter, Noach Cherik [Chercik?], an intellectual man, facilitated the directors' meeting. It was a prize moment in all of his existence, and all of us fell in love with his melodic voice when he took charge of the processions or explained to us the details of setting up tents or organizing camps; everything was done according to the scouting rules. Zuszka Orbach represented the leadership of the Zagłębie region, and Mejlech Frydrych and I represented our region.
At the end of the meeting, I was asked by Noach Cherik to arrange an evening procession celebrating the end of the directors' meeting. I stood before the procession lines, reading the proclamation. The atmosphere was electric; the summer sky with the stars shining was above our heads, yet all of us in our hearts thought only of nights in the Land of Israel and promised to continue the work even there. We'd be defenders of our own Land, we'd work by day in the orchards, and at night, we'd stand guard, protecting the lives of our kibbutz members in Kfar Saba or other places.
The melodic voice of Noach Cherik made your heart stop. He asked us, Mejlech Frydrych and me, to make a sworn oath in honor of the ceremony in which we were granted the Defenders of the Movement insignia. Shaking with great excitement, I declared the oath. Moments of uplifting glory and excitement from this high status were the rewards of the two who achieved this title and symbol Defenders of the Movement. These moments will remain unforgettable in every stage of the fortunate and the unfortunate life of a young Jew, guard, and member of the movement in our generation.
The extensive work included organizing summer and winter gatherings. In the summer of 1934, we organized a summer gathering near Sędziszów, in which both men and women participated from all of the chapters. Mejlech Frydrych, Dawid Stern (now David Kohav, a member of Kibbutz Usha), and I directed the gathering.
In the winter of 1935, we organized a winter gathering in Miechów-Charsznica with the same directors, and representing the main leadership were Munia Langar and Ze'ev Frydrych.
In the middle of the 30s, The Działoszyce chapter had about 150 members, men and women. And as was said, this chapter was the biggest of all the youth movements in the town. The cultural organizational activity was very intense. Every week we posted a newspaper wall on which we provided the activists an opportunity to express themselves in writing about all of the problems that concerned the chapter, in general, and our movement, in particular. We created a permanent Jewish National Fund corner. We organized a drama club with Jankiel Laszman as director. We presented plays by Goldfaden, with musical accompaniment by the Lokaj family orchestra, which was a highly regarded group in our town and the area.
Over the years, we managed to also establish a library.
The chapter's Lag B'Omer trips and processions through the town streets were an impressive event.
Contact between the area's chapters was very close. Every week, we published, by mimeograph, written reports and reviews of current events, and every month, the regional leadership met.
Members of the leadership group were Josek Szulimowicz, zl, Dov Bejski, Wolf Hercberg, Zalman Ryba, Judka Nożycer, and Lejzor Pińczowski.
The Działoszyce chapter secured a number of immigration visas [to the Land of Israel] and a few of our members did emigrate: David Shlomi [Szlamowicz?], Bajla Bursztyn, Josek Brandys, zl, and Nacha Brener. We'll never forget the period of their emigration; we held going away parties for them, we took lots of pictures, and we wished them well on their new journey, the road to fulfillment as defenders of Zion. Meanwhile, all those who remained dreamt of their turn to emigrate. We accompanied them to the train station, sang songs, and dreamt. In our minds, we saw ourselves together with them, a group of Działoszyce residents in the Land of Israel.
Not only was our life full of emigrations, celebrations, and emotions of satisfaction and happiness; there were also days of arguments, anger, and sorrow. We had stormy and emotional arguments that bordered on civil war. (Remember, among other things, that there was a split in the movement in Warsaw-Lwów.) Today, with the passage of time, everything seems so gray, so innocent, and so unique. But every fighting group meant what they said with absolute seriousness. We took everything seriously, as the old-timers like to point out today during their friendly conversations in Israel when remembering those days. If there is such a things as a disagreement for heaven's sake, then the aforementioned argument was one. But, as I said, we believed in our destiny, and we took everything seriously.
World War II was the war of the Holocaust, in which the great Polish Jewry was exterminated, including the many, many Zionist youth of our movement and the rest of the movements. As is well known, Ashmodai [the king of demons] and all of his murderous messengers did not differentiate among the Jews. Everyone was sentenced to the extermination camps.
Not all of those in our chapter, the many activists in Działoszyce, its members, and associates succeeded in coming to live with us in the Land of Israel and to see the fulfillment of their youthful dreams. This fact will always be engraved on the tablets of our heart.
Let us remember our friends who traveled the distance with us, over many years, nurturing the Zionist ideal. We left in the hearts of the youth faith in the national rebirth of the Jewish nation in our historic land and the fulfillment of building the land. But to our anguish, many did not live to be among those of us who fulfilled this dream. This is the Zionist ideal, in whose light we lived, and only a few of us actually managed to fulfill it in our own independent country.
Translated by Rochel Semp Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang Thirty years ago, when I was busy with my final preparations to emigrate to Israel, I sat one day in my house, whose windows faced the town market square, and thought much about the new path upon which I was embarkingwhich wasn't familiar to me yetand about my past, which I was about to leave behind and abandon.
The small town of Działoszyce, where I was born, is well known to those who lived in it, and it is not my intent here to describe its rich and poor inhabitants, its homes and hovels, its daily life and holiday celebrations.
In this account I only want to describe, briefly, the youth groups of the town; this was specifically what my thoughts were about during that time, approximately 30 years ago. I belonged to this group of young people; it was an inseparable part of me, and just as it was for me, so, too, it was for many others of my generation.
Most of the young people belonged to the Zionist pioneer movement, and the lions among them to Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist Youth]. And this, I think, is because of the insignificant number of leaders of stature who belonged to and were active in the other movements, the non-Zionist ones in our town.
I will enumerate here some of the young people who stood at the helm of the Zionist activities in the town. My deceased brother, Josek Brandys, zl, Josek Szulimowicz, zl, and, may they be selected for long life, David Shlomi and Dov Bejski.
The activities and meetings of the youth in the town concentrated solely along several paths. And the meeting of the youth in the nests of their movement on Shabes evenings was just one of the activities that left this experience entrenched so deeply in my heart.
After the Shabes meal, the youth would leave their homes and flock to their nest. Our nest existed for many years in two adjoining rented rooms outside the town. Around these rooms was a big yard with an orchard of apples and pears, and in these quarters, by the light of a petroleum lamp, we would gather around our advisor who would lecture us about the Zionist movement, its personalities, about the Land of Israel, and on the work of the pioneers there. We would sit there and swallow every word the advisor or the leader of the nest spoke, and we would sit as though in a trance. Many times the leader of the group would request that one of us give a talk about the prominent leaders of this Zionist movement in front of the members or also prepare a topic to be debated with the other members. Many of my friends would certainly remember the talks we had about Achad Haam [pseudonym of Aszer Ginsberg], Tshlenov, Oshiskin, Weizman, and others. We were young then and experts on these topics, since we read a lot, and the philosophy of Zionism was the breath and blood of our lives.
After such talk, we would launch into pioneer dances, without a harmonica and without an accordion. We would sing and dance, dance and sing, until we couldn't catch our breath. In the late hours of the night, on our way home, each one of us saw it as his duty to walk along the length of the well-known highway until the night watchman with the white beard, who was a familiar figure to all of us, would approach us and ask that we go home and give the neighbors some rest and peace. Many others would go walking outside the town (not by car, but on foot) to enjoy nature with a few companions.
The nights of moytse-shabes [close of Shabes] resembled those of Shabes evenings; however, during those evenings, there was a livelier atmosphere, without lectures. We would spend our time dancing and playing sports, especially the game of ping-pong.
Most of this youth were studying and acquiring knowledge of Torah; very few individuals went around doing or studying nothing.
Education caused many to move from our place to other larger towns in which there were high schools or post secondary higher education. Only for the Passover holidays or during summertime would these students who had wandered afar come back home. During the annual vacations, there was a greater reawakening among the youth. Those who had returned from far away, from the larger towns, were an attractive source of information for us, and we all heard from them what was happening and going on in the world at large and especially in the Zionist movement. New ideas were heard, arguments and debates took place regarding emigration to Israel, protecting our homeland, and regarding the battles of Jews in Poland, this same country that had received so much from its Jewish citizens and had given back so little in return.
With the conclusion of these summer vacations, life would return to its old course, and the days would become gray and boring. The library of the Jewish community would again regain more of its readers, and life in the youth movements would return to being quiet.
Many from our town went on to receive pioneering training to prepare for emigration to Israel. They wandered to cities and far away places and for many years worked under very difficult conditions in order to prepare themselves to go to Israel. Only very few were fortunate enough to receive permission to go, and in spite of all this, the ones who remained behind continued to work in places that would prepare them for this event.
The departure of one of our youth members to go to Israel became a major event and cause for celebration in the town. All of us from the town, without exception, saw it as our duty to go to the train station and say farewell to the person who had the good fortune of emigrating to Israel. The good-byes were very difficult. Our yearnings and willingness to go to our homeland was so strong, intense, and ingrained in all of this youth, that it was like a burning desire. Many shed tears at this small railway station when the train pulled out from the station.
Translated by Rochel Semp Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang The dynamic youth of the town of Działoszyce, yearning for something, was seeking a place to spend their limited free time. This was still during the time that an organization by the name of Hashomer Haleumi [The National Guard] existed, and in it were concentrated the Jewish youth of Poland, especially youth whose parents had financial means.
In the years 1927 to 1928, a group that consisted partially of the youth who were members of the organization Hashomer Haleumi established an additional group by the name of Hashomer Hatzair [The Young Guard]. Its first members in our town were Josek Rozenfrucht, Ezryel Drobiarz, Moszek Szmolarczyk, Fajgel Szajnfeld, Moszek Pułka, and Henoch Cudzynowski, along with some other friends whose names I can no longer recall.
The initial group, at whose helm stood Jakub Hupert, began attracting to their vision a great number of youthchildren of laborers and the working classes. Since Hashomer Hatzair was, from its beginning, a leftist youth organization in our town of Działoszyce, Mr. Hupert was forced to acquire for himself an apartment on the outskirts of town, specifically owned by Christians, to serve as a club house. Near the Catholic church, in the home of the Adamczyks, was where the organizational club came into being, and that is where the second Zionist youth organization, by the name of Hashomer Hatzair, started to develop. This youth organization, whose origin was of a Socialist character, grew more and more. A great number of youth joined its ranks, the majority being girls, such as Małka Śpiewak, Chana Szulimowicz, Bajla Goldwasser, and Bajla Osnat. A constant feud and battle raged between the children and their parents, who would not allow, in the beginning, under any circumstances, for their children to join this Hashomer Hatzair. However, in spite of everything, young people who came from all strata of the population joined its ranks in great numbers. In the course of time, Hashomer Hatzair grew and developed and was one of the most active organizations in town. It supported many activities within the Zionist movement, including appeals for Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] and was involved in many other activities and campaigns that took place for the cause of Eretz Yisroel. With our vision toward Zion, the trips and campaigns we conducted on Lag B'Omer, as we marched for the first time in the streets of Działoszyce, were received by the entire Jewish population with much enthusiasm and applause.
It is noteworthy to mention the devotion of the guards Chaim Pułka and Lejb Frajman, who summoned, with a trumpet, the members of Hashomer Hatzair to organize and to march. The first trip was to the village of Sancygniów, and on horseback, at the head of the march, rode the head of our chapter in those days, Josek Rozenfrucht, who was the manager of Szental's laundry. This inspired the youth so much. Also the parents of the members in the Hashomer Hatzair very slowly became accustomed to the fact of the movement's existence. Therefore, we moved the club from the outskirts of town to its center, and its activities grew and developed. A sports center by the name of Shomria was also established, and there, we witnessed the great athletic skill of Jakub Wolf Hupert, Szymon Pilc, Tuwia Ptasznik, Szyja Krycer, Moszek Pułka, Jakub Griner, Michał and Jakub Łatacz, Michał Majtek, Lejb Fink, and others, whose names have become erased from my memory. This drew more and more youth to Hashomer Hatzair. Many remember the happiness and joy that would envelope the town each week when Sunday arrived. When the sports team from Shomria confronted a Polish team, there was a true battle between the two teams. And when the Jewish side won the match, it is hard to describe the ecstasy, joy, and happiness of the Jews.
With the strengthening of the chapter's activities locally, the idea of a summer camp took hold. This involved great difficulties. A double problem arose. One could not expect parents to provide any financial assistance to their children for the expenses involved in the running of a camp. And also, one could not imagine that the parents would allow their sons and daughters to simply go to a summer camp, far from their homes, where boys and girls would spend time together. With the passage of time, we overcame these difficulties as well.
In order to enable our friends, the members of this movement, to be able to attend the summer camps, we initiated and conducted various fundraising campaigns that brought in a substantial amount of money. We collected money at weddings, and we also promoted various entertainment events, just to prove that our town wasn't inferior to the others in the area.
The first to go to the summer camp of Hashomer Hatzair were the boys and girls who were members of Hashomer Hatzair. The campsite was established in the area of Kielce, and I can even remember the names of the people who attended the camp.
The first person from our chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in Działoszyce who left for pioneer training was Ezryel Drobiarz. After him, Lejzor Czosnek traveled to Wołyń, and Henoch Cudzynowski and Moszek Pułka went for training in the south. A number of active members left the chapter; some went for training, and others moved to the big cities in order to find work.
After a while, some very active members of Hashomer Hatzair left and established a new youth group by the name of Gordonia. The names of these members were Natan Krelman, Icze Rubin, Chaskel Frajman, and others, whose names I no longer recall. They continued their energetic activities in this new movement in Działoszyce.
The activities of Hashomer Hatzair became newly reorganized. Jakub Hupert was elected head of the chapter. The group for which he served as leader included the most active guards in the chapter. Their names were Tuwia Ptasznik, Wolf Arkusz, zl, Motel Arkusz, Jakub Pułka, Zalman Frydman, and the Krycer brothers. The activities of the chapter did not decrease at all after they moved from their old headquarters to the new. Many of Hashomer Hatzair members were forced to leave the town and settle in Kraków, due to their difficult economic situation, and a small number even went to Upper Silesia. Even though they were far away, they did not break off their ties with the youth of Działoszyce and their organization, Hashomer Hatzair. They also supported the chapter as much as they could, so that its existence would continue.
In the chapter itself, the basic work to provide an education continued. So, for instance, they brought in a Hebrew teacher from Wołyń for the special purpose of teaching the Hebrew language to its members. The chapter continued sending its senior members for pioneering training. Among these were Szlama Glajt and Zalman Frydman. Z. Frydman was one of the last to leave for training from this chapter of Hashomer Hatzair.
The years passed. The economic situation worsened, and anti-Semitism reared its ugly head and increased from day to day. The young people who were employed in small workshops were being exploited. They labored without just compensation from the early morning hours until very late at night. The lack of a professional organization to unite the laborers was keenly felt.
Through the initiatives of Hashomer Hatzair and some of its friends, Tuwia Ptasznik, Szymon Pilc, Icze Rubin, Lejb Fink, Josel Lorja, and othersa union of leather workers was created that proclaimed a strike. After several weeks, the strike ended with the workers coming out the winners. They settled for a nine-hour workday, a fact that was a big success for the working youth of Działoszyce.
After that, they organized other trade unions as well, e.g. for the needle and baking industry. A strong labor union arose. During World War II, the German murderers and their assistants annihilated the majority of this vibrant youth. During the occupation years, the members of Hashomer Hatzair conducted a fierce war against the German and Polish murderers. Josek Ptasznik and others joined the partisans, and also Szymon Pilc and Tuwia Ptasznik were murdered while in the underground movement.
May the name of Hashomer Hatzair and its many areas of activities in our town endure for a long time.
Translated by Rochel Semp Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang When we come now, after many years, to write about the young Zionist movements in our town, we feel as though these things happened only yesterday. However, these memories are plagued by a void. Missing are not only the years that have passed from then until now, but we also feel the loss of all those beautiful, dear and good people who sacrificed such a large part of their lives. And missing, above all, are all those young people who did whatever they did and produced whatever they produced in spite of life's difficult circumstances. They could not rest and be still, since a strong desire burned in them to be the sons of an independent nation, possessing an independent country, all their own, just like all the other nations.
We felt very strongly our inferior status as young Jews whenever and wherever we went. In the towns, there were acts of violence and terror against us. Jewish stores were robbed; Jewish crowds got attacked. In the market square and elsewhere, everywhere, we saw ourselves as superfluous. We slowly learned from this situation that the place where we were was becoming more and more dangerous for us. We decided that we had to become a nation that was worthy of its name and that on each one of us rested the task of being a Zionist and pioneer at the same time. We felt we had to do something to make a difference.
In our town there already existed several Zionist youth organizations, such as Hashomer Haleumi [National Guard], Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist Youth], Hashomer Hatzair [Young Guard], and Hechalutz Klal-Tzioni [General Zionist Pioneers]. The youth were deeply conscious of having to change their nature and character. They traveled to training sites and got ready to emigrate to Israel. None of this was simple. Many obstacles were placed in our paths, mainly, by our parents who did not believe in a national revival, in the creation of a nation worthy of its name. They would say sarcastically, So you want to be pioneers! Similar words of mockery and scorn were heard from all sides.
In 1931, a group affiliating with Gordonia was formed. Eventually, there occurred a change among the parents. Within this training organization, our friends, both boys and girls, did whatever job or work came their way. They did not object to any hard labortilling the fields, chopping trees, etc. The youth prepared and readied themselves to become helpful in their land. Also the face of Działoszyce started to see changes. The Gordonia chapter began with feverish activity. Lectures were given, courses established for Hebrew, and whoever wished came to study and learn. In my town, I was friendly with other members of this chapter and with many other groups of youth that had already been organized. We were successful in establishing an independent branch of Gordonia in Działoszyce as well.
All levels of youth were represented within our branch. The young people who agreed to join us found their own proper place. Our education encompassed the level of nizanim [budding beginners] as well as other levels, until the level that was called magshimim [achievers]. The members of this division learned quite a bit of Hebrew, much about the history of Israel, about pioneering, the nature of Zionism, etc. We sent our members to summer colonies, to hakhshara training sites, or for activities for Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund]. The parents were very thankful and appreciative that we invested so much work and effort in educating their children and teaching them to follow the right path. I recall that many of our male and female friends expressed their opinion that Gordonia was educating the young in the spirit of A. D. Gordon. His photograph, appearing with his face covered by a long beard, made an impression. He also captured the imagination because he was a simple man, a man of the people. The students of Gordonia tried to be loyal and devoted to the idealism of A. D. Gordon and the movement. And suddenly, in the midst of all this work and activity came along the barbarian Hitler and his war and destroyed everything without leaving a trace. Only a small group of us made our way to Eretz Yisroel. The rest suffered the same fate that befell all the other Jews of the town and the country. At the beginning, they tried to continue under the new circumstancesperforming work, collecting money from various sourcesso they could give support to our friends who found themselves in extremely dire economic circumstances. Some were deported to labor and death camps. Small groups escaped to America and never returned.
A special gratefulness and appreciation is due to our friends for their superhuman efforts and sacrifice put forth during the Holocaust. Chaskel Frydman, zl, spent two years in pioneer training and afterward was imprisoned in a camp. He was extremely devoted to all the other inmates with him in the camp and shared his last piece of bread with them. He died a few months before liberation. And here are the words he spoke before his soul departed, Natan [the author of this account], when we overcome everything, and it comes to an end, we will not wait but immediately make aliye [immigration to Israel]. You could tell on his face that he had reached the end of his strength, which had already left him, but the teachings of Gordonia continued to live within him.
They tell the same thing about his younger brother, Kalman Frydman. They were sons of a poor working family of tailors. Their father's name was Josek, and his nickname was Pupek. I bow my head in recognition of the head of this family who raised such sons with such ambition and dedication.
They were not the only ones. This tragedy befell many of our friends, both boys and girls, whom Hitler murdered. We had a friend by the name of Icek Rubin, zl. He was full of energy and willingness to work. All the Jews in Działoszyce knew him. He was actively involved in all aspects of fundraising for Keren Kayemet. He was a pioneer in the full meaning of the word. He trained together with other friends and got permission to immigrate to Israel. He did not have the good fortune to achieve this goal but was murdered by the Germans.
In the kibbutz of Mishmar-Hasharon, there are many friends who spent their pioneer training in Działoszyce and helped with many of our activities in the town. On the whole, their participation was visible in the cultural life, in the communal meetings, and in the evening question and answer sessions discussing Zionism and pioneering, as well as many other topics. These activities awakened an interest among the youth, and this led to many being able to broaden their educational scope both generally and with regard to Zionism.
I recall the elections to the 18th [Zionist] Congress that were held in our town. There were lectures and election speeches. Various spokespersons and party representatives arrived from many different towns. Działoszyce evoked interest among all the different Zionist parties, because it was a very vibrant town, especially its youth. One cannot forget the Zionist activities of our friends; our anguish over their irreplaceable loss is overwhelming, and we can never forget them.
All those who remained from the ruins, whether here in Israel or in other lands, will never forget them. Their memories will never fade from us.
Translated by Rochel Semp Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang My memories about the Zionist movement in Działoszyce go to the time when I was studying in the talmed-toyre [Jewish elementary school]. This was in the first years after the Balfour Declaration.
Almost all the youth of the town were under the influence of Zionism, except for a small number of yeshiva young men, who were under the influence of Agudas Yisroel [non-Zionist Orthodox party], and another smaller number of young people whose orientation was to the extreme left.
In our small town, we had a very nice large library called Hattechija [Revival], which was run by young adults, the majority of whom were Zionists.
This library has a history of its own. The library was situated in a building that belonged to the Działoszyce Jewish community. One family, whose name I do not recall, left the building as an estate for the community to use for its own purposes and needs. In the beginning, so I think, there existed in this building all types of community offices. Afterward, when I was about nine years old, in 1917 to 1919, they established in our town a school called talmed-toyre. The community paid the salaries for all the religious teachers as well as for the secular teachers for the Polish and Hebrew languages, so that the children of the poor could study and learn Torah, just the same as the children of the rich. The school had five classes, which were held in this community building. In one of these rooms was also the library. We studied until eight o'clock in the evening, and the library also opened at eight o'clock in the evening, so, sometimes, there was a conflict between the studying of Torah and the secular library.
These small conflicts, and perhaps other factors as well, brought about a fight between the Zionist youth and the older generationthe keepers of the faith, until it became a court case that had to be adjudicated by the authorities, the starosta [district administrator]. And at times, it even erupted into the raising of fists or the burning of library books. In the end, the Zionists won, and the library remained in the same place. With the passing of years, the library expanded and was located in two rooms that also served as a club for the Zionist movement, in general, and its different activities, such as showing films, etc.
There was a custom in our town that when a lecturer or even an ordinary speaker would come to town, he would speak from the bime [raised platform] in the bes hamedresh [house of study]. Once there came a lecturer from the Histadrut [Zionist Federation] or from one of the seed organizations, Keren Kayemet or Keren Hayesod, and he went up to the stage in the bes hamedresh to deliver his speech. A big commotion ensued. The older generation, whose members were in the majority, disrupted the speaker and prevented him from delivering his speech, while the young Zionists stood by defiantly. It reached a point where fists were raised, and one could witness and also hear the sound of cheeks being slapped when parents honored their children in this way.
All this was during the first years after the Balfour Declaration, in the early 1930s. In the forthcoming years, the situation changed at a rapid pace. The Zionist philosophy became entrenched in all levels of the town's citizenry except for the Aguda [Agudas Yisroel], the small Left, the Communists, and the Bund [Socialist Labor Party].
The older people generally belonged mostly to the Mizrachi [Orthodox Zionists]. During this same time, different groups were established that sent their representatives to Eretz Yisroel to acquire real estate in partnerships and, maybe, to prepare for immigration to Israel. At approximately the same time, if I'm not mistaken, the immigration started that was called the Aliye Grabski. However, to our great dismay, a great depression erupted in the Land [of Israel], and almost all of the people who had gone there returned.
The Zionist movement became well established in Działoszyce. There arose different streams from various Zionist organizations. The majority of people in our town belonged to the General Zionists; however, there were also the followers of the Revisionists. I imagine that most of the Mizrachi people followed the Revisionist movement. Apart from this, there also arose a branch of Hatzair [Hashomer Hatzair] and Betar [Revisionist Zionist youth]. This started conflicts between one brother and another, fathers and sons, friend and friend. The ideological conflicts took on the form of personal animosities. Each side, of course, was convinced of its righteousness. In the Land [of Israel] the idea of restraint was heard, but the Revisionists were against restraint. They argued that we needed to fight against the Arabs and the British and to get ready for a real struggle, etc.
Betar, which became established in our midst, was very active. Its members wore uniforms, and they trained and practiced the use of weaponry and following military commands.
Across from the Betar club was a branch of the Hashomer Hatzair [Young Guards]. In both of these organizations, the boys and girls came from good homes. They knew what they wanted, participated in various Zionist activities, and learned Hebrew and spoke it among themselves. Although everything was done on a small scale, nonetheless, the main thing was that the necessary motivation was both here and there. Other Zionist channels were also established, for instance, Hashomer Haleumi [The National Guard], which later changed its name and called itself Hanoar Hatzioni [The Zionist Youth], the right wing of the Zionists, whose membership was quite minimal, and also a movement that was called by the name of Hitachdut. Boys and girls who did not restrict themselves to a particular [political] party joined the latter. They, however, participated in the various Zionist activities in the campaigns from different groups, such as the selling of shekels, etc., but they were not an organized group. During the same time, there was another group that was called, if my memory is correct, by the name of Herzliya [based on name of founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl]. Its members also came from the young people who were not organized.
Stormy arguments occurred between the members of these two groups. The members of Hitachdut were followers of the General Zionist movement during those times, with connections to the labor movement, while the members in Herzliya were more aligned with the Revisionists. During that time, there almost wasn't a person in our town who wasn't involved in Zionist activities or, at the very least, considered himself a Zionistof course, with the exception of a few Communists and Bundists. As for myself, personally, I was not acquainted with anyone from the Bundists and with very few of the Communists. The Zionist life was extremely turbulent during this period. Great fierce and fiery discussions and arguments took place between the members of the various groups, and each one thought, of course, that he was right.
At a later time, an additional branch of the Hechalutz Haklal-Tzioni [General Zionist Pioneers] was created. I was then serving in the Polish army. As far as I know, this branch was established by the oldest youth group, with the encouragement of the elder members of the branch of the General Zionists. The purpose of this [branch] was to enable the younger members, who came from the organizations of Hitachdut and Herzliya, and those who were not part of any organization who wanted to make aliye to Israel, to go for training and receive a certificate for aliye.
During this time, the members of various movements were involved in different hakhshara [pioneer training] kibbutzim.
I cannot write any more regarding Hechalutz Haklal-Tzioni, since during that time I served in the army, and right after my discharge, I left to go to a hakhshara kibbutz. Most of the members who went for training with Hechalutz Haklal-Tzioni left before me.
From the day I got discharged from the army until I left for training, a few weeks passed by during which I was not actively involved in the work of the organization. In spite of this, I was active in the Hitachdut, to which I had belonged already for some years. We were a group of 1619 years old; we felt it was our responsibility to do something. We used to meet, raise money, each one of us donating as much as he could. We rented a room, requested informational material and received it, in quantity, from the organizational center in Łódź. We publicized the establishment of our branch in town advertisements. In the beginning, we were a small group, but during a short time, we grew, and increased, I think, to 7080 members.
Also active in our townI don't recall whenwas an organization by the name of Gedud Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel [Keren Kayemet Brigade]. Its function was to increase the fundraising to the Keren Kayemet. However, this wasn't the only activity in which it engaged. A very vibrant social life existed, and many cultural functions and activities were provided. In the realm of the Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel, there were also members who were not Zionists, to the extent that there still remained in Działoszyce anyone who was not a member of some Zionist movement.
Translated by Rochel Semp Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang During the initial years following World War I, after Poland regained its independence, groups of actors from Warsaw and Kielce used to come to Działoszyce. They used to perform various plays, the majority being dramas and comedies, but sometimes they would also put on satiric-realistic-political performances that reflected current events.
Reflecting on Current Times
As the years went by, these groups were also joined by local residents, such as Dawid Skóra and his sister, Moszek Hilewicz, Szłama Kolatacz, Moszek Kołatacz, the deaf Hersz, Jakub Leszman, Balcia Sternberg, Mendel Wdowiński, and others.
As far as I can remember, they performed the following plays: Bar Kochba, Shulamit, Motke the Thief, Kiddush Hashem [Sanctification of God's name], and Gott, Mensch und Teufel [God, Man, and the Devil]which achieved great success throughout the entire public spectrum. In 1924, Dawid Skóra discontinued his appearances on the stage, since he had to move to Warsaw because of his work.
A few years passed and they created a broad drama circle that included a large number of youngsters, the cream of the crop of the youth, who came from the best families in town. That circle acted intermittently under the direction of three stage managers who developed and became accomplished on their own. With constant practice and with years of experience, they gave endearing performances. Their names were Dawid Skóra, Szmul Wdowiński, and Jakub Leszman. Each one of them directed this circle at a different period of time, but all of them succeeded in gathering around them boys and girls with great talent in acting and singing. Jakub Leszman, who excelled in comedy, had completed a school of drama; he could have achieved a great career on the stage.
Among the plays that were performed by the outside groups was a play with a clear Zionist theme. In it, much was spoken regarding the Land of Israel, and they sang many national songs. In this play, the central topic was the longing and yearning for our homeland and also our anticipation of the redemption of the nation and the land.
The songs that were heard in this play were sung by the citizens of the town for a very long time. This helped to ingrain the idea of Zionism into the minds of the Jewish population. This particular nationalistic play that was performed left a very great and profound impression on its viewers, and almost all the young people came to see it.
Moreover, thanks to this play, the youth became strongly motivated to escape their sheltered, isolated lives, in which they had so far existed, and to strive for enlightenment and culture and to spread them among the various sectors of the population.
From 1927 on, the Zionist Committee took this drama circle under its auspices. The group grew wings and expanded greatly. The young ones from all the movements found their niche in it and participated in the many rehearsals that were necessary before each play.
During this period, the person directing this drama circle was Jakub Leszman. He was a teacher, and in spite of the fact that he had a large family with many children, he devoted himself to the theatre and to this group with all his heart and soul.
In those years, they performed on stage the following plays: The Golden Chain by Peretz, Der Zapasne Soldat [The Reserve Soldier], under the direction of Szmul Wdowiński and others, Shir Hashirim [Song of Songs], and Kol Nidrei [All Vows], under the direction of Jakub Leszman. The parents of the players would come to these plays and performances, in which the finest youth participated, to see how their sons and daughters were succeeding in their various roles. Much of the time they did not even recognize them, since they were in costume and made up to portray the role they were playing.
Many preparations were needed before each new performance. First of all, one had to choose the topic, and debates about this continued at times for weeks and weeks. They wanted the play to attract as large an audience as possible, and also it was necessary to choose scenes the actors would be able to perform. However, this wasn't the main issue! The challenge in every play was to choose the actors and actresses and to cast them in the roles they needed to portray. There was no lack of applicants. However, not everyone was a proper fit for their allotted role.
In addition, it was very important that some of the actors have a good singing voice, since the plays consisted mainly of operettas and musical scenarios. It is also worthwhile to note here that because of the central fund into which all of the profits of the plays were collected, the directors of this drama group didn't rule out any applicants belonging to any specific movement; rather, they tried to encourage members from all the groups to join. Jakub Leszman saw to it that every player got the part that fit him or her best. That was the reason they generally enjoyed such great successes in the production of these plays that won the hearts and minds of the viewing audiences.
Most of the time, the initial opening play would take place the night following a holiday or on a Saturday night, the night following the Sabbath. This caused the Jews from the entire area to come flocking in throngs to view the play. An atmosphere of mutual reciprocity and unity between the actors on the stage and the viewing audience permeated the hall. It is worth noting another very important aspect. Since the viewing public knew the players personally, and in the majority of the cases were also related, they were curious to see how their relatives and friends would perform the roles they had taken upon themselves or that were given to them by the producer. Of very special importance was the performance of the main actor's role in the play or of the supporting actress to the main actor, the prima donna.
Taking part in the play A Mensh Zol Men Zein [A Person You Shall Be] that took place in the month of April 1927 were: M. Unger, Róża Chęcińska, Róża Zonenfeld, J. Wdowiński, F. Baum, Jakub Leszman, Fajgel Wdowińska, and Herszel Szenker. The director was Leszman.
In the play Kol Nidrei that took place in the month of October 1927, participants were: Chaim Meryn, Herszel Szenker, Icek Kołatacz, H. Smolarczyk, Mordechai Unger, Róża Zonenfeld, Jakub Leszman, T. Piekarski, and Josek Garfinkel. The director was Wdowiński.
In the play The Reserve Soldier that took place in September 1928, the following people participated: Motel Unger, Ró&380;a Zonenfeld, Mindel Wdowińska, H. Meryn, M. Kołatacz, and Jakub Leszman. The director was Leszman.
In most of these performances, a choir also participated, which involved those youth who knew and prepared especially for this part. And it is interesting to note that during the half year following the initial performance, the entire town would be singing and repeating the songs and tunes that were heard during the performance of the play.
In the play Shulamit, the second time around, which was performed during the years 1935 to 1937, those participating were: Lejbl Pomeranc, Drobiarz, Emanuel Miller, Zysia Ptasznik, Frajdel Rolnicka, Hadassa Bursztyn, and others.
Moszek Hersz Rozenfrucht, the master technician of Wdowiński's power plant in the town, constructed and organized the lighting and illuminations. The orchestra that accompanied almost all of the plays was put together by the well-known Lokaj family, who played on different instruments under the direction of Abraham Lokaj, who was also the leading violinist. In addition, two sons of Jakub Leszman, Dov and Dawid Leszman, played in the orchestra.
Aside from the performances of the theatre, there also took place in the town different academic events that were organized by the Zionist Committee in Działoszyce. Generally, their topics were about the lives of the pioneers in Israel, the vast challenges that the settling of Jews in Eretz Yisroel created, the great struggles and wars that the Jews had to fight in order for them to emigrate to Israel, and so forth
So that the academics would make the best impression, they usually invited a speaker from outside the area, from the [Zionist] headquarters, and he was asked to speak about a subject that was relevant to that evening's topic. There were also events where an artist was invited from out of town, a lecturer or actor, and his presence served as the climax, the high point of the evening. Local issues supplemented the main topic. In addition, in order to put together the fitting decorations for the play, the director would first prepare a list for each actor and actress, describing the costumes that they would need to wear for their respective roles. It was the actors' responsibilities to make sure that they got all that was necessary for them. Often the actress would sew for herself the dress that she needed for the role she was performing in the play. And this is how all the costumes were prepared, as well as all the other necessary parts and decorations for the stage. All the plays took place in Firemen's Hall, and the stage was permanent, so everything was prepared in advance behind the curtaina scenery of a forest and so forth; and it could be said, that they used this forest in almost all the scenes. Usually the scenery would be drawn by a gentile named Woźniakowski, whose occupation was inflating tires and repairing bicycles. The drawings served him as a hobby, and he was especially fond of painting scenery for the purpose of the theatre.
It is noteworthy to relate another fact. Generally, the electric plant would stop lighting the town at 12 o'clock midnight. But since these plays would continue sometimes until two or three in the morning, the organizers would approach Mr. Wdowiński, the owner of the electric plant, and ask that he continue the lighting on these nights until the conclusion of the performance.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the drama groups and their activities served as a true beacon of light, especially to the young, but also to the general Jewish population. Their appearances breathed new life into the town and enthused everyone without exception; it was as though a window had been opened onto what was happening in the world. The horizons and perspectives of all those who participated in them was broadened, including the majority of the viewing audiences who had a passive role as listeners and viewers.
There was a time when the youth became passionate about the current faddish dances, and this mania took hold of almost the entire youth of the town. They brought in a dance teacher by the name of Kohl, from Kielce, and he was the one who began giving dance lessons to many of the boys and girls.
This fact encouraged the arrangement of all types of balls, mostly dancing balls. And these balls attracted a very large concentration of diversified youth belonging to the many different youth movements. The first ones who learned how to dance were Gitma Richter, Josek Tauman, Blumcia Zylber, Ester Zylber, and others.
During a later period, the dance master Avramcze appeared, and through his lessons, many boys and girls learned how to dance the modern dances. Perec Dutkiewicz also continued the teaching of dancing. A gentile player by the name of Filipowski accompanied these lessons by playing on the violin, and he was the one who set the rhythms that were necessary for the dance steps. The names of the dances that they learned were: the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Step Dance, the Quadrille, the English Waltz, the Ladies Waltz, and others.
The director of the comedies and dance balls was the barber Izrael Świczarczyk.
The young dancers were looking to express their feelings while having a good time. And this is how the entertainment started developing. Very quickly new programs were created that demanded to be implemented. The Firemen's Hall was rented, along with the musical orchestra of the Lokaj family. Big posters with drawings on them, advertising the date and time of these dancing balls, were posted along the length and width of the town by Pincze Alter. These took place mostly on a moytse-shabes or moytse-yomtov [the night when Shabes or the holiday was over]. And it was most interesting to observe the youth of all levels of society streaming to this type of a ball. Of course, the admission to the hall cost money in order to cover the expenses. The extra revenue was put aside for a specific purpose, mostly for Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund]. Such a dance ball attracted most of the youth. Admission to this event was by invitation; otherwise, they could not accommodate all the young people who came knocking on the doors of the hall. Not a few mishaps happened on such an evening, especially from those who complained about why they were not invited to the dance and thus were deprived of an evening of good times and other experiences. The organizers saw to it that male guards stood at the entrance to the hall to prevent break-ins through the door by force. Usually, these balls lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
It is also worth mentioning that the organizers, in order to maximize their revenues, established a canteen whose supplies had earlier been donated by the active members in the town. In addition, they had raffle prizes, and during the intermission between one dance and another, they would sell raffle tickets. In reality, the value of the winning prizes was minimal. However, the experience and hustle and bustle generated by these drawings created great happiness and excitement among the celebrating participants.
Such were the entertainments and recreations during an entire generation of the youth in Działoszyce. This was all in order to celebrate, as it is written in Megiles Esther [the scroll/book of Esther]: And the Jews had light, happiness, joy, and honor.
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