At the beginning of July, 1914, rumors arrived from the larger cities that war was inevitable. The Jews gathered in their synagogues on the Schulhoif and offered their prayers and supplications to the Almighty.
One Friday, posters were put up, announcing in huge letters: MOBILIZATION. Saturday night, all the Jews of Piesk assembled in the Schulhoif and intoned the Tisha B'Av lamentations.
Sunday morning, the conscripts who left for Volkovysk, the district capital, were seen off by their wives, children and parents whose bitter cries rose to heaven. It was a sunny day but the great sadness descended on the community.
A few days later, a demonstration of sympathy was held for the Father, Czar Nicholai II by Yudel "der Blecher" before a cheering crowd.
At the end of the month of Elul, the parents of the conscripts assembled in the cemetery and prostrated on the tombs of the ancestors, praying for the safety of their sons on the front. Piesk eagerly followed the news about the war, although it was received with great delay. All talk related to the war and the possible outcome. Although the situation did not look encouraging, the people believed that Russia would win. So, the summer went by and winter approached. The children were told that no fighting took place in winter which somewhat comforted them.
On September 8, news was received of a great number of casualties at the front and of events in Grodno. Around this town, the farmers of the area had built large underground fortifications. For this purpose, many were ordered to report with their carriages and horses and to provide food and fodder for a fortnight. Among those engaged in these fortifications was Chaim "der Strubnitzer", a farmer from Strubnitze a village near Piesk. As he had still not returned home after one month, all kinds of stories were told about him: the German had taken him prisoner,
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he had been abducted, he had lost his way, and so on. The man eventually returned home; and for years afterwards, he used to tell of his adventures while building the fortifications.
Meanwhile, news was received that two of the town's sons had fallen. One was the son of the local cantor, MERIMINSKI. The bereaved father received the terrible news stoically. The other was the son of Reb Aaron Yakov. The father broke entirely down, went berserk in the synagogues, asking why his son had been killed while all the others remained alive. Thus, he would behave for years afterwards, showing his embittered hatred.
In the summer of 1915, Grodno was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. The authorities encouraged the rumors that the Jews were communicating information to the Germans. Many arrests were made; and the entire population in the fighting zone was resettled far from the front line.
Many Grodno families arrived in Piesk and were billeted with the local population. This increased the panic, although business flourished. Products such as sugar, salt, petrol, shoes, and boots were hoarded; and prices soared. Small coins disappeared from circulation, as rumors had it that paper money was becoming worthless. The townspeople, and in particular the peasants, hid the coins; and it became a problem to receive change. Eventually, the authorities intervened, as did the army. Arrests were made; and there were riots in the town.
In August 1915, rumors had it that the Germans were going to be stopped at the Neman. Fortifications and trenches were built around Piesk and neighboring localities.
At that moment, the rearguard of the retreating army arrived in Piesk. A regiment of Cossacks looted the shops. The frightened Jews petitioned the "Pristof", the town major, to stop the rioting Cossacks but to no avail. All the Jews could do was to hide in cellars and other hiding places. The main concern was for the girls after whom the Cossacks searched.
The rioters, who had heard the slanderous incitements to the effect that the Jews were spying for the Germans, caused much damage and harm to life and property. Thus, by September 6, all the Jewish houses were empty of their occupants who had all gone into hiding in cellars and dugouts.
In September 1915, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, after two long days of battle and bombardment, the people of Piesk left their hideouts on the banks of the Zelbianka. The Jewish soldiers of the township who had stayed at base and had not accompanied the retreating Russian army had prepared these dugouts. Among these soldiers was an expert in excavations, Niumi BINKOWITZ, who today lives in Argentina.
A delegation of two, Reb Leibe Ben and Mendel BOROVSKI, went out to meet the Germans, carrying bread and salt. The first Germans to reach the town were not too polite and demanded more bread and salt. Later, an officer arrived with some soldiers who rebuked the advance party for their behavior. He reassured the frightened inhabitants and told them that the conquering German army would treat the Jews kindly. He even pointed at some of his escort, saying that they, too, were Jews. These soldiers smiled but did not speak a word. Finally, the officer asked for water to fill the canteens and went on, in pursuit of the Russian army. As a matter of fact, only a few meters separated
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the trees, he had not noticed it. The Russian still managed to blow up some of the bridges and to set fire to one of the flourmills. The German engineering corps threw up a temporary bridge on which they crossed to the other side of the river.
That night, hand-to-hand fighting took place east of the town and in Tori village. The Russians won; and the Germans lost hundreds of dead in the Battle of Piesk. The next day, the Germans withdrew to the south, to the dense forests. The Jews fled with them, fearing the Russians' revenge. During this retreat, German soldiers and local civilians had to cross an open clearing where they were exposed to Russian fire. And, indeed, many soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded there. The Germans extended first aid to the civilians too.
One young German soldier behaved in an exceptional manner. He noticed a group of townspeople seeking to hide in the forest but running the wrong way. He stopped them, showed them a map, and said, "Jews, you must come this way." As if this was not enough, he walked in front of the group. Suddenly, an enemy bullet hit him, killing him on the spot. Two German soldiers who had witnessed the incident said that his name was HEINZ.
He was buried at the spot where he had been killed, at the edge of the forest; and the Jews used to visit the grave from time to time. At the beginning of the summer, his parents came from Germany, had the body exhumed and took it with them. Some Jews told the parents how their son had been killed and how they used to visit the grave. Heinz' father took a photography of them and left.
The Jews who had fled from Piesk on Rosh Hashanah hid in Mashievitz forest, some 10 km. distant until after Yom Kippur. They returned with a special permission from the army, issued after the Germans had crossed the Neman at Mosti. The returning Jews found a destroyed township. Some of the houses and one of the flourmills had completely burned down; some of the houses had neither doors nor windows; and others were no more than bare skeletons. The population remained without a roof over their heads, without clothing. Everything had to be started again from the beginning.
The German occupation lasted three years and four months. It was a period of suffering, hunger and disease. Cholera and typhus epidemics broke out. This was not at the beginning. On the contrary, the Jews felt relieved. They were no longer exposed to the cruelty of the Russian army or the Cossacks or the brutality of the Russian authorities.
Initially, the German's behavior justified the feeling of relief and encouraged the Jews to repair the material damage and restore normal life. But disappointment came soon enough with the occupier showing his true face. To all appearances, the local administration was in civilian hands. A committee was elected composed of Baruch GERD and his son David GERD, Baruch BOROVSKI, Yeshayahu MENDELEWITZ BASHITZKI, Joseph David FOKSMAN, and others. Mendel Joseph SHEVACH was elected "Burgermeister". A local militia was set up, comprising both Jews and Christians. But it soon became obvious that the local authority served the Germans as a means to opposing sides but because of the darkness and
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attained their aims. [sic] So, for example, was the "Burgermeister" compelled to confiscate grain, belongings and furniture and to conscript people for forced labor.
Within a short time, the stock of merchandise and grain disappeared. The people hid what remained of the wheat underneath their wooden floorboards. Once the stocks were exhausted, the entire economic activity of the town came to a standstill. On the other hand, prices soared and profiteering thrived. Wheat, flour and salt, in particular, were smuggled in, as the shortage of foodstuffs became more and more acute.
A curfew was imposed from eight in the evening until six in the morning. No one was permitted to leave town without a pass. The occupier was ruthless, beating and arresting people, insulting and humiliating them. A deep depression descended on the town; and all activities -- economic, social, and cultural -- came to a complete standstill.
When hunger started reigning in the town, the people would go out to the villages in quest of food. Prices were never discussed. Those who found corn or wheat were over- happy. But things were different when caught with foodstuff. Not only was the food confiscated but also the owner would be tortured until he gave away his supplier. The latter could expect the total destruction of his farm while, often enough, the customer was sentenced to prison in addition to the torture he had been submitted to. Eventually, the Gentiles became too frightened and stopped selling to the Jews.
It happened that one of the farmers in a nearby village was in need of money and took the courage to sell wheat at an inflated price of Meir BOROVSKI. It is probably that somebody informed on him. The army ambushed the farmer on his way to Zaskaski forest and arrested him. They confiscated his wheat and demanded that he reveal the name of his client. When he refused, they tied him to the horse's tail and dragged him along until he broke down and spoke.
The army and the militia then went to the BOROVSKI home and started a thorough search. Floorboards were torn up; and after digging underneath, they found a hundred cwt. of wheat hidden three meters deep. The wheat was confiscated; and the whole family was beaten up.
Eventually, the authorities decided to allocate bread by ration cards. But this was no solution. The ration was so small that it could not possibly alleviate the shortage. The more acute hunger became, the more profiteering flourished. Rumors had it that some of the Committee members were involved, i.e., that they diverted part of the allocation and sold it. There might be some truth in this allegation as some of the Committee members became very rich at that time.
One day, a decree was published, directing all men between 18 and 50 to register with the Kommandant. At the same time, it became known that they would all have to work one day a week. At times, it was two days. The Jews were put to work in the Kommandant's year and the soldier's billets but mostly on the wooden road that was built between Piesk and the village of Assilan , a distance of 7 km. The plan was to connect this road, later on, with the town of Dretzen [Derechin?] in the direct of Baranowitz , near the front line. Some 500 Jews and Gentiles, from Piesk and surroundings, [English page 36] worked on this road. Paid workers from other towns in the occupied areas also were employed.
After some time, all the men between 17-45 were ordered to report one Friday afternoon at the Schulhoif. The explanation given was that an important personality was expected in town in order to lecture on the situation and to make an important announcement. The men were requested to appear in festive dress so as to make a good impression on the visitor.
The gendarmes and militia apparently did not put too much trust in these explanations for on the appointed Friday, they went from house to house, forcing men to come out. When all the men had assembled, they were herded into the Shul, the doors were closed behind them, and armed guards posted. After a selection, the sick and invalids were freed. The others, some 100 men, were sent to forced labor to the armament works and explosive plants in the township of Gainefke in the Bolvez forest.
Letters arriving from Gainefke were read in the synagogue on Shabbat. They told of hard labor, bad food, and terrible living and sanitary conditions. Despair mounted among the people in Piesk when rumors started circulating that the forced laborers would be sent to the front for the building of fortifications.
A few months later, the Germans pulled another trick. One night, the soldiers raided the town, carried some 50-60 men out of their homes and locked them up in the cellar of Reb Sholem the pharmacist.
The cellar was sealed off, having only one small barred window. The soldiers were so pleased with their success that they got drunk and went to sleep in their quarters, not far from the cellar.
Among the prisoners was Reb Yona LEV. His wife, who came looking for him, talked to him through the bars. Afterwards, she ran home and returned with an iron rod, a hammer, pliers, and other tools, as he had asked her. Although there was a night curfew, the Germans decided, after their successful raid, that they could sleep in peace and forego guarding. Meanwhile, the prisoners started working on the bars, singing all the while in order to drown the sounds of metal. They managed to bend the bars and escaped one after the other through the window. The only one to stay behind was Leib "Chanok", a mentally retarded. They dispersed to other districts where they could go about freely.
The next day, the Germans took their revenge. They went berserk, arresting the old, and the sick and invalids indiscriminately and threatened to send them for hard labor in the Bolvez forests for unlimited time as replacement for those who had escaped. After this raid, the town looked again like after the battles between Russians and Germans in September 1915. No one dared leave his house, not even to fetch water. Hunger was general; and the sick received no treatment.
In the meantime, negotiations started between the Kommandant and the "Burgermeister" and relatives of the escapees. Some 25 from among the relatives reported to the Kommandant and told him that they could not give up the escapees, as they did not know where they had gone. They themselves were prepared to replace them. The following day, the group was shipped off from Volkovysk railway station, in sealed cattle trucks, to the Bolvez forests.
This author, who was only 15 at the time, was also among the substitutes. First, his brother
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Moishe was forcibly dragged from the house. Then, the father was arrested. Therefore, he humored the Kommandant and offered to go instead of his father. The offer was accepted.
This was on October 15, 1917. The replacement group stayed for 10 weeks in the Bolvez forest. This author was part of the team that received the trees from the lumberjacks. The fallen trees had to be measured and prepared for shipment. Two 71-waggon trains left daily. Part of the trees went straight to Germany, part to the sawmills, 7 km. distant.
The author did not suffer too much during those weeks. As he worked well, he was given three soup rations daily. Moreover, the local commander, a Lieutenant Adolph Spiegler, aged 50, treated him well and told him that he, too, had a 15 year- old fair-haired son. Still, homesickness was very strong, especially on Shabbat. The urge for freedom became stronger, as life in the forest was very much like in prison.
According to instructions, every worker had to report at 7 in the morning and have his job-card stamped in the office. The author collected all the cards of his teammates and took them to the administration hut where he worked. Thus, he saved his comrades several kilometers walk a day.
The lieutenant promised to try and obtain permission from his superiors to send the home group home on Christmas leave. The men had made up their minds that, if the promise was kept, they would not return to the forest but escape. When Christmas Day approached, the Lieutenant announced that, according to the instructions received, the group could not go on leave before a replacement group arrived from Piesk.
As there was no longer a chance of escaping during, a new plan was made. There were two Gentiles in the group who had attempted several escapes before, had succeeded in crossing two-thirds of the way but had been captured again. It was decided to make use of their experience.
On Christmas Eve, at 10:30 p.m., fifteen men started out. The hour was chosen because that night, and on Christmas day, the prisoners were allowed to move freely on the roads. Several Gentiles were in the group. The two experienced ones proved very useful the first night but disappeared the next day.
The group marched only at night, in a northerly direction, through dense forests. Daytime, they hid among the trees. In the space of one week, they covered some 120-km. After untold hardship, they reached home, completely exhausted. Some had to be carried by their comrades the last lap of the way as they suffered from frostbite and wounded feet.
Great was the joy in the town, as the people there had despaired of ever seeing their sons again. But the authorities learned of the break and demanded that the escapees be handed over. This was not done. This author, for instance, remained hidden for 5 months in his aunt's house. The soldiers searched the Borovski house time and again but the family claimed that their son had disappeared. Thus, ended the slave labor in Bolvez Forest.
At the end of 1918, when the Germans were about to evacuate the area, they became indifferent and stopped interfering with life in the township. On the other hand, bands of robbers organized and occasionally raided the localities.
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A self-defense was founded in Piesk. Ex- servicemen and seasoned soldiers obtained arms and set up an exemplary organization. The leaders were Zeev ROZANSKI and a Gentile. As it became known that strict guard was held in the township, there was never an attempt to attack.
Early in January 1919, the Germans left the town quietly, as if fleeing from the place they had ruled by force for three years and four months.
A few days after their departure, the Soviets arrived. Fighting broke out between them and the Poles; and the town changed hands several times. Every occupation was accomplished by looting from the warring sides.
At the beginning of July 1920, the Soviets returned again. This time, fighting with the Poles was severe and lasted several days. In the end, the Poles left but not before looting the town thoroughly and injuring the population. The Soviets held the town for three months. In September, after their defeat in the Battle of Warsaw, the Red Army retreated hurriedly and left Piesk.
From 1919 until September 1939, the Poles ruled the area. This was not the first time that the Polish eagle had spread its wings over the administration. It had done so from 1381-1795, i.e. for 414 years, following which there was a 120-year interruption of Polish rule. The Russians ruled over the area of 115 years and the Germans for 4 more.
After World War I, when Czarist Russia, Wilhelm's Germany and Franz Josef's Austria collapsed, Poland was revived as in its Golden Era prior to the 1795 Partition. The Jews nourished the hope that, after the nightmare of German occupation and the oppression under the Russian conquest, their human rights would be restored. But the little town that so eagerly awaited a return to normal life after the changes of rule and the sufferings of war, soon knew further disappointments.
The Legionnaires and General Haller's soldiers were incited by the same elements in the government and the army who accused the Jews of siding with the Bolsheviks. Searches were carried out and many people arrested, although they had no connection whatever with communism.
The arrested were transferred to other towns for interrogation. Prominent Jews did everything in their power to obtain the release of the innocents but only rarely succeeded. The restored Polish rule openly displayed hostility and anti-Semitism. Treatment was brutal, barbaric. Old Jews were caught and tied to a pole in the middle of the market place. Their trousers were removed; and they were given twenty-five strokes of the whip. The victims, many of them half-dead, required medical aid.
Beards and side-locks would be cut off, sometimes, half a beard and one side-lock. Sometimes also, a Jew would be caught; and his beard plucked out hair by hair until he lost consciousness.
In fact, the Poles were even worse than the Cossacks and the Germans. The Jews tried to protect themselves. They used their connections with the landowners. More than once, Strike SHAPIRA was sent to WAISFING, the squire of Etrovitza, in order to save one or the other Jew. His intervention was always successful.
Rumors reached the outer world. At the time, the American government supported the
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renascence of Poland with money, military equipment and economic help. The Jews of America started exerting pressure. An enquiry commission was sent, headed by Henry MORGENTHAU.
Afterwards, the situation became somewhat easier but still far from satisfactory. True, the Jews managed to send their own deputy to the Polish "Sejm", GRINBERG, who fought like a lion for the rights of his people. But Minister Grabski carried through such heavy taxes and levies on Jewish merchants that many of them went bankrupt.
In 1939, World War II broke out. Three million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, assisted not a little by Poles. The few Jews who remain in Poland after the Holocaust still suffer from anti-Semitism.
On the rainy morning of February 5, 1925, a group of 6 arrived in Haifa harbor. They called themselves "the group from Piesk in Poland" and comprised: Yehezkel LISOVSKI, Chaine and Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI, David SHEVACH (who later on returned to the Diaspora), Tzippora GLANZ (BINKOVITZ), and Yehuda BOROVSKI.
Before them had arrived from Piesk, but individually, the chaverim Zeidel and Feigel BINKOVITZ, Yekutiel and Chanka SHEVACH, Zeev RUBIN, and Benzion ITZKOWITZ (who later returned to the Diaspora.)
By the end of the same year, more chaverim arrived: Chana-Sara SHVEDVURSKI, Hana PROSHEVITZKI, Meir BOROVSKI, Shimon LUNSKI, and his sister Devora, Chaya-Gruna FUKSMAN, Shifra PERACH, Shoshana HALPEROTVITZ, Yoel GODES, Shmuel and Lea WARSHAVSKI, Gedeliah TZIN, David and Debora REITBORD, Yehuda and Hanna ROZANSKI, Chaya and Shraga BOROVSKI, Mordechai NARDOVSKI, Chaim LEIB, Leizer LEIB, and a few more.
These young people had been educated in a pioneering movement and prepared themselves for agricultural work, aiming at establishing in Israel a village of cooperative settlement to be named for the town of their origin. They believed that it was sufficient to declare their intention to engage in agriculture in order to be allocated land.
They soon found out that they first had to register with the "Settlement Organization" and wait their turn, which meant to pass all the stages of hell for many years. They further discovered than, in addition to land, they also needed a budget. In short, it soon dawned on them that a "Piesk village" was a dream perhaps never to come true.
It goes without saying that, in the meantime, these youngsters did not remain idle, but accepted any work offered to them. This raised fears that the group would not be able to stay together; and it was decided that it was imperative to concentrate in one place where all could find work.
Thus, Affula was chosen, the capital of the Emek, which, according to rumors, answered all the requirements. The rucksacks were soon packed; and the group found itself in a hut erected by "Kehillat Zion" where they lived together with many other Olim.
Two months later, the group built, with their own money, a hut for themselves. Furniture consisted of boards and plants serving as tables and benches. But spirits were high as the chaverim believed that in Affula they could wait until their turn came to settle on the land.
The group members registered with the labor
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exchange. Sometimes, there were allotted a few days work a week, sometimes not. Rumors of a building boon in Affula proved unfounded. This was one more bitter mistake.
Those who had been in Israel for a year or so were cold-timers. They were unemployed but still had to bolster the morale of the newcomers who arrived from time to time and kept on asking, "Nu, what will happen?"
There were some who thought of returning to Piesk or leaving for other countries. Others suggested that only a few should remain in Affula while the rest was to disperse. Despair became general; and it seemed that the end of the world had come.
In those days, this author had a decision to make. The Settlement Department suggested that the group move to Acre. This meant that the group, which was falling apart, could stay together. Indeed, Yehezkel LISOVSKI, leader of the Piesk group, was ill and worked temporarily at Ein Harod hospital. Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI who, in the past, had been one of the stalwarts, had found work in a Haifa mechanical workshop. Gedaliah TZIN was at a loss to decide whether to leave the country or not. He finally did so in 1927. David REITBORD and Yehuda ROZANSKI were loyal chaverim undeterred by hardship but they were too new in the country. Meir BOROVSKI, Shimon LONSKI, and Yoel GODES remained undecided. As a matter of fact, they wanted to stay in Affula but were willing to join the group in Acre. They indeed did so in 1926 but during the crisis, they did not express any opinion. Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI made the express condition that he and his wife would join the group in Acre only if the author did likewise.
Acre could realize all the dreams of the group. But, it could also become a final disappointment. Therefore, it was so difficult for me to decide. I could return to the "Nesher" cement factory where I had found employment before the group went to Affula or I could buy a pair of mules and a cart and transport building material to Haifa as suggested by carters whom I knew since my arrival.
But the most fascinating idea was to set up a cooperative on the lines of the "Namalit" factory producing cement blocks, which at that time was headed by Meir RUTENBERG, one of the leaders of the Haganah in Haifa.
The final consideration was the wife and the baby, Shraga, who were about to come to Israel and join the head of the family. The question was: could a married man go on clinging to ideals that perhaps were near to realize, but undoubtedly involved difficulties and suffering? On the other hand, an individual solution was not easy. It meant that the chaverim would disperse, each going his own way. Finally, I decided to stay with my good friends and go together to Acre where we planned to set up the Kvutzat Zifzif.
It is only right to recall that the other chaverim were faced with the same problem, as they could easily make their own arrangements individually. We have already mentioned that Yehezkel LISOVSKY worked at the hospital in kibbutz Ein Harod, while Shimon DOMSEVITZKI worked in a workshop in Haifa. Yehuda ROZANSKI and David RAITBORD, although new in the country, were offered employment in Haifa. Gedaliah TZIN, Meir BOROWSKI, Shimon LONSKI, Yoel GODES, and Mordechai NORODOVSKI were still single at the time and had no trouble finding profitable employment.
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Finally, one Saturday night, a discussion took place in Affula, lasting almost until day. The participants were Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI, David RAITBORD, Yehuda ROZANKSI, Gedeliah TZIN, Mordechai NORDOVSKI, Meir BOROVSKI, Shimon LONSKI, Yoel GODES, and Yehuda BOROVSKI. At the end the discussion, a decision was adopted in principle: the group was not going to disperse. The offer of the Settlement Department was accepted; and we were going to Acre.
Even so, Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI proposed that Gedeliah TZIN and Yehuda BOROVSKI go first to Acre in order to examine the site. A group of four, David RAITBORD, Yehuda ROZANSKI, Gedeliah TZIN, and Yehuda BOROVSKI left for Acre in order to prepare the place for the rest.
The four chaverim had many adventures, the most amusing of which is the following story: one day, they took their lunch at the Luria restaurant in Acre. The next day, the restaurant's window displayed a huge sign, saying that the bread had to be paid for as a separate item on the menu.
In January, the following went to Acre: Yehezkel LISOVSKI, Shimon and Chaine DOMSHEVITZKI, Gedeliah TZIN, David and Debora RAITBORD, Yehuda and Hana ROZANSKI, Chaya and Shraga BOROVSKI.
In those days, there was already a group in Acre exploiting sand. It was the intention of the Settlement Department of the Zionist Executive that the group from Piesk join the existing one and take over this exploitation which was almost entirely in Arab hands. The Piesk group was promised that, later on, they would be offered the possibility to settle in the Zevulun Plain.
Zvi LEVANA (LIBERMAN) from Nahalal, who was delegated to them by the Settlement Department, wrote on this group in his book The Fate of an Immigration , took good care of them and served as instructor and leader.
It was decided that everything would be communal--the work, the kitchen, and the money. Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI was elected treasurer, although the kitty was empty. From time to time, violent discussions would break out, not over the fate of the group, but over administrative questions but peace was always restored.
As already mentioned, the Piesk group joined another one that had preceded them by only a few weeks. The work consisted of hauling baskets of sand, on mule back, from the beach to the railway station, a distance of 5 km. But the Piesk boys could never understand how an Arab 10-12 year-olds, could easily lead a mule train and arrive with full loads, while their own baskets arrived half empty. In time, the Piesk people became such great experts that they, in turn, could serve as instructors.
During the winter, 7 more chaverim joined the 11 veterans: Shimon and his sister Devora LONSKI, Meir BOROVSKI, Yoel GODES, Zeev RUBIN, Mordechai NARDOVSKI and Leizer LEV. Three children were born: Yakov ROZANSKI, Shraga RAITBORD and Chaim DOMSHEVITZKI.
As the number of people had increased to 21, it became necessary to plan the work carefully in order to become self-sufficient and live without outside help.
Some of the chaverim continued to transport sand while others were engaged in fishing, building, and road construction. Some of the young women worked in the government experimental station in agriculture and in tobacco. Wages
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varied for the men between 10-15 grush per day and for women between 5-8 grush. Horses and mules were acquired as well as an old car that caused endless troubles and losses.
Work was very exhausting. A workday lasted 10-12 hours while the income was minimal. In the end, the chaverim were compelled to compete against the Arab and had to cut their rates. While the Arabs charged 10 grush for loading a wagon, the Pieskers charged 8 grush.
But it was resolved to stay put and not to give in. The dream was still--Jewish conquest of labor. One encouraging factor was the growth of the Jewish population in Acre to 400 souls. Schools were opened, a labor exchange and clubs where Hebrew was taught evenings and meetings and lectures were held.
The hard work, insufficient food and disease proved stronger than the young bodies and the ideals. Debora RAITBORD and Yehezkel LISOVSKI contracted malaria and, at the advice of the doctors, were sent abroad. Mordechai NARDOVSKI died of yellow fever within 48 hours. Some of the chaverim gave up in despair and left the country.
In 1929, the riots broke out. The police concentrated all 400 Jews in the compound of the prison. The Piesk group assisted the police in patrolling the camp. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave the camp, most of them left Acre altogether.
The Piesk group transferred the women and children to Neven Shanan, while the men continued their work in Acre. The families would reunite only on Shabbat. After a while, the women and children returned to Acre.
By now, the number of Jews in Acre had considerably dwindled and comprised only the Kvutzat Zifzif, the personnel at the "Nur" matches factory and a few employees of the government experimental station. At this time, the Settlement Department made the Piesk group several offers as, for instance, to settle in Se. All these offers were rejected in the hope that the promise concerning the Zevulun Plan would be kept. But the Piesk people were not the only candidates. Eventually, Kvutzat Ramat Yohanan settled in the Zevulun Plain where they still are.
The Piesk group decided to call a general assembly. A proposal by the "Agricultural Center" was received, to settle on land adjoining the Neman River. The offer was rejected with the argument that the soil there was brackish. The land was eventually allotted to Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz and is today considered on of the best settlements in the country.
The Piesk group or "Organization D" as they were called by the Agricultural Center, learned that there were plans to settle the area adjoining Kfar Vitkin. They applied to go there first, as their children were growing up in an Arab environ; and life was unendurable. They also paid in at the Agricultural Center, at the latter's request, a considerable sum of money (which has never been refunded.) But the decision was that, since the Piesk group was earning a living in Acre, they would be the last to be resettled.
Thus, it was proved time and again that to settle on the land was nothing but an elusive dream, while in the meantime the children, growing up in Acre, were not safe.
In 1930, an organization was founded in Haifa, with the object[ive] of building a workers' housing estate in Haifa Bay. The Piesk group applied for temporary registration until their turn came to settle on the land. The organization was pleased with the application. Some even said that
[English page 43]
temporary arrangements tend to become permanent, which indeed became the case.
Some of the Piesk group worked on the new building site. They leveled the sands, built road and with their donkeys transported building materials to those places that could not be reached by motor vehicles.
After two years, seven families moved into Kiryat Haim: Yehuda ROZANSKI, David RAITBORD, Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI, Zalman LEVOV, Meir BOROVSKI, Pinchas SHAPIRA, and Yehuda BOROVSKI.
On a January day in 1933, they loaded their belongings on horse carts and left for the new housing estate. The road from Acre to the new quarter was not yet completed. Although the convoy was not very long, it looked as if an entire tribe was trekking from north to south.
The houses were small. At times, there were sandstorms. But the children could finally roam freely among Jews.
The men continued to work in Acre, hauling sand but started planning for the future. With the growth of Kiryat Haim, building activities in the area expanded. Would it not be better to supply building materials where they were needed?
The group did not lack strength or energy. It was mainly a question of finances. Therefore, they carried out their plans slowly, step by step, buying first one truck, then a second one. After one year, they already possessed five trucks and enjoyed a limited credit. The bank already knew that these people honored their commitments and paid their notes punctually, on time.
During the first year of the group in Kiryat Haim, the neighborhood contacted a Jew named GRINBERG in connection with a bus service to link the estate with Haifa. GRINBERG had two buses, one an old one, half of which served to carry freight, the other half for passengers seated on benches. The other bus, a new one, had modern seats. This was line number 14, which, with the proclamation of the State, became line number 51. The buses conveyed passengers three times a day to Haifa. The fare was 7.5 mil for season tickets and 9 mil per single trip. After a while, GRINBERG was unable to continue managing the service.
The local committee contacted a group of new Olim who bought Grinberg's two buses and ordered two additional new ones. These new buses never were put into service as the partnership probably could not raise the money. As to the service, it was very bad; and there were breakdowns on every journey.
The new Olim asked that the Piesk group take over the service. Some of the chaverim hesitated to accept while others were outright opposed. Why learn a new trade when a going business was yielding good profits? The Piesk group had a number of carts, horses and mules as well as five new trucks almost fully paid for. They planned to acquire additional trucks. They supplied sand, gravel and other building materials in Haifa Bay area and the Krayot, to Solel Boneh, to private contractors, to kibbutzim and the moshavim in the Yezreel Valley and villages in the Jordan Valley. Moreover, they had won a tender for the transport of all the building material for the new Electric Corporation of Haifa power station.
Even so, after long discussions, it was decided to take on the passenger service. Eight chaverim of the group learned bus driving from each other. The first driver was Shimon DOMSHEVITZKI. YEHUDA ROZANSKI who was an extremely strict teacher taught this author.
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Everything went in exemplary fashion. Discipline and responsibility were above standard. And so, quietly and modestly, after years of hard work and near-starvation, eight chaverim had financial realized the impossible. They were extremely well thought of, both at the banks and by the passengers. They had arrived!
Three more men were coopted: Abraham ROVAL, who had been in the service under the former owners; Moshe RAPAPORT and Paul GELLERT. Five new 24-seat buses were bought, considered most luxurious at the time. A fixed timetable was established. Every hour, a bus would leave in each direction, except mornings and evenings when extra buses were added to transport people to and from work.
Even so, it soon transpired that the business was not profitable and could carry on only from the profits of the trucking company. In other words, the losses from the passenger service were covered by the profits from the trucking service.
Ten more members were coopted: Avigdor HERNSTADT, Tanhum KAPLAN, David GUSTAV, Moshe ROSENFELD, Meir OBSIVITZ, Hanoch ZEDERBOIM, Eliahu TARCHOVSKI, Eliahu MEIR, Shmuel WESSELTON and Walter SCHACHTEL.
In 1935, the company was formally and legally registered as the "Mishmar Hamifratz Kvutzat Zifzif Corporation." At that time, the industrial area in Haifa Bay was developing and B, C, and D groups started building in Kiryat Haim. Also, the first houses went up in Kiryat Bialik and Kiryat Motzkin. The number of vehicles increased accordingly as well as the number of members, which reached 32.
Outwardly, the business looked expanding and flourishing but internally there were endless disputes that more than once threatened to lead to a serious crisis. Some of the members said that it was impossible to go on working for 12-14 hours a day for a low salary.
In the end, the cooperative applied to the Kiryat Haim local council to approve an increase in fares. The council refused categorically. Relations with the cooperative deteriorated to such an extent that the Council put its own buses at the disposal of the public.
Finally, the Haifa Labor Council intervened. A commission was appointed, mediated between the parties and fixed the new fares.
In 1936, the "Zevulun" cooperative joined the "Mishmar Hamifratz Kvutzat Zifzif" cooperative. The line was number 42 and served the Ramat Yohanan, Kfar Ata, Haifa road. This cooperative had 6 buses and 5 members.
The merger was most successful, as competition between the two cooperatives plying the same line stopped; and the new company, serving the entire Haifa Bay area, started penetrating Western Galilee. This control of the whole area enabled the cooperative to take firm root.
With the outbreak of the 1936-1939 riots, security on the road deteriorated. It became necessary to provide the bus windows with special wire netting against hand- grenades. Two armed guards traveled in each bus. At times, there were as little as 5 passengers in addition to the two guards.
The financial situation became very serious. The cooperative members did not get their salary, just small advances. But transportation to all settlements was never interrupted thanks to the organization of the cooperative and the iron will of the chaverim.
In 1936, work started on the construction of the Haifa Bay oil refineries. Several Arab companies tried to obtain a contract with the
[English page 45]
British and American companies but failed. "Michmar Hamifratz Kvutzat Zifzif" undertook to transport the workers to and from work. The main provision was that transport had to take place on Shabbat and Festivals too. This is still the case in Haifa.
The contract with the foreign companies was a considerable achievement for the cooperative although it meant the acquisition of 15 more buses required for transporting the crews morning and evening while standing idle the rest of the day. It was a bold, risky undertaking.
Even before the cooperative had recovered from the riots, World War II broke out, bringing with it many new problems. In the first place, the entire production was earmarked for the war needs; and it became impossible to buy new buses, spare parts or tires. As it became impossible to repair damaged buses, they just had to be taken off the road. Secondly, some of the buses were requisitioned by the British army for the transportation of troops in Israel and the neighboring countries.
In spite of all this, the contract with the foreign companies was fully carried out and the workers were transported without any mishap, while the civilian service, too, was maintained. The cooperative bought old bus frames, mounted new bodies on them and so replenished its fleet. Some buses were dismantled and their parts used as spares for other buses.
At the end of the war, it became necessary to rehabilitate the cooperative. The difficulty, of course, was in obtaining the necessary credit. A solution was found here too; and the most up-to-date buses were put on the road. The cooperative welcomed the returning members who had seen service with the British army; and many ex-servicemen were accepted. Slowly, the service resumed its regular runs, both the personnel and the public once more satisfied.
The Histadrut started demanding that the cooperative merge with the other services in the Greater Haifa area. The late David REMEZ, in particular, who was in charge of transportation for over two decades, insisted on it. The story of the merger could fill many a book, reporting endless meetings, discussions, plans, and problems of finance and misgivings.
The opponents argued that the situation in the country was unstable, that the Haifa sector was not profitable and that the employment of hundreds of hired personnel could lead to strikes. The decision was in the hands of "Mishmar Hamifratz", the strongest cooperative not only in Haifa but controlling also the Zevulum Valley, the Krayot, Acre, Naharia, and all of Western Galilee. If so, why again change the situation?
But the Piesk group in the management maintained that the merger of the entire Great Haifa area was imperative. Their opinion was decisive. After long and exhaustive negotiations, the three companies finally merged
"Hever"--190 members, 125 buses
"Mishmar Hamifratz" -- 130 members, 80 buses
"Har HaCarmel"--80 members, 45 buses
Together, 400 members and 250 buses.
The united service was named "Shachar" (For Greater Haifa Service) and became a leading factor in the North, belonging to the Histadrut and the Cooperative Center.
It was decided to start the new company on 12 January 1947. But on 29 Nov 1947, the United Nations voted the establishment of the State of Israel, which resulted, among others, in serious disturbances on the roads. [English page 46] This meant that all plans, in which so much work and energy had been invested, were shelved. Instead, emergency arrangements had to be introduced. Death lurked on the roads. Passengers and buses were attacked; and there were many casualties. Buses had to be armored at once. Service to Western Galilee, Hanita and Eylon became dangerous. In the end, Western Galilee was entirely cut off.
The buses and their drivers were put at the disposal of the security authorities. Drivers did not see their families for days and weeks on end. It became more and more difficult to maintain the service between the various localities. Many buses were hit and had to be taken out of circulation. In the workshops, repairs went on day and night. Four chaverim fell on the roads while on during: Shraga GODES, Zeev FEIN, Silash MEIR, and Reuben EGEDSTEIN.
While fighting stopped, all resources were mobilized in order to rehabilitate the cooperative, repair the buses and resume normal services. New buses were acquired; and 150 new members, demobilized from the Israel Army were enrolled. Thus, the number of members reached 600; and the number of buses 350. Thanks to this addition in manpower and vehicles, it became once more possible to implement the plans that had been shelved at the time of the proclamation of the State of Israel. At the initiative of the Ministry of Transport and the Cooperative Center, negotiations were started concerning the establishment of one countrywide transport company. In 1951, "Eged", "Shachar", and "Drom Yehuda" merged. The new company was first named "Eshed" and afterwards, "Egged." Again, committees were setup and plans elaborated. In all these, the Piesk group played an important role.
In 1952, the Egged management entrusted three members with the task of preparing detailed plans for the establishment of a company that was to build bus stations throughout the country. The committee members were Gotlieb and Matzpun while this author served as chairman. The plans were submitted within three months; and the company set up. A Board of Directors was appointed on which this author served as General Manager.
In 1952, there was not one bus station worthy of that name in Israel. Today , there are 20 magnificent stations and 19 modern garages. In 1952, the capital of the company was 250,000 IL. Today, seventy-five million. The author served for 12 years as General Manager. When asked where he had acquired his rich experience, he would reply: "In Piesk, at the Schulhoif and the Talmud Toray, from Rabbi Mote the Rasher."
It is only right to conclude this chapter with this photograph: 10 chaverim, 4 chaverot, 3 children.
Unfortunately, 6 out of these 17 are no longer with us. Their untimely death prevented them from witnessing the great miracle that was wrought by the Piesk group.
The sons of the little township were endowed with exceptional inspiration, daring, energy and vision. They had settled in Acre, an Arab town, and undertook unfamiliar hard work, suffering hunger and disease. Everything they achieved with their own resources, without outside help, without the assistance of any Department.
From January 1926 until January 1933, for seven years, a small group crystallized in Acre. Few, but they knew where they were going. From January 1933 until January 1948, for
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fifteen years, the small group in the photograph, together with a few more who joined the set up the "Mishmar Hamifratz Kvutzat Zifzif" cooperative. Despite all the difficulties and problems, the cooperative became an exemplary organization, carefully planned and managed, and profitable.
When "Mishmar Hamifratz" merged with "Hever" and "Har HaCarmel" to become "Sacchar", it brought with it 130 members, 80 buses and a modern garage (with liabilities only a few tens of thousands of pounds.) This huge asset was attained thanks to the small group in the photograph, the men who never gave in.
From 1948 until 1968, the twenty years since the merger of "Egged", "Shachar" and "Drom Yehuda" into "Essed" and then "Egged", the same small group continued to stand at the helm of Israel's cooperative transportation. Not alone, of course, there were many others. But this small group helped to steer the great democratic body on the right course.
45 years have elapsed since the first pioneers from Piesk trod on Israel's soil. They did not waste these years. They made history.
END PAGE 47 in English, page 63 in Hebrew section.
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