I had the privilege together with other chalutzim who came from other cities and towns to spend a complete year - summer and winter - during 1933-34 in Kibbutz Achava in Radzymin.
This was one of the characteristic hachsharas (preparatory kibbutzes) of the 30's. The number of permits to make aliyah - for those knocking on the door of the British government - was limited, compared to the demand. The British Mandate granted permits based on the ability of the economy to absorb the influx; but fewer even than this were given out.
In those days there was little hope that the young people from these kibbutzim preparing for aliyah would make it before three or four years of waiting for a permit. Nevertheless, they came to the preparation centers to work and prepare themselves for a life of work in Palestine. But the wait was long and the tension was great.
The Radzymin kibbutz was one of the new preparatory kibbutzim in Poland. In one decade there was a change in the concept of the word "preparation." Until the end of the '20's there were a few isolated kibbutzim, and only the best within these groups left to experience an agricultural preparation center far from their homes. They thought that with this agricultural expertise they would gain a more worldly view that would help them establish communal cells in Palestine, based on working on the soil while sharing a common ideal. But they were quickly forced to realize that it was not good to be organized solely for agriculture, since the work was seasonal. When the season ended, they would have to return home. There was no continuity, so the plan was lacking. Thus the idea of concentrating solely on agriculture was abandoned. The kibbutz members went into all branches of farm management and industry, quarrying, flour mills, saw mills, tanneries and even cutting trees. Even during the growing season, they did not confine themselves to agriculture. In the '30's these chalutzim performed the same kinds of work as was performed by the chalutzim in Palestine.
Such a preparatory kibbutz was established by the General Zionist Chalutz in the summer of 1932 in Radzymin. The number of members was about 25, but from this typically small number came the possibility of setting up a preparatory kibbutz.
Radzymin, close to the Polish capital, was an industrial center which included a metalwork factory, wood production, stone and other building materials industry that spread out from Warsaw's edge by way of little settlements. This was evident as one approached Radzymin. Industrial development also extended beyond the towns to a distance of more than 20 kms. Similarly, Radzymin's surrounding area resembled suburbs of the capital.
A large majority of the heads of industry in the town were Poles whose ancestors were Thuringian, Schwabian and Prussian nobility who in their eastward migration drove a peg into the soil of Poland. But there were also a few isolated though enterprising Jews who could give employment to chalutzim. And so the chalutzim of the Radzymin kibbutz were able to penetrate a number of enterprises.
There was in the city an organized manufacturing trade. Belonging to the brothers Radzyminsky was a factory to produce beer, a flour mill, and a sawmill. The owners, because of their respect for the young people, opened their gates to them and gave them work that engaged them throughout the year. The chalutzim valued this relationship with the employers and rewarded them with industrious and fruitful work. They did not only do manual labor; they engaged in professional tasks requiring intelligence and responsibility.It is important to note that work of this kind was only given to the chalutzim. It was known that they would understand how to direct production with a minimum of waste and a maximum of productivity. Of course, the work in this enterprise was varied. Even the non-Jews had respect for the chalutzim when they became aware of the goal of their life.
The chalutzim of the preparatory kibbutz also worked in the outskirts of the city, in the factories making fired bricks. They worked in all stages of manufacture, from the preparation of the raw material, the drying of the bricks in the open air, and their insertion into the furnace, to their removal at the appropriate time and finally their disposition as required.
In this enterprise (in which neither the bosses nor the other workers were of their religion) the members of the kibbutz excelled in their workmanship, and their reputation spread. So they gained position after position, and their status greatly increased. They also explored temporary work - hewing trees, grinding, serving as porters, etc. Any opportunity for work they performed diligently and with inner fervor.
As for the scope of work, the kibbutz was prepared for expansion. But the housing conditions were hard. Members were housed in a few rooms on Third of May Street (as one approached the office of the regional ministry "Staro Stavo"). The overcrowding was polluting, and the dampness of winter produced discomforts. Although the kibbutz administration requested transfer to a more suitable dwelling, there wasn't a landlord who would rent any sort of a dwelling to the kibbutz. So freezing was the decree against it.
Another problem with the kibbutz was that working hours for members were not standardized. One group might work from early morning to afternoon, another group might work in the afternoon and end at midnight. During the summer, the hours were even more confused.
A number of members did field work in the village of Salufano, a distance of 8 km., on the property of Mr. Lichtenstein, a God-fearing Jew. They harvested the wheat, herded the flocks and cattle and gathered potatoes, tomatoes, etc. This did not allow members either to start work together or finish it together, or to sit down together for a meal. Nevertheless, during evening hours and after a light meal they participated diligently in lessons in Hebrew, the early beginnings of Zionism, and geography of the Land. Or they listened to an analysis of what was happening in other countries' Zionist movements. Music reverberated within the kibbutz until midnight - or so it seemed.
On the Sabbath or during vacations or during those days when work stopped, the free time gave them the opportunity to mingle with the young people of the city, to attend their Zionist meetings and to become familiar with their problems, their aspirations and business dealings, even though the problems were different and varied. The desire to debate until "one's heart gave out" was one of the characteristic traits of this youth.
Actually, all of Polish Jewry was like this - controversial and argumentative. There were numerous parties that often fought in a vacuum. But the youth was vociferous - some of them speaking Hebrew. I always felt, as did they, that what happened several years later was already in their consciousness. Anti-Semitism was already running wild, with ominous signs appearing. The youth of Radzymin sought refuge. Aliyah, which was the aspiration of the individual and the group, united them, but did not redeem them. The gates of the Land were sealed.
Throughout this state of affairs there was the feeling of interrelatedness that was taking place between the youth of the town and the preparatory kibbutz. The members of the kibbutz enjoyed the warm feeling that the city youth displayed toward them. In return the members of the kibbutz nurtured in them some of the aspirations of the Land. I do not know how long the 'sparks' continued among the city youth. I left the kibbutz in Radzymin, and I made aliyah.
When I recall the youths I knew in Radzymin, it is difficult for me to believe that they were cut off from life forever. And if they had not been trampled down in the devastation of the Shoah, they would have stood firm defending their lives and aspirations.Photo p. 207 - Secretaries of the kibbutz
Photo p. 208 - Some young people from the Youth Zionist Organization who visited our kibbutz frequently. Together we dreamed about aliyah.
There were many balanced and cultural activities in our town, but we do not exaggerate by saying that the youth choir in their rehearsal and practice and learning of new songs and their public appearance in public halls were the crown of the Diaspora of the cultural life and the artistry in Radzymin. The choir was the pride of city hall where different branches and different levels of youth gathered
The choir was established in 1925 by group of youth headed by the Avkovich family with brothers Hersh-Mordehi, Libel and Berish.
Avkovich family's daughter and sons had pleasant voices. They loved music and songs. The music could be heard from their apartment on their upper floor all the way at the gate of the synagogue. The windows of the apartment were facing the corner of Old Market(Starii Rink)
The Afkovich family contributed greatly to the quality of the choir. The youth was independent group. The group enjoyed spiritual enjoyment and harmony in their songs. The songs were sung from the bottom of their hearts and were about the hardships and the personal pain and pain of families, and their poverty, that we all shared. The sound of this music gave wings and elevated us to another world far away to the world of happiness and beauty.
The choir was an interesting and hardy group. Our city was blessed with youth gifted in music. They were absorbed in the early childhood when they listened to the prayers of their fathers during Shabbat and holidays.
Many of them picked up songs in the courtyard of the synagogue. In the courtyard of the famous Rabbi and in the small classrooms (shtiblach). The music followed them everywhere they had gathering.
There were 4 out of 5 sons of the Avkovich family in the choir. There were also Openheim family and Berchman.
During the Sabbath rehearsal they all participated and the house was full.
The participants were giving up trips and games and entertainment as they were committed to the Shabbat choir singing.
To them it was the high point of the Shabbat. They were listening to the tone of the head singer, our conductor. The conductor was the soloist of the Grand Synagogue in Chometska Street in Warsaw. We all listened attentively to every song, nd thus we learned new songs every time and within a few months our repertoire grew, and we were enriched with classical and folk and Hebrew songs. Most of the songs were performed in Yiddish. Even the songs of George Frederic Handel's Hallelujah
We used to repeat the songs over and over so there were not false notes or mistakes. Our soloist Shwis was very matriculate. Any false notes from any one was picked up by Shwis instantly as he had excellent musical ear and God help anyone who sang off tune
When the day came for the public concert there, it was a great event, it was like a holiday. Hundreds of residents rushed to the hall the filled to capacity.
Many were standing outside, just to hear us singing. The public concerts of Radzymin were attended by residents of the surrounding villages. The announcements for the Radzymin choir were always sent to nearby villages. When the rose the choir sang Hope and Belief by Y. L Perez. This song became a symbolic inspiration song of the choir
Only a few of the friends of the choir were saved from the Holocaust and lived in Israel.
Among the survivors were Sarah Goldman and Glika Van Grover, Uvan Kushmerski and Bracha Kushmeriski.
Most of the choir members did not live to see the joy of life their hopes as their life was terminated and hopes extinguished in the gas chambers in Treblinka where their pure voices were choked with the voice of the entire holy, pure community.
On these we mourn and will remember forever.
In their memory we want to light the candles and want to tell their stories of hope and light so that they will be remembered. But there are no words to express our sorrow and maybe the song above and the music will be written in our hearts.
May their memories be blessed.
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