by Yisroel Kaluski, Tel Aviv
Translated by Pamela Russ
Alef (first letter of Hebrew alphabet)
The first years of Poland's independence in Wyszkow, just as in the entire country, were under the mark of a stormy slope in the sociopolitical and cultural development of the Jews. All the parties, organizations, and unions that grew like mushrooms after a rain in the small and larger settlements in Poland, did not leave our Wyszkow behind. The Jewish population in town threw themselves passionately into their raging lives, searching for an ideological path.
The parties did what they had to do: [they had] meetings, open readings, circles, propaganda work, organizations, and the like. There was a great selection of political or social addresses for the Wyszkow Jewish youth.
The Jewish struggle was not only with those who were already established, but it was mainly with those who had not yet tasted partisanship, primarily the young boys in the Beis Medrash [House of Study] and yeshivos, the working youth, and the older generation. The main disagreement was between the Zionist and the antiZionist groups. Also, even though the Zionist movement was colorful enough and numerous in its various formats, nonetheless the organizational framework for practical activities and preparation of the youth for Aliyah to the Land of Israel was missing.
The Zionist youth in Wyszkow, therefore, felt the need for a pioneering, Chalutztype [pioneer] of organization that would, in the town itself, undertake to produce a youth that now was very
distant from physical work or in general did not have a defined vocation. In the year 1922, some youth gathered together to establish the first pioneer organization: Yeshaye Gurner (now in Tel Mond), Yisroel Grosbard (Tel Aviv), Shlomo Levin (Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha), Aryeh Bresler (Einat), Yakov Mitelsbakh (Petakh Tikvah), and the author of these lines. Our goal was clear: begin to work in Wyszkow in order to be productive people in the Land of Israel.
I was eighteen years old at that time. My education, as was the complete atmosphere in our home, was absolutely Zionist. My parents dreamt only of Zion and would correspond with and receive mail from Artur Ruppen, M.M. Ussishkin, and other Zionist leaders. Thanks to this Zionist atmosphere in our home, the path to this movement was easy for me, a path that many of the youth in town had to experience with many stumbling blocks.
Being prepared for Aliyah, and understanding the importance of the work over there in Israel, I and Shlomo Lewin and Yisroel Grosbard learned metalworking in the repair shops for the agricultural machines of MosheDovid Jaskowycz (now in America). Everyone in town knew Jaskowycz because of his modern dress and long whiskers, and also because of his Zionist attitudes. In addition to his eight workers, whom he kept regularly in his workshop, he was always ready to take on more young men who were preparing for Aliyah.
The movement also took care of several Hachshara [organization that prepares for Aliyah] points, especially for girls, whose dreams and hopes for Aliyah and practical efforts for becoming productive, were not any smaller than for the boys. Therefore, the efforts of the first Hechalutz [pioneer organization] committee were great in Wyszkow, to which the following people belonged: Chaim Shlomo Lewin, Aryeh Bresler, Yakov Mitelsbakh, Yisroel Kaluski, Yeshaye Gurner, Yisroel Grosbard, and Malka Epstajn.
Our location was in partnership with the Poalei Tzion Party [Social Democratic Labor Party] (Tz.S.), and was on the central Skolne Street in the house of EliMeyer Goldman. The multifaceted cultural activities of Hechalutz, first included lessons for learning Hebrew that took place in special evening courses, Yediat Haaretz (Palestina Grafia), and actual lessons or speeches on various topics, including Jewish history. In the beginning, there was no marked growth of this organization because we came a little too late, because the town was already filled with all kinds of diverse youth movements from each party. This was also the case because Hechalutz took in young members from the age of eighteen upwards, while the other organizations gave fifteenyearolds the opportunity to become their members.
And, the view on Aliyah was weak at that time, especially in a place such as Wyszkow.
In the first period of pioneers in Wyszkow, there was a strong connection within the membership. The newly arrived element, the majority of whom were chassidic youth, who had no tradition [background] of organization membership, was not inclined to remain in a movement that required of each member both their physical work and patience and perseverance while waiting for their certificates. For those youth who were from the Beis Medrash or the Yeshiva, their belonging to Hechalutz was for the most part illegal without the consent of the parents. Sending such a young man to work would be a total conspiracy against the mother and father, and this would cause the organization much harm. All these moments contributed to the fact that at the very beginning of the establishment of Hechalutz, there was not a strong following.
In the year 1924, the Wyszkower Hechalutz received its first certificate [emigration license to Israel]. Fate had it that this valuable piece of paper which thousands of pioneers in Poland wanted so earnestly, came into my hands. Thanks to this, I was the first Oleh [person moving to Israel] of Hechalutz in town and the first to merit moving to Israel legally since the end of the World War of 19141918. With great emotion, I remember now how I merited having this certificate:
In November 1923, the center of Hechalutz in Poland received an allocated 35 certificates. When I learned of this, I left for Warsaw to Eliyahu Dabkin and pleaded with him to allow me to make Aliyah to Israel. My interlocutor, however, did not indicate any interest to accept my pleas, indicating my unlabored hands and young age that disqualified me as a candidate for Aliyah. But in midst of our discussion, Eliyahu Golomb, later the chief commandant of the Hagganah [Jewish Defense Organization] came into the room. At the time, he was staying in Poland
as an emissary from a settlement in the Land of Israel. Golomb had a conversation with me in Hebrew, and after more than an hour of explaining myself, he said to me the following words:
Go home to Wyszkow and work out a passport for yourself …
It would still be some time until I would be of age to acquire a foreign passport. But the joyful moment arrived and I made Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
For personal reasons, and mainly for health reasons, after being in Israel for four years, I returned to Poland. In Wyszkow, I now found a broad, extensive organization of Hechalutz, that had many members and a larger number of active, devoted, committed chaveirim [members friends]. Tens of pioneers from the town at that time were located at the important Hachshara sites in Czestokhowa, Klosow, Wloclawek, Mlawa, and in a series of other places in the Warsaw area. The movement had established its own location that became an important center for all Zionist youth organizations in Wyszkow. Hechalutz had become the general vehicle through which members of the Zionist youth groups received their certificates.
In the years 19351936, in Wyszkow, there was a Hachshara point of the central Hechalutz in Poland. The Hachshara had not set up any steady work places and therefore had to be satisfied with sporadic work by individual Jews. This work entailed, for example: washing laundry, chopping wood, carrying water, and the like. There were many incitements by the local Jewish communists against those who with their difficult toil and poor lives were preparing themselves for Aliyah. And the terror was even greater: constant attacks at the site, on individual chaveirim, and on work sites. Once, one of our pioneers was so beaten up, that he had to be taken to the hospital in Warsaw.
The atmosphere in the town was tense. The movement felt that with our own energies we would not be able to withstand Juskowycz's terror, and therefore, we were forced to bring down two fighters from Warsaw the famous Yidel Prager and Aryeh Treger. We even foresaw the eventuality that we would need to be armed and to that end, there were some revolvers hidden in my home.
The Jewish communists were not asleep either. They knew that with their own strength they would not be successful at breaking the Hechalutz and liquidating the Hachshara site. So, to deal with that, they brought in a group of Polish shoemaker khalupnikes [cottagers (those who lived in huts but didn't own the land)] from the nearby town of Branczszyk, who worked for the large shoe stores in Warsaw. These shoemakers were communists and they considered it a mitzvah [positive command from the Torah] to help their Jewish comrades in the town in their struggle against the Zionist danger. One Sunday evening, the Hechalutz site on the Rynek [market square] was surrounded by Branczszyker khalupnikes and local Jewish communists. There was a mood of a pogrom in the town. The henchmen did not let anyone go in or out of the locale. In this situation, when a little bit of communist and Jewish blood would be spilled, the police did not get involved.
But our chaveirim did not allow themselves to be provoked. Our position was dignified, without fear, without panic, but also not confrontational, so that no one could point at the Hechalutz chaveirim as the guilty ones in the eventual happenings. Later, our tactic appeared to be the correct one. Early Monday morning, the shoemakers from Branczszyk had to return home to work. It was the local Yevseks [Jewish members of Communist Party Yevsektzia] who later besieged us, but not with the impetus of chutzpah [defiance], when their Polish chaveirim were in Wyszkow. The rest of the Zionist groups saw the danger that lurked because of the Jewish communists and united to stand up against the Red hooliganism and terror.
Some time later, it was once more necessary to unite all the Jewish powers; included in this was the Yevsektzia, local Polish communists, and the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczyzna, Polish Socialist Party] against the dangers of the NDK [Polish police] thugs and NARA [Polish antiSemitic Party] bandits and their pickets by the Jewish stores, attacks on Jewish passersby, and widespread Jewish, antiSemitic hatred that poisoned the air in the town. A general committee was established to fight against Fascism and antiSemitism, that ran successful activities for about a year's time. The committee held its meetings in secret. Most of the meetings were held in my home, as I was the chairman of the above mentioned committee. At that time, I represented the Poalei Tzion Party [Jewish Social Democratic Labor Party] in Wyszkow, and the Polish representatives (communist agents and PPS), just as the Jewish parties, agreed to give over the chairmanship of the committee to the director of Poalei Tzion. We collected money, primarily from wealthy Jews, prepared arms, and set up special combat groups to fight off the eventual attacks. Collective guards of Jewish and Polish workers would patrol the town at night, in order to give the antiSemites the feeling of an established strong, united, JewishPolish resistance. Aside from that, there was education work in the local villages and in the town itself. Two communists were even tried for these acts and sent to prison. In this wonderful act of solidarity, the following two Polish activists were exemplary: Cytrinek (of the Polish communists), and Drozdowski (from the PPS Polish Socialist Party).
Finally, some memories about the Poalei Tzion Party and its youth organization Freiheit [Freedom], where I was active for a short time.
The Poalei Tzion movement in Poland dug down deep roots within the Jewish settlements, and did not forget our town. I remember that already in the year 1917 (I was twelve years old at the time), that on its own a strong youth organization grew out of the party, and the older members were quite astounded by this development. At that time, we were able to allow ourselves to bring down a special counsellor from Warsaw, teacher Freint. Until the split (in the year 1920) the organization recorded a constant growth. The site on Koscuiszko Street, in the home of AvromYosel Joskowycz, buzzed with the livelihood and incessant singing of the youth. The most active individuals in this movement were: Yakov Stelung, Laya Malczyk (his later wife), Mendel Rozenberg, Bzhezhinski, ChaimShlomo Lewin, Yakov Mitelsbakh, and I.
For evening courses, the Wyszkow Jewish youth sat and studied Hebrew, general education, Graetz's history of the Jewish nation. An honorable place in the culture work was occupied by the presentations from the most respected lecturers in Warsaw writers, journalists, party activists. The beautiful Wyszkower forest and the surrounding areas were a fine place for country houses for Warsaw Jews, particularly for the businessmen who would spend the hot summer months in town. So we used them for recreation in Wyszkow, and our youth enjoyed the readings of a Peretz Markish, Alter Kacyzne, the Dark One [a pseudonym for Yosef Tunkel, Yiddish humorist, 18811949], Gottlieb, and others.
In the year 1921, the Bolsehviks entered Wyszkow and ruled there all of eight days. This was the period of the honeymoon month of the world's revolution, as we would describe it. The Jewish communists were then on their high horse. The majority of the then Jewish parties were sympathetic to them at that time somewhat out of fear, and somewhat out of respect. Almost all of the workers' parties received expansive locales at the time, with many rooms. During the week of Russian rule in Wyszkow, the locations were overfilled, especially the Poalei Tzion club, because they had to create a certain legality for being affiliated with the workers' movement. Each evening there would be passionate discussions with some from the Politruk[a] from the Red Army and communist youth, who while present urged us to join their camp. But the majority of the Jewish youth decided not to identify with the communists, but to remain loyal to the Zionist ideology.
After expelling the Bolsheviks from Wyszkow, the communist youth went underground, and the reaction to this was delivered with a strong hand. Many activists were locked in prison and the movement was weakened. Right after the split of the Poalei Tzion (that took place at the end of 1921) in Wyszkow, a large number moved to the leftist Poalei Tzion, and a smaller number remained with the right wing. The rest were neither here nor there.
Only two years later, the organization was given the name Freiheit [Freedom], and wrote a beautiful page in the history of Zionist activity in Wyszkow. Freiheit experienced many rises and falls. The movement became particularly weakened when the majority of the activists immigrated to America and to the Latin American countries.
The activities of Freiheit, organizationally and ideologically, were tightly bound to the work of Hechalutz. Many activists, myself among them, did not see any conflict between the work of the two movements, only a straight, total consonance.
In the year 1936, my wife, my son, and I made Aliyah (for the second time) to the Land of Israel.
Being torn away from the movement for years because of making Aliyah twice, does not allow me to describe the total picture of this heroic chapter of the Jewish history in Wyszkow that carries the name Chalutz movement. With the selected fragments of the above mentioned memories I wanted to draw the beginnings and later development of an idealistic and creative Jewish youth in a small Jewish settlement in Poland, that gave its important contribution to the Chalutz vision and deeds, both in Poland and in the Land of Israel.
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