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Betar in Kurow
(Memoirs of a Commander)

by Arye Rozenzon (Bnei-Brak)

Translation by Yael Chaver

Our Rabbi immigrates to erets yisroel in 1925

The events that occurred in our shtetl made a great impression on me. The Rabbi of Kurow, Rabbi Arye-Mordechai Rabinovich (long may he live) went to erets yisroel. The entire Jewish shtetl saw him off. Later I heard stories in the bes medresh [house of study] that he had become a rabbi in Bnei-Brak, the very same Bnei Brak of Rabbi Akiva and Bar-Kochba. The same Bnei Brak of the Haggadah, that all Jews mention during the Passover Seder.

The course of my nationally conscious education was greatly influenced by my rebbe [teacher of young boys], Sender Zishe Ayzenshtat, of blessed memory. He was the only melamed [alternative term for teacher of young boys] in Kurow, and from him I learned the biblical books of the Prophets and the Writings svarbere [a corruption of the Hebrew for 24, referring to the entire Hebrew Bible] as we children termed them. I did not have the honor of studying with Reb [Mr.] Yankl Vaynrib, of blessed memory. Reb Yankl Vaynrib ran a truly modern, national-religious school. But my mother, peace be upon her, who was a descendant of Rabbi Shmuel Kurower, of blessed memory, did not allow her children to go to a modern school.

Rabbi Sender-Zishe, one of the first Mizrahi activists in the shtetl, a scholar as well as being versed in worldly learning, made efforts to educate his students in that same spirit.

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He didn't just teach his students the texts of the Prophets, but really chanted the text with them. Our greatest pleasure was when, after a strenuous day of studying Talmud, as sunset drew near, Reb Sender would start singing with us a chapter from the Prophets. Chanting a sweet melody, he would sing about the wars of Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and Jephthah.

I would then think, and ask myself:

“Why is it impossible for Jews to show bravery in our time? And free themselves from Exile?”

 

Warsaw, Lubavitch yeshiva

It was 1929. There were riots in erets yisroel. Although it was a plain Wednesday, masses of Jews gathered in front of the synagogue and bes medresh. Binyomin Vaynrib stood, surrounded by a crowd of Jews, reading out loud the latest word from a newspaper. In those days, a newspaper was a rarity for us. Buses went to Lublin only twice a day. Everyone was waiting impatiently for new information. The shtetl was seething like a kettle, just as if the fighting was happening close by. Aid committees were set up, and a protest meeting in the synagogue was arranged. All were in mourning. In the middle of a speech by the Rabbi, Reb Elimelech Guterman, of blessed memory, several young folks crowded onto the bimah [lectern] and started shouting anti-Zionist slogans, in solidarity with the Arab murderers.

As a child, that made a terrible impression on me. It remained engraved in my memory.

In 1931-1934, I studied in Warsaw, in the Lubavitch yeshiva. At that time, all the Zionist youth organizations flourished in Warsaw. The greatest Zionist personalities came to Warsaw, among them Dr. Nahum Sokolow, Zev Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion. I saw how young people welcomed Ben-Gurion ecstatically, in the Nowosczy theater. On Lag Ba-Omer I saw Betar [Zionist Revisionist youth movement] members marching through the streets of Warsaw. Tens of thousands of Jews stood on balconies, on sidewalks,

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and greeted the Betar parade with great enthusiasm and ovations.

I was astonished and inspired by all this. I did not yet know the difference between Betar and Hekhalutz [socialist Zionist youth movement]. I loved them all.

The vote for the 18th Zionist Congress was nearing. The murder of Arlosoroff [a socialist-Zionist leader, assassinated – apparently on political grounds – in Tel-Aviv, in April 1933] led to false accusations by Zionists against other Zionists. Feuds flared up, the Zionist camp and people splintered. All joy was gone, the mood was embittered.

 

Rebellion in the bes medresh

In 1934 I returned to the shtetl. My few years of life in Warsaw had a strong effect on me. I kept seeing the masses of young people, already preparing for their future lives in erets yisroel. It would be a hard life, but illuminated by a shining ideal.

Along with a few friends who studied in the bes medresh, we started to establish a “Young Mizrachi” movement. Naturally, we immediately encountered bitter resistance on the part of the ultra-Orthodox circles in the shtetl.

There were several householders in the shtetl who considered themselves guardians of the bes medresh boys. They would make sure that the boys were following the right path, coming to the bes medresh on time; they would check whether they were studying or just talking politics, God forbid, whether they were dressing up, whether their neckbands were too colorful, and the like. The ringleader was Reb Motl Zilberblum (Motl Shneyers), the husband of Sore-Itshe Shneyer. If, God forbid, one of his subjects was late in coming

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to studies, Reb Motl would immediately call him, look him in the eye, and shake his head sadly and meaningfully. Then, as if affectionately, he would pinch his cheek…

There was no way Reb Motl could make peace with the idea that we would free ourselves from his guardianship. On shabbes, while praying in the Lublin shtibl [small synagogue] where I prayed together with my father, of blessed memory, Reb Motl was in charge of reading the weekly portion, and demanded that I declare, then and there, that I was giving up my terrible plan. He brought along as help Reb Shlomo Tevl Vachenhazer, of blessed memory (all his daughters, by the way, were communists) and they threatened us with a beating if we did not promise not to include his nephew, Sholem Beynishes, of blessed memory, in our group.

I realized that things were going badly and that they would keep on bothering us, I could barely wait for shabbes to end. Right after havdoleh [the ceremony that concludes shabbes] I went to see Reb Yankev Vaynrib for advice.

 

Reb Yaakov Vaynrib and Rabbi Elimelech Guterman

Reb Yankl Vaynrib, from whom I was now seeking help and advice, was an unusual person. As a very religious Jew, he could have been an example of European bearing and appearance. He was also a very handsome man, slightly higher than average, with a beautiful black beard, like Herzl [Theodor Herzl, founder of political Zionism]. He dressed like all the pious Jews of the shtetl, but was always neat and elegant. Reb Yankl believed with all his heart that the Jewish people would be redeemed in our lifetime. He loved

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erets yisroel to the point of martyrdom. In recent years he had been close to the rabbi Reb Yankl Mateses, of blessed memory, who was renowned as a great scholar, a righteous, honest and decent man. In those Hasidic circles, Reb Yankl continually expressed his belief in Zionism, although it led to his being persecuted and caused him much grief.

Reb Yankl Vaynrib encouraged me and gave me permission to organize young people, even girls, into the Mizrachi circles.

At the time, this was still considered an unusually bold step. In addition, I received support from Rabbi Elimelech Guterman, of blessed memory, who was close to the Mizrachi. He befriended us, although he, too, was persecuted because of it. He taught us a regular Talmud class in the bes medresh and studied the weekly portion with us every Friday night at his house.

 

The Switch from “Young Mizrachi” to “Betar

Some of the most active members of “Young Mizrachi” were Alter Rapoport, Hersh Shnaydlerer and Yekhiel Zilberman, may God avenge their death.

Yekhiel Zilberman took over the lead after I switched over to Betar. He was beloved by everyone, and thanks to him there were always friendly connections between Betar and the torah va'avoda movement [a religious-Zionist group]. He was a sincere religious-nationalist, and therefore had no animosity towards Betar.

Along with me, several more Mizrachi members decided in favor of Betar. Taking up the yoke of Jewish independence in our shtetl was no less difficult than taking up the yoke of heavenly rule…

 

Need and Ignorance

In order to properly explain what I stated above, I must give a short description of our economic and social conditions in Kurow.

Our shtetl was a very poor town. More than one Jewish home suffered from real hunger, and freezing in winter. The center of town was where a few “rich” Jews lived (rich, according to our conceptions at the time). There were no factories or large wholesale businesses. The shtetl was packed with tiny groceries. Most proprietors of these groceries needed supplementary income, which they earned as melamdim [plural of melamed]. Otherwise, they were unable to make a living. No one lived in more than a single room. The small business was next to the “dwelling,” which was also the kheder [the school for young boys]. If God helped and a couple of peasants came in,

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the store was packed and the rebbetsin [rebbe's wife] had to ask the rebbe for help. There were also shops with manufactured goods, leather, notions, stationery, and food. But most of the population consisted of small businessmen, cobblers, tailors and others, who toiled – along with their entire family – for the barest necessities. A few days a week the Jews of Kurow made their way to the nearby shtetls and their fairs. The “wealthiest” folks would drag themselves around in peasant carts with wares in the freezing temperatures to the nearest fair. The bes medresh would be packed on winter nights. Jews would come in to warm themselves by the oven. The synagogue functionaries and cantors made a living by going from house to house every Friday holding a box in which they collected the money for their upkeep. On Fridays the door was constantly opened by all these people and the charity collectors who came for their portion.

In such difficult economic circumstances, it is no wonder that most of the young Jews switched over to Socialism or Communism. The domain of culture and education was also in bad shape. Besides a few dozen boys who studied in the bes medresh or went away to study in a yeshiva, the young people of Kurow had almost no education. The girls were in better shape: they were sent to a folkshul [a school conducted in Yiddish]. The boys, on the other hand, went to kheder until age 10-12, and thereafter sent away to work, or helped their fathers at work.

There was no gymnazium [modern secondary school] or other secondary school in Kurow. Some continued their education in Warsaw or Lublin. Naturally, all the organizations consisted of young people who had been in the bes medresh or yeshiva.

 

National hope, striking uniforms, marches, joy

The Kurow branch of Betar, the Zionist-Revisionist youth organization, was founded during the Passover week of 1930. The founders were:

Mendl Brik (who was also the first commander), and the Zamdmer brothers. Here, as in all of Poland, Betar developed with lightning speed and had the effect of a stormy whirlwind, that knows no rest and no retreat. Our young people were powerfully inspired. Each of them felt like a proud, courageous Jew, full of confidence and faith in the imminent creation of a Jewish state. The magnificent uniform with the blue and white insignia, the marches through the streets of Jewish towns and shtetls, the orderly rows like those of well-trained soldiers, all these

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aroused joy and hope in the broken, oppressed, impoverished Jewish population. Betar was viewed as the future Jewish army in erets yisroel, the liberators of the Jewish people.

figure caption: Mendl Brik, son of Yudl. Murdered.

The name of Zev Jabotinsky [Zionist leader, founder of Betar], head of Betar, was very popular and beloved. Heroic legends sprang up around his name. The following song, which was then popular, was sung by young people with fervor:

In Jerusalem, in a tower,
the night is dark.
Jabotinsky is led out,
strictly guarded by soldiers…

The song ends with the stanza:
…And in his thoughts
He sees the weapons gleaming
in the hands of dozens of Jewish soldiers –
their leader is none but he…

The youth of Betar saw him as Judah the Maccabee. At his command, they were ready to go through fire and water, dreaming day and night about the creation of a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan. They would greet each other enthusiastically with the words tel-khai [settlement in Palestine] where the hero Yosef Trumpeldor fought and fell. His last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our land.”

In our town, the majority of Betar members came from poor homes. Some could not afford more than one Betar uniform shirt, which they wore. Most of the Betar members were young folks, except for several middle-aged members. Among these were:

Hanna Rozen (wife of Itshe Rozen, daughter of Beynish Vakhenhauser. who supported Betar throughout the years of its existence, in its hardest times); Mendl Rozenboym, Shiye Tzukerman, Shmuel Vaynbukh, the popular Yiddish doctor M. Peretz (related to the famous writer Y. L. Perets), Binyomin Weinrib, and others.

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For a long time, Dr. Peretz held talks on hygiene and first aid. His talks, which were held in the Betar club, were attended by masses of people from all social classes, for whom this was their first chance to listen to talks on such important matters.

 

Home-grown terror

But I don't know where else Betar members suffered and were bloodied as much as in our shtetl, Kurow, until the last years before the war. Members of the Leftist Poale-Zion and Communists terrorized all the Zionist [implied: Revisionist] youth organizations. No Zionist organization could hold a public talk or class, because in our town as well, these opposition groups broke in, attacked, and beat up the members.

When Binyomin Weinrib, chairman of the local Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] once wanted to speak to the people, he had to organize the meeting secretly. He would enter the bes medresh early Saturday morning, accompanied by a few friends. Before the cantor finished the morning prayer, before the Torah-reading, he would go onto the bimah and start speaking. Before we knew it, Binyomin had managed to give a speech about the coming activities of the Keren Kayemet.

When the left-wingers arrived and wanted to start terrorizing the audience, Binyomin was about to end his talk. The opposition was already stirred up, and on their way home they attacked and beat the Zionist leader.

figure caption: Yankl Zamdmer and his wife Hodl. Murdered.

In the last years before the war, the left-wingers put a lot of energy into their fight against Betar.

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They considered Betar their worst enemy. But finally the Betar members got the proper courage to respond to them and to defend themselves properly.

In most cases their [the left-wingers] attacks were directed against the commander of Betar.

The first commander of Betar, Mendl Brik, a son of Reb Yudl Brik, studied in the bes medresh for many years, was well-learned, and had a strongly developed nationalistic feeling. He did much to help the development and existence of Betar. As a gently brought up young man, he couldn't participate in the actual physical part of the battle. It was almost impossible to carry on an ideological war with the opponents. Most of them had gotten their political education only from newspapers, brochures and the small booklets of the “groshn-bibliotek” [Penny Library]; and not all were capable of reading even that. Especially harsh were the attacks on us by the Communists, during the famous Moscow trials. This was how they wanted to counter the doubts and embittered feelings of the more intelligent followers. Incidentally, it is interesting as well as typical that the sons of Reb Yoske the cantor, of blessed memory, were themselves active in left-wing circles, yet used to come into the synagogue on Saturdays as a choir while their father was chanting the prayers…

figure caption, 59: Khayim Elazar Vurman[1] (son of Henech), fought as a partisan against the Germans in the Lublin forests and fell as a hero while attacking a group of retreating Germans, one hour before the arrival of the Red Army. He was 26. The picture predates the war, when he was Betar commander in Kurow.

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figure caption, 60: Eliezer Vurman, Leybish Vaynrib (Israel)

After Mendl Brik was married and went away to Warsaw, Eliezer Vurman took over the leadership of Betar. At that time, Betar in Poland instituted military courses all over the country, to educate instructors. One such course took place in the nearby shtetl of Pulow, led by high-ranking officers of the Polish army. Avrom Zamdmer and Eliezer Vurman completed this course and brought new life to the Kurow Betar group. They immediately began to teach the Betar members of Kurow. Eliezer Vurman really underwent great suffering as the commander of Kurow Betar. I must show off a bit and say that only those who grew up inspired by the spirit of Jabotinsky could have survived such humiliations, and indeed, actual blows, that Vurman had to withstand and suffer. In general, Vurman was a very capable person. He never went to a trade school, yet he was the best radio and electrical technician in town. He had no time to study; he devoted his time to Betar. Although he was Henech Vurman's son, he always befriended the poorest and most ordinary people.

 

Heymishkayt [familiarity], friendship, betrothals

In general, all Betar members behaved like members of one family, like brothers and sisters. Vurman met Tzvia, Khayim Rozen's daughter, in Betar. She became his girlfriend and helper. Because of him, she also suffered from attacks by the opposition.

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figure caption: Tzvia Rozen, Elazar Vurman's wife, Khayim Rozen's daughter

Even when they were standing under the khuppe [marriage canopy], those characters didn't forget to pelt them with stones.

Moyshe Vachman was also active in Betar throughout this period. He, too, came from the bes medresh. He was very studious, well-read, and politically conscious. He was very well-liked, and had great influence over the Zionist youth of the shtetl. Later he spent most of his time in Warsaw, and his occasional visits to Kurow were an important event for Betar. He would bring the newest Hebrew songs from Warsaw and teach them to the young folks. He was very devoted to the work of our group. He also met his future bride in Betar: Sore, Moyshe Nisenboym's daughter. She, too, was an activist in the organization.

Most Betar members came from the circles of the poorest workers. They therefore had to be especially strong to withstand and oppose all the socialist ideologies. They were sent to be activists in their labor unions. More than one paid for that with his livelihood.

 

The Crisis

In 1935-1936 there was something of a crisis in the activities of the Zionist movement. There were several reasons, internal and external, Jewish and non-Jewish:

The severe economic crisis in eretz yisroel; murderous attacks by Arabs there; the civil war in Spain, in which the entire Jewish and Zionist press took the side of the left-wing rebels, as though the fate of the Jewish people would be decided in Madrid or Barcelona; the rejection by the majority in the Histadrut [Jewish Labor federation in Palestine] of the peace agreement between Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky (after Avrom Stavski, of blessed memory, was released by the British courts in Jerusalem, where he had been tried as a suspected participant in the assassination of Arlosoroff);

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the strengthening of Hitler's regime in Germany and its influence on Poland, which led to a wave of anti-Semitic excesses, pogroms; the evil, cursed system of immigration “certificates” instituted by the British Mandate in eretz yisroel that allowed the immigration of only a few thousand Jews each year – at the very time when “the ground was burning under the feet” of Polish Jews [imminent danger was felt], and hundreds of thousands longed to immigrate. All these factors caused our Zionist organization and training groups to dwindle and weaken by the day. Young people were tired of waiting for the “certificate” and work in the training camps became difficult. At the same time, personal life deteriorated. People were left without means of livelihood. All of this had an effect. The fact that a “certificate” could be bought for money at a time when tens of thousands of young people were in the training camps – I believe all this weakened Zionist activity everywhere. The Bund's [Jewish socialist movement] influence began to increase. Betar in Kurow, like other Zionist organizations in the shtetl, managed to maintain minimal activity, but it was a far cry from that of previous years.

Our members Shimen Zaltzburg, Avrom Zamdmer, Moyshe Vachman, and others who were in the training camps waiting to acquire the longed-for “certificate” grew tired…

As a protest against the “certificate” system, Betar refused to take its allotted portion of “certificates.”

figure caption: Right to left: Shimen Zaltzburg, Tzvia Rozen, Sore Nisenboym, Elazar Vurman. Standing: Moyshe Vachman

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Jabotinsky promised that all Betar members would soon travel on their own ship, but not all had the strength to wait.

figure caption: Group of Betar members: Among them, Elazar Vurman, Sore Nisenboym, Mintshe Niderberg, Moyshe Vachman, Motl Hitelman, Khaye Rozen, Moyshe Zeltzer, Yosl Hopenheim, and others

Some time previously, Binyomin Weinrib had had to interrupt his activity in the Revisionist organization, because he realized that he would not be able to immigrate to Eretz-yisroel through Betar, due to the Zionist organization's system of allotting “certificates.”

 

Teaching and Learning

In 1936 I was entrusted with the task of taking over the leadership of Betar in Kurow. It was necessary to start virtually anew. I transformed Betar into a school. There were classes every evening, on various topics: Jewish and Zionist history, social and political issues, and educational topics. Among the subjects taught were Hebrew, Hebrew literature (by the teacher Yoysef Taytlboym, not a Betar member). Simkhe Gintsburg, who had studied in the Warsaw teachers' college, helped me with cultural affairs. Simkhe, the son of Velvl and Fradl Gintsburg (daughter of Simkhe-Meir Vayman), had rare intellectual talents. He would sit for hours in the bes medresh in his student's uniform, together with his uncle Reb Yankl (son of Simkhe-Meir), studying Talmud. You could hear them chanting from a distance.

I made every effort to reduce the animosity and hatred towards Betar, by means of good, friendly relations with the activists of other organizations, as well as through personal contacts even with the activists of the extreme Left.

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Betar planned to organize a secret self-defense force consisting of all the Jewish youth organizations, in case of anti-Semitic “excesses.”

I made efforts to transform the Betar club into a second home. The young people of the shtetl envied us, because of the joy and intimate feelings that reigned in our place. Betar started growing and developing again. Many children who graduated from the Folkschule joined out organization. Young folks from the bes medresh and yeshivas also joined us, such as Mendele Kave (son of Moyshe Tuvya), Khayim Shtern, Meir Kartman, Dovid Levinson, and others.

 

From whence cometh help?

Many poor, confused young people were at loose ends in the shtetl at the time. Among them were capable students and artisans, craftsmen, romantic couples who wanted to marry but spent hours going back and forth from the town office to the yellow synagogue, from Shoul Levinson's house to the Gentile cemetery. They looked up to heaven, and looked into each other's eyes, asking, “From whence cometh my help?”

Material conditions worsened. Some bold young people stole across the border to Russia. Their fate is well-known.

In 1937 a central leadership course was held in Lodz. Yoysef Hoppenheim (son of Motl, Berl's son) and I participated in this course, which lasted several months. In addition to military training, the participants learned Jewish history, Zionism, demography, even classes on Borochov [a Jewish socialist ideologue] and Marx.

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When we returned with this new load of knowledge and information, we introduced many improvements into Betar's organizational life. Together with the Betar youth of Lublin, we arranged summer camps, several weeks long, for our young people.

 

Our leader speaks and sounds a warning

Because of Jabotinsky's daring new immigration plan, animosity towards us and provocations against Betar intensified. All the political parties, from the Communists to Agudas-Yisroel, railed against us and cursed us because of Jabotinsky's so-called “evacuation plan.” At that time, Jabotinsky came to Lublin for a lecture. All the Betar members of Kurow went to Lublin. Our joy was immense. We hardly believed that we would have the great chance of being face-to-face with our very beloved leader and president. His lecture lasted several hours (he started past midnight). He spoke about the great, imminent danger confronting European Jews. The people were threatened with actual physical extinction. Mass immigration must start immediately, by all means and through every path. “I want to save you!” Jabotinsky shouted three times in succession.

A group of Revisionist activists from the Lublin region held a consultation with Jabotinsky.

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I, too, had the honor of participating in that consultation. Another topic of discussion was the terrible provocations on the part of the Jewish press in Poland, which termed Jabotinsky an “Anti-Semite!”

“We've been living here for 800 years, and this is where we'll continue to live! You can evacuate your Fascist bands” – these inscriptions were lettered on the walls, “Get out, Jabotinsky the anti-Semite!”

 

False consolation and the song

At that time, Betar and the Revisionist organizations felt totally isolated from Jewish society. We were too weak to fight all the Jewish parties and the entire Jewish press. The Hasidic rebbes [Hasidic leader] and the rabbis also wanted to be surrounded by their own adherents, the source of their livelihood. Jabotinsky's shout remained a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Every day we heard more and more of Hitler's horrible roaring rants over the radio, accompanied by military parades. But our Jews tried to preserve their calm with a song:

Jews have always been, Jews will always be –
and Hitler will die.

Who then could know that the song should have been sung differently:
Jews have always been, Jews will always be –
but six million will go to their graves.

figure caption: A group of Betar members. Among them: Mintche Niderberg, Khaye Rozen, Malka Neimark, Itche Hanisman, Yeshaye Rozen, Motl Hitelman, Moyshe Vachman, Tsvia Rozen, Elazar Vurman, Shimen Zaltzberg, Khaye-Dina Feldberg, Sore Nisenboym, Moyshe Vurman, Motl Zaltzberg, Khayim Ritzer.

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figure caption: Central training course for Betar instructors, Lodz, 1937Right to left: fifth in the first row – Yoysef Hopenheim; sixth in the second row – Aryeh Rozenzon

 

A quick change

Now a change came: 1) we became aware of the existence of the secret military organization “Irgun Zva'i L'eumi” [National Military Organization]. Not only did the Irgun mount an active resistance to the Arab terrorists, it also caught the terrorists and the murderers in the places in which they concentrated. 2) The second important event was the organization of large-scale illegal immigration to eretz yisroel. Avrom Shtern (who later founded Lehi [the Stern Gang]) visited Poland and organized military training courses for the officers of the Irgun. Avrom Stavski managed the illegal immigration.

All of us were preparing to leave Poland, but it would take a long time for our shtetl's turn. Fifteen of our Betar members were readying themselves for the trip. The Warsaw Yiddish newspaper Moment was now at our service. The great poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, who had come to Poland from eretz yisroel, called out daily from its pages, urging Jewish young people to go to eretz yisroel and fight the British occupiers.

An Irgun daily newspaper, “The Deed,” also began to appear.'

 

My departure for Eretz-yisroel

It was the last night of my life in Kurow, before leaving for eretz yisroel. After the banquet, my young friends from Betar encircled me, clinging and kissing me, weeping bitterly. Parting from my friends was no less difficult than parting with my own family.

I had been linked with them for several years, had spent time with them. They often unburdened themselves to me about all their worries, including personal and intimate issues. In these conversations, I made efforts to prepare them psychologically in case of war.

Now, as I was about to leave, everyone understood me, and felt that something terrible was looming in the air. Only three other Betar members were leaving with us that day. In three weeks, ten more of our comrades were about to leave.

The date was July 13, 1939. Not far from the Kurow bus station, in the great square near the firefighters' shed, all the Betar members gathered. They stood in a row, with the flag, and waited for my farewell words. After the speech, I passed the leadership position to Yoysef Hopenhaym. I wished them that we would next meet in eretz yisroel. They answered with tears.

Photo caption: Central training course for Betar insturctors in Lodz, 1937
From right: fifth in the first row Yoysef Hopenhaym; sixth in the second row Aryeh Rozenzon

At the Warsaw train station, the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg saw us off. He spoke about the hard life and difficult battle ahead of us,

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in all areas, and that we would not have it easy. But who cared? We wanted to take our first steps on the soil of eretz yisroel. The entire train was packed with Betar members. We arrived at the Romanian border. Looking out the window, I saw a group of Polish and Romanian officers, negotiating with Avrom Stavski. This took a long time. The train finally started moving. Two days later, we arrived at the port of Constan?a, on the Black Sea. At Stavski's command, the lights in the train were extinguished and the windows draped over. We waited, quietly and calmly. Each of us was standing next to his small rucksack.

 

Like thieves in the night – to the ship “Parita”

Inside the train, we heard orchestras playing, and the loud shrieks of dancing couples. This must be coming from the luxury ships in the harbor. We felt very envious of the liberated young people in their free homelands, who had the chance to live freely and enjoy life, under the protection of their country. We, on the other hand, had to steal into our homeland, like thieves.

A few hours later, we received instructions to creep out of the train, one by one. We walked silently, several meters apart, in the direction of the ship, which was anchored to one side. A small wooden bridge connected the ship to land. The bridge was flanked by Avrom Stavski (in spite of his cheerful nature, he was now very serious) and by a short Romanian officer with a large black mustache. Each of us had to hand his passport over to the Romanian officer, who promptly threw it into a large black barrel right next to him. Tired and drained, we came aboard the ship. It did not take long for the ship to fill up with about one thousand Betar members, from Poland, France, and Romania.

We rolled around on the sea for about two months, in horribly difficult conditions. We did not want the ship to fall into the hands of the British. We knew very well that new groups of our sisters and brothers, anxious to reach eretz yisroel, were already waiting for the ship in Europe. We searched for a place to land, where the British would not notice us. Suddenly the ship's commander told us that he had received instructions to sail directly to Tel-Aviv. We were lucky, our joy was great. It had been a long time since we had had bread or water. But why was our commander so sad? What terrible secret was he bearing inwardly?

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Figure caption: Betar creates an army
Central training course for Betar instructors in Lodz
Two members of Kurow Betar participated: Aryeh Rozenzon and Yoysef Hopenhaym. A. Propes, Commander of Betar in Poland, commands the parade of training courses, led by Avrom Amper (died in battle against the British police on Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv, 1942).

[Page 71]

Then we noticed that the calendar said September 1, 1939.

 

Visiting a Kurow friend in Ramat Gan. Terrible news from home.

A while later, I had already come to visit Binyomin Weinrib in Ramat Gan. On that visit, I read a letter he had received from his father.

Among other things, he wrote that several weeks earlier a group of Betarists had started on their journey to eretz yisroel. Among them were Shimen Zaltzberg, Khayim Ritser, Pinkhes Goldberg, Leybl Vachenhazer, and others. When they got to the Romanian border, they were not allowed to cross, because of the tense political situation.

Unfortunately, their group never arrived at the shores of eretz yisroel. They were all too late. All the Betarists, with a few exceptions, were murdered. Only five Betarists survived the massacres: Yosele Honisman (now in New Zealand), Khaye Ritsman, Shmuel Gotlib and Sane (Nesanel) Rozenzon, all in Israel.

Kalmen Taytlboym came on the “Altalena”, which brought weapons and 800 Betarists. As is known, the ship was shot up, with dozens of casualties. Kalmen Taytlboym survived.

I would like to say something more about “Altalena,” but… it might really not be suitable for the Kurow Yizker book…

I feel it is especially necessary to memorialize in this book all the murdered members of the Command and the group heads, whose lives were dedicated to the battle for an independent Israel:

Mendl Brik, Yankl Zamdmer, Avrom Zamdmer, Elazar Vurman, Shimen Zaltzberg, Zvia Rozen, Khaye Rozen, Mintshe Niderberg, Yosl Hopenhaym, Motl Zaltzberg, Khayim Ritser, Sonia Hershman, Mintshe Elenboygen, Golde Vaybukh, Khane Vaynbukh, Hinde Valfish, Moyshe Vurman, Zalmen Tenenboym,

[Page 72]

Mendl Kave, Meir Kartman, Khayim Shtern, Leybl Vachenhazer, Lyuba Gotlib, Malke Honigsblum, Pinkhes Goldber, Moyshe Kenig – may God avenge their blood.

Figure caption, 71: Luba Gotlib, daughter of Leybish and Khane-Royze murdered.

Figure caption, 72 (top): Kalmen Taytlboym, son of Meir and Sorele Rozenberg.

Figure caption, 72 (bottom): Kurowers in America: the monument committee in New York. Right: Izzy Edelherts (died in 1954); Leybl Kave; Sholem Rubinshteyn; Moyshe Rubinshteyn.

Translator's note:

  1. This name appears sometimes as Elazar and sometimes as Eliezer. These are two distinct names, though possibly originally related. Return

 

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