In memory of friends and comrades, Zionists and national-pioneers, who gave of their time and strength for the fulfillment of Zionism and building the homeland. With feelings of honor, I note the names of Menachem Bialy, Pesach Hochberg, Anszel Lew, Rozenbojm, the Bajuk brothers, Mendel Szpielman and Mosze Aron Sojka, who were killed in the Holocaust, May God avenge their blood!; Awigdor Eisenstein (who passed away in his youth in Ostrolenka); Dawid Lew, Awigdor Kupferminc, Wylozny and Szaczar Finkelsztejn (who fell for the sake of the homeland); Mosze Margalit and Herc Sojka (who passed away in Israel) and others. May their names be engraved in our hearts.
I visited many towns in Poland, and always compared them to our town. In my eyes, Ostrolenka remained one of a kind. The beautiful landscape of our town: the Narew River that ran through it and the long, beautiful bridge spanning the river, the lakes around it, the beautiful streets, the market, the houses, the city park with its many trees and flowers, the youth full of life. Indeed, life in town was rich and full of meaning. There was concern for the poor and for passers-by. Everyone who came to the town felt himself at home. How sad that all this was destroyed and has gone from us so tragically.
The pioneer movement developed and grew in this life: the Poalei Zion party, HaShomer HaTzair, Histadrut HaNoar and others. Despite all that was good and beautiful, the place was confining for our Jewish youths. We always felt that we were second-class citizens in Poland, which was only recently freed from the yoke of strangers and had achieved its independence.
This was preceded by the bitter years of the World War and the Russian-Polish War.
The day of the outbreak of the war between Russia and Germany in 1914 was a black day for the world, and especially for the Jews and our town. It was Tisha B'Av [the date of the destruction of both Holy Temples], and the Jews went to the synagogue to pray and lament, and immediately thereafter shut themselves up in their homes. The Cossacks spread out in the city, and began to go wild and break into houses. All passageways in Ostrolenka were closed. The first was the bridge. The city became an army base. Soldiers were placed in private homes. Exiles from Myszyniec and Kadzidla came to the town. Some of them stayed with relatives and friends, some at the synagogues and some traveled on. The Russians arranged a small train in town, pulled by horses. The train came from Lomza, traveled along Farna Street and over the bridge to Myszyniec. The Jews were forced to keep their stores open on the Sabbath. During that period, tailors, shoemakers and carpenters were fully employed, supplying the army's needs. After a few months, however, the German advance began and, in a short time, neared our town. The Jews were ordered to leave the city. A problem arose: how to leave the city and from where to get wagons, as there was no other transportation. The Jews had to pay a great deal of money to the Gentiles for transportation to other towns. The Jews' suffering was very great. The city had to be vacated within a few hours. The deadline for leaving the city was 4:00 P.M. Whoever failed to get a wagon by that time was forced to leave on foot. At four o'clock, no Jews were left in the city. When we got to the village of Laskowce, we saw flames rising from the city. We remained standing a few minutes and watched our city burn before our eyes. We reached Lomza during the morning hours and did not know where to go. Some ran to the synagogues to find a place. Some turned here and there to look for an apartment, among them our family. At eight o'clock in the morning, my grandfather and father came to tell us that they had found a basement, but that we would have to clean it first, because it was neglected and dirty. We ran there right away, fearing that someone else would occupy it. Out of pity, we added a few other families to our group. When we finished cleaning and organizing the basement, it turned out that there was not enough room for all of us not just to lie down, but even to
stand. But still, with all this crowding, we somehow worked things out. During the first days, we slept in shifts. The refugees' condition worsened, because we suffered not only from housing problems, but from a shortage of food. We wandered around hungry.
In a short time, the Germans captured our town and Lomza, too. On the day we heard about the entry of the Germans, a group of people, my father among them, turned to the German military government and asked that we be allowed to visit Ostrolenka. The delegation left early in the morning and promised to return on the same day, but our prolonged hope was in vain. The delegation returned only the next day, and told us about everything that had happened in the city. We heard that the city was burned by the Russians, and that only a few houses were left around the city where the Gentiles lived, as well as Ben-Adam's houses. Despite this, we decided to return to our burned city. The community in Lomza did not spare efforts, and provided wagons and a little food.
The returnees managed with great difficulty in the houses, two or three families to an apartment. Life began anew. The Germans appointed Mosze Aron Kaczor as Mayor and Aron Jakow Margalit as Chairman of the Jewish community. Pesach Hochberg was appointed In-Charge of Security and became a policeman, and with him Josel Aszer, Berel Bajuk and others. Meanwhile, a municipal kitchen was organized. We had to stand on line for hours to get a little soup. After a short time, a large quantity of used clothing was received from America.
Because of the crowding and difficult sanitary conditions, typhus spread, striking entire families. There was hardly a family that was not stricken with typhus. Our family was also severely stricken by typhus and, within a week, my grandfather, my grandfather's father and an uncle passed away. But life demanded its due. The Jews slowly recovered and began to travel to Warsaw, despite huge difficulties. A special license was required to travel to Warsaw. Anyone who got a license had to undergo quarantine, but the possessor of a license also succeeded in earning a bit for his sustenance.
So life began anew. Houses were built, the bridge was repaired, the study hall was built, a school was opened, and teachers came from outside our city, among them the Landau Brothers, Lewizon and others. A family called Sztokman also came from Warsaw, despite the great difficulties. One of its older sons was appointed Secretary of the city. He was an educated man and knew German well. The other children began to live the life of the city and befriended local youths.
Rehabilitation of the city was carried out at an accelerated pace. The German government granted mortgages, primarily through American companies. There was a great deal of work. The Takson family, who were builders, became contractors and employed dozens of workers. Tuwja Wylozny and his family chiefly did the work of roofing the houses. Professionals came from the area and, thus, life began anew in the city.
Building the synagogue* was an important event for the city. Every Jew from the age of 14 was required to contribute a day or two of work to cleaning the rubble. Rabbi Bursztejn should be praised and with him, all those who gave a great deal of time and supervised the construction of the synagogue. A special committee was chosen. Its members were Aron Jakow Margalit, Icel Sojka, Menachem Frydman, my grandfather, Nechemia, Zysman Zyskind and others.
The year 1917 was a year of light and happiness for the Jews. On the 2nd of January 1917, the great news of the Balfour Declaration arrived. Joy was great. Although the construction of the synagogue was not complete, we congregated in it to pray. Sunday was declared a holiday in our city. The synagogue was decorated with flags, special lights were installed, and all the townspeople gathered to celebrate the big day. In the morning, hundreds of worshippers gathered for the holiday prayer. In his usual manner, Shalom Michel the Tailor pounded once strongly on the table and announced: We will now recite Psalms on this great day. His voice was heard in the entire synagogue, as with great enthusiasm he opened with Blessed is the man. After Psalms, Efraim Chmiel began the prayers. After the Torah reading, veteran Zionists ascended the platform, including Aron Rapaport, Welwel Bajuk and dozens of other members. They gave enthusiastic speeches and burst into singing HaTikva. After the speeches, my grandfather read from the Torah and then Hallel was recited. Youths from all the heders enthusiastically sang Chassidic tunes. Representatives of the city came, among them many Gentiles. At the end of prayers, we exited with the song Bear the Banner and Flag to Zion. It was a holiday in every home in the city.
Although there were Jews who did not accept the
* This refers to the study hall that was rebuilt. The synagogue remained destroyed.
Declaration among them Agudat Yisrael and the Bund, as well as a small group of Folkists, headed by Menachem Frydman they were a minority. In the same year, Zionist federations began to develop. Zionist youth arose, headed by the Landau brothers and Sztokman, Eli Bajuk, Meir Margalit and others.
In 1918, Poland gained its independence. For the Jews, this date did not symbolize the end of their days of trouble. The Poles' great concern was how to embitter the lives of the Jews, despite the fact that in the Polish Legion there were many Jews who made an enormous contribution to freeing Poland.
It should be mentioned that the minute that the Germans ordered the evacuation of our city, these heroes were revealed in all their worthlessness. Until then, two or three gendarmes controlled the entire city. And lo, in a moment, all the Germans became wretched, and when any Gentile approached them and slapped their cheeks, they did not react. They removed their shoes and took off their clothes, and they were silent.
The great hopes that the Jews hung on the freeing of Poland were disappointed. The economic situation became more difficult and the Poles began to impose inflated payments on the Jews. Government ministries, municipalities and governmental workplaces were barred to them. High schools and higher education were also closed to them. In places where Jews served in government offices, great efforts were made to dismiss them.
In 1920, the war broke out between Poland and Soviet Russia. From Polish Prussia, the legion commanded by General Haller came to our town. He was a great anti-Semite and his legionnaires abused the Jews. Their pleasure was to cut off half a beard and one earlock, or to draw a circle and force a Jew with a beard to dance the Moszka dance before them. In many instances, they threw Jews from trains. Their anti- Semitism, however, did not prevent the Poles from recruiting Jews into the army. The town emptied of its youth.
With most of the youth in the army and the strengthening of anti-Semitism, the town's economic situation deteriorated and there was a great shortage of food. In a short time, however, the Russians conquered the city and new life began again. Immediately, Jewish Communists were discovered in the city. At the head of the Communists were Juzek Gutman, Barasz the Carpenter and others, none of whom were ever known as Communists. They called an explanatory meeting, and made efforts to prove their devotion to Communism. To prove their loyalty, they gathered respected and Chassidic Jews of the city one Sabbath, and forced them to clean the streets. There were those who were taken with their prayer shawls, including Motel Thylim, Chackel Zylbersztejn, Menachem Frydman, Litwer, Sojka, Herszel Szperling, Chaim Pinczas Gingold, the head of the community and others. Everything was according to the instructions of the Jewish Communists. This affair caused the population a great deal of suffering and shame.
The war of the Poles with the Bolsheviks did not go on for long. The fall of the Russians came near Warsaw. If they had advanced rapidly, their retreat from Poland was even faster. Some of the Jewish Communists and active community workers fled together with the Russian army, but out of love for the Jews, the Gentiles began to inform on them to the Polish government. Thus, an innocent and poor family that was never involved in political affairs became a victim. Neighbors told that, when the Russians were about to enter the town, they saw the daughter, Chawa Skalka, who was perhaps 16 years old then, signal to the Russian Army from the roof. They also informed on Awraham Takson, a contractor who employed many Gentiles, saying that he also was among the Russian collaborators and oppressed the town's Polish citizens.
Trials began and the affair continued for some time. Thanks to the involvement of persons from outside our city, they succeeded in completing the trials. But Chawa Skalka sat in jail for some time. Takson was a Zionist and at the end of the trial, he left the city with his family, and emigrated to Israel in 1921.
Even after the war with Russia ended, the Poles did not leave the Jews alone. Jewish soldiers were not released from the army. They were accused of helping the Communists, and were assembled in the town of Jablona, near Warsaw. Among those arrested were soldiers from our city. The situation was grave, and there was a concern that things would become unpleasant and not good. The intention was to humiliate the Jews and prove that they were disloyal to the Polish government, and that the Poles were right not to give Jews access to all government institutions. The Jewish leadership in Poland understood this conspiracy. It called on world Jewry, and American Jewry in particular, since Poland was dependent on America at
the time. Our boys in the detention camp were not silent as well. There were among them those who had decorations for excellence from the Polish Army. The matter became a major military affair. The Jewish soldiers composed a song in Polish called Me Pierfsza Brygada (We are the First Brigade), and the song was popular all over Poland.
This unstable existence was the background of the growth of the great Zionist movement, and in particular the Poalei Zion-Z.S. movement. It was not by chance that the Jewish youth felt that it had nothing to do in Poland. At the head of the party stood members such as Berel Zabludowicz, Josef Finkelsztejn, Mendel Szlafmic, Mosze Aron Sojka, Chaim Ismach and Fajwel Kachan. During the same period, a large Chalutz group also consolidated, and emigration began from our city. The first emigrants were Awraham Aron Takson, Icchak Welosznik, the Kupferminc brothers, Awiezer and Awigdor, Alter Bursztejn, Awraham Lew, Meir Margalit, Filar, Awraham Finkelsztejn, the Wylozny family and others. Letters arrived from the members, full of enthusiasm and hope.
During the same period, the Polish regime began to interfere with public life, including the life of the Jews. Although the government had authorized the Poalei Zion-Z.S. party, it did not view the latter as free of a suspicion of Communism, which was forbidden in Poland. Therefore, the party's educational work in our city was done under the name of the HaTikva Library. The party's clubhouse was on the street near the big synagogue, on the second floor. One fine day, the police appeared and arrested Dow Ber Malkin. Malkin, who was then a member of the Poalei Zion Central Committee, had come to our city to speak at a meeting. The police searched him and found the passport he had received in our town. Malkin was not born in our city and had never lived there; however, because all documents had been burned in our city, it was possible to acquire passports for a few gold coins. In this way, we succeeded in supplying passports for many Poalei Zion Central Committee members, who fled from Russia at the time of the Revolution and could not remain in Poland as citizens. During the search, the police looked for the names of members. The party's Secretary, Josef Finkelsztejn, caught on. Stealthily, he went to a drawer, took out the protocols notebook containing all the members' names and hid it. Miraculously, he escaped without anyone noticing and fled.
Life in the party and in HeChalutz carried on as usual. HeChalutz was then headed by Dawid Lew, Mosze Litwer, Awrejmel Szlezynger, Chajka Gutman, Herc Sojka, Baruch Karlinski, Jechiel Szafran, Eli Bajuk and others.
Public activity was very diversified. It manifested itself in activities on behalf of Keren HaKayemet, the Fund for the Workers of the Land of Israel, Keren HaYesod, Keren HeChalutz, and by participation in the city's public life. Poalei Zion began to publicize and their representatives were elected to the community committee. In those days, the Bund was a strong party, which had appointed itself the guardian of the Jewish worker in the spirit of the tradition of 1905. Meanwhile, however, HeChalutz grew and new members joined: Icchak Sztejnberg, Chaim Filar, Brysker, Jakow Frenkel and I. HeChalutz held lectures, meetings and various group activities, primarily a Hebrew studies group and a drama group, headed by Eli Bajuk and Herc Sojka.
Wherever we appeared outside our city, at conferences and conventions, we aspired to set a good example for others and we earned great esteem. We were approached by one of our townspeople, Pesach Hochberg, who was 50 years old, but full of life and vigorous. A believer in Zionism, he saw Zionism and pioneering as a purpose in life. He became the father of the youth. In our city, people would say: Pesach with his children. His house was a large and rich one, and he opened it wide to us. Jews such as he were rare in all of
Poland. He truly earned great honor for himself and esteem for his character. When Israel's gates opened in 1925, a great emigration began from our city, including many active members of the party and HeChalutz. Their emigration greatly encouraged the youth.
On the other hand, the emigration hurt the movement's operations and vitality, because leaders and chief spokesmen were lacking. During that period, many Poalei Zion members emigrated, led by the head of the party, Berel Zabludowicz and his family, Berel Bajuk and his wife, Mendel Szlafmic, Josef Finkelsztejn and his wife, and Mosze Aron Sojka. Chajka Gutman, Dawid Lew, B. Bursztejn, Karlinski and others emigrated from HeChalutz. Of the many farewell parties held for emigrating members, one of them, which took place at the home of Pesach Hochberg, should be mentioned. This farewell party was held on Saturday night. By chance, a member of the HeChalutz Central Committee, Raszisz, had come for a meeting and a lecture. Members had to be certified for emigration. I remember that they assembled in a room in Pesach Hochberg's house, where the HeChalutz Committee, headed by Raszisz, sat. In those days, they tested the knowledge of members about to emigrate about Zionism. The members who were called, one by one, to be tested at that meeting had devoted most of their lives to Zionism and had educated many members. Among them were Josef Finkelsztejn, Berel Bajuk, Kachan, Lew and others. The questions they were asked seemed to them superficial and insulting; they answered them ironically and sarcastically, and a disagreement nearly broke out because of this.
Later, a farewell party was held at the home of Pesach Hochberg for the members about to emigrate. All of us gathered with great enthusiasm we sang and danced. A new committee was elected that evening: Mosze Litwer was elected Secretary, and Towa Israel, Chaja Gingold, Herc Sojka, Awigdor Eisenstein and I were also elected. The Poalei Zion committee also changed over during that period, and they began to reorganize the party. At the time, the party was headed by Awraham Slazenger, Brysker, Sara Edel, Frankel, Eli Bajuk, Ismach and others. We began to strengthen the library. We bought new books. Some of the members devoted themselves to work at K.K.L. and all the institutions. During the same year, we celebrated the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The celebration was headed by Menachem Bialy, Pesach Hochberg, Icchak Rapaport, Israel Rubinsztejn, Israel Kachan, Anszel Lew, Efraim Chmiel, Mosze Margalit, Berel Zabludowicz, Litwer, Bajuk and Finkelsztejn. The celebration was held at the Zionists' hall. It was on Lomza Street, in Leszczinski's building. The hall was decorated with flags and pictures of Herzl, Weizmann, Sokolov, Ussishkin, Borochov, Sirkin, Brenner and others. In a short time, the hall was completely full, and hundreds of people remained in the street. Out of consideration for those gathered, the stage was moved to the balcony. The street was decorated with flags, pictures, greenery and many lights. From the balcony, many members spoke, led by Menachem Bialy. The celebration left a huge impression on those assembled. An honor guard from HaShomer HaTzair and HeChalutz stood alongside the flags.
At the end of the celebration, all the members gathered for a big fete at the home of Menachem Bialy. This was the first time I visited his home, which was a very patriarchal one, arranged in good taste. Mr. Bialy's study was decorated with pictures from the First Zionist Congress, as well as pictures from the Second Congress (I think he was one of Congress's delegates).
At the same time, they began to think about preparing young people for work in Israel. HeChalutz announced summer hachshara [a training program for settlement in Israel] in Polish villages to learn agricultural work. As always, we, the Ostrolenkans, were among the first. A group of seven members, we left for hachshara on the 15th of May, with work clothes and with rucksacks on our backs. The slogan at that time was to put an end to Menachem Mendelism and to begin to work and create. HeChalutz in our city then numbered approximately two hundred members. They held a fete for us, the hachshara pioneers, which lasted until one o'clock in the morning, when two wagons came to take us to Lomza. Those who went to hachshara were the Members Awigdor Eisenstein, Awraham Segal (he was previously a member of the Bund), Lewkowicz (a soccer player), Jakow Frenkel, Cwi Zylbersztejn and I. Many members escorted us to the edge of town, and we all walked from the HeChalutz chapter until the end of Cegelna. At Cegelna, we parted from the members who had carried us on their shoulders with great joy. They wished us success, and that we would serve as an example for others. Pesach Hochberg raised a toast and said to us: So, my children, go and succeed, and be an example for HeChalutz.
We went on our way to Lomza happy, invigorated and in high spirits. We traveled all night. Waiting when we reached Lomza were members from other chapters Zambrow, Kolno and Rutek, members of the Lomza HeChalutz chapter, who were also supposed to join us, and others from Nowogrod.
At the HeChalutz chapter on Rzondowa Street, we were met by members of Poalei Zion, HeChalutz and HaShomer HaTzair. After speeches were made, we were given breakfast. From there, we continued to Szczuczyna. When we arrived in Szczuczyna, we already numbered about 100 members. Additional members joined us from the area, including Grajewa, Stawisk and Vizna. We all gathered in the firefighters' hall. Two members of the HeChalutz Central Committee appeared, Members Funt and Tanchum from Degania Alef, as well as Member Szejnberg from Szczuczyna, who was the Galilee Coordinator and responsible for hachshara locations as well. Some HeChalutz members from Lomza escorted us: Zuckerman, Lewinsky, Wacek and Kremer. Awigdor Eisenstein and Sara Strinkowska spoke in the name of those going to hachshara. After the meeting, we ate lunch and each of us was immediately assigned the place we would go to for hachshara. Down in the street, land owners' wagons waited for us.
We, the Ostrolenkans, joined the group from Warsaw, and students and members from Lomza. In all, our group numbered approximately 60 members. They sent us to a remote village between Szczuczyna and Grajewa, called Bialaszewa. When we arrived there, evening had already fallen. We were housed in ruined buildings, in which people once resided. For a number of days, we were busy with repairing the buildings and making them fit for occupation. We did not work on Sabbaths and Sundays. On those days, members gathered, talked and wrote letters. At the first meeting held by kibbutz members, a secretariat and a fivemember committee were elected. From among our members, Awigdor was elected to the secretariat, Frankel to work schedules and I to the members committee. Thus, life at hachshara began.
We made very good friends with the Gentile workers there. We calmed them and explained that we did not come to steal their work, but so that we could support ourselves by doing agricultural work in the Land of Israel. In many places there were difficulties, fistfights started and they did not let our members work. Luckily, our place was the quietest. Despite this, we sometimes clashed with people of the village who did not want to understand us.
Kibbutz life was fraught with difficulties. We did
not get enough food and the female members who worked in the kitchen did not know how to cook. A large problem was the communal laundry. At one meeting, the female members stood up and announced that they would not wash the clothes of the male members. The meeting lasted all night, and at the end the female members threatened to leave the kibbutz and not become laundresses. The decision in this matter was passed on to the HeChalutz Central Committee.
Among those in the group, I became very friendly with Awigdor Eisenstein, who was a bit older than me. Precisely because of that, I learned many things from him. More than once, members told us that it would be very worthwhile for the two of us to emigrate and become friends. Hachshara created many ripples at the chapters and, every Sabbath, dozens of people came to visit us. Although we were far from our city, we were also visited by two committee members, Dawid Lew and Awraham Slazenger. They came by bicycle. When they arrived, they were weary and exhausted. We immediately arranged a place of rest for them. They became so enthusiastic that they stayed with us for a few days, instead of one.
We stayed in Bialaszewa about four months. On the Shavuot holiday, we were given a vacation and everyone went home for three days. When we reached our city for the holiday, our friends organized a big party and a recreational evening for us. The drama circle appeared at the party with short songs Szajke and Shlemazel performed by Eli Bajuk and Hertz Sojka. After the holiday, we returned to hachshara and continued our work. On Rosh HaShana Eve, envoys came from the Central Committee, a meeting was held and all of the members were certified for emigration. We were warned, however, that the emigration situation was getting worse, that the Mandatory Government was not issuing immigration certificates currently, and that we should be patient. This explanatory speech of the Central Committee member was received coldly and with skepticism. In spite of everything, we hoped and believed that we would emigrate. We parted from the members and each one returned to his chapter.
When we returned to the city, we found that HeChalutz lacked people and was in a difficult organizational situation. Mosze Litwer was chapter coordinator at that time. We immediately began to work actively in the chapter. A similar situation prevailed at Poalei Zion, since, after the emigration of active members, the party was also a great deal weaker. The HeChalutz Central Committee found a new way to maintain local chapters, by establishing a HeChalutz House in every city. Here, too, we were among the first. It was winter. We looked for a place suitable for a HeChalutz House, which would be established to prepare people for professional work as well: carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring, building and so on. We established the HeChalutz House at the Sztern House. In the summer, the place was a factory for carbonated fruit drinks and soda water, under the partnership of Zyskind Zusman and Sztern. They did not ask us for rent. Zyskind Zusman especially treated us well. He was a clever and wise man, and was then a member in the city's community committee. Chmiel and Hochberg taught us carpentry.
When summer arrived, we returned the workplace to its owners and began looking for work in the professions we had learned. We took it upon ourselves to build a barn and to fix a barn for a Jew who owned a large dairy. Pesach Hochberg was in charge of costing and getting work. The work was done perfectly and we earned a great deal of praise. We also got a big job clearing out a lot that belonged to Fajwel Finkelsztejn on Ostrowska Street (he later built a big house there). Our work was to remove an old building that stood on the plot. We needed a wagon and horses for this. Since Fajwel Finkelsztejn was a Zionist and a friend of Pesach Hochberg, they took it upon themselves to provide us with a wagon and horses. They turned to a blacksmith, named Notte, and told him about the matter. He became enthusiastic about the idea, and said that he was ready to work with us and supervise our work. He built a wagon for us from material he had lying around in his yard and did not take a cent from us. We called the wagon Notte. And from where would we take a horse? This problem was also solved. There was a Gentile near us who was an animal skinner. All horses were brought to him before they died. Notte and Finkelsztejn came to an agreement with him that he would supply us with horses. Every few hours, when a horse dropped, it was replaced by another, and thus the work of clearing the area continued. Members of the party came to our assistance: Zelinger, Zylbersztejn, Noske, Szperling, Chaim Dorfman and others.
When they heard about this in the city, people came to see the miracles we were working. We, the members of the group, ate lunch and dinner together at the
chapter on Cyganska Street. There were a few rooms there, and we turned one of them into a dining room. Food was prepared by the chapter's female members, headed by Mrs. Hochberg. One evening, when we returned to the chapter from work, we found Mrs. Finkelsztejn there with Fajwel Finkelsztejn, and understood that something was happening. Turning toward the dining room, we found tables well and festively set with gefilte fish. In short, they had prepared a party for us. Meanwhile, all the members gathered and, as always, long speeches were made about work and about a new life and pioneering. Life at that time was not so happy, because we had not undergone hachshara for this purpose. Our wish was to emigrate to the Land of Israel as quickly as possible, but emigration did not depend on us. Meanwhile, a crisis broke out in Israel, and members who did not make out well began returning to the Diaspora. Most of those who returned to us were those who had had great hopes. Their return from Israel created a very bad impression, especially since some of those who returned, in order to justify themselves, told all kinds of stories. This situation brought about the weakening of the parties and the chapters.
Nineteen twenty-seven was a year of difficult change. Few remained in the struggle. Instead of the two hundred members in HeChalutz, only about twenty members were left. A similar situation prevailed in Poalei Zion. The Bund saw our ruination and tried to build on it. Its members organized a large library and brought lecturers, thereby drawing many members to themselves. Some individuals also moved to the Communist party. We did not have the wherewithal to pay rent, and were forced to stop activity in the HeChalutz apartment. We turned to Rapaport, the General Zionist Chairman, with a request that they admit us to their apartment. We were permitted to use their apartment because all their activities had also nearly ceased. We organized a course with classes in the evening, which was successful. The teacher was Kamin, a very intelligent and social man, who tried to influence and encourage the members. Some of the course participants began working in our library and maintained a duty roster for returning books. At that time, Aron Szperling, a loyal and devoted young man, began to be active. He took tasks upon himself and fulfilled them faithfully and completely. Also worthy of mention are Sztejnberg and Brysker. Poalei Zion members also woke to action, among them Ester Zabludowicz, Chawa Skalka, Frydman and Malka Cuker. The burden was very heavy. We wanted to continue to work, but our resources were insufficient.
One day, at the end of 1927, a member a bit older than me appeared, asking questions about the development of Poalei Zion in the city, about HeChalutz and about the library. It turned out that he was an active member of Poalei Zion in Lomza, and had just moved to Ostrolenka. He promised that, as soon as he got a little organized, he would join in and help us to the best of his ability. This was Motel Zutkiewicz. We found out later that he was the son-in-law of the Sojka family and that his wife was Chaja Sojka. It should be noted that he fulfilled all his promises. In time, he arranged a meeting with us. A group of members met with him, and gave him a report on what was being done and on our plans for the future. We explained to him that the source of the stagnation of our work was the cessation of emigration, as well as members who returned from the Land of Israel and no longer wished to take an interest in our work. He calmed us, however, and explained that this was not the first crisis in the Land of Israel. There had been crises and we overcame them. We would overcome this crisis, too, and emigrate to Israel. He asked us to introduce him to Zabludowicz, Szafran and all those who had returned from the Land of Israel. He succeeded in bringing members back to the party. Slowly, they began to take an interest and to work in the party anew.
The meeting was held in the presence of fifteen or sixteen members, with the participation of M. Zutkiewicz, Zabludowicz, Jerucham Przystanczyk, Jechiel Szafran, Aron Szperling, Sztern, Frenkel, Zyskind Lachowicz, Chawa Skalka, Ismach, Finkelsztejn, Slazenger, Goldszlak and Symcha Gedanken.
The meeting went on with great interest. We discussed many items. We honored Zutkiewicz with the running of the meeting. On the meeting's agenda were connecting the disconnected electricity, paying the rent, attending to the Befreiung newspaper and purchasing new books for the library.
From the right (standing): Chaim Piaseczny, Szlomo Goldsztejn, Hanan Eisenstein, Jehuda Icchaki (Chomont) At the meeting, it was decided to conduct a fundraising campaign among members and friends. A fundraising committee was elected, comprised of the Members Jerucham Przystanczyk, Brysker and Szafran
We continued our work of courses with the teacher, Kamin, and also began buying books for the library. An entire group of fresh and ambitious members joined us, including Alter Malowany, Chaim Piaseczny, Shalom Margalit, Zyskind Lachowicz, Hanan Eisenstein, Jehuda Chomont (nowadays, his name is Yitzhaki), Chajka Gutman, who returned from Israel, and Szoszana Blachowicz. We began searching for a way to the youth. Every year, youths finished school and roamed the streets. We decided to seek ways to the hearts of the youth. At a meeting, we decided to invite school graduates to a youth gathering. Dozens of youths came, whom we had never seen or known. We announced the establishment of an independent youth movement. We
worked with them for a few months, but we did not have explanatory material and did not know how to proceed. Finally, we concluded that we would have to turn to Warsaw, to the Trumpeldor Youth Histadrut [Union]. We asked K.K.L. to give us the union's address. The reply was that that movement was no longer in existence, and that all its members had moved to the HaShomer HaTzair Histadrut. We therefore decided to establish a HaShomer HaTzair Histadrut in the city. HaShomer HaTzair was then headed by Shalom Margalit, Chaim Piaseczny, Hanan Eisenstein, Szoszana Blachowicz, Genandel Kaplan, Jehuda Icchaki and others. Other active workers joined Poalei Zion and Chalutz. Here, too, things began to move. New members joined the party, and Chalutz and a youth union called Dror were founded. At the head of the youth union stood Zyskind Lachowicz, Aron Szperling, Esther Zabludowicz, the Goldszlag sisters, Gedanken, Symcha Ajzenstejn and Mordechaj Karlinski.
In Israel, the events of 1929 broke out, and news came that one of the loyal, good and active members had fallen while protecting Jerusalem. It was Dawid Lew. Although the news had a hard impact, it was clear to us that without sacrifices, we would not build the Homeland. While the pain might be great, we must continue to prepare for good days and for building the Land. Meanwhile, the British closed Israel's gates completely. When we heard this, all the parties gathered in the city for a large protest rally in the synagogue courtyard. Almost all the youth assembled. Members Zabludowicz, Finkelsztejn, Rapaport and others spoke. Zutkiewicz and Hochberg headed the gathering. It was decided that we would not yield, that we would fight to the last drop of blood and open Israel's gates for all Jews. At the gathering, the picture of Dawid Lew was held high.
After the rally, a consultation was held among the members. In light of the situation, it was decided to establish a library in the name of Dawid Lew, to disseminate his picture and to organize a fundraising campaign in the city for the library fund. The task was assigned to a few members and, in a short time, the library was enlarged. Meanwhile, Dawid Lew's brother returned from Israel. He, too, joined the library activity and contributed of his time to its building and expansion. The HeChalutz Central Committee, like all the other parties, took upon itself the strengthening of the hachshara kibbutzim. They took on real substance, with a purpose in life. In every city, it was determined that workers should go to hachshara. This was also true of HaShomer HaTzair. HaShomer HaTzair was connected then to HeChalutz in matters of hachshara. From HaShomer HaTzair in our city, Chaim Piaseczny, Jehuda Icchaki and Sara Granowicz went to hachshara. I went to the HeChalutz hachshara. We were at hachshara for eight or nine months. Sara Granowicz left hachshara, and if I am not mistaken, so did Icchaki. Piaseczny was in Wierszawnik and I was in Suczedniow. After a long time, I met Chaim Piaseczny, when he visited me at the kibbutz.
From the right: Eliezer Lachowicz, Zlocisty, Dorfman
In 1930, there were discussions at HeChalutz and in chapters in our city about the hachshara situation. There were no chances for emigration, and we were tired. I received a call-up order for the Polish Army and Chaim Piaseczny came back to the city. When we were released from the army, although emigration had
already begun and the situation in Israel had improved, there were not enough immigration certificates. Members who had already been to hachshara were required to go again. At the end of 1931-1932, a revival began in the ranks of HeChalutz. The Central Committee demanded that active chapter members go to hachshara. From our city, a large number of members went to hachshara in all parts of the country. Zyskind Lachowicz, Lubi Lewin, Chmiel, Gingold and others went to Lodz. Jehuda Icchaki, Dorfman, Zamelson and Szlomo Zusman went to Vilna. Hanan Eisenstein and other members went to Baranowicz, and Chaim and I went to Brysk. Chawa Zabludowicz, Ester Eisenstein, Yafa Jagoda, Szlomo Goldsztejn and others went to HaShomer HaTzair kibbutzim.
We remained in contact with each other. Chaim and I immediately went into action at the kibbutz. We were elected to the kibbutz committee and I devoted myself to activity in the party in Brysk. We had it quite hard in the kibbutz management in Brysk. In addition to all the activities at the kibbutz, which had about 200 members then, the HeChalutz Central Committee demanded that we establish hachshara units around Brysk. We succeeded in establishing a few units, among them a unit in Terespol, which was very close to Brysk, about 5 kilometers. Most of the work on the kibbutz was agricultural. A person was needed to coordinate kibbutz activity. Chaim and I turned to the HeChalutz Central Committee, requesting that it transfer Hanan Eisenstein from Baranowicz to us, because he was needed to manage the kibbutz in Terespol. Otherwise, we would be forced to close the kibbutz.
The Central Committee responded to our request and, in a short time, Eisenstein was sent to mange the kibbutz. Kibbutz life was not easy. The responsibility was great. There was an assemblage of members from all sorts of places, from small towns and big cities. Under the circumstances, it was necessary to create a social atmosphere, as well as opportunities for subsistence. Brysk was not an industrial city. Most of our work was chopping wood and housework. At this point, I want to mention a conversation with a rich Jew, whose children were members in Gordonja. I once asked him why he did not want to employ some of our members at his wood warehouse, as he was a Zionist. He replied: I feel sorry for our young men and can't stand to see them working so hard, and in the winter, too
There were many similar instances, not just in Brysk, but in all Polish towns. Parents did not want to accept the idea that we had to become a working nation. Despite this, and under these conditions, we continued to work and live at the hachshara kibbutz.
After a time, a Poalei Zion conference was held. A delegation of three kibbutz members, as well as a large delegation from the party in Brysk traveled to the conference. On the way, members from the entire region boarded the train. We knew most of them, and a sort of internal convention was held in preparation for the conference. The conference opened magnificently. A large delegation came from Israel. At the head of the delegation were Tabankin, Ben-Dori, Loyta, Shazar and others. The opening was very festive, with greetings from all kinds of parties and, primarily, speeches by the delegates from Israel.
When we returned from the conference, we organized a members' assembly. We gave a report about the conference and our impressions of it. Thus, we continued to work at the kibbutz until the day came when we were certified for emigration as well. We returned to our homes with immigration certificates. Each of us thought that we would go home, rest a bit, and wait for the day of emigration. But this was not how things turned out. At all the institutions in the city, as well as at the party, they were already waiting for us to become active again. We could not refuse and went into action. We succeeded in bringing in new members and strengthening the fundraising for Keren Kayemeth, the Fund for the Workers of the Land of Israel, the HeChalutz Fund, the library, etc.
At that time, a revival began again. The Maccabiah took place in Israel and many used this as a means to emigrate. The situation improved in Israel. Many of those who had returned began to think about a second emigration to Israel. The Poalei Zion party rose again and became a large party. Mosze Margalit, who was also Chairman of the city's community committee, went into action, adding great honor and strength to Poalei Zion. The party became an important factor in our city. One of our members was elected to the city council. In time, the HaOved [Worker] organization arose. Its members were tradesmen, workers, simple people, convinced that their future was in emigration to the Land of Israel. These members met every Saturday night for discussions and sing
alongs. The Poalei Zion party began to seek connections with various groups in the city. During the same period, elections were held for the Zionist Congress. Poalei Zion and HeChalutz achieved great success in the elections. We received hundreds of votes in the city, making a big impression at the Central Committee.
This was Ostrolenka a Zionist-pioneer city, true to Zionist ideals.
led by Chaim Piaseczny and Hanan Eisenstein. (In the center of the picture: David Ben-Gurion)
kibbutz in Ostrolenka) with Pesach Hochberg (in the center)
Later, a sports club called HaPoel was organized in the city. It should be noted that we were the first in Poland to establish a HaPoel club. We organized a good soccer team, headed by Arjeh Bajuk, Chaim Piaseczny and other members. We set up a band and a drama group. The heads of HaPoel were people with great energy, such as Jakow Lew, Grosman, Hochberg, Zyskind Lachowicz, Symcha Gedanken, Gutman Beniek and dozens of other members.
Poalei Zion in our city began to prove itself as a representative of the workers' interests. Three weeks before Passover Eve, a gathering was held at the clubhouse for all the matzo bakery workers, who worked under difficult conditions and for a very inferior wage. Their situation was explained to them, and they were encouraged to strike to improve their condition. While the workers gladly accepted our interest in them, the matter became known to the Bundists, who came to hinder us. An altercation broke out, and the news reached the police, who came and arrested me and a few other members. The matter was very serious: first, we did not have a license for the meeting and, second, strikes were forbidden at that time. The remaining members elected a committee of workers from all the workplaces, and appointed Mosze Margalit to be the mediator between the bakeries and the workers.
Mosze Margalit continued the mediation as Chairman of the community committee of the city, inviting a few community workers to join him. Pesach Hochberg took upon himself securing our release from the police. As usual in these instances, Pesach knew how to get along with the police. He invited the Supervisor of Police to his home, plied him with food and drink, and said to him, I want you to free our members immediately. They are not Communists. They have done nothing wrong. Of course, things worked out, and we were immediately freed.
The matter made waves everywhere, especially thanks to wide coverage of the party's successful strike in Dos Vort, the party's newspaper, which was published in Warsaw. The event made a big impression, especially on workers in our city. They began to
understand that we were loyal and devoted to the concerns of the working man.
At that time, Meir Margalit arrived from Israel for a tour in Poland with the Ohel [Theater Company]. When we discovered that Margalit was in Warsaw, a delegation was sent to invite him to come to our city for a few days. He expressed his surprise that we had come to invite him to his own city, where he had parents, brothers, sisters, other relatives and many friends and acquaintances who had not seen him for many years. Was there any doubt that he would come to see them? We knew how to take advantage of Margalit's visit to our city. We organized an artistic evening in the city's largest hall. Within a few hours, all the tickets were sold, although the prices were very high. Even the anti- Zionists attended, in order to see Margalit. The evening took place with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of people could not get into the hall due to lack of space and waited outside until the end of the performance. When the performance was over, all those who could not get into the hall received Margalit with enthusiastic applause. The anti-Zionists went over to him and shook his hand. It may be said that he was the greatest Zionist propagandist of anyone who ever visited our city.
The idea of the Land of Israel penetrated deeply into the hearts of the youth. Dozens of members went to hachshara. People who were indifferent to Zionism began to hold discussions with active workers. Many began to understand that the Land of Israel had become the center of the life of the Jewish nation.
In conclusion, I would like to apologize to those members and friends whose names I may not have mentioned or have not placed in context. They are all beloved and dear to me. I have done my best to mention them all, but it is not always possible to overcome Pura, the spirit of forgetfulness
I emigrated to Israel in 1935. I parted from our town, from Zionist comrades, pioneers and other Jews whose homes I had visited, and whom I often bothered with requests and demands that they contribute to the Zionist enterprise.
I parted from my grandmother, from my parents, from my brother and sisters, my uncle and my cousins. When I parted from them, I believed that the day would come when we would all be together in our land. The terrible thought never occurred to us that we were parting forever, that a bitter day would soon come when they would all be destroyed by the murderers.
Their dear memory will never be forgotten, nor will we forget what a bestial people did to the Jewish nation and to our townspeople.
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