Memories of the Hashomer Hatza-ir Movement
By Leah Ring (Teichman)
I was only a little girl, and I could not understand why the students, friends of my brother Motyo and my sister Blimeh, came to our house night after night to sing and converse. My parents did not know the topics of their discussions, and perhaps even closed their ears deliberately.
These were the first meetings of the Hashomer movement, which was illegal and had no hall in which to hold its activities.
The gymnasium authorities investigated these activities assiduously. I remember how a mysterious figure appeared in our yard one winter evening, came up to the lit window and, after a while, went away. The next day everything was cleared up. One by one, everyone who had attended the meeting was called into the office of the gymnasium principal, Lambert, for the sin of belonging to the Zionist organization Hashomer. Of course, my brother and sister came home late from school that day. The lots were cast and the decree issued: all of the boys and girls who had participated in the meeting were expelled from the gymnasium.
After certain influential parents intervened and accepted responsibility, and with the help of a great deal of money, which went toward the establishment of the gymnasium library then in its inception, the punishment was nullified.
A few years later, we began to see groups of Shomrim in full uniform, hiking around on the outskirts of town. A Hebrew song was on their lips, as well as many words of Hebrew speech. Publicity events were organized, related to various festivals and occurrences in the Land of Israel.
Most of our actions were based upon a clear worldview. We believed absolutely in our clandestine and socialist-oriented Zionism. It gave us the strength to stand strong in the face of the many humiliations suffered by our Hashomer chapter.
Throughout the year, we would assemble on Wednesdays in our Shomer local (our meetinghouse,) which was usually located in the poor Jewish neighborhoods, where the craftsmen, market vendors, and day laborers lived. (This was where the Rohatyn ghetto was later established.) These neighborhoods, far away from the Gentile quarters, became thickly muddy whenever it rained. They answered our need to be hidden from Gentile eyes, and the investigation of the school authorities.
Here, without anxiety, we could sing the Hebrew songs that came to us from Israel, and dance and rejoice without fear. We were among our people.
The locals were certainly suspicious of us, these children, boys and girls keeping company without supervision. More than once the door opened suddenly, and a prying neighborhood man or women would stare at us through inquiring eyes. They did not understand that the raucousness that rang out from the local issued out of the purity and innocence of our youth. Only a few members of the chapter were fortunate enough to receive their parents' patient support. Most fought fiercely with their parents, and their participation in the chapter was for the most part secretive.
[Photo #1, p. 192 : The 'Ariye' group of Hashomer Hatza-ir, Rohatyn, 1919. From the top right: Tsvi Milstein, Zushe Brik, Yesheya Frayvald, Izi Holtz, Nusi Reis, unknown, Itsi Holtz, Samush Zeidler.
Photo #2, p. 192: Hashomer Hatza-ir of Rohatyn, costumed for a Purim play to benefit of Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel]
Many in the large, adult Zionist circles were sympathetic toward Hashomer Hatza-ir. Most of the community, however, was wary of the leftist Zionist youth movements, and did not hesitate to describe them as Bolsheviks. Those who took responsibility for our group before the Polish authorities were called Opieka Organizacji 'Zwiazek Mloziezy Zydowskiej Haszomer Hacair.' The class separatism that was endemic to every Jewish city did not pass over Rohatyn, and it was a matter of great surprise that respectable children could possibly mix in one basket with the children of the poor and the craftsmen. In the case of parents such as mine, who resigned themselves to it, there was always some respectable man or woman who took the time to remind them that they should not be so resigned: The Shomrim are communists, Bolsheviks, and they shame the upper classes.
My parents were Zionists (especially my father,) but they were constantly troubled by the thought that their children were going to leave them, their property, and their possessions, and immigrate to Israel where they would be poor farmers. Our debates were bitter and drawn out. Often we managed to persuade them over to our opinion, but then they would be overcome by their feelings of love and pride and begin the debate anew.
I confess that the heat of our youthful bitterness pressed us on to radical action, fleeing the house, for instance, to attend summer encampments and assemblies. Mother shed her tears of despair, and I and other like me, though we believed in stifling our emotions in order to dedicate ourselves to the achievement of our goal, cried and cried, sorrowing at the way we were expected to behave.
The image of my parents on the occasion of my immigration to Israel is etched in the depths of my soul. My father and mother stand in the station, all alone on the platform beside the train that will carry me away from them. Tears are choked in our throats. When will we see each other again?
But my mother, who was widowed before the Shoah, declared repeatedly in every letter she wrote me how happy she was, how she thanked God that her children were in the Land of Israel. Over time she forgot all of the blows we had struck against her respectable motherly pride, and blessed the youthful restlessness that before had pained her so.
We dreamed modestly of the kibbutz. We could not possibly have imagined the modern kibbutzim of today, with their well-organized agriculture, societies, training programs, joint ventures, and so forth. Our youthful experiences accumulated in the course of a romantic, scouting life of nights spent beside the bonfire on nighttime excursions. In organized discussions we immersed ourselves in the study of Zionist issues, news of Israel, aspects of the labor movement, and socialism. At summer encampments we would race to stand in line to receive our meager portions of food. Our budget was limited, and often the full payment of four or five participants went to cover an additional ten.
Transportation to these encampments was, for the most part, very primitive. We traveled in black wagons, driven by farmers. Most years, preparation for the encampment including drawing a collection from a variety of sources, including individual and group donations, publicity events, and contributions from our few sympathizers.
For two weeks every year, we would gather in the bosom of our rich natural surroundings, the forests and the cool streams, together with other youth of the Galilee, including Hashomer chapters from a number of cities: Rohatyn, Brzezany, Pudhice, Neriyu, and Tarnopol.
I do not recall any periods of apathy or cynicism breaking out among the young pioneer movement of our city, although relatively few remained with the kibbutz movement following their immigration to Israel. Those who continued to call the kibbutz home now remain active in its affairs, and still dwell within its boundaries. Our children live with us, and there is even a generation of grandchildren on the kibbutz, whose grandparents came out of Rohatyn.
I have pleasant memories of my Hebrew education in Rohatyn. The authorities of the Polish gymnasium explicitly forbade us to study Hebrew, but not a single Zionist in Rohatyn submitted, and for many years we were concerned with finding Hebrew teachers for ourselves. As for me, I went to Hebrew classes secretly, in the evening, hidden from the eyes of my Gentile classmates.
We were affiliated with the Tarbut association in Poland, and they supplied us with the teachers that we needed. Later they sent an official to Rohatyn to establish a Hebrew nursery school and kindergarten.
In closing, I offer this short anecdote:
In March of 1959, Sheva Weiler, who was visiting Israel from the United States, stayed in my home on kibbutz Ayn-Hamiforats. In her youth she had been a leader in the Rohatyn chapter of Hashomer Hatza-ir. This was her first visit to an Israeli kibbutz. Everything was a startling discovery, and it all made her very happy, but the highpoint was when she encountered a friend in the dining hall whom she had known from the Hashomer encampments. He had been responsible for the cooking, and was in the habit of adding a repeta, that is, a little extra, to her portion of food. She ran across the length of the dining-hall, and, full of emotion, shouted, Do you remember me? You used to give me repeta! Repeta!
[Photo #1, p. 194: Uncaptioned picture of the Rohatyn Hashomer Hatza-ir chapter
Photo #1, p. 195: Field-work day, Shomrim of Rohatyn, 8/12/1919. Standing from the left: Uri Kartin (the leader,) Kuva Dam, unknown, Enge Shumer, Bronke Hornstein, Zev Barban, Dr. Yankev Kopferman, Attorney Shmuel Spiegel, Jack Faust, Grine Faust, Manye Kartin, Bokser Zusha, Meltsi Holtz, Chayke Maor, Ruzke Hoder, Junik Bumze, Huchbarg Feybush, Devora Leyner.]
A small occurrence, but much more significant than it seems. This same Sheva passed through the seven-levels-of-Hell that was the Shoah, but her happy memories of childhood, of the Shomrim encampments and the passion of the young people who participated in them, have not left her to this day. The same is true of all who were fortunate enough to be a part of this organization at some time.
In our city, Hashomer Hatza-ir lasted, despite resistance from the very beginning, from the twenties, till the Soviet occupation, when its members fled on foot to Vilna. There they joined up with the local Shomrim chapter, and its leader (Chaim Alon.)
By Yehosua Spiegel (Tel-Aviv)
There are some who remember the organization in the days when it was still called Hashomer. I am speaking here of a later period. Our forebears were the daughters of Yankev Leyter, Bruche and Miriam, who now live on the Hashomer Hatza-ir kibbutz. Reyze Striyer also managed to make it to Israel after the Shoah, and died there. Her son Buni lives on the kibbutz as well.
I recall the founders of the Hashomer Hatza-ir chapter in our city as Zev Altman, Blume Teichmen, and Shimshon Liebling. After these first few made aliyah (immigrated to Israel,) their places were taken by Lea Teichman, Michoel Noytler, Ariye Teichman, Tsvi Bratsfis, Kalman Katz, and Clara Greenfeld. They too went to Israel in their time, and can be found on the Hashomer Hatza-ir kibbutz. The only one missing is dear Tsvi Bratsfis, whom we affectionately nicknamed Barbaz. He put an end to his life, because of a false love.
Next comes the third generation (according to time of immigration): Yehoshua Spiegel, Avrom (Bumek) Cohen, Atke Goldhober, Chaim Alon, and Yeshayahu Klumberg. We even carried on in secret through a fourth generation: Elimelech Bratsfis, Klara Shuler, Rochel Strulicht, Chave Blutner, Gershon Goldhober, and many, many more.
What role did our chapter not fulfill in the city? With it we learned Hebrew, awakened our passion for Zionism and labor, circumnavigated the city on hikes, and held discussions in the bosom of nature. We argued and debated over books, sang songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish, and engaged in sporting and scouting activities.
[Photo #1, p. 196: The 'Chavatselet' group of Hashomer Hatza-ir, in 1919. From the right, first top row : Kinstler, Kupferman, Lipshits; Baum, Weiss, Shumer. In the middle, the leader of the troop, Etke Mandel. Below from the right: Lunke Bomze, Baum, and Malke Shvarts.]
Most of the time, we would cross the bridge on the river Gnila Lipa, march past Yosef Altman's house straight to the Laka field, not far from the brickyard of Mr. Alter Faust, of blessed memory. Often we competed for the field with the other youth organizations, but we never surrendered our strength.
Even our adversaries knew to appreciate Hashomer Hatza-ir, and we were not lacking in adversaries, whether from among the other strands of Zionism, the religious and traditional authorities, or those who simply opposed anything new. Over time we made it evident that our cause was an earnest one. We began to participate in summer encampments, and to travel to assemblies and administrative meetings having to do with financial matters and slowdowns in learning and activity. It must be remembered that most of the participants in our chapter assisted their parents in supporting the household, help that their parents could not do without. On this basis, bitter arguments often broke out between children and their families, and not everyone could weather them. With time, as we began increasingly to despair of leading a normal life in the exile of Poland, opposition weakened. But the appointed season had passed, and World War Two was already looming on the horizon.
We used the chapter as a beacon and a refuge from all of the bothers and obstacles of the outside world. In it we sought solutions to all of the questions that troubled us. We received knowledge and wisdom in the chapter. After a workday, we would crowd into the chapter auditorium, entering group by group from different corners. The group-leader would lecture us on a certain topic: Zionism, the history of the Jewish nation, news from Israel, Kibbutzim. Or he would open up a discussion on a literary matter that was central to our concerns, or offer a friendly clarification. In the older groups, it was the custom to distribute reading material, and every member, according to his turn and topic, had to make a presentation, and was thus trained to later receive responsibility for facilitating educational activities and leading new groups.
On Saturdays, we held nights of song and dance. We rejoiced in every new Israeli song, and did not merely learn their words and tune, but saw before our very eyes the nature and landscapes that they depicted. We also sang Yiddish songs, which expressed the social problems of the nation in exile. We went away to summer encampments, where we were far from the noise of the city and free from every yoke and limitation. These were not easy to organize. We assembled the means in what time we had, gathering food in the chapter facilities, and soliciting donations from men of means to cover the expenses of those in need. A chosen few among us were privileged to participate in leadership encampments. I remember the leadership encampment in Maksimeyts, where we were fortunate enough to spend a month with dear messengers from Israel. Thanks to them and their students, who afterwards returned to their cities, we were able to double our ranks.
We saw ourselves as trailblazers for the many that made aliyah after us, but sorrowfully the Rohatyn chapter was not to harvest the fruits appointed them, as only a few were able to immigrate to Israel before the Shoah Most remained, to suffer at the hands of the oppressor, may his memory be blotted out. Only two were saved: Tsvi Shtrulicht and Ariye Rusmen, who were abroad.
[Photo #1, p. 198: The 'Porachat' group of Hashomer Hatasaier in Rohatyn (4/2/1925.) In the center, group-leader Shaul Bader. From above right: Shlyme Rutroyber, Shmuel Teichman, Moshe Mot, Avigdor Hamburg, Michoel Kizl, Eliyahu Katz, Dovid Kartin, and Lybush Bloch.
[Photo #2, p. 198: The Hashomer Hatza-ir chapter in Rohatyn, at the departure of Yehoshua Spiegel for training.]
By Dov Kirshen, Haifa
Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni was one of the Zionist and pioneer organizations that played the biggest role in shaping the image of the young Jewish generation in Rohatyn.
The movement began to organize in 1928, through the initiative of a group of students in the Polish gymnasium. In those days, most Jewish children studied in this gymnasium, because there were no other possibilities for Jewish boys and girls in the city. There were no professional schools, or any other kind, and most occupations were also closed off to the Jewish youth. Without any other choices, they were forced to attend this particular school.
But the State directorship of the gymnasium sought the Polonization of all city dwellers, especially the school children, through the imposition of many restrictions on the students. For instance, it was forbidden to speak Yiddish in the street, forbidden to participate in Jewish communal life, strictly forbidden to participate in any Zionist youth activities, and so forth. In response to this situation, the Jewish students sought adequate strongholds for themselves, illegal in the eyes of the gymnasium administration, where they could live Jewish lives, read Jewish books, hear news from the land of Israel, sing Hebrew songs, give expression to their Jewish and Zionist sentiments, and all this for several hours a week.
A group of twenty young people was organized, which met for discussions beside the well on the road to Parnuvke. On winter days, most often on Saturdays, they rented a room in a secret place, where they held their activities.
Similar groups organized at the same time in other cities. Soon these various groups banded together into a new youth movement, consisting mostly of high-school students, with its headquarters in Lvov. Its ideology was general Zionism, without additional leftist, rightist, or religious identification. This movement offered a place to young men and women, who saw a future as pioneers in the land of Israel, and also to those who then thought they would remain as activists for the Zionist cause in the cities of the exile.
The Rohatyn branch grew significantly after news arrived of the events in Israel in 1928: the slaughters in Hebron and Safed, and the activities of the Hagana in Jerusalem, Cholda, and other places. A great Zionist fervor grabbed hold of every sphere of Jewish youth in the city. Most of them signed up for immediate immigration to Israel, in order to participate in the defense of the settlement, and masses of them became members of pioneer youth movements. And so Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni brought together large numbers of boys and girls of different ages, who organized into groups and troops, the older ones beginning preparation for aliyah.
We were as busy as ants in our chapter. We held meetings, discussions, lectures, games, holiday parties, excursions to the surrounding forests, and summer encampments. We learned Hebrew, Jewish history, and about the various strands of the Zionist movement. We worked on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. All of these activities had the educational purpose of preparing us for our future lives in the land of Israel. Members of the movement found in the nest (as we called the hall were we gathered) everything they lacked or could not find in the school or in their parents' houses. It was always happy there. They sang their beloved national songs, danced the Hora with great enthusiasm, built bonfires, heard lectures from their leaders on the state of the world, especially the Jewish world, and received answers to all of the questions that troubled them, and even to personal problems.
It is hard to describe the great dedication of he leaders of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni. They devoted every free movement to the movement's activities, in order to win the souls of the Jewish children, and to provide a Jewish, Zionist, and scouting corrective to their general education. The results were excellent. Most of the members of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni eventually immigrated to Israel, where they can now be found in every city and settlement in the land.
But the members of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni in Rohatyn were not restricted to the confines of the nest. Over time, the sphere of their activities widened. Emissaries went out from Rohatyn to all the cities and villages in the area, and brought the movement's ideology to the Jewish youth, thereby founding new branches in Brzezany, Pzemeszani, Pudhice, Burstein, Bukachovce, Weinelow, and other places. Thus, the nest in Rohatyn was transformed into a regional center for the movement, and its members became leaders in the regional branches.
Rohatyn members often also served as leaders in far away cities, lecturers at summer encampments, and heads of training centers. One member served a long time as the movement's national director in Galicia.
The older members of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni were actually involved in all kinds of communal activities in the city, and exerted an important influence on every matter that had to do with Zionism. In various elections, they devoted all of their energy to the campaign of the Zionist candidates. They were especially active in the elections for the Polish parliament and the Zionist congresses. As a centrist Zionist movement, standing between the rightist and leftist factions, Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni served as bridge-builders in the city, between enemy camps so to speak. We should also recall the activities of the Histadrut Ha-Keren Kayemet Li-Noar, which was founded in Rohatyn for the most part by members of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni, who generally occupied the leadership role over a leftist and rightist membership drawn from every Jewish youth organization in the city.
[Photo #1, p. 200: Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni of Rohatyn, on the immigration of B. Kirshen to Israel.
Photo #1, p. 201: Members of Stam-Tsioni and Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni of Rohatyna meeting of two generations.]
Histadrut Ha-Keren Kayemet Li-Noar was a special Rohatyn creation. In no other place was such an association established. It had three objectives: 1) to carry out all of the activities of the Jewish National Fund in Rohatyn, including emptying the donation boxes, collecting money, organizing flower days, and so forth; 2) to gather new donations from every Jewish young man or woman in the city; 3) to attract the attention of all city-dwellers to the Zionist ideology, through lectures, discussions, and publicity events.
[Photo #2, p. 201: Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni of Rohatyn, June 1930.]
There were also the public farewell-evenings, which were held for members of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni on the eve of their departure for Israel. These were organized in the great hall of the communal board, or in the halls of the Ukrainian gymnasium. These parties always drew a big crowd of people, who made use of the opportunity to express their respect for those who had done so much for the Jewish community of Rohatyn, and who stood as an example to all the youth in the city. Israeli singing and dancing went on until the wee hours, and in the morning the entire city accompanied the emigrant to the train station.
These were the activities of Ha-Noar Ha-Tsioni in Rohatyn. It was a seething cauldron of youth, full of lofty aspirations and strong enough to achieve the goals of its ideology. It is hard to make oneself believe that all of this is no more.
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
The Chaluts (Pioneers) branch in our city was founded as a division of the national association of Galicia. The founders were Bulke Kupferman, who was also a member of the training and immigration boards, and myself, the writer of these lines.
We began our activities by organizing training squads and Hebrew classes, and our members sought out occupational training. A friend and I worked in Shabbatai Fishman's locksmith shop.
Our first major training activities took place in 1924, when we worked in Alter Faust's field. Over the course of three weeks, over twenty members participated.
In 1924, we founded a daughter organization, called Ha-Chalutz Ha-Tsayir (The Young Pioneer,) a general youth pioneer movement, led by Shaul Bader and Max Hochberg.
In 1925, I was privileged to receive the first certificate issued to our branch, and immigrated to Israel as the first official Chalutz from our city.
[Photo #1, p. 202: uncaptioned]
The Stam-Chalutz (General Pioneers) association was organized in Galicia as a sister movement to Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsayir, and even established its kibbutz in Israel under the auspices of Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Artsi. Even Rohatyn was not without this association.
Translated by Binyamin Weiner
Gordonia was the last youth movement founded in our city. Among its founders were Avrum Hersh, Tsvi Brod-Ber, Yitschak Levanon, Yaakov Geller, and others. When it was first organized , the chapter was supported by Hitachdut (Unity), a sister organization.
Among the remnants of Gordonia privileged to fulfill their goals through immigration to Israel were Yitschak Levanon (who know lives in Mishmar Ha-Sharon,) and Yosef Yozef, who continues his printing trade in Pardes-Chana.
Hitachdut was worthy enough to see its members play a prominent role on the local Zionist board. Among its most important achievements was the establishment of the Israel Library Union, a cultural meeting place for all the Zionists in Rohatyn. Those active in Hitachdut included Tsvi Halpern, Yitschak Holtz, Shaul Bader, and others. The founders of the library included Chuna Wachman, Pinchas Spiegel, Meir Lewenter, and others.
[Photo #1, p. 203: Members of 'Gordonia' beside the well in Czercze
Photo #2, p. 204: The 'Gordonia' chapter in Rohatyn]
By David Kartin, Tel Aviv
The Rohatyn chapter of Betar, founded in 1929, was one of the biggest in the region. Its founders were Izia Sharir, Pinia Maor, Izia Bernstein, Vilosh Wieland, Shmuel Teichman, and Uri Kanter.
Before long, the chapter numbered nearly 100 members, divided into twelve groups (ranks.) The older members, when their time had come, joined the Tsohar (Revisionist Zionists.)
A few years later, Brit Ha-Chayil was founded in Rohatyn, led by Yulek Skolnik (an officer in the Polish army.) This organization gave its members, some 100 Jewish youths, military training, to prepare them for their future role in Israel. In addition, it provided vocational training to its members in Lvov, Brzezany, and elsewhere.
The Revisionist movement in Rohatyn drew from every class of youth, without regard for social origin: laborers, students, merchants, artisans, and so forth. Everyone held fast to the doctrine of Jabotinsky, of blessed memory.
Cultural activity was centered on the study of Jewish literature, and Jewish and world history. This activity was conducted in groups, and through bi-weekly general assemblies, where we listened to lectures on various topics. Members of Betar were especially diligent in their use of the Hebrew language, and when walking in the street, their lovely manner of speaking made a pleasant impression on Gentiles as well as Jews. And their appearances during readiness-drills struck confusion into the hearts of the enemies-of-Israel.
[Photo #1, p. 204: The elders of Betar: Simcha Faust, Meir Weisbraun, Meir Reiss, Shmuel Kartin (Teichman,) Yisroel Weinstock, Shmuel Acht, Moshe Bussgang, Tsvi Freiwald, Shmuel Teichman, and Maxi Zilber.
Photo #1, p. 205: The daughters of Betar: Regina Bergstreit, Atke Shar, Hinea Bussgang, Malke Boymrind, and Leah Skolnik.]
We excelled in sports as well, and our members trained in various sporting clubs. Our teams went through several changes of name: Z.K.S., Betar, and later Maccabee. Yosef Kartin was the captain. We were not only occupied with sports, but also with many preparatory activities, and with the pioneer training that had been set up in Rohatyn proper. Twenty pioneers immigrated to Israel: Chanina Feldblum, his sister Alde Feldblum, Tsvi Freiwald, Dovid Kartin, Feyge Hochberg, Uri Kanfer, Atke Kizel, Yechezkel Atner, and others.
After the Shoah, others came to Israel with their families: Simcha Faust, Shmuel Acht, and Moshe Bussgang. Yolek Skolnick, of blessed memory, perished during the Shoah, in a bunker.
Kuba Dam was prominent among the members of the Revisionist movement in Rohatyn. He took a position in the national office and was afterwards a member of the Revisionist world executive body, and there is truth to what is said about his being Jabotinsky's right-hand man. Today he lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We who remain mourn all of the members of the movement who perished in the Shoah, and were never able to witness the fulfillment of their dream.
[Photo #2, p. 205: Yolek Skolnick (son of Chaim Skolnik).
Photo #3, p. 205: Pinia Maor (son of Meir).
Photo #1, p. 206: Revisionist gathering in Rohatyn.
Photo #2, p. 206: Simcha Faust, Zushe Top, Tsvi Freiwald, Shmuel Teichman, Michael Kizel, Eli Katz, Uri Kanfer, and Muni Halpern.]
Tzvi Skolnick, Tel-Aviv
A boy's day was full to overflowing. School, sports, youth groups, and first dates with girls filled out lives, and so we never contemplated the blood storm on the horizon. Until the last days, our lives coursed along regularly, with school taking the primary place. But fortune did not shine her face upon every young person. Not everyone crossed the threshold of the gymnasium, because tuition was high and many parents could not afford to cover it. There were two gymnasiums in Rohatyn, one Ukrainian, and the other Polish. Jews did not attend the Ukrainian school, because the language of instruction was Ukrainian and because no Jew was fortunate enough to receive the matriculation certificate sold by the Polish education bureau. Therefore, the Jewish youth turned to the Polish gymnasium, named for the priest Pyotr Skarga.
The gymnasium was located in a broad, four-story building, equipped with laboratories, sports facilities, and various machines. This gymnasium, in contrast to the Ukrainian one, was full of privileged students. The education bureau sold the matriculation certificates. It was coeducational, boys and girls studying together, Poles alongside Jews. But not every Jewish boy or girl was accepted into the school, even if they were able to meet the demanded fee, because the gymnasium enforced a quota system for minority children, in accordance with the percentage of the general population they represented. Even for the Jewish student who overcame this obstacle, completion of studies was uncertain. The education bureau did its best to fail Jewish students on exams, even though they were among the most distinguished students.
[Photo #1, p. 207: Sixth grade of the state high school1926
Photo #1, p. 208: Prof. Schlesinger with Jewish gymnasium students in Rohatyn]
In order to minimize the influence of Jewish students in the Polish universities a quota system was employed. In addition, Jewish students did not receive any scholarships. There was no thought of releasing students from their studies on Shabbat or holidays. They were only free on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. No anti-Semitism was experienced from the students directly, though no close friendships were formed either. All students wore the school uniform, bearing the number of the school, 593, on a special insignia. This was at the order of the education bureau, in order to facilitate the supervision of students outside the walls of the school. A gymnasium student was forbidden to be in any public place, cinema, theater, or street after nine in the evening, and anyone caught out after that hour was in for punishment at the hands of the administration.
At this public school, the Jewish students were provided with instruction in Jewish religion and history. The teacher was Yitschok Schlesinger (now in Israel) who also taught mathematics and zoology, and who represented his Jewish students before the administration, until he transferred to the gymnasium in Zlotchew. Shtekel from Dubromil took his place.
Students in our gymnasium, like students throughout Poland at the time, were organized into pre-military training corps (similar to our youth-battalions,) and no one was excused. Many weeks, several hours of general instruction were given over to training activities. At the gymnasium, there were also sport, dance, and drama clubs, in which Jews participated alongside Christians.
In later years, before the war broke out, when anti-Semitic winds began to blow through Poland, a melancholy spirit pervaded the atmosphere of the gymnasium as well. A new principal came, whose deep-seated anti-Semitic inclinations were felt by the students with foreboding. Many dropped out mid-course, and those who graduated and had their certificates in hand found the gates of the universities locked to them. Those students who wanted to pursue their higher education were forced to turn to universities outside of Poland. Few of the gymnasium graduates were able to do this, and most turned their eyes to the land of Israel.
The community provided our Jewish spiritual nourishment; what we would call today out Jewish consciousness. It organized an evening Hebrew school (Hebreishe shule,) where the Jewish youth could acquire knowledge of Judaism, literature, Jewish history, Tanach (Hebrew Bible,) and Talmud. These evening classes were very successful, and were a great help to every student and young person who sought to learn about the history of his nation and the treasures of its culture. The community planned to build and assembly hall for the Jews of the town, and even constructed its frame, but then war broke out and this skeleton passed into the hands of the conquerors, who finished it and made it into a general assembly hall.
But youth does not live by book alone, then as now. As in Tel-Aviv so in Rohatynthe young people were preoccupied with sports, specifically soccer. And Rohatyn was proud to have a soccer team that one it fame throughout the region: the Z.K.S. (Zydowski Klub Sportowy,) organized under the auspices of the Betar youth movement. The living spirits of the club were Yulek Skolnick, of blessed memory, and Yozef Kartin, long may he live. Above all, the team was devoted to soccer, and even met with success and satisfying victories. It competed against Polish and Ukrainian teams. I still remember the game against a Ukrainian team in the village of Pudhice, which they one eight to one. After the game, the Jews of the village lavished the players of Z.K.S. with adoration, appreciating the team for having defended the honor of the Jewish people. Living among hostile Gentiles, it was rare for the Jews to have an opportunity to humble their anti-Semitic neighbors, and so the village Jews derived great satisfaction from this soccer game. The players themselves were very devoted to their team, and even personal honor and ambition were not considered when the team faced defeat. An example of this was the behavior of Yozef Kartin, who was angry with his team for a long time (I no longer remember why,) but when he saw that they were in danger of losing a match he took the field and led his team to victory. He was the captain of the team, and his teammates on the soccer squad were Hershko Leder, Dulek Faust, Simcheh Faust, Yankev Faust, Yankev Oster, Chaim Blaustein, Moshe Erlich, and others.
The clubhouse was open everyday, and was used as a place to meet friends by young people of every class. Even the students, who were forbidden, as already mentioned, to leave their houses in the evening, and were forbidden to join any organizations, found here, under the pretence of sport, the opportunity to meet freely and without worry. Youth from all strands and factions of the town belonged to the soccer team, and political tensions were never a factor. Even though the clubhouse was under the auspices of Betar, an atmosphere of pure sport pervaded it. Everyone there strove to elevate the proud spirit of Jewish youth, to increase their own self-estimation, and to engage vigorously in the physical culture that had been so foreign to Jews throughout the years of exile.
The clubhouse was active until the outbreak of war, when with the entry of the Red Army it was transformed into a youth center for all of Rohatyn.
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