The Hashomer Hatzair Chapter in Sanok
during the Years 1927-1937
by Gershon Givoni-Pipe
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Translated by Jerrold Landau
We cannot point to the geniuses that came from our city but there was certainly something special there. Perhaps it was because of the wonderful mountain scenery, perhaps because this city was a sort of border city between eastern and western Galicia, or perhaps because of the fact that the population breakdown of the three nationalities was approximately 1/3 for each.
If we look at the Jewish youth of Sanok in retrospect, we can sum up that they were alert to the problems of the world. It was not like a golden youth who live only for the moment and is only interested in their individual human problems.
I will be dealing with the decade spanning 1927-1937 although this period certainly stretched back earlier, to the years following the First World War when Poland received its national independence and the city transferred from Austrian to Polish rule.
From the days of my childhood, I remember the Zionist and Hebrew atmosphere flourishing among the Jewish youth in Sanok. There was the Zionist Hechalutz Upholders of the Hebrew Language organization with its prominent personalities such as Yaakov Rosenfeld of blessed memory, Moshe Messer of blessed memory, and Freda Birendorf. I also recall the Ivria library and the literary and drama circle. All of these institutions left their mark on the Jewish youth.
Without doubt, the local chapter of Hashomer Hatzair played a large role in educating the youth with nationalist ideals.
The activities of Hashomer during the 1920s were directed towards the circle of acquaintances of the children of the intelligentsia and the middle class. As in the rest of the cities of Galicia, Hashomer had a unique outlook regarding its desire for the Land and for Hebrew. However the Polish language was commonly used by the youth during the course of their day-to-day activities. When the members of Hechalutz, who drew their support from the more populist classes, joined Hashomer, something of a change of environment began. That is, the petite bourgeois element blended with the populist element, and without doubt only good arose from this for the Jewish youth in our town.
I joined Hashomer Hatzair in 1927 when I was of Bar Mitzvah age and still at cheder in the upper grades of the Talmud Torah, as well as attending the public school. Hashomer Hatzair had a special attraction for the Jewish youth in the town. What was the attraction? Going out to the bosom of nature each Sabbath, either around the quarry, the White Mountain or to Olchawca across the San, the scouting games and following the personal examples of the counselors. Above all, there was the cohort of people of one's own age who worked together.
We were Kfirim for a year and a half that is the youngest group. Then there was the Aryeh group under the leadership of Mondek Poretz, and the analogous Tzvia group for girls under the leadership of Yaffa Landsman.
For us, the counselors were sublime people who we held in great esteem. We were prepared to follow them with our eyes closed even into the fire.
During our activities we absorbed legends of the Land, read stories from the life of Hashomer, and also from sections of Yizkor (memorial). The chapters of bravery regarding the protection of Tel Chai were etched deeply into our tender hearts. We listened with eager eyes and open mouths to the stories of Yechezkel Nusinowicz and Yehoshua Chenkin from the days of the first settlement of the members of the Second Aliya.
In the meantime, the educators of the two groups were diligent about forging ties of friendship and true camaraderie among the groups, and it can be said that they were successful in just about everything. The groups were consolidated among themselves and the counselors set for themselves the aim of educating them in the proper character to every detail. In summary, I can note that the educational endeavor was conducted with deep, vivacious independence which opened up the hearts of the children and prepared them to greet the future.
The chapter was divided into the following educational groups: alef) Kfirim for ages 12-14; beit) Hatzofim for ages 14-17; Bogrim for ages 17-18 and above. The division was planned well and had great influence.
In the second group, when a child became a youth, he was ready to begin scientific and investigatory thought, and his personality began to feel for justice and uprightness.
In 1929, two groups graduated to the Hatzofim group.
|The sign held up by the group of youths says:
Hashomer Hatzair, 5655 (1925) the Hatzofim group in Sanok
Two booklets lie before my eyes Hayinu manuscripts, volumes A and B that were published by us in November and December 1929. (I was able to obtain them through the kind permission of the movement archives in Merchavya.) I read these publications and am astounded by the articles from the pure youth.
What do these articles deal with?
First, the youth demanded cultural activities and ideas. They were no longer content with the games that characterized the movement earlier. They requested presentations and deliberations in which they themselves could take part (Shichvateinu by Ben Zvi). In Bapetach, M. R. demands activity for the Hebrew nation, the Land, and human society. There are articles entitled Toward Morning and At the Time of Evening, which portray impressions and feelings about nature in Sanok in the Mickowiec Public Gardens where we would spend
time during the early hours of the morning as well as the evening in study, private reading and discussion. This garden also served as an appropriate place for thinking and formulating ideas about the state of the group, the need to consolidate our world view, to think deeply after reading scientific books and to draw conclusions about the reality of the lives we were living.
There was a list of the older youths who left the group (marked with x) in which they had been members since their younger days. The writer does not hide the emotions that he and his friends felt when they left. However, his conclusion was otherwise. He asks that the youths gird themselves so that they would be able to stand up to any usual or unusual wind and that any incidents of abandonment of the group would be minimized. If they occurred, it would be clear that these were related to individuals who were weak of character, who could not live up to the sublime and serious objectives of the group and so the group would not lose out from this.
Questions of religion and tradition were an important topic in the deliberations of the group. The moral values of the Bible remained strong, as a wall that could not easily be demolished. With regard to the clergy, particularly of the Christian church, we placed a boundary between it and between the ethics of the Jewish religion. We took pride in the prophets and the Hassidic movement, and we claimed that the Jewish religion could not be compared to other religions.
There were extensive deliberations and discussions throughout a long period and we saw this as positive for we did not wish to accept the words of the counselors as Torah truth. We investigated their words and forged our own outlook with fiery debate - not just about external matters for the internal attitude was the main thing.
In the wake of these adjudications, we wrote articles on the topic of religion in general and the Jewish religion in particular. There were judgments. Most of our missiles and arrows were directed against Yidel Katz and Moshe Rosenblatt, who as older youths represented the international Socialist movement. A story was written on this topic, a novel by Ben Ami entitled An Apostate in Halacha and in Practicality. The author of the novel presents a 13 year old, the grandson of Rabbi Shlomo who studies Torah day and night and is not alert to the realities surrounding him. Motele denies the faith, but he cannot sit with his arms folded with a storm brewing outside the anti-Semitic pogroms against Jewry in Ukraine. He bursts into the synagogue and summons the worshiping Jews to set up the means of self defense. The Jews who are wrapped in tallises and bent over their prayer books push aside the words of this apikoros (heretic) and do not wish to heed his calls. However, his soul knows no rest until his idea is realized self defense in the plains of Ukraine through going out to Hachsharah kibbutzim through making aliya to the Land and through joining one of the kibbutzim that stand guard over the homeland. He performed labor with one hand and with the other he held a weapon.
The longing for the Land of Israel expresses itself in each and every article. The youths see themselves as citizens of the Land of Israel who are residing temporarily in a town on the banks of the San River.
Years passed. The youths completed their course of studies and were on the threshold of adulthood, but they did not abandon the ideas that were instilled in their hearts during the previous years. Activities in movements at a higher level, going out to Hachsharah activities and making aliya to the Land these were the next stages in the education and activities of Hashomer Hatzair.
In the meantime, the youth movements of Gordonia, Hanoar Hatzioni, Akiva, Beitar and others arose and conducted a battle for the soul of the Jewish child in the cities of Poland, including Sanok.
How does one attract the heart of the youth, when the various youth movements arise, and Hashomer Hatzair is not the only one on the Jewish street?
Here I am leafing through Hachoresh, monthly issue number 1, from October 1934.
A new generation came to the fore in the activities of the movement. Hitler's ascension to power in Germany, and the rise of fascism throughout Europe left their mark upon us as well. Yaakov Simon writes in his article:
The War Necessary Conditions for the Existence of Fascism, that war is intended to destroy the finest and most refined sections of humanity. The Jewish youth were sensitive and they already felt that a disaster was about to afflict humanity and Jewry in particular.
Miriam Gefen tells of the activities of the second level of the Hashomer Hatzair movement and demands the realization of its goals in the local chapter in Sanok.
The memories of the national convention in Kruszelnica, in the eastern foothills of the Carpathians, arouse emotions.
A great many people traveled to that convention, which took place at the end of the director's meeting in the town. Prior to the convention, the participants of the summer camp went out on an excursion into the mountains. Their objective was Bobonsyce, a mountain peak 1,200 meters high.
A large crowd of Hashomer Hatzair members from all the cities and towns of Galicia gathered on the day of the convention. Members of the Sanok chapter also came out in significant numbers. They took part in the meetings of the members of the Hamanof Kibbutzim, alef-gimel (Hamafil), and beit (Yad Mordechai). They also organized meetings and fraternal gatherings of the participants of the leaders' camps that took place in Kruszelnica, Bubnów, Bludbikowka, Brzlnica all of these are towns in the heart of the forested Carpathians that adorn the valleys that were worked by the Chalutzim farmers.
The photographers were very busy. The photographs formed memories for the future and today we connect to them with pangs of longing for the lovely days of the past that will not return.
One of the chronicles informs us of the aliya of Ozer Fifah and Bilhah Rosenfeld to Kibbutz Hamanof in the Land.
Aliya to the Land was the highest plateau of the Hashomer education. The gates of the Land were almost locked in the face of the aliya of Jews, and the certificates that were issued by the Mandate government were a drop in the ocean as compared to the numbers of people knocking at the doors of the pioneering (Chalutz) movement everywhere. It was decided by the Chalutz headquarters to arrange for illegal aliya. Bilhah and Ozer were among the pioneers who set out on the first ship of illegal immigrants Vilus. This journey was clouded with extreme secrecy. The ship wandered in the heart of the sea for a long time and those aboard often worried that they would perish in the midst of the waves of the stormy sea.
Nevertheless, for the chapter, this means of aliya had a great educational influence, and it forged for the members a narrow and tortuous path to the Land, off the main highway.
|A Hachsharah group in Sanok|
In that same issue, we find an article about the state of the chapter in the year 5694 (1934). The accounting was presented by the writer of these lines during the annual meeting.
First, the role of the chapter in the summer Moshava (Zuhotyn), the educational seminar and the national conventions was noted. A special role was played by the academy and exhibition that took place during the 1920s to support the worldwide movement (1913-1933). An evening of artistic performances was arranged in the Yad Charutzim hall which aroused feelings of esteem and gratitude in the local Hashomer Hatzair youth.
Even more was accomplished by the exhibition in which we invested the best of our energies. We displayed handicrafts, photographs and publicity about the chapter in Sanok and its various educational groups. Many visitors, young and old, came to see the spectacular exhibits (relative to the conditions in our town at that time). I especially remember the prominent tower made of newspapers. Eliezer Baron (Yisraeli), Chedva Leventhal, and the writer of these lines worked on gathering the exhibits, as far as I recall.
The issue of the Hebrew language in the chapter was especially important and occupied a prominent role in the annual discussions.
The chapter of Sanok was known throughout the breadth of the movement in Galicia for its use and mastery of the Hebrew language. Its local leadership meetings, its book of minutes, its correspondence with the central leadership, and even its leaflets were all in Hebrew.
A group for the promotion of the language was active in the chapter. It made sure that only Hebrew would be spoken at the meeting place of the chapter at least one or two nights per week.
A Tarbut school did not exist at that time, only evening classes in Safa Berurah. Without doubt, its central personality was the teacher Reb Tzvi Abt of blessed memory, who was known for his strictness. Despite this, Hebrew played an honorable role in the life of the Jewish youth and in the Hashomer chapter in particular.
|The exhibition of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter in Sanok|
The educational and publicity activities in the educational group under the auspices of Hagedud (two parallel groups), and the activities of the chapter itself, earned a name not only in Hashomer Hatzair, but also affected all of the youth movements that arose after us in every place, and also in our place. Among the famous mottos was Once a Shomer, always a Shomer. Furthermore, the members remained faithful to the movement throughout the Kibbutz Haartzi. Even thousands who had at some time or another left the movement recall the activities of the Hashomer Hatzair movement with esteem. The Sanok chapter was not one of the backward ones in this area and it made its mark in the Land as well as during the difficult trials that had to be endured during the wartime.
The anti-Zionist factions were not strong in Sanok. The principal form of Zionist activity came through the activities of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund), Ezra, W.I.Z.O. (Women's International Zionist Organization), the League for the Working Land of Israel, and Hechalutz.
In that same edition of Hechalutz, Hashomer Hatzair is mentioned in first place among the movements for its activities on behalf of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. In the year 5684 (1924), it collected 175 guilder, Akiva 64.55 guilder, Hanoar Hatzioni 48 guilder. In order to emphasize the size of this sum, I will point out that the chapter would send one guilder per moth as dues to the central authority.
Hashomer Hatzair also conducted large-scale activities in Sanok in the League and Hechalutz by joining forces with Gordonia, Hitachdut and the right-leaning Poale Tzion.
I visited the chapter in Sanok on behalf of the chief headquarters in October 1936. The composition of the members had changed. The percentage of the populist element had grown since the children of the higher classes who attended the civic gymnasium were barely found in Hashomer Hatzair. They were absent from the youth organizations in general and the Zionist ones in particular. On the other hand, the energies of the youths in these classes increased and it should be noted that they promised a great deal for the future.
The following were prominent among the youth: Malka Leventhal, Miriam Geffen, Shmuel Fennig, Tila Werner, Shoshana Poritz, Yehuda Wallach, Eliezer Freitsch, and others.
Yacov Mais entered the high leadership in Warsaw. Miriam Gorfein also prepared to leave the city.
Chedva Leventhal, Yosef Herzig and Yaffa Amster were in the chapter and participating in the work. However, they were headed toward the Kibbutzim and Hachsharah groups. Shoshana Antner of blessed memory had returned from the Hachsharah groups. However, they were not able to develop a wide variety of activities as there were barely any of their peers in the chapter anymore, and the younger people were not yet sufficiently experienced to bear the burden.
In his letter to the head leadership of May 27, 1937, Yosef Herzig of blessed memory writes that efforts were made to raise the energies of the youth to an appropriate level of activity. He singles out for praise Shmuel Fenig, who had great promise in his opinion, and raised the banner of the efforts. He renovated the meeting place of the chapter and he was pleasant to the members who spent their time there. Nevertheless, a fear for the future was felt, and there was a general atmosphere of crisis among the Jewish youth so the young people were not able to measure up to him sufficiently.
From the time that I made aliya to the Land in October 1937, I was no longer able to follow from up close what was going on in the Hashomer chapter in our city. However I knew that the outbreak of the war destroyed the chapter, as it did all the other Jewish communal organizations.
Many alumnae of Hashomer Hatzair from various eras live with us in Israel and I am sure that everyone remembers Hashomer Hatzair fondly from their youth as Hashomer Hatzair played such an important role in the education of a generation in our city of Sanok.
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