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[Page 156]

HaShomer HaTzair Youth Movement in Sokal

by Dr. Y. Efrat (Menkes), Holon, Israel

Translated by Vered Dayan

 

News about HaShomer Movement reached our town during World War I, when the Russian army was leaving Vienna and Jewish youths came back to Sokal.

The founders and members of the Sokal branch at the time were all students at the local gymnasium. The local branch had been founded in 1917 under the name HaShomer, and was only later changed to HaShomer HaTzair, together with all branches of the movement throughout the world. Much like the Scouts, The Sokal branch took upon itself to educate Jewish youngsters to loyalty, honesty, integrity, and all other honorable values of the Scouts movement, as well as to instill the boys and girls with pride of their Jewish identity.

A few years went by, and the movement was already experiencing ideological doubts, worldwide . Eventually, those severe doubts strengthened the movement rather than undermining it and helped in molding its character into an active body, which took measures to realize the Zionist dream. However, those changes did not affect the Sokal branch, which continued to hold onto its rather romantic character for a relatively long period of time. During those years, HaShomer in Sokal had not yet found its way into the lower classes of Jewish youths, and the branch socially remained a small, secluded organization of highschool students.

A major change took place only in 1927-1928. Gradually, the local branch began to grow, and the small group of 30 students became a large, vigorous organization, consisting of some 120-150 young people, integrated with the movement's activities throughout the country. Until the beginning of World War 2, it became one of the largest branches of the movement in Galicia, not only relatively to the number of Jewish residents of Sokal.

The educational purpose of the Sokal branch was the same as the movement's as a whole: To urge young people to fulfill their abilities while playing pioneer roles in Eretz Yisrael. To that end, the movement took upon itself to develop the youngsters' physical and mental skills. Our branch in Sokal put special emphasis on developing field skills, which had been neglected by the movement in the rest if the country, and in that respect we later became an example to other branches in Galicia. We did share with the rest of the movement many doubts about the synthesis of Zionism and Socialism in education and world view, but it seems that we found a good combination, and this is why our branch did not undergo the same ideological turmoils as did large parts of the movement in the 1930s. The best evidence to that is the small number of left-wing digressions which ended in desertions of the branch.

 

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HaShomer HaTzair in Sokal, 1930

 

Growing in scope and activity, the Sokal branch became one of the most important elements in local Jewish life. It operated in many different levels, internal as well as external. Internal activity was based on an organizational framework: The branch was divided into 3 “battalions” Graduates (ages 17 and up); Scouts (ages 14-17); Young Lions (up to 14). The people in charge were the Head of the branch, aided by the local leadership. “Battalions” were divided into “ companies”, which were then divided into groups.

The main educational activity took place inside the groups, each one consisting of 8-15 boys or girls. Instructors were given appropriate guidance in special programs throughout the country. Close relations between the instructor and the members, and also among the members themselves was typical of each group. Group meetings were conducted according to outlines formulated by the national leadership in Lwow, but those outlines were flexible enough and left considerable space for the instructor's judgement. The general line of our activity was characterized by the right balance between the main elements of HaShomer education: Pioneering Zionism, Socialism and field activity. Education of the Young Lions put special emphasis on human and national aspects; Education of the Scouts put special emphasis also on the basics of Socialism, Sociology and Economics. Instructors dedicated time to teaching the role of The Labor movement in Eretz Yisrael, the history of Zionism and settlement in Eretz Yisrael, geography of Eretz Yisrael etc. Field activities were an integral part of the Scouts' lives

Graduates took part in activities designated to prepare them to living as pioneers in a kibbutz. It was difficult to hold fixed routine meetings for the graduates, because some of them were already very busy organizing educational activities for the younger members in the branch, and others were already practicing kibbutz life outside of town.

Group meetings were usually held 3 times a week in a rented building we called “the hall”, but occasionally we would hold them under the sky, in one of the romantic places outside of town (Dolinka, Blonia or Wolowka forest[1]).

The Battalions, the Companies, and the branch as a whole would conduct special activities such as “court hearings” based on literary figures and plots, and also field trips, ceremonies marking important events, assemblies and so on. In addition to all of those pre-planned activities, we would also hold spontanous sing-alongs, or dance in “the hall” or in the open air. At times, when we could not afford to rent a hall, everything would be done in the open air, or in one of the lumber yards owned by the members' parents. General Education

 

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HaShomer HaTzair graduates group in Sokal, 1930.
Standing on the second row, first from the right, Dov (Bobby) Levy

 

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Graduates group in Sokal, 1931, together with a group of children[2]

 

Members of the local branch grew in number, but fear also grew, that more of them would drop out of school, as was happening in many towns throughout Galicia. In the years before World War 2, membership in a youth organization, especially in HaShomer HaTzair, meant danger of being thrown out of school. In Sokal, we took extra care to maintain the youngsters' general education, for two reasons: We did not want to leave them to the influence of street life, and we were interested in keeping a high cultural level in the local branch. At the height of the branch's prosperity, around 80% of the members did not attend any kind of school (gymnasium or teachers college). To keep a high cultural level, we organized special classes for the Scouts Battalion, in addition to all the other educational activities. The most important subjects were taught in those classes: history, geography, math, science, literature and so on.

The Hebrew Language

For various reasons, many of our members could not enjoy the benefits of the local Hebrew school. For them, we undertook teaching Hebrew classes in different levels, starting from the basics, and up to Bible reading, literature reading and Hebrew press reading.

Field Trips and Summer Camps

Summer vacation always brought about excitement, in view of the special activities it held after a year of routine. Summer months meant long field trips and “back to nature”, summer camps organized by the Sokal branch itself or together with other branches in nearby towns, such as Krystinopol, Kamionka, Zholkiv; Some bigger camps were organized by the district leadership of the movement, together with the neighboring Kovel district leadership.

 

sok156d.jpg
Summer camp in the village of Kucior Antonowka, 1929.
Sitting on the top left side: Dr. Ephraim Menkes

 

Saturday field trips to Walwaoka forest were a tradition in the Sokal branch. It was there that the branch had been founded in a special meeting in 1917. Even the youngest members, the “Young Lions”, participated in those trips, and this forest was where they took their first steps in field activities.

Nevertheless, once or twice a year we would prepare for a bigger operation a field trip to an area a little further away from Sokal. In later years, for the sake of teaching field skills, we would make stops at forests such as Horbakow, Wislawice, Hatowice, Laszczatow, Libcza, Wanyow, etc.

 

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The kitchen in summer camp in Kucior Antonowka, 1929

 

In 1928, our branch became a center to all branches in the area. Its status as such was established during the first Sokal branch independent summer camp, which took place in the village of Horodlowice. It was there that we established the first contacts with other branches of HaShomer HaTzair, including some from neighboring Volhynia, with which we had not been in touch until then. This was how “The Sokal District Organization of HaShomer HaTzair Branches” was created, with the purpose of expanding “HaShomer family” beyond the borders of town. Its major role was organizing conventions, mutual visits, summer camps and mutual assistance. Those summer camps became the biggest project in the district's activity. We would go out to camp for 3-4 weeks, and the number of participants was always very large, especially among the Scouts (ages 14-17). Going to summer camp was always a major event, and our thoughts would be focused on it long before summer actually came. The influence of every summer camp on life in our branch was so great, that you could almost divide the year into two parts: The time after the last summer camp, and the time before the next one.

Summer camps took place in one of the nearby villages: Horodlowice, Kucior-owka, Faicziguri, Sielec, Romosz. Activities were diverse: Physical and mental exercise, education on a practical and emotional level, and life in nature. No wonder each summer camp was unforgettable, an experience out of a different world which enabled us to rise above the day-to-day life of a small town.

 

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HaShomer HaTzair Sokal branch leadership, 1935
First row from the left: Adelle Bruh, Pinchas Weitz, Hadassa Bard
Second row from the left: Hannan Farber, Yosef Korman

 

The Local Branch within the Jewish and Zionist Public in Town

The local branch had profound influence on Jewish life in town, in both the organizational and cultural aspects. Most public activity took place through cooperation with other youth movements, especially those embracing the idea of leading an active life in Eretz Yisrael, such as Hechalutz.

Work for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael [Jewish National Fund] was an integral part of the activities in our branch, as we had always pointed out its importance.

Being a vibrant part of the Zionist public in town, our branch always took active part in every major event, such as celebrating “Lag BaOmer”, marking “Kaf Betamuz” [Yahrzeit of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl], Tel-Hai day etc.

Our art group would sometimes perform to the public, either on its own or together with additional artists from outside the branch.

*

The Holocaust brought upon us by the Nazi occupation annihilated all of this beautiful great work. Upon arriving in Sokal, even before the final extermination, the Germans eradicated all Jewish public activity, including many members of our movement. The accomplished Jewish settlement in Sokal was wiped from the face of the earth, together with all of its creations, including the youth movements. There are only a few of us left in Israel, only a few left of this enormous population, and we cannot find the words to lament the enterprises of our finest years, the beautiful pure souls who firmly, enthusiastically, believed in the future salvation of the Jewish people and saw themselves as part of the building process of its homeland.

May their memory live forever in our hearts.

 

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HaShomer HaTzair group in Sokal
Second row on the far right: Yaacov Menkes, later Dr. Yaacov Efrat, agronomist in Israel

 

*

Here are some of the names of Sokal's HaShomer HaTzair active members and leaders[3].

1917-1921: Founders and early members: Pinchas Gruber, The Weintraub brothers, Tzvi Janovschinski (“Gazhesh”), Yosef Wenniger, Arye (“Leon”) Honig, Mordechai Acker, Arye (“Lonk”) Rosenberg, The Sinck Brothers, Shmuel and Tzvi Fass.

1922-1927: The Awakening: Mendel and Isaak Finkel, David Janovschinski, Naphtali Tauba-Shimoni, Moshe Eimerl, Arye Fass, Mordechai Lieberman.

1928-1936: Years of Prosperity: Yaacov (“Bonush”) Menkes-Efrat, Elazar (“Luzer”) Unger, Artek Schatzberg, Betka Wenniger, Azriel Charag, Isaak Eimerl, Ben-Zion Bruh, Shlomo Lentz, Chaya Brunner, Kalman Teller, Ephraim Tauba, Sosia Haffner, Cela Tabak and her brother Shimon, Adelle and Tonka Bruh, Frieda and Dov (“Bobby”) Levy, Avraham Becker, Hadassa (“Hadalle”) and Tzipora Berret, Chaika Kelner, Viola Zandgarten, Shifra, Lea, Tzipora and Ze'ev Wetter, Yehoshua Meller.

Last but not least, those who stood guard until the occupation: Yosef (“Yosho”) Kornman, Lea Levy, Yisrael Kendel and his brother Isaak, Lonio Gruber, Chaya Ingberg, Ronia Lorentz, Sarah Kramerman, Mendele Zuckerman, Munio Auerbach, Moshe Meller and many more, the very best of Sokal's youth.

 

sok156h.jpg
HaShomer HaTzair group in Sokal
From the right: Baruch Zimmerman, Adelle Bruh, Yosef Korman, Pinchas Bruh, Isaak Eimerl, Isaak Horn
Standing behind him: Avraham Plecker
First from the left: Renia Letzter. Behind her: Ester Rehr, Hannan Farber and Yisrael Kendel.

 

sok156i.jpg
HaShomer HaTzair members on the Bug river.
Standing on the right: Yosef Korman. On the left: Yaacov Menkes

 

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HaShomer HaTzair members in Sokal, 1927
Lying down, from the left: Mordechai Tauba, Yaacov Menkes.
Second row from the left: Arye (“Lovko”) Fass, Naphtali (“Tulek”) Tauba-Shimoni, Mordechai Lieberman. Sitting on the tree: Elazar Unger

 

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The Borochov group of HaShomer HaTzair in Sokal.
First row in the middle: Bobby Levy

 

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The Borochov group of HaShomer HaTzair in Sokal.
Third from the left: Franz Eimerl; Fifth on the left: Margulies

 

Translator's footnotes

  1. Some of the places mentioned in the text are difficult to find on today's maps and therefore may have been misspelled in English. Return
  2. The Hebrew under the photo says this is a group of HaShomer HaTzair, but the Yiddish says “a group of HaNoar HaTzioni” The Zionist Youth Organization Return
  3. Some of the names and nicknames may have been misspelled in English. We will be happy to correct them upon request. Return

 

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