Shmuel Fishman (Jerusalem)NATIONAL REVIVAL AFTER THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the situation of the Zionist movement in Drohitchin prior to the outbreak of World War I. When my family and I left the town of Libeshei (near Pinsk) as refugees at the end of 1916, and ended up in the abandoned village of Popina (near Drohitchin), I had the opportunity to work together with many young people in Drohitchin in German forced labor.
[photo:] Shmuel Fishman
Together we chopped trees in the forest and placed the wood on the dirty roads, and did other types of forced labor. Among these young people, I met real Jewish intellects, Hebraists and enthusiastic Zionists. We discussed the issue of the Jewish redemption among ourselves, and expressed the hope that when the adversaries finally sat down at the negotiation table, they would also consider the situation of the suffering Jewish People and finally allow the Jews to return to their own land Palestine.
In November 1917, when I and a few other young Jews worked in the fields, we saw a wagon with two Jews from Drohitchin. The Jews told us that Jewish merchants from Sedletz brought a Jewish newspaper to Drohitchin from Warsaw that wrote that England had made a declaration promising a Jewish National Home in Palestine. We couldn't believe our ears.
I returned home immediately, changed my clothes and traveled to Drohitchin (in those days a person simply had to throw on his boots over his shoulder and walk barefoot into town). We were more concerned about our boots than about our feet.
When I got to Drohitchin, I went directly to see the rabbi about the news. His son, Moshe, told me that he had read the article about the English declaration himself. The newspaper, which went from hand to hand in town, was currently at the Weissmans' house.
I met the entire Weissman family sitting around the table and discussing the news in the paper. I then suggested that we arranged a celebration or a mass meeting of all the Jews in Drohitchin in honor of the historic event. Yosef Berezovsky (R. Shimon Weissman's son-in-law) agreed with me, but we needed the permission of the German commander. We had to go to Yosef Zbar, who was very close to the Germans, and ask him to obtain the permit.
When we arrived at Zbar's home and told him about our plans, he stared at us and angrily shouted, Idiots! Do you want to bring trouble onto the Jews of Drohitchin? Don't you understand that the British declaration about Palestine was an act against Germany? Do you think we can openly show our sympathy for England's declaration when we are under German occupation?! We understood his logic and correct arguments, and left feeling embarrassed.
The tremendous revival and excitement that swept up the Jewish population of Poland and the entire world after the San Remo decision, when world government approved the Balfour Declaration, which recognized Palestine as the Jewish National Home understandably infected the Jews of Drohitchin too.
The large parade through the streets of Drohitchin that included young and old in honor of the meeting at San Remo will always remain in the memories of Drohitchin survivors. The rabbis marched in front carrying Torah scrolls. Yudel Zilberstein gallantly rode a beautiful white horse, and the members of the Zionist committee were adorned with white and blue armbands and other symbolic decorations. The large crowd proceeded in a stately and orderly manner until they arrived at the office of the Polish Commissar (I don't know his name), who was actually a very liberal person and friendly to Jews.
[The people who organized the celebration the Balfour Declaration were Yaakov Einbinder, Msohe Bezdzhesky, Gedaliah Kaplan, Naftali Steinberg, Betzalel H. Wolfson, a teacher, Hersh Leib Eisenstein, S. Fishman, Velvel Mishovsky, Hershel Shkolnick, Y. Zilberstein, Shmuel Schub and others. See the picture on p. 96 Editor]
The commissar came outside dressed in his uniform, and I greeted him in Polish on behalf of the large demonstration. I explained the meaning of the parade, expressing the hope that the Polish People who had just been liberated from foreign rule, would also help the Jews to build historical Jewish land promised by G-d to the Patriarchs and Prophets. The commissar responded with very friendly words, and stated that he would encourage Zionist activity in Drohitchin. He warmly greeted the Jews in honor of the historical act that took place in San Remo.
Tired and worn out, but with hearts filled with excitement and faith in the future o an independent and free Jewish People in Palestine, and uttering quiet prayers to G-d for his mercy, the crowd dispersed. Each person in his own way started spinning dreams and hopes of how to take advantage of this auspicious time. Some decided on making their own personal link to the Holy Land, while the majority naturally just look for ways to help others to settle in Palestine as pioneers and builders.
[photo:] German commander in Drohitchin (in Yaakov Polig's house), where Shmuel Fishman wanted to get a permit to celebrate the Balfour Declaration. The photo was taken in 1917.
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