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[Page 75]

My meetings with Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz

by Dr. Yakov Kostrinski

Translated by Sara Mages

I remember this name since the dawn of my youth because it's associated with the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Dr. Chazanowitz conceived the idea of establishing the library when he was a doctor in Bialystok. He also placed the library's foundations - by collecting books from generous donors and by posting advertisements in newspapers throughout the Diaspora in which he called for the donation of books and money for the National Library. These books constituted the first layers of the National Library in Jerusalem. And thus, “Dr. Chazanowitz” became a synonym with the “National Library.”

I was released from the Russian Army after the October Revolution. When I returned to my family in Ekaterinoslav I learned that this wonderful man was in Ekaterinoslav and decided to meet him in person. Therefore, I was happy when my friend Moshe Risin z”l, who was the moving spirit of the branch of “Tzeirei Zion” in Ekaterinoslav, asked me to visit Dr. Chazanowitz who was in a difficult financial and spiritual distress. I was asked to thank him, on behalf of the Jewish public in general and “Tzeirei Zion” in particular, for his eternal project and give him a monetary donation that will ease his situation during the days of shortage and famine of the 1920th. To my great sorrow, this meeting caused me bitter disappointment which remains in my heart to this day. Since then, I, and many of my colleagues, went through years of great physical and spiritual sufferings. Those were years of feverish clandestine work for the party and studies at the High Institute for Agriculture in Kharkiv. Because of my “bourgeois origin,” I had to support myself and pay tuition. After many arrests in Kharkiv's prison and other prisons - I was expelled to the land of exile. It was a difficult period of great emotional stress. Between the arrests I became ill with severe typhus which sapped my strength and my memory, and thus, many events and very important facts have been forgotten from my heart. However, I will never forget the amazing impression that Dr. Chazanowitz had left on me when I visited him at the Jewish community nursing home in Ekaterinoslav. Before me stood a helpless old man, with fading eyes and a sad smile on his pale face, not the lofty energetic man that I've seen in my imagination. He lay in one of the beds in a large dim room. I introduced myself after I managed overcome my shock and confusion when I saw the visionary man in such a desperate condition. Suddenly, his face lit up, and with shaking hands and sparkling tears in his eyes he shook my outreached hand.

A few days later I “met” Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz again. I was asked by “Tzeirei Zion” to eulogize the great man in the public funeral as his coffin stood in the great square next to the Choral Synagogue. I gave a short tribute in Hebrew for the visionary man, who had built the National Library in Jerusalem, despite the fact that the people of Yevsektsii [the Jewish sections of the Communist Party] were among those present.

Many years have passed. I managed to immigrate to Israel from my place of exile in the Kostanay Province, Kyrgyzstan. There, I was able, despite the vigorous opposition of the local GPU, to grab a government job as the region's agronomist. One day, I was approached by my good friend, Baruch Shochtman z”l, who was one of the editors of the periodical “Kiryat Sefer.” He asked me, on behalf of the National Library in Jerusalem, to place a tombstone on the grave of Dr. Chazanowitz in the Jewish cemetery in Ekaterinoslav as sign of appreciation from the management of the library to its founder.

I agreed to do so without hesitation despite the difficulties and the dangers that were involved with the matter in the conditions of the Soviet Union. I immediately contacted my brother-in-law, Avraham-Leib Friedman z”l, the husband of my oldest sister Chaya-Leibe z”l. Both, along with the Hebrew teacher Brohodsky z”l, were members of the Zionist movement in Ekaterinoslav during the period of Ussishkin. After many difficulties and risks, my brother-in-law Friedman, who was one of the Zionists who were arrested on 2 September 1924 - the night of the general arrest of Zionists across Russia, managed not only to place a tombstone on the grave of Dr. Chazanowitz, but also to photograph it and send the picture to the management of the National Library in Jerusalem.


[Page 76]

The JOINT in Yekaterinoslav (1921-1924)

by Shlomo Tesslitzki

Translated by Sara Mages

At the end of 1921, after the city has suffered during the revolution years and change of regime, came the great famine which included Russia, the southern part of Ukraine and the Volga regions. The hunger grew stronger over the winter, and often the bodies of those who died of starvation were scattered in the city's streets.

Also the Jews, the residents of Yekaterinoslav, were victims of this great famine. At that time, a special committee was organized to help them. The few public activists who participated in it were: Yisrael Motzkin (brother of Leo Motzkin, chairman of the “Board of Deputies in Europe”), the former “community rabbi” M. E. Broshtein, Dr. S. Levin, the lawyer A. Brozowsky, and others. On behalf of the youth: Z. Yofit and S.Taslitsky. The committee has made every effort to enlist local resources and later worked, in full cooperation, with foreign institutions: the “JOINT” and the “Ukrainian Jewish Committee” in London.

At the end of 1921, the American organization “ARA” [American Relief Administration] started to operate in Russia. The organization distributed food parcels to those whose relatives paid for them abroad. “ARA” also distributed food to various social organizations. The food parcels included: white flour, sugar, yellow cheese, lard, olive oil, cocoa powder and more. The “JOINT” started to operate at the beginning of 1922, and its license was granted under the condition that it wouldn't discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. Dr. B. Chanis was appointed as the representative of the “JOINT” in the city and the environment.

Dr. B. Chanis opened a large warehouse in the city center. It contained various food items and also other necessities like undergarments, clothes, bedding and more. All these goods were brought from abroad by the “JOINT” which started to distribute them to various social institutions, Jewish and non-Jewish. Individuals received food and clothing by the recommendation of institutions or personalities. In addition, communal kitchens were opened in several locations and the needy received a free hot meal. The Jews received kosher food.

At the same time, the “JOINT” started to rehabilitate the Jewish community aid institutions. The first was the big Jewish Hospital on Philosophskaya Street which contained 140 beds. It was built on a large area and had 12 separate pavilions. There was also a two-story building which housed the administrative offices, a pharmacy, laboratories and more. Everything was abandoned and some of the buildings were destroyed. Windows, doors, and plumbing parts were missing, the tin roof was removed, and the wood floor was used for firewood.

The management of the “JOINT” assigned me the task to rehabilitate the hospital. We got the building materials from the local authorities for a fee, and the work was conducted without any interference on their part. After the rehabilitation work was completed, the “JOINT” brought all the necessary equipment for the hospital from America: beds, bedding, medication, laboratory equipment, and more. Doctors, nurses and the required staff were invited. The hospital, which was called at that time “The Municipal Hospital No. 2,” started to operate.

The community's “soup kitchen” was rehabilitated at the same time. It turned into a center which contained: a restaurant for the poor, the offices of “Chevrah Kadisha,” and part of the community council offices.

The orphanages and the Jewish kindergartens were also supported by the “JOINT.” The Jewish bathhouse was also rebuilt. In addition, the cooperative “Makolet” [grocery], whose duty was to supply food to its members, was established with the help of the “JOINT.” The “Makolet” store was located in the city center.

These institutions existed for a short period of time. In 1924 they were transferred to the hands of the local government and Dr. B. Chanis was removed from his activities. He was given permission to open a well-equipped private clinic for venereal diseases which were common in Russia at that time. Also this clinic wasn't in his hands for a long period. It was transferred to the authorities and Dr. B. Chanis was arrested and expelled to Siberia.

The end of all this public activity came on the night of September 2, 1924, with the mass arrests of the Zionists across Russia. About 40 people were arrested at that time in Yekaterinoslav - rabbis, communal workers, and members of the Zionist parties. After an interrogation at the GPU, some of them were released and others were required to denounce the Zionist movement in the press. Another group was sentenced to prison and deportation to Siberia, and for some, the deportation was replaced with immigration to Israel.


[Page 77]

At the beginning of the road[1]

by Avraham Millstein

Translated by Sara Mages

 

Tu B'Shevat

The virtues of loyalty, courage and devotion to Zionism that the adults excelled in, were also the attributes of the small children, the members of the young class.

At times, they were required to do more than the adults because not all the parents allowed their children to join the movement and participate in the activities - sometimes because of the cold weather, out of concern that it would interfere with their studies, and also out of fear of the authorities. There were cases when parents were harassed by the GPU because of their children. The children had to stand a double test - to fulfill the Scout's decree of honoring their parents and obey the movement's discipline.

The parents were wrong regarding the education. Most of the scouts were good students and stood the test. Along with maintaining caution, which was imposed on them by the conditions of the underground, they knew how to fill the tasks that were imposed on them, like: arrival at the precise time to the meetings, even to distant places, active participation in the unit's activities, and the recruitment of new members.

There was a large number of scouts in the troop who knew Hebrew, most of them students of “Tarbut” school. “Plugat Nesher,” which started its activities in Hebrew, was composed of them. The games, conversations and diary were conducted in Hebrew. Also the troop's newspaper was partially written in Hebrew.

The day of 15 Shevat 5683 (1924) got closer, and it was decided to celebrate it at the bosom of nature not within the walls of a closed room.

The “kesher” [contact] was given to the scouts by “Sharsheret” [chain] close to the day of the meeting (for conspiracy reasons). The location, which was known by the name Balki, was out of town. It was an area of deep and winding ravines which were created by floods and the erosion of the clay soil. These ravines have been known as hiding places for gangs of criminals and thieves. The police visited the area even during the days of the Czar. However; there were beautiful corners in the area which excited the children's imagination, and on a good summer day it was possible to set up a scout's camp which was hidden from the eyes of the curious.

The “Tu B'Shevat” meeting was held there for lack of another place. The winter was intense and heavy snow covered everything. The frost intensified close to the day of the meeting, and schools were closed for a few days. There was a justified fear that scouts, ages 12-14, will not come to the “Tu B'Shevat” celebration because of the intensity of the cold.

The schools were also closed on that day. At an early hour of the morning, scouts appeared from different directions with their meager equipment to the meeting place. They stuck a flag, cleared the snow from the area, and started a fire. And lo and behold, everyone came. Even the little boys and girls weren't missing. The struggle with their parents wasn't easy. Some came against their parents' wishes and a few even snuck out of the house. Their guide received them with affection and admiration. He knew that he would have to accompany several of them home and calm the fathers' anger.

The activity was conducted according to the program - roll-call, gymnastics, singing, eating, reading from a newspaper, and a conversation around the campfire.

The snow glistened around, everything was white and cold. About twenty boys and girls sat around the campfire and their faces were flushed from the cold and the warmth. With an expression of joy they listened to their guide's story about “Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot” [“New Year for the Trees”], about the content of this nature holiday and how children celebrate this holiday in Israel. When their guide was at their age he heard this story from the teacher, S. S. Kantorowicz, the author of grammar books.

The children were like daydreamers when they heard about a land saturated with sun, about growth and flowering during the cold days, green meadows, blooming almond trees,

[Page 78]

and about school children who leave with their seedlings to enrich the homeland with greenery.

The children listened, as if they were gripped by a green dream, to the legend about “Tu B'Shevat” in a winter there, far far away.

The wind increased and raged, and swirled the snow around. A scout, who was on duty, forced himself to break away from the group. He moved away from them to explore the surroundings and replace the scout who was on the lookout.

Sleighs hurried on the road leading to the villages. Behold, what is it? The scout who stood on guard noticed something green moving fast inside the white background. A fast sleigh passed and moved away. Green spots stood out on the collars and sleeves of the passengers inside it - the insignia of rank of the special unit of the GPU…

The party didn't stop

 

Tarbut

The Zionist movement expanded its ranks despite the difficulties of working underground. The ties with the movement's centers in Kharkiv and Moscow tightened. From time to time we received news of what is happening in Israel. In those days there were still possibilities to immigrate illegally and even legally.

In its extensive underground work, “Tarbut” society fulfilled an important role for deepening the awareness to Zionism and maintaining the affinity to Judaism. It organized a network of classes for the study of the language and the Hebrew literature. Children, youth and adults, beginners and advanced, engaged in the study of the Hebrew language. About one hundred students studied Hebrew in classes apart from those who studied it in private lessons. In addition, a seminar was established to train young people to teach in Hebrew.

Many showed courage and dedication in their work for the Hebrew language. Seven teachers risked themselves every day. Like them, also the students and the apartment owners who gave a place to the students. A lot of efforts were invested in the teaching of the Hebrew language by the organizers and the principals. They recruited students for the classes, gave them teachers and obtained funds to support the project.

The students of the Hebrew classes served as a valuable source from which the Zionist youth movements drew most of their members.

From time to time, talks and lectures on various topics, celebrations and memorial days were held in addition to the study of the Hebrew language. The mobile “library” provided books to read.

The loyal activists of “Tarbut” society deserve a special and more comprehensive recognition. I remember with admiration those who lent a hand and carried the burden of the activities. In addition to the teachers we should also mention Hadassah-Rachel Birman who helped with all the activities, and the family of Avraham Kostovitzky who gave their apartment for lessons and meetings even though the communists lived in their yard. In days of intense cold, when the students arrived to the apartment half frozen and shivering from the cold, Kostovitzky removed the children's shoes and rubbed their little feet to warm them up.

The Hebrew activities and the preservation of the Jewish culture were mostly done by “Tzeirei Zion.” The association used all its sources for the Hebrew education of children and youth. In those years, the Komsomol expanded its conversion operation and stole masses of young Jews from Judaism. Therefore, it was very important to instill the Hebrew language to the Jewish children and save them from the Komsomol's teeth.

The blessed activity of “Tarbut” association in Ekaterinoslav came to an end with the mass arrests of the Zionists and the activists of “Tarbut” in 1920-1925.


Footnote

  1. From the book “Naftule Dor,” published by the association of “Tzeirei Zion.Return

 

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