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Chapter 4:

In the Thicket of Redemption

 

[Pages 142-147]

Each Generation and Its Zionists

By Moni

The Lanowitz community was concerned with “Parnoseh” [= The ability to support a family] to an extent that it eclipsed to spiritual life. “Parnoseh” was the criterion by which the seriousness of a young man proposing marriage was measured. It was also the criterion applied to our generation. When leaders of the community spoke about important matters they would remark, “Where do you find young men in this generation that are willing to submerge their honor, and seek to make a living in agriculture? Today, there are none. Instead they want to reform the world or express other fantasies.”

With this prevalent attitude, Zionism was characterized as a quasi-serious idea. Zionists were considered to be persons who are not serious, or those collecting for Zionist causes.

The community found spiritual uplifting in Hasidism, something above “Parnoseh”. In each past generation, a Hasidic Rabbi found a way to fortify Judaism (against assimilation) on the premise that “We have to wait a little longer for the Redeemer to arrive.”

The community saw in Zionism a road to a different future that had no spiritual content as compared to that offered by their Hasidic Rabbi.

To be a Zionist in Lanowitz meant to take risk in two respects; being considered an unrealistic person and one unwilling to wait for the Redeemer.

One could not be a Zionist in our town unless one had a strong personality, income, and spiritual vitality. His personality had to be strong enough that no one would dare accuse him of being wedded to a silly idea. As a result, the town's Zionist activists were also community leaders.

Among the first were Joseph Warach and Leibish Orbuch. Both emigrated to the U.S., but Joseph Warach continued his activity on behalf of Israel from the first day of his arrival in America. His 48 years there have been dedicated to raise money for the Zionist organization which he continues to do today. He also helped us in creating a Hebrew Free loan society and in the raising of funds for this Yizkor Book.

The next generation included Yudil Buchstein and Eliezer Katz. Yudil Buchstein would leave his store, dress up in his holiday clothes, and, as chairman of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), solicit donations for the organization. He did so without demanding any recognition for his effort. His belief in the importance of this task was unshakable. For us young men he was an example of a respected father that understands the spirit of our generation. He found his satisfaction in his support of the younger generation.

Eliezer Katz loved people. He was fastidious about his outer and inner cleanliness. He added his Zionist activity to his other tasks. His activism demonstrated that Zionism was not restricted to a particular age group. He was elderly, yet as a wholesale trader he saw in Zionism a mission whose time has come, hence should not be ignored.

Zionism reached its peak influence in Lanowitz when Peisy Buchstein and his brother-in-law, Shlomo Berman became active in the community. Peisy was a quiet person, solid in his convictions regardless of public opinion. As the only child of a well-to-do father, who also had important social standing, PEISY devoted his talents to community work and the promotion of Zionism. Peisy spoke a perfect Polish, providing him a respected standing within the Polish community. He was also knowledgeable at public accounting. Having these two attributes, Peisy was the logical candidate to represent the Jewish community in its dealings with the GEMINA, the local administration whose officials were exclusively Polish. On the strength of his personality he became the conscience of the local administration. Local officials responded too his requests, in appreciation for the accounting and organizational advise he gave them. Town councilors listened to his advice when addressing local problems. When Peisy became identified as a Zionist, those who opposed it questioned their own judgment in view of his strong convictions. His conception of Zionism was less pro-active then the conception of those who wanted to become pioneers in Palestine, nor did he deny the importance of the Diaspora. However, his support of Zionism sustained the idea locally, providing it continuity. Peisy also established the first local cooperative saving and loan society, one that was certified and audited by a government agency. This cooperative institution was viewed over the older community charity organizations.

Shlomo Berman was a talented public speaker. In his speeches he would raise the imagination of his listeners offering them faith in matters above their concerns for daily bread.

The community loved him despite some of his financial failures, which also caused losses to others. He was always forgiven. Tall, with thick black hair, he was regarded like a prince despite his crazy ideas.

Shlomo was not an official of any Zionist organization, but nonetheless often their mover and shaker.

He had new ideas of how to dramatize the Zionist cause, and a feel for what the public will respond to. He pulled the Zionist issue out of its corner, and made it a central, subject for speeches from the synagogue pulpit. In his speeches, he sketched a vision of the future that lifted the spirits of his listeners. He was also the one to arrange JNF dinners at the Polish community center, providing the center with extra income.

Shlomo used his talent as a dramatist to improve local theatrical productions to give them a professional quality.

We could not ascribe to Shlomo any concrete achievements on behalf of the Zionist cause, yet, indirectly, he opened the hearts of the local public to accept wider horizons, and wider life choices.

It is fair to say that with Shlomo, Lanovitz became open to new ideas. However, he did provide leadership for new ideas. The expectation people had that he would change attitudes remained unfulfilled.

The tremor in the community he initiated, due to his talents as a public speaker, were exploited by those who followed him. With their personal example these followers inspired others to become pioneers. Shlomo's contribution was remembered long after his star faded.

The next set of activist were Yizhak Zingel and Yizhak Buchstein. The first was a person that showed the way to attract others to the idea of “building the land (Palestine)”. The second person provided the wherewithal that facilitated Zingel's social activity. The two had opposite talents, thus complementing each others strengths.

Yizhak Zingel was all movement, action and initiative. He reorganized the Zionist funds so that fund raising occurred on a regular basis. Due to his efforts the small Hebrew library was enlarged significantly, as was the number of readers. He dared to rent halls for Zionist functions without knowing where the rent payment will come from. Lanowitz became a beehive of social and cultural activities. At Zingel's initiative, emissaries from Israel were invited to speak to local congregants, explaining both the difficulties and rewards awaiting them in the land of their dreams. His great achievement was the founding of the “Hehaluts” branch [=pioneers], so that Zionism now meant preparing for immigration to Palestine.

Yizhak Buchstein accompanied Zingel in all his Zionist activities. He was the type of person that carried out his tasks quietly and thoroughly, knowing his own limitations. While supporting two families, his and his mother, he was limited in the initiatives he could undertake. His advice did, however, prevent many activities from failing; that was his contribution.

When the idea of pioneering took root, the two parted ways. Zingel had to develop the Hehaluts branch with the help of others. These pioneers eschewed the old Zionism of words. Instead they wanted to prepare themselves to immigrate personally.

This period, when the Hehaluts movement got started was also a period when the old activists moved over to stand in their shadow. Instead, a new generation of activist arose lead by Israel Glazer and Yizhak Kirshon (who were the first to immigrate to Palestine).

Their rise meant that former fund raisers became secondary players to the pioneers. They prayed for the pioneer's success and marveled at their conversion to productive and agricultural workers.

This article will be truncated so as not to duplicate other articles on the activities of Hehaluts Hatsair [=young pioneers]. However, we need to make an observation.

The founding of the young pioneers movement caused a real revolution in our town. The youths started to direct their thinking and planning towards immigration to Palestine, rejecting the idea of staying in the Diaspora. Old Zionism became the activity of the town's elderly, and an empty shell. The youths now focused on the idea of immigration and how to prepare for it. The leaders of the young pioneers defined a clear goal and ways to reach it. The Town's youths were redeemed from old thinking, preferring to reject the Diaspora in favor of immigration. They hoped to be able to bring along the rest of the family at a later time to a secure place where sudden turmoil is avoided.

Unfortunately, the British mandatory immigration restrictions precluded most of them from reaching Palestine, thus most of them perished in the Holocaust.


[Pages 148-153]

First Hehaluts Branch In Lanowitz

By Israel Glazer

I was 16 at the time, a year or two after completion of the customary schooling in Lanowitz. Adulthood depressed me. My energies called for something to do. My uncle, Asher Brilliant, offered me a job in his wholesale store selling food and fuel. I was happy to accept his offer. I felt relieved being busy and useful during the day hours. In the evenings and on Saturday, when a person thinks about his future, I felt certain emptiness; the future did not look bright. I realized that this image of the future is not good for me or for my friends who were even less occupied with work than I was. We could not free ourselves from thinking about our local future. We realized that it was not the future we desired, yet we also realized that local conditions and the structure of our community were unlikely to change.

It was then that the idea of immigration to Palestine became an alternative.

The traditional education of our youths focused exclusively on relations between people and ones relation to his community. It created a youth that was well equipped to deal with internal community problems, but ill-equipped to fight for broader job opportunities. This type of upbringing influenced our thinking. We discussed and argued among ourselves the place Judaism plays in our lives in the diaspora. We also discussed the future of diaspora Jewry. The problems we saw within our bleak future lead us to the larger question: “How long will generations of Jews continue the sad pattern of trusting their luck to make a living under the same uncertain conditions they live under presently?”

Immigrating to Palestine was not considered an immediate solution to our perceived future problem. Instead, it was viewed as an alternative for the distant future. It was regarded as a solution that bypasses present problems, aiming to payoff in the future. Immigration to Palestine was not only seen as a solution for us; it was a solution for all diaspora Jews.

The annual memorial lecture commemorating Dr. Herzl, which commenced in 1921, added to the recognition of Israel as a viable alternative for the future. As such, the annual lectures in our synagogue were unimpressive. The speakers repeated the same visionary stories and the legacy he left to us, without any intention to carry out his vision. Nonetheless these lectures exerted a powerful pull on our thinking. We came out of this lecture resolved to carry out his dream. We asked ourselves: “How do we start?” We started by founding an undefined organization that we named “Hashomer Hatsa'ir.” The germ for this idea came from Yoskeh Shapira, and from me, the younger of us two. Zeidel Goldman (now in Argentina), Meir Rosenthal, Hannah Mahler, Devora & Friel Spieler, Gitel Glinik, the Brimmer sisters, Mordechai Kofets, David Gurwich, Hershka Weiss, Avram Weizman-Folker, and Cherna Wohl (now in Argentina) joined us.

The tie that bound us together was our teacher, Raphael Sefarim, one who taught us to reject life in the diaspora. He, himself, made his own secret plans to immigrate to Palestine. He implored us not to sink roots locally.

Within the Hashomer Hatsa'ir organization, we created a soccer team with the intention of developing our bodies, and preparing ourselves for the physical work we anticipated in Palestine.

In 1923, we contacted the Hehaluts central committee. The latter sent us guidelines, bulletins, and instructions on how to transfer money collected for the “Israel Workers National Fund” (IWNF). The objective of this fund was to solve the unemployment problems in Palestine by creating new job opportunities for Jewish workers.

In discussions with Jewish National Fund” (JNF) activists, we made the point that development of Jewish settlements in Palestine is probably more dependent on IWNF funds than on JNF funds.

Through our various activities, we learned to work together as a group, one that has an important future objective. Our town's affairs became of secondary importance to us. At this juncture (the start of Hehaluts activities) our Hashomer Hatsa'ir function, as well as soccer lost their significance.

Our main aim turned instead to preparation for implementation of our Zionist idea: Immigration to Palestine. On our own initiative, we created a work group that sought jobs in town. We accepted all manner of jobs, from felling trees to cleaning yards. We refused no task that would get us accustomed to physical labor. Above all, we wanted to demonstrate our willingness to change our personal lifestyle to prepare ourselves for a great future – immigration to Palestine.

We were regarded as dreamers in the eyes of the town's burghers. They wondered how their sons and daughters could forsake a mercantile future for a life of physical labor. Was this a sensible way to earn a living? Our parents regarded us as having lost our way.

In 1924, we decided to improve our physical training by seeking agricultural work. Instead of accepting any job, we sought work in the fields and villages. In the first 2 years, the community and its youths wondered whether we were realistic. However, when we went to work in agriculture, our community members became interested in us and helped us, especially the town's youths. We became a center of their attention. They were eager to be seen as supporting us publicly. It appeared that Zionism meant little to our youths unless it was associated with working the land.

After some time, we decided to become independent farmers. We leased land from Mr. Ladiniuk, plowed it, and seeded it with sugar beets. We purchased three horses that we used for plowing. When this task was completed, we used the horses to transport goods as wagoneers. The latter was our original idea. Dealing with horses, fodder and harnesses seemed in our imagination to be part of the redemption process. We decided to serve the Kremenec-Lanowitz route as wagoneers. We contacted local retailers who needed to have goods delivered from the regional distribution centers in Kremenec. We also transported people. This competition angered the local coachmen and wagoneers, whose business suffered. Their income was meager enough. A fight developed between them and us. Michael Itzik Shmueles cut our horse harnesses at night and threatened us in other ways. We knew his violent nature and took his threat seriously. We discussed the above problem in an internal stormy meeting without any outside pressure. We concluded that we must stop our transport business. The local coachmen and wagoneers were unaware of our decision. They were still angry at us. For some reason, they declined to contact us to seek a solution. We, however, decided to terminate our wagoneer work so as not to compete with our fellow Jewish workers.

We viewed our fellow wagoneers as the only group in our community belonging to the working class; they were, in our eyes, like the salt of the earth. They, unlike most members of our community, earned their living doing physical work. We did not want to hurt the proletariat element of our community. This bit of Marxism, in our attitude, precluded us from becoming a factor that depresses wage levels, or breaks strikes. We informed our fellow coachmen and wagoneers that we were their allies, and will no longer compete with them. We abandoned wagoneering and settled on working solely in agriculture.

Our work became the talk of the town. We transported our sugar beets to Preminger's weighing station for delivery. Preminger was the representative of the sugar company located in Khodorov. We lined up together with the Gentile wagoneers who transported the sugar beets raised on land leased by Jews, but not worked by them. Their traditional blessing over vegetables as “The Fruit of the Earth” referred not to the results of their labor, but, instead, to the profit made in raising this crop. We, on the other hand, transported the produce of our own labor and sweat, thereby risking our standing in our community.

Our evenings were spent discussing the day's events, the waiting in line to unload and the women we met. Our members were proud of their accomplishments – raising agricultural products that we harvested and sold on the market. The proceeds more than covered our expenses. Our accomplishment was an example for the town's youths, an example worth copying. More of them joined our group, especially those older than us. These new members were the town's leaders of yesterday, who, in the past set the tone for the youths of the community. Now, having been eclipsed by our achievements, they endeavored to join our efforts.

The leaders of those who joined us at this juncture were Y. Buchstein, Sh. Glinik, Sh. Reichman and Yizhak Kirshon. The person that stood out among them in his enthusiasm was Y. Zingel.

We knew him as a progressive and active leader who helped our youths previously to search for new solutions to their perceived problems. He introduced them to secular literature and education. He established a large library in town, enabling its youths to become familiar with new ideas and exposing them to the thinking of Gentiles and Jews alike.

This group of late joiners experienced a two-fold social problem. They became a second fiddle in the community's life. The also had to accept the fact that the beautiful girls their age no longer sought them out. Dressed in overalls, with blistered hands, they no longer belonged to the town's intelligentsia. They were, however, able to cope with those problems and mixed well with the early members of our group. With their public support of our activities, our group became the center of interest of the community's youths. Immigration of their young adults to Palestine became an acceptable alternative in the eyes of the town's families, even among the more sophisticated ones.

The enlarged Hehaluts group held a meeting at which a new executive committee was elected and its functions defined. Y. Zingel was elected Chairman, and I was elected secretary of the organization. Members of our organization were also elected to the library committee in a democratic election. I viewed these two elections as one of our more important accomplishments.

At the end of 1924, Pinhas Rashish, an emissary from Palestine and member of the Central Committee of the General Hehaluts organization visited our town. We spent an entire evening with him, eager to hear his message.

Rashish was favorably impressed with our organization's accomplishments. I do not know exactly why. It may have been the fact that we had our own meeting hall and that the hall was suitably decorated with pictures of the new Palestine. He may also have been impressed with the detailed accounting of our fund-raising on behalf of the Israeli Workers National Fund and with our agricultural training. Based on his observation, Rashish apparently concluded that our organization was alert to current events and serious in its desire to immigrate. When we parted in the early morning hours, Rashish promised to provide us with 3 immigration certificates for our youths.

This was a large initial allocation for our small branch, but it was also small in comparison with our needs. Many of us wanted to immigrate, and a large portion of our group had completed suitable agricultural training.

Rashish left, and we were delighted with his promise. As news of his commitment spread, our troubles started.

Our executive committee dealt with the selection of candidates during several difficult meetings. We were faced with many needs and so few means to satisfy them. Some members complained bitterly about our selection process. A particular complaint was voiced by Zina and Feige, the Kuziles sisters. They joined our group as individuals, separating themselves from their former friends. The conditions in their home would have justified assigning them priority, though their economic condition was not an issue. Their selection would have turned the tables on who is important in our town.

What to do? We spent many hours at meetings to arrive at a fair selection. In the end, 3 candidates were selected: Y. Kirshon, M. Rosenthal and the author of this article. We immigrated the same year (1925), being the first to arrive from Lanowitz as a group. Feirel Yishfa actually preceded us; however, she left our town by chance, without announcing her intention to immigrate. We were the first pioneers sent by our town to settle in Palestine. The parting celebration turned into a significant event, comparable to a wedding between a lost nation and its motherland, a party that is difficult to describe.

The going-away party took place in the home of the young Rabbi from Horokhov. Our community leaders and its Zionist activists (those who formerly mocked us and handicapped us) came to the Rabbi's house in the early evening hours. Many cried. Parents were overwhelmed by the thought of their son leaving for a country that does not exist. We listened to fiery speeches and our hearts pounded in the excitement. Local women prepared cakes and others brought drinks to celebrate this momentous occasion. The event resembled a wedding party whose principals were the Hehaluts members. The latter were at a loss as to how to respond to the honors bestowed on them. The community members in attendance, accustomed to celebrating the visit of a Hasidic Rabbi, saw to it that this event would be remembered for years to come.

In the end, we parted with hugs and kisses. Women cried and the men said, “They want to leave? Let them leave.” The rest of the community members, resolved to make the best of local conditions, returned to their homes.

On May 3, 1925, Polish Independence day, we left Lanowitz. We three walked in the middle of the street that passed below the houses facing it. Our parents and relatives walked behind us. As we passed their houses, its residents waved to us. Some were so moved that they too came down to join the procession to the railroad station.

We parted from those who came along. We did not realize that this would also turn into our final parting.


[Pages 154-156]

Hehaluts Hatza'ir in Lanowitz

by Zvi Brimmer

Lanowitz was a dynamic town.  While it was faithful to its traditional customs, its residents yearned for changes.  I remember our townsmen as persons who conducted their business calmly and worked quietly, yet would erupt during occasional arguments in their spare time.  There were no altercations in our synagogue as repeatedly happened in other towns.  Yet, the synagogue was the site of frequent heated arguments between one faction and its opposite side, dealing with their attitude towards Zionism and immigration to Palestine.

In our days, the disputes concerning the choice of a new Rabbi and the proper level of orthodoxy had subsided.  Opinions in town differed primarily concerning nuances in interpreting Dr. Herzl's legacy of how to implement his ideas.

The town's youths, exposed to the atmosphere of frequent disputes, typically adopted their parent's position on the above subject.  They added to their views the element of implementation, as if to say: “You can think one way or another about Zionism, but you are not free from implementing its consequences.  You must plan to immigrate to Palestine.”

The local “Tarbut” school provided its students knowledge of the Hebrew language and culture.  It also functioned as an educational institution that directed our thoughts towards the implementation of Zionism.  Our youths came to view pioneering as the solution to the problems of our generation, a view that differed markedly from the view of the adult members of our community.  Enrollment in the “Tarbut” school lead naturally to consider pioneering.

The youths, who organized the various Zionist groups, reached their peak success with the founding of “Hehaluts Hatsa'ir”.  Within this organization we crystallized our thinking in discussions about the problems of Palestine and our role in promoting Zionism.  As time passed, Hehaluts Hatsa'ir became the address to which adult Zionist activists turned to with requests for help.

We were the ones that went from house to house to empty “Jewish National Fund” boxes.  When we found an empty box, we dared to explain to the donor their elementary duty to donate, and why.  We also collected for “Keren Hayesod” (=Infrastructure Fund) and carried out other tasks requested of us by Zionist activists.  Our branch became the body that carried out the detailed Zionist activities.

We participated in the preparation of local shows, recognizing the income they provided to support local Zionist activities.  Who cannot remember the dirty work of cleaning the Kuziel horse barn, installing a stage in it and arranging seating places for the local show?  This volunteer work created a spirit of teamwork among us that made our lives more pleasant; however, the tasks themselves were often difficult causing occasional bitterness.  We basically served as attendants to the adult actors, freeing them from accessory tasks.  On the day of the performance, we stood at the hall entrance collecting tickets and preventing freeloaders from sneaking into the hall; a task that required steel nerves and risked a beating.  The day following the performance, we dismantled the stage and returned all the items that we borrowed from various homes.  We viewed these portage tasks as a means of promoting active Zionism.

During the late 20's and the 30's, the town's economy suffered an artificially created decline resulting from new anti-Semitic laws (passed by the Seym=Polish parliament).  As a result, some of the town's leading activists departed or reduced their level of involvement.  Members of our group took their place, raising the local Zionist profile that was temporarily neglected.

It was at this time that we inherited the custody of the large local library which was unused for several months.  We dusted off its books, rented a hall and created an attractive reading room.  It doubled as a lecture and social hall.  Members of the community responded to our restoration effort by using the library and attending scheduled lectures.  We won recognition as Zionist activists.

Our enthusiasm inspired senior community members who were discouraged as a result of deteriorating economic conditions.  They likened our enthusiasm to charcoals that warm up a house.  We actually used charcoals to heat the hall's furnace on cold winter evenings to take away the hall's chill. These cold winter nights deepened our feeling of despair, a feeling that changed to hope as we gathered in our warm clubhouse hall.

The clubhouse hall allowed us to renew the scheduling of outside speakers and preachers who came to town bringing news from our potential homeland (Palestine) to a bewildered community.  We invited members of the Hehaluts central committee to town, and arranged for them to speak in an attractive hall to keep the subject of Zionism focused in the minds of community members.

The Zionist youths who followed us (after we immigrated) continued this promotional effort, a fact that left a deep impression on me.  We youngsters understood what had to be done culturally to minimize the social boredom that affected our parent's lives.

We matured as a result of these efforts.  Our organization was transformed into a Hehaluts branch.  Children of yesterday became adults who strove to immigrate to Palestine.  A war started between parents and children who demanded permission to immigrate.  Our dear parents, who saw us mature, expected us to support them both as household contributors and, later, in their old age.  They were thus loath to yield to our demand in spite of their realization that pioneering was the wave of the future for them and for their adult children.  They were too weak and too discouraged to accept this reality.  The resulting domestic friction was a difficult test for both parents and their children.

It was in this period that our group decided to make the “plan to immigrate” a precondition for remaining a group member.  Whoever declined had to leave the group.  It was heartbreaking to see dear friends part ways.  Years of friendship were torn asunder.  We were all drawn into emotional difficulties that cannot be described.  However, a significant change occurred in our community; immigration to Palestine became a singular topic that affected everyone.  It was a topic discussed in homes at mealtime, and among congregants in the synagogue.  The community was faced with a fateful decision.  There were days when the opinion of those who opposed permitting youngsters to immigrate prevailed and we were almost ex-communicated.  However, we refused to give up.  On the contrary, as more of the parents opposed us, we took steps that were novel to our town.  In meetings among us, we discussed ways and means of dealing with our parents; how to explain to parents our dilemma.  We promised financial and moral support to whoever was forced to leave one's parents without their permission to join a Hakhshara (=agricultural training).  The slogan “Immigration” became our daily byword.

The author of this article remembers his and Bluma Miller's difficulties with their respective parents who followed them out of town in an effort to return their children from these training centers.  I can recall instances of escape through a window at night and of transfer of clothing to friends all in an effort to escape from home and reach a training center.

In the end, we organized a Hakhshara center in our town.  Our purpose was twofold: it was to demonstrate to our parents that parents of youngsters from other towns do allow their children to train in Lanowitz, away from the parental table; also to demonstrate that a Hakhshara center is not a licentious place, nor does it entail bone-breaking work.  By having our training center located in Lanowitz, we wanted to compel our parents to allow their sons and daughters to train locally if they are loath to let them leave town.  Lanowitz was not an industrial town; establishment of a local training center was primarily based on the above-mentioned considerations.

The establishment of the local training center to prepare us for immigration to Palestine defined our conception of the meaning of Zionism.  It is possible to summarize: our above-mentioned conception of Zionism and our persistence in adopting this point of view was a new phenomenon in the lives of generations of our town.  It was also a new concept for the old Zionist activists.  Had many in our community adopted this viewpoint, our community would have been more content.

Unfortunately, few from our town immigrated to Palestine.  Those who survived perhaps survived due to the idea we planted in their minds.  While we feel satisfied with our past accomplishments, we know in our hearts that our success was indeed minor when compared to the destructive violence of the period that followed our departure.


[Pages 157-160]

My Pioneering Days in Lanowitz

By Sonia Shar (Shifman)

In the winter of 1933 I left for HAKHSHARAH (= Pioneering). The (Hehaluts) secretariat directed me to the Klosova group located in Lanowitz. I was familiar with Lanowitz, hence I was surprised that this town was chosen for pioneering work. I asked myself: “Where are its work places?” It turned out that the local Hehaluts branch members succeeded in persuading the central secretariat that the loading of grain at the local railroad station will provide sufficient work slots for the group's members. The group had yet to form. It was our task to get it organized. We had no funds. Our first problem was to find housing. Later we would look for job opportunities.

We arranged a meeting with other group members. I, Korakh Yosef, Zinamon Yosef, the three founders of Kibbutz Lanowitz posed the immediate question: “Where to sleep?” The local members solved this problem nicely. We came to realize that such problems have local solutions; that the Hakhsharah will succeed.

We were housed at the home of Shmuel & Leah Bachtel. They gave us one of their rooms gratis. We were surprised at their generosity for Shmuel was known as a BUNDIST. We lodged with them for one week free of charge.

Later, we were moved to the home of Michel Kovel , (the blacksmith). The two young men of our group occupied the rented room, whereas I slept gratis with Sisel and Edith (Edel), the blacksmith's lovely daughters. These were terrible days for me. The toilet was located in the barn behind the house. At night, when I had to use the toilet, I would meet Michel's crazy sister who sat regularly next to one of his cows.

Our first work assignments were the felling of trees and clothes washing. We realized that our group would fail unless it grew in numbers. We strove to increase our group so as to create a normal social environment. But, who will provide us work assignments?

Our first work assignments were the felling of trees and clothes washing. We realized that our group would fail unless it grew in numbers. We strove to increase our group so as to create a normal social environment. But, who will provide us work assignments?

It was Ladiniuk, an eccentric person who no one knew if he was Polish or Ukrainian, who became interested in our group as potential employees. He employed us in the planting of cabbage on his large farm, which he cultivated intensely. It appears that we did not disappoint him. He would move from one planter to the next advising each of us on the proper planting procedure to use. After the planting project was completed, he employed us at various tasks for several months.

The work was not easy. He had no water distribution network with which to water the plants, yet he believed in intensive cultivation employing water and manure. We were the ones to carry the water from the local well regularly. I was tasked to bring manure to the vegetable beds with a wheelbarrow. While he was a learned farmer, he declined to invest in the construction of a water network, employing our labor instead. We were the substitute for a sprinkler system and a manure spreader.

Zvi Brimmer joined us later. His joining our group left a deep impression on the local community. Here was a young man who moved out of his parent's home to join a group of adventurers and declare his intentions to change his lifestyle. His joining brought additional members to our group; Johnathan Rosenberg and Golda Todt from Kremenec, and Sandor Korin from Brestichitsky. With our enlarged group, we could now call meetings, hold dances and songfests. We developed into a functioning group.

We were only 7-8 members, yet the local Hehaluts members always came to our aid whenever we needed help. With their assistance, we fulfilled all jobs offered to us.

Aside from material assistance, the Lanowitz Hehaluts members lent us emotional support. Malka Brimmer taught me how to bake bread, so that we could supply our own needs and save money. One day a week I did not go out to work. Instead, I baked bread for our group. We enjoyed the taste of our own bread and the independence it symbolized. The parents of Zvi Brimmer viewed themselves as “wedded” to our group. They came over every evening to visit, be of help with various arrangements, and line up work assignments.

As the group grew in numbers, we moved to the Grawitz house in the new section of town. It was the time that the pioneer group that was living and working in Melinsky was liquidated. A portion of their members joined our group. Our group grew to 20 persons.

As I recall those days, it seems to me as if we were the local attraction for the Lanowitz Hehaluts members during their leisure time. Bluma Miller, Yitzhak Gluzman (Potsi), Yosef Buchstein and others spent most of their evenings with us.

I laundered clothes for locals. At first, I was hired as an assistant to the Gentile washerwoman. Later I was hired directly. I felt like a certified washerwoman. In reality, my employers wanted to save the added expense of the Gentile washerwoman. I remember an episode that occurred with my relative Yente, the wife of Eli Schneider. She gave me a big load of laundry to wash in the local river. It was the time of year when the snow had already melted and turned to mud. After I finished washing and rinsing the laundry, it gleamed in its whiteness. I placed the load on my back to return to her house. On my way back, I slipped on the mud, soiling the entire load. After that event, she no longer hired me. The same happened to me with Rivka, the wife of Moshe Kuziel.

Our men worked at felling trees, as assistants to teamsters, and as clerks and stockmen in local stores, especially in the metal stores. Their main occupation was the loading of grains onto freight cars. It was the work life they sought. Many of work assignments came from Moshe Gurvich and his sons, Benik and Azriel. We also worked at the lumber yard of Golda Bernstein. I don't remember days without work, thanks to the constant referral-help we got from the local Hehaluts members. They treated us with respect, as persons who regarded the implementation of the Zionist idea seriously. The local youths saw us as persons who succeeded in changing the status and values of others in the community. Their parents exhibited a more ambivalent attitude towards us: on one hand, they wished that their children would respect work as much as we did; on the other hand, they feared that their children will wander to a faraway place, where their experiment may not succeed, the British may not let them into Palestine and all their years of labor will have been for naught.

We were fortunate that our group did not include atheists, so that we all kept the Sabbath and Kashruth. This gained us the respect of the orthodox members of the local community.

Eight months after our arrival, a group of “Beitar” pioneers was founded locally (=revisionists, followers of Jabotinsky). The Revisionists noticed that due to our presence, the Zionist focus was on Hehaluts. They decided to employ the same strategy to gain a political advantage. The days of that pioneer group were numbered. However, while they were active, we experienced tension and competition in obtaining job assignments. After a short period, their group broke up and we continued in our work efforts, regaining the full sympathy of the community that we had in the past.

When I think back of my days in Lanowitz, I see a town and a community that had a strong Zionist orientation; one that was pragmatic in solving political problems. I do not understand why despite this positive local atmosphere so few of its youths left for Palestine. My heart bleeds for the dear friends that I left there, who perished.


[Page 161]

Beitar Hakhshara in Lanowitz

By Sarah Kitikisher
(Vishnivits – Jerusalem)

Lanovitz did not have a Beitar (= youth organization of the Revisionist party) branch. I do not know why our movement chose this town (Lanowitz) as a place to train pioneers. We were ordered to move to Lanowitz so we did. We arrived there on Hanukah holiday 1934. When I arrived I found 20 pioneers that preceded me. An apartment had been rented for us in the meantime. Those who preceded me had no lodging for awhile.

We lived in the house of David and Feige Mikhlis in the center of town, where we were for awhile a subject of curiosity to the town's folks. The community looked upon us as nice Jewish youngsters that needed “Nebekh” (=unfortunately) to do manual labor. After awhile, the community realized that we worked not only to support ourselves; that work was part of a pioneer's vision. With this attitude change, we gained respect, even envy.

We (women) worked as housemaids in the homes of Bina Buchstein, Berchik, Yosef Baratz, Hayim-Nathan Gitelman, Shlomo Berman, and others. I worked as a saleslady in Kurchak's store. The men worked at felling trees.

We were fortunate to encounter a warm-hearted Jew, Moshe Kopitz father to 11 children, who provided us work in his fields. Sometimes, he created jobs for us, to assure steady work for us and food on the table.

The Lanowitz youths divided their sympathy between the two Hakhshara groups, ours and Hehaluts. On certain evenings, they arranged common discussion and singing sessions. As a result, the political animosity between the two groups fell markedly.

I recall Zoniah Rabin, a good looking and kind young man, whose personality rose above party differences. While a Hehaluts activist, he felt obligated to visit us regularly and listen to our needs. He tried to minimize our public loneliness that might result from those who shunned us because they were politically against us. His regular visits left me with pleasant memories and the hope of real friendship among Zionist groups.

During Hanukah 1935, we arranged a banquet in “Dom Lodovi” (=the Polish town hall). I think it was Byya who tried on that occasion to redeem our honor which, he thought, was sullied. An altercation with some youths resulted, but it all ended peacefully. This was the only altercation with us that I recall to have occurred in Lanowitz. The remaining days in Lanowitz were pleasant ones. We lived among warm-hearted Jews who made us feel welcome, considering our (= the Revisionist's) forced isolation within the Zionist movement. I will always remember them fondly.


[Page 162]

Redemption That Ended Poorly

By Etil Adler (Spiler)

Not everyone has the same memories of one's hometown. There are those whose childhood involved hardship, suffering and poverty. In my case, I also lost members of my family while a youngster. Despite all this, when I think of Lanowitz, I yearn for her.

Israel attracted me like a lover who will redeem me. Once here [in Israel], I always dreamt of returning to Lanowitz for a visit to experience once more the great love I had for my community.

It seems to me that each of us, who left, imagined the experience of homecoming, when neighbors and friends would stop their daily chores, to sit with the guest and hear what it is like “over there,” and savor his success of settling elsewhere.

The thought of a future visit to one's hometown encouraged a person and tied him to his roots, to his family that wants the best for him.

When a person emigrated and succeeded to put roots in a new place and freed himself of its handicaps, he started to think of how it was back-home. He thought of his family and friends; it was the one place that wanted him, whose community wanted to see him again and wish him well.

I never got to see my community again. At the time of the Holocaust, I received a postcard from a Lanowitz policeman, informing me that all the town's Jews were killed by the Nazis (in August, 1942). I knew then that the privilege of a happy return was taken away from me. I thought, in my heart, of these good people. Had they also immigrated to Israel, they would have made a positive contribution to our state. When they died, our redemption suffered a great loss that will take several generations to replace.


[Pages 163-165]

Dramatics in Lanowitz

By Moni
(In honor of Shlomo Berman)

The Jewish Community of Lanowitz, surrounded by Ukrainian villages, provided ready material for dramatic tragedies. The older audience, however, was not enamored with plays. Our youth wanted to introduce a bit of dramatic freshness and self-expression into the dry cultural life of our community. In the past nothing helped. There were no objective conditions to put on plays, not even Purim plays. These sad conditions prevailed until Zionist activity opened the door to dramatics.

The self criticism expressed in Shalom Aleichem plays gave legitimacy to the rejection of shtetl lifestyle and the corresponding yearning for the Zionist alternative. These plays made a caricature of our lifestyle during the last 2000 years, emphasized its lack of purpose, and suggested the need for reform. All these factors created an excuse to produce plays in which each person in the audience could see himself in the context of world events, as an object susceptible to inevitable changes if he wants a normal life. The stage became a medium on which to depict the terrible vicissitudes of recent times.

Zionism could not be explained to the simple folks except in the form of a drama play, where the attendee could focus on the issue in a limited time and space. The stage became an audio-visual vehicle with which to explain Zionism and the need to change local values soon lest Zionism will come too late.

The drama group was thus created as a means of explaining Zionism; a way of convincing the community of the merits of the redemption idea prior to the Holocaust.

The stage directors were the best talent in town, who worked tirelessly to transform local values via stage productions. Our directors were serious men who were best at staging tragedies that depicted doubt, delusion, pain and suffering. The available repertoire was not composed by Zionists; however, it was written by talented Jews and met Zionist (propaganda) needs.

Plays by Shalom Aleichem, such as “Tuvia The Milkman”, and “A Bloody Joke,” “God, Mom & the Devil,” Miraleh Efros,” and “Moti the King of Woodworkers,” were staged by Jacob Gordin. These plays by Shalom Aleichem and Gordin depicted the gloom of present life and shook the audience out of its tranquility. The play “Tuvia the Milkman” exposed the shallowness of Tuvia's “Betukhen” (=trust) in his lot. It implied that his confidence will not hold when progroms occur and his daughters are raped; it will be shattered instead. The play, “Mirale Efros” taught the audience that those who put their faith in the present regime and in the security of their wealth will raise children that leave their faith. The play “Bloody Joke” and “Moti the Woodworker” dealt with the futility of integration and increased reproduction in the diaspora. None of Goldfagen's plays were produced, nor others of Mendele. The emphasis was on plays that had a Zionist orientation. When attempting to depict the social character of our town for this book, several talented persons come to mind who were involved in producing drama plays in our town. The most memorable of the set was Shlomo Berman.

He was a shining public figure, yet he was even better at stage directing. It was he who gave the local plays an almost professional polish. The actors were successful in identifying with their character in a convincing manner. Each play that he directed stood out in its smooth execution. The accompanying ballads were also composed by Berman. He contributed significantly to an atmosphere of empathy for the Zionist dream in our community.

For a short period we became acquainted with Bernzil, a man from Warsaw and a promoter of Y.L. Peretz's (1852-1915) literature. He came to our town as a bookkeeper for the Greenberg-Kagan firm. The plays he directed were noted for their creative staging and costumes. These tools helped to explain the period the play dealt with. They also facilitated getting the play's moral message to the audience. Bernzil arrived in Lanowitz, with no clear literary conception. Raised in a Yiddishist seminary, he was searching for reformist ideas. It was his interaction with our youths that turned his thoughts away from those expressed in the literature of Y.L. Peretz, and towards Zionism.

Younger local talent followed Berman and Bernzil. Their stage productions made it possible to collect funds for Zionist functions and help financially those young emigrants that needed financial assistance for their travel to Palestine.

The town became accustomed to the process of performance preparations followed by a play. When a period passed without overt preparations for another performance, locals asked for a explanation. In this manner we attained an important objective. The community became interested in such plays and in the Zionist ideas expressed in them.

For the local actors the rehearsals were a significant experience that reinforced their realization that their efforts to properly depict a character were not in vain. The plays gave these actors an opportunity to stand out and show their creative talents.

Lanowitz loved its actors and kept a proper distance towards them. No one mocked the actors the day after a play; on the contrary, they showed them respect.

Several local actors won the hearts of the audience: Sonia Burstein for her lovely singing, Nasia Trelo and Mania Rabin (Zingel) for their acting, and Motke Roichman for the humor he inserted into his acting roles. When Byya Kazatseker or Yokel Schuster acted in a play, the town celebrated their successful performance. Likewise, great sorrow was felt when the town lost its great comedian, Shmulik Futerman, the son of Motel Dayan, formerly from Zhuhan.

The dramatic talents in our community helped create an atmosphere in our town which made the Zionist solution credible. We need to credit these stage actors with this important achievement.


[Pages 166-168]

Changes In Class Standing In Lanowitz

By Josef Buchstein

The social values of the Lanowitz community changed greatly in the years I lived in this town. This change was (largely) due to the influence of the Zionist organizations: Hehaluts Hatsa'ir, No'ar Ziony, and Hehaluts.

I arrived in Lanowitz at the age of 11. While relatively young, I was nonetheless old enough to discern social patterns and note local values.

The community was divided into a number of social classes. The most respected were both learned and wealthy for generations (Of course this assessment is relative. A person that was considered wealthy in Lanowitz would only fit into the middle-class of a larger city). In my time, these respected residents were no longer rich, but their self-esteem as upper-class member remained. Their sons all had acquired either Torah education or general learning.

The next social layer consisted of tradesmen and retailers. These families were able to provide their children a comprehensive education. After their children learned the basics in a heder [= a one-room school with one teacher], their sons were sent to another school or tutored Gemarah and, sometimes, were also taught Polish. [An amazing set of priorities for Polish Jews – Ed.]

After the tradesmen and retailers came the local artisans whose economic status was often precarious. The average artisan or craftsman could not afford to finance his children's education for more than a few school years. When his boys learned to read the Hebrew prayers, even without understanding their meaning, their heder education ended, and their craft training started. In the eyes of one's parents, and in the eyes of the community, a person that could read the prayers in the prayer book was no longer an Am Ha'aretz (= An ignorant person). In most cases, after completing his heder studies, a son would learn his father's craft.

Among the tradesmen and craftsmen some were more, and some less, well-off. Those who were good craftsmen had many clients. Such a craftsman could afford a tutor for his sons and perhaps an apprentice in his shop. His living standard was typically better than that of a retailer. Other craftsmen hardly made ends meet.

The town's living standard was low, including the standard of those who made a good living. Everyone was intent on saving money for either a dowry or to finance future illness. [No safety net here – Ed].

There was also a segment within the community that had no trade, nor enough money to establish a small store or a small grain-storage room. These men lived off the small income earned during the weekly market day. They would buy a quantity of raw linen, a bit of Hog's hair, process it and resell the product. They lived from this income for a week until the next market day. Their plight was a difficult one, yet I do not remember a single case of fraud or theft. These poor people were simple and proud, unwilling to accept financial support from others in the community. At most, they accepted interest-free loans from the local organization, or would charge their purchases at the store they patronized. I do not remember a case where a debt remained unpaid or that a person declared bankruptcy. There were no (Jewish) beggars in Lanowitz, though there were families without food. Others in the community collected funds for these families and provided them with confidential assistance.

Each of these social classes had its own social and religious institution. Even our synagogues tended to serve a given class. The most respected and affluent community members attended their Kloizl [=a small synagogue frequently restricted to an occupational or social group]; the less affluent prayed at the Beith Hamidrash. The more successful artisan families prayed at the main synagogue. The less successful artisans prayed at the synagogue's annex called “Das Kleine Schulchel”.Both the Kloizl and Beith Hamidrash attracted a number of poor congregants. These were primarily neighbors of affluent families. They were tolerated in these prayer halls because they could be called up to the Torah readings as the “fourth”, a position that others shunned traditionally.

The community's social classes were served by two pulpit Rabbis, one serving the well-to-do, another serving the less prosperous community members. The community's religious orientation was entirely Hasidic, yet within it there was a further segmentation; some followed the teachings of the Trisker Rabbi. Another group followed the Rabbi from Ostarah, and the artisans had a third Rabbi.

A person who supported himself doing manual labor was looked down on. I know this from personal experience. When I became a member of Hehaluts Hatsa'ir, immigration to Palestine was a serious option. I reasoned that I would need to learn a trade that would be useful in Palestine. I liked woodworking, hence decided to train in this craft. I discussed the matter with my late father. He agreed with my plan, and I apprenticed myself to Mr. Glick.The apprenticeship was cut-short when Mr. Glick himself immigrated to Palestine after a few months. I, unfortunately, did not find another suitable journeyman to work for. I also needed to help my parents in their store. However the short apprenticeship was sufficient to keep me in this professional to this day. The gossip in our town centered on the idea that we youngsters saw in manual labor a sort of heroism or patriotism whereas the community's adults saw it differently. This clash of values is illustrated by the following example: My father had a sister in Lanowitz, named Sarah, the wife of Pini Wiger. For some unknown reason, she was cross with us all the years that I remember. When she heard that I switched fromn retailing to manual labor, she went to her Rabbi asking him to lobby my father to disallow me to learn woodworking. She reasoned that my act was staining the reputation of our family.

A manual worker was considered a lower-grade person. This value assessment changed in the 1930's. As I leaf through a photo-album depicting my friends of that period, I find a composite of youths from several social classes assembled together on the hill above the seven springs (outside our town). I find other photos of groups consisting of youth from all social classes lounging on the front porch of Shmuel Forman's house on a Sabbath afternoon.

What brought about this change (reform)? Why did it start in my generation? I am of the opinion that the reform came about primarily due to the education we received at the TARBUT School. We were the first graduates of this school, hence the reform in local values started with us.

What was the situation prior to the opening of the TARBUT School? All the local boys were taught by “teachers-for-beginners”. Their salary was low. As these boys grew up, more experienced and expensive teachers were hired for them. Not all the parents could afford the extra tuition-expense. Thus only sons of affluent families were taught at these higher levels. The lot of the girls in a family was even worse. They could not attend a Heder, hence needed private tutors. These added tuition-expenses were significant; hence this education luxury was available only to children whose families could afford it. In contrast, once boys and girls could get their education at the TARBUT school, the economics changed. The school's classes were larger, and the tuition fee was fixed at an affordable level. The school was supported financially by a local committee. Now almost all the community's children received the same level of education plus recourse to a library. Its monthly lending fees were minimal, so that virtually anyone was able to borrow books to read. Having the benefit of a better education than available in the past, these youngsters benefited further from the availability of Zionist club houses. Each of the aforementioned Zionist youth movements had a clubhouse opened to all comers. The youths would meet on evenings for a chat or a dance. A new environment was created where an individual was no longer a “finished product” defined by his family's social standing. In the clubhouse, a youth had to prove his social skills to fit into this new youth-society. It was, therefore, natural that a new social group emerged that transcended the former stratified classes.

The attitude towards manual labor also changed, influenced by the presence of the Hehaluts organization. Sons of wealthy parents sought physical labor jobs to accustom their bodies to the tasks they expected to find in Palestine. Their wages went to support their clubhouse. Likewise members of the Hakhshara group tried to earn enough to cover their food and lodging expenses. These youths were no longer ashamed to be laborers.

I do not recall cases of youngsters changing from trade to manual labor who were not involved with immigration plans. This was so because day labor rates were so low that one could hardly live on such wages. Even the Hakhshara member's wages were barely sufficient to pay for food and lodging of one room, sleeping several men. Nonetheless, a person who carried water or felled trees was no longer ashamed of his job amongst his family members. It follows that the Zionist youth movement not only prepared its members for working life in Palestine, it also transformed the value-system within our community.

Had our Shtetl not been destroyed, we would have likely been a witness to a radical change in social values within the Diaspora communities, influenced by the presence of Zionist youth movements. Unfortunately we were not privileged to witness this reform.


[Pages 169-170]

Youth And Its Yearnings

By Shalom Avital (Koitel)

As I attempt to put on paper my memories, I recall a wonderful period during my childhood and youth. I remember dreams that came to fruition and others that remained unfulfilled. As I think back, I can visualize my town's features: its straw-covered houses, and others that had tiled roofs; its wooden sidewalks and unpaved streets. The town's Jews faced occasional dangers and a constant struggle to earn their daily bread. All (who remained) disappeared from the face of the earth. Only a few of us remained, like firebrands snatched from a burning fire, to bear witness to the fate of a community whose members were tortured and slaughtered, and are no more.

The town had neither a kindergarten nor a nursery for its children. When a boy reached the age of 4-5 he was brought to the local heder by a belfer [= assistant teacher in a heder].The child first learned to read, write, Humash [5 books of Moses], Rashi [=commentary], Gemarah, etc. Learning these subjects we spent our days in a narrow and dark classroom. During the summer we studied in two shifts. In the winter a third evening shift was added.

In the 20's, the first sign of Haskalah [=secular reform] penetrated our Shtetl. A Hebrew language teacher appeared in town who taught Hebrew to both boys and girls, as well as grammar and some arithmetic. This new teaching [In the Tarbut school] was offered in small measures so as not to disturb the town's life-pattern that moved inexorably like the steady stream of our river Ritsheke past the main entrance to our town. Children advanced from class to class, changing teachers. Those teenagers who continued their studies tackled the study of Talmud. Those who persisted in their studies ended up in the Kloizl where Reb Motel Melamed taught them Torah, Ethics and love of the Jewish people.

The Hebrew language Tarbut School strengthened its standing within the community with the help of local Zionists. Its teachers, who changed frequently, drilled us in both Torah and secular studies. The most talented and respected of our teachers was Rafa'el Se'farim who is still with us in Israel.

This institution shaped our education and outlook. Unfortunately, only a few of us students were able to implement the Zionist ideal and immigrate to Palestine or immigrate elsewhere. Most of my fellow students perished with their parents in the Holocaust.

An important factor that shaped the intellectual image of our town's youth was access to our Library, consisting of circa 10,000 books. Its scope developed significantly under the direction of Yitzhak Kirshon when the latter was back at his parent's house in Lanowitz from Palestine recovering from his illness.

We acquired and read books in Hebrew and Yiddish ranging from fiction (both original and translations) to philosophy. We also obtained publicity journals. After new books became available, discussions were held regarding the values, trends and images developed in them. The Library was a constant source of material for special projects such as fundraising, publicity and stage productions.

The rehearsals, usually under the direction of the talented Shlomo Berman continued sometimes for months. Those of us who had acting skills got key stage assignments. Others assisted in various tasks ranging from one that whispered forgotten lines to one that designed publicity signs. One needs to credit the efforts of hundreds of youngsters who became involved in the preparations for a given stage production. The performance took place at the horse-barn owned by a local lord who also owned the only flourmill in town.

The town's youths were also active in fund raising for the Jewish National Fund (KKL). These activities symbolized for our youths the shaking-off of older Shtetl lifestyles, and a fundamental change in Jewish life-pattern & individual values while still in the Diaspora. We accepted the notion that KKL money will purchase dunam (=4 acres) after dunam (of Palestine soil) bringing us nearer to the redemption we had sought for so many centuries. Once a month, two of us would go to each house to empty the “blue” (KKL) collection box, asking the head of the household to “round up” the content's amount. We regarded these collections as akin to holy work. In the evening we brought the few Zlotys we collected from the town's poor and rich to the KKL treasurer. We “compared notes” about the results, satisfied that Lanowitz was doing its share in building a homeland (in Palestine).

For us, this was a period of yearning. We were seeking new channels for our youthful energy. We were no longer satisfied with romantic ideas or just symbols. A new wind began to blow in the Jewish world. The Zionist youth movements struck roots in the Shtetls of Eastern Poland. Competition between Zionist groups was intense. Each group opened a clubhouse trying to pull the town's youth to its movement. In the process our youths matured and started to think in terms of implementing the Zionist dream. They joined a Hakhshara (=pioneer training), and prepared their parents for a future separation when they immigrate to Palestine. Regrettably only few of us managed “implementation” and immigrated to Palestine. Many of us who matured and joined a Hakhshara, and others who remained at their parent's table, all perished in the Holocaust.

Let these words and the collection of stories that accompanies this article be a memorial to the dear youths of my Shtetl Lanowitz who dedicated their lives to build another home in Israel but did not reach the Promised Land.


[Pages 171-174]

In Memory Of Those Friends Who Perished

By Cherna Rabin

I chose the Hehaluts movement from among the Zionist movements active in our town because it was the pioneer movement among them. Its members who passed Hakhshara training became true pioneers, implementing the Zionist dream by immigrating to Palestine. Hehaluts did not spoil its members with promises. I was drawn to its ranks largely because the Movement was also egalitarian, whereas our community was divided between rich and poor. I disliked the community's social outlook. I regarded each youth as an individual, regardless of his parent's social standing. Our movement also prepared us for a practical life. At home none of us had an idea of what physical labor entailed. This idle lifestyle was easy for our youths, but hard on their parents. The aforementioned pioneer training prepared our members for a life of labor in Palestine. Having passed through Hakhshara, they were able to adjust, and withstand workplace difficulties avoiding a personal crisis.

The movement had other aims as well. It taught lessons in Zionist ideology to youths who otherwise tended to idle, or drift away from Judaism copying Gentile lifestyles. We members had periodic discussions on the subject of Zionist and Hehaluts history. In this way, our youngsters received both physical and spiritual training. A youngster who passed through pioneer training knew its purpose and its advantages as concerns his future in Palestine. Of our graduation class, not all were members of the Hehaluts movement, nor did they regard its aims seriously. Some of us did not join a Hakhshara. They had various reasons: one was afraid of hard labor, another did not want to rebel against his parents, and a third did not wish to leave his comfortable home. After all, who could have imagined such a bitter end? It would not have occurred in one's worst dreams. My heart breaks when I remember all my friends that remained in our town. At the time I am describing, only I and Meitzy Shpiler passed pioneer training. We both filled out questionnaires and were accepted as Kibbutz candidates.

I shall never forget the day of our departure. I remember the goodbye from my father whom I loved and so respected for his wisdom and intelligence. Additionally, there was the difficulty of taking leave from all my friends and neighbors. It was not an easy goodbye.

As my father's only daughter, many wondered how was it that he agreed to my departure from home. The Hakhshara was no surprise to my father as he was a dedicated Zionist, supportive of the idea of immigration to Palestine. He realized that our youths had no future in the Polish Republic; hence it was not difficult to convince him to let me immigrate. I did start to talk about joining a Hakhshara at a rather young age, a fact that bothered my father. Once I was accepted as a kibbutz candidate by the Hehaluts central committee, there were no more objections to my immigration in our home. As I stated earlier, the separation was difficult. We all knew in our hearts that this is the beginning of the end… [Did they know that at the time? – Ed.].

I shall never forget the actual departure day. The train pulled away, while all present at the platform remained standing. We were all frozen in our place as our dear ones disappeared. Each of us sat in the train coach deep in thoughts. We left behind a youthful period full of joy and sadness. We were entering an unchartered but interesting period that promised a better future.

We arrived at our destination [apparently Warsaw – Ed.] hopeful about our immediate future. We were immediately taken to the Kibbutz doctor. I was the first to enter the examination room. After a short examination, the doctor declared me fit for any physical work. Meitzy Shpiler was the next one to be examined. He came out after several minutes very sad. He was not accepted because he was found not healthy. The doctor did not detail to Meitzy his ailments, but told him that he was rejected. It is hard to describe Meitzy's shock when he heard the doctor's decision. After a few hours, Meitzy recovered. He decided not to give up on his candidacy. Instead he drafted a plan to visit a specialist in Lvov who would likely be able to help him. His plan was to recover from his illness with the help of this specialist and reapply, to implement his immigration dream.

We parted with a heavy heart. I somehow had the feeling that Meitzy will never return to the Kibbutz. His fate remained in my thoughts for a long time. Not many of us realized that this tall, strong-looking man was like an over-ripe apple, already spoiled.

His family, who arrived in our Shtetl as refugees, settled-in after some time. Their first years were difficult ones until they integrated into our town's economy. Their children were divided into two camps. One set stayed in town, the other rebelled against the local grey life that was without content and decided to leave the Shtetl. Meitzy was among the rebel children until that sad trip to the Kibbutz doctor. Unlike his father and brothers, he refused to join them as a trader. He earned his living instead teaching how to play the mandolin. Where he got this musical talent, G-d only knows. He was talented, had good hands and was good at music.

Meitzy did not return to the Kibbutz. It appears that his doctors did not give him much hope. He accepted his fate and remained in his Shtetl. Here and there, we heard rumors about Meitzy's doings. He himself did not write to us. I heard that he became an idler and stopped changing girlfriends. Some of my girlfriends married, others left our town. Meitzy continued to dream of immigration to Palestine, waiting for a miracle…

In the meantime, winds of war arose, and then WW II broke out. The Russians entered our town, and (after 2 years) left suddenly taking with them whoever wanted to save themselves. Why was he not among those who left with the Russians? The Germans meanwhile occupied the town, sealing its fate. After the War, Meir Bakar visited with us. He told us that he escaped from the cemetery where the Ghetto Jews were murdered. For a full week, he gave us details on what happened to our friends and relatives. We were broken hearted at what we heard. It was hard to accept the tragedy and humiliation that our families suffered daily. He told us that some in town advocated rebellion, others just accepted their fate. I was particularly interested in Meitzy's fate since he was the only one of our group that remained in the Shtetl. Regarding Meitzy, Meir Bakar told us a different story. He was killed earlier by local Gentiles. They settled accounts with him bringing him to a bitter end. We knew these Anti-Semites who behaved like animals. They beat Meitzy with sticks, leaving him in a field to die. May his memory be blessed.

I want to take this opportunity to remember those of our friends who did not live to experience the founding of the State of Israel: Hannah Margolit, Manya Katz, Sunia & Fania Shpiler, Gitel Malka, Slova Brimmer, Edel & Zisel Chisda, Risel Weissman, Fierali & Yosky Viner, Lieber Blank, Shalom Marshak, Brandeli & Motil Buchstein, and my brothers-in-law, Shaike & Zuni. I also wish to remember my beloved parents, relatives, friends and neighbors. Let their memory be blessed.

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