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[Page 103]

In the Workshops of the Early Pioneers

by Sh. Goldman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Translator's note: the following marginal text does not form an article of its own, but rather serves as editorial background to the article.}

We find a brief expression of what was transpiring in the souls of the Ratno youth during the early 1930s, with the background of the boredom and the lack of prospects in the town, in this chapter from the diary of Shmuel Goldman, who is well-known from the Book of Klesowa. We should note that he was a 17-year-old lad at the time he wrote this material in his diary. This was written in February, 1930. The words speak for themselves and require no commentary. Even if we strip away the cloak of rhetoric which was natural for a youth of that era in those towns, we see a realistic picture of the reality. Shmulik Goldman, a 17-year-old lad, expresses his personal revolution. He left his parental home, did not even bid farewell to his father, and set out for a place that to him symbolized the epitome of pioneering that was both harsh and wonderful, which was the motto of Klesowa during that time.


… My town Ratno. Sabbath. Heaviness of the heart, and there is no air to breathe. It is constricted around. I have no more place here. Tomorrow I will be leaving the town to the place to which my heart entices me to go. There I will sense the taste of freedom. There I will not have to lean on the shoulders of Father and Mother. I will be a productive man – a worker – sustaining myself through the toil of my hands. I packed my clothes and other personal effects in a suitcase. On Sunday, I will be traveling from here to Klesowa.

It was Sunday morning. I got up – and I found that sadness pervaded in our house. Father was groaning. Mother was weeping. The hope of Father and Mother was that I would not be able to live on the Kibbutz, for one must work hard there and I am so weak in body. Aside from this, the conditions of life there cannot be compared at all to those which I am accustomed to from home. I would certainly escape from there in a brief period and return here. I parted from my parents. Mother hugged me and embraced me, but Father refused to part from me. It was silent around. There were tears on all faces. There was silent wailing. Everyone was weeping – and me too… Next to the bus there were dozens of people who came to bid me farewell. Their eyes were fixed upon me – some with indifference and some with jealousy.

The bus moved. The trip was quick, and I was already in Sarny. In another half an hour I would be in Klesowa, the place I so desired, the place which led to the rift between me and my parents and made me cause them so much suffering.

I arrived in Klesowa on a rainy day. There was a sharp contrast between nature and my golden dreams… The first person to greet me at the train station was a lad who was not a member of the Kibbutz. I asked him, “How do we get to the Kibbutz?” He looked at me and said, “How nice are your shoes, but in another hour they will no longer be in your possession. In their place you will receive a pair of 'rubbers.' It is also too bad about the nice coat that you are wearing. Arise, lad, and travel immediately back to your home!” “Don't worry,” I answered him, and continued on my way. Then I was met by a lad who had a sort of old hat on his head, torn pants, and “rubbers” on his feet. I asked him the way to the Kibbutz, and he showed me the way there.

I came to the house of the Kibbutz. The windows were broken. There were wooden planks in place of glass window panes. It was filthy and damp. Drops of water dripped from the ceiling incessantly. There were loaves of bread upon the long tables. On one of the walls, there were dusty red bands covering the pictures of Borochov and Trumpeldor. My eyes fixed upon the inscription on one of the pictures, and I stared at it for a long time. Suddenly, one of the girls who worked in the kitchen ran in and asked me, “You are new, from where are you? Perhaps you will eat something?” She ran into the kitchen and returned with a small dish of porridge

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for me.

The girls who worked in the clothing warehouse took my suitcase from me and left in my hands only work clothes. One of them brought me a pair of “rubbers.”

I met a girl whom I knew from our mutual participation in the “Hechalutz Hatzair” (Young Pioneers) counselors' camp. There, her face and white hands were suffused with such delicacy, whereas here, her face exuded somberness and worry… There was only a simple greeting, “So you are here too? All the roads lead to here”…

The next day, I went out to work in the quarry. I dug up rocks to load on the wagons at a quick pace. Someone turned to me and said, “During the first days, until you get used to the work, you should not dig up large rocks. Leave me the heavy ones, and you take the light ones.” At first I was embarrassed, but the pleasant words of the lad were friendly, simple, and convincing.

In the evening, a meeting took place to celebrate the five years of the existence of the kibbutz at that place. More than 200 hearts beat together in the narrow room. It was as if the walls and the ceiling were breathing heavily and sweating. Life was difficult; issues were difficult, but true… One of them said, “We have known failures, but we have overcome them. Through suffering and stubbornness, we will forge here a workshop for Hebrew pioneering.” A second one continued on by telling about “a difficult winter, lack of work, desertion… but we grew and we are now a large group.” Every word that was spoken hit its mark, was etched upon the heart, created enthusiasm, and demanded. Will I also be able to persevere as they did? All the strands of my soul whisper, “Yes!” After the meeting, there was dancing until midnight.

We set out for work early in the morning. Despite the pains of acclimatizing, I entered into my work, which became natural for me.

{Photo page 104: The Hechalutz Carpentry Workshop in the town.}

[Page 105-alt]

The Uniqueness of our Chapter

by Devora and Yehudit, Mesilot

Translated by Jerrold Landau

We both joined the Hashomer Hatzair movement when we were about ten years old. This was at the time when organized activities began among the youth of Ratno. The Hashomer Hatzair in Ratno excelled in its dynamic activities over and above all the other chapters in the Wolhyn district. We now realize that this accomplishment was only due to the leadership of the chapter head Moshe Droog. He succeeded in organizing the activities of the chapter in such a manner that we would be able to continue the appropriate activities even when he was absent from the chapter. Indeed, Moshe Droog was forced to remain in Kovel throughout most of the days of the week since he was studying in the gymnasium there. Only now can we begin to appropriately appreciate his unique way of action, for, as we know, many youth movement chapters in Wolhyn weakened greatly or even disbanded when the chapter head left or made aliya. Such a thing did not take place in Ratno. The chapter occupied all of our free time. The Hebrew language was used primarily in the chapter, but there were also echoes of Yiddish. The students of Noach Kotzker and the excellent teacher Brodsky had no difficulty with their free expressions of Hebrew; however, there were also those in the chapter who did not study in the Hebrew school or who stopped their studies too soon.

Our household quickly made peace with our membership in the movement, even though this membership meant parting from the home, i.e. our aliya. The Zionistic pioneering spirit that had brought us to the youth movements, primarily Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz, slowly penetrated many of the Jewish homes in the town. As we got older and entered the older levels of the movement, aliya to the Land was no longer considered something unusual, as it was when the first ones, Mordechai Weinstock and Stern, made aliya. Life in the town was supported upon nothingness. The youth saw no chance that the dark skies would brighten. The clouds

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over our heads in the town did not clear, and there was no chance that they would clear. We bound ourselves firmly with the Land of Israel, and the realities there interested us much more than the realities in Poland.

We joined the nucleus of the Tel Chai Kibbutz that was organized in Wolhyn. We went to Hachsharah, and made aliya to the Land. After some time, our Tel Chaim Kibbutz merged with the Mesilot Kibbutz of the Beit Shean Valley. We are located there to this day.

There is no doubt that Hashomer Hatzair in Ratno was the prime factor that forged the spirits of the hundreds of youth who passed through this chapter. It strengthened their spirits, placed challenges before them, and taught them how to deal with the many difficulties and stumbling blocks in their path. This was perhaps true with every chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, but it seems to us that this was proved most clearly with the Ratno chapter. There was something unique about this chapter, and only someone who has passed through all the educational chapters and groups in this chapter can understand the essence and reasons for this uniqueness.

Dvora and Yehudit, Mesilot

[Page 105]

The Chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in Ratno

by Zeev Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The impetus to found the chapter came from Amalia Droog. She was a student of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Kovel and belonged to the “Galei Aviv” brigade of the Hashomer Hatzair Chapter in that city. When Amalia came to Ratno for summer vacation, she advised her brother Moshe to establish a chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in Ratno. Moshe agreed, and was assisted in his first steps by Motka (Mordechai) Melamed of the Kovel chapter. This took place in the summer of 1928.

The first members of the movement were the grade six students of the Tarbut school, including Zelda Feintuch, Dvora and Chaya Grabov, Yehudit Sandiuk, Chaya Weintraub, Pnina Ternblit, Feiga Marin, Berl Honyk, Zelig Bander, Chaim Ides, Moshe-Chaim Fuchs, Simcha Leker, Eliahu Feintuch, Yosef Steinberg, and others. Most of these youths left the chapter after a brief period. Only Chaim Ides, Berl Honyk, and Moshe Chaim Fuchs remained.

Connections were quickly forged with the central leadership in Warsaw as well as the leadership of the Wolhyn District in Rowno. Sections, brigades and groups began to form, in accordance with the organizational structure of the movement of that time. The living force behind the chapter was Moshe Droog. The leadership of the chapter included: Zelda Feintuch, Chaim Ides, Berl Honyk, Moshe-Chaim Fuchs, Chaya Grabov, Henia Karsh, and others. The chapter grew for a period of two to three years, and it already had four groups of “Kfirim” (ages 10-12), two groups of young scouts (Tzofim), two groups of older scouts, and a group of graduates who formed the kernel of the chapter. Every group had a counselor. The activities and programs were conducted in accordance with the plans received from Warsaw and Rowno, and were carried out primarily through the counselors themselves.

The “maon” (as the location of the chapter was called) was located first in the house of Shefe Langer, then in the house of Chmiler, and then in the house of Zelda-Leah's, until finally it settled in a spacious hall that was designated for that purpose as a meeting hall, replete with a stage for performances and public gatherings. This house belonged to Itzel Baal-Chotem (literally With the Nose) and was a beehive of activity on all the days of the week. It was decorated with all types of drawings and insignias, the work of Goldale Droog. Every group had its own corner in the hall, and set activity days. The counselors of the “Kfirim” came from the “Hatzofim” group, and the counselors of “Hatzofim” came from the graduates. The names of the “Kfirim” groups were “Zrizim”, “Zivoniot”, “Charutzim”, and “Dganiot”. The names of the “Hatzofim” groups were: “Snuniot”, “Yarden”, “Nesher”, and the like. Each group had its own flag that bore the insignia of the group. The groups formed the brigades, which also had their own flags. In one word – the organization was exemplary. The group often had visits from the central

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and district leadership. These visits inspired a renewed wave of pleasant activities, with new songs with which the group became familiar. They also firmed up the connection between the chapter in Ratno and the entire movement. For the most part, the visitors would be hosted in the homes of Chaya and Devora Grabov or Moshe Droog. A wall newspaper, in which many members of the chapter participated, appeared monthly. Many Zionist activists would come to look at it and enjoy the fine Hebrew of the articles of the Ratno youth, who gave expression to their thoughts and aspirations in this publication.

An important event in the life of the chapter was the public examination that was organized by the “Kfirim” with the participation of the parents and teachers. People would only be accepted into the movement after they passed this test. Then, the head of the chapter would give them the blue band and affix the “colors” to their shoulder, and they would be considered “Shomrim” in all respects. This was an impressive event, and served as a topic of discussion for the members of the chapter, the students of Tarbut, and in the homes of the members.

After the ceremony, the inductees would repeat the ten commandments of Hashomer, They would be especially careful with the “Shomer word.” The meaning of the “Shomer word” was truth and firmness, and woe unto anyone's use of the Shomer honor word for a matter of falsehood…

{Photo page 106: Older members of Hashomer Hatzair. Nine of them made aliya to the Land of Israel. The rest perished in the Holocaust.}

With the crystallization of the ideological path that began in the Hashomer Hatzair movement, a deeper delving into the education activities began to take place. This was helped significantly by the publications of the movement: “Hamitzpeh” – the publication of the Hatzofim, and “Hashomer Hatzair” – the publication of the graduates. Tens of copies of these two publications were distributed in Ratno, not only among the members of the movement. During the early 1930s, the personal soul

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was already accentuated. That means: going out to Hachsharah and aliya to the Land. Although the Socialist idea was the founding idea of the movement, scouting as not pushed aside, for the Ratno chapter nurtured it from its inception.

{Summer Moshava of Hashomer Hatzair in the village of Vydranitsa.}

The following fact testifies to the level of success of the chapter in scouting and parades: In 1935, the Hashomer Hatzair chapter organized a festive parade to celebrate Lag Baomer. The Jews of Ratno, and not only Jews, watched the parade that brought joy to their hearts, for we rehearsed it properly and were attentive to each and every detail. The next day, I met Aharon-Shia Konishter, Moshe's father, who transmitted the following announcement to us: “The chief of police asked me to transmit the request to you and Golda Droog that the Hashomer Hatzair chapter appear in the parade in honor of the Polish Independence Day on May 3, which will take place in a few days.” He repeated himself and stressed that we were to appear in the same fashion as we did on Lag Baomer, “with full arms”, meaning with full splendor and glory, for

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the “who's who” of the district of Ratno would be present, and the police chief desires that the parade leave a deep impression. To add strength to the request, Konishter added that the chief felt the need to point out that if we do not appear in the parade – we will have nothing more to do in Ratno.

Things moved along, and nobody imagined that we would respond anything, but positively, to the police chief. We appeared appropriately, and I recall that Golda Droog even recited a poem in Polish, which also left a deep impression. In return for our participation in this parade of the Third of May, we were later able to carry on our activities in the chapter without any government interference.

Literary judgments were often organized in the chapter on various topics, such as: Shakespeare's Shylock, Bialik's “Lion without a Body”, Shabtai Tzvi, and others. These “judgments” attracted large audiences, and those who participated in them in an objective manner prepared seriously for their appearance as witnesses of either the prosecution or defense.

There was great preparation in the chapter in 1933 in anticipation of the celebration of five years of its existence. The movement in general spoke about intensification, enrolling new members, deepening the educational activities, etc. The Ratno chapter took part appropriately in all of this. Within a few months, the girls wove the flag of the chapter with colorful threads. A splendid parade through the streets of the city took place to dedicate the flag. The play of Yitzchak Lamdan, “Massada”, was performed at the party celebrating five years of the existence of the chapter. A great deal of preparation took place for this play. The chapter was decorated with many mottoes and symbols, and this was the first time that the electric lighting operated. The hall was filled to the brim with adults and youth who purchased tickets for this festive occasion. The celebration was opened by a choir conducted by Meir Rider, singing the song Lehava, Alay Lehava” (A Flame, A Flame is Upon Me). This was followed by an athletic display in the form of a pyramid. The conductor of all of this was Moshe Droog. At the end of the celebration, the members of the leadership of the chapter as well as those graduates who excelled in their activities were granted the “Third Level”, as a sign of “be strong and powerful.” Those who received this symbol affixed it permanently on their Hashomer shirt and were very proud of it.

{Photo page 108: Golda Droog (standing) and her friends Bilha and Zahava.}

The chapter also utilized outside people for its educational activities. For example, Mordechai Janower, a member of “Young Hechalutz”, would give lessons in Hebrew literature; the teacher Kotzker would lecture on various topics; Avraham Grabov, a member of “Young Hechalutz”, would lead various discussions with the graduates of the movement whenever he would be in Ratno. During the long vacation, Amalia Droog would give lessons on the knowledge of the Land.

A leadership change took place in the chapter starting from the years 1933-1934. Moshe Droog began to prepare for aliya, and he transferred the leadership of the chapter to Chaim Ides. After he went on hachshara, Zelda Feintuch became the head of the chapter. The next one, after Zelda went on hachshara, was Moshe Konishter. When he too went on hachshara along with all the members of the “Nesher” group, the leadership of the chapter was given over to Goldale Droog and the writer of these lines.

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The new leadership of the chapter was not shy about its advancement. Serious activity took place in all areas. It is especially worthwhile to make note of the Chanukah and Purim parties that were conducted with great fanfare. The meetings of the chapter served as a forum for an accounting of the activities for the funds, including the fund for the workers of the Land of Israel (Kapa”i); for noting the names of the groups that excelled; and for laying the plans for future activities. Chaim Ides served as the librarian of the Y. Ch. Brener Library. The librarians and their advisors regarding the purchase of books held an annual meeting in the home of the teacher Kotzker. They would update the catalog of the library and identify those books that were “forbidden” to those of a young age.

The chapter fulfilled a special role in its activity on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. Among other things, the income from the selling of bottles and various rags in the summer, horseradish harvested from the frozen ground for Passover, work in the baking of matzos, chopping trees in the winter, and other such activities of this sort was donated to this fund. A portion of the funds was donated to the Hashomer Fund and to purchase sports equipment for the chapter.

During the 1931-1932 school year, new teachers were hired for the school, including the teacher Rozen, who was a member of Beitar. It is obvious that the Hashomer Hatzair chapter was a thorn in his eyes, and it was difficult for him to witness its constant growth. He used all sorts of means to turn the students toward Beitar. Despite his great success in teaching Polish literature in the upper grades, he did not succeed in transferring students from Hashomer Hatzair to Beitar. After some time, young teachers who were graduates of the Tarbut Seminary in Vilna, were hired as teachers. Some of them had been members of Hashomer Hatzair. Of course, we found common ground with them, and they participated with us in everything related to the activities of the chapter. The teacher Shlomo Karlin, young, handsome, and musically inclined, is to be especially noted. He organized a mandolin band in the school, and also helped establish a unique band whose instruments were bottles filled with water in varying amounts. After Amalia Droog returned to Ratno as a graduate of the teachers' seminary and began teaching in the school, additional growth of the chapter began, and the Hashomer education deepened. This continued until the Soviet invasion of the city.

{Photo page 109: The cooks at the Summer Moshava: M. Droog. Ch. Grabov, H. Karsh, Y. Sandiuk, D. Grabov, Z. Feintuch (all in Israel), and Y. Frigel (perished).}


The Summer Moshava

As is known, these Moshavas (summer settlements or camps) were the daily bread of the Hashomer members. The primary leadership of the movement, as well as the leadership of the Wolhyn region, organized many summer Moshavas, both central and in outlying areas. However, the members of the Ratno chapter were unable to participate in these Moshavas, for the cost was beyond the means of the parents, most of whom were lacking in means and to whom such an expense seemed superfluous. The leadership of the Ratno chapter decided to organize a local summer Moshava. The plans and preparations for this began after Passover. One of the activities designated to provide means for the summer Moshava was the collection of sugar. Every member of the chapter was required to bring

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one cube of sugar when he came to the chapter. Thus, 2-3 kilograms of sugar were collected each month. We would sell the sugar at a low price to one of the shopkeepers who was numbered among our friends. The income would be divided into two: one half would be dedicated to the fund for the Moshava, and the other half would be kept for an emergency. What type of emergency? It means that, if heaven forbid, a danger existed of losing the flag of the Jewish National Fund, which the movement had received since it dedicated most of its income for that fund. Throughout three months, we collected sufficient money to rent a barn and a house next to the village of Vydranitsa, a distance of approximately 7 kilometers from Ratno, where we intended to conduct the Moshava.

However, sugar itself was insufficient. When the time came to go out to the Moshava, we began to collect “other vegetables”[1]: potatoes, cucumbers, groats, noodles, and other such provisions which were to serve as our daily fare in our summer Moshava. The campers were expected to bring eating utensils, pots for cooking, firewood, and the like. Many of them had to bring these from their own homes.

Two or three days before we went out to the Moshava, a group of older people went there to prepare the area, and especially to dig tables from the sandy soil, in accordance with all the scouting principles of Boyden-Paul upon which we depended.

The Moshava itself lasted for two weeks. We slept on straw and hay in the barn. The flag of the chapter fluttered high, and an honor guard stood next to it day and night. Attempts were made to steal the flag, but they failed, for the eyes of the scouts were alert, and the members of the guard fulfilled their role faithfully. Aside from various study sessions, the summer Moshava made trips in the region to acquaint themselves from close up with the landscape, the plants, etc. At the end of the Moshava, we arranged a large parade with torches through the streets of the town.

The Hechalutz Hatzair organization also learned from our attempts, and they too arranged a Moshava in that same village, not far from the Hashomer Hatzair camp. It is fitting to note that friendly relations generally pervaded between them and us. I recall only one case of a battle between us. This took place when it became clear that Hechalutz Hatzair was about to receive the guardianship of the flag of the Jewish National Fund, as it succeeded in bringing in a larger sum that year than did the Hashomer Hatzair chapter. Everything was arranged for the flag to be given over to them. However, when the deputy, Mr. Asher Leker, and the secretary, Mr. Kamper, were making the final preparations, Berl Honyk, who was responsible for Jewish National Fund activities in our chapter, suddenly appeared. He brought with him two young scouts with a large sum of money that had been collected from the sale of sugar, and gave it over to the fund. Thereby, he tipped the scales and averted the danger that the flag would not be left to us. The movement breathed a sign of relief…


The Final Years

After the graduates of the “Nesher” group went out to Hachshara in the Shomria farm in Czestochowa, the leadership of the chapter was transferred to a younger group, as had been said.

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{Photo page 111 top: Reb Asher Leker, delegate of the Jewish National Fund. One of the town notables.}

{Photo page 111 center: Members of Hashomer Hatzair of Ratno in the Hachshara Camp of Czestochowa.}

{Photo page 111 bottom: Hashomer Hatzair of Ratno, Lag Baomer 5692 (1932).}

From that time, the central kernel was the “Tel Chai” brigade, and Goldale Droog demonstrated that she could be depended upon as she held the scepter of the head of the chapter appropriately. Moshe Ponetz, from among the graduates, helped her and me significantly with the organizational and educational activities. In 1938, 20 of the graduates went out to hachshara in Rowno. They returned to Ratno with aliya permits, but the gates of the land were virtually closed and certificates were not available. This situation caused a negative feeling among the graduates, which got worse as the economic situation in the town became more serious. Signs of the worsening depression could be seen everywhere. The Tarbut School was also struggling hard for its existence. The chapter was a sort of drop of comfort in the increasing sea of tribulations. At that time, the activities of the choir were renewed under the conductorship of Aharon Roizman, who replaced Meir Rider after he transferred to Beitar. Performances were put on, the income of which was dedicated to the purchase of books for the library, which already had more than 1,000 books from the choicest of literature.

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The final performance put on by the chapter was “The Yeshiva Student”. It enjoyed success.

When the Soviets invaded Western Ukraine in September 1939, a dark, heavy cloud descended over all the activities of the Zionist institutions and organizations. All of the movements which served as the “Additional Soul” of the Jewish community of Ratno were forced to liquidate their activities. Thus came the end of the spirit of Jewry during the Soviet era even before the Jews themselves were physically liquidated by the Nazis.

{Photo page 112: Right to left: Moshe Droog (in Israel), Aryeh Avrech and Mordechai Yanover of blessed memory.}

[Page 113]

The Pact of Trumpeldor ( Beitar) and the Revisionists

by Dov Marin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 113: Group of Hachsharat Beitar in Zelba on Simchat Torah, 5694 (1933).
Marin and Steingarten, members of Beitar in Ratno, on a hachshara group.}

Even before the Beitar youth movement was officially organized, there were several Revisionists in Ratno who followed the path of Jabotinsky and were educated with his statements that were published in the Jewish daily newspapers in Poland. They were waiting for an appropriate time to found the movement. The events of Av[2] 1929 in the Land of Israel formed a fitting occasion for such. As far as I recall, Beitar was founded in the town at the end of that year. Janusz Jundorf of Kovel came to us to organize the first members of Beitar and instruct them in the ways of the movement. After some time, a second counselor from Kovel, Vernik, arrived. He also helped crystallize the ideological path of the movement in a significant fashion.

The founding of Beitar in Ratno aroused excitement among the ranks of the youth. Ideological debates began in the upper grades of Tarbut and on the Jewish streets. The majority of the youth had already been “taken” by

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Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz Hatzair, especially those youths who studied in Tarbut. Therefore Beitar attempted to gain a foothold in the Polish school, and indeed, several students of that school joined us. These students learned Hebrew at Beitar (which they did not learn at school), Hebrew History, knowledge of the Land, and the like. My brother Zusia Marin of blessed memory was one of the first commanders of Beitar. He also went through Beitar hachshara in Zelba. Later, the Steingarten brothers became active in the movement (their father was also an active Revisionist), as did the pharmacist Mogilenski and others.

Our family moved away from Ratno in 1932, and therefore I cannot describe the activities of Beitar in Ratno during the 1930s. However, from time to time, I would come to Ratno and would find out that the activities of the early ones were not in vain. A headquarters was set up through the dues of the members, and the youth of all ages and strata kept faith with their movement. The activities of the Revisionists increased in the wake of the establishment of Beitar, and Brit Chail was set up in Ratno. I recall that more than thirty people traveled from Ratno to Kovel to hear the speech of Zeev Jabotinsky, who was visiting Kovel. Incidentally, the teacher Rozen accompanied Jabotinsky on his speeches through Poland.

It is appropriate to give more details about the teacher Boris Rozen who advanced the Tarbut School in Ratno in a significant fashion, and served as its principal with respect to the certified authorities. According to everybody, he was a gifted teacher, as well as an enthusiastic Beitar member. He attempted to win over people to Beitar, but he did not have great success in that realm in the Tarbut School. He had come to Ratno from Rowno, and he served as the commander of Brit Hechail in the region of Wolhyn. There are contradictory reports regarding what took place with him during the war, but I will not deal with them since they are not verified.

My uncle Leizer Marin was also one of the key figures of Beitar for some time. He even served as the commander of Beitar despite the fact that he was already older than the customary age in the movement for a role of that sort. It is appropriate to especially note Meir Rider, who also served as one of the commanders of Beitar. He was endowed with talents, and excelled especially in conducting choirs, organizing dramatic clubs, and the like. He had been a member of Hashomer Hatzair for some time and also conducted the choir of that movement. Through the influence of the teacher Rozen, who was also his relative, he joined Beitar.

Other Beitar activists who I remember include Moshe Kamfer and his sister Toibale, Leibel Wohl, Itka Zaks, Nuska Shuster, Leibel Liberman, and others. I must point out that it was not easy to be a member of Beitar, for the other movements directed all of their arrows against us. Spirits became stormy and the incitement against us became especially harsh in the year 1933, after the murder of Arlozoroff. At that time, the unbridled incitement against the Revisionists and Beitar took place in the large and small cities of Poland, and our town was no exception. Beitar stood up against this attack with pride and honor. It conducted the battle as appropriate, but never preached hatred against Jews

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who were political opponents. I recall that when I made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1938, it was hard for me to make peace with the great hatred that pervaded between the members of the various factions at that time.

Zeev Grabov tells that when he made aliya from Argentina in 1950, he went to visit his fellow native Yisrael Steingarten of blessed memory, who was working at the Ramet building company at that time. He wanted to obtain details from him about his brother Leibel, who was among the first 30 killed in Ratno when the Germans entered the town. At the end of their conversation, Yisrael told him that he had been among the most active Beitar members in Ratno: “You should know, Velvel[3] that despite the fact that I am an Etzel[4] man and made aliya on the Altalena, and you were one of the heads of Hashomer Hatzair, I regard you first and foremost as a native of Ratno and the former counselor of my brother Leibel. My door is always open to you. Your political inclinations do not prevent me from helping you to the extent that I am able, were you ever to need any type of assistance.”

I have included this story because it is very typical of the education that we had received at that time within the Beitar movement of Ratno.

{Photo page 115: Activists of the Orphanage in 1928. Among them: Moshe Reicher, Mendel Blatt, Yaakov-Hirsch Held and Label Baion.}

[Page 116]

The Workers Union

by Dov Marin

Translated by Chaim Grabov

{Photo page 116: Workers in Ratno (1930)}

When the normalization of public life began in the town after the First World War, the various social movements began to crystallize. The establishment of a secular Hebrew school hastened this process significantly, but this also began to signify the social differentiation between the various strata in Jewish society. The students of the Hebrew school were mainly children of the well-to-do, merchants and shopkeepers. However, there was no small number of children from proletariat origins in town – the children of workers and tradesmen whose economic situation forced them toward the yoke of livelihoods during their early youth. These children did not go to school at all, or sufficed themselves with the basics of knowledge, including the study of reading, writing, the basics of arithmetic, and the like. They triumphed, and turned into carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, seamstresses, and other such tradespeople. The chasm between them and the studying youth continually increased. One factor for the deepening chasm was the issue of “pedigree” which was very important in the town, and the unwillingness of the youth to violate it. Another factor was the long, 14-15 hour workday that did not permit them to form their own framework and express their potential. These working youths were educated on the street. Competition and struggles were their daily bread. They would spend their Sabbath afternoons on the bridges of the town cracking seeds and planning various pranks. With the passage of time, a primitive “class awareness” developed among these youths.

[Page 117]

It was expressed through feelings of hatred toward the children of the well-to-do people for causing them to be socially isolated to some degree, spending time only amongst themselves and not intermixing in the circles of the well-to-do youths.

A significant change of situation took place with the passage of time. These youths got older, and began to regard the bitter situation in the town from a different viewpoint. They saw the empty space, the true problems awaiting them that apparently had no answers, and the lack of prospective for a better future. The answers that were given by the teachers in the cheders or the Hebrew school were insufficient to settle the mind. A rebellion against the existing order and way of life began to brew. Then the motto began to grow: Yiddishism and secularism. During the years 1922-1928, these thoughts were given organizational and social expression by Wolf Brener in the first phase, and then by Leibel Baion. Yiddishist social-cultural activities began. The first activities were the setting up of a library, and the organization of a literary club in the home of the brothers Aharon and Levi Shapira through the initiatives of Leibel Baion, Niska Shapira and the Pogatch brothers. The most intelligent of the youth would gather together in the literary club, read modern Jewish literature, and dissect the national and social problems that were presented in this literature. In this club, the foundations were laid for the indoctrination of the Jewish youth with the principles of Marxism. The activists of this group obtained the books from the fathers of scientific socialism, and disseminated them among their members, thereby increasing their knowledge of the problems of social and national inequality.

When the activities of this literary circle ceased due to persecution of the Polish police, many of the youth separated themselves from all the activities and became indifferent to the problems that reality thrust before them. However, there were those who continued to progress in the direction that reality dictated: toward an organized workers camp. The following were included among the latter: Chuna Tyktiner, Aharon Shapira, and Ch. Warszawer. The aims that they set for themselves were to organize the workers, to free them from social backwardness, and to instill a class consciousness into those whose employment and way of life decreed that they would be an inseparable part of the working class. The watchword of the establishment of the workers' union had a great reverberation. The professional organization of the workers in the town was helped by this and served as an example for the workers, and brought them to a situation of organizational-social creativity. From their inception, the organizational activities ran into difficulties due to the government opposition of any organization of workers, causing a portion of the youth to be afraid of supporting such a professional workers' organization. On the other hand, there also were idealists who did not shrink from persecution by the police and continued on with the activities. These included David Langer, Akiva Druker, the brothers Moshe and Aharon-Shmuel, the seamstress Bracha Feiga, and others. With their last pennies, they succeeded in renting a room in the residence of Itzel Blostein. Thanks to a certain amount of help from Niska Shapira, the son of David-Aharon Shapiro, an intelligent youth who related to the progressive movement with admiration and understanding,

[Page 118]

an organization was established which very quickly turned into the home of the working youth. The large room was filled with various professional workers and seamstresses (the sewing trade was the only trade in which the girls of the town were employed). On Sabbath eves and afternoons, the former street youths gathered in the premises of the organization, listened to lectures and discussions on issues of the day, programs of questions and answers, and the like. After some time, a choir was founded whose repertoire include the workers' songs of Reisen, Edelshtat and Bobshover. Public singing encouraged and strengthened the class consciousness. Fear of the police inhibited even those who regarded themselves as members or supporters from visiting the premises. Everyone knew that the organization was not considered legal by the authorities, and any act of slander could cause the members to be sent to prison in Kovel or Luck for several good years. However, it is appropriate to note that even our harshest of opponents from among the Jews were not prone to slander. Even in the midst of the fiercest of debates, the only weapons on the Jewish street were – reasons, ideas, and mutual convincing. Jewish unity overcame ideological divisions. There were cases where the opposing side, the pioneering Zionists, warned the members of the organization about a sleuth who was making the rounds in the area. However, the need for some legal approval of cover for the organization grew from day to day. We turned to the district center for professional organizations in Luck to use its influence upon the Polish Workers' Party (P.P.S.). We informed them about the existence of the professional organization in Ratno in which workers from various trades were organized, and we requested that they allow us to join their umbrella. They responded positively, but the conditions of our acceptance were that all official work and correspondence must be conducted in Polish, and the secretary of the organization must be a worker and member of the organization or a paid official. Since it was impossible to find a worker who would be able to conduct the secretariat in Polish, the members of the organization decided that Ch. Warszawer, who was unable to join the organization, would serve in the role of official secretary – a task that he had previously fulfilled in a voluntary organization – for the salary of 20 Polish zloty a month. Then we had to also obtain official recognition from the police authorities of Luck, which was a very difficult task. The secretary had to travel to Kovel and stand before a cross examination by the police who had difficulty understanding why a workers' union was needed in a town such as Ratno. We finally obtained official recognition thanks to the intervention of Y. Shochet, a member of Hashomer Hatzair from Kovel, with someone who was known in government circles. The union was legalized at the beginning of November, 1928. News of this spread through the town and aroused great joy among the supporters. I recall that on the first Sabbath eve following the legalization, when a question and answer evening (Kestel Avent) was arranged, there were many new faces in the hall. We also rented the hall from Itzel Lorber in order to arrange a festive opening. All of our friends and supporters did their best so that the opening would indeed be festive: they baked cookies, organized drinks, raised contributions, and on one

[Page 119]

evening in the latter half of the month of December, the sound of Aharon-Shaya's trumpet and musical instruments heralded the onset of the festive event. At first, they gathered in the hall of the organization, sang the International, raised glasses, and enjoyed refreshments. Then they all marched to the large hall where the celebration was to take place, accompanied by a band. The parade was headed by Aharon Shaya with his trumpet, followed by his father with a flute, and the drummer. Invited guests from Kovel and Malorita honored us with their presence. This was the first time that a celebration of this sort took place in Ratno. The proletariat youth began to feel that they were also a factor in the town. The activities of the organization increased. Speakers were invited from outside, public debates were organized, and large-scale publicity activities took place. We did not have official permits for conducting lectures, but our members stood in alleyways surrounding the premises, checking out any suspicious movement. Thus, they were able to issue a warning in the event that an “unwanted” guest appeared in the area.

In February 1929, Pilsudski's police began a process of persecution against revolutionary workers' movements in the district of Wolhyn, and a wave of arrests and persecutions began, not passing over Ratno. The secretary of the union emigrated abroad, and the central activists, David Langer, Chona Tyktiner, Aharon Shapira, and Leib Baion were imprisoned in Luck. Many people avoided activities under the auspices of the union. The activities of the union ceased; however, during its time of existence, it was a type of unique flower in the “garden” of various organizations that operated in town.

{Photo page 119: With the first snow.}

Translator's Footnotes

  1. A play on words of “shear yerakot” from the four questions of the Passover Seder. Return
  2. August Return
  3. Velvel is a Yiddish diminutive for Zeev. Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irgun Return

[Page 120]

The Tradesmen and the Unions

by A. Berg

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The movements in social life that came in the wake of the great Russian revolution did not pass over the small towns of Poland. Various social and economic organizations were founded throughout Poland at that time, including the Union of Tradesmen that was set up in Warsaw, which took on the aim of raising the status and position of the Jewish tradesman and placing him on the political stage. Movement in this direction began only in 1924 in Ratno. Three tradesmen - Mendel Blatt, Yisrael and Yaakov Chayat -- responded to the call that came from the center in Warsaw, and took it upon themselves to organize the tradesmen in Ratno. The headquarters sent us Mr. Goldberg who assisted us in our first steps. The first publicity meeting took place in the large Beis Midrash, and Mr. Goldberg impressed the Jewish craftsmen with his descriptions of the deprivation of the tradesmen in all places. Thirty members registered for the union, and the organizational activity began immediately. A council and leadership committee were chosen. The chief activists were: Mendel Blatt, chairman; Yisrael-Yaakov Chayat, vice chairman; Yitzchak Feldman; Chaim Weisblau; Abba Fuchs; Moshe-Yaakov Chayat, and the writer of these lines.

We encountered many difficulties. The Jewish craftsman was always of a lower class in the town. The merchants and shopkeepers looked him over from top to bottom, and never displayed any inclination to draw him close to communal activity. Many mocked the possibility that the tradesmen had any possibility of organizing themselves and beginning to address their problems. The tradesmen themselves even began to hesitate regarding the possibility of organizing themselves. Throughout the generations, they had become accustomed to being treated as doormats, and would say “yes” to everything that was said or decided by the honorable householders. It is no wonder that after several months of activities, the heads of the new organization stood on the threshold of despair and helplessness. The right of existence of the organization could find its justification through the reduction of the burden of taxes for the tradesmen, and prevention of all sorts of other bad events. However, in those years (1924-1925), Ratno had an appointed rather than elected city council, and the tradesmen had no representation in it. How could a new organization justify its right of existence? Two events assisted this.

On a cloudless morning, when Meir Chayat, a hat maker by profession, prepared to travel to a fair in a nearby town, government representatives came and confiscated the entire stock of hats that he had with him due to old debts that had not been paid. He requested the help of the organization, and Mendel Blatt and I went to his assistance. We went to the mayor, presented his complaint in the name of the organization and even showed him our authorized charter. We demanded that the confiscated merchandise be returned to Meir Chayat, for it was in fact not

[Page 121]

his, and if it was not returned, he would be left literally with only a morsel of bread. The mayor acceded to our demand, the merchandise was returned to its owners, and our esteem rose. The second event that also raised our status was our success in bringing in four representatives of the tradesmen to the leadership of the Jewish National Bank. We succeeded in this after serious publicity efforts by the tradesmen who had joined the bank as members. Now, they discovered that they were able to be a meaningful force in communal life. The chairman of the council of the bank was always a representative of the tradesmen.

Not infrequently, disputes broke out between our representatives and the representatives of the small-scale merchants and shopkeepers. However, the bank director Heller was a wise, intelligent man, always successful in removing the obstacles and mediating between the sides.

In 1926, elections for the town council took place. After many debates, a national block was set up that included the Zionists, merchants and tradesmen, who joined together in a single block for the elections. The second list was the progressives, and the third consisted of the Ukrainian population. Eight Jews and four Ukrainians were elected to the council; and one Pole, one Ukrainian, and two Jews were elected to the leadership. The representatives of the tradesmen on the council were Yisrael Yitzchak Baion (on the leadership) and Avraham Berg, Mordechai Reicher, and Yosef Marantz (on the council). This was already a significant representation from our young organization.

As time went on, through dedicated work in communal affairs, our representatives succeeded in earning the appreciation of the Jews in town. They fought against any difficulty, they demanded their rights and stood on guard for the just demands of the various Jewish organizations. Our representative on the leadership committee (“Levnik”), Yisrael Yitzchak Baion, was especially successful. He used to say, “I am supposed to be chummy with the landowners at the various meetings and gatherings, but no more than necessary, for they will take advantage of it for their personal benefit.”

In 1929, we founded the loan fund for the tradesmen. The first 15,000 zloty were given to us by the Polish national bank. This was the first and also the last grant from the Polish government, which hoped that this type of credit assistance would be able to strengthen the manufacturing in the town. The tradesmen themselves paid membership dues. According to the charter, only tradesmen would be able to receive loans from the bank, and under no conditions other than any other businessmen. A problem arose: what would be the situation with the wagon drivers whose situation was very tight? After many deliberations, we decided to issue loans from the fund to them as well. This cost us dearly, for the majority of the loans given to the wagon drivers were not paid back at all, and we were forced to cover them from our own pockets. Despite this, the capital of the fund grew. However, eventually we were forced to liquidate it, for it hindered the development of the Cooperative National Bank, whose progress was of interest to us.

Elections took place in 1928 for the Jewish community councils in the border districts of Poland. We decided to enter on a special list and prove to ourselves

[Page 122]

and others that we are were an influential element in the town. We won a great victory: four of our members were elected to the communal council - Mendel Blatt, Aharon Shderovitzki, Chaim Weisblau and the writer of these lines. During the first meetings of the communal council, a just battle was conducted for recognition of Rabbi Shlomo Tovia Friedlander as the rabbi of the community. He had served as the rabbi in our town for more than 25 years, and always lived under meager conditions. Not everyone appreciated his poverty and purity. “We, the tradesmen, loved and appreciated this man, and fought for his rights. Among other things, our delegates fought for progressive taxation, for the inclusion of Jews from the surrounding villages under the rubric of taxation, for rights of communal membership for those who could not afford to pay taxes, etc.”

We are proud of our representatives and of our achievements in the Jewish community of Ratno.

{Photo page 122: “The Yeshiva Bachur” play by the group of amateurs. All of the participants in the play perished, with the exception of A. Liberman.}


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