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[Page 139]

Hashomer Hatzair in Sierpc

By Chanoch (Podskoc) Nachshon

Translated by Alex Weingarten

This movement [Hashomer Hatzair –The Young Guard] was established in our town in 1928. It comprised about 200 boys and girls of all ages.

One day, a guest arrived from Mlawa, a neighboring town. This was Zev Yunish (now Chief of Pediatrics at Beilinson Hospital [in Petah-Tikva, Israel]), a member of the leadership of Hashomer Hatzair in the district. A few hundred people came to the meeting, and he started teaching them a pioneering song from Palestine, and thereby captured all their hearts. After the meeting, they all went outside and sang the well-known song “How Beautiful are the Nights in the Land of Canaan”.

The town already had political and professional organizations that sponsored speeches, meetings, and discussions. But Hashomer Hatzair in our town, as in all of Poland at that time, gave the youth a distinct personal worldview, a feeling of fulfillment, and a readiness for aliyah [ascension – immigration to the Land of Israel].

The emissary left, and the next day, the activities had to begin – meetings, exercise drills, trips, and so forth. It is easy enough to say now, here in Israel, that we performed exercises, sat together with the young people, taught ideals, taught songs, etc. But then it was necessary to learn these things by doing, every day. The first “activity” was assigned to a group of young people under the leadership of Yeshayahu Korta (died in France in World War II) and the writer of this memoir. The meeting or “activity” (as a meeting is called to this day) was scheduled for seven in the morning. It was the season of school vacation, and everyone showed up.

Then the enlistment began of three age groups for activities – “the young lions” for young people of 10 to 12 years, the middle group whose name I already find it difficult to remember, and the senior group, starting at 16 to 18 years of age. This older group was of course expected to be ready to go to a training kibbutz, and then to go to the Land of Israel. It did not take too long for various politicians, who did not approve of the growth of a new movement with such a large number of members and influence, to start to undermine the ken [the local branch of Hashomer Hatzair was called a ken – nest] and cause a split.

One group followed Moshe Smolinski and left Hashomer Hatzair in order to start Hashomer Haleumi. It turned out later that not only did the split not hurt Hashomer Hatzair, but instead of one movement of 150 to 200 young people, the result was two movements with at least 100 to 150 members each.

Of course, at first there was a boycott on all dealings with the “traitors,” and for years the members of Hashomer Hatzair and Hashomer Haleumi abstained from any contact, even not saying “hello” to each other. After a few years, everyone became fed up with the arguments, and they sort of petered out by themselves.

Hashomer Hatzair in Sierpc excelled in its quiet and serious daily activities. Tens of young boys and girls would sit and learn Hebrew and hold conversations three times a week. The group organized many trips. Once a year, dozens of young people would go to the “summer colonies” organized by the district council of the movement. These “colonies” were in the deep in the forests, or in the villages of Poland. Every summer, the various branches in the district would meet. There would be talks, moot courts, lectures, and trips with participation by emissaries from Palestine.

Action committees in various fields and the newspaper editorial board would be elected at these summer colonies. The seating place of a member of the editorial board was on a high branch of a tree, and each editor had to prove that he was suited to his exalted position by editing while sitting in a tree.

I am sure that these meetings of the editorial board in the treetops are etched in the minds of all those that sat in the trees and discussed very serious problems. One has to remember that this was a period of intense arguments about the future of the “seniors” group – those 18 and older. Hashomer Hatzair had 3000 to 4000 “seniors” and their numbers grew every year. However, the number of “certificates” [approval of visas for immigration to Palestine] was small – limited to 500. How then, would it be possible to hold on to the youth when there was no chance of aliyah soon?

This was a difficult and serious problem of thousands of young people that had been prepared for aliyah and absolutely rejected, in their youthful innocence, continuation of life in the diaspora. If there is no prospect of aliyah for most of them – what will they do?

There was also an ideological disagreement about this. This was the debate between Yehuda Gothilf (today a member of the editorial board of the newspaper Davar) and his comrade Mordechai Oren, the prisoner of Prague. [Oren, a leftist Israeli politician, was arrested and jailed in a cold war show trial in Czechoslovakia in 1951 when he visited Prague.] Gothilf supported democratic ideals while Oren espoused the Russian revolutionary orientation and its ideals.

The whole movement became involved in this debate, and it also enveloped the ken in Sierpc, which was very ideological. Unless you saw the youth in the towns during this period, without hope of aliyah, except for a small group, you cannot understand this debate. The youth in Hashomer Hatzair had been educated for pioneering, kibbutz life, self-fulfillment, and Socialism, but the great majority of them did not have a clear vision of their future. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1931-32, after departures from the movement all over Poland, a group of counselors left the ken in Sierpc: Zelig Licht, Leib Minchin, and others.

I can still see that dramatic evening, when we were to have a moot trial and discussion of the play The Weavers by Gerhard Hauptman. The trial had been under preparation for months, about the transition period between a capitalist economy based on small manufacturing to industrial scale mechanization that drove the workers out and into starvation. There were workers riots in Western Europe then, with destruction of machinery. The trial had been arranged so that there was a prosecutor and defense attorney, as in any actual trial. However, that evening, the prosecutor closed his address with an emotional appeal to the young people to abandon Zionism and join the movement struggling for a new world – the Communist party. It should be noted that the number that left was not very large, but among them were some talented people who had embraced universal ideals. Some of those that left are now in the United States, doing “business,” and forgetting all the ideals. The large majority of the ken remained faithful to Zionism, and continued their activities.

A second teacher of Hebrew came to the ken during this period, and a project was carried out that very few of the branches of Hashomer Hatzair in Poland would have dared to attempt. This was a “winter colony” at the estate of Lavandush. Tens of young men and women went for a week to a winter camp. The plans included trips, sports, talks, celebrations, and so forth. I remember one particular instance of a young boy, whose father had stopped him from coming because it was the tailors' busy season. He did not hesitate to walk 20 kilometers in the cold winter to get to the camp, and of course without his father's permission.

A number of factors led to feelings of depression. Some of the counselors went on aliyah to Palestine; there was a political hostility to Jews that was promoted by the Nazi propaganda in Poland; and especially the prohibition of any more Jewish immigration to Palestine.

 

The Period of Flight

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, many fled from the town. Some of the members of Hashomer Hatzair escaped to the U.S.S.R.

Today, we know that only some of the members of Hashomer Hatzair survived. Leib Minchin died a natural death just before the war. Zelig Licht, Fibush Wilk and his wife Yedusha-Yocheved disappeared in the wide spaces of the Soviet Union. But some of the youth held fast and managed to stay alive. Yeshayahu Lelonek returned to Poland with the Polish People's Army, and today he is in the United States. One of the two brothers Diogenes is now in Sweden, and the other is in the United States.

Many of the members of Hashomer Hatzair are now in Israel: Tovah Schwartz, Esther and Miriam Podskoc, Frieda Mlawa, Shlomo Charka (in Kibbutz Dan), Rivkah and Feina Minchin, and many others.

However, many of the young men and women, with whom for many years we dreamt of a free life in our homeland, did not make it.

All those that lived through that time in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement in Sierpc will remember it as a turbulent period of dreams, experiences, personal hopes for a different life, a life of freedom and happiness in the homeland.

 

sie145a.jpg
Official Rubber Stamp of the Sierpc Zionist Committee

 

sie145b.jpg
The Sierpc Zionist Organization Committee, 1934

Right to Left, Sitting: Itche David Schnitzler, Mira Leah Visroza (Konskowolski), Ber Charka, Hanna Oberfeld, Wolf Buda
Standing: Hershel Rotenberg (the Groom of Esther Rachel Szampan), Naftali Tcharnotchepka, Reuben Szampan, David Bergson, Yaakov Yosef Grodko

 

sie146a.jpg
Hashomer Hatzair - Tel Hai 1930

Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Batya Gorlitz, Miriam Podskoc, Tula Green
Row 2, Sitting: Tova Lelonek, Fibush Wilk, Baltcha Shapiro, Mindel Neiman, Leib Minchin, Rivkah Plato, Gutkind Mlawa
Standing: Zelig Licht, Devorah Mlawa, Sheina Rivkah Valuka, Chanoch Podskoc (Chanoch Nachshon), Yocheved Gurfinkel, Malkah Tcharnotchepka, Pnina Fish, Yaakov Riezenshtat (From Warsaw. a teacher of Hebrew in the Hashomer Hatzair in Sierpc), Hanna (daughter of the “Shlisharken”)

 

sie146b.jpg
[Hashomer Hatzair, Sierpc, Akhava Group, 20 Tishrei 5680 (20 October 1919)]

Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Tovah Lelonek, Tovah Horvitz, Baltcha Shapiro
Row 2, Sitting: Devorah Mlawa, Hanna (daughter of the “Shlisharken”), Rivkah Plato
Standing: Sheina Rivkah Valuka, Pnina Fish, Yocheved Gurfinkel, Bajlowicz, Chanoch Podskoc (Chanoch Nachshon)

 

sie147a.jpg
[Hashomer Hatzair, “Laor” Company, Sierpc, 568? (192?)]

Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Esther Podskoc, Wilk, Henyah Lidak (Rypin), Tovah Schwartz
Row 2, Sitting: Gurna, Frieda Mlawa, Aryeh Kempner, Miriam Podskoc (the Company Instructor), Yaakov Hutnik, Leah Plachta
Standing: Gocha Zinaderka, Rivkah Minchin, Eliyahu Diogenes, Yaska Zemelman, Wolf Diogenes (Sweden), Clara Gongola, Rachel Sakowicz

 

sie147b.jpg
Hanoar Hatzioni “Tel Hai” Battalion, 1930

Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Rosa Pukacz, … Lewinski, Frimet Paperczyk, Hanna Bergson, Mattel Lelonek, Rivkah Finberg, Dina Lanter
Row 2: Sara Dorfman, Pinna Tchorek, Unknown, Malkah Podskoc, Huila Dobroszklanka, Rachel Finberg, Tovah Yeshaievitz
Row 3: Leah Atlas, Sara Rosen, Shoshana Korta, Avraham Bergson, Fela Lanter, Moshe Smolinski, Yeshayahu Korta

 

sie148a.jpg
Hanoar Hatzioni, Group of Instructors, 1931

Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Heine Charka, Fela Lanter, Tziporah Sendrowicz, Yaakov Meir Grodka
Row 2, Sitting: Yitzhak Horvitz, Yosef Korta, Avrahamel Bergson, Gershon Bergson, Zina
Row 3, Sitting: Gananche Neman, Yeshayahu Korta, Naftali Tcharnotchepka, Moshe Smolinski, Zalman Gzhemski
Row 4, Standing: Yaakov Meir Pukacz, Sara Klein, Eliezer Rzeszotka

 

sie148b.jpg
Hanoar Hatzioni, “Balfouria” Battalion,
Senior Members, For the Aliyah of Moshe Smolinski, 1932

Left to Right, Row 1, Sitting: Yosef Korta, Sara Klein, Moshe Smolinski, Fela Lanter, Yakov Meir Pukatch, Sara Lea (Saratche) Karpa
Row 2: Fishel Dobroszklanka, Avraham Meir Shultz, Tziporah Sendrowicz, Gershon Bergson, Yaakov Meir Grodka, Tovah Sendrowicz
Row 3: Ziskind Rajchholc, Hanna Charka, … Rozinek, … Juzelewski, Reuven Szampan, Yosef David Yeshaievitz

 


[Page 141]

From the Life of Hanoar Hatzioni

By Moshe Smolinski

Translated by Alex Weingarten

It was at the end of the 1920s. The public and Zionist life in the town, which in the past had experienced stormy waves that rose and fell, flowed very slowly, as if it were a slow-streaming brook. It seemed that the town's geographic location, a valley surrounded by hills, had begun to have an influence on the character of its people. Zionist activity went on quietly, without any great upheavals. Echoes of the outside world would pass by without leaving any marks. The youth of the town lived in a world of innocence and faith, receiving inspiration from within, and investing their energy in tools that were created and cultivated by this innocence.

An important chapter in the life of the town must be attributed to the school of Mordechai Hersh Mintz. His Improved Heder launched a whole generation of Hebrew speakers, devotees of Hebrew language and culture. These were also the Zionist leaders and activists in town, the spokesmen and advocates in all the public forums, starting with Yeshayahu Frydman of blessed memory, Shmuel Valuka of blessed memory, Zvi Malewanczyk, and many others. When the teacher Mintz left for the United States after the First World War, it left a void which was filled only years later by the Tarbuth School.

The students and graduates of the Mintz School were those that cast the organizational mold for all the Zionist activities of the youth of the town. One should remember the youth group Herzlia, which existed in the 1920s, an organization that was for most of its existence an independent Sierpcer creation. It was established with almost no counseling, and without any connection to a central national organization. It independently assembled the best of the town's young people and together with the Biblioteque [Library] directed exemplary cultural and organizational activities. I would like to mention some of the names that I remember of comrades that worked and stimulated others, and created a Zionist atmosphere among the youth, such as: Shmuel Valuka, Moshe Podskoc, Leibl Horn, and Ber Charka and, may they live a long life, Mordechai Rzeszotka, Latzcha Liebson, and Ephraim Yosef Valuka-Talmi, and many others. This was a glorious time for young people, who acted out of inner conviction and youthful innocence.

Life went on. A cohort born and educated during the First World War grew up, and the atmosphere at home became stifling, almost unbearable. They were detached, without values and with no future, and unable to take root. Then the first buds of individual immigration to Palestine sprouted, without an organizational pioneering framework. Others immigrated to countries beyond the sea. Young people looked for answers for themselves and for others. In 1928, a ken [nest] of Hashomer Hatzair [The Young Guard] was founded in Sierpc, under the influence of the milieu and prodded by the expansion of the pioneering youth movement. But most of the founders, in their Zionist innocence, could not accept its ideology. They left and founded a ken of Hashomer Haleumi [The National Guard] and after that Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist Youth], which became the largest young people's organization in town. It included, in various periods, hundreds of young people from all classes, youth that were students and workers, from affluent homes and children of poverty. A pioneering educational framework was established that cultivated Zionist fulfillment, and provided release for the dormant youthful aspirations that were fermenting. The young people stood erect, and they had a Zionist spot which served for many of them as a substitute for home: a place where the main part of life was centered, whose contents were the meeting place and rendezvous at the ken, and the singing and dancing from the Land of Israel.

The ken was divided into age levels, and within them, battalions and groups with a staff of group leaders and counselors that strived to educate the young and to also increase their own knowledge. I remember the regular meetings of the counselors, with constant arguments about everything in the world, Judaism and Zionism, society and politics, etc. These would be transferred to discussions in the ken in general. The youth were ready for any Zionist activity and first and foremost, Keren Kayemet, which had a great educational basis; these were the traditional projects of every holiday and celebration, especially the penetration of the “Blue Box” [the small collection box of Keren Kayemet, with a coin slot on top and a blue Star of David on the front] into every home. The ceremony of emptying the box every month was an act of identification by the Jewish youth in the small town with every-day life in the Land of Israel.

The members of the ken did not rest on their laurels. They wanted to further their horizons and deepen their knowledge. Therefore they actively participated in the “Summer Colonies.” These were organized together with other branches in the area and with the central management of the movement, and they were opportunities for both learning and vacation. In the bosom of nature, the trips and tours freed the hidden forces in the young people, and built character and initiative.

The leaders of the ken went beyond their local framework and actively participated in the organization of the movement in the district. They were involved in the neighboring towns, and later in the main leadership in Warsaw. It was a lively and effervescent seed that expected the maximum of everyone. It demanded that the individual compete and constantly advance and not be satisfied with their achievements.

With maturity, the time came for personal fulfillment. The founders of ken started to go to training camps and make aliyah [immigration to the Land of Israel]. There was a natural changing of the guard. Most of the first cadre went to Palestine. A new generation of counselors arose from the youth, and the chain went on until a cruel hand cut down the tree that had planted roots in Jewish Poland. The house of Israel in Europe was uprooted and destroyed, and with it, the splendor of Jewish youth vanished, its song terminated. Only some embers that were saved from the fire came to us after the tortures of hell, at the end of the Second World War.

I had the opportunity to meet these survivors, when I was an emissary in Germany in 1946-47. Among them were a few from the movement who had become refugees. I asked myself a number of times: should I go to visit our town, where I worked and spent the most beautiful years of my youth, where I left all that was near and dear to me? But I knew there was nowhere for me to go, that no one is waiting for me there. Because what was, is no longer, and never will be. Why should I wander through empty and hostile streets? I will find nothing! Only shadows will accompany me. I will not find the home of my father and mother, and not those delightful children of Israel that I left, with tears in my eyes, with the hope of seeing them again. Not my brother Shlomo, who knocked on the gates of the Land of Israel, and could not get in; not even a grave over which I could shed a tear. I am left with the memories and the echoes of days that have gone, whose sounds will always be with me. The sounds of vibrant young people searching for their way, full of hopes that have vanished, never to return.

May their memory be blessed.


[Page 143]

Hehalutz Hamizrachi in Sierpc

By Yosef Appelbaum

Translated by Alex Weingarten

With the help of God.

At the start of the Fourth Aliyah [immigration to the Land of Israel], when training groups were established all over Poland to prepare pioneers, our town of Sierpc did not hesitate. The organization Hehalutz Hamizrachi [The Mizrachi {Religious Zionist} Pioneer] was founded in Sierpc at the initiative of the comrades Gutkind Rozinek, Breine Neiman and Yosef Appelbaum to prepare our members for aliyah, physically and spiritually.

We receive a small room rent free from our friend Zvi Crystal. Many young people joined our group. Because of the religious nature of our organization, we couldn't accept everyone who wanted to join. The active members of the group, not including the founders, were Zalman Lenczner, and Wolf Boda, may he live a long life. We arranged twice-weekly sessions for studying the weekly Torah Portion, group singing, and lectures. In addition to local lecturers like the chairman of Mizrachi [the religious Zionist party] Reb Ezriel Podskoc, David Szerpherz, etc., we also invited outside lecturers like Rabbi Shmuel Haim Landau and Rabbi Hagar, may they rest in peace. The first practical activity of the organization was a trip to the training farm of Hehalutz Hamizrachi in Skoczkowa.

Skoczkowa was a Jewish estate on the road to Raciaz, about an hour from Sierpc with the “small train” (kolika). Skoczkowa was the main training farm of Hehalutz Hamizrachi, which hosted instructors' training, conferences, and various meetings. A well-known agronomist and agriculture teacher ran it. Instructors would complete a course every three months, and then leave to guide training groups.

This trip made a great impression on everyone, and left its mark on the Sierpc youth, and tens of young people started to join the organization. Crystal's room was too small to accommodate everyone, so we turned to the parents of one of the members, Kalman Kalmanowicz, and rented a large room from him. There we expanded our operations with daily meetings, lessons, lectures, and Zionist activities such as: selling shekels, Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, and in addition, collecting for the Hehalutz Hamizrachi fund.

We also founded an agricultural training group that had five male and four female members in the village of Kopyczyńce, at an estate on the road to Rypin that was owned by our townsman Reb Mendel Lenczner, a simple Hasidic Jew who spent most of his time studying Torah. He had six sons and one daughter. Two of his sons made aliyah to the Land of Israel. His wife managed a big iron goods store, and some of the sons managed the estate at Kopyczyńce. One of the sons, Zalman, was active in our organization and even joined the group. This was the first training group in our area, and most of its members were able to make aliyah.

In addition to the training activity, our members were engaged in Keren Kayemet, at the initiative of Rabbi Hagar, may he rest in peace, the representative of Keren Kayemet. A non-partisan troop for Keren Kayemet was organized in our town with the aid of activists from the Zionist Organization. Members of all the youth organizations in town participated: Tzeirei Tzion [Zionist Youth], Agudat Tzion [Zionist Society], and Hehalutz Hamizrachi. The troop was tasked with emptying the Keren Kayemet boxes and collection of money at celebrations, in synagogues, at parties by distributing ribbons and selling stamps.

We once decided upon a day devoted to Keren Kayemet. This was before Passover, during the time of the baking of the matzos. As is well known, the baking of matzos in the small towns of Poland was very primitive. The matzos were made by hand and the women flattened the matzos by hand. This work was done by Gentile ladies from the area. We came to an agreement with the baker Jablonski from the small market that on Sunday, when the Gentile women did not come to work, he would not stop the effort. The boys and girls in the troop would do the work, and the wages would go to Keren Kayemet. The members also made deliveries, and brought the matzos to Jewish homes. The income from this project was substantial.


[Page 144]

The Revisionist Movement in Sierpc

By Z. Appelbaum

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The Revisionist Movement penetrated Sierpc relatively late, at a time when most of the youth were already organized in other movements, which had started a few years earlier. The organizers knew there were objective problems in establishing a strong movement in town.

I joined Beitar [the Revisionist Zionist youth movement] in Lodz in 1928-29. I examined the possibility of starting a branch of Beitar in Sierpc, which was the home of my mother, may she rest in Eden. After some inquiries and talks with friends, we decided to call a formative meeting during the Pentecost holiday in 1931. About ten young people participated in this first meeting, and Shmuel Algavish was appointed as commander, and Gina Neiman and Chayim Lenczner were selected as members of the headquarters staff.

This founding meeting took place in the Dolinki, in the green and pleasant valley, the pride of the town, near the slow-streaming brook, beneath the rays of the late spring sun. A soft breeze caressed the body, but deep in the heart, there burned a desire to act to free the nation that lived without the hope of a better future. The assembled sat in a semi-circle, and the demands of membership in Beitar were explained to them. Most of them knew exactly what was expected of them. They knew that they were joining a group that that was fighting hard for its existence even within the Zionist movement. All of them made a firm decision to join Beitar and dedicate their energies to its flourishing and developing in our town. When we came back to town, our virtuous and innocent Jewish townspeople were already on their way to the evening prayer of the second day of the holiday.

When the Sierpc branch of Beitar was founded, there were already two other youth organizations in Sierpc, Hashomer Hatzair and Hashomer Haleumi, that were significant for most of the town's young people. Their clubhouses were already in existence, and their activities were well organized, while Beitar had to start everything from scratch. At first the meetings were held in the house of Gina Neiman, but after a while the movement purchased its own clubhouse, on the Warsaw Street, opposite the large Synagogue, in the house of Schweitzer.

The number of members increased steadily, and with time, there was also a group of senior members, which became a branch of Brit Hatzahar [Covenant of the Revisionist Zionists]. Menachem Podskoc was the main activist in this branch. In the final years before the Holocaust, Danziger was the main activist in the movement.


[Page 145]

Beitar in Sierpc

By Shmuel Yitzhak Algavish (Krystal)

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The newest youth group in Sierpc (in terms of when it was founded) was “Covenant of the Hebrew Youth named for Joseph Trumpledor” [known by its acronym in Hebrew] - Beitar. We say the newest, because it was founded in our town in 1929 in the month of Elul, 5689, after our town already had other Zionist youth groups.

The year of the founding of Beitar in Sierpc was a year that has become deeply etched in Zionist history in general and the Hebrew Yishuv [Jewish settlement in Palestine] in particular. That was the year of Meorot Tarpat [The Incidents of 5689 – the first organized Arab attacks on the Jewish settlement in Palestine].

Beitar in Sierpc did not have an easy path. Its members were all affiliated with Zionist youth organizations, but joined Beitar. They saw their way in Zionism and in the nation differently than others. The Zionist organization put obstacles in their way in spite of the fact that almost all the Beitar members were active Zionists, active in the Zionist library and also worked for Keren Kayemet, the Tarbuth School, and the Zionist athletic organization Maccabee.

Help for Beitar came from an unexpected source. The Association of Craftsmen and Small Tradesmen let Beitar use their office, initially without payment. It was on the Jewish Street opposite the town synagogue.

Once Beitar had a permanent clubhouse, it expanded its activities. In addition to the activities aimed at its members, Beitar had a broad publicity campaign. There would be lectures every Friday night on the topics that were in the news that week, and Jews of all classes and political circles started to come to these lectures. Beitar also organized public meetings with the participation of central figures from the movement, and these activities were welcomed and aroused enthusiasm among the public.

Beitar also organized Hebrew lessons at no cost. Beitar participated in general Zionist activity in town, and in the years 1932-34 was first, relative to its size, in collections for Keren Kayemet. This activity stopped after the Jewish Agency stopped distributing “certificates” [approvals for visas to Palestine] to Beitar.

Beitar continued in this way until the cruel woodcutter came and chopped everything down.

Few managed to make aliyah before the destruction of the Holocaust. And few of them, embers saved from the fire, managed to arrive in the state of Israel.


[Page 146]

Agudat Yisrael in Sierpc

By A. I. Panfil

Translated by Alex Weingarten

Every generation has its preachers; every generation has its leaders, and every generation has its conflicts. The great controversy between Hasidim and Mitnagdim, which took place in Russia and Poland and also in our town of Sierpc, was no exception. In our generation, this conflict subsided, but we were witness to a new one, a partisan split.

One could sense the continuation of the historic rift, because the sons of the Mitnagdim [Orthodox Jews who opposed the Hasidim] were attracted to Zionism, and the sons of the Hasidim went to the houses of Gur and Alexander and barricaded themselves to fight the war for the fortification of the original Judaism. The Rabi of Gur, of blessed memory, stated that the same tools that the enemy uses to take our children away from us, have to be used by us for defense.

The small heder that was in the house of the bookbinder Reb Ziskind Sapirsztajn, where thirty boys studied, or the heder of Reb Pinchas the Hunchback, was not enough for all those who had to be defended from the evil spirits in the streets.

Then the Yesodai HaTorah [Foundations of the Torah] School was founded in the house of the baker Litvinski, opposite the synagogue. It had large and spacious rooms, full of light and air, neat benches, teachers for every subject, and a principal to run the school. The principal was Reb Eli Meir Schleifer; the sacred subjects were taught by Reb Avraham Ahron Burstein, Reb Chayim Yosef, and others. The first teacher of Hebrew was Yerachmiel Weingarten, the writer for the newspaper Nash Pszeglond and son-in-law of Margel, now in America. Later the Hebrew teacher was Asher Watman.

Secular subjects were also taught there, because the school was subject to government supervision. Poland had a compulsory education law, and anyone studying at Yesodai HaTorah School was exempted from attending the public school. When the Tarbuth School became a serious competitor, educators were brought to Yesodai HaTorah who had finished the Teachers' Seminary, and they taught according to the latest pedagogical rules. The two educators were Shnipper and Kimchi. One of the Polish teachers was Turkltaub.

Among the members of the committee that were involved and helped with running the school, materially and spiritually, were Reb Shimon Wafel and Michal Koplowicz.

There was renewed concern about girls in the Agudat Israel seminary. It was accepted that the boys should study Torah. But what will the girls do? They were sent to the government schools, and later high school. What could come out of that? The boys that became scholars could not find girls to marry. We know of tragedies where girls from the families of Hasidim did not want to marry boys who were scholars. Then came a woman, Madame Sara Schneider, may she be at peace, and stated that girls must be educated in the spirit of the Torah as well. She founded the first Beit Yaakov School and later the Beit Yaakov seminary for female teachers in Cracow.

This message came to our town of Sierpc as well. Madame Sara Schneider visited Sierpc, and there was a women's meeting held at the Yesodai HaTorah School under the leadership of Brachah Goldschlak, the Rabbi's daughter. The visitor spoke of the values of Beit Yaakov, and a Beit Yaakov school for girls was founded in Sierpc.

The female teachers Wolf and Shidlowska were a spiritual influence not only on their pupils, but also on their parents, through a series of lectures they gave every Friday night and students' presentations throughout the year.

The members of the Beit Yaakov committee were: Reb Nachum Tatz, Leibl Piotrkowski, Menachem Bojmwol, Moshe Grossman, Mendel Melech Tajtelbaum, and Yitzhak Meir Rusak.

The concern began with the school, but when the children were out of school, it was necessary to organize the youth so that they would continue the ways they were taught at school. Then the organizations Tzeirei Agudat Israel [Youth of Agudat Israel] and Pirchei Agudat Israel [Cadets of Agudat Israel] were founded for boys; Banot Agudat Israel [Daughters of Agudat Israel] and Beit Yaakov were founded for girls.

Tzeirei Agudat Israel organized Torah lessons in the Beit Hamidrash [House of Torah Study] or in the Hasidic prayer houses, and lectures on Torah and scientific subjects in their clubhouse. The clubhouse was at first in the house of Mordechai Asher Migdal, and later in the house of Yosef Chayim Gutentag, where the members gathered for meetings and lectures. A library was also established that had about 300 books from the Haredi literature for the youth who were interested in it.

At the time when Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin founded the Yeshiva of the Wise Men of Lublin, money was collected in all the towns of Poland for this cause, and collection boxes were distributed to homes. The members of Tzeirei Agudat Israel participated in this activity, and the member Yehuda Pukacz was the representative of the Yeshiva of the Wise Men of Lublin. A music club was part of Tzeirei Agudat Israel under the leadership of the member Yitzhak Leib Granewicz and there was a dramatic club under the leadership of the member Yisrael Sapirsztajn.

Among the activities of Tzeirei Agudat Israel members, as regular patrons of the Beit Hamidrash, was book repair, collection of money to fix or buy books for the old Beit Hamidrash, and to distribute notes for meals for the poor. There was then an increase in the number of unemployed poor people from all over Poland that came to beg. The members arranged for sleeping quarters for them in the old Beit Hamidrash or the Prayer House of the Alexander Hasidim which was in the house of Kalman Lidovarski, and later in Hachnasat Orchim [the public guest house]. They also received meals in various homes using the notes that were distributed to them. One of those who hosted these guests was the manager of the old Beit Hamidrash, Reb Yaakov Skornik, who achieved aliyah to the Land of Israel.

In the year 5690 [1929] Agudat Israel started a movement to settle in the Land of Israel. The Keren Hayishuv [Settlement Fund] was founded then by Agudat Israel. The members of Tzeirei Agudat Israel were mobilized for this sacred task. There were all sorts of activities – distributing Keren Hayishuv collection boxes, appeals, and fundraisers.

Among the activities was the baking of matzo shmura [matzos for ultra-orthodox Jews] on the eve of Passover, for the Keren Hayishuv. The members would do the work, sing the songs of praise, and distribute the matzos. During the month of Elul and on Yom Kippur eve, the members would stand in the cemetery and collect money for Keren Hayishuv from people who came to visit the graves of their ancestors.

When the first training camps of Agudat Israel were founded, our members participated in them, and some made aliyah. The members Yosef Eli Garbarczik and Alter Kempner were in the first group that left. Later, the members Ephraim Panfil, Yaakov Tcharnotchepka and Yosef Leib Tatz also went.

Members of Banot Agudat Israel also participated in the first kibbutz of Banot Agudat Israel that was organized by Reb Pinchas Mundari in Mlawa. The members Rachel Tatz and Hannah Lichtenstein made aliyah.

Together with the activities for the Land of Israel, the members started learning Hebrew. There were lessons in the Tzeirei Agudat Israel clubhouse, and the members conversed in Hebrew.

One of the most active and talented members of Tzeirei Agudat Israel was Neta Plonsker. He instructed the members in lessons and lectures. I remember his instructions on the book Bechinat Olam [An Examination of the World] by Yedaiah Hapnini, and his lessons on the Song of Songs. He spent all his income on the purchase of books. He was also a writer, and published a number of articles in the journals of the movement. He was also the secretary of Kupat Gmilat Hasidim [the Beneficial Fund] that was in the house of A.B. Tcharnotchepka. Our comrade Zev Grappa was also among the outstanding members, and shared his knowledge of the Torah with the other members. One of the members of Tzeirei Agudat Israel published a book of poems. This was the comrade Yisrael Sapirsztajn, the bookbinder.

One of the organizational activities of Tzeirei Agudat Israel was coordinating an annual meeting of members from all branches in the area in a specific town. At the initiative of our member Ephraim Ostaszewer there was a meeting in Sierpc in the year 5692 [1931] of tens of members from towns in the vicinity. Members of the central executive committee from Warsaw were also there. There was a midday dinner at the house of Yosef Chayim Gutentag, and a mass meeting in the afternoon in the Stilova movie house, which was on the New Market Street, attended by the many of the Jews of Sierpc.

At the end of the first cycle of Hadaf Hayomi [the tradition of reading and interpreting a specific page of the Talmud each day until the complete Talmud has been read], which is customary all over the world, and especially in Poland, Agudat Israel also joined in the festivities. It arranged a mass meeting in the firefighters' movie hall with the participation of the Secretary of Agudat Israel in Poland, Reb Zisha Frydman, the Lord Will Avenge his Blood, who spoke of the importance of Hadaf Hayomi and the Yeshiva of the Wise Men of Lublin, the grand project of Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin. The meeting was attended by a great many of the Jews of Sierpc. Of the resentment that was expressed by many that the meeting was held in a movie theater, Reb Zisha Frydman replied that in the next world, when there will be a great denunciation of movie houses, where time is spent only on a life of debauchery, they will have credit that a mass meeting was held in a movie house to celebrate the study of Torah.

Agudat Israel in Poland also took an interest in the economic area. One of its activities was to establish banks. Bank Kopitzki was founded in Sierpc, in the house of Reb Nahum Tatz.

In the year 5696 [1935], at a time when the number of members in Tzeirei Agudat Israel decreased – some of the members got married and moved to other towns, some went to the Land of Israel – the comrade Mordechai Zimmerman, son-in-law of the Shlisharka [the owner of the Jewish Tavern in Sierpc], came to Sierpc from Gustinin. He organized the new generation of Pirchei Agudat Israel, who had grown up, into the organization “Poalei Agudat Israel” [Workers of Agudat Israel]. The members were Yitzhak Bergson, Avraham and Yaakov Sendrowicz, and others.

At that time, the Yeshiva Beit Yosef was founded in Sierpc, under the guidance of two young men from Novodruk. The great spiritual influence, by his regular lessons, was Reb Yehoshua Popowski, the son in law of the Teacher of the Law David Klajnman (a member), of blessed sainted memory.

The Gur way of Hasidim was exemplified in deeds and actions by the member Avraham Liebson. As a regular attendant of the Beit Hamidrash, who studied night and day in the Gur schools, he instructed the young members in lessons from the Torah and Hasidism.

The chairman of Agudat Israel in Sierpc was Reb Nahum Tatz of Blessed Memory, one of the outstanding people of Sierpc, and the head of the community for many years. He inherited this office from his father, Reb Yosef Leib, a community elder and public official of the old school and was devoted to all types of charity and neglected his own business in the public interest. Reb Nahum Tatz was the central figure in all the branches of Agudat Israel in Sierpc. All the activities of Agudat Israel were focused on his house.

If there was a kiddush of Gur Hasidim, it was at the home of Reb Nahum Tatz. When you walked through the Jewish Street during the holidays, the singing voices came from his house. The comrade Yaakov Sendrowicz, one of the survivors, told me that in the final Simchat Torah [the last day of the Sukkot holiday], Reb Nahum Tatz took all the wine from his cellars, and distributed it to the Jews of Sierpc, because he felt that the Holocaust was coming, and did not want to leave it to the Germans, may they be damned.

 

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