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[Page 135]

Cultural Organizations and Institutions

 

[Pages 135-152]

The Zionist Movement and Its Offshoots

by Elchanan Erlich

Translated by Leonard Levin

The years 1929–1930 and following, the period that saw fierce and hard contention in Poland concerning its form of political rule and methods for carrying it out, was also a period of bitter, sharp, and stormy struggle over the ideological shape of Jewish existence in Poland in its entirety.

Opposing material interests, as well as wholly or partially contradictory worldviews, characterized this conflicted period and found expression in unceasing struggles on the ideological, political, and social arenas.

Because most of the Jews of Poland belonged to the middle class–few were employed in industry and fewer still in heavy industry, while they were absent from the mining enterprises, and few made it to the wealthy bourgeois class–the primary struggle within the Jewish public took place on the political–ideological plane, not the economic. To be sure, there were factional divisions in this area, and various groups and movements tried to emphasize this aspect of the Jewish problem and capitalize on it. In the pecking order of the ongoing bothersome problems of the Jewish world generally and that of Polish Jewry in particular, this aspect had only secondary or tertiary importance. The problems of continuity of the Jewish people, its fate and future, including the questions of its spiritual character–whether traditional/conservative or secular/progressive, the question of continuing Diaspora existence or opposing and ending it, and finally the question of its desired internal governance–these were the problems that occupied the best minds in Jewish public life, and they urgently called for a solution.

In addressing this tangle of problems, the thinking and concerned segment of the Jewish community, anxious of what the future might bring, found a broad arena to take its positions. Here, confronting each other–at times quite sharply–stood the religious, who perpetuated the tradition and preached it against the secularists who opposed it; and the Zionists, who condemned the exilic state of Jewry outright against the Dubnovians, who affirmed it. Within each camp there were subsidiary streams and rivulets, each with its own emphases and proposals for solving this ancient painful problem.

 

Our Town, Staszów, as Hothouse

Though a small town, Staszów provided a faithful reflection in miniature of what was happening in Polish Jewry generally. Possessed of a rich cultural heritage, the town had many batei midrash, where religious Jews engaged in traditional Jewish study and were dedicated to its continuation. They saw it as the single factor making for the continued existence of Judaism and the Jewish people, and so they were vehemently opposed to anything that carried a whiff of modernity. But Staszów was also home to the maskilim (proponents of the Jewish Enlightenment), among whom were general Zionists, religious Zionists, and anti–Zionists, all of them lovers of life and movement, whose common denominator was that they all viewed the world through a broader lens. Being well versed in general culture, they viewed dogged persistence in the traditional lifestyle as the greatest threat to Jewish national existence. Nor should one leave out those who saw their calling as working for revolution and remaking the world, even if in the course of doing so the Jewish people would be wiped out and disappear from the world map. In short, the town served as a hothouse for the ideological struggle in all its branchings and varieties.

I wish to note that–in all honesty and candor without sinning against the truth and with all modesty and humility, as befits a small town–in this respect, at least, our town became the intellectual and cultural center of the whole surrounding area. We should bear in mind that, despite its smallness and remoteness from the major cities (or maybe because of it), Staszów's spirit and intellectual energy radiated and gave guidance and direction to its surroundings and without a shadow of doubt served as a goad and ferment of considerable importance to the villages in the area and even, to a greater or lesser degree, to cities larger than it was.

 

All for the Sake of Heaven

The atmosphere of cultural and ideological differentiation that we have described above was not only an affair of the youth–who for the most part did not squander their days in idle pastimes and vain frivolity but as thinking young men and women concerned with the problems of the time devoted themselves to all kinds of organization work and study groups. A considerable portion of the adults and “householders” (including in this category many who did not enjoy the luxury of home ownership) also participated actively in this arena. Though many were careworn and overwhelmed by the difficulties of a livelihood, which often surpassed the difficulties of splitting the Red Sea–to which we are more sympathetic now in retrospect, as we were young then and supported by them–they also gave of their time and energy, their money and ideas, their experience and knowledge, with no thought of material reward, though their views and solutions, such as they could offer, had an impact on the community. Some helped to publicize, explain, and advance the new ways that the times brought, while others aimed at preserving what we had and defending it against the new spirit of the times.

One should not be surprised that life in this climate of piety and heresy, of faith and doubt, of status quo and storming the walls, of preserving the old and throwing off the yoke, of remaining within the tradition and its fences and rebellion against everything with a whiff of the past–and the form and manner in which this colossal struggle found expression–led to our living in an atmosphere of rasping encounters, filled with stormy and emotional debates. Every encounter, whether personal or communal, in the street or in the common communal spaces, turned into a wrestling match in which each side tried, with all its power of persuasion and enthusiasm, to undermine the foundations of the other's position and to cause its overthrow, whereas the other side made a desperate effort to hold its ground and salvage what it could from the claws of time.

Such was the picture of our town! Seriousness and honesty ruled supreme. Good intentions and the deliberate desire to participate personally in shaping the face of the generation and the future of the nation held sway without limits. Hypocrisy and deception were rare. The vast majority of the thinking Jews in our town, and especially the young people, were deeply committed to the faith that they had chosen. This faith, whether correct or imagined, must lead the ship of the nation, tossed by the cruel waves of history, to the safe shore of its destination, or failing this, could lead its true believers and the community to exploded hopes and abysmal disaster. On the altar of this truth, the youth of our town were ready to sacrifice their most precious possessions and struggle to their last breath and then some.

For it was all for the sake of heaven!

 

Yearning for Change

Into that environment, saturated with tension and seriousness, care and anxiety for the path and fate of Judaism in general and the Jewish community of Poland in particular–into that environment of wrestling and confrontation between different truths, opposing and mutually exclusive, I too was thrown, a young adolescent in those days, clueless, fearful, and anxious of the magnitude of the task and the serious business of choosing the way amid this general perplexity.

Trained in the Talmud and the teaching and visions of the true prophets; influenced, to the point of absolute soulful identification, by the poems of rage, encouragement, and consolation of the national poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik; impressed by the profound analysis of reality of Pinsker's Autoemancipation; enchanted by the integrity, grandeur, and nobility of the seer of the Jewish state, Dr. Theodor Herzl; and drawing buckets of wisdom that were to be had from At the Crossroads, the fountain of insight from the teacher of the generation, Ahad Ha–Am–I began to clarify for myself the path that I would choose.

The dominant feeling–that it was useless to stay frozen in the past, and that there was a need for a fundamental, revolutionary change in the entire way of life, thinking, and outlook of the nation–resounded in the hearts of the best leaders and spokesmen of Jewry of that time and was especially characteristic of the youth. As is the way of youth, whose watchwords are integrity and sincerity, honesty and putting words into practice, it was not enough to know and speak the truth; one strove personally to carry out and concretize the same feeling of change, with all the power of action stamped on one's heart.

And the same feeling of the need for change as a necessary historic demand, like a categorical imperative that must necessarily change from top to bottom the situation and direction of the languishing people, downtrodden and persecuted in exile, driven from crisis to crisis without a ray of light or future, gripped me also, shaking me vigorously and calling powerfully and decisively to me:

“Get up, you youth, and make your modest contribution to the mighty task that the entire generation must face!”

 

Choosing the Way

In choosing my way in life, I had to decide clearly for myself:

  1. What was the objective to which I was giving myself?
  2. What was the best and most effective way to achieve it?
  3. What organizational instrument was apt to bring about or hasten the achievement of the desired goal in the shortest time?
As for choosing the objective, I encountered no difficulties at all. My personal predilection was clear and unambiguous. I viewed the Jewish problem as primarily the problem of exile. In my view, if you took away the exile and stood the Jew on his natural soil, you would have solved the Jewish problem in all its painful manifestations. All the Jews' weaknesses–and they were not few–that accumulated and stuck to the Jewish people throughout their long exile were only the logical and inevitable effect of this fundamental fact. The objective was thus to get rid of the exile, this poisonous and festering root of all the nation's ills, and to establish a homeland for ourselves, or a “Jewish state” as the seer Herzl called it, before it became entangled with all the obfuscating political formulas that the time demanded, a state in which the people would shake themselves free of the dust of the generations and the habits of the decadent exile, reestablish their political life on healthy and strong foundations, and live their lives in accordance with their needs and abilities.

Allow me to cite in this context an excerpt from Midrash Rabbah on Exodus dealing with the sin of the Golden Calf. The biblical text says, “Moses entreated the face of the Lord his God and said, ‘Why, O Lord, do You allow yourself to be angry at Your people, whom You took out of the land of Egypt?’” The midrash asks, “Why, in imploring for mercy for Israel in the matter of the sin of the calf, did Moses mention the exodus from Egypt? Is there any connection between the two events?” The midrash explains that Moses said to God, “Master of the Universe! From where did you take them? Was it not from Egypt, where they worship calves in their idolatrous rituals?” Rav Huna added in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: To what can this be compared? To a father who set his son up in a perfume store in the harlot district. The neighborhood had its natural effect; the trade had its natural effect; and the boy followed his natural inclinations and ended up in bad ways. The father came and caught the boy with a harlot. He started yelling, “I'm going to kill you!” The father's friend reprimanded him and said, “You led your son into ruin, and now you are yelling at him? Of all trades, you had to teach him perfumes, and of all neighborhoods you had to set him up in the harlot district!”

Similarly, Moses said to God, “Of all countries in the world, you had to make Your people endure slavery in Egypt, which is steeped in idolatry, and Your children took after them and made the calf. Bear in mind what land they were in when You took them out!”

From this, we may conclude that a bad environment is what leads people to sin.

The question of Zion or Territorialism raised no doubt in my mind. I was not able to entertain the possibility of a different homeland than Zion and Jerusalem, despite the tremendous difficulties they entailed. Zion–the cradle of our homeland from ancient times, in which our national existence took shape fraught with national and superhuman destiny, which in the course of the generations became a cultural legacy for all humanity–was engraved deeply in the Jewish soul and comprised an inseparable part of the nation. No cause in the world could have the power to uproot from the heart all the feelings that the ideas of Zion and Jerusalem aroused in the soul of every Jew.

The way to realizing the goal could only be the maximal enlisting of all the powers of the Jewish people–physical, spiritual, and monetary–only for this purpose. Any straying from this path appeared to be a criminal and perverse waste, even if unintentional, of precious energy, energy that was so needed for replanting the vineyard of Israel on its soil and tending it.

From this followed my opposition to any blending of pure Zionism with any other ideal, though it be an ideal that was good and beautiful in itself but not desirable in our specific conditions–the conditions of a nation struggling desperately for its very existence.

I viewed any blending of Zionism, whether with socialism or religion–though by way of euphemism they gave it the intellectual name of “synthesis”–as a modern form of idolatry. This idolatry was in my eyes no less misguided and harmful, seductive and destructive from the standpoint of the nation's needs and future, than the traditional idolatry of ancient Israelite history.

 

The Organizational Tool

In keeping with the outlook I have just described, I of course had no other place for my choice of the organizational tool with which to carry out the task of our generation in daily reality than the Zionist Organization. But with respect to the special conditions that prevailed in our town, the situation when I was ready to join this organization became very complicated by the following factors: (1) the deplorable weakness of the Zionist Organization in our town at that time; and (2) the tremendous attractiveness of the troop of Hashomer Hatzair, which was then at the height of its strength and development. At the point of choosing his organization, a youth needed fortitude and strong faith in the ideal he had chosen in order to withstand the seduction and charm of Hashomer Hatzair, which suggested Zionism, self–fulfillment, reforming society, and establishing a new world based on equality and the brotherhood of nations–all in one fell swoop. Indeed, despite this magnanimity of ideas, a magnanimity through which the dreaming youth could acquire everything good and beautiful at the same time, comparable to having Torah and worldly success in the same place, and could feel a partner in the work of creation, embracing the arms of his own nation and the world–despite it all, I rejected the temptation. I felt with all the strings of my soul that to attempt too much was to lose all and that scattering one's concern in many directions would harm the main goal in the end. After rejecting this solution, it was much easier to discard the proffered solution of the leftist Labor Zionist party and, a fortiori, the alternative of the Jewish communists, whose party was ready to sacrifice their persecuted nation on the altar of the strange fire that they saw in their misguided and misleading imaginations.

But I did not accept the way of “Torah and Labor” affiliated with Mizrachi Labor, even though I was educationally and personally close to their position, for the same reason that caused my anxiety about Hashomer Hatzair–namely, the worry of splitting one's meager energies and directing them into tangential byways despite their importance in themselves. Indeed, the Jewish problem as I saw it and the objective and the ways to its solution as I saw them and as they are described here brought me necessarily and logically into the ranks of the Zionist Organization.

 

Within the Zionist Organization

In 1929, the year that I became a member of the local Zionist Organization, I found a chapter that was pitiful in every sense of the word. Its very size–a room four–by–four meters small on Kościelna (Church) Street in the house of Yehezkel Herszkowicz, the tailor, which supplied all the needs of the chapter, including the library named for Hayyim Nachman Bialik–proved that these needs were not very many or complicated. It was also hard to be impressed by the size of the membership. If my memory does not deceive me, the number of members varied between 20 and 25, male and female, including several family men and elderly bachelors. But the weak point of the Zionist Organization chapter in Staszów at that time was not the small meeting place, nor the small membership, but principally its human material. The human material was composed mainly of adults who preached–or listened to others preach–about general Zionism, Zionism without quotation marks, while they themselves were not able to engage in any activity to realize their path in life. This was human material to whom it never occurred to join of their own free will–by force of the conditions and circumstance in which they were placed–the camp of builders of the land in order to exercise influence by their personal example over the reality in Eretz Israel, which was then evolving, and over Zionism generally.

I mentioned that among the twenty–some members of the chapter were found a number of family men. In this connection I should note an interesting fact. It was precisely among the family men, who by their very nature, involved as they were in raising children and inundated by the cares of a livelihood, found it difficult to engage and devote themselves to communal affairs, there were a few who spent their time in the activities of the chapter, doing the best they could and maybe more under the hard conditions within which they worked, to keep it going and active. Without fear of exaggeration I would add that were it not for those family men, who persevered and held the fort during those lean years of the Staszów Zionist Organization after the more glorious and active preceding years–and to my regret I have no material about those years–were it not for them, the vital basis would have been lacking on which the finest project of the expanded Zionist Organization was later established with its offshoots, the General Zionist Hechalutz (“the Pioneer”), and especially the lovely and well–developed troop of Hano'ar Hatziyoni (“the Zionist Youth”).

We hereby honor the memory of the two most important of these family men: Mordecai Pomerancblum, the president of the chapter, and Josele Szpinrad, its treasurer, who served in these capacities for many years; both were killed by our enemies, may their names be blotted out. The first, when he returned at night to the Omler camp from the bunker in which his family was hidden, was captured by the German police, was cruelly beaten, and was put on the transport to Sandomierz, the so–called Judenstaat.[1] The other, when he was scurrying during the night of the Nazi aktion to find refuge in the Omler camp, was also captured and shared the fate of the majority of the Staszów Jewish community.

 

Activities of the Zionist Organization

The chapter dedicated itself to several areas: activities for the foundations, such as the Jewish National Fund and the Foundation Fund (Keren Hayesod), representation in the general town council and in the Jewish kehilla, sending representatives to national conferences, and mounting campaign publicity for elections to the central institutions of the government–the Sejm, the Senate, and the Zionist Congress. But I will probably not be far from the truth if I define these activities as having by their nature a merely occasional character. The collections for JNF and Keren Hayesod took place maybe once a year, when a lecturer was sent out by the director, while the others took place once in several years, when national or local elections were being held for the various public bodies.

Still, all these activities were very important for the members of the chapter on account of the alertness and personal tension they generated, and their results were the topic of conversation, debates, and evaluations for a long time. Through them, the members of the chapter saw themselves as participating personally, in a more or less active way, in shaping the political governance and ideological outlook of the society in which they lived.

Except for the areas just described, which to simplify matters may be called organizational questions–though there is no sharp line of differentiation between these and the questions of education and culture that tended to be combined with them–the local chapter dealt with strictly cultural matters as well. Among these, we may count political surveys by the weekly journals, literary criticism, question–and–answer evenings, and more. In order to broaden our horizons and increase our interest in cultural work, lecturers who spoke on current political or literary topics were occasionally invited from the center in Warsaw. The chapter also maintained a library, named for Hayyim Nachman Bialik, with collections in three languages–Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish–which served not only the library's members and fans but also whoever took an interest in it. Indeed, the library was not current compared to the general Peretz library, and it was able to acquire only a small portion of the new books that came out in the marketplace due to financial difficulties. Still, despite this basic deficiency, the library was very useful for the cultural work that was conducted within the chapter.

 

A Depressing Disproportion

Hard disappointment was in store for the few youths who joined the Zionist Organization in 1929–30. There was a huge, discouraging gap between the fervor and will to action of the youths, who strove with all their might to forge a path, and this organizational framework, which served as a procrustean bed, snuffing the will in its gestation and not allowing the contained forces to express themselves in action. Among these youths, two stood out: Tzvi Lewowicz and Israel Band. Both, incidentally, perished at the hands of the murderers. The first was murdered by the teacher Wadowik, about two months after the aktion, and the second, while fleeing from the transport to Treblinka, was captured and shot together with his father, Reb Alter Band.

These two youths were gushing and bubbling with energy and initiative for activity and renewal. Tzvi Lewowicz in particular generated a lot of power. This young man, 17 or 18 years old, was an endless fount of programs spouting fresh daily. But his role was not limited to just the planning. He also knew how to carry out his programs to the letter. His hands did not slacken, nor was his spirit defeated by the incompetence of the chapter and the bitter disappointment that resulted from it, but with dedication and exceptional perseverance he started working like an ant to involve everyone whom it was possible and proper to involve in the project of renewal and taking to the streets. Through the initiative of this band of youths, comrade David Taub was sent to us in the summer of 1930 by decision of the General Zionist Hechalutz central office, and as a result of his visit a local Hechalutz troop was established under the umbrella of the Zionist Organization. Tzvi Lewowicz, Jehiel Wajnberg, Israel Feferman, David Rosenberg, Isaac Herszkowicz, Sarah Berlin, Tova Gringras, Tova Goldbesser, Esther Rosensztok, Yaffa Brokev, and Aliza Koppel belonged to the initial kernel of this troop. The troop commenced immediately with feverish activity in both the organizational and the cultural areas. Tzvi Lewowitz, the dynamic youth possessed of an iron will and a tremendous capacity for action, was immediately harnessed to the work, and there was a spirit of renewal in all areas of activity. In addition to him, comrades Leah Roszer (who now lives in Israel) and Israel Band also contributed to the work of the troop. At Tzvi's initiative, a meeting was organized in the month of Elul (August–September) between comrade Shalom Kermesser from Klimontów and yours truly, with Tzvi's active participation, in which it was decided to establish a troop of Hano'ar Hatziyoni (Zionist Youth), then called Hashomer Haleumi (The National Guard). From that time on began a period of close cooperation between Tzvi and me. In order to take the measure of Tzvi's sense of public responsibility and strong will, it is proper to note an important line in his character–namely, that despite his great sensitivity and tendency to give and take offense at the slightest things, this young man knew how to exercise self–control. Once he intuited any communal need and understood that cooperation was necessary to carry it out, there was no one like him to lend a shoulder and work together with the greatest possible mutual understanding, enlisting all physical, mental, and spiritual energies for the goal that he or others had outlined while studiously avoiding anything that might lead to conflicts. This fact demonstrated not only his sense of communal responsibility but also his great self–control.

 

Establishing the Troop and Reorganizing the Organization

On the holiday of Sukkot 5691 (1930), about a month after the previously mentioned meeting, the foundation was laid for Hano'ar Hatziyoni in the form of the Deborah Patrol, the members of which were Deborah Segal, Shoshanah Apelbaum, Sima Sznapir, Beila Singer, Tziporah Wetman, and Chana Szribhand (who now lives in Israel).

Roots had barely been laid in our town, and Tzvi, restless as always, was going out to visit in the vicinity in order to organize the region and establish a network of branches and troops. Meanwhile, the cultural activity in our locale had been immeasurably expanded. This fact of putting the emphasis on broadening the cultural and spiritual horizons, which accompanied the differences of approach and mentality, sharpened the natural opposition between the younger generation and its elders.

As a result, the executive of our chapter of the Zionist Organization was voted out (incidentally, with the agreement of its own members, who intended to prove our incompetence), and a new leadership was formed, composed almost exclusively of the younger members, who enthusiastically took the scepter of leadership into their inexperienced hands out of a strong desire to prove their ability, against the advice of their elders. At that time, word went out about the reorganization of our chapter. In the atmosphere of cordiality and the attitude of unusual respect for studies and knowledge in general that characterized our town, this fact was given great consideration. Nevertheless, the new executive, composed mainly of youths aged 17 to 22, was not able to attract older members to its ranks. On the other hand, many younger people flocked to the main body of the now–reorganized Zionist Organization, as well as to the auxiliary General Zionist Hechalutz, and especially to the troop of Hano'ar Hatziyoni, which started to grow at a dizzying pace with a rapidity that was astonishing and that confronted its leaders with unexpected challenges. Only thanks to Tzvi's exceptional devotion, responsibility, and organizational talent did the few leaders succeed in managing the difficulties.

Only someone who found himself within the walls of the chapter on Krakowska Street in the winter months of 1931 (with the numerical growth of the organization and the proliferation of its activities, an urgent need was felt to move to a roomier space; with additional growth, the location was switched two more times) immediately perceived the distinctive atmosphere that marked the place. This consisted in a strong desire to learn and know, both from the planned activities and from whatever came to hand, that seized everyone who came into its shelter. One received the impression–not at all mistaken–of an obstinate struggle against time, to grab on to everything that had been lacking in previous years.

In this feverish rush to acquire knowledge, there was no lack of leaders. These were not only organizationally inexperienced but also lacking in elementary knowledge in many areas. But by force of the task thrust upon them, they immersed themselves thoroughly in the work in order to discharge their challenging task, a task in which they saw their calling and life's activity. The derisive saying that the previous (and future) president let slip from his lips at that time–“You have turned the Zionist Organization into a schoolhouse!”–sounded like a compliment and mark of honor to us, giving us more strength and fortitude to continue in the path on which we had started–namely, a path of acquiring and imparting knowledge in all possible areas. There were many such areas, whether intensive courses in Hebrew, or exhaustive discussions of books that we read in groups (such as Sholem Asch's Kiddush Hashem and The Witch of Castile, Mendele [Mokher Seforim]'s Di Klatshe, and others), or deep discussions in anthropology and political economy, or political reviews–general and Zionist–based on the week's journals or books dealing with these topics, or publishing an internal journal in which Tzvi Lewowicz, Israel Band, and Israel Feferman participated, or question–and–answer evenings, or others.

Putting the emphasis on cultural activity didn't hurt the organizational side a bit. During Pesach 5691 (1931), the Tel Hai Patrol was founded, to which Moshe Rabt, Hayyim Feferman, Josef Hyman, Isaac Rosenzwajg, and Simcha Rotenberg belonged. After a while, the last–mentioned of these joined the Deborah Patrol. Except for Tzvi Lewowicz, who was the permanent leader of both these troops separately and together, Israel Band and others also participated in the cultural work.

Not long afterward, a number of other patrols were formed, such as the Lebanon Patrol, which included Menachem Blutsztajn and Zecharia Lipszyc, as well as Sholem Rosenberg, Meir Płużnik, Jacob Leib Boguchwał, and Hananya Jaskółka; the Nesher Patrol, which included Nahum Nisngarten and Uri Tzvi Reichman, as well as Meir Blutsztajn and Szmuel Goldberg. To these were also added other patrols: Shoshana, Ma'apilim, Perachim, Yarden, and others.

It is not my purpose in the continuation of this survey to describe separately and in detail (I am missing the detailed information for this) each of the three arms in which the young people operated–namely, the Zionist Organization, the General Zionist Hechalutz, and Hano'ar Hatziyoni. I have good reason for this procedure. These three groups were composed of the same young people–today, we would call them the enfants terribles–who brought about the sharp turn in activating and motivating the magnificent structure as it developed afterward. It is my goal to give a general description, faithful as possible to the reality, of the activities and principal events that took place in these organizations and especially in the most important of them, in Hano'ar Hatziyoni, to the extent that memory permits and to the extent that I have the data through some of my friends and comrades from Hano'ar Hatziyoni and the General Zionist Hechalutz of yesteryears.

In the month of Tamuz (July) 5691 (1931), a meeting of the General Zionist Hechalutz was called in Staszów, in which Comrade Margolis of the central administration participated. This meeting was attended by members of the troops from Wiślica, Busko, Stopnica, Pacanów, Klimontów, and Osiek. The question of preparing members to make aliyah was discussed at this meeting, as were organizational questions and the question of belonging to Hechalutz within the framework of the Zionist Organization.

Indeed, after this meeting, Tziporah Rabt and Israel Feferman went out for hakhshara [training in preparation for making aliyah]. Not two months later, another meeting was called, this time of Hano'ar Hatziyoni. This took place in Sandomierz, in Elul (August) of the same year, with the participation of the troops from Sandomierz, Klimontów, Koprzywnica, and Staszów. By decision of the head office, Comrade Haker from Rozwadów attended. Our troop emerged strengthened from this meeting, having acquired a good reputation in the whole area, a prominent expression of which was that Staszów was appointed the site of leadership of the area, in collaboration with Sholem Kermesser of Klimontów.

 

The First Annual Meeting

When we returned from the meeting, we began feverishly to prepare for the first annual meeting of the troop, which took place during Sukkot 5692 (1931). The meeting, whose planner and primary implementer was Tzvi, took place in the new, roomier hall, equipped with a large courtyard for scouting exercises and games, with close to a hundred comrades in attendance. The meeting began and was conducted with all the trappings of ceremony and democracy, imbuing all participants with exaltation of spirit and elation. Today, many years later, when I recall the memory of this event in the life of the troop, an involuntary thought occurs to me that might strike some as sacrilegious–namely, that I, like most of the participants, had a reverent sense for this festive occasion, repeated annually, that was comparable to the feeling of the pious Jew on Yom Kippur. As [in the words of the traditional liturgy] the shepherd [i.e., God] inspects all the individual sheep in his flock, so during the annual meeting there passed before our spiritual eye all the activities and events in which we had participated in the previous year, as well as all our wishes addressed to correcting what was wrong in the future, to the extent that we perceived those deficiencies. It is instructive that a deep impression of these annual meetings stands out like a scarlet thread in the letters of many comrades who recall memories of those days, and their memory of them has not been effaced nearly three decades later.

 

The 20th of Tammuz

One event that left its impress on the life of the troop and its members was the memorial for Dr. Theodor Herzl on the 20th of Tammuz.[2] The entire troop was gathered together in the synagogue–with the rest of the members of the Zionist Organization and the General Zionist Hechalutz of course–united in the memory of the hero of looming stature who expressed with genius simplicity the aspirations and yearnings of the Jewish nation. We were enchanted and fired up by that holy simplicity that allowed him to invoke the holy name of “the Jewish state”–not as a sentimental utopian wish and vision of a far–distant future but as a real live project that in his words would become a concrete fact “in five years, or fifty years at the most.” Many leaders had secret longings for a Jewish state, though they did not dare utter them with their lips. Herzl was the only one who was endowed not only with a fertile and blessed imagination, flowing from a pure human fount, but also with an amazing grasp of reality. The abstractions, with all the exalted beauty that could be extracted from them, did not have the force to penetrate into the world of action. Only through organizational tools, which the great dreamer had the vision to establish, could the exalted abstractions be propagated throughout the existing reality and give birth to a new entity–an entity that changed the face of Jewish existence from end to end.

The troop's participation in these annual commemoration ceremonies was quite natural. As a part of the General Zionist movement, which had no ulterior agenda, our troop tied its future and fate to the principles that had been forged by the greatest leader of the age and those who followed in his footsteps.

Our soul was not divided among various contradictory worldviews, a division of purpose that led other youth movements into our town into counterproductive actions. We did not embrace contradictory worlds; it was enough for us to embrace just the Jewish world, and we envisaged our future happiness in the solution of the Jewish problem in just its national aspects, as the prophet of the Jewish state, Dr. Herzl, had foreseen. This was the ground of our deep identification with the memory of the leader who had gone before his time; that is why we recognized him as the sole pathfinder for the entire nation; that is why we identified fully with the analysis of exilic existence as it came to expression in “The Jewish State” and with his way–the way of total mobilization of all the nation's resources in order to fulfill the longed–for objective, the objective that appeared, to the best of our knowledge, so encompassing and demanding that any side–glance at an ulterior objective would endanger the achievement of the primary goal itself.

 

Lag Ba'omer

The annual Lag Ba'omer hike was also a very important event in the life of the troop. In this event, our connection with Jewish tradition and history was combined with the desperate struggle for renewing our nearly extinguished national liberty–and on top of these, the desire to stand up straight and go out into the bosom of nature, at least for one day of the year.

These hikes of the entire troop, starting with its cubs and culminating with its veterans, marching nicely and in rhythm to the Golejów Forest, dressed in scout uniforms, ordered and arranged in patrols with their leaders at the head, and accompanied by the band of the town's Jewish sports club, Hakoach–all this made an ineffaceable impression on all members of the town, who went out, young and old, to view the spectacle.

At such a time, even those who did not look kindly on seeing their sons and daughters ensnared by the heresy, God forbid, of joining a secular movement–even these were gratified at this hour by a waft of the new spirit that broke forth forcefully into their world–totally against their will–and shepped naches[3] from the fine appearance, upright and with military bearing, of their progeny.

Spending a pleasant and edifying time in the bosom of nature in a large company, from early morning until evening, accompanied by discussions around the campfire about current events within the perspective of historical memories connected with the venerable personality of Rabbi Akiva with his 24,000 students–all these deepened and nurtured the connection to the ancestral tradition and the aspirations of all Jewish generations to find release from the chains of the gentile oppressor and taskmaster and forged the strong will to continue by means of the new tools in the way that the ancients taught until success was finally achieved.

 

Admission to the Organization

Additional opportunities for uplift and closer bonding to the troop were provided by the transitional ceremonies of admission to the organization, amalgamation of a patrol to a unit, or organizing a new unit carrying a symbolic name, and so forth.

Until its admission to the organization, the connection of a patrol with the larger troop was more or less transient. But from that day on, a day that was celebrated with great festivity and with an appropriate ceremony, each of the participants felt that his or her membership in the larger troop had been made firmer and more complete and that from this moment on they enjoyed all the rights and obligations that were incumbent on their comrades generally.

Events such as these turned into milestones, psychologically and practically, for everyone who took part in them, and for long afterward they served as a favorite topic for discussions and pleasant memories.

 

Holiday Celebrations

As a Zionist youth group that saw itself connected inseparably with the larger nation's fate and future, we attributed decisive importance to fostering a deep connection with Jewish values and legacies as they had been held sacred over the generations.

Illuminating and explaining the substance and great value of the Jewish holidays, including the Sabbath, as a national–spiritual and social–ethical factor, and their great power, whose significance could not be exaggerated, for preserving the independent and fateful identity of the Jewish people in its dispersion–all this took an honored place in the troop's cultural activity.

Indeed, as a secular movement we pointed out that the Jewish holidays, despite their pronounced religious character, were national and social in their fundamental conception and substance. We nevertheless emphasized, in every way possible, our absolute obligation to preserve these pan–Jewish values and to struggle forcefully against all misguided efforts aiming to break the continuity of the chain of generations that was based on a multi millennial tradition–a continuity more precious than gold for the nation's survival in the past and future.

Indeed, whenever a Jewish holiday arrived, the troop put on a festive countenance that radiated its spirit to all comers. Despite certain activities that pious Jews considered an affront to the sanctity of the Sabbath and holy days, we in the troop experienced a spiritual kinship with the Jewish body politic that grew out of full knowledge and a warm attitude toward preserving and caring for its sancta and their concerns.

Analyzing the historical background of the holidays, including their national, social, and ethical ideas, became a central topic for the discussions that were conducted within the precincts of the troop on those days.

Fostering affection and appreciation for the tradition and its values helped to narrow the gap between the younger and the older generations, a healthy and cheering phenomenon in its own right, and caused a growing together of hearts and a strengthening of the idea of unity among the Jewish people, despite the great variety of worldviews and lifestyles of the various factions.

 

Our Summer Camp in Rakówka

With the establishment and rapid numerical growth of the troop, despite the breakaways that occurred from time to time onto the side of the local Hashomer Hatzair troop, with whom we engaged in strong and perpetual competition for the soul of each member, with no small success, we felt the need to organize a summer camp in order to allow the members to see each other on a daily basis, to accustom them to common living in small groups, and to train them in this way for the future awaiting them in Eretz Israel.

The guiding spirit in the initiation, organization, and preparation of all the necessities big and small, material and spiritual, was Tzvi. In this activity, whose educational significance and value for the maintenance of the troop and its standing in the community and for the youth, as with all other organizational activities, his role was extremely important. The camp was established in the summer month of Tammuz 5693 (1933) in the village of Rakówka near the town of Raków, close to Staszów. In addition to our own troop, the Sandomierz and Klimontów troops participated in this venture. It goes without saying that Tzvi stood at the head of its leadership. The group prepared for this important event for many weeks. From our side, we anticipated it with great anxiety out of concern for its possible failure, which would have taken a severe toll on the morale of the troop and would pose an obstacle to other projects that were already in the planning stages. But despite the concerns, the camp exceeded expectations. This was a lovely and well–ordered community, which enriched all who took part in it with its engaging experiences. The participants were familiar enough, especially with the members of our troop. However, it did not meet all the cultural hopes that were invested in it. It was not a focused seminar, as had originally been intended. Nevertheless, this first camp community was a major success for our young troop and served as an incentive for other activities and projects that were planned and executed afterward, including summer camps, leaders' retreats, training camps, conferences, and the like.

 

Changing of the Guard

If a change of leadership is a natural and desirable phenomenon in any public body, how much more so in a youth movement. In such a group, the leadership cannot be left in the same hands for too long a time. There is an urgent need to bring new blood into the ranks of the leadership in order to maintain a healthy tension and provide members with new experiences. But in our case, in the specific conditions of our troop, there were other highly important factors that pressed its leaders to speed up the process of the changing of the guard as quickly as possible:

  1. the unexpected numerical growth of the troop;
  2. the broadening of its many and varied fields of activity;
  3. the depth and proliferation of cultural activity;
  4. the responsibilities of the troop leaders for the General Zionist Hechalutz troop and the local Zionist Organization chapter; and, finally,
  5. the necessity of going out on visits to other locations in the area, such as Ostrowiec, Kielce, Opatów, Klimontów, Iłża, and others as a result of Staszów's appointment as the regional center.
As a result of all these factors, the handful of leaders was forced to conduct a perpetual and obstinate struggle with time in order to fulfill their obligations. Indeed, these people's unbounded devotion to the tasks imposed on them had its effect, and despite the enormous difficulties, the schedule was carried out in most cases according to plan. It was nevertheless clear from the outset that there would be no future for the troop unless a reserve cadre of leaders was prepared, who would in time take on all the organizational and educational tasks. Indeed, from the inception of the troop onward, this factor was particularly emphasized, and we were largely successful in providing for it.

Already at the second annual meeting, which was held during Sukkot 5693 (1932), those who were most active and best trained in the Deborah and Tel Hai patrols were enlisted for service. Shoshana Apelbaum from Rytwiańska Street and Deborah Segal from Kościelna Street were assigned the troop's secretarial tasks and educational activity, and they fulfilled these tasks with devotion and skill. Both later perished in the Holocaust. May God avenge their blood.[4]

Moshe Rabt from the Tel Hai patrol, a loyal youth, devoted with his whole soul to the movement and the troop, invested all his strength, his energy, and his strong will to self–perfection and to fulfilling the educational tasks that were assigned to him or, more precisely, that he willingly took on. He died a heroic death in the defense of Kibbutz Nitzanim, to which he belonged for several years. May his memory be for a blessing!

The Lebanon patrol's turn to participate in shouldering some of the important tasks in the troop came during Sukkot 5694 (1933). Shalom Rosenberg (who survived Hitler's camps and lives in America) took over the secretarial duties from Shoshana. Menachem Blutsztajn (who perished in the Holocaust), a smart and very talented youth, devoted himself to education, and many others from various patrols (aforementioned and otherwise) shouldered responsible tasks in all areas of the troop's activity.

 

Training and Aliyah

In 5695 (1935), with the maturation of the members of the troop, Tzvi established a training camp in Solec nad Wisł¹ called Irgun Hatzofim (Organization of Scouts). Isaac Rosenberg (who lives in Israel in Kibbutz Nitzanim) and others underwent their training there.

In addition to this, and with the active assistance of Jehiel Wajnberg (who now lives in Haifa, Israel), Tzvi participated in the establishment of training stations for the General Zionist Hechalutz in various places in the area, such as Wiślica, Strzelce, Kurozwęki, Stromiec, Opatów, and Staszów itself. The last two persisted for many years, and a considerable number of comrades made aliyah from there to Eretz Israel.

Indeed, Tzvi and others invested considerable effort for the sake of the training group in Staszów in order to maintain it materially and culturally. Close contact was maintained with the group in order to assess its urgent needs, and a patronage network was established of the Zionist dignitaries in the city, whose job was to assist in underwriting its material situation as much as possible. We also did our best to assist the collective in its cultural work. We visited it weekly to conduct discussions on various topics, especially concerning Zionism and current affairs.

Fostering pioneering values and education toward the principle of self–actualization, which formed the basis of the activities of the troop and the branch, worked their influence, and many fulfilled this principle in their own persons by making aliyah, whether through the training program or other channels.

 

JNF (Jewish National Fund)

One of the most important external areas, an area that served as a touchstone for the troop's numeric strength and for the spirit and will that pulsated in it, was the devoted service to the Jewish National Fund. From one year to the next, the troop increased its participation, in absolute numbers and in percentage, in the collection of contributions for the territorial arm of the Zionist movement, becoming finally one of the key players in this effort. This was a most telling public demonstration of the degree of development and progress of the troop in relation to the other communal bodies in the city, who also participated in the work for the JNF.

In the years 1936–37, the troop surprisingly raised close to 40 percent of the entire collection. It was true that at that time the troop numbered 260 members. But one should not lose sight of the fact that most of them belonged to the “cubs” and “wolves,” and the primary burden of the effort of collecting contributions was borne by a relatively small number of male and female members, a fact that exemplified and highlighted the warm personal relation to this popular cause.

Today, when we look back on those days, this appears unimportant and even laughable to many. But then, at the time that the young Hano'ar Hatziyoni Troop stood daily in the perpetual and difficult struggle against the local established troop of Hashomer Hatzair, our achievements with respect to the JNF had a tremendous psychological influence. These were solid proof of our strength and of the important and strong position that we had achieved in local Jewish community life, only a few years after the founding of the troop.

 

Mordecai Pomerancblum, Josef Szpinrad, and Their Comrades

Up to this point, I have spoken mainly of the local Hano'ar Hatziyoni troop. I also paid a certain amount of attention to the General Zionist Hechalutz, basing my account on my own limited firsthand knowledge of its makeup and events and information placed at my disposal by friends and comrades. As for the local chapter of the Zionist Organization, its actors and activities, this small section of my survey dedicated to it is thanks to the effort and goodwill of the two personalities I mention here. This is to be explained not only by the personal relation of this writer to the Hano'ar Hatziyoni troop, as I was one of its organizers and principal players during the first years of its existence, but also by the fact that the scope and influence of the troop were immeasurably greater and more profound than those of the Zionist Organization and the General Zionist Hechalutz combined.

Nevertheless, it would be unjust and unforgivable not to add to the previous remarks on the Zionist Organization whatever I can retrieve from the shards of my memory in order to rescue from the Angel of Forgetfulness, that cruel master of the memories of the past, whatever is important and characteristic of this movement and its local players.

In any case, the persons who worked in this arena are worthy of my devoting a special section to them. I can only apologize that the lion's share of their activities is so lost or blurred in my memory that I am unable to reconstruct it for the record.

I related earlier that a short time after the Young Turks came into the Zionist Organization and commenced their rich cultural activity, the leadership of the organization passed into their hands. But as their responsibilities for the rapidly growing youth troop (as well as for the General Zionist Hechalutz chapter) multiplied, the old guard resumed its honored place at the helm and continued in that capacity until the war broke out.

The members of the executive in that period included Mordecai Pomerancblum, Josef Szpinrad, Leah Roszer, Isaac Tuchman, Moshe Nisengarten, Mordecai Elimelech Kucharski, Israel Band, and (ex officio from Hano'ar Hatzair and Hechalutz) Tzwi Lewowicz and yours truly. Another who later joined the executive was Leib Mandel Sznifer, who was an experienced and talented young man, a former member of the Bund, who knew how to present the Zionist idea skillfully and very persuasively on every public stage. All these members of the executive acted to the best of their ability, each in his own sphere of activity, to discharge their tasks faithfully. But the two I have singled out surpassed the others in energy, initiative, enthusiasm, and expertise–Mordecai Pomerancblum in his role as president of the organization and Josef Szpinrad, who served as treasurer. They carried the burden of the ZO on their shoulders for many years. Their hands never grew weary nor did their pace slacken in every endeavor that they initiated and every action they undertook under the circumstances of those times. An ideal spirit of cooperation prevailed between the two of them, though they were of very different personality types. While Pomerancblum was of a stormy disposition, prone to enthusiasm and outbursts, Szpinrad was placid and the soul of moderation, who never lost control. When the first let his temper get the better of him at some irritation, the second would wait him out patiently for the right moment and utter his considered and wise word with perfect timing. This was truly a match made in heaven, each perfectly complementing the other. This balancing of opposites enabled the two to head the ZO for many years, finding a common language in their public organizational work while maintaining personal relations that were always warm and heartfelt.

I am unable to point to specific achievements that characterized the Staszów chapter of the Zionist Organization during those years. It may have been because the local conditions that we have described did not provide the leaders with convenient opportunities to grow wings, so to speak. It may be the fault of my memory. In any case, one matter is beyond doubt–namely, that the workers of the Zionist Organization did not neglect any opportunity to contribute their share to propagate the truth and consciousness of Zionism as it appeared to them along the broad avenues of the local Jewish population; they cooperated with every Zionist project in the area at every time they were called on to do so; and they initiated important activities that redounded to the glory of Zionism generally and the local chapter in particular.

 

The Bazaar for JNF

Among the most important educational Zionist activities in which the ZO played an active and leading role was the bazaar for the Jewish National Fund, which was organized in 5698 (1938). This was a major and fine educational program that required as a prerequisite for its success–and it was very successful–considerable talent of organization and execution. The list of local Zionist organizations that worked hard to organize and conduct the bazaar included WIZO, Mizrachi, and Hashomer Hatzair, as well as the Zionist Organization, which dedicated to the common project the efforts of its best members in this area, such as Israel Band, Moshe Nisengarten, Tzvi Lewowicz, and others. These contributed their time, energy, and talent toward its full success.

Although the ZO as such did not establish a JNF division, its vital assistance in organizing, advising, leading, and administering were a significant factor in the project. No detail great or small was done without consulting with our members. The bazaar provided Hano'ar Hatziyoni with an excellent opportunity to appear publicly in a General Zionist activity, and they underwent their first public baptism of fire by establishing their own independent JNF division, while adding their own twist to the common project.

 

Dr. Ignacy Schiper, HID[5]

A most important cultural project initiated, among others, by the ZO, was inviting the well–known historian Dr. Ignacy Schiper for a series of lectures on Yiddish literature and his impressions on visiting Eretz Israel. His appearances in Staszów and his lectures, with their rich content and endearing style, made a powerful impression on all his listeners. The many attendees, too many for the large cinema hall to contain, sat riveted in their seats and eagerly took in every word he uttered.

While his addresses were packed full with dramatic moments, one stands out in particular for me. Dr. Schiper shared his dream for reclaiming land from the sea in order to expand the dwelling area of Tel Aviv. He addressed the sea rhetorically and said in Yiddish, “Reb Yam, ruckt zich! –Mr. Sea, stand back!” His lectures were an experience of spiritual and cultural elevation for his listeners and for Zionism in our locale.

 

Dr. Kirszenbaum, Z”L

With the growing strength and influence of the local ZO, due especially to the formation and development of the Hano'ar Hatziyoni troop described above, the ZO attained a position of honor and in the final years before the war (which sealed its doom) it attracted a growing number of members to its ranks. Among these was the beloved and admired Dr. Kirszenbaum, an easygoing man who came to us from Kraków and served as a physician. He quickly became popular in the community thanks to his elegant appearance, his moderate and considered habit of speaking, his broad culture, and his impeccable manner toward great and small, Jew and Pole. It will not be surprising, then, that Dr. Kirszenbaum, as a member of the ZO chapter, became one of its central pillars in the discussions and meetings that were conducted on cultural–intellectual and other matters. In the question–and–answer evenings that were held every Friday night at the chapter, Dr. Kirszenbaum was not only a regular and active participant but also the dominant personality who stood head and shoulders above the others, literally and figuratively, displaying his broad general erudition, delving deeply into questions of Zionism and current Jewish affairs, and engaging cordially with the members of the chapter.

Let these few lines serve as a memory marker for this dear man, who fell on his watch while fulfilling his professional mission as a physician during the second year of the war, in 1940.

May his memory be for a blessing!

 

The Three Movements

Aside from the abovementioned activities and the participation of the chapter in the incessant organizational events, such as city council elections, Jewish community board elections, the Zionist Congress, and active participation in the JNF committee through members Josef Szpinrad and Moshe Nisengarten–not to mention a lively debate on the chapter's position with respect to the problem that split the entire Polish Zionist Organization in those years–namely, the three movements of Et Livnot (Time to Build), Al Hamishmar (On Guard), and the Revisionist group. The principal representative of the Al Hamishmar faction, of the school of Isaac Gruenbaum, was the chapter president, Mordecai Pomerancblum, whereas the representative of the Et Livnot faction, of the school of Dr. Joshua Gottlieb and Josef Hauptman, was Josef Szpinrad. The Revisionist Party had no support in our chapter, except for one member, Jehiel Pomerancblum.

Although the immigration quota into Eretz Israel was beyond our control, being determined by the British Mandate authority, which gave this debate more a theoretical than a practical cast, still tempers flared, and our public debates on the most desirable and most effective way to fulfill the Jewish millennial dream paralleled those in the national organization.

One party maintained that the quality of immigration was of prime importance, being the only guarantee for establishing a strong and secure presence in the Yishuv, and argued for careful selection of the human material for making aliyah. This argument was advanced despite the patent fact that this method would necessarily cause a delay in the process of making the Jewish settlement a majority of the population in the land. The other party argued that it was impermissible to deny any Jew permission to immigrate because this was the inalienable right of every Jew as such. This policy was advocated as the way of maximally encouraging and speeding up the process of creating a Jewish majority in Eretz Israel in every way possible and under all circumstances.

 

The Minyan

I referred earlier to the increase in numbers of the ZO chapter in the final years of its existence. One of the expressions of this increase in numbers and influence was the striking fact that in those years the chapter was able to sustain without difficulty its own prayer service (minyan) on Sabbaths and holidays, which had been beyond its capabilities in previous years. This minyan, which in and of itself was a result of our increase, had the side effect that it was not only a socializing and unifying factor internally but also served externally as a springboard for influence and further expansion. It came to the point that in the end the large hall, extending for more than three rooms (previously the dwelling of Reb Mendel Szaniecki) was too small to contain this large crowd, consisting of the ZO, Hano'ar Hatziyoni, and the General Zionist Hechalutz.

The group had to split, and the ZO chapter was transferred to another meeting place, in the house of Reb Eliyahu Pomerancblum, at the corner of Rynek and Opatowska Street. The two services–the ZO in one hall and Hano'ar Hatziyoni and Hechalutz in the other–continued to meet and to weave their dreams and hopes of future times on the soil of the Promised Land, for whose sake they had worked and sacrificed the best of their days and sweat. They continued so until they were taken unawares by the Teutonic destroyer, who brought terrifying physical annihilation, unprecedented and unimaginable, upon those pure and holy souls who worked there, leaving only–contrary to plan and only by accident–isolated survivors from the valley of slaughter.

May their memory be for a blessing!

(p. 151R out of 135–152)

 

Photo captions:

P. 139. “The Zionist Organization.” Caption on the photo reads, “In remembrance of the departure of our female comrades on the eve of their making aliyah to Eretz Israel. Agudat Zion in Staszów, 19 Av, 5685 (9 August 1925).”
P. 141. Meeting of the General Zionist Hechalutz board, in honor of the aliyah to Eretz Israel of Tova Gringras and Tziporah Rabt. Sitting from right to left: Esther Rosensztok, Jehiel Wajnberg, Tova Gringras, Leah Roszer, Tzvi Lewowicz, Frieda Koppel. Standing: Tova Goldbesser, Tziporah Rabt, Yaffa Brokev.
P. 143. Meeting of Deborah and Tel Hai patrols of Hano'ar Hatziyoni with Israel Band.
p. 144. Lag Ba'omer hike of Hano'ar Hatziyoni [29 April] 1937.
p. 145. Admission of the Kana'im Unit and Lebanon Patrol into the Zionist Organization, Hanukkah 5694 (16 December 1933).
p. 147. The B'nei Shemesh Unit, when the leader Beile Singer set out for pioneering training.
p. 149. The executive of the Staszów chapter of the Zionist Organization, on the occasion of Leah Roszer's making aliyah. Sitting from right to left: Israel Band, Josef Szpinrad, Mordecai Pomerancblum, Leah Roszer, Isaac Tuchman. Standing: Mordecai Elchanan Kucharski, Isaac Beker, Moshe Nisengarten, Tzvi Lewowicz.
p. 150. The executive of the Women's International Zionist Organization [WIZO] in honor of its chairwoman, Leah Roszer, making aliyah to Eretz Israel. Sitting from right to left: Miriam Dambrowski, Deborah Kukielka. Standing: Dinah Rosenblum, Perl Tuchman, Malka Tanenbaum, Leah Roszer, Esther Tochterman, Perl Rosengarten.

Footnotes

  1. Judenstaat: the “Jewish State,” so called by the Nazis in mockery of the title of Herzl's programmatic novel by that name. return
  2. Theodor Herzl died on 3 July 1904, which was the 20th of Tammuz 5664 according to the Hebrew calendar. The commemoration took place on the corresponding Hebrew date each year, which could vary between 30 June and 27 July depending on the year but was always about five days after the full moon of the month of Tammuz. return
  3. “Shepped naches”: derived gratification, more specifically, the parents' vicarious gratification from their children's accomplishments. return
  4. In June 2015, the translator spoke by phone with Shoshana Rotenberg (née Apelbaum), now living in Toronto, to check this report. She reported that there were two girls in Staszów at that time (herself being one of them), both named Rózia (in Hebrew, Shoshana) Apelbaum, each active in a different Zionist youth organization, and each the daughter of a different Berl Apelbaum, with no known family relation between them. The Shoshana with whom I spoke married Simcha Rotenberg (also mentioned in this article) after the war; they lived in Israel for a while and eventually moved to Toronto–trans. return
  5. Dr. Ignacy Schiper (1884–1943) was a Polish Jewish historian and politician who represented the Zionists in the Sejm. HID: Hashem Yikkom Damo–“may God avenge his blood.” return


[Pages 153-156]

Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard)

by Ya'akov Shiloni–Gan Shmuel

Translated by Leonard Levin

I don't know if I will be able to properly describe the unique phenomenon that went by the name of “Hashomer Hatzair” in our town. Perhaps it could have been done better by those who stood at the cradle of the movement and saw it in its beginnings–the time that childlike grace accompanied all its hesitant movements as if groping in the darkness, when it was still called by its original name, “scouting organization.” Doubt gnaws at my heart when I approach this labor, and I am not confident that after thirty–some years I shall have the wit to draw a picture true to the reality as it took place before our eyes.

On the other hand, it is possible that these defects can be turned to advantage. Perhaps one who saw the beginning of the movement as a bystander and whose view of those events has the perspective of passing years is capable of a sober and more balanced view of these events, without the exaggeration of one involved in them. Perhaps it will permit maximal fidelity to the emotions and spirit of the period, even if I may err somewhat as to the precision of the facts.

*

Poverty and fear on the one hand and hopes of the beginning of redemption on the other hand were the portion of the Jews with the liberation of Poland toward the end of World War I in 1918. Poverty–as a result of the destruction of the economic life generally during the war and that of the Jewish masses in the town in particular, who on account of their social composition were especially liable to be affected. Fear–on account of the increase of anti–Semitism and pogroms with the appearance of the “Hellerchiks.” These were infamous, among other reasons, for their malicious prank of cutting off half the beards of Jews who fell into their hands. (Incidentally, my late father, too, was the victim of this kind of abuse.) Hopes–[1] the October Revolution in Russia, which heralded the beginning of a new period, promising a just social regime for suffering humanity;[2] the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration, which awakened tremendous waves of emotion among the Jews, who saw in it, if not the substance of redemption, at any rate a hint and heralding of the beginning of its march and the imminent fulfillment of the yearnings of the generations.

Tossed on a sea of emotions, without knowing if they were contradictory or complementary, I would listen in, as a habitué of the beit midrash, on the give and take of the older students as they pointed out allusive passages in the Talmud and the kabbalistic works and with greater emphasis reinforce their arguments with support from the Malbim, proving that the war of Gog and Magog had indeed arrived and that one could expect, any day or any hour, the arrival of the Messiah of the line of Joseph, the herald of the true redemption.

Indeed, given the somber conditions of the town's reality and the feeling, still nebulous, that we were indeed standing on the threshold of events that were powerful enough from a general human perspective but awesome and majestic from the perspective of the Jewish people, it was a strange sight when a procession of scouts wearing strange headgear, dressed in scouting uniforms, and adorned with colored ribbons holding long staffs in their hands suddenly appeared in the central square and side streets of the town. There was something provocative and enticing in the strange outfits and the sound of song emanating from the parade, but in my eyes–a young lad immersed entirely in the world of sacred study–it was jarring. I saw it as a mocking vision, a Purim game of frivolous youths. Just imagine: on the one hand, profound faith in an upheaval of the order of creation that might be near at hand; and on the other hand, Jewish youths indulging in childish sport and trivialities! Could there be a greater contrast?

Years pass. I left the beit midrash, where I had engaged in study with the rabbi from Riglitz [Ryglice] of the Ropshits [Ropczyce] dynasty. I felt the need to be independent, and I began to learn the craft of sewing with the sons of Zanwil the melamed [cheder teacher], who like me had fallen in with so–called “bad company.” There I immediately encountered the problems of class warfare, with its proponents: the Bund and the communists. In the natural course of events and with all my youthful enthusiasm, I joined one of the organizations, the Yugent–Bund [Bundist youth], and afterward the Bund itself. But I did not remain in those organizations for long. The dismal reality of Polish Jewry after the war; the lack of any perspective or future, when it became clear that not only had the revolution been stopped in its tracks at the Russian border but that even within those borders it was fighting for its life and the prospects were unpredictable–all this plunged the revolutionary parties into a nihilistic mood; they were involved in a fruitless situation, turning into clubs that wasted themselves in barren debates.

Given this new reality, a reality that weighted heavily on one's soul, depriving it of any purpose in life or will to action, I saw Hashomer Hatzair in a new light. It had in the meantime shaken off its childish frivolity and had become a movement bearing articulate ideas, one that knew where it was going. Unlike the other workers' parties, whose activity revolved around destruction and negation, this young movement had carved out its ideological path around a great affirmation, toward which it strove with all its youthful energy–namely, establishing a new society in the ancestral homeland on a solid basis of a just social regime. This innovation, which catapulted Hashomer Hatzair into the public square of the town, stood out, and it attracted a considerable portion of the serious local youth to its ranks–including the writer of these lines.

In the 1920s, Hashomer Hatzair became a formative influence in the life of the town, and the troop–the local cell of the movement–was a source of youthful enthusiasm. The anti–Zionist workers' movements reached a dead end at the end of this period on account of their lack of purpose and their inability to integrate into Polish society because of anti–Semitism, which continued to grow, embracing even the circles that called themselves progressive. A serious crisis overtook the general Zionist and Mizrachi movements due to the situation that was generated in Eretz Israel in the throes of the so–called “Grabski immigration” and the resulting returnees from Eretz Israel.[3] In that period, the stature of the Jews was reduced further. Some of the youths lost their religion, whereas the rest were plunged into demoralization. At that critical moment, it was Hashomer Hatzair that provided us with the feeling of life filled with meaning and creative joy that all the evils of those times, which undermined the foundations of other organizations, could not undo. Rich educational programs, groups for self–development, cultural and social activities that later extended to professional development–these are just some of the areas in which Hashomer Hatzair not only proved its ability and vitality but also served as a prodding and encouraging factor for the other local parties.

The training in courage for which Trumpeldor[4] and the Shomrim[5] served as models and that came to fervent expression in the song that we sang with holy reverence, “We rise up and sing”; the spirit of redemption pulsating in our hearts to carve out and pave new roads, of which our parents had not dreamed; the same spirit that came to extreme expression in [David] Shimonovitch's[6] famous poem, “Do not listen, my son, to your father's instruction, nor give ear to your mother's teaching”; the love of nature, with which the movement so generously imbued us–all of these opened us up to appreciate the breathtaking landscape of the town and its surroundings, to the fields with their bounteous grain, to the Golejów Forest, and more, all of them charming leisure spots that had been closed off to traditional Jewish youths who were in fear of their non–Jewish Polish counterparts. The frequent hikes of our scout troops and packs, accompanied by song and lively, heartfelt dances in the bosom of glorious nature, imparted to us the joyous sense of active, full, creative life, preparing us for the life of tomorrow, the tomorrow that we projected for ourselves in our vision.

We formulated new concepts of morality, man, and society through the ideological articulation of the movement. We set as our objective the uprooting of the falsehood and deceit that reigned supreme in human society. We came to the realization that it was not enough to change the social regime, which amounted only to a material and economic change. Though tremendously important in itself, it did not provide a solution to the problem of man's spirit, subjected as it was to the chains of out–of–date, anachronistic concepts. It was necessary to strive for a renewal of man himself, to reeducate him from the beginning, to set him on new foundations, compatible with the spirit of the time. We saw in the vision of the kibbutz the organizational and social cell from which the teaching of that renewal would emanate, and in it we saw a radical solution to all the problems of man and society. But in the meantime we contented ourselves with conversations and keen deliberations concerning every problem that came up. And the problems were many and varied: the individual and society, folk and class, exile and Israel, the hero in history, love and hate, relations between men and women, and more. These discussions often had the most important practical consequences. There was, for example, the attitude toward manual labor. We had a contemptuous attitude toward the laborer, whom we called a bal–melokhe [handyman], a term that pretty much became a synonym for a ne'er–do–well, for only one who was unable to function in an honorable profession would turn to manual labor.

But since Hashomer Hatzair recognized the Jewish anomaly, whose roots were in the degenerate life of exile, and recognized also the urgent need to change this anomaly from the ground up by accepting the principle of self–development and manual labor as the foundation of a healthy society, we personally had to change the humiliating and unjustified negative attitude toward labor. Our eyes were suddenly opened to see all the good, beautiful, and right that was latent in the principle of manual labor–a principle that would result in the elevation of the individual and the healing of society and that would serve as a trustworthy and well–tested means for achieving a normal national existence. I myself had the experience of this change. Helping one's parents at home is an enlightened action, and the fulfillment of this obligation was natural and pleasant. But I admit without embarrassment that whenever I had to drive a handcart laden with merchandise to the stand in the marketplace, I blushed in shame. But the minute I stepped over the threshold of the troop meeting place, it all changed as if by a magic wand. Indeed, the new ideas that we acquired brought about a change, sometimes diametrical, in our approach to many problems, among them anything that smacked of the odor of labor, whatever that may be. I am surely not exaggerating when I say that Hashomer Hatzair played a large, direct or indirect, part in penetrating the great positive value of manual labor among the ranks of the local youths.

Today, many years later, I picture the scout troop as an enchanted castle, which contrasted with the darkness of my home, my mother's sadness as she sat bored in the half–empty store, and my father's sorrow as he ran around ceaselessly to provide for the household. It served me as an island of happiness and joy, one in which we spent our time in song and dance that elevated our souls.

In the troop we strove after knowledge, developed ourselves, and matured, becoming men and women equipped with an articulated worldview and consistently striving for its realization.

 

Photo captions:

p. 154–the admission of the Trumpeldor and Cherut patrols into the Staszów troop of Hashomer Hatzair.
p. 155–a unit of Hashomer Hatzair.

Footnotes

  1. “Hellerchiks”: followers of a reputedly anti–Semitic commander named Heller. See Yerucham Ines, “Sochaczew as I Remember It, “ from the Sochaczew Memorial Book, http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/sochaczew/so647.html . So far, we have found no supporting documentation other than this word–of–mouth report. return
  2. Malbim: Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal (Russia, Romania, and Prussia, 1809–1879), a leading east European rabbi and prolific writer of commentaries on the Torah and the later books of the Hebrew Bible. return
  3. Władysław Grabski was a Polish politician of the National Democratic Party who was prime minister in the mid–1920s and participated in economic reforms, some of which backfired. The Polish Jewish immigrants to Eretz Israel of this period–members of the Fourth Aliyah–were motivated in part by these developments; however, the economic troubles in Eretz Israel forced some of them to go back to Poland. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%C5%82adys%C5%82aw_Grabski and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Aliyah. return
  4. Joseph Trumpeldor: Zionist pioneer and war hero (1880–1920); died in defense of Tel Hai. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Trumpeldor. return
  5. Shomrim: members of Hashomer, Jewish self–defense organization in Palestine, founded in 1909, superseded by the Haganah in 1920. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashomer. return
  6. David Shimonovitch, aka David Shimoni: Hebrew poet (Belarus and Israel, 1891–1956). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Shimoni. The line quoted is an ironic reversal of Proverbs 1:8: “Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, and do not forsake your mother's teaching.” return


[Pages 157-159]

Hashomer Hatzair in the 1930s

by Meir Blausztajn – Kibbutz Yakum

Translated by Leonard Levin

One cannot write about the Hashomer Hatzair troop in Staszów without describing, if only briefly, the general background of the life of youth in the area.

Our youths, like the entire Jewish community in the town, did not operate in a vacuum. A certain specific reality laid its stamp, whether knowingly or unknowingly, on everything. This included the history of the community and what it had experienced for generations, with all that implied. It included a religion and tradition, a secular culture, public conflicts, rabbis and shtibls, magnates and officers, businesses and crafts, yeshivas, cheders, and other schools, parties, and movements–in short, the totality of conditions of public and private life with their joys and sorrows, activities and lulls, as they came to expression in the town.

For the Jews of all Poland, including the Jews of Staszów, who did not live in seclusion, the 1930s were difficult years economically and stormy years politically. There was certainly a gap, sometimes a significant one, between one community and the next with respect to the degree of suffering and the level of communal activity. But one could say generally that the situation of Jews grew more difficult from day to day on account of the impoverishment of Polish Jewry as a result of the clear, deliberate policy of both the Polish ruling party and the opposition to restrict their sources of economic activity, as well as on account of the impossibility of exit as a result of the fact that the United States closed its gates of immigration after World War I. Our town, indeed, had it better than others. While the sources of income of other towns diminished as a result of those policies and their youths, condemned to unemployment, turned to the great industrial centers of the country–Warsaw, łódŸ, and others (not to mention the trickle of immigration to South America)–our shoe industry provided us with sustenance; it was the dominant economic activity in the area, and except for the sole makers, it was entirely in Jewish hands, providing occupation and livelihood for maturing youths.[1] This fact had decisive importance, for at a time when many towns rotted in suffering and languished without youths and the outcry of their desolation could be heard for miles around, Staszów was full of life and a considerable portion of its youths put down roots and lived their adult lives there, and they even breathed a living spirit into the life of the whole town.

But despite its relative prosperity, Staszów could not remain a solitary island within the larger Polish Jewish community. The ominous waves of violent anti–Semitism, the general distress of the Jewish population, the uncertainty and lack of confidence for the next day, especially after the rise of the Nazis and Fascists and the destructive consequences for the Jews–all these gave rise to severe anxieties in the hearts of all Jews in those years. Even the youth in Staszów, alert to everything that was happening throughout the Polish Diaspora, devoted itself with all its strength to finding solutions to this fundamental question.

 

The Flow to Hashomer Hatzair

At that time, thousands of youths in all the Polish cities and towns flocked to the troops of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, which became a fighting force, systematically working to achieve its goals in Zionism and in building up Eretz Israel out of the faith that Zionism and socialism were not contradictory but complementary ideas and that combining them was the way to make practical Zionism as a mass movement a feasible objective.

Joining the troop opened up a new world for me, but by then it had been established and known in the town for many years. Scores of former members now in Israel and hundreds in Diaspora who were educated in the troop, even if they did not realize their youthful dreams, surely harbor a warm spot in their hearts when they recall those good old days.

But if the troop was admired by many, it was a thorn in the side of many others. The ultra–Orthodox saw us as emissaries of the Devil, God forbid, who made heretics of their children; the political right saw us as leftists, paving the way to communism; whereas in the eyes of the ultra left, we were “Zionist reactionaries.” In short, we were heirs of the curse of Ishmael: “His hand shall be against every man's, and every man's hand against his.” Nevertheless, the troop was buzzing with throngs of youths, and in those years we reached our climax of growth.

 

What was the strength of Hashomer Hatzair?

Its strength lay in its understanding of the hearts of the youths, its strong desire to guide them, and its ability to create a well–articulated organizational and ideological framework that responded as much as possible to all the questions of the time. A young Jew, whether he was educated in a yeshiva, a cheder, or a Polish public school, once he arrived at the age of maturity–that is to say, the age of asking questions–and started wondering about his path in life in this, God's world, the troop was the place that not only knew how to direct him toward the right horizons by setting an exalted objective in his life but also provided him with many possibilities for displaying initiative and giving release to his youthful energy.

When they joined the troop as cubs, the emotional factor was decisive, whereas consciousness of the values of the movement penetrated only in later years into their spiritual world. This was not the case with the ranks of scouts and senior scouts, who were the primary strength of the troop. These were youths from 15 to 17 years old, graduates of public school, who in many cases had already begun to work. The immediate encounter with a new reality, the reality of work and spiritual and ideological maturation that came as a consequence of age, generated in the heart of a serious youth thirsty for knowledge the need to read and study as much as possible in order to clarify and refine for himself his place in society–he needed answers.

The problems, conversations, and debates with which they grappled on this level revolved mainly around two issues–and in our eyes, two that were really one–namely, Zionism and socialism.

As to Zionism, this was a period when the gates of Eretz Israel were practically locked shut, the period of the great debate around chalukah[2] and Aliyah Bet,[3] a period that was exploited by the extreme left for viciously attacking Zionism in an attempt to prove that it was utopian and that only stubbornly fighting for the rights of Jews by being territorially grounded in one's present country of residence could produce the final solution to the Jewish question. It was thus necessary to conduct discussions and in–depth ideological and political clarifications in order to wrestle openly with these false views, which threatened to splinter our troop at its roots.

The second issue that focused our attention was the international workers' movement, of which Hashomer Hatzair saw itself as an organic part. The troop lived everything that happened in this area and every event in this movement; for instance, the Schutzbund rebellion in Vienna[4] and the peasants' revolt in Spain were followed by our members with great fervor.

But the troop dealt not only with ideological analyses and high policy. The troop knew how to exploit every historical event in the life of the people and also every internal organizational innovation to supply the youths with abundant additional experiences and impressions to enrich their spirits and solidify the ties between them and the troop with its mission.

 

Lag Ba'omer Hike

Dressed in scout uniforms and equipped with all kinds of accessories, such as patrol and unit banners, sporting gear, cooking utensils, food, and the like, all the members, from cubs to seniors, flocked to the troop's field, in which they arranged in parade formation before the hike. The parade formation, arranged in rows in accordance with all the scouting rules, had a special grace and beauty that imparted to us a feeling of pride and strength. After the parade, the march to Golejów Forest began, accompanied with song for the whole way. Besides sporting competitions and scouting games, the entire day was also devoted to the ceremony of promotion from one rank to the next, an internal event important in its own right. But the highlight of the day was the campfire, which took place at dusk, accompanied by songs and dances to the point of exhaustion. At that hour the comrades were seized with a Hasidic ecstasy, an ecstasy that banished for the moment the cares of the group and the individual, the burdens of the present, and anxieties for the next day, and in our minds' eye a new future was depicted, attractive and magical, far away in the ancient homeland. Exhausted but filled with satisfaction and enriched by potent, unforgettable experiences, we returned home late in the evening.

 

Summer Camps

The organization of summer camps for all the age groups of the troop, each age group in its own camp, was regarded as an educational event of the highest order. Indeed, the counselors of the troop spared no effort, year after year, in going over and over plans for this important activity in all its details and refinements. What was the purpose of it? First of all, the contact among youths from different towns, lifestyles, and educational methods was a positive factor that served the purpose of the movement. And second, the camp experience of only the young (for only a small number of adult counselors participated in it) taking responsibility for purchasing and preparing the food (scorched porridge), for cleaning up, making order, standing guard at night, as well as cultural activities for several weeks–all this gave us a sense of independence and trust in our own forces and was a significant factor in the education of the young.

But the crowning glory of summer–camp activities were those of the older age groups–scouts and senior scouts. These took place far from the town, usually in the Carpathian Mountains. In these camps, in which comrades from many Polish towns participated, organizations for kibbutz training were also established. Here, social ties were developed among those who in the near future would be obligated, by virtue of their destiny and vision, to live together in training kibbutzim in Poland and afterward in kibbutzim in Eretz Israel.

These camps also served, under the direction of emissaries from Eretz Israel, as a kind of concentrated seminar for different problems of the movement.

Aside from social awareness and intellectual alertness, which were fostered so well in these camps and were an unfailing source of spiritual elevation, the hilly landscape, the hikes, and the mountain climbing to the Carpathian summits were–added to the entirely unfamiliar communal life–a new source of unforgettable, impressive experiences for a soul yearning for beauty.

 

The Time of Fulfillment

Youth passes, and kids become goats. After the years of games, hikes, camps, and studies came the hour of testing–namely, going forth to train body and soul for aliyah to Eretz Israel, a fundamental institution in the education of Hashomer Hatzair. Even though the living conditions in the training kibbutzim of Poland at that time were not at all easy given the hardships of labor and the deficient dwellings and nourishment, the troop nevertheless succeeded in this important mission, and a certain portion of each cohort of senior scouts went on to training kibbutzim in places such as Praszka, Lublin, Kostopol, Radom, Białystok, and Częstochowa. It should be mentioned that, of all these, not only was the one in Częstochowa the most important, but the living conditions at this training station were relatively the easiest.

This was an agricultural farm, which was co–opted before World War I by a local Jew named Marcusfeld on behalf of the JCA (Jewish Colonization Association)[5] with the purpose of attracting Jews to agricultural work. After it was destroyed during World War I, it found a redeemer after the war in the form of Hashomer Hatzair. In addition to dwelling units, the farm comprised about 18 morgen of land [about 12 acres], mostly suitable for growing vegetables, especially tomatoes, while the rest supported twenty head of cattle, including ten dairy cows, a large, well–ordered greenhouse for winter plantings, plus horses, agricultural equipment, and the like.

In the years prior to World War II, two or three training kibbutzim were located on this farm in succession.

Between fifty to sixty comrades worked in the agricultural area and the rest in factories and crafts in the city.

It should be noted here that, despite its many deficiencies, the network of training stations of all the pioneering Zionist movements in Poland comprised an extremely valuable constructive enterprise, one that over the years trained and qualified cadres of pioneers for the building of Eretz Israel. The social bodies that were organized there and that later founded many of the kibbutzim in Eretz Israel had their source and original formation in those same training stations in Poland that provided their members with working skills and helped them acquire vital areas of expertise that made their adjustment to life in Eretz Israel much easier.

Aside from the rich and vital activity described above, the troop served also as a significant participant in every public enterprise in the town, starting with efforts on behalf of the JNF, distributing shekels, holding elections to the Zionist congresses, participation in public programs for Jewish and socialist celebrations, and also extending to artistic exhibitions and managing the Peretz Library. All this continued until the outbreak of the war and to some extent even during it, until the day of liquidation, the day when our community was destroyed, together with all its inhabitants.

 

Photo captions:

p. 159 (right)–Above: Chaya Pomerancblum, Gimpel Solarz, Leah and Zvi Solnik, Deborah Pomerancblum. Below: Penina Rzesak, Azriel Cimerman, Leah and Avchu Wolbromski.
p. 159 (left)–Members of Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim in Israel.

Footnotes

  1. The Staszów shoe industry differentiated between “kamashen makers” (who made the upper part of the shoes) and “shoemakers” (who made the soles). The first were predominantly Jewish, the second predominantly non–Jewish. See “The Shoe Industry,” http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/staszow/sta071.html#Page74. return
  2. Chalukah: distribution of subsistence funds to religious Jews who lived in Eretz Israel studying Torah without productive livelihoods. return
  3. Aliyah Bet: illegal immigration to Eretz Israel, so–called because there were two methods of immigration: legal and illegal; these were respectively numbered “Aleph” (#1) and “Bet” (#2). return
  4. “Schutzbund rebellion: See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republikanischer_Schutzbund and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Revolt_of_1927. return
  5. JCA: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Colonization_Association. return


[Pages 160-161]

Our Troop / Den – Esteemed in Poland

by Frida Ajzenberg – Kibbutz Mesilot

Translated by Leonard Levin

The Hashomer Hatzair troop in our town had a sterling reputation throughout Poland. Its fame was a result of the alert and active participation of its members in every communal activity in the town, such as the participation of its representatives in nationwide and civic conferences, especially its independent stance on various issues, such as its affirmative attitude to Yiddish as it came to be expressed in one of the movement conferences in our town, and more.[1]

Within the walls of the troop den, richly varied activities took place in smaller groups–boys and girls separate–in patrols, as well as activities that included the entire troop. These last were filled with content, and the spirit of festivity that pervaded them served as a source of pleasant recollection for many days after.

The activities of the troop were many and varied, starting with scouting games, songs, and dances and extending to acquiring basic knowledge in many areas, including the study of the Hebrew language. It should be remarked here that more than a few of us acquired the elements of reading and writing in the Hebrew language there for the first time, a fact that later greatly facilitated our absorption into the life of Eretz Israel.

In the troop, which was the focus of activity of the cream of the youth from all classes of the people, news bulletins were posted on the wall; a large, well–trained choir was organized; and with the assistance and guidance of members of the troop, a rich and well–ordered library was established, which served not only the troop but all the residents of the town.

To fill out the picture, we add to the foregoing a list of educational and organizational projects, such as organizing summer camps, hikes on Lag Ba'omer, and active participation in May Day parades. Such projects sustained a high level of excitement and produced the impression of a life of activity, striving for a way of living that was thought through and preplanned.

In addition to the responsibility and dedication that characterized the troop in all its activities, there was another field of endeavor that the troop undertook with trembling and love–namely, collecting contributions for the Jewish National Fund [JNF].

I recall an incident that occurred when I was studying in the Polish public school and was engaged in distributing stamps from the JNF. A Polish girl tattled on me to the teacher, saying that I was engaged in an activity that was hostile to the Polish people, presumably communism. Because of the grave danger this involved, I was called urgently to the teachers' room and warned sternly to cease and desist from the said activity; if not, I would be expelled from the school. But this threat had the reverse effect from the intended, and I continued to engage even more assiduously in this endeavor–one that I considered holy work.

When I bring to my mind's eye the narrowness and darkness of this town of our exile, in which every goal and purpose in life was shut in our faces, and in that setting the love of life and youthful delight that found release in the four walls of our troop den, it clarifies for me in full significance the source of strength and charm of our Hashomer Hatzair troop.

In spite of the fear of the foreign school, which saw this troop as its enemy because it would enable a young man to stand straight to his full Jewish and human stature while also awakening his class consciousness–something that the Polish teachers considered as outright communist indoctrination–and in spite of encounters with the Polish police, who arranged frequent “visits” to the troop den in order to capture the offenders, who fled in haste in every direction to save themselves–in spite of all this, the troop grew and spread out and was a magnet for the local youth. There a young person could free himself, if only for a short while, from the oppressive sense of the hostile environment; there one could devote oneself wholeheartedly to the movement and its values; and there one could cultivate dance, accompanied by a Hasidic melody, a melody that infused its spirit and enthusiasm for this movement to all.

That is how it was. That is how our youths lived and grew up, full of Jewish pride, suffused with humanistic and proletarian values, with the exalted goal of joining a kibbutz–itself a powerful tool for building Eretz Israel and reviving the Jewish people.

 

Photo captions:

p. 161 – A troop of bogrim (young adult members of Hashomer Hatzair)

Footnote

  1. “Affirmative attitude to Yiddish”: the reason why this was so surprising is that affirmation of Zionism was almost universally associated with a preference for the Hebrew language and denigration of Yiddish as a “Diaspora” phenomenon. The Staszów Hashomer Hatzair leaders in question were broadminded enough to recognize the positive values of Yiddish as an expression of east–European Jewish identity and culture and not to see this as contradictory to the promotion of a Jewish return to the national homeland in Eretz Israel. return

 

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