Our town had the same composition of youth movements as other towns in central Poland, from the radical leftist movements to Beitar, which was considered a rightist movement.
Despite its distance from large population centers, our town was teeming with Zionist activity, and the youths, who showed interest in every field of Jewish life, were aware of problems of the hour and willing to tackle them for the sake of the nation.
We also hosted certain training kibbutzim (collectives) who visited the town from time to time. Some of them worked at the large Tartak (lumber-mill), while others would wander around town carrying axes and saws, looking for work chopping wood for the harsh days of winter.
An aura of romance surrounded these kibbutzniks. Despite their financial struggles we youths saw them as princes and were jealous of them, because they were destined to travel to Israel soon.
This took place in ages past and much has been forgotten since, but I have no doubt that our youths were healthy in spirit, and I can recall no bullying or hooliganism. Each was part of a group, whether it was Beitar, HeHalutz, the Zionist Youth, the religious youth, the professional associations of tailors and carpenters, or movements such as The Star (Gviazda) or Maccabi, and so on. We should also mention the young members of Agudath Israel, among which I had the honor of studying Talmud. As a matter of fact, the education of youth in our town was divided as follows: from around the age of 4 we studied under Mailech the Melamed. Later, we studied under rabbi Yoel. Finally we studied under, Shlomo Shenner, who was known as a devout but very bad-tempered Jew. That was the sum of the education received by of most youths in our town.
A minor educational revolution took place with the foundation of the first school, Tarbut, managed by the great educator Lupta, and that of the Hamizrachi School managed by the teachers Lipski of Opatów and Yaakov Tenenbaum, the son of the rabbi of Wierzbnik. This teacher was better known as Yankel the Yellow than by his surname, Tenenbaum.
The Polish school system naturally took part in general education, and throughout the years, until the Nazi holocaust, the Jewish students were treated with patience and objectiveness, regardless of the fact that most Jewish students excelled in all their subjects during those years. If memory serves, there were few high school graduates in our town because the town was far from large population centers and the parents feared sending their children far away, where they might pick up bad habits. Among the high school graduates we commemorate Sarah Kleiner and her brother Yoseph, who live today in Caracas in Venezuela. Sarah's husband, Dr. Wiesenfeld, serves as the leader of the Jewish community in Caracas and as the president of the Zionist organization there.
I may have forgotten some other high school graduates, but I would like to mention another of them here, Shmuel Gelbard, who fell during the War of Independence when the Syrians bombed Holon.
But although we were not rich with formal graduates, there were many of us with a general and Jewish education, even distinct scholars. The libraries of the tailors' organization and the Zionist organization were always filled with those youths who had a thirst for knowledge, and on Shabbats it was a pleasure to see the endless trains of youths carrying books under their arms, headed toward the woods, or the lake, or the big rock up in the mountain by the riverside, where the groups sat and discussed important issues for many hours.
We also had ties to youth groups in nearby towns, such as Skarżysko, Opatów, Ostrowiec, Szydłowiec, and so on, and we would often pay visits to each other.
We remember the train of youths walking from the tavern of Berish Guterman on the corner of Starachowicka Street (Marszałkowska) to the floor-tile factory.
We would wander along this route in droves, sometimes stopping for a short while by the large picturesque courtyard of Mysliborski, or on the other side of the street, by Vigdorovich's barber shop, or by the Pshigoda movie theatre.
There are bundles of memories in my mind, but it is clear to me that I cannot bring them all forth. I have tried to draw a broad picture of the life of youths in our town, their dreams and their folklore which are now gone from us forever.
Let these recollections serve as a memory candle for all those youths who did not live to see days of freedom and the revival of the free State of Israel.
Moshe Sali (Kerbel)
The bloody clashes that erupted in Israel in 1929 were echoed by an awakening among the youths in the Diaspora and a desire to establish branches of HeHalutz and training kibbutzim in every town in Poland, to train youths in physical labor and social customs and prepare them for immigration to Israel. This trend was just as evident in our town of Wierzbnik.
And so, the foundations for the Young Pioneer branch in Wierzbnik were laid.
Although there were only a few of us at first, it was not long before our numbers began to grow, as our fellow youths sought change and challenge in their lives, a change powered by the news that came from Israel. The youths were also attracted by the various classes taught by the movement, such as general and Jewish history and Hebrew, and by the party nights that were organized.
After a while, we learned about the existence of training kibbutzim in Grochów, Kłosów, Shcharia and other places. Although we did not clearly understand their nature, we knew that preaching was not enough and action was required as well. It was not enough to be an activist, to talk and preach immigration and realization. We needed to take other steps, to train ourselves physically and professionally for the day when we will be numbered among the immigrants in the long awaited homeland, which yearned for working hands.
Since most of our members never did any physical work, a few of us took up apprenticeship in such crafts as carpentry, construction, tinkering and so on. However it was quickly made clear to us that we will not get far in this manner and that we must start living in the tradition of the kibbutz life to prepare ourselves for this lifestyle. From this point onward, we had to find suitable places for organizing training kibbutzim. It was not easy because most parents objected, considering this lifestyle to be a reprehensible adventure.
Nevertheless, we have made our decision, one clear day. Three of the branch leaders, who were among its finest members Meir Rolnicki, Mordechai Riseman and I decided to break through this barrier and serve as an example for those we strove to teach.
We therefore left, with the blessing of the HeHalutz center in Warsaw, for the Borochov kibbutz in Suchedniów in order to familiarize ourselves with this lifestyle. Next, we turned to the town of Kielce where we intended to strike root and establish a kibbutz for youths filled with Zionist vision, who will train for immigration. Our plans were indeed realized, and we settled down there. This was not an easy assignment and we had to fight hard to overcome all manner of obstacles placed in our path, but we were determined to overcome this ordeal.
When we arrived in Kielce we immediately sought a meeting with the activists of the Zionist organizations and youth movements there, and explained our mission to them. They were impressed by our resolve and promised to help in any way possible, including finding us residence and work.
Nevertheless, I remember that when we first came before the esteemed merchant and industrialist Rutenberg, or the owners of the lumber-mill, the Golembiowski brothers, seeking work as common workers, they were largely amazed and though they were kind, they did not take us seriously. Although they too were dedicated Zionist activists, they tried to talk us out of this hard task. We were wellborn and barely out from under our mothers' skirts, they said, how can we compete with the strong gentiles who became accustomed to such hard work over generations?
Nevertheless, when they saw our determination and the reverence we felt toward this matter, they agreed to take us in on a trial basis.
We explained to them that we sought neither charity nor profits, and that all we wish is to train ourselves for physical work and sustain ourselves and our communal life, in a manner similar to the kibbutz in Israel. We were overjoyed when the local youths helped us find a small, dirty apartment, which we rented and cleaned thoroughly. We built minimal furniture from unsmoothed planks: sleep bunks (one atop the other), a dining table and a kitchen.
We were ten at first, including two brave girls, as we started to run our property and other affairs.
Our first day of work at the Golembiowski brothers' lumber-mill was a day of triumph for us, but also a disappointment. The foreman did not assign us to do hard labor with the other workers, but tasked us with lighter chores such as arranging planks, sawing lumber and so on. We were also offended by his coworkers, particularly the Christians, who laughed at our delicate white hands. However this attitude has slowly faded and after a while, the management was convinced of our working prowess, our quick wit and our proper execution of every chore to the best of our ability, on par with the Christian workers who always worked there.
As time passed, the management started to assign us most of the hard jobs: carrying, loading and unloading, putting logs into the sawing machines and all manner of work. The kibbutz became famous in the area. However our ability to accept new members was limited because we lacked a proper residence for them. Eventually, when we moved to a bigger apartment, we accepted several dozens of new members who were sent to us from the HeHalutz center in Warsaw. We also broke into the business of loading and unloading at the train station and later at the nearby limestone quarries, and the more work we got, the more our numbers grew, until we were one of the greatest Polish collectives of pioneering youth.
And then it occurred to us that we shouldn't rest on our laurels but strive for new conquests, sow the seeds of training kibbutzim that would be branches of the mother kibbutz of Kielce.
Once again I was chosen, together with two other capable members. We toured the towns of congressional Poland, seeking the right environments that would serve as training centers. And indeed, after going back and forth through most towns of congressional Poland, we managed to strike root and lay the foundations for several training kibbutzim in Radom, Będzin, Dąbrowa Górnicza and so on.
I should take a moment to mention the excitement of our members as they went to work and back. Jews and gentiles alike were amazed to see the Palestinazians pass by, walking in a row and singing on the way to work and back, sometimes dressed only in tatters, but always full of vigor, joy and liveliness. Our living conditions and nutrition were not always satisfactory, but the camaraderie was never lacking and the singing and the dancing never stopped, day or night, in light of the goal that beckoned and set our bones on fire. We lovingly accepted all the hardships of striking root and training.
The fact that we were not alone but rather an inseparable part of a pioneering group gave us the courage to continue this work and lifestyle. The working conditions were naturally harsher during the winters, but we grew accustomed to that as well, through dedication and willpower. The female members, who increased in number, did not settle for housekeeping and sewing but worked hard alongside the men, at the lumber-mills or the limestone quarries. Order in the kibbutz was exemplary, and the daily schedule preplanned.
Work in the kibbutz was, as aforesaid, not only a means for material sustenance, but also a goal unto itself, meant to change a person. Its educational value lay in the fact that the person stopped being what he was before and started realizing his heart's desire. He carried out his own revolution, and did not pull back, did not go back home, despite the calls, the requests and the temptations offered by the parents.
Although some members dropped out here and there, the majority persevered and continued walking this path, which led to their heart's desire, immigration to Israel.
I would like to mention and commemorate two pioneers in particular, Meir Rolnicki and Mordechai Riseman, who were refined in the melting pot of training and traveled a hard, interesting path with me, but never realized their dreams and aspirations. The Devil's hand caught them and they were murdered in their prime, without reaching the homeland they have dreamed about for many years.
Let this therefore be a memory candle and a mark of their actions, honoring their memory.
Reuven Lis Shuali
The extensive activities of the youths in Wierzbnik touched the social-public sphere, various fields of sports, the cultural, religious and national fields, and more.
The social movements that grew in the Jewish communities throughout Poland's hundreds of cities and towns found a place among the Jewish youths of Wierzbnik as well, in one form or another, and these youths were loyal to the organization processes, the activities and the desire to do that were typical of Jewish youths in every country.
We therefore find in Wierzbnik patterns and frameworks, movements and organizations, all of which were built and shaped over many years and nurtured with a dedicated and loving hand, diligently and with boundless loyalty.
Following are the various Zionist organizations: Poalei Zion Right and Poalei Zion Left, HeHalutz, Gordonia, Mizrachi Labor Federation. Akin to them but different in their political view were Agudath Israel on one hand and the leftist groups on the other, each loyal to their cause and belief, dedicating their time to the noble goal that was their hearts' desire.
All of them typically suffered from financial difficulties and were barely able to finance their extensive activity, which was never proportionate to their budget, but they made up for any shortages with dedication and sacrifice.
In addition to the social-public activity, there were also sports organizations soccer, ping-pong and tennis which attracted sports-loving youths and filled their hearts with pride for every achievement and every success.
Every group required material aid at some point and expected it from the body that was supposed to unit all echelons of the community, that is, the community board. This institute was, however, unable to fulfill all those wishes because of its own meager means and lack of authority, preventing it from sponsoring the entire public.
The League for Labor Palestine
In 1933, the Gordonia group established a group called the League for Labor Palestine, which set out to impart to the Jewish youths among the members of Poalei Zion Right knowledge and ideological foundations concerning the return to Zion and the future of our people in Israel. The writer of these lines himself conducted a series of lessons and lectures for groups of organized youth regarding the history of the Jewish people, according to Graetz's books and Hebrew study. I also had friendly conversations with them and tried to use pioneer dancing and cultural nights at the clubs to inspire social values that would mentally prepare them for a future in Israel.
In my lectures before the Jewish youths of Wierzbnik, I often expressed support of the concepts espoused by the leaders of the movement Zeev Jabotinsky and Yitzhak Grinbaum concerning the evacuation of the Jews of Poland in light of the expected danger, which they predicted with their political foresight.
The approach which considered historical developments to be against us enjoyed some measure of support, but although some people, especially youths, wanted to draw the logical conclusion from the situation and immigrate to Israel, they were faced with an impenetrable barrier. It is common knowledge that immigration to Israel required certificates and that those certificates were given stingingly, only a few at a time. Living testimony of this plight were the dozens of men who came to our town for training, anxiously waiting for the promised certificates, all their work in vain as they never got their wish.
Although the events described were not encouraging, the Jewish populace did not despair of returning to Zion and building a national home, as the idea was espoused in those days. Ideological life continued to flow through channels of interest and action.
I remember a lively symposium that took place during those days between the representatives of the religious youths, led by my father, Mordechai Lis, the chairman of the local community board, Shmuel Isser, and myself. I was demanding a change in the religious tone of the community, making it more nationalistic; dedication of greater efforts to broaden the national education, to impart knowledge and professional skills to the general public and to take care of the national and social affairs of the Jewish population. I presented before them the need to expand the education network of private schools, as well as cultural and sports enterprises, shifting emphasis from the opening of religious schools for children to the opening of kindergartens, and so on. I addressed this demand to the Zionist organization on other occasions as well, but to tell the truth, it was completely devoid of the need for a comprehensive political and social plan that will integrate the Jewish reality in the Diaspora with our future in Israel.
Our main desires, our resources and our attention were all directed at escaping the strait, leaving Poland in various ways whether as tourists or capitalists or athletes traveling to the Maccabiyah or simply as immigrants. However despite our best intentions and no matter how hard we strove for this goal, only a few could achieve it and be counted among the blessed.
Rivka Greenberg (Mincberg) and Rachel Laor (Dreksler)
Our childhood was wonderful. We were full of the excitement and joy of youth. The majority of youths in our town were swept into the stream of movement activity. Members of HeHalutz on one hand and members of Beitar on the other; Hamizrachi and Agudath Israel on one side of the camp and the socialists on the other side; and in the middle were other organizations and glorious movements: Akiva, the Zionist Youth and Labor Palestine. Everything. Men's sports organizations Maccabi and Gviazda. Women organizations WIZO, Bnot Yaakov and so on. There were hardly any margins left in the great torrent of inspired activism. Everything and everywhere was part of the boiling cauldron of gatherings and meetings. And parties and assemblies and singing and dancing until dawn!
Recreation coexisted with lively, passionate activism for the sake of the ideal, the cause. Who can forget the blue box carried by the boys and girls visiting the houses of Jews, collecting donations? Legends formed around such operations, shrouded in an air of gravity and devotion to the cause, sometimes with an aura of romance and sometimes under strange circumstances and steeped in humor, nothing grand.
The center of activity
The youths of Wierzbnik carried out no great deeds, nor reached for the sky, and never made their way into parlors or fancy halls. Instead they set up a residence a meeting place for scholars clearly signifying humility and modesty, but also much content. Everything centered around this building, from kindergarten through the Tarbut School, the Zionist Youth movement and the WIZO and HeHalutz organizations, and so on. All of them were entwined and combined, complementing each other. The public was small and children who finished their two years of kindergarten continued to a higher stage of schooling. It would be impossible to forget the kindergarten teacher, Hanka Glooschneider, a wonderful woman who made such efforts to impart the best of habits and values to her young charges. Activity inside the building was not limited to it, however. The surrounding atmosphere was also nurtured by the caring hands of people with a national conscience, who were not formally part of any organizational framework
but nevertheless yearned greatly for Zion, seeking to impart this sentiment to the younger generation that will shoulder the burden of realization. Inspiration sometimes came from beyond the local public. This meeting place of the public movements was visited by messengers and lecturers from the big cities and even the capital, Warsaw.
Rachel tells us:
I remember an impressive visit of the great Zionist leader, Yitzhak Grinbaum, to our town. In preparation of his visit, I was charged with greeting him and presenting him with a bouquet of flowers. Naturally, I was excited about the visit of this important guest. When the day finally came and the noble guest arrived, everyone was excited. Thrilled, I approached to greet him when something unexpected suddenly happened, almost causing an incident. When I finished greeting him, Grinbaum held my hand and tried to kiss me on the cheek, but for me this was a highly unusual act and I pushed him away in apprehension
The audience swallowed its surprise and the Zionist leader merely smiled. Dozens of trying years later, after I immigrated to Israel, I met Y. Grinbaum by chance and reminded him of the event. He answered me, in his typical way: If I failed then, I am more than willing to try again now. Perhaps I would be more successful this time?
On another occasion we were visited by Dr. Leon Uris from Warsaw, who was the direct supervisor of all Tarbut schools in Poland.
Who was the first Jew?
Once, our school was visited by the regional supervisor, a man named Bernstein. I believe this was in 1932, during his patrol of his region. He was a small bald man, middle-aged and wearing a somber, solemn expression. The parents of students were invited to a gathering and during this event the supervisor asked questions and the students answered. I recall the question he asked me, and my answer which caused a stir. He asked me Who was the first Jew? and I, filled with self-esteem, answered Moses, naturally! but the disbelief on his face divided the class in two, one group supporting my answer while the other insisted that Avraham was the first Jew. The fact that so many dared disagree with me made me question myself as well, and I sought affirmation from my father, who was among those present. However to my great embarrassment, when I saw my father he was clasping his hands with disappointment.
My candy box
Cultural activities served an important role in the life of the Tarbut School and it enjoyed a broad range of enterprises and talents as well as a unique milieu, leaving an impression of more than just a pedagogic experience. For many it was a way of life that offered fulfillment and swept them into extensive activity, full of the talent and vigor so characteristic of youths.
Our performances, which were carried out solely in Hebrew, won particular acclaim throughout town. I remember a play from those days, called Yaakov and Eisav, in which I had the honor of playing one of the central roles. I spent days and nights rehearsing my lines and expected a proper reward, in the form of applause. But in order to further entice the crowd, as was customary in those days, I asked my parents to throw a candy box to me.
This led to quite an incident, which became the talk of the town. The show went according to plan and the audience was excited, but when I reached the crowning moment of my role and expected the candy box to come flying, things went wrong. The candy box was given to a neutral person, to make things appear more authentic, and that person was not gifted with particular theatrical sense. Instead of tossing the package when I was alone on the stage, he tossed it while I was with my friend, Hanka Laks, and next to her feet she naturally stooped to pick up the candy box but I refused to accept the injustice taking place before me and screamed It's mine!
Hanka managed to reply How do you know? but the cat was already out of the bag
Rivka tells us: Zionist upbringing
The field of education and particularly the school environment was filled with a valiant and firm connection to Israel. We sang folk songs, and identified heart and soul with the notion of returning to Zion. A great part in shaping these notions was played by the educators, among them our teacher Lupta of Łuniniec and the resourceful and energetic teacher Horowitz, who taught their students to love Israel and everything in it. The students, on the other hand, showed great interest in subjects and activities, songs and dances that brought them closer to Israel, and they continued practicing them outside school. It is important to note that these classes in Tarbut were our second shift, as during the first shift of the day, morning to noon, we Jewish kids of Wierzbnik studied at the Polish school.
Graduates join Zionist Youth
The school was also the natural resource for the organized Zionist movements.
After graduation from the Tarbut School, the students would join a movement and throw themselves into extensive activity which included drills and exercises, joining the colonies (with their unique sense of a romantic adventure), cultural activity and among the older ages independent training for immigration to Israel. Another field that occupied every class in some way was the activity surrounding the collection for the National Fund.
The methods of collecting donations for the National Fund formed into traditional patterns, such as walking rounds with the collection box, or emptying collection boxes at homes; collections in synagogues and public institutes, during holidays, gatherings, and so on.
The collection operations with the blue box became renowned and were often shrouded with youthful passion and entwined with many legends and adventures.
The meaning of the words Moadim Lesimcha, Hagim U'zmanim L'sasson, has never been more fully expressed than by the Zionist youth club, which was visited by all on such days and occasionally hosted special ceremonies. And the same applies for holy or traditional days as well.
Moshe Sali (Kerbel)
It is with awe and reverence that I approach the task of writing down some memories from my youth in the town of Wierzbnik, memories I cherish to this day. In all honesty, I consider myself unworthy. I was only 16 years old when I left on behalf of HeHalutz for a training kibbutz and a life of realization, and I cannot dredge much from the depths of the past. At the age of 19 I immigrated to Israel and was, in fact, the first swallow among our landsleit, to dare and break through hardships and barriers and immigrate to Israel during the days when most Zionists served their duty through local activism, collecting donations for the Funds, and getting a certificate was as hard as splitting the Red Sea
We were offered a great chance, I and the likes of me, to labor and struggle, to fight and take part in creating the foundations on which the sovereign, independent State of Israel was established. Nevertheless, it is my duty to emphasize that this great privilege was inspired by the Jewish life in our town Wierzbnik, a lively community that always considered Zion its first priority some in yearning and some in prayer, hoping to return, some through extensive Zionist activity. They were people who considered Judaism and Zionism one and the same, good Jews who cherished their place of origin and continued to weave the thread of salvation everywhere, even in the valley of the shadow of death, the camps, during the years of oppression and damnation.
Our town was not blessed with many sources of livelihood. Most of the Jews were merchants selling lumber, groceries, cloth, shoes, house-wares, haberdashery and so on, and some were craftsmen who worked for a living. The stores and craftsmen typically served the large Christian population in town and the nearby villages.
It is impossible to forget the market (Rinek) which was entirely Jewish in nature and drew the gentiles to it every Thursday for market days, in addition to the large fairs on special days. The thousands of Polish workers that worked in Starachowice, in the steelmills of the government, were the main customers of the Jewish grocers and craftsmen. While life in town was far from luxurious, there was no shortage of livelihood. Some enjoyed plenty of it and some only sparingly, but few people were on the verge of starvation.
This Jewish settlement existed for tens and maybe even hundreds of years, teaming with life, growing and evolving, creating and shaping patterns and frameworks of meaningful social and cultural life, and all the various threads of Judaism found a place in this vibrant, unique tapestry of life. A wondrous mosaic of individuals and masses formed over the many years, with their different ideas, sensations and lifestyles. On the one hand was the devotion of the Hasidim and the orthodox men, a broad network of houses of learning (Shtiblach), who were tied heart and soul to the courts of the famous Admors of Poland's cities (Gur, Alexander, Amshinov, Radzyń, and so on). And on the other hand were feelings of national renaissance, a yearning for salvation that sprung from this precious Judaism and took root. This precious Judaism which suckled its vision from the stories of salvation, from the holy book, the Bible, from unlimited faith in NILI, from the stories of Bilus, fed by Hibbath Zion and the enlightenment generation and by Zionist emancipation carried on the tides of that generation managed to give a unique shape and flavor to the sublime Zionist ideal, to bring it to the masses and make it public domain, a great and popular movement.
I still remember the spectacular displays, the propaganda and the activism, both oral and in writing, the work carried out to spread the Zionist ideal everywhere, the return to Zion and the founding of a home for our persecuted people. The Lag Ba'Omer gatherings, the exhibitions and markets held for the National Fund, the processions all those shed a great light on us, made us stand tall, and swept in their wake the majority of the Jewish population in town and most of its youths.
Particularly vibrant were the social and cultural lives of the Zionist groups: each organization and layer was a scion of Yishai, growing and branching out from the bough called Zionism. These were the movements: Al-Hamishmar, Et-Livnot, Hamizrachi, Hapoel-Hamizrachi, Young Hamizrachi, revisionists, Poalei Zion and so on. We had training kibbutzim, Tarbut Schools and Hebrew night classes; gatherings, lectures, reading parties, libraries, friendly chats and so on.
At the same time, orthodox Judaism wove in its own path through the network of Agudath Israel, Agudath Israel Youths and the Bnot-Yaakov School for girls. But the crown jewel of Jewish activity in town was the Zionist movement in its various forms, which served as the spine of public activity in town.
They belittled nothing, took any job and gave any service, saved penny by penny, added deed to deed all because of their great desire to realize this lofty ideal. We were brought this far by the training of bodies and hearts, carried out tirelessly for years, and the volunteers from the pioneering youth movements carrying out Zionism. Therefore it is a bitter fact that so many of our landsleit, who trained themselves wholeheartedly for Israel constantly looked forward to Zion, who did so much for it, did not live to be with us and were innocently cut down by bloodthirsty villains.
Life in town was seemingly monotonous, and yet every heart hoped for great events, for the day when the hopes of 2,000 years would be realized in the land of Israel.
The Zionist movement and its youth movements managed to put color, excitement and hope into the mundane life. Looking back, we can see how much substance, warmth and life could be found in the lifestyle of our townsmen every institute and every organization had its own fanatics who spent their time and efforts working for Zion.
As aforesaid, the Jewish society in our town was, if not religiously devout, then mostly characterized by religious nature and tradition, giving a sense of the Jewish home and its symbols, the traditional Jewish family and its unique holidays, filled with many Jewish contents. The spirit of this milieu suffused the entire area and the Heders and Talmud Torah schools spread and taught in the spirit of traditional, fundamental Judaism.
I will further add that the Jews in town were always peaceful folk. Life typically centered on the Jewish community, its leaders and the synagogue and its managers. The various groups commonly disagreed and fought about the proper ways to govern the community, such as the ways it was represented before the authorities, control over public property, and so on. Such fight were, however, the result of an active social life that gave a purpose to the lives of the town's Jews, who despite the duty of providing for their families found the time to take part in the good and bad aspects of community life, and as Jews adhering to the precepts of their religion accepted everything with love, never doubting the will of God almighty.
This tiny Jewish settlement, which was blessed neither with an abundance of genius nor with groundbreaking leaders and trailblazers, was nevertheless a lively Jewish settlement, its individuals and public relentlessly and loyally active. This Jewry, which as aforementioned was comprised mostly of common workers and laborers, merchants and grocers who lived humble, moderate lives and struggled daily for their livelihood, was also aware of matters of the public and willing to join its cause.
It was all destroyed, in various ways, as the townspeople perished because of their faith and Judaism.
I recall that during its days of glory the Jewish community was steeped with a cultural, public life, seeking progress and yearning for redemption. The unrelenting struggle for life and subsistence, and the life of integrity and yearning for a just society, are both noble qualities of our community, which I wished to commemorate in this book, a monument for our martyrs, a candle that will shine for those who leaf through these pages, written by the relatives and family members of the pure martyrs who will never be forgotten.
The path of HeHalutz
As a former cadet of HeHalutz, an active Zionist youth movement that allowed my immigration to Israel during those days, when immigration was fraught with endless hardships, I would like to dedicate a few lines to this youth movement, which made its goal the realization of Zionism in the spirit of the working class. Jews of the higher classes looked in dismissal and shame at the sons of workers and laborers, who they considered for some reason to be inferior (naturally the result of ages of upbringing). HeHalutz came into our town like a breath of fresh air, and knocked down the barriers that existed between youth classes in town, and as if by magic the order of things was turned on its head, the approach reversed: you could see the sons of laborers, merchants and men of means, poor and rich, all together in gatherings and classes.
Most of the youths were drawn to this change, which had a single purpose: to undergo training and join the people of Labor Palestine.
During the nights the club was filled with young men and women who studied, shaped and spun their future, unfettered by heritage. We faced hardships and issues, but we conquered them all. First we left to train far from home; we labored in lumber-mills, in forests, doing any hard work (such as chopping down trees), adapting ourselves to all manners of work and harsh conditions. But despite these hardships, the letters we sent home were filled with excitement about our interesting life together (guys and girls cohabitating), a phenomenon made uncommon at the time by prejudice. It is impossible to forget the wild Hora dances that filled people with joy and drew the viewers, big and small, into the circle of dancers. Thanks to these realizing youths and the other Zionist youth organizations, the Jewish youths were saved from the void and their lives were filled with profound movement contents. The youths learned that Israel requires attentive workers, and classes in a variety of topics Hebrew, Jewish and general history, geography, Jewish and Zionist literature took place every night. There were activities for the National Fund and tumultuous arguments about the subjects at hand.
The balls and parties we often had at the club bothered the neighbors, but they were always forgiving and did not act against us, knowing that this was the spark giving life to their sons and daughters.
Our hands were full of work and action; we sought, as aforementioned, to impart knowledge of the Hebrew language to the youths, and we read and studied together about Herzl, Trumpeldor, the Tel-Hai incidents, Brenner and A.D. Gordon, all of whom set our hearts ablaze. We taught the youths to leave the house on trips, to spend time together in the open country, to hike across mountains, rivers and forests. These things built our strength and character. Although at times we had to wage harsh battles with ourselves, we eventually overcame everything and came out stronger. members of HeHalutz and other youth movements enjoyed a vibrant, cultural life, a social life that sustained our desire to make the dream into a reality.
This inspired life was cut off before its time.
Let these pages serve as a tear for the lives annihilated, as knowledge and a harsh lesson of all generations to come.
Our great classicists did us a boon during the early 1920s, drawing many pictures of the Jewish life in the towns of Poland and Russia. Surely they never even imagined that these works of art would also serve as the swan song of the Jewish town. In the aftermath of the Holocaust of World War II 1939-1945, their authentic art became the tombstone of the Jewish town in the European Diaspora.
Throughout our exile, our historians knew how to immortalize heroes and heroic acts carried out in times of strife, since the exile of Babylon, through the wars of the Maccabim and to our days.
Today, over 30 years since the beginning of World War II, we still lack a national poet who will encompass the scope of the Holocaust and the terrors of the great ruination and the cruelest of wars the world has ever known.
Any historian who would wish to learn about the heroic deeds of anonymous men and women from the ruins of the towns and ghettos would find this burden beyond his abilities, since there were so many of them.
Many of the people who suffered hellish torture before breathing their last in the furnaces of the Nazis have left no trace of family and only a few were spared from every town, as the saying goes: two to a town and one to a family.
Remember and never forget
Therefore it is the sacred duty of the survivors to immortalize the names of the martyrs and the innocents so they will never be forgotten.
In the book of Exodus 17:14 it is said Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven'. It is seemingly possible to omit the word this, but in Hebrew it marks the acronyms for Remember (and) Never Forget.
In the book of Deuteronomy 25:17 we also find Remember what Amalek did to you That you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget. The words never forget also mean never grow tired of remembering. Hence we learn that the duty to remember and the prohibition of forget is a supreme decree for each of us, That you will tell your son and your son's son. We are the last generation enslaved and the first redeemed, ordered and bound to mark these memories for ourselves and for the next generations so they will be proud of their origins and so they will learn and know that many people were annihilated but The Jewish People Live and Nezah Israel Lo Yeshaker. These are not random sayings but a truth forged in the melting pot of history, proven and engraved in blood and fire by our guiltless martyrs who were burned to death.
The town of Wierzbnik-Starachowice may have been a small unimportant point on the greater map of Poland, but during the 1930s it was my whole world. A small town, surrounded by forests, fields, meadows, lakes and rivers. Although there were no asphalt roads or large houses, the wooden houses and the small antiquated buildings that had no electricity, running water, or minimal sanitary infrastructure were remarkably clean and a place where lively Jewish lives were lived. It is no wonder that our greatest authors, such as Shalom Aleichem, Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Y.L Perez and others, saw fit to immortalize the town Jews in realistic fashion. The commoners, who would wake up early and walk in the dark or by lamplight to the first Minyan at the Beit-Midrash, and from there on to their daily affairs, be it a store, a craft or a trade. Although the town enjoyed no glory or fame, there was never any shortage of scholars, students and philosophers of the Torah.
The Beit-Midrash was not only a place to study the Talmud but also a gathering place for every kind of public activity in town. It was a parliament house where public opinion concerning any local and public occasion was shaped. It was the place where the activists struggled to influence people using every tool at their disposal. It was where famous activists came to speak from time to time. And so the Jewish life ran its course peacefully for years.
Since Hitler's ascent to power in Germany, greater and greater shocks plagued the world and the Jewish world in particular. Anti-Semitism, which has always existed but was well hidden in the past, started rearing its head and showing some of its true colors. The feeling of financial insecurity grew and the Jewish youth started looking for a way and pondering its future.
And as if riding this gale came up the magic word, Israel. In every Jewish town there was a surge of Jewish youth movements, both religious and secular, and in every city and town people made the return to Zion their hearts' desire. Clubs formed, offering an outlet for the energy built up among the youths. The parents did not accept this rebellious phenomenon easily, but many have accepted it in retrospect, believing that in time, the youths would carve their own path.
The youths have simply found their calling in life.
Wierzbnik was blessed with more than a few activists who spent their time and energy on this holy agenda, and gave their support and patronage to this blessed work. The movement served as an important, fundamental melting pot, teaching values, knowledge and learning, to the youths and broadening their horizons.
On the other hand were movements that adhered to the legacy of our people, the fountains of Torah, Talmud and judges, feeding with unending awe from the depths of religious interpretations, debate and legend, and becoming drunk with the biblical tales of Israel.
Wierzbnik-Starachowice is also a chapter filled with blood and tears, because the Polish enemies collaborated with the Nazi enslaver to decimate us.
We will not weep for its ruination, only for the loss of human dignity, for the life that was taken before its time and for the dear ones who lost their lives.
We will memorize and remember it to our last generation.
Remember what the Nazi Amalek did to you, may it be damned for eternity.
I arrived in Wierzbnik at the end of December 1932, to serve as the teacher in the Bnot- Yaakov School for girls. When I arrived, I found a typical Jewish-Polish town, whose Jewish residents were mainly merchants, but filled their lives with religion and tradition and observed their customs the Shabbats, holidays and chastity according to the laws of the Torah. I was invited to stay with the family of Moshe David Rothschild, who welcomed me in. We had to found the school from scratch. Since the others were all busy, I had to plan how we would set the first cornerstones for this school, which was an innovation in this town. I remember sitting idle for an entire week, which felt like a whole year to me. After a week of introspection, the town peers gathered and formed a committee for the Bnot-Yaakov School for girls. Among the founders were: Natan Kornwaser, Yoseph Brodbeker, and Fishel Hercig. At first I had seven girls of different ages and classes to start my educational work with. I rejoiced at the fact that new girls joined every day and gradually I succeeded in organizing three classes and planning a curriculum. On Shabbat eve, after lighting the candles, we welcomed the Shabbat together with prayer and the girls, dressed in clean Shabbat clothes and their faces bright, welcomed Shabbat the Queen. Everything was done with elegance; it was practically heaven.
In the next room, the men would prey in the tradition of the Gur Hasidim. This meant that there was a break between the Minhah and Kabalat Shabbat prayers. As a student of the seminary, I was used to reciting from the Song of Songs and therefore I asked the children to open their books at the Song of Songs. I read them the words of the wisest of all men and they listened. One Shabbat I could not attend and asked one of the gifted girls from the family of Faiga Wajzer to recite in my stead, to keep things in order. She did her job well, I would say. On my return to the school, I was told that most of the men from the nearby synagogue came to listen to the young girl flawlessly reciting the Song of Songs as if she understood the meaning of the words. That Friday night, many fathers started quizzing their sons, who were studying at the Heder, to see whether they can recite the Song of Songs with no mistakes, and the girls were naturally happy of their superiority over the boys, leading to a literary competition, reminiscent of when authors vie, wisdom mounts.
A special chapter belongs to the activity of Bnot Agudath Israel. These 16-20 years old girl would gather every night to study and perform. Every Shabbat eve, one of them had to give a lecture about the contents of the portion of the week. It was not an easy task, because most of them knew practically nothing about the Torah, but in order to make matters easier for them they were told in advance which portion they would have to lecture about, so they could prepare for the task ahead of time. And it was a glorious sight to see them prepare for this duty for months, while their parents, fathers and brothers alike helped them willingly with those preparations. It was a kind of scholastic, familial form of worship.
After the lectures were done we sang songs together late into the night and then walked each of the girls home.
The dead are dancing
A legend spread at the time among the girls. Some of them lived near the Christian cemetery and at first they avoided coming to the meetings on Shabbat eves. When I asked for the reason, they told me they were afraid of coming home late at night because that was when the dead danced at the cemetery and around it. I asked them to come and promised we would walk them home first and see the dancing dead together
The girls indeed showed up and we kept our promise and escorted them home. Since the dead failed to dance before us, the girls showed up regularly from that day on and took part in Shabbat eves.
We also did social work. Every year I asked all the girls to collect spare warm clothes at home for needy children to use during the harsh Polish winter. Every girl also paid a monthly fee, and the money was spent on fixing torn shoes for needy children. On weeknights we gathered both to study and to do practical work. Some of the girls were tasked with collecting newspaper clips that would interest our group, a bit of recent news or a chapter from an interesting, suitable book. At the same time, the rest of the girls would darn socks and do other chores.
The purpose of this activity was, as aforesaid, to provide the needy with darned and worthy clothes. This work gave us great satisfaction because the girls felt the actual beneficial results of their work.
The girls found particular interest in distributing the Bnot-Yaakov magazine among people. I would order several magazines from the editorial office, based on the number of girls, and without qualms gave each of them a magazine for one zloty a month. It was an interesting, glorious time, and the girls yearned to read books and magazines in Yiddish to glean knowledge.
In 1935 I left and immigrated to Israel, and ever since I recall this time as one of the most beautiful periods in my life and my heart aches for this Jewish glory that fell victim to ravening Nazi beasts.
Chava Fajgenbaum (Shraga)
We are told of the activities of this organization by Mrs. Shraga, who was a member of the organization in her youth and today resides in Israel:
Next to the Bnot-Yaakov School for girls was kind of club for young girls, both those who were not attending school yet, and those of the lower classes, usually ages 6-9. It can be referred to as the social club of the students of Bnot-Yaakov, where they spent their time away from classes. The term spending time naturally carries a different meaning among the orthodox classes than it does among the secular classes, and during those days the distinction was even more obvious. It is therefore understandable that the teachers sought to teach these girls the important values in their lives from a very young age. First and foremost was memorizing and reciting the prayers. The young girls would often read Barchi Nafshi or sing other prayers together.
However the program also included social elements such as trips around town, nature hikes, or the telling of legends from the Talmud and interesting stories from the Bible.
The senior students of Bnot-Yaakov served as instructors of this club and they considered this social work the fulfillment of a higher calling, dedicating time and energy to carry it out as best as they could. They worked with dedication and received no reward. Although their positive image and activity lives on in my memory, I cannot mention their names, because the long, harsh passage of time has wiped them away. To this day I remember only the name of one of those instructors, Sarah Kumetz.
Educating our young, both boys and girls, was a problem in those days, and matters escalated when the fine institute Talmud Torah School closed down. A temporary solution for the education of the boys was found in the form of private Heders, each taught by a rabbi. Other youths, who were not satisfied with this framework, traveled far to study. Our townsman Shmuel Wajzer went to distant Szydłowiec when he was merely 11 years old and was followed by Moshe Sally-Kerbel, who left for the Yeshiva of the rabbi of Sokołów, and by me, who studied in Ostrowiec with Rabbi Israel Meir.
Yet there was no solution for the fundamental issue of educating the girls. Although most of the girls were sent to the primary municipal school, they received no Jewish education there.
We were fortunate then, that the great educator Sarah Schneider laid the foundations for the Bnot-Yaakov teachers' seminar in Kraków.
One evening, the leaders of Agudath Israel Youths in our town, Hershel Morgenstern and Leibish Morgenstern, met with David, Zvi Wajzer and my father and decided to found a Bnot-Yaakov School and to contact the seminar in Kraków for a suitable teacher.
They have managed to sway my father, despite his many concerns and the daily affairs that kept him from public activity, and he used all his energy and influence to make this idea a reality, founding the Bnot-Yaakov School for girls.
Reuven Lis Shuali
I had the great privilege to witness the beginning of the Wierzbnik Maccabi Society, that source of attraction for the Jewish youths of our town, an outlet for their youthful vigor and energy. I joined the society in 1932 and was effectively one of the founding members.
My membership in Maccabi and my membership in the League of Labor Palestine, founded by the Gordonia Movement, seemingly contradicted each other. Special circumstances have nevertheless allowed for this fact, because in those days the Maccabi Society served as a challenge for the Jewish youths of Wierzbnik including those of the working classes who were not interested in public activity. The time was also right for the Jews to challenge the gentiles in the field of sports, and the Maccabi Society offered us the leverage necessary for that purpose.
Everything is hard at the beginning
We started out small, both because we lacked the means and because we were still inexperienced. First we collected money to buy uniforms for the soccer team, since this symbol effectively showed that the Society's has become an actual organization. In time we rented a room from the grandfather of the Shiner brothers, and it became a kind of sports and culture club.
The Jewish movement in Wierzbnik considered this club a meeting place and would gather there at night to spend their free time. As aforesaid, the club hosted not only sportive activities but also social ones. There was a ping-pong table there and many used it to play and practice, although we never reached competitive levels in this field.
As for the field of culture, members of the club would take active part in various public campaigns organized by the Zionist Organization, such as a movie night whose revenues were dedicated to the National Fund. The same applied to parties, balls and so on.
Among the other founding members of the Society I remember Avraham Goldstein, Chanan Rubinstein, Eli Erlichson, who was also the captain of the soccer team, and Akiva Binstock.
Soccer led the way
The crown jewel of this extensive activity was naturally the soccer team, which won the interest and adoration of the Jewish public in town and discovered it was also worthy of it.
The team made admirable progress in the professional field and began arranging matches with Jewish teams from nearby towns. It has later reached the peak of its talent by competing with the local gentile team, Tur.
I remember this game and the preparations for it, the general excitement among the Jews in town long before the actual match. On the day of the match itself, everyone has swarmed the field and watched in anticipation for the results of the game. The game ended with a loss for the Maccabi team, but I recall it was an honorable loss, which left us neither frustrated nor bitter.
In time, another soccer team called Gviazda was organized in our town, founded by the leftist circles of Poalei Zion (left), who intended for it to balance the sportive activity in political terms. From here on the relations between the two teams and their fans gradually heated up. Each team tried to outdo the other and there were occasional tensions over an attempt to shift players from one group to the other.
In 1935 came up the issue of sending representatives for the Maccabiyah. The subject caused both internal and external arguments. First, we had to choose the candidates we will send, and then we had to struggle to keep our place, because the number of representatives was limited. A certain index based on the number of members in the society determined the number of candidates or delegations that could be sent. Our town, however, turned out short of the members and fans necessary for even a single mandate. Since our members only numbered 50 people, far below the index, we received a negative reply. As the secretary of the society, I was highly active in the attempts to send a delegate to the Maccabiyah but my efforts were likely doomed to fail has I not turned to another source for help. Along my activity in the Maccabi society I was also an activist for the League of Labor Palestine, and now I tried to fuse the two together to achieve the desired goal. I turned to Anchel Reis, one of the leaders of the League of Labor Palestine in Warsaw, and his many solicitations got me a position as an observer at the Maccabiyah on behalf of both institutes. Based on this decision, though not without difficulty, I immigrated to Israel. As policy and custom dictated during those days, I changed my status from observer to immigrant once I arrived at our future country.
Since interest in various sports was not common in the days between the two wars, the relatively limited size of the Jewish population in Wierzbnik led to a void in this field, mostly for demographic reasons. The young generation, which was swept into sportive interest and shouldered the responsibility for organization and other issues, was whittled away as people aged and lost their affinity for sports before a new generation that would replace it has matured. As a result, there was a sense of organizational and public erosion which threatened to become complete disintegration. This process expressed itself in a lack of the fundamental conditions necessary for creating a common cause. While early in 1937 you could enter the Maccabi club in Piłsudskiego Street and still see people gathered to spend their time under the Hebrew slogans on the walls, by the end of the year the ranks started to grow thin. Fewer and fewer people came to the club, interest diminished, numbers decreased, monetary resources ran out and the club was finally closed down.
A natural resource
However there were some youths who served as natural resource, and they picked up the challenge of continuing this glorious tradition. Among them were Shlomo Weisbloom, Max Najman, the Shiner brothers, Yash, Arie Najman, Binstock, young Lipstein, the youths from Piłsudskiego Street and others who could not rebuild the club's permanent standing but still showed resourcefulness. Since our house was close to the mill and had a large courtyard nearby, they turned it into a gathering place for their sportive activities. They would also leave their uniforms there, and take them before meetings and matches.
As the time passed by, these youths became more and more talented and showed an ability to face other soccer teams, among them gentile teams, a challenge which was considered daring at the time.
I recall one match, which drew the interest of the entire public, in which the Maccabi Youths played a warm up game with the S.K.S (youth) soccer team before the match between the S.K.S Starachowice team and the famous soccer team Cracovia (one of the best in the Polish national league).
Interest in the game sparked long before the match and increased as the day drew closer. But the results of the game became a widespread sensation after the Jews beat the gentiles, and the tale echoed far away, well beyond anyone's expectations.
As usual, the happiness brought by victory was tempered by a small measure of bitterness that was already the lot of Jews when competing with gentiles. At the end of the game, the gentiles would beat up the Jews regardless of the result. When they lost, they spent their anger on the Jews and if they won, they would drink and rampage, driven by success, and express their joy by beating up Jews.
As for myself, I was already seasoned in these matters and left the stadium before the end of the game, to save myself the physical battery.
As a youth, I have joined the sports team Gviazda, under somewhat curious circumstances. To tell you the truth, I always wanted to be on the Maccabi team. I was a fan of Beitar, and Maccabi was closer to those circles than Gviazda, which ran in more leftist circles of the labor movement. However when I applied for Maccabi, I was foiled by my young age and they refused to have me. Angry and miserable, I applied for the Gviazda team, which welcomed me with open arms. It was not long before I was playing in the starting lineup as an inside left and as it happens often on the soccer field, I somehow earned the nickname Pile. Many members of the crowd got so used to that appellation that they forgot my real name and some of them call me that to this day.
Gviazda had a big hall where both the organizational activity of the soccer team and its social and public aspects were concentrated. People would come to play ping-pong, to practice for the drama club, or just to spend a nice evening with friends and acquaintances. The Gviazda soccer team was part of the regional league and therefore had matches against teams from other towns. However the most interesting matches were the ones played by Gviazda against its local opponent, Maccabi, events referred to as a derby.
From the field to the hospital
The game was traditionally the center of interest for sports fans, and as matches drew closer, so did tensions flare. Nevertheless, both sides always played fairly and kept from taking their ambition to extremes. Matches against the gentiles, on the other hand, had the tendency of escalating into violence.
I remember a particularly sad event from those days, when our group played a gentile team known in the area as P.K.S, which was comprised of policemen. As fate would have it, the game went in our favor and the gentiles lost 3:0, ground their teeth and plotted to take revenge on us for our triumph.
Seeing that the game was coming to a close and they had no way of changing the outcome, they engaged in outright violence. Since I did particularly well during that game, having scored three times in a row, they targeted me. At some point, and for no reason because I did not even have the ball, one of their players, a large man, closed in on me and pushed hard enough to knock me down, then stepped on my foot and broke it. The entire Jewish public was outraged by the violence and showed solidarity and eagerness to help me, regardless of association with Maccabi or Gviazda.
I was immediately taken from the field on a stretcher and after receiving first aid I was sent to the hospital. I have stayed there for a long time and was visited every day by dozens of friends and acquaintances, as well as relatives and family members. But the clearest expression of my townsmen's sympathy was sending Vigdorovich to play his violin for me and break my tedium. Fraternity and solidarity were indeed exemplary.
Gviazda put on trial
One day, something unexpected happened to the society. The police came to the home of the society's chairman, Mr. Vigdorovich, and arrested him with none the wiser. They also arrested the society's coordinator, Shimshon Brobka (I was also worried of arrest because I served as the society's secretary for a time, but they never came for me). After their arrest they were transported to the county prison in Radom. These events happened out of the blue, taking our town completely by surprise. While people wondered about the cause for these arrests, the authorities charged the prisoners with responsibility for a communist resistance among the ranks of the society. Since the authorities could not capture the actual members of the resistance, who made their timely escape (Meir Pratzovnik escaped to Russia; Israel Kerbel left for France and the third member, whose name I no longer remember, vanished without a trace), they placed the society's leaders on trial in their stead. The trial itself took place in Radom and drew the attention of many Jews, who were anxious about the fate of the prisoners. Fortunately this mockery was stopped and the falsely accused were exonerated in the absence of evidence.
Since my father was an activist in the revisionist movement for years and our house was filled with the ideals of this movement, it was only natural for me to join it eventually. And indeed, after a brief participation in youth movements like Akiva and Zionist Youth, I joined Beitar and became a rather active member of the movement.
Our club was located next to the home of a Jew named Goldstein, and we often met there during evenings to sing, hear lectures and study the Hebrew language, Palestinography and so on.
Since most of our members were youths, we felt that contact with nature was highly important, and therefore every once in a while we went on hikes to the nearby fields, where we carried out field training and drill exercises, in pre-military fashion. We would also visit Beitar clubs in other towns, sharing knowledge and experience and establishing social relations.
We would often have ideological debates with members of other parties about the proper way of realizing the Zionist ideal, in which we each emphasized our beliefs.
The movement's activities were intensive, but the passage of time erased all but those central events that left a particular impression. I remember in particular the visit of our movement's leader, Zeev Jabotinsky, to the neighboring Ostrowiec. The event was preceded by many preparations and a general awakening among our members. Many planned to go to the convention, including myself.
During those days, transportation was still in its infancy and modern vehicles were expensive and beyond the reach of youths. Several of us have therefore banded together and acquired a cart which we drove to listen to Zeev Jabotinsky's lecture.
The road was hard and tiring, and we barely got there in time. Since we were tired, we could not concentrate on the speaker's words, despite his brilliant rhetorical talent.
He opened his speech in Hebrew but after a few sentences switched to Yiddish.
The hall where the lecture took place was filled wall to wall and the masses crowded outside, because thousands of people from nearby towns came and only a few could gain entrance. Spirits were high and the audience drank the words of the speaker thirstily, interrupting him from time to time with wild cheers.
Mourning Dov Gruner
One of the movement's sacred customs was holding mourning assemblies on the memorial days of the fathers of Zionism, such as the visionary Dr. B. Z. Herzl, Max Nordau and others. However a particular event that was etched into my memory was the mourning assembly dedicated to the memory of Dov Gruner, following his execution by the British authorities.
I remember the sadness and grief that surrounded us and the particular expression of a general sense of mourning.
A symbolic coffin was placed inside the club, covered with national flags carrying the Shield of David and flanked by Beitar activists serving as an honor guard. It was an event that left a strong impression on all movement members.
Leaving for an IZL course
In adherence to the principal of realization, the movement made a goal of imparting military skills to its cadets that would serve them in times of need.
Regular military training courses were conducted, teaching both familiarity with weapons and their practical use. These courses took place according to the rules of conspiracy, but were nevertheless known to the Polish authorities, who preferred to keep the fact secret.
In 1939 I was sent along with a few other Beitar members from Wierzbnik to the area of Kielce, where a special camp was set up for this purpose by the IZL. Several of the candidates from Wierzbnik were winnowed and only two were left: Peretz Nudelman and the author.
The course took place just before the outbreak of the war and ended two days ahead of schedule, when the war started.
On my return from this course I had a chance to bid goodbye to my father, who was drafted into the Polish army, and a while later I shared a similar fate with him and my brother Avraham, a story told elsewhere in this volume.
Our city distinguished itself with its special Zionist actions and activities. There was rich and varied cultural activity to spread and instill the Zionist spirit in the hearts of the youth who were searching for an ideal for their aspirations and feelings, to strengthen the base of their existence and to continue preserving the special values of the Jewish people.
At every meeting and initiative that was connected to Zion, the Revisionists gave the word and set the tone. The bold words of the honest Zionist activist were always said through us with great pathos and candor. That is why they were always effective and convincing, so that the strongest antagonists were carried along by the enthusiasm and supported our proposals. The impact of our political work could be felt not only in Jewish circles, but the Christian milieu also related to us with respect. That is why our public appearances and gatherings were attended in such large numbers.
As early as 1930, when the Zionist local was located in Haim Dreinudel's house, the future kernel of the Beitar branch was emerging within the Zionist organization, and we were represented by two members in the general Zionist committee. At that time the leaders of Beitar were the members Beniek Slezinger, Yeshaya-Yona Scharfharz and I, the writer of these words.
The Zionist organization in Wierzbnik showed extraordinary initiative and energy in collecting money for the Israel funds, and in creating new institutions. It was really a pleasure to see how the older prominent, distinguished Jews worked with the young people, even though there were always differences of opinion between them. The goal that united everyone was constantly before their eyes. Thanks to that the misunderstandings between the Zionist groups were always minor and transitory, and were never serious, because everyone understood the will of the youth, who were constantly full of enthusiasm and dedication for the work. Thus the younger members also knew how to appreciate the work of the older members in the Zionist groupings, and always listened to what they had to say and took their advice. And so together, shoulder to shoulder, the older and younger members worked together to collect money for the Jewish National Fund, in the shekel actions, in culture, etc.
Over time the work of the Revisionists expanded and branched out. New activity cells were founded, such as a Beitar kibbutz-hachshara [training farm]; the Brit Hehayal was founded under the leadership of Shlomo Dreinudel, the Brit Yeshurun was founded, which developed extensive activity in the religious sectors, and the emergence of Hazhar, which was headed by the deserving Zionist activist and learned man, Yaakov Kleiner. In this way the chain of productive Revisionist-Zionist branches, which grew Stronger from day to day and gained the sympathy of the wide masses of youth, was forged.
Thus the agricultural school in Bodzentyn was festively opened, in order to prepare the Revisionist youth for husbandry and agricultural work before their aliya. The opening was attended by delegates from the Kielce circle, such as Avraham Lichtenstein, David Mandelbaum, Menachem Chodorowski (afterwards Savidor) and the writer of these lines. It is also very necessary to recall the fact that thirty years previously, when Haim Arlozorov was shot in Israel on a Friday night and the press reported the news on Sunday, word spread that the Revisionists were involved in the murder. And I still remember that that same Sunday, the head of Beitar, Zeev Jabotinsky, was supposed to appear in the largest hall in Ostrowiec, which was twenty-five kilometers away from our town. Thousands of people from the entire region had prepared to go hear the great fighter and leader. The air was filled with nervousness and tension. The entire Jewish population was incensed and in a bad state of mind. Finally evening arrived, the hall was packed full, and the atmosphere was strained. There was a smell of gunpowder, and people assumed that the evening would not pass peacefully. And then the tribune Jabotinsky began his speech, and right from the start a loud shout was heard, an exclamation of down with the Revisionist murderers. The shouter was Zadok Tennenbaum from our town. There was immediately an uproar and commotion, and the large audience wanted to react strongly, but the head of Beitar shouted out in his thundering voice: Everyone keep quiet and calm; I agree to the cry 'down with the murderers,' may the hand of the shooter be cut off. From the start Jabotinsky had demanded controlled behavior on the part of all the members of Beitar in the hall, so as not to allow the evening to be ruined. And in fact quiet again prevailed in the large hall and the speaker gave his speech without any disturbances.
Thus in my mind's eye I see Jabotinsky's last appearance shortly before the outbreak of war, in the Philharmonic Theater in Łódź, where he expounded the evacuation plan, described the sad future awaiting the Jews and called on them to leave Poland en masse. Rich and distinguished persons sat at the head table there, and Jabotinsky warned that the storm clouds were approaching and he shouted: leave your fortunes behind, take only what is necessary with you, save yourselves and go to Israel. Jews, I love you, and that is why you should take my advice. But unfortunately, his words were like a prophecy.
And then the Hitler wave arrived, which darkened the entire bright horizon and cut off all the shoots of devotion and belief, the sources of hope and aspiration, and tore up everything, stem and roots, and brought destruction and annihilation on everything that breathed Jewish air.
Down with the Huns and the cannibals of the twentieth century!
The Herrenvolk that produced such wild beasts and scurrilous murderers should be stood against the wall of infamy!
For two thousand years, Jews all over the world never ceased hoping for a return to the land of Israel. They yearned to rebuild Jerusalem and transform her into the capital of the State of Israel for the people of Israel. As she was in times past when the Temple stood. Thrice yearly, all of Israel would pilgrimage to Jerusalem with songs and dancing laden with the choice fruits of the land and leading choice sheep and cattle.
Great was the preparation for the festival pilgrimage. From all corners of the land, kinsmen would depart together and the roads and paths bustled with pilgrims. The capital prepared to meet them. The Temple candelabrum lit up the surrounding hills, the priests came out to greet the visitors, and the Levites played and sang in their honour. Great was that joy!
To our great sorrow the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem razed and gone were the joyful years. The nation was exiled. Only the Western Wall remained to recall Israel's past glory. But for two thousand years Israel continued to long for Jerusalem and did not cease to lament her destruction.
On the same date, the night of the 9th of Ab, both the First and Second Temple were destroyed. Thus, She weepeth sore in the night. Doubly, did Jeremiah lament, once for the destruction of each Temple. Mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water The verse's repetition of the word eye teaches us that the shedding of tears was ceaseless, without respite. On this night, year after long year, they sit upon the ground and keep silence, the elders of the daughters of Zion; they have cast dust upon their heads and they have girded themselves with sackcloth. They sat, stricken and motionless on the ground as though sunken into it. During the course of the year too, at Midnight Devotions and at prayer time, with tears streaming from their eyes, they turned towards Jerusalem, to that Western Wall known as the Wailing Wall, the Wall of Tears.
As long as the heavenly Gate of Tears was not shut, it was the wall, which drew Jewish prayers. Truly, lamentation was established for all generations, And all of Israel shall bemoan the great conflagration which Lord kindled.
Moreover, one is required to rend one's garments in mourning upon the sight ofthe desolate Jerusalem. For Jerusalem our sages held, the customary single rent is insufficient.
Said Rabbi Helbe, as citing Ulla of Berai, who reported to Rabbi Eleazar: One who sees the cities of Judah in their [state of] ruin, recites the verse: The holy cities are become a wilderness and rends his garments. [On seeing] Jerusalem in its [state of] ruin, one recites, Our holy and our beautiful House, where our Fathers praised thee, is burned with fire and all our things are laid waste, and rends his garment. (Moed Katan, 26).
Similarly, in the 7th chapter of the tractate of Semachot, we read the following:
These are the rents which may not be basted [when it was done] for the ruined Temple on seeing Jerusalem from Mount Scopus One who sees Jerusalem from Mount Scopus must rend, when he enters [the city] he extends the rent, and if he goes up [again to Jerusalem], he must extend it further.
We may deduce then that for Jerusalem more than one rent is required.
Through all the ages of Jewish history, since the destruction, thousands of Jews journeyed from far off lands to weep over the ruined Jerusalem, to bow before the wall and to kiss it. Aged Jews came to die and be buried in their holy soil. Even those Jews, who never saw the land, felt the love of Jerusalem, which bound together Jews scattered in many different lands. All Jews from Jerusalem all felt a special brotherly closeness. In his poem, Jerusalem, the poet A. HaMeiri expresses his longing and outpours his soul towards the city:
Peace to you, Jerusalem
From the summit of Mount Scopus
I'll fall on my face before you.
For a hundred generations I dreamt about you,
To be privileged to behold the light of your Countenance.
Finally, finally Your sin is ended, daughter of Zion. He will not exile you. The State of Israel was established! Hope became a reality and Jerusalem was restored to her former eminence. As the capital of our state, she contains the Parliament, the Presidential Residence, the Chief Rabbinate, and many other institutions. Torah and learning are wreathed about her every streets. For Jerusalem is no longer in strange hands, she is wholly ours by being deeply rooted in the collective soul of the Jewish people and firmly stamped in our consciousness. Torn in half, during the battle, she returned to us completely in the whirlwind of the Six Day War. In this miraculous and wonder filled whirlwind she appeared to us suddenly. On one hand, her return seemed strange and was dimly comprehended, but one the other it felt as natural as the rejoining of a lost object with its owner. Finally, finally the words of the poet, Saul Tschernichovsky, had become a reality:
A wanderer through all the world you will be,
But your homeland is one,
Forget it not until your grave.
Even if the day of redemption may tarry
Don't despair, you prisoner of hope,
Our sun will rise
My people too, again will blossom forth
On the land a new breed will arise.
Their iron chains will they remove,
Eye to eye will they see the light.
The soul yearnings of 2000 years have found their fulfillment:
Rejoice you with Jerusalem, and be glad with her,
All you that love her.
Happy are we, who have seen the fulfillment of the 2000 year old longing for the land of Zion and Jerusalem!
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