by Yankev Shtelung, Buenos Aires
Translated by Pamela Russ
1917. It's more than three years that there is an ongoing bloody war on the European killingfields. Millions of dead and wounded. In the socalled hinterland, in the cities and towns in Poland hunger and hardship, typhus and waves of refugees. The powers are constantly changing. Nonetheless, we are hoping that there will be an end to the slaughter. Is there no limit to the suffering?
And how to express this yearning, if not through ideals and organizations! Where do you find comfort and calm if not in the party clubs, in a society with a common goal? The year 1917 was really the inroad to the Sturm und Drang[a] period in the large cities, and also in the smaller settlements. No wonder that already in the year 1917 in Wyszkow, a Worker's Home [club] was established, which the chaveirim [friends, comrades] Jurman, Czembel, Dergycz, Rokhel Malina, and others wanted to decorate beautifully, but also wanted to fill with ideological content. And according to their deepest convictions, it was only the Borochovitch ideology that was totally appropriate for the Wyszkower workers and general population. According to their levels they set up circles for education. They spread literature and dreamed about a better life in a liberated world and in a redeemed Land of Israel…
Along with the parties, that also included elderly people, the city youth began to search for their ideals. At that time, the Bundist youth organization Zukunft [Future], already had a strong influence in Wyszkow. Their location was the meeting place for the youth in the town. There is an opinion that the Zukunft would have remained the only organization in town for many years if not for their opposition to Zionism and the Land of Israel. Their denial of the nationalist freedom thoughts caused a portion of the youth, including some of their own members, to rebel against such an establishment. Therefore, I and Binyomin Tik assembled a council of those dissatisfied with the Bundist program. If my memory serves me correctly, the participants of that first meeting were: Kaluski, Kh. Sh. Levin, Y. Mitelsbakh, M. Brzhoza. At that time, I expressed my doubts about the program of Zukunft, that although it did please me, but why
without the word Palestine? … Since there was an elderly friend in Wyszkow (meaning Jurman), we should go see him, and maybe he would answer all these questions for us, the ones that were troubling the youths' minds.
At this meeting, it came out that chaveirim [friends] Kaluski and Levin had the same thoughts, but did not take enough initiative [to resolve the issue]. Now they grabbed hold of the idea of establishing a youth organization in Wyszkow that should also have a place in the program called the Land of Israel… But they said that in order to be enlightened, we should go to chaver Segal. (You should know that while Jurman belonged to Poalei Tzion, Segal remained ideologically connected to Tzeirei Tzion.) Understandably, we met with these two Jews more than once, had discussions day and night, and were educated until a verdict was reached: When Kaluski, Levin, and Mitelsbakh left for Tzeirei Tzion, Brzhoza, Tik, and I decided to go with chaver Jurman (that is, with Poalei Tzion).
Both groups were organizationally weak and had few people. There was a lot to be done, and the main thing was that the antiZionist Zukunft should not take over the town. We came to an agreement that both groups, although ideologically not in synchrony, should begin a joint project, first of all the recruitment, then there should be secret elections that would determine whom to follow. Meanwhile, each group remained in close contact with the older chaver, who gave them direction. Both sides prepared for a fight.
In passionate discussions, the details of the elections were worked out. How to run the electioneering, how and where to distribute the ballots, and so on. At that time, we lived in Khelenowski's house, that was identified by its wide gate. On the day of the elections, none of my family members were at home, so we used the opportunity to stick on election material of both parties on the wide gate. The arrangement was that the elections would be respectful, no one could tear down any proclamations, or upset or disturb any electioneering. Nonetheless, one of the Tzeirei Tzion chaveirim did not
restrain himself and tore down a poster of his opponent. I couldn't stand this type of offense that broke our agreement. So I gave him a slap. Don't forget that at the time we were all of fifteen years old, and we took all these issues very seriously and the tendency to slap had come from the chassidic environment where we had grown up.
The result of this? The Poalei Tzion got the majority! This increased our motivation, and with renewed momentum we got to work.
At the Dergycz house, we rented a small room as an office. The work and the membership grew. The room became too small to fit the growing needs. A private home no longer was appropriate. It was time to rent a location. We found a fitting place for our needs on Kosciuszko 5. Soon, a library was opened there, with socialist books and brochures. There were also courses for reading and writing, talks about political and literary themes, where we also provided a buffet so you could have a glass of tea and a bite to eat.
Wyszkower youth began to stream to the site because of their thirst for general knowledge and their interest to follow the actual political events in the world and events on the Jewish street. The site was full every night. In town, it was known that the youth of Kosciuszko 5 was hard to win over in discussion. We did not have many older chaveirim, because many had to go serve in the Polish army, while at the same time, others tried to get out of this service because of the unwillingness to fight against the Bolsheviks, and for other reasons.
The entire burden of the party's work therefore fell onto chaveirim Jurman and Czembal (the latter had come back from Russian prison after the end of World War I) and onto some of the youth.
A contact was established with
the youth center in Warsaw which at that time was directed by Lehrer [teacher] Avrohom Freint. I remember how we shivered [with excitement] when we held in our hands that first publication of the Jugend [Youth], Der Junger Kempfer [The Young Fighter], which was copied [with a hectograph machine]. The movement prepared for the first youth gathering.
In the year 1919, there was the first country wide assembly of the Poalei Tzion youth. Wyszkow already had the right to send a delegate. Since the assembly was semilegal, the author of these lines had to use a pseudonym in order to be able to represent his organization in Warsaw. From Shtelung, it became Chait [name change].
Meanwhile, a new war began between Poland and Soviet Russia. As the Bolsheviks neared, persecutions began against the workers' organizations. Especially, against the Jewish ones. Our place was locked up and with that, any organizational and cultural activities. But this did not stop us from putting out an illegal appeal, where
the general situation was clarified, and the youth was cautioned to be more vigilant.
On their march to Warsaw, the Bolsheviks took over Wyszkow. They permitted us to go back to work, and the Revkom [Russian; Revolutionary Committee] even gave us a place a former elementary school on Kosciuszko Street.
This good relationship, however, did not last long. At the first meeting, the delegation from Revkom appeared, and ordered that … we dissolve and register in the communist party. In that delegation, there was a chaverte [comrade, female chaver] Dzhbanek from the Bund, that had already disbanded itself, and from which the majority of members actually did go over to the communists. We, however, were not in such a rush to do so. The answer was: We are waiting for directions from the Central committee in Warsaw. With that, we reminded them that the Poalei Tzion was also a legal party in Soviet Russia. Interesting, the Russian officer agreed with our point, while chaverte Dzhbank was required to renege [on her membership with the Bund]. But they didn't accept what she said …
Within the eight days that the Bolsheviks were in Wyszkow, we worked together with them, and even helped create the citizens' militia.
As soon as the Polaks became the bosses in the city again, repressions began of those who worked or sympathized with the Bolsheviks. They particularly persecuted the Jews. In the Senator's Garden there was a military court. So the Polish press described our town as the Red Wyszkow. The military court did not even prevent the carrying out of a death sentence against the young Rubin but thanks to his young age, the sentence was changed to ten years of imprisonment.
The Polaks also arrested me. After spending six months in the famous 10th Pavilion [renowned for its political prisoners] in the Warsaw prison on Dzhika, in Mlawa and Pultusk they released me on bail until there would be a new trial. Returning to the town, I found renewed activity, and a strong, evolved youth organization that met on Kosciuczko Street 5. We became the largest organized power in the town until the split in 1921.
The rip in the Poalei Tzion movement on a worldly scale, did not forget Wyszkow. After long and stormy discussions, we called a meeting in the forest, with the participation of the chairman of Tzukunft [Future, socialist youth organization of the Bund], Ch. Karol. After a lengthy exchange of opinions and a vote, only a small group (Kaluski, Levin, Mitlesbakh,and Rosenberg) left the meeting. Interesting, that these were the same chaveirim who
in the year 1917, were oriented towards the Tzeirei Tzion group, and now they moved to the right Poalei Tzion.
There was a new committee formed at the leftist Poalei Tzion (Yseof Czembal, Brzhesinski, M. Brzhoza, Moshe Sokol, and I). The large number of members was divided up into groups that held their meetings in the homes of individual chaveirim, because the new government bothered us. In our place, it was difficult to do the politically enlightened work. At least the place was used by the mother of chaver Czembal and that's why, the Poalei Tzionists in the city were called Czembalists. …
At the end of 1921, some chaveirim returned from military duty. This brought a revitalization to the party. The newly elected committee worked to spread the Warsaw Arbeiter Zeitung [Workers' Newspaper], with which the city library actively collaborated while not neglecting the activities of the Youth organization.
In the year 1923, Dr. Eisenstat from Warsaw visited us in order to set up a division of the Socialist Evening Courses for Workers. True, this name served as a badge for Poalei Tzion to conduct its party and political activities. But the name also obligated us to conduct authentic courses for young workers who couldn't even write a single letter. Particularly, in Wyszkow, there was a large number of illiterates. As soon as we started the courses, 150 young people registered. The first teachers were: for Polish the young women Wistinyeczka and Malawanczyk; for Yiddish Ch. Zor, sent from the Central. In these courses, they learned reading, writing, arithmetic, Jewish history, literature, political economy, knowledge of Israel. In the first election, the following were elected: Yisroel and Aharon Czembal, Avrohom Popowski. After the institution grew, and there were already 50 adult, active members, there were new elections held for a new administration, in which the following were elected: A. Czembal chairman; Wistinjeczka secretary; Moshe Sokol treasurer; Yisroel Czembal, Chana Skarlat, Chameneshe Khiles, A. Popowski, and Velvel Popowski. After that, these were the teachers who taught the courses: Zar, Lisman, Plukalowski, and Czuker (all sent over by the Central).
Thanks to the social evening courses, we also began running extensive cultural activities. The library and reading room complemented the work of the courses themselves. These were the library functionaries: Velvel Ruzhe, A. Czembal, Yankel Stelung, M. Jazhemski, Velvel Popowski, Velvel Nowogrodski. Because of the increased activity, we had to rent a new location where there was a large hall and a stage. This was the largest party location in the city, where every Friday night, there were political and literary events, box talks [informal soap box presentations], and speeches, with the participation of local speakers and some from Warsaw: Dr. Eisenstat, J. Zerubabel, N. Buksboim, Y. Peterzeil, Val, Yosef Rosen, Yitzkhok Lew, Dr. Refoel Mahler, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, the teacher Bratmakher, Kh. Glat, Loifer, Z. Segalowycz, Dr. Y. Kruk, Yoel Mastboim, Laya Finkelstajn, Shloime Mendelson, Dr. Weinreich, Dr. Krasucki, Mina Abelman, and others.
Our society was the first to invite entire troupes to perform in the Wyszkow theater, and especially Friday night, though a bitter clash broke out because of this, with those who kept the Shabbath. From time to time, we also invited down reciters from Warsaw.
At the expense of Poalei Tzion and the social evening courses, we should also describe the establishing of the workers' sports club, Gwiazda Stars that had several hundred members and boasted different levels of gymnastics, football, and pingpong, and organized contests in the local towns, such as: Ruzhan, Pultusk, Jadow, Bock. The gymnastic exercises were directed by Aharon Czembal.
Under our initiative, a volksschulle [people's school] was established in Wyszkow, with the consent of the Central Jewish School Organization (Tzesha) in Warsaw. The administration was a collaborative one between the parties and Poalei Tzion was represented by the chaveirim: Yisroel Moshe Czembal, Aharon Czembal, Yankel Bronstajn, and Velvel Ruzhe, and others.
At the location of the society's evening courses, the Poalei Tzion party and its youth also met there. The two movements held some intense political discussions, especially among the youth. The youth circles carried the names of Borochov, Surek, and Marx. We studied: political economy, historical materialism, the Erfurt Program, Borochov's Class Interests and the National Question, as well as real political and social problems. In the inner circles, we used our own speakers. The chaveirim: Yosef Czembal (until he left for the United States), Moshe Sokol, YisroelMoshe Czembal, Yankel Stelung, Aharon Czembal, Yankel Wolman, Moshe Jazhemski, and Feivel Ernstajn. The Borochov academies had a special place. They were organized every year to be held in December with the participation of a speaker from Warsaw. The Central also sent speakers to open meetings. Our goal was also to spread the newspapers and publications that were printed in Warsaw.
The only professional union in Wyszkow of the needle trade was composed of all these political factions. The Poalei Tzion in the administration of the union: B. Yismach, V. Ruzha, V. Nowogrodski, and Feivel Ernstajn, who actively worked there.
With great effort, they organized the porters. They were a thoroughly religious element and therefore showed a distrust for the parties who wanted to bring them into the professional union. Once the transport union did get established, the chaver Stelung worked there as a technical secretary without remuneration!
The Poalei Tzion was particularly active in the election campaigns of the Polish parliament (Sejm). Thanks to the campaigning that we held in our homes, we always received several hundred votes. The open meetings also attracted many people. At the last Sejm elections, the Tz.K. [Tzukunft] decided that we should bring the district list of Poalei Tzion and we respectfully fulfilled this directive.
We had a particular success in the elections for the Wyszkow city council. The 226 votes on List 2 (leftist Poalei Tzion) resulted in more than one councilman (Yisroel Moshe Czembal). The spokesman of the list was Aharon Czembal.
In the later elections the same chaver was reelected. The second place candidate was the author of these lines. Spokesman, Moshe Knaster. For the eight years that Poalei Tzion was represented in the city council, and participated in the work of several city commissions (such as for the unemployed and others), we were always active for and kept in mind the interests of the Jewish workers and general population, not fearing the chicanery of the Sinatzia [fascist party that ruled prewar Poland] and other antiSemites.
At the First ProPalestine Workers' Congress, the Poalei Tzion organization of Wyszkow carried out major education work. And the result? More than 600 votes and ten delegates: Czembal Aharon, Czembal Yisroel Moshe, Stelung Yankel, Knaster Moshe, Jazhemski Moshe, Popowski Velvel, Yismach Boruch, Bronstajn Yankel, Starowiecki Moshe, and Ruzhe Velvel. It is important to mention that the abovementioned congress took place in the sessions chamber of the Wyszkow city council. This was the first time that a Jewish assembly held its meeting in this room.
The elections to the World Congress of the workers for the Land of Israel, that took place in 1927 in Berlin, led to an incident with the police who sealed the ballot box in the middle of counting the votes. Only when the village chief in Pultusk intervened, did they allow us to reopen the ballot box and finish counting the votes did we take first place.
The party also put forward its candidates for the community elections, with the chaveirim Y.M. Czembal and Dovid Sredni at the head, and spokesman Y. Stelung. Interesting, that in this very area, we had to withstand all kinds of repressions and even subversions from the Agudah, which was in the very least worried about the success of our list. Because of their behavior, we postponed some of the community elections for several months, until they showed that they had prepared an election list with many names of deceased people.
Thanks to that, they were assured continued governance in the community. Despite all of this, our list received more votes than the manual laborers and the Zionists.
Several years before the outbreak of World War II, the Polish governing organizations began their persecutions and oppressions against the Jewish population, and especially against the Poalei Tzion. This was an angry message of a farreaching changing relationship vis`vis the largest national minority in Poland. In the spirit of the Hitlerist politics, the economic boycott covered itself completely with the political extermination until the bloody year 1939 came and destroyed the Jewish settlement in our town.
by YLeah Goldstein, RamatGan
Translated by Chava Eisenstein
It was on a Shabbos in May, 1927. Two girls came running and happily announced that they were invited to a meeting at the cell, which is taking place in the nearby woods at the back of the bridge. To be truthful I wasn't enthused with the idea and of course didn't participate. I considered myself a very serious girl, and most of the activity there was dancing and singing. That did not appeal to me, but to no avail, the girls didn't leave hold of me until they succeeded to take me one evening to my first meeting with the group in the cell.
We got together, 14 girls, elementary schoolgirls, part of us in seventh grade and some in eighth grade. We were very impressed with the meeting. Chana Deutsher, of blessed memory, was the head of our group. After only one meeting, I realized that these activities are really very meaningful. We began to work energetically, various committees were elected, in other words we were given the courage to practice independence. And so, we began to prepare our own actions, since Chana was very busy, she attended high school which was obviously opposed to the fact of students belonging to youth movements. Above all to Zionist Youth movements. They were forced to hide and disguise themselves when they came to the cell, so not to be recognized, otherwise, they would be dispatched from school that was a Polish school with few Jewish students. The Jews were in any case unwanted, and tuition was so high, that only few were able to allow themselves to go on, and attend school.
With no other choices, most youths were forced to make do with elementary studies and continue to complete studies on their own. And I can say with much satisfaction, that only the Shomer Hatzair movement enlightened the path for us to do so. Moreover, from the song and dance as it appeared to the outsider, we took upon us a heavy burden. The cell went through a crisis, the high school graduates decided to carry on the studies whilst another part wasn't considering pioneer fulfillment, since the gates of the Land were shut, and without chances of immigration they left the movement. At the wheel remained, those that were youngsters only a year and a half ago. Responsibility weighed heavy, a few young groups remained and the question: will we be able to go on? We debated a great deal. Looking for solutions, for it was a pity to destroy such a wonderful plant.
I remember when I was invited to a meeting of the group's leadership and was told that I have to start managing the administration. I didn't know then, what exactly that is, but very soon everything became clear to me. The elder group decided to break apart and to attach slowly the young forces, something they wouldn't do in ordinary times.
At one bright day, we were informed of our new roles: a number of girls were dispatched to the pedagogic council, they understandably received groups for guidance, and all this progressed in a dizzying speed. Within 3 months, we remained the responsible regiment over all that is done at the cell. At the start we felt downhearted, we were bereaved. All the older members and the counselors had left us, we felt as though we are afloat. Apparently, the main management knew this, and hurried assistance to our cell in Wyszkow. The emissaries began to come to us. The first was Judeks, after him Jacob P., Jechiel H. and many followed. These visits were crucial for us. After long discussions we concluded, that together with the few locals we have a full right to existence, that gave us much courage, the main management promised us maximal help. Since Warsaw was only 50 km away from Wyszkow. This encouraging gave us wings and we decided: we are going on!
We had a hard time with the budget, not having steady income it was all built on a monthly tax that each group and individual was to give every month. I must say, that we passed the test. The children abdicated on candy, every penny was spared for paying the needed tax.
From children we grew into adults. The first thing we wanted to do was to go to a summer colony in spite the fact that we didn't have the required funds. The wealthier parents did not agree that their children should leave, and time was short. We made a collective moneybox, and we undertook various jobs as, mending socks, creating paper bags and mostly, packaging candy. We carried heavy sacks to the cell, where we worked energetically all night, for weeks on. We succeeded in gathering a nice sum and together with our private savings, we arranged at Dlugosiodlo a scout's colony of over 20 girls. This colony provided us with many experiences, and even more, encouragement. We learned that our movement is mighty and there is good reason to fight for its existence even in Wyszkow. After the colony, we returned to work and to our studies, more mature, stronger, and more convinced that we are doing the right thing.
We got over the initial hardships, we exercised being head of groups, for each group and regiment. We began to work steadily, we even brought a teacher to teach Hebrew. (There wasn't a Hebrew school in our city). We ascended step after step, a short while later, a delegate from the main management visited to hand out to the most of us, symbols of graduate scouts, of which we were so proud… we certainly deserved it, if we succeeded to overcome the crisis.
Meanwhile, new problems crept up. The proprietor was not willing to keep us any longer. The neighbors urged her, and she too, was an antiSemite. To add to this, the nearest neighbor was a professor of Theology at high school. The neighbors (all Polish) did every attempt to get rid of us and at the end, they succeeded at their scheme. We were left outside, with no possibility to find a place so comfortable and nice, like the place at Kosciusko street., in Kopc'ikowa.
During the summer we continued our activities outdoors, our meager belongings were stored at all kinds of private homes. Our home, in spite of my parent's resistance, ended up to be the only home, to where I transferred the cell's archive. We didn't give up so easily with the loss of our cell. At the end, we found a different house with a surrounding garden that was at the end of the street. We had three rooms, one, was a large hall, where 34 groups were able to lead their activities without disturbing one another. We also had the garden and the porch, the big tree in the garden shaded us in the hot days. I loved the cell, it served as a real home, where we found meaning in life that made us feel very good. Here we learned to get to know humanity and see the beauty in each person. To this home, we dedicated lots of concern and devotion. We cleaned the place thoroughly every month, the floor was wooden, we would coat it with oil, and kerosene so there wouldn't be dust when we dance. We polished the windows and decorated the walls and doors with all sorts of pictures and colored glass. The groups competed with each other; after a thorough cleaning, we would spend hours in the cell, observing the fruit of our labor, this was an inseparable part, and we didn't even feel to what degree we are connected to the idea and to this new way of life.
And time did its own from minor concerns, we rose to major problems. The older group was supposed to be leaving and joining Hakhshara. The tasks were many and the sources were few. I was the first to decide on going to Hakhshara. No one at home knew about it. It was clear to me that I won't get my parents approval. Slowly and quietly, I readied myself, and one nice day, I received notice, to go to the periodical Hakhshara in Khins'ini. After much arguing, I was freed from my duty at the cell. This step was to serve as an example for many others. I left the cell for three months in the summer.
I left our unit singlehanded and reached a small faraway place, 10 boys and two girls were there. My first encounter with reality was difficult. I realized that the girls jobs are only washing, cooking, housekeeping etc. but I imagined the Hakhshara Training for immigration very different. Still, I accepted my job immediately, without hesitating, and I even found meaning in this nature of life style.
The Hakhshara season passed, I came home and went back with more energy to activity at the cell. Meanwhile we found a room that fit barely to be a cell. Then after, we changed to a different apartment, of two rooms outside the city. Here we began to characterize the place, but the creativeness at Kosciusko street, we just didn't succeed to restore. We tried trying our best to reestablish the cell once more, we made a work schedule, we involved new strengths, and we made progress.
Every year we would go to the summer colonies of all levels, and we stabilized into a normal cell. We felt an inner drive to make an effort and make our immigration materialize. Sure, many laughed at us, but we proved that we have the right outlook at life. We worked a lot for the Zionist Idea and its movement. We distributed Shekels and collected the sum that they themselves picked. This we continued to do for a few years. We, activists, were wellknown throughout the city. First, because we made sure to wear our uniform of which we were so proud: the gray blouse with the black tie and take walks all over the city.
We became famous, the best of youth joined our lines, and with united strength, we filled ourselves, and the many amongst us, with Zionism and progressive contents.
AntiSemitism began to spread. In many cases, Jewish youths were afraid to pass quiet side streets. When we complained to the Police, they would say: Who asked you to walk there?! I remember well a few episodes, which I witnessed by myself: one day I put on a new pink sweater, which my sister Rachel'a zl gave me. I was in a good mood and walked to my friend Rivtcha Altman zl to do homework. She lived in a Polish area, I think they were the only Jewish family there, all of a sudden, a fellow appeared holding a full kettle of soot, he came near me and let out all that soot on my new sweater. I was left in shock, all my life I will remember this encounter. This guy was a known hooligan that wasn't able to see a Jew on his way…
The second experience, which I remember so vividly, happened on the day that Simcha P. was leaving us upon immigration. We gathered at the Khalutz club to part with him, and say
a few words one to another. The club was at the end of Stodolna street. After all blessings and wishes with all that it entails, each of us parted to go home. About 20 steps before my house, that Sheigetz appeared again, he gave me a mighty slap over my eye, that I felt it for a month. Of cause I didn't go the next day to the train station. I stayed home many days, I was embarrassed to be seen with my multicolored eye…
That is when a new perception overcame me: there is no future for Jewish youth in Poland. Times really changed, and the entire Jewish population is getting to feel it more and more.
I left for the second time to the Hakhshara at Lavlozlawek. I began working seriously on materializing my dreams. I received from home letters and reports about all sorts of oppressing decrees: Jews are forbidden to set up stands at certain parts of the city, they are not allowed to sell a certain product, to visit the main park. Restrictions on every move and step.
I returned home from the Hakhshara, immigration was down to zero. I had to wait for my turn. I wasn't finding my place in our town, I was not able to go back to activity at the cell, I have already lost contact. Besides others replaced me. Over the years, we infused the pupils to be dedicated and aware to continue practice.
A year later, in 1934, I immigrated to our Land. Little by little, the other activists came too. Relatively, they were only a small amount of all those that were supposed to come. Many of us didn't imagine that the end has come to Polish Jewry in particular, and of European Jewry in general…
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