byArie Liwer (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
The farm in Bedzin, a project like which there were few of during the period of the Holocaust and destruction in Poland, was a continuation under the special conditions of the occupation of the tradition of pioneering training.
Why was the farm established?
Its origins were in May 1940. At the same time, we received news that the Germans had erected buildings in Srodula, using laborers that had been sent by the Judenrat. Their intention to establish a labor camp for agricultural workers.
On receipt of this news, the Brit Hachaluzim activists began negotiations, that were centered around Kibbutz Borochov, about the stand that should be taken regarding this labor camp and the potential it secretly held.
During the same period the Judenrat increased their pressure on the youth to go to the labor camps. Every night the Ordnungsdienst [Maintenance of public order organization] of the Judenrat organized a hunt to complete the required quota ordered by the Germans. One day the Germans grabbed whoever they could get hold of and sent them to the camps. Anyone who had some money could arrange to be in one of the shops.
Since most of the youths were lacking in means (and also didn't have protektzia [pull] in the Judenrat) it was decided: if destined to do labor, it would be good to stay together and help one another and receive assistance from friends that had remained in the city.
Herszl Springer brought up the proposal, according to our agreement, in front
of the Judenrat. At the first meeting the Judenrat people refused
the proposal, however, it was not rejected. In the meantime,
work continued in erecting two large sheds and smaller buildings in close
proximity to them. In the end, the Judenrat accepted our proposal and we
decided to transfer the youths to work in the uncultivated land, spread over
100 morag [land measurement], property of a mining company. When the buildings
in Srodula were completed and experts brought in (a gardener from the
municipality, a graduate of the agricultural school in Czestochowa, and a
German-Jewish gardener, whose grandfather lived in Bedzin and had visited him
during the war).
|Herszl Springer (X), leader of the
speaking before the representatives of the
Zionist youth movements about the resistance organization
The kibbutz members and youths began leaving for the farm. The farm manager was a kibbutz member, a young talented student of the Bloy-Weiss [blue-white] by the name of Pohorila. The initial stages of the farm were not successful, and a labor regime was lacking.
Some of the members slept there, in a room rented from a Pole, and the rest would go back to town in the evening. The sheds were later transferred to the camp authority. Every Shabbat, representatives of the Judenrat would come to pay local farmers who had rented horses and work implements, and, as an aside, later had a sort of picnic there
In July 1940, Herszl Springer called a meeting to discuss the farm. It was decided to continue keeping the farm and it would be run in a pioneering-type format, and I would serve as its secretary. In discussions that took place in this matter, I announced that I was unwilling to cooperate with the Judenrat in the farm management and proposed the following conditions:
It was obvious that I did not approach the Judenrat to negotiate this matter. In the end, the Judenrat agreed, that the youths themselves would be responsible for the farm, and members sent to work there, would be supplied with a work permit, providing some reprieve from being sent to a hard-labor camp. Together with this, several of the Judenrat members asked to send their sons, or close relatives, however, we stood up to this pressure and opposed doing so, except where a welfare case was concerned or something similar.
All the farm workers were members of the youth movements. In fact, the Judenrat already began regretting the idea of establishing a youth farm, but could not back down because of the Germans. They had not readily transferred the management of the farm to myself, and if they had agreed, it was because the farm was disintegrating, and the youths refused to take on the Judenrat's responsibility.
When I took on my post in the farm, I found neglect there was no tools,
no experts of any worth, no discipline and no collective responsibility. (The
ground that we received to be cultivated had been neglected for decades). The
comrades would leave the soil however they felt like. The food was substandard
and didn't come in time. On top of all that, every member of the Judenrat
saw himself in the position of a landlord. I established a
committee and determined a work organizer, a secretary, and a daily work roster
was made compulsory. I arranged for the sheds to be transferred to our control,
and we obliged all the members to live there. A general assembly of all the
members decided on a commune type lifestyle. It should be pointed out that not
only was there no work evasion, but on the contrary, we achieved significant
results in all areas. The members learnt all the jobs and carried them out as
if they were farmers from birth. There were also manifestations of mutual
assistance a member who worked in the kitchen transferred his shoes to a
worker in the field and so on. I, myself, moved to live permanently on the
farm, with which I was associated till its end, for some three years.
When the order came from the Germans that the Jews had to register the cows and horses in their possession, we requested that the Jews put their livestock into the farm, since they would be taken away, anyway. However, the Jews still didn't believe this and refused. Only a few wagoners handed over their horses to the farm and still for asked for a fee. During the season there were farmers working in the farm's fields.
All the youth's social life and activities gradually moved to the farm that grew greatly in awareness and scope. The farm served as a cover and camouflage for meetings of hundreds of youths from all the movements, and each movement was assigned a specific day in the week. We printed (using a stencil) movement magazines. Together with this we maintained a work and life regime. At night there was guards. We were noted for our exceptional organizers Hajka Klinger and Israel Diamant.
The Judenrat sensed was happening, though never knew the scale of activities in the farm
that numbered one hundred and twenty workers. A third of the land in the farm
was used for pasture and the rest as agricultural land. The produce was sent to
the city. There was no shortage of pestering by the Poles, particularly
residents of one murderous village. There were skirmishes, beatings and thefts.
Once even, at the beginning, of course, they went into a field and cut it down
in front of us. I approached a priest, but he himself was afraid of these
|Young men and women in the Srodula farm in Bedzin
The farm prevailed in its relentless campaign to survive, and was a focus point for the Jewish youth (including non-movement) during this depressing and terrible period. On the other hand, it was detached from events in the city, from the Jewish ghetto life. There were occasions that farm members intervened to save Jews from deportation. When the ghetto was established and it was impossible to leave and enter without permits, the Germans already were used to that the farm people came and went and they were not held back.
At the end of 1942 the farm began disintegrating, which came at time of a gloomy financial situation in the ghetto. Everything was seen in the light of the end that was steadily approaching.
The members lost their families and left the farm, in order to take care of those that remained. There were those that left the farm in order to find work in one of the shops in the hope that this would give them more life security. Quite a few were captured during their visits to the ghetto, and sent to camps where there was no way we could help them.
In the farm, itself, the shortages was the norm. The Judenrat never
paid wages to the farm members. During the better times, the farm
members received a small addition to their rations that every Jew in the ghetto
received. It was very little, but with the addition of farm crops in the communal
kitchen, we were able to provide the members with sufficient food and even good
in comparison with the state of nutrition in the ghetto. Members who worked in
the ploughing and harvesting received larger portions.
|A group of youths from the Srodula farm (1942)|
Now the farm did not even receive the normal rations that had been reduced over time. A similar situation occurred in Kibbutz Borochov. Without the supportive assistance of Szlamek Zimerman (the head of the Gordonia center before the war), who worked in the Judenrat storeroom, the kibbutz and farm members would certainly have reached starvation.
In February 1943, I moved to the ghetto, but continued to manage farm matters
and the Lakrav
till I was arrested in April of the same year. Around thirty male and female
members remained in the farm till its eventual demise.
by Aryeh Ben-Tov (Hessenberg)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Thirty years have passed by since the Second World War broke out with the annihilation of the Jews of Bedzin, however we, the remnants of the glorious community, spread around from place to place, have not forgotten and from time to time we remember her on various occasions, in particular during the annual traditional memorial services.
What is the spiritual strength, that drives us, survivors of our parent's town Bedzin, that now lies abandoned since there is no longer a Jew there, shady places scorched from the inferno, witnesses to the horror, atrocities and sufferings don't forget our origins, raise it in reverence from the abyss of oblivion to pass on the tradition to our descendants.
I was a boy of sixteen, when the last war broke out, when a heavy tragedy befell us, however I remember the town of my birth, as if it is placed in front of my eyes. I remember its vibrant and spiritual life, a central town in the coal and steel region of Zaglembie, geographically bordering with Germany, land of bloodshed.
I remember, my battered homeland with its forty thousand Jews, its personalities, elders and activists, its Chassidim and its Mitnagdim [opponents to Chassidism], its rich and its poor, in a physical struggle for survival, its learned and its uneducated; a town that was renown throughout Poland, Mother of all the Diasporas, as the Jerusalem of Zaglembie.
Bedzin was not just a provincial Jewish town, but a central settlement that
struggled, definitely, in its physical struggle for survival, however at the
same time it bustled in its public, movement, and cultural life from which
springs of life and vitality flowed.
|A group of Noar Zioni [Zionist Youth] members
in Bedzin, during the war (1941)
On the left hand side the Magen David that the Jews were forced to
wear, stands out on the clothing.
There were periods, during the second decade of this century [twentieth], after the First World War, in which we the Jews were a definite majority in town and we ruled the roost. The municipal authority was for a certain period in our control, and as such the Bedzin council was called the Jewish Sanhedrin by the gentiles. The Polish authorities became aware of this and they annexed its neighborhoods, villages populated by Christians, who lived in inferior housing and made a meager existence, in order to create a Polish majority. Indeed, Jewish Bedzin became a minority, but a Jew served as the deputy mayor for years, till the arrival of the reaper, and Jewish industry continued to develop.
The Pioneering Zionist Jewish youth in Bedzin had a good name, with its organizations and societies, its factions and flags and symbols. The competition between the youth organizations strengthened the Zionist atmosphere, the glorification of the Zionist idea, reinforcement of the sense of the need to realize [Zionism] and make aliyah to Israel. A relationship of brotherhood connected all the Zionist youth, in spite of their outlooks, since the Zionist yearning and the country united everyone.
Sadly, only several hundred of us, children of Bedzin, were lucky enough to realize their ideal and reach the country of their aspiration, to the shores of the Motherland through a yearning for her and the enchantment of emancipation, to live and be revived in her, to build and be established in her, to achieve, to be redeemed and to be rebuilt. Many of them achieved important positions in the life of the country in all fields and served in honorable positions in the economy and society, in the universities and higher institutes, in literature and in the press, in political movements, in governmental institutions and in the army.
There is much to tell us, to our children and coming generations, about this bloody period, which occurred so suddenly and is unlike anything else in the long and bloody history of the Jews, being that we were trampled and persecuted for two thousand years on foreign soils. To an extent we have done this in the treasured Pinkas Bedzin, and now through the excellent and many pages of Pinkas Zaglembie, in whose chapters the entwined soul of Zaglembie Jewry is unfolded. Those voluntarily doing this holy work should be thanked, who for years tirelessly struggled and labored in immortalizing Jewish Zaglembie, of both its large and small communities.
We erected a lofty and fitting monument in memory of the holy souls of the
Zaglembian martyrs in the Nachlat Yitzchak cemetery. However this isn't
sufficient. We should imbibe an awareness of Zaglembie, as part of Polish
Jewry, amongst the youth in Israel and adopt one of the schools for ourselves,
just as other communities have adopted various schools; in order to reflect the
history of Jewish Zaglembie, about its lengthy past and its wide ancestry and
tradition, its growth as a creative and viable center of magnificent Polish
Jewry, and the present the plunder and the looting.
How did my native home, Jewish Bedzin, become immersed in the valley of death without protection or aid, in view of the enlightened world without conscience and the land with its peoples did not murmur?
How did your elderly and women, your young men and women, your babies and youths wallow in their blood, hacked and crushed, suffocated in the extermination camps and in the furnaces turned into ash, and the fools had no mercy or pity?
How did the communities of Zaglembie fall at the hands of the devil, like stalks after the scythe of the reaper?
The innocent love and the our great longing for you has not left our hearts, Greater Bedzin, a Jewish metropolis, that was completely erased from the face of the earth by the filthy murderers and the wicked! We will remember you as long as we live, your last remnants, Bedzin, the cradle of our birth!
About Bedzin and the neighboring communities, that are no longer our soul weeps and we deliver the lamentation of the prophet:
Who will supply my head with water and my eyes a source for tears,
And that I will weep day and night for my nation's dead.
|A street in the Bedzin Ghetto|
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