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{Hebrew text – pp 133-137}

Awakenings in an Alien Land {Cont.}



C. In School and Gymnasia

Our parents were all true to their Jewish faith; however the vast majority of them educated their children with a mixed education. That is to say, Torah along with the ways of the world (or as they would say in their language “for G-d and for the people”). With the exception of the children of the rabbi, the rabbinical judge, and a small number of “children of holy people”, we split our days between the cheder and the schools. (It was not an equal division, for the early morning hours, the entire afternoon, winter evenings, and of course the entire day on Sundays and gentile festivals were dedicated to the cheder.

I remember very well the first days of September 1916 when I was in grade 1 in the public school under the direction of Pietraszewski. The teacher was a young woman by the name of Brobolkowa, who had a wonderful ruler. Her “laps”, that is to say her whippings on the palm of the hand with the ruler, in particular on frozen hands in the winter, had their intended effect. Since there were no desks – the war was still at its height, and the town had been pillaged and partly destroyed – we sat on the floor in an unheated room. In sub-freezing temperatures we studied reading, writing, the Polish language, arithmetic, etc. We did not suffer too much from the cold, since we sat crowded together. The hunger did affect us greatly. We finished the paltry ration of bread during the first recess. From then, we waited for the conclusion of our studies and for lunch. As time went on, the conditions of the school improved, and even the food situation at home improved significantly. However, we Jewish children did not know anything about comfort, and certainly nothing of the joy of childhood during all of our time at the public school. The reasons for this were many and variegated. One of them was the Polish language. To be more precise: the proper and appropriate pronunciation of this language. Most of us had difficulty with this, and this caused us punishments and embarrassment over the course of the years. Our gentile classmates accompanied our reading and stories with much laughter and thereby humiliated us. Every time we would mix up the 'sh' with 'z', the 'rz' with the 'zs', when we would read 'zymno' instead of 'zimno', 'ziemia' as 'zemia', or 'snieg' as 'szneg', there would be rejoicing among the gentiles and sorrow weeping among us. Our faces were yellowed like the bottom of a pot, and if only the ground would have opened below us we would have jumped in. This was the first tribulation [31] that the exile injected into our warm souls. After some time, at the time of the establishment of independent Poland (or as our unforgettable friend Aharon Sapir would say: “okad Polska wybuchla” – “from the time that Poland broke forth”) and the beginning of the hooliganism of the Hallercziks who cut off the peyos and beards of Jews and threw Jews off of moving trains, we children realized that what was happening to our parents should be a sign for us. Our school friends added physical violence to their antics of humiliation. This began with “light” mischief, such as pulling the peyos, cutting our tzitzit (ritual fringes) and inserting pork into our mouths, and moved on to more severe mischief that included beatings. The situation reached the point where no Jewish student would remain in the schoolyard during recess. With the sound of the bell, we would be the first to leave the classroom. (Our “educators”, who were themselves not known for their love of the Jewish people, would seat the Jews in the rearmost desks, close to the door.) We fled for our lives to an area outside of the schoolyard. There, for the most part, rather than playing games, we discussed our tribulations and attempted to figure out means to foil our oppressors. For some reason, one “decision” is etched in my memory: To choose a delegation who would present themselves before the “Pan Direktor” (Mr. Principal) and request that we Jews be exempted from the study of Polish history. For what do we have to do – we claimed – with Mieszko or Boleslaw Chrobry? We have to know who King David and King Solomon are, and not Stefan Batory! If he were to ask us: “Fine, but what does 'the study of history' have to do with 'troublemakers'?”, we would answer with a question: “And what do 'beatings' have to do with 'Polish independence'?”. It appeared that in our subconscious, we objected to anything Polish. We never appointed this delegation. Salvation came to us from another source – to our good fortune, that year, among the older students, there were a few brave boys who knew how to pay back a double portion. These included Moshe Goldblatt, Melech Schuss, “the black Josef” and others. These friends of ours went with our older brothers and organized an “independent defense league” within the school. From that time, anyone who passed by the “impure place” in the afternoons after the conclusion of classes would witness a battle between the “shkotzim” and us. [32] Only our “beloved” teachers, Berger, Klamot, Skywa, Leszniakowa, Woroba and others did not notice and “did not see” what was taking place under their noses. At first, we used fists and belts with buckles, and mainly stones. However when the “shkotzim” threatened us with “mass death” on the day of the distribution of report cards, our strong friends armed themselves with boxing gloves and passed judgement upon those who started up. From that day and onwards, it was sufficient to threaten a “sheketz” with the warning that we would call “Mielacha” or “Goldblata”, and he would back off immediately.

Thus passed our first years in the gentile school. We suffered greatly there, especially during times of increased Jew-hatred in the country, such as during the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks in 1920. We felt the effects physically, but when the ill winds abated, we also had a reprieve, and we forgot about the tribulations. We played our games (buttons, “Eretz”, etc.). We enjoyed ourselves, wasted time, and were not always careful with the honor of our friends. One serious incident of a prank, which even had a trace of desecration of the name of G-d [33], is etched in my memory to this day. This took place with Moshe Shtimler, the son of Reb Tovia Shochet (the ritual slaughterer). This “Moshe Shochet” was a pious boy, quiet and good hearted, who would not even hurt a fly on the wall. It was obvious that only the decree of the government brought him into a gentile school where there were crosses and idols of “their messiah” decorating the rooms. Obviously, he was numbered among the few of us who wore a skullcap (yarmulke) while sitting in the classroom. The “shkotzim” tugged at his long curly peyos dozens of times during the day. They would knock down his yarmulke, and he would not react at all. (Shlomo Fischler also wore a kippa in class, however, he answered every incident with a stream of invective: “Ty psiakrew azeby cie jasna cholera wziela”. [34]) The class opened with song, and Kalmut called upon Moszez Shtimler in a festive voice to ask whether he had cleaned off the feathers from his yarmulke, as had been ordered in the previous lesson. Moshe “Shochet” arose perplexed, for he did not immediately understand the Polish request. However at that moment, one of the brats from among us came to his assistance and whispered to him that the teacher wishes that he sing “Deror Yikra” [35]. He of course wanted to fulfil the “command of the teacher”, and Moshe broke out in song, as we Jews burst out in laughter. A few years later, poor Moshe perished in a typhus epidemic. Our laughter was replaced with bitter weeping due to our great distress and embarrassment. Since the death of the righteous atones, we hoped that Moshe would have forgiven us for our disgusting prank, for we did not know what we were doing.

Among the “diversions” that we enjoyed in the oppressive atmosphere that pervaded in the gentile school, we must include the reactions of Shlomo Fischler, Avraham Siedlisker (the son of Reb Leib) and others during the time of the recital of the “pacierz” (prayers). These cordial people accompanied the prayers of the gentiles with their own ditties, such as “Yossel Pandri and the Aunt Miriam” [36]. For them, this was a chance to take private revenge against the defilement of their souls, and we who listened had to make great efforts to keep from bursting out in laughter, for this moment of “desecration of holiness” was fraught with danger. However, the verse “G-d protects the foolhardy” was fulfilled for us.

Such were our diversions in the public school. What about in the gymnasia? A few of us transferred to the gymnasia after grade four in the public school. When my sister Estshe of blessed memory brought up the idea in our home to transfer me to the gymnasia; the reaction was as if this was a suggestion to remove me from my religion. There is no wonder in this matter: my mother of blessed memory, who was the daughter of pious Hassidim, was always very proud of her name that was given to her by the Tzadik of Tzanz himself, and of the fact that her father (grandfather Reb Moshe Asher Padwar of blessed memory) used to lead the morning services on the High Holy Days in the courtyard of the children of the Divrei Chayim, could not imagine that her dear son would have to attend gymnasia on Sabbaths. However with the passage of time, by seeing others follow in that path, and the intercession of various people (especially my brother Shimon in America, who supported my parents financially, and as the person who had the money, he also had the say…), and finally a solemn promise that I made to my grandfather as he was lying on his sickbed that I would not, Heaven forbid, violate the Sabbaths – all of these together had their influence, and after two years, succeeded in silencing the opposition of my mother. Her silence was a form of approval. Thus, I entered “at a good and propitious time” the third grade of the gymnasia. I should mention here for the good Manka Tewel of the seventh grade. She was a competent young woman, and all of her “private” students succeeded in their entry exams, with the condition that they would agree to receive private lessons in the natural sciences from Zaworski. This teacher knew how to make his profession into a moneymaking activity. Nevertheless, to his credit, it should be said that he knew how to teach quite well. His lessons were very interesting and engaging. This dedication trapped me up on one occasion, even before I was officially a student. I will not forget this until they shovel earth over my grave. The situation was as follows: Zaworski decided to include me in an educational excursion for grade two on one Sabbath afternoon. His intention was certainly positive. Could that gentile have imagined what problems such an invitation would have for me? I decided to hesitate and attempt to get out of it by claiming that it was the Sabbath today, and I could not carry either a pen or a spade [37], I could not write or cut. However it was all for naught. He did not request that I cut or write, just that I listen and learn. Having no other choice, I appeared at the appointed time in the yard in front of the gymnasia, dressed in my Sabbath clothes but with a subdued spirit (father and mother of course did not know anything about this). I recognized a few of the gathered students from the public school, however they all acted strange toward me and were wondering: Why is this mourner among the bridegrooms? Only when one of our Jewish brethren made it known that I was a student of Zaworski did my honor suddenly rise in their eyes. They began to converse with me, for they were all deathly afraid of him. It was only my Jewishness that prevented me from being put, G-d forbid, in the first row. However, as the Poles say “co ma wisiec nie utonie” (“who is to be hung will not sink”). Even though I attempted to remain inconspicuous and lower than the grass as we marched along the main street singing songs, Pinchas Wolf (“Tshop”) noticed me as he was walking at that time to recite “Perek” [38]. He began to shout: “Oh, oh, there we have Yidel Chinkeles, going out on the Sabbath to the field with shkotzim!” He concluded with a curse: “Behold, look what you have become, a sheketz!” What shall I say. My eyes darkened. From that moment, I no longer recognized my soul. Of course, the matter was spread very quickly in the Beis Midrash of the Hassidim and in the Shtibel. When I arrived home, I was welcomed with “a warm welcome”. My mother shouted at me: “I have no need for a student!”, “the entire town will be talking about me!”, and other strong words. It was no wonder that on the first Sabbath that I went to the gymnasia, my good mother did not leave me any lunch. And what a “Sabbath” that was! It was “Shabbat Chazon”, that was actually Tisha Beov, an appropriate festival for that Sabbath [39]. This was the first time that I recited the Sabbath prayers early in the morning, and by myself. I hid my books under my coat, crept out of the house as if I was a thief, and went on a roundabout route, through the “Reitszal”, to the gymnasia so that nobody would see me. However, as if to incite me, wherever I went there were people that I recognized. It seemed as if that all of the people of the town had gathered together, so to speak: the men: some going to the mikva (ritual bath) and others returning; the women: some going to get the coffee from the oven and others returning with full bottles of coffee in their arms. “The hat was burning on top of the thief”. It seemed to me as if they all knew where I was headed and that there were gymnasia books hidden under my clothes. In short, I tasted “the taste of gehinnom (hell)” on those first Sabbaths due to my desire to study in our gentile gymnasia. I “did not lick honey” during my years of study there. The difference was that in the first weeks of my study, the reason for my suffering was “the voice of Jacob”, the words of reproof from the faithful Jews; and during my six years of study the problem was with Esau, who embittered my life and the lives of many of my fellow Jews who studied in that institution.

When I began my studies in the gymnasia in September 1922, there were about 80 Jews there. The number of boys and girls was approximately equal. They constituted 12% of the student body. Each year, the number of Jewish students dwindled. In my final year of study in 1929, there remained only about 30 students, including seven girls, which consisted of 7% of the student body. That is to say that during those six years alone, the number of Jews studying dropped by 50%. It is clear that we should not look for the reason for this drop in the unwillingness of our townsfolk to acquire a secondary education, but rather in the open hatred of Jews that was exhibited by several of the teachers of that institution. For many of us, the study in the gymnasia turned into a veritable nightmare. As an illustration, I will mention only two or three points: every year a few of us, especially from among the assimilationist families, excelled in the class (Oestern, Schneider, Nichtheizer, and also Dora Mahler, Srulek Tewel, Mania and Munek Gruenspan, Naftali Tennenbaum, and others). They accounted for approximately 12 % (!) of those that excelled in the school. However in the year 1924-1925, there was only one Jew (Oestern) among those that excelled, that is to say .5 % (!); indeed several of us remained in the class, and no fewer than eighteen of us took our matriculation exams. You might say: “perhaps this is a coincidence. This was no coincidence at all. The national day of Grawowski and the civic day of spoldzielczosc (the cooperative movement), days that hatred was expressed against our parents and us, were still echoing in the venomous words of our teachers Kita and Staron. They lectured at the end of the study year about the topic of spoldzielczosc and instilled in the minds of their pupils that the spoldzielczosc would redeem the nation from poverty, free it from parasitical middlemen and help the national economy. Our motto had to be: swoj do swego po swoje (one goes to one of his kind for things of his kind.). In the mornings, our teachers would lecture well, and in the afternoons, during the grading sessions, they would fulfill their words. Therefore, suddenly our light dwindled and even the best of us were considered to be poor students. That year, the drop in grades became so drastic that even the excellent students (such as Mania G., Rivcha Perel and others) were forced to leave the institution at the threshold of the eighth grade, and go to Tarnow or Krakow in order to finish their course of studies.

That year, there was an open outbreak of anti-Semitism. Indeed, our teachers never pampered us during all of our years there. In the first year, Rusinek made our lives difficult by mocking our Polish. In the second year, Piotrowski took his place. Only the One in Heaven and another few of us on earth knew how we were saved from his claws. In the next day, we were afflicted by Kita. He tormented us, may G-d have mercy. Each Sabbath we were called up first to the blackboard, deliberately and not according to the customary order (there were two of us in the class, Shaul Taffet and myself, who did not write on the Sabbath). After we told him each time briefly that we do not write on the Sabbath, he launched into a long and bitter lecture. He paced strongly with his shiny boots all around the classroom, staring upward as if he was standing in prayer, as his continued his lecture. What fault did he not find in us? As my mother would say: “every possibly evil is occurring”. Every possible bad trait… “We live on Polish land, we eat Polish bread, but we do not follow Polish customs… is it possible to ask for special privileges for ourselves?! Here you are, you have new privileged citizens, oh Poland!… The young descendents of Moses!”… and more and more… words like an overflowing spring, without stop…. And as one stands and listens to all this, one feels as if his flesh is being cut by a knife. The shkotzim were deriving great enjoyment. This took place Sabbath after Sabbath, innumerable times. If there was not enough pain and agony, we were immediately embarrassed further with the desecration of G-d's name, for the third Jew in the class was called up to the board, and he went up, wrote, and was successful.

There was a great deal of pain, bitterness, embarrassment and setbacks, which dampened our spirits significantly and drained the joy out of our youthful days. However the feeling of a nightmare was mainly caused by the stifling social environment that we found ourselves in for all the time we were in the gymnasia. I am referring to those among us who were active in the Zionist groups. We who were full of youthful enthusiasm for free nationalistic activity and all that that entails had to live during the 1920s in a social “bunker”. In the eyes of the authorities in general and the leaders and teachers of the gymnasia in particular, Zionist activity was identified with Bolshevism. We were strictly forbidden to join any Zionist group in town. Anyone who would transgress this would be expelled from the school, which was the only one of its kind in town. We, who understood the lie of identifying Zionism with communism, did not accept this. We secretly belonged to various Zionist movements, and put as much effort as we could into them. This was not a simple matter. The town was small, and with every footstep one would run into some professor or colleague from the class. Our “house of life”, the Hebrew school itself where all the various Zionist groups, Hanoar Hatzioni, Hashomer Hadati, Gordonia and others were crowded together, was right next to the Bursa, the area where Kotpys, the director of the gymnasia, lived, as well as dozens of other students who knew each of us personally. Perhaps one would be leaving the building together with a group of boys and girls who were not students, immersed in a lively conversation about Zionism and socialism, Herzl and Gordon, Borochov and Karl Marx, the Keren Kayemet or Fund for the Land of Israel, all, of course in a loud voice as befits Jewish people; and suddenly the warning would be shouted out “Staron!” or “Rusinek!”. You would quickly attempt to separate from the group and to flee with your neck facing downward, as a chicken whose cock-a-doodle-do has been stifled, as you fled from the “evil visitation”. In truth, it is not clear to me to this day if these “angels of destruction” who met us under suspicious circumstances dozens of times, really did not know of our activities, or on the other hand, knew of our activities but were loathe to take action against these young Jews alone. I suspect the second possibility. Indeed, they did not lay hand upon us, however there were many times were we were almost hurt by them. I will tell of two incidents that took place to me and two of my friends. This first incident took place with me along with my friend Aharon Sapir of blessed memory (a wonderful boy whom I pine for as I often remember him. I loved him dearly on account of his good heart, his pleasant ways, and sense of humor.0). Once we made the rounds in town to empty the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) boxes. We were both dressed as usual in our student uniforms, with our four cornered hats on our heads. That is to say, there was no room here for error. We arrived at the Street of the Train, to the home of Mrs. Reich. We knocked at the door two or three times. There was no answer. We attempted to open the door. It opened and we found ourselves in the spacious kitchen in which there were no people. We heard some whispers from the parlor. Aharon began his usual routine, speaking with various voices in Yiddish and calling into the room “come already”. In order to put an end to his pranks, for it was difficult for me to refrain from laughter, I knocked loudly on the kitchen door. The voice of Mrs. Reich was heard from the salon asking, in Polish of course, “who is here”? Aharon answered in his clear voice “we are from the Zydowski Fundusz Nardowy (Jewish National Fund)!” At that moment, the mistress of the house opened up the door of the parlor widely in order to give her donation, and who did we see sitting on the sofa? Our dear Piotrowski. What can I add? We literally froze like stones. To our good fortune, the door closed slowly, and after we regained our composure a bit we began to make motions and hints as if Heaven forbid our clothes had caught on fire. Mrs. Reich was quite astute, and she immediately realized what was going on. She raised her voice intentionally and turned to some sort of imaginary third person who was, so to speak in the kitchen, saying to him: “Please sir (in the singular!) register me for two gold coins!”. After a brief pause, as if she only had only just then noticed us, she turned to us with a heartwarming voice, as if she was greeting dear guests who frequent her house: “And as for you, young men, you are surely here to see my son? He is not home now. Perhaps you wish to wait for him?”. With great difficulty, Aharon mumbled: “No thank you, we will return later this evening.”. We both left quickly as if fleeing from a snake. Not only was her box not emptied that month, but no other boxes on the Street of the Train were emptied that time, for we left there as quickly as if fleeing from an earthquake. At that time, we deliberated over one question only: did he see us or not? Thank G-d, there were no consequences to this “pleasant” encounter, and perhaps the merit of Mrs. Reich was the cause of this.

{Photo page 136 – Shmuel Sommer, one of the founders of Hanoar Hatzioni.}
The second incident took place literally at the threshold of liberty. During one of the written matriculation exams, Buszko, the secretary of the gymnasia approached and whispered in my ear that I must present myself at three in the afternoon before the directors of the gymnasia. My good friend Shmuel Sommer of blessed memory received the same notice. (Incidentally, my connections with Shmuel went beyond the normal relations that we would have had as being fellow natives of the town; our connection became stronger when we left the city, when we studied together with Reb Yerucham Kriger of blessed memory, and later at the Hildesheimer Boy's School in Berlin. Shmuel eventually studied dentistry, and was a very successful dentist in our city. This success expressed a fundamental element of his personality – every endeavor that he undertook he did with whole heartedness and dedication. His enthusiasm in his work for the Zionist idea is remembered by all of us. It is too bad, too bad, that he did not merit seeing the realization…). Of course, we attempted to figure out the reason for this strange invitation, but to no avail. When 3:00 p.m. arrived, Shmuel was ushered alone in to the principal's office, and some suspicions arose in my heart. Shmuel spent some time in there, and when the door opened again, the secretary stood there and gave me the sign to enter, in such a way that I did not even have a chance to exchange a glance with my friend who was exiting. As I entered, to my great surprise in addition to the principal I saw there our teacher Piotrowski, who fulfilled the role as registrar, and Staron, who conducted the interrogation. After I gave the customary bow and stood at attention, pale as whitewash, I was requested by Staron to tell about my activities in the “Communist organization”. I should point out that I was very slightly relieved. An accusation of Communism was easier to deal with than an accusation of Zionism. I thought that an accusation of Communism was only some sort of “libel” and it would be easy to push it off. I opened my eyes wide in astonishment, and strongly denied any connection to the matter. In order to strengthen my claims, I tried to gain assistance from the testimony from the “Priest Principal” himself who would often see me in the mornings returning from the synagogue with my tefillin bag under my arm. I asked: “What would a Communist be doing in the synagogue?”. Father Kotpys then started to talk and said to me: “An ox like you Psziakraw” – this was an adage he often used – I myself saw you innumerable times standing on the steps of the Hebrew School with Sommer and other young Jews!” I had a prepared answer to this claim: “We came there to see our mutual friend Yisrael Tewel”. I felt that my explanation did not convince him very much. During the entire time of the interrogation, Staron tried to trick me by claiming that Shmuel had admitted to everything. I knew, obviously, that this was a lie, and I stood by my original claim that I did not know “either from an interpretation or from a dream” anything about the matter. Then the cat was let out of the bag: Piotrowski presented me with a folio, written on two sides. On the first side, there was the large seal of the Regional Education Office of Krakow. He told me to read what was written. The first thought that I had was that the handwriting was very familiar to me. It was a letter of slander to the regional education offices stating that despite the numerous rebukes from the directors of the local gymnasia, the two above mentioned students continue with their Communist and anti-government activities. This document eased significantly my job of defending myself. I explained that, according to my estimation (I knew this as a definite fact), this was a slandered document produced by a boy who was jealous of us, and therefore accused us of this deed in order to make us fail the matriculation exams. I added: “indeed, here there is also slander about the leaders of the gymnasia to the regional offices, in that they were derelict in their duties. In order for the directors of the gymnasia to clear their own names, and to prove to the regional offices that there was no basis to these accusations, they should turn the entire matter over to a police investigation.” My intention was, first of all, to bide for time so that we could complete our exams and be freed from the authority of the gymnasia. I was sure that we would easily be able to prove to the police that we were simply two boys in a Zionist youth movement; a fact that we were not able to even mention to our teachers who were interrogating us. To them, as I have already noted, the Communist organization and Zionist youth groups were one and the same. I don't know if we convinced our teachers with our explanations. As Shmuel explained to me later, he also denied everything. I do know that on the very same evening, the intercession of Dr. Sandhaus and Reb Yochanan Sommer of blessed memory succeeded in clearing us in the eyes of our investigators. The investigation was indeed turned over to the police, and eventually took place. In the meantime, we both finished our matriculation exams along with thirteen other graduates. We breathed a sigh of relief and made a celebration when we left in peace and were finally freed from our “beloved” gymnasia, which was housed in a large and imposing building, open and full of air. Only we, the Jewish-Zionist students, felt stifled there.

{Page 137}


From My Memories

Edna Perelberg


As a native of Dembitz, and having lived there for half of my life, I wish to describe here a bit about the life of the youth in our town.

I was born at the end of the First World War, and there are only a few events that I remember from my earliest childhood. I can still see before my eyes my family's home in the old city behind the bridge. The houses were one story high, and the alleys were narrow and not particularly clean. Transport wagons passed through the main street daily, bringing provisions from the nearby villages to the residents of the city. Children of all ages, with schoolbags on their shoulders, would pass by our store on the main street every morning and afternoon. Our store was not far from the public school, where at that time boys and girls learned in separate buildings. The new church with its tall spire was across from our house, and I can still hear in my ears the clear and strong ringing of the bells during the mornings of the month of May, when the religious Christians would pray early in the mornings and in the evenings. These prayers, which were accompanied by singing and the playing of the organ, mingled with the chirping of the birds and the ringing of the bells in a wondrous harmony instilled in me, even as a young girl, a longing for our homeland, the Land of Israel, which was so far away yet near to the heart. This was the unknown but longed for homeland from my earliest youth.

Near our house, there was a large field colored with wild flowers of various types. This was my favorite place to play. There, among the wild flowers and golden stalks of wheat, I silently expressed my pain, the pain of a Jewish girl in an alien place, downtrodden and persecuted, only because she was a Jewish girl.

These experiences, which were common among the Jewish girls in the town, where what later fed the youth movements, which set us along the path to adulthood.

The Jewish youth in Dembitz was for the most part organized into Zionist organizations, even though there were some who belong to the other streams which were common in Polish Jewry. Along with the general Zionist youth organizations, Gordonia, the right leaning and left leaning Poale Zion, there was also Agudas Yisrael, the Bund, and the underground Communist youth. The strongest movement was “Hanoar Hatzioni”. Many of its members knew not only how to lecture well, but also how to make things happen. They left the comfortable homes of their parents and made aliya to the Land to live a life of toil and freedom. I received the direction of my soul from these people in my youth. They taught me to respect a life of toil and freedom, to walk among the gentiles with a high head and not to submit to oppression.

I remember the parade of the 3rd of May, the national holiday of the Poles, which was organized with great festivity during the time of the rule of Pilsodski. We, the Jewish youth who still studied in the Polish public school, already belong to the Jewish Scouts organization. We wore our scouting costumes with great pride, held the blue and white national flag in our hands, and marched together with the Polish youth on the parade of the 3rd of May. I will never forget the joy of my friends who are no longer alive: Mina Schuldenfrei of blessed memory the daughter of Yoel, Reizel Polaner of blessed memory, Dincha Mahler of blessed memory from the watchmaker's store of the old city, Belka Siedlisker of blessed memory the daughter of Gedalia, Mina Lisha of blessed memory the daughter of Zisha, and Manka Balsam of blessed memory. They were so happy at the occasion: “See Etka how far we have come. We Jews are permitted to march with our national flag together with the Poles.”. They added: “How good would it be if we could make aliya and be like them in our own homeland”.

Indeed! This was the dream of each one of us. This was the prayer of each one of us. Thus did we dream, struggle, join together in pioneering work, go out for hachsharah (aliya preparations), and educate the young generation in the spirit of Zionism.

In my group, there were some girls whose names I still remember: Sala Chaim, Nyusha Siedlisker, Ruchcha Kokok, Chaitza Bronheim, Gusta Schuldenfrei, as well as others whose names have escaped my memory. All of them were three years younger than I was, but quite mature spiritually. How great was their suffering with respect to their poisoned relations with their Christian peers! As they were still attending school, they would come to me to pour out their bitterness before me and to find comfort in our activities. On Sabbath mornings, we would go out far from the city, in order to shake off our depression in the bosom of nature. We would longingly discuss the far away, beloved homeland. The hearts of the Jewish children beat in the sea of evil. I, their counselor, would try to describe for them, as well as my imagination could, images of the different, better world of the pioneers of our nation working with song flowing from their mouths. These discussions ended with singing and an enthusiastic dance of the hora. With great difficulty, we would leave the forest or the field, and return slowly, without any desire, to the gray reality.

We had times of happiness and peace on Saturday nights in the winter, when we would gather at the headquarters of our group for celebrations around the burning fireplace, as we sang song of the Land and told stories about the lives of the pioneers. We would forget about the world around us. The atmosphere was one of unity and friendship. These celebrations would last until late in the night. Sometimes, Shulek Taffet would bring along his violin and play it, and Rivka Taub would accompany him in song. This was wonderful.

On Sabbath evenings, in particular during the winter when the snow would crunch under the feet of the pedestrians, we would leave the tables of our parents and hurry to our Tarbut School. There, all the participants of the courses would gather together, listen to the reading of chapters of Bible. Someone would then explain the passages, or we would enter into a lively discussion about one of the questions. Such a debate would go on for many hours. Thus did we become accustomed to using the Hebrew language. I remember the meaningful lectures of Pinchas Lander, who is now with us in Israel. I enjoyed them very much. I also recall the feelings that I had as I prepared my first lecture in Hebrew. How fortunate was I that I was able to express my thoughts in the language of my people.

Then the war of the Nazis came, which was terrible for all humankind. The cruel hand cut down a rich harvest from among our ranks, which had been filled with the joy of life and sublime goals. How many were burned in the furnaces of the death camps, how many were rounded up into concentration camps and died! Only a small number, including myself, were miraculously saved.

We merited to witness the establishment of the State of Israel. However those that died had no such reward. Let us at least remember them with love and appropriate respect.


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Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Literally expectoration. Return
  2. This sentence uses two derogatory terms “tumah” (impure place) for a church, and “shkotzim” (literally disgusting ones) for gentiles. Return
  3. Desecration of the name of G-d refers to any act of a Jew that brings disrepute upon the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. A Jew is expected to conduct himself in a manner that brings honor to his people and religion. Return
  4. This cannot be translated literally, but it closely resembled “To hell with you, damn it!”. I notice that the word cholera is in the Polish. Return
  5. A Sabbath hymn. Return
  6. Yossel or Yoshke is often used as a pejorative term for Jesus. Aunt Miriam obviously refers to Mary. Return
  7. These two words (pronounced eit) are homonyms in Hebrew. Return
  8. Perek refers to Pirke Avot, the Mishnaic tractate “Ethics of the Fathers”,which is customarily recited on summer Sabbath afternoons. Return
  9. Tisha Beov (The Ninth of Av), is the dreariest fast day of the Jewish year, occurring in the summer. It commemorates the destruction of the two temples and many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people over the centuries. The Tisha Beov service includes the public reading of the Book of Lamentations. The Sabbath preceding Tisha Beov is known as Shabbat Chazon (The Sabbath of the Vision), in reference to the prophetic reading for that Sabbath from the first Chapter of Isaiah (“The Vision of Isaiah…”) which is replete with warnings of the dire consequences awaiting the Jewish people for abandoning the word of G-d. On some years, such as the one mentioned here, Tisha Beov itself falls on the Sabbath. If that happens, the observance of the fast is postponed to the following day, and that day is Shabbat Chazon. The period leading up to Tisha Beov is considered a particularly inauspicious occasion to start a new endeavor. Return

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