People and Events in Demblin
by Chaim-Meir Goldberg, Ramat-Aviv
Summer 1957, I came back to the Poland that I had left with my friend Yichael
Zambner, and we traveled to our hometown, in order to catch a last glance of
the place where we were born, where we grew up and where we fought for a more
beautiful an better tomorrow. We walk around these quiet, almost empty streets
of Demblin and into our memories come various images of near and dear Jews who
met a savage fate in the years 1939-1945 and who were killed at the hand of
Hitler's villains. We remembered events and the incidents from those times and
they call forth a smile and sometimes a closed fist as we remember
Looking in this way at the town 12 years now after the great tragedy, I
continue to think of somebody different, somebody not here and of something not
right before me.
Three Names Symbols
My pal and I remember the different names which were almost like different
spirits of our home town. Ivangorod was the name when the Russian empire
reached here. Ivangorod symbolized the terror of the Czarist brutality and of
the Cossack whip for the anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish pogroms. The famous
fortress stood for an unjust regime for torments and persecutions thatt he
Jewish population had to endure.
By contrast the name Modzjitz symbolized a completely different world, one of
Torah and of wisdom, beautiful Hasidic melodies and the Hasidic community and
Demblin represented a new time and epic, new songs. This is the name of the
city of our generation which had torn itself away from the established older
generation's conservatism. Demblin with its new way of life displaced Ivangorod
and Modzjitz. A new Jewish life sprouted up. Political parties, societies,
institutions; in rebellion against parents and against the former way of life.
This was a process that went on not only in Demblin but in many little towns
and cities all over Poland, during the
[Cultural Upheaval] after the First World War, when this period upset and
challenged the mentality, the way of life, and the psychology of the Jews.
Now we remember that the synagogue and study hall was really a center of this
In our religious study center, the synagogue, we didn't just have religious
scholars and people who were conversant with the Torah, but also free thinkers
and revolutionaries as well as zealous Hasidim. Here in the beginning of the
20's there were scores of Jewish boys who would study: some by themselves, some
in little groups and some in a methodical collective way. Sometimes these
groups were run by Jewish people who were really learned in the Torah: like
Yankl Srulches (Apelhat), Yaacov-Mindel, Simcha Albek.
[See PHOTO-A15 at the end of Section A]
Yankl Apelhat was kind of the leader of the scholars and really the person who
was responsible for the yeshiva as well. A Jew with an athletic build and
appearance and a really effective organizer. He knew how to organize and
[meals at other people's houses] for his yeshiva boys. When the community was
having some difficulty constructing a new bath house, Reb Yankl sent his boys
from the synagogue out to assist in the work. They got it done in a very
complete way. When, in the neighboring community Moszczanka, there was a
tremendous fire at that town, which was inhabited only by gentiles, Reb Yankl
mobilized the yeshiva boys and they went over and helped to put the fire out.
Yisraelish Apelhat, the very religious Hasid, had four sons, all of whom were
teachers at the synagogue and study hall: Yankl, Yitzchak, Shmai and Moshe.
They were very strong young men, really they were titans. Nobody dared to
tangle with them or tease them in any way. Smai used to with one hand pick up a
whole pile of books and it didn't seen to phase him in the least.
Yankl Yisraelish was somebody who had quite a temper, as a scholar and as a
Hasid. He never was happy with his students and at every opportunity he
screamed at them: idiots, retches,
[little gentile boys]
If a pupil just stumbled and didn't say something
right, he screamed and said: grab him, and that meant that they
really would make an example of this little boy. They laid him down on the
table in order to get him to apologize. They pinched him and they stuck him
with little sharp objects. They even whipped him a little bit.
Pity the poor boy who had to come to Yankl after taking his nap on Sabbath for
an examination. He spared no kind of punishment on the head and body from the
person who was taking the test if he wasn't very fast and agile at answering
the questions he asked them. By contrast everybody was overjoyed if they were
assigned to take their test with Simcha Albek or Yaacov-Mindel. These Jews
studied with the students and they'd even honor them with a glass of tea and
cake for Sabbath or they'd even present them with an apple.
There were teachers in the synagogue who were described as having fiery
heads [hot-tempered], people like Zelek (who is today in America),
Yisrael Tbeya a blond, very thin young man, Shlomo Makler and the
Rabbi's grandsons, Shlomo-Yechtzkl, Hershel and Yitzhak, they were all killed
by the Germans.
From the older generation of teachers one could find at the synagogue: Efraim
Traler (Kuzol), Laibel Traler (the deaf Laibel), Aly Foigles and others. Efraim
and Laibel were also very good artists and they carved the lions on the ark of
the Torah and they painted eagles and stags and deer on the eastern wall. Aly
Foigles was a very quiet man and he used to sit on a bench by the window and
immerse himself in
[Maimonodes a text by one of the great commentators], and the people
used to gossip that he also secretly would read secular books as well.
The synagogue boys from the learning hall had a special ability in singing.
There was a special way they had of doing it
this was called singing to
the beat. It seems that this is a direct product of the influence of the
Modzjitzer Rabbi and his way of singing and creating melodies.
The First Swallows
After Poland became independent, an intense political and social activity began
to develop in the Jewish community and it reached Demblin. The election
campaign of the
[Polish parliament] activated all of the parties, and the center of agitation
and of debate was still the synagogue. There we had discussions but now we
described it with new terminology, we called them meetings. One such meeting,
which took place between the prayers at Mincha and Ma'ariv [afternoon and
evening], one of these meetings I remember very well. Matel Batner screamed
down from the reading desk about justice, bread, work and freedom. Everybody
was really impressed with his speech. After the talk was over, a group of young
friends, among them also young girls (Chana-Gitel Wasserman, Dina Baigelman and
others), sang the International. Imagine today the experiences of Yechaskel
Vorshever, who then sat by the eastern wall and was studying while all this
other stuff was going on. All of a sudden he overheard a song like that, like
the International, and furthermore he hears it sung by girls, and he in a very
nasty way murmured: One might almost think it's angels singing
here. They weren't angels singing but they were the first swallows from
the new era in Demblin - - that's what that meaning really was. It marked a
departure. It was the promise of a spring of the busy coming to life of the
cultural and social and political life of the Jewish town.
My friend and I distance ourselves from the building where once a time the
synagogue was. We've gone away a few steps - - and there we were at the totally
empty town square. And then came another wave of memories! Here's where we had
our first cultural get together. Here is where we used to have the question
evenings, which we all looked forward to. We would stick our questions, we
young people, in to the little box with a great deal of excitement and
curiosity. One was always sure that he was going to get an answer to all the
questions that interested him. One was of course looking for justice, wanted to
know about an individual book, about a writer, about a political event. And
always we were able to find people who sympathized with us who could answer
everything for us. These were people who didn't avoid any questions at all. One
of these people was Yankl Bubis. Everybody was extremely fond of him. He was a
very learned person and somebody who was always working on himself, because he
wanted to improve himself and expand his horizons. In the beginning of the
20's, he returned from the Soviet Union. Besides Russian and Russian
literature, he picked up on Polish and Yiddish. His distinguished looking face,
well rounded intellect and intelligence, always commanded great respect from
His wife as well, Dina Baigelman Bubis, distinguished herself with the same
virtues as Yankl. She always was present at these question evenings. Both of
them, together with their daughter, were killed by the Nazi murderers.
In the culture association we had regular lectures and discussions. Each week
the teacher Kannaryenfogel, who came from Gilitsia, a man with radical
perspective, took charge of the meetings which were usually about a scientific
theme. We would have a little discussion group, a circle of young people, who
would participate in it. Soon after the occupation of Demblin, he was shot by
the Germans. His wife and son died in a camp.
An interesting personality was Andja Vanapol, a dentist, the wife of the folk
doctor, Yarmeyohu Vanapol. She came from Lublin. A refined, very sympathetic
woman, with a warm Jewish heart. Her lectures about hygiene were always
attended by a big audience. She died in the Second World War.
In the culture association a drama circle was created under the leadership of
Rafael Baigelman (who is today in Brazil). He was the son of Laibish Baigelman,
who was a devout Hasid and a very effective leader of prayers, a wise Jew and
the father of gifted children. Rafael distinguished himself as an artist.
Thanks to him the drama circle had very competent artists. They were amateurs
but they were well trained: My sister, Chana Goldeberg (Paris) was among them,
Aba Bantman (Paris), David and Yosef-Nota Cholevinsky, Shlomo Machler, Ita
Samet (America) and others. The performances were given at the fire station.
And the proceeds from the performances went to defense lawyers for political
prisoners or to improve and make more beautiful the local landscape or to buy
books for the library.
This broad based culture work was all carried out just a few feet from the
synagogue, really right in front of the eyes of the pious old fathers, who had
decided to carry out a war with the youth. Our strength though was just too
much. We were too strong for them. Those who had an inclination to make war had
to think about it twice to realize if it was really worth starting with people
like us and there really was never any serious incidents of intimidation.
Parallel with the culture association, the professional associations or unions
were created and these met at Black Simcha's courtyard. Leading in this
organization to defend the interests of workers were: Avram Abramovitz,
Yosef-Neta Cholevinsky, Avigdor Barkovitz and others. The first serious and
difficult undertaking was to try to get an eight hour work day. In this case we
had to really struggle against the hard headed opposition of the owning class -
- those who provided work, those who really had economic power. At the same
time, the illegal communist party became very active. Red flags would always be
flying in the city, even at the fortress and at the train station. Whenever
they could get a chance they hung a red flag. People risked duress for during
this. A lot of people did end up in jail. Many of the people I've previously
mentioned here ended up in jail. The local union was closed down apparently
because they were tainted with being associated with this type of activity and
the same fate fell on the culture union as well. They made people pay heavily,
they tormented people.
All of this happened around the year 1925.
War with the Burial Society
After a short time, three of our comrades died: Shmuel Haver, Natan-David
Zisman, and a grandson of Yitzhak Shuchtes who was drowned. In each of the
three cases the burial society decided to bury them behind the fence [in the
Jewish cemetery]. Our youth didn't agree with that designation, they didn't
want them to be buried there, and they buried the three comrades where they
wanted to bury them. But we were afraid that the burial society was going to
come steal the bodies and try to bury them where they wanted to and so we had
people stand and watch at the graves. Every night a different group of young
people would spend the night there. And things even came to blows. The thing
finally was resolved when this group of Jews [burial society] had to publicly
ask forgiveness on Sabbath after praying and promise that they would never more
defile the dead. This was reported in the People's Newspaper of Warsaw at the
We find our Library in the Well
If you overlook the kinds of harassment and persecution that the Polish regime
inflicted on our community in those days, the cultural work we were doing was
going full swing. By this time we didn't concern ourselves with these question
evenings. But we concentrated on getting guest speakers from Warsaw, people who
had a name. Our goal was always to get people who really were knowledgeable,
who had something to offer us in intellectual fields. Peretz Markish [a poet]
gave a wonderful lecture called Expressionism and Impressionism in
Literature and Painting. The very facile, excellent speaker, Leo
Finkelshtein, the writer Melech Ravitsh, the political activist and free
thinker, the Pole, Veyenyava-Dlogashevsky. The hall in the fire house was full
at each one of these evenings.
It was always easier to bring together a big audience than it was to always get
the official permission from the regime top have these lectures and
undertakings. The regime always kept a close watch on what was going on and the
police were never far away. After awhile we were able to open our sessions at
the courtyard of Ekybola Einshedler, on Riker Street. Our ability to do that
was thanks to literary evenings which concerned themselves with various writers
and books. We were able to establish a library with a very rich selection of
treasures. With all of this activity, collecting books and being interested in
politics and literature, the comrades Yankl Bubis, the Baigelman's Godel
Miligram, Yankl Sharfartz, Shlomo Makler, Moshe Zambner and others and others
A certain Sabbath afternoon, when we came into the association, to the place
that we would meet, we all stopped in our tracks and we were startled. The
bookshelves had been torn out and there wasn't a book to be found anywhere. Not
one book anywhere in the whole library. So all of us immediately set about to
look for the treasure that had been spirited away and stolen. Everybody started
looking around and somebody quickly happened to notice in the courtyard of a
building nearby that here in the well all of our books had been thrown. Nobody
had to conduct a big investigation to figure out what happened because we all
knew who was responsible for this ugly work, it was the pious folk of the town,
with the help of some underworld thugs, young men who could be counted on to do
these kinds of things. But we didn't stand around trying to figure out what to
do very long. We let somebody climb down into the well, we got the books out
and to tell the truth, they didn't get to enjoy their viciousness for very long
and we're the ones who really had the final revenge because we were able to dry
out all the books and put them back where they were in the first place.
The Torments do not cease
The local of the union had uninvited guests, the police and secret agents. They
would check up on people, threaten and even sometimes shut the place down. They
would often arrest people who both were working underground and those who were
working out in the open, on a daily basis. We worried about the people who were
finding their way into jail. Sometimes it was a lawyer, sometimes it was a
worker. We couldn't let the families of these people go hungry because often
the people who were arrested were the sole bread winners. At this point there
was a lot of activity by the drama society, because only thanks to their
performances were we able to raise enough money to take care of all these
expenses. The drama circle got stronger with the arrival of some new amateur
actors: Shlomo Mekler, Chaim-Shlomo Zeyman, Chaim Baigelman, Hadassa Rappaport,
Moshe Gorfinkel and Rachtsha Bagelman with her mighty and impressive voice. The
drama circle also had request performances in the surrounding towns and they
brought a lot of joy and a lot of encouragement. The police viewed this kind of
success as if it were a thorn in their eye. In the year 1928 they shut the
place down and a second time we were back in the street.
But who in those years really paid that much attention or let the machinations
of the police stand in their way? In a very short amount of time we opened a
new culture local, not far from Avram Lundevers house. With fresh energy we
rebuilt the library. The professional union grew. And at the lectures we
discussed theories of Bucharen [
an anarchist philosopher
] and Lenin, but we had to stay a certain distance outside and couldn't enter
beyond a certain point in the town. In one room Yankl Sharfartz would explain
something with great belief and intensity. In another room Avram Abramovitz
would hammer away at a Marxist tenet.
The association did not forget its essential tasks, among them to work to
better the economic conditions of the workers.
The elections for the parliament came about in 1928 and the police presence got
really annoying and heavy, they wouldn't leave us alone. The election
literature, from the communist lists, although they were able to list their
candidates legally, their literature was routinely confiscated. Mendel
Borenshtein, Moshe Gorfinkel and Yisrael Vatek were detained at the train
station where they were passing out this literature. On the spot they got beat
up badly by the police and led off to the city jail. Some of the comrades from
the town gathered under the window of the jail house in order to cheer them up.
But that was hardly necessary because they were pretty tough themselves and
their spirits were high, especially as they had still been able to hide their
forbidden literature on their persons. They were able to pass out their
leaflets that they'd been able to hide, and everybody was quite interested in
this information and the issues of this rag of the communist literature. They
were able to find a way even while they were in jail to distribute the
literature that they still had with them. They didn't have anything else to do
and they weren't closely supervised.
One evening before the election, when a big group of young people had gathered
in the street, a police official suddenly rode in on his horse. It didn't take
long before people had managed to tie little pieces of paper that had the names
of the communist candidates on them to the tail of the horse. Another policeman
who had been passing by discovered this and began to chase the young people.
One of the people who was running away, while he was running managed to flatten
the policeman. This protector of the regime was lying all by himself on the
ground. Everybody else in the crowd including this person, managed to escape.
These kinds of incidents only encouraged us in our belief and we felt we were
taking wing even though we were poor Jewish youth who had a lot to put up with.
We felt we were making progress.
The War with the Underworld
We, the progressive youth, had our share of trouble and harassment from the
Jewish underworld of Demblin, the unofficial bosses of the town. They had a
monopoly on the coal business. They dictated who in the market place would have
a space to do business, who could set up to sell boxes and baskets of apples,
pears, plums, cherries, berries. One had to make way for them and give them a
kickback. Thy wanted a kickback, they had their own system of transportation to
carry goods from and to Warsaw. They also had the first truck in town which
carried goods to the capital and because of their position as having monopoly
on these kinds of things and because of the terror they were willing to use,
the Jews lived in fear of them. For many years they ruled the city by might and
In 1930 the worker tailor, Mechel Abramovitch, went on strike. His employer
forbid him to work anywhere. The union came to his defense and the employer got
a couple of thugs from the underworld and hired them to give the union what
for. On the other side, the union sent out a call for its members and they
decided that they were going to have it out and teach the thugs who were
running the place a big lesson.
On a certain Sabbath afternoon, both groups had it out in the street. They
fought and beat each other and it was clear that on that occasion the group
that won were the workers. But the dear boys from the underworld would not rest
after a humiliation like that and later they attacked a couple of youths from
our side viciously with knives. They wanted to take revenge for a couple of
their boys who we were able to send to the hospital that particular afternoon.
Not long after that we realized we were not alone in our struggle. And from
Warsaw a couple of porters showed up. These guys were very tough and certainly
stronger than the guys from Demblin, and they [the thugs] decided at that point
it was time to be quiet. And more, the same porters had in Warsaw slashed the
tires of their prized truck. They realized that the war was no longer worth
fighting and in the press they agreed to resolve their differences with the
professional association, they paid for the damages, and they agreed to send
packages and help to the union people who had been arrested as a result of
these events. They also had to pay for the lawyers who had to be hired to
defend people. Finally, the guy who started it all, his tailor, got his job
So the victory over the underworld gave us a lot of prestige, we, the organized
The Personalities who are no longer
Our walk through Demblin in the year 1957, the two of us, former residents of
the town, continued a little further. With each step there were new memories
and fresh recollections of a place which one upon a time was just full of
Jewish life and Jewish culture, but now, not even a trace of the former Jewish
[See PHOTO-A16 at the end of Section A]
Right here, my friend said, was where his family lived. Leizor Rymer (Zambner)
with his sons and daughters and grandchildren. Only two sons, Moshe and
Yichael, live today in America. Their father was a workman from an old line of
working people. A little bit further in the street where the synagogue was, my
own grandfather, Yisrael Schneider lived, a very respected and well thought of
Jew. He worked his whole life practically as a tailor for women. But in his
early years, with his scissors and needle, he only made clothes for men.
However he couldn't make a decent living that way, so he became a women's
tailor. But, being a very pious Jew, he went to the Rabbi to ask him a question
and the question was if he was allowed to measure a woman. The Rabbi answered
that just like the famous Rabbi Akiva told his students once upon a time, when
one of his students was going to dance with his bride at the wedding, so Rabbi
Akiva told him that you should just make believe that you're dancing with a
log. Whether or not that's really the way my grandfather looked at things, I'm
not really sure. But he was a tailor for women, and he remained that for the
rest of his life. Everyday, early in the morning, he went to the synagogue, he
studied a little bit from the mishna, he davened. Then after he ate, he sat
down with his needle until late at night. On Fridays, he had two little pushkas
[money boxes], one for helping people who were sick and the other one for poor
brides. Before lighting the Sabbath candles he would empty the boxes which had
play money in them for his grandchildren to play with.
Friday night after eating, we used to go to Grandpa's house. His big beautiful
beard and his luminous eyes made his face very warm. We were four daughters and
one son. The majority of his children lived near Grandpa. He was always
worrying or thinking up ways that he could add a little room or a little wing
to his house to accommodate his family. The only children who worked themselves
up to other kinds of jobs (Leibol Harwitz and Aba Branshpegel) went out and got
their own apartments.
Chana - - the Torah scholar, Yankl Shapiro. He died young, but he left two
sons, Moshe and Minsha and four daughters. Only two of them live today in
Paris, few individuals remaining. My parents died before the War. My father was
a Torah scholar and a very famous, revered leader of prayer. He lived with a
lot of financial difficulties and a lot of the time he couldn't even provide
his children with a little piece of bread. Our apartment consisted of a room
and kitchen and 9 of us lived there. Still, he was always in a good mood and
always very pleasant and he always very well thought of by the rest of the town.
Oh where are you my dear and beloved Jews of Demblin?
Political Parties in Demblin-Modzjitz
by Arye Buckspan, Tel Aviv
Demblin in the 1920's was divided between two extreme camps. One was of the
religious, conservative Jews; the other was of the trade unionists, who were
influenced by the Communists.
Almost all the religious Jews were Hasidic. Most of them were followers of the
The Hasidim use to pray in their
synagogues and houses of study], while the rest of the Jews had their services
in the great synagogue and in a special, adjacent room. The small annex was the
synagogue of choice for the middle class, craftsmen and porters, and was dubbed
[the Zionist house of study]. Behind it was the
[ritual bathhouse], which was known as Mendle P.'s domain.
[See PHOTO-A17 at the end of Section A]
The Guerr Hasidim were unique for their prayer services and festivities. They
had their own synagogue which had been built under the supervision of my father,
the late Moshe Buckshpan, and was also registered in my father's name. Almost
every Saturday night, after Sabbath, the Guerr Hasidim brought a barrel of beer
and celebrated until well past midnight. In wintertime, the place was heated
with a furnace. The best among the singers was my brother-in-law, the late
Hershel Weintraub. He, his wife (my sister) Freindle and their four children
were sent to their deaths in the first transport from Demblin. May God avenge
My father, Moshe Buckshpan, was an avid follower of the Rabbi of Guerr. When I
was born, my father named me after Yehuda Leib Arye, the Great Rabbi of Guerr,
otherwise known as
[Language of Truth]. My father use to
travel to the Rabbi of Guerr for almost every holiday, and sometimes took me
My father, may peace be upon him, died of a heart attack in the winter of 1921
(when I was nine years old). He left the house to chop some wood for heating
when his heart stopped beating. The sorrow in our family was great. May his
memory be honored.
[righteous] of Modzjitz, Rabbi Yisrael Taub, used to sing in
service [escorting the queen – bidding farewell to the
Sabbath] on Saturday nights, attracting crowds of people that surrounded him.
Many of his songs are the subjects of legends. One is on the homeless. Another
was on a Rabbi whose leg had to be operated on in the hospital. He refused to be
anaesthetized and asked his doctors to undergo the surgery while sober. And so
it was. During the operation he created the well-known
[I shall remember], which had 36 verses. He died in
1921. May his memory be blessed.
The Trade Union, under the influence of the Communists, was well organized. It
took good care of the workers, both materially and spiritually. They would often
go on strike. They had much power and immense influence over the youngsters and
the public as a whole.
The town had almost no Zionist Pioneer youth movement, although there were
several veteran Zionists, such as the well-known
fond of Zion, member of the early Zionist movement], the late Avraham
Shmeltzstein. He was the first among the city folks to travel to the land of
Israel with his family (his daughter, Chana Tishman, is an active member with
the executive committee of the Demblin-Modzjitz Organization in Israel).
Shmeltzstein's journey made an immense impression on the townspeople. In
addition, Shmeltzstein had published several books on the Hovevel Zion movement.
There were other veteran Zionists, such as Yosef Gilibter, Berrish Silbergleit,
Moshe Kamin and Shmuel Nachum Luxemburg, who had headed the Demblin community
before the war broke out. They perished in the Holocaust. May their memory be
with us forever and ever.
Naturally, there were many more sympathizers of the movement, but they were too
busy making a living and did nothing for the party. This was the case until we -
- Yaacov Rozenberg, Yisrael Yom-Tov, Binyamin Zilberman, Meir Smit, Ahron
Garbovnik, Yichiel Bubis and myself - - left the yeshiva and began our
pioneering activity. The late Yichiel Bubis became ill, in 1935, with
appendicitis and had to be operated on immediately. Because Demblin had no
hospital, he was transported to Pulaw, but died on the way. He was very active
and did much in organizing a Pioneer movement in Demblin. Except for him, all
his colleagues are in Israel.
We attached to us a group of young women, including sisters Sara and Tova
Ointuglich, Chana Rozenberg, Sara Helperin, Pesah Buckspan, sisters Tova and
Tzirel Weinberg, Rivka Yom-Tov and Tzevya Obest. The sisters Sara and Tova,
Chana, Sara and Pesah are in Israel. Chana and Sisters Tova and Tzirel are in
America. Rivka and Tzevya perished in the Holocaust. Tzevya was sent to death in
the first transport, because she limped. She was a very active member and a very
good singer. Her room was the first meeting place for the organizing of the
Zionist movement in Demblin.
We were faced by great difficulties posed by religious Jews, who did not allow
their children to join such a secular movement. They came to our club to take
out their sons and daughters. We would put a friend on guard to announce whom
they were coming to look for, and we would hide him.
But most of the disturbances to our activities were caused by the extremely
leftist communist youth, who would threaten us and even have scuffles with us.
Once we organized a public protest rally against the 1929 events in Erertz
Israel [then Palestine]. We wrote the notices and posted them with our own
hands. When we assembled to start the rally. The extremist youth appeared
intending to disrupt. When our member Meir Smit (today living in Israel) asked
for quiet in Hebrew, it was enough to blow up the rally.
Once I returned home late at night from the pioneer secretariat meeting. An
unknown assailant waited for me near our home and whipped me twice with a
leather strap. He said, “So much for Zionism! Here's Zionism for you!” and
Another time, at a meeting, we confined ourselves to the room. The more that
disruptions occurred, the more devoted that we became to our work. We collected
penny by penny to rent a room of our own for the movement. With much devoted
enthusiasm we decorated the room with Zionist flags and photos of Herzl and
We all raised money for the Jewish National Fund, showed motion pictures,
organized a league for the Working Eretz Yisrael [
the Zionist Labor Movement
Every Friday we arranged a question and answer symposium, every year a Gordon
academy and Tel Chai eve [
Tel Chai, in the Galilee, is one of the earliest
settlements in Israel. It became a symbol of the struggle following a fire fight
with Arabs, in which Yosef Trumpeldor and 17 other settlers died
every meeting we sang the Poalei Zion [Workers of Zion] oath and Hatikva. We
learned pioneer songs and dances. We would dance the Horah with great enthusiasm
until midnight. These were great celebrations. Sometimes we would have debates
with the Bund [anti-Zionist group] and win them.
[See PHOTO-A18 at the end of Section A]
We organized a drama troupe under the direction of Nechemia Ehrlich. After he
emigrated to Argentina, the direction was passed to Yaacov Rosenberg (my
brother-in-law, now in Israel). We produced several plays, such as King Lear,
the Kreizer Sonata, the Sale of Joseph and others.
We were totally devoted to our activities. In the summers we camped at Dr.
Zochatsky's forest and studied the history of Zionism. Sometimes
(that's how we called the Polish kids) came near. We would chase them away with
rocks and sticks. We were in contact with the Pioneer center in Warsaw to
increase action for the Jewish National Fund [
which bought land in Palestine
We brought Mr. Fishel from the JNF center to talk about the topic “JNF and Its
Role in the Future”.
We helped guest Zionists who traveled through our town with food, lodging and
funds. There were many of them because Demblin had a central rail station. Often
pioneers would come from their training in agricultural and settlement skills to
home to prepare for
[going to live in Israel]. They often had a
little means to continue the trip and we would help.
Many pioneers from that time who were guests at our home are in Israel now,
(Labor Federation officials and directors of various
institutions). That's how we established an exemplary movement and sent youth
for training and for settlement in Eretz Israel. The first pioneer that we sent
to Israel was Menachem Rechtman, a boy from a poor family. We took him out of
his home, sent him to training and then to Israel. He married there and lives
with his family in Israel to this date. This made a great impression in town and
brought us other youngsters. That's how we increased our numbers.
Then came the division. Some of our youth attended to the right and founded
[the Nationbal Guard]. They rented a room by the bridge, and we had
two pioneer movements in Demblin:
(by the community house) and
(by the bridge). The friction between us Zionists and Brick increased. They
demanded some of our property, especially the nice desk that we had. All to no
avail. Some of the Brick tended even more to the right and then founded
(Revisionist) [Vladimir Jabotinski's movement]. That's how we acquired
a rainbow of youth movements in Demblin.
We sent many members to Israel. In 1932, we had a farewell party for my own
aliyah to Israel at our home. Guests from all Zionist movements came to bid me
farewell. We drank and sang and were elated. Suddenly, however, the extreme
leftist youth began to hurl stones at the windows. When I stood up to answer the
greetings, I said, among other things, that I am going to help build the country
and not only for the pioneers, but also for those who are throwing stones at us,
and there may be a time when they will need our help.
This was fulfilled much faster that I expected. After the party we all walked
with my family to the train station, where we departed. The pioneers sang
Hatikva, while my mother and the family wept bitterly.
Hasidic, Zionist and Communist
by Laibel Buckspan
In the 1920's of this century, the Jewish adult population of Demblin-Modzjitz,
was divided, in the political-ideological sense, into three camps: Hasidic,
Zionist and Communist. As for the first group, they gathered in the synagogue,
the study house and in little prayer houses. The professional unions [workers'
unions] were the venue for the left leaning workers. The venues of the pioneer
center were where the Zionists gathered, later on the Hashomer Haleumi, and
Brit-Hayil – the beaten out and tempered.
The Modzjitzer Dynasty
He religious Jews were for the major part either Guerrer or Modzjitzer Hasidim.
Or, they were people who hung around the courtyards of other Rabbis. While the
Hasidim prayed and studied in their little prayer houses, others prayed to God
in the big synagogue and in the separate room there, where middle class Jews and
crafts people and porters and wagon drivers and others would pray. There was
another separate house of payer which was called the Zionist prayer house.
Behind the big synagogue, the bathhouse was found. This was known as the kingdom
of “Mendel F.” The Guerr Hasidim distinguished themselves with their very
specific and unique customs. Their prayers and celebrations were different from
others. They had their separate synagogue which was led under the influence of,
and also called by the name of my Godly father, “Moshe Buckspan”. In the
synagogue, every Sabbath evening, especially during the winter, they would heat
up the big oven, they would set out a big barrel of beer, and until midnight
they would dance and sing and become very jolly indeed. My brother-in-law,
Hershel Weintraub (who was killed along with his wife Freindel, my sister, with
their four children), distinguished himself with his beautiful voice, his
singing and really elevated the mood of their meals there in the synagogue.
My father was a passionate Guerrer Hasid! He gave me a name, which was the name
of a Guerrer saint, “Safat Emet”: Yehuda-Arye Leib. Almost on every holiday
he traveled to the Rabbi and took me along with him. In 1921, when I was 9 years
old, my father died of a heart attack, when on a winter day he went out into the
courtyard to get wood to warm our apartment. Honored be his memory.
In the city and outside it, the Modzjitzer saint, Rabbi Yisrael Taub, was well
known for his songs and melodies. When he would sing on the Sabbath evening or
Friday night at prayers, many Jews would gather in his courtyard, right in the
middle of the town, and I had tremendous pleasure hearing his heart felt singing
and his beautiful melodies. There are many legends and true stories that are
told about the Modzjitzer Rabbi's melodies. Like the song about the homeless, or
the well known story how while the Rabbi needed to have an operation on his leg,
he didn't want any anesthetic and he didn't want to be put to sleep, and he told
the doctors to go ahead and cut him open. He wanted to be alone in his world of
Torah and songs. Then, it is said, that on that occasion, he dreamed his very
famous set of Azkara [I shall remember], which has 36 chapters in it., He died
the year 1921.
His son, Reb Saul Taub, took over and very faithfully served what his father had
passed on to him. The Modzjitzer melodies and prayers and singing were broadened
and deepened by him. Thousands used to come to hear his wonderful melodies and
prayers. Very famous musicologists and musicians would come. He himself created
hundreds of new Modzjitzer melodies, which were sung and appreciated and
inspired people there at the Rabbi's courtyard, but also poor and simple people
all over. His house in Warsaw was the meeting place for Torah scholars and wise
men and famous writers who all came to enjoy his music and his prayers. He
visited Palestine on a few occasions which made a big impression on the Hasidic
as well as the non-Hasidic world. He succeeded before the War to emigrate to
America with his family and after several years there, he moved to Israel. He
died in 1947 and his body was brought to a burial place in Jerusalem. Honored be
His son, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu Taub further spins the golden thread of Modzjitzer
on Dizengoff street in Tel Aviv. He established a religious center for the
Although in town there were old trusted Zionists, their activity wasn't
sufficiently visible to attract the interests and the legions of the youth.
Demblin even had a fairly well known Zionist, Avram Shmeltzstein, who was the
first with his family to emigrate to Palestine, and even wrote books about the
Zionist movement. From the old guard of Zionists I remember such names as: Yosef
Gelibter, Berish Zilberglait, Moshe Kamiyan, Shmuel Nachmun Luxemburg – and
they operated until the outbreak of the War. There were also a lot of people who
were faithful to the idea of Zionist ideology, but their personal circumstances
and poverty and other kinds of problems, didn't allow them to participate in
that much Zionist activity in the town, they were too preoccupied with other
things that they had to do. Until there was a group of young people, who had
just gotten out of the yeshiva and study house. They were the first ones to
really seriously think about making the journey to Israel, and they understood
that would require, most importantly, creating some kind of pioneer
organization. They'd have to do it with collective effort. The members of this
organization of young pioneers were: Yaacov Rozenberg, Yisrael-Laib Yom-Tov,
Benyamin Zilberman, Meir Smit, Ahron Garbovnik, Yichiel Bubis and the writer of
these lines. All these people now find themselves in Israel, except for Yichiel
Bubis, who died in 1935, on the way to Pulaw, where they had to operate on his
intestines. He was very active and did a tremendous amount for the movement.
Honored be his memory!
[See PHOTO-A19 at the end of Section A]
The organization got more life when it opened up to a whole group of young
women. The sisters Sara and Tova Ointuglich, Chana Rozenberg, Sara Halperin,
Pesah Buckspan, Chava Licktenstein, the sisters Tova and Tzirel Weinberg, Rivka
YomTov and Tzevya Obest. The last two died in the ghetto. The sisters Sara and
Tova, Chana, Sara, Pesah – are now in Israel. Chava, the sisters Tova and
Tzirel, live now in America. Tzevya was someone who had a limp when she walked,
for that reason the German villains sent her with the first transport out of
Demblin to her death. She had a beautiful voice and at her house, the first
gatherings and talks among the Pioneers took place.
The group of Pioneers engaged in a lot of activity as they organized question
evenings and study sessions to commemorate and study about A.D. Gordon, the Tel
Aviv events, the Yarzeit of Herzl, or the flower sale on behalf of the league of
workers of Palestine. Until at night, one danced the Horah, and there were a lot
of public readings and games.
There was also a drama circle created among the Pioneers under the direction of
Nechemia Ehrlich. After his departure for Argentina, my brother-in-law, Yaacov
Rozenberg, now in Israel, took over that task. They performed plays of a very
high quality, like King Lear, Kreiazer Sonata, the Sale of Joseph, and others.
Summer was a time when we would go into the Zochatsky forest. There we would
read and talk about the history of Zionism. Besides the obstructions that we
experienced from the left leaning members of the population, we also had to put
up with local Polish toughs. They used to like to throw stones at us and start
fights and descend upon us with big sticks and do what they could to break up
the peaceful, studious sessions that we used to have there.
Our activity was conducted in complete coordination with the Zionist center in
Warsaw. Separately, the activity of another group provided us with help. The
chairman of one of these groups, F. Popovsky, even visited Demblin and gave
talks about the creation of a National Fund.
The activities and achievements of our youth organization began to produce
results in the form of aliya. People started going to Palestine. The first one
who had the honor of receiving a travel certificate was Menachem Rechtman. He
came from a poor family and the movement helped him to make aliya. This event
was one of note in the town, and the youth longed to become part of the
organization. At this time the influence of the Zionist youth movement became a
The People who opposed all of this
As in every beginning, so the early stages of the Pioneer movement in Demblin
was very difficult. The pious parents on one side and the anti-Zionist elements
on the other side, put many stones in our path, in the way of the youth
organization. Not more than once, an angry father or nervous mother would show
up at our headquarters looking for the “Christian Converters”, who happened
to be their son or daughter. We always in this situation hid the person they
were looking for, until their parents left. But he bigger stress came from the
members in the workers' union, which was under communist influence.
made Life miserable for us
During the bloody events in Palestine in 1929 [Arab-Jewish riots], we organized
a protest meeting in the town, they painted signs and nailed them together. A
great number of people came to the meeting, and among them there were a lot of
left wing youth. They had the very clear intention of frustrating the
proceedings. They used the word “Shut Up!”, which was spoken in Hebrew
through Haver Meir Smit, in order to break up the meeting.
I remember an incident when I was late one evening going home from our meeting
place where we had a meeting of the secretariat. At the entrance of our house
there was a figure there waiting for me. This figure bopped me on the head twice
with a board and said, “Here, here's your Zionism, take it!”, and ran away.
But once, when we were having a meeting, they sealed off the door to our meeting
place with barbed wire, so nobody could get out. But the more they tried to foul
things up and make life miserable for us, the stronger our will became to
continue with our Zionist activity.
We also had heavy political disputes with the Bund. On a special evening with a
selection of speakers from both sides, we had it out. Because of the fact that
in Demblin there was a train hub for the trains in the district, many Pioneers
who were already traveling home from Palestine or going there would stay in the
town and would help. We used to take care of such brethren as they were passing
through. We'd give them something to eat, find them lodging for the night, or
get a ticket together for them on the train, so they could continue on, because
they were often without any means. In that regard I remember just such an
incident, a pioneer from a distant town showed up once at our meeting house. But
before that our local adversaries had given him, when he'd asked for our
address, a whore house.
Other Zionist Organizations
In Demblin there was also established there the “Hahomer Haleumi” [The
National Guard]. Since the meeting place was not very far from the bridge, we
decided to call the new organization “Brick”. In order not to be confused
with the other organization whose meeting house was near the town hall they
simply called that one “Gamina” [town hall]. In Demblin the youth
organizations like “Brick” and “Gamina”, were better known than the
“Halutz” [Pioneers] and “Hashomer Haleumi”.
[See PHOTO-A20 at the end of Section A]
To the founders of “Hashomer Haleumi”, among them were some individuals from
the Pioneers, and therefore there began kind of a dispute between them about how
to divide up there possessions. One guy was going to get this very beautiful
table. After awhile a group a “Hashomer” left that group and decided to form
by themselves a more right wing Zionist group, “Brit Hayil” [Vladimir
Jabotinski's movement], an organization of veterans soldiers under the influence
of the revisionist party.
After another half a year in Borochov-Kibbutz, in Bendin, I went to Israel in
1932. The farewell celebration at our house had in it a lot of joy and singing
and dances of the Pioneers and speeches and while this celebration was going on
someone decided to throw some stones through the window. We knew that our
opponents would even use an occasion like this, and one that was held in a
private house, in order to show their opposition to us. I replied to the people
there that I was traveling to Israel to build a land there, not only for
Zionists, but also for the people who threw stones through the window. The
people who were gathered there at my farewell accompanied me to the train with
In the waiting room there we said good-bye with a lot of feeling. I kissed my
mother and my family and everybody was crying. When the train started to move
all the people who had come with me started to sing, “HaTikvah”.
Today we know that in the Jewish State there are many friends from Demblin
Zionist organizations, as well as those who were able to be helped by our good
works, in very responsible and important matters, and that with their effort,
their sweat and blood, they laid a brick in the building of the Jewish State.
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