[Pages 107-116]

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 world.

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 “Shturem-and Drong-Period” [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 radical change…



The Synagogue

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 provide esin tag [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, shkatzim [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 Rambam [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 Seyem [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 everybody.

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.



Drama Circle

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.



Professional Associations

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 time.



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 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 by violence.

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 back.

So the victory over the underworld gave us a lot of prestige, we, the organized youth.



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 Demblin.

[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?



[Pages 117-120]

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 Guerr-Modzjitz Rabbis.

The Hasidim use to pray in their shtiebelach [small, home-style 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 Des Zionistische Stieble [the Zionist house of study]. Behind it was the mikve [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 their deaths.

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 Sefat Emeth [Language of Truth]. My father use to travel to the Rabbi of Guerr for almost every holiday, and sometimes took me with him.

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.

The tzaddic [righteous] of Modzjitz, Rabbi Yisrael Taub, used to sing in the Melave Malka 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 niggun [Hassidic folk song] Azkara [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 Hovev Zion [literally, 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 escaped.

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 Gordon.

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 ]. After 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 sheigetzs (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 aliyah [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, working as Histadrut (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 Hashomer Haleumi [the Nationbal Guard]. They rented a room by the bridge, and we had two pioneer movements in Demblin: Gamina (by the community house) and Brick (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 Brit Hayil (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.



[Pages 121-126]

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 memory.

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 Modzjitzer Hasidim.



The Pioneers

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 lot stronger.



The People who opposed all of this
made Life miserable for us

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.

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 song.

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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