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[Page 184]

The Gordonia Movement

Nachman Bergman

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

In memory of my friend Schmuellaster who was murdered in Horodenka, in the middle of the town, for not revealing the location of a Jew who had fled from the Nazis

After the First World War, Hashomer was founded in our town. I was still a young boy and although I didn't belong to the organization. I remember that there existed an organization with that name, and I recall its leaders, Benish Noyman, Mendel Diner, Moshe Ofenberger, Eliezer Bilder, Beryl Shtrum, Henye Birnboym and Tovah Marksheid. I also remember the teachers in the Hebrew language school from that time: Schmuel Greyf, Ellie Libster, and Asher Yungerman. May all of their lives be a blessing. Two or three years later, I also became involved in things, but by then the Hashomer no longer existed. At that time the Halutz (Pioneer) Organization started up; it gave its "brothers" the same nationalist education as the Hashomer. But in addition to that, it invested them with a worthy goal: to learn how to work in the fields and thereby prepare themselves to travel to Eretz Israel and work to build the land. Our group called itself Ha- Ichar – Workers of the Earth – and was composed of the following chaverim: Itzhak Shapira, Ephraim Geller, Leibe Shapiro, Melcha Schlamm, Schmuel Weynroyb, Itzhak-Eli Liser, and me. For the entire summer we could be found at dawn already at school, where we rapidly learned Hebrew. We always expected that the new chaverim who hadn't yet learned Hebrew would also learn how to speak it.

By the end of the summer, at harvest time, we intensified our search for work as harvesters and we joined Hasksharah (preparatory training for agricultural emigrants to Palestine). It wasn't so easy to find work as a harvester. The estate managers in our area were inclined to hire peasants from the Carpathian Mountains. To involve little Jewish boys in such work – why, this was something that didn't even remotely occur to them. The first to consent to give us a try were actually the Christian managers from Hantcharov and Tyshkovtske. Later on Yossel Zeidman, the Jewish manager from Serafince, agreed to give us some work. He would say that it was hard to put Jewish kids to work because it hurt him to see them work so hard. But later on he emphasized that with the Jewish boys he would have a minyan to daven with every day. In Horodenka at that time there existed a group of the Socialist-Zionist Party, Ha- Sokadot. With a push from their chaverim, we founded a branch of the youth organization, Gordonia. The group was composed of these chaverim: Moshe Bilder, Schmuel Laster, Bela Stalchel, Leibe Shapira, and me. The Horodenka organization of Gordonia was the third founded in Galicia, after ones in Lemberg and Stanislav. Our group worked with great energy. Within a short time we reached a membership of 450 chaverim, thanks to the assistance of the Bund and the Yiddishche Shule. Within time, we broadened our activity and we pushed for the founding of Gordonia-farein (local chapters) in the neighboring towns and villages of Sniatyn, Zaleshchiki, Zablatov, Obertin, and Tysmenitsa.

I had such a pleasant surprise in Tschartavitz. Among the 3,500 residents of the town were about 140 Jewish families – all were involved in farming, as were their neighbors, the gentiles. All were Jewish nationalists and Zionists, and all of the youth and some of the adults knew and even spoke Hebrew in their day-to-day life. They willingly took up our offer, and there was soon formed an active group of Gordonia. The groups elected a central committee; Horodenka became the focal point of all of them. The Horodenka-based group of Gordonia met in the rented apartment of Rachel Pasvig. Our major activity was directed toward fulfilling the goals of the old Hashomer and other nationalist youth organizations. We also formed small groups that had Hebrew names such as Arie, Kaffir, Nesher, Yaov, and each group devoted itself to reading and talking about Zionism and socialism and to learning Hebrew. The Godonia also concerned itself with exercise regimens for its members. In summer, on Shabbos mornings, people would gather in the meadow and each conversation that took place was about the noteworthy events of the past week and about plans for the coming week. Then they would do a series of exercises and play several games. This appealed strongly to the youth, and perhaps fueled the desire to show off for the spectators who came to watch.

Among its other pursuits, the Gordonia also undertook projects which typified the Jewish "nationalist" spirit. One new undertaking was the newsletter, the "Joumal, " an undertaking in which each comrade could submit some views on the organization's activities and argue back and forth. The articles were gleaned from the experiences of others, or were simply their own thoughts and musings. Within time, we began to put out a "wall-newspaper,” to be posted on kiosks, etc. for our comrades. The papers were hand-written until we found a comrade who printed (by hand) so well and so rapidly that he took it upon himself to "publish" an entire hand-written issue. This comrade was Meyer Bumberg, of Blessed Memory. He was a short fellow with a rather weak constitution, but he was a great mathematician and also wrote beautiful songs in Hebrew. Later on, when we put out brochures that were written by our comrades, Meyer Bumberg wrote them by hand; these were later copied by a Hectograph. Some examples of the brochures and the aforementioned broadsides were brought to Eretz Israel and given to the archives of the labor movement.

I would like to emphasize that the organizing of the Gordonia movement, in both the city and the neighborhoods, received vital assistance from a kinsman of mine, Mendel Dul. He was a teacher in the Polish gimnasia in our city, but because of that, was not at liberty to become involved in the Jewish-nationalist movement. But he always evinced a warm interest in nurturing the Gordonia movement. He spent each Friday night with our family and was always eager to instruct me and have me glean whatever I could from his advice on how to be a good teacher. Today he is a teacher in a high school in Haifa.

Unhappily, only a few of the comrades from Gordonia made it to Eretz Israel. In the year 1929 a group of comrades arrived. They should have been the core of a large kibbutz to be named Gordonia G. In the group were the following members: Moshe Bilder, Yosel Yankner, Abraham Latner, Monya Knoll, Moshe Kamil, Schmuel Bumberg, Yehuda Friedler, Esther Hartenshteyn, Yoel Yeger, Eliezer Luft, Baruch Yurman, and Moshe Shikler. They settled in Kfar Ahron, but in time almost all of them abandoned the kibbutz.

And so to conclude, a final episode, not an entirely happy one, from those times. One of our comrades, Meyer Dicker, without my knowing about it, undertook forging certificates in order to give a few of our comrades the opportunity to go to Eretz Israel "above" the quota. After a few tries, his scheme came apart and they arrested him before he used a forged seal that he had set up in Stanislav. He was brought back to Horodenka; they also brought me in to testify. With a great deal of effort, his kinsmen freed him from prison, thus giving him the opportunity to flee to America.


[Page 185]

My Journey to Eretz Israel

H. Sucher (S. Yischar)

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

In the year 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, I was a four year-old child. Weeks after the outbreak of the war, the Austrian military retreated and the Russians come in. My mother was adamant about staying in Horodenks with her elderly grandfather, Itzhak-Reuven Shor, a "worthy Jew," a prosperous man and a great scholar who had raised her from childhood and for whom she was like a daughter. My father took his four children – my older sister, my two younger brothers and me – to Vizhnitza where my uncle, Moshe Pistener lived. A while later, when it became apparent that the Russian occupation would last longer than anyone had expected, the Austrian authorities sent us to the Czech Republic where we would spend the entire duration of the war.

In the last years of the war, the Austrian military conscripted older men and my father was called up. We children, now left entirely without parents, were sent on to Vienna, to a "kinder-heim."

When the war was over, we still did not know where our parents were. Luckily, my mother and grandfather had stayed alive in Horodenka and through the Red Cross had inquired where we were. In a similar manner my father found us and we all were reunited in Horodenka. I will never forget the first Kiddush. My father and grandfather both wept with happiness to sit together with the whole family at the Shabbos table.

The city was mostly in ruins. Each day the population grew as more families returned from exile. Our family was one of the lucky ones and was able to rent a small place in the city. From a half-kitchen we fixed up a small grocery store, which hardly measured up to the large, fancy store that my great-grandfather, Itzhak-Reuven Shor, had had. Other families, on account of their poverty, could not afford a place to live. So the Hungarian government constructed a barracks – lodging of ten barracks joined together – and crammed several families into each room. For several years, the barracks remained a fixture in the city until all of the residents ended up with decent apartments.

Jewish society centered around various Zionist groups, including the Bund. One group's membership was drawn mainly from merchants and the middle-class; another (primarily the Bund) from among craftsmen and artisans. There was also a small group of doctors, lawyers, and officials, who were almost assimilated, but their children started to join the circles of Zionist youth. With time, their parents became Zionists themselves.

My father was always a full-fledged Zionist. I went to the Hebrew-language school, and was a member of the youth organization, Gordonia. But when it came to the questions of Haksharah (training prospective agricultural worker for Eretz Israel) my father, as well as the other parents, was opposed. In the year 1928, I was the spark of a group that wanted to join Haksharah and so I traveled with two comrades to look for work among well to do Jewish landowners in the Gvozdieta area. But we ended up coming back with nothing because everyone was afraid to give "real work" to Jewish youth. Finally, we came across a Jew who owned a large estate near Stanislvov and who was willing to employ us. He hoped that when we would help make a minyon for prayers when we came to his estate.

As all the parents were against our joining the Haksharah movement, we had to sneak away from the house to do so. We did so after Passover. From our experience in the estate, we learned that the Jewish boys not only worked harder, but also better even than the experienced Gentile workers. On Sundays when we plowed without them, our output was 25% more, even though we plowed with the worst horses. The good horses were allowed to rest on Sunday.

Afterwards, when we had worked six weeks, we decided to go home for
Shavuos. Our employer did not want to give us a vehicle to travel in, so we had to walk home.

On Shavuos, we went to the large Polish manor in Horodenka where a group from HaShomer Hazair was working. On the day of our visit, one of the peasants who worked together with our friends threw a pitchfork and hurt one of our comrads. The situation was very tense. So we barricaded ourselves on the second floor of a building. Several comrades were below in the kitchen, but were unable to bring up any food. So another comrade and I took the large, hot pot filled with rice and milk and, with great effort, were able to make our way past the peasants who guarded the door. Our other comrades and two girls followed us up. Before the peasant workers realized what was going on, we were already upstairs! In the process I burned my hand and foot resulting in two large burn marks.

You should know that the two peasants would not admit that we had outwitted them. So they proceeded to bolt the door shut. We quickly realized that we would not be able to leave and bring in help from the outside. So we tied several sheets together and dropped them from the opposite window. The small and nimble Teitelbaum went down the sheets and informed the police and the rest of our group. Two hours later the police chief arrived and ordered us to empty our revolvers (the peasants had told them we had revolvers.) So I showed him the toy pistols that I had in my possession. The chief laughed out loud and drove the peasants off and freed us from captivity. And so this recounts the first time I became involved in a self defense.

After spending the summer doing field work, we traveled to Nadvarnaya to work in a sawmill. There we "didn't lick any honey" (didn't have an easy go of it) with our Gentile "colleagues." The farm belonged to a Jewish corporation and at least 3,000 workers were there, among them "pioneers" (halutzim) of all stripes: ordinary pioneers; members of Bais-Orim, Hapoel Hamizrachi and Hashomer Hazair; and our group, Gordonia.

On a pleasant winter night – I was just coming home from my second work detail – they called me back to assist. There was a group of pioneers who had gone to the third work detail when they were attacked by some peasants. One of ours, Lippeh Kanner, today one of the important police officials in Tel Aviv, was shot in the hand as he defended himself against them. I realized that if I was to remain working in the sawmill, we would have to settle the feud with the help of the police. I always traveled the back streets, because in the center of town you had to cross a bridge, under which a band of peasants lay hidden, waiting, making the sounds of a wounded person, to entice us to go there and help him out. At some point the police came and scattered them and arrested several of the “bandits. ” Then we were able to go peacefully back to our jobs.

Soon, after winter ended, the first of our group traveled to Eretz Israel, in March, 1930. I remained a few more months in Horodenka, but knowing what was going on in Israel in 1929, I resolved that when I would get to Israel, I would join up with the Haganah.

On the 15th of July, 1930, I disembarked in Jaffa, and as they had well-advised me, I had brought along a revolver and 50 bullets. But getting into the Haganah was not so easy. First, in 1933, during the unrest in Jaffa, my fellow workers often did not appear at work. When I spoke to them when they returned they told me about the Haganah. With their help I too became a comrade in the Haganah in 1933. I remained in the Haganah until 1948, when I became a "legal" soldier in the Jewish Army.


[Page 187]

Theatrical Activities

Yeshoah Shtreyt

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

The theatrical life in our town began after the First World War. At that time, comrades from Hashomer would prepare for Shabbos staged recollections of the "Kann,” which was a recitation composed of singing and readings. Comrades Mendele Strum, Micheleh PilPul and Yom-Tov Gradinger together with Henyah Birnboym put together a lively and humorous newspaper; they also presented plays based on characters from the stories of Sholem Aleichem.

The impulse for the youth to put on real theatrical productions was inspired by the visit of our fellow townsman, the famous lyrical poet Alexander Granach. He participated in a presentation, and naturally became the star attraction of the event. He recited Di Geister by Ibsen, and also put on a one-man show, Der Baal-Agolah (The Wagon Driver) with Roza Lazer, Mendel Diner and others. We, the younger members of Hsahomer, organized the event.

A bit later on, before the comrades of the first group of pioneers went on to Eretz Israel, we began to put on "professional" productions in the theater of the Koso Astendashi (the Polish national theater in Horodenka). I will never forget the wonderful experience I had when Hebrew-language teacher Asher Yungerman initiated me into the theater through the production of Gut, Mentsch un Teivel (God, Man and the Devil) by Jacob Gordin. Our play featured Roza Lazer, Etil Stizover, Henyeh Birnboym, Fantsye Weinstein, Yoel Shechter, Adete Vasser, Vareh Strum, and Beryl Strum. The starring role was played by Moteh Katz who showed a talent beyond words on the stage and became so widely regarded that, when he came to Eretz lsrael, he joined up with the workers' theater group, "'Ohel.” There he received very favorable reviews and truly became an outstanding actor. There was also Mendel Diner, who also demonstrated outstanding attributes on stage. He wanted to make a professional acting career, but we never learned whether he did, as he went on to Russia and little was heard about him after that.

The Bund in Horodenka also developed, among its other activities, a matchless dramatic presentation with their own actors and actresses. Weinstein's living room (salon) was a center of cultural life, and the comrades of the Bund presented unforgettable offerings. Residents recreated and identified with the presentation's content. People would arrive in large groups and they helped out by lending furniture and theatrical props for each performance. The Bund had as members talented stage performers such as Etzie Greenberg, Isaac Fink, Asher Shtreyt, Mansche Briler, Mendel Diner, Fantsye Weinstein, and others. They also had good directors such as Baruch-Isaac Shpeirer, Pasche Klinger, Asher Shtreyt, and Yehudah-Hirsh Sobol. They offered some of the best presentations that an amateur troupe with nothing more than its own resources could offer.

For the common folk, each presentation was something of a lifesaver. I remember that even my mother, whose thoughts were occupied with the shop and its trade, and with Shabbos, the sacred time for davenning and reciting the Psalms and reflecting, would become passionate and live along with each play. Once, upon returning from a performance with Alexander Granach, I started imitating the wagon driver. My mother was so taken by it that she always begged me to do it over and over. Another time, when the Bund staged another presentation, my brother Asher wouldn't let me go with him to the theater. My mother intervened and took him aside. Toward the end of Shabbos when he customarily came around for a bite to eat and said, "You should take Shaike – that is what they used to call me – to the theater." And that's exactly what happened. And so Asher brought my father's dress hat and a Gemara to me and said, " Take this with you and give them my name and they'll let you in." And just like that they let me through the entrance into the hall, which is how I got to go to the theater.

Later on, a new generation evolved, new stage performers appeared, and the "Golden Chain" took on a new aspect. [The Golden Chain is the name given to the flowering of Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe between the two wars. – trans] The usual crowd stopped attending our theater. Several different traveling troupes came to our town to perform for a month at a time to packed houses in the Norodny Dam. This included the Glimerz, Barizes, Latovithches, and Stein troupes among others. Whatever their level of talent, they draw large audiences. However, the old crowd of Bund theater-goers became less and less enthusiastic. But we youngsters were always grateful that we made it through the doors with our forged tickets and disguises.

As we grew up, we learned the theater trade. We began to take part in the performances of Machiros Yosef [works put on by the Hebrew-language school-trans.]. We also performed in so-called literary-evening presentations such as the one commemorating Chanukah, where we recited Chuga Zuckerman's Macabbi Leider. Later, we staged full presentations and revues.

The idea of putting on a revue without our own resources did not originate in Horodenka. A certain very important man from Olamay settled in our town and opened a bookstore and lending library. He was presumably a huge fan of the theater and the light opera, and he also had the ability to direct. With his help we put on a revue called "Chinese" whose musical numbers we will never forget. During this time we had a true Bohemian in Horodenka, the incomparable Asher Shechter, who truly loved theater and light opera. Both the youth and their elders rushed in to perform, if he directed the performance. Thus we revived "The Dead Man" by Scholem Ashe, whose cast included Israel Sucher, Moshe Fleshner, Isaac Reichberger, Joshua Shtreyt, Rivkeh Rauchwerger, Libeh Shapira, Ginkeh Lerer, Dasnie Ofenberger, and others.

This work was also performed in Gvozdets, and it recalles a story which must be told. Because we had to rehearse in Gvozdets' hall, we arrived – all 20 of us – in Gvozdets on Friday evening and booked lodging in the hotel owned by Ursa Schlamm, a brother of Meyer Schlamm. It should be known that we observed Shabbos with everything that was needed to do so and we even had some of our own whiskey to enjoy along with our fish. But when Sunday morning came and it was time to pay the hotelkeeper, our funds couldn't cover our costs, and we had to pay out of our own pockets in order to save face and to get ourselves out of the situation. And about this, there was no dispute: even though we had to travel to other places to perform, it still didn't sit well with us that our work didn't yield us a profit; rather, it gave us deficits which we had to make good on.

But the unsuccessful excursion to the neighboring shtetl didn't prevent us from again becoming active in the drama arena. We still loved to perform, and even more than that the directors wanted to direct, and the public really never tired of seeing us perform.


[Page 189]

Shalom Aleichem Club

Shlomo Yiskar

Translated by Dalya Yohai

There were many reasons for the enthusiasm for theater in our town. First, it was better than walking the streets. There was a need to fill the free evenings with some spirited content. Each of us believed that we had a dramatic talent and we only needed the opportunity to develop it. The Shalom Aleichem Club was the answer. It was a place for all the arts, a non-partisan place, where everybody who wanted could participate.

Shatsberger from Kolomyja was the founder and the director of our club. The chair was Mark Cohen and other active members were Morits Pilpel, Bum Ofenberger, Moshe Diner, Meir Bumberg, Shlomo Sucher and others. We had lectures on literature and the theater; we read Di Literarish Blater (a respectable literary journal) that was published in Warsaw by Nachman Meizel. We also had sing-alongs.

The first play we performed was Tevya Ha'cholev. I was Tevya; Heytsye Reichman was Golda, his wife; and Rivka Rotman was the daughter Chava. Etel Vakhtel, Ilya Pilpel, Chaim Marksheid, and Moshele Weynshteyn were the other actors. The play was a big success. At one point the audience was so tense that people started yelling at the actors. The stage and the set were particularly good. Another successful play was The Yeshiva Bucher by Kabim and also directed by Shatzberger. Israel Sucher wrote the music and the songs. I was the Yeshiva Bucher and the Rabbi's wife was Henya Katz. Rivka Rotman, Yitzhak Liser, Yekutiel Meynhart, and others also participated.

This play had, like those in big theaters, understudies for the main actors. After the tickets for the premier were sold, one of my relatives died and Gutman (the son-in-law of Royza Kalmus) jumped in and took my role very successfully. But later on, after the week-long shiva, we did the play again with me in the lead; the hall was totally full again.

The plays of the club generated enough money to enable us to continue with our activities. Unfortunately, the political parties wanted to have some of the income for their own activities and this forced us, at the end, to close the club.

Nevertheless, the dramatic activity in town continued and the money raised was used for important causes. The Bund drama club donated the money they made to the Yiddish school and for other community projects. The American Landsmansahft also organized parties to support the school.

Many years have passed since then, but we will not forget plays like Herzele Me Yuchas; Chasia Di Yetoma, and Der Yisddisher Kenig Lir, produced by the Bund.

We, the members of Hitachdut, performed Di Brider Lurie and Der Duches by Alter Katzizne and Haotzar by David Pinsky.

In other towns and villages in Galicia there was theater as well, but I don't exaggerate when I say that in Horodenka it was done with extra devotion and love.

It is possible that our own Alexander Granach, who was very successful in the theater outside of our town, was the impetus and reason for others to want to succeed as well. Two of note are Mendel Diner, as was mentioned in Yehoshua Shtreyt's report, and Yisrael Sucher who went to Berlin to be with Granach, and was helped by him to be accepted to the Young Theater in Warsaw under the direction of Dr. Michetz Viechert. Even in the opera in Vienna, Horodenka was represented by Rana Feifer-Laks who sang there many years. The young generation in Horodenka didn't know about her, but our people who heard her sing said with pride “She is one of us – one from our town.”

That's how the muse was in our small town; but the Nazis came and killed the spirit and the rest. I hope these lines will be a memorial to this song that was part of Horodenka's experience, but was cut short in its prime.

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