Translation edited by Lisa Newman
In October 1937 Beitar's commissioner in Poland, Aharon Propes, appointed me head commander of Beitar in the districts of Zaglembie, Szlezia and Western Galicia. My home-base was to be in Katowice, where I lived with the Jakubowicz family- Jakow and Fela; he was one of the local Soldier Alliance heads in town.
I had a small office, the regional headquarters, in the same house where I lived, at no. 19 Francuska Street. My assistant, Beitar member Julek Brand, was originally from Hrubieszow near Lublin , but had lived in Chorzow for a while by then. He was in charge of the defensive training in Katowice, and collaborated with Henryk Zaks, another leader of the local Soldier Alliance chapter.
When I arrived in Katowice,I found an active branch headed by Otto Halbrajch. I was told, that Beitar had made great inroads among children from both Jewish-traditional, and Polish-culture based homes, as well as on those from families whose culture was German I also knew that Katowice had been significant in the chronicles of the revisionist movement, not only for the historical assembly it hosted in 1933, but also for the mass demonstration against Passfield's White Book, which was led there by Josef Klarman in 1929; this event attracted the best of the district youth, a majority of whom were arrested.
At the regional level, the organization acted to unify and consolidate the membership with assemblies, general meetings, and summer camps. I can specifically recall the camp that took place in Hala Boracza, with hundreds of Beitar members. In this camp, self defense training courses were given, with guns donated by Mr. Kornrajch. The camp was closed with a parade with marching band, horseback riders, and uniformed groups presenting weapons and flags. The special guests stood on the platform came from all corners of the district, and included the Beitar regional commanders of Częstochowa, Będzin, Biala, Krakow, Tarnow and as far as Przemysl. Among them were Mosze Zielonka, Chaim Triger, Mordechai Lazinger, Hainz Korenfeld, Bradwajn, Ichak Ganzwajch, Dr. Michael Ehrenberg and Pinko Jules.
During the illegal (nonetheless!) immigration period Katowice played an important role as a check point for immigrants on their way to open sea-harbors in various countries. Awraham Stawski zl would appear here from time to time to organize matters.
I held my position as regional head commander until March, 1939, when I was called to Warsaw by Beitar's commissioner in Poland to be his representative officer at the Aliyah department administration.
Beitar's existence ended with the German occupation, but many Jews had managed to reach Israel before the Holocaust through the illegal Aliyah. They were recruited and served in battalions, and in the Hebrew military resistance groups; those who stayed behind in Poland fought with partisan groups in ghettos and forests, and preserved Jewish honour. One of them was Julek Brand , May G-d avenge his blood, the district Beitar officer in Katowice, who was murdered while protecting his fellow Jews in Hrubieszow.
The Zionist Youth Group
Translation edited by Lisa Newman
This group was founded in Katowice in 1928, and was the most dominant among Katowice's youth groups (others being Beitar, Gordonia, Hashomer HaTzair and Hashomer Hadati); at the beginning of the war it had about 280 members. The first leaders in the movement were: Stasiek Feliks, Marek Awraham, Aharon Djamant, Eduard Zukerman, Pepi Szajnberg, Winer (Haifa), Moshe Rubin, Szoszana Pazi-Weltroind (Kibbutz Kfar Usha), Fela Ulmer, Lea Dunski.
The branch, located at 5 Opolska St., became a symbol of Zionist efforts over the years; it was the first place returning members visited, after leaving the camps and even now, 50 years later, it is the first place visited by members who come to Katowice . The famous donor Feliks, who owned the building, gave us the apartment we used as a base. His son, Stasiek Feliks, one of the first youth leaders, was killed at the Russia-Lithuania border in 1940, as he tried to cross into Lithuania with his sister Yanka to meet a group organizing immigration to Israel through Russia.
Aharon Djamant, who graduated in agriculture from Krakow University prior to the war and intended to move to Israel, was arrested by the Germans in Warsaw on January 18th, 1940 along with some of his underground colleagues .
In his Warsaw Ghetto Diary Emanuel Ringelblum tells about the resistance he was part of, and refers to it as the first activist underground group, which began in 1940. The cell's leader was Kazimierz Kot, a converted Jew. The members were accused of illegally producing explosives, of spreading leaflets and of generally undermining the Nazi government. All of them were executed; their names are listed at the Polish Institute of Holocaust Research in Warsaw.
According to Julek Muszynsky Kapelaner , on the first day of the war, September 1, 1939, the first thing he and Getz (both of whom stayed in Katowice) did, was to hurry to Opolska street to save the national flag that hung at the club.
This movement educated an entire generation of Zionist pioneers; it promoted their making aliyah and joining a kibbutz. Like other youth organizations, it emphasized education and scouting activities.
The Zionist Youth members felt a sense of continuity, as part of the larger Zionist initiative; working in Katowice, they were proud of being the Children of the Katowice Assembly. Their Zionist awareness and spirit grew with news of successful settlements and building in Israel..
Their conversations in the club were carried on in Polish, but Hebrew classes gave the members their first taste of that language. Events like Purim- a colorful parade- and Lag Ba'Omer, were celebrated vividly at the community institutions and in the great synagogue's court. The lectures and debates, and the general atmosphere encouraged members' decisions to choose a kibbutz. Donations to the Jewish National Fund were encouraged; every home had a blue donation box.
Stasiek Cimerman (today Shlomo Dori), set a personal example: he made aliyah in 1937 and settled in Kibbutz Tel-Yitzhak. His old friends still come to visit him, 50 years later. He now runs Israel's only milk museum, in Kibbutz Yifatt, and is an international expert on the artificial insemination of cattle.
The movement's leader, Ichak Sztajner, visited Katowice in 1936 and gave a lecture. The hall was extremely crowded; it was a meaningful event for the Jews of Katowice, and gave another boost to the Zionist immigration to Israel.
Memorable Zionist Youth members
Leon Blat was one of the Sosnowiec resistance leading commanders, during the war, along with Janek Cimerman. Later he was among the initiators of Jewish youth rescue mission, which smuggled Jews to Hungary, through Slovakia. He was particularly involved in purchasing weapons, and was a member of the rescue committee in Budapest.
Janek Cimerman worked against the Germans in cooperation with Katowice members (Manus Djamant, Hipek Gliezensztein, Ruth Landau and Herta Fridler). They spread pamphlets calling on Russian soldiers to abandon their positions and desert back to Russia, saying that the war was already lost. These men believed strongly in armed struggle against the Germans. Janek was killed during a fight, with a weapon in his hand, after shooting a German as he escaped from the ghetto. His sister Leahla didn't want to leave her parents and committed suicide with them in the train on their way to Auschwitz.
Hipek Gliezensztein died a heroic death on the day the Sosnowiec ghetto was eliminated, in August, 1943. In 1941 he and Manus Djamant started a factory to produce fake documentation, which helped rescue escaping Jews who had been banished; every document and certificate helped saving human lives.
Manus Djamant headed the resistance in Austria in 1943, and in Hungary during 1944. He worked constantly, from 1946, on capturing Eichmann and what he did was essential to Eichmann's capture in Argentina: he found his first traces and discovered where his wife and family resided. He also managed to obtain Eichmann's picture, which was kept by his lover, the only picture found until his arrest. He was also a part of the Aliyah Beit- escape from Europe in the years 1945-6, and in arranging weapon deliveries from Czechoslovakia.
Meir Ohad-Lublinski, one of the group's remarkable guides, was arrested in Russia on a charge of Zionist activism. He reached Persia with groups of Russian orphans, and was one of the heads of the Teheran Children organization. He has continued this activity to the present time, and has published a book on his experiences.
Aszer Grinboim, a Zionist youth and summer camp guide, was forced to flee, along with other activists, to Zakopane, after the 1939 summer camp, as the war began. He ran Zionist activity with a small group of friends he managed to contact in Russia.
Tzvi Rozencwaig continued Zionist activity in Russia, and was murdered there. His brother Natan died heroically with the resistance leader Juzek Korzuch on the day the Sosnowiec ghetto was eliminated. His brother Zeev was killed in 1943, while on a rescue mission in Katowice.
Moniek Apelbaum was shot by the Germans with Josek Adek Ulmer while aiding partisan groups in 1943.
Josef Zilbersztain was a volunteer in the Russian Red Army who managed to reach Berlin with the corps. His brother Motty fell in the battle of Stalingrad.
Szalom Rakower returned from Russia after the war and held key positions in the illegal immigration (aliyah beit) project in Austria and Poland. He was a dear friend who was taken from us at a young age, due to illness.
Tzvi Getz, a man of great achievements, was among the founders of the world organization of Katowice Jews; his vision and dream were to publish a book about Katowice's community and its history.
Lunek Kromolowski-Karmon (today a Zim engineer) was a member and an activist.
Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman- Katowice's Rabbi and head of the group's parents' committee, acted as a patron and represented Zionist Youth with other organizations and with the Polish government.
The Summer Sessions
The organization's scouting summer camps, known as Summer Sessions (Moshavot Kaitz), were usually held in the mountains or the forests, where 'for a while' we lived in tents, without the convenient conditions of home; in a way, this was a preparation for the difficult conditions we would face on our aliyah to Israel. The summer camps combined self-defense and judo sessions, and emphasized Hebrew classes. Envoys from Israel used to visit the camps and provide us with recent impressions and information about the situation there.
A warm farewell party was held for member Janek Gewelber, who finished his training in 1936 and received his certificate (immigration permit to Israel). He was a humble, hardworking man who volunteered for the British army in the beginning of the war, was captured by the German army and managed to escape to England. He brought with him essential documents stolen from German military intelligence, for which he was awarded a decoration for excellence by the King of England.
Others who managed to immigrate to Israel before the war were: the head of Katowice branch Marek Avraham, Genia Rechnic-Bar-Niv (a pianist), Lea Dunski and Szoszana Pazi-Weltfroind.
Devotion to brothers
The Zionist Youth, and other youth groups, members showed their devotion to their fellow Jews even before the outbreak of World War II. In October, 1938, the Germans decreed the immediate expulsion of nearly 12,000 Jewish Polish citizens, a historical event known as the Zbonszyn Expulsion. Thousands of these Jews arrived in Katowice in desperate need of aid and shelter. The youth group members in town all joined forces for this effort, relocating these banished families into the homes of local Jewish families, which created a true feeling of Jewish unity and identity.
Friends and members who left for Austria and Germany using fake documentation included: Szoszana Szalew-Sztajnkeler, Zela Szojer-Grinberg, Hadasa Telem-Djamant (who left shortly before the elimination of Sosnowiec ghetto, travelling to Germany alone, pretending to be a Christian woman) and Miriam Rajch-Djamant.
Szimszon Djamant and Ruth Landau, who married Janek Cimerman in the ghetto, and escaped certain death in several arrests, managed to get to Hungary and from there to Israel in 1944, through the youth rescue mission.
Some Katowice members were also active in the resistance ghetto groups and in the partisan struggle in other Polish towns: Sawek Kurland in the Tarnow ghetto, and Jakow Wajnrib in the Warsaw ghetto rebellion.
|Members of the Zionist Youth from Katowice in the Sosnowiec chapter, from 1941|
Some members, like the Tajtelbaum brothers, Julek Muszynsky, the Rotenberg brothers, and the Grinboim brothers, Aszer and Natan, stayed in Katowice. After it was conquered by the Germans in 1939, they were all sent east to Nisko, and from there they crossed the Russian border independently.
The Shop (factory) which Szmuel Djamant ran in the basement of a German named Kerensztok, was used as the Zionist Youth activity center, and was the secret meeting place for the district underground group. Forty children aged 12-16, worked there making games for German military clubs, and thus, their lives were saved. The fake documentation factory of Hipek and Manus was located in this building as well.
After World War II, the Zionist Youth organization re-opened its branch in Katowice, headed by Lawyer Israel Tajtelbaum, who now lives in Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Zionist Youth members in Katowice were like a family with one another: the time they spent together developed unique, strong connections among these friends, as they helped one another during the hard years. After the war they searched for and contacted one another and they have kept in contact ever since.
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