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[Page 176]

Zionism in Kolomea

During the Period Between Both World Wars[1*]

by Dr. Zvi Heller, Tel Aviv

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

When I speak about Kolomea, I mean the environs that were called the political electoral district of Kolomea that was geographically known under the name Pokutia. Everything that took place in Kolomea had an effect on the shtetlekh [towns] and villages with large Jewish settlements in the mountainous vicinity.

Kolomea had its own Jewish representative in the state parliament, then the Austrian Reich's Council in Vienna, for many years before the First World War. The election district in Austria consisted of three cities in one: Kolomea (Kolomyya), Snityn (Sniatyn) and Beczucz (Buczacz [Buchach]).

The Kolomea Jewish deputies before the First World War were members of the “Polish Club” (Kolo Polskja).

After the First World War, the Kolomea election district in the newly revived Poland was represented in

The Editors

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the Sejm by a deputy from the United Zionist list number 17, on which the general Zionist, Dr. Henrik Rozmaryn, Dr. Zvi Heller, the representative of Histadrut, the representative of Mizrakhi [religious Zionists], Dr. Shimeon Federbush were candidates. The other Jewish lists, from the Bund, Agudas Yisroel [anti-Zionist religious party], and Paolei Zion [Marxist Zionists] were incapable of carrying through their candidates.

The democratic elections to the Jewish National Council that were dominated by the assimilated [Jews] to the Jewish National Council that in the time of transition immediately after the war took the place of the earlier small kehile [organized Jewish community] houses of prayer provided a strong push to national-political organizing by the Kolomea Jews.

Contributing to the [Jewish] national turmoil was Hashomer Hatzair [the Youth Guard – Social Zionists], the Zionist youth movement that arose during the First World War in Vienna and then was transplanted to Galicia by the returning refugees, young men and girls. A group of Hashomer Hatzair was also founded in Kolomea that had its hakhshara [agricultural training for potential emigrants to Eretz-Yisroel] location in the area of the village Slobudka Lesna.

Immediately after the war, Kopl Gugik and his wife [reopened] the Hebrew school, Safa Brura [clear language – a movement to encourage the use of the Hebrew language] and organized classes for the young and courses for the adults.

In the large meeting hall of the Zionist party, Beit Yisroel [House of Israel], which had existed since 1903, would gather veterans of the local Zionist movement of the past such as the old Dr. Shlomo Rozenhek, the commendable Efroim Klarman, Dr. Marek Laks, Shlomo Scher and Yona Ashkenazi; also there were the younger leaders and the halutz [pioneer] youth, among whom, in a place of honor, were representatives of Hitachdut: Chaim Ringelblum, Kopl Gugik, Moshe Schneberger, Mikhal Hazelkorn, Lev Grebler, Yitzhak Teitelbaum, Meir Laks, Yakov Bender, Nakhman Palik, Shlomo Rares, Dov Sternberg, Etl Ramler, Yakov Schikler, Dr. Meir Etinger, Nety Eiferman and others.

The mentioned Hitachdut comrades headed by Mikhal Hazelkorn led the Keren Kayemeth [National Fund] commission in the city and in the area.

Hitachdut created a professional artisan's school that was led by Mrs. Gusya Horovitz.

The Herzl Library, at the head of which stood the famous Zionist activist Yakov Byter and his wife, Gitl Perminger Byter,

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was very beloved in the city. It possessed thousands of books in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German.

A drama section [of the Zionists] was started with Dr. Marek Knap, Pinkhas Scheierman, Zindl Neiman, Hersh Neiman, Leibele Wolfberg and Neti Eiferman at the head. The drama group carried the name Halevi.

The lectures were begun again as before the war in the Jewish Toynbee Hall. Of the local people, Dr. Shlomo Rozenhak, Chaim Ringelblum, Kopl Gugik and Dr. Kramer often would appear with lectures. Dr. Meir Geyer, Senator Dr. Mikhal Ringel, Professor Binshtok, Dr. Zilberstein, Dr. Naftali Schwartz, Dr. Kopl Schwartz, Fishl Werber, Dr. Fishl Rotenstreich, Zalman Hering and Dr. Zvi Heller would come from Lemberg to lecture. Hundreds of Jews from various circles listened to these lectures.

There was a chess club with a considerable number of members in the Baron Hirsch Hall. Pinkhas Scheierman and Dovid Schreiber led the club.

Lively work went on and with it good success for the Keren Hayesod [the Foundation Fund] in Kolomea and in the surrounding area. The success mainly was thanks to the emissaries from Eretz-Yisroel, Natan Bistricki and Sura Berger. The Hitachdut worker, Lev Grebler traveled to the surrounding cities and villages with the delegation from Eretz-Yisroel.

There were often clashes with Agudas Yisroel in the small Vizhnitz, Ziditshov, Boyan, and Otynia synagogues. Agudas had its fortresses of anti-Zionist struggle in every Hasidic synagogue.

The first halutzim [pioneers] left Kolomea for Eretz-Yisroel in 1920. Among them – Yehuda Grunverg-Hurin, the current leader of Jachin [Prepare] and of Merkaz Hahaklai [Agricultural Center] at Hahistadrut in Eretz-Yisroel, Yosef Kuperman, Dov Sternberg, Sholom Laks and others.

There was a large hakhshara [training site to prepare emigrants for life in Eretz-Yisroel] settlement with the name Klasov that consisted of comrades from the Kresy [Borderlands – formerly territory in the eastern part of Poland], from Volyn, from Polesia, Podlasie and from the Vilna area.

Among the first comrades that Hitachdut sent to hakhshara to the landowner, Engineer Ayzyk Berlet in Gody-Turka, were Chaim Laks, Yakov Grin, Etl Ramler, Levi Grebler, Yakov Hamer and others. Most of this group emigrated to Eretz-Yisroel during the month of July 1925.

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The Hitachdut Central [office] in Lemberg strongly supported the Kolomea hahalutz movement through special cultural envoys. Among the Lemberg delegates were Engineer Reizer (today a high official in the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem), Dov Stok (today Dov Soren, professor of Yiddish at Jerusalem University), Menakhem Gelerter, Fishl Werber, Dr. Nusan Melcer, and the former Sejm [lower house of Polish parliament] deputies, Dr. Kopl Schwartz and Dr. Zvi Heller. The General Secretary, Minister Zigmund Herring, and the regular delegate from the Halutz Central [office], Lionek Braunstein (today in Kibbutz [communal settlement] Hulda), also helped with the cultural work.

The general Zionists, Mizrakhi and Revisionists [non-religious Zionist group founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky], had their youth and halutz groups in the city.

Yehuda Kreps, Henekh Schecter, Yona Ashkenazi, the Rabbi, Reb Chaim Zvi Taumim, Hersh Rozenbaum, Efroim Klarman and others stood at the head of the Mizrakhi Party. At the initiative of the Hebrew writer, Reuven Fahn, delegates from Kolomea Mizrakhi (Hocher and Zinreich) traveled to Eretz-Yisroel to buy land.

Dr. Hesl, the lawyer, Yakov Heger and others, led the Revisionist group. They created a Betar [Revisionist Zionist youth group] group, as well as a group of Kayil Lemui [National Force] in the city.

The main workers from the leftist Poalei-Zion were: Shlomo Schmoys, Mendl Marksheid, Dutsia Landman, Krauthamer and others.

The Agudas Yisroel was a small group in Kolomea, as it was in all of eastern Galicia. However, it had several capable leaders and the most capable among them were Reb Yosef Lau and the lawyer, Dr. Ben-Tzion Fesler. However, Agudas was completely weakened and lost its influence after Dr. Yosef Lau was chosen as the local rabbi, at the initiative of the Mizrakhi social worker, Reb Yona Ashkenazi (Gedelia Biter's son-in-law and Yekl Biter's brother-in-law). But it still had a group of respected businessmen in its leadership, such as Dovid Zeidman, Lipe and Shlomo Heller, Lipe Ungar, Leibtsie Libman, Shmuel Ber Hener, Leibush Krys and Mendl Hirsh.

Kolomea had its own two Zionist newspapers, Nas Glos [Our Voice] in Polish from the general Zionists and Undzer Shtime [Our Voice] [in Yiddish] from Hitachdut.

The visit of Yosef Sprinzak, the present speaker of the Knesset [Israeli parliament], was an important event in the history of Kolomea Zionists.

Yosef Sprinzak came to Kolomea in 1935 to carry out the

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unification of Hitachdut and Poalei-Zion. Some from Hitachdut with Chaim Ringelblum, Moshe Schneberger, Lewi Grebler and Dr. Marek Knop were stubborn and would not embrace the unification with Poalei-Zion that had been carried out on a worldwide scale.

After greater efforts and more intensive theoretical doctrinal work on the part of the special messengers from Ikhud [Union], Dr. Naftali Schwartz and Yitzhak Fagenbaum and finally, Yosef Sprincak, the Ringelblum group as well as Kopl Gunik's group united with Poalei-Zion. The previously mentioned leaders of Hitachdut, Chaim Ringelblum, Kopl Gunik and Moshe Schneberger and the Poalei-Zion workers, Dr. Wagman, Shlomo Badler, Dr. Schnebalg and Shlomo Eizner, were at the head of the united party.

In 1934, Lewi Grebler created a hakhshara settlement of the Hitachdut comrades under the name Vitkinia.[1] The group became a part of Hitachdut halutz in eastern Galicia. The economy of Vitkinia consisted of four gardens near the Prut [River] and a house on Dzieduszycki Street. During the summer the group worked in the field. However, during the winter, the group was hired to do laundry in private houses. The group members were woodcutters during the winter.

It was very typical that the halutzim had to carry on a struggle for the right to work. The woodcutters organized by P.P.S. [Polish Socialist Party] often attacked the halutzim and did not allow them to work. The municipality helped to secure for the halutzim their right to work thanks to the councilmen Chaim Ringelblum and Moshe Schneberger.

Hitachdut and the women's organization, WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization], created a people's kitchen in the city. Members of Hitachdut founded a credit bank for artisans and retailers, again with the help of Sejm-deputy, Dr. Avraham Zilberstein, who was the leader of the Jewish cooperative movement in Poland and with the help of the “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee] representative, Yitzhak Niterman. The old communal worker Dugye Vizelberg stood at the head of the bank.

Yad haRutzim, the artisans' union that was under the influence of the P.P.S., split after the death of the well-known P.P.S. leader, Dr. Samuel Lazarcz Schor. A Zionist group emerged from the union and the comrade from the

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Hitachdut, Yitzak Teitelbaum, succeeded in organizing 15 young locksmiths for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel.

Most of the artisans reorganized under the leadership of the jewelry traders and the government-friendly city politician, Yehuda Borukh Feuerstein, in a union, under the name Rzemieslnik (the Artisan).

The Hitachdut under the chairmanship of councilman Moshe Schneberger created a separate union for artisans and retail traders. A Union of Private Employees that joined Lemberg Central was founded under the chairmanship of Chaim Ringelblum. The Hitachdut also created Jewish produce cooperatives in large villages surrounding Kolomea under the name Hema (butter) with the help of Dr. Avraham Zilberstein. These cooperatives were in contact with the cooperatives Tnuva [fruit] and Mashbir [to sell food] in Eretz-Yisroel.

(Photo, caption:

Members of the Local Committee of Hitachdut Tseiri-Zion [Young Men of Zion] in Kolomea

Sitting from right to left: Munya Schumer, Wolf Weisbrat, Dr. Marek Knopf, Chaim Ringelblum, Levi Grebler, Moshe Schneberger, Dovid Hilzenrat;
Standing under them: Zini Thau, Moshe Schikler, Dr. Zev Haber, Yitzhak Kern, Shama Tindel (Teicher), Itsye Danker, Naftali Thau;
In the last row: Yosef Reich, Yosef Ramler, Munya Bank, …..?, Bank.)

 


Footnotes

  1. Dr. Zvi Heller was one of the leaders of the Zionist-Socialist party, Hitachdut in Poland and a deputy in the Sejm [Polish parliament] from Kolomea during the years between both World Wars. As a deputy, Dr. Heller often came to Kolomea and was in constant contact with Zionist society as a whole in the city and, principally with Hitachdut, which had the finest representatives among the Yiddish and Hebrew speaking intelligentsia, such as Chaim Ringelblum, Kopl Gugik, Moshe Schneberger and others.
    Dr. Heller's remembrances of Kolomea bring out several interesting facts and an abundance of names of well-known older and younger activists in the city. Return

Translator's footnote

  1. Vitkinia is named after Joseph Vitkin, Zionist author of the pamphlet, A Call to Jewish Youth who Love their People and Zion, in which he encouraged immigration to Eretz-Yisroel based on the ideal of agricultural work. Return

 

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