Y. Port-Noy (Haifa)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
From its inception, the TOZ branch in Kremenets was viewed with fondness, and many people used its clinics when they needed of help. Because of the warm, friendly attitude of the clinic staff and the patients' inability to pay a private physician, the waiting rooms were full on the days when it was open to patients and the number of patients continued to increase.
A regular supervisor visited the homes of pregnant women and young mothers.
Mrs. Dr. Golander provided general medical treatment in the clinic; Dr. Yosef Landsberg treated gynecology and obstetrics cases.
Because of a shortage of funds, the TOZ in Kremenets concentrated on only three areas: general clinics, an infant wellness center, and sports medicine for young people and adults.
The TOZ was supported by donations from Jewish organizations in other countries, the organization's monthly membership dues, and moneys raised through plays, parties, flower days, and so on.
The branch management was elected once a year. For many of those years, Dr. Zalman Sheynberg, the dentist, was a dedicated chairman who fulfilled his obligations faithfully. The rest of the board members, such as Yechezkel Opshteyn, Fanye Baytler, and Moshe Shnayder, were also known for their dedication to the institution. I must say that the officers and staff (Chayim Gibelbenk, the secretary, and Niusye Baytler-Katz, the nurse) carried out their duties mostly as volunteers.
The newspaper Kremenitser Shtime mentions other TOZ board members' names from different periods: Ch. Zigelboym and M. Vitels. May their names be blessed along with those of the other TOZ activists who perished in the Holocaust.
Netanel Kagan (Petach Tikvah)
English Translation by Thia Persoff
My review of the history of the community of Jewish workers in Kremenets encompasses a period starting with the takeover by Polish authorities after World War I until the invasion of the Nazis in 1939.
Kremenets was not an industrial city. Its main livelihood came from commerce and crafts. Many residents were craftsmen running small businesses, but in time a large hired workforce developed, such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bakers, barbers, salesmen, and clerks.
Eventually, as the worker population grew, the need arose to organize the labor force to help solve essential problems for workers, improve working conditions, and provide protection from exploitation, such as an eight-hour workday, raises in salary, compensation, and so on. Under the guidance of the central labor institutions, various guilds were established in Kremenets. From time to time an official supervisor would come and help develop them. When occasionally a conflict arose between labor and management, it was settled by arbitration most of the time. Only seldom was a strike called, which lasted weeks, during which the workers had to support themselves.
The first workers to use the strike as a weapon were garment workers. They labored in unsanitary conditions 1416 hours a day, received minimal pay, and had to work under a contract system. These conditions caused great bitterness among the workers; meetings were called, and the workers demanded an eight-hour workday, the abolition of the work-by-contract system, and so on. Obviously, the employers, who generally persecuted workers who joined the guilds, reacted to this with rancor, and more than a few workers who had families to support backed out under the employers' pressure. Nevertheless, the organizers of the strike succeeded, overcoming the many difficulties as well as the hunger and privation suffered by the strikers and their families. Only after long and arduous negotiations, when the better work conditions were achieved, was the strike called off.
With the increase in the worker population, cultural activity began. A library, which purchased many books in Yiddish and other languages, was established. The library attracted a large patronage among young people from the high schools and others, and many patrons of the municipal library left it to join the new guild library, which had an attached reading room containing newspapers and other assorted periodicals.
At that time, an amateur theater was established. The writings of Peretz, Shalom Aleichem, Hirshbein, and so on were performed, acquainting the workers with their creations. The theater grew in popularity, and it performed in the surrounding towns, too. A string orchestra was also established, with young people joining; it performed for the public occasionally.
Evening classes were offered for extension and advanced studies, particularly for young people who had to quit school and start working to help their parents support their families.
The guilds even played an important role in sports. In a sports club named Morgenshtern (Star of Dawn), trained coaches worked on developing skills in soccer, handball, and track and field. They also held rousing sports competitions, which were popular among the citizens. In time, our town had good young athletes in spite of the difficult economic conditions. The sports club offered them a place for education and training. When the cultural and sports activities became highly successful, obstacles arose. Agents of the Polish government, which did not look kindly on the working population, and particularly on Jewish workers, began to interfere. From time to time they would search the library, confiscate books, and arrest members. It was obvious that their purpose was to destroy the achievements of working population.
With May 1 getting close, we were ready for clashes and arrests, but the workers' holiday was celebrated as planned, although under the watchful eyes of plainclothes policemen. The next day, certain members were called for interrogation at the police station. This procedure was repeated year after year. Members were arrested, taken to court on charges of supposedly Communist activities, and sentenced to years in jail. Two members were incarcerated in the infamous Kartuz Bareza concentration camp. You could already see then that Poland was following in Hitler's footsteps, and this is why the great Jewish Holocaust was able to start precisely within her borders. After those arrests, the unions resumed their activities as before. On February 27, 1937, the authorities arrested all the active union members, as well as other young members from the ranks, 36 people in all, accusing them of being members of the Ukrainian Communist Party. This was the final blow for the unions.
After ten months, one member was released from the concentration camp due to a complete breakdown of his health. Four months, later the second member was released. Both of them met with us, the group of 36, in prison.
Before we were moved into the prison, we were held for three days in the police station, where we were tortured in many ways so we would admit to the charges we were accused of. They hit our feet with clubs, stuck our fingertips between doors and their frames, tied us upside down and poured water into our nostrils (a person feels as if he is drowning), stuck needles under our nails all with the purpose of forcing us to declare that we were members of the Communist Party. But none of us admitted to it. Then they tried something else: they released two young people and made them into provocateurs who agreed to sign the papers, as the fear of torture broke their bodies and spirits.
Using those admissions, the authorities sentenced hundreds of people to jail. It is important to say here that one prisoner who had done a great deal for the betterment of workers had a serious heart condition. Nevertheless, he was taken to prison. When all our pleas to have him moved to a hospital went unanswered, we declared a hunger strike. By the third day of the strike, we managed to notify the rest of the members, and when it threatened to spread into a general strike, the sick friend was secretly taken to a hospital, where he died immediately. All of us were very weak by the third day of the hunger strike, so the prison doctor gave orders to force-feed us. By chance, we found out from one of the criminal prisoners that our sick friend had been hospitalized, so we stopped the strike. The prison administration could not understand how we discovered their secret.
In the meantime, monotonous prison life continued. The brutal regime, restrictions, and inadequate nutrition, which were meant to break our spirits, achieved the opposite results. After two years of interrogations, the trial began. Chained two by two, we were led to the court. A heavy guard was stationed at the courthouse. A large crowd of people milled around. From the start of the trial, the provocateur nature of the prosecution witnesses was revealed. Although the defense attorneys, headed by Dr. Landau, had proved very quickly that the accused were innocent of the charges, they were sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison.
None of us completed the full prison term. Soon afterward, the Poland-Germany war began and the Polish army fell apart, and when the Russian Red Army entered, we were released. Many of us who were in other jails were also released and returned home. When we came back, we found out that the Russian authorities had arrested the two traitors, together with the agents of the Polish police. We do not know what happened to them.
Chayim Taytsher (Tel Aviv)
Translated from Russian and Prepared for Print by Munye Katz, Haifa
English Translation by Thia Persoff and by Steven Wien and Sari Havis
The Jewish youth of Kremenets were already active in gymnastics, the first branch of athletics, during the final days of World War I. The first students were high school students in town. Later, other types of sports were established: soccer and track and field. Among the first athletes in our town were Binyamin Vaynberg, Nolik Sofer, Avrashe Rozenfeld, the brothers Liove and Manus Goldenberg, Azriel Gorinshteyn, Shonye Rish, Moshe'ki Margalit, Yisrael Grinberg, and M. Chirga. They also founded of the Maccabee sports organization, out of which the successful Chashmonaim organization developed and continued as long as the Jewish community in Kremenets existed. They invested most of their time in organizing and developing sports and informing the public of the importance of physical training and development in the life of the nation.
The mountainous terrain in our area and transportation difficulties restricted the development of sports; during the summer it was difficult to find a suitable field close to town. In 1922, thanks to the lobbying of Sonye Baytler a Maccabee Odessa trainee who settled in Kremenets the High School of Commerce students gave a public gymnastics exhibition in the gymnasium. Yosef Turchin, a Maccabee trainee in Bialatserkov, Russia, stood out among S. Baytler's helpers. He was a lively source of inspiration for our athletes for many years. The sports headquarters was in Manus Goldenberg's apartment, and our few pieces of equipment were kept there, too.
It began like this: in 1918, Duvid Klorfayn (Getsi Klorfayn's son) rounded up a group of young men from among the students, and he began training them in Swedish gymnastics in the Tivoli Garden.
The acceptance of physical fitness as a valuable asset was still unfamiliar to the young people, and more so to their parents. The organization, the primitive equipment, and the poor language of the orders (in Hebrew!) prompted laughs. But Duvid Klorfayn did his work with great enthusiasm and succeeded in winning over his group of trainees, who would show up every evening to exercise on the small field in front of curious watchers. After a while, other types of sports were established: soccer, and track and field.
By 1928, gymnastics and track and field were very well developed and popular, attracting a large number of the Jewish youth. During this period, a notable member was Braver (a Maccabee Grodna trainee), who worked in our town as a coach in the ORT vocational school. In time, girls joined the ranks of our athletes. Some of the first ones were R. Zeyger, M. Gorinfeld, P. Borevits, Bela Pintsberg, and others.
The sports pioneers did not neglect soccer, a game that won a special place of honor. The members of the first team, established in 1922, were M. Chirga, Sh. Rish, B. Vaynberg, N. Ovadis, N. Sofer, M. Port, Y. Kroyt, A. Gorinshteyn, M. Goldenberg, L. Goldberg, Y. Goldenberg, A. Rozenfeld, Y. Rabinovits, Y. Grinberg, Mandelker, and Shnayder. With their limited means, they acquired a ball but were unable to purchase shoes and uniforms. Their first training ground was the deserted yard of the old Talmud Torah, and only after much effort were they able to rent a plot of land that was unsuited to their purpose, as it was in a mountainous area an hour's walk from the town center.
The soccer games were very popular among the city residents. Two years later, in 1924, the team's permit to use their primitive plot was taken away. Then, with the support of the public, a plot called Klinovka was rented near the town and prepared for soccer, gymnastics, and track.
The soccer team lost its first games, so when an amateur coach came to town, he was asked to help. The team began to compete with other teams in the area, and the level of play increased. These were the district's first experiences with soccer. The practice sessions and the games with non-Jewish teams from inside and outside the city aroused great interest among the Jews of Kremenets. The community's connection to the sports organization was now a matter of honor winning or losing a game was winning or losing for all of local Jewry.
[Translator's Note: It is unclear in the text whether the coach was asked to help or hired to do so.]
Soccer expensive game. The games did not bring in enough income to cover the costs of keeping the teams going, and only through the financial support of the fans did the organization manage to exist and balance its budget. Some of the main contributors were Yechezkel Opshteyn, Ayzik Shteyner, Muzya Barats, Simche Gintsburg, Yisrael Grinberg, Asher Kagan (Buzek), and others.
For many years, the authorities refused to legitimize the single Jewish sports organization, which changed its name many times in the hope of earning the requested approval: from Maccabee, to Chashmonaim, to Sports Fans, then to TOZ Physical Culture Section. In 1928, it finally received official approval as the TOZ Department of Physical Culture. A board was chosen, and membership was opened with an official announcement. The first board consisted of Yechezkel Opshteyn, the chairman, and members Chayim Fishman, Moshe'ki Margalit, Mikhael Gintsburg, Sonye Baytler, Munye Katz, and Avrake Zilberg. The board members understood the job relegated to them and spared nothing in their efforts to develop Jewish sports in Kremenets. After that, different Chashmonaim teams began to compete for town, district, and county championships.
A few of the teams' best members were sent to take coaching courses. Among those finishing and excelling in the courses were Avrashe Trakhtenberg and Nisye Segal in gymnastics and A. Benderski in swimming.
The number of members kept increasing. Practices, training, meetings, and lectures were held each day and evening on the sports field during the summer and in an indoor hall during the winter. Many young people who had not been involved so far and who spent their leisure time in billiard halls and coffeehouses began to join the sports organization, where they found a place to develop their bodies and minds.
In the final years before World War II, sports in the schools were of a high caliber. These institutions' Jewish trainees were the main source of the increased number of sports coaches. Most of our members were also members of Zionist organizations, and with every wave of immigration to Israel, the sports teams got smaller. We tried to eliminate this deficit by drafting additional members from the next generation of young people.
Indeed, the ability of the organizers, the dedication of the coaches, and the efforts of the members did not disappoint already in 1931/1932, several of our teams had won respectable positions in the county and district championships.
The C League soccer team was moved to the A League after its decisive victories. Among the track and field champions were Pesach Mandelblit, Shayke Gliklis, and Lolik Yahalom. Soccer and volleyball teams reached the district finals. Swimmers Moshe Modrik and Munye Katz won first place in the 50- and 100-meter events.
Skiing, the king of winter sports, occupied a special place in the ranks of Kremenets sports. In our area, we knew very little about this sport until 1928/1929. The mountainous terrain that restricted the development of summer sports played a very positive role here; our athletes adapted well to it and soon dominated the field. Excellent surface conditions (even in the town's steep streets) and dedicated, experienced coaches (Chashmonaim graduates) made skiing a popular sport. Every day of the week, and particularly the Sabbath and holidays, skiers covered the slopes. In the mountains, a ski jump, the third largest and third best in Poland, was built according to specifications for P.I.S. (International Ski Federation) competitions.
Our people reached the championship and set various records in this beautiful sport. The athletes' names were known all over Poland: Berl Kuter jumped 78 meters (the national record was 84 meters, and the international record, by a Norwegian, was 91 meters). In the 18- and 24-km races, our members were always in the top ten, the best being Melekh Efrat, Babe Fingerhut, Shayke Gliklis, Keytelmakher, Chayim Taytsher, and others. Among the girls, Ize Ovadis and T. Fridman were the best.
Our athletes' achievements and the board's efforts had turned Kremenets into the ski center of Polish Jewry. Under the leadership of M. Katz and Sh. Gliklis, ski workshops were held annually, in which representatives of most Jewish sports organizations in Poland particularly from the northern, central, and eastern regions participated. The leadership of Poland's Maccabee ski division was delivered to Chashmonaim of Kremenets.
Seeing the achievements of our athletes, the Polish sports authorities supplied us with all necessary equipment, discounts for train travel, and free lodging in hostels.
We should mention that within the framework of sports, the athletes were given military training, too. In 1932, when the sports organization was renamed under TOZ and received official approval, Manus Goldenberg got in touch with the military authorities in an effort to give the members military training. The officer in charge of the military training of Polish youth agreed to send one of his subordinates as a coach. The organization received a few dozen rifles, and basic training began. This was an important opportunity to train Jewish youth in use of firearms, considering the relations between Polish and Jewish residents at that time. The members of the organization who saw the future of the youth in Israel particularly were interested in this.
Guidance was provided by an army commander, Mr. Munye Katz (who resides in Haifa today). At the time, he was a reserve officer in the Polish army. Of the various physical education proponents among Jewish Kremenetsers, we will mention the names of Manus Goldenberg, Sonye Baytler, Y. Opshteyn, M. Barats, Chayim Fishman, Moshe'ki Margolis, Simche Gintsburg, Mikhael Gintsburg, Dr. Landsberg, A. Zeyger, Munye Katz, and Shonye Rish. Some of the best students were Niunye Yoklov, Berl Kuter, Moshe'ke Reznik, Dani Gurevits, and Pesach Mandelblit.
The sports organizations were a large movement, and even with the growth of immigration to Israel, the number of our people participating in various sports organizations never diminished. In its last years, the number of people involved in various organizations came close to 500 young people. Before the eruption of World War II, anti-Semitism intensified in the Christian population of Kremenets, and as a result, attempts at provocation and conflict grew on the part of Polish young people. But our athletes always stood on guard, overcame the instigators, and upheld Israel's honor.
English Translation by Steven Wien and Sari Havis
The following is a list of public institutions and organizations that were active in our town during the final years before the annihilation. The list, which may be incomplete, includes only Jewish public figures in Kremenets. Please keep in mind that every institution and organization was centered on a group of activists and a large number of members. The following list includes the principal activists.
|Community Council||Avigdor Perlmuter|
|Municipality||Azriel Kremenetski (vice-mayor)|
|Jewish Hospital||Moshe Kapuzer|
|Home for the Aged||Yisrael Landsberg|
|Talmud Torah||Simche Yakov Blumenfeld|
|Burial Society||Chayim Zigelboym|
|TOZ||Dr. Z. Sheynberg|
|Zionist Organization||Dr. Meir Litvak and Dr. Binyamin Landsberg|
|Pioneer||Hershel Bernshteyn (now in Argentina)|
|Young Pioneer||M. Ditun (now in Argentina)|
|Youth Organization||P. Holtsman|
|Chashmonai, sports club of various organizations||Yechezkel Opshteyn|
|Dramakrayz drama society of various organizations|
|Merchants Bank||Hirsh Gilrant|
|People's Bank||Shimon Gendler|
|Benevolent Fund||M. Gershteyn|
|Benevolent Fund in the Dubna suburb||Duvid Basis|
|Merchants' Association||Meir Goldring|
|Small Business Association||Duvid Goldenberg|
|Craftsmen's Association||Shlome Fingerhut (member of the city administration)|
|Municipal Guild Committee|
|Clerks' Association||M. Rabinovits|
[Translation Editor's Note: The Union (Hitachdut) is the short name for the Union of Young Worker (Hapoel Hatsair)Young Zionists (Tseirey Tsion).]
|Tailors' Association||M. Goldsher|
|Barbers' Association||Y. Taytsher|
|Great Synagogue||Yisrael Margalit|
|Old Study Hall||A. T. Katraborski|
|House of Prayer||Yechezkel Opshteyn|
|New Study Hall||Dov Kremenchutski|
|Hasidic Synagogue||Shalom Gibelbank|
|Aleksanderski Synagogue||Duvid Shvartsblat|
|Shapoval Kloyz||Dov Rom|
|Tailors' Synagogue||Avraham Shtivelman|
|Butchers' Synagogue||Yerachmiel Bezpoysnik|
|Izbitser Synagogue||Asher Kahana|
|Community Synagogue||Pinchas Baltsh|
|New Study Hall in the Dubna suburb||Eli Fishman|
|Old Study Hall in the Dubna suburb||Shlome Matler|
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