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[Page 184]

With the “Chalutz”

By Yitzhak Zvirin

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Yitzhak Zvirin was born in 1904 and died in 1983. He was imprisoned as a Zionist. He immigrated to Palestine in 1927 and lived in Tel Aviv. He was a prominent member of the organization of the natives of Minsk in Israel.
My home was a religious home. My father was very much opposed to the idea that his sons would be immigrating to the land of Israel. He would usually say to us “why do you have to be amongst the first to go. Wait until they develop the area a bit and then go”. My brothers would not listen to him, in 1919, when Minsk was under Polish rule, they moved to Vilna and from there they immigrated to Palestine in the year 1921. I stayed in Minsk which became part of the Soviet Union.. I joined the Chalutz (the left wing, which was legal). Our activities were mainly studying the history of the Zionist movement as well as the geography of the land of Israel and other subjects, which had to do with the land of Israel. After some time those activities became illegal in the Soviet Union and we were forced to meet underground, in private homes and sometimes even in the cemeteries.

In order to be effective at the time that we made Aliyah to Israel, we trained in collective agricultural living. In Minsk we were trained in a blacksmiths warehouse. Some members went all the way to Crimea, where they were trained in the farms of the Chalutz.

In 1923 I was sent as a representatives of our branch, to the congress of the Chalutz which took place in Moscow. After the congress the organization was declared illegal by the Soviet authorities. The Jewish Moscow theatre performed in Minsk. Shlomo Mikhailitz was the star of the show. He also had a series of lectures about the Yiddish Theater. I, together with most of the Jewish men, attended every lecture. We sent him a note with a question: “what do you think of the Hebrew language?” he answered “The poet Bialik was the last breath of the dying Hebrew language”. People would visit us from the center of the Chalutz in Moscow. I remember Eliyhu Epstein (Eilat), who was an active member in Minsk and also Mania Starkman Valinsky who was a member of the more rightwing branch of the Chalutz. Later on she became a judge in Haifa.

The conspiracy was not a strong one and maybe because of this provocateurs started rising. The fact is that during arrests of the members, people of the soviet secret police would arrive with exact addresses and lists, as if some insider had given them some information. Every few months they would arrest people. But these arrests did not stop the movement. Young people, our students, continued with the Zionist activities. They all wanted to escape from the communist “Garden of Eden” and make aliyah to the land of Israel.

During the period of our imprisonment, Every Saturday we would be taken to the bathhouse. During our walk, we would see numerous members, of various Zionist organizations, who came to look at us from afar. It looked like Zionism was a prevalent movement. The chief investigator who interrogated us was Andrayev. He was very knowledgeable about the divers branches of the Zionist movement. Very seldom he would ask us to inform about members who were not in prison yet. May be he assumed that we were not going to inform him about them or maybe he concluded that eventually they would fall into their hands anyway. During my investigation I admitted that I was a member of Ha Chalutz. Prior to that time it was customary to release the accused for a short time, to prepare for exile. They didn't do the same with us. They immediately announced that we would be escorted with guards into exile. So together with Solomon Orvitz, Mania Shtarkman, Eli Shapira and Yitzhak Yavneh, we organized a hunger, this strike didn't have any effect on the Soviets. We were still sent into exile.

We arrived in exile in the region of Comy. We lived together. Occasionally new exiles arrived. Some were Zionist members, others were political prisoners. We sustained our selves by working. For example Yitzhak Villinchok worked as the engineer for the town. Today he is an engineer for ”Mekorot” Israel . We also received some help from home. Eventually Itzhak Villinchok escaped form exile. He was able to use a slay to escape across the frozen river. After his escape they made new rules and twice a day we were ordered to come for assembly, where the GPO would ensure that everyone was present. I stayed in this camp for two years. With the legal help I received from Pechkova, in 1927 I was able to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to the land of Israel.

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