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The Bund

In the mid-'20s, the wave of incarcerations against the Bundists and leftists in general (who were subject to the influence of the Polish-Soviet War) stopped. The Bund in Ostrolenka began its political-social activity simultaneous with its cultural activity around the Peretz Library.

During elections for the Polish Sejm (Parliament) in 1922, the Bund developed an energetic elections campaign, with the participation of speakers-guests from Warsaw. At the time, the Bund did not yet have an organizational staff to run the work. After two years, there were already many members and supporters in our city's Bund chapter.

A strong organization, including a developed youth movement, participated in the municipal elections. Two Bund members, Aron Zusman and Szaje Aszer, were elected to the city council. In the next elections, Meir Krymkiewicz was also elected.

Aron Zusman served in the municipal administration for many years. Thanks to his involvement and efforts, the distress of the poor and working class populations was alleviated; there was a grant for a Jewish kindergarten and evening courses for youth and adults interested in completing their education. For several years, the municipality took upon itself the complete maintenance of a night school in the hall of the Powszechna School, with the participation of local teachers. During that period, a department of CISZO (National Center of Yiddish Schools) was established, sponsored by the Bund, which ran a high level kindergarten with superb teachers. At the same time, they carried on vigorous propaganda, preparing the ground for the establishment of a secular primary school with Yiddish as the language of instruction. Because of financial constraints, the program never bore fruit.

At the end of the '20s, professional unions were founded. Among them, the leather and needle professions were active. They had a place of their own, where they held meetings, lectures and cultural evenings.

The Bund established a sports club of its own, called Morgensztern, with an excellent instructor brought from the Warsaw center. He organized highly successful festivals and showcase performances. The Bund's youth was the backbone of the Morgensztern Club. The adults' group was called Zukunft (Future) and the young people's group – Kif. The movement developed organized political and cultural activity, and participated in election campaigns, contributing much to their success.

* * *

The Bund's cultural-public activity was primarily concentrated around the Peretz Library. They attended not only to the purchase of new books, but organized regular weekly lectures on the subject of literature. Lecturers and speakers of the first order were invited from Warsaw, among them Jakow Pat, Aiserowicz, Mejlech Rawicz and others, who truly captured the audience. Political leaders were also brought, like Henrik Erlich, Victor Alter, Josef Chmurner, and not only Bund members, but also Y. Zrubavel, Dr. Josef Kruk, and writers such as Aron Zeitlin, Baruch Shaffner, Dr. A. Glicksman, and last but not least – our townsman, Yisroel Shtern (I write about him separately in this book). Leo Finkelsztejn was very successful when he visited us, as was Peretz Markish in particular. The lecturer, A. Abramson, an expert in the natural sciences, came to us for several Sabbaths in a row and conducted his talks, accompanied by pictures, in full halls.

We felt a thirst for culture and knowledge in all subjects. Every Sabbath, hundreds of adults and youths sat (and often stood) and learned “for the Torah's own sake”. Breathless, in total silence, they swallowed every word that came out of the lecturer's mouth. Is this not reminiscent of the legend of Hillel the Elder?

Not everything that the lecturers said was understood by everyone. After the lectures, we searched for explanations of words in dictionaries and books, to better understand their thought processes. The youths of the shtetlach were often the butt of jokes and jests,

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because they garbled strange words and unfamiliar concepts, or used them in the wrong place or the wrong context. But if we consider the matter seriously – a beautiful youth arises before us, full of ideals, searching for a purpose and meaning in its life. These young people were full of longing for the great world. Because they knew about it only through books and lectures, they perceived it in their imaginations and dreams as something wonderful. As some sort of compensation, they made do with the impressive appearance of famous writers. I remember a beautiful improvisation, combined with the words of the writer Peretz Markish in “Twelve Literary Masks”, or Yisroel Shtern's delineation of the subject “Art and Poetry”. A festive atmosphere pervaded the hall then, and the holiness of the Sabbath hovered in the space. During the weekdays, the Jews were prostrate under a heavy political and economic burden. Therefore, they breathed deeply when a speech of vision tore them away for a few hours from their gray reality and transported them to lofty worlds, to aesthetic and artistic heights, where eagles nest!

Few remained alive after the great destruction. To our city's dreamers, who had faith and ideals, who were drawn to the great world – when the world truly came to them, it was not one of great spirit, but a world of maneaters.

They raised the bloody ax over the heads of our beautiful and flourishing youth, and over Jewish existence in general.

May these lines be an eternal light for the lives that were so cruelly annihilated.

Yitzhak Kachan, Melbourne, Australia

 

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The “Medem Group” (from Medema) in Ostrolenka

Above, standing: Lejbel Filar, Szajke Flamenbojm, Israel Symcha Chmiel, Ela Gutman, Szepsel Kachan, Lazer Lewy, Cyrl Bonciak
Center, from the right, sitting: Welwel Gilda, Gitel Zusman, Zelig Lachowicz, Icchak Kachan, Lazer Zlocisty, Chawa Szafran, Jehuda Mendel
From the right, below: Fejga Kowalski, Fejga S. Beck, Fruma Segal, Lea Toporowicz, Dora Blum

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The Working Class and the Y.L. Peretz Library

At the time of the Polish regime, mostly working class people from the city gathered around the Y.L. Peretz Library in Ostrolenka. It is said that in the years of the Tsarist regime, the library, which was at the home of Herszel Rozenblum, was boycotted because of the contention that revolutionists aspiring to overthrow the Tsar met there. Herszel Rozenblum was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. After various incarnations, the library was reestablished, this time in the home of Zcharja Nadborny. As it was officially proclaimed his private library, the Tsarist regime did not touch it. The best youths of the city gathered around it, such as Awigdor and Awiezer Kupferminc, Herszel Rozenblum, Alter Szymon, Zysel Chacek, Icze Lew, Icchak Mest and others.

During World War I, the library burned down, together with the entire city. At the time of the German occupation, new winds began to blow. The government was more moderate, and this was exploited immediately by youths who aspired to new values. Various institutions were re-established in the city, such as the study hall, which was newly built, the Talmud Torah and Linat Tzedek. A city amateur circle and a professional union were established, and the Peretz Library was rebuilt. Revenues from the drama circle were dedicated to purchasing books. The Rozenbojm brothers, Szlomo Benedon, Herszel Rozenblum, Alter and Chawa Szyman, Chaim-Zalman Nadborny, Josel Wonszak, Aron Zusman and others integrated into library work. As people of different outlooks, they held discussions and exchanged ideas. When the regulations were formulated, two different camps were created: one Bundist – which was the majority, and the second Zionist – which was in the minority. The Zionist camp left the group and took the cash box with it (because the Treasurer was a Zionist). Thus, the Bundists were left with the books, that is, they controlled the library. he Zionists established a separate library called “HaTikva”.

The lives of the city's youths were concentrated around these two cultural institutions. Each tried to organize cultural events, lectures, etc. Near the Peretz Library, a chapter of the Bund party was founded, with a division for youths called Zukunft, and Kif for children. Later, the Morgensztern Sports Club was established, as well as a professional union. Icchak Kachan, Judel Gutman, Chana Meir, Krymkiewicz, Dawid Segal, Szajke Aszer, Rojzka Zusman, Welwel Gilda, Gitel Zusman, Bercie Spokorny, the Jagoda brothers, Szmuel Toporowicz, Lazer Zlocisty, Zelig Lachowicz, the writer of these lines, and others were active workers.

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The Bund – the HaTikva group

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Aron Zusman
 
The Groser Group, with Szajke Aszer (in the center)

 

The activity of the Bund party, under the leadership of Aron Zusman, was intensive. It had a culturaleducational character. The best lecturers from Warsaw came to them. Zukunft activity was run by Icchak Kachan and Judel Gutman. They tried to delineate their political way for the youth. For the Kif children, who came from the poor classes, they provided the basics of the Hebrew alphabet. From early childhood, they became proletarians. The professional unions dealt with the protection of their economic conditions. This did not come to them easily, because their employers were also often penniless.

I remember the strike of the shoemakers' apprentices, which lasted several weeks. The “Children of the Proletariat” literally went hungry, dividing among themselves a single bun, and all to increase their salary for a day's work to 50 or 80 grosz. With this money, among other things, they had to maintain the movement's institutions, purchase sports accessories for the Club, new books, etc. Considering all this, one can appreciate the spirit of the youth of those times. Ostrolenka was not an industrial city, even though there were many working class youths in it, most of them tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bakers, milliners and a few watchmakers – all Jewish professions.

The established balabatim also needed protection, economic as well as political. Anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland and searched for new victims to strike with disaster. This included raising taxes and the allocation of municipal work. Therefore, the Jews tried to elect Bund members as representatives in the city council. The poor turned to them with requests to alleviate their distress, to lobby in the municipality or even for help in writing requests, because even the pennies to pay for writing requests professionally were not to be found.

The Bund faction in the city council included the following members: Aron Zusman, Chana-Meir Krymkiewicz and Szajke Aszer. Later on, Krymkiewicz was replaced by Dawid Segal.

Aron Zusman was the mainstay of the Bund party. For all intents and purposes, his private home was sometimes like an office for writing requests. He recruited his sister, Gitel Zusman, to help. In time, she acquired a reputation as a skillful and efficient request writer. Usually, the requester was granted a tax reduction at the rate of fifty percent. Therefore, the poor from the Lenczysk neighborhood and from Benedon's Barracks were drawn to his house. During those hours, Aron Zusman would take off his dressing gown, leave his clients and run to the municipal secretary or to the mayor himself, in order to submit the requests and mitigate the evil decree.

A few episodes of Aron Zusman's activity are worth mentioning here. They did not always happen because of his political outlook, but because of the warm Jewish feeling that dwelled in his heart. Although his many friends warned him that this or that step might be to his detriment, Aron Zusman always acted according to the dictates of his conscience. As will be recalled, at the time of the Bolshevik invasion (1920), there was no lack of people who made a Communist career, in order to

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find favor in the eyes of the city's Commissar. Because of informing by “types” like these, honorable citizens were expelled from their homes and forced to sweep and clean the city's streets. At the same time, their keys were taken from them and their shops robbed and plundered. There were also incidents where houses of well-to-do Jews were given to poor Gentiles, as if in the name of “doing social justice”. If a poor Jew submitted a request for support, however, he was not even allowed to reach the Commissar. Aron Zusman could find no peace. He organized a delegation of Bundists, including, besides himself, Mosze Markiewicz and Awraham Nankin. They intended to protest before the Commissar against the unjust acts of those who carried out his orders. When the Commissar refused to receive them, they went to Lomza and demanded the intervention of higher authorities.

That very night, taps on the window of Aron Zusman's house were heard. To the question of Reb Icze, Aron's father, “Who's there?”, came the reply “We would like a little water for a wounded soldier.” The moment Reb Icze opened the window to fulfill the request – a rifle was stuck into the house and the demand was heard: “Aron Zusman is to come out immediately!” At the same time, a group of municipal militia men burst into the apartment and began a search. Aron Zusman was not at home at the time, and his parents immediately sent him a message to refrain from returning to the city.

As is known, the “liberators” were soon forced to retreat from Poland and the Polish government attended to the Bolshevik collaborators properly. But the bullies wanted to revenge themselves on Zusman, and therefore informed the Poles that Zusman, of all people, was working with the Bolsheviks. He was imprisoned and brought before the court of the Gendarmerie in Wojciechowice. A Jew by the name of Berman (not a resident of Ostrolenka) was a close associate of that field court martial. He knew Aron Zusman well and protected him vigorously, contending that the man was never a Bolshevik. Aron was released on bail until the civil trial. With the help of certain people, the entire file, with all its documents, was destroyed and the trial never took place.

Another interesting episode: as we know, there was a cooperative bank in our city, which used two rooms at the home of Josel Jalowicz (the son of Judel the Baker) on Ostrowa Street. As is customary in institutions of this kind, an administration and a bank chairman were elected. In the beginning, Efraim Chmiel was elected Chairman and, later, Aron Zusman. Needy people were not scarce then. Thousands of hands were extended for every amount loaned. Therefore, running such an institution was not easy. The next Chairman was Noske Jabek. Aron Zusman retired from his position as Chairman, but remained a member of the administration. As the saying goes, “A new head – new decrees”. The new Chairman ordered that a statuette of Pilsudski be placed on the table at meetings. Aron declared that as long as the “idol” was not removed from the table, he would not come to meetings. The matter reached the Secret Police, and Aron was arrested and accused of throwing the statuette of the leader into the garbage can.

The court sentenced him to three months in jail. The verdict aroused a storm wherever Aron Zusman was popular. The party and his personal friends pressured the malicious informers, so that when the appeal took place in the court in Lomza, they backed down from the accusation. The deputy mayor, formerly a commander in Pilsudski's regiment, gave sympathetic testimony, so that finally Aron received a minor punishment of only ten days imprisonment.

An additional episode: this happened during the infamous days when a member of the Polish Parliament, Mrs. Prysterowa, proposed a law banning the kosher slaughter of animals. The Andaks in Ostrolenka (members of the Polish Fascist party) latched onto this as a “real find”, and rushed to present a similar bill in the city council forum. Aron Zusman was not observant, but, as a socialist, he understood that the decree was aimed at the entire Jewish people. He launched a struggle against the proposal with all the means at his disposal. The Bund's Central Committee sent instructions about the matter to every division and to the factions in the city council. Aron Zusman, a member of the city council, made a fiery speech in which he ridiculed and “praised” the Andaks as so-called humanitarians. His words so infuriated them, that they flew off the handle and began throwing chairs at him. Of course, the meeting stopped. The Bund movement called for a general strike in the entire country. Due to the influence of the Bundists in Ostrolenka, for the first time in history, all Jewish stores in the city closed.

During the last years, Aron Zusman was on a strong financial footing. This was exploited not only for local needs; his address was also known far from our city's

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borders. Party representatives were frequent guests at his home. He supported Jewish secular schools generously. The Folkszeitung, the Bund's daily newspaper, which often felt the hard hand of the Polish censor, also knew Aron's address.

When the Y.L. Peretz Library was closed by order of the Polish government, it reopened after a short time under a new name: “The library near Ostrolenka's cultural organization”. Although this was the largest library in the city, it could not maintain itself financially, Aron Zusman gave over the use of two rooms in his house for the library, and it was forever free of the need to pay rent.

This unusual cultural institution was barbarically destroyed when the city was occupied by the German murderers – as if, in this way, they wanted to extinguish the torch of Jewish Ostrolenka. They packed thousands of the books into sacks and burned them, to the very last, in a huge bonfire in the market square.

Later, they did the same to the good sons and daughters of the city of our birth.

May the sign of Cain, of a curse and shame, be stamped on the barbaric murderers to the end of all generations.

Yisrael-Simcha Chamiel, Montevideo, Uruguay

 

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A group of Bund members in Ostrolenka in 1934 Beitar

Beitar

The year 1933 may be seen as the year of a fateful turning point in the life of the Jewish people in the European Diaspora, and particularly in the lives of the Jews in Poland – the greatest ingathering in Europe at the time.

There were several reasons. In 1933, anti-Semitism celebrated its first victory, as Hitler rose to power in Germany and the entire Nazi doctrine, with its various characteristics, changed from theory to practice, from vision to reality. The Nazi's venomous hatred of the Jews penetrated and took root in the nations of Europe, and poisoned the atmosphere wherever Jews were found.

The Polish population, which did not excel in love of the Jews, was encouraged by its German neighbor. Anti-Semites of all sorts rose up and carried out pogroms and attacks on Jews at different opportunities, at universities, on the streets of cities and towns. This came to a peak in the town of Przytyk, when Poles attacked the town's Jews on market day, and then – the well-known trial, which echoed all over the Jewish world, when the Polish government revealed its true face, pronouncing minor punishments on the rioters and heavy sentences on the Jews, who were protecting

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themselves and their lives.

Things were not limited to physical attacks alone. At the same time, disinheriting the Jews of their economic status, a process which had begun gradually a few years earlier, increased. Various branches of trade and production that had been the domain of the Jews for generations were taken out of their hands by monopolization. The tax steamroller worked at full steam and the economic condition of the Jewish masses worsened daily.

Simultaneous with this deterioration from the outside, a storm began in the Jewish street itself. Nineteen thirty-three was an election year for the 18th Zionist Congress. The fervor of disagreements between various Zionist parties reached its high point.

At the same time, Revisionist Zionism developed, as did the Beitar (Brit Yosef Trumpeldor) national youth movement. The movement's foundation, the national Zionist ideal, captivated many Jews and won their hearts. Revisionist Zionist chapters and Beitar “nests” opened everywhere.

Youths who belonged to Beitar came from the echelons of pupils of government schools, where the language of instruction was Polish, and from the common people, whose language was Yiddish. It was necessary to merge them into one organization. Great attention was therefore devoted to the youths' spiritual training and to the use of the Hebrew language as the spoken tongue.

This spring-like spirit of renewal and revival also penetrated the city of my birth – Ostrolenka. It occurred in 1933, when the teacher, Mr. Peker, came to teach at the Hebrew Culture School, which had opened that year. He founded Beitar in our town.

The organization began with honorable and wellknown families of the town – the families Byszko (now in Israel), Chmiel, Cohen, Kaplan and Gedanken. After them came many others. In the beginning, the Beitar “nest” numbered more than 40 youngsters. Over the years, their number grew and reached 80, a respectable number in a town like ours. Educated and intelligent youths belonged to Beitar. The only student in town, Idel Gedanken, joined Beitar and was the commanding officer at headquarters.

The officers were Byszko, Mosze Bejlis, Szmuel Koen and Chaim Wajnkranc. Eliezer Kaplan, Idel Gedanken and others were at headquarters. The Beitar “nest” in Ostrolenka developed extensive activity in all areas of Zionist and public life there. It was a factor of great importance for the local youth. The nest's work was varied: military and cultural preparation, summer camps, gatherings and lectures suitably marking all national holidays with impressive performances that brought a spirit of life to the town.

Together with the founding of Beitar, HaTzahar was established. The fact that the Brit HaTzahar Honorary Chairman, Mendel Gedanken, was Chairman of Ostrolenka's Jewish community for several years, testifies to HaTzahar's influence in our town.

In time, the Brit HeChayal organization was also established in our town. It marched for the first time in 1936, on a national Polish holiday. Commander Wajnkranc led the parade. The city's Gentiles stood stunned at the sight of Jewish boys marching under full military regimen, erect and with heads held high – something they had never seen before, and which was surely praiseworthy.

Meanwhile, the international situation grew worse, due to Hitler's great demands and threats against world peace. As a result, the situation of the Jews in Europe deteriorated, especially in Eastern and Central European countries. Jabotinsky tossed out to the Jewish world the slogan “Evacuation”, that is, transferring a maximum number of Jews from Eastern Europe to Israel in the minimum amount of time.

Beitar headquarters in Ostrolenka turned to all the youths in town, without regard for party or movement affiliation or for viewpoint. It called on them to take advantage of illegal emigration, which the movement had arranged, and to emigrate to Israel. Many Ostrolenkans followed this thorny path of illegal emigration, actually reached a safe haven, put down roots in Israel and established homes and families. They included townspeople from other parties, such as Szejna Lachowicz (a member of HaShomer HaTzair), Mrs. Sara Dina Sobor, Berczak Finkelsztejn (from among those who opposed Beitar) and many others.

The fate of Beitar, Tzahar and Brit HeChayal members who did not succeed in emigrating was the same fate of all of Poland's Jews. The fate of our town, Ostrolenka, was the same as dozens and hundreds of cities and towns that the ax man rose up against.

Chanoch Chacek


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Memories of Beitar

I remember when Jabotinsky visited big cities in Poland to lecture and explain to the Jews that the time had come to think about a home of our own, and a kingdom in the land of our fathers. Many young Ostrolenkans came to hear his speeches and his prediction that black clouds were darkening over Polish Jewry. When they returned home, imbued with the Zionist spirit and love of the Land of Israel, they organized and founded the Beitar movement. The first founders of Beitar in Ostrolenka were Meir Byszko, Jakow Granowicz, Lejbel Czapnikiewicz, Mosze Rozonowicz, Szmuel Garda (all of whom were killed in the Holocaust) and other members who are in Israel. Meir Byszko gave over his room for this purpose. Later, a leader was brought from Bialystok, and they were joined by Members Szmuelik Kachan, Beniamin Kaplan, Awraham Falgan, Jakow Gedanken and Jakow Gorzelczany (one of the few who survived and is in Israel).

After a time, the members discovered that something was lacking in Beitar, that is, female members. They began to convince young women to join the movement. The truth is, at that time, the differences between the parties were not yet clear to me. I was a young pupil and getting involved in politics was not on my mind. My brother, Chaim, now in Israel, was already one of the leaders of HaShomer HaDati. I asked him to explain the political points of view and goals of the parties to me. After he explained the goals and points of view of each party to me, the idea of an independent Jewish State, without a foreign government dictating its life, was the one I favored, of course. My father, of blessed memory, did hinder me in this. On the contrary, he himself was an ardent Zionist (a Mizrachi leader) and wanted all his children to go to the Land of Israel to help to build the land. His usual saying was “Go, youngsters; we, the elders, will come there after you …”

When I joined Beitar, the chapter was run out of Filar's home. I remember a festive Chanukah party we held. After this successful evening, many female members joined Beitar, among them Bejla Klejnman, Chana Rzepka, Lejke Lewin, Cypa Szlafmic, Rojza Dow, Z. Gilda and others.

Our leader, Pajkowski, ran all the movement's affairs and was also the Hebrew teacher. He worked as an accountant for Mendel Gedanken to support himself. At that time, the Beitar chapter in our city expanded and many members were added. We rented a hall from Benedon. After Pajkowski, Member Szmuklarewicz became the head of Beitar in Ostrolenka. We were in the Beitar movement during the best years, from 1930 to 1935. During this period, I was appointed Secretary and leader of the girls. In Beitar uniforms, we marched with pride in the streets of Ostrolenka on Sabbaths. Often they shouted at us: “Rifles, swords, Fascists”, but we paid no attention and continued to march left-right, leftright … The hardest of all were our confrontations with the Communists, the Bund and the leftist parties, especially when we were invited to participate in a parade in the city's streets as representatives of a rightist-nationalist party. The “war” began when we reached Benedon's yard, when a shower of stones, rotten onions and anything that came to hand was thrown at us. We got out in one piece, thanks only to our sister-party – Brit HeChayal. Its center was located near ours.

The plays we held were directed by Member Szucarewicz, who came to us from Zambrow. They are pleasant memories for me. We rented halls in various cities in the area and appeared, with great success. It is also hard to forget the large Beitar conventions in Czerwoni-Bor. We arrived there in horse-drawn wagons and met members of the movement from the entire region. Hoarse from singing, we went to Lomza after roll-call to listen to Member Isaac Remba from Kolno. After his speech, we got into the wagons again and returned to Ostrolenka. We had a holiday feeling of real happiness which remained with us all the way for many years thereafter.

Batya Byszko-Chamiel, Kfar Chasidim, Haifa


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The Parties in Ostrolenka after World War I

In 1915-1916, the Germans occupied all of Poland. Our family and many others had already returned to Ostrolenka, which was shockingly burned. Fear gripped us when we saw the destroyed city. We got an apartment which once belonged to a Russian officer, on the street where the church was. The Lutnia Theater had been there. In this building, there were different wings and a garden in the courtyard. The “Japanese” Melamed and his family lived below, and he ran the heder there. Above, on the second floor, lived his brother-in-law with two children, a mute boy and girl. Another son who could talk, Motel Cycowicz, became a socialist community worker and a Bolshevik commissar in Ostrolenka. They smoked herrings for a living. The poet, Yisroel Shtern, who later became very famous, also lived in this building. A special chapter of this book is devoted to him.

The German occupiers treated the Jewish population with greater trust than the Christians. They even appointed a Jewish mayor, Mosze Aron Kaczor. “Those” Germans felt close to the Jews because of a similarity in their languages and for other reasons. What Jew did not know German? A famous Jewish saying was “What is German, after all? – faulty Yiddish … “ There were also Jewish policeman, such as Pesach Hochberg, Josel Aszer, Noske Jabek, Berel Bajuk and others. Some of them took their roles altogether seriously, saw themselves as government representatives and treated the city's citizens, by comparison, as if they were occupiers.

In 1918, the Germans left Poland, the government passed into the hands of the Poles and, with the help of other countries, the war against the Bolsheviks began. The general situation in the city became harder than ever, because young Jews were drafted into the army, to the war on the Polish front, and many families were left without grown sons and without their support.

During that period, the only sources of sustenance for Poland and for the Jews came from America. An assembly was established; its role was to attend to all the needs of the Jewish population. Democratic elections were not yet customary, so respected and energetic balabatim were chosen for the community committee, such as Reb Welwel Benedon, Aron Jakow Margalit, Icel Sojka, Welwel Chacek, Zyskind Zusman, Srolke Chmiel and Josel Litwer. Their job was quite difficult. They had to raise the city from the ruins and take care of the Jews, most of whom were poor. In addition, they took care of refugees from distant places who filled our city (I especially remember the homeless who came from Pinsk and its vicinity).

The Jewish community did not have a home of its own. Meetings were held at the home of another member each time. None of them officially represented a defined political point of view. Despite this, each took care of those of his own class and his associates; one – the merchants, a second – tradesmen, another – Orthodox or Zionist Jews. I remember that Rabbi Icchak Bursztejn, of blessed memory, had already returned to Ostrolenka and also lived on the street where the church was. A difficult problem arose concerning kosher for Passover wheat. Armed with a special government permit, my father, of blessed memory, Icel Sojka, and a Jew named Keller went to Plotsk to buy wheat.

Later, when city life became more routine, libraries began to open. The first was the library of the Zionist workers: Anszel Lew, Jakow Bajuk, Israel Rubinsztejn, Jankel Kaplan, Mendel Bialy, Jakow Filar and others, as well as the young people among them, such as Szlomo Benedon, Icchak Rapaport, Icchak Lew, Bejla Gitel Rapaport (Zylbersztejn), Mendel Gedanken and others. The youth did not follow their footsteps.

At the same time, a Poalei Zion library was founded. Wonszak, Chaja Margaliot (Rubin, today in Israel), Reuben Brysk, Ismach, Zabludowicz and others worked in it. A Culture School also opened. Among its founders were Calka Bursztejn (Colombia), Mosze Litwer, Chaim Awigdor Eisenstein, Szmuel Frydman and others. In the eyes of the government, the Culture School was the most “kosher” Jewish institution of learning. From then on, the Poalei Zion party began to develop in the Jewish street with lightning speed. At its head stood Berel Zabludowicz, Jechiel Szafran, Josef Finkelsztejn, Mendel Szlafmic, Mosze Aron Sojka and others.

During that period, the great emigration to Israel began. Almost all those mentioned above left their homes in Ostrolenka and emigrated to Israel. After they left, party activities weakened. Those who came after them were unable to continue at the same pace.

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Meanwhile, bad news came from Israel: lack of work and confrontations with Arabs occurred daily – and everything under the “supervision” of the British Mandatory Government.

A townswoman of ours, Chaja Sojka (today Jablonka, in Israel), married Motel Zutkiewicz, a Lomzan. The couple settled in Ostrolenka. Zutkiewicz, a member of Poalei Zion in Lomza, was very experienced. Together with Mosze Margalit (who was at one time head of the community), he was recruited to work in the party. In a short time, they made it flourish as in the past.

Because of the depressed situation in Israel, the Bund in Ostrolenka became very strong. The Bundists spoke not only to the mind of the youth, but also to their stomachs, to the practical sense. It explained to them that the idea of establishing a Jewish State in the chosen land was bankrupt, that there was no reason to leave warm, secure homes, and that it was better to fight here for a better tomorrow. They pointed to the number of those who had returned from Israel, although they had not returned because of ideological disappointment, but for family reasons.

Those who returned were uneasy and felt a certain despondency. In time, they returned to their party activities. It is interesting that none of them changed their political outlooks. On the contrary, everyone who returned found comfort in working for the realization of the ideal of the Land of Israel. This work gathered impetus daily and was wonderfully organized. The goal was to achieve status in the Jewish community, and strong representation in the city council and all other municipal institutions.

Representation of Jews in Polish institutions always depended on the view of the government at specific periods. When the Andaks (the Polish Fascist party) ruled, they made sure that the Jewish population was represented by Agudat Yisrael. Indeed, the community chairman then was Reb Chaim Pinczas Gingold and, at his side, his close associates, Jakow Nasielski, Barszcz, Dancyger and others. They attended to the needs of the religious fanatics, brought in the famous community worker, Sara Schenirer, who founded Bejt Jakow, and made radical religious demands.

As soon as the government in Warsaw changed, there was also compensation for the Jews. Mendel Gedanken and his associates governed the community.

On the other hand, when the Polish government, headed by Pilsudski, came to power, Mosze Margaliot received the majority of the community committee votes. A former junior officer in Pilsudski's army, he was friendly with many of the ruling Polish elite. He was also an activist in Poalei Zion – a party that already had many prerogatives among the city's Jews, had won elections and carried out an uncompromising struggle against the well-organized Bund party, against Agudat Yisrael and against the General Zionists, who represented the merchant class. The tradesmen organized themselves, because they did not want to place their fate in the hands of others.

On Election Day, the Zionist youth movement – HaShomer HaTzair, HeChalutz and Freiheit – placed themselves at the disposal of the Poalei Zion party with great enthusiasm, and helped win the election. Mosze Margalit was elected community chairman and, with him, Members Motel Zutkiewicz, Berel Zabludowicz, Szlafmic and others.

When elections to the Polish Parliament (the Sejm) drew near, Jewish personalities who saw themselves as potential representatives began to come to various cities for propaganda visits. Among them were Icchak Greenbojm, Rabbi Rubinsztejn, Anszel Rajs, Szczupakiewicz, Mejlech Najsztad and others.

When they were about to visit Ostrolenka, the problem of finding a hall suitable for a mass gathering arose. The only suitable place was the Lutnia Theater, which belonged to the church. Its custodians were representatives of the Polish Andaks party. Of course, they usually refused to rent it to Jews. Instead, we held gatherings in the large study hall, which could hold a large crowd. The community's representatives never refused to grant use of the study hall for such purposes. The Zionist circles organized groups responsible for keeping order, so that assemblies would not be disturbed by opponents. Indeed, every meeting took place with great success and without disturbances.

* * *

In the State of Israel, we meet members who went to hachshara at that time in Ostrolenka, Wyszkow, Mlawa, Poltusk and other places before emigrating. There was no industry in Ostrolenka. Bialy's sawmill and the large municipal flour mill were some of the few places of work. Another kind of work was woodcutting. Jewish mothers, however, would not allow their sons to do this kind of work in the snow and frosty weather. It

[Page 169]

was only suitable for Gentiles. They did not consider that their “good heartedness” might hurt their children, especially those who aspired to emigrate to Israel.

Poalei Zion representatives in the Jewish community and in the city council helped financially, as well as in preparing immigration documents according to the government's demands. Many of our members, I among them, succeeded in reaching Israel. Most, however, did not. They were killed by the German murderers. Their bodies and their dream of free and productive lives in the Land of Israel were burned and turned to ashes.

Shalom Margalit, Tel Aviv

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