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[Page 119]

The Youth and Hashomer Hatzair in Podhajce

by Avraham Brandwein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

pod119a.jpg
A group of Hashomer Hatzair members

From right to left: Meir Zoloczower of blessed memory,
Elu Reich of blessed memory, Dov Bezen of blessed memory,
Yehoshua Poliszuk of blessed memory,
Avraham Marbuch, Mordechai Oren (Orenstein)

 

pod119b.jpg
Hashomer Hatzair, 1920-1921

 

Podhajce, a typical Jewish town, is situation in a lovely area, with abundant greenery, forests and rivers. Koropiec, the small river, that was made fit for the breeding of fish by the creation of two large ponds, served as an attraction for the citizens of the city on festivals and Sabbaths. The rich river foliage, bulrushes and numerous lily pads formed lovely islets in the clear blue water that decorated the ponds. However, they disturbed the local youth from enjoying themselves in the water in swimming great distances.

The government dam created a waterfall, which increased the enjoyment of the youths throughout the summer and was a source of pleasure for the adults who came on Fridays, the eve of the Sabbath to refresh their bodies prior to the Sabbath rest.

On both sides of the river, there were meadows rich with sweet vegetation, in which cows and ducks grazed, satisfying their hunger under the supervision of shepherds. Our Jewish youth found in them a place to enjoy reading and study, with the mats of grass serving them as a soft mattress, and the rays of sunlight tanning their white, fine skin.

The pond did not stand forlorn in the winter. A heavy layer of ice covered its surface. Tens and hundreds of young people would enjoy themselves skating on cold, icy days, as they found an outlet for the youthful energy that was locked up in them.

The river, the pond, and its surroundings were centers for the multitudes of children and youth throughout all the days of the year. A sloping hill towered over the river, covered with fresh young trees in the summer and snow in the winter, adding beauty to the general landscape. This forested hill knew how recount the countless activities of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter, discussions and debates, planning of activities, scouting activities, and ordinary hikes for reading and relaxation.

The industrial area was on the other side of the river: the sawmill, the flourmill, and finally – the power mill. These were the largest employers in our city. The elementary school and Sokol house were nearby, and the Catholic church opposite them.

The Jewish homes began from that point and onward, and extended to the center. The center – in the shape of a large, round open area – had a concentration of stalls and was surrounded by stores, residential dwellings and places of employment, all together. Streets and alleys spread out from there in all directions. The population of the city of Podhajce was spread out among them. Thus was the general landscape; the Jewish landscape in the midst of this picture excelled in its liveliness, activities, and well developed mutual assistance.

Hundreds of Jewish families that were scattered throughout the 72 villages of the neighborhood regarded this city as the spiritual center and the place in which to find assistance at the time of difficulty. Jewish life was lively, and the events of the Jewish world found expression in the Jewish street. The 20th of Tammuz, the day of the Balfour declaration, the bloody events of the Land of Israel in 1921, the laying of the cornerstone of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and – on the other hand – anti-Semitic occurrences in various places – all of these aroused special feelings among the Jewish population.

[Page 120]

pod120ajpg
The leadership of the Hashomer Hatzair
chapter in the year 1931

 

pod120b.jpg
Veterans of Hashomer Hatzair, 1920/21

 

Jewish family life was very well developed in the broad sense of the term. Each family served as a warm corner that wove the character of the Jewish boy or girl. From the immediate family, the family atmosphere broadened to the extended family through visits on Sabbaths and festivals, and forged the living bond between the Jewish past and present, to the Jewish mission. Not infrequently, meetings and spending time together took place in the context of general events that were arranged at the synagogues in order to forge the character of the Jewish youth and deepen the commitment to the national mission. The cheder in its earliest days, the Tarbut Hebrew School with teachers and educators such as Shimshon Rozen of blessed memory and Aryeh Kurtz of blessed memory, great in Torah and wisdom, and filled with the love of Israel and the love of Zion – established a firm and strong base as a bond to the past, to the Hebrew language and to the national revival movement in all of its branches. The young person, who was filled to the brim with a Jewish atmosphere from his home, his family, and his teachers in Tarbut, received food and energy to heal his exile oriented soul and to raise his Jewish stature. If we study the composition of the Jewish population of Podhajce and its region, we will see that it included hundreds of extended families who maintained their family ties throughout many years. On holidays and festivals, the family ties centered around meals and visits, which strengthened the ties between relatives and magnified the joy of the festival. The First World War scattered them to various places. After the ceasefire, they gathered together again and forged anew their mutual way of life. Waves of disturbances afflicted the state, starting with the anti-Semitic outbreaks of the Poles and ending with Petliura's gangs, which led to a literal pogrom. Pillage of the houses and stores marked the climax of 18 hours of disturbances by the Petliurchiks. The adults and children hid in their cellars and attics. From the corner of my hiding place, I saw Mr. Binyamin Kitner of blessed memory, one of the leaders of the local Jewish community, tied to the water well waiting to be executed unless someone would bring a ransom for him. The shots of the Bolsheviks who pursued them from the direction of the mountain scattered the Petliura gangs, and my father of blessed memory freed Binyamin Kitner from his fetters.

These days of wantonness passed, and the Jewish community organized itself in the subsequent days. Schools opened, and food packages were distributed by representatives of the assistance organizations of America. The large buns and glasses of cocoa that were distributed to the children were particularly tasty. Means of livelihood were not readily available, and the vast majority of the Jews made use of this merchandise.

In this situation of a weak economic base, without political standing – the young generation of children and youth who felt the reality of the exile on a daily basis came of age. This feeling served as the impetus for national and social awakening among the youth, who were not satisfied with life solely in accordance to the traditions of the fathers, but rather searched for a remedy and wished to forge its own path, a path of liberation, of upright stature and national pride. Students from our town who studied in the large cities brought with them the winds of pleasantness and renewal. During the vacations from their studies, they brought together the finest of the studying youth and established the Hashomer Hatzair chapter in our city. This was in the years 1918-1920. The founders of the chapter included Dr. Marbuch of blessed memory, the engineer Zoloczower (Zerubavel), Mr. Jopiter and Mrs. Hala Messing (Lebel) may they live, and others.

The lectures, excursions, scouting activity – all of these in the bosom of nature among the green fields and forests awakened a revolution in the hearts of the youth, who generally spent their time studying in the walls of the

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