The Zionist Movement in Przemysl
When World War I ended in 1918, the circumstances and conditions of the Zionist movement's activity in the town completely changed. The Balfour Declaration and the national awakening among the Jewish people created a new atmosphere among Przemysl Jews as well. Zionism had become the daily content of their life. The Lieberman tradition was sustained for a long time, but only during election periods, as a relic of personal admiration, however there was no political or ideological basis. Until 1923, the local Zionist organization operated as a branch of a national organization, in which all parties were represented. In the first year following the war, Przemysl was affiliated with the national Zionist center in Lvov and later with the Western Galicia and Silesia center in Krakow. From 1924 the branch was again joined to the Lvov center. In 1923 Hitachdut Poalei Zion [the Association of Zionist Workers] separated from the national organization and operated as an independent party. In 1935 the Revisionist party also left the Zionist organization and the core of the organization continued to act as the General Zionist Organization (general Zionists).
The General Zionist Organization
The local General Zionist Organization was one of the largest branches in Eastern Galicia, and it had noticeable influence on the party headquarters in Lvov. Three members from the local committee were representatives on the national party council in Lvov.
Its members included town citizens, hundreds of youths, popular circles and artisans.
In addition to tax-paying members, the party had a wide circle of supporters, who answered every call, both for the elections to the Sejm, the city and the community, and with regards to Zionist activities, such as Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod collections. In 1937 the number of tax-paying adult members over the age of 18 in the local branch reached 450.
The General Zionist Organization in Przemysl was the largest of all Zionist factors in town, and it was proportionally represented in the municipal and community institutions. The chairman of the local branch of general Zionists served for a while as the assistant mayor, and another general Zionist was a member of the city management until the Shoah.
In the community too, the general Zionists were the largest party. The last community leader was a member of the general Zionist party.
Despite the ideological differences between the Zionist parties, there was always the appearance of cooperation, in the arena of national and local policy. Only in the last municipal elections, the Hitachdut Poalei Zion cooperated with the Polish socialists.
The branch successfully carried out all the various Zionist activities. They distributed shekalim , and organized elections for Zionist congresses. The day of the elections for the congress was noticeable in the town. The activity among the Jewish population was no smaller than on the day of elections for the Polish Sejm. The Polish authorities in town monitored the election events closely, and were interested in the election results and the contests between the Zionist parties and demanded that reports be presented when the votes were counted.
In 1937 the number of shoklim  in town was 2,294. Among them were 1,068 General Zionists, 1,062 Hitachdut Poalei Zion and 164 Mizrachi.
That same year, Dr. Zvi Reichman, Dr. A. Schutzman (General Zionists) and Z Hering (Hitachdut) were elected in Przemysl for the Zionist Congress.
The representative of the Przemysl branch was a member in the chief council of the organization of General Zionists in Warsaw. The branch also kept up its activities to benefit the national funds, Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod.
[Photograph of the Keren Kayemet (JNF) Committee, 1925.
Sitting from left, second row: --, --, --, Dr. Joseph Knoller, Marienstraus, Silfen
Standing from left: Wirt, --, --, Gromet, Horn, --, Nick, --]
The general Zionist Dr. Joseph Knoller served for many years as the Keren Kayemet board chairman, and was its living spirit. Haim Klagsbald was the energetic chairman of Keren Hayesod. In 1925, the party initiated the establishment of Ezra, a society to benefit the Pioneers [halutzim], chaired by party member S. Spielman, who was dedicated to this job for many years. From 1935, the organization was also active for the benefit of The General Zionist Pioneer, led by Dr. Zvi Reichman. This was one of the most beneficial organizational activities of the branch. Under the auspices of the branch, there were organizations of the Noar Halomed: the Zionist youth, Akiva, the national youth Achvah, led by A. Gromet and Leon Landau. Agudath Herzl and Herzliya of the academic youth. A Zionist women's group led by Ms. B. Molet and Ms. A. Knoller, the WIZO organization, led by Ms. D. Citron and N. Ostern. The branch also provided pioneer hachsharah [training] in farms around the town.
The General Zionist activists founded the Hebrew gimnazjum and nurtured its students' national, Jewish education. Various cultural activities were managed, especially by the general Zionist youth organizations. During the last years before the destruction, Oneg Shabbat parties were organized on Shabbat evenings, in which hundreds of members participated.
[Photograph of the Ezra committee, 1924. Center: S. Spielman]
[Photograph of the farewell party for the first Olim from Achva, 1932]
[Photograph of a group of General Zionist artisans]
[Photograph of a group of Zionist women (Kolo Kobiet). June 11, 1936]
The local newsletter of the General Zionists, Folksfreind, edited by Emanuel Gromet, published the following survey on Jewish Przemysl in the year 5688 on September 21, 1928:
The passing year was characterized by the elections for the Sejm and the Senate. Eighty percent of all Jewish votes went to the Zionist list, despite the terror. The mandate was not achieved due to the special elections law, however the people expressed their loyalty to the Zionist leadership. Complete victory was achieved in the municipal elections. The Jews obtained 18 mandates, proportionate to the size of the Jewish population. The assimilationists and the Agudah did not obtain even one mandate.
In the community elections, the Zionists achieved a great accomplishment, although a Zionist majority was not obtained because of the separation and personal ambitions. An increase was noted in the work of the Zionist youth loyal to the General Zionism and its leaders. Especially worthy of note is Agudath Herzl, under whose auspices an organization of elderly members, former Society members, was established. The revenue for the Keren Hayesod did not decrease, despite the election year. Among all the rural towns in Eastern Galicia, the Keren Kayemet was the foremost in terms of revenue.
In the area of Jewish education, two important events occurred. The construction of the vocational school for girls was begun, to enable productive vocational education for youth from wide strata of the public, an essential act in light of the harsh economical state. The construction of the Hebrew gimnazjum was completed, to impart national education to the youth. Finally, the establishment of the Folksfreind, which defended the Jewish population from wrong-doings and fought anti-Semitism and the P.P.S left, which belittled all the sacred Zionist ideals in its weekly publication, despite the fact that most of its readers are Jewish.
[Photograph of the local committee of General Zionists.
Standing from left: H. Dannenhirsch (Danieli), L. Salzman, M. Schwadron, Z. Ascher, D. Neumann, I. Licht, Hammer, Schatz
Sitting from left: H. Segal, Dr. M. Schweber, Dr. Z. Rubenfeld, Dr. H. Reichman, P. Mermelstein, Dr. S. Tenenbaum
[Page 251] It is not possible to mention all the energetic and loyal activists, the anonymous soldiers of the Zionist camp. We hope to be forgiven for mentioning only a few of many: Dr. Moshe Richter, Dr. Zvi Reichman, Dr. Efraim Schutzman, engineers Henryk Bazar and Mendel Jawetz, Haim Klagsbald, Meir Honigwachs, Lipa Galler, Dr. Matityahu Schweber, Dr. Shamai Tenenbaum, Wilhelm Haspel, Ms. Peppi Mermelstein and Shmuel Rosenfeld.
[Photograph of WIZO group in Przemysl. 1931-1934]
[Photograph of Leib Joffe at a Keren Hayesod meeting in Przemysl, 1930]
K.Y. Golan (Goldfarb)
Red Przemysl that was what many of its residents called our town. The workers' house, one of the largest buildings in town, towered over the north bank of the San river as the P.P.S. (the Polish Socialist Party) fortress and as a symbol of its power and status in the area. And indeed, it had great influence among the public, despite the fact that Przemysl was not an industrial town. There were a number of Jews in the leadership of this Polish party and many circles of the Jewish population, although not members, supported it.
The leaders of the Polish Social-Democratic party, including the great Hermann Lieberman, declared war on Zionism as a reactionary and clerical movement.[i]
In this hostile environment, the idea of a Zionist labor movement barely made its way. Its first signs appeared at the same time as the establishment of the Zionist organization in Galicia and in our town.
The organizations Ivri,[sic] Achva and finally Poalei Zion became well established in Przemysl. In 1905 a district committee of Poalei Zion operated in Przemysl. At the first conference of academics from this movement, in 1909, a central board was elected, led by Yitzhak Kandel, and it was based in Przemysl.
As the Poalei Zion movement weakened throughout Galicia, the Przemysl branch also ceased to operate and only a few members remained connected to the center, who after the unification with the Hitachdut found their place in the Zionist-Socialist united party, Hitachdut-Poalei-Zion.
Echoes of the ideological agitation within the Zionist organization in Eastern Galicia, which arose under the influence of Hapoel HaTzair in Eretz Yisrael and Tzeirei Zion in Russia, reached Przemysl too. After World War I, members of youth and intelligentsia circles spoke out against the conservatism in the Zionist organization and against its estrangement from Zionist activity. They began to fight for greater centralization of the activities for Eretz Yisrael, aliya and independent work, for learning Hebrew and for the progressive Zionist content.
These groups took on different forms and then discarded them, such as the national practice Tzeirei Zion, a Zionist radical-democratic group, a Zionist-Socialist national association which joined the Poel HaTzair organization in 1920 Tzeirei Zion. The first to join the movement were members of the Tzeirei Yehuda society.
After the Hitachdut was removed from the Zionist organization in Galicia (1923), the movement organized as an independent Zionist party and at that time they established a branch in Przemysl. The branch was directed by Haim Elias (in 1924 he was elected to the central committee of the Hitachdut in Eastern Galicia), who devoted his heart and soul to this movement his whole life. He dedicated many efforts and often sacrificed personal affairs. A short time after the unification with Poalei Zion, he moved to a group called Hitachdut-anti-Ichud [anti-unification Hitachdut], but later returned to his original point. Other notable leaders of the movement were Elisha Stein, chairman of the branch; Dr. Mordechai Schattner, chairman of the branch (now in Tel Aviv); Yosef Wolkstein-Ben-Yitzhak (member of the local committee in the Schiller group). Among the first pioneers who left their mark on the image of the local pioneering youth, were: the brothers Yitzhak and Herz Antmann, Berglas, Mordechai Kanner (now in Tel Aviv), Mahlberg, Yosef Weinberg (now in Jerusalem), Arie Kawe (now a teacher in Tel Aviv), Yeshaya Tafet.
The branch, which shared its club residence with the Ivriya on Mickiewicza Street, was attended mainly by
youth from the lower classes. The activities centered around pioneering, disseminating the Hebrew language, working for the Keren Kayemet and for Ezra. Among the Keren Kayemet activists, Zvi Hauben was known for his dedication and accomplishments.
When the Hitachdut representatives in Galicia were elected to the Sejm, in the early 1920s (Dr. Abraham Silberstein, Zvi Heller, Dr. Kopel Schwartz, Dr. M. Bienenstock), the branch also expressed its opinions in matters of local policy The work of the present, in the terminology of those days. This activity was conducted in the Przemysl branch, as in the other sections of the movement, under constant doubts with regards to maintaining their priorities for Eretz Yisrael affairs.
[Photograph of the local committee of the Hitachdut
Sitting from left: first row: N. Miltau, Z. Hauben
Second row: J. Antmann, M. Kanner, H. Elias, J. Wolkstein, M. Weisinger, E. Stein
Standing from left: third row: Shpira, R. Rosenfeld, I. Goldfarb, H. Willner, B. Rottenberg, S. Antmann
Forth row: M. Eichenbaum, F. Tugendhaft, J. Rubin, M. Erbsmann, N. Patron, Z. Hering, Z. Horowitz]
The momentum of the branch activity greatly increased in 1937 after intelligentsia circles joined the movement, especially from among the ranks of teachers at the Hebrew gimnazjum. Since then, the branch's influence on the town's public life increased, and even went beyond its scope and contributed significantly to the labor movement in Galicia and beyond.
From that group, I recall Benjamin Brettholz, Shmuel Wurm and Dr. Michael Weisinger-Ziv (now in Jerusalem). The latter was extremely influential on large circles of the Noar Halomed, who were perplexed in their oscillation between socialism, which was estranged from the reality of the Jewish people, and the old fashioned form of the Zionist corporation, which had become void of ideological content and of a living connection with Eretz Yisrael. Weisinger-Ziv found the way to reach the heart of the youth and brought them over to the ideals of practical Zionism with a social, and universally moral pathos.
Three people formed the first core of the society of gimnazjum students (1927): Klemens-Yisrael Goldfarb-Golan (now in Jerusalem), who was active in the society, in the branch, and later in the movement headquarters (the Boseliah secretariat, the Halutz center, member of the acting board of the party, general secretary in Eastern Galicia, representative to the Zionist Congresses); Shlomo Miltau, an activist in the society and the branch; and Josef Parnes, who was only with the movement for a short while (he is now a professor in the veterinarian department in one of the universities in Poland). In 1928, a group of high school students laid the foundations for a society of students, first called Academic Gordonia and later The Society of Zionist-Socialist Academics. At the height of its development, some 80 members belonged to the society in Przemysl, gimnazjum graduates and students who studied at the universities in Poland and other countries. A group of student-pioneers was active within the society, many of whom are now in Israel. The Przemysl branch was the largest of all the student societies in Hitachdut-Poalei-Zion and the Second National Conference was held in Przemysl. The society published a single newsletter in Polish, Nasze drogi.
[photograph of the newsletter]
Many of the society activists took on central roles in the movement. Dr. Michael Weisinger-Ziv, the founder of the society and its first chairman, was elected to the national presidency of the party in Lvov, and later to the presidency of the party in Poland, a representative to the unification conference in Danzig and one of the formulators of Zionist Socialist
thought in Poland (see Galician Chapters, chapters on the history of the labor movement in Eastern Galicia, by Dr. Nathan Melzer, p. 189).
Ze'ev (Zygmunt) Hering was the general secretary of the party in Galicia, editor of the newsletter das freie wort, representative to Zionist Congresses (now a member of the central committee of the executive of the general workers' organization). Mordechai Bauer was a member of the Boseliah secretariat, member of the party executive, a representative to Zionist Congresses (now in the Mishmar Hasharon group). Dr. Abraham Sternberg was general secretary of the party in Western Galicia, member of the central leadership of Gordonia (now in Tel Aviv). Activists in the student society and the party branch included: H. Augarten, Emil Engelhardt (died in Israel), Hela Arteg, H. Ornstein, Shmuel Bernstein (now in Jerusalem), Ansel Goldfarb, Sarah Hering-Hirsch (now in Haifa), Sarah Horszowski, Kopel Weisinger (later a leader of Gordonia, died in a work accident in Israel), Abraham Weiss, Dr. Ada Lichtbach-Bass (now in Tel Aviv), Matityahu Mark, Gina Sinkower-Margalit (now in Haifa),
[Photograph of the youth committee of the Hitachdut
Sitting from left, first row: Bauer, Kretzstein, Willner, S. Antmann, Horszowska, Singer, Lichtbach, Erbsmann, Frankfurter, Hering, Ernst, Eisenbruch, Kreppel
Second row: Krebs, Wolkstein, Rosenfeld, Rubin, Salzberg, Kanner, Goldblatt
Standing from left: Baumann, Hauben, Dinkes, Lichtbach, Felsen, Meller, Knoller, Eichenbaum, Kraus, Patron, Messner, Kessel, Z. Hering]
Dr. Rozge Pier-Berler> (now in Brussels), Michael Frenkel (immigrated from Przemysl to Argentine), Yitzhak Koenigsberg-Harel (now in Tel Aviv), A. Koenigsberg (now in Haifa), Kessel, Simcha Antmann (now a teacher in Jerusalem), the Konreich brothers.
The organizational framework expanded and in addition to Gordonia, about which there is a separate section, a branch of pioneering youth was established by the Boseliah party. One of its activists was Markus Dinkes-Wolfshaut (now in Paris). HaOved was an organization for purposes of aliya by craftsmen who, due to their age, could not be members of the Halutz. Mordechai Kanner, who led this organization, moved to the national secretariat of HaOved. There was also a society of high school students for commerce, Kadima, whose chairman was Jakob Bauman (now in Tel Aviv).
A youth council led by Yosef Rubin (now in Ramleh) was established for the purposes of coordination between the youth organizations in the branch.
Following the unification with Poalei Zion in 1933, a small group left the party and became affiliated with the Anti-Ichud Hitachdut, and on the other hand a number of Poalei Zion members joined, including activists of the united party such as Dr. Benjamin Teich chairman of the branch, Dr. Moros Sobel, and Salz (now in Tel Aviv).
The Hitachdut Poalei Zion branch, which was the second largest in Eastern Galicia, had over 300 active members. The club on Slowackiego Street bustled with members every evening, particularly young members. It held various organizational and educational activities, all based on volunteering. Investigations into the character and path of Zionism, international socialism and the Jewish question, the socialist basis of the party, self-realization and the political and economic activity in the Diaspora all these were the topics of lectures and aroused frequent heated debates. There was also outreach activity among both the Jewish and the non-Jewish population of the area. Lectures, meetings and pamphlets published from time to time spoke out against the indifference and illusions in Diaspora life, and were characterized by the ideological strife with the Revisionists and the General Zionists on one side, and the left which was estranged from the Jewish people on the other. The activity of the Halutz and other aliya organizations, as well as in the national funds, was increased. The party's influence was manifested in its victories in the elections for Zionist Congresses. At the head of the election activity stood Josef Wolkstein-Ben-Yitzhak, who directed the propaganda campaigns and the organizational work, with untiring dedication and efficiency.
The branch was also successful in the arena of work for the present. Its representatives were elected to the municipal council (Dr. M. Schattner) and the Jewish community (Haim Elias). Serious efforts were made in the area of professional activity, and organizations of trade workers and clerks at private offices were founded, and even a sector of metal workers, the only one in the professional societies affiliated with Hitachdut Poalei Zion in Galicia. The P.P.S., which had long objected to Zionism, began to understand the historical significance of the Zionist labor movement as a solution for the Jewish question, for which it did not view itself as a real solution. It also became aware of the potential influence of the Zionist labor movement among the Jewish public. This shift in the P.P.S. approach enabled cooperation with Hitachdut Poalei Zion in various political and professional areas, and particularly in the fight against anti-Semitism in the framework of the committee against fascism and anti-Semitism.
These sparks of understanding and brotherhood between the local Polish workers and the Jewish masses, shone a brief ray of light before the darkness of the terrible annihilation which befell the Jewish of Przemysl along with all Polish Jewry.
(Y.A.) In 1932 David Ben-Gurion visited Przemysl and was the guest of Gordonia. When he was presented a photograph of his visit by Moshe Gabish (Mermelstein), in 1952, David Ben-Gurion responded: My visit to Galicia is
engraved in my heart, for there I saw masses of youth eager to make aliya to Israel, and upon my return from there I felt with greater force the imperative to act urgently to increase aliya, and I am not certain whether many of those with whom I met in the towns of Galicia are still alive and were able to make aliya. That was my only visit to Galicia, and for that reason any relic from that visit is so dear to me.
[Photograph of Ben-Gurion in Przemysl, 1932]
Dr. Jakob Schechter
The life of the Jewish youth in Przemysl was always vibrant. The political conflicts were more prominent and acute among the various youth camps and parties in Przemysl than perhaps in any other Galician town. Clearly, this multi-colored scene also included the presence of The Tzohar Alliance the Revisionist party, with its many organizations and extensions.
In his first great journey through Poland in 1926, Ze'ev Jabotinsky came through Przemysl. The impression left by his memorable appearances in other towns and the influence of his charming and great personality, were deeply engraved on the memories of Przemysl Jews. Those were days of keen arguments between the factions of the Zionist movement regarding the final goal, the political offensive, the expansion of The Jewish Agency, and all the other stirring problems which were presented on the stage of the Zionist political debate by the great spirit of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. The Zionist students, who were unified in Agudath Herzl, held lectures and symposiums which put forth the positions of the various parties, including the heads of the Revisionist party from Lvov and Krakow.
The Tzohar Alliance in Przemysl was officially established in 1927. It was led by Zvi Freund (Amit) of blessed memory, Lipa Sima, a refugee from Russia, and others. The first Betar center was established and the first meetings were held by the founders of the popular youth organization Menorah. In 1928, the first regional congress was held, with the participation of representatives from the small branches in rural areas. From one particular location, the representative was in fact the only local member of the party, and his presence at the congress was intended to attest to the penetration of the doctrine of the Betar leader even in such remote locations.
[photograph of a Betar group in Przemysl]
The events in Palestine in 1929, which seemed to confirm Jabotinsky's statements regarding the need to establish an armed Jewish force, gave the Revisionist party a renewed momentum in Przemysl too. At that time, attorney Dr. Benjamin Weintraub joined the movement, and was appointed as its director. Over time, he became one of the most dedicated and zealous activists. He organized and managed the Betar district and was the district commander. The movement was also joined by Dr. Fischel Babad of blessed memory, a member of a well-known orthodox family in Przemysl which was very influential, primarily in religious circles. Dr. Weintraub managed to make aliya as early as 1935 and is now a well-known attorney in Haifa. Dr. Babad was imprisoned by NKWD in 1939 and has not been heard of since.
During that period, Betar's strength increased significantly. Thanks to Dr. Weintraub's excellent connections, close contact was established between the Betar headquarters and the Polish military authorities. Training camps were conducted in Kunkowce, Jaroslaw and other places, where Polish officers trained the future combatants of the Jewish underground in Eretz Yisrael, teaching them guerilla tactics and use of arms.
The sense of pride and elation excited the Jewish population in the small towns, as they saw the bronzed young men, strong and courageous, in Betar uniforms with weapons in their hands, marching down the street to the amazement of the Polish anti-Semites. It was a living denial of the Polish prejudice, whereby the Jews were cowards and were incapable of waging an armed struggle for their freedom. Betar camps and marches also served as an excellent means of propaganda for the Revisionist party. From 1930 and onwards, throngs of Jewish youth joined the ranks of Betar in Przemysl and the surroundings, and in the elections for the Zionist Congress in 1931, the Revisionist party came in second in the Przemysl district. Its regional congresses were attended by dozens of representatives from all the towns and villages in the area.
[photograph of Betar in the Polish independence day parade near the City Hall]
In 1932, an organization of Revisionist students was founded in Przemysl, named Emunah [faith]. After a stormy meeting of Agudath Herzl, the Revisionist students withdrew from that general organization, under the leadership of this author, F. Babad, W. Astel and Y. Stremer. Thus, the last organizational partnership between general Zionists and Revisionists in Przemysl was disbanded. The ideological struggle intensified, and laid the ideological ground for the final departure from the Zionist Organization.
When the New Zionist Organization was founded in 1935, Przemysl was among the places in which this event engendered a true spiritual revolution. The new organization was joined by many new members, mainly from the local Zionist intelligentsia. It was joined, among others, by Dr. Steinhardt, one of the finest physicians in Przemysl, a gentle-spirited and noble man; and Norbert Halpern, one of the spiritual leaders of Agudath Herzl, an exceptionally talented man, who once led the opposition to the cooperation with Revisionist students and caused their withdrawal from Agudath Herzl. But ultimately, he too moved to Tzohar, and was followed by many of his friends, to the national revolt camp.
When Jabotinsky came to the Jews of Poland with his evacuation notion, the idea was met with enthusiastic support among the masses in Przemysl and the environs. When the war of destruction against the Jews broke out in 1939, the Revisionist party in Przemysl reached its peak. Among the youth and the intelligentsia and among the masses, there was a recognition that indeed there is no future to the life of degeneration in the diaspora, and that there is no solution other than to join the great active struggle for the establishment of a Jewish state in our generation, the struggle led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
The days of the Shoah came and the dramatic tension of the ideological strife among Polish Jews subsided. In the destruction of Polish Jewry, thousands of Betar and Tzohar members from Przemysl and the surrounding areas were killed. One of the most beautiful and interesting episodes in the history of the nation and the Zionist movement had ended a living and vibrant manifestation of the spiritual and ideological struggle, and the search for the solution and redemption.
A. Ben-Pazi (Goldberg)
Upon the establishment of the international Mizrachi in 5662 by Rabbi Reines of blessed memory, echoes of the event reached Galicia too, including our town of Przemysl, which was in those days a town of chakhamim and writers, students of the Torah and the learned.
The Mizrachi idea was dear to the hearts of these Jews, who were steeped in love and longing for Zion and its holy places. They were naturally the potential material for the foundation of a local Mizrachi organization.
Due to a lack of organizational resources which characterized these circles, mostly from the merchant middle-classes, this did not occur until the end of the First World War. However, many of these people participated in general Zionist activities: the shekel campaigns, selling shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust, studying the Hebrew language, and so forth.
Their teacher, spiritual leader and central figure, who was treated with affection and respect, was Rabbi Gaon Gedalia Schmelkes of blessed memory, the town rabbi. Apart from being a Gaon in Torah and science, he was also blessed with a distinguished character. One of the outstanding people whose prominent personality forced even his rivals to treat him with respect and admiration. He was one of the first founders of the world Mizrachi.
This Gaon rabbi served as a 'pillar of cloud,' a guide for the population we mentioned previously, and they were proud of him. And in this way, a Mizrachi core was created in Przemysl, not yet having a concrete organizational structure. This was in 5678, after the First World War.
When the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed towards the end of the war, the national council (folksrat) was established in our town, composed of representatives from all the parties. Rabbi Moshe Katz, a respected talmid chacham, well-liked by the people, represented the Mizrachi party in this council. He was also elected chairman at the first Mizrachi meeting.
The few people we mentioned above were then joined by hundreds of Jews, including many Torah scholars and learned people. Apart from Rabbi Schmelkes, who was elected honorary chairman every year, some of the prominent members were Rabbi Shmuel Knoller, Rabbi Shmuel Brach, Rabbi Yehoshua Bakenrot, Rabbi Shimon Rappoport, M. Perlroth, Rabbi Yosef Frei, father of the well-known physicians, the Frei brothers in Tel Aviv, A. Kneppel, the author Kahane-Avrech, the living spirit of the party.
The Mizrachi in Przemysl convened hundreds of scholarly Jews, deep-rooted Jews who were knowledgeable and well-versed in the Torah, polite men who were worthy of the glory of several communities.
Every Shabbat there were lectures in the Mizrachi auditorium on current affairs, or about the weekly portion, and they never needed to bring in external lecturers. The heart breaks as we recall that all those people were destroyed and are now gone; it is hard to find consolation for the loss of these dear souls and their blessed memories bring pain. We pray to be given their likes.
Apart from weekly lectures and the maintenance of a special prayer-house, the Mizrachi participated in all the general Zionist activities, especially in the work of Keren Hayesod, which was active among the middle class. In 1924, when the Keren Hayesod was founded in Przemysl, under the presidency of Rabbi Abraham Haim Klagsbald, this author was appointed to manage the secretariat as a Mizrachi representative, and served in this capacity until 1930. In 1925, Chalutz Mizrachi [Mizrachi Pioneer] was also organized, with its center in Lvov. The Przemysl branch was directed by D. Benari (now in the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv), who worked to train the religious youth in preparation for aliya.
[photograph of a group of Mizrachi pioneers]
Until 1930 the Mizrachi organization in Przemysl included the Mizrachi Youth, whose representatives were included in the general committee. However, as the number of young members in the party increased, they presented more specific demands, which were not part of the general Mizrachi framework, such as Hebrew lessons, lectures, and so forth. As the demand for aliya increased among the youth, along with the question of hachsharah, the need emerged for a youth organization in a special framework. And so the Mizrachi-affiliated movement named Torah ve'Avoda [Torah and Work] was founded, its main purpose being to organize the religious youth and provide training for aliya.
The Przemysl organization of Torah ve'Avoda also served, naturally, as a kind of secondary center after the Lvov center for all the Torah ve'Avoda organizations from the nearby villages around Przemysl.
Przemysl hosted meetings of the regional committees from time to time, and was also the site of a central hachsharah battalion from the entire area. The local party offered moral assistance and material support by supplying work.
Before making aliya in 1936, this author served as chairman of the above organization.
My heart goes out to that dear and sacred youth. Their longings, dreams and hopes were all for aliya. We did not succeed, nor did they, and their bones are scattered in the defiled land. Few of them were saved and found refuge in aliya. They are located in various parts of Israel, in agricultural settlements and work places. Most of them died in the Shoah. May the Lord avenge their blood.
And finally, I must present a memorial to a dear soul, Jakob Alweiss  , may the Lord avenge his blood. A sweet young man, learned and God-fearing. Son of a poor widow, whom he supported. At daytime he was an artisan, and at night he studied Torah. Modest and shy, he nonetheless stood out in his activism at the branch, of which he was secretary, and particularly in assisting any lonely members who needed help. His dedication served as a role model for all his friends, who loved and admired him.
Before I made aliya I tried to influence him to take over the leadership of the organization in my place. Being modest, he strongly objected.
He preferred the work of the common soldier, which he liked. But finally he gave in to me and, with the agreement of all the members, was elected chairman of the branch.
After I made aliya we corresponded frequently, and how happy he was when he informed me of the development of the organization or of some important activity which he had initiated and seen through. When the war broke out, while he was already planning to make aliya, the Nazis, cursed be they, entered the town and, as is known, their first step was to be given lists of all the parties and their chairmen. And thus they were given his name too, and he was one of the first to be executed.
May the Lord avenge his blood and may his soul be bound in the bond of eternal life, with all the martyrs of the nation.
[photograph of the Torah ve'Avoda organization in Przemysl]
The Renewed Agudath Herzl [ii] (1925-1939)
[Please note: the Table of Contents has this subsection listed as two different entities: Zionist Youth Movement in Przemysl and The Renewed Agudath Hertzl. In reality, The Renewed Agudath Hertzl is merely a subtitle here, not a different subsection.]
The activities of Agudath Herzl ceased between 1921 and 1925. The older members went their own ways, whether to finish their schooling or to make a living. The graduates of the post-war years went away to universities and the town emptied out of its academic youth. In April 1925, when many of the students returned from their university towns, a renewal of Agudath Herzl became possible. Among the initiators of the renewed society we should mention Shimon Mieses, Matityahu Schweber, Zvi Rubenfeld and Yosef Altbauer. They were joined by students from the years 1921 1924.
The conditions under which the renewed society developed were completely different than those of the group from 1904.
[photograph of Agudath Herzl, 1926.
First row from right: Rebhun, Schweber, Nagel, Trau, O. Tannenbaum, Guttmann, Horn, Mieses, Landau, Sima, Gottfried.
Second row from right: Kupfer, Rinde, J. Altbauer, Nussbaum, Gitter, Low, Laub, Treibetz, Feldhof, Kohn, Marienstrauss, I. Licht.
Third row from right: Miltau, S. Licht, Ekiert, Brettholz, Streifer, M. Altbauer, Astel, Krys, S. Tannenbaum, Rubenfeld, Rebhun, Salzmann, Pohorille.
Przemysl had long since become a Zionist town and, during and after the war, hundreds of young Zionists grew up and were educated, especially in the national scouts movement Hashomer HaTzair (the character of this movement was completely different than today's Shomer HaTzair). From these Shomrim came most of the Agudath Herzl members in its new incarnation.
The role of Agudath Herzl was to educate Zionist academic youth and provide it with the most appropriate organizational framework, and to harness it to the yoke of Zionist discipline and activity. In fact, there was great value in the collective framework, which attracted many of the independent youths. Another merit of the Agudath Herzl of those days, was that Zionism had long since taken its first steps and the ideological differentiation process within the Zionist camp had come a long way. Among the learning youth too, there were many who leaned towards one direction or the other of Zionism. The strength of the society framework was that it managed, within a certain period of time, to include members with tendencies to all streams of Zionism. These contradictions helped to deepen the ideological aspect of the society's work.
There were many varied activities which needed to be carried out.
In addition to the social aspect (parties, excursions and so forth), Agudath Herzl performed all the large and daily activities of the Zionist movement during that time: from extremely active assistance to the national funds, distribution of shekalim, and organizational duties within the local general Zionist Organization, to the high politics in local and national institutions.
[photograph of Herzliya Academic Women's Union, 1933]
At the initiative of Agudath Herzl, the popular Zionist youth organization Achva [fraternity] was founded in Przemysl and the society members served as its presidents for a long time.
Furthermore, Agudath Herzl established a society of academic women, Herzliya, which over the course of time became an almost inseparable part of the society.
Much attention was given to the issue of academic reservists among the gimnazjum youth, particularly during the last years before the war, when the society handled the organization of high-school students.
It is also worth mentioning that the members worked hard (in 1933) to found an artisans' organization, and guided them in Zionist work and trained many of them for aliya.
Especially noteworthy was the cultural work conducted by Agudath Herzl, both internally and externally. In Agudath Herzl, unlike in other societies of its kind, the main work was not that of the warrior but rather that of the writer. Fortunately, some of the members who resided permanently in Przemysl made sure that attention was devoted not only to daily work, but to the spiritual-cultural work, discussions of Zionist and general Jewish problems, Hebrew and Yiddish literature and books from world literature which dealt with the Jewish problem. Agudath Herzl was one of the few organizations in Galicia whose parties were held not only in Polish, but also in Hebrew.
And in terms of outreach: Agudath Herzl founded a popular university in which, besides the guest lecturers, many of the lecturers were its own members. This work also incorporated the surrounding areas of Przemysl, and many members visited nearby villages to give lectures, and so forth.
The popular university was comprised of four branches: Jewish Sciences (lecturers: A. Katz, P. Arbesman);
General History (lecturer: A. Tennenbaum); Natural Sciences (lecturer: M. Schlisselberg); Social Sciences (lecturer: Dr. Y. Grobtuch).
In 1926 it had 200 students.
In 1930, Agudath Herzl hosted a conference of the union of academic societies in Poland, Yardenia. It was attended by 30 delegates from around the country. The lecture on cultural work was delivered by one of the talented Agudath Herzl members, Norbert Halpern. His lecture was published in full in the Zionist press and served as a platform for the cultural activity of the academic societies.
Over time, Agudath Herzl completely abandoned national politics, landespolitik, and devoted all its energies to Eretz Yisrael issues and aliya training. Much impetus in this direction was given by the visits of our brothers from Eretz Yisrael (Goldstein and Luft). From the days of the first Maccabiah, the members began to make aliya and in the years 1932-1939 a significant number made aliya. Some of them went to rural areas (kevutzot and kibbutzim) and some found their place in the towns. The war put an end to this aliya, and only a few were able to make aliya even during the war.
In 1944 and 1954 the members of Agudath Herzl in Israel celebrated the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries of the society's establishment. Out of almost 200 members who belonged to the society during the years of its existence, some 40 members (20%) took part in the gatherings, from among the first founders of the society, the graduates of 1904, all the way to the youngsters from 1939. This was evidence that the idea formed by Agudath Herzl had bore fruit. During the 35 years of its existence, Agudath Herzl recorded a glorious episode in the history of Przemysl Zionism. Its members are scattered in all corners of the land and occupy respectable positions in the nation's life, whether as senior officials, in institutions, in kibbutzim, in career army positions, in the private sector and in the liberal professions. They all drew strength and encouragement from the Zionist tradition of Agudath Herzl.
The Shomer (Jewish Scouting) movement was established in Lvov by Henryk Sterner. In 1914, when word of the movement reached Przemysl, the local branch was opened. A small group of 10 boys, led by Kuba (Yakov) Spachner, constituted the first core group of Jewish scouts in town. When World War I broke out, the group disbanded and was not resurrected until the end of 1915, in its new form, after Galicia was partially liberated from the Russian occupation.
The survivors of the war who returned from Vienna, the birth town of the renewed Hashomer movement, founded the movement's cell in Przemysl. In November 1915, the first groups of students, male and female, from the Polish gimnazjums in town were organized. At first, they were only from the fifth year. The cell was directed by the Viennese David Weissberg, Eliyahu Bien, Dina Torbe (Dishka), and Moshe Hacke (now Dr. Moshe Oren, a teacher at Geula High school in Tel-Aviv).
The plan of action, which was carried out according to The Guide for Shomer Leaders (Poradnik kierownikow szomrowych), published in Vienna. It combined the programs of the Jewish Zionist youth with the Jewish scouting principles.
The first group, The Crow, guided by Menachem Zwanziger (now in Haifa) began its work energetically and as early as February 1916 had managed to pass the test, both in scouting and in Jewish studies (Hebrew, Jewish History, and Eretz Yisrael studies).
[Photograph of The Beginning 1916]
As the number of members in this group increased, it issued forth the first counselors of the movement in town, who were: Benjamin Brettholz, Lipa Stempel, Moshe Warth, Yosef Altbauer (author of these lines), Moshe Schlisselberg, Shiko Rinde, David Zwanziger. The first female counselors were: Leah Siegel, Mania Halpern, Frieda Rebhan. The movement grew and in 1917 it encompassed approximately 80% of the town's Jewish school youth. The number of members reached 500 boys and girls. The cell was comprised of two regiments: The Judah Maccabi Shomrim regiment, and a regiment of female shomrot. It was considered one of the largest in Galicia. It is worth emphasizing that the activity was conducted underground, as the gimnazjum students were strictly prohibited from belonging to any movements. Any transgressor could be expelled from school. During the activities, a lookout point often had to be assigned so that the students could be warned about any teachers passing by. Several of the Shomrim were persecuted by the teachers, when they found out about the movement. When we returned from the excursions and field activities, we did not dare enter the town, but rather scattered around its peripheries and hid our scouts hats beneath our coats.
[Photograph of the first instructors, 1918.
First row from left: Pillersdorf, Imbermann, Kraut, Sack, Sobel
Second row from left: Stempel, Weissberg, Halpern, Luft, Rebhan, Brettholz, Warth
Third row from left: Rinde, Teitelbaum, Altbauer, Low, Herzig, Bien, Dortort, Astel, Brand, Poppers, Zwanziger]
This situation changed in 1918. We felt that we were so strong, and the movement was so large, that we were no longer afraid to walk together all the way to the center of town.
The first dwelling of the movement was in the basement of the Torbe house at 14 Wladycze Street. We then moved to the Singer house on Kopernika Street. When the numbers increased this location became too small, and the movement relocated to the Mieses house at 5 Mnisza Street, to a spacious apartment with several rooms, and from there to the final location on Snigurskiego Street, in the Rubinfeld house, a small house with a large courtyard. The center was located here for many years, and other youth associations used it for their cultural activities too.
As the movement grew, the number of Hebrew speakers among the youth also increased. The Hebrew language teachers included Zvi Diesendrock, who served in the Austrian army in Przemysl, Tafet and his sister.
The swearing-in ceremony of the first Shomer groups and the inauguration of the movement flag, which was held
on July 23, 1916 (the day of Herzl's death) at Pikulice became a celebration day for the Zionists in town. Hundreds of guests from the town and Shomer groups from nearby Jaroslaw took part in the ceremony. The patrons of the celebration were: Przemysl's military chaplain, Dr. Yosef Mieses, who dedicated the flag, and the movement patron Zvi Luft. They both appeared in the military uniform of Austrian officers. This appearance of theirs was not without consequence: they were both court-marshaled. One must not forget that during that period, the Austrian authorities did not look kindly upon Zionism and the Zionists.
[Photograph of Pikulice, July 23, 1916.
The flag raising ceremony by the Army Chaplain Dr. Joseph Mieses and Zvi Luft]
The second swearing-in ceremony was held on August 5, 1917, with the presence of the national Shomer leadership head, Eliezer Riger (who later became a professor at the Hebrew University and the Director General of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and died in Israel). Two of the town cell's leaders, Eliyahu Bien and Dina Torbe, were also members of the central leadership.
In July of 1918, the first conference of the movement counselors was held in Tarnowa Wizna, under the title: The First Assembly of Shomer Managers in Galicia and Bukowina. The Przemysl cell sent a large delegation. Cell member Frieda Rebhan delivered an important lecture on the educational methods of the girls in the movement. This assembly determined the new paths of the movement, which was called from then onwards Hashomer Hatzair, and the new salute was determined: Chazak Ve'Ematz [Be strong and of good courage!]. The old Shomer salutation, Take Heed, was gone.
After the Tarnowa assembly, the cell began its Zionist activity with even more fervor. All Zionist activity in the town during that period was in fact connected with Hashomer Hatzair. During November 1918, upon the disintegration of the Austrian monarchy,
the adult Shomrim took part in the defense system organized in town. From March 1919, the cell published a newsletter in Polish and Hebrew, entitled Mishmar Ha'San, [The San Guard] which later became Hamishmar.
[Photograph of the first group of working youth Hashomer Hatzair]
[Photograph of the youngest group]
[Photograph of a group of girls]
[The Shomer Hatzair Organization varioius group photographs dated November 23, 1923]
The first group of the older counselors left the town to study in the university towns. A new generation replaced them Adam Dortort, Zvi Rubenfeld, Moshe Brand, Moshe Sobel, Haim Lev, M. Pillsdorf, Golda Herzig, Shinka Poppers, Esther Sack, Runia Kraut, Lorka Imbermann. The movement preached fulfillment of ideals and pioneering, and nurtured the idea of social justice for the time being without basing it on the theories of Marx these ideals were enthusiastically adopted by the movement members. At the end of 1919 the cell also recruited working youth who were not among the gimnazjum students. Altbauer, Betka Andermann and Haya Kalgsbald (Getz) were the first counselors who brought the artisans' apprentices into the movement, educated them and preached Zionism and pioneering. This was a change from the custom whereby only boys and girls from the high schools were recruited to the movement.
The Shomer Hatzair education bore fruit. In 1920 the first group of Shomrim made aliya. The first pioneers from Przemysl were Shlomo Goldstein, Nathan Siegel, Zvi Fink (later died in Israel), M. Orner, David Zwanziger, Yosef Wirth, Ms. Schein, Yitzhak Astman, Malka Glanzberg, Altbach, Zvi Bauer, and Devorah Slik-Kushnir. The Shomer's spiritual patron, Zvi Luft, also made aliya with them.
In 1924 the movement determined its new path, according to which it ceased being a national scouts movement, and demanded from its members personal pioneering and realization of the ideals. The number of members decreased a little. At the head of the cell, which had become a medium sized cell, stood Michael Weisinger (now Dr. Michael Ziv, a department director at the Ministry of Education and Culture). The cell was active as a regional center. The adults left the town, and some of the Shomrim abandoned the movement for ideological reasons, since the leftist tendencies had grown stronger in the movement. The leadership passed to younger hands. Bronek Torbe, who died in 1926, just before he was to make aliya, and his friend A. Tischler (Tischke, who died in Kibbutz Merchavia a short time after making aliya), were the movement leaders in town. They were later replaced by Olek Hausman. Due to the leftist leanings, the movement suffered from persecution by the Polish authorities. Every so often, they conducted searches for clandestine literature. Despite the difference in outlooks, the civilian public supported the movement, both spiritually and materially. The Society to Benefit Hashomer Hatzair was directed by the general Zionist eng. Henryk Bazar.
The movement merged with HeChalutz and continued its fulfillment. During 1930-1939, the average number of cell members was between 80 and 100.
Once in a while, the cell published a periodical about the movement's way of life, and the problems involved in determining its path. They are now kept in the Shomer Hatzair archives in Merchavia, and they are: Nitzotzot [sparks] (1931); Olameinu [our world] (1926), Hatzair [the young one] (1930); Anachnu [us] (1922).
In these pamphlets, the desire and aspiration of these delicate souls to a life of labor in Eretz Yisrael and the realization of Zionist and Socialist ideals, is a common thread.
Only a handful of these wonderful youths were able to realize their dreams, and they are on kibbutzim and other places of work in Israel.
A basement at 29 Slowackiego Street. Three small, dark rooms and a narrow corridor; in one of the rooms a primitive stage; on the walls, faded pictures of Dr. Herzl and A.D. Gordon; meager furniture. This was the appearance of the place which served as a cradle for the Zionist-Socialist party Hitachdut and the pioneering-popular youth movement Gordonia in Przemysl. The outward appearance was not particularly encouraging and the feeling was of hardship. And even so, when evening fell, or on Shabbat and holidays, the picture changed and so did the initial morose impression.
Every evening, in the early hours, groups of members of all ages gather in the basement, and there is extraordinary liveliness in the basement. From one corner one hears a lecture or Hebrew lesson, in another corner a stormy argument breaks out, and all this often mingles with dancing and enthusiastic singing. Due to the activity and the ideological and social environment, which is serious and diligent, there is a noticeable contradiction, by all appearances. The older members are united under the Hitachdut party, which has once again championed the flag of the Zionist-Socialist movement.
The youth comes as well. At first only a few, mingling with the adults and, not finding their company satisfying, they leave, but return with others. They are helped by a group of Hitachdut membersand I shall mention only a few of manyHaim Elias, Elisha Stein, and those who are now with us in Israel: Dr. M. Schattner, Dr. M. Weisinger (Dr. M. Ziv), Y. Wolkstein (Ben Yitzhak), a member of the Schiller group, Rubin, Y. Goldfarb (Golan).
The youths were given a separate room, despite the crowdedness. And thus the Gordonia movement sprung up, not in order to add yet another youth movement to the segmented camp, but rather to rejuvenate the Jewish youth movement.
Similarly to the youth movement in all of Poland, and particularly in Galicia, Gordonia was started in our town as a response to the improper situation in the Jewish street, and the trends of the youth movements which existed at that time Hashomer Hatzair, Hanoar HaZioni, and after the split, Akiba who were comprised primarily of youth from the schools or from the privileged classes. The working youth and the youth from working classes and they were the majority of Jewish youth in Galicia were left unattended, excluded from any organizational framework and outside of the influence of the Zionist idea. And worse the working youths joined anti-Zionist movements, mainly the communist movement, which exploited the difficult economic condition and backward social standing of this youth among the Jewish population.
The anti-Semitic policy of the Polish government at the time had impoverished the Jewish community, financially. Jewish youths, who had been subjected to a fight for survival from a young age, and often had to support their families, did not know the joys of youth. They were unable to adapt to the existing frameworks, which were not to their liking and were foreign to their Jewish outlook, and were unwelcoming to this special youth. The situation improved only with the establishment of a popular youth movement, Gordonia. This movement was able to develop a new approach to the daily problems of the working youth, and it paved new ways for education and dissemination of ideas regarding the destiny and development of the Jewish nation. And this is the root of the Zionist-socialist party of origin the Hitachdut.
Gordonia called on working youth and school youth to join its ranks, because many were disappointed with the existing youth movements. In the Zionist-socialist outlook of our movement, the Jewish youth found a solution to their own concerns in life. The establishment of Gordonia was almost a historical necessity, and under its influence the other youth movements also began absorbing working youth, but our movement contained the majority of them.
The organizational and education work of the founders of Gordonia in Przemysl was difficult. Those of them who now live in Israel are: Etka Rand, Dov Dank, Aharon Malberg (Givati), the Schneier brothers, Zvi Bar, Yakov Kaner. Lacking experience in instructing youth, we learned from the experience and accomplishments of other movements, including non-Jewish ones, but our problems were different than theirs, and so the approach to their solution was also different. We suffered form a lack of appropriate place to gather the youth who needed space and freedom of movement. The existence of organized youth movements also had some effect on the way the local cell was organized, and the rapid departure of the first Gordonia graduates to hachsharah and their aliya to Israel weakened the movement again. The turning point came at the beginning of 1930, as a result of the events in Eretz Yisrael in 1929.
[Photograph of the academic Gordonia]
Various organizational groups were active at the local Hitachdut branch managing social and cultural work including groups of students from high schools, called Agudath Gordon. The members of both the groups (Gordonia and Agudath Gordon) were very close in age, social status and the search for solutions to their problems, but still there was no contact between them for a long time. At the beginning of 1930 there was a rapid development of Agudath Gordon, which encompassed dozens of students (mostly from the common classes) and developed serious educational activity. Under the influence of the 1929 events and as a result of an ideological uproar, some of the members (Kopel Weisinger, Meir Rosen, Arieh Zankel, Micha Wolkstein Ben Yitzhak, Shlomo Remarz, Chana and Fela Elias, Dov Bolchover, Meir Frankfurt, Elimelech Sandbank and Dov Sim), after stormy arguments and difficult internal oscillations, decided to join the ranks of those fulfilling the Zionist-pioneer idea.
A new spirit entered the small, dark room: with energy and gusto, all members of the cell went to work. After the extraordinary effort, and with the help of the Hitachdut members, a house was purchased on Szaszkiewicza Street. Three lovely rooms and a large yard enabled regular work, and activities which were not always acceptable in youth movements. The movement house became, within a short while, the second home for many of its members. They spent many hours in it, whether preparing their homework, playing or doing other various activities.
We began to reorganize the youth, and our work was not easy. The situation was difficult in the diaspora and in Israel during the years 1929-31. The closing of the entry to Israel, the economic crisis, the departure of the youth movement graduates all these primarily affected the youths themselves. In their disappointment and desperation, they began to leave the Zionist-pioneering youth movements, and started seeking other solutions to their problems, outside of the Zionist camp. They were taken in by communist slogans, which were clearly present in the Jewish street at that time. In these difficult moments, of all times, our movement showed its vitality, its rootedness and its loyalty to the Jewish people, to the Zionist-Socialist movement, and to the values it had created during the years of its existence. In this year of crisis, the local cell reached the peak of its development in terms of numbers (from 200 to 300 members), and in developing new organizational and educational tools. A hachsharah battalion was founded and a meeting was held with the movement graduates, who patiently continued their work in the hachsharah groups for many years, due to the reduction of aliya. Our influence increased in the town, the party, and particularly in the JNF, where we held first place among the volunteers for several years. The anniversary of the death of A.D. Gordon, which was commemorated each year by the local cell in a public auditorium, was not only the movement's day, but also a rally for the entire Zionist population. Our influence on the immediate and more distant surroundings increased, and new branches were opened in the neighboring villages and a regional center for the movement was established in our town.
The year is 1930 the founders of Gordonia rebuild Hulda, which was destroyed and abandoned during the 1929 events. The entire movement rallies to help its first kevutzah. Together with Keren Hayesod and the JNF, the Hulda Campaign is founded, and its educational weight exceeds even its great financial value. A meeting with Pinchas Lubianiker (now Lavon), who came to our town under the auspices of the Hulda Campaign, strengthened our ranks and his appearance in a harsh debate with the opponents of Zionism (including those who had recently left Israel), restored our faith in the movement's values and breathed new life into the entire Jewish-Zionist public, regardless of party or movement affiliations.
After overcoming the crisis, the pioneering movement became stronger and penetrated new circles. Under the influence of our movement, in the framework of the Hitachdut party, pioneering sister-movements were organized over time, Boseliah and Ichudia. A system of joint activities is developed, mutual influences are felt, joint campaigns are initiated. The members Mordechai Bauer, S. Bernstein, Dr. A. Sternberg, and Z. Hering, devoted themselves to the movement's work in those days.
Our counselors faced especially difficult problems. Most of the members came from the lower classes, lacking basic education, but thirsty for knowledge. More than once, we had to participate in the search for solutions to the economic and familial problems of the members, in addition to the cultural and ideological activity which was necessary for their education. In the movement, most of the members acquired their first concepts of the way of the world, of the Jewish people and its problems, of the Jewish effort in the diaspora and in Israel, of our place in the Zionist movement and the socialist movement. Many of them first learned how to read and comprehend a book in the movement this is where young boys and girls developed in preparation for their new paths. They were faced, for the first time, with the need to adapt to a society and integrate within it, to take collective responsibility and participate in mutual assistance between one member and another, and between member and counselor. A fine example was set by the organization of all the members in local and national movement campaigns. After months of preparation work
during which products were collected, and pennies were saved, most of the members (80%) would go to summer camps, which became one of the most important stages of the educational act, and a great help in shaping the characters of the members. Many took part in all the national movement campaigns, whether camps for the counselors, conferences, or the various movement gatherings.
[Photograph of a Boseliah group]
The cell became stronger and more solid. A new generation of counselors emerged (Henia Weiss, Mania Scholdenfrei, D. Rubinfeld, Heika Goldstein, Devorah Knoll, Zygu Sam, A. Berg, A. Krebs, B. Wenig) who managed, when their time came after we made aliya, to develop and expand the local cell until the bitter, tragic day of September 1, 1939, the day the Second World War broke out, which brought destruction upon our nation and our movement. The fundamental, vibrant part of our nation was destroyed, and the inexhaustible fountain of life for the movement and the group, was closed off. Its graduates are scattered in a number of kevutzot: Hulda, Schiller, Mishmar Hasharon, Ramat David, and others.
Many of those mentioned in these pages, and also those who are not mentioned, gave their heart and soul to establish our movement and to shape its character in the town, and were extremely active in uplifting the spirit of the Jewish nation. Few lived to see the realization of their dreams, many remained in the diaspora, many died in Israel; each one of them carried out his or her duties. each in his position
Meir Rosner, a yeshiva student, joined the members of Agudath Gordon. He was full of energy and enthusiasm, which propelled him from one dream to the next, from one act to the next, without resting. Young in age and in spirit, he died in the typhoid epidemic which broke out in Hulda in 1935.
Kopel Weisinger, the eldest of the group, came to us from Agudath Gordon after leaving his studies.
He was always quiet and calm, until making aliya he served as a counselor and educator for the generation of counselors which succeeded him.
Michael (Mishu) Tugendhaft, a student at the Hebrew gimnazjum, joined the first members of the local movement, and for a long period of time was the only counselor.
These two members fell victims to a work accident.
Haim Zieff (Lieber), a member of the local movement, member of the Schiller kevutzah.
Dov (Henek) Ringler, one of the first members of the local movement, one of the tireless youths who aspired to acquire new learning and knew how to seek new paths. Was a member of Kfar Choresh for many years.
Etka Rand-Segal, also one of the first movement members, worked in all the difficult jobs in Israel.
These three members died suddenly in Israel.
Abraham Scharf, one of the younger members of the movement, died after a difficult illness.
And finally, Arieh (Lunek) Schenkel and his wife Adela, Abraham (Boynk) and Deborah Frei, and Zygu Sam, did not manage to reach Israel. They kept the movement alive until the last minute, acting with dedication and boundless loyalty, whether in the local cell, or the central leadership of the movement. Many others consecrated the name of the Jewish nation with their heroism and sacrifices.
May their memory be a blessing.
The birth of the Zionist Youth movement or, as it was called at first, The Hebrew Youth, was in 1926, as an offshoot of the academic Agudath Herzl in Przemysl named Hatikva. The younger ranks of the school youth were organized in Hatikva, from the sixth grade of the gimnazjum and upwards.
In 1928 Hatikva joined the Hebrew youth movement, without severing its connections with Agudath Herzl, whose members continued to instruct it. The Przemysl cell immediately took on a prominent position in this national movement of scouts and pioneers. The movement's center was in Lvov, thanks to its productive activity in all areas of Zionist work, and mainly the pioneering and educational work among the youth. It was a glorious cell, comprised of the finest Jewish youths in town, and at its peak had close to 500 members. The cell leaders, Arieh Metzger, Haim Danenhirsch (Danieli), Zygu (Shlomo) Asher, were members in the national leadership. The Przemysl branch became, over time, a district branch, and expanded its activities in the nearby rural areas. It organized summer camps and courses for counselors, established hachsharah points for the entire area, and disseminated the idea of the general Zionist pioneer among wide strata of the Jewish youth. It was one of the largest youth organizations in the town.
In the movement archives, which were brought to Israel, there is a report from the central leadership written on November 26, 1930, which says: I followed the development of the cell from the day of its inception, and I discovered that after a year and a half the atmosphere among the young counselors, who were accustomed to excessive theorizing, has changed. Today, they are an active group which takes responsibility for the education of 150 youngsters. We are already reaping the first fruit of our labor: Ivriya has been established, the Hebrew language can be heard to an increasing extent among the youth in town.
[Photograph of the Zionist Youth Management.]
In a publication issued by the cell leadership and the Aleph battalion (the older members) from January 1, 1932, which was published after the rift and the desertion by the Akiba members, it was written: After the crisis, whose consequences were only temporary, we must restore the cell to its previous blossoming state.
Only a few remained in the Aleph battalion, but they were the most active in the organization. Zygu managed the Tikva division and the Zohar group, Yakov Blum instructed the pioneer group. Leon Metzger (Tamari) was the cell leader. Sela Litauer-Asher was the head of Gimel battalion, and the counselor of the Degania group, Zoshke Speiser (Tamari) instructed the Shilgit group, Lola Eisman was for the time being without a position, because of her studies in Lvov. A division named after Trumpeldor was added to the Bet battalion.
During the holiday, a course for counselors was organized, covering various topics. In the Bet battalion, the editorial published a newspaper once every two or four weeks.
In Gimel battalion, various courses were offered and a library was opened, where Shabbat evening parties were held, with Hebrew readings.
These are scenes from the life of this illustrious youth organization, which aspired to fulfill the Zionist ideals. It was active until the Second World War broke out in 1939. Many of the members did not reach the shores of safety. A small number of the movement's members managed to make aliya. They continue their work in the Zionist youth's kibbutzim (Yakov Blum, Mordechai Reches) or other places. Some occupy respectable positions in the government institutions, such as Leon Reich (Arieh Atir) at the Civil Service Commission, Moshe Nacht (attorney general to the Ministry of Defense), P. Honig (chief bacteriologist at Beilinson Hospital). There are also activists in the municipalities and regional councils Haim Daniel in Tel-Aviv, Moshe Dreiman in Karkur; attorneys, industrialists and clerks Shlomo Asher, Shimon Langsam, Nathan Danieli and others.
Following the appearance of Dr. Herzl, the students from the Polish public gimnazjums in Western Galicia came together in organizations named after Rabbi Akiba. The slogan A return to Judaism precedes the return to Zion, was the guiding principle for these young people, who were shaking off the ways of the intelligentsia who, in those days, were tending towards assimilation. They were enchanted by the wonderful figure of Rabbi Akiba, the spiritual patron of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, who combined a love of mankind with a love of Torah, adhesion to Judaism despite the dangers, dedication of the soul and self-sacrifice.
The Akiba cell in Przemysl was a branch of the Akiba movement whose organizational and spiritual center was in Krakow.
During 1926-1939, Akiba became a pioneer movement and initiated the unification of like-minded student organizations throughout Poland, and even encouraged the formation of movement cells in most European countries. As a pioneer movement, Akiba was not supportive of the Socialist-Zionism which was prevalent in those days among the various pioneer streams.
In 1930 some 10 graduates, students of the sixth year at the gimnazjum, left the Zionist Youth in Przemysl and began organizing an Akiba branch in town, an act which the local general Zionist organization disapproved of.
The founders Menachem Wirth, Zvi Silberman, and David Hausman viewed this work as befitting the saying when writers vie wisdom mounts. The goal was to contain within the framework of the youth movement the 3,500 to 4,000 young people who were not yet organized, since at that period all the youth movements comprised only some 800-1000 members.
[Photograph of an Akiba group]
We went about acquiring members enthusiastically, without any budget. The Ivriya people allowed us to congregate in their club in the afternoons. After a few months we had our first club a rented room on Targowica Street. We held our Oneg Shabbat gatherings there on Shabbat evenings, with 50 members present. We also opened a Tanach class there, the first of its kind in the town. The youth meetings in the club were held in the early morning hours, and after finishing the reading we went to school. Even in the cold winter days, in the dark before the sun rose, we never abandoned the study of a daily Tanach portion.
[Photograph of an Akiba youth group]
We did not feel that this was an archeological study of the distant past, because the words of the Torah and Nevi'im are aimed at each and every person in his own generation, and they contain the answers to our problems. Between the walls of Akiba, which was general Zionist, there was no preaching to religious faith, however there was no rejoicing over its undermining and weakening. The attitude of the movement leaders was: Jewry exists thanks to the religion of Israel and thanks to its rich popular traditions. The nation congregated in the Beit Midrash where, between the pages of Gemara, they forgot their tribulations and daily sorrows. Here, the Jewish people excelled, by studying the holy book. We must continue in this way, therefore, be cautious of breaking the chain of heritage, and adapt ourselves to the modern period. This was not romanticism, but a deep ideological urge, an honest love of Israel and a serious search for ways to prepare the members for pioneering fulfillment of the ideals on a kibbutz in Eretz Yisrael.
For many years, until the Second World War broke out, the weekly Bnei Akiba devoted an issue before each holiday to bringing people closer to one another, to the meanings of the holiday prayers, and their sacred customs. The goal was to reveal the light in the Jewish holidays. We aspired to make everything Jewish familiar to us.
After one year, the cell moved to Snigurskiego Street, not far from the Shomer Hatzair club. Here, a true movement club was established, including battalions and groups. The number of members reached one hundred. In the summers, we went to
regional camps, where our members met the members of other branches, such as Dubiecko, Radymno, Pruchnik, Jaroslaw, and so forth. The older ones among us went to a central counselor camp, which was held every year in the Zakopane region of the Tatra Mountains. From these camps, which had 400-550 participants from all around Poland, the participants returned encouraged, full of energy and enthusiasm, and their organizational efforts doubled. Every member was required to work hard for the JNF, and we rapidly rose to the first place in town. I will never forget the praise given by the JNF chairman in those days, Dr. Yosef Knoller: If a youth organization of 100 members, only two-years in existence, can reach the first place in town imagine how we could increase our revenue if this organization had 500 members The Przemysl cell excelled at its exemplary activity. In all the movement activities, the hachshara kibbutzim, the counselor camps, the educational activities in Tanach and Jewish studies. The exams were held publicly in Krakow, administered by the finest pedagogues, such as Professor Kopilewicz and Ben-Zion Rappoport. Just before the war broke out, the cell comprised some 200 members.
Members from the Przemysl cell became Akiba activists on a national and international scale: organizers of Jewish youth in the villages and the environs, founders of the movement's kibbutzim in Israel. Our members took part in the movement periodicals (Ze'irim, Divrei Akiba). Among the more prominent activists were Menachem Wirth, the movement's delegate to the nineteenth and twentieth Zionist congresses, member of the senior secretariat of the movement in Warsaw, and its representative in the Balkans. One of the first members of the kibbutz in Petach-Tikva, and a founder of Beit Yehoshua (now the director of a department at Rasko); David Gazit (Hausman), one of the organizers of youth in Poland and Galicia, and one who fulfilled the ideals in Israel (now at the Kupat Cholim center); Zvi Kaspi (Silberman), a movement organizer abroad and a founder of the kibbutz in Hadera (now the headmaster of a school in Jerusalem); Meir Levi, from among the first members of Kibbutz Neve Eitan; David Stolz, a professional union member in Netanya; Sarah Schwartz-Eilon. We shall also recall the first pioneer from our cell, Esther Schwartz, who did not manage to reach Israel because she was overcome by a harsh disease in the diaspora. We also recall our two dear members whose lives were taken at a young age in Israel, Ella Wirth and Yakov (Yanek) Nacht.
We sensed the danger lurking in the form of the Nazi predator and initiated a comprehensive propaganda effort by means of gatherings and lectures, and in writing, on the pages of Divrei Akiba. The crowning event of this impressive campaign was the anti-Hitler exhibition in the Sokol auditorium. This event took place in town in 1934, and was the culmination of six months of painstaking preparations. This Przemysl exhibition later traveled to dozens of tiny Galician towns. It should be noted to Akiba's credit that it was the first movement to raise the issue of Nazism in all its severity, and to point to the danger it posed to the Jews, 5 or 6 years before the oppressive tyrant began his satanic work.
In 1932, David Ben-Gurion, then secretary of the Histadruth [labor organization], visited Przemysl as an emissary of HeChalutz. As a pioneer movement which prepared its members for the fulfillment of ideals on kibbutzim in Israel, we decided to meet with him. The meeting was held in his hotel room opposite the train station, and there was an hour-long argument on Jewish labor, the White Paper government's approach, and mainly on educational streams in Israel (which we opposed), and the place of the Tanach in education. The man who was to become one of the founders of the state of Israel was impressed, evidently, by his conversation with the three 16 year old gimnazjum students.
In May, 1939, we departed from Haifa for a short visit to our parents in Przemysl. We found a lively cell, the next generation had not let us down, and all were eagerly awaiting aliya. A large group was preparing to go to kibbutz hachshara, and they were the Vilna people, who headed on foot to the Russian border, and were destroyed by the tyrant. Blessed be their memory!
Akiba in Przemysl was a thriving organization of the glorious Jewish youth in our town, only a small number of whom were able to reach the soil of our land and continue the generational chain there.
One of the many youth organizations in our town was the scouts organization Hatzofeh [the scout], which was not affiliated with any center, since there was no Jewish scouts center in Poland.
In 1928, Yisrael Busch and Simcha Antman founded the scouts cell for the young boys and girls who had not found their place in any of the existing movements in town, because of their party affiliations.
In a small room in the attic of the house where Yuval resided (at the Gate Square Plac na Bramie), the young scouts were educated in the spirit of general scouting, as set forth by the world scout movement Baden-Powell, and in the spirit of A.D. Gordon's theories. The sports-oriented character of the organization, the field trips for nature study, the foot drills, and other similar activities of our youth battalions, were the attraction of the movement. Young girls and boys from primary school through high school joined the movement, with their parents' consent and even encouragement. Unlike the other movements, there was a majority of girls. The scouts heads were: Srulik Busch, S. Antman, Olek Kartganer and Yitzhak Koenigsberg. Every evening the youngsters gathered, sang songs, danced, and studied the scouting theories and the history of the Jewish people and Zionism. In the winter time inside the room, and in the summer on the banks of the San or on the Zamek. The Hatzofeh members' favorite book was Yizkor (in a Polish translation), which was dedicated to the first shomrim, who were killed on duty in Eretz Yisrael. The scouts' salutation was not Shalom, as in other Zionist organizations, and not be strong!, as in Hashomer Hatzair, but rather Take Heed. Our educational program emphasized the imparting of spiritual and moral values, both Jewish and general-humanistic, and the final goal of the members was to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, following agricultural or professional training.
[Photograph of a group of Tzofim. Passover 1929.]
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