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[Page 328]

Political Parties and Youth Movements in the City

by Mordechai Taburiski

Translated by Sara Mages

Vibrant Zionist life pulsed in Smorgon even though it wasn't a big city. There were many political parties and youth movement in the city, and most of the youth and adults were members of these movements.

The branch of “HeHalutz” [“The Pioneer”] in our city was organized immediately after the First World War when the first refugees returned to the ruined city from the vastness of Russia and began to rebuild it. At the beginning of the 1920s members of “HeHalutz” were sent to Hakhshara [training camps] in Poland, and participated in regional and national conferences. From 1924, and until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, many of them reached Israel. In those years dozens of Halutzim, who received training in kibbutzim in Poland, immigrated to Israel and today they're scattered all over the country. “HeHalutz” opened a broad organizational operation and all the proceeds of the drama club were dedicated to the immigration of members to Israel. In addition, Zionist and cultural activity was conducted among the youth.

 

The chapter of “Hitachdut

 

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The chapter of “Hitachdut” gathered around it the activists of “Tarbut” school and its teachers. Hebrew was the dominated language in the chapter, and blessed cultural and social activities were also held there. Some members managed to immigrate to Israel until the Holocaust, but the vast majority was destroyed in the terrible period which passed over the city in the years 1941–1944.

The youth movements, “Hashomer Hatzair,” “Gordonia,” and “Freiheit,” which concentrated hundreds of youth, conducted an extensive educational and Zionist work together with “HeHalutz.” They made “pottery” for the Zionist parties and conducted seminars, summer camps and conferences. They educated the youth to life of work, scouting and love of Israel.

Tarbut” school served as an important repository for the youth movements, and the children were taught the value of Zionism and love of Israel. The teachers invested a lot of efforts in this direction despite the financial difficulties of the school which only existed from tuition. It taught the Hebrew language to the youth who studied within its walls. Some of the students continued their education in Hebrew high–schools and seminars. Over time, they continued the tradition of teaching the Hebrew language to the next generation.

The youth movements conducted their activities within the walls of the school. I still remember the chapter of “Hashomer Hatzair” on the ground floor, “Gordonia,” “Hitachdut,” a library for adults and youth, and a hall for performances on the second floor. The building was full, during all the hours of the day and evening, with adults and youth who came to find the content of their life in Zionist and communal activity. Impressive parades, sports activities and scouting games were held in the schoolyard.

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On the other hand, the problem of employment and the continuation of higher education were difficult for the Jewish youth in the Polish towns. A small part of the youth continued their education. Most of them were forced to help their family because of its difficult economic situation.

 

Vitkinya” federation in Smorgon – the Scouts level
Top first row: Magidey Chava, Zigel Dov, Magides Tova, Schwartz Nacha, Kreines Baba, Sutzkever Pola, Rivka, Galperin Chaya, Podolsky Sara, Alprovitz Avraham, Koversky Leah
Second row: Karpel Avraham, Karpel Dvora, Libman Guta, Grinberg Reuven. Jacobson Nechama, Weinstein Rafael, Goldberg Belah, Levin Batya
Third row: Koversky Lusia, Chadash Manya, Kraines Zipora, Pomoznik Leah, Yablonovitz Meir, Danishevsky

 

Hapoel” group in Smorgon

 

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A Polish high–school for commerce was established at the end of the 1920s, and some of the Jewish youth studied there. However, after they completed their studies at this school it wasn't easy to integrate in the life of commerce and services because of the discrimination against the Jews. They couldn't get a government job, even the lowest, and were forced to work as junior accountants in Jewish stores.

The Polish students, who came from out of town and other remote locations, brought the poison of anti–Semitism to our city. I remember the guards that stood next to the Jewish shops and the wild incitement of the farmers who, more than once, planned to carry out a pogrom on market day. Thanks to the relations with some of the non–Jewish residents and the connections with the local authorities, who have taken preventive measures, these plots have been foiled.

The local Jewish youth stood honorably in the battle, and from time to time skirmishes broke out with the anti–Semites. It should be noted that we always had the upper hand.

 

The chapter of “Hashomer Hatzair” in Smorgon

 

This situation continued until the outbreak of the war between Poland and Germany – on 1 September 1941. The Red Army entered the western part of Ukraine and White Russia after two weeks of battles and the German–Russian agreement. The Jews were relieved. Despite the economic difficulties and adaptation to the new regime they didn't have to fear physical extinction. Most of the Jewish youth received government jobs and the children continued their studies.

Most of the youth accepted the reality and aspired to settle down and move forward in life. At that time the Soviet regime was quite liberal towards the Jews,

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all the roads were opened before them and they didn't feel racial discrimination. Those who came from affluent families found it difficult to get a job, but most of them overcame that too. The relations between Jews and Christians have improved. Proper working relations prevailed between them and they spent their free time together.

 

A group of gymnasts coached by Gedushberz

 

This situation continued for a short period, until June 1941. Everything collapsed with the outbreak of the German–Russian war which brought the terrible Holocaust of the Jewish nation. Only a few remained from Jewish Smorgon, survivors of death camps, partisans and those who returned from across Russia. Most of them came to Smorgon and left it immediately because it was completely destroyed and they didn't find a relative and a savior. Most of them moved to Vilna where all the survivors of the nearby towns and the survivors of the Lithuanian Jewry were concentrated. At the first opportunity, after the signing of the Russian–Polish agreement, almost all of them left Vilna for Poland, and from there in various ways Israel.

 

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