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[Page 51]

Institutions and Movements

 

Our School

by Batya Peles (Cohen)

A modest but pleasant building arose in the yard of the old Beis haMidrash, all splendour and honour. In this building studied all the children of the town Torah and Jewish knowledge with a Zionist bent towards preparation for making Aliyah. This was our school – the Hebrew School. A Star of David was affixed to the entrance on the east wall. The classrooms were on both sides of the corridor: large, expansive rooms, teacher's rooms, lecture halls – everything as it should be. From our elders we often heard the story of how the school was established: In the year 1919, and the end of the First World War, life began to sprout anew. The question of Education arose in our town. The traditional “kheder” had become old–fashioned and there was an aspiration to establish a proper school. Some wealthy residents took the initiative and determined to establish the school. Preparations were done on the sly in the absence of a formal permit for a school. In their haste they rented two rooms and appointed the first teacher, Mr Shneiderovsky, and in order to enlist students, the founders went door to door, informed, influence, cajoled and convinced parents to send their children to the school. In the quiet of the night, like thieves the founders entered the warehouse of the priest and removed all of the school furniture and equipment that was stored there since the German occupation after their schools were closed, and moved them to the rented rooms. The next morning the teacher rang the bell and two classes of Jewish children sat in a Polish town on German “Skamaikes” (benches) and learned the Hebrew language.

The number of students grew, another room was rented from Chaike' Seiner, and when the numbers and the rooms grew full again – one of the classes took up one class of one of the “shtiebel”s next to the old Beis Midrash. The teaching staff grew to five. A Headmaster was appointed and professional teachers were employed. All subjects were taught at the school, and the language of instruction was Hebrew. There was considerable turnover of teacher over the years, however the first teachers – Shneiderovsky and Tzaban – did not leave. They were loyal to the school and to the students.

The founders were also the first committee members, and they took care of everything: Acceptance of teachers and of students, provision of subsidies for tuition fees and also the budget which was the biggest of their problems. Many students required subsidies and school revenue was limited. The committee struggled with this problem, but no Jewish child was left outside of the walls of the Hebrew School for financial reasons. The question of the building was also a cause of great concern. The temporary dwellings were unsuitable for a school: In summer they suffered from choking heat; and in winter – the cold, the wind and the damp. Packed in and huddling in coats sat the children during the winter, and to warm up a little would dance the hora [circle dance]. The Authorities also set their attention on the school. At times a government inspector would express his dissatisfaction as to the quality of the dwellings; however a hefty “contribution” would shut him up and calm his anger.

In 1924 Rabbi Kalir came to our town, took interest on the school and quickly became the head of the School Committee. Much work was done in those years: The original classes graduated, new children filled the classrooms, however the physical surroundings continued to be poor. Inspector visits were frequent, and threats became more and more intense that the school would be closed unless it moved to new buildings. After some urgent and heated meetings it was decided to raise a building in the yard of the old Beis Midrash, however the coffers were empty. Salvation came from over the sea. The Committee members approached Suchowola expats in America and poured out the whole story to them in detail. The pleas were met by encouragement from their landsleit and support began to flowing to the school's coffers.

With joy the building project began, and then a new obstacle: One particular Jew, whose field was adjacent to the yard of the Beis Midrash, objected to the building and threatened not to allow a school to be built on that spot. The problem was difficult and exhausting. Shabbat prayers would be disrupted and the Committee members did not rest until they had won over the owner of the plot, who in the end gave his approval for the project and from enemy became friend.

The foundations were dug. We can't forget the day the foundation–stone was laid. A rainy autumn day, the yard full of students, teachers, committee members and many town residents. A modest celebration took place on the plot. The Rabbi stressed in his speech, with tears of joy, the importance the event. Mr Galanti read out a poem he had composed, dedicated to the students, and the teacher Levinson composed an anthem in praise of the school's founders and supporters, in honour of the day. The anthem opened with the words: “On the day the temple was established, the temple of our spirit”. We sang and danced and acknowledged each stone that supported the building.

Building operations stopped during the winter. On one cold day the Rabbi and the Committee suddenly appeared. They looked embarrassed, talked secretively with the teachers, went here and there, but did not reveal why. The matter became known: The inspector had insisted on closing the school immediately and without delay. In the midst of the freezing cold sat the Town Rabbi and the honoured gentlemen Moshe Putiel and Reuben Cohen in a winter–wagon and rode to the inspector in Sokolka [about 40kms south east of Suchowola]. After many pleas the “his royal highness the inspector” granted leave of the decree until the spring.

In the spring began the building operations anew. The framework of the building rose up on the plot; however the patience of the authorities grew less. This time there was no–one to save the situation and on the injunction to close the school was not contested. With a heavy heart, but with hope and pride, all of the classes were locked and the equipment transferred to the Beis haMidrash where some rooms were allocated as classrooms. The rooms were unsuitable and were very cramped, but with the willpower and energy of the teachers managed to run classes in an orderly fashion. Some of the equipment was damaged for lack of a place to store them. Our greatest asset, the library, was transferred to our house.

The time was short, builders, masons and carpenters worked feverishly and the school year came to its end.

At this time our teacher Levinson left the school after three years. With his leaving went one of the foundation pillars of our school. As a teacher and educator he spoke and acted politely, his vigour and dedication knew no bounds. He was always immersed in public and school matters. After many long hours at the school he would attend to students struggling with their studies or who were absent due to illness. He would invite them to his room, explain the materials and assist them. He understood the hearts and minds of his students and his approach was individualistic and encouraging.

School holidays ended and our new school had risen, and was. The benches were fixed in places and 130 of the town's children of educable age took their places in the expansive classes, to everyone's joy. In the craft lessons, which were a novelty for the school, a Hebrew flag was woven. Many work hours were invested by each and every one of us, but it was all done with intent. It was a blue–and–white flag that we waved on high during the Lag baOmer procession.

The teachers invested much time in the library that reached four hundred books. A senior's room was also set up to pursue cultural activities. Our school became known throughout the area and we were privileged to receive visits of schools from the surrounding towns.

In the graduation ceremony many hearty speeches were made and hora–dances unified all of our hearts. It was hard for us to separate from the school, however we were remained connected to the school, that was source of our sprit .


[Page 77]

Members who did not merit to make Aliyah

by Yisrael Eshkoli (Karolinsky)

It is worth devoting some words to the Youth of Suchowola. The school, that was of a high standard, and the Chalutz Youth movements, these were the things that formed its character.

In 1936 the deterioration of the Youth's value–system of the Youth began to accelerate, in particular mimicking the life of the big city, dancing and other pleasures. In those days the movement of those making Aliyah ceased and many of our pioneers sat for years in preparatory kibbutzim without much chance of making Aliyah; the cessation of Aliyah led the Youth to undesirable paths and the Youth sought out ways to pass its time.[note: Cessation of immigration to Israel [then: Palestine (British Mandate) was due to British mandatory policy].

Leftists, and of them the author Mottel Levin of Krynki, tried to salvage the situation and put their mark on some of the youths. Mottel, who was a Communist, tried to infiltrate the school via students who had been convinced of his political views.

There was another element that greatly bothered the local Youth movements: The school Committee, and its head Rabbi Kalir, decided to forbid students to belong to any Youth movement, and sometimes would send out patrols to seek out students at the movement branches.

The “Chalutz haTza'ir” [heb: The Young Pioneer, also known simply as the “Chalutz”] then began to reorganise its branches. Many of its members left for summer camps and seminars and with vigour fought the spoilt atmosphere that had conquered the Youth. The branch of the “Chalutz haTza'ir” began to develop and gained a position of status amongst the public. School teachers, and of them Gershon Gelbard, helped us with training and encouragement in spite of the “Va'ad”'s [School Committee's] ban. In those days began the waves of illegal Aliyah which shocked the public.

In 1937 I was a member of the “Borochov” kibbutz in Lodz. I was sent as a representative of the kibbutz to enlist new members. I visited Suchowola, Janova, Koritzin, Dombrova and Yishinovka. At each branch I found aware and vibrant youth; there was a general revival, as if in anticipation. The “Chalutz haTza'ir”, on whose flag was inscribed “Make Aliyah, Chalutz” did not suffice with discussions of the movement and the summer camps but also demanded practical action. Going out to the kibbutz and making Aliyah in whatever way possible. Many members of Suchowola then made Aliyah after spending many years in training. Going out to the preparatory kibbutzim encompassed most of the Youth in our town, from Yisrael Kolir, son of the Rabbi of the “Berg” to Levin of the “Morad”. The number of girls who went to training was also many. There were families from which two or three went to be trained. And there almost no training point in Poland that did not have a member from Suchowola. Concentrations of Suchowolans were at the preparatory kibbutzim in Bialystok, Lodz, Vilna, but out members were also at Danzig, Gorochov and Kielce. With me in Lodz were Reuvi'tchik Rosenberg, Masha Bagner, Feitze Rvov, my sister Sheina, Nehama Farver and Pesjke Poshvitninsky.

Chayya Strinkovsky was in Warsaw in a “commune” of emissaries from the land of Israel, on 34 Dzelna street. At the outbreak of the war she returned to Suchowola and died along with her family.

Many of our members excelled in the preparatory kibbutzim, in secretarial and other responsible positions, and there were among those showing the way, the first to act and to persevere. The best of the Youth in both action and getting others to act.

Our members appeared to be modest and naive, but in times of need knew when to straighten their backs and came of age before their time in taking action and responsibility. Milak Tikotsky (Amalie) was the Suchowolan Youth secretary, he excelled in his approachability, his simplicity and his love of work.

Reuvi'tchik Rosenberg was accountant at the “Borochov” kibbutz in Lodz. This large kibbutz had four hundred members who worked in industry and manufacture. Reuvi'tchik excelled in his role, took no notice of his time and was appreciated by all members, and he little more than a boy, not yet 18 years old.

Feitze (Tzipora) Rvov, daughter of poor parents with many children. On her shoulders rested the household troubles, with dedication she took care of her little siblings. In spite of this she excelled in her studies at the Polish school. On turning 15 she joined the “Chalutz” and devoted all of her time and efforts to the branch. She had a pleasant face, dreamy blue eyes that expressed worry and hurt, a gentle soul and a feeling heart. She was loved by all of the members and her surroundings. In 1939 she went out for training to the Lodz kibbutz. With the Nazi occupation she was one of six members with the responsibility to look after the kibbutz and the movement. She moved to Warsaw and joined the agricultural kibbutz in Tsherniakov, close to Warsaw. She was active in the movement's underground and dedicated to the “Fighting Jew organisation” and a member of the “Dror” [heb: Freedom] division. In the diary of Simkha Rottheizer she is mentioned as one of the fighter of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in the “Mivrashtanim” section. After the suppression of the uprising she refused to leave the ghetto since she didn't want to be separated from another member Chanoch Gutman, who was injured. She remained with the remnants of the fighters in the central ghetto after May 10th 1943, where they continued to hold out. Feitze's name is noted amongst those who fell in the battle of the Warsaw ghetto.

In 1939 our brilliant works came to an end. Some of the members returned to their homes in Suchowola out of their love for their parents and the desire to be with them in times of trouble. Only a few remained in training in faith of making Aliyah. Yes, it was just an allusion the Germans would permit the possibility of Aliyah, and many members of the public believed it. The Chalutz movement did not stop operating on both sides of the divide, the Soviet zone or the German – Nazi zone. When the war broke out all of the Lodz kibbutz moved to Warsaw, leaving just one boy and 10 girls. We walked our way through the upheaval that had engulfed all of the public, Jews and Poles alike. The Nazi planes came down and showered us with deadly fire from their machine guns. Of the Suchowolan members were with me Masha Bagner, Feitze Rvov and Reuven'tchik. He became ill on the way and walked with a temperature of 40 degrees [Celsius]. I didn't know what to do. I had a difficult decision to make: Stay with him or continue without him (I was one of those responsible for the group). Reuven'tchik read my mind and said: “Continue without me and get to safe haven”. Our intent was to the Romanian border and from then to make Aliyah. On our way we passed deserted and burnt villages, and after many trials reached Warsaw. There I met Baitzel Tron, injured in his head. I helped him as best as I could. After a month I met up with Reuven'tchik who was preparing to return home to Suchowola.

In Warsaw we reorganised the kibbutz life anew: To establish soup kitchens for the area's refugees, to arrange illegal border crossings to Lithuania, Hungary and Romania. Even in the difficult days after the Germans entered Warsaw did we not give up our quest to make Aliyah, even formal approaches to German authorities. We were naive and thought they would no–doubt be glad to be rid of us and let us make Aliyah. Oy, how we were misled….

Nevertheless, in the beginning of 1940 hundreds and thousands of Jews made it to Lithuania, Hungary and Romania, and from there managed to make it to the land of Israel with fake passports: as Japanese, Turkish or subjects of other countries we'd never heard of.

Reuven'tchik reached Suchowola that was then under Soviet occupation. He immediately revived the local movement under difficult and underground ways. The members organised themselves in groups of five and would meet each time in a different place. The centre of the movement was Vilna [Vilnius], from where emissaries would go to all parts of Poland and in their hands printed materials and instructions to the branches.

Reuven'tchik did not satisfy himself just with Suchowola. He was responsible for the entire region and organised its branches. He was the force behind the movement and he went about his work taking many risks, since there were informants in the crowd.

I have not been in Suchowola since 1938. I spoke to my father by telephone from Bialystok in late January 1940, and my mother visited me there. Had I gone home I would have been arrested by the “Yevsekim”. My job was to get to Romania and to “open the borders”, that is, make contact with smugglers who would in exchange for money smuggle our people in Kolomea in Galicia [now: Ukraine] to Romania. But the NKVD (Soviet secret police) arrested me on the Romanian border. In the Russian prison and got news about Reuven'tchik, of course in secret writing and in hints, on the extensive works of our members throughout Poland and Germany. After the Nazi occupation of the Soviet area Reuven'tchik continued to endanger himself and called members to be battle–ready. He warned of complacency amongst the public, left for Bialystok and was one of the pillars of the fighters that prepared them for an uprising.Along with the commander of the Bialystok ghetto, Mordechai Tahnnenbaum. The uprising did not succeed, but many Bialytok members managed with the help of our members, to reach ranks of the Partizans. Reuven'tchik met his end in the Bialystok ghetto uprising, when he blew up the German arms supply depot.

After the war I heard from Bronka (a member of the Grodno branch), one of those important liaison persons who transferred weapons, that she together with Hershel Rosenthal from Yishinovka visited the Suchowola ghetto. They brought weapons, however the local members would not accept them since they could not contemplate an uprising. The hunger and fear had confused their minds and they were not prepared to leave their parents, and so their fate was sealed and they did not die a hero's death as did Reuven'tchik their colleague.

Feit'ze Rvov and my sister Shaina were in the Warsaw ghetto. In 1941 they were organised in the agricultural kibbutz named after Tshernikov and assisted the fighters with the tasks allotted to them. In 1943 they were killed along with the remnants of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

A few of our members made it to safe haven. But on most were struck down. They did not merit to make Aliyah….

 

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