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[Page 91]

The Hashomer Hatzair Movement
in Turka During its First Years

by Yitzchak Rand of Merchavia

Uncaptioned: Yitzchak Rand

At the end of the First World War, our family found itself in Czechia, where we were refugees for four years. We returned home with the other refugees at the time of the declaration of independence of the Czechoslovak Republic. We made our journey on a transport train, and reached our destination of Turka after eight days. When the train reached the village of Jawora, the locomotive rebelled against its conductors and refused to continue… The reason for the rebellion – the fuel ran out. When the passengers found out, they spread through the adjacent forest to collect wood to fuel the locomotive. They returned with bundles of wood on their backs. The locomotive had sufficient fuel, and continued to bring us home.

I was a 12 year old boy when I returned to Turka. Fragments of pictures are preserved in my memory, some clear and some blurry, from the realities of the town at that time. Around the time we returned, we found ourselves caught up in the war between the Poles and the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians were fighting for their independence in Eastern Galicia, whose population was, as is known, primarily Ukrainian. I understood the justice of the Ukrainian cause only in my adulthood, when I found it hard to understand how the Polish nation, which had just been freed from its own oppression, learned so quickly how to suppress another nation. However, when I had already returned to Turka, I felt the injustice of the oppression of another people in a very tangible sense: for the Ukrainians, themselves oppressed, oppressed and afflicted another nation that dwelt in their midst -- the Jews. This was not only political oppression, but rather straightforward maltreatment. I recall how Ukrainian soldiers snatched Jews on the street for various types of work, and how they stole their property.

It was not only the war between the nationalities that imposed fear upon the Jewish residents of Turka. During the war as well as after it, Europe suffered from an illness that

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afflicted the population without discrimination based on race and religion – “Hispanka”[1] – which did not pass over Turka. Dozens of people became ill daily (in our seven person family, only one person evaded it), and the number who died was significant enough.

 

Vibrant Life Amongst the Ruins

The town was destroyed. Many houses were not yet renovated after the destruction that had been perpetrated by the soldiers of the Czar. Amidst all this, we can be surprised as to how a vibrant national and cultural life flourished through these disasters. Various parties and circles were formed, which appeared on the election lists. A local drama troupe was founded (I will never forget the strong experience that I had when, as a 12-year-old child, I attended the performance of The Jewish King Lear). Enthusiasm for Zionism was felt due to the influence of the Balfour Declaration. The enthusiasm also affected circles which were far from Zionism, and even opposed it. The study of the Hebrew Language served as an expression of the nationalist-Zionist spirit. One could hear people delving into the depths of Hebrew grammar, and debating whether the word “shulchan” (table) is feminine or masculine – for the word “shulchan” in the singular seems to be masculine, whereas the plural “shulchanot” has the markings of a feminine word. The debate between the supporters of the masculine version and the feminine version continued until they asked a man of authority, the Hebrew teacher Schreiber, who gave his verdict.

Not only did they study Hebrew. The desire to know, to understand and to study was felt. Since the gymnasium had not yet been founded, they all studied “general subjects”, which included German language and literature. The names of the German poets and philosophers were known by everybody and served as a topic for debates on the street and in meetings that were convened. It was a common sight: people wandering through the streets of the city with heavy books under their shoulders – a sign of erudition and intelligence.

 

The Hashomer Hatzair Chapter

The Hashomer Hatzair movement had a special place in communal life. When I returned with my family to Turka at the end of 1918, a Hashomer Hatzair chapter already existed, one of the first chapters of this movement in Galicia. It had two sections: for boys – headed by Philip Weissman, the son of a half-assimilated family; and for girls – headed by Abba Chushai – already at that time an active youth, encouraging others to activism as well. When these two sections united after some time, Abba Chushai became the head of the entire chapter.

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During those days, the young man Anshel Treiber often visited our house with a bundle of books under his arm. He had been our neighbor before the war, and today is a member of Beit Alfa. He is the one who told us about the Shomer organization (“farein”), in which he was a member. Due to the influence of his stories, my sister decided to “register” me in the organization. Thus, at age 12, did I enter the Hashomer Hatzair movement, which was simply called “farein,” to differentiate it from the other organizations, which were called “Tzionister farein,” “Mizrachi farein” etc. The “farein”, with the definitive article, as the “Hashomer farein”, without any additional adjectives.

It was known that all of the Shomrim were “treifniks”, “apikorsim” [heretics], and Sabbath violators. Because of this, many parents objected to their children joining the movement. The children gave in to the parents or continued to attend Hashomer Farein secretly, without their knowledge. The situation was not thus with my parents: not only were they followers of tradition, but I myself was a very Orthodox youth, with peyos, studying in cheder, worshipping every day and even reciting all the additions to the prayers. Their Orthodoxy and my Orthodoxy did not prevent me from belonging to the Farein. It should be known: I was the only Orthodox child in the chapter. My Orthodoxy also did not keep me from basing myself within the spirit of national and social revolution that was pervading the city at that time. I felt the refreshing atmosphere that was penetrating Turka from the outside world, as a result of the “storm and the breach” that had passed over Europe at the end of the First World War. Our first group head was Aharon Rozler, who took it upon himself to educate us to be “proud Jews and good people”. How does one become a proud Jew? -- by studying Hebrew and fostering the aspiration to make aliya to the Land. How does one become a good person? – through fostering humanitarian values. We had to learn the ten commandments of Hashomer by heart. Group activities took place every day of the week, and on the Sabbath, we would go on a hike in the Shomer Forest, accompanied by dozens of youths who were not members of the Farein.

 

Manual Labor

As has been stated, there was no gymnasium in the city, and aside from a few exceptions, the members of the chapter were lacking in higher education. The chapter wished to impart general knowledge along with the Hebrew and general educational theory. It became known that the group heads, despite coming from well-to-do families, were lacking higher education. This had its effect on the education within the groups. I recall how one of the heads of the groups read to us 12-13 year old boys some inferior novel of Lateiner (this was during the time of the Ukrainian retreat and the conquest of the city by the Poles). Most of the education was indeed related to the Land of Israel, to the “building of the Land and the nation.” A great deal was said about the normal composition of the Jewish nation

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with most of its members working as middlemen, and about the need to exchange the ethereal livelihoods for building and creativity, mainly through the work of the land. As a first step toward realizing this sublime goal, the chapter leased a plot of land on the other side of the city, and developed a splendid vegetable enterprise. It was not only to agriculture that one had to return, but to labor in general. Every work, even the most black and “degrading” was holy. The vegetables had to be shipped to the city. What did the older members of the chapter, headed by Abba Chushai, do? They took a wagon, loaded the vegetables on it, and, instead of horses, harnessed themselves to the wagon and dragged it through the streets of the city, as an example to the masses that they do not reject any labor. Some residents of the city disparaged these “horses,” whereas others were enthused with this idealism and personal example.

We were not educated only for fitness for work. No less value was placed on education to the love of the Land of Israel and the people of Israel. We studied “Palestina-Graphia” and the history of the nation, and we enthusiastically sang the songs of the Land. However, we gained the bulk of our Zionist faith and enthusiasm from the “Hashomer” book, which includes chapters of life and might from the era of Hashomer (from whose name was the movement called Hashomer – later Hashomer Hatzair). I recall my great emotion upon reading the braved deeds of the Shomrim, including Marika Chazanovich who fell on the fields of Merchavia. I did not know that the fate of my life would be tied with that place…

 

The First Group Makes Aliya to the Land!

Our eyes looked forward to aliya to the Land as the realization of a distant vision. This vision began to unfold before our eyes with the preparation for aliya of the first group of Shomrim in 1920. The Shomrim from Turka were among the first ones of the Third Aliya. Not all of those who made aliya were members of the movement. From among those who joined the group a few months before their aliya, one lives to this day in the Kibbutz of Ramat Yochanan – Elazar Weiss. The preparations for the aliya of the first group inspired great emotion among the Jews of the city – some were enthusiastic, others cursed, and even chased their children out of the house. The chapter turned into a sewing workshop in which the women of the city sewed clothes for the first pioneers on a voluntary basis from textiles that were donated in part by the residents of the city.

The great, awaited day arrived, the day of actualization of the sublime vision, the day of aliya to the Land. The previous night was a night of watching. We, all the members of the chapter, waited in the hall of the chapter, nervously awaiting the great moment when the entire group would bid farewell to our beloved head of our chapter – Abba Chushai.

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At 3:00 a.m., there was a roll call of the chapter, and the farewell words of Abba streamed forth and penetrated the recesses of the hearts… At the end of the farewell speech, the entire chapter organized itself by groups. With coordinated steps and measured paces, to the light of the clear moon, they accompanied the first group of pioneers passing through the roads of the city on the way to the train. The entire way, the marchers marched to the sounds of the city band, which brought many people out of their houses.

 

Hashomer Hatzair in Turka

The chapter went through a great deal of development from its founding during the war years until the aliya of the first group. The kids turned into goats -- to group heads and new counselors. The work in the chapter took on a more serious character and even we 15 year olds began to prepare for aliya.

Once again: the gymnasium had not yet been renovated, and anyone who wished to finish high school – and there were such people amongst us – did this as an externist (the exam was in Sambor). Then a call came from Abba Chushai from the Land: “All of you should study trades. In contrast to the 'life of the air' of the Jews, the Land requires trades.” Indeed, all of the members of the older group began to study trades such as locksmithing, woodcutting, etc. I chose carpentry. The matter was not easy for me. My parents, my mother in particular, objected to this. I still studied in cheder, and my mother, in accordance with the advice of my rebbe, desired that I continue in Yeshiva. I presented

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my parents with a fait accompli. I began to work with Mendel Feiler the carpenter without asking permission of my parents. Having no choice, they accepted the situation.

Our entire interest was then directed toward aliya and actualization in the kibbutz. This actualization became an obligatory principle in the movement. We founded a fund for the group that would assist the members of restricted means when the awaited time for aliya arrived.

What were the sources of income of the fund? First of all – chopping trees. We had strong competitors for this work – the gentile woodcutters, who were experienced veterans in this trade, and earned their livelihood from it. And we were only 14 or 15 year old children… If you reduce the fees for this work (I am recalling our faults here), and factor in the sympathy of several Jews for this, we succeeded in taking on this “coarse” work – the work of the lower class gentiles. How great was our pride in that we succeeded at this holy work! We did this work primarily in the late afternoon hours during the winter. One day, as I was among the wood choppers and evening had already fallen, we still had a few trees to chop. It was not worthwhile to put off the completion of the tree chopping for another day, and therefore, we decided to finish it that night to the light of a kerosene lantern. This decision caused me a great deal of perplexity and a difficult internal battle. I was still an Orthodox youth who worshipped three times a day. The time for mincha had arrived, and here I was – chopping trees! A difficult battle raged inside of me, what was I to do? How could I go to the synagogue while the group of workers was toiling so diligently for this holy objective?! However, if I keep my faith with my friends and the work – I would be sinning before G-d? I struggled hard with myself. Finally, I found a solution that satisfied my conscious, and certainly also G-d. I worshipped as I was chopping trees. Only two people heard my prayers: G-d and me.

Another source of income for the fund was the distribution of wedding invitations, porting, and other such jobs. We would also dress up on the evening of Purim, visit the homes of the wealthy people, and sing the songs of the Land. The head of the house would donate his part through signing his name on a sheet of paper. We did not reject any work, even the most coarse and difficult. On the contrary, the more coarse or difficult the work was, the great our pride in it.

 

The Aliya of the Second Group

A short time after the aliya of the first group of Shomrim in 1920, the second group made aliya. This group consisted of “Stam Chalutzim” [General Pioneers] (a movement which was under the influence of Hashomer Hatzair). After them the rest of the veterans of the chapter went. In the interim (it was the year 1922-23),

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signs of disappointment set in to the movement due to the realities of the Land of Israel that afflicted the members of the Third Aliya. News came from the Land about the disbanding of Zionist projects. Many left the kibbutzim and the Land, some to seek their personal fortune, and others to build Socialism in Russia. (The latter, as is known, built Socialism in Stalin's prison and never returned from there.)

The influence of the situation in the Land on the movement in the Diaspora was destructive, and the Turka chapter, one of the finest and strongest in Galicia, was also affected. One example: at this point, the chapter was housed in a four-by-four room which barely had room for a table with two benches – and even that tiny room was large enough to accommodate the members of the chapter in the city, who numbered at most 6 or 7 boys and girls of ages 16-17. These youths made aliya in 1926, and were among the founders of Kibbutz Aliya Aleph of Hashomer Hatzair of Galicia, which was the kibbutz that later settled in Merchavia.

How serious was the situation of the chapter during that time: the disappointment and despair regarding the situation in the land affected everything. The Zionist movement was at a nadir. All aliya to the Land ceased. We, the 6 or 7 youths of the movement, guarded the flame so that it would not go out. Despite the uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, we did not give up on our faith in our Zionist mission. We knew that the Zionist eternity and the upbuilding of the Land would not prove false. Indeed, there was reward for our activities.

When the end of the crisis came with the beginning of the Fourth Aliya in 1924, we succeeded in rebuilding atop the ruins of the chapter. We rented a large dwelling. We broadened our literary framework, we added new groups, we reestablished Hechalutz, and our members engaged in intensive activities. One of the great successes of the chapter during that timeframe was the fact that a large number of Beis Midrash students joined Hashomer Hatzair – the Bilu Group. It was one of the signs of the times that a portion of them rejected Zionism after their aliya. They left the Land or were expelled from it, and like the previous deserters, experienced Stalin's prison. Through intensive activity in the Hashomer chapter, we, the older group, made preparations for achieving our goal of making aliya to the Land. We were prepared for such already in 1924, at the beginning of the Fourth Aliya, but the issuance of passports was delayed by the Polish authorities, and our aliya only took place two years later, in 1926. We set out on our way with the knowledge and faith that we left behind a strong, vibrant chapter that would continue to prepare its members for actualization. Indeed, we were not disappointed. Even though a chapter of Gordonia was set up in Turka as well as a Communist movement also began to organize the youth of the city; Hashomer Hatzair saw success in its actions, and the Shomrim and Shomrim Chalutzim made aliya to the various kibbutzim. Members of Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz from Turka are found in many Kibbutzim – Beit Alfa, Mishmar

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Haemek, Merchavia, Mizra, Sarid, Tel Amal, Gat, Hamaapil, Kfar Masaryk, and Ramat Yochanan.

We cannot forget the help of the friends of the movement who formed the Supervisory Committee (Opajka). First and foremost, we recall the activities of Naftali Kraus, who never withheld his assistance from the chapter. Naftali Kraus was able to appreciate the great power realized by his movement, a movement that not only preaches appropriately, but also actualizes what they preach. We found him to be a help and support for us in any way needed during times of decline as well as times of pride.

 

The Influence of the Chapter on General Social Life

The influence of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter in Turka on the Jewish community and the youth in the city far exceeded its numbers. Their role in the Zionist activity in the city was great, and they did a great deal toward the revolution of Hebrew as a spoken language. It was true that many people outside of Hashomer Hatzair learned Hebrew, but the acquisition of the language by the Shomrim was identified with personal realization as well as aliya to the Land. At all celebrations and other cultural events organized by the chapter, Abba Chushai began his speeches in Yiddish and then switched to Hebrew. Our movement was the only one that put on performances in Hebrew. Hebrew was the language of the educational activities in the groups of members as well as the spoken language of the graduates of the chapter. The study of the Hebrew Language and its use as a day-to-day language set the Turka chapter apart from the other chapters in Galicia, which conducted themselves in the Polish Language.

The chapter of Turka differed from the other chapters of the movement in other areas as well! When she participated in a debate at a certain national convention of the movement, one of the graduates of the chapter, Tzipora Chushai, characterized the Turka chapter as “simplicity within greatness.” We absorbed our simplicity from the populist atmosphere of the town and its realistic approach to life. Unlike other chapters, which were raised on the lap of Polish Literature, we were diligent in the appreciation of the value of Hebrew and Yiddish Literature. We suffered along with Morris Rosenfeld, the poet of the Jewish “shop” in America – who portrayed in his Yiddish poems the suffering and tribulations of the Jewish proletariat. Along with Bialik, we expressed pride through “Al Hatzipor” about the warm, beautiful Land. From Mendele Mocher Seforim, we learned about the forlorn Jewish towns in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Deep in our souls, we lived the experiences of Amnon and Tamar in Mapu's Ahavat Tzion, and we joined Feuerberg in his tragic question “Where?” We laughed heartily along with Shalom Aleichem, whose books we dramatized and performed (we used horsehairs for makeup, and stuck them to faces with hot carpenters' glue!...)

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Hashomer Hatzair in Turka

We were anchored in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, but this did not restrict our horizon. The German Language opened a window to the wide world for us, for it had large inroads in Galicia, which had formerly been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through that language, we became familiar with the creations of the great German poets and writers, as well as the creations of Ivson the Norwegian and especially the Russian classicists.

Due to the lack of a gymnasium, anyone who wished to learn studied with a private teacher. A gymnasium student would have free time for additional study. On the other hand, we were studying trades, which meant that we had a difficult ten hour workday over and above the hours we spent at the activities of the chapter. We were not left with much time for studies. Nevertheless, we studied and read a great deal, making use of every free moment. Our work prevented us from taking hikes in the nature as well as engaging in scouting activities, which were cultivated in other chapters. The scenery of Turka was known for its beauty and charm, exciting the eyes of all beholders, and strangers came from afar to enjoy the shade of the forests and clear air. The movement in Galicia desired the pleasant environment of the Carpathians, which surrounded our city, for its summer encampments and annual conventions.

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Starting from 1918 until 1926, the year of our aliya, Hashomer summer encampments took place in Tarnowa Wizna (twice), Strzyłki, Ilnik, and Jablonka. We would go out on a hike one day a year – on Tisha Beav. We did not work that day, so we enjoyed a full day in the bosom of nature.

Another point of praise for the Turka chapter was the material assistance given to the needy Shomrim. One of the rooms of the chapter headquarters had potatoes, and anyone in need could take some home. I recall one Purim when one of the older members (Hela Reifler) took measurements of our heads for hats. This was strange to me for I did not need such. A few days later I saw a poor lad wearing a new hat – given to him as a Purim gift. I then understood the reason for the collective measurement.

*

The Hashomer Hatzair chapter in Turka was a branch of a thik tree that sent forth deep roots in the reality of the Jewish nation. The tree was the Hashomer Hatzair movement, whose goals were the freedom of man, the nation, and the working class. The members of the chapter who today are found in kibbutzim, are fulfilling the “historical prescription of the movement and its line of upward development! When fathers, sons and grandchildren march together under the same flag…” they “draw from deep sources the suffering of the Jewish nation and the vision of its redemption; from deep sources of the suffering of man and of the dream of liberation.”

I am convinced that many natives of the city who were educated in Hashomer Hatzair during their youth, whether they are found today in kibbutzim or outside of them, whether they continued on in this movement or found their paths in other movements, will remember forever the days of their youth as Shomrim.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Return


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Ideas and Memories from the
“Hashomer Hatzair” Group of Turka

by Yafa Gorlitzki of Tel Aviv

 

Uncaptioned: Yafa Gorlitzki

Normally, it is difficult for a person to write down the experiences and impressions that are hidden away deep in her life. It is similarly very difficult to forge a bridge between the present and the past, and to bring forth memories of the family, sociological and geographical environment that etched deep impressions in the personality of a person.

And behold, it was a wonder. At the moment that I sat down to bring forth memories of my distant past from decades ago, the wellsprings of impressions of my town magically opened up, and I find myself in a sense of alertness and strong emotion, as if this happened just yesterday…

I see my beautiful town surrounding by high mountains, valleys, expansive forests and green meadows that spread out to the endless distance – everything hints to song… You would feel that every place is a part of your personality and soul. That beauty and natural splendor that you absorbed within yourself will never be erased. Similarly, the experiences of life in the Hashomer Hatzair movement are so strong and unforgettable.

As is known, this was a historic era; the birth of new events and processes of development that imparted a sense of yearning for a new world and way of life in opposition to the existing order. The First World War, bringing destruction and ruin in its wake, educated the person to understand the sociological factors that are connected to war. After the war, the downtrodden person found a way of life in scientific literature.

Notions of national liberation, social justice, and proper, guaranteed human rights -- Hashomer Hatzair began its existence within this historical climate. I entered the movement after the aliya of the first group to the Land of Israel. Our chapter was not large; however it encompassed the best of the academic, enlightened youth who streamed to it from all segments of the population. Certain members from the extreme religious stratum also joined the chapter. The chapter included several groups, headed by a group of counselors whose job it was to impart

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concepts of Zionism and Socialism to their charges and to prepare them for a life of actualization. A very serious spirit pervaded the chapter. The members thirsted for knowledge and the counselors had to take upon themselves the difficult task of educating the younger generation that was filled with progressive aspirations. This was a stormy period, fraught with ideological dilemmas. Would the mountains, gardens, and meadows in which stormy discussions and debates took place had the ability to whisper – they would reveal a great deal of the epos of the lives of our young people in the chapter. The process of personal and intellectual maturation took place early. With the urgent pressure of the objective conditions, our youth in the chapter broke forth from the realm of normal youthful life that finds its expression in personal objectives and narrowly focused matters. The vital energy of our youth turned toward the constructive vista of pioneering actualization.

 

Hashomer Hatzair in Turka

Our chapter forged a serious type of youth, hungry for knowledge, with a healthy psychology and optimism. Our lives as youths could provide a great deal of didactic material for professional education in the aim of raising the energy level of young people toward a sublime level of constructive cultural life. Indeed, our lives were full of content, and variegated. Our chapter was among the finest of the chapters of Hashomer Hatzair.

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There are those who tend to refer to a period of life such as ours in the chapter as a romantic era -- one that passes in a usual manner with age and with time, never to return. However, that was not the way it was. Different logic indeed applied at different times; but, on the other hand, an eternal truth existed, and no small portion of the seeds of this eternal truth was hidden within our weltanschauung during the era under discussion. One should not think that the pioneering spirit became outmoded with the passage of time. This was a pioneering ideology that imparted a healthy approach to life, on account of the pioneering education. Many of the members of the chapter remained in kibbutzim, and some are even involved in the development of communal life in the Land. This is true even though there is no shortage of people who remained outside the realm to some degree, for the spark of new life in our Land did not enchant them fully.

During that era, the nature of strong youths was forged in such a manner that the era of technology and automation did not have the power to cut off the truth of their lives, lead them off of their way of life, and remove them from their world of sublime values.

Turka was a superbly ordered town. Would it be that I had the ability to describe the picture in its entirety, as the parents returned from the synagogue on the Sabbath imbued with a spirit of holiness, while the youths swarmed on the streets discussion fine literature and sciences. Apparently, most of the parents were graced with a healthy educational instinct, and their relatively calm reaction flowed from their understanding of the danger of fighting against the nature, aspirations and interests of the younger generations. Therefore, most of the members did not stumble upon serious opposition from their parents.

Endless enthusiasm pervaded on the Sabbath. The youth would stroll through the streets of the city on their way to excursions, singing songs of enthusiasm and pride. The youth in the chapter would hike in the nearby area as well as farther off places, travel to summer camps, to work places, and to pioneering hachshara – all without serious conflict. This was a sort of agreement between two worlds that lived under one roof, as they toiled incessantly to preserve peace and to ensure that one side does not vex the other. The parents saw that their children were abandoning their way of life in accordance with the spirit of the times.

As is known, our city was blessed with a spirit of splendor and glory. The geographical environment imbued with the muse of the arts. The railroad entrance to the city went through a tunnel. It is told that people worked for years until they bore a hole through the tall mountain, and the tunnel was one of the largest in Poland. When the train exited the tunnel, it would “fly” through the air on the bridge that spanned the river. Indeed the hand of the Creator granted our city an abundance of mountains, valleys, plains and rivers. The power of expression is insufficient to describe the experiences that made their imprint on the character of the person. It is said that the members of our chapter were sentimental. Indeed, the

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splendid nature wove very thin strands in the spiritual realities, and a person could sense the secret of the world and the language of the inanimate…

*

During that era, we loved the books of Meterling and Tagore. We did not only read the books, but we lived them. The concepts described therein were not merely abstractions. We were sated with happiness and joy in the bosom of nature: whether on group hikes or alone, far away from the bustle of the city, seeking, “a quiet corner to dream…” Indeed, our lives in the Hashomer Hatzair movement were filled with meaning. This was a romanticism that was not ephemeral. Rather, it forged the person to understand and love his fellow.

These are only a minute portion of impressions from our beautiful city that was destroyed by the Nazi soldiers. Everything that took place there is hidden in all of our hearts until our final day.

 

Turka at the foot of the Kychera

 

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