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The Jewish Scout Movement
“Hashomer Hatzair” in Zloczew

by Yaacov Freund

Translated from Hebrew by Moshe Shubinsky


At the end of the First World War, Jewish life in Zloczew started to change. It was different from what used to be before the war. During the war, Jewish life concentrated around a variety of cultural organisations owing their alliances to political parties. Those organisations were “Culture Farein” (Culture Club) “Hazamir” (the nightingale), the Dramatic Section and the Sanitary Section and so on.

With the end of the war, the town's youth started moving away in waves towards the big cities - Lodz, Kalisz, and so on and some left the country heading for Germany, Belgium, France, and even to the USA. However, with the reorganisation of the political parties, it was the turn of the youth movements to come to life the parties of the left-Poalei Zion Small (Workers of Zion Left), the Bund (Communists), started their own, leading to consternation amongst the Zionist movement as they felt left behind the other parties in their activities amongst the youth. So, it was decided to start a new Zionist youth movement. The task was given to me and I willingly accepted. A choice to start a movement such as Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) could not be bad, as it was a National Jewish Scout movement, which, while being Zionist, had no political involvement. As a teacher, with a close interest in education and as an ardent Zionist, I saw this movement as a challenge, which I felt I was well suited for. On the 5th of Av (August), at the end of the summer of 1921, during the school holidays, when not having to study released a lot of enthusiasm and youthful vigour, a large group of Jewish boys and girls, all local school pupils, gathered in a Zionist organisation house. Directed by Yehiel Freedman (now Shlomi) and the author, they were there for the first meeting of the first group - “Nemerim” (Tigers), which was incorporated as part of the scouting movement “Hashomer Hatzair”. We sat them all on two benches, facing each other, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder and after a bit of explanation as to what we were trying to do, we proceeded to have a singsong and so, the torch was lit and our hearts warmed from the heat as we now formed a spiritual bond amongst the people who were present, as it was written in our constitution - “The Shomer is a brother of the Shomerim” (The Guard is the brother of the Guards).

The Hashomer Hatzair Group

 

The Shomer Hatzair Certificate

As a core component of our spiritual and social ideology, the following was written into our mission statement and on our flag the need to grow a young Hebrew generation, standing tall and to teach it to help itself and its comrades at every place and at every hour. In the opening of the Shomer, between its institutions we must emphasis the feeling of discipline. While giving the movement's members news of everyday life, we instilled in them feelings of nationality and morality, hoping to create physically strong and brave youths, strong in spirit and in body.

Following on from the first group “Nemerim”, we soon organised other groups- “Lillit” a female group headed by Kuta Freedman (Rip), “Shualin” (Foxes), for boys, “Shoshanin” (Irises), for girls and “Nesharim” (Eagles) for boys “Giborim” (Braves) for boys and “Htikva” (Hope), for girls. The “Ken” (Nest), became like a magnet for all the youths in the town and we grew at such a rate that no other youth movement had known anything like it.

Educating for morality, friendship, brotherhood and love of other men, nature and flora and fauna and above all, love of country, which meant Eretz Israel, our one and only homeland. This became the essence of our being as a youth movement. Life at the nest was a hive of activity, singing together not just for the pleasure of hearing it, but as a modern substitute for religiosity. A mutual bond was created forming, as if by magic, a solid block out of a group of individuals. The movement conquered with its truth and moved and brought together different hearts. It was therefore, the essence of the Shomer idea of education. Love for beauty and for higher things found its expression in singing, and singing in public returned the power of expression for many who lacked it.

Searching in the Nest

To demonstrate just how strong the spiritual bond of the members of the movement was, and their attachment and loyalty to the nest the following story can be told

One evening, with the nest full of youths, the local police chief, Kliniavski, appeared with a group of policemen and ordered everybody to leave the hall. To his great surprise, nobody moved from his place. This police chief, a known ant-Semite riddled with prejudices against the Jews, had many conflicts with me over the years. Furious that Jewish youth had the temerity to disobey his orders, he repeated his command by shouting, but again, nobody moved and I had to tell him very simply -“here, I am the commander”. For a while he stood still, frozen like a statue, but then he turned to me and said, “tell these people to get out as I want to carry out a search” and the order was given to leave the room but not to disperse. It was worthwhile noting here that “Hashomer Hatzair” did not have a licence in our town and our activities was carried out under the guise of a cultural organisation. Nothing illegal or criminal was found and the search was done, just like all the other searches coming after it, as a form of harassment.

Because of the special nature of the movement, accepting new members was restricted, but in spite of that we became the biggest youth movement in the town and the best and most attractive one. The space in the nest became too confined to accommodate all those who wanted to take part. The name of the Zloczew Hashomer spread far and wide. The main leadership in Warsaw quite often had a good word to say about our town, saying “Take them as an example and take note of what they do”, when advising people from other towns.

The Shomer constitution was followed to the letter, even the slightest deviation could result in dismissal from the nest but, in spite of that, during the four years of my leadership, I can only remember just one case of membership being denied although there were cases of members being tested, but always coming out very well.

Zionist Activities

These were expressed in various ways - education for Judaism, Jewish consciousness, Hebrew language, knowledge of Eretz Israel and its history and settlement, the songs, the flora and fauna and the climate. All were widely discussed and formed a strong base for the educational, spiritual, ideological parts of Hashomer Hatzair. Gathering money for the Jewish National Fund and other causes and other money raising activities such as plays etc, filled our time and made us feel useful to the community. In general, every Zionist occasion was emphasized by the Shomerim.

Lag Ba'Omer fire in the forest

 

Laying the Cornerstone to the Hebrew University (1924)

On that day, to mark something that had never happened before, a holiday was declared and we had a letter sent to the general government school to explain how that day was important and how the pupils should be free to take part in a special celebration on that day as they would have been punished should they have attended without permission. We had a parade in the town from the nest to the Cerkaski Square, which filled out the streets and lanes with throngs flocking from all directions to the square. The Jewish children of Zloczew were invited to take part and they marched along in their best clothing and brought a lot of joy to the Jews of the town. Children were given presents and the joy was great and so the people of the town, Jews and Gentiles together realised what a big Zionist occasion that was, the occasion of the foundation of the Hebrew University in Eretz Israel.

Journey to Lutotow

In the fullness of time, we were invited by the Zionist organisation in Lutotow, a small town, about 12km from Zloczew, to help them raise their Zionist consciousness and awareness as well as their morale. In general, Lutotow had a strong Jewish tradition and a Jewish school with four grades where we were put up. In the evening, we undertook all kinds of scouting activities accompanied by singing and dancing. This procession became the talk of the town amongst the Jews who started gathering in the school and soon the schoolyard was completely full and this carried on till the early hours. The next day, departing from the town, Mr. Herschel Berkowitz, the chairman of the Zionist organisation and the spokesman for Zionism in the area, said to me “This was an unforgettable experience for the Jews of Lutotow, and we will not forget it fast, you have succeeded in transplanting a part of the scenery of Eretz Israel and its folklore to the schoolyard here in our town, You have done so much for Zionism, more than ten speeches by famous speakers”. We also had a thank you letter expressing the same sentiments.

The local council of Hashomer Hatzair in Zloczew
Seated from right to left-Yehuda Davidovitch, Mania Kempinski,
Benek Freedman, Manush Davidovitch, Yaakov Freund,
Zenia Davidovitch, Markovitch. Back row-Medzia Davidovich,
Gita Freedman, Gia Davidovitch (in black), Levi Laupert

 

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