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[Pages 176-182]

The Zionist Movement

By Yosef Nisnberg

Donated by William Kaufman

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Oh where are my comrades?
Do they still wander? Are they alive?
Or have they died?
Sing about the little cradle
Sing about the little goat
Sing about the poverty of the Jews

– L. Yafe

The Zionist movement in Zyrardow, the roots of which went back many years, renewed its activity soon after the German occupation during World War I, and became especially vibrant and strong with the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

The Agudat Hatsionim , which was already in existence, strove to take advantage of the favorable feelings toward Erets-Yisroel, and the enthusiasm that had engulfed large masses of Polish Jewry. Zionist propaganda found a receptive ear and warm response even in those circles that had earlier refused to consider something that seemed too secular and heretical. It became urgent to adapt the movement's methods to the new spirit of the times, and to the newly expanded opportunities. The existing Agudat was not prepared for this, because the majority of its officers were from the older generation, more “sedate,” prosperous people, who still breathed the romantic Love of Zion atmosphere of the past, who limited themselves to collecting money for the Jewish National Fund, selling a few “shekels”[1] and bringing in the occasional speaker from Warsaw.

In 1918 a new organization was founded, called Merkaz Hatsioni, which included all the more active officials of the earlier organization, as well as quite a significant number of new, young comrades, especially from among the Zionist youth, who were unable to freely express their nationalism in the nonpartisan, general library, where the ideological conflicts and the struggle for influence in the leadership were becoming sharper.

Merkaz Hatsioni grew quickly and developed a broad range of Zionist activities. They formed their own Yiddish-Hebrew library and reading room for members; and they organized readings on political and literary themes, evenings of open discussions; and musical evenings with local talent, as well as performers brought in from Warsaw.

During this period, the most important leaders and officers were Fayvl Rotshtayn, Avrom Yakob Mazelshtayn (who was especially active in disseminating the Zionist press and literature,) Hershl Yakubson, Itsik Orbakh, Sholem Blumenshtayn and myself (at that time much younger than the others mentioned but already playing an active organizational role), Rokhl Levitas, with very good propaganda and organizational skills, Yakob Boymerder, and Menakhem Landau. A bit later came the brothers Yehoshua and Moyshe Rozentsvayg, and their sister Khava, Rayzl Mazelshtayn, and Avrom Pasternak, a young , very devoted active comrade, who was, incidentally, among the very first Zionists from our shtetl to make Aliyah to Israel. With the coming of Merkaz Hatsioni the following also joined the membership: Moyshe Nayman, Khaim Itsik Altman, Khava Levitas and the very dedicated members, Shmuel Mazalshtayn, Motl Vaynberg, Avrom Tiger, Azriel Gavrilovitsh, Khanele Nayman and Leybl Funtovitsh.

The political developments and events of those years, when Poland became free and independent, the nationalistic and social fervor in Europe as a whole and in Russia in particular, naturally affected the Jewish world as well, and therefore the ideological differences became sharper. Different factions and groups formed within the Zionist movement. The differences between opposing ideological positions deepened over events and problems of the new conditions in general, and Jewish life in particular. Anything that happened in the great center of Jewish life, Warsaw, was reflected in our provincial town. After many years of working together despite internal differences, there came an organizational division.

The Merkaz Hatsioni, which for many years was located in the very center of town at 19 May First Street, was in 1927 taken over entirely by a new youthful rising force, which had actually begun to have influence in its ranks as early as 1919. This was the socialist Tseirei Tsion (Young Zionists) party, which, after it united with the Poalei Tsion–Right, became one of the largest in town.

The general Zionists, who were forced to leave the quarters they shared with the Merkaz, later formed a new party, Hertseliye, in 1928. Naturally, I'm not in a position to describe their activities, or those of any of the other Zionist or non-Zionist organizations and movements that had their lesser or greater position in Zyrardow, like the Poalei Tsion – Left, Histadrut, Revisionism, Mizrakhi, Aguda, the Bund, or the Communists. By the way, it should be noted that in general the relations among the parties in Zyrardow were civil, and based on mutual respect.

As noted, I was one of the first members of the Tseirei Tsion, at the beginning of Zionism in Poland, in 1918-19, and therefore, among those who laid the early foundations of the organization started several years later, the consolidated Tseirei Tsion, later combined with Poalei Tsion – Right. I also had the honor of contributing to the continuing growth of that movement, as a member of the leadership, until I made Aliyah in 1934.

For many years, the movement encompassed quite a large part of the older youth, a substantial number of who were drawn in the beginning from petit bourgeois and even Hasidic homes. Under the pressure of changing social conditions, these young people had more and more moved into productive employment. Involved in a constant struggle with other political movements and especially with the important and active Bundist movement for influence over the minds of the youth, we nevertheless managed to dominate the majority of the young and adult tailors and boot stitchers in Zyrardow. Thanks to tireless political and cultural efforts and education, in general our influence grew stronger in the communal life of the town.

Without question, the movement's continuing growth was the result of cooperative effort, selfless dedication and deeply held beliefs in shared ideals on the part of most of the members. They contributed greatly to the growth of the Poalei Tsion movement in various periods, beginning with the very first members of Tseirei Tsion – Avrom Yakob Mazelshtayn, Khava Levitas, Yakob Boymerder, Melekh Ayzenberg, and myself, Yosef Nisnberg, and a bit later, the grown youth who were active members, who also displayed much dedication to the movement, like the members of the party committee Avrom Pasternak, Shmuel Mazelshtayn, Ruven Vaynberg, Avrom Kshonzhenitser, Gutshe Nisnberg, Yosef Levitas and Tuvye Rotshtayn. Later, more young people became active, contributing to the growth of the party as members of the party committee – Yosef Haldzband, Itsik Frost, Mordkhe Boymerder, Leya Shtrasburg, Avrom Bromberg and the young members Leybl Funtovitsh, Shmuel Moshinski, Khaye Dzshalovska, Yankev Bresler, Moyshe Kimelfeld, Moyshe Meyer Poznanski, Moyshe Mendl Tupman, Mendl Nisnberg. Also, later, the active and dedicated members, the brothers Getsl and Natan Haldzband, and from the last period, the members Nakhman Vayntraub and Menakhem Poznanaski. Last, the devoted activist Levkovitsh. All of those mentioned did all that they could to help the development of the Poalei Tsion movement, the youth organization “Freedom”, and all other branches of the movement in Zyrardow.

A large portion of those mentioned are unfortunately no longer alive, and were killed by the Nazi murderers. Some are in Israel, having made Aliyah before the outbreak of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

The party developed a very varied range of activities in the social arena. They organized readings, reports, discussion evenings, and created literary groups. They organized excursions and Saturday mornings in the woods around town; a drama circle; and a chorus, Hzamir, under the direction of Yosef Levitas, which also benefited from the permanent participation of the member-musicians Shloyme Birnboym and Matias Vagner. Our literary-musical events and concerts were always big hits. It was also a generally recognized fact, that the most important Zionist work and fundraising for the Jewish National Fund was conducted by the Poalei Tsion–Right.

A separate youth organization was created, connected to the party, called “Freedom,” which quickly grew into a large force, and also had a big influence on the adult workers and shul youth. In addition, the party created a “League of Working People of Erets Yisroel,” which included all the friends of the workers' Histadrut in Israel, and raised a significant amount of money for the Palestine Workers' Fund, through various activities.

The Party also created a branch of the organization Hekhaluts, led by comrades Ruven Vaynberg, Itsik Frost, Leya Shtrasburg, Avrom Kshonzshenitser and Khane Malovantshik. Their main work was to propagandize the Hakhshore[2], Aliyah, and Hebrew courses. The branch also helped to organize and run a Hakhshore section, the Grukhuv kibbutz in Zyrardow.

There was also a sports club, Kraft Hapoel, or “Workers' Strength,” under the dedicated leadership of comrades Moyshe Zilbershtayn and Akerman. The club distinguished itself with it excellent playing, including competitions with accomplished Christian sportsmen.

In 1933, party members founded a department of Haavod, which organized the small-scale artisans and Zyrardow workers and was led by Shmuel Mazelshtayn. In 1932 the Grukhov kibbutz-Hakshore was founded. It struggled hard for survival, by finding various kinds of heavy work in the town and around it. In addition, the members also had to fight a political battle. On the party's initiative, a committee was formed, comprising various groups who gave moral support to the Hakhshore branch, and helped them find employment possibilities, as well as developing sympathetic feelings on the part of the majority of the Jewish population.

Although the party experimented with working in partnership with the I.L. Peretz Library on certain cultural projects, for various reasons these never went beyond some limited initial efforts.

It bears repeating that it was at the initiative of Poalei Tsion that a multi-party committee was formed to erect the memorial at the graves of the Jewish freedom fighters who were killed in 1906. This also brought honor and importance to the Jewish population, and strengthened their connection to the Polish socialist party, and led to joint efforts between Poalei Tsion and the socialists in mounting May 1st demonstrations. Incidentally, the erection of the memorial also was a way of thanking the former comrades and fellow fighters who emigrated and who belonged to the Zyrardover branch #501 of the Workmens Circle in America.

In a word, Poalei Tsion-Right grew into a great force and an important axle around which the active communal life of Zyrardow revolved.

In ending my remembrances, I will also fulfill a special obligation as an older comrade to the 5 younger “freedom comrades,” later fighters, who so valiantly fell in the heroic Warsaw Ghetto uprising – Itsik Blaushtayn, Itsik Grinboym, Aron Haldzband, Moyshe Tsigler and Fayvl Shvartshtayn. I mention their names with awe and pain for their young lives so tragically cut short. I am proud of the fact that all of them were comrades in the Zionist Socialist movement of Poalei Tsion and drank from our spring. Raised in the spirit and in the tradition of the most beautiful Jewish and universal humanist ideals, through fire and blood they resisted temptation and with honor passed the test of loyalty to the ideals in which they were raised. All five grew up together, dreamed, believed, and hoped together, and heroically fell together for the honor of the Jewish individual and the Jewish people. May their memory be praised and sanctified forever.

And looking back, there come to mind all the many tens of dear comrades with all their unique qualities and aspirations, and the tragic destruction of their hopes. And my heart fills with inconsolable sorrow.


Photos in order of appearance in the original text:

Page 176: A group of leaders of Agudat Hatsionim in 1916-17. From right to left,
First row, standing: Sholem Blumenshtayn, Yosef Nisnberg, Avrom-Yakob Mazelshtayn.
Second row, standing: Yehiel Muster (Skernovits); a second person from Skernovits, Yakob Boymerder, Boaz Plotsher.
Seated: Hershl Yakubson, Fayvl Totshtayn, Yehiel Linderberg. Directly in front: Dovid Pshikovski (Skernovits).
Page 177: The council of Merkaz Hatsionim and a group of comrades, in honor of the departure of Herr Avrom Pasternak for Eretz-Yisroel. From right to left, standing: Moyshe Rozentsvayg, Note Faygenboym, Yisroel Berkovitsh, Menakhem Landau, Yehoshua Rozentsvayg, Moyshe Nayman, Yosef Nisnberg. Seated: Khava Levitas, Yakob Boymerder, Avrom Pasternak, Fayvl Rotshtayn, and Rayzl Mazalshtayn.
Page 178: Membership card for Agudat Hatsionim in Zyrardow, #9 for the year 1920.
Page 179: Identification card for Merkaz Hatsionim, for member Avrom Mazelshtayn, from 1920.
Page 180: The leadership of the workers' sports club, “Power”.
Right to left, standing: Yisroel Goldberg, Leybl Rozenkrants, Moyshe Tupman.
Seated: Noakh Rozenkrants, Avrom Kshonzshenitser, Yosef Levitas, Munye Malovantshik and Moyshe Zilberman
Page 181: A group of active members of Merkaz Hatsionim.
Right to left, standing: Menakhem Landau, Matias Vagner, Avrom Pasternak, Reyzl Mazelshtayn, Peretz Fridman, Shmuel Mazelsthayn.
Seated: Yisroel Berkovitsh, Khava Levitas, and Dvore Vargatsh.
Page 182, top: The council of the General Zionist organization, Hertsiliya.
Right to left, seated: Motl Vaynberg, Yehiel Levkovitsh, Khava Rozentsvayg, Avrom Mordkhe Liktenshtayn, Menakhem Landau.
Standing: Yakob Grushka, Akiva Rozentsvayg, Khaye Goldberg (now in Israel), Ezriel Gabriolavitsh, and Yehoshua Rozentsvayg.
Page 182, bottom: Leadership and delegates to the council of “Freedom” in Zyrardow in 1927.
Right to left, standing: Shloyme Birnboym, Leybl Rotenberg, Leya Shtrasburg, Shmuel Shoshinski, Arye Gothard.
Seated: Yosef Gelson, Shmuel Mazelshtayn, Avrom Kshonzshenitser, Pinkhes Flantser, Leybl Funtovitsh, and Yosef Nisnberg.


Footnotes

  1. Tokens representing contributions to the Jewish National Fund. return
  2. Zionist training cooperative return

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