by Shoshana Lerman
Translated by Moses Milstein
Bilgoraj suffered a serious economic crisis during WWI when the Austrians occupied it. Everything stopped, the factories didn't operate, and there was no commerce other than in foodstuffs. It was so bad that the Jewish population of Bilgoraj was running out of food.
This situation gave the prominent people of the city no rest. With the initiative of Monik, Kubeh, and Esther Brafman, Perl and Golda Honigboim, Roize Shwerdshaft, Broche and Chaneh Groisman, Yakov Mermelstein, Shrentze Shapiro, and Hershke Goldbrenner, a public kitchen was created which provided lunches for any needy Bilgorajers.
There was a Jewish, Austrian army officer in Bilgoraj at the time, Schranz and his wife. They took over the entire initiative.
In order to fund the kitchen, a drama club was formed under the direction of a certain Matzek from Zamosc. They presented King Lear for the first time in Bilgoraj to great acclaim. They frequently put on various shows and this did in fact enable the kitchen to continue.
There was even a song composed about it.
The cholera and typhus epidemics that raged through Bilgoraj claimed many adult lives leaving many orphans behind. This same committee moved the kitchen which had been at Deskaches (Weiss), on Szewski Street, into David Furer's big building, and established an orphanage there. They brought the children there, treated them as if they were their own. They were bathed, received haircuts, cleaned up and were dressed in identical uniforms.
A large segment of youth was recruited to the work, and they put their heart and soul into it. They were divided into groups, and each group had to go on a given day to the kitchen to prepare the food.
Before Pesach, the same committee organized a lat, (baking matzos) which drew almost all the youth of the city.
Erev Pesach, every needy Jew in Bilgoraj received matzos and wine for Pesach.
Thanks go to the group of activists whose actions describe a beautiful chapter in the history of Bilgoraj. With the emergence of the Polish state, which had begun to look after social issues, the kitchen and the orphanage were closed.
by M. Oberhant, M. Groisman, A. Kronenberg
Translated by Moses Milstein
Before WWI, Bilgoraj belonged to Russia, and every freedom movement was forbidden. With the outbreak of the war in 1914, Austria occupied Bilgoraj, and soon after, Bilgoraj Jews began to feel like free people, and social life began to reawaken.
There were many Zionist Jewish officers in the Austrian army, and in 1916, the first Zionist organization in Bilgoraj was founded, and headed by Oizerkes (a one-time Austrian officer), Aharon Berman; Shper. Sh., Y.; Honigboim; Bramberg, Leib; Brafman; Groisman, Eliyahu, and others. The Zionist organization continued to grow and attracted a large part of the population.
In 1917, the Zionist organization in Bilgoraj put together a very impressive celebration of the Balfour Declaration. The city took on a festive appearance, many houses decorated with pictures of Dr. Herzl, and almost all the houses flying blue-white flags with Zionist slogans.
A procession marched all through the city and ended at the city shul where the whole crowd recited Hallel. There were many speakers and presentations. The celebration brought together the whole city population,
so that in time, the Zionist organization became the leading force behind social life in Bilgoraj.
A drama club was created with: Hershke Goldbrenner, Roize Shwerdsharf, Yakov and Aharon Kaminer, Esther and Manes Brofman, Libeh Shatz, Broche and Chaneh Groisman, and Perl Honigboim. They presented theatrical plays in the Jewish cinema hall at Kaminer's. All the revenue went to support the public kitchen and the orphanage that were created and supported by the Zionist organization.
At the same time, all the Zionist collection funds stood at a high level. Practically every house had the little blue-white box hanging there. They also conducted various meetings, parties, as well as theatrical presentations, and the earnings went to KKL
In 1918, with Polish Independence, when war against the Bolsheviks began, the Zionist organization in Bilgoraj was dissolved.
After the war, the Zionist organization reestablished itself under the direction of: Oizerkes, Oberhand, Moishe; Groisman, Eliyahu; Shwerdsharf, Nuteh; Bromberg, Abraham; Honigboim, Moishe; Bromberg, A. Y.; Ilish, Itzhak Meir; Hodes, Meir; Oberhand, Chaim; Fuks, Hindeh; Shvester, Mitler; Bergstein Kayle; Yegergarn; Rubinstein, Feige; and Teneholz, Tuvyeh. The Zionist organization created a Chalutz V'Hashomer, and a rich library of various Yiddish and Hebrew books. They also introduced Hebrew classes for youth and adults. They formed a
drama club under the direction of Groisman, Eliyahu, which frequently gave performances. A music group was also formed which gave concerts from time to time.
Later, a youth group was created, Ze'evim (Viltchukes), which attracted around it a large number of youngsters, boys and girls.
At the head of the Ze'evim were Oizerkes, Groisman, Eliyahu, and Moishe Oberhand. Oizerkes, as an erstwhile officer, gave the Ze'evim a military character. They presented courses in Hebrew, geography of Eretz Israel, and Jewish history.
They learned Zionist songs, and at every yom-tov celebration, the youth marched through the streets of Bilgoraj.
The desire to take part in the theater was widespread among the young, and a drama section of youngsters was formed with the following people: Yosef Shlechterman, Hodis Kornblit, Chantche Hodes, Rochl Yegergaren, Neitche Honigboim, Ettl Bromberg, and others, under the direction of Nuteh Shwerdsharf, and Meir Hodes. The drama section frequently put on plays that had broad appeal.
In 1920, the first pioneer to leave Bilgoraj for Eretz Israel was Eliyahu Groisman.
The pioneer ideology spread among the youth of Bilgoraj. The Zionist movement grew from day to day. From 1921 to 1923 emigrants included Teitelboim, Shloime; Meir Hodes; Nuteh Shwerdsharf; Moishe Honigboim; Abraham Bromberg; Binyamin Yegergaren; Tuvieh Tenenholz, and Binyamin Warshaviak.
Practically the entire town was at the kolejka (small train) to see them off. The Zionist songs echoed through the whole city, and inspired the Zionist ranks.
Zionist ideology also penetrated the walls of the besmedresh. By 1920 there was already a Mizrachi in Bilgoraj, that was composed entirely of besmedresh boys: Moishe Zilberman, Moishe Horndrexler, Itzchak Singer (today's well known writer in America under the pseudonym of Itzchak Bashevis), Yosl Glicklech, Binyamin Brezel, and others.
A group of young people, such as Abraham Kronenberg, Moishe Tayer, Ephraim Stern, Yehoshua Schwartz, Chaim Shur, and others, who were already organized, made overtures to Mizrachi. Mizrachi took the group in and created a Chalutz Hadati. Two battalion chiefs were chosen:
Moishe Horndrexler and Itzchak Singer who led the group in political Zionist work.
The Chalutz Hadati took part in all the Zionist fundraising, through its representative, Shloime Zilbermintz, who was on the committee of KKL, collecting the money in the blue-white boxes every month.
Later, all the older ones from Mizrachi joined the Zionist organization. The Shomer Hadati remained and continued to carry out the Mizrachi activities in Bilgoraj.
There were always Zionist speakers coming to Bilgoraj, like: Funt, Bialopolski, and others. They would draw huge numbers of Bilgoraj Jews.
The desire for aliyah was very strong among Bilgoraj youth. The central office of Hechalutz then instituted the so-called hachshara which everyone who wanted to go on aliyah had to pass through for a certain amount of time. This consisted of chopping wood for the city tradesmen. This did not scare off the Bilgoraj youth. Boys and girls went around the city chopping wood.
Later, they organized groups to go out to the villages to the Polish aristocrats and do agricultural work. Moishe Horndrexel and Binyamin Brezel went on aliyah.
The same year, Itzchak Wirtzer came to Bilgoraj and threw himself passionately into the work of Mizrachi in Bilgoraj. He, and Yoineh Kronenberg, Aharon Grossman, and others created a Mizrachi party which continuously grew and attracted people of all classes in the city.
[Page 89 (sic)]
That same year, Mizrachi created the first Payen bank, and because of this, its prestige grew from day to day, and the party grew and became the most prominent in the city.
In 1925, when the university in Jerusalem was inaugurated, a magnificent celebration was held in Bilgoraj. The Zionist local organized a march from the knochns, on the sands, to the city shul in which the Zionist organization, Ze'evim, Mizrachi, HeChalutz HaDati took part. Also taking part were the Jewish children from the government school, who were given the day off from school for this.
A holiday spirit reigned in the city. The houses were decorated with blue-white flags and Zionist slogans. The large banner in the parade, Ki mitzion taytzeh Torah u'dvar adonai mi yerushalayim, swept up the entire city's residents who joined in the parade.
In the year 1925, Abraham Kronenberg received the first certificate from HeChalutz Hadati. He was denounced as not being religious enough, and his certificate was taken away.
In 1926, almost all the chalutzim who had made aliyah came back. This had a very bad effect on people, and the Zionist organizations ceased to exist.
In 1927, the Zionist organization was again revived through Abraham Kronenberg, Leibl Zilberlicht, Moishe Lichtenfeld, Baruch Wermut, Moishe Boim, Nuteh Kleinmintz, Hersh Ritzer
Yakov Shtempel, Beinish Adler, Yakov Edelsein, Abraham Shtol, and others. The head was Aharon Berman.
The Zionist organization began an extensive operation. They attracted a large part of the Bilgoraj youth, and created a library which was widely used by the Jewish youth. They began again the work with the Zionist funds, and Bilgoraj was once again visited by Zionist speakers.
In 1928, two parties were formed out of the Zionist organization, Beitar and HeChalutz.
A lot of the youth of the city grouped together in the two parties. They instituted Hebrew classes for both parties together.
Even when both parties occupied the same place, there was no inter-party animosity in Bilgoraj.
Later, Beitar, headed by Abraham Kronenberg, and HeChalutz, headed by Abraham Shtol, rented separate locations, and both parties, along with Mizrachi, worked for the Zionist fund raising societies.
Beitar, which had its premises on the Zamosc road, was always marching through the Bilgoraj streets, where the whole city, even the Christians, received them happily. Every year, during Polish Independence day, they were invited to join the parade.
A combined drama club of Beitar and Hechalutz was formed under the direction of Eliyahu Groisman
and the following people: Abraham Kronenberg, Rechl Korenblit, Rochl Geist, Yakov Edelstein, Yakov Shtempel, Hersh Ritzer, Nuteh and Yosef Kleinmintz, Yakov Hodes, Minke Shur, Breine Renner, Yehudit Bromberg, and Yehuda Tauber. The first piece that was performed with great success was Shalom Bayit. The drama circle periodically gave performances that were received with great enjoyment.
The drama circle developed a good reputation in the surrounding area where they used to travel putting on plays. The same year, Mizrachi in Bilgoraj founded
a Yavneh cheder, which continued to grow, bringing in more children, and offering higher classes, to such an extent that they had to rent a special place for the cheder,
and employ a lot of teaching personnel of well qualified teachers, headed by Hillel Janower.
In 1933 the dedicated and praiseworthy representative of KKL in Bilgoraj, Feivel Lerman, departed.
Later, the position was taken by Abraham Kronenberg, the Zionist fund agencies got bigger, and extensive work for Keren Hayesod was undertaken.
With time, Beitar and Hechalutz revived Zionist aspirations among Bilgoraj youth, and when the drive for aliyah had grown strong, two companies of hachshara, one from Chalutz, and
the second from Beitar. Like kibbutzniks they used to work in the Jewish sawmills, and for the city's businessmen.
Bilgoraj showed that it worked for Zionism not only with words, but also with deeds. A strong aliyah from Chalutz began. Immigrating were Shimon Buchbinder, Yakov Shtempel, Hersh Ritzer, Israel Honigsfeld, and Binyamin Gershtenblit. From HeChalutz-HaMizrachiYakov Mordechai Shatz.
Because of the strained relationship between the Zionist organization and the revisionist party, Beitar did not receive any certificates.
Later when a new Zionist organization under Jabotinsky was created, Bilgoraj also
created a Brit Hatsohar headed by the worthy Zionist, Yoineh Chaim Kronenberg.
Bilgoraj also had a Poalei Zion party, headed by Abraham Shtol, and Meir Bernblat. Both parties, the Brit Hatsohar, and Poalei-Zion attracted the older youth of Bilgoraj. They carried on their political Zionist activities with no enmity between the parties.
Mizrachi and Hechalutz-HaMizrachi in Bilgoraj, headed by the dedicated Mizrachi activists like: Itzchak Wirtzer, Hillel Janower, Chaim Mordechai Hirshenhorn, Leibel Milch, Feivel Lerman, Moishe Kornwortzel, and others,
attracted the youth from religious homes. They instituted Hebrew courses and participated in all Zionist activities.
In 1936, Yoineh Chaim Kronenberg left for Eretz-Israel.
The Zionist organizations in Bilgoraj existed like this until the outbreak of WWII, when Hitler's murderers destroyed everything and everyone.
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