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[Page 113]

Overview of the Zionist organizations in Poland

by Efraim Lenczner

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

The goal of all the Zionist parties, without exception, was the revival of the Jewish people in the fullest sense, including the creation of a Jewish majority in Palestine, with a characteristically Jewish-national culture, and using the Hebrew language. That was the ABC of the Zionist ideology, applicable for all the Zionist parties. The separate distinctions among the parties differed only concerning methodology of building the Jewish country, or of the social character of the Palestinian economy, or of the content of the national culture.

As the construction of Palestine as a Jewish homeland was necessary to the interests of the entire Jewish people, the Zionist parties recognized the national connections among the Jewish people in the entire world. They strove for an ever stronger cultural closeness, and blended the different Jewish communities, aroused national consciousness, and revived the unifying national language, Hebrew; at the same time, they supported the language of the people, Yiddish, and its literature.

dab113.gif [5 KB] - Letterhead for the Zionist Histadrut
Letterhead for the Zionist Histadrut in Dąbrowa

The Zionist parties led a struggle for Jewish rights in the Diaspora, demanding a national, cultural autonomy, in freedom, for Jewish communities, which would give Jews the possibility of satisfying their national and cultural needs, and of developing their identity.

In Poland, as in all other countries with large Jewish concentrations, the Zionist parties were the most populous and influential, and they set the tone for Jewish politics in the country. The Zionist leaders were, at the same time, the recognized political leaders of Polish Jewry.

The most populous and strongest among the Zionist parties in Poland was the general Zionist organization, which represented pure Zionist ideology without any social or religious coloring.

The development of the Zionist organization in Dąbrowa

Concerning the rise of the Zionist organization in Dąbrowa, it is significant to note that like the oral Torah, which was transmitted by word of mouth, we do not have any surviving official documents; therefore, it is possible that the historical events I report will not be precise, or possibly not in chronological order.

The final group mentioned consisted of the following members: Szlomo Halperin; Berisz Janowski; Lea Rozen (later Klugman), may the Lord avenge her blood; Josef Sliwka; Mosze Lenczner, of blessed memory, (on the Colony of Reden); on Huta Bankowa: Israel Zylberszac; the Reichman brothers, Kopel, Sender, and Mosze Dawid; Dawid Grynbaum, Szlomo Winer, Josef Neta Szwimer, and Chaim Kornfeld, may the Lord avenge his blood.

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Zionist activities and its pioneers

Zionist activities began in the locale of one of the streets in Reden. People would meet there, learn Hebrew, lead Zionist propaganda from there, distribute shekels and the newspaper Hatzfira, sell National Fund stamps, and so on. The young had much to endure from the extremely religious. Religious parents would come in groups into that locale, where their children used to meet in the evenings, and try to drive them away. There were stories about the deep opposition from the youth. When they went out, they would wrap themselves up in white sheets, and the attackers would run away, terrified, fearing that ghosts and angry spirits were found in that Zionist/Atheist location.

The battle of the religious guardians against the young Zionist idealists was not a one-time episode, but a long and bitter struggle. The religious wished to prevent the Zionist spark from being fanned into a large flame that could, God forbid, threaten to diminish belief in the coming of the Messiah, and, heaven forefend, weaken adherence to the laws of Moses. But the more the Orthodox persecuted the young Zionist idealists, the more Zionist influence grew on the Yiddish street; between pages of Gemara, the Zionists read the Hatzfira with enthusiasm.

The opposition against fanaticism did not take place only in small Reden, or only in the town of Dąbrowa Górn. It was part of a wide European culture-struggle. The Encyclopediasts in France, headed by Voltaire, Diderot, and so on, led the battle. On the Yiddish street, which was hermetically shut by the orthodox Guardians who did not allow any modern thought inside, the culture struggle was opened (the beginning of the Enlightenment) by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto[1] in Italy, Mendelssohn in Germany (with his weekly Kohelet Musar) and his translation of the Torah into German with a commentary in Hebrew, and then Naftali Hersz Wizel, with his literary activity in Hebrew, and so on.

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A group of active Zionist achievers during the rise of the movement

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This very battle began to produce positive results in Reden and also in the Jewish life of those in Huta. Jews of modern, stately appearance, learned in Torah, began to subscribe to the Hebrew newspaper Hatzfira; some read it publicly, and others, in secret. Jews began to worry about their outward appearance – they would trim their beards, they would shine their boots every day, and worry about having a clean vest or a white neckerchief around their throats. These were the first results that the young, Jewish Zionist idealists brought into Jewish Dąbrowa.

People did not speak disparagingly any more against teaching a son a trade, or wishing to live by the labor of one's own hands. The Jewish home was strongly connected to the influence of the Orthodox, who told people to wait for the Messiah.

The first Zionists

It is difficult to record names of persons who should be noted as the first, because striving towards Zion was deeply embedded in the hearts of all the Jews in Dąbrowa; to this everybody gave an individual response. It is appropriate to note that the simple Jew, wishing to express how difficult and hopeless his situation was, used to say: “It's as hard for me as the deep exile.” With this he described living in the Diaspora as a yoke.

The active battle-cry for a change in Jewish life was given by the first who declared themselves as Lovers of Zion before political Zionism. The title “Zionism” was given by the well-known writer and thinker, Dr. Natan Birnbaum, an enthusiastic follower of Dr. Herzl. (Later he became an opponent of Herzl, as he became extremely religious.)

In Dąbrowa, one of the first Zionists was Mosze Lenczner, born in 1891 in the village of Słabuszewice near the shtetl Działoszyce. He came as a boy with his parents, my grandfather and grandmother, Reb Aron Jicchak and Gitl, to Dąbrowa. Gifted with intelligence, an unquiet dreamer of a better and prettier reality, he strove for clear, transparent blue skies, not those filled with the smoke and clouds of Dąbrowa. He longed for distant, green fields like those of his village, which he had to leave. He traveled to Vilna, studied with Rabbis, after a certain time came back to Dąbrowa, educated with Enlightenment and Zionist literature. With fire he began to propagandize the Zionist vision, gave speeches and later, around 1910, made aliya to Palestine. Meanwhile, he was called into military service, and his father wrote him that he would have to pay a fine of 300 rubles if his son Mosze would not fulfill his military service. Because of this, he begged his son to be compassionate, and to come back, so that he would be freed from the large fine. Therefore Mosze came back, registered in the army, and was sent to distant Siberia as a soldier. There he became involved in a conflict with an anti-Semitic Tsarist officer, who was insulting another Jewish soldier. The proud, nationalistic Jew slapped the Tsarist officer in the face.

For this notorious, bold deed, he had to appear before a court-martial. In order to escape, and finding himself close to the Chinese border, in a dark night, he skated across the then frozen Amur River. He wandered over several countries and oceans, cities and villages, until he came to Java, then Dutch West Indies (now Indonesia). There he became acquainted with a Jewish watchmaker, who also sold eyeglasses.

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The young Mosze, with his rich imagination, proposed to the watchmaker to develop and expand the “optical department” of his watch-making place, assuring him of success. Over the course of a few years, the company Goldberg in Java, with its main director and “world-renowned optometrist Mosze Lenczner,” became popular among the largest cities. The firm opened branches with unheard of success and promotion. Interviews with the famous optician Mosze Lenczner were carried in all the newspapers in Java. Unfortunately, he died in 1926 at the age of 34, following surgery performed by a doctor in Java. On his tombstone a Magen David [Star of David] is etched together with the word “Zion,” which, unfortunately, he did not reach. Blessed be his memory.


In almost all the homes in town, a battle began between fathers and sons; between sons, who demanded changes in Jewish life, and fathers, who did not want to lose their authority on Jewish life. Mordechai Lejb Janowski was dragged along to the ideals of his son Berisz, and he became one of his son's ideological followers.

Berisz Janowski, whose father was not able to provide him with an elementary education, was later found to be a teacher in a Hebrew middle school in Częstechowa. He was also a delegate to Zionist congresses. He was murdered in the Holocaust, may the Lord avenge his blood.


Reb Szlomo Halperin, may the Lord avenge his blood, was a man involved with his community and a crowned representative of the Zionist ideology in the social life of Dąbrowa, who united the old with the new, for which those enlightened valued him. Through his modest character and upbringing, he attracted new strengths for the Zionist movement in the town. He was the only one in the Dąbrowa group who accompanied social and cultural Zionism up to the bitter end of the liquidation of the Jews in Dąbrowa by the Nazi enemy, may his name be blotted out. He went with his wife Riwka Bajle, his father-in-law Reb Jakob Szalom Fiszel and his wife Tajbl Lea, may the Lord avenge them all. This quiet man, this genius, was not privileged to see Zion.

The Zionists in Dąbrowa were especially proud of their friend Josef Sliwka, one of the “first,” who had the strength to transform thought into deeds, making aliya to Palestine with the second aliya in 1908. He was among the founders of the community Nahalal in 1921. He became a soil worker in Emek Israel, full of swamps and malaria at the time. This had an enormous influence on the Jews in Dąbrowa. The Zionism of Josef Sliwka showed up in an entirely new light, a light of the necessity to become a normal people.

Josef Sliwka (Szloy), of blessed memory, died on the 29th of Sivan 5710 – November 1949 [apparently error – should be 14th of June 1950] and left a widow Salka, son Szymon, and daughter Carmela. May his memory be a blessing.

Another interesting character of the “first group” was Lea Rozen (later Klugman). If the battle between fathers and sons was difficult, the battle between fathers and daughters was much, much harder. Here our parents believed in the article by our sages of blessed memory, “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah, it is as if he is teaching her frivolity.” Therefore they gave their daughters only an elementary education, writing a little Yiddish, adding and knowing the mode ani prayer [“I give thanks,” said immediately upon rising] by heart. Only a few Jewish girls in those days reached a middle school education. One of these was Leah'le Rozen.

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Her outward appearance aroused pride, her modern European clothing caused many Jewish girls in the town to want to identify with this popular person, who had so much spirit for the Zionist ideal.

dab117.jpg [15 KB] - Leah'le Rozen
Leah'le Rozen
may the Lord avenge her blood, Zionist activist
and social achiever in Dąbrowa – killed by the Nazi murderers

In the time of WW I, 1914, she was active in many worldly committees and worked for Zionist and social goals.

Lea Rozen (later Klugman) was strongly influenced by the world-wide movement for equal rights for women in all areas of social life, which began in the beginning of the century in England. The Zionism as a movement for freedom gave her the chance and a free arena to fight for the ideal.

Jankele Rozen, her father, an Alexander Hassid, later was drawn to the strivings of his daughter and became loyal to them, and ignored all the hate speeches against his daughter for being mixed up in her social Zionist activities with men. Her leadership was a deciding example on other Jewish girls in the town, who had not dared to make the step. After her, a generation of Jewish girls, who were already much freer in social and Zionist activities, grew up.

In the time of WWI when the number of poor and homeless children grew in the town, Leah'le, together with Perele, Herszl Frochtcwajg's wife, washed and tended the children. Also many Jewish girls in the town, one or two times a week, would go with them on the “Zielanc,” wash them in the river and play with them in the free, natural outdoors. She supervised the poor soup kitchen run by Lejbl Strzegowski, and worried about help for poor mothers.

In her family life, she spoke Hebrew with her children. (Her husband, may he live long, Szabsia Klugman, was secretary of the Jewish community in Warsaw and today in Israel is a renowned journalist for “Davar” [a Hebrew language daily newspaper published in the British Mandate of Palestine and Israel from 1925 until May 1996]).

The “Love of Zion” movement and its influence on Dąbrowa's religious Jews

The Love of Zion movement, founded by Rabbi Cwi Kaliszer (1795-1874), called on Jews all over the world to settle in Eretz Israel. The working of the soil would cause (bring about) the dawn of redemption. And worldly attainment would be followed by spiritual attainment. This would be an ending to the terrible wave of pogroms of 1881-1882. In many cities, Lovers of Zion groups were created, and they organized a movement to settle in Eretz Israel (Palestine).

Religious Jews in Dąbrowa were also not indifferent to the movement, which was founded a long time before Herzl's Zionism. Several comrades in Dąbrowa belonged to the movement. The historical Katowice conference, which took place in 1884, not far from the borders of Dąbrowa, was influenced by it.

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Two well-known Jews (and maybe also many more Jews) who belonged to the Love of Zion movement, were Reb Josef Neta Szwimer and Reb Chaim Kornfeld, of blessed memory. On the tombstone of the latter is engraved the words, “First and Foremost, Love of Zion.”

After Herzl's Zionism originated, the Love of Zion movement stopped existing, and it transformed into a religious Zionist branch of the general Zionist movement. The ideas and agitations they caused on the Jewish street were practically the same, which Rabbi Cwi Kaliszer preached in the beginning of its existence. This branch of Zionism was called “Mizrachi.”

Dąbrowa Gornicza produced a row of personalities who fought for religious Zionism: Reb Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, Jakob Szalom Fiszel, Szlomo Rabinowicz, Icze Unger, Frydman, Welner, Pomocnik, Szlomo Winer, and the above-named Chaim Kornfeld, Josef Neta Szwimer, Gurfinkel and Awremele Sztorchajn.

The Jewish school-system in Poland

Before the First World War, the Jewish school was the old, traditional cheder, and outside of this, there were in the biggest cities another very few “modern schools” where Hebrew was taught, and some Jewish-Russian Gymnasia (high schools). WWI, with the loss of the Russian power, the German-Austrian occupation, and the origin of the new independent Poland – shook up all of Jewish life, and also changed the entire character of Jewish education.

In this new school-system, the Jews, as in earlier ages, put in a large, significant amounts of their national energy. As oppressed peoples, who do not have their own state-life, school took the first place in their national activities. School was their ideal state, the state of their spirit; it forged the continuing fate of the people.

In addition to various political and cultural strivings on the Jewish street, five types of schools in the Jewish school system in Poland crystallized:

  1. The cheder, which slowly reformed to the type of “Fundamentals of Torah” for boys, and the “Bet Yakov” schools for girls.
  2. The Mizrachi-schools for boys “Yavne.” Outside of Jewish and worldly studies, it was based carefully on the instruction of Tanach and on the Hebrew language.
  3. The “Tarbut” school, with Hebrew language.
  4. The “Zisho” school [Central Jewish School Organization], with Yiddish language.
  5. The bilingual school, most of them Hebrew and Polish.

We need to stress, however, that most Jewish children learned in the general state-schools, where study was totally free. The compulsory school, introduced by the state, spread from year to year to larger areas of the land, radically changed the character of Jewish education. The place that was occupied by the cheder before the war in the education of young Jewish generations, was replaced by the general state-school. It rooted itself in deeper and deeper, and continuously took in more Jewish children. The education of the Jewish girls lay then, in the vast majority, outside of the boundaries of the Jewish school system.

The cheder

In the small villages, the cheder took a prominent position. For the most part, the cheders were private undertakings by the teachers.

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They did not have a central outlook which would have helped them pedagogically or organizationally.

The cheder, according to its program, is through and through a religious learning and educational institution. Most cheders changed but very slightly in their inner order, content, and learning system.

The situation of Zionist school systems in Dąbrowa

In Dąbrowa, the fate of reforming the old Jewish cheders and giving a religious, modern education to Jewish children fell to the “Mizrachi” movement, which dared to do it and was successful. The “Mizrachi” put up with many difficulties from the “Agudat Yisrael,” which saw in it a competition to their Torah-based school, with the mentality of the parents to not swim against the stream nor to search for new horizons. But, as said, the “Mizrachi” concerns conquered, and their Hebrew school in Dąbrowa was a fact. It influenced the change of character of the Dąbrowa youth, together with the image and character of the Jewish community in Dąbrowa. However, this Zionist Dąbrowa did not create a “Tarbut” school like other towns in Poland, with a base for Zionist activity. However, “Tarbut” evening classes to learn the Hebrew language took place, but this was only for adults.

The activity of the Zionist organization in Dąbrowa concerned itself also with various social matters, as, for example: the loan and savings bank from about 1911-14, found on Sobiesko Street and founded and led by Szlomo Halpern, Zylberszac, Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, Szternik, and others.

Also as active in helping funds for the needy among Jews in Reden, the group “Ezrat Moshe” (1914-15), named for Mosze Herszfeld, may the Lord avenge his blood, who was killed by the bullet of a German soldier, while walking with his friend Menachem Wajnszel, of blessed memory, near the train track. The group was created and led by boys in the study house and friends of the victim, among them: Menachem Wajnszel, Abram Grosfeld, Mosze Tryman, Juda Liberman (later Barzilai), Cwi Juda Lenczner, of blessed memory, and others – the later capable leaders of the Zionist organization in Dąbrowa.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, official Zionist activities were weakened and even paralyzed. The German and Austrian occupiers did not tolerate them.

But in the course of the war we saw a milder attitude from the occupiers. Dąbrowa, after it was occupied by the Austrian power, became suddenly an important Zionist base and factor: an agent for the entire neighboring Austrian vision of the Hebrew newspaper Hatzfira and other Zionist literature from Warsaw, belonging to the German area. All these materials were sent over to Będzin in the German area and, from there, “smuggled” over to Dąbrowa and afterwards – according to different addresses, in the entire Austrian occupied environment. Dąbrowa also led the press and Zionist literature for Krakow. Characteristically, if one of the subscribers was well-known Dr. Jehoszua Tahon, Chief Rabbi of the Krakow community – the honorable central Zionist personality, and in a certain time, also “prezes” [president] of the Jewish “Kolo” in the Sejm [the Polish parliament].

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In the above-mentioned time, approximately in the years 1915-16, the first Zionist library was also founded in the house of Reb Abram Mosze Rusinek in Reden. The first books for the library were a gift from a friend, a subscriber of one of the newspapers “Haynt” or “Moment”. He saved “coupons,” and he used them to redeem the collected works of “Mendele Mocher Sfarim” [Mendele sells books]. These books were the base of the well-known Zionist library, which welcomed all Zionist organizations in all ages, with assorted historical transformations in later Zionist locales.

In those years, the library was the only source that allowed a Jewish young man or young lady to receive a Jewish book. The library was not accepted cheerfully by the Orthodox, who feared that the reading of a Jewish book should not, heaven forbid, turn thoughts away from the end Reb Avraham Mosze Rusinek was begged to not allow the keeping of unfit words in his house, especially because he was dependent that people should not, heaven forbid, make his butcher shop non-kosher.

The Zionist activity in the war years was still held back and to a certain extent, conspiratorial.

After the rise of the Polish republic, the Zionist movement became legal and its activities were expanded in all areas. Round table conferences took place about various Zionist problems, about the Palestine Foundation Fund, and about a permanent Jewish National Fund for Benevolent Purposes, to which Dąbrowa sent delegates. With the rise of free Poland, after almost 150 years under the yoke of the Tsar, spring also penetrated the Jewish street. Apart from those who officially declared themselves enemies of Zion, like the “Bundists” and so on, everybody in the town lived with the feeling of freedom. The Jews in the town of Dąbrowa expressed this in various ways, like reading a Zionist newspaper, or donating to the Fund every Friday before candle-lighting. The blue and white charity boxes in Jewish homes symbolized the inner strivings towards Zion. Almost in every Jewish home. a drawing hung on the wall, or a weave in pretty blue and white threads, of the Western Wall, or the cave of Mother Rachel. In more homes tapestries were hung on the walls, or the woven image of Dr. Theodore Herzl.

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A group of active Zionists of the second generation

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We, as children in those times, rising in the morning, our eyes immediately fell on the drawings, which were etched deeply in our souls, as visual attractions to Zionism.

The second generation of Zionist achievers

When we note the second generation of Zionist activists in Dąbrowa, we do not mean that the first generation disappeared. There was a process of blending from an older generation with a younger one. Reb Szlomo Halpern, Eliezer Tenenbaum, Lipka Futerko, Zylberszac, and others of that generation hardly stopped their activities. Everybody according to his / her way performed Zionist activities over approximately 50 years.

When we close the chapter of the “First Zionists,” we must remember another gallery of Zionist concerns in the town, which changed the thought of Return to Zion. They realized and made aliya to Eretz Israel between the years 1919-24: Juda Barzilai-Liberman, his sister Judit Barzilai, Cwi Juda Lenczner, Abram Grosfeld, Jakob Sliwka, Icchak Narkis-Janowski, Szraga Szpilberg, Naftali Rechnic, Szmuel Wajszalc, Jakob Federman, and others.

With this the young generation grew to a slight degree, brought up according to the prayer house, but also the new spirit penetrated there. People read the newspapers – Hebrew and Yiddish; the thirst for knowledge grew, they read literature, they discussed, the traditional clothing became more modern, they dreamed about green fields in the longed-for land of Palestine.

The Tsarist limitations on the Jews, with the pogroms, boycotts, and blood libels; the Beilis trial brewed up the wrath of the youth; people looked for a solution to the problems, and found them in the booklet “Auto-emancipation” by Dr. Leo Pinsker, or “Altneuland” by Dr. Theodor Herzl. The core of the second generation developed.

The cornerstone of the Zionist organization received a transfusion of new blood, young, creative strengths, and a wide Zionist activity was created in Dąbrowa on all social levels and accompanied the Dąbrowa community in its growth, until its tragic death through Nazi murder.

I want to also note a partial list of names from the second generation of Zionist activists (according to my memory), who uplifted Zionist activity in all areas – social, cultural and political, to a high level, regarding Zionism as a private ideal: Dawid Kozuch, Wolf Liberman, Israel Klajnman, Mendl Nusbaum, Motel son of Josef Rozenblum, Rajzl Zygrajch, Sara Zygrajch, of blessed memory, and others. May they live long, Efraim Lenczner, Gucia Grosfeld, Chaim Grajcer, Lejbcze Parasol, Mordechai son of Juda Rozenblum, Cwetl Bajtner, Ruwen Londner, Rachel Ajbeszyc, and others.

The Zionist organization in Dąbrowa was active in all fields, discussions were held, gatherings with the participation of own and Zagłębie strengths, like: Abram Liwer, Wygodzki (from Będzin), Dr. Melodista (from Sosnowiec), and others. Visiting Dąbrowa: Josef Heftman, Dr. Gotlib, Lejb Yafe, Uri Zoslowski from Nahalal, who gave a speech in the Reden study house. The youth-scouts organization “Hashomer,” under the leadership of: Josef Kanarek, Emil Grynbaum, Jakob Frochtcwajg, Zigmunt Szpigler, of blessed memory, and may they live long, Szraga Szpilberg and Pinchas Szwarcbaum.

  1. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto – 1707-1746 (also Moses Chaim; also known by the Hebrew acronym Ramcha”l ) was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher. return

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