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Overview of the Zionist organizations in Poland {cont.}

[Page 122]

The “Hashomer” at that time never had political coloring, but it was a young scout organization of the general Zionist organization. With pride and enjoyment, we remember the imposing demonstration of the 20th of Tamuz of “Hashomer,” which marched over the streets in Dąbrowa with blue-and-white flags, from the place on Krótka Street to the city school, where a celebratory academic symposium with speeches held by Dr. Perlman, Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, of blessed memory, Menachem Wajnszel, of blessed memory, and Eliezer Tenenbaum, of blessed memory.

The Balfour Declaration and the opening of the Hebrew University

In the European turmoil that took place between 1914-1917, as noted, Zionist activity was crippled to a certain extent. Everything was led by a small staff. It was more a welcome for those who needed to come. In addition, the sounds that came from Palestine in those times of the ruling Turkish power, also weakened the will for activity; the expulsion of the Jews from Tel-Aviv by Kemal Pasha, the hunger, and the absence of political, social right to send help – all this created a situation of a certain stagnation.

The Balfour Declaration and the confirmation through the San Remo Conference of the British mandate over Palestine, in order to create a Jewish national home in Palestine, opened new horizons for political Zionism, and awakened in the 3,000,000 Jews in Poland in 1920, enormous inspiration. Parades were given, Polish governmental personalities greeted the leaders of the Zionist organization: “For Polish freedom and for Jewish freedom.” There was not a shtetl in Poland that did not celebrate the act. Almost all Jews shared in the holiday. In the movie theatre “Korso” in Będzin a large Balfour Declaration academic symposium was held with the participation of the English Consul. In the front the Zionist flag shone, as did Polish and English flags.

Dąbrowa was not backwards in this area. In that day, celebratory prayers in the prayer houses were recited and Jews said Praise the Lord. In the streets a flower sale took place for Zionist purposes, Jewish couples appeared that Sunday with blue and white cockades on their heads, and blue-white drawings on their sleeves. There was not a Jew who did not wear on the flap of his coat a blue-white flower. Dąbrowa was soaked in blue-white. Jewish scouts “Hashomer” in the streets, attracted the attention of all levels of Dąbrowa population, including the Christians. In the large synagogue, Reb Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, Eliezer Tenenbaum, and Dr. Melodista appeared, giving a richly-colored description about the future of the Jewish people with the giving of the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration gave a new impetus for Zionist activity, a state background for its character. The Dąbrowa Zionists received new friends and sympathizers and moved to a new address, in the home of Grynbaum.


Of special significance for Jewish life in the town of Dąbrowa was the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, in 1925. That was the focal and culmination point of Zionism, beginning from the battle which the fighters of the Haskala [Enlightenment] in the previous century opened on the Jewish street through the figures of Reb Moshe Chaim Luzzatto Ramcha”l), Moses Mendelssohn, Naftali Herz Wizel, and later a whole gallery of Jewish philosophers and poets, which the Haskala age produced and preached to widen the horizons of thought among Jews.

The seminary for Rabbis of Rabbi Reines, of blessed memory, in Berlin, was the first Beit Ulpana to portray modern methods for the Jewish communities in Europe; also the seminary of Professor Chajot in Vienna was assigned to portray a modern Jewish intelligentsia on the Jewish street.

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The opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was celebrated by a huge gathering in the city-synagogue on Miejska. At the same time, the old culture-struggle was awakened between the extreme religious and the Zionists.

Under the influence of the opening of the Hebrew University, a Hebrew high school “Yavne” also opened in Będzin. Jewish parents in Dąbrowa, especially in religious circles, began to send their children in that school. Here began a big opposition, as the religious feared that Jewish children were being led to conversion. They opened big “Talmud-Torah” cheders, in the place of the primitive cheders, which collapsed. The opposition was especially aimed towards the parents who sent their children to the “Yavne” school.

Two, three years after the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Hebrew school “Yavne” in Będzin, Dąbrowa received a new type of Jewish youth-intelligentsia, which created a strong background for Zionist activity and Zionist influence.

The Dąbrowa Zionists and general Polish politics

It is appropriate to give an overview about the Zionist position to the inner Polish politics in regards to Poland in general, and in Dąbrowa in particular.

Election to the Polish Sejm required, according to the plan of the right-wing parties, securing a clean Polish right-wing majority. The Jewish representation in the constituent assembly, under the leadership of the Zionist leader Icchak Grynbaum, who was elected through the Jewish national council, threatened that it would create a block from the national minorities, if the election would not take into account Jewish demands. The demands were not met, and the block of the national minorities was created for the voting in the first ordinary Sejm.

The idea of the formation of a Block of national minorities was accepted with great enthusiasm by all national groups in Poland. It consolidated the great majority of all the Polish peoples. From the Jewish parties, only the Folkists and the Socialists tried to oppose it, but without success. The “Aguda” went along with it. The Block called forth in Polish political circles enormous displeasure.

Here also Jewish Dąbrowa showed its unity, and with enthusiasm, the voting campaign was carried through with great success, under the masterly leadership of Jakob Sliwka and Eliezer Tenenbaum, of blessed memory, and with the participation of all other businesses of the United Jewish National Block. Especially impressive was the speech of Szlomo Halpern on a Friday night in the prayer house in Reden, between mincha and Shabbat, when the entire community listened with baited breath to the historical call to Polish Jewry. Reb Szlomo Halpern used to go up in the prayer house in Reden every time there was an important historical event. Also in Dąbrowa the socialist parties attempted to impede the unity. The Bund especially led a strong, but fruitless election campaign. According to precise voting lists, on election day young activists visited every Jewish home, ambassadors of the block of national minorities, in order to call and remind Jews to fulfill the Jewish national requirement. Jewish Dąbrowa felt its duty and carried through the united block, where Jews won (only in Congress Poland) 17 delegates in the Sejm and eight delegates in the senate (Dr. Szlomo Wajnziher from Zagłębie).

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The May uprising of Piłsudski disturbed the unity of the Jewish parties to the election to the Sejm. A Jewish governmental party was created with the participation of the “Aguda,” Folkists and a part of the businessmen and smaller tradesmen.

The Zionists voted with the national Block. The Jewish civil war heated up in Poland with full hatred. Also in Dąbrowa, stormy voting gatherings took place, which were disrupted and broken up from time to time. The “Aguda” and those attached to it complained that they needed to stop the battle for the right wings and that it was against the law to associate with other nationalities, and that they needed to rely on the government. The Zionists of Galicia did not follow in this path; however they did not unite with the national Block and remained neutral. The result of that age was chaos in the Polish social life in connection to the demands of the government.

The Zionists in Congress Poland, with Grynbaum at the head on one side, Eastern Galicia with Dr. Leon Reich on the other side, and the “Aguda” on the third side. The disputes in the Zionist community for union, at least outwardly, were endless. Also the Zionists in Dąbrowa tried to have an effect upon the Zionist leader Icchak Grynbaum, during his lecture visit to Dąbrowa, followed by a banquet in the apartment of Zylberszac. His friend Chaim Grajcer, a young man in those days, appealing in the name of the Jewish and Zionist activists, asked Grynbaum to give up a certain measure of the principles in “iota politics,” which would bring unity. In his answer, which lasted several hours (until 3:00 am.), Grynbaum spoke comprehensively about the reasons for not compromising. He poured out his heart about a tradition which carried the burden and responsibility of his people and therefore – his uncompromising battle-line which he could not give up.

The Zionist battle for national Jewish recognition

In Poland, including Dąbrowa, the Zionists led a battle for proud national representation in the open, not allowing for its character to be reduced. Already in its first steps of Polish independence, signs of Jewish assimilation were seen, when Jews argued that they were Poles of Mosaic faith, and did not want to come into contact with Jewish society. From national Zionist activity they did not want to hear altogether.

On the left wing side (Liberman and Josef Kruk, who later became a Zionist and settled in Jerusalem) people depended on the P.P.S. to solve all Jewish problems when it would come into power. But reality proved that the P.P.S. did not resolve Jewish problems. Also, assimilation did not make Jews more patriotic in the eyes of the Polish government, the way assimilationist Jews wanted to be seen.

When the census took place in 1921, the Dąbrowa Jews created an act to explain to the Jewish population of the importance of answering the rubric of the questionnaire “faith” as “Jewish,” and of “nationality” as “Jewish,” and not as “Polish.”

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The results of the general count in Poland actually showed that the number of Jews, according to the “nationality,” were more than 7.8%, and according to belief,10.5%. The majority of Dąbrowa Jews answered according to the instructions of the Zionist messengers, who had previously visited every Jewish home.

Kehila [Jewish community] activities

With the rise of the Polish Republic, laws were created about the Jewish kehila, which did not please the Zionist leaders in Poland. The kehila received too much of a religious character, and too little of a national one. Its assignment and competencies were limited. Women were relegated to the side of the kehila life, not having any voting privileges. The elections were not democratic enough, but with all these faults the law about the Jewish kehila had a great significance. The Zionists in their battle in the kehila was not the same as the battle of the Bund, which was for national autonomy, socialism, against religion and Zionism. The battle of the Zionists was the national building to construct and to widen, in order to free and develop our national culture.

In the Dąbrowa kehila, the Zionist representatives had strong opposers from the ruling majority, which were concentrated around the “Aguda,” which was not interested in the activities for general national interests of the kehila to widen. Yet they passed a small subsidy for the Jewish National Fund, after long and stormy debates with the Aguda and with the Bundist representatives.

The Zionist representatives in the kehila in assorted epochs were: Dawid Grynbaum, Bernard Rechnic, Mordechai Gotlib, Lipka Futerko, Abram Najfeld, Eliezer Rechnic, Reb Chanoch Szpilberg, of blessed memory, and others.

The actions for National Jewish Funds Keren Kayemet Leyisrael [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [Palestine Foundation Fund]
In everyday life, Dąbrowa demonstrated their relationship to the Zionist camp through donating to the National Funds like “Keren Kayemet Leyisrael” and “Keren Hayesod.”

And here we needed to have a cadre of activists, who would do the gray everyday work, explaining, attending district conferences and meetings, publishing a yearly bulletin dedicated to the K.K.L. In this area we found the full help of the Zionist youth-organizations, which were represented in a united national fund commission – like Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Poale-Zion, Zionim, Herzliya, Hechalutz. An entire gallery of local businessmen, personages, dedicated their best years to the national funds, persons who deserve a gold page for their voluntary work.

We needed to lead a special battle with a portion of the extremely religious people who prayed in the synagogues and shtiblech [makeshift places of worship in people's homes], who presented obstacles to us, and did not allow the placement of collection plates in their places of prayer on Purim and the eve of Yom-Kippur. Here we led long-running propaganda and enlightenment speeches, during which we managed to convince the greater part of worshippers, that redemption on earth must be one of our most important assignments in the synagogues.

We sought to convince that national funds were a way of national salvation, which would encompass all levels of the Dąbrowa population. And finally our enlightenment activities were successful.

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dab126.jpg [35 KB] - The "Keren Kayemet" committee
The “Keren Kayemet Leyisrael” committee in Dąbrowa
Shavuot, 5684 (1924)

The promises given while going up to the Torah, and also hanging up the pushke [collection box] in the Reden prayer house, became natural. At weddings, couples found themselves obligated in their new lives to plant a few trees in the Jewish National Fund forests, and at the same time decorate their new apartments with the National Fund certificates.

Unfortunately we don't have any details about the number of members of the general Zionist organization in Dąbrowa. We also do not know how many shekels were distributed by its friends and sympathizers. One thing is clear, however, that Dąbrowa in general – and Reden in particular, was in the great majority Zionist. We see this in the positive attraction of the Dąbrowa Jewish population to the Zionist funds Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] and the Palestine Fund. Approximately 40% of the families in Dąbrowa hung Jewish National Fund charity boxes in their homes (257), which were emptied every month. In the public school, in the study house in Reden, and in various Chassidic shtiblech, collections were made for the Jewish National Fund through the collection plates put in the synagogues. Purim, Yom Kippur eve, and Simchat-Torah provided a substantial income for the Keren Kayemet. Especially remarkable for his large contributions was the well-known Zionist liberal donor Reb Nachman Gutman, of blessed memory. We saw less of the general Zionist actively taking part in day to day coin by coin collections for Keren Kayemet like the youthful Zionist organizations, which were not yet burdened with large families and busy with worries of how to earn a living. Still we found the young generation of the general Zionists in the committees of the Jewish National Fund, like Jakob Sliwka, of blessed memory (deputy), Lipcze Hirszfeld Grosfeld, of blessed memory (secretary), sister Zygrajch, of blessed memory, Dawid Kozuch, of blessed memory, Miriam Nusbaum, of blessed memory, Herszl Rozenblum, Ruwen Londner (secretary), Efraim Lenczner (deputy), Gucia Grosfeld, Mordechai son of Juda Rozenblum (deputy), Winogran (deputy) and others.

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dab127.jpg [42 KB] - A film day for the benefit of the KKL
A film day for the benefit of the KKL on the outskirts of Dąbrowa in 1921

For the “Keren Hayesod” activities we met older friends, also a part of “Shomer Hatzair”: Eliezer Tenenbaum, Nachman Aron Gutman, Chaim Grajcer, Motl Gotlib, Lipka Futerko, Dąb, Mosze Dawid Rajchman, Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg (Mizrachi), and engineer Abram Jakob Klajn, of blessed memory. All the nameless unknowns and widowers, who gave a hand to the success of all the national fund acts in Dąbrowa, and whom we have not mentioned here in our document, forgive us.

Mordechai Gotlib

It is difficult to not especially mention the Zionist businessman from Wolbrom, who came to the home of Reb Lejb Zygrajch, of blessed memory, as a son-in-law, and who exerted himself in Zionist activities in Dąbrowa. We will say without any exaggeration that the moving of friend Mordechai Gotlib to Dąbrowa was like an answer of spiritual rain in the dry, everyday gray Zionist activities, as also in cultural spiritual undertakings.

Dąbrowa was rich in Zionist activists, but Mordechai Gotlib was the rhetorician, the troubadour for the Zionist word in the community, and society, in Zagłębie Zionist activity in general and in Dąbrowa in particular. We will wish him a long life in his home in Jerusalem.

This historical overview of the Zionist work in Dąbrowa, which we have here made, is written according to memory, without help of documents. Understand that in such a manner of work inconsistencies must enter which will be discovered, and also forgiven.

The work should be a memorial to the Dąbrowa Zionists, who were not privileged to see their Zionist ideal in its realization, and tragically were killed by the Hitler murderers. Some died in foreign lands before the Second World War, and their eyes were turned towards Zion.

This paper was made with the active collaboration of friend Juda Londner.

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