Translated by Judy Montel
Zhetl was aware of what was happening in the Jewish communities of Russia and Poland. And indeed, it also had all of the political parties: Zionist, anti-Zionist, Socialist and civilian, that had been finding adherents in the Jewish public from the second half of the nineteenth century. Until this period, Zhetl was a religious and traditionally observant town, which was characterized by the division into Chassidim and Mitnagdim, home-owners and artisans, those who studied and simple people.
In the second half of the nineteeth century, the Haskala [Jewish enlightenment movement] arrived in Zhetl and soon afterwards, the Hibat Zion [early Zionist] movement. The head and very first lover of Zion in Zhetl was Reb Yehushua Eizenshtat-Barzilai. He lived in Zhetl for 16 years (1871-1887) and moved to the land of Israel from here. In the Zionist world he was well-known as one of the founders of Bnei Moshe and one of the heads of the Land of Israel Office in Jaffa. In around 1898 he visited Zhetl and with his speeches attracted many adherents to the Zionist idea. As a result of this visit, and thanks to the support of Rabbi Reb Baruch Avraham Mirski, who had been the rabbi of Zhetl since 1892, the Zionist Association was founded in 1899. It was headed by Reb Menachem Vernikovski, Reb Shlomo Zalmen Dunetz and Reb Aharon Hersch Langbort.
The Association included the more progressive fathers, all of them religiously observant. Their activities concentrated in the middle study hall and in the Talmud Torah school and was expressed by selling shekels, shares in Bank Ha'Otzar, collecting monies for the Keren Kayemet and explaining the Zionist idea.
In the same years the first buds of the socialist and revolutionary movement could be seen in Zhetl. Those were years of expansion for the socialist forces, which strove to change the rules of government in Russia. Following the change in the rules of government, the Jewish socialists also hoped for a solution to the Jewish question.
Two socialist parties started in Zhetl: The Bund, and the S.R. Their members were organized in small groups, and would gather in private homes, while their larger meetings would take place in the forests around the town. Their activities concentrated on distributing written and spoken propaganda, in which they argued for an 8-hour work day and for social benefits. Occasionally they would organize demonstrations and attacks on government institutions or on the railway.
At the head of the Bund in Zhetl were Chayim Kaplinski, Avraham Moshe Brishensky, Yehoshua Obsievitz and others. At the head of the S.R. David Nedlshtein and Ilya Dovkovski were notable. As the waves of the revolution in Russia calmed, there was a certain slackening among the socialist parties in Zhetl.
Until the outbreak of World War I, Zhetl was characterized by the following division: the sons tended towards the anti-Zionist socialism, the progressive fathers toward Zionism, while most of the people were faithful to tradition. The traditionally faithful were gathered by the Rabbi, Reb Zalmen Sorotzkin, in Agudath Israel.
With the outbreak of the first world war, the situation changed. Starting in 1915, the Zionists, headed by the young Efra'im Blogolovski, opened the Zionist club, which gathered to it a large portion of the youth of Zhetl. When World War I was over, factional differentiation appeared in the Zhetl Zionism as well as the hegemony of the youth.
From the twenties and up to 1939, all of the important Zionist parties existed in Zhetl: The General Zionists, Po'alei Zion (Zionist Workers), HaShomer HaTza'ir (The Young Guard), The Revisionists and the Mizrachi.
In the beginning of the twenties, the advantage was held initially by the anti-Zionist circles, thanks to their energy and excellent organization, but beginning in the second half of the twenties, the advantage passed to the Zionists, who made their impression on all matters going on in the town, and who created joint frameworks such as: the Tarbut school, the Keren Kayemet Committee, the Keren HaYesod Committee, the Shekel Committee, and so on.
The equal side to all of the parties in Zhetl: their activity was great and decisive in deepening national and social awareness. With the Soviet invasion in 1939, they all disappeared from the horizon and the only ruler became the Communist Party. At first, the Zhetl communists were active in it, but before very long they were pushed aside and their places were taken by emissaries of the party from outside of Zhetl. The German invasion put an end to this party as well.
by Borukh Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
In the second half of the 19th century Zhetl was still an orthodox and extremely religious town. However enlightenment leanings began to slowly seep in. We don't know how large the circle of enlighteners was. We also don't know exactly who they were. However we can surmise that one of these enlightened Zhetl Jews was Yehoshua Heilpern.
From a correspondence in the newspaper Hameilitz (vol. 15, 1883) we learn that he arranged for 20 neglected boys to be trained by Zhetl craftsmen. He paid for them to learn a trade.
In this correspondence we read: he noticed these neglected, poor boys were turning to crime. Worrying for their future he convinced them to leave their dirty work and learn a trade.
As we know, work and productivity are the foundations of the Jewish enlightenment. Without a doubt, Yehoshua Heilpern was one of Zhetl's enlightened Jews.
It is also clear that the author of this correspondence who uses the pseudonym Yevetz was also an enlightened Jew.
There were enlightened Jews from Zhetl who wrote for the Hebrew press: Yitzkhak Yakov Perles (The Preacher), Shloime Hemtzovsky (The Lebanon), Mayrim Namiyat (Hameilitz) and two Zhetl writers: A. Ben Avigdor and Menakhem Mendl Merlinsky, who later became very famous.
We know a lot more about members of the Hovevei Zion, who were probably recruited from the enlightened circles.
Zhetl's Hovevei Zion members were merchants, store owners and craftsmen from the middle and older generations. They had to fight the orthodox and Slonim Hasidim who did not look favourably upon Zionism.
Yitzkhak Gibori (Khabravitsky) who left Zhetl in 1900 tells us that some established men in town came to his father and said: Reb Avrom Yakov, your son is running around with the little Zionists.
Reb Avrom Yakov replied: may he never run around with anything worse.
This was a typical conversation. He claimed when the movement took its first steps in Zhetl, it already had a bit of prestige and its followers were referred to as little Zionists.
The atmosphere changed a bit with the arrival of Rabbi Borukh Avrom Mirsky in 1892, but I'll talk about that a little later. Now, a few words on this topic: who were the members of the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl.
Reb Yehoshua Eisneshtat Barzilai
One of the first members of the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl was Reb Yehoshua Eisenshtat, later known by the name of Barzilai. Together with Ahad Ha'am he was one of the founders of B'nei Moshe, a director of the Eretz Yisrael office in Jaffa and participated in the founding of the Centre for Artisans in Eretz Yisrael. He was also among the founders of a girl's school in Jaffa and helped the Biluim in Gdera and was among the early founders of Rechovot, Be'er Tuvia, Metula, and Mishmar Hayarden.
Reb Yehoshua Eisenshtat Barzilai was born in Klezk in 1855. In 1871 he married Taybeh the daughter of a Zhetl merchant Reb Leyzer Fraydkes. His daughter Shifra was born in Zhetl in 1880.
Yehoshua Barzilai lived in Zhetl for 16 years. He ran large businesses. He dealt in lumber with a businessman from Grodno named Ahkenazi, eggs, leased the bathhouse, and was very successful. Besides all this he was very active in communal life. He was one of the founders and the breath of life of the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl. In a list published in Ha Magid (vol. 30, 1872) the names of about a dozen Jews from Zhetl appear who donated money to aid Persian Jews who were, at the time, suffering from hunger. Among those donating was Yehoshua Eisneshtat who gave 50 kopeks for this cause.
In 1887 Yehoshua Barzilai immigrated from Zhetl to Eretz Yisrael. Eleven years later, in 1898 he returned to Zhetl for a visit and gave a lecture in the House of Study which was written up in Ha Meilitz (vol. 232, 1898). His lecture about farmers on the Moshavot and the Anglo Palestine Bank made a great impression. Many Jews in Zhetl decided to become involved in the Zionist movement. Even the extreme opponents began to show more compassion toward the Zionists.
During a party of the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl, Yehoshua Barzilai told them about a colonist from Zhetl in Kastina, Elimeylekh Izraelit. After the party the Jews of Zhetl donated money for the workers in Kastina.
Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky
Another son in law of Zhetl was Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky from Slonim who married Soreh Dvoyreh Zeltzer from Zhetl. He became a central figure in the Hovevei Zion and Zionist movements in Zhetl until he emigrated in 1925.
Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky was the representative in Zhetl for the Odessa Society to Support Agriculture and Artisans in Syria and Eretz Yisrael (HaMeilitz vol. 4, 1898). In a letter from the Odessa Committee to Menakhem Vernikovsky dated October 29, 1897, we learn that the Czarist Minister of the Interior granted permission to the Odessa Committee to elect 67 representatives throughout Russia who had the right to collect membership fees. Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky was appointed, in this letter, as the representative from Zhetl. Membership dues amounted to a minimum of 5 rubles a year.
From this letter we learn Zhetl was an important Zionist centre, one of 67 in the Russian Empire and Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky was one of the most important Zionists in the country.
Many Zionist meetings took place in his home. In later years he displayed a lot of compassion and understanding for Labour Zionists although he himself was a religious Zionist.
Reb Shloime Zalmen Dunyetz
Reb Shloime Zalmen Dunyetz played a very important role in the Zhetl Hovevei Zion. His life, especially his Zionist activity and his emigration to Eretz Yisrael is described in our book by his grandson Mordkhai Dunyetz.
Reb Aharon Hersh Langbart
Reb Aharon Hersh Langbart, the father of the representative of the Jewish National Fund Reb Avrom Langbart was one of the most passionate preachers of Zionist thought in Zhetl.
Other Members in the Zionist Movement
Other members of the Zionist movement in Zhetl were: Eliezer Matisyahu Kantorovitch, who published often in Hatzfira, Ziml Zimelevitch and Yakov Zimelevitch who complained in an article in Ad Hazman in 1909 that Zhetl only subscribes to three Hebrew newspapers, when there are 20 subscriptions to Yiddish papers and 12 Russian. Other members of the Zionist organization were Meir Mirsky, Yoine Leyb Khlebnikov, (Hameilitz vol. 46, 1902), Moishe Arzikhovsky, Noyekh Rozvasky, Aharon Alpert and others.
The Rabbi Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky
As mentioned, Hovevei Zion in Zhetl received a lot of help from the rabbi and Hovevei Zion member Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky. His Zionist activity is described in this book by Rabbi Y. L. Maimon and Moishe Tzinovitch. Thanks to him and Yehoshua Eisenshtat there were often Hovevei Zion gatherings in Zhetl.
The 100th Anniversary of the Death of the Vilna Gaon
We read about this gathering in Hameilitz (Vol. 227, 1897). It was during the week of Sukkot, 1897, marking the 100th anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon, the Hovevei Zion members gathered in the House of Study and organized a celebration through prayer. At his event it was decided to plant two trees in Shmuel Garden in the name of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilover and greetings were sent to Rabbi Shmuel Mohilover, to the Odessa Committee, and to all the colonists in Eretz Yisrael and to all members of the Hovevei Zion around the world.
The Founding of the Zionist Association
Meetings such as this would often occur however there was still no organized Zionist Association in Zhetl. Only in 1899 was a Zionist Association founded in Zhetl. We learn this from Hameilitz (vol. 280, 1899). The correspondent of this information who hid behind the initial M.R. tells us, in spite of the opposition of the Slonim Hasidim and the extreme religious, the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl finally succeeded in organizing an association.
From this article we can surmise that the Hovevei Zion in Zhetl was still very small and despite the help of Zhetl's rabbi they still had to battle the religious circles in town.
Daughters of Zion
At the same time the Zionist Association was founded in Zhetl, an association of Daughters of Zion was also founded. Unfortunately we do not know the names of the members in this organization, but we learn from the aforementioned article, the founders attempted to spread Zionism among the women in Zhetl.
The Enlightened Activity
The enlightened activity of the Zhetl's Hovevei Zion was concentrated in a few places: at the middle House of Study, at the Talmud Torah, and at Menakhem Vernikovsky's house.
The middle House of Study in Zhetl was considered to be the progressive, Zionist House of Study.
On holidays the Zionist Association would pray in a side room. Sometimes they would organize their prayers in a room in the Talmud Torah. After prayers, Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky or Reb Aharon Hersh Langbart would deliver a passionate speech dedicated to Zionism.
The Hovevei Zion would organize special celebrations on the Sabbath Nakhamu and on Chanukah. Sabbath Nakhamu was considered to be the Zionist Sabbath. After reading the Torah the Zhetl preachers would propagate Zionist thought. Similar celebrations would take place on Chanukah. From the article in Hameilitz written in 1899 we learn that year the celebrations took place in a hall with Zionist speeches and songs and 30 new members joined.
Friday nights the Hovevei Zion members would gather in the old House of Study, learn the Torah portion of the week and share their love for Eretz Yisrael.
The Hovevei Zion would often organize parties with a bottle of Carmel wine and the singing of Zionist songs. (See Moshe Bitan Zhetl Fifty Years Ago).
What comprised the practical work of the Hovevei Zion and Zionists?
One of the most important tasks was to collect membership fees for the Odessa Committee. Of no less importance was the task to recruit members for Zionist colonization societies. One such society was the Dorshei Zion (The Preachers of Zion) in Paris. The branch of Dorshei Zion in our region was situated in Minsk with members from all the towns and cities in the area. The task of the association was to buy land in Eretz Yisrael for its members. In order to realize this, every member had to pay yearly dues. After a certain amount of years every member received a kushan (a certificate of registration on immovables) for a piece of land according to his yearly contribution.
According to financial receipts which are in our possession, Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky was a member of Dorshei Zion from 1893 until 1902. In 1893 he paid 100 francs in membership dues, in 1898, 20 ruble and in 1899, 10 ruble.
From a letter written by the secretary of Dorshei Zion in Minsk to Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky we learn that members of the society did not pay their due regularly therefore the association could not send its delegate to Eretz Yisrael.
Besides Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky the are also other
Hovevei Zion members from Zhetl who belonged to Dorshei Zion but unfortunately no records have remained.
Later, with the emergence of Zionism, the former members of Hovevei Zion and the present political Zionist begin to sell shares from the Colonial Bank, collect money for the Jewish National Fund and sell shekels.
We do not have any material on the ideological orientation of Zhetl's Hovevi Zion. We can however surmise the orientation of the Zhetl's Zionist Association from an appeal which was published in Hameilitz (Vol. 46, 1902).This appeal was signed by dozens of Zionist associations in Russia, including Zhetl with its five leaders: Menakhem Vernikovsky, Ziml Zimelevitch, Eliezer Matisyahu Katorovitch, Meir Mirsky and Yoine Leyb Khlebnikov.
It was emphasized in this appeal that the undersigned have nothing against the democratic wing, to the contrary, they value the young energy in Zionism. However, the proclamations of a few members of the wing forced them to publish this appeal.
The appeal protests against Dr. Chaim Weitzman who invited secretaries to a gathering of young Zionists. Two from the exile language but not one from the Zion language. Dr. Weitzman's proposal was not well received, therefore the appeal was gratifying. It stressed that the hostess (Hebrew) had the honour to sit at the presidium beside maid (Yiddish).
The appeal was also aimed against one of the youth who proposed that they only observe the Jewish laws which are appropriate for our times and only celebrate holidays which possess a national character.
The appeal stresses that each individual can fulfill any good deed he wishes and Zionism, as an organization cannot divide our Torah and culture into military companies as this can be used against Zionism in general.
The appeal protested against the young (Abramovitch) who claimed Zionism was a solution only for our economic and cultural needs.
Finally the appeal protests against Dr. Motzkin who suggested forgetting our past.
From the unanimity of Zhetl's Zionists concerning this appeal we learn they are progressive and value the young. (The appeal ends with these words: Peace for Israel and our youth). Understandably they could not force every individual to fulfill all the commandments, however at the same time they stood firm with both feet on the subject of our long tradition.
We have very little information about the activity of the Zionist association from 1902 1915. We have gathered more information from the period 1915 1918 during the German occupation.
During the German Occupation
In his article entitled Zhetl During the German Occupation Yosef Vinyetsky describes the activity of the Zionist club. The club has its own locale, a library, organizes gatherings, checkers evenings and a weekly newspaper called Ha Chaver (The Friend), written in Hebrew and Yiddish.
The breath of life behind the Zionist club was Efraim Belagolovsky.
His activism is described in this book by Nekhemieh Aminoakh. E. Belagolovsky's greatest achievement was attracting Zhetl's youth to the Zionist association. Until this time those active in the movement were established men from the middle and older generations. Although Belagolovsky was part of the Zionist youth, he tried to make sure the association in Zhetl would maintain a general character.
Efraim Belagolovsky was not satisfied with his Zionist work in Zhetl. He helped organize the Zionist movements in surrounding cities and towns.
In Ha Tzfira (Vol. 1314, 1918) we read the Zhetl Zionist Association collected 400 mark for the national fund and distributed 120 shekel. There is a list which tells us there was a library with 123 readers, lectures, meetings and courses for adults.
Young Zionists in Zhetl
At the end of the German occupation a Zionist youth group was organized in Zhetl. Its members were: Ayge Izraelit, Pesieh Izraelit, Mordkhai Bender, Khayeh Batchkovsky, Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky, Yakov Zaltsman, Yakov Zimelevitch, Avrom Langbart, Shloime Lubtchansky, Yitzkhak Leybovitch, D. Maslovata, Bezalel Mashkovsky, Namiyat, Avrom Sideransky, Mayrim Epshteyn, Feygl Epshteyn, Yishayahu Moishe Pilnik, Khaye Soreh Kastilansky, Mikhal Rabinovitch, Alte Rabinovitch, Mikhl Roznov, Khane Malke Shvedsky.
There are two tendencies within the youth movement: right and left.
In 1918 a split occurred among the Young Zionists in Zhetl. A group of comrades, led by Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky decided to join the left wing Poalei Zion (Labour Zionists).
This group had 30 members. According to a photograph we have from that time, here is a list of the Poalei Zion members in alphabetical order: (the Hebrew alphabet)
Avrom Ivenitsky, A. Bensky, Rivka Breskin, M. Bender, Y. Bunimovsky, Sh. Ostashinsky, A. Gershovsky, Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky, Alter Zernitsky, Yitzkhak Leybovitch, Tz. Maslovata, Mayrim Epshteyn, V. Savitsky, A. Sideransky, Wolf Farfl, Soreh Kastilansky, Khaim Mikhl Roznov, and Khane Malke Shvedsky.
The Poalei Zion group in Zhetl organized Ha Chalutz (The Pioneer), and performed plays about the life of the workers in Eretz Yisrael and devoted themselves to the public library.
In 1920 Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky died. He was in his early twenties. His death came as a shock to the Poalei Zion group in Zhetl.
After his death the group radicalized. This was as a result of the split in the international Poale Zion movement to the left and right. The radicalization also played a role among Zhetl's youth during the Polish Bolshevik war.
As a result of both processes a portion of Zhetl's members of Poalei Zion left the party
and joined the Yiddishist and anti Zionist wing of Zhetl. A portion of former Poalei Zion members together with the leaders of the literary drama circle became founders of the Zhetl Yiddish school.
Young Mizrachi (Religious Zionists)
By 1918 there was an active group of Young Mizrachi in Zhetl numbering around 15 members. Among them were: Shmuel Dunyetz, BenZion Peskovsky, Mordkhai Sokolovsky, Mordkhai Senderovsky, Ruven Kantesbrot and others.
As mentioned, Zionism in Zhetl up until the First World War was of a religious nature. During the First World War there were two substantial changes in Zhetl's Zionism. 1) Many young people got involved and 2) differentiation in Zhetl's Zionist movement. The movement lost its unity, religious character and three new groups were cultivated: 1) the Young Zionist, 2) Young Mizrachi and 3) the Polaei Zion.
All these groups cultivated the foundation for the emergence of Zionist political parties in Zhetl after the war.
Originally, in the years right after the war the communal initiative in Zhetl lay within anti Zionist circles. However, slowly the Zionist camp began to organize and by the mid 1920s they became the dominating force on Zhetl's Jewish streets.
The history of Zhetl Zionism after the First World War is described in our book by these friends: Yosef Berman, Yakov Indershteyn, Eliezer Namiyat, Dvoyre Gordaysky, Avrom Alpert and others.
by Moishe Mirsky (Montreal)
Translated by Janie Respitz
In Czarist times two revolutionary parties existed in Zhetl: the S.R (Social Revolutionaries) and the Bund. The main leader of the Bund was Khaim Kaplinsky who due to his political activity spent many years in Siberia. In later years he was among the builders of the Yiddish School and today he and his wife live in Poland.
In 1906 an expropriation of the post train was carried out at the station in Novoliyenie. The group that carried out this attack was comprised of nine Russians and three Jewish guys from our town: Shmuel Zhelianier, Eliyahu Rabinovitch (the son of the Moscow rabbi), and Dovid Nodlshteyn, the lead organizer of this group.
Due to a provocation this expropriation failed. Police forces were notified in three towns: Lida, Baranovitch and Slonim. They blocked all the roads around the town and one day after the expropriation all those who participated were captured at the Nieman River.
Dovid Nodlshteyn was not with the group at the Nieman but a few days later he was, incidentally, arrested.
This was a Sunday during a Catholic holiday procession. Dovid Nodlshteyn lived in the garrett at the home of the Krigel family. This house was next door to the church. People stood on the stoop of the house watching the parade, including children who noticed something was sticking out of the attic. When they took it down they were shocked to find a few revolvers and two bombs.
They immediately notified the police who searched the house and arrested Nodlshteyn as a political suspect, but not as leader of the attack. However, during the investigation a friend betrayed him and he was accused of leading the expropriation.
The trial took place a year later in Grodno against those who participated in the attack. Eliyahu and Shmuel Rabinovitch were released due to lack of evidence. They were found with the group but they did not take part in the attack. Their job was to wait by the river and take the attackers across to the other side. At the trial they said they were coincidentally at the Nieman River fishing and suddenly the attackers came with weapons and forced them to take them across the river. This is why they were released.
Dovid Nodlshteyn, the organizer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison. He languished in a Moscow jail until 1917 when he was released by the revolution.
I still remember an interesting evening in 1919 during the occupation of the Bolsheviks. Dovid Nodlshteyn was visiting Zhetl. The Literary Drama Society organized a reception for him. Over a cozy cup of tea, he told us of his experiences during ten years in a Moscow jail.
I also remember the expropriation of the state treasury which took place on the streets of St. Petersburg. The attack was partially successful, that is to say, they took the money but paid for it with two human lives. During the shooting two revolutionaries were wounded. They were captured and later sentenced to death. One of the victims was from Zhetl, Yitzkhak Rabinovitch, the son of Feyvl.
Katsapes (A pejorative word for Russians)
In Noyekh Prilutsky's folkore collection, where all the nicknames of Jewish towns in Poland are listed,
our town Zhetl is recorded with the nickname Katsapes. I will explain here how our town got such an unsuitable name.
Zhetl was considered one of the most cultural and important Jewish towns in the region. Jews lived in unity really like one family. Everybody enjoyed each other's celebrations and empathized with their sorrows.
I remember still in Czarist times when conscription took place in our town. Non Jewish boys would come to our town from the surrounding area. Understandably, there was no lack of antiSemitism at that time. They would get drunk and let loose on a Jewish beard, throw stones at Jewish windows and grab something from a Jewish shop without paying.
As our Jews hated to be pushed around they honoured these gentile boys until they finally respected the Zhetl Jews.
Friends of our local gentile boys would go work in larger cities and always threaten the city Jews: remember our guys will come from Odessa and settle accounts with you.
I would like to recall an event: four nice young guys came for conscription (I even remember they came from the village Pager). At the train station in Novoliynie they went to the buffet, had a couple of drinks and beat up a few Zhetl Jews. They also bragged that when they came to town they would honour the rest of the Jews.
A special courier on a bicycle came to town and informed us. As one should, ten Zhetl boys, headed by Leyb Dorevsky, were waiting on the highway to honour the gentile boys, as they deserved. Two of the guys spent time in the hospital and the rest avoided the Jews.
This is how Zhetl youth defended the honour of our Jews, therefore I would call them heroes and not Katsapes.
Translated by Judy Montel
Close to Zhetl, next to the station at Novoilanya, an attack was carried out against the mail train in 1906. The attackers meant to steal the treasury chest for the S.R. revolutionary party. Nine Russian revolutionaries took part in the attack as well as three young men from Zhetl: Shmuel Rabinowitz, Eliyahu Rabinowitz (son of Rabbi Reb Shmuel from Moscow) and David Nedlshtein.
The attack failed and the attackers were caught near the Neman River. However, the head of the group, David Nedlshtein was caught in totally different circumstances. It was on Sunday, during the Catholic procession in honor of the Christian holiday. The children of Zhetl, who were watching the procession, came across a suspicious package in the attic of David Nedlshtein's home in which there were hand guns and bombs.
The police, who were called to the place, arrested David Nedlshtein who was later sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. David Nedlshtein was only released from prison in 1917 by the forces of the revolution, but Eliyahu and Shmuel Rabinowitz were released immediately from lack of evidence.
At the trial that took place against the two of them in Grodno, they claimed that they happened to be in the area of the Neman in order to go fishing, and suddenly the attackers surprised them and forced to cross the Neman, however, they had no connection to the attack and the attackers. To their joy, the court accepted this claim.
In 1919, David Nedlshtein arrived in Zhetl as a visitor. In a party in his honor that was organized by the literary-drama club, he told of his suffering in the Moscow jail.
I also remember an attack on the treasury chest in the streets of Peterburg. The attack succeeded, the chest was stolen, however two of the participants in the attack were injured. One of them was Yitzchak Rabinowitz, son of Reb Feivel Skidler, who was caught and sentenced to death.
by Yekhiel Kuznietzky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The Bund was founded in Zhetl around 1902.
The organizers were:
Avrom Moishe Borishansky, Alter Bom, Bene Blokh (Notke the teacher's son), Yosl Khemes, Yitzkhak Levit, Nakhman Shmuel Moishe's, Mayrim Epshteyn, Yekhiel Kuznetzky, Leyzer Rabinovitch, Shloime Pilnik and others.
As I remember the founding took place in Oleshnik on the Novolienye highway. Smaller meetings would take place at the home of Pinkhas the shoemaker. Our liaison officer to the committee in Slonim was Khaim Kaplinsky who would go back and forth by foot in order to provide us with revolutionary literature.
The goal of our political party was to carry out educational work between the workers and youth and fight for a shorter work day. I would like to recall here some of the actions our party carried out.
A Proclamation Not to Take Any Russian Money
It was 1904. We received proclamations from Slonim calling on us not to take
by H. Lubchansky Khabibi (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Under the influence of my uncle Yitzkhak Asher Vernikovsky I joined the S.R. as a young girl. As everywhere else, we were organized into groups of ten. The leader of our group was Gele Bom.
We would meet, most of the time, at Dovid Goldshteyn's, in the attic (of Krigl's house), where we would read and explain chapters from socialism and Marxism. We would print appeals on a hectograph and hang them in the streets and often send them to nearby towns. I was one of the liaisons and would often go to Dvoretz and Slonim with printed material.
My Mother is Not Happy
I would keep the typewriter, printing materials and weapon parts in our home. Because of this there were often searches. My mother was not overjoyed. She claimed that if my father had stopped us we would not have joined the revolutionary movement. But father did not stop us. Despite the fact he was a passionate Zionist he was sympathetic to the revolutionary movement, especially the S.R.
Larger meetings were held in Oleshnik, on the way to Novolenyie. On Saturdays, especially in the summer, we would sit on the ground in Oleshnik and have passionate discussions. Representatives from other parties, Bundists and Zionists, would often participate at these meetings. People would often come to these meetings to give lectures, from the central office and even from Moscow.
Tuesday, from time to time after the market day, we would gather at Yosl the house painter's tea house. At four o'clock, when the peasants went home we would sit in the packed tea house and listen to lectures from the central office or from neighbouring towns which called on us to perform revolutionary acts against the Czarist regime.
During such meetings, our comrades would stand armed on the street to guard us and ensure the police would not come. I remember at one meeting a fire broke out and everyone ran away.
Zhetl's party comrades would not attend these meetings. Due to security reasons they would go to other towns while comrades from other towns would come to us.
The leaders of the Zhetl S.R. were Elye Zabkovsky and Hirshl the pious man's son. Elye Zabkovsky did not play an important role only in Zhetl but in the entire region as well. In 190506 he was sentenced to forced labour and served his time in Moscow. He was given amnesty in 1917.
We Disrupt a Zionist Speaker
We would often go to the House of Study and disrupt a Zionist speaker. Such an incident would naturally end with a commotion, until the superintendent of the police would arrive and chase away both sides.
After such meetings there would be arrests. We would always find a solution with the Zhetl police. For a few rubles we would free our comrade.
The first strike in Zhetl was organized against Avrom Yakov Tikachinsky. He was a ritual scribe and employed many writers. We demanded money from him, if I'm not mistaken, 2000 ruble. It is worthwhile to mention, his own son, a Bundist, instigated the action against his father.
At Our Home
There was a very different atmosphere in my father's home. He often hosted Zionist meetings and celebrations. In the interim days of Passover and Sukkot, all the Zionists would come to us, give donations and receive receipts for the Jewish National Fund or buy stocks at the Anglo Palestine bank where Zhetl Jews would buy on credit. At these gatherings there would often be a report given by Reb Zalmen Dunetz who would travel throughout the province collection money for the Zionist cause.
by Dov Arzhekhovsky (Akko)
Translated by Janie Respitz
After the First World War when the last boots of the German occupiers left Poland and White Russia a civil war broke out between the Polish nobility and the not yet well organized Red Army. Zhetl remained under the control of newly emerging Polish power.
Later, when the life of the Jewish population began to normalize, Zhetl's youth began to feel something was missing. They began to search for what the four war years brutally took from them.
A group of young people among whom were: Yoel Tcheplovodsky, of blessed memory, Mote Turetsky, of blessed memory, Noyakh Mnuskin, of blessed memory, Mikhal Guzovsky, of blessed memory, Shmuel Mnuskin (now in Israel) and Berl Arzhekhovsky (now in Israel), began to talk about opening a corner for the youth where they would be able to spend their free time. They decided to establish a cultural group called The Youth Society in Zhetl. To achieve this goal they needed a locale which Zhetl did not possess at that time.
A founding meeting was called in the home of Yokhe Arzhekhovsky. Those gathered declared the goal of the organization. All gathered, except the girls had the right to join the Youth Society. Boys signed up from all levels of Zhetl youth no matter their parentage, which in those days played an important role on the Jewish street.
The registered members ranged from 15 18 years old. It was decided at the founding meeting that everyone had to pay monthly membership dues, which would go toward renting a locale as well as buying newspapers and books.
We rented space in the home of Yokhe Arzhekhovsky, which had a room where we held our meetings as well as a reading room. In those years we did not have our own cultural forces as the majority of us were boys who did not even finish our studies at the Talmud Torah due to the World War.
The older youth as well were not well organized so there was really no one to turn to for cultural help.
Then, one of the older youth approached us whose name was Noyakh Mikulitsky (Moishe Dovid the stagecoach driver's grandson). He left the Yeshiva and became a teacher in Zhetl. He offered to help us, voluntarily, in the form of readings and lectures for our standing members.
We also turned to the municipal library in Zhetl, which had been in existence from before the war to help us obtain books for our reading room.
The board of the directors of the library under the directorship of Yitzkhak Leybovitch, accommodated us with books.
At one meeting a suggestion was made to allow girls to join, but the majority voted against in order not to create chaos among those who were not yet culturally developed.
After a certain amount of time, when the youth had become a bit more mature and aware, a suggestion was brought to the general meeting to create a drama circle within the Youth Society. In order to present performances, they needed girls. This is when the suggestion to allow girls reemerged and this time was accepted. The first two female members were Khaya Dvoyre Sovitsky (Khaim Velvl the tailor's daughter today in Argentina), and Khaya Soreh Grande (who perished in the ghetto).
The Youth Society existed from the beginning of 1922 until the end of 1924. New winds began to blow through Poland. Political parties were being founded such as the Bund, the communist party and the Zionist organization. Each member, according to his convictions, decided on a party causing the Youth Society to disband.
The Professional Union in Zhetl
After the undoing of the Youth Society, we began to hear rumours,
that in the surrounding towns like Slonim and Baranovitch professional unions were being organized. Zhetl's young workers began to think about organizing and establishing a professional union in town.
Two delegates of youth workers were sent to Baranovitch which was then the centre of White Russia. The members were: Noyakh Mnuskin, of blessed memory and Mikhal Guzovsky, of blessed memory. They had to become informed and bring instructions back on how to organize a professional union. These members brought the necessary material as well as the address of the Central Professional Union in Warsaw at 17 Brotzke Street. As there was no locale a founding meeting of all workers was held in the small forest near Zhetl, behind the cemetery.
It was the spring of 1924. The organizers of the general meeting were: Mikhal Guzovsky of blessed memory, Noyakh Mnuskin of blessed memory, Shmuel Mnuskin (now in Israel), Mote Turetzky of blessed memory, Khaim Sovitzky (now in America) and Berl Arzhekhovsky (now in Israel). At that meeting it was decided to turn to the central office in Warsaw in order to legalize a professional union in Zhetl, because without their permission it would not be possible to hold these gatherings. At the same time a temporary board of directors was elected composed of those mentioned above in order to begin the work.
The temporary board turned to the central office in Warsaw at 17 Brotzke Street. When permission was received from Warsaw to create a union a second meeting was called of all Zhetl workers in order to announce the legalization and register new members.
At the general meeting it was decided to tax all members in order to rent a locale, without which no work could get done. The administration took the money and rented a locale in the home of Moishe Khaim the teacher (in the synagogue courtyard). The administration began to recruit members and organize trade sections.
The needle section consisted of: tailors, seamstresses and hat makers. The leather section: cobblers, stitchers and saddle makers. The building section: carpenters, blacksmiths and locksmiths. They also organized the labourers at Leybe Kaplinsky's sawmill, which was made up mainly of Christians. It was difficult to organize the Christian workers who came from the villages. Work for them was not a matter of life and death, and because of them, the Christian village workers, strikes often broke out in workshops which opposed salary increases.
There were approximately 100 120 members of the professional union in Zhetl.
We Join the Central Bund
In the early years of the Polish democracy the centre of the professional union in Warsaw at 17 Brotzke Street was under the influence of the communist party. Until 1925 26 the Polish authorities tolerated this situation. However, in the years when angry winds began to blow in Poland they began to harass the professional union and put some of the leadership in jail. Also the provincial unions which had joined the communist central began suffering from harassment, Zhetl included.
The situation reached the point that the central office of the professional union in Warsaw at 17 Brotzke Street had to liquidate and joined the Bund, which in the eyes of the Polish authorities was kosher. This unification took place according to the conditions of the Bund. Automatically, the professional union in Zhetl also joined the Bund at 1 Tlomatcki Street.
The professional union in Zhetl did not preside over political activity. However, outside the framework of the union, each member took part in political activities according to his own convictions.
As long as our union in Zhetl was connected to the communist central, the communists had the main influence. Later, the situation changed.
We Are On Strike
The first strike in Zhetl broke out at the end of 1924 in the leather trade; the stitchers. When the bosses, after long negotiations did not want to concede to the striking workers, a solidarity strike broke out among the cobblers which were a strong section of the leather trade.
After, when the negotiations with the craftsmen's union did not produce results, the administration of the professional union decided to open their own workshops, produce shoes and sell them at the market at competitive prices. To achieve this goal Zhetl's professional union required a stitcher from Baranovitch. Workshops were set up and the shoes they produced were sold at the market for competitive prices. This broke the stubbornness of the bosses and
they conceded to the striking workers. I must mention, strikes would normally break out before the Christian holidays when all the workshops had enough workers.
The second big strike broke out in the spring of 1925 among the tailors. Here too, the bosses, under the direction of the craftsmen's union were stubborn, and used Christian strike breakers for whom work was not a matter of life and death.
Once, when the workers from the professional union wanted to take down a Christian strike breaker from Y. L's workshop, the boss threw a hot iron at them.
A second incident took place at Aharon Yoselevitch's workshop. When the striking workers wanted to take down a Christian strike breaker, and he resisted, he was badly beaten by the workers.
Photo: Members of the dramatic society of the seamstress union.
Name of the play: Itzikl Wants to Get Married.
Seated in the first row: Herman Frenkel, Khaim Leybovitch. Second row: Moishe Lisagusrky, Nokhem Bryder, Shimen Levaranchik, Blond Noishe (Indershteyn), Ruven Krugman. Third row: Beyle Mnuskin, ……Fourth row standing: Yokhe Zernitsky, Zelda Likhter, Alter Gertzovsky, Sorke Novogrudsky,…., Sayne Leah Karpelovitch,….,Kalmen Sholkovitch, …..Meir Mankovitch.
We must be thankful that the commander of police was a leftist and sided with the workers. He was satisfied with a warning that this should not happen again. Finally, after long negotiations with the craftsmen union, the strike in the needle trade was liquidated. The professional union in Zhetl also organized its own drama circle and with their own resources, directed by Herman Frenkel of blessed memory, carried out performances and review evenings.
This is how Zhetl's workers lived and fought for their existence until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
Translated by Judy Montel
In the first years after the first World War, there was a professional union in Zhetl that was a branch of the center in Warsaw, that was under communist influence. However, over time, the communist center in Warsaw was dismantled and we became a branch of the professional union that was influenced by the Bund.
The first strike in Zhetl after World War I broke out at the end of 1924 in the workshops of the stitchers. After these did not agree to the demands of the workers, a sympathy-strike broke out also in the cobblers' workshops.
The exhausting negotiations with the Artisans Union were not successful and then the committee of the professional union in Zhetl decided to open his own workshop, and to manufacture shoes and to compete with the stitchers and cobblers. In order to accomplish this decision, a stitcher was invited from Baranovitch and started manufacturing cheap shoes and this softened the stubbornness of the artisans. By the way, I wish to note that we would mostly declare a strike before the holidays of the Christians, when all of the workshops were working at full capacity.
The second strike broke out in the spring of 1925 in the tailors' workshops. They, guided by the artisans union, remained incalcitrant and ordered Christian strike-breakers who worked for very little since the work was not a matter of livelihood for them, and they usually also worked in agriculture.
by Yosef Berman (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
We were a group of young Zionists, almost all the same age. Many of us were idlers, while others worked in their parents' shops. But we all dedicated a lot of time to Zionist work.
Our small group headed by Avrom Langbart belonged to the most active Zionist movement in town. Besides us there were many Zionist activists in town, but they were older, they had families, business and worries about earning a living. We however, were young, unmarried and unemployed.
Our first Zionist work was to collect money for the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency and other Zionist funds. We were devoted to this work with heart and soul.
A bit of time passed and suddenly our lives changed. This was approximately 1924.
One Friday in the summer I received an invitation to come that evening to the home of Menakhem Vernikovsky. It was emphasized in the invitation that this meeting was urgent and secret. This made me very curious. I wanted to learn the secret sooner than later. However, there was nothing I could do except be patient and wait until the evening.
The Founding Meeting
As soon as my father returned from synagogue I ate quickly and left for Menakhem Vernikovsky's. When I arrived I saw old friends as well as some new faces. I soon learned the purpose of this secret meeting. They confided in me that a member from the central office of HeChalutz came from Warsaw with the intention of starting a branch in Zhetl. Our duty was to be first pioneers, the founders and spreaders of this idea. Avrom Bialopolsky from the central office came to explain the tasks and goals of HeChalutz in general and particularly our task in Zhetl.
This took me and the other members by surprise. I was overjoyed. We had waited a long time for this moment. Now we were happy that we lived to see the minute where we could realize our dream.
The meeting took place in secret as we were not registered with the authorities. Our group had 30 members. We went down to Menakhem Vernikovsky's cellar to be sure we would not be discovered.
It was dark in the cellar but we did not want to turn on a light on the Sabbath in the presence of Menakhem Vernikovsky, so we sat in the dark until late at night and listened to A. Bialopolsky's lecture.
I Decided to Become a Pioneer
A. Bialopolsky explained he had the authority from the central office to create a branch of HeChalutz in Zhetl.
He explained the tasks of HeChalutz: Physical training and pioneer training. When someone joins HeChalutz he is not asked which political party he belongs to as HeChalutz is apolitical, however it is affiliated with the Histadrut Haovdim (Worker's Union). The first condition to receive a certificate from HeChalutz was to participate in a training camp for 6 months to a year. To achieve this goal training centres were established.
He spoke at length until late into the night. He told us about life in the Land of Israel, about the Kibbutzim, the working class, and emphasized that our task was to prepare the youth here in the diaspora to go and settle on a kibbutz and not in a city.
However, given that not everyone was capable of the hard work of drying out swamps required on a kibbutz, longer training would be demanded to prepare our members in the diaspora to be good pioneers in the Land of Israel. He ended with these words:
Friends, you will have to leave your work, your parents, and your home, become pioneers, travel to the Land of Israel and with your own strength build the new country for yourselves and future generations.
It was dark and quiet in the cellar. Everyone was dreamy and did not speak a single word,
but everyone felt deep in the hearts that these were the words of a prophet who came to bring the message of the redemption of the land and it was up to us to realize this dream.
At that moment I felt I must be one of the redeemers and I decided to be a pioneer. All of our friends made the same decision.
We knew we were taking on a difficult obligation, but at the same time we understood, if not us, no one.
It was decided that the next afternoon we would gather again. In the middle of the night we all sang Hatikva and separated.
The First Organizational Steps
The next morning our group held a meeting with A. Bialopolsky. A temporary council was elected with three members until the general meeting would be held. The council consisted of: 1) Yoel Tcheplovodsky chairman, 2) Efraim Klin secretary, 3) Hirshl Gertzovsky treasurer.
According to instructions we received from the central office of HeChalutz, each of us who joined HeCHalutz had to fill out a requisition and provide a biography. We did not accept anyone who opposed Zionism. Those confirmed by the council were accepted as candidates for a period of 6 months. Candidates who were active in the organization and fulfilled all obligations were accepted by the general assembly to join as members.
It was a Saturday afternoon (I don't remember the exact date), when HeChalutz in Zhetl was founded. Later, together with HeChalutz HaTzair (The Young Pioneer) numbered 150 members. Some of them are living today in Israel on a Kibbutz, Moshav or in a city.
When HeChalutz was founded the group had 11 members: 1) Zelig Orlinsky, 2)Shmaya Broyda, 3) Yosef Berman, 4) Dvoyre Gorodaysky, 5) Yoel Tcheplovodsky, 6) Nimke Leybovitch, 7) Zvi Lusky, 8) Yisroel Senderovsky, 9) Efraim Klin, 10) Mordkhai Rozovsky, 11) Zvi Rabinovitch.
Everyone in town soon learned about the HeChalutz organization. We began to receive dozens of requests from young people who wanted to be pioneers.
According to instructions you had to be between 18 26 years old to join. We had so many requests, we were able to choose the best.
At first we did our work at the home of Zelig Orlinsky, illegally. One evening the police showed up at Orlinsky's to carry out a search. It appeared to be a denunciation by an opponent. Luckily, they only found 23 members. They did not find any of our material. From that time on we hid everything.
Finally, we rented a locale at Yosl Gertzovsky's, in the name of the Zionist organization. It was a small but very comfortable room.
From right to left, first row: Dovid Lifshitz, Mordkhai Rozovsky
Second row: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Shmaya Broyda…Mikhle Savitzky, Dvoyre Gorodaysky, Sonia Shalkovitch, Arye Cohen
Third row: Khaye Soreh Abelevitch, Afraim Klin, Fraydl Levit, Khaim Itzikovitch
Standing: Yisroel Senderovsky, Yudl Belsky…Yosef Berman, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Hirshl Lusky, …Zelig Orlinsky, Yitzkhak Belsky,…Avrom Guzovsky
Standing in the last row: Antzl Sokolovsky, Yosef Leyzerovitch, Mulke Mnuskin, Avrom Leyserovitch, Hirshl Gertzovsky
In order to pay rent we charged our members a monthly fee. We were independent.
As the amount of requests grew we were forced to stop taking new members. The members we deemed appropriate were invited to a meeting as well as to an exam. Every evening you could see the council sitting in the small room, calling in members to take the exam which scared them.
The council grew from 3 to 5 members. Zelig Orlinsky and I joined. After a few months HeChalutz had over 100 members.
The HeChalutz became very popular. We managed to accomplish a lot for the pioneers and Zionism. Through us, the Zionists in town received fresh young energy, well disciplined people who were enthusiastic and devoted to the cause.
We brought some of the Land of Israel life into almost every Jewish home. We were well respected and our work was held in high esteem.
We Become Workers
We had previously been known in town as idlers, however, thanks to HeCHalutz, we became workers. We did all the work in town, hard and easy. The unskilled among us did unskilled labour. 75% of our wages went to the National Pioneer Fund to help poor pioneers with travel expenses to the Land of Israel and to create training facilities.
When the folk school in Zhetl needed workers to build a building our secretary Yitzkhak Leybovitch asked us to send a set amount of workers every day. We took on this work with enthusiasm, worked quickly, got paid well and were praised.
We also worked in the tannery and turned the wheel to grind bark.
Later on we organized a carpentry shop with Mulke Mnuskin as head worker.
The central office of HeChalutz helped us by sending a member to work in the carpentry shop who also helped us with our cultural work. Later, we lived to see the moment of sending members from Zhetl to the Land of Israel. That was the ultimate goal of HeChalutz.
At the Training Camp
We received from the central office of HeChalutz a circular with declarations for candidates who wanted to leave for 6 months of training camp in various locations in Poland. We were all prepared to go and awaited the moment impatiently. We knew this brought us closer to the Land of Israel.
We certified a long list of members and sent it to Warsaw. It did not take long for us to receive a notice to leave for the training camp. It was fated that Yoel Tcheplovodsky and I would go
First row seated: Rokhl Berman, Eliezer Namiyat, Hinde Senderovsky, Dovid Lifshitz, SOreh Sokolovsky, Moishe Orlinsky, Mereh Skrabun
Second row standing: Elke Koyfman, Avrom Yitzkhak Medvedsky, Sahyne Leah Karpelovitch, Borukh Busel, Khane Obershteyn, Khashke Leybovitch, Leah…
Last row standing: Rokhl Shelubsky, Mosihe Aron Robetz, Shepsl Namiyat, Libe Yoselevitch, Dovid Zelikovitch, Herzl Gertzovsky, Alte Berniker, Shimen Berniker
together to a place near Volkovisk, to a well established Jew. Such training establishments temporarily received 20 members. Those who were involved longer, went to training camp sooner and received a certificate to go to the Land of Israel sooner.
The youth in town were jealous of us. Before our departure they organized a farewell evening with representatives from all the Zionist organizations. The entire HeChalutz as well as regular Jews accompanied us to the highway which leads to Novoyelnie singing Hatikva and Tekhezakna. (Anthems of the Zionist movement).
A little later there were confirmations for new members to go to training camps for 6 months. We spent the entire summer there. We worked in the fields, learned Hebrew and studied about life in the Land of Israel. We returned home for Sukkot and waited for our certificates. It did not take long for us to receive the certificates. Members prepared the necessary papers needed and a few had the honour to go to the Land of Israel and enjoy the new, very difficult but interesting life. These were the first to emigrate:
1) Zelig Orlinsky, 2) Efraim Klin, 3) Shmaya Broyda, 4) Arye Cohen, 5) Zvi Lusky, 6) Henye Piekelny, 7) Shayne Leah Karpelevitch, 8) Shaul Kovensky, of blessed memory, 9) Khasieh Leybovitch, 10) Leybovitch, 11) Miriam Lushtzky, 12) Soreh Shalkovitch, 13) Mulke Mnuskin.
They all live in different parts of the country. I also received a certificate, but due to military service I remained in Poland.
With honour and respect I would like to mention the Zionists who helped the HeCHalutz in Zhetl.
1) Menakhem Vernikovsky, of blessed memory, 2) Zalmen Dunetz of blessed memory, 3) Avrom Langbart of blessed memory, 4) Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky of blessed memory, 5) Mendl Mirsky of blessed memory, 6) Shaul Kaplinsky of blessed memory, 7) Bezalel Mashkovsky of blessed memory, 8) Feyvl Epshteyn of blessed memory, 9) Noyakh Mikulitsky of blessed memory, 10) Aron Zvi Langbart of blessed memory.
Our Influence on Zhetl
Until the founding of HeChalutz in Zhetl, Zionism did not penetrate within the masses. In our town for example, they knew Menakhme Vernikovsky the pharmacist was a Zionist and Zhame the postman (Zalmen Dunetz) and a few other Jews were crazy for Zionism. But they knew very little about Zionism.
Thanks to HeChalutz which became a mass movement, Zionism spread and penetrated into every Jewish home and every Jewish heart.
It was clear, that in a house, if a son or daughter was a pioneer, the parents, as a matter of course, as well as brothers, sisters, acquaintances and friends, and even neighbours became Zionist supporters.
Later, when the pioneers left for the Land of Israel, our influence was strengthened in all circles in town who benefited from Zionism.
I was one of the founders of HeChalutz and was of the few who sacrificed his youth for the Land of Israel.
The HeChalutz existed in Zhetl for about 10 years. Some members were sent to the Land of Israel, some remained in Zhetl and got married but remained good Zionists and never lost hope to one day have the honour to be in the Land of Israel. However, they did not live to realize this dream as they were killed in Zhetl at the hands of the murderers. May these lines serve as a tombstone over the grave of our friends and particularly my best childhood friend Yoel Tcheplovodsky of blessed memory.
May their memories serve as a blessing!
by Eliezer Namiyat (Kiryat Chaim)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Cruel fate dictated that all who stood at the cradle of the Poalei Zion party in Zhetl would be killed, and I, who joined the party a bit later, had to write its history. I made a great effort trying to remember some details of our activities.
The Founding of the Party
The party was founded in 1926 according to the initiative of Alter Dvoretzky and Yudl Bielsky. The first to join the party were: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Mereh Rabinovitch, Shaul Kovensky, Pinkhas Kaplinsky, Borukh Busel, Motke Razvosky and many others. A while later some younger people joined: Me, Dovid Zelikovitch, Shepsl Namiyat, Moishe Aron Robetz and many others from HeChalutz and HeChalutz HaTzair.
The party and its youth developed intensive activity, most important, among the working youth who were by that time organized in anti Zionist parties like the Bund and the communists.
From right to left: Yudl Bielksy, Nokhem Broyde, Soreh Sokolovsky, Dovid Zelikovitch, Malke Lusky, Leybl Lusky, Yente Rivka Gal
Our appearance in the political arena in Zhetl had a different character. Firstly our scope was wider. We recruited over one hundred members into the party and the youth wing. Secondly we felt we were on a mission which the town required. We were the only socialist Zionist factor. We filled a gap which had existed. Even later, when the HaShomer HaTzair was unfolding their very successful activities, they could not play the same role we filled as they were mainly an educational factor and not a socialist Zionist factor.
The Political Activities of the Party
In the beginning we would meet in the small forest on the road to Baranovitch. We called it the Freedom Forest. Later, we rented a locale at Hirshl Kovensky's (the Romanovitch). This made it possible for us to carry out systematic activities. Our events had a good reputation in town. For example the Borokhov Academy which took place every year on the anniversary of Borokhov's death, with participation of the teachers from the Yiddish school led by Herman Frenkl.
Herman Frenkl was ideologically very close to us. With his enterprising spirit he drew in almost the entire Yiddish school into our circle, even anti Zionists liked Leybl Frenkl and Alter Fersky.
Besides this we received great support from the party in Slonim. The members Khatzkl Rabinovitch and V. Romanovsky from Slonim would visit us often.
Two separate political actions which the Poalei Zion in Zhetl executed are deeply engraved in my memory. Our participation in the elections for city council, really insolent on our part, because on the Jewish street there were two strong blocs: the Zionist bloc headed by the committee from the Tarbut School,
From right to left first row: Libe Shatzky, Pinke Kaplinsky, Mireh Epshteyn, Mikhle Sholkovitch, Asneh Zatzefitsky, Motke Rozvosky, Zelda Shelubsky
Second row: Binyomin Mnuskin, Libe Yoselevitch, Khaye Busel, Notte Izbornitsky, Mereh Rabinovitch, Dovod Zelikovitch, Nekhameh Belaus, Moishe Orlinsky, Libe Koyfman, Etteh Lusky
Third row: Henie Namiyat, Yekhil Yoselevitch, Frume Sholkovitch, Leybl Lusky, Rivka Dvoretzky, Avrom Yitzkhak Medvetzky, Kayla Rozovsky, Borukh Busel
Last row: Rivka Senderovsky, Zvia Krugman, Risheh Senderovsky, Minye Berman, Fraydl Green, Avrom….
and the second, an anti Zionist bloc led by those active in the Yiddish Folk School.
It was clear to us that as a third power we had no chance to succeed, and yet we presented our own list, ignoring the fact the majority of us did not have the right to vote, and we did not have money or candidates. Our list had two candidates: Alter Dvoretzky and Kalmen Busel. It was hard to believe, when the results came in, and the votes were counted, we were lacking 8 votes for a mandate.
The second communal action we took, if I am not mistaken in 1931, during the last democratic Sejm in Poland, we presented a bloc made up of the Bund, independent socialists (Dr. Kruk) and the Poalei Zion Z.S.
At that time we did not have a locale. The Bund invited us to create a common election committee, however our members received this suggestion coldly.
Firstly, the list on scale did not have a chance for a mandate, and if yes, for the Bund and not for us. That's when it was decided to delegate me and Dovid Zelikovitch to the election committee. In the end only I remained on the committee.
I remember the night, when we went out to hang posters. Me, Moishe Indershteyn (the blond) and if I am not mistaken Sholem Lisogursky as well. We hung posters all over town, even on the House of Study.
The Bund did not believe this list would attract votes. The evening before the election the teacher Brandes asked me:
How many votes will we get? When I estimated one hundred, he laughed.
We are at most a minority he said. He estimated the Bund 30 votes and the Poalei Zionists, 20. The biggest surprise was at two o'clock in the morning the teacher Marayn came out and announced we received 153 votes. 80% were from our members and supporters.
The Poalei Zion and the Yiddish Folk School
Regarding our activities for the Yiddish school there were differences of opinion within our party. For example, Hirshl Rabinovitch, Pinke Kaplinsky, Mereh Rabinovitch and Motke Rozvosky and other members did not feel badly in the folk school. Opposing members were: Dovid Zelikovitch, Nokhem Broyde, Borukh Busel, me and others who could not bare to breathe the anti Zionist air which the board members: Avrom Moishe Barishansky and Shike Avseyevitch planted in every corner of the school. Later we decided to make an effort
From right to left first row: Moishe Orlinsky, Rokhl Shelubsky, Nokhem Bryde, Henia Namiyat, Motke Rozovsky, Leyzer Namiyat, Dobeh Lusky, Shepls Haydukovsky, Dovid Zelikovitch, Shepls Namiyat
Second row: Mikhle Shalkovitch, Libe Yoselevitch
Third row: Nishke Dvoretzky, Yosef Shelubsky, Shmuel Zakrysky, Kayle Rozovsky, Yente Rivka Gal, Noyakh Alpert, Malke Lusky, Borukh Busel, Henie Green
Standing: Leybl Lusky, Etl Belsky
to recruit graduates from the Yiddish school. The first graduates we recruited were: Malke Lusky, Yente Rivka Gal and Nekhama Bielsky.
Later we succeeded in receiving the entire graduating class. I did this with the help of my sister and her friends as well as Hirshl Rabinovitch and Mirele Epshteyn.
After a few meetings with them we absorbed all the graduates with a few exceptions. This is how we broke the Chinese wall of Zionist hatred which existed in the Yiddish school.
At that time we had a teacher by the name of Marayn. We already had restricted relations with the school and decided to open our own pavilion at their bazar with our own slogans. We negotiated with the school administration for a long time until they promised our slogans would be valued. However, the Bund did not honour this agreement.
Seated: Khane Obershteyn, Yitzkhak Rabinovitch, Yitzkhak Leyzerovitch, Nekhama Belaus
Standing: Moishe Orlinsky, Khaim Yoselevitch, Dovid Zelikovitch
After the bazar opened they tore down our Zionist slogans. After short negotiations we took back our pavilion and with that almost disrupted the entire bazaar. Later we gave away our goods to the Jewish National Fund's bazaar.
Our Activities for HeChalutz
After this, when the older Zionists were not successful, the HeChalutz educated our members and the graduates of HaShomer HaTzair. I must say, as a compliment to us, some of our members went to the Zionist training camp and then left for the Land of Israel. The well off youth of HaShomer Hatzair did not go to training camp except for Yosl Dvoretzky, Feygl Dvoretzky and Yakov Indershteyn.
The League of Workers in the Land of Israel and the Party
As soon as the League was created I became its secretary from the first day. We worked systematically in town. We recruited many members and collected membership dues. We had a very good treasurer, Itche Rabinovitch. He would prepare a balance just like in a large bank. We would often bring in speakers, Funt and later Morgnshtern. Their visits were always a happening in town.
Our Activities for the Jewish National Fund
We always participated actively in the daily work of the Jewish National Fund like emptying collection boxes, organizing bazaars, flower days and other activities. We were also always represented on the council.
Our Professional Activities
The only professional union which existed in Zhetl was the Needle Union. This union obviously belonged to the Central Union of Clothing Workers.
Despite this, we belonged to the union. Our representative in their administration was Shaul Kovensky. After Shaul left for the Land of Israel I joined the administration and participated in their work as long as the union existed. The tailor's strike and later the solidarity strike of all other trades was organized in our locale with our active participation.
To begin with, all of our active members considered the works of Ber Borokhov holy, just as a pious Jew would revere the Code of Jewish Law. We read them many times and constantly discussed them.
As time passed two groups, if that's what we could call them, with two positions, were educated by us. The first was mainly composed of Yudl Bielsky and Dovid Zelikovitch. In political life they supported the Social Democrats. For Yudl Bielsky, the German Social Democrats were his guides. At the previously mentioned Sejm elections he did not vote for our bloc but rather for P.P.S. That is how much he was enamoured by the Social Democrats.
On the other side we had members like: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Pinke Kaplinsky, Motke Rozovsky, me, and many others who were not charmed by the Social Democratic ideology of the party.
We stood close to the left Poalei Zion. Only their inactivity in the building of the Land of Israel bothered us.
There were also differences of opinion concerning our participation in the Zionist Congress. There were in our party, those who opposed participating in the Zionist Congress. So it happened, at the election of the 16th Zionist Congress, all our members with the right to vote did not want to sit at the ballot box. I then received authorization from the party to sit at the ballot box, however I was in the minority and the commission rejected it. However, thanks to the intervention of Eliezer Rozenfeld and Shaul Kaplinsky who vouched for me, I remained at the ballot box. There were other differences of opinion such as our position on the Socialist International and Soviet Russia.
The Last May Day Celebrations
This was in 1934. The chief of police was changed in Novogrudek and we attempted to receive permission for a May 1st academy. In those days I was spending more time in Novogrudek than in Zhetl. I went to the chief of police every day until I got permission.
Given that it had been a few years since we had received permission to openly celebrate May 1st, we decided this time to make an impressive celebration with an orchestra in the movie house.
At the opening I spoke about anti Semitism in Poland and about the fascist process which was taking place. Then the orchestra played the International. Suddenly, I noticed the Pshadovnik disappeared. Meanwhile, Dovid Zelikovitch began to speak. The Pshadovnik returned and announced that since we played the International he had to leave our meeting. (Translator's note: I could not find the meaning of Pshadovnik).
Borukh Busel was responsible for our relations with the authorities that evening. The police arrested him and beat him because of what I said about fascism in Poland. In the end we were sentenced and paid a fine.
Seated in the first row: Sonia Sholkovitch, Shaul Kovensky of blessed memory, Libe Zhukhovitzky
Second row: Miriam Kontesbrat, Yisroel Goldberg, Mereh Dvoretsky, Dvoyre Gordaysky, Fraydl Lvenbuk, Nokhem Broide, Fruma Sholkevitch
Standing: Borukh Bisel, Zavl Mankovitch, Shepsl Namiyat, Herzl Gertzoksky
That May 1st has remained in our memory. We did not sleep that night. We wanted to know what happened to Borukh Busel but the police would not let us in to see him.
I have brought a few facts about the diversified activity which the Poalei Zion Zionist Socialists and its youth group Freyheyt (Freedom) carried out in Zhetl.
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