Meir Hofman, Kibbutz Shefayim, Israel
Translated by Elena Hoffenberg
The news that a world war broke out hit us like thunder in the middle of a bright summer's day.
In one moment everything changed. The nearby Austrian border meant that the war would reach us any day. The days lost their certainty, the evenings -- fears, especially dread imposed by the soldiers passing through to go to the front.
The Cossacks made a strong impression with earrings in their ears. Mothers held their children by their coattails, warning them not to reach for the demons with earrings. Their sabers rattled in their sheaths, no child would volunteer to feel the swords to see if they were sharp enough. The Cossacks smiled, considering the people dressed in Jewish garb. Others tried to say something, but their collective shouts were not enough for those standing there and beseeching God to not let anything happen.
The situation in the city grew more tense. The soldiers passing through demanded bread and it had to be prepared. There were some cases where they broke in and stole goods and money, accompanied by the blows of soldiers. On one particular Sabbath the Jewish baker was ordered to bake bread for the soon-to-arrive military.
Livelihoods diminished, the way of life established over generations fell apart. Everything was shaken, the equilibrium was lost, everyone felt that the unknown would happen soon, that it was already on its way.
In the morning a rumor spread that Austrian spies had appeared in the region, wearing capes and round, gray caps with short visors. Others said that they heard from Neta Bagreber that those characters had looked into the purification room at the cemetery before dawn, and perhaps they were hiding there among moss-covered tombstones?
The days of war were as interminable as the Jewish exile, but the nights were even more so. Everything was extinguished and mute. In the study houses and Hasidic prayer rooms, the evening prayers were said quickly, so that the lamps would not need to be lit. The scholars sat in darkness and quietly engulfed the difficult Talmudic subjects from the difficult commentaries. The city's great synagogue looked bereft in the evenings. The synagogue gabbai, Aron Shloyme, a strong man, leaned against the lectern, it was difficult for him to leave his beloved synagogue.
Even the city's dogs were silent, they gathered themselves around the butcher shops, sniffing and quietly whining at the locked gates of the butcher shop.
The city's watchman hid the noise-maker for his guard in the firefighter's closet and was napping near the water pump. But it was not entirely peaceful on the street where Vitsik Malinovski lived. Vitsik did not want to make his peace with these evenings. For the second evening, he did not have dinner in a tavern and went to bed on an empty stomach. With great irritation, he struck his wife. The children were frightened and began to cry, his wife ran to Yoshkele the village magistrate for help. Yoshkele became quite serious and quickly put on his magistrate badge, straightened his mustache, and ran to pacify Vitsik.
Even in the middle of the city, a dead quiet ruled the evenings. Moshe Rolinik, the city arbitrator, hid the halakhic commentaries of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher so that they would not be damaged. In the evenings he lay clad in a winter coat, the collar raised above his ears, and listened closely to how the animals in the stable on the other side of the wall let out sleepless whines.
There was tension in the city. The news spread that there was not a single trace left of the military that had passed through the previous day. The soldiers had crossed the border and hidden themselves in the woods, which the Russian military needed to march through, and shot them from the trees with a hail of bullets. Fathers mumbled into their beards, it's already begun. Others added, you can bet that the crown will make a bit of work for them.
In the afternoon, many wounded Russians and Austrians began to arrive in the town. The non-Jewish hospital was so filled with the wounded that they also made use of the hospital corridors. Many people, including myself, ran to see the wounded soldiers. It was clear that there were many Jews among them.
Night fell. The hospital courtyard was empty, no living soul could be seen, but frightening sounds came from the darkness of the corridors. At once I heard a groan and saw Avrom Brand's oldest daughter in the half-darkness. She was the only one who dared to give help to the half-dead Jewish imperial soldiers. None of the hospital staff came close to them. Gitl Brand did not let me go, she herself feared staying under the influence of the angel of death. She put her head on my shoulder and burst into sobs, which of course echoed throughout the entire hospital.
One Begins to Sober Up
The war had already reached the city. Projectiles flew and whistled and set a row of houses on fire, thereby killing many people. After a difficult struggle, the Austrians took control of the city.
Standing: Ahron Brener, Hilel Biterman, Ayzn, Sore Hay, Miryem Vinfeld, Dovid Brand, the teacher Stoler
Sitting: Perl Shteyn, Freyde Yanover, Yisroel Shukhman
People began to sober up, many emerged from their wartime hiding places, one had to think about making a living. Many of the keys for making a living were in the hands of military personnel, and movement was not as free as it had been earlier. The abyss of war had swallowed up many of the prewar livelihoods. Fathers groaned, mothers sighed, children looked around, seeing how the years-long economic pyramid had been turned upside down and something new was being born.
New things did come. Young sons and daughters dedicated themselves to the search for a livelihood, quickly seized upon their wartime smuggling, and took to traveling around day and night, peddling goods from place to place. Refined, noble families and famous teachers lost their charm and remarkably, their generations-long modesty lost its rigidity. A disorderly mixing began, adding in immodest insolence. The best names underwent a spiritual decay with teeth gnashing and bitter silence. The streets of the schools and study houses lost their strength and influence. The heartfelt prayers lost their glory and something of a new tone could be heard.
The newly arrived war refugees also had a large part in the spiritual transformation. Intelligent forcesteachers, former cultural leaders who drew their lineage to the days of Russian freedomcould be found among them. Debates about the Bund and Zionism could be overheard, libraries were in preparation to be opened, [performing arts] drama circles were established. The youth devoted themselves to new things.
Conversations about new Torahs could be heard on Panske Street. The cultural activities covered up the glib talk about smuggling a little, made it gentler, changed the harsh face of the war a bit, but pious fathers and mothers were not happy with all this. They felt that they had lost spiritual control over their children, and from day to day it became clearer that the golem of the war had caused a new generational departure.
Youth Grow Up without a Present and without a Future
Poland had been an independent state already for five years. Russia had already celebrated its February Revolution many years ago and ate well, and was immersed in the rivers of blood with its October Revolution. In Poland, a specific Polish anti-Semitism was rampant. The wartime trades undermined Grabski's contributions. The spiritual gusto, which had shown itself again a few years earlier, had lost its strength. Only a few dozen young believers remained from the previously vibrant Bund, and they gathered around the library.
It was no better in the Zionist movement. The Tikvah school was about to close. The group of general Zionists with Tenenboym at the head said their prayers in the Zionist synagogue and helped to collect money for the Jewish National Fund. They felt the crisis of the Fourth Aliyah deeply as the number of returnees increased. So people thought about emigrating, but the gates of the important countries of immigration were closed.
From time to time on a market day, the famous Yashke Khamets made an appearance, sowing poison with his speeches. No one interrupted him in his trade, the police watched him and smiled to one another.
Even the youth were entirely cheerless. A very small number studied in the local Polish trade school, children from wealthy families traveled to the large cities to study or to find a job, and indeed the younger generation went to the primary school, where everything was foreign to them and infected with hatred.
Beautiful literature had been a stimulus among the youth recently; they were influenced by a flood of lecturers, which flowed from Warsaw to the dear provinces.
Even the spineless weekly Literarishe bleter was read quite often. The half-empty weekly journal contributed to the rush of lectures. Sprouts of pre-literary Fligemans began to appear. Youth grow up without a present and without a future, a calmed down youth, far from earnest thoughts.
With Baggage in the Street
Not every great movement was born in speech and words, not every great accomplishment was born in a silk shirt. This was demonstrated in our city by the active Socialist Zionist group, which was not accompanied with drumming and dancing. On Lubelski Street, not far from the Khelmer bridge, in a small house that was bordered by the palace of Chaim Fisher, in a family where the father and his sons worked day in and day out covering roofs, eight young men came together to lay the foundation for the active, pioneering Zionist movement.
In the beginning, two small rooms were lit up from the eight people, who in their self-accounting awakened anew an age-old cry to the youth of Hrubieszów. From then on a call sounded for Zionist fulfillment.
After evening prayers, the father was satisfied with one room and gave us the main room with honor, so that we could try to peer into the Jewish jumble, in order to consider Jewish existence with its perspectives. We spent many evenings there, paging through books and journals together, looking each other in the eyes and beginning to see things, elucidated through the Zionist thought process. We thanked the family heartily for their hospitality and with our packed suitcases went out into the street, to the world.
We Met in Pintl
We met in Pintl: we were overwhelmed with warm glances. We began to feel like messengers of redemption. Bundist jokers, and other anti-Zionist ridiculers, tried to meet us with a rusty ha-ha, however they quickly quieted themselves and we continued with pioneering Zionism with greater resolve and belief.
Standing: Reyzel Yevitz, Khaye Zak, Yankev Vayner, Ester Finkelshteyn, Yankev Ayzenberg-Asher and Motl Kirzshner
Sitting: Shmerl Mints, Khane Finkelshteyn, Dovid Abramant, and Beyle Zak
In the guest house of the Breners, where farmers and simple city drunkards would spend a full day throwing little bottles of spirits into their mouths,
and there was never any lights on at night, so as not to ruin the weddings and merriments of the city animals, we rented an apartment, in which a pioneer workshop was established. From there, songs about workers and about the Land of Israel would radiate out onto the market, which lay quite tired after a day of trading.
We did not stay in this inn for long and quickly moved into a house, which was located in the neighborhood of the city's wealthy. The library that remained from the past Zion activists came into our possession and we packed it up and brought it to the house. From its windows a light shone out that warmed, invited, and let others know that the people who gathered here were those who demanded of themselves and reminded others that high time had come for young Jews to have a spiritual reckoning.
Not far from there was the house of the half-Hasid and maskil Binyumen Turman, who used to show up on the Sabbath on the small porch of his house, dressed in his lustrous Sabbath and holiday caftan and with a pair of golden glasses on his nose, which perfectly hid his half-closed, sumptuous eyes.
These songs did not come to the attention of his eldest daughter, Tobele, or of his younger daughters. There was no space for these songs. The gentle daughters dreamed about Germans with long whips, about uniforms with adorned epaulets, about higher-ups in lustrous dress coats.
We carried out earnest, extensive work, which took root. It was a seed that promised that we would soon harvest its fruits. Rumors began to be heard, that demanded immediate action. The first training camp group was organized. Parents also began to become accustomed to the idea that they would have to say good-bye to their children eventually. Pioneers from Hrubieszów began to show up in many training camp centers.
We Lead Three Members to the City Council
Unexpectedly, the elections for the Hrubieszów city council were imminent, which for us opened a wide realm of educational work to answer the questions and enlighten voters about the working to reach the Land of Israel. Here we had the opportunity to establish the question of Diaspora in its full nakedness.
Our election meetings were visited by a wide public and on the last Saturday before the elections we organized a mass demonstration. Of all of the leftist groups we received the greatest number of votes, and we lead three members to the city council.
A new battlefield opened up for us. On the city council, all of the struggles over ideas from the Jewish street played out. It is appropriate to underscore, that aside from the bitter hatred of Israel, which was sown around us in the city council by other, Jewish leftists, the larger part of the Christian, liberal council members positioned themselves earnestly with respect to our faction, listened well to our approach, to our specific demands, and more than once openly expressed respect for our actions.
We were not always satisfied with discussions within the walls of the city council. There were questions that demanded external pressure, so we spared no effort and did so. The best day for this kind of work was Saturday. From time to time we indeed organized this kind of reckoning. From the butcher shops to the stairs of Yellow Leyzer's brick building, the spectacle played out in this area, it was quite joyous, because the reckoning was accompanied by whining from the Bund and the Reds.
The First Immigrate to the Land of Israel
The influence of HeChalutz grew from day to day. Many had already turned to [begin] preparations and others had gathered for training, in preparation to immigrate to the land of Israel. Not all of the immigrants had money for travel expenses, so we began thinking about raising funds for immigration and also pioneers from Hrubieszów approached the center [headquarters] of HeChalutz.
In all Zionist circles, the earnest actions of Hrubieszów were recognized. It was known, that Hrubieszów was in the highest position concerning the press. Also, the league for a workers' Land of Israel knew that residents of Hrubieszów were the first contributors to the Fund for the Workers of the Land of Israel.
The first groups began to immigrate. Each day of leaving for Israel was quite well engraved in memories and even more in hearts. Pious parents, who believed in and waited for the Messiah, escorted their children to the train with true tears in their eyes. In the party and the HeChalutz meeting hall, the leadership said a heartfelt good-bye to the immigrants. Each departed group left hollowness in their hearts.
Especially engraved in our memories was the farewell evening when some of the immigrants were the founders of the Hrubieszów circle. The train had already let out its last whistle, the wheels were turning quickly and certainly, far away from our town. We, those left behind, had to go home. As we went, we were silent; we walked and we said nothing, like forgotten shadows carrying themselves over the street. Then we were already at the bridge, with feet so heavy it was as if they were filled with lead, with bodies that hardly moved and tongues that seemed to be glued.
Where would one go now? It is cold at home, a little strange, the meeting hall was emptied, the shadows of those members who have left are caught there are even dancing heartily, and indeed our feet themselves directed us to the half-open hall.
All at once, we shuffled inside silently. We sat. We did not look at each other in the face, we were afraid that the repression would erupt. Suddenly sobs were heard, and then another sob, a quiet cry could be heard, and our hearts lightened. Each person let out their stored-up tears and trembling we left the hall ashamed.
A New House of Prayer
I do not remember who proposed opening a Tsysho [Central Yiddish School Organization] school in our town, but I am sure, that the recommendation came from the Bund. Such a recommendation could not come from Poalei-Tsiyon in Hrubieszów. We could not agree to lending a hand for a school, which would prepare students for hatred of Zion. But it is a fact that this recommendation was made and our partnership was much desired. We did not want to be partners in this school, but that did not mean that we were at peace with the fact that Jewish children in Hrubieszów should lack a strong, social education and a school of their own in a democratic-socialist spirit.
There was no center in Poland in those years that would direct such a school. We heard that such a school existed in Pinsk and it survived through its own efforts.
The news about new city council elections had changed the situation. The elections brought cheerfulness to all groupings, especially to the ranks of Poalei-Tsiyon. Before us we saw new possibilities to come into contact with all parts of the local Jewish population and, secondly, to realize our dream about opening a school in our spirit [reflecting our values] with the power of our newly-elected city council members.
We had eagerly thrown ourselves into the election fight and at the same time we sought supporters for our plans. The first, who promised their help, were the general Zionists We found a common language especially with one of their leaders, Shmuel Brand, a Jew with an open mind and a warm heart. He was always generally ready to help us with what he could.
The election campaign ended. We received the greatest number of votes and appointed three representatives. We rented the former Tarbut building, lent out its inventory, and opened a new type of school under the name Tel-Chai, where Yiddish and Hebrew would find their proper improvement, a school in which the spirit of pioneering Zionism would reign.
The news about opening a school made an impression. People began to register their children. Even in the areas of town where the Jewish poor were concentratedthe baths, Mitlave [Street], and other placeschildren were brought to us. The poor parents were not shocked by Zionism, Hebrew with pioneerism does not burden a hard-working father with horror. The children felt free and at home.
The teachers sowed the feeling of a holiday in the week among the children. A new house of prayer emerged in our town, where the Rabbis were the small Moyshes and Shloymes.
Standing: Mekhl Gretl, Yankl Krelnboym, Motl Rap, Yona Longer, Avrom Tsimerman, Khaym Kliger, Hersh Pakhter
Sitting: Meyer Kahn, Yosef Lederkremer, Shimeon Glozberg, Shmuel Hovel, Yankev Naymark
Below: Yehoshue Tsigel, Moshe Moskal
The School Campaign
The campaign for the school Tel-Chai, which has been happening for the past weeks, is continuing with success. A large number of people have already contributed to the school association. It is hoped that the population will continue to warmly heed the call of this campaign with the goal to materially strengthen the school.
In the Professional Movement
On Saturday, June 2, at 3 pm, in the union hall of the clothing industry, the annual general meeting of all workers in the aforementioned trade will take place. All members, who have joined the union in 1927 and have registered their dues for two months in 1928, will have the right to vote.
The work in HeChalutz develops further. Systematic conversations happen on various issues, led by Gozsheltshani. In recent weeks the following people left for training settlements: Yidl Hofman and Binyumen Retig. Another group of comrades will leave soon.
In the Brenner Library
On Saturday, the 19th of this month, a general meeting took place. The continued work was discussed and a plan was sketched out for diverse cultural activities. The newly elected administration includes M. Hofman, A. Gruber, D. Tsimerman, A. Voks and M. Frumer.
In the aforementioned library, a dramatic circle was recently created, which will include and train all acting talents here.
The circle meets soon to rehearse a play.
A Guest from the Land of Israel
Soon one of the past members of Akhdut-HaAvodah in Jersualem, Y. Shukhman, will travel to Hrubieszów. His arrival is awaited with particular interest in the circles, that are connected with labor in the land of Israel.
(From Undzer Vort, Number 2, May 24th 1928.)
Yosef Almogi, Haifa, Israel
Translated by Elena Hoffenberg
Hrubieszów where I was born and raised, and from where I immigrated to Israel. Where I lived for my 18 years of youth, where I dreamed and wove together my plans, this city is for some reason obscured in my thoughts and only vague memories remain.
Instead of a feeling of deep ties to my city, a strange feeling arises, as if my first chilly encounter with the world there was some city whose name was Hrubieszów. However, it was a temporary, brief, and stormy cold and from there I returned to the country where I began my active life. And it is possible that the source of this feeling is my poor memory and perhaps especially the events that took place later and that crowded out my youth.
The liberation of Poland from the yoke of the tsar, the Russian Revolution, the end of the war and the victory in the war against the Bolsheviks aroused the Jews of Hrubieszów, infused them with vigor and dynamism and heightened the tension for those seeking a path in life. But the cannons disappeared; there was great activity for the body and the mind, a vigorous search for a livelihood, and concern for improving the people and the world.
Terrible poverty began to disappear when the economic situation improved and the middle class was established, which was supported by a return of trading relations with the peasants of the surrounding areas. The many fairs in and around Hrubieszów, in which fine agricultural produce was replaced by various industrial products, gave rise to a Jewish merchant class, who began to breathe a sigh of relief.
A fiery public awakening surrounded every Jewish home and involved even the youngest newly-arrived children. And as the number of members of the household grew, so did the number of opinions and programs about the future of the people, and the vision of the world.
Among my peers, an intellectual struggle took place between two main forces: one for the establishment and integration of each person in general society, while fighting for reconciliation, and the other force longed to realize future changes.
Standing: Dovid Lindenboym, Biterman
Seated: Hirsh Dikler, Yosef Shtroyt, Yosef Almogi
The opposition to those who come to terms with the present is expressed, to the best of my recollection, in two opposing movements: in the Communist movement and in the young pioneers, who were concentrated in the popular and large Frayhayt and the aristocratic and small HaShomer HaTzair.
The Communists and the pioneers had similar lines of character and thought. Both were repressors of the end, in that the struggle to realize this ideal they were ready to draw personal conclusions, and even to endure suffering.
Standing: Matityahu Valdman, Yankev Viner, Shmaryahu Mints
On the left side: Motl Kirzner
Between those who came to terms with existence and those who rebelled against it were the intermediate movements. The bund gained sympathy and a respectable status by merging with the exile under a socialist program. They believed that eventually Hrubieszów would become a prosperous place, with economic security and social equality. The Bund's base drew a nucleus of artisans called the alternativists, the tiny middle class, and some secular intellectuals. The movement of the Bund belonged to a wave. It demanded ideological dedication from its members, advocated class warfare, and believed in the victory over capitalism. There is no doubt that the Bund played a significant role in raising the esteem of the Jewish worker, in cultivating Yiddish, and in the war against mainstream alignment and dark conservatism. At the same time, the Bund was in a negative role in its war on Zionism.
The development of the pioneer movement was of great value to the Zionist movement Poalei-Tsiyon Zionist Socialists especially.
The middle class, which was the majority of the town, liked Zion and dealt with all the areas of operation typical of Zionists in the diaspora even today. Rabbi Vertheym, too, was a member of Hibat-Tsiyon and, as we were surprised to find out, knew a chapter of Marx in addition to his knowledge of the Mishna and Talmud.
for emigration to Israel in 1927
First row: Yankev Viner, Efrayim Frid, Meir Yehoshue Berger, Moshe Tsigl, Mutiye
Second row: Tuvye Shufl, Yitzkhak Miler, Dovid Tsimerman
The collection of funds, as well as the [collection] bowl that was placed at the doors of the synagogue on the evening before Yom Kippur, helped to establish the Zionist school. The presence of emissaries from the Land of Israel also helped us to establish our Zionist consciousness. The immigration of Yehoshue Shipman and his family to the Land of Israel left a great impression on us,
just as we were deeply moved by the greetings we received from the few people from our town who were in the Land of Israel at the time: Berndat, Yanover, Shukhman, and Shimshen Cohen.
Standing: Yosef Shroyt, Dovid Tsimerman, Yankev Viner, Yekhiel Piar, not identified, Avigdor Biterman, the last is not from the town
Seated: Yisroel Larekh, Yosef Almogi, Borukh Yanover, Shimshen Cohen (may his memory be a blessing)
In my memory, the turbulent and dynamic development of Poalei Tsiyon and Frayhayt is connected with the arrival of Meyer (Meytshe) Hofman, who breathed life into all areas of our life. His arrival and work took him out of the typical meeting places of that time, such as the small prayer houses known as shtiblekh, and not to compare, the forlorn kiosks for ice cream and soda, and introduced him to the library and clubs, to study and reading circles, to choirs and dramatic groups, but he increased his efforts even more with the establishment of the school that became a Zionist education center for young people and a center for adults.
The emergence of school teachers such as Ayzenberg (Ashad), Marmari (may his memory be a blessing), Fuloshko and others served as a turning point for the rapid growth of Frayhayt classes, both in quantity and in quality.
In the study circles, under the guidance of the school teachers and the adult counselors such as Yosef Epshteyn and others, we concentrated on Zionist problems and the labor movement. The Day of Flowers for the Jewish National Fund, the celebration of Lag Ba'Omer, the anniversary of [Ber] Borochov's death, and the May First demonstration have become natural and self-evident phenomena. In the study circles, we concentrated on studying the worldview of individual figures. I was tasked with the lecture on [Leon] Khazanovitsh.
Yosef Almogi marches at the head of a group of soldiers during the Second World War
In 1928-9, the mass migration [of Jews] from Hrubieszów began and, if I am not mistaken, by January 1930, 15 young people had immigrated to the Land of Israel, most of them from Frayhayt and passing through the Shakharia training camp in Iyuvtsvitsh [now Ivanychi]. In those years, Hrubieszów gained a reputation as a Zionist and pioneering city. It also left its mark on the surrounding towns, such as Tomaszów [Lubelski], Kryłów, Ustyluh, and others.
The largest group that immigrated to Israel in 1929 included nine members. More members would have immigrated to the Land of Israel, but the reduction in certificates and the lack of travel funds were serious obstacles. Some of us received money from our parents, despite their opposition to our immigration to the Land of Israel, and some had to receive financial help. To this end, we organized a fundraiser in the surrounding towns to support immigration to the Land of Israel.
For some reason I was chosen as a speaker and emissary for this fund, but it turned out that instead of my encouraging the Jews in the surrounding towns, I found myself encouraged by their enthusiastic reception and willingness to listen and to help.
At the end of 1929, I was cut off from Hrubieszów forever. The city grew and developed. The Jews became economically established and some even became rich. The young people married and hand children and the adults grew old. The city also prospered in cultural terms. And above all, Zionism prospered. The longing for the Land of Israel intensified and the hegemony on the Jewish street shifted to the Zionist idea and the Zionist parties, led by the Zionist labor party, Poalei Tsiyon.
Many immigrated to the Land of Israel and, how it hurts one's heart, many did not and most of them were destroyed.
The dear and good Jews of Hrubieszów stood up in the struggle for a new life, but only some reached the region of their desire.
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