Hashomer Hatza'ir - the Zionist Youth Movement
by Binjamin Gevishi (Yumek Feldmaus)
Translated by Selwyn Rose
The Hashomer movement began to develop in Jaroslaw, as in the rest of the towns in Galicia, after the First World War. The first seeds began to sprout even before hostilities ended. The Movement began its activities in the larger towns with large concentrations of Jews. But within a relatively short period of time Federations were created in towns like Jaroslaw. The Tze'irei Zion (Young Zionists), movement served as an ideological basis for our movement, a movement of young students that operated principally in the years 1912-1913. The idea of the Hashomer Movement (that was the name of the movement in its infancy), was brought with the youngsters returning after the war from Vienna, western Austria and other western countries. Jewish families had preferred to escape the threat of the Russians, penetrating from the east and become refugees in these countries.
Almost certainly among the founders of Hashomer in Jaroslaw were the families of Spiegel, Kurzman, Weinberg and others, whose names I cannot recall for I was only 10-years old at the time.
When I was introduced to the secret existence of the movement, I was in the first year of study at the technical gymnasium. My friends in the classics gymnasium, essentially older than I, awakened a strong desire in me to join them. And indeed, before the end of the first year's study I found myself belonging to the younger group. The Federation then numbered from 8-10 groups according to age, of 10 classes in the middle school. Every class was known by a Hebrew name taken from nature. For most of us, the name of our class was the first contact any of us had with a Hebrew word. Nearly every group was either only boys or only girls, who were in the minority. Only two older groups, students in the upper classes were co-ed and a few of them acted as counselors of the younger classes. The word counselor was, in fact, unknown to us and he was known to us as group-leader and we vocalized it fluently. At the head of the battalion was the commander. From the days of my childhood I well-remember our leader was Lusk (Ludwig) Kurzman who later in Palestine became known as Arieh Sharon, one of the founders of Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel and a conspicuously well-known architect.
Standing R to L: Max Rager, Binjamin Gevishi (Feldmaus), Josef Silberman
Sitting: Monek Eichenfeld, Maio Silberman, Zigi Silberman
I remember well the admiration we, the youngsters, had for our leader, a young, blond tall man and how we listened to every word that came out of his mouth. We sometimes held meetings for the entire group in the private garden of his parents. We used the house of the Spiegel family as our local club-house. The first library of Hashomer managed by Monek Spiegel was also there.
So what occupied our time, what was the ideological content of our lives in the Movement? I will try to explain in a few words the factors that influenced our founders, who had lived a few years in Western Europe. These adolescent youngsters came into contact with different Jewish and non-Jewish movements most of them with positive constructive ambitions. Among them, it is worth mentioning, was the Scout movement in the different countries, Jewish youth movements were Blau-Weiß, Wandervogel, Habonim and others. In the beginning, the Hashomer movement was a kind of synthesis of several movements, from which it adapted for itself the most positive and idealistic concepts combined with one great overall element: the aspiration for Jewish nationality. We of Hashomer aspired to educate ourselves as invigorated Jews, proud of our Jewishness,
enlightened and with a great central vision to go and build a new socialist Homeland in the ancient Land of Israel.
Of course, for the children of the youngest groups it was far more fitting to undertake Scouting activities directed to turning them into strong people in mind and body with ennobling ideals, people always ready and obliged to help the weak and needy. Our Ten Commandments included the best of the ideas of the different youth movements. Following the above, the central theme of our activities was pure and simple scouting. The discipline was unequivocal since the very essence of our organization and being was voluntary and obligatory. The orders and instructions were given in Hebrew but only during group exercises and activities. After the activity our group commander was simply an older friend to each one of us; he advised us and was obliged to conduct himself as a living example, as an educator educating his pupils. We learned to love nature and live according to a healthy life-style. We were dissatisfied with the soft easy-going life-style that typified our family lives in our good Jewish homes. We learned to love the life of truth in both word and deed and many other fine elements. In addition to all this, there stood at the center of our practical program the study of the Hebrew language. I will dedicate more on that topic later in my memoir. For the moment a few more details about the name of our Movement. We knew from a very young age that we were Jewish scouts similar to the style founded by the Englishman Lord Baden-Powell. But later we learned to know that the name Hashomer was taken from an entirely different organization, an organization of young and courageous Jews entirely fearless, living and operating in a far, distant, legendary land the Land of our Fathers. They willingly and with a burning desire organized themselves to protect the lives and property of the minority of Jewish farmers working the land their historic Homeland in their isolated settlements in a sea of hostile Arabs. We learned that these settlements were targets for wild gangs of robbers and thieves who would suddenly burst forth from the desert-like landscape surrounding the agricultural land. The members of Hashomer risked their lives taking upon themselves the dangerous task, replacing the traitorous Arab guards.
We thirstily absorbed all this knowledge about the Jewish settlements and the brave Hashomer members. Our counselors knew how to illustrate their conversation with stories and readings about the first groups who came to Israel and about organizations, especially the farmers who lived a communal life, owning no private property and sharing everything and by their combined strength turning the barren land and marshes into fruitfulness. We learned
the basic geography of the country, its ancient history and some early ideas about the Zionist movements and settlements.
In parallel to these educational studies and ideologies, our counselors also were concerned about our physical education. Of course, most of our activities required suitably large open areas for scouting exercises and games. Such areas were plentiful outside the town but we were not always welcome visitors. The most suitable place was a hilly area unfit for agriculture and almost completely exposed known to everyone as Wanduly. It was really ideal for exercises and games. We held mass meetings there with programs nicely prepared by the local leadership. Sadly, we were occasionally the target of unruly gangs of older ruffians. They were very good at throwing stones while we were completely unprepared to defend ourselves. But it should be mentioned that we didn't give way to our enemies and stayed where we were in that place so suitable to all our physical needs. About a week later, on a free day we went there again and prepared special groups to guard our sensitive flanks. Our enemies made many attacks again and again but their boastfulness lessened somewhat in the face of our stubbornness. The hooligans had met a type of Yid unknown to them
Standing from right, first row: Schtulbach, M. Wald, D. Leidner
Today when I look back at my memories and call them to mind, it seems to me that that was our first Baptism of fire, when we were surrounded and outnumbered by enemies. As the years passed, history repeated itself. We were attacked by disorganized groups while we lived in tents and dilapidated cabins. Today, inhabiting our own land every so often we are again attacked by an enemy stronger and more numerous than we were. The little difference that existed now was that we were more than capable to strike back and that angers the world
Now is also the time and place to speak out and not only in general terms, about our leaders and counselors of those times. The first among them, chronologically (at the time I joined them), was Bonek Distenfeld, a sturdy and active man. He devoted much effort to teach us to become sturdy and courageous. His responsibility also ensured that our ideological education received attention in his curriculum. Bonek himself was among the first group of immigrants to make Aliyah. In Palestine, he was one of the founding members of Kibbutz Beit Alpha the first Kibbutz of Hashomer Hatza'ir. His entire life was rich and full of achievements. Bonek (ZL) was the oldest veteran farm worker on his Kibbutz. He died a number of years ago after dedicating virtually all his life to improving cultivation and increasing the yields of the crops. He continued to adhere to the Hashomer Hatzair ideology.
I recall Leibek Eilberg (ZL) was our second leader. He died young as the result of a road accident in Palestine while working as a senior inspector for the Mandatory Government. In Palestine, he changed his name to Arieh Lahav.
I recall him as being a leader and counselor who put the emphasis on the spiritual aspects of our education. He was a pleasant, courteous man. He, too, was in the first group of immigrants to go to Palestine nearly all of whom were in the seventh grade in the gymnasium. In the Diaspora, the ground burned beneath their feet and they didn't have the patience to complete the graduation year. In Palestine, Leibek (ZL) (Arieh Lahav) was among the founders of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. After a couple of years, he arrived in Jaroslaw (on the way to California) where he completed his matriculation. In California, he completed his studies in the Faculty of Agriculture and was appointed to a senior post in the Mandatory Government.
Among the first immigrants, I remember other leaders and counselors like Leibek Plesser, Gincha Horn, L. Kurzman (Arieh Sharon in this country). I cannot recall other immigrants from that group because I was the youngest in the group and with the others, I had no real contact they were then the oldest in the group. Concerning the first group
generally speaking, I know that most of them became founders of Kibbutzim; worked building roads and draining swamps and did everything depicting the well-known song of the era: We will be the first.'
After the immigration of the first group the very foundations of the group was weakened in our town. Although a new generation of counselors and leaders existed of intermediate ages time proved that they were not of the caliber to lead the Federation. Leadership and counseling for the youth was particularly lacking. I recall that my group, in which I was a student, was lucky to have as counselor Monika Eichenwald (ZL), who perished in the Nazi Holocaust. Monika was a gentle soul with few equals, conspicuously intellectual, a gracious instructor who never raised her voice. Today (after spending about 15 years as an educator), I came to understand it was in no way an easy matter for a young woman to be a leader of a group of young boys of the age of 13-14.
Monika taught us to read and appreciate the writings of world-famous authors. It seems to me that until today I can recall the inspiring atmosphere that spread around us while reading and debating the problems facing the world of the authors and their creations. During that same period, it was not sufficient just to educate the intellectual youth. Monika also was unable to remain a Hashomer teacher for reasons unknown to me. The situation was no better in other groups. The branch sank into failure and gradually disintegrated. In place of the involvement in spiritual and ideological pursuits different bodies were formed. Sports like football began to prevail and pervaded most of the age-groups in Jaroslaw and the remains of the Hashomer youth were included. Without actually deciding so, we became football teams. We didn't only kick a ball around during organized games but took every spare opportunity to do so. After some time many of us in the past members of the Movement began to feel a certain emptiness eating us up. The anti-Semitic gymnasium also had its positive effect on our spiritual needs. The hostile relationship towards the Jewish students had its influence.
On the initiative of the older students, we began to congregate in the winter evenings in a place aptly suitable for us. It was one of the side rooms in the building Yad Ḥarutzim. There was someone who cared that the room would be heated, tea would be served and games like chess available. The group meetings in a pleasant location including the availability of mentally provoking games charmed most of those who came and the circle began to grow.
Thus, it was that the differences began to grow and become conspicuous
between us and that part of the youth that was satisfied with their compulsory studies and spent their spare time wandering the main street nicknamed the Kurso where they had the opportunity for their first attempts in the hunt for the fair sex.
With all the positive aspects of the sort just depicted of the social and cultural activities, we were dissatisfied in the long run with the games of chess and tea-drinking togetherness. As youngsters of 14, we sensed the need for some kind of ideological life some spiritual content. Indeed, there were those among us, some with leadership qualities and were gifted intellectually. The most conspicuous among them in my memory is Zigi Zilberman (ZL),
Sitting from R to L: Miriam Narzisenfeld, Bianca Metzger, Fridka Neis,
Salka Liberman, Sianka Gerstenfeld, Ruth Kalechheim
Standing from R. to L: Sabina Mersel, Fanda Nes, Sianka Warenberg,
Dorka Kalechheim, Linka Salpeter, Salk Mahla, Fridka Rener
the older brother of Olek Zilberman, (may he live a long life), a resident of the city of Haifa. Zigi initiated our transformation into a permanent fixed circle. He awoke within us the idea and interest of learning about the early history of our people, dispersed in our time throughout the entire world.
We were helped by two excellent books: Dubonow's History and the much harder one
by Graetz (originally in German), we read and prepared ourselves for conversations and analysis on the topic of the early world in general and the Jewish people of the time. Zigi knew how to add content to our conversation on dry themes thanks to his talents. He knew how to draw out knowledge from rare and serious books suited to our age at the time. He also knew how to arouse our interest in other sciences not included in the curriculum of the middle-school like early civilizations in the far-east: India, China, their early cultures, the early philosophies of those far distant lands. We also became interested in unconventional sciences like anthropology, the history of cultures, psychology and others.
Thus, we existed for a certain period of time as a Zionist-intellectual group. Because there were a number of similar but different circles within the parent group the time came that we had to think how to define ourselves as an organization. As if it was obvious from the start, we melded with Hashomer Hatza'ir. We began to make contact with the leadership in Lvóv and the other branches in Galicia.
Even before we rejoined Hashomer Hatza'ir, we had recommenced studying the basics of Hebrew. It is only fair to note that only a few among the young students had a traditional education and knowledge of the language from the sources. Generally speaking, there existed in town in good homes an atmosphere of the Bourgeoisie with a tendency to assimilation. With the strengthening of the Zionist movements, learning Hebrew became fashionable and many began to learn in courses organized by Tarbut. The first teacher in the town I recall was an elderly man named Ḥelmer. But the excitement and enthusiasm didn't last long and was somewhat like a firework that fizzled out and many quickly dropped out. After some time learning in the old Beit Ha'am the home of the youth groups the teacher who understood well the youngsters' soul was Pella Engelberg. Pella awakened within us the fierce determination to struggle with the difficulties until we were able to read alone the home assignments. Until today, I recall the stubbornness that helped me to read Fierberg's To Where. Our connections with the head office began to take place in Hebrew, like various letters and contracts, etc. In time conferences, regional and national were conducted in Hebrew. In that atmosphere, many of us began to study intensively alone. Thanks to our progress, it was possible for us to make connections with Kibbutzim in Palestine.
This article would be guilty of an omission if I failed to include a few lines on the topic of the Beit Ha'am in Jaroslaw. The building, which carried that honored title for some years, was a villa built in the style of the 19th Century. It was owned by the wealthy Sobell Family. The owners rented the building, which stood in the midst of a large orchard,
to the local Zionist Committee. In the beginning, the expansive building was intended for the Tarbut as a home for courses in Hebrew and as a day-nursery but after a short while it became also a center for the Zionist Committees. If my memory serves me well, it was Hashomer Hatza'ir who was the first to receive the use of two or three rooms for their activities. Later they were joined by Heḥalutz who opened its club there and later still, the Akiva Movement. The presence of these clubs didn't conflict with the Hebrew courses being run by the teachers Pella Engelberg and Rivka Ludmir. Beit Ha'am was an effervescent youth center in the years 1924-1926. They were golden years of youth movements in Jaroslaw.
I must add a few words about the constituents of our group under the leadership of Zigi Zilberman. After some time, a few young girls joined us who had previously been under the leadership of group leaders: Ḥanka Graff and Miss Lieberman. The change to a mixed status was very welcome. The addition brought new life and added years to the group and in time, almost all of us began to educate and counsel a new generation. In the meantime, Zigi and his generation in the gymnasium left and the onus fell on us of carrying our entire group into the future.
It is worth pointing out that the Jewish pupils in the Jaroslaw gymnasium were not studying in the most pleasant of atmospheres. As a basic illustration of my opinion on this, I can relate an event that occurred in two middle-schools in our home-town. 1925, or 1926 was an exceptional period of activity for the Zionist youth movements. Rumors of membership of Jewish youths to these movements apparently reached the ears of the managements of these two national institutions (the gymnasiums) and they decided to exploit the opportunity handed to them to attack us. The name Hashomer was at the time specifically known to teachers with Andak sympathies. On a pre-determined date, all the Jewish pupils of the upper grades were invited to the administrative offices, each pupil separately, and interrogated with interwoven questions. At that time, there were several relatively young Zionist movements active in town like Akiva, He-Ḥalutz Hatza'ir, Gordonia and others. Then came a typical case of ironic fate. Because of belonging to "forbidden organizations, a considerable number of students of the seventh grade were expelled from the two gymnasiums. Their mistake was in their honesty because they admitted their guilt. Among those expelled nearly all had joined Young Akiva only a year or even less before, while we, the veterans of Hashomer were ineligible under the method employed by the directorate. I remember that I managed to maintain an air of innocence. When asked by the manager with a threatening manner what the Jewish movement Hashomer was, I replied: Aha! Yes, I know!
It's a Hebrew word that means (in English) gatekeeper or caretaker and I succeeded. I was sad and very sympathetic for those whose sins were so small and had been members of the Movements for such a short time. It was they who, unexpectedly fell prey and were expelled from the Gymnasium. But they were eventually returned to the institutions; they lost only one year's study.
During our adolescence, when we were approaching the end of high school, we sensed many significant changes in the world around us. In various levels of education also there began to operate in the youth circles, an underground Communist movement a movement that gnawed quite a bit at the Zionist movements of the youth. We realized we had to protect our fundamental ideals and ideology from this new foe, especially in places where young people were being attracted to it and joined the ranks of the movement.
In light of the situation and other various changes, the leadership of our movements began to act to strengthen and consolidate the ideological basis. In 1924 (with the Danzig Conference), the Hashomer Hatza'ir gained the status of a world movement. Institutions were elected whose task was to develop international connections in general and with the early Kibbutzim in Palestine in particular. A basic ideological program was defined and agreed upon that transferred our movement from its romantic period and turned it into an educational-political movement. It was decided in addition to all the specific principles, we were first and foremost a pioneering Zionist-Socialistic movement. It was also decided that our representatives be merged with Heḥalutz central in all countries; that and more besides. At the Lvóv conference in 1925, all graduated students were obliged to submit to a training course once they had completed their graduation or other course of studies. We organized training camps mainly in an agricultural setting where the object was to train them not only to physical work per se, but also to adopt the cooperative spirit in the fullest sense of the word. It was also decided that higher studies were in contrast to the principle of pioneering fulfillment and that any post-adolescent who attended university would find himself removed from the Movement.
The inclusive inter-movement decision stated: All graduates for training and Aliyah divided the candidates from the high schools into three groups according to their practical reactions to that command. Members of the first camp were those who saw their fulfillment as a final step in their membership of the Youth Movement they turned their backs on higher learning and everything stemming from it. For them it was natural that they end their life in the Diaspora. Almost certainly, in that group, there were those who had serious personal doubts but they overcame them and went to the training camps of the leadership.
The members of the second grouping, who were anchored to the opposite pole" and were not be able to give up a career and a scientific profession etc., did their best to enroll in one of the colleges in Poland or abroad. Regarding the Movement, they disappeared over the horizon.
There was also an intermediate camp, the third such, of whom there were not a few who suffered many serious doubts and much soul-searching distress. They felt themselves pulled between two opposing forces because they could not forfeit continuing with the Movement but higher learning was also to them a major attraction. In the end each individual had to decide painfully to pursue one or other of the two directions, who with greater pain and who with less.
There were two instances known to me personally from this last group where a few of them began studying at one of the faculties, not always their original choice and couldn't come to terms with the atmosphere that permeated the place, especially the attitude towards the Jewish students. The anti-Semitism was quite open and often venomous and veteran members of the Movement (sometimes even leaders from the past) were not able to cope with the situation and continue to study. A few of them left the colleges and returned to the bosom of the Movement, most of them directly to the training camps. It must also be pointed out that these latter ones sometimes took that decisive step (leaving studies), because the move to study left them with an internal feeling of denying their ideologies.
A significant number of those who chose training also took personal steps preparing themselves for their Aliyah. The struggle of those in the queue waiting to immigrate was waged on several fronts both within the Movement and also among the delegates of the pioneering movements. The Zionist committees and Heḥalutz central distributed the few certificates that they received from the Mandatory Government of Palestine. There were bitter struggles at the time because it was the period of the Peel Commission and other restrictions.
In any event, the years 1929-1933 are recorded in history as a period of increased pioneering Aliyah, without eastern European Jewry sensing in any way the signs indicating the approaching Nazi Holocaust.
I hope that I will be able to justify my opening (a kind of "motto") if I point out and emphasize certain facts from the history of the Kibbutzim.
As is well-known, the Kibbutzim are the fruit created by the few ideological youth movements the practical expression of fulfillment that was, as was said above, an indisputable command.
There are in our country quite a few citizens who have absolutely no idea of the superhuman battle for existence most of the Kibbutzim faced in their first years. The struggle was so severe and prolonged that more than a few collapsed. We fought for our very existence
in several senses of the word: in its simple physical sense, in the constant struggle against different gangs of ruffians and organized forces and for our economic existence as well and more besides.
The strength to survive and not to be broken morally, we drew from ideas we cultivated and developed as youngsters while in the Diaspora. During those early years, many Kibbutzim, the founders and also those they absorbed, found doubtful sources of courage and defense against the scorching heat and the pelting rain in tents and leaky huts and cabins. For years, the majority of the Kibbutz members had a standard of living that was significantly below that of the population in the newly founded State during the rationing period. Up until the founding of the State there were many bloody pogroms and the Kibbutzim, as small isolated communities far from Jewish centers, were in the gravest danger and paid a heavy price in the number of fallen.
From the days of the War of Independence Kibbutzim like Yad Mordecai, Gat, the two Deganias and Tirat Tzvi became bywords in the Nation's collective consciousness. The fact that their members blocked the advance of the enemies' tanks with their own bodies, are well known and documented. Until today, all the border settlements and border Kibbutzim especially, are gates, walls and bastions of defense, defending our surrounded Homeland from attack. Nearly every Kibbutz paid a very heavy price when compared to the general population.
Bottom row sitting from R to L: M. Radar, Segal Rak, M. Marzel, Y. Konigsberg, Y. Kostman
Upper row center: Berik, Spindel
by Leon Fast
Translated by Selwyn Rose
In my opinion the birth of the He-Ḥalutz movement in Jaroslaw is to be seen in the action of two young fellows (aged 16-17), named Lolek Haiter and Moshe Touzman-Wasserman, who, in 1919 went out on an unusual adventure: they hitch-hiked their way to Palestine, without money or passports. Their journey was very long and full of adventures by way of Germany, Belgium, Holland and France from where they took a boat to the Land of Israel.
Standing from R to L: Binenstock, Donenhirsch, A. Fruchtman, Pokard
Sitting: Warschawer, N. Kornreich
Standing from R to L, the upper row: Mersel, Kranz, H. Rosenfeld, A. Rosenfeld, Wenig, Asłowicz, Z. Freifeld, H. Distenfeld, Schacher
Lolek Haiter was counted among the workers at Pinḥas Rutenberg's hydro-electric generating plant at Aram-Naharayim and after completing studies in Germany sponsored by the generating station, became one of the leading professional people there.
Touzman-Wasserman left Palestine in the twenties and immigrated to the United States. These two friends were among the first pioneers of the Heḥalutz Hatza'ir established at that time in Jaroslaw. The Movement at that time was composed mainly from the Working Youth group. Hashomer Hatza'ir of the time was mainly comprised of students both boys and girls. They did not have much in common with the Working Youth who saw immigration to Palestine as the defining element of their personal Zionism. The situation was made even more difficult after the immigration to Palestine of the first group of the leaders of Hashomer Hatza'ir. Among them were: Lusik Kutzman (today the architect Arieh Sharon, a resident of Tel-Aviv), Leib'ke Plesser,
Polaner, Dampf, Zena Morenberg, Malka Reich, Bonik Distenfeld and myself. (That was in 1929).
I worked with many of them draining swamps and together we contracted Malaria. Due to the illness, I had to return to Jaroslaw where, in 1925, I already found the Heḥalutz Hatza'ir Movement as an independent body, headed by Arieh Wenig (later Tamir). After his immigration to Palestine, I became head of the Movement in town.
The Heḥalutz Hatza'ir Movement at that time was a pioneering-scouting movement. In time, branches were created in nearby towns like Sieniawa (Shinova, Shenova), Radymno (Redem, Radimno), Pruchnik, Łańcut (Lantzut) and others. The Jaroslaw branch became the region's head branch.
Among the cultural activities of the branch, we learned Hebrew and the geography of Palestine and also devoted time to general studies in order to broaden the members' knowledge most of whom spoke Hebrew. An overwhelming majority of them were influenced by the general cultural atmosphere of the town, an atmosphere that was thirsty for reading and widening their horizons. Many of us worked with artisans and craftsmen and also studied agriculture, preparing for a pioneering life in Palestine and the hard toil of work on the land.
During that same period, a large group of members immigrated to Palestine under the leadership of
Shpindel (with the dog), Barik, Malka Shpindel (standing), Graf Simḥa and Ashe
Freifeld (the father of Professor Yirmiyahu Yovel), Schmeltzbach, Staffel, Rosenfeld and Marzel. They were absorbed into kibbutzim and working organizations and continued on that path to this day. They represented in Israel those of the second generation to realize the precepts of Torah and work, many of them are kibbutz members, professors, architects and teachers.
Standing R to L: Feiwel Donenhirsch, X, Ajzyk Fruchtman, Binenstock, Abraham Kenigsberg
Sitting: X, Siegel, Kostman
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