by Yehuda GRINBAUM
In memory of my dear children Abraham and Judith whose life was cut short in their prime youth
During the rule of Tsarist Russia, the Zionist movement was banned in Poland. It is true that limited Zionist activities were carried out, such as raising funds for the Keren Kayemet or distributing shares of the Jewish Settlement Treasury, but they were done underground and although the Russian authorities did not actually prevent them, they still did not receive official approval.
In those years, Mr. Matityahu Goldman, one of the first Hovevei Zion, was particularly active in the distribution of shares, before Dr. Herzl and the Zionist Congress appeared on the stage of Jewish life. Mr. Matityahu was a descendant of the Magen Avraham (author of the commentary on the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch). He was a man with respect for all, straightforward and pleasant-mannered, humble in all his ways and deeds, and observant of all commandments, easy or hard. However, he was an ardent and loyal Zionist, attending the Minsk Conference in 1902, at which the Zionist faction in opposition to Dr. Herzl was founded.
But as we know, one swallow does not make a spring. The whole Zionist action in Poland sank after the 1905 revolution with the hero of the wave of reaction, which flooded Russia and all the countries occupied by it, including Poland, and the following years were not at all comfortable for any Zionist action. Only in the days of the First World War, with the German occupation, did Zionism begin to awaken to a new life again.
In the summer of 1916, the envoy Yeshayahu Horowicz, a young man, was sent to Kutno on behalf of the Zionist Center in Łódź to organize the Zionist movement in Kutno. The first meeting was held at the home of the Avraham Erdberg zl. The best youth and adults attended this first meeting. Most of them were educated, book-lovers and dreamers of a Zion liberated and free. Avraham Erdberg was an interesting and open-minded character, educated and well-versed in the old and new Hebrew literature of his time. Familiar with the secrets of the Hebrew language and a Zionist in every aspect from childhood. He was a great educator and gave his best years to educate the children of Israel in the spirit of love for the people and their culture. In the school he founded, he taught the Hebrew language in Hebrew, since he himself was an outstanding teacher of the Hebrew language. However, his school did not last long, because after the liberation of Poland, the Polish state school was established and he served there as a teacher of religion and Hebrew until his death, still in his best years.
In addition to A. Erdberg, the meeting was also attended by his good friend Hirsz Wajnstajn, a rich man, Meir Bozhikowski, a humble, pleasant-mannered man and a loyal Zionist, Sender Falc, always lively, full of energy and action and loved by all who knew him. And I too was privileged to attend this basic meeting of the establishment of the Zionist organization in Kutno. The center's envoy, Horowitz, assured us that the center in Łódź would assist us in organizing and launching public rallies to create a Zionist atmosphere in the city.
First of all, it was decided to buy an apartment, so
that it would be possible to concentrate all the operations of the branch in the city. The apartment was rented at Wolf Asz's house, on Chopin Avenue, and we even furnished it quite nicely. Among the first to join the Zionist organization in the city was Aharon Mendelewicz, a man of education and opinion, and active in the life of the Jewish community. After the liberation of Poland, he was elected a member of the city council on behalf of the Zionist organizations in Kutno. A few years before immigrating to Israel, he served as chairman of the Jewish community and did much to spread the Zionist idea in the city. In Israel, he worked as an accountant at the Histadrut Health Insurance Fund until he reached retirement age. Among the first was also Yehoshua Rak, a faithful Zionist who immigrated to Israel in the days of the Fourth Aliyah after liquidating the business in the textile industry he had in Kutno. However, the conditions in the country in those days were very difficult and he could not be absorbed in it. After losing all his money, he was forced to return to Poland, but was not disappointed by the Zionist idea and Israel. Even after his return to Kutno, he continued to be a loyal member of the Zionist organization. Together with all his family members, he perished in the Holocaust that the Nazis brought on all of Polish Jewry. May their souls be bound in the bond of eternal life
The Zionist organization that was established was called Bnei Zion and its first operation was the organization of evening classes in Hebrew. The young teacher Henoch Rakowicz, born in Lithuania, who came to Kutno during the years of the First World War from Łódź, was chosen to teach Hebrew. He mastered the Hebrew language and was fluent in it. He was a wise young man and knew how to deal with people, for he was a pleasant man and had a good heart for people. Many came to study the Hebrew language with him and he even preached the Zionist idea to them. Henoch Rakowicz immigrated to Eretz Israel himself and there too he devoted himself to Hebrew culture.
The solemn opening of the Zionist Organization took place on the Sukkot of 5677 (1916). The club was packed full and the celebratory speech was delivered by Zvi Brot who was sent by the center in Łódź. His speech was very exciting and impressive. Rabbi Matityahu Goldman was granted the honor to raise the Zionist flag of the branch. With great emotion, he recited the SheHecheyanu blessing, celebrating HaShem and his kingship, and then the choir began singing, under the direction of Shlomo Michrowski. After the end of this part, the official party was held in honor of the guest Zvi Brot. The party was held at Y. L. Boruszek's home, who settled
in Kutno during the First World War. He was a loyal Zionist, a man with a gentle mind and straightforward. He immigrated to Israel in the late 1920s and was among the first settlers in Afula. His precious memory will be preserved forever among all his friends and loved ones.
After the grand opening, the gray day-to-day operation began. And from the very beginning of its founding, many of its youth and adults
participated to it. So, it was decided to call the first meeting that comrade Erdberg opened. The assembly elected a nine-member committee and its chairman was Timkowski, from Lithuania, who settled in Kutno. He was a straightforward and kind grain trader, but also an assertive and active activist, acceptable to all the townspeople. As secretary of the organization was elected its living spirit, A. Erdberg. The action began to branch out, many began to join the organization and then it was decided to also establish a division of women, called the Banot Zion association. Among the first to cooperate with the Zionists was Rebbetzin Trunk. She was a woman who was respected for everything, noble in spirit and pleasant-mannered, the granddaughter of the genius Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew, the author of Avnei Nezer, and also Ms. Buki, daughter of Shmuel Babe, a woman with vigor and wisdom. She was also a member of the Municipal Zionist Committee, took part in all the meetings and followed vigilantly everything that happened in it. The third was Mrs. Brot née Walter, wife of Mr. Henoch Brot. She was a pleasant-mannered and respectable woman to all her acquaintances. After a while, the Banot Zion joined the WIZO.
With the establishment of the branch of the Zionist movement in our city, the entire Keren Kayemet committee was first established and headed by Yehoshua Falc, who had not previously been active in the Zionist movement and assuming this position, devoted himself with all the vigor and momentum in which he excelled. Indeed, he acted and did a lot. I, was appointed secretary of the Keren Kayemet. The Keren Kayemet boxes were first distributed in Jewish homes. The youth did this and he even took on the role of emptying the boxes.
On Purim that year, Banot Zion held a market in the fire department and all its income was dedicated to the Keren Kayemet. The organization of the market was very successful, as both the women and the youth devoted themselves and wanted its success.
In 1918, a district conference of the Keren Kayemet was held in our city with the participation of Rabbi Y. L. Złotnik (Avida), who then served as rabbi of Gąbin and represented the Central Bureau of the Keren Kayemet, and the participation of the foundation's activists in all the towns near Kutno. At this conference a central district committee was elected whose place was in Kutno.
But this was not the first Zionist action of the Zionist movement in the city. While the war was going on, a solemn assembly was held in memory of Dr. B. Z. Herzl. The memorial service was held on the 20th of Tamuz 5677 (1917) in the hall of the Fire Brigade, where Dr. Yehoshua Gotlieb, who came especially from Łódź for this purpose, spoke. Indeed, the memorial was a great success, as many of the city's residents attended. A choir conducted by Mr. Kupfer (the brother of the chief cantor of the city of Kalisz) performed as a conductor.
Gradually, Kutno began to occupy a place on the map of Zionist leaders' visits to Poland. Every current in the movement wanted to get the Kutno Zionists on his side. And so, already in 1919, during the election war to the Polish Sjem, we receive in Kutno the visit of the Zionist leader of Polish Jewry Yitzhak Grinbaum. With great vigilance and anticipation, we waited for the day of Y. Grinbaum's arrival. The meeting was held in the largest hall in the city and many were left outside due to lack of space. The reception given to him was very enthusiastic and he was highly regarded, as the leader of Polish Jewry. His speech lasted four consecutive hours and delivered a double dose for all opponents of Zionism and the anti-Zionist parties. His visit and speech left a deep impression on the Jews of the city and not only on the Zionists. Indeed, the Zionist idea began to take root not only among the older generation, but also among the young people of the city. Among those joining the Zionist movement, it is worth mentioning Simcha Babe, who at the time of the establishment of the Zionist organization in Kutno was still studying at the gymnasium in Gostynin and after graduation devoted himself entirely to Zionist action in the city. Years later he moved to Warsaw where he worked on the Central Committee of the Zionist organization in Poland during the time of the Et Livnot headed by Dr. Y. L. Levita. It is also worth mentioning Yosef Stajnfeld,
son of Mr. Yoel Stajnfeld, who, despite his Torah education as commanded by his father, joined the Zionist Organization and devoted himself to its action with all his heart and soul. He too was a follower of Y. Grinbaum and his Al HaMishmar faction. Sadly, he did not get to fulfill the dream of his life and immigrate to Israel and perished with all Polish Jewry during the Great Holocaust. Here is the place to mention Isaac Krol, a member of the Zionist Committee at the time in Kutno, who was known by his nickname, White Krol, who always excelled in his pleasant demeanor and gentleness of mind. Today he is a member of Kibbutz Sasa in the Upper Galilee and sees the fulfillment of the Zionist vision that his contemporaries dreamed of in the Polish towns.
The Am-HaSefer Jewish Gymnasium
In 1917, the problem of Hebrew education for their children arose among the Jews of Kutno. Parents of four-year-old wanted to educate their young children in the spirit of Judaism and decided to open a kindergarten for this age group. Many parents responded to this initiative and began raising funds to purchase an apartment for a kindergarten. Also, two mothers, Ms. Sh. Lewin and Ms. Brot, helped us a lot and even donated considerable sums to this cause. The teacher was brought on the recommendation of the poet Y. Kacnelson from Łódź. In the early days of the kindergarten there were only ten children in it, but during the year their number doubled.
However, the founding of the kindergarten was not enough. For we had to take care of their further education in the national spirit, which we sought to instill in our children. And again, we called for a parent meeting to discuss further education. The parents' meeting decided to establish a Hebrew gymnasium called Am-HaSefer according to the curriculum of the Hebrew gymnasium in Łódź, which was under the direction of the Dr. Brojda. In such a high school, emphasis should have been placed on Jewish studies in addition to secular studies. The assembly elected a board of trustees and its chair was elected A. Sh. Elberg. Mr. Aharon Shlomo Elberg was a unique figure. At first, he was not one of the official members of the Zionist movement, but he was at heart a loyal and devoted Zionist. With the establishment of the Mizrahi organization, he joined it and took over
an active part and even served as a member of its Central Committee in Poland. He was a scholar who swam in the Talmudic sea as proficient and ordinary and excelled in miraculous memory, as a lime pit that loses not a drop. On his own he learned foreign languages: Russian, Polish, English and German and of course Hebrew which came to him due to his complete command of the Bible. All this did not prevent him from being a Chassid of Skierniewice-Warka and excelling in two qualities of a good and faithful Jew: love of the Torah and love of the Land of Israel. In 1925 he immigrated to Palestine alone to examine the conditions for settling there. Indeed, he was one of the founders and one of the first settlers in Bnei Brak. On behalf of this settlement, he was sent to the United States to raise funds for the establishment and development of the settlement. In the late 1920s he returned to Poland to raise his family. Upon his return to Israel, he began working in the financial institutions of the Mizrachi movement. However, as stated, with the founding of the Am-HaSefer school, Mr. Aharon-Shlomo Elberg was appointed chairman of its supervisory board (the board of trustees). The appointed treasurer was A. Manszester, a wealthy Jew, straightforward and at ease with people. In addition, Sender Falc, Plocker and Ms. Brot were also selected, all of whom gave their time and energy to the success and development of the Hebrew school. The writer of these lines was appointed secretary and principal of the school. I served in this position until my return to Włocławek in 1923.
The first director of Am HaSefer was Wirzewicki, a graduate of the University of Warsaw, who came to Kutno during the First World War and there gave private lessons in physics and mathematics. He gained a reputation as a good teacher and in addition he excelled as a good speaker at Zionist assemblies where he debated with talent and knowledge with the anti-Zionist parties, the Bund and the Folkists. In taking on the role of director of Am-HaSefer, he proved himself to be a talented organizer and director. But despite all his efforts, he only succeeded in obtaining a license from the Polish authorities for the establishment of an elementary school, since the director of the Polish gymnasium in Kutno intervened and prevented the establishment of a Jewish gymnasium with a Zionist spirit. Despite this, the curriculum in the primary school was largely based on the curriculum such as Dr. Brojda's gymnasium in Łódź. Two teachers instructed Jewish studies. David Steinberger was a teacher of the Hebrew language, Bible and literature. He was a talented teacher who knew how to instill the love of Hebrew culture in his students and educate them in the Zionist spirit. The other teacher was Yonah Baruch Kac. He had a great deal of teaching experience since his days in Gostynin, where he owned a private school and even here in Kutno, opened his own school. However, with the opening of the Am-HaSefer school, he closed his school and joined the Am-HaSefer teaching staff as a teacher of Talmud and Bible. Y. B. Kac was a veteran Zionist and loyal to the Zionist idea in every fiber of his soul, with extensive knowledge of Torah literature and Hebrew literature in general. Years later he emigrated to the United States, where he served as a kashrut overseer as well as a synagogue preacher. At the end of his life, he managed to fulfill the dream of his life and immigrate to Israel, after the declaration of the state. He died in Israel in 1963, in good reputation.
After Stajnberger left his job at the school, Moshe Meged from the city of Włocławek was accepted in his place, where he served as a teacher of Hebrew, Bible and Talmud at the Mizrahi school. Moshe Meged was a student of the Włocławek yeshiva and a student of the late Rabbi Kowalski. He excelled in quick perception and good sense, and during his studies at the yeshiva he devoted himself to learning the Hebrew language and literature. At the Am-HaSefer school, he lovingly and knowingly taught the subjects of the Bible, the Talmud, and the history of the Jewish people. He was very fond of his students, because he knew how to acquire their hearts and interests in the professions he taught. And not only did he like the students, but also the parents also appreciated and respected him for the pleasantness of his demeanor and modesty. In 1925 he immigrated to Israel with his family and continued teaching at the school in Raanana. He died in 1963 leaving two sons, both writers Aaron and Matti Meged.
In 1921, Dr. Laszman was appointed director of Am HaSefer, on the recommendation of the
center in Łódź. Dr. Laszman was previously a member of the editorial board of the Nowy Dziennik newspaper in Krakow and an active Zionist. Before long, he was loved by everyone, his students and the public in Kutno, as he was a man of culture and pleasant demeanor. He brought with him talented teachers in their professions and even faithful Zionists. Yosef Ostern taught physics and mathematics and Yaakov Freund taught Polish language and literature. After several years of teaching in Kutno, he was appointed a teacher at a gymnasium in Włocławek, where he also worked on the Keren HaYesod committee. From there he moved to the gymnasium in Przemyśl and also drank from a glass of poison from which all Polish Jewry drank during the Holocaust.
Yaakov Freund was also an outstanding teacher who knew the souls of his students and also excelled in noble virtues and spirit. In the late 1920s, he immigrated to Israel as one of the pioneers and joined the Schiller group. Here he changed his name to Yaakov Yedidya and as such was active in the labor movement in Eretz Israel in those days.
In the meantime, Am HaSefer was approved as a high school with government rights, and Dr. Laszman was also approved as its principal. The curriculum was determined in coordination with Dr. Brojda, according to the curriculum at his gymnasium in Łódź. But then the Polish authorities demanded that the gymnasium be moved to a more spacious premises and it was decided to rent a six-room apartment, while the three lower classes remained in the previous apartment. The new principal on his talented teaching staff managed to elevate the school to a high level and many students began to flock to it. Even parents who were devout in their religion sent their children to buy Torah in it, as it gained a reputation as a good gymnasium. However, during the years of the school's existence, there were exchanges of men for various reasons, both the principal and the teachers changed and others came in their place. But there is no doubt that the gymnasium Am HaSefer recorded an important and beautiful page in the history of Hebrew education in Kutno.
The redemption fund
In 1920, at the San Remo Conference, the British Mandate for Palestine was approved by the victorious powers in the First World War. The Balfour Declaration was ratified with an international seal. A wave of enthusiasm then flooded all the settlements of the House of Israel all over the world and especially in Poland where there were millions of Jews yearning for freedom and redemption. Then the central Zionist institutions decided to declare a redemption fund. And the people responded to this call with earnestness and soul desire, women dismantled their idols and jewelry, silver and gold vessels were donated generously, because the goal that stood before the House of Israel was sacred in the eyes of all. The response of the Jews of Kutno was also very great. Lots of money, gold, and jewelry was donated by
the Jews of Kutno. Eliezer Zandberg, a loyal Zionist who found the right path for each and every person, also participated in this action. I still remember the words of Mr. Nachman Elberg when he brought me a large silver cup and so the man said: The donations of silver and gold that the Jews of the world now bring will serve as atonement for the sin of the golden calf because now, what we donate will be used for the building of our new-ancient land.
After a few years, the Keren HaYesod was established. Rabbi Yehuda Riftin, a Lithuanian who came to Kutno after the First World War, was elected its chairman. In his youth, he studied at the Volozhin yeshiva with the HaNatziv (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Berlin zl). Mr. Yehuda Riftin did not pursue leadership because he was a humble man, but he was active in many areas of the life of the Jewish community and even headed the Zionist organization. He was a refined, sociable man and honest, and therefore had a great influence on the life of the Jewish community in Kutno. Mr. Yehuda died in 1929 and the leader of Polish Jewry in those days, Yitzhak Grinbaum, paid tribute to him with words of appreciation and honor.
These were the first buds of Zionism in Kutno. The Zionist idea, the longings for redemption, to be a free people in our homeland were not a passing phenomenon, Zionism was rooted in the hearts of the Jews even before the idea was shaped in organizational and political patterns. When the echoes of the Balfour Declaration were heard in the city, one of the first Zionists in the city, Avraham Klingbajl, took his belongings and immigrated to Eretz Israel. He was a craftsman who had golden hands, but in addition he was well-informed and fond of Hebrew literature. He was privileged to immigrate to Israel and be among the first settlers in Holon. Founded in the early 1920s, and here he continued his profession.
He was among the few Kutno members who were privileged to reach their destination. The vast majority of the Jews of our city perished by the Nazi oppressor during the terrible Holocaust that descended on all of the House of Israel.
Earth, don't cover their blood!
by Azriel SZYMONOWICZ, Givatayim
Before the outbreak of World War I, there was a strong upheaval and dissatisfaction among the adult Jewish population in Kutno, with which the youth also became infected. The main reason for the uneasiness was the various declarations made by the political leaders in a number of European countries. Anti-Semitism also added fuel to the fire. Anti-Semitism was particularly acute in the schools and here the youth had to react.
The first meeting of a group of Jewish youths in Kutno took place in the basement of Sender Rudner zl. It was decided there to support the Zionist solution to the Jewish question. We also read together the Zionist newspaper The Jewish World, edited by Nahum Sokolov zl. We have chosen our own name: Prahei Tzion. This group (from the basement) was active until 1914.
In 1916, two years after the German occupation of the city, a circle was formed on the initiative of the teachers Zarchin and Bzura zl, to teach the Hebrew language. This literal approach has deep roots and brought life to our Zionist thought and deed. In that year also came in town the Rabbi Zlotnik of Gąbin and under his leadership arose the HeHalutz.
At the first meeting, a committee was elected, which adopted the following decisions:
We had to stand an inter-party struggle, especially with the anti-Zionist movements, as early as year 1918. I remember that, shortly after the end of the German occupation, our first Enlightenment meeting took place in a small cinema. A group of Bundists came organized to break up the meeting and so on.
They even threatened to shatter the blue-and-white flag, which they had seized. Some pioneers dared to take back the flag with force and in close ranks and singing, we were out in the street. Outdoors, gendarmes with drawn swords stood and blocked the road. After a brief clarification, we were allowed to continue marching. We passed the street, until the premises of HeHalutz. This march left a strong impression on the city, especially on the Jewish youth.
joined the Center. We participated in various meetings, including in Kutno, organized by the Center. In the city itself, the activity had expanded: gatherings, performances, artistic evenings for the benefit of the Foundation HeHalutz, films and picture sessions of the developing country. All these enterprises have attracted a large audience and also brought in revenue.
In that year, the Zionist camp was disbanded and new youth organizations were formed. Among others -- the Tzeirei-Tzion movement, whose leaders spoke of popular Zionism, or popular socialism, but not Marxist. It goes without saying that a branch of the new movement has also sprung up in Kutno. The first committee consisted of several prominent members, such as Nathan Tiger zl and with him and for many years Zisze Szapiro.
As the main activity of the Zionist youth was for Eretz Israel, there was no place for the various parties. As for the youth, it conducted its work for Eretz Israel in a coordinated manner. Over time, the right wing of Poalei-Tzion merged with Tzeirei Tzion.
The year 1918 brought a terrible war for the Germans. The occupying power begins to wane from Kutno. There was a danger of antisemitic excesses. We decided to hold a mass rally of the discharged Jewish soldiers. Hundreds of them came to our premises. The speaker from Warsaw, H. Eisenberg (Barzilai) zl encouraged the public with his outcry and called for readiness and vigilance, the acquisition of weapons and the ongoing consolidation of all Jewish forces against the threat.
We went to see the Bund with a proposal to unite the forces of Jewish self-defense. Their then leader, Szatan, declared: We, the 'Bund', will defend the poor neighborhoods and we have nothing in common with you.
Fortunately, there were no excesses. In the morning, after our rally, a meeting of Poles (F.A.O.) took place. A group of our colleagues went there in an organized manner and introduced themselves, in whose name we speak and whom we represent. The chairman of the meeting reassured us but we continued our self-defense work.
One week before, on a Saturday, close to our premises, several HeHalutz comrades were attacked by Polish firefighters and armed legionnaires, who ordered us to raise our hands, performed a personal body-search of each one, and then inspected the walls and the floors of premises, searching for weapons.
They found nothing. On this basis, the mayor of the city declared that he would treat us with respect and that he was favorable to our work.
In 1920, with the outbreak of the Polish-Bolshevik War, the activities of the HeHalutz ceased altogether. All documents and materials of the Secretariat were buried deep in the ground. The
youth was mobilized in the army and found themselves outside Kutno.
In 1923, on the anniversary of Trumpeldor's death, we decided to resume our activities. We managed to bring together new youth forces on the premises and set up the HeHalutz HaTzair. The evening classes in Hebrew were a resounding success, and some of the high-school teachers conducted the classes here. We also took an active part in the Committee for Working Eretz Israel. It is clear that we have been responsible for the fundraising for the national funds Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod.
In 1924, a turning point occurred in our work. We managed to organize a training place for our colleagues. Josef Rauer and the writer of these lines met with a landowner not far from Konin and a large-scale agricultural farm was created.
The (Warsaw) Center opposed the training point and demanded its release. After lengthy negotiations, our colleagues immediately moved on to the training point of the Center.
Following the resignation of the Palestine Authority, which has been in charge of immigration, many young people from far and wide have joined the organization. They wanted to immigrate. The HeHalutz, however, was watching and made sure that those who had completed the training and, of course, the first pioneers in Kutno, got the right to aliyah. Only after will others be able to emigrate
These are my memories of the beginning of the Zionist activity among the Jewish youth in Kutno.
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