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The Zionist Youth Movement at its inauguration (1924)

 

The General Zionist Pioneer
and the Zionist Youth Movements

Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff

The “Zionist-Youth” movement in Kutno started its activities during the 1930s. Among its founders were Z. Landau, Z. Nordberg, Korn, Icchak Kleczewski, and others.

The members of the movement were students from the elementary school and the “Am Ha'Sefer” high school. Their everyday language was mainly Polish, but many of those coming from the lower social classes spoke Yiddish. Because of that, it was necessary to plan the cultural and educational activities to include all the young members. Indeed, much was done to inculcate the Hebrew language to all of them, so that it will be the common language in the clubhouse. The work there was of many facets; cultural activity, summer camps, discussions, and the evening life of the club. We also celebrated the national holidays and important dates of the Zionist movement.

In the meantime, the situation in Europe worsened as a result of Hitler's domination over the various countries and the increasing anti-Semitism in Poland. The situation of the Jews was worsening from day to day until the start of the war which brought destruction to every Jewish home in Poland. The Jewish youth, among them members of our movement, enlisted in the struggle against the enemy, and the fate of the movement was the same as that of the Jewish nation in all of Europe; a fate of annihilation.


The “Zionist Youth” and its leaders

 

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The Foundation
of the “Young Zionists” and Other Memories

by David MENSZES, Tel Aviv

I was born in the Polish-Jewish town of Kutno, which became famous for the two great personalities who lived and worked there: 1) the great genius and scholar Mr. Yehoshele Kutner, who was for many years a rabbi and mentor to the religious Jews in Kutno and beyond. 2) The great famous writer Sholem Asz, who so wonderfully described Kutno in his first book “The Shtetl”.

My parents were very pious people. The father – a Kocker Chassid, the grandfather – a Gerer Chassid. So, the whole family was Chassidic Jews. For many years, they lived in small towns, traded in leather, raised and married children and their daughters took up the finest sons-in-law, were provided dowry with financial support. They led beautiful honorable houses, as is fit for Chassid leaders. This went on quietly and idyllically for many years.

At the beginning of the 20th century, new winds were blowing in Russian Poland, with stormy-revolutionary events. Understandably, this has had an impact and influence on the Jewish environment as well. It was felt that the socio-economic structure was collapsing, that the economic positions of Jews were being shaken. This was particularly evident after the Russo-Japanese War and the brutal Kishinev pogrom[1]. The great Jewish emigration began. A new phenomenon in Jewish life. At that time, the approaches and grasps of large sections of the Jewish middle class and even of the merchant Chassidic class also changed psychologically. Those who once looked upon a craftsman as a man of lower rank, have now sent their children to learn a trade on their own. There was no great choice in the small towns; They became shoemakers, tailors. A bit higher-ranked – boot-stitchers, watchmakers, wood-workers etc.

 

I became an apprentice

At home, too, our livelihoods have become weaker. The leather attic, always packed with merchandise, was now empty and dilapidated. I was thinking of a purpose for me, the 11-year-old. All the above-listed subjects did not please my father, nor did he fit his pedigree. After much deliberation, he decided to make me a military tailor. Mother explained to him the virtues of the profession: first, there are very few such tailors – in Kutno only one; And secondly, they are dealing with high-ranking military officers, officers, generals, high-ranking government officials, with an open hand and a rich pocket, some of whom may have livelihoods over their heads. If so, my father decided to take me on the train to the only military tailor in Kutno – Baczke.

Early in the morning, the first day after Sukkot, I left for work at Baczke's. Opening the door, into the house (knocking was not customary at the time), a wide, I immediately saw a wooden bed before my eyes, in which two grown-up girls were lying. Thinking that I had accidentally got lost in a stranger's house, I wanted to go out, but one of the girls exclaimed, “Boy, boy, do not go, you came here to be on apprenticeship, right? You are a little early, wait a minute, Daddy's coming soon.” The room was a dormitory, a kitchen and, most importantly, a workshop.

Not long after, Baczke came in. A tall Jew with broad shoulders, a wide-brimmed beard with a protruding belly, from under whose vest appeared the fringes of his talit katan. Hearing my “good morning”, he looked at me with his big gray eyes: “Ah, this is Gershon's boy? What is your name?” “David” – I answered. “Take a seat, sit down, soon the companion Yosef will come, he will show you what to do.”

Yosef came – a middle-aged, fat man. Even before the age of 30, he already had a fine bald head. He was good-natured, with small sympathetic eyes and soon engaged with me. First thing: he put a thimble on the third finger of my right hand, gave me a needle with a piece of cloth and told me to make stitches – in and out, out and in, as if sewing. “So, you will stitch for a few days until you and your hand get the hang of it.”

… Comes in Mrs. Baczke (she was his second wife), a tall, thin Jewess with long thin legs, a big mouth and big severe feline eyes. Without saying “good morning”, she immediately turned to me: “Listen, boy, today is the first day, I will let go, but from tomorrow you need to know: as soon as you enter, you must first sweep the house, bring down coals from the attic, heat the kitchen as it will be used for cooking and heating the press iron.”…
Yosef was a man without bitterness, always good-natured, cheerful. During work, he continuously sang songs from the Yiddish theater. He also came from a good, affluent home, where there was no shortage of livelihoods. His parents – the Pakulskis – traded in fatty foods: goose, turkey, sausage, lard, Swiss cheese, fish, egg, butter. Yosef brought with him the smell of all the fat things, but also some of the good things he did not forget to take with him: liver, pickles, sausage, goose fat. He never came to work empty-handed. He disliked politics, did not listen to any party, as was the fashion at the time. He had a bride, and she was the whole world for him. When he finished work, no matter how late it was, he ran to the bride and kept sending her presents.

With great enthusiasm I set out to learn Russian. Twice a week went to a teacher – shamefully, I forgot his name. I remember well his big forehead with a head of wild disheveled hair, a big black bow around the collar of his shirt, a cape and a black

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wide-brimmed hat. A member of the Socialist-Territorialist Party[2]. Unfortunately, my study of Russian did not last long. It was near Passover. Expecting not to work for eight days on Passover, they had worked for many weeks before the holiday until 10 pm, and from Purim onwards[3] – until 12 pm. Therefore, nothing came out of my Russian.

 

Happy Jews

Bachke had a close friend – Chaim Mroz. A cheerful Jew, not tall, stocky, with a red face and a neatly trimmed black beard. He used to catch up with us in the kitchen workshop. He did not liae Baczke piety much. A simple Jew, far from scholars, but with respect and politeness for scholars and erudites, he always said: “It is better to be good than pious”. His livelihood was dealing in old clothes. Because of his trade, he traveled to London 2-3 times a year to buy his merchandise. There, Chaim Mroz bought his merchandise from the dealers, brought it to Kutno, repaired, dyed, pressed – until they became virtually new, as most of his customers were peasants from the surrounding villages. It was a long-established business. The Christians knew: if you want to have a good dress of true English material and also really cheap, you can buy it at Chaim Mroz's… The business was going well, there was plenty of livelihood and joy in his house. He himself was always a good mood, a joke, a nice word. I was always happy to see him enter the workshop, especially when the work was, for some reason, not going smoothly and Baczke turned around with an angry face. With his jokes and cheerfulness, Chaim broke the tense mood. He always had pockets full with apple and other goodies. Just as he was crossing the threshold, he shouted at Yosef: “Hey, just throw away the chimney, the rotten cigarette. It's really poison. Take an apple instead!”

Chaim Mroz had a 20-year-old son, handsome, mature, and polite. By profession he was a tailor, but somewhat different from an ordinary craftsman, because of his fine demeanor and attitude. Abraham was a member of the “Poalei-Zion Party”, read many books, studied the Bible with a teacher, a Litvak and a Zionist, whom the pious Chassidim considered a conspirator, leading down honest Jewish children on the same path…

Abraham, like his father, often came to our workshop. Joking was not his nature, which is why he used to talk about serious matters: literature, Zionism, Eretz Israel, freedom, or even about the Bible. When his words entered my head, my young heart pounded and wanted to know more... The truth is, Baczke did not like Abraham's eloquence so much, in the middle of the work. He always cast his big eyes at me, to see whether my hands were working, while listening to Abraham's sermons. Only when Abraham was already too far gone, Baczke politely said to him: “Abraham, perhaps you could leave the Bible for Shabbat?” There was no patience and politeness in Baczke's nature, but he was his best friend's son and the hoped that there might be a match with his daughter Rachel – and that made him so polite…

From time to time, I used to go to Chaim Mroz's house, to see Abraham and ask him various questions, about religion, socialism, Zionism and so on. Abraham tried, as far as he could, to answer all the questions, clarified everything and always ended with the words: “Most importantly, you must read, as much as possible.” On one occasion, he showed me stamps of “Keren Kayemet le'Israel”. When I saw them for the first time, a strong enthusiasm embraced me. I remember: a Star of David in the middle, at the side, a lion and a round dial around. I bought the stamps, and on every letter I wrote, I pasted a Zionist stamp next to the official postage stamp.

Every Saturday morning, I walked into an orchard, not far from the synagogue, with an “unsuitable” booklet under my jacket and sat there and read. It told my dad that I was going to the synagogue to pray. I did not want to go with my dad in a Kocker shtiebel and in general – how does it fit to go in shorts, dressed as a German? Only one thing I always needed to remember. The parasha of the week, the parasha that is read in the Torah, because quite often my father used to ask me a question: “David, what Sidra is going on this week?”. So, he wanted to make sure if I was really in the synagogue…

A certain Shabbat in the morning, sitting in the garden and reading, comes Abraham with a friend – a long-dressed young man with a Chassidic pale face. Abraham introduced me to his friend Manase and he asked me what I was reading? Not waiting for my answer, he takes the booklet from my hand and gives a look, “Oho, you read 'Anna Karenina': don't you think that this book is a little too difficult for you?”, he asks. “Yes, a little difficult”, I replied. “If so,” says Abraham, “stop all the novels. When you grow old, you will read them. Ask me all the questions that you want, I saw that you have an interest in Zionist-Socialist problems. Meet me this Wednesday, and I will introduce you to a Zionist family that has a large private library of books that may be of interest to you and are suitable for you.”

A few days later –I met Abraham on the Broad Street, we cut through the Old Market and entered Ko³o Alley. Most of the butchers lived here, among whom revolved the huge figure of Mordechai Pszorek – a lawless man with two iron hands, whom Shalom Asz described in his “Motke the Thief”. Because of him, the Gentiles were afraid to enter the street…

In this alley, deep in a courtyard, stood a separate wooden hut. When we entered the first room, I was surprised. All the walls up to the ceiling were covered with books. On the table, on the

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benches, on the floor – books and books everywhere. Only on one piece of empty space, opposite windows, were hung the images of Herzl and Nordau. Abraham introduced me to the Erdberg family: Moshe Erdberg, a Jewish-dressed man with a long black beard into which a single gray hair had been thrown. An enlightened Jew with a very noble demeanor and calm language. His wife, a serious, intelligent person participated with her husband in all Zionist and cultural activities. Their son and daughter grew up in the same spiritual world as their parents, only in radically modern clothing. The whole family was bound up with Zionism.

Moshe Erdberg took the first volume of Graetz's[4] “History of the Jews” from the bookshelf and, giving me the book, said: “The first thing a Jew needs to know is the history of his people. Take, take it home. Read, read slowly and learn. When you want to relax, you can now read the two brochures I am giving you: 1) 'Moses' by Dr. Joseph Klausner[5]. 2) 'On what is it needed'” by M. L. Lilienblum[6]. The brochures are just outside the Zionist 'One-Kopek Library'[7] in Odessa”.

After the tea with which we were treated, we thanked him and left the house.

Saturday morning, as always, instead of going to the synagogue, I went to the garden. I sat and read the brochures “Moses” and “What do you need it for?”. They made a strong impression on me. I have read them several times. Later Abraham came with Manase and two other companions. And finally, one who introduced himself as “Comrade Elberg.” A philosophical conversation soon developed: Is there such a thing as absolute, perfect happiness? Manase, who was then working in a soap factory – thought that such a thing was not possible; when life consists of a constant struggle and striving even for those who already have everything and think that they are perfectly happy, death comes and completes the whole account. So, where is the perfect happiness? So, I listened to the debate. Suddenly, Elberg took out a cigarette and started smoking. Although I was not religious at the time, not even praying, I was surprised and confused. Smoking on Shabbat?… Whispering, I asked him: “Tell me, comrade Elberg, I want to know: is there a God?”. Elberg looked at me and answered: “I cannot answer you. I can only advise you: read, read more – you will finally find out for yourself”…

 

Manase's death

A few days later, when I arrived early to work, Abraham was already there. Clean-shaven, sadder, in a soft black hat and a black tie. One could soon see that something terrible had happened. To my silent “what happened?” question, Abraham quietly replied: ”Comrade Manase is no more. Yesterday afternoon, he was in the factory, mixing soap in a boiling cauldron; he bent over, fell into the cauldron and was burned.” Saying this, tears flowed from his eyes. We also had tears… I do not know where I got the courage from, but I asked Batchke to let me go to the funeral. I soon added that I would do extra time at work to catch up. Looking at me and Abraham, he agreed without saying a word.

On the same day, the whole shtetl became aware of the tragic death of Manase. The “Poalei-Zion” party, together with the “Bund”, issued a call to the Jewish workers to suspend work for two hours during the funeral. A small crowd accompanied the coffin from the city to the cemetery, but at the cemetery, near the newly excavated grave, a huge crowd of workers and youth waited. This was done especially so as not to arouse any suspicion on the part of the police. Because speeches against capitalism and for socialism were forbidden – and against the power. For such speeches, people were severely punished and sometimes sent to Siberia.

At the new grave, the first to speak was his close friend Abraham, in a muffled voice, as one speaks to a living: “Comrade Manase, with your death the Jewish workers, the Poalei-Zion Party, lost a loyal fighter and the Jewish people – a devoted son. We swear to continue this holy struggle, for the Jewish working class and for its land Eretz Israel.”

A member of the Bund: “Manase is a victim of capitalist exploitation, he was not the first and not the last victim. Although Manase belonged to a different party, a different ideology, he was still one on the labor side. An oppressive power does not make a difference between the parties, it oppresses the class. But we do not need to mourn to continue the struggle with our united forces, for the working class, for its liberation. That is our task.”

Other party representatives spoke out. With heavy spirits the big crowd departed.

Late in the evening, on my way home from work, Elberg met me. He calls me into a dark entrance to a house and shoves a bundle of proclamations for me to distribute. “Be careful!”, he advised me. After today's events, I took on eagerly what he asked me to do. It was a call to the people: to overthrow the bureaucratic self-rule of tsarism, for freedom, for socialism, and so on.

The next Saturday night, I paid a visit to my uncle Henech. After a while, I pull out a proclamation from my bosom pocket and hand it over. He glanced at it, turned pale and slapped me. “You idiot! Do you know what you are playing with? What do you want, have me sent to Siberia?” He left the house, came back in a few minutes, already calm, without the proclamation. I understood where he had thrown her – in a very disgusting place. I was sorry, but I could not speak, because my uncle was still angry and did not stop scolding me.

I finished reading Graetz's “History of the Jews” and started to read “Old New Land” by Dr. Herzl. This book attracted me

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like a magnet. Every evening, as soon as I got home from work, I sat down to read by a dark-napkin lamp. Once seated participate in reading, enters the father. He angrily asks, “Hey, you, have you finished the evening prayers yet? What will be your purpose? What are Dr. Hertzl's books worth to you? Go pray, rather.” I did not answer – and the storm was over…

 

Kutner mikveh

The mikveh was not far from the Beit Midrash. Before entering, the mikveh Jew asked me: “Young man, do you want a separate room, or a bath in a common room?”. Feeling the ruble in my pocket, I said: “a separate room”… The Jew looks down at me from above and says: “Well, if so, you will have to wait. Today is Passover eve and everyone goes to mikveh…”

Crossing the threshold, I could not catch my breath. The thick steam with the smell of sweat stung. The mikveh was built as a “U”, on the three sides the small rooms and in the middle, stairs going deep down into the mikveh to immerse oneself. Opposite this was the large common room of the baths: concrete floor, long benches around the walls, above them, boards with nails to hang the clothes, and near the second wall taps with cold and hot water and many buckets. The bathtubs are scattered in the middle of the room, in no order. The steam and the heat are dense. Jews lie in the baths and moaning with pleasure, others run with empty or full buckets of hot water to shower or pour into the baths.

Naked Jews with broad beards, thick bellies, part with hernia, rashes on the body, hunchbacks, bald head, red eyes and red nose, move in the steam like shadows. Jews with broad shoulders and curved backs – porters. God created them straight, but this life distorted them. A collection of nude shapes and figures…

If only one puts out one leg, another person is already putting his leg in the bath. The used water is not always emptied. One just pours until it is full. When a heavy Jew entered a bath, making a splash, everyone around was drenched. The noise and clamor are deafening. All the time, the mikveh-Jew shows up and shouts: “Jews! Hurry up, today is Passover eve, other Jews are waiting for a bath!” Anyone who has not seen the picture – cannot imagine it. Hardly anyone can understand today just how serious was the preparation for greeting the sacred holiday…

 

The “stock exchange”

On Saturday nights was the biggest stroll on the “stock exchange.” Meetings were closed. If a proclamation or a socialist pamphlet was found on someone, the whole group was arrested and it even ended once with deportation to Siberia. Larger meetings were generally not possible. One piece of advice was given: on Saturday nights, stroll on the avenues that lead hundreds of people to the train. On the surface, it is ostensibly an innocent stroll; but here, everything that is needed is delivered, all decisions, news and demands are made.

I, too, hang out with everyone on the stock exchange. Once with my friend, Kamm, but more often with our neighbor's daughter. She was politely called a 14-year-old girl, but well developed, tall, blond, with blue eyes and two long braids of hair, which were tossed when she walked.

Every second week, on Saturdays, political speeches are held in the park, according to an agreement - each time from a different party. Most speakers came from other cities. All the way from the railway line to the park, some members of the party were spread, to warn if the police showed up and allow the speaker and the audience to disappear…

I was present at several such speeches. I did not really understand much, but I felt a lot… I felt proud and brave to attend an illegal meeting…

 

Y. L. Perec in Kutno

The revolutionary storm quickly subsided, and the reaction rose again is head. With great cruelty, she suppressed the revolutionary movement. The speakers no longer came. The speeches in the forest in the park had stopped. The “stock market” also weakened. Their place had been taken by literary activity. In Kutno, a branch of the St Pertersburg “Jewish Literary Society” was formed. Virtually the entire youth got involved in reading books. While walking, many boys and girls carried booklets under their arms. The book was fashionable…

The biggest celebrations for the youth were the literary lectures that took place in the city theater. There were such personalities as Y. L. Perec, Hillel Zeitlin, H. D. Nomberg and other great writers. Posters were posted in the city – half Yiddish, half Polish, to the effect that Perec will have a lecture, e.g.: “The Yiddish Literature”. On Saturday evening, before the appointed time, we would go into a festive mood to the theater. The hall was filled not only with Yiddish-speakers, but also with half and fully assimilated intelligentsia. On stage – a table with a red bouquet of flowers. When Perec appeared in the hall, everyone stood up and gave him a stormy ovation. While speaking, there would be a restrained, strained silence. After the lecture, the audience applauded for a long, long time. Until late at night, people stood in conversation and chatted, discussing the thoughts that Perec had expressed. I did not understand much, only feeling all the exalted mood and the magic of his personality…

 

Young Zionists Union

In the summer of 1912, On the 9th of Av, on my own initiative, in the garden on “Cobbler Street”, was held the founding meeting of a Tzeiri-Zion Union, as it was

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called at that time. Some twenty young people took part. After my brief introduction, Abraham Erdberg, a well-known Tzeiri-Zion figure in the city made a lengthy speech. His speech seemed to be strong and convincing enough, as all the participants declared their allegiance to the new union. The following were elected to the committee: Comber, Erdberg, the writer of these lines, and others. Due to the weakened partisan-political activity in those years, the emergence of the new organization aroused interest and awakening among the Jewish youth in Kutno. Many of them became loyal, devoted colleagues of Tzeiri-Zion.

Shortly after the meeting, I left Poland and settled in England.

 

In England, Argentina and Uruguay

After a year of living in London, the Tzeiri-Zion in the British capital numbered about 600 members who, together with other Jewish workers and general organizations, staged a large-scale street demonstration against the Beilis trial[8], which took place in Kiev that year (1913). About 50,000 Jews took part in the demonstration. I was one of the speakers. That same year, I had the honor of chairing an evening with the participation of Shalom Aleichem, who was in London on his way to the United States. Fate had it that, three years later, after the death of the great writer, I should chair the memorial service in London.

In 1915, Ber Borochov[9] came to London and spent many days in the British Museum, for reading, teaching and studying. The close acquaintance with this interesting personality greatly influenced my further life course and also in the case of Borochov, a strange coincidence happened, that three years later I had to eulogize him at a mourning meeting in Buenos-Aires, Argentina.

In 1915, I was elected to the Central Committee of Poalei-Zion in England. A little later, I met Vladimir Jabotinsky, where he spread his idea of a Jewish Legion in England and found many supporters for it. He came to a meeting of the Central Committee of Poalei-Zion, to refer to the necessity of this Legion. Here, as everywhere, he encountered a great deal of opposition, but the next morning I, with another comrade, Firszt, joined the General-Jewish Committee for the Legion.

In 1916, as a sailor (because there was no other legal option to leave England as an English citizen – it was not possible), I arrived in Argentina where I spoke in the local press and in public speeches about the importance of the Jewish Legion. Here, too, a Poalei-Zion party was formed on my initiative. At the request of the Central Committee, I visited the provinces and the Jewish colonies in Argentina, founded by Baron Hirsch. I also organized (for the first time in Buenos Aires) a street demonstration on May Day, with red flags and orchestra.

In 1917, I moved to Uruguay, in the capital of Montevideo, where about 300 Jewish families lived at the time. My lecture was attended by about a hundred listeners and a Poalei Zion party was formed in Uruguay. After two months in this country, I returned to Argentina. Here, I spread the news of the Balfour Declaration. I presented lectures on its meaning and published articles on the subject in the Yiddish press. I called on the Jewish youth to join the Legion. It did not take long and we were privileged to have the happy moment: voluntary Jewish youth going to the shores of Eretz Israel, to fight for a Jewish state with arms in hand, accompanied by over 10,000 Jews to the ship and I were able to speak from the ship to the enthusiastic crowd.

 


The author – In uniform of the Jewish Legion (1917)

 

We left Argentina. On the way, the ship stopped in Brazil, where a delegation from the Jewish community prepared a warm welcome for us.

 

Back in Kutno – through Eretz Israel

Arriving in England, we were taught military laws in the city of Plymouth for six weeks. Then, a 1000 youths from America and other countries traveled to Eretz-Israel. It was ceasefire time and our tasks were only to guard Turkish prisoners of war, patrol, guard. The war was almost over and the English did not have much interest in teaching us as real soldiers. Jabotinsky disagreed with this approach, arguing that day in and day out we should be taught how to use weapons, make drills and perform other military tasks. There was also the question of reorganizing the demobilized Legionnaires later. I was part of a delegation, along with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who demanded that the 7,000 Legionnaires be allowed to settle in the country.

At that time, the Poalei Zion Conference was held at Spector's Hotel in Jaffa, which had to decide on a merger with HaPoel HaTzair, which actually took place in Petah Tikva. I was delegated to the Jaffa Conference by the 38th Battalion of the Jewish Legion.

We opted to meet with Jabotinsky and talk with him about the need to turn the demobilized Legionnaires into settlers. Meanwhile, word spread that the first to be demobilized would be the legionaries of Argentina, because this country was neutral in World War I. At my request, Jabotinsky confirmed this information in writing, adding that we must not allow ourselves to be demobilized as long as the peace treaty has not been signed.

In 1919, I returned to Poland. At the train station in Warsaw, gendarmes with guns were waiting for me and took me to the police, where I was accused of… bolshevism. That night was spent sleeping on a hard bench in a police station. In the morning, a military investigator checked all my papers and released me. I traveled to Kutno.

During my seven years of absence, the city had changed. Especially its Jewish inhabitants. They were torn apart in those days of social confusion and storm. Almost all the parties and organizations that worked in liberating Poland had their successors in Kutno. I made an appearance there, at a meeting of Poalei-Zion and later, I found myself at the cemetery eulogizing an active party-member, a younger daughter of Shaje the boot-sewer.

The Central Committee of Poalei-Zion decided to send me to lecture in the provinces. While in Dobczyce[10], I learned that the Kutno police had twice searched my parents' home. I took my decision, left Poland and returned to London.

In 1920, I participated in the Fifth World Conference of the Poalei-Zion in Vienna, at which the split on the Right and Left took place. From Vienna, I traveled back to London in the same train compartment as David Ben-Gurion. Although we did not belong to the same party, our friendship continued.

* * *

When I left the country, I settled in Israel.

Translator's footnotes

  1. 19-21 April 1903 and on 19-20 October 1905. After a blood libel accusation in an antisemitic publication, 49 Jews were murdered, Jewish women were raped and about 1500 houses destroyed, in the 1903 pogrom. In 1905, an anti-tzarist riot turned into a pogrom. 19 Jews were killed, 56 injured. This was followed by 600 other pogroms in the whole Russian Empire, with a major impact on Jewish emigration to the West and to pre-Mandate Palestine. Return
  2. Territorialists were looking for an alternative homeland for Jews, apart from Eretz Israel. Return
  3. that is, one month before Passover. Return
  4. Zvi Hirsh Graetz (31 October 1817 Xions, Prussia, now Poland 7 September 1891 Munich). Historian, famous for history of the Jews in 11 volumes. Return
  5. Historian and Professor of Jewish Literature (20 August 1874 Lithuania 27 October 1958 Jerusalem). Return
  6. Moshe Leib Lilienblum (22 October 1843 Lithuania 12 February 1910 Odessa). Jewish scholar and author.. Return
  7. Founded by Yosef Sapir (12 April 1869 Odessa 3 March 1935 Jerusalem). Zionist leader. Return
  8. blood-libel accusation against Menachem Mendel Beilis, leading to a famous trial in Kiev 1913, where he was recognized innocent. Return
  9. Marxist Zionist and leader of Poalei Zion, (3 July 1881, Ukraine 17 December 1917, Kiev). Return
  10. small town 20 km south of Cracow. Return


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The Youth Movement of “Poalei Zion” (“Jugent”)

by Eliahu KLINGBAJL, Beer Sheva

Translated from the Hebrew by Ada Holtzman z”l

There remain no documents or certificates, archive or a library from the youth movement [“Jugent”] of Poalei Zion in Kutno. All of what was to do with its activities was burnt during the war or buried in the fields and nothing remains, except some memoirs which I shall try to record here.

The youth movement of “Poalei Zion”, [“Jugent”] was founded after the First World War. It was after the lecture of comrade Zrubbel in Kutno whose main theme was “Peace and Revolution in Palestine”. Many young people attended it and were deeply affected. The truth is that although we had previously attended many of the activities of the “Zukunft” [“Future”] youth movement of the “Bund”, we were not influenced by it since in our homes a nationalist Jewish atmosphere prevailed and the “Bund” ideas were not accepted. It was therefore not surprising that we were more attracted to the Zionist ideals and Eretz Israel. So we appealed to the members of “Poalei Zion” and asked for their help in organizing a youth movement according to its ideals.

Our activity concentrated mainly on discussions on the problems which were extremely important: Communism and Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Eretz Israel, the direction of Jewish youth in the Diaspora and Eretz Israel, etc. We spent much time learning about Borochovism and Socialism. We organized many “Question and Answer” evenings and argued with the other youth movements on the various problems that we were busy with at that time. We hotly debated the ways of the whole world – Esperanto would be the international language of the human race in the future; there will be no borders based on religion and faith between countries; the Workers' International league; every person would be able to be dedicated to his work and profession according to his individual talents and inclination, etc.

Meanwhile we decided to found a library. We organized evening classes for 80 pupils, directed by comrade Tajchman, a teacher from Radom. Also, we distributed the movement's newspaper “For the Jugent” [“Di Jugent Fun”], which was first published in Warsaw in 1922, among our young readers, and working and studying youth. But without breakaway groups of course it was impossible and we also had splitting from the right and from the left. There were also informers among us, because the police was watching us and then persecuted us, until we were


The first committee of “Poalei Zion” movement in Kutno, 1917
From right: Kac (Belgium), Apelast of blessed memory, Josef Szapira
(Kiryat Ata, Israel), Mroz of blessed memory, Frenkel

forced to go underground. There was the story of the red flag, which our girl members embroidered day and night, with all their dreams about a better world which that flag was meant to symbolize, when we suddenly heard that the police planned to make a thorough search of our homes. We were already about to burn the flag so that it would not fall into the hands of the police. Then our mothers interfered (Yiddishe Mummes). They saw how sad the girls were and hid that flag for us. On May 1st, the flag was carried by our comrades together with the other flags of the workers' parties, but ours was the most beautiful of them all!

One of the events which left a deep mark on my memory was my imprisonment, together with all the other delegates of the “Jugent” during a convention which took place in Łódź. While we sat at the convention, discussing the problems of the Jewish and world socialist movement, the resolutions of the 2nd and 3rd International, the agents of the Polish police burst into the hall with drawn revolvers and at the command: “Hands up”, caught us, about 60 delegates, and handed us over to the police. We were released from them by a pricey bribe, and each of us was ordered to return to our homes. But the organized butchers from the Baluty district of Łódź thought otherwise. They moved us all to their clubhouse at 5 Brzezynska St, closed the doors behind us and under an excellent guard which they set outside, we delegates continued our discussions. We agreed on some resolutions and the complete convention continued as planned. The whole time our butcher comrades stood outside equipped with their knives, watching, and who would dare provoke them?

When I came to the town on my way home, the head of the political police in town stopped me asking: “Elik, what were you doing in Łódź?” I was alarmed by his question but immediately told him some “fibs”. He advised me to be careful “because the days are very difficult now”. But the next Saturday we again held a members meeting in the forest, to report about the convention in Łódź, and we were captured by the police. After much pleading to that head of the political police, Wadman, we managed to get out of the business safely.

Emigration from the town started in the years of 1922-1924. Many travelled to France, Belgium, United States, Brazil and also to Eretz Israel. Our organization started to organize agricultural training [“Hachshara”] groups, before immigration to Eretz Israel. Our members went to work on the surrounding farms but we were not successful.

On top of all this, we were engaged in various activities like: contributions to the Palestine Workers' Fund, parties, and many outings in the surrounding areas. We also kept contact with other youth movements in the region: with Włocławek, Żychlin, Łęczyca etc. Many youngsters from these towns visited us and it was my duty to host them, because, as I worked in a shop and thus enjoyed both Jewish and Polish holidays, I had more free time to do that. First of all I introduced the main characters of our shtetl to the guests, whom the great Jewish writer, (native of Kutno) Szalom Asz perpetuated in his writings: Motke di Ganav [Motke the Thief], Muczni Wojtek, Matis Fuks and others. Then we used to take trips to the nearby forest and park. We bathed in the river and all this was often interrupted by fights with the Poles.

In the year of 1924, I immigrated to Eretz Israel. Since then I've never visited Kutno again. It is true that two years before the war I did visit Poland, but not Kutno. Until today, I've suffered the pangs of a guilty conscience. But who could have imagined that total destruction and liquidation of the Jewish people in Poland? Who could have imagined, even in his worst nightmares, that this would be the end of the Jews, the community of Kutno among them?

May these few words be as a memorial candle for my comrades, the youngsters from the “Jugent” movement, who lifted up their eyes towards Eretz Israel, but perished together with all the People of Israel.

May their memory be blessed!


Fundraising day in Kutno

[Page 185]

The Youth Movement of “Poalei Zion” (“Jugent”)

by Henech SZLAJFER, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish by Shoulamit Auve-Szlajfer

When writing about the activities of the Party of Workers “Poalei-Zion” in Kutno, I have to give some details.

First, everything that is mentioned here is only from memory and is described with the help of comrades Menashe Kac (Belgium) et Berl Poncz (Paris). Other sources are unavailable.

Second, all the old comrades of that time, who participated to the early years of “Poalei-Zion”, are gone forever.

Third, the author of these lines is not himself of this generation, which would be in a position to transmit his experiences linked to a now distant past. For these obvious reasons, no precise date or exact order of the emergence of the “Poalei-Zion” can be assured here.

Let us therefore assume that this is a modest testimony on the history of Kutno Jews, which will perhaps one day incite the interested researcher to conduct in-depth research on the facts mentioned here.

However, I consider it my duty to describe in this memorial book, in general terms, the existence, the activity et le development of the Zionist-Socialist movement in our town.

 

1

Zionist ideas permeated our city from the very beginning of the appearance of the Zionist movement in Poland. As in other cities under the tsarist, despotic and antisemitic regime, the nostalgia for a national awakening. manifested itself in Kutno. As usual, the first “infected” by these new ideas were Jews, progressive local intelligentsia, prominent landowners and young people with an awakening conscience who sought purpose in life and were deeply concerned about the future of the Jewish people.

Kutno had the great privilege of having his own delegate to the Minsk conference[1]. The presence of a representative from Kutno at such a historic global gathering certainly had the greatest impact on the awareness of national liberation in and around the town. The Jews of Kutno thus had direct information about great Jewish personalities, their influence in the world, the questions and aspirations of famous activists, about the conferences, discussions and decisions of the largest and most important Jewish-world's modern assembly, whose goals were clear and unequivocal — to create a national home for the Jewish people.

 

2

A prominent landowner, Matityahu (Mates) Goldman, in agreement with other staunch Zionists in the town, took on the task of being the town's delegate to the Minsk conference. The impression that his mission and his return made to the town was incredible. It was, surely, the first public manifestation of Zionist activity, and also the clear proof of the existence of an organized Zionist movement.

The very creation of such a movement, with its clearly formulated program and the privilege of having its own representative in Minsk, has certainly been a stimulus for a deeper rooting of Zionism in the Kutno region and a good opportunity to expand national awareness. It has also helped to gain a lot of prominence with central Jewish institutions in Poland.

Some time later, the “Bund” of Kutno also set up its first foundations.

The socialist currents that flooded the entire Tsarist Empire, the general drive towards political rights and democracy, found a resounding echo among the persecuted Jewish masses. The revolutionary waves, which made the slogans of equality and fraternity spring up, carried away the peoples, who “tasted” the Tsarist yoke. It is therefore easy to understand that the Jews, too, were contaminated by the ideals of freedom and were enthusiastic about the idea of fighting absolutism and oppression.

The Bundist arguments were simple and straightforward: Socialism is good for the Russians, for the Lithuanians and for the Poles. Among all peoples, the number of fighters for freedom and justice is increasing — this must also apply to the Jews. No “over there” is and never will be — that was the Bundist argument. Their fight was mainly about daily needs and everything related to “here”. With such propaganda, it was easy to find companions.

The Poalei-Zion party was just being formed. Poalei-Zionism, based on the ideology of socialist Zionism, had hardly recruited its first adherents — that people were already found in Kutno, who accepted the ideas of socialist Zionism. They immediately realized that the synthesis of Socialism and Zionism was the natural solution to the painful problem of Jewish workers, that the special situation of the Jewish people and the specific needs of the Jewish workforce demanded more than the simple translation of socialist slogans into Yiddish. A Jewish Labor Party must, in its program, seek to create a broad response to the interests of Jewish workers and must not lose sight of the tragic consequences of the deep sense of Jewish inferiority. It is therefore necessary to create conditions of existence in which the Jewish worker must find his place and his role of builder of a class of the Jewish nation, to prepare the national gathering of the Jewish people.

It was not easy for the early comrades of Poalei-Zion to explain these ideas to the Jews of Kutno. And it was even more difficult in workers' circles. The “Bund”

[Page 186]

had already firmly established itself in the Jewish community. The demands of the proletarian world had also become its demands. The socialism of the “Bund” required no explanation. It was enough to add the formula “national-cultural autonomy” — and to rely on the future just order, which will change the individual, and therefore also the Jew. So, it will be the end of the lack of rights of the Jews and other feelings of inferiority. On the contrary, it was necessary to study and explain the foundations of workers' Zionism. It took a long time for the doctrine of Poalei-Zion to penetrate people's minds, for it to be understood and to gain supporters and sympathizers.

 

3

The first group of Poalei-Zion in Kutno was already known in the region at the beginning of the present century. This is certain since in 1906 Kutno received a visit from the envoy of the center, Comrade Salomon (now known as Mr. Yarblum). Other senior officials are reported to have come from Warsaw and Łódź.

In 1907, during the elections to the Second Duma, the Poalei-Zion group from Kutno actively participated in the electoral campaign.

The first members of Poalei-Zion in Kutno are famous names: Abraham Erdberg, Yechiel Rajfeld, Shimshon Gajst, Eliezer Elberg, Tuvia Bozhikowski, Yaakov-Meir Frenkel, etc. They were staunch idealists with a sharp vision of labor issues in general and that of the Jews. The essence of their activity consisted of a very animated discussion with the Bundists on the final goal and the solution of the Jewish question.

A. Erdberg was the personality who animated the group. A local intellectual and teacher in the Hebrew college in Zarchin[2]. He taught Hebrew and Jewish history. Shimshon Gajst was a printer, E. Elberg a commercial employee, and Y. M. Frenkel a sock maker. They were all filled with knowledge and wisdom.

Until the outbreak of the First World War, the group did not develop strongly. These were years of heavy police repression. People were often arrested and deported to Siberia. The work was low profile and restricted. It was not until Kutno was annexed by the German army that the situation improved markedly.

Today it seems very bizarre to say that under German occupation Jewish social life has resurfaced. Despite legal obstacles, companies and unions began to develop. Jewish parties, in various forms, have developed a large number of activities. The majority of the Jewish workforce has become involved in societal activities. From that moment on, the outlines of each trend fluidified.

During this spring of Jewish societal outburst, Poalei-Zion occupied a prominent place. At that time, a number of families arrived from Russia, Warsaw and especially Łódź. Among them were quality people who elevated Jewish life to a high standard. Yaakov Wajslic with his wife and their very young daughter Mila settled in Kutno. He founded and directed with a theatrical circle of good quality, which often put on good plays. Bajnisz Zilberstajn's parents have also arrived. He himself was still a young man, taking his first steps in Yiddish poetry, with his younger comrade Yosef Turko (known as Joseph Okrutny). From Russian countries came, among others: the Riftin families (the parents of Yaakov Riftin), Szapiro, Szuster, Szajnrok, Levitin, Elbaum (the parents of Shija Elbaum). Among those who came from Łódź, we had very active militants.

 

4

In 1916, in the midst of World War I, comrades Szapiro, Yaakov Mroz, Y. M. Frenkel, Menashe Kac (now in Brussels), Shija Apelast, Reuven Jablonski — formed the renewed Poalei-Zion party in Kutno. They have been joined by a splinter group from the “Bund” — their names are unknown to me. The new generation of Poalei-Zion now consisted of A. Szuster, B. Zandberg, Ruth Szajnrok, Sochaczewski, Miller, Fishel Grinbaum, Chaim Stajn, Sarah Baran, Sarah Apelast and her older sister, the three Kuczinska sisters (the eldest became the wife of friend Yaakov Mroz; with her father, Shija Kuczinski, they were called “Shija and her daughters”) and Chava'le Erdberg, the younger sister of Abraham Erdberg, etc.

They found a place and immediately started to work: meetings, conferences, question-and-answer evenings, discussions. There were speakers from the region and from the central committee. Party literature and press began to appear. We collected for the “Palestinian Workers Fund”. The various events attracted a large audience of workers, intellectuals and young Jews. In a short time, the party has grown into a large massive organization, with great support and enthusiasm. Institutions have been formed, the number of members and supporters has greatly increased.

Poalei-Zion in Kutno had every chance of becoming a decision-making force in the Jewish community. I remember the successful performances of comrade Menczes. He had just arrived from London, bringing with him the experience of a world traveler. He was a good orator and an active member of the English labor movement. His collaboration and dynamic nature have greatly contributed to our activity.

After World War I, comrade Israel Tajchman arrived in Kutno as a teacher in the Judeo-Polish college. He was a man with all kinds of knowledge, great teaching skills and extremely sympathetic. His arrival in Kutno was associated with an unexpected happy period, from which the party and the youth were able to profit wonderfully.

Israel Tajchman gathered around him all the Jewish teachers in the city. The local Poalei-Zion committee endorsed this common-sense act. The “evening classes”

[Page 187]

were immediately created, in which the teachers agreed to collaborate. As for the premises, we had access to the Universal Jewish School. Many young people have participated in these courses. The young people listened to the lessons with all their ears and liked the teachers. The evening school was run by comrade Tajchman. He was assisted by Professors Szapszewicz, Apelast, Kibel's daughter, and others.

The “evening school” company has been a blessing for the city and happiness for Poalei-Zion, as all activity has taken place under the protective wing of the institution. The comfortable premises have also been used in other areas of social work. It was the most beautiful period for the Poalei-Zion of Kutno.

 

5

The development and rapid growth of the party demanded the appropriate conditions to be able to assume all the tasks that fell to such a movement. But there were also obstacles which undermined the beautiful tree and dried up its branches.

The Jewish population of Kutno was not rich. Of course, there were a few rich people, merchants, quality Jews. They took little interest in social life, as did the few assimilated ones who kept their distance from other Jews. There was also a large middle class, which consisted mainly of religious, quasi-religious, traders, artisans, hawkers, occasional merchants. The majority of these people were poor and modest, having barely enough to live on. There were several factories in Kutno — but all closed to Jews. The members of Poalei-Zion were mostly from the poor class.

The premises of Poalei-Zion were rented, and even sublet, inconvenient and expensive. The premises were semi-legal, we did not feel safe there. The deplorable conditions immediately jumped out at visitors. Supporters began to walk away.

Soon came yet another scourge — emigration. After the end of World War I, the borders opened little by little and the Jews started to emigrate.

This phenomenon hit the Poalei-Zion party hard in Kutno. As soon as a group of militants was formed, it immediately dispersed due to the constant emigration of members. Then came the unfortunate split that divided Poalei-Zion into “left wing” and “right wing”. A number of members have left the party. They carried out a specific activity as the “League for Workers of Israel”. After the split started the discussion about the famous 21 conditions of the Comintern. The discussion mobilized a lot of energy and ended with the departure of a group of activists.

After that, the Polish-Soviet war began. Most of the members have been mobilized. All the premises were closed immediately. Everything suddenly lost all relevance.

After a while, things passed into the hands of the younger ones who, with dedication, kept the flame alive, looking forward to better days.

 

6

After Poland's independence, I remember three election campaigns in which Poalei-Zion took part in Kutno - twice in the Diet and once in the city council. It seems to me that we had one elected to the first municipal council. This was made possible thanks to the bloc formed by Poalei-Zion and the Independents. The city councilor was Eliezer Elberg, from Poalei-Zion. If I am not mistaken, we also had a representative on the community council later — comrade Szwarc.

The strong Poalei-Zion organization in Żychlin was of great importance to us. Unlike the situation in Kutno, the “Bund” had no influence there. Contact with neighbor Żychlin was more frequent, warmer and more useful.

Poalei-Zion repeatedly participated in the May demonstrations under his own banner. In the professional unions, we were in the minority. The “Bund” was predominant there.

I remember the death of comrade Priwe Kuczinska, the Secretary of the party section in Kutno. Her death had a big impact in the city, both because of her cut-short life and because she refused to retract before she passed away and had insisted on having a funeral without religious ceremonies. For the first time in Kutno, the oath of Poalei-Zion was sung over her grave.

When the cooperative movement developed strongly in Poland, the Poalei-Zion opened their own bakery. The administrator was comrade Szuster. It was Chaskel Kac's bakery. However, it didn't exist for long.

In 1926, an event took place at home which gave some hopes of strengthening the ranks of the party. A group of ten Hashomer HaTzair members approached Poalei-Zion to join the party. They were greeted with open arms, but the joy did not last long. The “Shomers”, from bourgeois homes, did not feel at ease in the ranks of the Poalei-Zion in Kutno, whose comrades mostly came from working-class homes. They also didn't want to be in tune with Poalei-Zion's ideology based on Borochovist thought. The group's leader was Yaakov Riftin — who would be a MAPAM's deputy in the Knesset.

 

7

The creation of the youth movement was of great value and importance for Poalei-Zion in Kutno. The young members enthusiastically welcomed the teachings of Poalei-Zion and contributed to all actions and undertakings. Although organizationally this was a separate training, there has always been close collaboration. The “Jugnt” group represented a reservoir for the party and its members. As soon as he reached the age of eighteen, the young member joined the party. This fact contributed to many successful actions and supported and prolonged the existence of the party in Kutno.

[Page 188]

Kutno's “Jugnt” was a branch of the “Jugnt” organization, which had grown throughout Poland.

Toward Purim 1917, Berel Poncz, Eliyahu Klingbajl, Priwe Kuczinska and Levitin (nicknamed “the handsome Lithuanian”) came together and formed a new youth movement.

The name “Jugnt” was still unknown to me at the time. I was still a small young man, in a long frock coat, a shoe-stitching apprentice at “The Yellow Crest”. My older brother, Sholem Szlajfer, already belonged to the Zionist Youth. He took me to their young people, who were called “Flowers of Zion”. I didn't find any friends there, no one was like me. It also lacked warmth there.

One day, I meet Eliyahu Klingbajl who explains to me what “Poalei-Zion” is. The word “Zion” has “always had a magnetic force upon me. I immediately agreed to join it. At the first meeting, various matters were discussed about our future activities. I wrote a note for comrade Szapiro (the President), on the issue of the training we desperately need.

I was flabbergasted when he suddenly exclaimed - “Comrade H. Szlajfer has the floor.” I didn't know where to put myself. Hesitant, blushing, I stood up and repeated the question on education: “How do you plan to do it and when?” Comrades Szapiro, Menashe Kac and Yaakov Mroz answered my question: “We will do this together with you”.

I saw that people were taking the issue seriously and taking it over. It was my first “performance” at a meeting. My speech was successful. From that moment, I became a member of the youth committee. We immediately started a recruitment campaign. Starting with siblings, family members, near and far relatives. This campaign was a great success. We felt like a growing force and indeed became the finest youth organization in Kutno. The Poalei-Zion room suddenly became too small. We understood that to develop the campaign, we had to start thinking about having our own premises.

Flyers, newspapers and instructors started arriving from Warsaw. We were already in contact with the outside world. Frequent visits by colleagues from Włocławek, Łódź and Żychlin helped the organization to prepare us for the first national conference of the “Jugnt” movement.

We were treated to a delegate at the conference. We were preparing for it, like grown-ups. Comrade Berel Poncz was elected. He proudly represented the Kutno organization at the convention.

 

8

Among the first activists, I remember my comrades: B. Poncz, E. Klingbajl, Priwe Kuczinska, Yosef Celemenski, Fishel Fogelman (a famous cantor in America), Pinchas Terzmil, Ite Salomon, R. Kroczik, Levitin, Henech Sztajn , Hinde Sztajn, Wolf Abramowicz, Sh. Osowska, P. Opatowski etc. Then came the next generation: Leibusz and Benjamin Pietrikowski, Mordechai Sztajn, Szija Elbaum,

 


The League of Workers for Israel —1935

[Page 189]

Chana Abramowicz, Nathan Kac, Abraham Kac, Abraham and Zelig Lustigman, Aryeh Lustman, Chana Apelast, Abraham Frizler, MA Kowalski, Yosel Ciolek, Wajntrak and Szajnrokub, others.

At that time, I was working at Plockern, with the famous Bundist Herman Kirszbaum, with Reuwen Pukacz and Mosze Aharon Menche — a young man who by his imagination alone made a radio set in 1919.

Pukacz once told me that Leibowicz wanted to talk to me. After a few conversations, Leibowicz explains to me that he wants to join our youth organization. He was a precious comrade for us. He came from the very eminent Comber family. His grandfather was the secretary of the city rabbis. He also held the honorable position of Director of Municipal Newsletters. Through Leibowitz, we were able to access the library of his uncles (the Combers). Later, the library moved to our premises. I went to Warsaw and bought a few books. With great joy we opened the “book cupboard” — made available to the youth of Kutno. The library has grown. It became the second in the city (after the Perec library). With this newly created institution, our prestige has grown.

 


The author of these memories during his visit in Kutno, 1935
(first row, second from left)

 

The director of the evening school, Comrade Israel Tajchman, had a fatherly relationship with our fellow students. He set up and specially adapted the program to the level and knowledge of the different students. The other teachers also used better methods and tried to make the studies understandable in a simple way.

However, political life in Poland has changed rapidly. The intensification of the police persecution forced our central authorities to divide the movement into three districts: Warsaw, Łódź and Krakow. We belonged to the Łódź district. A conference was organized in Łódź to develop and publicize the new system. We sent comrade Klingbajl to the conference. On the third day, the police found out where the conference was being held. They invaded the premises, arrested many delegates. comrade Klingbajl managed to escape. With his return to Kutno, a new surprise awaited us.

We held the debriefing meeting in the woods near the park. Just then, Fritz Zawadzki felt like going for a ride in his horse-drawn carriage — and he saw the gathering in the woods. He obviously didn't tell us anything, but immediately reported to the police. In a few minutes we were surrounded. We were arrested, lined up, searched, and then all taken to the police station along Kolejowa Street.

No suspicious material was found on anyone. During the meeting, I was in charge of the guard - and I managed to slip away and bring the news to town. Comrade Klingbajl's father, a man full of understanding for the actions of children, immediately had an interview with a policeman he knew. He did us a favor and the matter was settled.

Shortly afterwards, a large-scale arrest took place in Włocławek. More than forty comrades were imprisoned. Some of them remained in prison for long months. As a result, the work of the Włocławek secretariat was disrupted. In the city of Koło, there was a problem. The police broke into the premises of our unions, raided the Poalei-Zion cooperative, as well as the bakery, arrested several prominent activists. As a result of this event, the district secretariat moved from Wloclawek to Kutno, regrouping with the comrades: Klingbajl, Leibowicz and myself.

From Warsaw, Comrade Yaakov Kenner wrote that we should send someone to Koło (Koyl) to find out what's going on there. I went there, found out what was going on and immediately relayed a report to Warsaw.

We also reorganized the work immediately. We no longer held general meetings. We have divided the organization into sixths — each sixth with its leaders. We set up a small administration made up of some of the leaders and continued to work with conspiratorial and totally different methods.

We have been informed by Łódź that a conference was being prepared. But this time in Krakow. We absolutely wanted to send a delegate. Especially the expense for such a long trip was a big problem for us. A special “delegated fund” enabled us to overcome this problem as well. I have been appointed a delegate for this conference. I arrived in Krakow on Friday evening, but after the blessing of the candles. My religious uncle, who lived there, had already gone to pray. When he came home and saw me, I was given a hell of an earful.

The conference was well prepared and went well. Koło's delegate was comrade Bernstajn. Comrade Fishel Wolfman (deceased in Paris) and I were the youngest delegates (under 16). Thanks to the conference we visited Krakow, saw the Old Synagogue, the Old Hospital, the Maharal's Tomb[3] and the Wawel Castle. I returned to Kutno having had great spiritual satisfaction. For the first time I had been a delegate to a conference. There, I got to know the central leaders of the Poalei-Zion party and the “Jugnt” movement.

[Page 190]

9

After the Polish-Soviet War, the fine sports movement “Stern” flourished in Poland. In most towns and villages, football teams, gymnastics, table tennis, swimming, running, walking and boxing sections have been formed. The “Stern” sports clubs were the finest Jewish sports organizations. The captain of the “Stern” club in Kutno was Yehuda Sztajn (now in Paris).

Finally, I want to mention one more interesting episode:

The lack of premises has always forced us to different experiences. The majority of our comrades were among the leather stitchers and apprentices. So, they got to know Polish shoemakers. They had a room where their union was located. We took a look at the local. More than once we have asked them to hold our meetings there. Once, during a strike, the shoemakers had a meeting at the same time as us. However, they finished earlier. To get out, they had to go through our room. When they entered and saw the meeting, they stood there gaping their mouths, eyes wide open and asked in astonishment: “Are these the kids who asked us for the premises?” Stunned, they observed the participants, almost childish in appearance — and behaving like adults: with votes, discussions and resolutions. You could tell in their faces that they too wanted their children to be so serious.

Since then, we have obtained the premises more often. I also remember how we received guests Daniel Lajbel[4], Dr Emanuel Ringelblum , Chaim Turner, Yaakov Peterzeil[6] and others.

I didn't have the opportunity to be in Kutno for much longer. Six months later, I moved to Włocławek. But I kept in close contact with Kutno. Almost every Saturday I was at home.

In May 1925, I embarked on a distant journey — to France. A distant semi-illegal journey. Two months later, I arrived in Paris. Even from Paris and until the outbreak of World War II, I kept in touch.

In December 1935, after eleven years of emigration, I came to visit Kutno. There, I met a group of friends from Poalei-Zion, as well as Yaakov Mroz — the veteran. They were no longer doing much activity. We are together, have reflected on the situation. I gave them some advice, encouraged them and asked them to keep up the work with all their might.

I was very kindly received by the “League of Workers of Israel”. I had the opportunity to give two conferences, which were very successful. These sessions were chaired by my good friend Chaim Żychlinsky.

It was my last contact during my lifetime with my hometown, with my unforgettable family. It was also my last meeting with the rest of my dear friends from Poalei-Zion and “Jungt”, and with the sadly exterminated Jewish community - our Kutno.

Translator's footnotes

  1. September 4-10, 1902. Return
  2. maybe refers to Źychlin. Return
  3. Probably that of the “Remu” of Krakow (Rabbi Moshe Isserles). That of the Maharal (Judah Loew ben Bezalel) is in Prague. Return
  4. Zionist, Labor and Bible scholar, died in Israel on February 23rd, 1967, at age 75. Return
  5. historian, politician and social worker (Buczacz, Ukraine, November 21st, 1900 Warsaw, March 10th, 1944). leader of the “Jugnt”. Author of “Ringelblum Archives”, part of which was recovered after the war, hidden in metal milk containers, a collection of documents describing the life of Jews under Nazi occupation. Return
  6. leader of the “Jugnt”. Return

 

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