By Pinchas Najsztejn
Translated by Jerrold Landau
An interview with the native of our town, Pinchas Najsztejn, a member of the city council of Lod from the Herut Party
Interviewer: P. Fiterman
Q. When did the Revisionist Movement arise in our city, and who were the founders?
A. The Revisionist Movement in our city arose in 1923. Its founder was Mordechai Sztejn. Incidentally, he was the man who wrote the wrote the famous song of those days, Farois Reit Jabotinsky [Ride Forward Jabotinsky]. The first Betar members in Mezritsh were Shlomo Mincberg, who studied in the gimnazjum [secular secondary school] in our city, Meir Perlsztejn, Aharon and Moshe Grynsztejn, Moshe Likerman, and others. Members from among the ranks who were known then included: Shalom Beder, Bentzi and others. The Revisionist youth movement was first called Hashachar [The Dawn]. Aharon Propes, who came to Poland from Riga, organized this youth movement in 1923 and served as its head. (Today Aharon Propes is known as the organizer of the Zimriya.) At that time, our hall was on Briskaj Street at the home of… I no longer recall his name; we called him Bochte. In 1927, the name of our youth movement was changed to Betar (Brit Yosef Trumpeldor). There was a religious faction within the Betar movement called Bnei Jeshurun. Its spiritual leader was Rabbi Dr. Rubinsztejn.
Q. From which schools did people join you?
A. From the Tarbut School, the Talmud Torah, and the gimnazjum. Several of our members, who were students of the gimnazjum, later joined Hashomer Hatzair. This too occurred.
Q. The principal of the Tarbut School, Globski, was known in our town as a Revisionist. During the time that he served as principal, did your influence over the students of the Tarbut School grow?
A. I believe so.
Q. Was this a direct result of the intervention of Globski?
A. I cannot say, but he did have influence.
Q. Did he come to the chapter meetings with you?
A. Not often.
Q. How many members were you?
A. We began as 35 members and reached 400.
Q. What were your main areas of interest?
A. There were many activities in the cultural realm. We attempted to impart to our members a [sense of] national consciousness and an attachment to Zionism. We arranged a memorial gathering for Herzl on the 20th of Tammuz each year. We celebrated the 2nd of November, the day of the Balfour Declaration. Of course, we celebrated Lag BaOmer with an excursion into the forest, etc. We conducted practice drills and all types of sports, including football [soccer] and volleyball. Incidentally, our football team was one of the best in the city. We played against Zeus, Hapoel, and others.
|Pinya Najsztejn kicking the eleventh kick|
Q. You said that you conducted practice drills. Were these military exercises?
A. If you refer to the Betar youth no. However, for the older members of Betar yes. Every Sunday, a police sergeant would come to us and train us in [the use of] weapons.
Q. Do you have any photos of Betar [members] in those days [wearing their] their Betar uniforms?
A. No. When I moved from Poland to Russia in 1939, I destroyed all of the Betar photos. I did not want the Russians to know about my Zionist past.
Q. Your external appearance: your uniforms, the brown shirt, as well as the usage of military terminology: commander, Betar commander, battalion commander, company commander, etc. all of these belong to the militaryeducational realm. That is to say, militarism was the foundation of your education is that not so?
A. I will begin with the first question. You mention the brown shirt. For us, the brown shirt symbolized the soil of the Land of Israel, which is reddish brown. With regard to military education, or militarism as you label it: not everything that an army does should be disparaged. The army imparts discipline. (Najsztejn leafs through one of Jabotinsky's stories and points out): This is what Jabotinsky says. He notes; Ask an average person about his relation to military discipline, and he will say ‘Phooey! It turns people into machines!’ In truth, [the scoffer] himself becomes enthusiastic when he sees a mass of people trained to move as parts of a single unified machine.
Q. Did you have hachshara [physical preparation for aliya] locations?
A. No. We had courses for instructors. One such course was conducted by captain Yirma (Yirmiyahu) Heilpriz in Zielonki, near Warsaw. From among us, Meir Perlsztejn, Moshe Likerman, and others participated.
Q. The Betar movement educated its members to be heroic, in the spirit of Trumpeldor and his comrades. Its older members learned how to use weapons and how to fight in times of need and indeed, they fought. How was it that they did not think to educate and prepare the future immigrants to bring forth bread from the earth? Until the rise of the State, not a single agricultural settlement was established in the name of Betar with the possible exception of the Betar groups in Rosh Pina, whose primary purpose was not the establishment of an agricultural settlement, if it even had that purpose at all. Why did the movement not establish agricultural settlements, even if not socalled Communist kibbutzim? Was it obvious to you that even without this, we would have achieved what we did?
A. This is a complex question. We opposed the form of settlement established by the national funds on national land. We opposed a stepbystep policy. We demanded mass aliya so that we could achieve a Jewish majority in our Land as quickly as possible. Max Nordau demanded this in his era, and Jabotinsky's evacuation plan was well known
in the late 1930s. Jabotinsky conducted conversations on this topic with ministers of the Polish government, including the Foreign Minister Colonel Beck. We therefore always maintained not a national home for the Jewish people, which was open to contradictory interpretations, but rather simply a Jewish State with a Jewish majority. Its government, we believed, should [be responsible for] finding the solution to mass settlement through agricultural reform.
Q. Proletariat Mezritsh that lives with its memories of its rich revolutionary past, and bourgeois Mezritsh that lives with its memories of its first chalutzim [pioneers] who established Yesod HaMaala, these did not create a comfortable environment for a nonpioneering youth movement, such as yours. I remember the visit of Dr. von Weisl to our city, which I believe took place at the end of the 1920s. The pioneering youth prepared a unique reception for him. They tossed rotten eggs at him during his speech and a serious brawl broke out, resulting in injuries on both sides. The other political parties were hostile toward you. How did it feel to be tormented for the sanctity of the people and the land?
A. I do not recall the incident that you mention, but I do recall a similar incident from 1933. The Communists broke into the Olympia Hall during Dr. von Weisl's speech of and took control of the hall. There was indeed hostility from specific parties. With regard to your question about what our feelings were: We did not feel tormented. We were faithful to our movement, and we fought for it, just as did the members of the other movements. No party existed without the zealotry of its members. Of course, as in every movement, there were individuals who showed restraint as well as individuals who were ruled by their tempers.
Q. Did the relationship of the parties toward you change in a positive direction at a later time?
A. Yes, definitely. They even collaborated with us in some areas.
Q. Members of your movement made aliya during the Second Aliya. Did anyone from the Mezritsh chapter of Betar make aliya through the Second Aliya?
A. Certainly. Many made aliya: Wengryk, Weingarten, my brother Yossel, Avrahamele Wajntraub (today Gafni), and others.
Q. Which period, would you say, was the shining moment of your movement in our city, and why?
A. I cannot point to a specific era. We were on a constant upswing. We grew from year to year. I already stated that we started with 35 members and reached 400. We were a prominent force in the youth movements of our city. We were enthusiastic Zionist youth, and we excelled as such.
This page is a photocopy of a Yiddish newspaper article
An announcement from the Mezritsh Chapter
The Brit Trumpeldor (Betar) is a Zionist youth organization, which has the goal of educating a healthy Jewish youth who will actively participate in building the Land of Israel as a Jewish state.
Boys and girls from 13 years of age and upward may participate in Brit Trumpeldor. They are divided into three levels according to age.
The first two levels are educated in the pure Zionist spirit, by becoming familiar with Jewish history, Zionist history, Jewish culture, Palestinography, etc.
The oldest level (18 years and upward) recognizing the progress of the Zionist Revisionists as the only correct route leading to a Jewish State, join that organization.
All members must know Hebrew, which the organization recognizes as the sole national language. Only those who already know the language well enough to communicate freely in it can move from one level to the next.
The three levels of preparation are: cultural, physicalmilitary, and professional. Agricultural farms and workshops have been set up in order to provide the appropriate professional education.
Every member of the oldest level must be prepared for all the demands of building up [the State], including both regular and extraordinary measures (for example, the Jewish Legion).
Betar declares that now, in this moment, when the Jewish home is in its first stages of establishment, it is dangerous to cause division among the youth, and reduce its power, based on social and religious differences. The Jewish youth has one mission: to be the builders of the Land, of the Jewish regime. Whether the Land of Israel will be Socialist or not, we must wait and see when it actually becomes the State of Israel. As long as it is still Palestine, the forces must not be split. Betar is neither for nor against Socialism, neither for nor against religious considerations. Brit Trumpeldor is in favor of a proud Jewish youth, which understands itself to be a wheel in the larger building machine. It is in favor of a youth worthy of defending the interest and the honor of the Jewish people, a youth which will not be insensitive, a youth which will be responsible for their deeds and words, for being a chalutz as the word was understood by Joseph Trumpeldor.
() Mordechai Sztejn
copied from the Mezritsher Trybuna, April 19th 1929
Translator and Editor's Footnotes
by Yaakov Bojgman of Jerusalem
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I took my first steps in the national religious movement Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi through the initiative of my teacher Reb B. Tz. Dolinski, may Gd avenge his blood, one of the chief activists of the Mizrachi movement in our city.
I recall that at that time I was a student in one of the lower grades of the Talmud Torah [primary religious school]. One day, my teacher, the superb pedagogue Dolinski of blessed memory, approached me and said, Come to my house this evening. I was overwhelmed: my beloved teacher had invited me to his home! Certainly the rest of my friends who had also been invited to his home that night were equally awestruck.
We went to his home on Brisk Street, and entered the long room. I saw pictures on his walls of great Jewish people, about whom I later learned. The pictures included Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer, Rabbi Eliahu Gutmacher, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, and Dr. Herzl of blessed memory.
We sat down, and our teacher Dolinski of blessed memory opened the discussion. He told us about Zionism and about Mizrachi. That evening we founded a chapter of Pirchei Mizrachi. We were the first. We would gather in his home, sing songs about the Land of Israel, and speak Hebrew.
It was a foregone conclusion that when I got older, I would join the chapter of Tzeirei and Hechalutz HaMizrachi [Mizrachi Youth and Pioneers]. We deliberated aliya, creativity, and [nation]building in the spirit of the movement.
The youths among us quickly rebelled, however. We realized that our chapter was frozen, passive, lacking initiative, and not attracting members. We were jealous of the neighboring cities of Luków and Biała, in which larger and stronger chapters of Hashomer Hadati existed. We decided to establish a Hashomer Hadati chapter in our city. This was in 193233. The beginning was difficult due to several factors. The chapter of Tzeirei and Hechalutz HaMizrachi regarded us as competitors, and its members interfered [with our efforts]. There were difficulties in that we were in a city where most of the schools were secular or neutral, aside from the Talmud Torah in which the students were educated in the spirit of Judaism. We ran into difficulty gaining new members from the Tarbut, Powszeczna and Hebrew Gimnazjum schools, and, it goes without saying, from the Yiddishist school and from among the working youth, who were influenced by antiZionist and antireligious organizations. We received support first and foremost from Rabbi Mordechai Szulman, who was a graduate of the Tachkemoni Beit Midrash for rabbis founded by Mizrachi in Warsaw (today he is a district supervisor of national religious education [in Israel]). He was also one of the initiators and founders of the Hashomer Hadati movement in Poland. He would visit his parents' home frequently and would stand at our side. We also received sympathy from the leaders of Mizrachi, such as Reb Eliahu Manperl, his brotherinlaw Reb Mordechai Berman, Reb Lejbka Epelbaum, Reb Yehoshua Babkes, and others.
After preparations, the longawaited day came arrived, and we established a chapter of Hashomer Hadati in our city.
We gathered together several members; Abba Perlsztejn, may Gd avenge his blood (the brother of Elia Giladi of Nahariya, may he live long), Yosef Goldwasser, Tzvi Uriel (Zylberberg) who made aliya with his parents before the Holocaust, Moshe Tema, Yehoshua Heszel Szapira (the grandson of the rabbi of our city Rabbi Dov Nachman Szapira of blessed memory), Fiszel Cukerman may Gd avenge his blood, and others. What did we not do in order to finance our premises?! With time, a group for girls was also established. In the first group of girls, we succeeded in attracting several who came from homes and families which were [ideologically] very far removed from the idea of Torah and Labor, and even opposed the essence of the Zionist idea.
One of the girls, Pesa Buksenbaum, was very active and dedicated to Hashomer Hadati. She came from a veteran Bundist home. Her father was one of the prominent fighters for an eighthour workday. However, we should note that there were also keepers of tradition [observant Jews] among these Bundists, for her father would go to the Dafiszczanka Beis Midrash every day with his tallis and tefillin bag under his arm. Some of them were members of Agudas Yisroel, for example Chava Sziwowicz (Kinereti) the daughter of the shochet [ritual slaughterer], and our member Liba Lifszitz. Her father was one of the prime activists of the Aguda in our city. The Wyzycna sisters, the daughter of the shochet Reb David Hirsch, who was the prayer leader of the synagogue and who delivered a class on the weekly Torah portion in the Dszmilewyzna Beis Midrash, also joined us. We also succeeded in penetrating the Tarbut, Powszeczna, and Hebrew Gimnazjum schools.
The following incident demonstrates how great our influence was on girls who came specifically from the Bundist circles. One day, Avraham Zadanowicz, may Gd avenge his blood, a Bund activist, came to me and told me about the Tynt family. Mr. Tynt leased a fruit orchard, and he would bring out his fruits on the Sabbath so that those taking strolls could purchase fruit. Once, the fruit ran out, and he told his children to pick more fruit for the customers. His daughter, Rivka Tynt, paid no attention to her father. After he warned her and hit her, she said that she would not pick fruit on the Sabbath, for it is forbidden to pick fruit on the Sabbath. Who told you that? shouted her father. Rivka said that she was a member of the Hashomer Hadati organization, where she had been taught that it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath by working. Rivka was one of the members most dedicated to our work.
We succeeded in setting up a chapter of 180 male and female members, all dedicated to Judaism, the Torah, the commandments, and the upbuilding of the Land. Like other youth movements, we also set up summer camps, were active in all kinds of Zionist work, and prepared ourselves to actualize our ideals through aliya. With the advance of the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, several of our members joined the partisans, including Shalom Judler and his brother, Moshe Perlsztejn who had joined us from Hashomer Hatzair, Fiszele Cukerman and his brother Yaakov Akiva who were students of the yeshivas of Kamenetz and Mir and others. Some of them succeeded in making aliya to the Land but, to our sorrow, most of them perished in the Holocaust along with the natives of our town, may Gd avenge their blood.
Finally, I wish to dedicate a few lines to a faithful man dedicated to the idea of Torah and Labor, Reb Lejbel Turkeltaub, may Gd avenge his blood. He knew no weariness. Even though he earned his meager livelihood with difficulty, he withheld no effort to advance our idea and attract members. The Religious Workers Center was established through his efforts. He made plans to make aliya to the Land but did not live to see this. He was overtaken by death at the hands of the Nazis, may their names be blotted out. For these, and for the natives of my town, my eyes flow with tears.
|Members of the Hashomer Hadati chapter of Mezritsh|
|Second in the second row (from right to left): Rabbi Mordechai Szulman.
Third: Y. Bider. Fourth: Yaakov Bojgenman
The Osef Kanai Chapter of the Novhorodokers
At around the beginning of the 1930s, a unique chapter of the students of the Beis Josef Yeshiva of Novhorodok arose alongside Tzeirei and Hechalutz HaMizrachi. As is known, the leaders of the yeshiva were careful to keep Zionists and Zionism out of bounds for their students. However, just as the directors were zealous opponents of Zionism, its students who came to us were zealous supporters the idea of Torah and Labor, and it was for this reason that this chapter was called Osef Kanai.
The students of the Yeshiva would eat at the others' tables, making the rounds between various householders. They would eat at the home of a different host every day, and the rotation would repeat itself. One of the hosts of these students was our member Reb Lejbele Turkeltaub of blessed memory, may Gd avenge his blood. There was a particular student who would eat at his table on a regular basis. Reb Lejbele would sit and talk with him [about many topics], including the Zionist work, and especially about the concept of Torah and Labor, which our members were working to instill in the life of the Land of Israel through personal example. At times, Reb Lejbele would include us in these discussions.
As the discussions continued, we provided this student with reading material from Netiva, a publication of Hapoel HaMizrachi in the Land, and the Yiddishe Shtime [Jewish Voice] publication of Mizrachi of Warsaw, etc. Slowly, we recruited a group of these older yeshiva students, all of them underground activists, who organized a special chapter called Osef Kanai. We were successful to the extent that this methodology also influenced the students of the Beis Yosef Yeshivas in Bialystock, Pinsk, and other places.
We would meet with these members in private homes or outside the city. One day, we met to consult with two of them on the Warsaw Road. We returned to the city at nightfall, and, due to our intense involvement in the conversation, we were not careful and reached the gate of the home of the head of the community Reb Josel Tisz, may Gd avenge his memory, where we ran into two of the wellknown yeshiva heads, Rabbi David Blajcher and Rabbi Aharon Wajnsztejn, may Gd avenge their blood. They were leaving Reb Josel's home and ran into us. Reb Aharon slapped one of the two students on the face hard. The student stumbled and fell. The second fled for his life. We were shaken up… We knew that they had begun to suspect that something was going on in the yeshiva. Now our secret had been revealed. We discovered that they had found a list of the chapter's members during the ensuing search. Turmoil followed. The next day, Reb David delivered a sermon on the Great Conflagration the Evil Forces That Have Penetrated Into Our Midst. The members whose names were on the list were summoned and immediately expelled. Those who protested the punishment received letters of recommendation to branches of the yeshiva in nearby cities. When they applied, however, the other branches refused to accept them, and it became obvious that this had been a ruse [on the part of the yeshivas] to rid themselves of these students. They all returned to us. Some requested to continue with their studies, while others were afraid to return to their parents. We took council with our older members, the leaders of the movement, and we decided to open up a yeshiva for them and to take care of their needs. We set them up in the Beis Midrash of Reb Sender. Members of the movement who were Torah scholars, such as Reb Yehoshua Babkes, gave classes. Members who were householders set up a rotation system for their meals, and concerned themselves with sustaining them.
We continued with our activities in that manner. We sent a group to hachsharah [preparation for aliya], which met up with members who came from the yeshivas of Bialystock, Pinsk, and others. Some of them were among the Ma'apilim, who made aliya and live today in the kibbutzim of Hapoel HaMizrachi.
Indeed, those were great days, and we contributed our part.
Translator and Editor's Footnotes
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