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[Page 101]

Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion)
- Proletarian of Zion

By Benyamin Yoeli (Yevalavsky)

February 1917 Russia. World War I is raging in full force. Nesvizh is located about 40 miles east of the front. In Petrograd, the capitol, a revolution. The Czar is deposed. A temporary government is in place. The chains of the czarist regime lifted. Slogans of freedom and brotherhood are heard all through Russia.

The Jews are breathing a sigh of relief. In a stroke were all restrictions against the Jews lifted. The old Jewish proletarian parties were resurrected again: “Bund”, The “Proletarian of Zion” (Poalie Zion) are the ones who put their hope in realizing the socialist dream in Russia as a solution for the Jewish problem. This was their rational for rejecting the Zionist idea and the recognition of the Hebrew language as the Jewish national language. The assimilated inteligencia and the masses of underdog workers flocked to these parties since they were discriminated socially and had no national conciseness. The Zionist movement was also awakened at this time, coming out of hiding. Zionist chapters were established spontaneously in all the Jewish localities attracting mostly a concentration of middle-class educated youth.

About one month after the beginning of the revolution an assembly was called by the brothers Moshe and Abraham Tzudick who were influenced by veteran Zionists Benyamin Isenboud and Shlomo Levin. The meeting took place in the Dekatzavim synagogue. Most of the youth from the Russian schools and some refugees from the areas of Brisk and Bialistock, who came into the city, participated.

Benyamin Isenboud, Shlomo Levin and Moshe Tzudick were the prominent speakers. It was decided to establish a Zionist association and name it Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) (Tze'irei Zion).

The name wasn't original, since even before the war there was a Zionist movement by this name in Russia, and in the beginning of the revolution many chapters reopened in Russia. The elected committee came in contact with the movement's center and accepted its authority. Representatives and counselors from the center often visited in the chapter. There were discussions and clarifications on the relationship between Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) movement and the general Zionist movement. Differences surfaced slowly. The Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) in Russia organized as an autonomous organization called “Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) popular fraction” as a part of the Zionist organization.

It started its activities in the village by renting a club and establishing a public library. The seed for the library was a collection of about 1000 books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian from the Zionist library, established in 1898. In 1905 the Russian authorities shut down the library, and the book were stored in sealed boxes by the police. Some Jewish and general publications from the “Art and Literature Association” that existed until the war were also brought to the library. As time passed, more books were purchased in Odessa, Moskva, and Minsk. Since Jewish press was not prevalent in the city and few read newspapers (Jewish or otherwise) the library contributed immensely to increase the Zionist awareness among the members of the association. It served to widen their horizons in respect to Zionism, the settlement efforts in Eretz-Israel and world Jewry in general.

In the library one could have found volumes of Jewish publications in Hebrew and Russian: “Voschod [ascent in Russian], Rasvit [the dawn in Russian], Ha'olam, H'poel H'tzair, H'shilowach”.

To the youth active in the association, a treasure of books on Jewish subjects (they didn't dream existed) was unveiled. Now they had the opportunity to read about and to discover the Zionist movement and the land of Israel they longed for since their days in the Cheder [a Torah school for small children]. For the first time they could learn about chapters in the history of Zionism from Shivat-Zion to their time. That is how many learned about the struggle for Jewish work, the fight of the Boazim [from the Hebrew name BOAZ meaning Landowners] against Jewish work and Jewish labor, the revival of the Hebrew language and the beginning of the settlement in Eretz Israel. Clearly this literature had influenced and formed the ideological thinking of the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion).

 

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The Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) Three years after the establishment of their union:
Seated right to left: Moshe Ben Artzi Shteinhoise, Miriam Vershel, Moshe Rabinovitch, Zalman Shifres, Berta Meshvitzki, Benyamin Yavlevsky-Yoeli
Standing: Yakov Androsyer, Avram Tzudik, Chanah Grons Yoeli, Aba Sheshevsky, Mordechai Karpech

[Page 102]

The association distributed the Shekel, collected donations for the National Fund and held information meetings, mainly in the main synagogue. It also actively participated in the election for city council side by side with the general Jewish block, while the “Bund” joined the social democratic Russian party.

On May 1st the association participated in a large demonstration by all the Jewish and Christian parties and public bodies. The association gathered under the red flag next to the national flag and carried Zionist and general banners calling for “the land of Israel for the people of Israel”, “long live the free republic”, and “national rights to the Jewish nation”. The first the meetings took place in Russian, since it was easier for the youth to articulate themselves in this language. Very quickly though, the influence of the national spirit, and opposition to assimilation prevailed, and the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) started to conduct meetings in Yiddish.

The level of activity increased in 1917 as the elections for the general convention of Russian Jews and the Russian general assembly approached. The election quarrel among the parties was very strong. Many gatherings and assemblies convened and plenty of propaganda was disseminated.

Three months later, in February of 1918 the city was taken by the Germans. The association increased its activities. A new Hebrew school was open. It was named the Chlenov Public Hebrew School and was located in the Market [de-shuk] Synagogue, in the women's wing. About a month later it was moved together with the library and the club to the Rosenberg High School were it remained for many years. The initiative for the school came from a Jewish soldier, a Hebrew teacher from Lodz', Moshe Melnik. He happened to come to the city after its conquest by the Germans. He suggested to the association to open a school under his directorship, and his offer was accepted. A committee including Benyamin Izenbod, Israel Rabinovitz, Enshel Potzepovsky and Aharon Apshtein dedicated themselves to the management of the school, to get furniture and to determine the tuition. They also conducted amateur plays and held flower sales to help in maintaining the school. For several years Melnik the teacher, would duplicate material on a hectograph machine and distribute it to the students due to a shortage of books.

The association also initiated a Hebrew kindergarten, but it did not need any help from the community since it supported itself from tuition. The activity of the association did not cease after the Germans left the city, in December of 1918 and the return of the Bolsheviks. The school and the library continued to operate and the language of teaching continued to be Hebrew.

In honor of the Purim holiday the committee published a humoristic paper, Dar Magen' Davider Hamentoush [The Star of Hamentash]. It was read in a party that took place two weeks after the holiday, because of the eruption of the Polish revolt.

When the city was conquered by the Poles in 1919, the association was invigorated to action. The social interaction increased among the members. New courses were established: Geography of Israel, history, and literature combined with Saturday night get-togethers. The association also published four issues of Kadima written by hand by the members. Newspapers such as “Hapoel Hatzair” and “Kuntres” (The Pamphlet) were obtained from Palestine.

In March 1920 democratic elections for the community council were held. The association ran as an independent party. Other parties were from the members of different synagogues, Poalei tzedek [charity organizations] and merchants. The Zeirei Zion list won four seats when it obtained the largest number of votes.  The extra votes were assigned to the General Zionists with four seats out of 23 which chose the Community Council. [The extra votes concept occurs in proportional voting, where so many votes allot one seat.  When there are “extra” votes that can't lead to a seat, they are not simply thrown away, but combined with the votes of another party to afford them a seat accorkng to the minimum number.  Thus, if it takes 100 votes for a seat, and a party got 180, those 80 votes are not lost, but combine with another party according to pre-election agreements to give that other party a seat, if, for example it had 20 votes].  The representatives were Benyamin Isenboud, Zalman Shifres, Benyamin Yavelevsky-Yoeli and Israel Rabinovitz. The members of Young Zion on the council took an active roll on the committees and together with the General Zionists they became the most influential element on the council. After Shifres made Aliah to Eretz Israel, Moshe Melnik filled his position.

The events at Tel Chai on the 11th of Adar and in Jerusalem on Passover 1920 caused deep tremor. That is when the idea to organize and get ready to go to Israel ripened. After a discussion, a committee was selected. The members of this committee were supported by some veteran Zionists. About 20 members signed in to make Aliyah, and the committee had them sent for medical examination to approve the ones suitable. In June, the region organized a conference of Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) with the participation of a Shaliach from Eretz-Israel, Lipman Levinson. He described the grave situation in the land of Israel and told about the beginning of Arabs organizing against the Aliyah and Jewish settlement. He called the youth to come to Eretz Israel immediately in every way possible because the land is in need of thousands and even tens of thousands of pioneers. The two delegates to the conference, Shifres and Shteinhoise-Ben-Artzi, who were also on the Aliyah list, came back and related the words of the messenger from Eretz-Israel. It inspired the people to get ready to go no matter what. In the mean time the war took a turn, and the Polish army pushing east and arriving to Bobroisk, had to retreat along the entire front due to Russian attacks.

In light of this development it was decided to leave the city before it fell into the hands of the Soviets. In the city were at the time members of the organization of former residents of Nesvizh from the United States. Dr. Mogilansky and Landa gave financial assistance to those who could not pay their own way.

On the 20th of Tamuz (July 6, 1920) a large memorial service was held to mark the situation in Eretz-Israel and the departure of the Aliyah group. Shteinhoise-Ben-Artzi and Elisheva Kaplan-Eshkol spoke with fervor. Two days later, on 8 July 1920 in the yard of the school and in the club of the Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) many gathered together with members of the General Zionists, the messengers from America, parents and relatives to say farewell to the first group of pioneers. Boris Misel and Dr. Mogilansky spoke and in the name of the Chalutzim answered Moshe shteinhoise-Ben_artzi and Shifres.

That evening a group of 13 pioneers departed on wagons to Horodzay, escorted by a large crowed of people.

The Aliyah of the group left a vacuum in the activities of the association. Prior to the departure of the pioneers, others also left to continue their studies or immigrated to America. A handful of activists remain to work in the library and the school committee. The association decided to establish a youth organization to serve as a reserve for the party. And so it was, at the call of the party, many youth did come forward and joined the organization. The active people then were Alperovitz Yehuda, Yosef Brazin and Baruch Poteshnik. The cultural activities were guided by the chairman of the association Benyamin Yavalesky-Yoeli.

The youth organization was intended to be unaffiliated with a political party, but as time went on most of its members joined Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion). In 1920 the international movement of Poalie Zion (Workers Of Zion) became devided. Some established the Mizrach Association of the Zeirei Zion party. The association in Nesvezh joined Mizrach Association that had its central office in Warsaw. Only one member of the leaders of the association, Binyamin Eisenbod, did not join the party but remained close because of his activities in the school committee. The association, whose members belonged to Tzeirei Zion (not just Z. Z.), in cooperation with veteran Zionists Yoel Rosovsky and Baruch Shmoshkovitz was active for the National Fund, Keren Hyesod, established a chapter of He'chalutz and then in 1922 established the sport organization Maccabi.

Initially, in the first few years of the Russian rule, police and undercover police broke into the clubhouse, and searched the library. They were suspicious and were looking for communist literature. They demanded to receive a catalogue of the books with a Polish translation. In those years the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for lending books only.

[Page 103]

Initially, in the first few years of the Russian rule, police and undercover police broke into the clubhouse, and searched the library. They were suspicious and were looking for communist literature. They demanded to receive a catalogue of the books with a Polish translation. In those years the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for lending books only. [This paragraph was a repeat of the last one on page 102.]

In the early years, the association was not registered with the authorities. It operated as a library for loaning books. Meetings and lectures took place in rooms at the school without approval of the authorities. But for a public lecture the council did provide a request with a signature of Yoel Rosovsky, who represented the party for the purpose of dealing with the authorities. Later on it was announced by the center that a chapter was established and its legal status was obtained. The secret police continued to investigate and checked from time to time the ideological direction of the party, and whether communist elements had joined. They did this mainly to scare the members and as a deterrent.

The party suffered a great shortage of members for public action. Most of the old timers, except for Binyamin Yavalasky left the city. One immigrated over the ocean or went to Eretz Israel, another married a bride and moved to another city. For these reasons the party could not carry the responsibility for managing the library and the Hebrew school. The “Tarbut” chapter that was open in the city assumed these responsibilities.

New members came to the party, from graduates of the youth unions, which were active especially in the Zionist Socialists union and then Freihiete [Freedom in Yiddish], H'chalutz [the Pioneer], the National Fund, Ha'poel, in the professional association established through the initiative of the party with the permission of the Non-Professional Workers association in Warsaw that was under the influence of the party.

In 1925 the Association joined the merger of the Zeirei Zion Z. S. with the Polei Zion (Right) Party and since then carried the name “Workers of Zion”. The consolidated party established a network of schools “Shul-colt” with Yiddish as the teaching language with a wide range of study of the Hebrew language and its literature.

The Yiddish school was planning to build a new building, and for that they needed help from the supporters. The influence of Zionist ideology, and the fact that there were no leftist parties, facilitated the teaching of Hebrew and the Bible in this school. It also contributed to the fact that there was no anti-Zionist propaganda in the school. This helped members of the party to join the efforts to manage and support the school. With the influence of the party a new chapter of the Scout Union was established, and most of the members came from the Jewish school.

This cooperation with the leftist's non-party circles for the Yiddish school impacted also the establishment of a unified list for the city council elections in 1927. The list managed to get 4 seats, among them a member of the party, Binyamin Yavalavsky-Yoely that was the secretary of the inspection committee.

The party also initiated in 1933 a chapter of “Ha'oved” with about 25 members of varied vocations. Their purpose was to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel.


Poalei Zion [Workers of Zion] in Nesvizh

by Shlomoh Damesek
From his book “The Sun Rose There Too” Tel Aviv, 1960

When I speak about the loyal few, the guardians of the Zionist movement, I must mention the loyal members of Poalei Zion (The Workers of Zion) in Nesvizh, the group that stood on guard during the difficult years and continued its work in the underground–with great danger and with splendid devotion.

This group congregated in the home of Hazel Herzog.

Hazel Herzog was the grade school teacher and was a central figure in the Poalei Zion movement in our town. She was sensitive and inspiring. All her life she devoted to the movement (she passed away in her early forties). For the movement she sacrificed everything she had - her personal happiness and all her spirit and soul. Hazel Herzog worked relentlessly for the poor and homeless in our town even in her last days when she was ill, weak and near death.

In the days of the pre-communist government of Alexander Kerensky, Hazel's home served as the underground center to the small group of loyal members of Poalei Zion including: Goldah Halperin the teacher, Moshe Arkey Shkolnik the talented tailor who had a keen sense for music, (he also loved the Yiddish literature and folk songs), Itzhak Chalavsky from Kozimir, an intelligent young man and delicate, Berl Lipovsky, Idel Prinsky and others.

Abraham Machtey suddenly appeared from time to time in Hazel's home, bringing to the loyals information from the central committee of the party. He would work vigorously for a period of time, leave an impression, and disappear again.

The influence and accomplishments of this small loyal group, who gathered in the home of Hazel Herzog, led to the development of, after the revolution, in the days of the Karenskey government, the multi-member association of Poalei Zion in our town. It also launched the “Bar-Borochov” Yiddish school where the teaching of the Hebrew language took top priority.

Many of the sons and daughters of the poor of our town received their education in this school. In the management of this school were three of the old-timers: Moshe Arkey Shkolnik, Berl Lipovsky, and Goldah Halperin. Joined them later from the youth group were: the teacher Yosef Raven, Katriel Greenbalt and his older sister, Leible Isenbud the honest businessman who did much for the establishment of the school, Idel Landa, Idel Prinsky and more.


[Page 105]

Hashomer Hatzair[1]
The Young Guard

by Avraham Niv (Katznovsky)

To the memory of my friends and companions, my teachers and students, together with whom
we dreamt about new lives in the renewed homeland, and whose hope was destroyed.

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

The thunderings of the cannons were silenced. The first world war was ended. Many of the young men of Israel returned to their homes – some from the front, some from captivity – and bringing with them to the far–flung villages in White Russia[2] news about what was going on the world, about hopes for a better future, about a free world, national liberation, and social equality.

Nesvizh[3] was raging, absorbing, and listening. Her life was stormy, her youth agitated. Her boys and men were awaiting the realization of the decades–long desires of the fighters for freedom and equality. The best of her sons were scholars of the struggle against tyrannical Czarist rule, participants in the 1905 revolution[4] – many of them rotted in prisons, many were exiled to western Siberia.

In the year 1919 the Germans were leaving the territories that they had conquered in White Russia, in their place the Poles were coming, after them the Red Army[5], alternating every few months, now the Red Army, now the Polish Army. On Sukkot of 1920 the Polish army entered and did not retreat. In these exchanges Nesvizh and her inhabitants experienced suffering, fear, robbery and plunder, and especially the abuse of the “Haller–istiks” (after the name of the anti–Semitic Polish General Haller)[6]. The lives of the Jews became forfeit; many of the Jews of the villages and towns in the area were murdered at the hands of the rioters.

The Jews of Nesvizh were organizing their lives. Material assistance for every need. Soup kitchens were opened for the distribution of food, distributing meals to the children in the Talmud Torahs[7] and the cheders[8]. Organizing self–defense. Factions were being established: Poalei Tzion[9], Tze'iray Tzion[10], the Bund[11], supporters of the Balfour Declaration, and the Jewish Legion[12] in the land of Israel, and were arriving in Nesvizh. The liberation of the small nations that were in bondage to the Czarist Russian and Austro–German governments, and likewise the nearby country of the revolution, the Russian Union[13] – aroused hopes and aspirations for Jewish national life. The yearning for redemption and a national revival brought a wave of awakening; already in the year 1920 Nesvizh parted with the first group of its chalutzim[14] [pioneers] who went out to the land of Israel.

In the courtyard of the “Culture” school[15] on Parna street, the Nesvizhers and their party–workers gathered for a farewell party for the first of their pioneers. Likewise, there arose the youth organizations “Tzeirei Tzion” [Youth of Zion], “Chovevei Tzion” [Lovers of Zion][16], Tzofim [Scouts], “Chovevei HaSafah Ha–Ivrit” [Lovers of the Hebrew Language][17]. The focus of their endeavors was athletic exercise, military drilling, and scouting activities.

In the years 1922–23, some of these groups laid the foundation for “Hashomer Ha'tzair” in Nesvizh, as an organization for athletic exercise by the “Tarbut” school.

 

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The “Shimshon” Group, Members of “Hashomer Ha'tzair”

Kneeling (from right to left): Noach Poliatzk, Moshe Shamushkovitz, Shaul Friedshtien* [18]
Seated: Moshe Mielevsky, Yaakov Goldberg, Yitzchak Malevsky*, Hershel Malchovsky, Reuven Alpert*
Photograph: M. Pie'ance

 

The first guards were: Aaron Rosovsky*, Yosef Puchovsky, Chanan Lachuvitsky, Aidel Vanilovitsky, Moshe Shamushkovitz, Leibl Gelfand*, Shaul Friedshtien*, Moshe Mielevsky, Tzvi Potashnik, and more and more.

 

From the book of Moshe Shamushkovitz

One day there appeared in Nesvizh a relative of the family of Chanan Lachuvitsky – Shaul Gotskind, who came from Warsaw dressed in a scout uniform, equipped with a satchel on his back, and in his pocket a small notebook: the 10 Commandments of Hashomer Hatzair. He enchanted our young people – and as one they decided to join Hashomer Hatzair[19].

The Jewish public that was for the most part Haredi[20], and keepers of tradition, were concerned in the first years after the end of the war with the existence of the “Talmud Torahs”[21] and cheders in the city. The invigorated voices of the children of Israel erupted from the many houses of learning that were in the village. Only a very few learned in the governmental schools whose language of instruction was Polish. There still existed in the town for a number of years a Russian gymnasium[22] (finally closed in the year 1926), a Teacher's Academy for teachers in the Polish language, a Polish gymnasium, a Yiddish school and a Hebrew school – the “Culture” Progymnasium[23] named for Dr. Chelnov.

The beginning of the road of the branch of Hashomer Hatzair in Nesvizh was at the Culture School on Parna street, on its great square. Under the leadership of Leibl Gelfand, Secretary of the branch, and Chanan Lachuvitsky, Treasurer of the branch, arose the members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, which was founded in Poland as a national scouting movement with its symbols and its style: banners, military parades, field trips, camping, and scouting – the movement turned into an attractive and unifying authority for most of the Jewish youth in Nesvizh. Separate groups of young men and women were organized: the “Reuven” group and the “Shimon” group were the first two groups, and afterwards, the number of the tribes of Israel [12] was the number of the groups in the branch. Children of the Hebrew “Culture” school constituted a source of strength for the branch of the guard, throughout all the years, until the destruction of the Jews of Nesvizh.

After some years, the branch was forced to move from the courtyard of the “Culture” school, and settled into an apartment on Shpitalna street, next to the Noach Motel. (In that place they used to bake matzas between Purim and Pesach.) Afterwards they moved to the city center – in Heller's house – in the market.

Leibl Gelfand administered the affairs of the branch with strict and meticulous rule, with the limited help of a member of the counselors. All of them were obligated to obey his orders. Most of the student youth assembled in the branch. Not everyone merited acceptance. The parents were required to sign their agreement that their children would be admitted to Hashomer Hatzair and that they would be obligated to pay the two–month installments that were imposed on the members of the branch. The dominant language of the branch was Hebrew. The Shomer branch became a noisy center of life for the Hebrew youth in the village, and for the subject of their national aspirations. The appearance of the branch in the communal life was recognized on the days of festivals and holidays; Chanukah, Purim, Lag Ba'omer, or in days of mourning: 11 Adar[24], rallies for the memory of Joseph Trumpeldor[25] or the 20th of Tammuz[26] – the day of Herzl's death. Regiments of guards would appear then in full scout uniform, with special hats, with guard ties, and staffs – 2 meters tall – that we young people were particularly impressed by.

On the 11th of Adar 1923 Nana Shamushkovitz dedicated her lecture to the memory of Joseph Trumpeldor in the “Culture” school and excited the youth with longing for the land of Israel.

Already from the beginning of its existence the branch stood in relationship with the Center in Warsaw, and with the branch in adjacent Slonim, whose head was Eliezer Shapira[27],

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which became a symbol of the entire area. Over a short course of time, our friends established branches in Kletsk[28], Stolpce[29], Mir[30], and stood in strong connection with the branch in Baranovich[31].

In the years 1924–1925 the members of the “Reuven” group got into an argument with Leibl Gelfand and left the branch. For a period of time they remained independent, and afterwards they scattered. In the branch unrest was awakened, and there was dissatisfaction with the administration of Leibl Gelfand. He left the branch, and in his place came: Moshe Shamushkovitz, Nana Shamushkovitz, Yaakov Goldberg, Shaul Friedshtien, and others.

In this period members of “Hashomer Hatzair” organized a stamp exhibition in the hall of the community council, in the Lifschitz building – which earned the approval of the Nesvizh public and added to the prestige of the members of “Hashomer Hatzair.” The green garden, in which the youth worked, served as a symbol of the land of Israel and for training the youth for work in the land. Likewise, the branch established a carpentry shop and a bookbindery, from whose income the branch was supported.

In the year 1926 the branch location moved from Heller's house to Shevach's house – on Vilensky street. Until 1927, the branch continued its life as a national scouting organization. The joyful life of the youth burst forth from the branch until the late hours of the night. With the decisions of the second conference[32] in Danzig in 1927 on the Zionist pioneering of the movement and the self–realization of the national kibbutz – there was a turning point in the nature of the life and development of the branch in Nesvizh. Intellectual inquiries began, and the personal demand was made of every adult to decide on his own path in life. Only a small part of the adult cohort decided on supervised pioneering, and began to prepare themselves for training and aliyah[33] to the land.

Nana Shamushkovitz, who was the living spirit in this period in the administration of the branch, even after she completed her studies in the Polish gymnasium, dedicated all of her ability and energy to the organization of the work of the branch for all its echelons. She established a course of education that continued to improve with each passing year. In the administration of the branch there were activists: Yaakov Goldberg, Chemda Gilrovitz*, Pesach Kovel – who invested all their ability in educational– organizational activity.

The longing to learn and to know impelled us to arrange a program of study in general and Hebrew history, anthropology, sociology, the worldwide workers' movement, Borochovism,[34] Marxism. The method of self–study [auto–didacticism] was a guiding principle for the students of the guard group. Tens of young people learned and deepened their knowledge in many fields of knowledge outside of the framework of their daily learning in school. All this was done to provide for our members the consciousness and knowledge in their path as Shomrim, in preparation for their mission.

We were like thorns in the eyes of the bourgeois section that was in the village, who saw over the course of the years in Hashomer Hatzair good children, “scout–guards”, without a background of ideological politics, without goals or obligations. Many were shocked in the face of the slogan “a son should not obey the instruction of a father”[35], and similar slogans, which called the Hebrew youth to ascend [to the land of Israel], to pioneering – to abandoning home – in light of the dead–end situation of the masses of the House of Israel in the lands of the exile. These broadsheets demanded the crumbling of values, the transformation of Jewish youth into a nation of workers in the land of Israel. As if they knew to predict the bitter end from the outset, which was getting nearer and nearer to every good legacy in the lands of the dispersion.

Accusations were raised against us. We were called communists, Bolsheviks, by the right and Zionists reactionaries by the left in the village.

In 1928 the quarters moved to the Greenberg apartment, next to the lake shore on the way to the New City (Nei Shaat [Yiddish: New City]), and during the year to the apartment of Vlodska–Kozmer (by the fire department), and from there in the year 1929 to a large and spacious apartment next to Shaabad – on Vilneska street. The branch counted at that time 150 – 200 members.

Our response to the events of 1929[36] was the aliyah to the land of our friend [member] Nana Shamushkovitz, (with her also ascended to the land the member Yosef Barzin). This was our response to the pogroms and this was also our pride. We sensed with pride the gazes of the Jews of Nesvizh at our friends who were going up to the land, and on us, the Guards. Hundreds and hundreds of the Jews of Nesvizh were assembled at the car that was transporting to the train station in Horodziej those who were going up, and they were leaving with the song “Hatikvah”[37] on their lips.

 

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“Hashomer HaTzair” “Awakening” Regiment – 1929
Photograph: Tiyutin

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“Hashomer HaTzair” in Nesvizh, with the writer Daniel Persky

Seated, first row bottom, from right to left: Yosef Gilrovitz, Asher Mieletzki, Shlomo Linesky, Yosef Dartzinsky, Surah Shein, Yosef Savitzky, Kalman Medvetzky, Tzvi Kaplan, Shalom Katznovsky Avraham Katznovsky
Second row: Miriam Choluvtzky, Chaika Glikman, Yehoshua BenHarav, Yushka (Yaakov) Goldberg, Niuma Karsonosalsky, Daniel Persky, Tzippa Tzachnovsky, Teivel Shatziprozitzky, Moshe Pomerantz, Mordechai Braverman, Niuna Katznovsky
Third row: Leah Lebs, Yitzchak Feldsher, Arieh Shamushkovitz, Akiva Eisenshtadt, Avraham Perlman, Bela Farfel, Chaya Zimlovitz, Yenta Vanilovsky
Fourth row: Yosef…, Yaakov Farfel, Yitzchak Kaufman, Feinshtein ?, Tzvi Gatzov, Buma Katznovsky, David Friedshtien, Yaakov Lifshitz, …
Photograph: N. Tiyutin

 

Low days came for the Zionist movement. The gates of the land were locked.[38] The masses of youth, whose entire desire was to go up to the land, continued to pound on the locked gates. Anti–Semitism in Poland grew worse and worse. The staff of life for the masses of Polish Jews continued to be cut off. The schools and education were closed to Jewish youth, despite their desire to learn and be educated. The factories and work were closed to them, and there was only one ray of light and hope – aliyah to the land of Israel.

In the branch investigations and ideological conflicts began regarding the way and the solution to the Jewish question[39]. Every cohort of adults, which at that time constituted three regiments: “HaTechiya” [“The Revival”], “La'Or” [“To the Light”], and “Hitorerut” [Awakening”] and the adult regiment “Haboneh” [The Builder”], were all engaged with this problem. The members Leizer Gatzov and Aharontzik[40] Gavriar from the regiment “La'Or” consolidated a position in opposition to the position of the movement and espoused the idea that aimed for revolutionary action and integration into the Communist party in Poland. We recoiled from the development of disaster, and in the winter of 1930 Yaakov Chazan came to us as an emissary from the upper echelon of the administration, and with him the ideological conflicts came to an end, after which the members were expelled from the movement.

Yaakov Goldberg, Chemda Gilrovitz and Pesach Kovel, may his memory be for a blessing, who were at that time coordinators of the action in the branch, were about to go out for training in their kibbutz in Bialystok. The members of the branch Yosef Shamushkovitz, and Eliyahu Tzudik (who returned to Nesvizh after the completion of their studies in Vilna), Noah Tzirna, Gutka Gavrielov, and me, were added to the leadership of the branch. In March activity broke out among the local public. Lectures and performances on various topics, increased action for the funds and first and foremost the Jewish National Fund[41]. Hashomer HaTzair was the first to donate and pay dues. We were the unceasing fighters for Hebrew education and the Hebrew language. We participated in the committee for the “Culture” school, and concerned ourselves with the public character and union of the teachers for the idea of the Working Class of Israel[42].

We participated in the committee for the Working Class of Israel, and in actions for the “Kapai” (The Fund for the Workers of the Land of Israel). Our representative participated in the joint council of “The Pioneer”[43], for all of the Zionist youth movements that were in the village, (such as “Freiheit”, “HeChalutz Hatzair”, “Gordonia” and “Hashomer Hatzair”). We participated in sport activities in the “Maccabi”[44] organization, and our members were also in the leadership of the local “Maccabi.”

In the years 1931–1933, our members Yosef Shamushovitz, Pesach Kovel, Moshe Mielevsky, Yoel Shabbes, Chemda Gilrovitz, Tzvi Potashnik, Yaakov Goldberg, Sarah Lachovitzky, and others, went up to the land. The aliyah aroused a refreshing spirit and new hopes.

In that same year we were forced to leave the apartment next to Shved and through many efforts and fund–raising we succeeded in completing the building of the house of Chaim Saragovitz (the son). We will mention “The Mother of the Guards”, Pessa Friedshtien (mother of Shaul*, Doba, Luba and Kalman), who did not withhold

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any work or help to raise the necessary money for us to buy wood and boards for the beams and roof of the house.

 

nes108a.jpg
Members of “Hashomer HaTzair at a farewell party for the journey of Tzipora Vanilovsky

First row bottom, (from right to left): Chesya Berkovitz, Golda Farfel, Aharon Gavriar, Yemima Anglovitz, Yocheved Gorodensky
Second row: Mordechai Payanas, Yaakov Goldberg, Nana Shamushkovitz, Tzipora Vanilovsky, Chemda Gilrovsky, Moshe Frank, Eliyahu Tzadok
Third Row: Moshe Pomerantz, Rochel Mayevsky, Batya Kovilevitz, Chana Vertzel, Yoel Shabbes, Eliezer Gatzov, Chaim Eisenbud, Golda Farfel

 

In March youths helped us to complete the construction, preparation for a sports arena, and the assembly of a volleyball group. That same year was announced in the movement as a year of expansion and extension – a year of anticipation – we absorbed masses of youth, and this time also labor youth. We succeeded in consolidating and uniting them into educational units. The branch counted upwards of 550 members in all its cohorts. Our concern was for the integration of the generations in the leadership of the branch, and for the designing of the image of the members of the leader–educators. We sought young men and women who we trusted would faithfully continue in the transmission of our way. To the administration of the branch were added: Lolik Avalevitz, Shlomkeh [Shlomo] Tcharni, Tzvi Kaufman, Yaakov Gilrovitz, Reuven Funshtein, and others.

 

nes108b.jpg
A group of members from the “Shomer HaTzair”, on the occasion of Yosef Shamushovitz's aliyah to the land of Israel

Standing (from right to left): Yoel Shabbes, Sarah Lachuvitzky (Shabbes), Mordechai Brurman, Noach Tcharny
Seated (from right to left): Avraham Katznovsky (Niv), Yosef Shamushkovitz, Eliyahu Tzadok.
Bottom: Guta Gavrielov

 

In the year 1934 we again moved to new quarters, this time to Chanan Mazin (Chunya Mazulka). Here too we raised money for the completion of the construction. The house stood at the edge of the village, on the way to the Jewish cemetery that was behind the electric station. The screams and the noise that the young people made did not disturb the sleep of the neighbors, and we could do whatever came to mind.

In October 1935 I went up to the land. We parted with a festive branch gathering. I left behind a branch at the height of its flowering of hundreds of young people, invigorated, full of hope, who continued to weave the chain until the outbreak of WW2, until the Soviet conquest, and until the destroyer came up against the settlers of Israel, and on our village Nesvizh by the Nazi conqueror.

In the years 1936–1939 until the Soviet conquest, the activity of the branch was led by the accepted patterns – by the various public institutions, we expressed the word of Hashomer HaTzair faithfully and with dedication. To a great extent, the pioneer movement was placed under siege in the absence of aliyah. Many and great was the cohort of adults who looked forward to aliyah – and it was not coming. Tens of members stayed in the training kibbutzim, in Slonim, Grodno, Bialystok, and in other cities in Poland. The time of Aliyah Bet[45] was coming. Quietly and secretly the youth departed on their illegal aliyah and contributed to the hopes in the hearts of those they left behind.

During these years many were active in the branch: Lolik Abelovitz, Reuven Funshtein, Zema Cholovsky, Yishkah Gilrovitz. For leadership

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and educational activity were added Feyga Farfel, Noach Shklor, Rochel Okerberg, Nechama Bernshtein, Yitzchak Shatziprozitzky, Chedva Lubetsky, and more.

On the 1st of September 1939 the German army surrounded Poland, and within a number of days defeated its army, conquered its capital, and advanced beyond its eastern borders.

On September 17th, 1939[46] the Red Army crossed the eastern border of Poland and conquered the territories of Wallen, White Russia, until the Bialystok lines, in keeping with the Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact[47] on the partition of Poland.

A number of days went by. All political and Zionist activities were forbidden. Arrests and expulsions began. All action stopped. Only here and there a few small, limited groups organized for the transmission of information and to maintain contact among the nearby villages. A number of emissaries arrived secretly and they encouraged the members to leave for Vilna. Lolik Abelovitz and Yaakov Charlap went out to organize sneaking across the borders towards Vilna (there hundreds of members of Hashomer HaTzair from the training kibbutzim in Poland were assembled).

Hundreds of Hebrew books from the city library were secreted and hidden away. The skies of Nesvizh were darkened, black clouds hung over her, her people bowed their heads in sorrow, lowered their stature. Only in their innermost heart of hearts did they lift up their visions and their hopes that these dark days too would pass, and once again a spring sun would shine on their streets. But this was a cruel hope. On June 21, 1941, Hitler's Troopers surrounded Soviet Russia, and over the course of two days burst out like blood–thirsty wild animals on the streets of Nesvizh, and began the killing and the murder, the abuse and humiliation, to the general destruction of the entire Jewish community of Nesvizh, and in it the best of our friends who in their hearts lifted up the dream of redemption.

 

nes109.jpg
[in–photo caption: Troop “Mishmar Ha'emek” – Nesvizh Adar 1935]
Troop “Mishmar–Ha'emek” of “Hashomer–Hatzair” in honor of the visit of a member of the executive administration, Tsvi Forgrecht. In Adar 1935

First Row bottom (from right to left): Noach Kovelryzik, Siyomka Farfel, Tsila Gilrovitz, Yisroel Klatzkin, Shmuel–Yosef Druker, Yitschak Shatziporzitzky, Roza Charlap, Moshe Funshtein.
Second Row: Chaya Bankovsky, Eliyahu Shulmeister, Esther Shpielberg, Rayzel Shvirshzig, Chaya–Riva Roshes, Berta Deretzinsky, Chemda Greenberg, Pinchas Shved (Szwejd) [translator's cousin], Michael Medvetsky [sitting on Pinchas' lap]
Third Row: Henya Damesec, Dovid Slutzky, Beila Charlap, Avraham Kachanovsky, Nachman Avalevich, Tsvi Forgrecht, Gutke Gavrielov, Reuven Funshtein, Mordechai Dubovich, Siyomka Shapiro, Sheindel Metosvitz, Chaya Pik
Fourth Row: Aharon Pultshik, Beila Manchus, Nechama Gatzov, Baila Shulmeister, Rivka Chaimovitz, Leah Blumes, Batya Vallach, Yehudit Manchus, Itka Malchovsky, Tsila Bergman, Eliyahu Sofer
Fifth Row: Lazar Alperin, Shendel Berezin, Chedva Lachuvitzky, Elka Farfel, Tsvi Veinstein, Dovid Farfel, Yisroel Shusterman, Aryeh Karon, Fishel Moldtschedesky
Photo Chaim Shabbes

Translation of photo by Dr. Sheldon Brown in loving memory of his cousin, Pinchas Shved (Szwejd) z”l

 

The “Young Guard” Movement in the Days of the Soviets and the Germans

1. The “Young Guard” in the days of the Soviets

With the coming of the Soviets, the branch ceased to exist, however the best of the members of the movement continued to maintain among them their individual movement connections. Despite the shock that commanded them as a result of the change of government, the confinement, and the feeling from it amongst the youth that there was no way out, and the acclimation of various groups to the “new tunes” of the Soviet regime, the young members of the Guard branch remained faithful to the movement, and to the land of Israel.

They hid Hebrew books from the library, flags and journals from the movement, in secret places, and would gather secretly for cultural Zionist pioneer activity, and to nurture the dream of aliyah. The adults further sought connections to the outside, in order to find a path to aliyah.

Freydl Lachuvitzky, Tzila Gilrovitz, and Shalom Cholovsky maintained ties with the young members. Shalom Tzur (Velochiansky), Lolik Avalevitz, and Yankel Charlap, went out to Lida and to the Soviet–Lithuanian border

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to direct to Vilna the hundreds of members of the movement, and of the “Pioneer” that had arrived at Lida – the border.

In the winter of 1939/1940 Shalom Cholovsky went out to Vilna to see if there was a chance for aliyah from there, and returned to the city. From the time that the border between the Soviet Union and Lithuania had been entirely closed, Shalom Tzur went out for clandestine action in the Grodno–Bialystok area. Lolik returned to Nesvizh, while Yankel Charlap was caught while attempting to cross the border, and was sent to Vorkuta[48] for forced labor.

Despite this the ties with Vilna were not severed. Letters and study materials and information from the land [of Israel] arrived by way of Vilna to Nesvizh via movement channels.

Freydl Lachovitzky went out to Slonim for a wide–scale activists' meeting, in which Yitzchak Zalmonson participated on behalf of the movement. Among the youths in Vilna were activists. Aryeh Funshtein and Shabtai Cholovsky kept ties with members of the movement – in Baranovich and in Stolpce, and so the connection was maintained through letters and packages. Also with Yankel Charlap who had been sent to the forsaken land. The internal ties between the members of the movement were kept and tightened.

 

2. In the days of the Germans, and the ghetto revolt[49]

With the coming of the Germans, the following members, Freydl Lachuvitzka, Tzila Gilrovitz, Siumka Farfel, Lolik Avalevitz, and Shalom Cholovsky acted for the strengthening of ties with the members, and to establish among them cultural–educational activities.

After the establishment of the ghetto[50], after the slaughter of October 30, 1941, Freydl Lachuvitzka, Siumka Farfel, and Shalom Cholovsky gathered for consultation and deliberation on self–defense in the ghetto. At the head of the underground organization stood Shalom Cholovsky. Over the course of time new members of the underground joined, among them past members of Hashomer HaTzair Moshe Damesek, Natan Messer (from western Poland) Bornshtein (from the left Poalei Tzion western Poland), and additional members that in the past belonged to other youth movements (Gordonia etc.).

After weapons were brought by Rachel Kagan and Leah Duker, and after they formed connections with the Damesek–Alperovich Berl group, the movements of the group were between the initiative of self–defense and the revolt in the ghetto.

Shalom Cholovsky wrote a day before the uprising the order for the military call–up for the fighters in the defensive positions and divided the fighting groups, while two days earlier, in a memorial gathering for the martyrs of Horodziej in the synagogue, he called the Jews to self–defense.

Siumka Farfel took care of the bunkers for the fighters. On the day of the revolt members of the movement resisted the selection, together with all the Jews of the community. They set fire to the houses in the ghetto, but only a few succeeded in breaking out to the forests of the partisans. Siumka Farfel fell in battle in the forest. A few solitary individuals emerged from the forests; and upon their emergence, they went to the actions of the escape movement[51], the illegal immigration to the land of Israel[52].


Translator's Footnotes

  1. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hashomer-hatzair Return
  2. https://www.britannica.com/place/Belarus Return
  3. https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/valley/nieswiez/before_holocaust.asp Return
  4. https://www.britannica.com/event/Russian-Revolution-of-1905 Return
  5. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Red-Army Return
  6. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/haller_jozef Return
  7. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Talmud-Torah Return
  8. https://sztetl.org.pl/en/glossary/cheder Return
  9. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/po-alei-zion Return
  10. See note 3 Return
  11. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bund Return
  12. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-legion Return
  13. https://www.britannica.com/place/Soviet-Union Return
  14. https://jel.jewish-languages.org/words/1378 Return
  15. See note 3 Return
  16. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hovevei-zion Return
  17. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Theater/Hebrew_Theater Return
  18. An asterisk denotes the name of a person murdered by the Nazis, listed in the necrology of this book; see p. 501 Return
  19. https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Shomer_ha-Tsair_Ha- Return
  20. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/haredim-charedim/ Return
  21. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Talmud-Torah Return
  22. https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1269/Russian-Federation-SECONDARY-EDUCATION.html Return
  23. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/progymnasium Return
  24. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tel-hai Return
  25. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-trumpeldor-1880-1920 Return
  26. https://www.aish.com/dijh/Tammuz_20.html Return
  27. https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Slonim/Slonim.html Return
  28. https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Kletsk/Kletsk.html Return
  29. https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Stowbtsy/Stowbtsy.html Return
  30. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/mir/Home.html Return
  31. https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Baranovichi1/Baranovichi1.html#TOC Return
  32. Of Hashomer Hatzair https://www.jta.org/1927/09/16/archive/conference-of-zionist-sport-society-in-danzig
    http://www.hashomer-hatzair.net/cgi-webaxy/item?181 Return
  33. Ascent to the land of Israel. Return
  34. https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/zedek-borochov.pdf Return
  35. This is a direct reversal of the first part of Proverbs 1:8, “My son, obey the teaching of your father.” Return
  36. http://www.zionism-israel.com/Palestine_Massacre_riots_of_1929.htm Return
  37. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/national-anthem-of-israel/ Return
  38. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/british-restrictions-on-jewish-immigration-to-palestine Return
  39. https://www.antisem.eu/jewish-question/ Return
  40. A diminutive form of his name Aharon. Return
  41. https://www.jnf.org/menu-3/our-history Return
  42. https://kotar.cet.ac.il/KotarApp/Index/Chapter.aspx?nBookID=109028&nTocEntryID=1271263 Return
  43. https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/vilna/before/zionist_youth_movements.asp Return
  44. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-maccabiah-games Return
  45. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/aliyah-bet Return
  46. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/invasion-of-poland-fall-1939 Return
  47. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/german-soviet-pact Return
  48. https://www.britannica.com/place/Vorkuta Return
  49. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/nesvizh/history.html Return
  50. https://www.belarusmemorials.com/jews-of-nesvizh/ Return
  51. http://www.habricha.org.il/ Return
  52. http://www.palyam.org/indexEn.php Return


Hashomer–HaTzair Struggles for Its Existence

by Shlomo Tzur (Velochiansky)

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

To the memory of my companions Lolik (Avalevitz) and Yankel (Charlap) – who did not arrive…

I returned to Nesvizh in December 1939. I was freed from captivity in Germany, and I came to a house that still stood on its foundation. I was utterly amazed. I could not comprehend the quiet, the satisfaction, the house…. Yankl and Lolik had already had time to sober up, they had returned a month earlier[1].

The youth was full of hopes. Work, studies, many opportunities winking for it on the horizon… Two of my cousins are government clerks; Leah Katznovsky (daughter of Leizer) works in the Office of the Treasury, and Riva Chaimovitz (daughter of Itka) is a telephone switchboard operator, as if she had been doing it for many generations. A few wore militia hats on their heads and a military decoration on their arms. In their shouldering the rifle they are the new regime in person [this is meant ironically] … but in “Culture” they are already teaching Yiddish because “that's what the parents demanded” …

On the promenade, on Vilneska Street, girls are exchanging hesitant glances with pilots from the airfield that is adjacent to the city. We even have a Politroke[2] [Red Army Education Officer], encouraging flowery speeches of Eliyahu Tzudik* to the workers who are working on the new Nesvizh – Baranovich road – (in my view he surely was justified, because he was forced to do this for the good of his brother, a military doctor in the Red Army).

This life was different than the life we had known before. The youth hoped to be rebuilt from this reality.

Yet, there is another kind of youth, the one that suckles the dream of the land of Israel with his mother's milk. Is it possible to uproot this dream from us? And now we are cut off. What will happen to us? Where are our people? Does there exist some kind of central leadership? Are we able to acclimate to the new reality and to forget the whole of us? Our parents too were in distress. Principally the compassionate (and who wasn't compassionate?). They were aware that the Russians saved them from death? But to live they don't allow. The stores were closed on their own before the authorities demanded it. Goods disappeared. Commerce went underground, but for how long would the inventory last when there was no way to refill it? To obtain salt, sugar, fuel, matches, this is a problem and then some! There were those who tried their luck with the officials. For most this was unsuccessful, for they did not receive them. My uncle Leizer Katznovsky began to work in manual labor; to dig in chains next to the village Slavkova. On one of the days they threw him, bound, into the pit with a chained stretcher. A practical joke by his fellow workers, peasants of the area.

A week after my return I came to know that I had no future in my village. I went out to Stolpce, to work in printing (I had worked there for a few years before the war). However, the work did not calm me. Some of my students in the place (graduates of Hashomer Hatzair) would not leave me alone; what to do?! With two of them I had discussed working at some time, to accumulate a sum of money and go on their way. Perhaps to the Caucasus? However, rumors reached me about a “March to Vilna,” but we didn't know how or what. We felt ourselves cut off and alone. The connection we made saved us from despondency. Now there was a purpose and a reason for our efforts, even if we told ourselves that the road was long.

And now, a small note reached us. “Come at once to Lida! To our people at the aforementioned station, warm regards from Uncle Zhamah.” I recognized the handwriting of S. A man in the head leadership of “Hashomer–HaTzair” in Poland. And so, that was that. The movement existed, lived and was active, seeking and gathering her people. Everything now seemed different. There was an address, and a future. Lida was on the way to Vilna. This is “outside.” A connection with the world, with the land [of Israel]. And if they are summoning me urgently to Vilna in case there is a way to the land?! Who knows? In days like these everything is expected. With wild imagination and great anxiety I began to wrap up my affairs in the place. To “resign” from my work. And, this matter was not simple, the essential part was to meet with my faithful students.

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I was back in Nesvizh about a day later. Lolik and Yankel were also called. My excitement was great. After a brief parting from the closest ones, I slipped away and went out on “the road to the land” …

Night in the busy Lida train station. I met our people immediately.

[In Yiddish] “A greeting from Father Zhamah! – Thank you very much!” We were already marching together without division.

In the “Levin” hotel there were many “refugees.” All of them are young. When a stranger approached, they did not talk about Vilna or the border, they talked about the family that remained with the Germans, and the like. The next day we presented ourselves to A. Warm brotherly handshakes, excitement. We couldn't believe our ears! We never intended to cross to Vilna!! On the contrary, we had come up to remain here and bring others up! It was up to us to take on ourselves all of the operation here!

Us? After all that happened to us? We had to carry this burden? While the horrors of war and captivity were still pursuing us? Would we be able to face this danger, this responsibility?! We were talking about life and death situations!… Were we permitted? ….

Lolik “bargained” feverishly, Yankel quietly and in a level–headed voice… soon we received the decision…. Since we were convinced that indeed the old “apparatus” had to make itself scarce immediately, since “the ground was burning” under it, we agreed that the “movement command” was reasonable, and that we had to “roll up our sleeves” … Yankel was still concluding in his own style; it was really a miracle that he would change Nesvizh like this, and from where were you pulling out three like these and in one blow…?” We smiled. And maybe with even a hint of pride…

In the towns and villages there were many hundreds of Shomrim dispersing who were on the verge of going up to the land. They were in exactly our situation. They were ready for and expected the call of the movement. It was for us to save the adult cohort. To get it out to Vilna. Many of them were members of kibbutzim, part of whom were already located in the land, and who were waiting for them “there” really until the last breath…

In Vilna there was a great center of Shomrim being established. Hundreds of members had already moved there. Central movement institutions, a connection to the land, a Lithuanian nurses' movement who enlisted every speck of ability in order to lighten the load as much as they could for the refugee brothers…. Vilna was the hope!!

We listened to the stories from there as if to a legend. About the lively life, about the movement activity of the Jewish community, about the training–kibbutzim, on the imminent aliyah, and even on the abundance of food… a small island of tranquility in the midst of a raging storm.

I remained in Lida, it was my job to “call” people, and organize them into a group, and send them to Yankel and Lolik, who had set themselves up in two villages adjacent to the border. They met the members with their smugglers who had taken them across to the other side [of the border] and where there waited for them the activists who had brought them to the place. Clearly the action from the other side was easier. It was self–funded. Even though we had to cover all the expenses that we could. We also had to save for the fund, in order to contribute to the members who weren't able to enlist the required amount, and also to worry about the “black day” that might, God forbid, come, and it was clear that it would come. The plan, on its own, was good, and responded to every problem that was likely to arise. However, “the gap between the planning and the execution” threatened us relentlessly.

“Our” border had its own development. It too did not “stagnate.” At the beginning it was almost “open,” and there were those who were nimble who reached Vilna by hitchhiking, when a military driver took pity on “the refugees who wanted to get home, to Vilna” (there was military movement towards the border; in Lithuania at that time there were Red Army military bases). However, over time people were returned from the border; for “what were you thinking for yourselves, that you will stroll along the border?” And there were those who invented explanations for themselves on the border; with “I want to get to the Soviet Union! I don't want to live in capitalist Lithuania anymore!” And they would return them politely to Lithuania because “It is forbidden to just cross this way. This border is not child's play!” There were soldiers who guided them so that they would not fall into the hands of the Lithuanian border guards… yet every “method” had its own ending. Days came when “wise tricks” did not work anymore. It must be pointed out that we were not the only ones at the border. Other Zionist movements also acted in a similar fashion. Even yeshiva boys went while hugging Torah scrolls, and also gold and silver smugglers (and what not?), and the Polish reactionary, and the blackest of the black…they all directed their footsteps to Vilna!

People had already been arrested. At first only the boys, but they were freed after a few days (merchandise was not found on them). So too Mordechai Anielewicz[3] was arrested in his going “against the current” as an emissary of the movement from Vilna to Warsaw. The second time he succeeded in reaching us and continuing on with Mira[4] his girlfriend (who had already crossed the first time). From time to time the border was “sealed,” and groups that were returned were sent a second time and “broke through.” We had to hurry because we knew that “tomorrow it will be harder.” The people also felt that. Therefore, they were unwilling to rest. Not to wait, to go. Once, twice, even three times!! We knew that the border would be entirely blocked before us. One military police officer had already said in an interrogation: “Do you think that this border is a promenade? Will you not understand that we closed it on purpose and even a bird cannot cross?” We knew that it was so, it was precisely because of that, that we tried! Even “General Winter” oppressed us. We did not remember cold and snow like that for many years. The jesters claimed that Siberia was coming to us, since the old border had been erased. But those crossing the border drowned in the deep snow, until their strength was exhausted. And our friend's feet were frost–bitten and they were forced to amputate all his toes in order to save him!

The visits of Yankel, Lolik and Tzilka (Galiravitch, who also over the course of time joined Lolik's station), to me in Lida were soon ended. We tried to overcome the difficulties that were piling up one after another. The chronic financial deficit was particularly difficult. We always lagged behind the increasing prices. No amount was ever enough, because over the course of the days between when we invited people and their departure, the prices went up immeasurably. But it could not happen that any group was delayed by this. Watches were sold, clothing – and they went! There was no price too high!

Another trouble came to us. Extortion appeared on the border. Groups that did not succeed in crossing encountered farmers that demanded “undetermined fees,” and if not – they would call the border patrol…. They returned without coats, without sweaters, missing everything. We were forced to produce for them what was necessary… Lida, which was known as a way–station, was turned into an assembly place for tens of members, for whom it was necessary to find sleeping, dwelling places, food and heating. These problems were exceedingly serious and more for the underground. The people could no longer return to their homes. Those who came to Lida were “ours” for everything. We had to worry about all their needs. The pressure from “below” was great. We had already transferred hundreds of members, yet many more awaited their turn. We broke open every crack. There stood before us a group of boys from one of the branches from Volhynia[5], and among them a girl from the “Tzofim” group. I refused to approve her. First – we were transferring adults only. Second – we were forced to be strict about physical ability. The snow and the cold demanded strength and great stamina. The boys became her advocates. “She will not disappoint!” They were ready even to carry her by hand so that she could cross the border. Although they were strong, for me it was forbidden to agree. And then “the girl opened her mouth” she would go, come what may! And she flung herself before them in her faithfulness to the movement, and with what exuberance! All of us around her were dwarfed by comparison… Come evening she crossed the border with her group (with enthusiastic approval), without any mishap.

*

The border went and faded, until it expired. “A bird couldn't cross!” Surely, matters were decided. We did not succeed in worrying for ourselves. There was nothing more to do here. In place of the planned “Emergency Fund,” (because “with a suitable amount of money a few would always be able to cross”), we were left with a large deficit (and when Yankel left his station he left for the landlord the leather boots that he had prepared for “the way”).

[Page 112]

To where, now?

To return to Nesvizh was dangerous. Many in the village knew of or suspected his activities. It was hard to be convinced that there was nothing more to look forward to. We decided to wait “in the meantime,” yet Lolik and Tzilka “approached” Nesvizh. I received a new “movement command”; to work in the educational movement! (It turns out, I pondered, that I am becoming younger and younger…) I worked in the Bialystok–Grodno region. In one brief visit to Nesvizh I exchanged whispered secrets with Freydl Lachovitzky on matters of the branch in Nesvizh.

And here we were called to an “educational” counsel on the underground movement. Out of necessity we had to adjust the tools for an action of Hashomer Hatzair in the Soviet underground. We met in Chizhikov[6], which is next to Lemberg. This had been an agricultural training farm of Hashomer Hatzair before the regime had eliminated everything. An emissary from Vilna arrived to the council. It was clarified for us that he had a trusted man, but he was not prepared to take him back to Vilna, but only one other member. Such is life. Full of hope we parted from Yankel who went out on the way first. After some time, it became clear that the “trusted” smuggler also “worked” for the Russians. His idea was to present Yankel to his employers as a youth from Svencionys[7] (which was attached with Vilna to Lithuania), who had arrived to assist his communist brother, who was held captive in the Lithuanian prison, and the family was unable to find a way to the means to put up a defense attorney, and his trial was getting closer. He was seeking a specific sum of money as a fee for professional services in order to free his brother…

We received the idea with hard hearts. We never dreamed of a “partnership” with the communists. Yankel went to carry our wishes, and how many of our hopes did he take with him on our way!!

On the next day we waited for the key – a sign that his journey had succeeded.

And he did not arrive!!

We received nothing from him that day or the next, or on any other day. The key was our Yankel!! The failure was clear! We learned that the smuggler too had disappeared from his house and was no more… Where is Yankel now? What is expected for him? With a story like this, like “his,” there is no expectation of good… all seemed pretty serious. There was nothing to hold on to. We did not know ourselves, from pain…

Days passed and there was no longer anything to expect.

I decided to try my luck in the “south,” on the Hungarian–Romanian border. Lolik returned with his elderly mother. I did not see him again. (Eventually they told that he helped her on their way to the bitter end). Our group split up into a cruel separation.

A Members' Meeting in Uzbekistan

The borders of Hungary and Romania, the underground movement in Bukovina, the prison in Czernowitz, a camp in the snow–steppes in the cruel north, and liberation as a Polish citizen (from the time I left home I lived with forged documents as a refugee from the former western Poland). A world I had never known was revealed to me when I left the camp. Without an address, without any knowledge of how to obtain a meal when you don't have coupons in your hand.

Yet I “pushed” south. At least to get a little warmer. Only in Sverdlovsk[8] did I encounter Poles, travelling to the Polish army. Me too!! I decided and from Chelyabinsk[9] south I was on a military transport. A member “stuck” to me on the journey. We spent weeks together on the journey, when all the problems of food were on him. He had no inhibitions. “Whether to die from a bullet and not from hunger” – he was repeating the slogan of his life. Only the parting from his two brothers gnawed at his heart. They travelled east together – he told me – they did not leave each other “for a minute”, and at one of the stations he jumped off to bring a little boiling water, and the disaster suddenly struck him. The train suddenly escaped from him with his two brothers… from then on any time he met any Jew he would ask and inquire and nobody knew… He remained alone in the world (go tell him that I too remained by myself…).

The Polish commander in the south told us that “we are not accepting any more Jews.”

We therefore decided to continue to Bukhara[10]. We went down via Karmina, for we heard that a new military division was being organized there. Blurred images passed by in the annoying rain–snow. All were forced inside. Outside it was dark. Not even the flicker of a candle. The stink of clothing that had not been taken off for a long time hung in the packed room of the station. Here and there were seen the glow of cigarettes when the smell of burning added to the stench of the air. There was no room even to take a step. But my friend Chaim did not think to give up. “Come” – dragging me after him – “they are living people, they will move against their will, here, you will see!” Curses erupted from the mouths of those that he stepped on in his conquest, but nevertheless they moved. And I followed him. After about an hour we were lying next to each other on the cold floor of Karmina Station, which is in Uzbekistan. The enlistment committee worked from the morning, and it was worth it to get up early…. And we very very much deserved rest. We were still tossing and turning in order to find a more comfortable position when Chaim suddenly jumped up with a great shout as if there was a snake. Everything was frozen in the blink of an eye. And he, frantically, “marches” to the corner, and his scream: “Gevalt![11] Moshe'leh!!” turning more and more to a persistent whimper, and before him the cries of his brother moan “Chaim'kah, [in Yiddish] Where are you?” Shimon is here with me too!” No more words were heard. Terrible crying began to shake the station… The Jews wept… Even if they didn't know the reason of the matter before, they wept, without explanation, although each and every one had his own reason… I too could not stop my tears.

And again, I am by myself. It was good for me with this whippersnapper, Chaim. On these trips he had not disappointed me even once. What he found in me I will never know…

Chaim returned to me; he was embarrassed and did not know how to justify himself. He surely had caused me disappointment and asked my forgiveness. I berated him fondly and I advised him to return to his brother… he went. We would see each other again, he promised. I blessed him with all my heart.

Excited by this wonderful brothers' meeting, I turned from side to side. I was happy for the good fortune of my friend; I was sad for myself.… All around they turned and turned over the brothers that had met, and I from now on was with Yankel… Maybe he was still alive? Maybe it was possible that we too would meet? All night I saw my brother before me, and he did not depart from me.

The morning came slowly, gray and lazy. The first has already went out to get a place on line for breakfast… Chaim appeared again. “You're still not sleeping?” he asked quietly. “Not yet!” I answered, and I immediately regretted it. He too had not shut an eye. The conversation did not stick between us, for some reason. We had already gone on different paths… before we parted he took out his bundle of bills (mostly bills of 10, that is, 100 rubles). I knew this bundle well, more than once I had watched it for him… “take it for yourself!” He held it out – “as much as you want!” he pleaded. Why didn't I take any? Hadn't I succeeded in making it easier for him?

All around the terrified friends there was a great mass of people. On both sides of the line were small groups of standing eaters or of those negotiating thousands of matters… A few contemplators stood alone. Not a few were already running around to their various affairs. And the line was crawling. Next to the friend somebody is trying to take a second helping, awakening the anger of those at the head of the line. Behind me the line was calmer. Suddenly I froze in my tracks! Yankel is before me!! An electric shock went through my body (I didn't even notice that I had fallen out of the line!). Is it really him?! Am I not dreaming? I rubbed my eyes. Him and not another! Go out and see how much light is in this wretched boy, Karmina! Here stands my Yankel at a distance of 20 steps away from me! He stands in an easy stance, drinking from a sooty can the tea that he had only just gotten. In his other hand – a piece of black rye bread… His eyes were focused on the rapidly diminishing warm liquid that was in his can… When I hugged him the speech fled from my throat… Shaking, and kissing each other, we stood as the tears cut paths

[Page 113]

our cheeks… and the heart too narrow to contain it. It seemed that it would not be able to stand it.

This was on February 12, 1942. (By my reckoning).

A look revealed to the two of us that it had been like two years for us. Yankel's tall stature was stooped (what a stooped back he had acquired!). The upper tooth that had been extracted from his mouth strengthened the impression of the old age of this 27–year–old, and his black eyes were veiled with deep exhausted sadness suffered endlessly.

He was dressed in a prisoner's uniform; a burial “shroud” (a garment made of cotton wool and cotton fabric), and on his head a hat whose earflaps drooped and hung like those on a hunting dog.

In his pocket was laying his “Class 4” (“4: It is not proper to serve armed forces of the republic except in times of war” – written in the regulations). They received it yesterday. He has nothing to seek here. He had it in mind to leave immediately after breakfast… He would wait for me, of course. I would report to the council, I would receive my “4,” and we would go out together to seek our tomorrow. The scandal that erupted in the recruiting office cut off my passing thought.

A Jewish boy, with the chest of a wrestler, even he received the “Jewish designation” – My Lord the Captain, why am I not fit to serve?” he asked the chairperson.

”For health reasons” that one answered tersely.

“Do you know, my Lord the Captain, that in 1939 they did not reject me? My blood was worthy of being spilled for Poland.” He was still trying to conquer his fury and approached the table: “I have a suggestion for you, my Lord the Captain” he continued to emphasize each word – come, go out here to me! I will give you one slap on the face and no more! – and if you get up from the floor, I will eat this table!”

“Outside, you misery!!” The Caption was so annoyed that the veins in his neck were about to burst – “or they will expel you to Alonka![12]” They boy went out smiling, slowly, slowly, from the room. He still caught our looks of recognition…

With difficulty the pens returned to fill out all kinds of questionnaires. And here one declares that he is a Jew, but a member of the Roman Catholic religion! The clerk gives him a belittling look; “Really? And in what synagogue did they baptize him?” … At the end of the course the “4” was already waiting for him.

“The religion of Moses” I said in an irritated voice (I hurried to receive the “4' in order to go out to Yankel who was waiting for me). But no! “Class 1” the head says to me. This must be a mistake. I wait for a correction. But no, “Class 1” rings out the surprising announcement a second time…. I will trade with someone – I thought, there are many who want to receive the redeeming “1.” But the matter was not helped by my hand. It was not long before the gendarmerie were searching for those who were involved in the matter. We decided to defer the decision until the next day, and not be endangered by desertion now. For the night we went to the tea–house. On a wooden bench another sleepless night passed us by… And this is Yankel's story, briefly:

They arrived at the smuggler's house without problems. This was a solitary village house adjacent to the border. An additional man of ours, who was sent for the sake of the continuity of the connection, was hidden on the oven in the kitchen. In the early hours of the evening the “regular man” arrived, the major of the checkpoint from the border patrol. The smuggler tells it as was agreed, and the major is entirely attentive. From time to time he asks something, and waits to hear the answers. Really a friend. He is convinced by the story and promises to arrange what is required. He continues to spend some time after the “business” part, and he is entirely friendly and polite. He even admits to Yankel that he is of the “seed of Abraham.” But when the smuggler explains that he needs to cross back over the border that same night he did not accept it. According to information that he had in hand, he asserted that today the border would be too dangerous for him to cross a second time. He should go tomorrow, no problem! Finally, he even invited him to sleep at his place. Neither the smuggler nor Yankel was able to get out of it. Yankel went on the way with him. On the way they continued to have a friendly conversation about worldly matters, but as soon as he brought him into the checkpoint, he was immediately jailed. The shock was massive. He had to enlist all of the powers of his soul in order to not fall apart… and when the interrogation began he already had a reasonable line of argument: he was a refugee from Warsaw and his family was in Vilna. In his efforts to reach them he invented a story that made an impression on the smuggler. He [the smuggler] wanted to help him, and the rest is known. In this way he presented himself as an unfortunate refugee without endangering other people. In the course of all the interrogations they were unable to trip him up, and he received the “light” punishment of “only” 5 years imprisonment! After a year in the notorious Vorkuta mines, he was freed as a Polish citizen. He reached the south and made a place for himself in a happy commune in the area of Tashkent. In a chronic malnourished state, here too he was forced to work almost without compensation. Only now did it become known to him about the army that was being organized in Karmina, and arrived here.

After we weighed the situation into which we had been thrust, we agreed that I would go to the army. Yankel, who would be with me until my enlistment, would receive my address and return to his commune. I too took his address. After I got settled in my new place we would meet and decide on the next steps. My regiment was stationed in the village of Kanima, some tens of kilometers from Karmina. I went out to there. We clapped hands, for we would write to each other immediately, and we would no longer search for each other in the byways of the world… On the first Sunday I sent my postcard. Did my letters not arrive? Then he was able to write to me. My address was in his hand.

I decided to go out to visit him (it was complicated at these distances without transportation) . But in addition to this we did not get time off, and even on the first day of the week they confined us with additional duties. From day to day I awaited a sign. A few months of separation went by, and then the rumor was spread that we were leaving Russia. I hoped that the evening of the departure “the regime would be weakened” in my unit, and I would be able to go out and look for Yankel. The opposite occurred. The exercises were increased, and we were placed into a condition of continuous readiness. No one went out and no one came in. I continued to write to the address that I had, but I was unable to renew our contact. In this way Yankel was lost to me a second time…


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See previous page. Return
  2. https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/פוליטרוק Return
  3. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/anielewicz.html Return
  4. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mira-fuchrer Return
  5. https://www.jewishgen.org/Ukraine/OTW_PRV_Volhynia.asp Return
  6. For more about Chizhikov https://gola-tkuma.co.il/הכשרת-ציזיקוב-1/ Return
  7. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Svencionys/svencionys.html Return
  8. https://www.britannica.com/place/Sverdlovsk-oblast-Russia Return
  9. https://www.britannica.com/place/Chelyabinsk-Russia Return
  10. https://www.britannica.com/place/Bukhara Return
  11. Yiddish; an expression of amazement. Return
  12. https://geographic.org/geographic_names/name.php?uni=38283&fid=5523&c=russia Return

 

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