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Translated by Jerrold Landau

[Page 70]

Map Key

1. Beis Midrash
2. The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Stolin-Karlin
3. The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Stepan
4. The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Trisk
5. The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Rizhin
6. The old cemetery
7. The new cemetery
8. The Tarbut School
9. The ruins of the Great Synagogue
10. Leibishe's Shtibel
11. The Workers' Union
12. Beis Midrash
13. The People's Bank
14. Church
15. Windmill
16. Church
17. Windmill
18. Windmill
19 Church
20. The Hide Workshop
21. The Polish cemetery
22. The bathhouse
23. The hospital
24. The Pravoslavic cemetery
25. Town hall
26 The steam station
27. Bridges
28. Small bridges

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    {Map of Ratno: Some street names are noted on the map. Many cannot be made out clearly due to the cramped script.
“Shul Gasse” is below 9.
“River” is noted in the two between the bridges
“Marshes” are noted in the areas
“Highway” is noted in the main road running along 15, 16, 23, 12, 25, 26
“Bath Street” is noted along 22
“Brisk” is noted at the top left exit from the map
“Zabolad” is noted at the bottom left exit from the map (probably a reference to the town now known as Zabolottja, which is indeed in that direction.)}

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The First Zionists

by Yudel Malkus

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Yudel Konishter


In the town both, the father and son, were known as meshugoim (crazies): the father – Wolf-Leib the Crazy, and the son – Shlomo-Michel the Crazy. If an outsider came to the city and asked about Wolf-Leib Cohen with out adding the description “meshuga” – it is doubtful people would realize to whom they were referring. This nickname stuck with both the father and the son.

The father, an elderly Jew with a small, grey beard and dreamy eyes, would often sit on the steps of his store in the center of the market, completely immersed in a book. At times, he would lift his eyes from the book and call to his son, “Shlomo Michel, come and see what the Holy Zohar[1] says about the Land of Israel.”

Like his father, the son was nearsighted. He was tall, heavy-boned, with a black beard scattered with grey hairs. He was always looking into “Hatzefira”, the Hebrew daily newspaper that had arrived directly from Warsaw to the maskil of the town, who derived a double measure of enjoyment from the feuilliton of Nachum Sokolow or the his weekly article “From Eve of Sabbath to Eve of Sabbath,” which to him was very sweet and tasty. Both of them, the father and the son, were expert in the small letters[2]. They knew how to study Gemara, and even set daily times for study. Both were enthusiastic Zionists by the end of the 19th century, when Zionism was still not widespread among the Jews. During those days, when Dr. Herzl used to travel around in order to convince the governments of that time to recognize the justice of the Zionist idea, our “crazies” followed after him, and did not miss even one iota of anything going on regarding that topic. Furthermore, when the Zionist Congresses started to convene, their enthusiasm for the Zionist ideal grew. They regarded Dr. Herzl as the Messiah the son of Joseph who would precede the Messiah the son of David[3]. They began to win Ratno Jews over to the Zionist idea. Since they were the only adults in Ratno who regarded themselves as Zionists in all aspects, they were known by the nickname “Meshugoim,” which stuck to them for the rest of their lives.

Ratno was a Hassidic city, whereas the father and son were Misnagdim[4]. Nevertheless, their stance as opponents of Hassidism was not particularly sharp, for there was a true danger in that during those days. However, they did not hold back from denigrating the Hassidim and Tzadikim in the ears of the few Maskilim that lived in the town.

When new winds began to blow in the area, winds of progress and Zionism, there was no stopping them, and they also arrived in Ratno. David Finkelstein, an intelligent young man, knowledgeable

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in Hebrew and a talented writer, came to town as a Hebrew teacher. He would send articles from Ratno to “Hamelitz” and “Hatzefira”. At times, these newspapers would also publish a story or article from him. He was one of the first to bring an omen of spring – the words of Zionism and love of Zion, to the Jewish youth. Also during his Bible and history lessons, he would succeed in weaving the ideas of the revival of the nation and its Land. A group of youths gathered around him, including Yehoshua Pogach, Zalman Burstein, Itzel Mates's (Itzel the Litvak as he was called in town), Avraham Telson, and others. This group would read new books and newspapers in Hebrew, hold discussions on current events, especially those connected with Zionism and the Land of Israel. The only thing they were lacking was a meeting place, for everyone considered them to be heretics and was concerned about their influence over the youth. They had no choice other than to choose the waiting room of the post office, which was almost outside the bounds of the city, on the road. This was their headquarters. They met in the post office several times a week, under the pretext that they were going to get the mail for their parents (at that time, there was no individual mail distribution in Ratno). Under this camouflage, they conducted their cultural activity among the youths of the town.

At a certain point, these youths decided to open a type of modern cheder in the town for the poor of the town. They took the teaching role in this school upon themselves for free, with no salary. Since nobody could be found who could rent them a room for this purpose, they went further afield and opened their cheder in the house of Sarah the smith on the road, with a small number of students from among the common folk. However, the zealots of the town did not sit around with folded arms. They cried out against these heretics who were liable to turn the youth of Ratno away from the straight path and lead them to a bad crowd. Things reached the point where they threatened the woman who owned the house that housed the cheder with excommunication. She was unable to withstand this danger, and she forbade the students from coming to her home for their lessons. Thereby, this first educational effort of the Zionist group failed.

However, this failure did not discourage them. They were taken by the Zionist idea, and determined to impart the Zionist consciousness to the youth of Ratno, and to lead them from darkness to great light. They decided to bring in a special, Kabbalistic preacher to lecture on matters of Zionism in the Beis Midrash on the Sabbath between Mincha and Maariv. The youth posted notices of this lecture with sufficient lead time, and there were many Jews in the Beis Midrash at the set time. As he was still standing at the lectern, dressed as a regular preacher, lecturing about Herzl, Nordau, and all the efforts to redeem the soil of the Land of Israel, etc., the zealots began to shout loudly, “Get out of here, you shegetz![5]” They were not satisfied until they picked him up and removed him forcibly from the Beis Midrash.

The Beis Midrash turned into a battlefield. The few Zionists among the worshippers, including the two aforementioned “meshugoim” and the youths who initiated this gathering, came to the aid of the lecturer and defended him and the ideas about which he had preached

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to them. However, they were the minority, whereas most of the crowd was among the zealots who believed that the Land of Israel would be redeemed only through “the Messiah riding on a donkey,” and to whom every Zionist idea was nonsense and an evil spirit.

However, the two “meshugoim” and the youths who supported them did not despair, and this failure did not break their spirit. They continued to win over people to the Zionist idea, and paved its way in our town. To them, Zionism was the content of their lives. Reb Yosef-Leib the elder always kept under his kapote booklets and pamphlets that proved that Dr. Herzl was none other than a messenger form on high, a form of the Messiah the son of Joseph; and, like Moses in his time, was sent by Divine providence to redeem the Jews from the present day “Egypt.” In his conversations with householders such as Reb Eizik the Shochet [ritual slaughterer], Shlomo-Yoel the Shochet, and others, he never missed an opportunity to demonstrate his proofs that Dr. Herzl “stands before the angels” to bring redemption to the nation. The son was like the father. He too did not refrain from action. He conducted his publicity among younger people, among the young adults, and was assisted primarily by the “Arguments,” “Hatzefira,” and the Haskalah literature. Slowly but surely, the ice melted. The seeds planted by these “crazies” sprouted. The justice of the Zionist idea paved its way. Among the charity plates placed in the synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur, there was an additional plate for the Jewish National Fund, and the people took note of it. The redemption of the Land earned de jure recognition also in Ratno. New pamphlets were sent from the Jewish National Fund headquarters in Warsaw to register the names of those who donated at least 20 kopecks. A collection was taken up for the Jewish National Fund at every festive occasion, wedding, circumcision, or engagement party. After some time, a Zionist organization was set up in Ratno, and regular Zionist activity began to be conducted in Ratno.

Our “meshugoim,” the pioneers of Zionism in Ratno, were now literally proud of their craziness, and they bore their nickname with honor and pride. It is interesting that the elderly Reb Yosef Leib, who had a great deal of difficulty with his wife, foresaw the day of his death. Not only this, but he also knew from the outset that on the day of his death, she would also die, for her mission would be finished with his death, since she would not longer have anyone upon whom to pour out her wrath. This indeed took place in 1916, when Reb Yosef Leib died at the age of 90 exactly on the day that he foresaw, and his wife died that same evening.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The primary work of the Kabbalah. Return
  2. Referring to the commentaries on the Talmud, printed in a smaller font. Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_ben_Joseph Return
  4. Opponents of Hassidism. Return
  5. “Shegetz” (literally “disgusting thing”) is a derogatory term used for a gentile. Return

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Political Parties and Organizations
in our Shtetl

by Moshe Honik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Our small shtetl of Ratno was situated on the main route between the two important Jewish centers of Kowel and Brisk. The Jewish population did not have any feelings of inferiority, for Ratno was also a type of center for the smaller towns and many villages in its area. The Jews in these small settlements would come to Ratno for material reasons (the fairs) as well as for spiritual reasons (on Sabbaths and festivals), just as the Jews of Ratno would go to Brisk and Kowel. In any case, for the 2,500 Jews who lived in Ratno (there is no exact statistic, but this is the accepted estimate) always had the sense of living in an important Jewish city. To a large degree, this was due to the fact that the Jews were concentrated on several streets, and wherever you went, you would see Jews.

Like in all Jewish towns, the economic center was the marketplace. The massive Jewish population was concentrated on the Synagogues Street, the Butcher Street, Holianka Street, Egypt Street, Krywa Street, the street that led to the main road, as well as in all the alleyways that spread out from those streets.


The Jewish Community

The central Jewish institution was the community structure, whose activities grew and became more widespread in the latter years. This was the supervisory institution of religious life (ritual slaughter, the rabbinate, the two cemeteries). It also was involved with helping the needy and in other social activities. All strata of the Jewish population were represented in the communal organization: Zionist, non-factional, religious, tradesmen, and merchants. The prestige of the community increased when it was given the opportunity, through a government law, to collect a special tax from the Jews. This raised its stature in the eyes of the Jewish population and enabled the community to pay the salaries of all the clergy: the rabbi, rabbinical judge, shochtim, etc. The minimal payment was five gold coins (zloty). The Jews of the surrounding villages were obligated to pay this tax, for they also made use of the services in Ratno. The communal council was required to present a monthly accounting of its activities to the Starosta (district leader) of Kowel.

Elections of the community took place once every two years, which included debates, election publicity, disputes between the various factions, etc. Each list augmented its publicity through speakers that were brought in from outside (Kowel, Warsaw), and the shtetl of Ratno rejoiced. Throughout the period of two months, the approaching elections served as the topic for deliberations

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and debates in every house. The factional urges that were generally under control during normal times would break forth in all their strength during election periods. After the elections, all the disputes were forgotten, and Jews from all streams and factions would sit at one table without schisms and shouting, as if the disputes and conflict had never existed. The concern for communal matters and for the social and cultural needs of the Jewish population united them once again. Indeed, it can be said that the communal administrators of Ratno excelled in their dedication and faithfulness to issues of public interest for which they were responsible, and demonstrated great responsibility in their tasks. On the eve of the Holocaust and during the Holocaust itself, these elected officials demonstrated that they were worthy of their positions, and their positions were worthy of them. They rose to great heights of selfless dedication and sanctification of the Divine Name, as many Holocaust survivors can testify.

During the final era, the following people stood at the helm of the community: Liber Karsh (president), D. A. Shapira. Ben-Zion Steingarten, A. Berg, M. Blatt, Y. Grabov, Asher Leker, A. Shedrowiski, A. Skop, and M. Y. Chayat. The technical secretary of the community was Eliezer Held, who lives today in Israel. A. Y. Ginzburg filled this role on the eve of the Holocaust.

Ratno also had a city council with a mayor who was almost always anti-Semitic. An additional proof of the anti-Semitism of the Polish government was that the mayor was always a Christian even though the majority of the population of Ratno was Jewish. Representatives of the Jewish population in the city council included Mendel Klein, who served as the vice mayor, Yisrael-Yitzchak Baion, and others. However, their influence and ability to act on behalf of the citizens who elected them were significantly restricted.


The People's Bank

From among the various communal institutions that were active in the shtetl, it is worthwhile to especially note the people's bank, which attained renown throughout the entire region. This bank stood at the right hand of the merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen and ordinary Jews, and helped them during times of difficulty. This was the most important public institution in Ratno that succeeded in striking roots in the shtetl. It had inroads with all strata of the population. This achievement was, to a large degree, a result of the dynamic activity of the director Yitzchak Hirsch Held of blessed memory and his assistants Yitzchak Karsh of blessed memory and Yisrael Chayat, who lives today in Israel. During the final years before the Second World War, when the economic depression reached its peak, the bank was the sole support for the majority of the Jewish population. The main activists in the bank directorship of that era were Zecharia Honik, Moshe Ryder, Yaakov Kanfer, Yehoshua Bekerman, Yehuda Konishter, and Yaakov Chayat.

As in every Jewish shtetl, Ratno had a charitable fund that had been set up with the assistance of the JOINT. Its activities were focused primarily on the poorer members of the community, who were helped with loans from the fund, thereby enabling them to obtain the equipment necessary for their work (sewing machines, etc.) and to sustain their families. The following people stood at the help of this fund: M. Blatt, Y. Kanfer, W. Brener, M. Cherkes, M. Klein, A. Berg, Y. Grabov, and Y. Steingarten.

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Yitzchak-Hirsch Held


The directors of the People's Bank (1925)


Many communal activists who were active in these institutions spent entire days volunteering fully on behalf of these institutions. In Ratno of those days, working for the community in a non-voluntary fashion was unheard of. Helping one's fellow was one of the most important commandments. We can see how far things went by an adage that was common among the community prior to Passover, when the communal workers conducted the Maos Chittin[1] campaign dedicated to providing Passover matzos for the poor of the city, “Give or take” - that is: there is no intermediate state. Either you give to the poor, or you receive from this campaign. It is worthwhile to note that these volunteer workers toiled very hard for their own livelihoods. They earned their own bread through the sweat of their brow. However, their first thought was to do good to one's fellowman, to act benevolently with Jews who were experiencing difficulties with their livelihood. Some of these campaign workers were continuing the traditions of their ancestors in setting up public banks, charitable funds, mutual assistance funds, etc.

The members of the older generation - our fathers and grandfathers, toiled greatly for their livelihood, and earned their bread with the sweat of their brow, as is stated in the ancient verse[2]. The tradesman in his workshop, the shopkeeper in his shop, and the peddler wandering around the villages were all in the same situation. They did not eat or sleep sufficiently. During the late afternoon, one could find dozens of Jews on the Street of the Synagogues going to attend a mincha and maariv service. This street was holy to the Jews from previous generations, and especially during the time that the Great Synagogue stood there. Everybody spoke about the beauty and praise of that synagogue, which eventually went up in flames. All of the shtibels and the city Beis Midrash that was not affiliated with any specific rebbe were also located on that street.

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The deep faith of the Jews in the Creator of the World and the eternity of the Jewish people was expressed on that street. All of the tragedies, disturbances and evil decrees that befell the Jews in that small shtetl were unable to tear the Jews away from that faith forged in fire and blood. I pondered this matter at times. Even after I cast off the faith, went out to a “bad crowd,” joined Hashomer Hatzair, and went on hachshara; I still valued and revered these Jews for the strength of their faith. It is no surprise that the stamp of the Street of the Synagogues was recognizable throughout the entire shtetl. Only after many years, when the youth in Ratno took their fate into their own hands and the ranks of the Zionist and pioneering movement captured their hearts - did the Jewish street free itself from the imprint of the Street of the Synagogues, and its stamp was not felt as much. The person who played the decisive role in this mater was undoubtedly the teacher from Pinsk, Noach Kotzker, who arrived in our shtetl and filled the role of a guide to the Jews by founding the Tarbut School, which turned into the spiritual center of the shtetl and educated the youth toward Zionism and pioneering.


The volunteer firefighters


I recall the public battle that was conducted in shtetl with respect to establishing this school. The Hassidim and Orthodox Jews regarded the establishment of Tarbut as a form of revolt against the rule of religion and their own hegemony. I especially recall those who put their efforts toward this task and did not retreat: Yehoshua (Shea) Bekerman, Yosef Zesak, Noach Kotzker, Yitzchak-Hirsch Held, Asher Leker (all of whom perished in the Holocaust), and Yudel Konishter who died in Argentina. Only now,

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with a retrospective view, it is perhaps possible to evaluate the important task that they filled at that time, as well as the many obstacles that stood in their path. What today seems natural and something that the times demanded was at that time an unrealizable objective. In the later years, people such as Bokser, Zagorski, Lewin, Roizen and Amalia Droog of blessed memory had great influence on the Tarbut School. The latter was the daughter of a Ratno family, who graduated the Teachers' Seminary in Vilna and later became a teacher in the Tarbut School.

The various youth movements were first set up in Ratno in the years 1924-1926. Without doubt, they were a result of the tireless efforts of the teacher Kotzker. As far as I remember, the first of them was Hanoar, founded by Leibel Avrech. Later, other movements arose: Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Freiheit, and Beitar.

Without doubt, the largest and most firmly based movement was Hashomer Hatzair, which conducted serious educational activities and had great influence upon the youth. It is fitting to note that, during those years, it was a nationalist scouting movement that had not yet crystallized ideologically. The majority of the youths in the shtetl passed through this movement, including those who later set up other movements.


The WIZO women's organization (July 8, 1932)


It is appropriate to elaborate on the historical role that Hashomer Hatzair filled in Ratno. Hundreds of youth in our shtetl passed through the melting pot and the educational endeavors of that movement. Anyone who wishes to see the praiseworthy fruit of that movement need only survey the list of Ratno natives scattered throughout Israel and the Diaspora, to see what types of roles the former Hashomer Hatzair members have filled and continue to fill. It is a fact that in every place, they form a vibrant and active kernel. This is no coincidence, but rather the fruit

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of the education that they received in their time. To a large degree, we can attribute this fruit to the merit of Moshe Droog, who lives today in Israel. The chapter was founded in the home of Moshe Goldstein (today in the United States). The first members, who were called “Kfirim” include: A. Chayat (today in the United States), Chaim Ides, Zelig Bander, Yisrael Honik (today in Argentina), Zelda Feintuch, Dvora and Chaya Grabov (today in Israel), and Yosef Steinberg (today in Canada). I own a photograph of the leadership of the Hashomer chapter in a later period, which includes: Zelda Feintuch (in Israel), Moshe Pogatsh of blessed memory, Henia Karsh, Moshe Konishter of blessed memory, M. Ch. Fuchs (in Argentina), Berel Honik of blessed memory, Baya Vernik of blessed memory, Zeev Grabov (in Israel), Chaya Prusman (in Israel), Golda Droog of blessed memory, Baya Vernik of blessed memory[3], Beila Leker of blessed memory, Eliahu Zesak (in Israel), and the writer of these lines.

Aside from Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Hechalutz) about which I will write specially in this article, there were other movements in the shtetl that did not last long and did not gather many youths into their ranks, but nevertheless filled an important role in the education of the Jewish youth. Among these was Freiheit, under the leadership of Yisrael Honik and D. Frigel. This organization was composed primarily of working youths, who also comprised the youth of the left leaning Poale Tzion. Brit Trumpeldor (Beitar) existed in Ratno and was founded by Meir Ryder of blessed memory. As time went on, when the Revisionists left the Zionist organization, great ferment began and Beitar caused a storm within the spirits of the Jewish youth. Meetings and demonstrations were frequently arranged. The ideological chasm between the camp of Working Land of Israel and the Revisionists deepened, and a battle broke out over the soul of each youth. The following were the most active members of the Revisionist camp in those days: Mogilenski, Zisa Marin, Eliezer Marin, Motel Ternblit, Velka Chayat (all of whom perished in the Holocaust), and others.

There were also members of the left leaning Poale Zion in our shtetl, but one can count them on the fingers of one hand. I recall two of them: Nota Roiskes and Levi Shapira. Nevertheless, the dearth of members did not hinder them from conducting recognizable activity, especially in the realm of Jewish culture. They would bring to the shtetl speakers such as Zerubavel, Yoel Mastbaum and others, and they spared no effort to increase the cultural activities in the shtetl. Later, the members of the left leaning Poale Zion found an arena for their activities in the ranks of the League for Working Land of Israel, which encompassed all of the Socialist Zionist groups as well as many supporters who did not belong to any party. This league conducted many activities during the time of the Zionist Congress, conducted a special campaign (KPE'Y), and even helped other youth movements from an economic perspective. Later, Haoved was founded with the help of the league, under the leadership of Blatt. Its ranks included tradesmen who were preparing to make aliya to the Land of Israel. I own a photograph of the committee of the league. The photograph includes: Yisrael Chayat, Riva Shapira, A. Y. Ginzburg, Yisrael Kanfer, Dvora Karsh, Mendel Blatt, A. Feintuch, Chava Ryder, Yitzchak-Hirsch Fuchs, Yisrael Bander, Moshe Konishter, Yona Stern, Nota Roiskes, Moshe Pogatsh, Eli-Yitzchak

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Reif, and the writer of these lines.

I will write a few lines about the General Zionists in Ratno, who mainly belonged to the Al Hamishmar radical group under the leadership of Yitzchak Greenbaum. The main activists in this part in the shtetl included Yosef Zesak and Yehoshua Bekerman of blessed memory.

These people neglected their own businesses and livelihoods, and spent nights and days involved in Zionist activity. Adult Jews with Zionist consciousness gathered around them, and devoted most of their energies to the Tarbut School in the shtetl. Many supporters, lovers of Zion and ordinary Zionists who did not want to belong to a specific party, but did want to express their appreciation of the Land of Israel and Zionism, were involved in these activities. Among the General Zionists, there were experienced and responsible communal activists who were greatly admired by the youth of Ratno. They put their best efforts in helping the Zionist youth. These include Y. H. Held, L. Grabov, Yaakov Liberman, and others.

During the final years before the war, the Mizrachi organization was also founded in our shtetl. Its spiritual leader was the dedicated Zionist Asher Leker of blessed memory. Their circle of members was quite restricted, but they had influence upon the religions circles who at first opposed the revival of Hebrew, and were only drawn close to Zionism through Mizrachi. As was told to me, the influence of Mizrachi grew before the Second World War, and the number of members increased significantly.


A rally in the yard of the shtetl hall in honor of May 3. (1936)


From among the anti-Zionist organizations, which were a minority in the shtetl, it is appropriate to first note the Bund. The moving force behind the Bundist organization and its

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living spirit was Efraim Kotler of blessed memory. Despite the fact that he was handicapped, he gathered the working youth of the shtetl around him, and dedicated all of his time to the movement. Even his opponents appreciated his personal integrity. In that manner, he was a symbol. There is no doubt that he helped greatly in imparting education and meaning in life to many youths. Of course, the Bundist organization did not have great influence in the city, but its activists functioned to the best of their ability within their narrow circles, and served their party faithfully. During the final years before the war, Efraim Kotler began to show signs of drawing close to the Socialist Zionist circles.

The “Leftists” had more serious influence in Jewish Ratno. Youths from the intelligentsia circles belonged to that faction, such as: Leibel Baion (today in Mexico), A. Shapira (today in Cuba), Chona Tyktiner, and Niska Shapira, Chaim Grabov (today in Argentina) and others. The group bore the banner of Communist outlook, and those who were involved excelled in their idealism and great dedication to their party. This group also attempted to set up a school in Ratno according to their ideals, but the Polish authorities closed it down after some time. The circle of tradesmen was also under their influence. They were not shaken by the persecution of the Polish government and imprisonments. No small number of them were sentenced to extensive periods in jail. Those who succeeded in emigrating overseas are numbered among the “progressive circles,” as they call themselves in those countries.

A most important cross-factional institution that brought representatives of all the organizations and factions together was the Jewish National fund. Asher Leker of blessed memory, who served for many years as the chairman of the Jewish National Fund, dedicated a great deal of time and tireless efforts to his activities for the fund. Zalman Kamfer, the treasurer, was an example of a soldier who constantly stood on his guard. Both of them encouraged the youth toward activities for the benefit of the fund, and there was a constant competition between the various organizations for first place in bringing in income toward the Jewish National Fund.

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Activists of the League for the Working Land of Israel
Among them: Y. Chayat (of Israel), Moshe and Yisrael Honik (of Argentina), A. Y. Reif. The rest of them perished


In the shade of the thick tree in the Old Cemetery

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The first group of scouts

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Literally, “Money for wheat” - the pre-Passover charitable campaign to enable the poor to be able to provide for the needs of the holiday. Return
  2. Genesis 3:19. Return
  3. Mentioned twice in this list, likely in error. Return

The First Scouts

by Yaakov Rog

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When I came to the city of Luck in 1921, I was in the Great Synagogue on the Festival of Shavuot, and I heard speeches by various people about Keren Hayesod. The women were greatly influenced by the words of the speakers, and it was as if they removed their jewelry and gave it over to the fund. Suddenly, a group of scouts entered the synagogue. When I saw their fine parade, I decided that we should set up such an organization in Ratno. I began to work toward that objective when I returned to Ratno.

My plan seemed appropriate to my friend Noach Cohen, and the first group convened on the Sabbath after Shavuot. The group included Velvel Rajsky, Noach Cohen, Nota and Niska Shapira, Leibel Grabov, Asher-Leizer Kolodner, Leizer Rajsky, Yisrael Zesak, Leibel Blostein, Eliezer Held and me. We gathered on the road near the mill of Binyamin Kamfer and began to deliberate over our plan of action. Among other things, we decided to send one of our members, Zeev (Velvel) Rajsky, to Kowel to obtain information and guidance from the scouts there. We waited for him with baited breath. When he returned to Ratno, he shared with us the information that he had obtained in Kowel, and I recall that he said, among other things that the greeting of the scouts is: “Be prepared,” and the response to the greeting is, “always prepared.”

We began our activities and the signing up of boys and girls as members. The leadership was composed of the members: Velvel Rajsky, who was given the title of “minister of order,”

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Noach Cohen as secretary, Yaakov Rog as head of Group Aleph, and Asher Leizer Kolodner as head of Group Bet. Every Sabbath, we would arrange a parade near the windmill in the old city, and at times near the tannery. Since we did not have a permit, all of our activities were conducted clandestinely. As time went on, we founded a library and used our meager funds that we collected from the monthly membership dues to purchase books. We asked Mordechai Fuchs of Malrita, who was with us at that time, to prepare a list of books appropriate for purchase, and Leizer Rajsky traveled to Warsaw to purchase the books. Thus was the foundation laid for our large library. The adults, who had their own library, were jealous of our library and proposed to us that we unite the two libraries, but we did not agree to this proposal.

After some time, we began to perform theater. Our first play was the “Get” (Divorce) by Shalom Aleichem, a four scene performance. Our plays were performed in the Women's Gallery of the Beis Midrash, and the income from the two performances reached 70 dollars. This money enabled us to send one of our members to Argentina. Our other performances included “Samka the Clown,” “Broken Hearts,” and “The Loafer.”

We rented our first premises in the home of Yaakov Avrech. When we moved from there, Niska Shapira wanted to give us several pictures, and he ordered a set of portraits of Nachum Sokolov, Chaim Weizmann, and Bialik. When the pictures arrived, David Aharon Shapira took the picture of Bialik and tore it. We were then forced to stick the picture together from the torn pieces. A picture of Dr. Herzl was added to our headquarters, and various newspapers were also ordered.

Our activities were varied: we collected money for the Jewish National Fund, donated money to plant trees in the Land of Israel, sold flowers at various fairs that took place in the shtetl, etc. We also participated in political activities prior to elections to the Polish Sejm, and we conducted publicity for National List Number 16.

There was no foundation for a secure future in Ratno. The situation in Poland became more serious. We could not travel to the Land of Israel at that time, so we decided to prepare for immigration to Argentina. One of our members was first to travel, and then others followed. Four people rented a common room, and we prepared ourselves for immigration and for the absorption of new members.


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