by Dov Marin
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Even before the Beitar youth movement was officially organized, there were several Revisionists in Ratno who followed the path of Jabotinsky and were educated with his statements that were published in the Jewish daily newspapers in Poland. They were waiting for an appropriate time to found the movement. The events of Av 1929 in the Land of Israel formed a fitting occasion for such. As far as I recall, Beitar was founded in the town at the end of that year. Janusz Jundorf of Kovel came to us to organize the first members of Beitar and instruct them in the ways of the movement. After some time, a second counselor from Kovel, Vernik, arrived. He also helped crystallize the ideological path of the movement in a significant fashion.
The founding of Beitar in Ratno aroused excitement among the ranks of the youth. Ideological debates began in the upper grades of Tarbut and on the Jewish streets. The majority of the youth had already been taken by
Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz Hatzair, especially those youths who studied in Tarbut. Therefore Beitar attempted to gain a foothold in the Polish school, and indeed, several students of that school joined us. These students learned Hebrew at Beitar (which they did not learn at school), Hebrew History, knowledge of the Land, and the like. My brother Zusia Marin of blessed memory was one of the first commanders of Beitar. He also went through Beitar hachshara in Zelba. Later, the Steingarten brothers became active in the movement (their father was also an active Revisionist), as did the pharmacist Mogilenski and others.
Our family moved away from Ratno in 1932, and therefore I cannot describe the activities of Beitar in Ratno during the 1930s. However, from time to time, I would come to Ratno and would find out that the activities of the early ones were not in vain. A headquarters was set up through the dues of the members, and the youth of all ages and strata kept faith with their movement. The activities of the Revisionists increased in the wake of the establishment of Beitar, and Brit Chail was set up in Ratno. I recall that more than thirty people traveled from Ratno to Kovel to hear the speech of Zeev Jabotinsky, who was visiting Kovel. Incidentally, the teacher Rozen accompanied Jabotinsky on his speeches through Poland.
It is appropriate to give more details about the teacher Boris Rozen who advanced the Tarbut School in Ratno in a significant fashion, and served as its principal with respect to the certified authorities. According to everybody, he was a gifted teacher, as well as an enthusiastic Beitar member. He attempted to win over people to Beitar, but he did not have great success in that realm in the Tarbut School. He had come to Ratno from Rowno, and he served as the commander of Brit Hechail in the region of Wolhyn. There are contradictory reports regarding what took place with him during the war, but I will not deal with them since they are not verified.
My uncle Leizer Marin was also one of the key figures of Beitar for some time. He even served as the commander of Beitar despite the fact that he was already older than the customary age in the movement for a role of that sort. It is appropriate to especially note Meir Rider, who also served as one of the commanders of Beitar. He was endowed with talents, and excelled especially in conducting choirs, organizing dramatic clubs, and the like. He had been a member of Hashomer Hatzair for some time and also conducted the choir of that movement. Through the influence of the teacher Rozen, who was also his relative, he joined Beitar.
Other Beitar activists who I remember include Moshe Kamfer and his sister Toibale, Leibel Wohl, Itka Zaks, Nuska Shuster, Leibel Liberman, and others. I must point out that it was not easy to be a member of Beitar, for the other movements directed all of their arrows against us. Spirits became stormy and the incitement against us became especially harsh in the year 1933, after the murder of Arlozoroff. At that time, the unbridled incitement against the Revisionists and Beitar took place in the large and small cities of Poland, and our town was no exception. Beitar stood up against this attack with pride and honor. It conducted the battle as appropriate, but never preached hatred against Jews
who were political opponents. I recall that when I made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1938, it was hard for me to make peace with the great hatred that pervaded between the members of the various factions at that time.
Zeev Grabov tells that when he made aliya from Argentina in 1950, he went to visit his fellow native Yisrael Steingarten of blessed memory, who was working at the Ramet building company at that time. He wanted to obtain details from him about his brother Leibel, who was among the first 30 killed in Ratno when the Germans entered the town. At the end of their conversation, Yisrael told him that he had been among the most active Beitar members in Ratno: You should know, Velvel that despite the fact that I am an Etzel man and made aliya on the Altalena, and you were one of the heads of Hashomer Hatzair, I regard you first and foremost as a native of Ratno and the former counselor of my brother Leibel. My door is always open to you. Your political inclinations do not prevent me from helping you to the extent that I am able, were you ever to need any type of assistance.
I have included this story because it is very typical of the education that we had received at that time within the Beitar movement of Ratno.
by Dov Marin
Translated by Chaim Grabov
When the normalization of public life began in the town after the First World War, the various social movements began to crystallize. The establishment of a secular Hebrew school hastened this process significantly, but this also began to signify the social differentiation between the various strata in Jewish society. The students of the Hebrew school were mainly children of the well-to-do, merchants and shopkeepers. However, there was no small number of children from proletariat origins in town the children of workers and tradesmen whose economic situation forced them toward the yoke of livelihoods during their early youth. These children did not go to school at all, or sufficed themselves with the basics of knowledge, including the study of reading, writing, the basics of arithmetic, and the like. They triumphed, and turned into carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, seamstresses, and other such tradespeople. The chasm between them and the studying youth continually increased. One factor for the deepening chasm was the issue of pedigree which was very important in the town, and the unwillingness of the youth to violate it. Another factor was the long, 14-15 hour workday that did not permit them to form their own framework and express their potential. These working youths were educated on the street. Competition and struggles were their daily bread. They would spend their Sabbath afternoons on the bridges of the town cracking seeds and planning various pranks. With the passage of time, a primitive class awareness developed among these youths.
It was expressed through feelings of hatred toward the children of the well-to-do people for causing them to be socially isolated to some degree, spending time only amongst themselves and not intermixing in the circles of the well-to-do youths.
A significant change of situation took place with the passage of time. These youths got older, and began to regard the bitter situation in the town from a different viewpoint. They saw the empty space, the true problems awaiting them that apparently had no answers, and the lack of prospective for a better future. The answers that were given by the teachers in the cheders or the Hebrew school were insufficient to settle the mind. A rebellion against the existing order and way of life began to brew. Then the motto began to grow: Yiddishism and secularism. During the years 1922-1928, these thoughts were given organizational and social expression by Wolf Brener in the first phase, and then by Leibel Baion. Yiddishist social-cultural activities began. The first activities were the setting up of a library, and the organization of a literary club in the home of the brothers Aharon and Levi Shapira through the initiatives of Leibel Baion, Niska Shapira and the Pogatch brothers. The most intelligent of the youth would gather together in the literary club, read modern Jewish literature, and dissect the national and social problems that were presented in this literature. In this club, the foundations were laid for the indoctrination of the Jewish youth with the principles of Marxism. The activists of this group obtained the books from the fathers of scientific socialism, and disseminated them among their members, thereby increasing their knowledge of the problems of social and national inequality.
When the activities of this literary circle ceased due to persecution of the Polish police, many of the youth separated themselves from all the activities and became indifferent to the problems that reality thrust before them. However, there were those who continued to progress in the direction that reality dictated: toward an organized workers camp. The following were included among the latter: Chuna Tyktiner, Aharon Shapira, and Ch. Warszawer. The aims that they set for themselves were to organize the workers, to free them from social backwardness, and to instill a class consciousness into those whose employment and way of life decreed that they would be an inseparable part of the working class. The watchword of the establishment of the workers' union had a great reverberation. The professional organization of the workers in the town was helped by this and served as an example for the workers, and brought them to a situation of organizational-social creativity. From their inception, the organizational activities ran into difficulties due to the government opposition of any organization of workers, causing a portion of the youth to be afraid of supporting such a professional workers' organization. On the other hand, there also were idealists who did not shrink from persecution by the police and continued on with the activities. These included David Langer, Akiva Druker, the brothers Moshe and Aharon-Shmuel, the seamstress Bracha Feiga, and others. With their last pennies, they succeeded in renting a room in the residence of Itzel Blostein. Thanks to a certain amount of help from Niska Shapira, the son of David-Aharon Shapiro, an intelligent youth who related to the progressive movement with admiration and understanding,
an organization was established which very quickly turned into the home of the working youth. The large room was filled with various professional workers and seamstresses (the sewing trade was the only trade in which the girls of the town were employed). On Sabbath eves and afternoons, the former street youths gathered in the premises of the organization, listened to lectures and discussions on issues of the day, programs of questions and answers, and the like. After some time, a choir was founded whose repertoire include the workers' songs of Reisen, Edelshtat and Bobshover. Public singing encouraged and strengthened the class consciousness. Fear of the police inhibited even those who regarded themselves as members or supporters from visiting the premises. Everyone knew that the organization was not considered legal by the authorities, and any act of slander could cause the members to be sent to prison in Kovel or Luck for several good years. However, it is appropriate to note that even our harshest of opponents from among the Jews were not prone to slander. Even in the midst of the fiercest of debates, the only weapons on the Jewish street were reasons, ideas, and mutual convincing. Jewish unity overcame ideological divisions. There were cases where the opposing side, the pioneering Zionists, warned the members of the organization about a sleuth who was making the rounds in the area. However, the need for some legal approval of cover for the organization grew from day to day. We turned to the district center for professional organizations in Luck to use its influence upon the Polish Workers' Party (P.P.S.). We informed them about the existence of the professional organization in Ratno in which workers from various trades were organized, and we requested that they allow us to join their umbrella. They responded positively, but the conditions of our acceptance were that all official work and correspondence must be conducted in Polish, and the secretary of the organization must be a worker and member of the organization or a paid official. Since it was impossible to find a worker who would be able to conduct the secretariat in Polish, the members of the organization decided that Ch. Warszawer, who was unable to join the organization, would serve in the role of official secretary a task that he had previously fulfilled in a voluntary organization for the salary of 20 Polish zloty a month. Then we had to also obtain official recognition from the police authorities of Luck, which was a very difficult task. The secretary had to travel to Kovel and stand before a cross examination by the police who had difficulty understanding why a workers' union was needed in a town such as Ratno. We finally obtained official recognition thanks to the intervention of Y. Shochet, a member of Hashomer Hatzair from Kovel, with someone who was known in government circles. The union was legalized at the beginning of November, 1928. News of this spread through the town and aroused great joy among the supporters. I recall that on the first Sabbath eve following the legalization, when a question and answer evening (Kestel Avent) was arranged, there were many new faces in the hall. We also rented the hall from Itzel Lorber in order to arrange a festive opening. All of our friends and supporters did their best so that the opening would indeed be festive: they baked cookies, organized drinks, raised contributions, and on one
evening in the latter half of the month of December, the sound of Aharon-Shaya's trumpet and musical instruments heralded the onset of the festive event. At first, they gathered in the hall of the organization, sang the International, raised glasses, and enjoyed refreshments. Then they all marched to the large hall where the celebration was to take place, accompanied by a band. The parade was headed by Aharon Shaya with his trumpet, followed by his father with a flute, and the drummer. Invited guests from Kovel and Malorita honored us with their presence. This was the first time that a celebration of this sort took place in Ratno. The proletariat youth began to feel that they were also a factor in the town. The activities of the organization increased. Speakers were invited from outside, public debates were organized, and large-scale publicity activities took place. We did not have official permits for conducting lectures, but our members stood in alleyways surrounding the premises, checking out any suspicious movement. Thus, they were able to issue a warning in the event that an unwanted guest appeared in the area.
In February 1929, Pilsudski's police began a process of persecution against revolutionary workers' movements in the district of Wolhyn, and a wave of arrests and persecutions began, not passing over Ratno. The secretary of the union emigrated abroad, and the central activists, David Langer, Chona Tyktiner, Aharon Shapira, and Leib Baion were imprisoned in Luck. Many people avoided activities under the auspices of the union. The activities of the union ceased; however, during its time of existence, it was a type of unique flower in the garden of various organizations that operated in town.
by A. Berg
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The movements in social life that came in the wake of the great Russian revolution did not pass over the small towns of Poland. Various social and economic organizations were founded throughout Poland at that time, including the Union of Tradesmen that was set up in Warsaw, which took on the aim of raising the status and position of the Jewish tradesman and placing him on the political stage. Movement in this direction began only in 1924 in Ratno. Three tradesmen - Mendel Blatt, Yisrael and Yaakov Chayat -- responded to the call that came from the center in Warsaw, and took it upon themselves to organize the tradesmen in Ratno. The headquarters sent us Mr. Goldberg who assisted us in our first steps. The first publicity meeting took place in the large Beis Midrash, and Mr. Goldberg impressed the Jewish craftsmen with his descriptions of the deprivation of the tradesmen in all places. Thirty members registered for the union, and the organizational activity began immediately. A council and leadership committee were chosen. The chief activists were: Mendel Blatt, chairman; Yisrael-Yaakov Chayat, vice chairman; Yitzchak Feldman; Chaim Weisblau; Abba Fuchs; Moshe-Yaakov Chayat, and the writer of these lines.
We encountered many difficulties. The Jewish craftsman was always of a lower class in the town. The merchants and shopkeepers looked him over from top to bottom, and never displayed any inclination to draw him close to communal activity. Many mocked the possibility that the tradesmen had any possibility of organizing themselves and beginning to address their problems. The tradesmen themselves even began to hesitate regarding the possibility of organizing themselves. Throughout the generations, they had become accustomed to being treated as doormats, and would say yes to everything that was said or decided by the honorable householders. It is no wonder that after several months of activities, the heads of the new organization stood on the threshold of despair and helplessness. The right of existence of the organization could find its justification through the reduction of the burden of taxes for the tradesmen, and prevention of all sorts of other bad events. However, in those years (1924-1925), Ratno had an appointed rather than elected city council, and the tradesmen had no representation in it. How could a new organization justify its right of existence? Two events assisted this.
On a cloudless morning, when Meir Chayat, a hat maker by profession, prepared to travel to a fair in a nearby town, government representatives came and confiscated the entire stock of hats that he had with him due to old debts that had not been paid. He requested the help of the organization, and Mendel Blatt and I went to his assistance. We went to the mayor, presented his complaint in the name of the organization and even showed him our authorized charter. We demanded that the confiscated merchandise be returned to Meir Chayat, for it was in fact not
his, and if it was not returned, he would be left literally with only a morsel of bread. The mayor acceded to our demand, the merchandise was returned to its owners, and our esteem rose. The second event that also raised our status was our success in bringing in four representatives of the tradesmen to the leadership of the Jewish National Bank. We succeeded in this after serious publicity efforts by the tradesmen who had joined the bank as members. Now, they discovered that they were able to be a meaningful force in communal life. The chairman of the council of the bank was always a representative of the tradesmen.
Not infrequently, disputes broke out between our representatives and the representatives of the small-scale merchants and shopkeepers. However, the bank director Heller was a wise, intelligent man, always successful in removing the obstacles and mediating between the sides.
In 1926, elections for the town council took place. After many debates, a national block was set up that included the Zionists, merchants and tradesmen, who joined together in a single block for the elections. The second list was the progressives, and the third consisted of the Ukrainian population. Eight Jews and four Ukrainians were elected to the council; and one Pole, one Ukrainian, and two Jews were elected to the leadership. The representatives of the tradesmen on the council were Yisrael Yitzchak Baion (on the leadership) and Avraham Berg, Mordechai Reicher, and Yosef Marantz (on the council). This was already a significant representation from our young organization.
As time went on, through dedicated work in communal affairs, our representatives succeeded in earning the appreciation of the Jews in town. They fought against any difficulty, they demanded their rights and stood on guard for the just demands of the various Jewish organizations. Our representative on the leadership committee (Levnik), Yisrael Yitzchak Baion, was especially successful. He used to say, I am supposed to be chummy with the landowners at the various meetings and gatherings, but no more than necessary, for they will take advantage of it for their personal benefit.
In 1929, we founded the loan fund for the tradesmen. The first 15,000 zloty were given to us by the Polish national bank. This was the first and also the last grant from the Polish government, which hoped that this type of credit assistance would be able to strengthen the manufacturing in the town. The tradesmen themselves paid membership dues. According to the charter, only tradesmen would be able to receive loans from the bank, and under no conditions other than any other businessmen. A problem arose: what would be the situation with the wagon drivers whose situation was very tight? After many deliberations, we decided to issue loans from the fund to them as well. This cost us dearly, for the majority of the loans given to the wagon drivers were not paid back at all, and we were forced to cover them from our own pockets. Despite this, the capital of the fund grew. However, eventually we were forced to liquidate it, for it hindered the development of the Cooperative National Bank, whose progress was of interest to us.
Elections took place in 1928 for the Jewish community councils in the border districts of Poland. We decided to enter on a special list and prove to ourselves
and others that we are were an influential element in the town. We won a great victory: four of our members were elected to the communal council - Mendel Blatt, Aharon Shderovitzki, Chaim Weisblau and the writer of these lines. During the first meetings of the communal council, a just battle was conducted for recognition of Rabbi Shlomo Tovia Friedlander as the rabbi of the community. He had served as the rabbi in our town for more than 25 years, and always lived under meager conditions. Not everyone appreciated his poverty and purity. We, the tradesmen, loved and appreciated this man, and fought for his rights. Among other things, our delegates fought for progressive taxation, for the inclusion of Jews from the surrounding villages under the rubric of taxation, for rights of communal membership for those who could not afford to pay taxes, etc.
We are proud of our representatives and of our achievements in the Jewish community of Ratno.
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