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[Page 66]

Movements and Parties

 

In Those Days

by Getzel Reiser

Translated by Ann Belinsky

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, public life in Steibtz was paralyzed and all Zionist and Jewish National Fund activities in the town stopped.

 

Sto066.jpg
The Yiddish school in 1920
Written on the photo (in Yiddish): “The Steibtz Private Yiddish School with the pupils and directress (principal), Freidel Chait”

Sitting from the right: Sima Reznik, Chaya Sargovitz, Minkar, Unknown, Apelboim, Rachel Kushner, Liba Wolfson, Zahava Sargovitz
Second row: Tzipa Roditzky, Berta Tunik, Moltzdisky, Chaya Machtei, Apelboim, Rivka Kanterovitz, Chana Roditzky, Liba Axelrod, Moltzdisky
Standing from right: Chaim Comac, Tzvi Milcenzon, Avraham Shkolnik, Shmuel Milcenzon, Shulah Rozovsky, Beyla Zlotnik, Taibel Akon, Aaron Chait, Miriam Comac
Standing, second row: Basha Machtei, Rivka Bernstein, Chaya Klatzuk, Moshe Hana, Yosel Tunik, Shulah Tunik, Chassia Tunik, Freidel Chait, Chana Shmulker, Miriam Milcenzon, Rachel Akon, Feigel Machtei, Tzipa Rachel Tunik, Chana Eichel

 

I remember how my sister, Sarah Yasel, of blessed memory, who was an active member of the Poalei Tzion party then, suffered because of the illegal meetings both from the authorities and from the parents, and more than once the party members were arrested in the middle of the night by the police.

During the war studies stopped and the schools were closed. Youth of school age wandered around the streets with nothing to do. The battles, which advanced speedily in our direction brought hunger, epidemics all kinds of diseases and there was no doctor in the town. There were many diseases such as gazezet – scalp ringworm (a type of head leprosy). About a dozen children from Yurzdika and Shpitlana Streets were affected by this disease and there was no treatment. Thanks to the devotion of Gruna Kanterovitz, daughter of Mordechai and Nechama'keh (Yashkeh–Ber'keh Henia's)

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Sto067.jpg
Organizers of Zionist Activity in 1921

Row A. Sitting: Abba Bogin, David Comac
Row B. Sitting: Elimelech Milcenzon, Yitzhak Yosselevicz, Boris Margolin, Avraham Moshe Danzig, Shlomo Otievsky
Row C. Standing: Moredchai Borsuk, Mordechai Inzelbuch, Chaim David Reiser, Getzel Reiser, Yitzhak Leib Aginsky, Yitzhak Dov Tunik, Yitzhak Tunik, Shlomo Rozovsky

 

and on her initiative, these children were cured and were able to enter the school, the first and only one then, named “The Steibtz Private Yiddish School with the pupils and directress, Freidel Chait”. Freidel died in America at a young age and Gruna was caught by the murderers – she died in the Holocaust with her husband and family. They are remembered for the good, with all the businessmen, who devoted all their energies and life to community work in our town.

Only in 1921, with the establishment of the Polish government, came the days of revival and flourishing of the Zionist movement in our town. Even before it was possible to contact the authorities to receive a license for the branch of a Zionist organization, we already began to collect monies, with or without permission. We appeared at weddings, at Bar–mitzvah celebrations, and dealt with selling JNF[1] stamps, planting trees in the Herzl Forest, inscribing in the Golden Book, selling shekels to the Zionist Congress[2], etc.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, we put out [collection] bowls in the Synagogue from the Odessa Committee for Redemption of the Land. The JNF bowl was decorated with a blue and white paper ribbon, bearing large letters: “For the Jewish National Fund”. In the old Bet Midrash R' Lipman Dorsky sat by the bowls and when he was elected to be the first beadle of the above synagogue, the teacher, Meir Josef Shwartz came in his place. In the New Synagogue, the teacher Alter Yosselevicz, always sat by the bowl and in the Yurzdika Synagogue sat R' Shlomo Chaim Bernstein.

From Steibtz there were already four pioneers in Eretz–Israel and these were: Zalman Rubashov Shazar, one of the central people in the Poalei Zion movement and later the editor of the newspaper Davar, Minister of Education and Culture, one of the heads of the Jewish Agency and at present President of the State of Israel; Dov Epstein, representative of Davar in Rishon LeTzion, Yitzhak Bernstein, member of the Kfar Yehoshua Moshav and Reuven Levine, member of Kvutzat Geva. All came with the Second Aliyah[3].

Life in the town slowly returned to its course. New houses were built and extensive aid for those harmed by the war was given by the Americans. For this an American engineer came, who stayed in Tanchum Shkolnik's hotel, and in the end it turned out that he was also a Zionist.

He organized the craftsmen to build huts for a school and for a hospital. I too came to work and was almost the only one of the young craftsmen in the town. I talked to him and he commented that my place in the town was not recognized and that I should go as a pioneer to Eretz Israel, where I could be of use in building new settlements.

In the meanwhile, a temporary committee of members was established: Vainaber Otievsky and his wife, Sherman and his wife, and myself. Afterwards we convinced Abba Bogin to join us.

With the return of Boris Margolin from Minsk, we began to organize youth movements and political parties. I remember when I went with Boris Margolin for the Appeal to collect

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money at Purim, we collected a fair amount. We visited Abraham Rubenstein, a well–known forestry merchant, he gave us 100 zloty, a large amount in those days. At that time we also sold shekels for the Congress. In the meantime we brought in Meir Yosef Schwartz as a member of the Swerznie branch. We had a shared seal (rubber stamp): “The United Zionist Federation – Steibtz– Swerznie. In Swerznie a branch of Hechalutz already existed. In Hechalutz I joined with Yosef Machtei. Thanks to the Swerznie Hechalutz, Yosef Machtei, Yechezkel Ben Moshe (Plaksin) Dov Ben Yerucham (Kharkhorim), Chaim Rozovsky and Feigel Bernstein travelled to Eretz Israel.

For Boris Margolin's departure we organized the first party in the home of David Comac, on the slopes of Potztova Street in a remote corner, without arousing the attention of the police. The Zionist Federation was not permitted at that time by the authorities of Steibtz, which was close to the Soviet border.

Alter Yosselevicz, who had returned from Minsk, already participated in this party. Boris Margolin passed the administration of the Zionist work over to him and left Steibtz.

The educator Alter dealt with the organization and promotion of the modern school and developed widespread Zionist activities among the youth. His desire was to instill Zionism into the old Bet Midrash. On the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration[4], he organized a group of 20 young men and together with them burst into the old Bet Midrash. A large audience was not found then within the walls of the Bet Midrash and the old men were secretly very annoyed. Alter, protected by the young men, mounted the pulpit and by the light of candles, spoke enthusiastically about the value of the Balfour Declaration, as a basic law for the Jewish State.

He himself did not succeed in witnessing the wonder of the creation of the Hebrew State, but his work was not in vain – many of his pupils planted deep roots in Israel, and their teacher–educator always will be remembered with gratitude.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. JNF (acronym in Hebrew KKL) – the Jewish National was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine (later the British Mandate for Palestine) for Jewish settlement. Return
  2. Money was raised for the JNF by selling special stamps, or was designated to plant trees in Palestine, or to inscribe names in order to honor people and their donations on special occasions. Purchasing a symbolic shekel was also a way of fundraising. Return
  3. Second Aliyah: Jewish emigration to Palestine from Eastern Europe that took place between 1904 and 1914. Return
  4. Balfour Declaration – The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. (Wikipedia) Return


Memories From My Life in the Youth Movements
In memory of my brother Yitzhak Khakhurim who died in a foreign land in Sverdlovsk
[1]

by Dov Ben Yerucham

Translated by Ann Belinsky

During the First World War, many Jews migrated from Steibtz to all parts of Russia. Community activity was silenced in the town and Zionist activities stopped. With the outbreak of the Revolution the leaders of the anti-Zionistic parties came to the fore, with the Bund[2] at their head. During the war the town passed from the hands of the Russians to the Germans and back again and afterwards a few times to the Poles back and forth.

In 1920, when Polish rule was established, many Jews began to return from the expanses of Russia, among them important communal figures. However, on the other hand, many emigrated to America, Argentina and Africa and from those countries they brought their families to join them.

Only in 1921 with the return of communal figures to the town, did communal activity begin with the establishment of the Tarbut[3] School, a library and a dramatic circle. Berl Margolin and Getzel Reiser distributed shekels[4] for the Zionist Congress, Avraham Moshe Danzig and the Borsuk family distributed the newspaper Folk und Land[5]. At home, Sor'keh Gershonovitz and Sasha Borsuk got together and learned Hebrew songs. At times there were visiting speakers from the Keren HaYesod and the Keren Kayemet[6]. Yosef Machtei, who arrived from Minsk, laid the foundation for sporting activity in the town. Yosef, who was physically fit, had already participated in sporting activities in Minsk. He would prepare the youth for performances in the evenings of the 11th Adar[7] and Lag B'Omer[8].

The youth would meet in the Tarbut School in the Talmud Torah building. Children from the Yiddish School of Freidel Chayit and from the Tarbut School came to learn Hebrew songs of the Land of Israel. They prepared plays, shows and dances. Chaim David Reiser, son of Gershon the builder, who had already been in Russia in the Hechalutz[9] group of Trumpeldor, brought new songs from the Land of Israel. The new songs resounded in various parts of the town. This youth established an organization called “The Twinkling Star”, run by Hershel Kumak, may his memory be blessed, and Isser Rabinovitz who now lives with us in Israel.

In 1921, the sisters Rivka and Shifra Gadons came from Nesvizh. They were members of the Yiddisheh Arberter Yugend Y.S.A.Y.[10] With the help of the member Baruch Potashnik from Nesvizh we established a similar branch in Steibtz. We would get together for question and answer evenings. We would invite our member Noach Abba Rubenchik from Swerznie to lecture on questions of social science questions and political economics. He was well versed in the social sciences. We acquired books in Yiddish and especially books, on science, general knowledge, natural sciences, history and economics. We went deeper into Borochovism[11] and into all the issues of the pioneering socialist movement.

The Hechalutz Association had not yet been established in Steibtz. The pioneers were lacking in organization. The situation could be defined thus: The association was in nearby Swerznie but the seal (rubber stamp) and the pioneers were in Steibtz.

After the Balfour Declaration, the Land of Israel began to develop and the aliyah[12] of the pioneer youth commenced, especially since the countries of migration were closed and the only way out for Jewish youth lacking a future in Poland, was the Land of Israel. In the Land of Israel, there were already a number of young people from Steibtz who had come prior to the First World War, in the 2nd Aliyah: Reuven Levin, now in Kvutsat Geva; Dov Epstein, Yitzhak Bernstein in Kfar Yehoshua and Zalman Rubashov who had already managed to visit the Land of Israel.

Yosef Machtei was among the first who decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel.

A group of our members headed by Yosef Machtei, Yechezkel Flaksin, Berl Charchurim, Yosef Pilshtzik and others, began to practice sawing wood in preparation for training. Our connections with the Hechalutz headquarters were via Hechalutz in Swerznie. The correspondence was managed by Avraham Shkolnik and David Goldin. Yosef Machtei, who awaited authorization from Warsaw, would come to me, and we would go to Goldin to see if a letter had been received.

I remember the cold winter evenings of 1922, 30 degrees below zero. On a clear moonlit night like this, I would walk with Yosef Machtei over the Niemen Bridge to Swerznie. We were young, healthy, and full of energy and hopeful for the future, and these walks were very pleasant for us.

Among the first that made aliyah to the Land of Israel were: Yosef Machtei, Chaim Rozovsky,

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Sto069.jpg
The first group that came to the Land of Israel

Sitting in front (from right): Chaim Rozovsky, Zahava Botvinik
Sitting 2nd row (from right): Yosef Machtei, Dov Ben Yerucham, Miriam Kumak
Standing from right: Shifra Vilitovsky, Rivka Gadons, Yechezkel Flaksin, unknown

 

Mania Gershonovitz. Many youth from the pioneer youth movements immigrated after them.

All these young people (not divided into specific frameworks) passed intensive tests until they defined their ideas and then chose the parties and youth movements that followed their ideology. One of the fine movements that captured the hearts of the youth to Zionism and pioneering movements was the Hashomer HaTza'ir[13] movement.

The force behind the establishment of the movement was the ideal of our member, Yaacov Levine, may his memory be blessed. He came to us to Steibtz in 1922 when the teacher Yossilevitz returned from Minsk.

Yaacov aged 14, while still a youth in Minsk had already been educated in Hashomer HaTza'ir. Yaacov was highly intelligent, a trait that he apparently inherited from his grandfather. In the town they would say, that in his grandfather's house in the village of Ateliz[14] in the area of the great forests, people were meeting and discussing enlightenment, progress and love of Zion, already in the eighties.

The dark-eyed youth Yaacov was handsome and inspirational. In order to establish the movement, he surrounded himself with the finest youth of the town.

I remember that in the summer of 1922, I met Yaacov when he was walking alone on the bridge above the Niemen. It was a wonderful summer's twilight, at sunset at a time when the Niemen was glowing, the fields gave their scent, the farmers were cutting the hay and their daughters raised their voices in song.

While we walked, we discussed the situation of the youth in the town; Yaacov began to influence me to join Hashomer Hatza'ir.

I was already then defined and influenced by Borochovism and scientific socialism. Yaacov had the power of persuasion. He said that in order to give the youth political education, you need first to create an educational framework whose values are: closeness to nature, joy of life, loyalty to the nation, pioneering spirit, the tradition of Hashomer,[15] , defense and closeness to people and to the nation, educational symbols, sport attire, scouting activity, games and hikes. In short: A healthy mind in a healthy body.

We established the Hashomer Hatsa'ir. The movement included the finest youth in the town. There were sons of workers and of artisans, students and ordinary levels of vibrant youth. In the first Garin (seed group) the following youth were prominent: Noach Borsuk of blessed memory, Shmerl Rozovsky, Yehezkhel Flaksin, Dov Wolfson, Nachum Gershonovitz and others.

I was appointed head of the branch and in charge of the sporting activities, hikes, etc. Yaacov was chosen as secretary of the branch. He managed the correspondence with Warsaw and Slonim, received the circulars and instructions on how to manage the activities. We would gather in the home of Borsuk and Rafael Ruditsky for culture evenings, communal singing and parties. In the summer most of the activities were organized outdoors, in the forest or in the fields on the banks of the Niemen.

Sport played an important part in our activities and the orders were given in Hebrew. When we marched in procession in the streets of the town with Hebrew songs on our lips, there were Jews who looked at us with pride. The gentile inhabitants also showed us respect. Only in the eyes of the authorities, the policemen and the Polish clerks were we suspect. What kind of soldiers are these?

In the Zadvoriya forest, among the high pine trees, we would gather on the Sabbaths, sit in a circle, organize a discussion, play a scouting game and afterwards sing songs whose echoes carried far into the town.

A serious question confronted us: Smoking was forbidden. Whoever was caught was punished. The members smoked in secret. I as head of the branch had to mete out the punishment. My situation was complicated. I myself smoked

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secretly and suffered terribly. When I had to determine a punishment, I had pangs of conscience. I decided to stop smoking and only then I was free to explain the serious damage caused by nicotine.

On Lag B'Omer we would organize a traditional excursion to Mt. Havafnitzeh, opposite Swerznie. It was springtime – green fields, yellow flowers, blue forget-me-nots and tulips. The Jewish women of Swerznie went out into their gardens to prepare the sowing and planting in their vegetable gardens. Our thoughts were how we could transfer all of this to the Land of Israel.

On the 20th of Tammuz[16] we would gather in the Sinyava Forest with all the Zionist youth movements.

In winter we would stage plays. We established a dramatic group and presented a play depicting the life of the Shomer[17] in the Land of Israel...

A slight argument broke out between me and Yaacov Levin, of blessed memory, relating to the main role in the play – who would be the lead. The majority decided that Yaacov would play the role of the Watchman from Merchavia, defending the homeland and falling as a hero. The issue of defending and keeping the honor of the people of Israel in the Diaspora and in the Homeland, held an important place in the education of HaShomer Hatsa'ir.

One can be proud of members of the movement who were active in partisan activities in the Diaspora and in defending the Homeland and its liberation. Yehoshua Pecker, Yosef Harkavy, Boaz Axelrod and many others fell for the honor of the nation.

In 1924 I made aliyah to the Land of Israel. Members of Hashomer Hatza'ir in the town accompanied me to the railway station. After me, Noach Borsuk, of blessed memory and also Nachum Gershonovitz, Shmerl Rozovsky and Yechezkhel Flaksin, may they be set apart for a long life, came too. The activity of the branch declined. At the end of 1927 Talle Klibansky, a member of Hashomer Hatza'ir from Slonim and experienced organizer, came to Steibtz and spent a few years in our town, working at the Multzadsky Printers. Thanks to him, activity was renewed.

In the meantime, the Tarbut School managed to educate Hebrew-speaking youth. Hashomer Hazsa'ir expanded its activities and included the students: Yosef Harkavy, Tamar Rabinovitz, Baruch Shatzkin, Yitzhak Charchurim; Leibl Palei, Boaz Akselrod, Moshe Esterkin, Eliezer Melamed, Leah Eizenberg.

Many others continued their education, and the question of realizing the dream of becoming a pioneer, became a reality. The individual was requested to leave the seat of learning and go to a training farm.

Revolutionary socialism and active pioneering activity were considered as training for kibbutz life in the Land of Israel. Many went to the training farm kibbutz Massad in Slonim.

In 1935 I visited my town Steibtz. I had the pleasant experience of visiting the branch of Hashomer Hatzsa'ir in the town, with its fresh and fine youth. I taught them the Hora dance and songs of the Land of Israel. On one of the evenings I went out with a group on a boating excursion on the Niemen River. I will never forget the joy and the song of these young people, the dark Tulleh Milcenzon, her beautiful eyes and sweet singing. How was my town plundered? And how were our dear youth so cruelly destroyed?

 


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Sverdlovsk, name of the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia, from 1924 to 1991, or Sverdlovsk, Ukraine, a town in Ukraine. Return
  2. Bund – a secular Jewish socialist party in the Russian Empire that was opposed to Zionism. Return
  3. Tarbut Schools – a Zionist secular network of Hebrew-language educational institutions in Poland, founded in 1922. Return
  4. shekel – The certificate of membership received after paying dues or “tax” members of the Zionist movement in former times. The shekel took its name from the ancient coins of Israel. A shekel (actually a half-shekel coin it seems) was also paid to the temple as a tax and a means of taxation. The Zionist shekel was first instituted by Theodor Herzl at the first Zionist Congress. Any Jew of at least 18 years of age could buy a shekel, and any member aged 24 years or older could be elected as a delegate to the Congress. The revenue from the sale of the Shekel was used for Zionist activities. The number of delegates that each country was allowed to send to the Congress was based on the number of Shekel sold in that country. (Zionism and Israel – Encyclopedic Dictionary). Return
  5. Folk und Land – People and the Land. Return
  6. Keren HaYesod and the Keren Kayemet – Funds collecting money for the Land of Israel. Return
  7. 11th Adar – Memorial Day for Joseph Trumpeldor and the fall of Tel Hai. Return
  8. Lag Ba'Omer – a minor festival between Passover and Shavuot. Return
  9. Hechalutz – Pioneers youth movement. Return
  10. Yiddisheh Arberter Yugend Y.S.A.Y. – Jewish Working Youths. Return
  11. Borochovism – A Jewish socialist movement applying scientific socialism– Marxism to Zionism. Return
  12. 2nd Aliyah – Jewish emigration to Palestine from Eastern Europe that took place between 1904 and 1914. Return
  13. Hashomer HaTza'ir –The Young Guard Youth Movement. Return
  14. Ateliz – (45.5 miles WSW of Minsk 53°54' N, 27°34' E – JewishGen Gazetteer -AB). Return
  15. Hashomer – (Hebrew: "The Watchman") was a Jewish defense organization in Palestine founded in April 1909 as a self-defense organization by members of the second wave of immigration to Eretz Israel. Return
  16. 20th Tammuz – This Hebrew date marks the passing of Theodor Herzl in 1904 (The Hebrew month of Tammuz occurs on the Gregorian calendar about June-July). Return
  17. Shomer – watchman. Return


The Youth in the Working Zionism

by Baruch Aloni (Shatzkin)

Translated by Ann Belinsky

In memory of my friends in the branch of the Hashomer Hatsa'ir[1] Youth Movement, who stood honorably in the difficult hours of ordeal in the forests and in the towns, thanks to their education and absorption of the ideals of the movement, and were not privileged to reach the State of Israel and to live life on a kibbutz there, the life to which they so aspired. This thought urges me to dig into my memory and to describe, according to my ability, Steibtz my town, its Zionistic life and the Hashomer Hatsa'ir youth movement.

Although I was not born in Steibtz, I arrived there while still a child and spent all my youth there, in the last years before I made aliyah[2] to Eretz Yisrael[3] in April 1938. I even managed to serve in the Polish army, in an esteemed infantry regiment, above which the name of Marshall Pilsudsky waved. After that, I spent some time in the town and left it to go to hachshara[4] in the Massad kibbutz[5] in Slonim. Following the closing of the gates to the Land of Israel by the British, I remained there until I made aliyah, too many years later.

Before Hashomer Hatsa'ir existed, we established Zionist organizations in Steibtz from time to time, but all these always went with the wind –no uniting spirit or clear aim was raised at their head. People grew up, married, each was busy with his own family worries and were content with donating to the Zionist institutions but no further. However a new spirit passed over the town with the opening of the Tarbut[6] school. The introduction of this Zionist spirit, both in groups for adults and for the youth, is attributed to the influence of the outstanding teacher, Alter Yossilevitz, founder of the school in Steibtz. This school left its mark on all the youth who learned there and thanks to his personality, the Zionist idea penetrated deep into their hearts. I remember to this day that every Friday there was a certain period which was devoted to singing songs of Eretz Yisrael, to longing for the land of our forefathers “There in the beloved land of our forefathers[7] … and others.”

The first unit of founders of the branch was those who had graduated from the school, but in addition to the Zionist education that they had received there, the branch gave them a sporting–scouting continuation. They now had a goal – to make aliyah to Eretz and to continue there with a better and more just life than the future held in store for those maturing youth whose spare time was spent playing cards or at dancing parties. The Hashomer Hatsa'ir branch contributed to the inspiration of the Zionist–pioneering spirit in the town and to bringing the youth closer to the idea of self–realization.

There was a very influential cultural–educational value in the performances in Hebrew and the parties that we organized in the town. These shows attracted a large audience of youth and adults from all levels in Steibtz and the surroundings. Even people who did not understand the language well filled the hall, as these performances contained a deep national experience and aroused its importance. The drama “Massada” by the playwright Y. Lamdan of blessed memory, left an indelible impression. The director of the play was a member of the movement from Vilna – Shmariyahu Levine (Shmarkah). The roles were well played by members of the branch: Yosef Harkavy, Mottel.

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Sto070.jpg
Hechalutz [Youth Movement]

Sitting from right, Row A: Issar Goldberg, Guttel Bernstein, Aryeh Borsuk, Yaacov Vodonas, Nachama Gorfinkel
Sitting, Row B: Henia Tunik, Yitzhak Grotsky, Baruch Shatzkin, Haya Sargovitz, Avraham Borsuk, Esther Borsuk
Sitting, Row C: Aharon Zavisky, Gershon Rabinowitz, unknown, Avraham Inzelbuch, Leibel Mirsky, Hirschel Kumak, Mordechai Shmukler, Chana Shmukler
Row D: Zeev Katz, Isaac Akon, Issar Shatzkin, Issar Rabinowitz, Avraham Lis, Chanan Rozovsky, Hirschel Rozovsky

 

Shmukler, Leah Palei, Mattitayu Lungin, Leib'keh Palei – may their memories be blessed; and – may they have a long life: Leibel Mirsky, Zeev Katz, Hirschel Eizikov, Tamar Rabinowitz, Leah Eizenberg, Yasicha Gershonowitz, Tziporah Machtey, Eliezer Melamed and Baruch Shatzkin.

I remember well the tearful emotions of the teacher Alter Yossilevitz that evening, and I will never forget the performance of one of our dear branch members Yosef Harkavy. He played one of the main roles and acted like a professional actor, with passion and devotion. He showed this commitment the entire time he was in the branch, and always excelled in practical work. I see him in front of my eyes, immersed in his work, when the branch moved to the large hall in the Katz house. He is the main worker and encourager for preparing the furniture and all other undertakings requested of him. I heard that also in the forest he was filled with a sense of duty and dedicated to all partisan operations. And there too, in the light of the bonfire both day and night, he recalled his days in the branch with yearning: he recited his role in Massada, and sang the Eretz–Israeli songs which we had sung in the branch, until the evil and horrendous hand reached him. May his memory be blessed forever!

The same enthralling influence of our performances in the surrounding forests was present also on normal days. In front of my eyes I see a Sabbath afternoon in the forest, all are outside. Families and couples are strolling along, some on the bridge and some reclining in the meadow on the banks of the Neiman. Suddenly they prick up their ears: regiments of the branch are walking along paths in the not distant groves of Sinyava[8], singing songs of Eretz Israel and marching erectly according to orders in Hebrew. Who amongst us, even the adults and the old people, does not remember the celebrations of Lag B'Omer[9] and the 20th Tammuz,[10] which took place in the forests of Kroglitzia or Okintzitz and the Sinyava groves. All the youth of the town, their parents and their children, would stream into the forest in those days, to spend a day there and to enjoy the plays and games of the branch. I remember Azriel Tunik, of blessed memory (son of Hirschel), who was one of the best in his regiment. He was only a child then, but full of energy and courage. The rumors that we heard about him from the forest did not disappoint us. Their education and ideas, which they had absorbed in the branch, left their mark in every situation. And thus, he sacrificed his soul with other Jewish youth, members of the Steibtz branch, for the honor of the nation. May their memory be eternally remembered!

In the first years of existence of the branch there was no strong presence of antisemitism in the town, but as in all Poland, here too the scourge of antisemitism spread and arrived forcefully in our town in the middle of the 1930's. There were already skirmishes between the Jewish and Polish youth. And yes, also among the adults. The echoes of the pogroms of Peshitk, Brisk, Minsk–Maszovitzk and others sounded in the sprawling market in the center of Steibtz: The country bumpkins, before leaving for the army –

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became unruly and set upon the stalls and shops, but the Jewish boys of Steibtz quickly organized – Kusha Altman, Chaim Leib Berkovitz (Robla's son), the sons of Chaim Tunik (Moshe's son) and others – and returned hefty blows to the attackers, who escaped with difficulty. The police at that time was still standing on the side, as they had not expected courage like this on the part of the Jewish boys.

Here I remember: After my return from the army in 1936, I went with the branch to the Okintzitz Forest for a Lag B'Omer camp. Already then, children and parents did not come with us. The houses of Israel were already beset by deep anxiety. Obviously we went with a permit from the Strosta.[11] We arrived at the place, set up an impressive scout camp and went out to play scouting games. While we were spread out, a member of the branch came and told me that one of the foresters was looking for me. As we exchanged greetings, he drew his loaded gun, aimed at my chest and threatened to shoot me if I did not leave there immediately. All my explanations that we are here with permission and with a permit did not help. He, the forester, hinted that he has orders from the same institution that gave us the permit, to harass and remove us. Since the responsibility was too much for me, as the camp participants were youth aged 15–19, we had no choice but to return the way we had come.

Those were difficult days for the Zionist movement and especially for the Pioneering–Zionist movement. The gates of Eretz were closed, many people were in the training camps in difficult conditions. Among them were the men and women members of our branch: Nachama Gorfinkel, Passy Tunik (daughter of Shmuel), Leah Eisenberg, Passy Epstein, Sarah Tunik (Yoel's daughter), Zeev Katz, Mottel, Yosef Tunik, Shalom Velochvinsky and the writer of these lines.[12] Despair rose together with the rise of antisemitism and then a way was found: Aliyah Bet[13].

I had the honor and the privilege to arrive in one of the first boats to the coasts of Israel, in 1938. There is no doubt that many of my friends in the branch would have come to Eretz one way or another in order to realize their goal for which we were educated in the branch, had the long arm of the murderers not found them, when the hope of aliyah, the hope of self–realization was in their hearts.

Hearsay tells that the teacher Meir Yosef Shwartz, who was one of those against the branch, said: “Indeed in the difficult hours of ordeal I see that the people of Hashomer Hatsa'ir are indeed true Zionists”. And all proved this by sacrificing themselves in all hidden corners where they were caught, for the honor of Israel! By the light of the campfire in the forests they sang songs of the movement, evoked memories when in their hearts was the desire to go to Eretz, to live the life of a kibbutz. But here the long arm of the murderers found them. Many good people didn't earn the right to see the fulfillment of the idea of the kibbutz in an independent Israel.

May their memory be blessed!

 

Sto072.jpg
Hashomer Hatsa'ir

Sitting Row A from right: Velvul Reiser, Leah Eizenberg, Tzvi Rozovsky, Nachama Gorfinkel, Tzvi Eizikov
Sitting Row B from right: Izel Akon, Rivka Wasser, Baruch Shatzkin, Musia Aginsky, Matitiyahu Lungin
Standing from right: Zeev Katz, Mordechai Shmukler, Henia Tunik, Yitzhak Kharkhurim, Tamar Rabinowitz, Yosef Harkavy, Fania Protinovsky, Avner Yossilevitz, Leibel Mirsky

 


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Hashomer Hatsa'ir – Young Guard youth movement. Return
  2. Aliyah – Hebrew: literally “ascent” – immigration to the Land of Israel. Return
  3. Eretz Yisrael – Hebrew: The Land of Israel. Sometimes it was just called Eretz. Return
  4. Hachshara – training farm to teach prospective “olim” (people making aliyah) how to farm. Return
  5. Kibbutz – Hebrew: collective community. A kibbutz in Eastern Europe consisted of a community of people intending to make aliyah. A kibbutz in Israel is usually based on agriculture. Return
  6. Tarbut – Culture. It is also the name of a chain of Jewish school in Poland, where lessons were taught in Hebrew. Return
  7. One of the mainstays of Zionist poetry, written by Israel Dushman. Return
  8. Sinyava – or Sinyaver, a forest on the outskirts of Stolpce. Return
  9. Lag B'Omer – a minor Jewish holiday occurring on the Gregorian calendar about April–May. Return
  10. 20th Tammuz – This Hebrew date marks the passing of Theodor Herzl in 1904. (The Hebrew month of Tammuz occurs on the Gregorian calendar about June–July.) Return
  11. Strosta – head of the sub–district. Return
  12. Baruch Aloni Shatzkin. Return
  13. Aliyah Bet – clandestine 2nd major wave of organized emigration of Jews to the Land of Israel during the British Mandate of Eretz Israel – Palestine. Return


[Page 73]

Hashomer Hatsa'ir in Steibtz

by Tamar Amarant

Memories

Translated by Ann Belinsky

I remember, when I was in the fifth class in the Polish Gymnasium, I was told: “Come at 5 o'clock to the Tarbut school, there will be a meeting there. What meeting? – A youth from the Slonim called Talea is coming, and he wants to organize the youth into the Hashomer Hatsa'ir youth movement. What is that?” – my curiosity was piqued and I came to this meeting. A few of my girl– and boy–friends from the school came, and this young man, Talea, explained to us: We will meet once or twice a week, read books and newspapers together, go on hikes and talk about Eretz Yisrael. That, approximately, was the content, as is engraved in my memory and we were captivated, since to learn in the Polish gymnasium with goyim [gentiles] was not the most pleasant of things. We finished at the Tarbut school, we yearned to refresh the Hebrew language with day–to–day speaking, not only by reading books.

We began to come on a permanent basis, since it was summertime, and we would meet by the Neiman River. The discussions were interesting, though sometimes I did not understand what was being spoken about. But the passion of speech, the sincerity and the integrity that stemmed from the discussions, united us. Slowly the circle of participants grew, and finally we would go to the branch or the house of Zeev Katz. Among the first were Mordechai Shmukler, Yosef Harkavy, Leah Palay, Nachama Gurfunkel, Zeev Bernstein, Yitzhak Kharkhurm, Henia Tunik, may their memory be blessed, and – may they have a long life –Zeev Katz, Leah Eizenberg, Hirschel Eizikov, Azriel Tunik, Tziporah Machtei, Baruch Shatzkin and Tamar Rabinovitz.

How did the branch capture our hearts?

We, the maturing youth, wanted to see ourselves as conquerors of the world in our visionary thoughts, lively discussions, the shared reading, perusing political articles from Eretz and the Eretz which interested all of us. It broadened our outlook, enriched our imagination and developed the courage to express ourselves, to participate in conversation. Discussion at Hashomer Hatsa'ir on mutual aid, love of nature and the distant homeland caused us to tremble, our parents did not always agree with us. My mother always said to me: “You need only to study”, and when I answered her “A good Hashomer member is also a good student” – she was silent. But my father, may his memory be blessed, was against my going to Hashomer. However here the rebellion of children against their parents was revealed. I announced: I am going to the movement, despite all.

Over a short period of time we succeeded in setting up an exemplary meeting house. More than one hundred boys and girls belonged to the movement, which attracted different strata of youth. The movement was a bright spark of light, which attracted us like moths to a lamp. In the parades of festivals or celebrations, the inhabitants of the town came out to watch the movement, with all age groups powerfully and proudly marching, with flags and signs. The movement instilled a spirit of life into the town, the songs that sprang from the young hearts elicited quiet laughter and a spark of hope in the eyes of the adults, who were charmed to see their children so sure of their future in their land.

The movement nurtured and bred lively, proud, courageous, honest youth, sincere in their ways and thoughts and for that I give my thanks.

And may those whose dreams were fulfilled be blessed!


The Dry Bones

by Dr. Yisrael Machtay

Translated by Ann Belinsky

It was indeed a beautiful morning on that Sunday morning 17th September 1939 – summery, pleasant, and warm, as if nothing happened on earth. But we knew that we were standing at the beginning of a new era, for a mighty battle was being fought in the world, one that was destined to be the most savage of world wars.

We felt the war, we felt it in its full meaning: on the one hand, all the same restrictions and difficulties that had already appeared, such as: devaluation of the currency (instead of metal money, paper banknotes suddenly appeared), the recruitments, the darkness, with the fear at its side, with all its consequences; on the other hand, on the day that war broke out, my father was arrested by the Polish authorities and exiled to a distant unknown place; and then it seemed to us, that the return of father and the end of the war were one and the same, and that is what we looked forward to.

We stood on the threshold of a new era, and suddenly a mighty voice was heard. From one side of the world to the other – like the sound of rolling thunder, a sound that does not pass (as thunder does), but became stronger and stronger, intensifying like the sound of the thunder of the six days of Creation; indeed, the omen was a sign from above. The blueness of the sky concealed the iron birds, with the sign of the 5-pointed star on their wings. A historical day.

No significant turmoil befell our town in the first days of the change of government, as if “the Jewish people” were used to this, and not for naught is this found in the prayer HaNoten T'shua… where there is an empty space for the name of the ruler to be inscribed … Although I am sure that in many, the fear of the conqueror gnawed, yet, happiness nestled in the heart of most: the end of the war arrived – and after several days, father returned home, and at this stage it seemed, it also ended for us.

When war broke out, I was a member of the HaShomer HaTsa'ir movement, which had a splendid branch in Steibtz. I am not going to write about the branch here and to talk about the days of its blooming and glory – others will do that, those who are more proficient. In the period that we are discussing, we remained a forlorn remnant, totaling, as far as I can remember, about 15 senior members. We had almost no younger members. A large section of the members of the branch had left the town, some immigrated to Israel, and there were others who tried illegally to do so.

On Tuesday 19th September, on a sudden impulse, I walked in the direction of the ma'on (den) of the movement on Nadnimanska Street, and on the way I met a friend, Moshe Zaretzky, who was walking in the same direction, and with the same aim: to close the branch; and to close meant to destroy and to shut down

[Page 74]

one chapter in the life of the Jewish town of our lives there.

We opened the spacious ma'on of the branch (a large hall, a small meeting room and an office). In the landlady's neighboring apartment we lit the large oven and began to burn papers. Moshe busied himself with the two halls and I, with the office, and afterwards, when I had thrown all the papers and seals into the oven, I withdrew our archives from the lower shelf of the cupboard. I could not bear to burn it – just like that, coldheartedly. I wanted to take my leave from it – from every single page inside, from the letters, from the enrollment forms (I also found mine from the end of 1928), from the discussions and the accounts, and from all those things that had gladdened and saddened us in our lives. We laughed and cried (yes, we cried too) in the period of our childhood and youth – and I opened the archive …

[1] The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones.[2] And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, 'Son of man', can these bones live?' And I answered, 'O Lord God, thou knowest.'” (Ezekiel 37: 1-3).
Actually, the happiness of my entry to HaShomer HaTsa'ir was clouded with sadness. I was then 8 years old and to this day I remember the wonderful khaki uniform with the tie (I do not remember the color), the colored stripes on the left shoulder, and the main object, the cord. But I was missing one thing: the Scout's beret of Baden-Powell that was then in fashion that I saw on the heads of the older members, and I was so envious of them, that it made me sad.

Those were beautiful days: the walk to the branch, against the teachers' wishes, the celebrations (Lag Ba'Omer or the 20th Tammuz were the biggest of them), the hikes, the games, the songs. Yes, the songs, and to this day, I remember the hymn that we sang in our group, the Gurim.[3]

“The cradle, our homeland, you are a lovely land
As the apple of our eye we will guard you eternally.”
[4]
After some years, this hymn was changed to another Anu Olim V'sharim.[5] The new song did not appeal to me, seeing it as a betrayal of the old one with its heroic words and heartfelt tune – the song with which we grew up.

The members who were our leaders, whom I remember to this day – “head of the branch” Tula (Naftali Klibansky), who now lives in Israel, Arye (Leib) Mirsky, who is with us today – I remember him as leading the celebrations and the hikes, and also others like Baruch Shatzkin, Velvel (Ze'ev) Katz, and many more.

Page after page, note after note, were burned in the fire. Circulars signed by the “Galil Administration”, the “Central Administration” or even the “Supreme Administration” – this last name fascinated me in particular – I think that it was based in Paris, and letters and more reports and accounts, and here is one of them… A members' trial, where I stood to be judged together with, I think, five more members.

 

Sto074.jpg
HaShomer HaTsa'ir

Sitting from right: Avraham Shmukler, Eshkeh Mazeh, Noach Tunik, Aydle Esterkin, Yosef Tunik
Standing from right: Multzadsky, Nachum Rozovsky, Frume Bernshtein, Hershl Dvoretzsky, Sarah Tunik, Reuven Zuchovitzky, Hinde Bernshtein
Third row: Zissl Tunik, Itke Pilshchek, Yisrael Goldberg, Azriel Tunik, Rachel Kushnir, Avraham Lepkovsky

 

[Page 75]

The year was 1936. The film Kol Nidrei was being screened in our town and all the Jews, including me, flocked to see it. In the branch an old resolution existed, concerning “collective” visits to see cinemas and theatres, and for this purpose a special fund was created, to which each person had to contribute money according to his ability. The five accused, (among them, if I am not mistaken, were the Mazeh sisters, Nachum Rozovsky and others) – we did not depend on miracles. “Perhaps they will decide not to go.” And we did what we did.

The trial was public, in the presence of tens of members. I think that Shalom Vlubabyansky (who lives in Kibbutz Dan today) led the proceedings. What was said was said, we were warned, and order was restored.

Another year passed, and in 1937 the group began to show the first signs of lifelessness: some of the members left to migrate to the Land of Israel, or simply left and in 1938, when six graduates[6] left to go to the Central Administrative seat in Trokai[7], it was apparent that these six comprised half of the graduates of the branch.

The six of us that travelled were: Yosef Tunik, Azriel Tunik (Ben-Tzvi), Esther Tunik, Rochel Bruchansky, Moshe Zaretzky, and I. In Trokai, in splendid surroundings, on the shores of the large lake, we spent, I think, two weeks. To this day, I remember the lectures of Kluf, on the psychology of man and on Zionism. We were so young and life was so beautiful.

“… Chazak ve'ematz!” Have strength and courage!
These words leap up from the fire when my friend Moshe Zaretzky tosses the flags into the oven, on which these words are written. From this day onwards, this motto, which Yehoshua needed in his conquest of the kings of Canaan, will be needed more than ever by this generation which will earn the bloodstained and tearful title – Sh'erit HaPlitah[8] – The Surviving Remnant of the Holocaust.

But, in the meantime, we were still living our day to day lives. Although the steps of the Nazi beasts were already marching in Austria and Memel, we were still occupied with the concerns of our daily lives, especially when one of the concerns was the material existence of our impoverished and depleted branch. Existence meant money, and depletion meant lack of members and lack of membership fees. Today we would laugh about this, but we did not laugh then, when a few people organized a group called Hayad Hashkhurah[9] whose duty it was to remind those in arrears to pay their fees.

I read and burn, browse, and throw into the fire – the fire that should separate one era from another, the fire that gives birth to a new age.

“… Borei M'orei HaEsh” – “Who creates the lights of fire.”[10]
“The lights of fire” – comes to teach us that there is fire, and there is fire, different fires. There is the fire that burns the blessing “have strength and courage” on the red, blue and white flags and another fire, in the form of a sudden big flame when it burns the words printed or written on paper. The fire that burned our wall newspaper, which appeared a number of times in the last year of the existence of the branch, for which by lack of other writers I myself wrote articles for the same newspaper that was meant to put the breath of life into the dry bones.
“... but there was no breath of life in them.”[11]
In the late afternoon the task was completely finished. With our own hands we burnt our past, our beautiful dreams and our many memories, the little temple[12] that we had, and all that remained was a heap of dry ashes in an oven and the spark in our hearts, for our hope is not yet lost[13].
“… O' My people, I will open your graves and bring you up from them, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel ... I will put My Spirit in you and you will live ...”[14]

 

Sto075.jpg
HaShomer HaTsa'ir

Sitting from right to left: Shneier Bernshtein, Tzvi Melamed, Avraham Prass, Azriel Tunik, Simcha Kushnir, Ya'akov Lusterman, Moshe Altman, Hillel Akun
2nd row from right to left: Pesya Tunik, Raizel Mazeh, Pesya Charchurim, Chanah Axelrod, Sonia Aginsky, unknown, unknown, Sarah Bruchansky, Malka Goldberg
3rd row standing from right to left: Tanchum Rabinovitz, Berchik Epshtein, Zalman Sarguvitz, Tamar Rabinovitz, Avraham Reiser, Naftali Klibansky, Peisel Bernshtein, Yechezkiel Russak, Mordechai Shmukler, Leibl Palay, Nachum Eizenberg, Yitzchak Bintsky

 


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. HaNoten T'shua – the traditional Jewish prayer for the government in the Sabbath morning liturgy. Return
  2. This date marks the anniversary of Theodor Herzl's death, and was commemorated by ceremonies discussing his life, biography and accomplishments. Return
  3. Gurim – cubs' group. Return
  4. Lyrics by Aharon Leibushitzky. Return
  5. Anu Olim V'sharim – “We make Aliyah and sing.” Lyrics by Yaαkov Cohen. Return
  6. The graduates were the senior members of the group. Return
  7. Trokai - In modern country Lithuania, 16 miles WSW of Vilnius (Vilna) [JewishGen]. Return
  8. Sh'erit HaPlitah – today refers to the survivors of the Holocaust. Return
  9. Hayad Hashkhurah – The Black Hand. Return
  10. Borei M'orei HaEsh – The benediction said when lighting the Havdalah candle at the end of the Sabbath. Return
  11. Ezeliel 37:8. Return
  12. little temple – refers to a place of spiritual importance. Return
  13. These words are taken from Hatikvah –the national anthem of the State of Israel. The words were written by Naftali Herz Imber. Return
  14. Ezekiel 37:12-14. Return

 

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