by Shifra and Boni Birmanon
Translated by Dr. Ida Selavan Schwarcz
The organization of the youth movement:
In 1922, Comrade Lusia Hodorov from the Scout center in Kovel, came to our city and tried to establish a Scouts organization.
At the head of the Scouts in Ludmir were comrades Abinder, Oron Viner, Velenzuk Etel Feder, Yisrael Shriyer, Rius Pinhas, Yitshak Kohen, and others. Meetings were held in the school of Mr. Bubis. The Scouts were divided into groups and battalions and met every week for regular activities. The Poles, who were opposed to Jewish youth being organized did not ignore these meetings. On one Sabbath the Polish police surrounded the school and arrested some of our members with Hodorov at their head, and dispersed the rest of the Scouts. Thus the organization fell apart.
But the youth did not give in. After a short time youth movements began to reform in the city. This time in addition to the Scouts, HaShomer Ha-Za'ir was established.
At the head of the organization were comrades Goldshteyn, Zisha Viner, Yehiel Birman, Zelig Kats, Yehoshua Birkner, and others.
After a few years, in 1925, an additional youth group was established, Ha-Shomer Ha-Le'umi [The National Guard]. It was founded by Comrade Goldshteyn from the General Zionist Center in Warsaw. He gathered the as yet unorganized
young people and they chose the following comrades as leaders; Budner Me'ir, Gurvits Naftali, Shats Me'ir, Birman Boni, Amper Sarah, Rius Shifra, Koltun Luba, Arsh Gitmol, Sender Roytnshten, and others.
When the ties between Ha-No'ar Ha-Zioni and Ha-Shomer Ha-Le'umi and the General Zionist Federation became strong, a committee was founded to transmit the decisions of the Federation to the youth. The members of the committee were: Ingber Avraham, Monish Loysboym, Refa'el Birman, Kliner Yeshayahu, Berman Aharon, and others. Together with the committee we worked out a plan for youth activities.
|Sitting from right: Me'ir Budner, Boni Bierman, Naftali Gurvits
Standing from right: Aharon Gurvits, Avraham Alter, Meir Kats, Y. Grinberg
| Ken [Nest, club, nucleus] of Ha-Shomer Ha-Le'umi, 1927|
HaShomer HaLe'umi youth led discussions on various topics suggested by the Center in Warsaw. They went on trips on Jewish holidays (Tu BiShevat [New Year of Trees], Lag BeOmer [Thirtythird Day of the Counting of the Omer between Passover and Shavu'ot] etc.) and learned about scouting. They also tutored students who were having difficulties with their studies.
HaShomer HaLe'umi assisted the various funds in the Jewish community such as Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod and doubled the donations to them. They also participated actively in various local elections: the Ludmir municipality, the Sejm [Polish Parliament], community council, etc. We continued functioning this way until 1927. At that time the leadership of HaShomer HaLe'umi was invited to send representatives to be trained at a conference of directors.
We were delighted to receive the invitation and we sent three representatives: Naftali Gurvits, Me'ir Shats, and Boni Birman.
At the end of the year comrade Shemuel Amper came to visit from the Land of Israel. He lectured us on hakhshara [preparation for Aliya, immigration to the Land of Israel]. This opened new horizons about subjects we had heard about a great deal but not in such detail as now.
In 1928 the leadership of HaShomer HaLe'umi, which meanwhile had its name changed to HaNo'ar HaZioni by the General Zionists, began to recruit young people in the Ludmir area. We recruited many young people and there was greater participation in the summer camps that year.
We encountered many obstacles.
In spite of all of the difficulties, we organized courses in the Hebrew language with the aid of comrade Refa'el Birman, and we often received letters of commendation for our devoted efforts from the Warsaw Center.
In 1930 we began to talk about hakhshara for aliya to the Land of Israel. We received a directive to organize camps to prepare the youth, and if possible, provide agricultural training. After great efforts we succeeded in setting up camps. First they worked in cutting down trees, and then in farming on land belonging to a Polish farmer about ten Kilometers from town. After a few months we received a delegation of thirty comrades from Warsaw. At its head was comrade Aharon Bleikh zal [of blessed memory] (who died in 1955 in the United States and was buried in Israel in Kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan where his brother and family lived.)
HaNo'ar HaZioni participated in all the Jewish institutions in town, such as the orphanage, TAZ, ORT, Tarbut, and others.
Orphanage: As in all cities, here too there were children orphaned by the wars, so we set up an orphanage.
TAZ: The purpose of this organization was to care for the health of the poor, especially children. TAZ sent poor children to camps where they were given medical attention.
ORT [Society for Manual Work]: A vocational school was opened for children who could not afford to study in gymanzias [academic secondary schools].
The leadership pf HaNo'ar HaZioni sent a representative to each of these agencies, and participated in the daily activities.
In 1932 we sent our first comrade, Moshe Beker, to the Land of Israel. He now lives in Kibbutz Usha. In November of that year I received an immigration certificate from the Movement Center. I came to the Land of Israel with my wife Shifra and we settled in Kefar Tavor, and after a year, moved to Tel Aviv.
by Yissakhar Shtern/ Yehiel Birman, Sha'ar HaGolan
Translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz
Edited by Jack Bader
The beginning of the movement in Ludmir dates from the early 1920's. Our young people yearned to escape the narrow confines of traditional Jewish life and they searched for wider horizons. It began at the dawn of the national and social awakening in our city after World War One.
The war and the various occupation forces that succeeded each other wrought havoc on our economic and social institutions. The Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] established a number of agencies to extend aid to the many Jews in need.
The first [modern] Hebrew schools were established. They initiated a cultural and educational revolution, compared to the traditional educational institutions (the kheyder [one room school] and the Talmud Torah [usually for poor children whose parents could not afford a private tutor]). Among the principals and active participants in the Hebrew schools and the modernized kheyder were Asher Geler, Moshe Kornfeld, Yehoshua Kleiner, Mendl Lipsker, Shuster, Brik, and others.
It was within the walls of these schools that the first signs of nationalism appeared. Groups of students started various social activities such as: setting up a library, dramatic presentations by the students, etc. Soon the individual groups united into an organization called HaDor HaZa'ir [The Young Generation]. Around that time Eliezer (Lyusa) Hodorov, from Kovel, attempted to organize a scout movement with a nationalistic spirit. Because of the opposition of the Polish authorities this movement was soon halted. Around the same time HeHaluts HaKelali [General Pioneer] succeeded in organizing a hakhshara among the older youths. Some of them immigrated to the Land of Israel during the Fourth Aliya . But the crisis of the Fourth Aliya halted the activities of HeHaluts in our city.
During these difficult times, a new spirit arose among the students in the Russian school whose principal was Matsiashvili. The events leading up to this period (the Russian revolution, the Balfour Declaration, the liberation of the Polish people) sowed the seeds of an awakening on part of the Jewish youth in our city. Some of the students of the Russian school searched for a framework for independent action. They followed the example of organized youth in other places. At first a group was organized by Yehoshua Berkner, Zisha Viner, Kehat Goldshtein, Zelig Kats, and Yehiel Birman for independent study (Hebrew, Judaica, sociology and nationalism).
We also participated in sports and scouting activities. We met once or twice a week in the yard of the Berliner family on Kolyiwa Street. On rainy days or in winter time, we met in the Berliners' store house or office. As time went by, more secondary school students joined us until we had more than twenty members. We took our first steps among the youth to fight against their assimilation [among the gentiles] by education towards [Jewish] nationalism.
As we expanded, we split into smaller study groups that were led by the members themselves. Also there were changes in the ages and social interactions among the members.
The founders of the organization were all members of the same study group. As it expanded, they were joined by students of various ages and levels of scholarship. Because of these changes there arose problems of education, leadership, and organization, that the members of the group could not handle on their own, without the guidance of the central movement. As we studied our ideological and educational options, we found that the World Movement of HaShomer HaZa'ir suited our needs.
With our integration into HaShomer HaZa'ir in 1924, there was a crucial change in our activities. We received guidance materials, visits from the head office, and we formed links with other groups in our area. With this change there was a consolidation of the educational content and a change in the framework of the Shomer society that characterized the whole movement. Groups were ranked according to age, (Kefirim [Cubs], Tsofim [Scouts], Keshishim [Old timers]), and the activities were organized according to a definite plan.
The outward appearance of the Shomrim, their upright carriage, their simple scout uniforms with the scout logo and flags, their songs in the Hebrew of the Land of Israel, made a deep impression on the youth and attracted many into our ranks.
These developments in HaShomer HaZa'ir during this period elicited responses from various circles. The principals of the schools prohibited their students from joining our movement. The parents also did not look with the favor at the manifestation of rebellion in their children and they opposed it. In addition, we had to act in secrecy, because we did not have a permit from the government. It left its mark on our work. We had many difficulties but in spite of them, and perhaps because of them, there was a ferment of awakening in our midst, of a youth movement of scouting, nationalism and action.
In addition to the widespread educational and social activities within the ranks of the gedudim [battalions] and groups, the leaders of the ken organized activities for the entire ken as a whole. There were scouting trips, sports competitions, literary tribunals, and especially popular were the parties and celebrations at the ken on national holidays and memorial days. The ken participated in the various activities of the national institutions in the city such as: Keren Kayemet, Tarbut, TAZ, ORT, etc.
The influence of the movement exceeded that of just a club and penetrated the walls of the secondary and primary schools. The establishment of a Hebrew library in the Starer[?] Gymnazia, the organization of a Hebrew choir, and a serious approach to the study of Hebrew, were initiated by the members of HaShomer HaZa'ir who were students in the abovementioned schools. Let us remember the festive celebration initiated by the members of the movement to mark the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Thus we began to hold national celebrations jointly with the secondary school students.
There were also activities with other kinim [plural of ken] in the area. There were summer camps, meetings, and conferences of the whole Volhyn District. In the course of time we were asked organize summer camps jointly with the whole district: the Shomer kinim from Sokol, Hrobshuv, Ludimir, Kovel and nearby towns (and students came to our summer camps even from ken Luck).
Standing from right: Bat Sheva Vider,__ _ Haznold [?] Ben Zion Bergman, Yissakher Shtern, Avraham Blum, Yehiel Birman, Yosef Feldaker, Me'ir Hirshhorn, Avraham Shtein, Tova Kovalsky, ___Weiner, Ben Zion Vender
These joint activities were carried out successfully and encouraged us to broaden our endeavors in the district. We established kinim in the nearby towns (Ostilug, Lutkts, Poditsk).
After the discussions in the movement on the subject of the future of HaShomer HaZa'ir (Keshishim), we began to widen the membership of the ken by accepting working youth. The leaders of the ken accepted the responsibility of helping its members to learn a productive trade and prepare for working life. The working members participated in the trade unions in town and organized a local hakhshara (Mansra Yohinzon.) In the course of time it joined with the district and provincial hakhasharot. At the same time, the members prepared for the forthcoming Aliya in the national Aliya groups that were established concurrently.
Tens of members of the ken immigrated to the Land of Israel. Some of them joined kibbutzim, and even those who did not, continued to be faithful to the ideals of the movement and its Zionist and pioneering values.
Many who remained behind, along with the Jewish masses, did not come to us or realize the dream and the vision which had been implanted during the many years of education and hakhshara. Their memories will remain with us forever.
|Ken of HaShomer HaZa'ir in Ludmir|
by Bezalel Rozenboim, Benei AtarotWilhelma
Translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz
Edited by Jack Bader
It seems as if it was only yesterday. I see before me boys and girls, full of life, looking toward the future. Dear young people, happy, in the flush of youth, who came to the ken when they were ten years old or older. Many of their parents were opposed to the Zionist movement. I remember how enthusiastically we worked for the KKL [Keren Kayemet leYisrael]. We competed with other movements in collecting money and won, and received the KKL flag. We participated in every Zionist activity in town.
We did all we could to strengthen the Yishuv [Jewish settlement] in the Land of Israel. We taught the value of loving others, helping our brothers, and acquiring the Hebrew language. The emphasis was on preparing for pioneering life in the Land of Israel. We participated in summer camps, learned about nature, and finally, many of our members from all over Poland went to hakhshara.
The hard work, malaria, hunger, and the Arab riots, did not frighten us. From a psychological point of view our youth was ready to face the challenges. We tried to make our way to the Land of Israel in any way we could, via legal or illegal immigration.
by Ozer Libers
Translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz
Edited by Jack Bader
The youth organization named for Yosef Trumpeldor, Beitar [Berit Trumperldor], in Ludmir was founded in 1927 by a group of young people who had left HaShomer HaLe'umi.
During the thirteen years of the movement's existence, it encountered many hardships along the way. During its first two years, its founders faced many obstacles, e.g. funding, organization, education, etc. It should be mentioned that the young people who joined Beitar came from the working class. Thus, the difficulties at its beginnings can be understood.
In 1928, the Zionist activist, Dr. Moshe Babtsuk, joined the movement and became its leader. Thanks to him the movement advanced by leaps and bounds. In 1930 some members left Beitar, headed by Yosef Goldberg, and founded Massada, which was also part of the National (Revisionist) movement. Dr. Babtsuk, whose title was Commissioner of Ken Beitar, was at its head for the 13 years of Beitar's existence in Ludmir.
As mentioned, Dr. Babtsuk's joining the movement helped it overcome the crisis of its first two years. A radical turning point occurred in 1931, when a stream of new blood entered with the inclusion of young people from traditional homes, graduates of Hebrew schools, who, after a short time, became leaders. The membership increased until it reached 200.
The main task of the movement was to prepare its members for Aliya to the Land of Israel. For this purpose hakhsharot were founded. The members of Ken Ludmir received their preparation in Klosov, Druhuak, Rokitna, and other places. At these hakhsharot the Beitar pioneers learned not only to cut down trees [i.e. agriculture] but also ideological and cultural values. In 1933 a hakhshara was founded in Ludmir where participants from nearby cities were trained. In the ken itself, where Dov Shraga headed the culture department in the early years, there were manifold cultural activities. Journals for youth were published in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish and distributed among students with great success. The first group of Beitar made Aliya to the Land of Israel. This event inspired all the members of the ken.
In 1934 there was a lag in the development of the movement. Beitar was part of the Revisionist Movement. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the President of the Revisionist Organization, was also the leader of World Beitar. Towards the end of 1934, the relationship between the Revisionists and the World Zionist Organiztion [WZO] worsened and the Revisionists broke away from the WZO, and founded the New Zionist Organization. As a result, the Jewish Agency stopped giving Beitar the meager number of certificates it had allocated in the past. The members who had been preparing in hakhsharot for one to two years were greatly disappointed by this act. This situation weakened the growth of the movement. But we recovered. The leadership passed into the hands of the younger people who had matured and were ready to accept these responsibilities. The break from the WZO brought about a radical transformation in Beitar's activities.
|A group of Beitar|
At the beginning the emphasis was on hakhsharot preparing for Aliya. (The Jewish Agency required all the hakhsharot of all the Zionist youth groups to be registered at the central Aliya offices, and from time to time conducted censuses in order to ascertain the number of people prepared for Aliya). After the Revisionists left the World Zionist Organizations, their hakhsharot were disbanded (anyway the WZO had not treated them fairly). The World Beitar Organization started searching for illegal ways to make Aliya. At the end of the thirties this effort was greatly expanded. After the hakhsharot were disbanded, Beitar did not stop preparing its members [for Aliya], but also added other goals. They were trained in selfdefense. These courses were organized with or without the knowledge of the Polish government. Beitar members from Ludmir also participated in these courses. The first to attend such a course was Avraham Amper, who had completed a course for teachers of selfdefense in 1934, under the direction of Captian Yirmiyahu Halprin, a member of the Supreme Command of World Beitar. When he returned from the course, Avraham Amper was appointed Chief of Leadership and he introduced a fundamental change in the movement. Although Dr. Babzuk continued as ken commander, he was not as active as in the past. The responsibility of leadership devolved to his second in command and to other leaders. Avraham Amper did not confine himself to Ken Beitar in Ludmir. Thanks to his energy and diligence he distinguished himself in many positions.
As I have mentioned, the major goal of the movement was to prepare its members for Aliya. They learned a wide range of skills, but their possibilities of Aliya were very limited. Up until 1934, Beitar received Aliya certificates from the Jewish Agency according to party allocations. Of course the percentage that Beitar received did not satisfy the needs of the movement where thousands of members had been through hakhsharot and were impatiently waiting to immigrate. In Ken Beitar Ludmir, there were about 40 people who had completed hakhshara and had been approved by the Jewish Agency, but only eight10 people received certificates. There was almost no Aliya from Beitar between 1934 and 1936. Illegal immigration started in 1936. About 50 people from Ludmir, half of them not even members of Beitar, were assisted by Beitar in illegal immigration. In the last two years before the war broke out, Beitar Ludmir was active in two areas: immigration and the preparation of cadres to join Etzel [Irgun Zvai Leumi] in the Land of Israel. Any member who could scrape together 600700 zlotys could immigrate. But sadly the majority of our members were poor, and the movement could not fund them all, and for this reason alone, many remained in Exile and their fate is well known.
Underground cells, to which not all members of Beitar belonged, were the major actors in preparing the cadres for Etzel. There were several cells with six to eight members each in Ludmir. On the eve of the war, the head of the cells was Moshe Shik who had been through an Etzel course. Ludmir also had the regional munitions depot with guns used for instruction, with Pesah Wagman in charge. After the incursion of the Russians, P. Wagman transferred the arms to a secret depot near his work place. A group of Beitar members, who had managed to leave the ghetto, wanted to gain access to the munitions, but a German sentry standing nearby prevented them from doing so. They died in the forests. (You will find more details about this event in the writings of the survivors of the ghetto.)
The youth organization Beitar was the strongest branch of the National Revisionist Movement. The leaders of the Ludmir branch during its last years were Shemuel Herlikh and Mordekhai Turtsnik.
Shemuel Herlikh was the chairman of the local movement as well as a member of the municipal council, a member of the Jewish community committee, and the chairman of the petty merchants of Ludmir. Mordekhai Turtsnik organized all of the activities of the Revisionist Movement and was its acting head. Beitar was assisted by the local Revisionist Movement. At the eve of the war, Yosef Piltsh was the head of Beitar. This gifted young man, who had only just begun his role as a community activist and educator, was chock full of ideas. But Fate decreed otherwise. Instead of carrying his ideas to fruition, he was the last leader of Beitar in Ludmir and remained in the ghetto with his charges, where he perished.
In September 1939, the Red Army marched into Ludmir. Jewish communal life came to a halt. Jewish life, and especially that of Zionist youth, shut down from day to day. Public life was paralyzed and Beitar Ludmir ceased to exist.
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