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[Page 817]

Alexandrov[1] and Dobzhin on the Banks of the Vistula[2]

(Aleksandrów Kujawski, Poland)
52°52' N, 18°42'
  (Dobrzyń nad Wisłą, Poland)
52°39' 19°20'

by Dov Shachari

Translated from Hebrew by Relly Coleman

Alexandrov's first and correct name was: “Trojanów”[3] - a sign with this name hung on one of the streets. The name Alexandrov comes from the name of the nearest train station. Until the First World War in 1914, this railway station was a border station with Germany and because of its importance, it was named after the Russian Tsar Alexander. According to Russian law, Jews were not allowed to live near this train station. However, since the place held promised of good business opportunities, Jews purchased from the area's nobleman and landowner, Trojanów, for a considerable amount of money, permission to establish on his land, at some distance from the station, a settlement that would bear his name. This settlement developed and became a Jewish town where the main source of income of its inhabitants was based on trade and other businesses related to the border station. The livelihood was plentiful and the situation of the Jews was good.

After the end of World War I, with the defeat of Germany and the establishment of independent Poland, the border was moved west and the beautiful and spacious train station Alexandrov remained as a reminder of times gone by. Without sources of income, the land slipped from under the feet of the Jews of the town, and they were left hanging on the edge, laden with families, children, and concern for their existence.

The young people who grew up during this period found before them a town living in its past and parents who were anxious. There were teenagers who made their way to Pomorze[4] to try their luck and settle there, but they were few. Most of them stayed in town without seeing in it a future for themselves.

We, the members of the “HeHalutz”, came to nearby Halnovek[5] and made contact with several families in the city and especially with the youths of these families (I remember only one of them and that is the Rotenberg[6] family, which owned an agricultural and iron tools store). Every evening, young men and women came to us to Halnovek - a distance of a few kilometers on a dirt road – and participated with us in conversations about Eretz Israel, in reading the newspapers from Israel, in singing songs, and so on, until the late hours.

On Saturdays, we would again be invited to the town, and together with the young people we spent time in conversations and so on. At the head of this operation of cultivating friendships and close ties were Avraham Wislfish[7] and Tova Markowitz[8], and they did succeed in their work - with the help of all of us - among the young people as well as in the hearts of their parents. A core group[9] was established and it grew to become a chapter of the Eretz Israel HaOvedet movement in town.

Unlike Alexandrov, Dobrzyn nad Wisla was a typical Jewish town, much like any other Jewish town. A few streets with the market in the center. The town stands high up on the right-hand bank of the Vistula. For most days of the year, access to the town is via the ships that sail on the Vistula. In the winter, the town is almost completely cut off from the world (apparently this did not worry the town's Jews too much). The Jews' livelihood was based on the “market days” and the surrounding villages and farmers.

Every morning before dawn, thin smoke wrestles out of the chimneys of the low houses, most of whose roofs are made of straw, and at dawn low doors open with a soft creak and figures emerge like shadows.

[Page 818]

Everyone is carrying something on his back. These are the Jews of the town who go on their rounds of the surrounding villages, each with his wares and trade. One is a glazier - a box of glass on his shoulders and a bundle of tools in his hands, another with a sack on his shoulder and it's not hard to discern what its contents are. And so go the third and fourth and fifth. Out they go to bring livelihood to their families. In the evening, when the sun has gone down, they return, sometimes laden with “finds,” a few potatoes, eggs, or other agricultural produce, and their families are eagerly waiting for them at the doors of their houses. At times, a tradesman may stay in the village for a few days and does not return until his work is done.

And the youth? In his bed he hears his father leaving at dawn to roam the villages. He catches his mother's sigh after her husband leaves, his mind troubled by thoughts: will such be his life too? Is this the future that awaits him? This life does not enchant him. He does not want it. The awakening and unrest that has been going on in the world since the war, all the lofty ideas that surfaced, bubbled up and came with the wave of revolutions, reached his village and he clung to them and to all the progress and benefits they promise. Will they also be for him, or will it all be denied to him?

Thoughts like these were on the minds of young people from many Polish towns, including Dobrzyn nad Wisla.

Our arrival in town every Saturday afternoon as well as on Sundays, when we were free from work with the farmers, stirred great interest among the Jewish youth there. Many soon saw in our ideas - the idea of the “pioneer”[10], training, and immigration to Eretz Israel - a way and a solution to their situation. A core of young men and women began to gather around us, and some of them even joined our training out of a desire for practical fulfillment - something that seemed strange to their fathers. Among the first to join our training was Avraham Gernitz[11], an energetic and enterprising young man, mature and perceptive, who had already tried and tasted a life of work and life in the big city. This apparently did not go well and therefore he understood better the suffering of his town's young people. He worked hard to entice them to “HeHalutz.” He immigrated to Israel at the beginning of the fifth Aliyah[12] and is now in Tel Aviv.

Other friends from Dobrzyn I remember are: Czarnobroda, the lion of the group, a man of both action and ideas, a doer, who executes and carries the burden of activities here and is respected by the young and old alike, and immigrated to Israel with the Fifth Aliyah; the widow Feld and her sons and daughters, whose house, or rather their tea house in the marketplace served as a meeting place and in the beginning a place for our activities – and all this done with a warm, kind attitude and help that came from being sympathetic to our ideas; Fardel Yilov[13], one of the first and most active members of the core group, motivated many girls and enticed them to join the movement, up until she herself immigrated to Israel with the Fifth Aliya. There were other friends whose names, unfortunately, were forgotten, and no doubt, quite a few of them are with us in Israel.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. אלכסנדרוב Aleksandrów Kujawski Return
  2. Dobrzyn nad Wisla Return
  3. דרויאנוב -  (Polish name: until 1879 Trojanów, 1879-1919 Aleksandrów Pograniczny, later Aleksandrów Kujawski) Return
  4. פומוז׳ה in Polish Pomorze (in German Pomerania - פומרניה) Return
  5. הנובק – a spelling error. Should be הלנובק, an estate owned by the Ehrenreich (אהרנרייך) family, which allowed HeHalutz to establish an agricultural training location on their estate. Return
  6. רוטנבר Return
  7. ויסלפיש Return
  8. מרקוביץ Return
  9. גרעין - a core group of young Zionists that held activities together. Some moved to Israel and established a kibbutz together. Return
  10. החלוץ Return
  11. גרניץ Return
  12. The fifth wave of Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine. It took place between 1929-1939 Return
  13. פרדל ילוב Return

 

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