« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 54]

“HaShomer HaTzair” [The Young Guard]

by Dr. Eliezer Shaklai

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

All the Zionist activities, among them those of “HaShomer” [The Guard], which in our city was founded and was active during 1916 – 1920, ceased upon the entrance of the Polish army by a decree forbidding any political activity. In the winter of 1921 – 1922, a few friends, most of whom were high school students, met by chance - or perhaps not by chance. In a discussion at that meeting, we decided to establish a club of Jewish youths and to meet once a week. The objectives were to exchange opinions, have free discussions and lectures, and spend time together.

Even though we did not emphasize Zionism in our meetings, we felt that we continued the path of “HaShomer,” and the subjects we chose for the lectures were all about Jewish issues or topics associated with Eretz Israel. The club was intimate and limited in numbers. We did not aspire to widen our activity or recruit additional members. The members were: Peled, Viser, Kampel, Frid, myself, and a girl student, Selka Tzeig.

Two additional students joined from our high school class in Pidhaytsi [Podhaitza] – Kestenbaum and Orenshtein (later Matzik Oren from Kibbutz Mizrah. Emissaries from the “HaKibbbutz HaArtzi” [The Socialist Kibbutz movement] appeared in many cities in Galitsia at that time. They organized the Socialist youth movement “HaShomer HaTzair” with a central leadership team in Lviv. When we heard about that movement, we decided on the following meeting to join it. We contacted the leadership team in Lviv and received propaganda material with detailed instructions on organizing and expanding our activity; that gave us - the members of the club - a new direction and a clear objective for the future, to prepare ourselves for a new life, a commune life, in Eretz Israel. We knew then where we were going and what our goal was.


BILU[1] group on 5.16.1926

[Page 55]

A battalion of “HaShomer HaTzair” – 1929


We doubled our activity and dedicated most of our time to it. We changed the word “club” to “group” – the first group of “HaShomer HaTzair,” and we called it “HaTkhiya” [The Revival]. Our activity was oriented in two directions. We met every evening to listen to lectures and study Hebrew, Israeli geography, and settlement history. On the other hand, we did not neglect the organizing work to expand our activity outside the group and establish a branch of “HaShomer HaTzair.” We met with students from the younger classes of the high school and organized them under our leadership. We founded separate groups for girls and boys. Orenshtein led the first group of girls, and Peled headed the first group of boys. Over time our branch grew and contained several other groups led by the rest of our group members.

Our next step was to find a meeting place for all of us. We rented the cellar from Yehuda Vilner (we did not have a lot of money). It was a small room, neglected and dark. We made it into a warm and pleasant place, full of life and singing. The lectures were usually held in the home of one of the group's members and, in the summer, outdoors. In the evenings, we gathered to listen to a lecture, and following that, we sang and danced until the late hours of the night when the neighbors kicked us out for disturbing their rest. In the summer, we went out for hikes in the forests in the area. On those outings, several groups met at a preplanned location, where we lingered for games, singing, and dancing. We came back home late in the evenings.

Our branch grew by the day, and our influence was felt within the entire city. It was no longer possible to hide the existence of our movement from the regime, and it became dangerous to continue in this way. Because in other places, permits were already obtained, we decided to submit a request to the local authorities to approve our Zionist activity. Dr. Shlomo Glazer and Dr. Shomer signed the appeal as the people responsible for the movement.

[Page 56]

They advised us to obtain additional signatures from some of the city's prominent people to strengthen and accelerate the handling of our appeal. After some considerations and hesitations, Peled and I went to see Dr. Ravitz, a known lawyer favored by the regime for being non-Zionist, to ask him for his signature. When we read our petition to him, he responded as we had envisioned before the meeting. He admonished and cursed us and asked me whether it was in honor of my father that I was dealing with such nonsense. However, when he finished reading, he went to his desk and, to our surprise, signed the petition using clear letters and even added a few words of recommendation. Because of his signature, it became easier to obtain additional signatures from other city's prominent people. A few weeks later, we became a movement officially recognized by the regime.

The results of our work among the Jewish youths were fruitful, apparent, and favored. Following the destruction of the war years [1914-1918], our Jewish life was revived, renewed, and changed for the better. Our influence was felt in the street and at home. Hebrew songs and words were sung in the streets, and the blue box with the azure-white sign hung in every Jewish home. Zionism, which until then resided in the hearts of only a few, took hold and became practical and widely accepted. The slogan [of HaShomer HaTzair] – “Khazak ve'Ematz” [Be Strong and of Good Courage], and the anthem of the HaShomer movement - “We rise and sing” was heard in all corners of the city. Interest in what was happening in Eretz Israel strengthened by the day, including among the adults.

The youth brought a new life to the general Zionist activity in the city. We participated in all the activities and work associated with Zionism, such as KKL-JNF, “Keren HaYesod” [United Israel Appeal], and “Ezra” [Help]. We emptied the KKL-JNF boxes each month, collected donations at weddings and other joyous gatherings, and prepared the halls for lectures and other events, such as 20 Tamuz (usually the big synagogue). I vividly recall when we decorated the great synagogue in preparation for the public gathering that celebrated the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Other movements followed us and contributed their part, but we were the first. We invested substantial energy, faith, goodwill, and most of our free time in that work. More than once, I neglected my school studies in favor of “HaShomer” due to a trip, lecture, or urgent Zionist work.


“HaShomer HaTzair” branch in Brzezany

[Page 57]

The summer camp, the district of Brzezany-Ternopil, 5687 [1927]


The first summer camp

In the spring of 1923, our leadership decided to organize a summer camp, among forests and fields, for the youth from the area's cities, in one of the neighboring villages. We were determined to realize that decision and rolled up our sleeves to fulfill it. As a first step, we contacted the rest of the surrounding area members to coordinate the preparations, select a location, and develop a detailed plan for each branch. Those preparations required a substantial amount of our time and effort. We did not have the experience or even an example we could have followed, and had to discuss every detail. We divided the work amongst ourselves, and each one of us dedicated ourselves to the project with our hearts and soul. Above all of these difficulties that we faced, came the objections by the parents. They could not accept the plan and the unheard-of fact that boys and girls would be going to the same camp, living and spending time together for four weeks, without the supervision of adults. They did not understand the pure spirit, aspirations, and roadmap of our youths. We visited with every single parent (ours and our students), persuaded, and promised all sorts of promises to supervise, take care of, and responsibly handle everything – until we won their hearts, and they relented; indeed, we kept all our promises.

Besides our members, youths from Rohatyn, Pidhaitsi [Podhitza], and Kozova participated in that camp. That was the first time we met with youths from other locations. We had a unique plan for each day, and taking into account changes in the weather, we prepared alternative plans for rainy days. We woke up early in the morning. Following a run and exercise, we ate breakfast. After breakfast, we had a trip, lecture, or game. The noon hour was dedicated to resting. There was also a detailed program for the afternoons. The programs were conducted at regular hours. As in any other camp, kids played practical jokes, using all sorts of pranks, for the enjoyment of everyone. That may have cost those who were pranked some precious sleeping time, for both standing guard and taking revenge, but all such activities were done within the agreed-upon guidelines and under strict supervision. The camp succeeded beyond any expectation, despite the lack of experience. It was an unforgettable affair for anybody who participated in it, and in its wake, know-how, experience, and tradition were gained for many years to come.

[Page 58]

The “Tkhiya” group

Kampel and Selka Tzeig left the branch, already in the beginning. Selka, for personal reasons, and Kampel for ideological reasons (his views moved more to the left). Mordekhai Orenshtein was forced to leave our school in the summer of 1923. The school management expelled him because of an offense they considered severe. The following is the story: Kampel prepared the homework for some non-Jewish students in our class and received 5 zloties from each one as a donation for KKL-JNF. When the school's management found out about it, they put him on trial and expelled him as a punishment. As a result, he transferred to the Hebrew high school in Lviv.

When we completed the matriculation exams in 1924, we had to plan our next steps and fulfill our main objective – making Aliyah. We had to consider whether we join the effort of building our homeland as kibbutz members. We passed the branch's leadership role to the younger generation, and they willingly accepted the burden of continuing the work that we started. Peled was the first to go to Hakhshara [an agricultural training for Aliyah candidates] at a farm. He stayed there until the fall months. He suffered from a crisis - he became lonely as he did not have any branch friends there. After mental and physical misgivings and hesitation, he decided to continue his studies in Prague and went to study medicine. But the young leadership team members did not forgive him for that and expelled him from the movement.

Kestenbaum and Rutenberg registered at the university after completing their matriculation exams and by doing so, turned their back on the movement. The young members considered that a betrayal and expelled them from the branch. Those who remained began to prepare themselves mentally and physically for Aliyah. We faced a long winter and used that time to establish a group and prepare its members for the mission ahead of us. That included studying Hebrew and discussing life at a kibbutz, with all the problems associated with that kind of life.

We went out for the Hakhshara in the spring of 1925. Viser and I, the last ones who remained from our original group, were among to first to go. We were accompanied by Shalom Tzimerman and Shpitzen and the female members – Fenster, Bomze, Selka Shapira, Yona Rizer, Rakhel Hibler, Regina Ast, and Khayut. The central leadership team chose the place of the Hakhshara for us at a large farm owned by a Jewish family named Albin. The farm was located far from the area's villages and had only a few houses, in which the permanent workers and their families, altogether about 30 people, resided throughout the year. There, we met people from similar Aliyah groups from other places, such as Drohobych, Borislav, Krakow, and other cities from Western Galitsia. All of these groups were slated to establish kibbutzim in the future.

Even before we started to work, already on the first day, we suffered a painful loss: one of our best members and the most beloved by all, Vizer became seriously ill, and his fever rose. We transported him immediately to the hospital in the neighboring city of Chortkiv [Chortkov], but he never returned. He died from tuberculosis. May his memory be blessed!

There is plenty to tell about the six months of communal life at the farm. There was substantial mental and physical training in preparation for real communal life, with all the good and the bad in them. We experienced many problems, and some were quite difficult. We assembled in the evenings, after a long work day, and brought them up for discussion. We argued and tried to tackle and solve them the best way we could; we succeeded. We removed many of them from our path, some of which were our doings.

[Page 59]

Altogether we were about 60 people. Our first act was to create a commune – each person brought clothing and personal items from home. We collected all of that into a single general storage; however, mentally, we were not ready for that, and each one of us felt connected to our own property. The same was true in the issue of work allocation. There were all sorts of jobs: in the field, kitchen, yard, jobs on rainy days, and more. There were also problems associated with the kitchen and food: how to prepare it, who would bring the food to our people working in the field. A daily problem was the rotation of the cooking duty. The cook of one day did not want to prepare the necessary ingredients for the next day. We resolved that problem by me taking it upon myself to manage the kitchen for the entire month. The living conditions were adequate for the summer months. The attic of a huge cowshed was allocated to us as our quarters. We arranged ourselves easily on the two sides along the length of the attic, leaving a wide space in between for gatherings and dancing, which were always held on Friday nights and holidays and sometimes even during regular days. On the Eve of the Shavu'ot holiday, we danced until the morning. Apart from the cows beneath us, we did not disturb anybody. Some members wanted to show off their energy and did not stop dancing until they fell and fainted; we had to call a physician from the neighboring city in the morning to help them.

During the work in the field, we sang Hebrew and Hassidic songs, and the Gentiles, who worked with us, learned the melodies and even lyrics and helped us in singing. One can only imagine the response of the Jews in the area, who heard the melodies, and sometimes even the lyrics (including those of the rabbi from Chrotkov) sung by Gentiles.

We went back home in the fall and waited for a notice from the leadership concerning the approval of our Aliyah. In the meantime, two group members dropped out – Shpitzen and myself. As far as myself - the truth was that I never found satisfaction in working in agriculture, for instance walking the whole day behind the plow or pulling out sugar beets. I considered agricultural work slow, monotonous, and automatic. During the Hakhshara, I was always looking to work with my hands on something associated with thinking and being independent, such as carpentry, kitchen work, or work in the yard.

After completing the Hakhshara, I faced the need to make a decision! “Do I continue with the path I chose for myself and overcome difficulties, despite my inner resistance to working in agriculture, or should I change direction and try my luck in continuing my studies?” I decided that, sooner or later, I would see myself outside of the movement and that it was better to decide about leaving now. With a heavy heart, I chose what I chose even though I didn't possess a strong inclination for studies, but I had to decide.

They expelled me from the movement as a traitor, just as they did for others. Those who did it turned to me a year later, and they, too, joined the ranks of medical students. Despite that, we remained connected in our hearts and souls to the “HaShomer HaTzair” Movement. Only a while later people chose a movement [and party] close to their heart.

The rest of the people in the group made Aliyah. Some of them reside today in the kibbutzim of “HaShomer HaTzair.” Others transferred to the cities and continued to build their lives in their homeland.

Despite the departures, the movement in our city grew year after year. Before the Second World War, it consisted of hundreds of youths, some of whom made Aliyah, and they are in Israel with us.

Translator's footnote:

  1. BILU is the acronym of the Hebrew words from the Book of Exodus: “Speak unto the children of Israel that they will go forward.” Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Berezhany, Ukraine     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 02 Jul 2023 by JH