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[Page 72]

“HaNoar HaTzioni” [The Zionist Youth]

Lawyer M. Meiblum

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

When I come to review the events related to the establishment of the “HaNoar HaTzioni” in Brzezany at the end of the 1920s, the streets of the city float in front of my eyes as do the lake, houses, and people, particularly my friends with whom I spend the years of my childhood, the period of my high school and higher education studies.

During those days of the 1920s, Zionist movements were expanding in the towns and cities of Poland. Heated debates between the Zionists and those who objected to Zionism ensued. There were also many debates among the Zionists factions about the righteousness of each faction's path.

I recall that in May 1929, some of us - about 10 Jewish youths, took the high school matriculation exams. For a short moment, it seemed to us that we faced unlimited possibilities. However, we quickly realized that this was just an illusion.

The engineering and medical departments in the universities closed their gates to the Jews. Those departments that did open the gates every year were only the law and philosophy departments.

That resulted in a substantial surplus of Jewish lawyers who, after graduating, could not find places to train for the experience. It was hard, even for teachers, to find jobs; idleness, frustration, and despair became prevalent.

That inauspicious situation constituted a fertile ground for the growth of the Zionist movements, which began earnestly among the Jews in Galitsia, particularly when many youths joined in masses and began to think about making Aliyah to Eretz Israel.


The branch of “HaNoar HaTzioni”

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The elder group of the “HaNoar HaTzioni”

Sitting from left to right: Bashka Halperin, Isidor Laufer, Khana Feld, Fritz Katz, Etka Katz-Spirshtein, Leibush Froindlikh
The girls in the middle: Rotshtein, Froindlikh, Amarant
Standing from left to right: Mundek Schmidt, Mundek Glazer, Zalman Gelber, Visyo Fenster, unknown, Lulek Katz


My father, z”l, was an enthusiastic Zionist and an activist of the “HaMizrakhi” movement. We often talked about Zionism, in all its factions, and the settlement in Eretz Israel, in all its own problems. Indeed, just after the high school matriculation exams, I decided to join the Zionist movement to make Aliyah, which necessitated getting a certificate for immigration. That required joining one of the Zionist factions, participating in Hakhshara, and waiting for our turn to make Aliyah.

Several Zionist youth movements were active in Brzezany at that time. Every ideological bloc formed its own youth movement to prepare the future generation for Aliyah and settlement through education and practical training.

The youth movements of “HaShomer HaTzair”, “HeKhalutz”, and “Trumpeldor-Beitar” were previously established by the various Zionist factions. However, at that time, the general Zionist movement did not understand the importance of the activity among the youth and, as a result, did not form a general Zionist youth movement. Only a short time before I finished my studies at the high school, a general Zionist was founded in eastern Galitsia by the name of “HaNoar HaTzioni”. The movement announced then that there was no room for another flag over the blue-white one and that there was no need to add to the Zionist doctrine, on one side, various socialistic ideologies, which deviate in their cosmopolitan orientation from the natural national idea. On the other side, the militant revisionist faction was considered too extreme and divisive.

When I was in Lviv, I contacted Yitzkhak Steiger, the founder of the “HaNoar HaTzioni”, who tasked me to organize the branch of the movement in Brzezany. I turned to some friends who graduated high school with me, but they did not want to join, and most of them remained and perished in the Holocaust. Bela Feld-Danieli was the first person to cooperate with me in establishing the first groups in the branch: We succeeded in organizing several layers, most from the students of the high school, and others joined later, such that youths from every circle of life were represented.

We faced many problems; the students were forbidden from belonging to any Zionist youth movement as long as they studied in state schools; we had to operate secretly, and it was not easy to find a proper location for our activities. It was essential for the place to be located in a pure Jewish neighborhood; we did not receive any financial support from the center, and our members were obliged to pay a monthly fee to cover the expenses. We did not have guidebooks and had to prepare them ourselves as plans for discussions and other cultural activities.

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The branch expanded quickly. We rented several rooms in the “National Jewish House”, completed at that time. We gathered there for discussions, singing, and dancing in the afternoons and evenings. During Shabbat and holidays, we went hiking in the neighboring forests, sometimes in coordination with the branches from Ternopil, Rohatyn, Burshtyn, and other towns.

The youths who joined our ranks were imbued with Jewish and Zionist resolve and saw their future fulfilled in Eretz Israel. Unfortunately, only a few of us reached our homeland and thus survived the Holocaust.

I recall, even today, the debates about Zionism, Aliyah, and the way of life in Eretz Israel. We concluded that the best way is the “kibbutz” format. Debates ensued about the problems of a kibbutz, the commune life, and the integration into life in Eretz Israel. That was a beautiful period for me since I knew what I was doing was beneficial, which provided me with great satisfaction.

A year later, I moved to Lviv and, from there, made Aliyah. The branch leadership passed over to Shimon Bergman, Bela Feld, and Artek Klarer, all educated and skilled. They made our branch one of the best in the movement with their great vigor.

The “HaNoar HaTzion” [The Zionist Youth] Branch

Bela Feld-Danieli

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

The beginning of the movement was in eastern Galitsia in 1928. Immediately after that, it expanded throughout all parts of Poland. In western Galitsia, it was called “HaNoar HaMa'aravi” [“The Western Youth”] and in Congress Poland, - “HaShomer HaLeumi” [“The National Guard”].

A few years later, these factions united all under one roof with the name “HaNoar HaTzioni” [“The Zionist Youth”]. It found fertile ground for its ideas, even beyond the Polish borders. The movement encompassed tens of thousands of adolescents from elementary and high schools to universities, as well as working youths.

Brzezany was one town out of many in Galitsia, not unlike the others. The economic and social distress among the Polish Jews, and the antisemitism, brought upon various strange laws that further impoverished the Jewish masses. The “Numerus Clausus” did not allow the youths to study at higher education institutions. The high birthrate and the fact that the Polish industry was still in its infancy formed a bleak unemployment reality for the proud Jewish youth that aspired to greatness. The flames of the neighboring nations' nationalism reached Jewish youth, who established the “HaShomer HaTzair” youth movement in the first 1920; However, that movement deviated quickly from its initial ideas of being a broad framework for the entire Jewish youth. It became a socialistic-Zionist movement, closing its doors for those who did not abandon religion and tradition and those who did not believe in revolutions that encompass the whole world. The “HaNoar HaTzioni” movement was established from the bottom, by the youths themselves and not by the adult leaders of the Zionist movement, according to their ideological orientations (parties). Only a while later did the “HaNoar HaTzioni” join the “General Zionists” party. At its core, it was a protest movement against the leftism of the “HaShomer” and against the apathy of the adults who lived in an illusion that they would have a satisfying future in the diaspora.


The leadership of the summer camp in Pivnitzna, August 1927:
Herman Katz (in uniform), Laibush Froindlikh, and Isidor Laufer

[Page 75]

A ceremonial assembly for the dedication of the flag for the “HaNoar HaTzioni” branch – 1933


We were a pioneering organization aspiring to establish kibbutzim and moshavim [cooperative agricultural communities of individual farms] in Eretz Israel. However, the movement was not against Aliyah individuals such as students or craftsmen. Although the identifying mark was embedded in the Kibbutz movement and the pioneering spirit, many of our graduates elected their livelihood to come from private agriculture, free professions, trade, and industries.

Our branch in Brzezany was established in the same year the movement was founded, 1928. Our friend, Mendel Meiblum, today a lawyer in Haifa, brought the news to us. Together with him, we mobilized into action. The following people were among the founders: Dr. Yosef Frid, Shimon Bergman, the author of these lines, Avner Klarer, Reikhshtein, T. Veinshtein, T. Mirberg, Giler, N. Shvartz, Redlikh, Lehner, Polber, and Gusta Hertz-Shmushkin from Naryov (initiated the establishment of the branch in her town). Thanks to the vigorous actions of these founders, the branch strengthened and became a social center.

During the 1930s, under the leadership of the brothers Herman and Fritz Katz, Yitzkhak Laufer (Nagelberg), Leibush Froindlikh, and others, the branch developed, grew, and doubled in the number of members. The place at the community house was too small to contain everybody. We rented four rooms in the house of K. Erik on “Nowy Rynek” where the branch continued to operate until the break of the Second World War.

Many of our members perished in the Holocaust. Our member, Rozhka Meiblum, who survived the Holocaust, told about them and their lives in the ghetto, hideouts, among the partisans, and in the killing camps.

The branch of the “HaNoar HaTzioni” resembled a scouting youth movement in advocating a simple life, smoking-free life, trips to the surrounding forests, and participation in one of the many summer camps throughout Eastern and Western Galitsia and the Carpathian Mountains (including the high Tatar Mountains). The movement not only educated for Aliyah to Eretz Israel but also treated every young boy and girl as a human being to raise their human and moral values.

The movement strove to deepen the knowledge of its members in various areas of literature, science, history, and sociology. We put a particular emphasis on Jewish history and anything associated with Eretz Israel. The Zionist youth movement saved many youths from a life of idleness and vacuousness and recruited them to the struggle for the Zionist ideology. Special efforts were invested in teaching Hebrew. Thanks to that, when we made Aliyah, we felt equal to those who came before us, at least as far as language.

I can't complete this review of my memories without remembering our young members, who were killed in many unconventional ways in the Holocaust. I look at pictures sometimes, that eternalized us together, and I am conscious about the loss of the best of friends and relatives and anguish that we must live without them.

[Page 76]

“Beita'r” Movement in Brzezany

Shimon Bleiberg, David Fas, and Shlomo Riger

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Jane S. Gabin


“Beita'r” branch's leaders with a group of girls

From left to right, standing: D. Fas, Sh. Riger
Sitting: M. Mitelman, Sh. Bleiberg


The branch of “Brit Yosef Trumpeldor” [Yosef Trumpeldor's Covenant], or as it was later called by its Hebrew acronym – “Beita'r”, was organized in our city in 1929 by the members Ludvik Atlas, Shim'on Bleiberg, Solomon Braun, and Steshak Riger. Braun was also the first commander of the branch. The initiative for the organization came from our neighboring city of Rohatyn.

If we are not mistaken, it was the last Zionist youth movement branch established in Brzezany. Therefore, its capacity to recruit members during its first two years was limited but stable. The members who joined the branch came mainly from poor homes that struggled to make a living. Most of them did not have any skills or occupations. Some worked in the city, and others in the neighboring towns. We can say that their true occupation was the activity in “Beita'r's” branch. The “Beita'r” ideology unified them all and created a solid brotherhood that proved itself at times of need, unfortunately – too often. The branch always struggled with its finances since the membership fees were insufficient to cover the expenses. Because of that, we were forced to move from one place to another until we finally settled in the home of Mr. Fassel [?], a specious club on a central street. The winter days were the most demanding until we received free firewood from the sawmill at Potutory. Their support lasted several years.

We were enthusiastic and dedicated in hearts and souls to Ze'ev Jabotinsky's ideas – establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, and forming a Jewish legion for fulfilling that dream. That was why we accepted the offer by the Polish military to establish a premilitary Jewish company. We knew who our “partners” were, and there were heated debates about that subject. However, the view that we needed to train ourselves militarily prevailed. Looking back, it seems that the latter was the correct choice. Undoubtedly, only such big ideas could have excited the imagination of the youths, whose knowledge of their nation's history was quite limited, although, they were aware of the problems and troubles of the Jews and sometimes experienced them themselves. An educational activity among them was called a “discussion”, rather than teaching. That was conducted when a group of boys and girls of the same age gathered, most of the time - twice a week, for educational sessions under the guidance of the group leader. The main subject discussed in those gatherings was the pure Zionist idea, without the addition of any other ideology, regardless of how an exalted idea it represented. We thought the Zionist idea was sublime and meaningful enough to provide us with intellectual satisfaction. It seems that we have not erred. As proof, we note that even though the “Beita'r” branch consisted of poor youths who could have been influenced by promises of quick “salvation”, none left us to join an opposing anti-Zionist organization. If we are not mistaken, we were the only movement in that respect. That directly resulted from our education toward adherence to the Zionist idea and moral obligations.

Our spiritual nourishment to warm our hearts and strengthen our ideological inspiration were our discussions about Jewish history, the history of Zionism based on the book by A. Bohm, Palestinography [homeland lessons], “Beita'r's” pamphlets, particularly the Yiddish booklet “Di Beita'r Yungen Bavehgung” [Beita'r Youth Movement],

[Page 77]

selections from the Yiddish literature, and to the best of our ability, other topics associated the Jewish society.

We were very sensitive to the troubles of the Jewish people. They touched our hearts. I recall that we organized the boycott against Nazi Germany and German products and movies. In one case, the Starosta [district governor] himself threatened us to cease our “anti-state activities.”

Most of the discussions were conducted in Yiddish. In that aspect, we seemed to be different from other organizations, where the dominant language was Polish. In our national instinct, we felt that Yiddish was the language of the Jewish people in the diaspora for a thousand years and a language that united us all. Another reason for our devotion to Yiddish was that most of us came from “Amkha” [simple people of the Jewish masses], who did not really need to use the state language. Two Yiddish newspapers had a substantial influence on us. In the beginning, it was the “Heint” [Today], and later on, “Der Moment” [The Moment], both published in Warsaw. We read those newspapers, and in actuality, we studied their entire content. To be precise, we received just copy, which was passed from one person to another. You can guess what remained of the newspaper at the end of the day.

A few “Beita'r's” members took Hebrew curses in the local Jewish school. They knew to write and speak a little in Hebrew. We pronounced the following Hebrew words fluently: “sikha” [discussion], “hakhshara” [training], “ezra” [aid], “akh” [brother], “kvutza” [group], “tzav” [decree], “makhoz” [district], “medina” [state], “galil” [province], “netzivut” [commission], etc. Nevertheless, even though we were attached to Yiddish, the “cultural” language of some of the members, mainly the girls, was Polish.

We established a significant library, mainly in Polish, that served not only the members of “Beita'r” or the Revisionist Zionists but also regular people who could borrow a book every evening for pennies. Some borrowed books for free because they did not have a zloty for the monthly borrowing fee. It goes without saying that the library work, or for that matter, any other work, was done voluntarily. Today it sounds unbelievable! This is the place to mention our friend, Mordekhai Mitelman, who administrated the library dedicatedly for many years.


A group of “Beita'r” members in uniforms with their weapons

[Page 78]

We also tried our hands at a dramatic activity (obviously we did not intend to compete with the successful and accomplished drama club). The late Veisbeg encouraged us in that area. He was an educated man who had experience in dramatic direction. We vaguely recall a play in our community house, in which our member, Shalom Ginsberg, may G-d avenge his blood, played the main character.

The various Zionist youth movements collaborated in activities for KKL-JNF and “Ezra” [Aid]. We considered the work to benefit the JNF in the spirit of its slogan, “Geulah Titnu LaAretz” [Give redemption to the land – VaYikrah 25:24]. We ran around the town every month, to empty the fund's [blue and white] boxes. We should not forget that most of the donors were families who were not wealthy. We also worked dedicatedly for the “Ezra” organization headed for many years by Dr. Vilner. The methods used in soliciting donations were very original: from donation bowls on Yom Kippur Eve to contributions at family festivities. The “Ezra” organization supported poor pioneers by financing their Aliyah expenses. We considered it an important activity to collect money for that purpose. As far as we know, none of the “Beita'r' s” members who made Aliyah required assistance from “Ezra.”

We did not lose in the competition of collecting monies for the KKL-JNF. That was a worthy competition that yielded results. Over the years, including in our time, people ridiculed the rattling of the coins in the [Blue and white] box and the “Shnor” [begging for money]. We, on the other hand, considered that holy work. Selling the “Zionist Shekel” [certificate of membership in the Zionist Organization, given to every Jew who paid annual membership dues] was another competition. We took first place in selling the “Zionist Shekel” toward the 18th Zionist Congress, although we were the poorest organization. We took pride in winning that competition and regret the quarreling between us [the Revisionist Zionists] and the Zionist Union and the KKL-JNF [following the 18th Zionist Congress]. This is not the place to explain the reasons for that quarrel, however, one thing was certain - the Zionist ideology was the essence of our lives. “Beita'r” comradeship prevailed in our branch. It was enough for somebody from another city to visit our club for us to make sure the visitor was taken care of. We had dear friends in the neighboring towns with whom we corresponded and met often, mainly at conferences. We loved those conferences where we listened attentively to the lecturers and conducted vigorous debates. Friendships and relations were developed at these conferences. The preparations, the gatherings, and the subsequent analysis provided subjects for discussions and material for endless deliberations and activities.

The desire to conquer the heart of every Jewish youth for “Beita'r's” ideology was tenacious. Whoever succeeded in organizing a new “Beita'r” branch in our surrounding areas should have been proud of fulfilling a commandment of the first order, as we considered it then. Great and active Beita'r branches were organized in that way in the villages of Lipitsa, Gorna, Kuzhni, and Bzhokhovitsa. We organized events there, such as conferences, visits, and parties to strengthen their branches. We can't omit mentioning some of the projects of our branch, although it was not a strong branch. In one of the years, we organized a summer camp in Bzyaten. “Beita'r” members from several branches in the Ternopil District gathered there. We spent about three to four pleasant weeks immersing ourselves in beautiful nature. One of our organizational work records was the counselors' course in the Rurika forest near the village of Ulkhovtsa. Only the best of the Ternopil District's Beita'r members were allowed to participate in that course. The course was managed by counselors from Warsaw. At its completion, we organized one of the most impressive spectacles. We remember that evening, which left a big and pleasant impression on all of us, as a huge success.

The hunger for making Aliyah was enormous. It seemed that if the number of certificates available for the Brzezany branch would have been equal to the number of members, we would have probably closed the Beita'r branch and made Aliyah as a group. This is not the place to describe how hopeless our life in our city was. There was nothing we could have hoped for there. Beita'r members went to Hakhshara kibbutzim, often to faraway places such as Volhynia and various locations in Galitsia, mostly in sawmills.

[Page 79]

In a later period, we organized four Hakhshara kibbutzim in Brzezany itself, in the cellars and attic of the local community house. We recall the substantial effort required to find work for our pioneers. Hakhshara kibbutzim were also organized in Nartov, Kozova, and Bzovkhovitsa (in the last two years, only agricultural work).

We should note that the criterion for distributing the Aliyah certificates among the various movements was the number of pioneers in the Hakhshara kibbutzim. Looking back, we can surely say that the educational value of these camps was enormous. People learned to work in hard manual work! The joyous social life, economic distress, and lack of work or manual work while dreaming of a different and just life in Eretz Israel unified us and taught us an essential lesson. We understood the [Ravina's] song” “[Anu Banu Artza] LiVnot VeLehibanot Bah” [“We came to the land to build it and to be built”] literally, even though our opponents claimed that our movement was not sufficiently pioneering. We were sure in our righteousness. We believed in fulfilling the Zionist idea in the spirit of “Beita'r splendor” [in Hebrew Hadar- Jabotinsky's concept], based on which we were educated and tried to live. We took the expression “Beita'r splendor to mean a person who tries to live by orderly social life, is balanced, considerate of others, particularly in times of need, willing to scarify his comfort for the greater good, and tries to always give a thoughtful and serious response. Perhaps we did follow strictly, what was demanded of us, or perhaps we unknowingly distorted some concepts. However, we are sure that this education “penetrated our bones”. For example, the issues of punctuality and fulfillment of obligations. That education sustained us for many years. Even though the political views of some of us may have changed over time, we kept our basic attitudes.

In these notes collected from memories, which may be inaccurate, we did not mention the names of our friends and brothers. They perished along with the rest of our city residents, including our families. We loved and appreciated all of them. Every time we meet with the survivors, we bring up, again and again, countless times, the memory of the good and innocent people who did not live to see the fulfillment of their dream. May these lines serve as the gravestone for their holy memory.


“Beita'r” branch in Brzezany


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