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[Page 129]

The Shomer Branch on Leshniovska Street

by Sonya Katzman-Vinogradov

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafael Manory

It is not easy to describe the sights of a Jewish town in eastern Poland—to tell about the young girls and boys of Brody the way they are etched in the heart and memory of a 70-year old woman, for whom the hardships of six wars have left their marks on the soul and body. However, there is the will to document, to remember and to be remembered, and by doing that, build a memorial for the young lives that were standing at the outset of their road when, all of a sudden, everything was ripped apart by a storm—here it was, and then there is no more. You would never again hear these young voices, singing, debating, raising wishes or weaving dreams. The fluid conversation in Leshniovska Street would never be heard again, the conversation of these noisy youths walking arm in arm, with a youthful joy bursting out from of their being. The youths flowed, marched toward the activities center of Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair”[1] in Brody. A few years before the war broke out, the branch moved to a building that was a former an animal-hair processing factory, owned by the Landau family. Their older daughter, a graduate of “Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair” made Aliya to Eretz Israel, and fulfilled her aspirations in Kibbutz Merkhavia. Her parents agreed to lease the factory buildings, including the big hall and the spacious yard to the local branch of Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair” for a symbolic fee, and by doing that allowed the branch to provide its members the opportunity of enjoying many diversified activities. During the nineteen thirties, most of the Jewish youth was organized with Zionist youth movements. The larger and the most active movement was “Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair”, which I was fortunate to be one of its members. The Shomer branch was teeming with youths, boys and girls, from the young age of ten. The branch graduates, went to a Hakhshara[2] camp . Some made Aliya to Eretz Israel, while the rest looked for every possible way, or a crack in the system, that would allow them to reach Eretz Israel.

During the years 1938–1939 our Shomer battalion—“The Shimshons”, which consisted of a boys group and a girls group, took upon itself the principal burden of managing the branch. At the time, there were 12 girls in the “Lahav” group, of which I was a member. Only two survived the war. During the last few years before the war tremendous tensions prevailed in Europe, and especially in Poland. However, even that tension, the rampant antisemitism and the difficult economic conditions of the Jewish community, could not brake the joy of life of the Jewish youths who went on with their day-to-day life. That joy of life was bursting out from the Shomer branch and radiated light and warmth on the entire surroundings.

In the evenings, singing voices, of the distant Eretz Israel's songs, broke through from the windows of the branch. We lived in a harsh and dark reality, but our spirit and thoughts were there, far away …Our entire being was filled with plans about the world of tomorrow. The dream that we weaved in the Shomer branch filled our heart with faith and hope. It was astonishing as to how we, boys and girls at the age of adolescence, succeeded to form another world in our spirit during those testing days, when the sky was already covered by dark clouds predicting the approaching storm.

[Page 130]

Alongside the singing, the dancing and the vibrant social activities, diverse learning and educational activities, as well as ideological and scouting activities took place at the Shomer branch. We studied the geography of Eretz Israel, “Palestinography” it was called in those days. In our mind, we traveled the length and breadth of Eretz Israel. We climbed the Galilee Mountains, we crossed the Jezreel Valley, we dipped in the See of Galilee and followed the Jordan River through its entire length from its sources to the Dead Sea. We did all of that using books and maps, but the images and landscapes stretched in front of as if they were real. We studied Borokhov's[3] ideology and were convinced that we can turn the Jewish nation's pyramid upside down, with our own hands, so that the Jewish people returning to Eretz Israel will stand on a solid base consisting of a class of workers, farm, industry and construction workers. We studied psychology, sociology, socialist ideologies and more. Important subjects at the top of the world agenda occupied the branch members. We discussed the issues faced by a boy or girl at the beginning of their adolescence. The frank and open teaching by the instructors have eased the discomfort the youths experience at that age. We attributed great importance to the Shomer commandments[4], to their fulfillment in one's life and to faithful adherence to them. They are etched in my memory to this day.

We were taught to adhere to values such or self-fulfillment, preservation of justice in the humane society, faithfulness to one's nation and more. These values were, in our eyes, supreme moral imperatives, and therefore we wanted to live by them and to educate future generations to abide by them.

The Shomer branch was teeming with youths during almost every evening. We came to sing, dance or play even when there were no scheduled battalion or group activities. The Shomer branch played major roles in the life of Brody youths. It served as a shelter from the surrounding world and was a stimulus for the imagination, a source for dreams, faith and love of the nation and its homeland.

In 1939 we, the 17-, 18- and 19-years old boys and girls, served as the counselors and leaders of the younger age groups. We swore to keep allegiance, in Leshniov forest, when we pass from one layer (age group) to another, and the echo of our call was carried out to far away distances – “Shomrim – be strong![5]” The forest served as a field for all sorts of scouting activities – getting around and being able to navigate in the area, initiative, overcoming fear and mutual aid. In that forest, our battalion, the Shimshons, took upon itself the leadership of the branch. The start of the war found us with this responsibility, on 1 September 1939. All the frameworks were shuttered during one single day. Smoke covered our town within one hour. Fire from above and thundering guns from below turned our lives into a huge flame. According to the Molotov–Ribbentrop agreement, Brody became a Russian city. This is how we earned another two years of living like human beings. The members of the branch turn and spread in many directions. Some wandered to the Soviet Union, but most remained with their parents in Brody.

The Germans invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Brody was conquered a week later in one day. Many of the branch members still lived in the city. Only a very few survived and were saved.

Throughout the hell that engulfed us during the German conquest, everybody fought the battle of staying alive on his or her own. There were periods of deep despair, when giving up, surrendering and ending one's life seemed the most suitable solution; however, the survival instinct triumphed. Even when there was no hope at all, when the powers of the body and the soul were exhausted, a flicker remained and this is what kept us alive.

[Page 131]

Today, several decades later, when I try to understand our situation then, it seems to me that we were helped by two sources of power:

  1. One source of power was rooted in the belief that it was worthwhile to fight, because we had a goal to fight for. In his book: “A Man's Search for a Meaning”, the psychologist Victor Frankl[6], himself a Holocaust survivor, writes that “if one has what to live for—everything is possible”.
  2. A second source of power were a few good people, humans, whom I found on my arduous road, during critical minutes and situations. These people extended their hands to help me.

I was liberated on 22 July 1944. My physical and emotional situation were very difficult. We were liberated by the Russians. They treated us humanely. Two Russian officers of Jewish descent found us, and they did everything in their power to help us.

The first spark that helped us stand tall and erect again was a group of Jewish children that were on the verge of oblivion when we found them. We gathered them on the streets, we collected those who came out of their hideouts, we took them out of Christian homes, smuggled them out of monasteries and established children homes. The resolve we had to help them recuperate and bring them to Eretz Israel helped us overcome all the difficulties.

The baggage we acquired in our youth at the Shomer branch has directed our steps and actions, knowingly or unknowingly.

After our liberation, I started to search and gather the remnants of the Shomer pioneering youth. What united us was one goal—to leave the land of Poland, a land soaked in blood and go. We had a place to go to. The direction was very clear and unambiguous—Eretz Israel. By helping others, I helped myself.

And now some personal words:

For the hell that surrounded me during the four years of the German conquest, I did find some points of light. One of them was Tadeusz Zak. Tedik arrived in Brody with his father in 1935. His mother passed away a few years earlier and his father married Mrs. Pipel. During the Soviet rule, his father was sent to Siberia.

Tedeusz Zak very actively saved Jews. I was one of the people he saved through self-sacrifice. He spent a lot of effort to save my mother, but to my sorrow, the Ukrainians murdered her and another 35 Jews from Brody on 6 May 1943. May their memory be blessed.

Tedeusz Zak passed away in Warsaw from a heart attack, in 1981. He left a wife, a son and three grandchildren.

He was not recognized officially as a Righteous Among Nations[7] despite the fact that he deserved to be recognized because what he did and because of his personality. It is therefore appropriate to mention him in the Yizkor Book for Brody.

[Page 132]

bro132a.jpg
A group of graduates of “Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair” youth movement [“Young Guard”. MK] in Brody

Standing from right to left: Rot, Yosef Fleishman-Bernshtein, Shionyo Tzinker, -, -, Bronshtein, Ovadia Veltman, Zushka Marder, -, Lutvak
Sitting: Natan Reinrat, Reiss, -, -, Leshnober, -, -
Sitting on the floor: Moshe Reinrat, Arie-Leiba'le Hertzberg, Fromer

 

bro132b.jpg
A group of graduates of “Ha'Somer Ha'Tzair” [“Young Guard”. MK] in Brody

Standing from right to left: Binyamin-Yuma Hertzberg, Meshulam-Shilek Shtock-Sadan, Michael Lamm, - , Asher Marsh, Doshya Goldshtein, Reissm Zushka Marder, Yona Furman, Yuzyu Katcher, Imanuel Musyo Ettinger, Yisrael Vilner;. Sitting Shmuel Siunyo Katz, Leshnover, Dorka Vengler, Ovadia Veltmen

[Page 133]

bro133a.jpg
A group of members of Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair”movement [Young Guard”. MK] in Brody (1935)

Standing from right to left: Vilder, Shiunyo Katz, Rizya Gelman, Yekhiel Liberman, Papka Kreminitzer, Yitzkhak Gelman; Sitting: Hertz-Muki Shmushkin, Meltzya Holtzzagger, Rozhka Mult, Zushka Marder, Zhenia Polishchuk-Dagan, Mota'le Gleikher
Sitting on the floor: Rakhel Katz, Poppah Gelman, Paula Polishchuk Bloishtein, Nushka Fried

 

bro133b.jpg
A group of members of Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair”[Young Guard”. MK] in Brody (1933)

Standing from right to left: Rudeck Aurbakh, Yusyo Mikulintzer, Izyu Raukh, Milek Gemershmidt, -, Fredek Katz
Standing: Greta Geduldig, -, Zhenia Polishchuk-Dagan, Klara Veltman, -
Sitting: -, Lipsker, Dushya Gladshtein, Durka Vengler, Asher Marsh, -
Sitting on the floor: Porter, Hertz-Muki Shmushkin, Yekhiel Lieberman, Mota'le Gleicher

[Page 134]

bro134a.jpg
Members of the branch of “Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair” movement [“Young Gurad”. MK] (1929)

 

bro134b.jpg
A group of of graduates of the “Ha'Shomer Hatzir” [“Young Guard”. MK] movement in Brody (1930)

Standing from right to left: Michael Lamm, -, Zeev VoVa Kurin, Rot, Arie-Leiba'le Hertzberg, Ovadia Veltman, Yehoshua-Hulesh Porter, -
Sitting: Natan Reinart, Shunyo Tzinker, - Lamm, Umek Glantz, Yeruham Hokhberg
Sitting on the floor: Asher Marsh, -, Avraham Tzinker, Yosef Fleishman-Bernshtein
Reclining: Moshe Reinrat

 

Translator's Notes
  1. Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair—Hebrew for “The Young Guard”—a leftist secular Zionist youth movement founded in Galitsia in 1913. It was also the name of a leftist Marxist party during the British Mandate of Palestine, a precursor of the Israeli leftist United Workers Party. Return
  2. Hakhshara – Literally, “preparation” in Hebrew, was the name given to preparatory camps in which the Zionist youths learned Hebrew and trained in agricultural and manual labor. The camp was organized as a Kibbutz (a commune). The graduates organized themselves into groups pending “Aliyah” (emigration to Eretz Israel). Return
  3. Dov Ber Borokhov (1881–1917) was born in Ukraine and was one of the founders of Socialist Labor Zionism. He undertook intensive studies in Yiddish and became a scholar and an author in the language. He settled in New York in 1914 but rushed to visit Ukraine when the Russian Revolution broke, where he contracted pneumonia and died. Return
  4. Ha'Shomer Ha'ttzair movement was based on three pillars (Zionism, Socialism and Judaism) as well as ten Shomer Commandments, which included guidelines for one's life such as the preservation of truth, friendship, freedom and equality, the value of the working person, independent thinking, appreciation of nature, and taking responsibility for one's action. Return
  5. “Shomrim—be strong!” was the traditional call of the Ha'Shomer Ha'tzair movement, usually exclaimed by the leader and the members are supposed to respond with “Strong and courageous!”. Return
  6. Victor Emil Frankl (1905–1997) was an Austrian psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor. In his most famous book:” Man's Search for a Meaning” (Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2006), previously published in 1946, under the name “From Death-Camp to Existentialism”, he describes his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led to the development of his theory about finding one's meaning of life as a way to continue leaving. Return
  7. Righteous Among Nations—A honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews
    From YadVashem: website - “…They stand in stark contrast to the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Holocaust. Contrary to the general trend, these rescuers regarded the Jews as fellow human beings who came within the bounds of their universe of obligation”. Return

 

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