Zionism in Chortkov
by Dr. Eliezer Margolit
Translation by Sara Mages
The Zionist movement in Chortkov was established in 1897. We can find evidence of its existence in the protocol of the first Zionist Congress in Basel in August of 1897. Among the congratulatory telegrams that were sent to the Congress from many Jewish communities, there is a telegram from the "Benei Zion" organization from Chortkov. The telegram was signed by; Aaron Schwartz, Hillel Hausner and Shmuel Leib Shorr, who were students of Rabbi Yshaya Meir Shapira, one of the founders of the Zionist Movement. The Hassidim and the home owners were against the movement because they were afraid that it will "postpone" the arrival of the messiah. They strongly believed, that the messiah will arrive one day and gather all the Jews who were wandering in exile. The strength of the Zionist Movement and the Zionist idealism in Chortkov derived from the "Yad Harotzim" association and its synagogue. The members of the association were laborers and some of the students of Rabbi Y. Shapira. The association's synagogue served as the meeting place for the Zionists.
At that time, the movement activities were limited to collecting membership dues and raising contributions for the Jewish National Fund. Later on, a library was established by the Zionist association "Benei Zion". The Zionist Movement in Galicia, was a movement that did not require much from its members. As Herzl once said: a Zionist is a Jew who buys a membership and by that gives his approval to the Basel agreement. The members were not asked for self sacrifice or for special activities. Immigration to Eretz-Ysrael was limited to the Russians Jews who escaped from oppression and pogroms but not for the Jews in Galicia, who felt secure living there and were not worried about their future.
As I a recall, a number of young people immigrated from Chortkov to Eretz-Ysrael before the break of World War I. I can only remember three names. One young man, that I did not know personally, by the name Listnar. Schwartz the son of Aaron Schwartz and Ephraim Zonenstien - the son of Nachman Zonenstien.
The Zionist activities that were taken place in the towns around Galicia, might have turned into a boring and uninteresting experience if not for the opportunity to get involved with the social politics and internal policies of the Austrian Empire. It was a struggle against political assimilation. The Jews in Austria were not considered as a nation but as members of the Jewish religion. Legally, the Jews were considered as "Polish Children of Moses". There were many Galician Jewish delegates in the Austrian Parliament but they were members of the Polish Parliamentarian Club, and only helped with policies that served the Polish interests in Galicia.
With the arrival, and the fast development of the Zionist Movement, came an important turn in the political statues of the Jews in Galicia. The struggle for national identity was very intense. The Zionist Movement moved very fast into the center of the fight for independent national identity, fighting against the old understanding that recognized the Jewish population as part of the Polish nation. The Zionist Movement expanded it's activities in Galicia. It no longer only collected dues for membership and money for the Jewish National Fund, but became an aggressive political movement. The elections struggle for the parliament in Vienna turned into a political struggle, that turned the Zionist Movement into an important national movement, that was recognized by most of the Jewish population.
In 1907, Dr. Arthur Mahler from Prague, was elected as the Jewish delegate to the Austrian parliament. This accomplishment filled with pride not only the hearts of the members of the Zionist Movement but also the heart of every Jew. The Rabbi's "court" in Chortkov could not ignore the important political events. When Dr. Arthur Mahler came to Chortkov to give his political election speech, as a candidate to the parliament, he was given an audience with, our master and teacher, Rabbi Ysrael. Later on, the Rabbi gave a "secret" order to his Hassidim in Galicia, asking them to vote for the Zionist candidate to the Austrian Parliament.
Until the break of World War I, Aaron Schwartz and Hillel Hausner were the leaders of the Zionist Movement in Chortkov. Mr. Schwartz was the logical man and Mr. Hausner was the convincing man. Both of them worked with devotion for the Zionist Movement. They were interested in everything, no matter how big or small, that they thought was important and served the idealism of the Zionist movement. Aaron Schwartz who was considered to be a rich man, lost all of his property during the war. I saw him once, standing next to a table in the market selling bread, matches, yarn and needles, so he could support his family. This turn of events hit him hard. He walked around like a shadow and was not able to give any more speeches.
Hillel Hausner immigrated to Israel soon after the end of World War I. He knew, beyond doubt, that it will mean life of suffering and poverty for a man who was already 50 years old. He worked very hard as a cart owner and later on, he became one of the first settlers in Kffar Hittin. In 1925 he died and was buried there. This details were given to me by Mr. Gideon Hausner, who was the Attorney General in the Israeli government.
May the memory of the first Zionists leaders in Chortkov; Aaron Schwartz and Hillel Hausner be blessed. Also the name of Shmuel Leib Shorr may be well remembered.
In 1900, members of the "Benei Zion" club met at the home of Moshe Helrbach. The first event of the Zionist Movement, that remained in my memory, is from the year 1905. It was on the day that Dr. Herzl passed away. When I walked in the street by the home of Shmuel Landau ( the brother of Rabbi Yaakov Landau) the meeting place for the club that year, I saw a black flag flying from his balcony and next to it was a sign "Theodore Herzl is gone". I remember, that one of the men who was helping to raise the flag was Vilkovitz, the partner of Shmuel Leib Shorr. During the years, the "Benei Zion" club moved from place to place. In 1907 in was at the home of Nisan Pohorili. Later on, the club moved to a house overlooking the river Seret. It was behind Sarber's barber shop next to the bridge. In the years 1909 and 1910, the club moved to the home of Vinter, next to the market.
In the years, before the outbreak of World War I, a Zionist speaker by the name of Abrahamson visited Chortkov. He gave his speeches in "Yad Haharotzim" synagogue, where all the Zionists meetings and conferences took place in Chortkov. It was not always easy to attend a meeting. Every once and a while, Mendel Margolit prevented people from entering "Yad Haharotzim" synagogue. But that happened very seldom. I remember that in 1908 or 1909 there was a large meeting in "Yad Haharotzim". Dr. Korngrin and Dr. Ysrael Waldman gave their Zionist speeches. Aaron Schwartz was leading the evening. I must mention, that Aaron Schwartz, was the most important Zionist speaker in Chortkov.
In December of 1907 a large crowd attended a meeting in "Yad Haharotizim". Dr. Arthur Mahler, the Chortkov's regional delegate to the Austrian Parliament gave a report on the activities of the "Jewish Club" in the parliament in Vienna.
In 1921, during the riots in Eretz-Ysrael, a large protest meeting took place in "Yad Hararotzim". In this meeting, Dr. Avner and myself gave speeches.
It is important to mention, that the preacher from Kolomia, Rabbi Yitzchak Vecher, used to come every year to Chortkov and preach in "Yad Haharotzim" shul. Even though, his preaching were not topical Zionists preaching, it was always an important event for those who were preaching for the Zionist Movement and for settlement in Eretz-Ysrael. These meetings were very popular with the Jewish people in Chortkov.
I remember, that in 1920s, Zrobavel, the leader of "Poalei Zion", came to Chortkov every once in a while. His speeches always draw a large crowd.
If my memory does not fail me, Chortkov only once sent a delegate to the Zionist Congress. Aaron Schwartz was elected as the delegate to the congress that was taking place in Vienna in the summer of 1913. Hillel Hausner competed against Aaron Schwartz for the privilege to be a delegate at the congress, but Schwartz won, and was chosen to represent Chortkov. Many traveled from Chortkov to Vienna to attend the Zionist Congress. I remember that among them were Shmuel Leib Shorr, Hana Verman who was the most dedicated loyal worker in the Zionist library in Chortkov, and many more. I also have to mention the names of Yaakov Stieger and Shalom Gotman who together with Hana Verman were the librarians of Zionist library that belonged to the "Benei Zion" association. With energy and devotion they spread the Zionist idealism and the literature of the movement among the adults and the young people in Chortkov.
The Intelligentsia in Chortkov and it's Attitude Towards Zionism
It is hard for me today, to remember who among the intelligentsia of Chortkov
followed the Zionist Movement when Dr. Herzl was still alive. But I have to
mention, that in other towns, many members of the intelligentsia were
enthusiastic Zionists. In Chortkov the situation was completely different. I
have to mention the names of the most important leaders of Chortkov's
intelligentsia like Dr. Mozler, Dr. Kosover, Dr. Hoizpater, Dr. Blostien and
others. They were indifferent not only to the Zionist Movement but also to
other Jewish matters. Dr. Mozler, served for many years, as the mayor of
Chortkov. The situation changed for the best after the death of Dr. Herzl. Many
members of Chortkov's intelligentsia turned into enthusiastic Zionists. The
most outstanding one was the lawyer, Dr. Aphenzler who lived and worked in our
town until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. He worked very hard to promote
the election of Dr. Arthur Mahler as a delegate to the Austrian Parliament.
When the war broke, he escaped from Chortkov and never returned. Also the
lawyer, Dr. Vichrt was a loyal and an active Zionist. The generation of young
students were mostly Zionists. The leader of these young educated Zionist
members was Meir Hellerbach who was born in 1879 and died in Vienna in 1923.
During his time in Chortkov he was the first spiritual leader of the town's
youth. He was a smart man, honest, and was well known as a joker. A large group
of young people were attached to him. They strolled together, arguing and
discussing everyday matters. In his group were; Yitzchak Shapira, Ysrael
Hausner, Hirsh Orenstien, Yosel Geter, Aaron Schechter and many others. During
the holidays, students from Chortkov, Ternopol and Vienna joined the group. The
discussions were about politics and Jewish matters. At that time no one was
able to afford a subscription for a newspaper because of the high price and the
lack pocket money. In the "Beni Zion" club's library the young people found all
the newspapers of the time including "The World", the International Zionist
newspaper. The educated youth were interested in fine literature and modern
literature was extremely popular among the Jews. Y.L Pertz, H.N.Bialick, Shalom
Aleichem, Frishman and many more were at the prime of their creativity. Also
popular among the youth were the books of Martin Buber, Artur Snitzler,Yakov
Visserman and many others.
Translated by Sara Mages
As a direct result of the horrible Holocaust, that did not skip our city, only a few of its Jewish residents survived. From the same reason, it was hard for me to collect material about the Zionists Youth movement, its influence and the place it took in our city, from 1903, the year it was established, until the outbreak of World War I. And so, it is understandable, that my article is short for lack of information. It only covers the events from the first days of the movement's reorganization at the end of World War I to 1922, when I left our city for Israel.
When the news about the Balfour Declaration reached our city, it was still under Russian rule. After the Krenskei revolution (of February 1917), occasional Zionists community meetings took place in our city, but an active Zionists movement was not established yet.
Only in 1918, when the Austrians returned and reoccupied the city, many young Jewish men from our city, who served in the Austrian army, came back. Before they even took off their uniform, they got together, and reestablished the Zionist Youth movement. They rented a large hall that served as a community center, and there, the movement's meetings, lectures, Hebrew classes, and literary parties took place. In a very short time, a large library and a drama club, that gave its first Hebrew performance in front of a large Hebrew speaking audience, were established. The Hebrew language spread fast among the young people. During Shabbat and holidays, it was possible to hear and enjoy the sound of the Hebrew language, spoken by many of the city's residents who were strolling in the streets.
After the crumbling of the Austrian Empire, and after the Ukrainians won their independent rule of Galicia, the same meeting hall served as a training center for the Jewish militia. Military officers, who were members of the movement, trained our young men even before they took off their uniforms. The Austrian symbol was removed from the officer's caps, and was replaced by a Star of David. It is important to mention here, that the militia was legally organized with the encouragement of the Ukrainian authorities who wanted the Jews to help them keep order in the city. From time to time, the Jewish militia confronted mobs of rioting farmers, who came to the city during market days, and tried to take whatever they wished from Jewish shops and market stalls. Those confrontations served as an excuse for the authorities, who disassembled the Jewish militia.
During the short period of time, when the Jews took part in keeping the peace.
A Jewish armed guard carrying riffles, under the leadership of a uniformed
Jewish officer, patrolled the city's street. It gave the Jews the feeling that
they were in charge, and that they were the only ones who were protecting the
city. But, as I already mentioned, the honeymoon lasted for only a
short period of time. After the Polish conquest of the city, the independent
Ukrainian rule came to a quick end in Galicia.
by Shmuel Shachar (Shvartz)
Translated by Sara Mages
The great events that took place towards the end of World War I the Balfour Declaration was a major event in the life of the Jewish people and the victorious October Revolution, brought a lot of excitement to many young Jewish people in Eastern Europe. The great influence of those events was also felt among the Jewish youth in Chortkov. "Hashomer Hatzair" movement, which was a chapter of the national movement "Hashomer"* was established in those days. It served as an outlet for the great hopes and the great awakening within the young Jewish people in Galicia and Silesia.
The excitement spread mostly within the circles of the high school students. Youth from lower social classes were also welcome to join the ranks of "Hashomer Hatzair". Sons and daughters of the wealthy and of the lower classes socialized together. The center at that time, was alive and bubbling with excitements and brought spiritual elation to Chortkov's youth. Its drawing power was strong, mostly among the religious youth. Only a small number of non religious youth joined the group. The atmosphere in the club-house was filled with longing to Eretz Ysrael and the desire to immigrate there. The sounds of Hebrew and Israeli songs left their mark on the young members. The movement's influence spread through the different Zionists political groups and also among the Jewish population.
A major blow landed on the young movement after the Red Army retreated to Russia and the city was invaded by the Polish Army. Hashomer movement continued with its activities during the Soviet occupation and was tolerated by the Russian authorities. The leaders even tried to get official recognition for the movement. Their favoritism towards the Russian revolutionary rulers angered the Polish authorities. Two of the movement's leaders Emanuel Lieban and Tzvi Shoval were charged with treason and were thrown to the central prison in Lvov for a long jail sentence. The Polish high school principle and his teachers acted harshly against those students who were members of the movement. Many of them were removed from school and the younger students were not allowed to associate with any Zionists movements especially "Hashomer Hatzair".
Only a few members immigrated to Israel with the waves of the Third Immigration. Most of them did not settle in "Hashomer Hatzair" kibbutzim. Only the members of first generation of Halutzim from nearby cities like Botze and others joined the kibbutzim movement.
After a period of major activities, during the first years of the movement's existence, came a period of decline. The crisis in the Chortkov's chapter was a direct result of the crisis that effected the movement in Galicia. The movement was emptied from its powerful and dynamic leaders and instructors, who immigrated to Israel. The situation in Chorkov was worse due the political events that I have already mentioned above. In spite of the crisis, a new strong and powerful group was established. This new core, laid the foundation for the glorious days of the newly improved movement, and the flourishing of "Hashomer Hatzair" during the Fourth and Fifth Immigration. This small group kept the flame burning and was loyal to the idealism of the movement and its principles. The membership of the new group consisted of Jewish students from the Polish High School who were being watched by the school authorities. Some of the members were Jewish students from afar. In their desire to earn education in Hebrew and Jewish subjects, they traveled to Jewish schools in Lodze, Vilna and Bialistok. The most outstanding member of this group was Tzvi Vardi (Rosenkrantz).
The reorganized movement started its activities in 1924 with the establishment of two new groups. In a very short period of time, the membership reached 150. The members were divided into troops and groups that were organized in three different sections: Kefirim, Tzoffim and Bogrim. None of the other youth organization in Chortkov in the 1920s and 1930s reached such a high scale of organization and activities.
"Hashomer" movement was the center of life in the city. Under the influence of the members, who were students at the Hebrew High School, Hebrew was the only spoken language in our club. Our group was the only group in all of "Hashomer Hatzair" chapters in Galizia to do so. Hashomrim enriched the members knowledge of the Hebrew language and Hebrew literature by working hard together. There were times, that members learnt how to speak Hebrew by listening to their friends, but they were " Hebrew illiterates" since they never learnt how to read and write it. While the Polish language was the only spoken language in other chapters, it was never spoken in ours.
A great moral boost for the group, during its reorganization, was the visit of Meir Yeari and Aba Hoshi as the first delegates from "Keren Hakayemt" (Jewish national fund) from Israel to the Diaspora. The connection with the movement's delegates from Israel left a long lasting impression on the members. Meir Yeari was deeply impressed by the group's loyalty to the Halutzim and Hebrew values. He recognized their accomplishments during the movement's convention in Israel.
For many years, "Hashomer Hatzair" was the only Jewish youth organization in Chortkov. At that time, it was under the wings of the "Zionists Movement" and enjoined its moral and financial support. With the political changes within the "Zionists Movement" in Chortkov and with the establishment of the idealism of the "Hashomer Hatzair" as both a pioneer Zionists movement and a social revolutionary movement. "Hashomer" organization was left to fend for itself and for that, it was ignored by the community. When the group was removed from the premises of the Hebrew High School, the management rented a large hall in the city center and the influence of the movements on the young people did not suffer. High school students and loyal members volunteered twice a month to work in any hard labor, like chopping wood, and all their income was donated to support the group.
In the club house, members were given basic education that helped them to identify with the idealism of the pioneer way of life. There were groups and troops discussions, cultural events, arts and craft classes, parties, field trips, winter camping, summer camps and community dances that were organized by the club house. The movement was a center of life for its members and the club house was their second home. The education they received and the "Hasomer" way of life, formed their life and their view on Jewish and world matters. All those efforts paid off. Many members came to a decision that they should join a pioneer training camp and immigrate to Israel.
The club was lively and active and a center for Israeli way of life. Every evening, Hebrew language, Hebrew songs and Halutzim dances created a special atmosphere. The instructors taught us about problems in Israel, about the "Poalim" (workers) movement, and the kibbutzim movement. We received extensive instructions on all the areas connected with the creation of our homeland. All the Israeli Hebrew news papers and all the new Hebrew books that were published at that time were available in the club house. All the delegates who came to visit Chortkov from Israel were especially impressed with the Israeli and pioneer atmosphere in our club. Our chapter of "Hashomer Hatzaire" received many words of praise from public leaders, authors and movement's leaders.
Two "Hashomer" pioneer centers were established in the middle of the 1920s in a farm near Chortkov owned by Mr. Robe. These centers became the meeting place of the new generation of pioneers. The visits to the centers encouraged the young "Shomerim" to stand for their rights and fight against their parents and the community. During the years, many graduates left for agricultural pioneer training centers. Many of them immigrated to Israel and continued with their Halutzim work in kibbutzim as members of the National Kibbutzim Movement. Until this day, many Chortkov's graduates live in kibbutzim throughout Israel. Among them stood out the personality of Tzvi Vardi (Rosenkrantz) may he rests in peace. He immigrated at the end of the fourth immigration and was one of the founders of the newly built Kibbutz Merchavia. He was one of the leaders of the National Kibbutz organization and his activities covered many fields like; social, economy and education. A collection of his articles and letters were published after his death. Vardi died in 1945 after twenty years of work and creativity in Kibbutz Merchavia. In his eulogy, Meir Yeary called him "The best from Chortkov".
After the graduates together with their leaders, immigrated to Israel during the years 1929 to 1932, "Hashomer" club was emptied from its powerful members and its status among the youth and the community weaken. But it continued to operate in a smaller scale with its educational programs, until the outbreak of World War II. Hundreds of young people were educated in "Hashomer Hatzair" during its twenty years of existence in Chortkov. Many immigrated to Israel and continued with their work as kibbutz members and members of the "National Kibbutz Movement". Hundreds were not able to materialize their dreams. In their hearts, engraved forever were memories of many happy years. Years filled with cultural activities and longing for personal and Zionist salvation. The seed that was planted in their hearts by "Hashomer Hatzair" struck deep roots. Even though, the fruits of their work did not ripen and they were not able to fulfill their dream of settling as Halutzim in a kibbutz in Israel, the value of their idealism was appreciated by the Jewish community and the Zionists in Chortkov.
* Hashomer Jewish self defense organization founded in 1905
[Pages 98 99]
by Biniamin Shtok
Translated by Sara Mages
In 1933, I joined the Chortkov's chapter of "Hashomer Hatzair". Shmuel Shvartz, covered in his article, the developments and the history of the movement until 1930. I would like, in a few words, to add another link to the history of the movement in our city until 1939.
The political events that took place in 1929 and the world wide economic crisis, influenced the young Jewish people who were searching for a solution to the Jewish problem. On one side, depression and lack of confidence took over. They did not believe in the possibility of reviving the Jewish identity by gathering all the Jewish people in Israel. On the other side, the revolutionary movement became stronger and the young Jewish people, who were charmed by its idealism, saw it as the only realistic way of finding redemption both for the Jewish and social questions. They were convinced, that freedom will come to the Jewish Nation only after the world will be free from the clutches of capitalism. The revolutionary wave, weakened the Halutzim's movements. "Hashomer Hatzair" and "Poalei Zion" movements were mostly affected. In 1930, only a few seniors, who were not followers of the revolutionary wave, were members of our chapter. Only a small number of senior members immigrated to Israel. Some left the group and some were let go. In 1933 the movement consisted of maybe thirty teenagers between the ages of 12 to 16. Their leaders were Zecharia Mozer, Tzvia Fish and Nachom Shpilberg who live today in Israel. They reorganized the chapter with the hope that after their immigration, the new strong group that the left behind, will be able to continue, on its own, with its activities. The chapter strengthened a bit during the years 1934-1935. Before that, it consisted of only two groups; seniors and intermediates. In 1935, a third group between the ages of 10-12 joined at the chapter. At that, the chapter consisted of 100 members. In 1936, there were four sections in different age groups: the first 18-19, second 15-16, third 13-14, fourth 10-12. The second third and fourth sections had 20 to 30 members each. In the senior group, there were 12 young men and women. Activities were planned by the leaders. Every day, the club house bustled with teenagers who were busy with group discussions, games, singing, dancing and many more. Every Sabbath, we spent the day outdoors, playing sports and scout games. We also had a soccer team that played games against other chapters. A string's orchestra was organized under the direction of Monio Richter who also organized a choir that consisted of 8 young boys and girls. The movement straightened our backs. Within the walls of the club house we felt responsible for ourselves, in charge of our lives dreaming of a better future.
Every year, chapters from the Ternopol District held a convention in Trembola. Pinhas Dagan (Vitz) represented our chapter in three conventions. Today, he is a member of Kibbutz Hama'pil. Also every year, representatives from our chapter participated in a month long seminar that took place in the Carpetian mountains. In addition, summer camps for the young sections were organized by our district.
With combined efforts of the clubs in Chortkov and the district, field trips were organized for members of the Chortkov's district, Ygilintza and a few from Korolivka. In the years 1936-1935, during the holiday of Shavot, the district organized a two night camping trip to the forest. We built huts out of branches and stayed up late singing by the camp fire. The days were devoted to sport and scout's games. In 1937 a two days trip was organized to the Horiskovitz forest. In addition to the orchestra and the choir we also had a drama club. In Horostkov, we performed before an audience of hundreds of Jews. Every once in a while, new delegates came to visit our club and stayed for a couple of months. During the last two years, before the break of the war, there was a decline in the number of members, but we continued with our activities. I must mention the most active member, Simcha Nosboine, who contributed his talent to our cultural activities. He was always full of ideas. His mind was full of seeds like a pomegranate. He gave us lectures on many different subjects, like politics and science. In 1939, he left for a pioneer training camp in Lvov. In 1940 he was drafted to the Red Army and after the break of the war he fought against the Germans. In 1942, a letter from him arrived at the home of his brother in Israel. We have no idea what had happened to him afterwards. Maybe he was killed fighting against the Germans. May his memory be blessed forever.
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