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[Page 104-105]

The beginning of the Halutz Movement in Chortkov

by Yona Oun (Bodinger)

Translated by Sara Mages

The Halutz movement in Chortkov was founded at the beginning of the 1920s. During that period, two Halutzim youth movements were established: “Zairie Zion” for adults and “Hashomer Hatzaire” that taught the Zionist's idealism to high school students and established Zionist's pioneer training centers near the city. A Jewish citizen from Chortkov, provided the movement with a large parcel of land near the river Seret and an agriculturist was invited to teach the Halutzim on how to work the land. This was one of the most important Halutzim pioneer center in Eastern Galicia. I was the only Halutza in this farm and worked with a few of the men cultivating the vegetable garden. A few months later, before our immigration to Israel, I was rewarded with the first crop – vegetable that grew fast, like; different varieties of lettuce, green onions, radishes, potatoes and flowers.

I will never forget the excitement that took over me when we collected our first crop. The word of our success spread among the many Halutzim groups who were getting ready for their immigration. They came to visit us from nearby towns and were amazed at the sight of the only young woman working the land, shoulder to shoulder, with the men. During those days, Yehudit Meletz, the daughter of a Zionists leader from Lvov joined our group after her graduation from Law School. She decided to join our pioneer group and work with us before her immigration to Israel.

Every week, a group of students, members of “Hashomer Hatzair” came with their leaders to work at our camp and I was in charge of organizing their work. I must mention, that working in a Halutz pioneer camp, shaped my image. I enjoyed working in the vegetable garden and learnt to love nature. In Israel, I dedicated my life to agriculture work and for 36 years I successfully organized the vegetable garden in Kibbutz Tel-Yoseph.

I was in the first group of Halutzim from Chortkov who immigrated to Israel. Unfortunately I can't remember the names of my friends who immigrated with me. I only remember two names: Shpier and Zonenstein who lives in Jerusalem. There were six Halutizm in our group and I was the only female. I know that many of them left Israel. I have never been in touch with any of them. Unlike other Halutzim groups, our group never bonded, so it was natural for me to join a group from Botzetz. I left Chortkov at the end of June 1920. We traveled through Budapest to Vienna. We spent five weeks waiting in Vienna until the Israeli Office organized our sailing. We left in a cargo ship by the name of “Avatzia” and arrived in Jaffa on September 6, 1920. I spent a few days in Jaffa. When “Hashomer Hatzair” established the “Shomeria” troop, I joined them. Our camp was located on the Haifa-G'eda road, and we started to work on a stretch of road by the tenth kilometer. Our camp was build in the area that Kibbutz Yagur is now located. I worked in road constructions for nine month and later on I joined a working troop in Rosh-Hayin near Petach-Tikva. Together with other female members and hundreds of men, we build the railroad that was being used to deliver citrus fruit to the port. After the capture of Emek-Yisrael, I joined the troop that established kibbutz Tel-Yoseph. From the day the Kibbutz was established, myself and my whole family, my husband, two daughters and six grandchildren, live there. My hope is, that they are true believers in the Kibbutz idealism and they will follow our footsteps

[Page 108]

The First Training in Chortkov

by Dov Hasheloni

Translation by Sara Mages

In 1919, on the shore of the river Seret, in a farm that was the property of the father of the Halutz, Hillel Hoisner, of blessed memory, a pioneer training camp was established for the Halutzim who were getting ready for their immigration to Israel. A group of young man between the ages of 18 to 20, plowed and seeded the fields and collected a nice crop. Helping them were school age members of “Hashomer Hatzair”. I remember, that the Gentiles who lived near the camp did not like the Halutzim's activities. The Gentiles and the Halutzim shouted insults and abusing language at each other (the river separated the two rival groups) and sometimes I saw them throwing stones at each other, but it never came to a fistfight. Later on, when the fields yield a blessed crop, the nearby farmers started to show their respect to the young Halutzim. In the farm, there was a shack where the tools were being kept and at night our young men guarded it. Working in a pioneer training camp was a revolutionary and exiting experience for the young people. The most enthusiastic among them saw themselves plowing the land of Israel. It is important to mention the names of the first group of Halutzim, even though some of them could not cope with their lives in Israel and many of them came back to Chortkov or immigrated to far away lands. And these are the names: (as much as I remember) Izi Pesler, Dugie Shapira, Mordechai Rut. Isaac Richter, Mokie Kalisher, Motil Bog, (Alony) Motil Berger, (Harari) Shemuel Heler of blessed memory, the brother of doctor Heler (who tragically died while he was on guard duty in kibbutz Yagur in 1952), Benie Zilberg. Izi Fiarstien. In 1923 immigrated; Efraim Gizler of blessed memory, Baruch Dag of blessed memory, Ben-Zion Shapira may he live forever, Gedalia Stukman, Mordechai Zilberg, Aaron Altman of blessed memory, Arye Goldhaber, Avraham Kirmaier of blessed memory. All of them experienced the hardship of those days. The events of the immigration of Hillel Hoisner, that I mention above, tell a special and a fascinating story. This man who was a rich man in Chortkov, sold all his property and immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael at the beginning of 1921. On his way to Eretz-Yisrael the May riots erupted and he and his family were stranded in Vienna. After many months of anticipation and hardship, the family arrived in Eretz-Yisrael at the end of 1921. At that time, unemployment was at its peak, and Hillel, who was nearly sixty years old bought with what was left of his money a horse and a buggy and delivered building supplies to construction sites in Tel Aviv. At the same time the settlement Kfar Chitin near Tiberia was established and the family settled there. But, Hillel could not cope with the hard life and passed way after two years. His only son was a student at the “Hertzelia” high school and now he is a doctor in Italy (but he is an Israeli citizen and every year or two he visits Israel). Gideon Hoisner, who was the Attorney General of Israel, is Hillel Hoisner's nephew. There were many pioneer camps in Chortkov and in the surrounding area, for agriculture and for industry, but this pioneer training movement had the privilege to be the first and served as an example to many others that followed her.

[Page 109]

The Zionist Youth Movement in Chortkov

by Arye Shotkal

Translated by Sara Mages

Jewish Chortkov was a famous city in Galicia. Jewish culture, Jewish schools, synagogues, community centers and Zionist Movements blossomed there.

In 1933, a creative and energetic young man joined our class at the Polish High School. He came from Tlosta near Chortkov and his name was Tzvi Kremer. He and David Zilberbosh were under the same opinion that there was a need to establish a Youth Zionist Movement. They shared their ideas with; Aharon Margalit, Shimon Branda, Monio Vind of blessed memory, Mordechai Fisher may he lives forever and myself. This is how the chapter of the “Zionist Youth Movement” was established. A movement that was not in existence until then in Chortkov.

During those days, anti-Semitism was at its peak. In our school it was forbidden to belong to any movement. Any student who got caught, like Tzvi Kremer or Regina Meltzer may she lives forever, was expecting immediate expulsion from school.

In 1934, after we graduated from school, we were able to act without restrictions. We rented a hall and elected our leadership. Our most active leader was Aharon Margalit who dedicated his days and nights for the movement.

We had a wide range of activities; lectures, Hebrew lessons, raising money for the Jewish National Fund, collecting membership dues for the Zionist Movement, summer camps, recruiting new members and more. During the years we started to see the fruits of our hard work. Our membership grew and also included youth from all walks of life. Some members were sent to pioneer training camp and some were chosen for immigration.

In addition to the pioneers groups of Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia and Dror, a pioneer group of Zionist Youth was established and its center was in a house in Vidnnka. The group consisted of young men and women from the whole area. They left their comfortable homes and worked in any hard physical labor in order to prepare themselves to life in Eretz-Yisrael.

In 1935 there was a major immigration from our group. Those who immigrated were; Chava Torton, Ida Zibner and Dvora Avorboch. The young people realized that the Zionist Halutzim Movement is the only solution for their future. Many of our members wanted to immigrate and maybe many would have if not for the horrible holocaust that destroyed our nation. We will remember them forever.

[Page 110]

The “Mizrachi” Movement in Chortkov

by Yaakov Dovivi

Translated by Sara Mages

The “Mizrachi” movement was established after Hillel Sperber's visit to Chortkov during the Ukrainian rule of Eastern Galicia. Mr. Hillel Sperber, had a lot of influence on the young religious-school students and his lectures brought them closer to the Zionists' idealism.

At that period, the Balfour Declaration caused a lot of excitement and everyone was eager to work hard and bring the Zionists idealism to realty. The “Mizrachi” movement was established after the Zionists idealism developed within the religious community.

Among the first active members of the movement were: Y. S. Shapira, Hillel Hoisner. Kahat Gestboyer, Dovivi, Klirsfeld, Zalman Schechter, Aharon Dag (Fish) of blessed memory, Simcha Dag and many more. Among those who tried to influence the religious sectors to recognize the Zionists idealism were; the Rabbi from Horostkov, Mesholam Rut and also Leibush Vaserman.

In 1929 we rented a room at the home of Geizler and there, the author and playwright Ashman, worked with us until his immigration to Israel. In the club house, we studied Hebrew in classes that were being held twice a week, Y. S. Shapira lectured us on the eight chapters of the Rambam and it was also possible to read there all the Zionists literature and newspapers.

As a result of our intense activities, our membership grew and many members of “Zeirei Mizrachi” immigrated to Israel. The first to immigrate in 1922 was Aharon Dag. followed him in 1924 were Yakov Dovivi and in 1925 Simcha Dag and Y. S. Shapira.

Both, the “Mizrachi” “Zeirei Mizrachi” movements established a pioneer group in Chortkov. One of the first jobs that they took on themselves, was the building of a fence around the cemetery from the period of World War I.

“Zeirei Mizrachi” were active in Zionists' committees and Yaakov Dovivi and Klirsfeld represented the group in the “Jewish National Fund” committee. Also Simcha Dag represented the group in this committee. Dovivi represented Chortkov as a delegate to the national committee of “Zeirei Mizrachi” in Lvov' in 1924. Even though, our chapter of “Zeirei Mizrachi” consisted only of ten members, its influence in the Zionists life in our city, was impressive. It must be mentioned, that L. Vaserman, helped a lot in the organization and the activities of our chapter.

[Page 111]

The Training of “Agudat Israel” in Chortkov

by Meir Loker

Translated by Sara Mages

The religious Jews of Galicia, who gathered under the flag of “Agudat Israel”, worked hard to bring the idea of the “Return to Zion” to realization.

The movement's center in Galicia was established in the city of Kolomia under the leadership of its president Dr. Ben-Zion Pesler, of blessed memory. He organized all the different city branches of “Agudat Israel” including the movement's branch in Chortkov.

The movement's main objective was to convince the religious youth to join its ranks and go to a pioneer training center where they would be trained for their immigration to Eretz Israel. The movement opened centers throughout Galicia and their main goal was to fulfill this noble idea. Community leaders visited every town and village. They lectured and explained the great value of the religious pioneer movement. Money was collected from monthly dues and with the help of a special fund called “Keren Hayeshuv”.

Chortkov's youth organization of “Agudat Israel” joined the notable mission and worked hard to bring it to a realization. From our association, two members left for the pioneer training camp. Mesholam Shorr, may the Lord revenge his blood and Yoseph Droker-Loker, may he live long. They left for the “Young Agudat Israel” pioneer training center in Tlomtesh and stayed there for six months. After they completed their training, they immigrated to Eretz Israel.

The religious pioneer training was not different in its structure and its organization from other pioneer training centers that were active at that time throughout Poland. Only the atmosphere was different because of the different way of life of the religious youth. There were group prayer services, group studies and Hassidic singing and dancing after work.

The member Mesholam Shorr immigrated to Israel in 1935. He joined the political party “Poalei Agudat Israel” and was one of its active members. As a religious member of the party, he joined the Haganah [1] and was killed fighting for the freedom of his homeland.

The member Yoseph Droker-Loker immigrated to Israel in 1936. Like his friend, Mesholam Shorr, he became a member of “Poalei Agudat Israel”. He worked hard in many jobs. Paving roads in the most deserted and dangerous places and also worked as a builder. He also joined the Haganah and fought in the War of Independence. Today he lives with his family in Haifa.

I have to mention that the pioneer training center in Tlomtesh was build on land owned by Rabbi Mashe'le Bergman, may he rests in peace. He was one of the most important Hassid in Chortkov.

From the most active members in our organization I must mention. Avraham Aharon Shechter, Meir Droker-Loker. Tzvi Geizler, Mendel Shechter and Rabbi Tzvi Blai.

  1. Haganah – voluntary Jewish self-defense organization established in Palestine, especially against Arab attacks during the British Mandate. <back>

[Pages 112]

The Events of A Journey

by Mordechai Rit

Translated by Sara Mages

I would like to tell here the events of a journey taken by a group of young people who escaped from Chortkov in order to fulfill their dream – to be pioneers in Eretz Israel. I was a member of this group of 10. We left the city of our birth in 1920, just one day before the Bolsheviks invaded it.

Our target was – Eretz Israel.

I was born in Chortkov in 1903. In 1917 the youth organization "Hashomer Hazair" was established. At first, it was called the "Student's Hashomer Hazair". Even though, I was not a student, I was allowed to join the organization and started to study Hebrew. I remember that our teacher's name was Prost. We were organized in small groups. My group consisted of 10 people and our leader was Mendel Lichtenholz.

A year later, the “Hahalutz” (Pioneer) movement was organized within “Hashomer Hazair”. The movement spread throughout the cities and towns of Galicia. Only my group was selected to join “Hahalutz”. In meetings we started to plan our activities as members of the “Hahalutz”. We tried to get jobs working in farms. Mr. Housner gave us a piece of land and we hired the agriculturist Mr. Brier to instruct us on how to be farmers. Later on, we opened a big store in the market where we sold our produce. During the winter, Mr. Bilgrie gave us a house and a garden so we can study different kinds of winter farming jobs. These activities lasted for about two years.

One day, the police arrested and put in prison all the Zionists and also our group of Halutizm. I remember that we were beaten in prison and thus we became “Prisoners of Zion”. This was done under the orders of the anti-semitic general Haler and his soldiers. We called his soldiers “Halertzkim” after the general's name. In prison, we realized that when we get out, we must escape to Eretz Israel. The Bolsheviks were due to arrive in our town any day and we did want to wait for their arrival. Somehow we did managed to get out of prison. Each one of us ran home, packed whatever he was able to grab, and that night we escaped from Chortkov. We agreed that our meeting place would be in Lvov. As planned, we met the next day at the home of the Pinkerfeld family. The names of the members of the group are: Efraim Zonenshien, Mendel Lichtenholz, Peretz Fierstein, Fishel Vinter, Avraham Strodel, Monia Fisher, Hazkel Finkelman, Avraham Shapira, Yona Bodinger, Mordechai Rat.

With the traditional blessing of “Be strong and of good courage” we set off for our long and difficult journey. We did not have any money and the little that some of us did have was not enough for such a long journey. It took us almost a month to reach Vienna. In Vienna we met with educators from Chortkov. Among then were Margolit and Karp, who decided to visit the Rabbi from Chortkov and asked him to help us with our journey to Eretz Israel. The Rabbi did not object and also gave us money. I don't remember today the exact amount of money he gave us. When we arrived in Presbourg in Czechoslovakia we stayed there for 3 months. We slept on benches in parks and on benches in the synagogue. We were delayed in Presbourg because at the time of our arrival all the organizations were overcrowded with groups of Halutzim who arrived there from all over Galicia on their way to Eretz Israel.

In 1920, after the hardship of wondering for six long months, a group of eight hundred Halutzim set sail to Eretz Israel on the first ship from Trieste. The name of the ship was “Avatzia”. It took us four weeks to reach Jaffa. When we got off the ship and stepped on the shore, the first stage of our life was over. We were mentally and physically ready to begin the new chapter in our new lives.

When we were in Rosh Pinah on Yom Kippur, we met two men from Chortkov. One of them was an old Jewish farmer whose name I can't remember. We worked for him harvesting olives, beating the olive trees with sticks. That was my first job in Rosh Pinah. The second man from Chortkov was the village policeman. His name was Listner and he was once a Yeshiva student in Slobodka.

[Page 122]

“Confederation” in Chortkov

Translated by Sara Mages

After the organizations “Zeirei Zion” and “Hapoale Hazair” united, the “Hitachdot” party was established. The new party attracted the best young people who followed the party idealism's like; pioneer training and work in Eretz Israel, national socialism and many more.

The party was the moving spirit in all the Zionists activities, either national or community. The party representatives worked hard for many years. They organized the different Zionists activities like collecting dues, teaching Hebrew, supporting the “Hahalutz” and “Gordonia” movements and spreading the idealism of Zionists movement among those who were ignorant of its existence.

Aside from Zionists activities the party was also involved in civic matters like local elections and elections to the Polish Parliament, education, charity organizations and many more.

“Gordonia” in Chortkov

Translated by Sara Mages

“Gordonia” was established with the initiative of the active members of the “Hitachdut” party. The idea was to organize a movement for Jewish youth who came from different social classes. At the beginning they faced many obstacles but in time they were able to resolve all the problems and the movement grow and attracted over 200 young Jewish people.

The movement developed an extensive work program in order to instill its idealism in the hearts of different groups in the city. In order to attract the young city's students the movement organized Hebrew lessons, Zionists history and socialism classes, and more.

“Gordonia” graduates were active in many Zionists interests like: “Keren Hakayemet” (the Jewish National Fund), “Ezra” and more. They also attended pioneers training camps. Later on, the movement establish two permanent pioneer camps in Chortkov that served as a training base for the movement in Eastern Galicia.

Some of the graduates immigrated to Israel and today they live in different Kibbutzim. Those who were not able to get immigration certificates that were needed to enter Palestine, were lost in the holocaust.

The leaders of the movement in Chortkov were: Yakov Stekel, Dov Friedman and Bobbie Kalisher.

Dr. Simka Finkelman helped a lot with cultural activities and with medical service for the pioneer troops.

[Pages 123]

“Betar” in Chortkov

by Asher Halad (Meizelman)

Translated by Sara Mages

In 1928, the “Betar” movement (sports and youth organization named after Yoseph Trumpeldor) was established in Chorkov. The first group leader was a veterinary medicine student by the name of Yakov Moses, may the Lord revenge his blood. The members of the group were: Motzio Lobman, Reuven Denkberg, Shmuel Mizlman and Zelig Polak, of blessed memory. And, may they live; Tzvi Brandvin, Yakov Volkovitz and Pihod Pilo.

Betar's mission – to create a Jewish person who is perfect in his body and soul according to the basic laws of “Betar's Hadar” (honor code). That a person should always be willing and ready to serve in the building of the Jewish State and will be her future citizen.

“Betar Hadar” – “Outer beauty, knowing your self value, good manners, loyalty, nobility.”

Zev Jabotinsky saw in his vision the creation of a Jewish State and that Jewish people who will live there, will create a Hebrew culture in the spirit of “Hadar”.

After a couple of years, our friend, Tzvi Finkelman, of blessed memory, returned from Vienna after completing his studies as an engineer. He took on himself the leadership of Betar in Chortkov. At that time, the movement consisted of around 150 members.

In 1930, the head leader of Betar, Zev Jabotinsky of blessed memory, arrived in Chortkov to give a lecture. It was a very important event in the city.

The movement developed and together with the Zionists Movement it was the strongest movement in the city. The leadership of the movement passed later on to the hands of Shmuel Mizelmen of blessed memory. At that time the movement organized Hebrew lessons and started to send members to pioneer training camps in preparation for their immigration to Eretz Ysrael.

The leadership of Betar changed from time to time, since the leaders were obliged to serve in the Polish Army. The last leader was Asher Chalad (Mizelman) who was in charge of the group until 1937.

Betar prepared many young men and women for immigration to Eretz Ysrael, but due to lack of immigration certificates needed to enter Palestine, many of its members were not able to leave and they were killed, slaughtered, and suffocated in the Nazis' gas chambers.

[Page 125]

The Organization “The Daughters of Agudat Yisrael” in Chortkov

by Yoseph Lokar

Translated by Sara Mages

After the great success in education, the founders of the school felt that they have not done enough, and that they have not found a real solution to the problems of educating the girls. They felt that the girls needed also a spiritual Jewish atmosphere after finishing their education.

Their question was, how could we guarantee that what the girls studied at school will stay in their hearts forever? The answer came with the establishment of the movement “The Daughters of Agudat Yisrael” in Chortkov. It was accomplished with the initiative of Miss Bluma Drok (now the wife of the Knesset member Mr. Yakov Katz)

One on the most outstanding leaders of the movement was the member Blai who was well known for her education, wisdom and activities.

Out of all the students that studied in “Beth Yakov” in Chorkov, only a few are still alive and most of them live with their families in Israel.

[Page 126]

Libraries in Chortkov

by Y. Schechter

translated by Sara Mages

The first libraries in Chortkov, were the large collections of books at Rabbi's Hershlie's religious school and in some of the synagogues in town. Rabbi's Hershlie's school, had a collection of rare books printed hundreds of years before. Those, searching for ancient history, found in these books a great treasure with an enormous bibliographical value.

Newer collections of books were located at the synagogue of our teacher and master in old Chortkov, at the synagogue that was called “Die Naya Kloyz” (The New Shtible) a collection of important books were to be found in the “Stratner Kloyz” (the Stratner Shtibl) and also in “Visnitze Kloyz” (the “Vitnitze Shtibl”). All those locations were packed to capacity with books that covered all the subjects of Talmudic literature to the latest Posekim (Rabbinic authorities). Each book, if it was an ethical book, a Kabbalah book or a book about the Hasidic period, had a reader.

From the synagogues' book collections, no one was allowed to borrow a book. A Jewish person, who wanted to read a book, was only able to do so at the synagogue. Those who wanted to read and study at home, were able to borrow books from a small library owned by a woman by the name of Kalminski, who was named after her late husband, Rabbi Kalman.

Those who wished to borrow a religious book, were able to do so in her library for a minimal charge. This, without any doubt, was the first lending library in our city.

Studying the Torah and reading books were common practice in our city. After the introduction of new cultures books subjects were changed and the thirst for reading increased and spread throughout the wide social classes. More and more people read books in Yiddish and the Intelligentsia read books written by Smolenskie and others. With the spread of the Zionist's idealism among our town's people and with the revival of the Hebrew language, under the influence of the blessed activities of Rabbi Yshaya Meir Shapira and his students, the number of those reading new Hebrew literature increased.

The library of Yisrael Hoizer and his store, served for a whole generation as a center for Chortkov's youth who were seeking Hebrew culture. Every new book that was published in Hebrew and all the newspapers and publications like “Hashaluach”, “Hatzfira” and more were available for those eager to read them.

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