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[Page 168]

The Gordonia Center

by Tzvi Magen

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Gordonia youth movement was founded in our city at the end of 1928. The establishment of Gordonia was a real vital necessity during that era for many youths who did not find their path in the existing Hashomer Hatzair or Freiheit groups due to their socialistic bent, which was extreme with respect to many issues, including relations between parents and children.

During that era of pioneering Zionist awakening among the Jewish youth, tens and hundreds of male and female youths remained without affiliation to an organization. This fact provided the impetus to found an appropriate framework for the realities and way of life of those youths, to draw them near to the pioneering Zionist idea and educate them toward actualization and aliya.

We should remember that anti-Semitism existed in all areas of life in Poland, especially in the economic realm. Even though Nazism had not yet bared its talons, this situation was sufficient to awaken among the Jewish youth a deep concern for their spiritual and physical future, with the decisive certainty that there was no hope for establishing their future life in their native land. The vast majority of the Jewish youth in Dąbrowa belonged to the middle class. They were children of merchants and small-scale businessmen, whose sources of livelihood weakened from day to day on account of the “Roz Waj” anti-Semitic movement, which pushed the Jews out of business, shop-keeping and small-scale manufacturing. In addition, for the most part, the youth stemmed from traditional homes, with a populist connection to Jewish values. The natural path would be to join youth movements which forged paths for the future via pioneering actualization and aliya to the Land. The first pioneers, graduates of Hashomer Hatzair and Freiheit already made aliya to the Land of Israel in 1929. Their aliya served as an example and provided the impetus for many others who desired to reach the same goal.

As has been said, Gordonia was not founded to compete with the other existing youth movements, but rather to enable the unaffiliated youths, who did not join the existing movements for the reasons mentioned above, to find an appropriate framework and give expression to their aspirations. Two members from the central leadership in Będzin assisted in setting up the chapter: Aryeh Lauer of blessed memory (he made aliya after the Holocaust and died of heart disease in Tel Aviv in 1965), and, may he live, Mordechai Hampel – who lives in Tel Aviv today. Two female members from Dąbrowa also functioned as organizers: Chava Gurst (a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon), and Rachel Weinrib (today in Ramat Gan), who even before this found their paths to this movement through the chapter in Będzin, and were active in it.

[Page 169]

Gordonia commenced its educational activities and organizational work in the hall of the Small-Scale Businessmen's Union [Kleinhandler Farein] behind the Urs movie theater, as secondary tenants. The local leadership was chosen: Moshe Tenenbaum, Avraham Frajdman (both perished), Balicka, Yeshaya Rozenberg, Chava Gurst, Rachel Weinrib, and Tzvi Manakowicz-Magen (all in the Israel – some in kibbutzim).

Life in the chapter was jolly. Every evening, the voice of the song of the members who gathered for a discussion or Hebrew language lessons burst forth. Every day, new children, mostly aged 13-18, students of the upper grades of the public schools, joined. Slowly the essence of the movement consolidated, with a uniform, special insignia, a flag, and a motto echoing for the masses “Actualize!” The other, older movements, who looked on us at first with some mockery and suspicion, began to see us as a vital factor amongst the youth and the Zionist activities in the city. Normal relations were forged, and connections with organizations that held similar aspirations and common will. Gordonia was quickly able to list non-insignificant accomplishments in working for the funds: the Jewish National Fund, the Working Land of Israel, and others. Along with the regional leadership, they reestablished the Hechalutz chapter in our city after an interruption of many years. The members of Gordonia were among its founders and activists.

Difficulties came with time. The graduates of the movement prepared for actualization. The time came for them to go on Hachshara to prepare for aliya to the Land. The older generation – the parents – even though they tended toward the Zionist idea and excelled in their warm relations and appreciation for aliya to the Land of Israel, did not display that connection when it was directly relevant to their sons and daughters. However, this already was no longer able to be a serious obstacle in the paths of the members, whose decision to do everything to achieve their goal of a new life in the Land of Israel was firm. Gordonia did not educate its youths for a “battle” with their parents as did other movements. Gordonia based its educational path on collaboration with and understanding of the older generation. This was the situation when they organized excursions to summer camp. They were in constant connection with the parents and were even helped by them. Of course, when the time came to go to Hachshara, it was done with full disclosure, despite the great hesitancy of the parents for allowing their children, especially their daughters to go.

The chapter consolidated its first group of actualizers who were prepared to go to Hachshara in 1932. (Individual members went before that time.) The request of the chapter for a place of Hachshara was denied by the institutions of the movement due to a lack of space. There were no Hachshara places that were able to absorb additional participants. The Hachshara places were full beyond capacity, as members remained there year after year as they waited for the redemptive certificates, which were issued in a very meager fashion at that time. Only about 15-20 certificates were issued to the entire Gordonia movement in Poland, with its hundreds of candidates for aliya. The push to go to Hachshara despite everything gave birth to the need for searching for a Hachshara place without the help of the upper leadership of the movement, albeit with their encouragement. After great searching, the members found “Placowka” (A Place) on their own near the city of Pilica, in the farm of a wealthy Jew who also owned a mill. It was a lovely, enchanting place.

Eleven members packed their belongings and set out to establish this “point.” They included: Yaakov Winszel (today in Jerusalem), Yehudit Szternfeld-Koler (today in Hadera), Szykman (today in Israel), as well as Lisek, Tzipora Glecer, and Chaviva Kalb (the three of them perished).

The owner of the farm received the pioneers pleasantly, allotted them a spacious dwelling, gave them previsions for the first days, and even “good things” for the Sabbath. However, the main thing, work, barely existed. If a place opened up on the farm or the flourmill, the Polish workers objected to taking on “foreign” Jews for work – as was the case in most of the Hachshara points in Poland. The members did not sit with idle hands. In the interim, they busied themselves with organization and directing the Gordonia chapter in Pilica, which gained momentum and grew in membership at that time. After futile efforts by the members as well as the owner of the farm, and after a struggle that lasted for nearly two months, they were forced to leave the place. Having no choice, they returned home.

A short time after that, emissaries from veteran kibbutzim in the Land arrived in Poland, and began to enlist members from the Hachshara points, without paying attention to seniority and position in line, in order to complement their kibbutzim that required additional manpower at that time. (This was after the first schism in the kibbutz movement in the Land.) Many members of the Hachshara regarded this opportunity as a means of salvation and opening of the possibility for aliya to the Land, despite the fact that they would have to make aliya in a circuitous manner.

[Page 170]

This activity emptied the Hachshara kibbutzim of their best members (for only the best members were authorized), and challenged the very existence of many Hachshara points, as well as the younger groups undertaking their first steps. The Dąbrowa chapter was also damaged. Certain members were authorized for aliya after a briefer period of Hachshara than their fellows, whose aliya was deferred on this account.

dab170.jpg [42 KB] - Summer camp of the Gordonia chapter
Summer camp of the Gordonia chapter
[Sławniów 1938]

At the beginning of 1934, the first members of the Dąbrowa chapter made aliya: Chaya Rozenblum, Rachel Śiwek, Dvora Nusbaum, Naftali Rechnic, Moshe Elbaum, Chaya Feldberg of blessed memory, and Tzvi Magarkowicz. (Before that, the members Chava Gurst and Rachel Weinrib made aliya in the 'Machbida' [heavy duty] aliya.) That year, the members Yaakov Winszel, Rachel Nusbaum, and Bluma and Devora Winszel made aliya.

After the older ones made aliya, the Gordonia chapter in Dąbrowa was run by the members Pola Nusbaum, Motek Nusbaum (died suddenly after two years in the Land) and my sister Tzipora Szeps of blessed memory.

At that time, I was too young to be part of the movement, but I recall that my sister Tzipora dedicated most of her time and energy to the chapter, in educational and organizational activities. She was in contact with the regional leadership in Będzin, as well as the headquarters of the movement in Warsaw.

In 1936, I entered the movement and started to become active in the chapter along with several other friends. During that period, the activities were broad in many areas. We published a newspaper, participated in excursions in the region, and took part in impressive parades in the outskirts of the city – as we were all wearing the official uniform of the movement, and holding the flags of our brigade in our hands. At the front was the flag of our chapter, that made an impression on everyone with its beauty.

We were not quiet during the time of the war. We continued to conduct various activities. Everything was done secretly, but there was a strong will to act and help each other. We gathered young children who could not go to school into our homes, taught them and kept them busy. It was wondrous that we, who were young and so lacking in experience, suddenly became counselors and teachers. The older members gathered in private houses and conduct activities. This continued until the curfew that was imposed at that time in a cruel, heavy-handed fashion, such that nobody dared to break it.

I especially remember the image of one of the emissaries who encouraged us greatly and visited me frequently. This was Eliezer Geler of blessed memory (who perished at the end of the war). He helped us a great deal in leadership. We did not know how he succeeded in coming to us during such dangerous times and under such abnormal conditions.

At that time, we were faced with a special, unusual problem – what to do with the flag of the chapter? The beautiful flag, in which the girls had invested a great deal of effort in embroidering, the flag that the children were so proud of as we hoisted it on parades and on the celebratory days of the movement.

[Page 171]

At first, we guarded it carefully in the closet in our home, amongst the underwear. However, there was once a search in the house, and we barely overcame our fear when they found it. We told them that this was the flag of a sporting movement… The incident passed peacefully, and we left the flag in its place, but this incident made our parents fearful and tense… I will never forget our final meeting: Motek, Tzipora, and I (we first arranged that our parents would not be home). After great hesitation and with pain and agony, we decided to part from our precious flag, lest it fall into the hands of the Nazis. With awe and trepidation, we took the flag into our hands and burnt it in the oven in the kitchen…

How painful and gloomy was that picture – watching the flag that signified so much for us, and that always bore our hopes that the day would come when that flag would flutter over our heads as we made aliya to the Land of Israel. These lovely dreams disappeared and melted with the flames of the burning flag…

From the mouth of Bat-Sheva (Szeps) Admoni

The Esperanto Group in Dąbrowa

by Yosef Yizraeli

Translated by Jerrold Landau

dab171.jpg [26 KB] - The Esperanto group active in Dąbrowa
The Esperanto group active in Dąbrowa

During the 1930s, a group of Esperanto speakers was organized in Dąbrowa. It was founded by Moshe Wygodski.

Moshe was an intelligent youth, a teacher at the ORT school. From a political perspective, he was close to Bund due to his anti-Zionist leanings. As an intelligent, sharp man, he loved to learn foreign languages. Among others, he learned Esperanto on his own. When he was advised at one of the regional meetings to disseminate that language among the youth, he approached the youth movements, Freiheit among them. We invited him to come and lecture to us about the benefits of that language. Wygodski stood for a full hour and told us about the Jewish physician from Białystok, Zamenhof, who invented an international language to serve as a linguistic bridge between the various nations, to be spread throughout the earth. One of the leaders of the P.P.S., the teacher Czechowski, an expert Esperantist in Zagłębie, asked us why we do not disseminate among the Jewish youth a language that was invented by a Jew, and that has general human significance, with easy grammar to grasp and to learn.

After some time, we find a serious group who studied diligently with Moshe. Some dropped out, and others rejoined.

[Page 172]

Within six months, a group of 12-15 male and female youths knew Esperanto, and it was possible to her the foreign echoes of this recognizable, yet non-recognizable language in the halls of the youth movements and the library.

Moshe's first act was to bring us to an international Esperanto convention that was taking place at that time in Krakow. At an evening for nations from other continents, we met people from Japan, China, India, and other places, all of whom spoke a common language that was understood and spoken by all. When we returned, we became attached to the idea of dissemination of the language with greater enthusiasm. The writer of these lines organized courses in the region, and even translated from Esperanto and Yiddish. Some translations were published in the local Zagłębier Zeitung published in Będzin. The youth newspaper of the Freiheit center published translations from Esperanto from the choicest of world literature, in prose, poetry, and even scientific and research areas.

The Esperantists in Dąbrowa were among the most active in the region. In fact, this was the sole body in the city that did not experience differences based on class and parties. Members of various factions and organizations, from the General Zionists to the Communists, belonged to this group. Furthermore, this was an organization in which the Jewish youth would meet with the Polish youth of the P.P.S. and other organization from the entire region. All found a common language during excursions and meetings. The sole aim was to spend time together, to conduct friendly conversations and share joint experiences. Wydodski, as well as Czechowski from the Polish side, were the organizers of these meetings. The former was a spectacled loner who was always immersed in reading, and the latter was a vibrant, gentile conversationalist. He would bring along his wife, and even his two children on excursions.

Wygodski disappeared from the horizon at the outbreak of the Second World War. At the time of the Nazi occupation, the Esperantists were persecuted, and were forbidden from meeting. There were incidents of help and salvation: During the Holocaust, Poles hid Jews (especially women), and helped Jews of Krakow, Myszków? and other places escape.

[Page 173]

“Poale Zion” [right wing] in Dąbrowa

by Tzvi Simchoni (Frajlach)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

dab173.jpg [36 KB] - Members of the Right-Leaning Poalei Zion workers' party
Members of the Right-Leaning Poalei Zion workers' party

A historian who wishes to write about the Jewish workers' movement in Poland will stand before a clear slate: everything was destroyed and erased to the foundations along with the bustling, culturally rich Jewry – not only by Hitler's troops but also by the Poles themselves, who were to no small degree guilty of not at least guarding the cultural property. Hitler destroyed the Jews in a physical manner, and the Poles helped him to decisively destroy the culture.

I wish to write about what I know, if my memory stands with me, about anything connected to the bygone days. I read from detached pages…

This is how the largest movement in Dąbrowa was born. In 1917, the party called Poalei Zion (Jewish social democratic workers' party) was founded by the leading members: the brothers Baruch and Moshe Szenhaft, Yaakov Rozencwajg, Gutsha Erlich, and Kopel Bilinski. Later, Mitek Krajcer and Yerachmiel Monszajn joined. Both of them dealt with the youth.

When the community found out about the establishment of the Poalei Zion party, the older youth began to stream to that party from all areas of the city, especially the people of Majeska. This was wartime, a time of difficulties and want. The party organized with exemplary speed warm meals (with the assistance of the JOINT) for children lacking in means. A small cooperative also began to be formed. Social awakening was felt in the city. All types of charitable groups were formed, and mutual assistance stood at the pinnacle of what was possible. The people of Reden especially excelled at this.

The war ended. Stormy debates among all types of revolutionary groups were conducted on the Russian street: The Social revolutionaries, S. D. (Social Democrats), Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Anarchists, and others. The Bolsheviks took advantage of the chaos in this environment, seized the government from Kerensky through the force of arms, and disbanded the government.

Borochov, who returned at that time from America, ran about from city to city, spoke at gatherings, caught a cold, and took to his sickbed. He struggled with death for a brief time, but did not win.

In 1918, Poland rose to life after years of suffering and oppression. The Polish provisional government declared elections to city councils. Poalei Zion participated, and received one mandate. In the first meeting, comrade Szenhaft issued a proclamation that made a great impression on all the Jewish representatives.

[Page 174]

After the death of Borochov, and after the disturbances in the Land of Israel, great changes took place in the world. The movement faced difficult problems, for which the needs of the hour demanded decisions and solutions.

The secretariat of the world covenant (Velt-Farband) decided to convene an urgent meeting. They invited delegates from all the countries of North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Land of Israel (Achdut HaAvoda). I recall that Szlomo Kaplanski, Zalman Rubashov (currently the president of the State of Israel – Zalman Shazar), Jerblum, and Baruch Cukierman served on the secretariat. That famous ninth convention convened in the city of Vienna, Austria. After hearing reports from the various locales, the debates were opened, and questions regarding the essence and path of the movement were deliberated upon. The differences of opinion were very serious. Members of the right placed the emphasis on the Land of Israel, and members of the left placed the emphasis on the Russian Revolution.

The ninth convention in Vienna stood before a fait accompli that sealed its fate. The leftists left the meeting, and the movement divided.

dab174.jpg [31 KB] - The Hechalutz movement in Dąbrowa
The “Hechalutz” movement in Dąbrowa

Dr. Yitzchak Szifer, who at that time sat as a Poalei Zion delegate in the Polish Sejm, transferred to the general Zionists. Zerubawel, who headed the district council in Poland, who had the required means to conduct publicity, publish a newspaper, etc., brought the left-leaning Poalei Zion to that point…

Within a brief period, “Hamerkaz” groups arose. One group leaned to the left, and finally transferred completely to the Communists. The second, larger group, led by Yisrael Waszer, did not agree with the leftists, fortified within “Hamerkaz” a group of “activists” for the question of the Land of Israel. This led to an additional schism, and weakened it completely.

The Dąbrowa chapter sunk into deep sadness when it received the news of the schism of the movement.

The party hall was liquidated due to the outbreak of the new war between Poland and Soviet Russia. Some of the members were drafted not the army, and some left Poland forever. Those who remained attempted to reconstitute. A meeting was called with the participation of Nachum Repelkes (Nachum Nir) of Sosnowiec. Approximately a half dozen members of the youth showed up. This was the final meeting. They all dispersed, and everything came to its end.

The Awakening of the Pioneering Movement

The idealistic youth could no longer wander around without anything to do. Several members spoke among themselves and decided to call a meeting in the Mizrachi School on 3rd of May Street, with the participation of several supporters. An executive committee was chosen at the meeting, composed of the members Shmuel Bialystok (chairman), Hershel Frajlach (secretary), Ester Treper, and Noach Krempel. The first activity was the opening of a hall so that they could meet. They rented from Szybek two rooms, with a large garden next to it.

[Page 175]

The founding of Hechalutz in Dąbrowa Górnicza was announced in 1925. Members who belonged to youth groups of all types and streams of Zionism came to register, as did unaffiliated youth. Every day, members came to work in the garden for several hours. We left the garden and the hall after several months, and moved into the Hatarbut hall on Orkzei Street.

dab175.jpg [39 KB] - A group of pioneers on Hachshara in Dąbrowa
A group of pioneers on Hachshara in Dąbrowa
June 3, 1933

Stormy debates ensued. Members of Hashomer Hatzair demanded autonomy within Hechalutz. Gordonia, as a pioneering youth movement, already enjoyed autonomy prior to this. At the end, Hashomer Hatzair also attained their request.

A group of older, working youths existed alongside Hechalutz, called HaOved. These members were given the right to make aliya to the Land without undergoing a period of Hachshara. Some of them did make aliya to the Land and were saved from the Holocaust.

A Hachshara kibbutz called Borochov existed in the city. Members from all corners of Poland worked as simple laborers and factory workers, and lived a communal life.

With the establishment of Hechalutz, two groups were organized that stressed Socialist Zionism: supporters of Tzeirei Zion [Young Zion], and supporters of Poalei Zion. Comrade Krempel of blessed memory headed Tzeirei Zion, and Comrade Hershel Frajlach, may he live, headed the second group. Of course, there were conflicts with such events, and debates arose. Most of the members stood at the side of Poalei Zion, and we immediately made contact with the headquarters.

In the meantime, we received news from the headquarters that the two Socialist Zionist parties had united, and from that time on would appear to the Jewish public of Poland by the name of Poalei Zion (left leaning).

We immediately started to organize the youth. In the first meeting, with many participants, many declared their allegiance. A large number of Hashomer Hatzair veterans also joined due to the ideological struggles within that movement. The center received with blessings the news of the founding of the youth organization that ore the name: Jewish Socialists Workers Youth, or J. S. A. J. for short. Comrade Avraham Wyszalc headed the youth. He was a faithful, dedicated member (perished in the Holocaust in Auschwitz). Comrade Moshe Szwimer (perished in the Holocaust) joined him.

It was decided to reorganize the youth anew, and to give them greater momentum. The Poalei Zion (left leaning) youth movement reappeared with the name Freiheit (Freedom). An independent weekly newspaper appeared with that name, for publicity and to announce what was taking place with the movement. With time, it developed into a fine newspaper with nothing to be embarrassed about. A member of the headquarters, Leibel Speizman (died in America after the war) edited it.

The Freiheit chapter immediately commenced practical activity. Groups and clubs were organized, committees for all types of organizational and cultural activities were chosen, and a Jewish basketball team was formed called Kraft, and later Hapoel.

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A drama club was also set up. From time to time, it performed in the city and the area in front of halls filled to the brim.

A younger stratum called Scout existed alongside the chapter. They were busy with studying reading and writing in Yiddish, a subject that they of course did not learn in the Polish school. It was involved in general educational activities, as well as education in Zionist-Socialist and scouting values. As the children got older, they transitioned from Scout to Freiheit with a ceremony.

dab176.jpg [32 KB] - Freiheit convention in Będzin
Freiheit convention in Będzin


A break-in to the Freiheit hall took place on a certain date. It became clear that the memento closet was broken into, and the seal of the chapter, membership cards, and embroidered red flags of Dąbrowa and Będzin were removed (this took place after May 1st). We realized that this was a “political robbery” perpetrated by a certain party, so that they could use the membership cards for pretexts and provocation. We did not inform the police of the theft. We wished to prevent this lest the incident cause harm to somebody. However, we took the investigation into our own hands. In the meantime, the police brought us some of the archives and two red flags that had been buried in the ground in the Dziewiąty colony, a distance of several kilometers from the city.

Dąbrowa was known as a particularly proletariat and anti-Semitic city. The vice police commissioner, Bila, and Sargent Szriber (both Christians) were infamous. Those two afflicted and persecuted the Jewish youth at every step and at every opportunity. Finally, we registered a complaint with the Starosta (district government) against the police, and the “investigations” stopped.

One day, news spread in the city that the Polish students from Katowice from the N.P.A. (extreme fascist nationalists) were preparing to come to Dąbrowa to perpetrate a pogrom against the Jews. They had gone to Będzin one day previously. The Jewish porters and wagon drivers waited for them at the entrance to the city, next to the Czeladzka Bridge. When they entered, they met them with a “warm” greeting, until they hastened to flee in the direction that they had come.

We were somewhat afraid. We did not have a “healthy” element of porters as did Będzin. We did not have anyone to protect us. Dąbrowa was only 10% Jewish. The communal activists informed the police, and we requested protection. The police promised to protect us and to uphold the law.

We did not depend on the police, so we decided to call an urgent meeting of the existing Jewish organizations of the city. The meeting decided a) to not depend on the police; and b) that we alone would defend ourselves. It was decided that no member would sit at home that day. All the organizations were obligated to send their members to the street and to disperse them in all sections of the city.

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In the event of an attack, they would inform the superiors, who would decide what to do. That day, we suddenly felt a large movement of people walking, especially on Sobskiego Street, where the Jewish shops were located. The street was filled with veteran members of the police force.

I was walking through the street, and noticed that several policemen were following behind all the groups of Jewish youth, watching their steps. A runner came and informed us that people were breaking window panes in the shops at the edge of the street. I approach Sergeant Szriber and told him what was transpiring. He immediately bared his sword and threatened me. I quickly disappeared. I remembered the old adage and said it to myself: May G-d protect me from my good friends. I will protect myself against my enemies.

I hope that I have succeeded in bringing down here some lines about the development of the movements in Dąbrowa Górnicza. It is my duty to ask forgiveness from those whom I offended by omitting details that have escaped my memory.

I recorded these things from the personal feeling of the need to erect a monument to friends who perished in the Holocaust, who dedicated their lives to the public good and who are etched in our hearts forever.

dab177.jpg [30 KB] - Members of the Left-leaning Poalei Zion party
Members of the Left-leaning Poalei Zion party

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