In Lithuania, right after the foundation of the country, scouting groups were founded under governmental patronage. The goal of the scouts was to equip the youth with virtues, strong character, love of the nature and to educate them to good citizenship. At this time, also Jewish youngsters joined the Lithuanian scouts movement; in the beginning they were in mixed troops, however, later on in separate troops.
The scouts movement "HaShomer HaTzair" was founded in Virbalen by the director of the Jewish Gymnasium, Dr. Yakov Rabinson, who was one of the leaders of Jewish settlements in Lithuania. At about the same time, at the beginning of the Twenties, additional scouts troops were founded in Kovno and in Ponivich, and later on in nearly every town and settlement in Lithuania. The Hebrew translation of the "Scouting" book by Baden-Powell was used as the educational guide of the Hebrew troops.
Also in Yurburg a scouts organization was founded at the beginning of the twenties. During these days, one could see two youngster, dressed in the khaki-green scouting uniform, a cord with a flute around their neck and the long "scouting stick" in their hands, walking through the streets of Yurburg. These two youngsters with their unusual uniform caused amazement wherever they were seen. These two youngsters were Menachem Pochrat and Dov Minzer. Menachem Pochrat, the elder one, was a tall, slim, serious, self-thought young man. Dov Minzer was a very charming boy, a student of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Yurburg. The two were accompanied by younger children, who were also dressed in scouting uniforms. Their appearance seemed to be strange, because of its novelty, but it marked the beginning of a change for the young generation in Yurburg.
In the course of time an apartment was rented - a hostel in the terms of the scouts - in the northern part of town, a quiet, sparsely populated street. The hostel was situated in a one-storey building, it contained two rooms.
The atmosphere at the hostel was pleasant and pastoral. The voices of singing would always be heard there. The hostel's rooms were decorated and in the center were pictures of Baden Powell, Herzl, Trumpeldor. The hostel was usually quiet, clean and orderly.
The scouts in the nest were divided into three groups: the group of the "Lions", scouts and the adolescent scouts.
The "Lions" group included children aged 9-12. The name "Lions" referred to the saying "Judea is a lion cub" - a name with a nationalist meaning. The non-Jews called this group the "Little Wolves".
In the "Lions" group boys were not separated from girls, they operated as one group and went on outings together; they learned to recognize plants, birds and the animals of the forest. When the "Lions" were at the camps they acquired a variety of scouts techniques - walking, tree- climbing and lighting bonfires. They also learned how to use a compass, look at the stars and the moon in order to find their way.
The "Lions" leaders taught them to dress properly, be clean, polite and obedient. To broaden their knowledge the "Lions" were told about Eretz Yisrael in the days of the Bible, about historic heroes and heroes in the new country, such as the heroism of the watchmen, pioneers etc. After a while the "Lions" group was called "Habirim" like the members of the Hebrew desert clan who wandered in the desert and conquered Eretz Yisrael.
The basic-educational cell at the nest - the group - included 8-10 scouts. The group was divided separately into boys and girls. The scouts would meet twice a week, at the hostel or outside for meetings ("kibbutz") with the head of the group (the "Kibbutzai"). The scout was required to appear in uniform, obey the Kibbutzai's orders to be accurate, orderly and obedient.
The "kibbutz" started with the order "Be prepared! Stand still! and the blessing - "Be ready!" while the reply would be "Ready always!" Activities would start with a short march, singing, sitting down and talking -and finally - dancing "Be merry Galileans, heroes and soldiers", the hora dance of those days. The group's main target was to create a close social structure, good friendship and openheartedness. In the "character" talks they would talk openheartedly about the character of the group's members and find a way to amend distortions. Each group had a triangular flag made of cloth on which the name and symbol of the group was sewn - the picture of an animal, fowl or flower.
On Saturdays the scouts would hold a meeting of the troop which included four groups, the kibbutzaim and the head of the troop. It would start with a festive roll-call, similar to the group's meeting. If there was a festive occasion they would bring the troop's flag along - made of dark green silk with the symbol - three fig leaves under which was written "Be prepared." Down at the flag's helm was written: "Scouts nest - Yurburg troop." When the troop's flag was brought in they would have to stand at attention. The troop's head would order "Honor the flag- salute!" - silence all around and everyone saluted the flag. (The salute was by lifting the hand while the thumb would press the pink and the three middle fingers were raised). Each troop meeting was a feast to the scouts; the atmosphere and the elevated mood left a strong impression on the participants and provided them with an unforgettable experience.
Advance brother, to the top of the mountain
In the forest among the trees;
On the river bed,
On the wide meadow
Where Hebrew scouts pause.
Not among the walls and not in the city -
Laughter in their eyes, a song on their lips
And joy - so much joy in their hearts
One of the scouts' rules says: "A scout loves nature". The scout generally observes all the scouts' rules out of understanding and recognition of their importance, however, the rule regarding nature he accepts with enthusiasm. Indeed, the scouts in Yurburg observed this rule in its true sense. Yurburg was surrounded by forests; thus the scouts did not remain inside the hostel but went on outings, to the camp or settlement. There were many trips and camps held by the Yurburg nest in the beautiful landscape around the town. These trips left a deep impression on the scouts' hearts. There were many preparations before departure and much sports training had to be acquired before leaving for the camp.
- Measuring the distance at eye level - height of a tree, width of a river, how fast the stream flows; - Determining the world's winds according to compass, sundial, movements of the moon and stars; - Signs - alpha-beta morse; semaphore; - Walking a kilometer at a scout's pace in 7 minutes, walking 7 kms. at a scout's pace, notice and remember striking things in the landscape;
- Set up a tent -know 20 uses of the scouts stick and 10 knots in the rope; - Know how to light a bonfire with 2-3 matches and cook a 3-course dinner; - Know at least 8 sports exercises to strengthen the body; - Know first aid in case of injury and daily hygiene at the camp.
When the camp ended in an exalted spirit - the scouts would say: "One day at camp is better than a whole month in town. . . ."
We would not be telling the truth if we did not mention the sport of sailing on the rivers. Yurburg had three rivers- and that was an advantage not enjoyed by every nest. Indeed, the Yurburg nest used the sailing advantage; who does not remember the hours of sailing on the Mitova, the songs and laughter that filled the eyes with tears
The rules were an indication for each scout from the day they joined the nest. Violation of the scouts rules was considered very serious. Each scout had to know the rules by heart and explain their essence. However, merely knowing the rules was not enough; the scout had to live according to these rules and implement them in daily life.
These were the rules:
A. A scout observes the truth
B. A scout is devoted and faithful to his country
C. A scout helps others
D. A scout is a friend and brother to all other scouts
E. A scout is polite and ready to serve
F. A scout is frugal and takes care of his own and other people's belongings
G. A scout is diligent and defends his views
H. A scout is merry, alert and in high spirits
I. A scout is modest
J. A scout is pure of thought, words and deeds (Observes sexual purity, does not smoke and does not drink alcohol).
The above rules, as defined here, are based on Baden Powell's "Scouting Book",
and they applied to the first years of the movement. However, when the movement adopted the Zionist-pioneer outlook - the rules were changed accordingly. However, the scouts principle remained valid as an educational guideline in the movement.
The steps served as an educational work system for the scouts groups. All the steps' subjects were divided into three parts. The scout studied them in his group and passed a test on them. These were the parts of the steps:
A. Scouting with everything it included.
B. The rules and educational principles.
C. Information about the world and fatherland. After the movement passed through ideological changes the new program was formulated for "the steps" in the Zionist-pioneer spirit.
The "steps" program included:
Judaism - A selection of Bible chapters, parts of Ethics of the Fathers, traditional holidays and nature holidays, periods in the history of Israel, personalities, heroism in Israel etc.
Eretz Yisrael - General information about the country, various generations of aliyah, settling thecountry in the last generations, "Hibat Zion", the first settlements, the Biluim, town and village in Israel, Jewish workers in Eretz Yisrael, "Hashomer", moshav and kibbutz. Hashomer Hatzair in Eretz Yisrael. As background study material the following books were used: Self-emancipation by Dr. I.L. Pinsker, The Jewish State by Dr. T.Z. Herzl and the books "Dreamers and Fighters" by Yari Polskin, the "Yizkor" (Remembrance) book, the study book "The Railway Track" the book about the life of Yosef Trumpeldor (written by Pesach Lipovzki) - the man of labor and Hagana and the founder of "Hahalutz". (His last words "It is good to die for our country" became holy words to the scouts. On the 11th day of the month Adar a memorial day would be held at the nest to honor his memory. Selected parts were also read of the authors - Ahad Ha'am; Brenner, A.D. Gordon, H.N. Bialik, S. Sternichowsky, A. Shlonsky, Itzak Lamdan ("Masada") and others of their generation. The scouts hymn - "Be prepared" - was exchanged for the song by Haim Nahman Bialik "Blessing of a people" (first verse) which encourages the pioneer workers who build the country.
Hold the hands of all our gifted brothers
Young hearts where they are
Let them be cheerful - be merry and glad
Lend a shoulder to help the people!
And of course they also sang Imberg's "Hatikva" at the time- the hymn of the Zionist Federation. The scouts' greeting "Be prepared" "Always prepared!" was also replaced by "Hazek Veematz" (Cheer up - cheer up and be strong)
Later on in the "process of change" parts of the social theory were also introduced into the "steps" and in the ideology of the Zionist- pioneer labor movement.
It was the custom at the adolescent scouts group that the adolescent scout would deliver a public oath reflecting his commitment to the movement, its aims and values. A scout who received a favorable opinion from the members of his group regarding his good behavior - would be fit to deliver the public oath at a festive occasion. The troop's head, the older brother, would speak about the responsibility of the scout who took the oath.
When the troop head finished his speech, the troop's flag would be brought forth and they would all salute the blue flag.
The scout, who delivered his oath, would stand upright in front of the flag and the troop's leader, who would ask as follows:
Head of the troop: "Are you aware of the value of man's honor and his word of honor?"
The scout: "Yes, I am aware of it and I and my word of honor are to be trusted."
Head of the troop: "Can I trust you and your word of honor that you will do your duty to your people, help others and observe the rules of the scouts?"
The scout: "Yes, I am aware of this and I and my word of honor are to be trusted."
Head of the troop: "Take your oath". (The scout salutes the flag and delivers his oath).
The scout: "I hereby take a public oath, confirmed by my word of honor,
that I shall do my duty to my people and my country, help others
and observe the rules of the scouts."
Head of the troop: "I trust you and your word of honor that you will do as you say, from now on you are our brother, a brother in the large family of scouts ."
Head of the troop: "I wish you success!" He attaches the pin to the scout's uniform and gives him the blue tie.
That is the end of the ceremony. There are no words to describe the scouts' excitement. The members of the group embrace the scout who delivered the oath and he returns their embrace. Everyone is happy and glad and they start to sing and dance the hora. . .
That is, in fact, the Baden Powell version of the public oath, which existed as long as the movement existed.
There was an increasing trend at the movement to change its nature and objectives, but there were others who wanted to adhere to Baden Powell scouting and were opposed to adding Zionist-pioneer aspects. However, the majority of the adolescent group agreed, without hesitation, to give the movement a Zionist-pioneer outlook. The nest continued its activity; scouting remained the same as far as organization and the movement's system of education were concerned, but became richer in substance. From now on the nest was called "The nest of the Hebrew scouts Hashomer Hatzair". The movement considered itself the successor of "Hashomer", i.e. kibbutz -work, settling the country, protecting and defending it.
A group of friends got organized in those days at the "Maccabi" branch in Yurburg, among them Zevulun, member of the committee which identified with the ideas of pioneering Zionism. The members of the group considered Yosef Trumpeldor their teacher and mentor - and they were called "The Trumpeldor Troop". The "troop" members joined "Hashomer Hatzair" and strengthened the Shomer nest. Zevulun occupied key positions in the nest, together with Haim Seiger. Since then the nest became more important and its rising power was felt in all fields of Zionist activity in town. Haim Seiger met the expectations of the "Trumpeldor Troop" members with his strong personality and Zionist outlook.
When a scout at the nest turns seventeen, he joins the Shomrim group, which obliges its members to implement the Zionist ideal. The first stage of implementation is to go on training.
The Shomer now faces a crucial decision about his personal life in the near future. Some Shomrim decide without hesitation, others have a problem with the decision, for personal reasons. They usually consult their parents, and the answer is not always positive. Then the Shomer faces a difficult decision. Particularly the parents of girls would make it difficult for them. We remember a case when one of the girls at the nest - Hannah Samolnik (Polan) decided to go on training and faced strong opposition by her parents. Hannah did not give in to her parents and one night she got up and left her home to go on training. In this case she joined a farming group in Dompan - an estate owned by a German in the Memel (Klafida) district. Hannah was the first person in the nest to go on training and the first to go on aliyah to Israel (1929).
Moshe Raisman also went on training to Dompan. Zevulun joined the same group, three days after he graduated from high school, in his case also against the wish of his parents.
The move from scouting romanticism and the boisterous life of the young to life on a distant farm was not easy. The hard work started early in the morning and ended late at night. Living and economic conditions were poor. Nevertheless, they got used to it. "Once a scout - always a scout". This saying becomes reality when confronted with difficulties. The good scout-Shomer passes the test. Training in town was not easy either; but the hope to go to Israel boosts the spirit.
When the training period was over - the problems of aliyah started. No certificate. "His Majesty's Government" caused disappointment. They wait and wait and the waiting causes frustration and disappointment. There is a long queue for aliyah. That is why the aliyah flows slowly, although there is great demand and the fight for the Certificate is difficult.
When the Shomer goes to Israel he joins the nucleus of the Shomrim from Lithuania, who are of the same age, in order to set up a new kibbutz. In the meantime they are in tents near one or other settlement, and they work - some in the orange groves and others paving roads or building. When the Keren Kayemet announces to the kibbutz nucleus that land has been allocated to it somewhere for settlement - their happiness knows no bounds. Usually two or three kibbutz nuclea merge for joint settlement on the land.
However, we did not intend to speak about settlement, but about the fact that the Shomrim, the immigrants from Yurburg, joined the settlement nuclea and together set up kibbutzim. The Hashomer Hatzair movement from Lithuania set up six kibbutzim:
Beth Zera in the Jordan valley, Kfar Massaryk in the Zvulun valley, Amir in Upper Galilee, Ramat Hashofet in the Menashe mountains, Ma'anit in Samaria and Lahavot Habashan in Upper Galilee. Among those who settled in these kibbutzim you will find branches from Yurburg who realized their life's dream at the kibbutz. There are Shomrim from Yurburg too who joined other kibbutzim. for personal reasons, such as Givat Brenner, Afikim and others. Quite a few Shomrim from Yurburg are to be found in Israel's towns and villages.
Unfortunately, the number of Shomrim from Yurburg at the kibbutzim and in general is getting smaller and smaller. There is no eternity.
People pass away and presently their relatives represent Yurburg. Many people from Yurburg who left the town already before the Holocaust, are dispersed over all the corners of the world.
Is this the end of the Yurburg story? Will the name of our community still be remembered? The name of the Shomer-scouts nest in Yurburg?. . .
It is hard to imagine that these youngsters we knew - the trainees of the Hebrew scouts nest - who were so much loved and liked in their lives, who filled the streets of Yurburg with laughter and joy - are no longer alive . . .they, who at the time were a source of pride to their parents and the Jews of Yurburg, were cut by a cruel and criminal hand from the land of life . . .
And now . . . the Shomer hostel is empty. There is the silence of a cemetery around it. The paths breathed. The crowds and joy of youth have gone. The song of their lives has fallen silent. Haim Seiger, their leader and mentor, Rivka Karabelnik, his girlfriend, are no longer. They are gone forever. Only their sacred memory will remain forever in the hearts of those who knew them and were close to them. - -
This in short is the dramatic story of what happened to a group of young boys and girls, members of an illustrious youth movement, called Hashomer Hatzair. The scouts and Shomrim were active at their modest nest for about twenty years, an exemplary nest in the town of Yurburg, a charming corner where one could widen the horizon and enrich the soul with the exciting experiences of youth.
This nest - as many other nests of Hashomer Hatzair in Lithuania constituted a glorious page in the history of the Zionist-pioneer youth movements. These youngsters who dreamt of Zion, were cruelly murdered, and did not manage to fulfill their dream to go to Israel and take part in its building and development on behalf of themselves and for the people of Israel.
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The movement Betar was quite active and spreaded throughout Yurburg. It was a strong movement here. Whoever passed through the Betar camp, felt like if he entered the drawing room, from there we would became strong leaders to defend our homeland Israel.
The Zionist education, that we received in the courses and in the Betar camp was based upon a special program: an education with national basis. We became fluent in the Hebrew language and learned to love our homeland Israel.
The goal to emigrate was instilled in everyboby, and it was not executed in parts. We would first have to get a strong preparation in the courses and in the camp in order to emigrate. We would all learn the background of Zionist education under the special leadership of Yehuda Most and Moshe Krelitz.
This preparation would find the interest in many activities, in the courses we would get a strong leadership and we became close friends like a family. Our leaders were always there for us.
In those days when we all dreamed of a Jewish state to be founded. We did not know about the coming of the Holocaust. And thus occurred this horrible tragedy to the Jewish people of Europe. We did not know that the dream of many would not materailize and many of us would be murdered.
Some members of the movement from our city escaped the Holocaust, and made their way to the land of Israel.
We cannot forget those days that passed of the magnificent group of the Betar movement in Yurburg.
Betar Group in Yurburg (top row second and third from left: Jack Cossid and Moshe Krelitz)
This photo was not in the Yizkor book - Photo provided by Jack Cossid
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