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[Page 117]

Left Wing “Poalei Tziyon

by Dovid Kartman and Sheyndel Sztrasburg, Ramat Gan

Translation by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's comments

 

The Discussion in the “Linden Trees”

Winter 1921–1922, the left–wing Poalei Tziyon was founded in Kurow. Friend [comrade] Yehoshua Tarszyc from Pulow was the one who followed through with this. He was delegated from the central in Warsaw to establish Poalei Tziyon centers within the Pulow circle.

He assembled a group of youths and those older, working, who were decidedly nationalistic, and were also socialists. Friend Tarszyc spoke about the tasks of the left–wing Poalei Tziyon, about the national and social problems. Among those assembled were:

Khana Ette Ritzer, Sheyndel Sztrasburg, Sarah Ritzer, Rukhama Ritzer, Khana Klaperman, and others. There was also someone who had absolutely no experience with loan work, with work in general – and it was actually he who later became the main director of the left–wing Poalei Tziyon in town, and that was Yosel Lerman.

 

Yosel and Esther Lerman, perished

 

The discussion was held in the forest [among the linden trees] on the Lublin road. When friend Tarszyc explained that among us there already was a developed Poalei Zionist, Yosel Lerman, we were very excited. Once again, we looked in wonder at this Beis Medrash'nik [student in a religious study hall], a genius in religious learning, a Rav's grandson, the son of a wealthy man, (married to the daughter of an even wealthier man – we were very curious about this – how would he truly understand a worker? All his problems? And all the modern nationalistic problems?

But later, with the organizational work,

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he got us all excited. We drew all the knowledge from this Beis Medrash young man, and he raised us to be good, devoted idealists of the left–wing Poalei Tziyon.

Where did Yosel Lerman actually receive all this general knowledge? This is the story:

He was the only son of his father Mendel, and Mendel did not want that his only son should join the military in the year 1918. During the war, he sent his son to Vienna. There he met activists of the left–wing Poalei Tziyon and leading friends such as – Zerubavel, Buksboim, Rozen, and through them, he was educated. There he read and learned a lot.

He became the leader not only of the Kurow organization, but also of the entire region.

We had to raise money in order to rent a location and be able to carry out our activities. Left–wing Poalei Tziyon was illegal, so we created a society under the title of “evening courses.” This society undertook to deliver classes on reading and writing Yiddish. We organized readings, discussion evenings, theater performances and a library. We believed in the slogan – “knowledge is power.”

A separate youth organization of the Poalei Tziyon was established, which was run by Aron Leikhter. Other than he, the other activists were: Khaim Mordekhai Nisenboim, Aron Akerman, Feyge Sztrasburg, Rekhel Rozen, Nekhama Walerstajn. They created an active, accomplished, revolutionary youth organization.

Aron Leikhter, the carpenter, should be mentioned separately here. He made a great impression on the youth, was easily able to give over to them a theoretical concept – both about political issues, and about

 

Sarah Ritzer and her young daughter, perished

[Page 119]

A greeting from Yosel Lerman to Roza Blumel's

 

literary themes. He was a sharp debater both with the “Reds” and with the resident Zionists. He was not afraid that he would be beaten, because woe to the person who would even try to start up with him physically. He was always polite and to–the–point in debates with his opponents. He was a good people person.

For a while, he carried the idea with him of going to Israel – on foot. Finally, though, he reached Israel and died after a difficult illness at the age of 40.

When Aron Leikhter was no longer in Kurow, the “Reds” began to behave differently – during a discussion, when they were pressed against the wall with a question for which they had no answer, they began to fight, break, smash window panes, and destroy the centers. It was even right for them to poke out the eyes of one another. We had very quickly to learn the fighting tactics to be able to respond to a smack with a smack. This happened only in extreme cases. In general, we tried, as best as we could,

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to have discussions among the youth in a warm, friendly language.

Separately, we should say a few words about friend Aron Akerman. His discussions with the “Reds” were at a higher level because he was well read and he always brought in an important argument and appropriate quotations. He spoke with high regard also about the opposition's ideas, and he argued logically and fairly.

He also had acting talent and he participated in the performances that were done to raise some income for the party. Our culture work upset the “Reds” and because of that they boycotted each of our performances, each of our lectures. On the contrary, they did come, but only to disrupt, to break doors, to smash windows.

I particularly remember when the left–wing Poalei Tziyon had organized a reading by Avromtche Tzimerman, after his release from prison. He wanted also to tell about the behavior of his communist friends who were with him in prison. The lecture took place in

 

Shamai Finkelstayn, lives in Belgium

 

Aron Leikhter, died in Israel in 1949

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A youth group of Poalei Tziyon, of them we recognize:

Meyer, a grandson of Shmuel Avrohom, Menashe Bukhshreiber, Sarah Vachman, Tzetel Rozen, Rivkele Lerman, Faide Brener, Yisroel Shulstayn, and Pinkhas Akerman (Montreal)

 

the club of the Poalei Tziyon, at the home of Moshe Dovid Ritzer. The “Reds” absolutely did not want to allow this lecture to happen. They came prepared to break doors and windows. Among them was also my brother, Shimon Kartman. I was standing on guard in order not to allow them to break anything. My brother gave me a blow in the eye with a hard object. He was just about half a millimeter off of knocking out my left eye. This was just one week before my wedding (to Sheyndel Sztrasburg).

Almost no Friday evening went by without a reading by Yosel Lerman, and no month passed without a visit by a friend from the central office, with a lecture on a political or literary theme.

Oftentimes, friend Y. Zerubavel gifted us with his rich lectures, both political and literary. The entire city attended his presentations. After one of his readings we always were inspired with more energy towards the ongoing work. From time to time, we were also visited by friend Y. Peterzeil, the author Yoel Mastboim. Several times we were also visited by the reciter–singer friend Avrohom Brajzblat. The “youth” sent us presenters such as – Gershon Froiman, Meyerel Reikh, Shololm Brtizman, and others.

There was no other organization in town like this one, one that could perform such a play, as the left–wing Poalei Tziyon. He has lots of talent, also a fine stage manager – Duvtche Zamdmer. When he left to Warsaw, Yankel Ritzer replaced him.

The following were members of the drama circle:

Yidel Mandelker, Shammai Finkelstajn, Sarah Ritzer, Khaim Vajda, Sheyndel Rotfarb, Sarah and Rukhama Ritzer, Khana Klaperman, Aron Akerman, Yosef Yudel Saltzberg, Nekhama Walerstajn, Sheyndel Sztrasburg.

There was also a beautiful “youth organization” that was established. During my time, at the head of this organization were these friends:

Pinkhas Akerman, Shloime Rokhman, Meyer Saltzman, Sarah Tajtelboim, Bentzion Tenenboim,

Most of these at that time were apprentices in the tailoring workshops.

Later, when it was difficult to work politically

 

Standing, from right to left: Beirukh Levin, Shloime Akerman, Yekhezkel Finkelstajn.
Seated, from right to left: Malka Ritzer, her husband Leibel Weide, Laya Ritzer (Argentina), Faivel Degenstajn, other than those marked with the residences – perished

[Page 123]

Rukhama Ritzer, her husband Yekhezkel Tenenboim, and their child – perished

 

under the name – “Society of Evening Courses,” a new society was created under the name “Friends of Working Israel.” Later – under the name “Jewish School Organization.” These were really fictitious names for the left–wing Poalei Tziyon organization, to hide themselves from the authorities.

As we see still today, our organizations produced social activists. Pinkhas Akerman was secretary of the Kurow landsmannschaft [association for people from the same city; benevolent organization for immigrants from the same city] in Montreal. Meyer Zaltzman was active in Israel in the Haganah [paramilitary organization in Israel between 1920 and 1948] and today is in Mapai [Mifleget Poalei Eretz YIsrael; “Workers' Party of the Land of Israel”; centre–left political party in Israel], is on the administration of our Israeli Kurow landsmannschaft, is on the administration of the large printing cooperative “Akhdus” [“Unity”] in Tel Aviv.

In ending our brief illustrations, we want to particularly mention and underscore the role of Yosel Lerman. And also to mention as praiseworthy is his wife, the beloved friend [comrade], Esterel Gozhiczanski, who demonstrated intellectual understanding for the society and party activities of her husband, despite the fact that her environment and education –

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Leibel Hofman, Moshe Mendel's, his wife Baile Hekht (Zishe Kaile's) – perished

 

was very, very distant from such radical ideas as those of the left–wing Poalei Tziyon.

Once we mention both of those, then we also have to mention the education that Yosel Lerman gave to the children – Rivkele and Shmulik. When Rivkele was six or seven years old, she already commented on a celebration of the October Revolution, November 7th. I remember the words as she expressed them:

“True, there are yellow leaves falling, but red stars are twinkling.”

In the year 1933, when we left to Israel, we left behind a strong “youth” under the direction of Pinkhas Akerman, Sarale Tajtelboim, and Bentzion Tenenboim. Later, we received news of their fine and successful work, where they were able to successfully organize the school youth, and how the organization grew – until the Nazi beast stepped onto Polish ground and murdered everyone and erased it all.

 

 
 
Rivkele, Yosel and Esterel Lerman's daughter (New York)   Rekhel Rozen, perished   Sholom Britzman (Paris)

 


[Page 125]

The Hakhnosas Orkhim
[Guest House; Welcoming Guest]

by Dovid Kartman, Ramat Gan

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's comments

This useful institution was not created so quickly. I remember, that once, when a larger number of poor would came into town all at once, after going around soliciting donations all day long, they had to lie down, dead tired, on the hard benches in the Beis Medrash . They placed their packages under their heads and covered themselves with their coats.

But it was a difficult winter, terrible frosts, and the earnings – meager. When it was also cold in the Beis Medrash, there was just one oven for heating purposes. All the poor argued among themselves who should sleep closer to the oven.

The regular Beis Medrash users, who sat and learned, were disturbed by the pleading arguments and disagreements. So, they had to get involved, smooth things out, and give the better places to the older ones. And once the poor already worked things out among themselves, had gone to sleep, a snoring began, a snorting, and even with that, you should excuse me, forgive me, there were foul smells.

A separate chapter was taking home these guests for Friday nights and Shabbaths. After the prayers, the visitors would line themselves up at the doors of the synagogue and Beis Medrash , also in the chassidic stieblech [informal synagogues], and they waited to be taken to someone's home [as a guest]. There were times when one or two of these guests remained behind, since there was no one to take them home to their houses. In that case, the task of taking care of them became my father's. When he was leaving to go home from the Kotzk stiebel, he stopped off in the Beis Medrash , had a quick look, and if there were any visitors who had been left behind, he took one of them home with him, but did not leave before he had made sure that all the others would be taken care of as well. Because of that, more than once it happened that my father would come home quite late. My mother once said to him:

“Why do you come home so late, so many times, being busy until the last minute with taking care of the visitors,

 

 
 
Yakov Yoel and Hentche Kartman and their son Shimon, all perished

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and you bring them to houses where they did not prepare themselves for guests. Would it not be better for you to take care of this on a Thursday night or Friday morning?”

So, after Shabbath, my father actually went to make a note, a list of the better–off businessmen, workers, particularly with those he felt a closer connection (every Shabbath he was the Torah reader in Polysz in the synagogue), and discussed with them that really the guests had to be attended to so that they would not be embarrassed as they stood by the door, often remaining there and having nothing to eat. Once and for all, things had to be organized. And that is actually what was done.

As if by telegraph, the poor in the surrounding areas became aware that in Kurow they already did not have to stand at the door, that each visitor was to be taken care of by a businessman [host]. The only thing was that they had to come into town before Friday afternoon. But if it did happen that a poor person came into town later in the evening, my father also had a place on reserve and this visitor was also taken care of. Not only the poor, but also the hosts were pleased with this new system. They knew earlier that they would have a guest, and then the hostess would know to prepare more.

There were times when there were few visitors for Shabbath, and the hosts had complaints that it was their turn on that Shabbath, and they did not receive any guests.

There were enough smart beggars who already knew which businessmen served a more delicious meal, and they already began to choose that they wanted to go to the Ritzers, to Leizer Hersh Kenig, Yisroel Zamdmer, Mendel Mulyes, Berel Hitelman, Shiye the baker, Yisroel Gozhczanski.

The issue of sleep was also correctly addressed. Every Friday, they sent out a businessman with a pushke [charity box] to collect monies for Hachnosas Orkhim . With those monies, they bought mattresses, blankets, wood for heating, even hired a person who would clean the place where they were sleeping.

When Yidel Brik was the community chairman, they designated two houses and baths, where Hertzke Beder lived. This was so that the poor should no longer linger on the hard benches and tables in the Beis Medrash. This also would be so that the holy place would not be desecrated with arguments or foul smells.

This is how it went until Hitler's plague destroyed everything and everyone – the guests and the businessmen and the synagogue and the houses – a devastation without any tombstones!


[Page 127]

The House of Prayer [Study–House]
Dos besmedresh

by Yekhiel Hekht, Naharia

Translated by Tina Lunson

 

 

The besmedresh has been described and praised by many writers and poets. Bialik, Shteynberg, A. Z. Rabinovits and many others wrote with love and piety about the study–house. The House of Prayer or study–house occupies a seat of honor on the Eastern wall of Hebrew and Yiddish literatures.

Here, I will describe here the study–house in Koriv but from a different standpoint; not from a historic–religious standpoint, not the religious and ethical values that we inherited from the study–house, not the great service the besmedresh provided in the sustaining and survival of the Jewish people, not the study–house as a “place for the making of the soul of the Jewish people”, but the besmedresh from a social standpoint. The simple study–house in Koriv as we remember it between the afternoon and evening prayers, or during the elections to the Koriv interest–free loan society and the like, the Koriv study–house as an integral part of town, in its hoo–ha, its effervescent community life, as a part of the entire way of life in Koriv.

It seems impossible to depict our town without the study–house. How else would a Koriv Jew spend the large part of his time, the shabosim , the long winter evenings – if not in the study house? In there, there was noise, activity, it was jam–packed. Almost all the males of the town could be found there. They roamed around in the middle of the study–house or behind the stove, their hands folded behind them, engaging in deep conversations. And what was not dealt with in those conversations?

Private family matters, riddles, livelihood, the fairs, elections for a rabbi, the free–loan society, trustees, about new wonders – the Koriv electric station that was to be built very soon. Political questions and world problems were resolved behind the stove.

Here Fayvl OKS is going around with a young study–house patron and chatting passionately and relentlessly. Certainly the fate of the proletarian world revolution is being decided here, and it was probably also begun here in the Koriv study–house. Meyshe VAKHMAN is also making the rounds with some young man and makes a fuss, gesticulating with his hands, with his head, literally all his bones speaking it. Certainly they talk

[Page 128]

about both sides of the Jordan. And happen upon how Motl SHNEYER talks so broadly and knowledgably; the story about the prince, the community's provider, if not about REYVITS, YUNIVTSE, KAMINKE…

At the pulpit stands a boring preacher who gargles out a sad kind of spoken melody, but who is listening to him? A racket. Smoke from cigarettes. Children are not quieted either. They exchange buttons, play hide and seek, chase one another, tangle among the feet of the adults, anger the mean beadle Mikhl.

The Koriv study–house and the Koriv shul. It seems as though they are both of one piece, one pattern. Both religious community institutions stand near one another, become pronounced almost with one breath. But what a difference, distance between them. The large old wooden shul, the holy of holies of Koriv, a secret–filled place inspiring fear in the fantasy of the children, is associated with the dead who come in the middle of the night to pray and seek their redress there. The shul appears to stand in the middle of the town, but separate from the town. Without mezuzes, buried deep in a cemetery, it always reminds one of the day of death, with its corpse–stretcher in the vestibule. It was closed all week except in [early] summer during the counting of the omer when it is open for afternoon and evening prayers. When the lame beadle goes in to the shul he must knock three times with the heavy iron chain, ostensibly in order to give time for the dead who have gathered in the shul to disappear, to go back to their rest.

It is told that one time, in olden days, when demons and the dead felt as comfortable in Koriv as in their own homes, the beadle forgot to knock before he entered the shul. A blood–freezing, terrible scene was revealed before his eyes as he entered the shul… The beadle did not live out the year.

I remember to this day the fear that the shul inspired in me when I walked home late at night from the study–house and had to pass the shul. But in summer between the afternoon and evening prayers I slinked into the shul through the vestibule, with the corpse stretcher and other terrible mysterious things. When I

[Page 129]

kissed the mezuze–less doorposts (they said that there supposedly exists a judgement – that a shul is empty of mezuzes but I, as a child, knew that it was called a house and even if a shul – without a mezuze). A shudder would run through my bones. And now the appearance of the shul itself, buried deep in the earth, calling from out of the depths, with its huge, beautiful, artistically–carved holy ark, with the high, empty women's balcony, with the graves and grave–grass that one could see through the window. Also the shul occupied an honored place in the life of the town. But separated, standing off to a side of the bustle of the weekly fair of life, with its sadness, closed–ness, solitary–ness, it had an effect, it influenced one to recall that there is a court and there is a judge, in the day before death, enveloped the town with a melancholic veil of mystical feelings. But the study–house is different. I would say that the shul is the hidden Torah of Koriv and the study–house, the Torah revealed.

I still remember well the impression it made on me the first time, as a half–grown boy, that I looked into an old, dusty, moth–eaten kabole book, in a corner of the shul: for me it uncovered a strange, distant, mysterious world, far from everyday life, beckoning and enticing from the distance. It is a danger to delve into the book. The book served only as a further beam of light that influences and has effect from afar. The mere presence of the book Reziel ha'meylekh in a house is a remedy against theft, fire and other calamities.

During the great fire in Koriv, about 50 years ago, during which almost the entire town was wiped out, only the wooden shul remained whole, unharmed. Eye–witnesses related that during the fire white doves flew over the shul, protecting it like faithful guards. It was as if its essential existence had an effect on the town, demanding and reminding of something distant and secretive. It was different for the Torah revealed, the simple Talmud, the Shulkhn orukh, that place where we felt so at home, the Torah, God Himself as it were, had come down from His high throne of glory to rest and to sanctify our simple life. Ruven, Shimen, two litigants, whose ox gored the cow, two men arguing about who owns the tales, jhthe clamor, the bustle of life, the whole of life's fair, the entire commotion of life became sanctified through the Torah revealed. Life and Jewishness were tightly bound together, knotted together, inseparable. And that was also the Koriv besmedresh.

Describing the Koriv study–house means depicting the entire life process of a Koriv Jew, from his birth to his last day, it means describing the poor or the rich life, the one–toned but still multi–colored life of a Jew in Koriv.

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The study–house served as children's home for the children, a youth club for the youth, a political club for the many societies that Koriv was rich with.

Now–famous words were spoken by Rov Leyvi Yitskhok Barditshev as he watched a Jew wrapped in tales un tfiln praying while at the same time he greased the wheels of his wagon:

“Look, Master of the Universe, what a dear and pious people you have, a Jew, even when he greases the wheels of his wagon does not forget you and he prays.”

That folk episode characterizes the life of the Koriv Jew in general and the study–house in particular. The demarcation between the holy and the everyday was the characteristic line. In the study–house people prayed not only while greasing the wheels – but the wagon itself, the simple life, the commotion and the bustle, the pitiless struggle for the existence of a Jewish community, was a prayer. The holy and the everyday were so knotted together that the everyday was elevated to the level of the holy.

The afternoon–evening prayers, a prayer for the community, a page of Talmud with a chat about livelihood, about trade, politics – it was hard to separate one from the other.

Who does not remember Yankl “borekh hu u'borekh shmo”? Why did people call him Ynakl “borekh hu u'borekh shmo”? Because the Jew was very eager for a “borekh hu u'borekh shmo”. For no price in the world would he let a “borekh hu u'borekh shmo” pass him by. On the other side Yankl , excuse me for saying, could not forgo his chats about his business in the study house. His chats were opportune and funny, always woven together with borekh hu u'borekh shmo omeyn.

Koriv joksters once overheard such a chat:

“Oy I bought a calf… borekh hu u'borekh shmo… but the goy cheated me out of 20 zlotes, may he pay a price for this later… omeyn.”

Or take, for example, Meyshe MENDL, the quicklime dealer. Who does not remember Meyshe MENDL, the zealot Jew, essentially Pinkhes [or Phineas] ben Elazar ben Aron haKoen? (By the way, he was a friend, prayed in the same shtibl as my father, and so to a certain extent was a kind of guardian over me. When he once found me reading a maskilik [enlightenment] book hidden inside a Talmud volume, he landed two hot slaps on me. When I went home my father asked me, who slapped you like that?) That Jew was always going about in his lime–dusty clothing and even on shabes and holidays he could not get free of the dust. Sorry to say that that Jew rubbed up against everyone he encountered and dusted them from head to foot.

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I believe that each one of us has something to thank our besmedresh for. Perhaps we also took something negative from the Koriv study–house but also much that is positive. Where else would one get the relentlessness, the passionate burn of the Koriv maskilim, heretics, if not from the Koriv besmedresh? Where else would one get the self–sacrifice of the Koriv Zionists, socialists, even communists, who wasted away in the Polish jails, if not from the old, dusty holy books of the Koriv study–house? Where would one get the deep belief in the redemption of Yisroel, in the Messianic era for the Jewish people that the Koriv Pioneers held, if not from the long winter–night discussions in the study–house? And the stubbornness, the let–come–what–may, the sectarianism, the not relinquishing of the smallest detail, and the wracking of brains – which is a characteristic to this day of all the social and political activists who stem from such Korivers. The study–house also had an effect on all those who revolted against it, meaning that they freed itself from its effect.

The besmedresh educated, brought up generations of Jews, scholars, enlighteners, heretics, revolutionaries, various party– and social–activists, plain, ordinary, honest Jews for the whole round year.

 


A Few Words about My Brothers
And Sisters in My Cell of Betar

by Kalman Taytlboym, Tel Aviv

Translated by Tina Lunson

The figures of my male and female friends from our cell of Betar appear before me always alive. For many of us that cell was our second home. It was there that our feeling of national self-worth was awakened, there that our intelligence was forged, there where we experienced communal culture.

In the winter evenings we sat around the warming oven and listened to the conversations of our commander Eliezer Vorman, who was always full of belief in the victory of our people. He did not live to see it! He was in the ranks of partisans along with Betarist Moyshe Kenig.

Our commanders Moyshe Vakhman, Avrom Zamdmer, Yoysef Hopenhaym – they all lived in difficult material circumstances but they overcame all the obstacles and performed their responsible organizational work. Motl Zaltsberg, the hard-working member, was shot by the Nazis while he was walking, bringing a pail of water from the well near the shul. Simeon Zaltsberg, Khayim Ritser, Pinkhas Goldberg – they set out for erets yisroel with the Second Aliya, but because of the outbreak of the war they were stopped in Rumania and sent back to Kurow, to their deaths.

A group of Kurow Betar members, and the Levinzon brothers, along with a group of Betar partisans from Markushov, were surrounded by the Germans in village near Kurow. All the partisans fired until their last bullets, killing as many Germans as they could and themselves died a death of martyrs and heroes.

May their sacred memory be praised!

 

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