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[Page 159]

Zionist Activity in Our Town

Jakob KLINGBAJL, Holon

Translated from Hebrew by Carole Turkeltaub-Borowitz

My father's house was a Zionist and traditional one, and so, we, four sons and three daughters, were brought up in this atmosphere, although, like most of his generation, father studied at the yeshiva in Kutno. When he was about to reach the age of conscription into the Russian army, father decided that, before his enlistment, it would be a good thing to learn a trade, and he made his mind up to become a tinsmith at the workshop of my uncle, Szmuel Rozenbaum (of blessed memory). But this plan did not please his mother. Grandmother Rachel (of blessed memory) complained about it to judge Lajbisz (a righteous man of blessed memory) who, after hearing the objections from both sides, passed judgement: her son was making a good decision and may there be many Jews like him, since there is nothing finer than a Jewish youngster learning a trade by day and dedicating the night to the Torah. Grandma had no choice but to accept this verdict. After he got married father took care of the Kutno community mikveh (ritual bath) for fifteen years.

When the author Szalom Asz visited our home in Israel, he reminded father of his time at the yeshiva when they were pupils together. He reminisced about the slap on the face that he got from my father for reading “forbidden” books under the desk during lessons. The author was proud of the people in the land of Israel who came from his town, who were all working folk lending a hand to develop the country. And so, over many years, in Kutno, we were prepared psychologically and pragmatically, even before we emigrated to Israel.

While my brother and myself were still schoolboys at the first Hebrew school in Kutno, the Bnei Zion Haktanim [Young Bnei Zion society] was founded. Jakob Zerchin was its leader – he was also principal of the school. The job of the society was to distribute Keren Kayemet stamps, picture postcards of the Land of Israel and so on. However, after a short while the First World War broke out and I went to Germany to learn to be a locksmith and a plumber. At the end of the war I returned to Kutno and joined the Tseirei Zion [Youngsters of Zion] society, whose leaders then were Natan Tiger (of blessed memory), Zosza Szpira, Bronia Jarecka, Jakob Zandberg, the teacher Libart and the son of Rabbi Izrael Jehoszua Trunk (of blessed memory). This association promoted cultural events and was active in matters to do with the land of Israel and Zionism. And so, many Zionist leaders in Poland visited Kutno.

In 1918, after the Germans had departed from Poland, for fear of pogroms from the Polish population, Jewish youth started to arrange Jewish defence groups. Even we, us Kutners, got organized and obtained arms from the Germans who were withdrawing from Poland. The first head of defence in


The HeChalutz society in Kutno


our town was Wirzbicki, the principal of the high school. Of course, the first search for concealed weapons was made at the high school, but they found nothing because the arms were hidden in the wood store belonging to Mr Holcman and in Turbowicz and Nachman Wajnsztajn's (of blessed memory) beer factory. However, as a result of this search all Zionist business was stopped, except for HeChalutz activity, which apparently the Polish police officer, Miczinski, approved of. The day after the search, while I was walking in the street with my friend Jakob Meler (of blessed memory), the above mentioned officer stopped us and without saying a word, gave Jakob a slap and ordered me to report the next day at the police station. When I got there the following day he questioned me about the activities of HeChalutz and I explained to him that our aim was to train Jewish youth for productive work in Israel and we had no political agenda.

My reply satisfied him and we were given permission to continue with our activities. He even promised us that as long as he was a police officer in Kutno not a hair on our heads would be touched. And he kept his promise. There were no pogroms in Kutno.

After the Germans had left, Kutno HeChalutz requested joining the ranks of the Polish military organization, POW. But they turned us down claiming that the organization was closed. Meanwhile we extended our activities and even arranged a local congress of HeChalutz.

After the Russian-Polish war, in 1920, after I had been released from the Polish army, I applied to emigrate to Israel, but the central office prevented involved members from emigrating so that the movement's activities would not be shut down. However, at the same time, Szlomo Welsztajn (Franc), and his brother Josef (of blessed memory), and Jehuda Bromberg, emigrated to Israel. After them my father (of blessed memory) emigrated to Israel. A year later he brought his family to him and even I emigrated a year after them. My father's house was a meeting place for all Kutno emigrants in Israel. After a short time M. Lustigman, Kolski, Wajngarten, Chaim Elbaum, Gwircman and others came to Israel.

The leaders of HeChalutz were: I. Majranc, A. Shimonowicz, J. Zandberg, J. Meler and myself.

It must be mentioned that Kutners played an active part in various aspects of Zionist functions in Israel, in the Hagana (before the War of Independence) and in social and economic life in Israel.

[Page 160]

The Beginning of “Betar”


Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz

The youth movement HaShachar [“The Dawn”] was founded in Kutno on the 24th of April 1923, after it had first received instruction from Stanisławów, from an organization called by the name of “The Union of Scouts called after Josef Trumpeldor”.

The number of members in the movement from the town was small. They used to gather together at our home. Among the activists remembered from that time were members Mosze Goldwasser (of blessed memory), the two Rapke brothers (of blessed memory), the Wajkselfisz brothers, and the writer of these lines. Also, as the main director for the group


Leaders of the Union of Soldiers

was based in Stanisławów [now in Ukraine], we were by way of a link with the leader of the Galil Warsaw group, member Goldberg (Har Zahav), standing in contact with the head commander Albert Bibring in Stanisławów. From there I received instructions and commands in the Polish language, in a telegram. In one circular the “Ten Commandments of Betar[1] were printed, based on the principles of scouting in national Jewish education, with the aim of realizing the dream of a Jewish state within the historical borders of the land of Israel.

The first meetings were held in the Am HaSefer school. The idea had constantly grown larger with an input from all quarters. It did not take long before it became one of the strongest organizations in the town.

At the end of 1927 the first national conference of Betar and HaShachar was held in Warsaw, with the participation of Zeew Jabotinski, at which the unification of both organizations and the emergence of Betar was proclaimed. In Kutno this gave an impetus to a new determination and activities.

Then Zwi Szczsig was appointed leader of the Kutno troop, which was divided into small groups with a leader in charge of each one. In the town, a Betar training farm was set up.

When A. Propes was appointed the representative of Betar in Poland, the movement took off. In the year 1929 the movement held a training course in Klesów [now in Ukraine]. The same year the Kutno Betar held a very successful summer camp, not far from Włocławek.

In the organization there were areas where leaders from the Betar troop found themselves in special circumstances. When member M. Zandberg came from the training camp in Vilna, he had to change the course of the troop which had been altered by member Elbaum, who had managed to introduce his military training together with similar Polish organizations. This military training left a deep impression on the youth.

At that time I was learning at the Betar leaders' school in Warsaw. But the blessed work of the Kutno Betar was erased by the tainted German hand which destroyed the entire Jewish life in the town.


Translator's footnote

  1. Stands for Brit [covenant] of Josef Trumpeldor; a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Latvia Return

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