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[Page 177]

The days I spent in Lutsk

Y. Berginsky

Translated by Sara Mages

My first meeting with Lutsk was in 1922. I arrived there as a lecturer on behalf of the Zionist movement Dror[1] which, at that time, began its explanatory and organizational activity in Poland. We (I and another member of Dror) found that the city of Lutsk was already organized in the Zionist sense. It also had active parties. I especially remember the Hitachdut[2] party. The activists of this party (some of them are in Israel today) received us with great hospitality even though, to some extent, we competed with them.

They made their club available to us and also made sure to gather some Jews to hear our lectures. The novelty of this was that we lectured in Hebrew and the topics were very “heavy” - we explained our socialist Zionism and the way in which the Zionist movement is organized. Nevertheless, about two dozen listeners came to this lecture who sat in it to the end. I must admit that I did not find such an attitude later in other cities and towns in Poland.


In Hakhshara in Hindow


In the years 1924-25, the pioneering movement in Poland organized a large enterprise of collective Hakhshara[3] towards aliyah[4] to Eretz Yisrael. Lutsk's halutzim[5] were among the first to establish a small Hakhshara farm in their city (a vegetable garden). The required land was given by one of the city's homeowners, Mr. Kronstein. The halutzim also found hired work in the city, especially in the brick industry, and even that in a Jewish factory. Several dozen halutzim, who came for Hakhshara from the towns of Wolyn, gathered there. They lived in a hayloft that stood inside the vegetable garden. Some of the halutzim did not want to return to their homes and were getting ready to immigrate to Israel directly from the Hakhshara kibbutz. I remember one of my visits, as a representative of HeHalutz[6] center in Poland, in kibbutz Hakhshara in Lutsk in the fall months. The hayloft could no longer serve as a worthy shelter from the winds and the cold. The group offered us a place to sleep on the second floor of the hayloft which was intended for the preservation of the hay. The nights were cold and even though we piled piles of hay on ourselves, our teeth chattered all night from the cold.

Even then the Wolyn halutzim dreamed of permanent Hakhshara in the Diaspora as a step in the halutz's path toward aliyah to Israel. From this point of view, the first family had already been established within the Hakhshara kibbutz in Lutsk. In this family the kibbutz saw a sign and proof that Hakhshara is a permanent form of the life of the halutz in the Diaspora, and therefore he must also solve the questions of life that stand in his way.

In the years 1934-35, Lutsk became a bloc of Hakhshara kibbutzim in the northern part of Wolyn. The bloc had more than twenty Hakhshara kibbutzim with more than a thousand members. In almost every train station, on the tracks departing Lutsk, was a kibbutz Hakhshara, and when you passed by train, they met you at the station with handshakes and shouts of shalom. As stated, the center of this block was in Lutsk. It was

[Page 178]

Young women from Lutsk in Hakhshara in Klesów


an organizational center, headed by a secretariat elected by the members and approved by HeHalutz center. Its job was to organize the connection between the kibbutzim and between them and individual members, to take care of their economic lives, etc. The secretariat also had the authority to settle the affairs of aliyah and to organize the “common fund,” that is, to collect the expenses of the aliyah of halutzim according to their economic possibilities. Thus, a richer halutz participated in the aliyah expenses of a member who had no financial means.

But the bloc's secretariat's main work was the idealistic leadership. Kibbutz Lutsk, as the secretariat's seat, had to serve as an example to all the kibbutzim in the area in the arrangement of external life, in organizing the life of the new society, in imparting values - Jewish, Eretz Yisrael and general - to people preparing themselves towards aliyah to Israel. This was a difficult role in the conditions in which the kibbutz lived.

The members of Kibbutz Lutsk made a living from various jobs they found among the city's Jews. Mostly these were housework: “chopping wood and water pumping.” Some also worked in craft and industrial plants. The attitude of the employers to the Jewish workers who came to the city was generally friendly. It may have been a kind of mutual


A group of halutzim


guarantee - after all, the sons of those employers can be in kibbutz Hakhshara in another city tomorrow and at the mercy of Jewish employers in that city. But the wages were poor. It was determined by the wages they were accustomed to pay the poor peasants from the area that came to look for work in the city. This farmer mainly made a living from his own farm and the wages in the city supplemented it. The halutzim had to survive only on this salary and also go through the period of adjustment to hard physical work. Quite a few needed a certain amount of time to overcome the absorption difficulties at work and all that that entails: warts, joint pain, sick days, work accidents (without social insurance, etc.).

The work was, of course, contract work, and the members of kibbutz Hakhshara had to compete with the local laborer who was trained and used to this work. One of the most difficult problems to solve was the housing question. The kibbutz had more than a hundred men and women members who had to live together and it was difficult to find adequate housing in this city. Finally we found a house with several rooms in the outskirts of the city that its owner had given us in rent, while he himself lived in a smaller house next to the big house.


The committee of the League for Labor Palestine - 1935


Rent was also a difficult issue that the kibbutz could not always meet. Every time I came to Lutsk the homeowner asked me, or demanded, to pay the rent that the kibbutz owed him for several months.

That Jew - his name was Michel - two emotions ran through him: on the one hand he was angry that he is not being paid the rent that served as one of his sources of livelihood. He was also unable to grasp the kibbutz new “way of life.” He spent many hours in the kibbutz's dining room and voiced criticism to the members about this way of life. But, on the other hand, this narrow-minded Jew was sometimes filled with admiration for the superhuman efforts and organizational ability of the .halutzim,

[Page 179]

towards some of the members of the bloc's secretariat who knew how to cope well with the organizational, economic and social difficulties alike.

I came to Lustk together with the member, Yitzhak Tabenkin, who came for a short mission to HeHalutz in Poland. At that time the movement was in a certain crisis. The number of people preparing themselves for aliyah to Israel, in all the pioneering movements in Poland and other countries, was large. On the other hand, the quota of immigration permits allocated by the Mandatory Government was only sufficient for the immigration of a small part. The movement was faced with the question of establishing a permanent Hakhshara that could withstand this difficult situation until it will find new independent ways for aliyah to Israel. It was necessary to explain to the Hakhshara


Halutzim from Lutsk in Israel (1927)


movement that we must adapt to the new situation and muster up the strength in order to get through it safely. Until then the members spent six months in Hakhshara, and at the end of this period they traveled to their homes to wait for the permit to immigrate. Due to the reduction in the number of immigration permits a surplus of 6,000 halutzim was created in HeHalutz Poland alone - compared to the number of permits held by the movement's management. In this situation movement decided to accept the way of selecting candidates instead of giving automatic approval. All those who received Hakhshara for aliyah were called to a meeting in Lutsk and from among them were chosen those who deserved to immigrate. It was necessary to instill in the members' hearts the recognition that in the situation created the movement must go the way of choosing the most suitable. Those, who agree to take on in Israel the roles of occupation in general and kibbutz settlement in particular. There were days of discussion in great tension and at a high level. We sat on this matter for almost 36 consecutive hours. From time to time, several members went out to get food from the six plates that were in the kibbutz's possession.

Occasionally, I also tried to go out to find something to eat, but after waiting for about two hours I was only given a little thin soup. Tabenkin did not eat for 36 hours. Despite the natural interests of the individual, we were able to convince the members that the movement must move from a practice of “seniority” and formal approval - to a way of social and movement choice.

In 1937, I visited Lutsk for the last time. We were about to start the activities for Aliyah Bet[7]. I came for a meeting with the bloc secretariat to plan the ways of selecting the human material and determining arrangements for collecting the money for the increased immigration expenses. This time, because of the secrecy of the matter, I stayed in a small hotel. We gathered there for a meeting that lasted a whole day with a few breaks in which members of the secretariat went to the kibbutz to have personal conversations with the candidates for Aliyah Bet, without the entire kibbutz knowing about it. I did not see the city this time and did not even meet with the members.

Against the background of the Jewish reality in those years - the economic depletion of the Polish Jewry, the rise of anti-Semitism that led to pogroms against the Jews, the shadow of Hitler that was spreading over Germany and the whole world and the closing of the gates of Israel by the Mandatory Government under Arab pressure - against this background Kibbutz Lutsk was a special revelation of a movement that carries with it a solution for its members and the Jewish people in general, through self-fulfillment and the struggle for immigration to Israel. Friends and the Jewish people in general, through self-fulfillment and the struggle for immigration to Israel.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Dror (lit. “freedom”) - a socialist Zionist movement. Return
  2. Zionist labor party established in 1920 as a result of the union of Hapoel Hatzair party and Tzeirei Zion movement. Return
  3. Hakhshara – (lit. preparation) the term is used for training programs in agricultural institutes, similar to kibbutzim, where Zionist youth would learn technical skills necessary for their immigration to Israel Return
  4. Aliyah – (lit. ascent) - immigration to Israel. Return
  5. Halutz (pl. halutzim) - pioneer Return
  6. HeHalutz (lit. The Pioneer) was a Jewish youth movement that trained young people for agricultural settlement in Israel. Return
  7. Aliyah Bet was the code name given to the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine betwee1920 and 1948, when Great Britain controlled the area. Return

The Ukrainian Halutzim in Lutsk

Y. Bankower

Translated by Sara Mages

The Great Russian Revolution found us very young. These were days of national awakening among the Jews - great hopes blossomed and hidden forces and immense national energy, which was dormant in the youth, were revealed. And we - fascinated by the revolution and its wonderful revelations - sought a way within the people. We were tempted by big ideas, embracing and conquering the big world. But, meanwhile, in a whirlwind of civil war streams of Jewish blood flowed. We strived for ways of fresh and fulfilling Zionism. While searching, we forged our strength and with personal devotion weaved our way through. The way of the revolution did not dazzle the eyes of the pioneering youth, and we invested all the fervor of our youth and devotion to the great ideas in our efforts for immediate immigration to the homeland.

From this material was formed the Russian halutz from the Ukrainian steppes, who began to break out en masse to the borders and between the borders.

[Page 180]

The years 1920-1923

Danger to life and imprisonment were the lot of many who infiltrated to Poland as a transit station to Israel. Ostrog and Izyaslavl - were border points and crossing, while Rovno served as the first and largest concentration place of halutzim from the Ukraine.

In Wolyn - the Polish border region - we found extremely difficult conditions. The Polish authorities looked with disfavor at those who infiltrated the border, wandered without passports and as uninvited guests. Persecution and night searches were our lot for a long time, and the danger of being caught and sent back across the Russian border - was lurking for us all the time.

We did not find any organizational patterns for HeHalutz in Wolyn - and the Zionist organizations in the places did not always show understanding for HeHalutz ways. However, this does not deprive the right of individual scores, and also quite a few, who fatherly cared for the halutzim who arrived with nothing.

And the worries were many - from an apartment, clothes, food, work, obtaining a passport - to financial help for the travel expenses of the lucky ones who were eligible to emigrate. Out of the need to hide from the evil eye of the Polish authorities and the search to find a way to make a living - the halutzim dispersed in many places - big and small - when Rovno, Kovel and Lutsk served as major centers, each city and its special role. Rovno served as the largest place of concentration of halutzim who crossed the Russian border. From here some of the halutzim moved to Lutsk, a place where they were able to settle and find work, and were also further away from the eyes of the Polish secret police which raged in the border cities.

Kovel, on the other hand, became an organizational and educational center of HeHalutz. In those days there were still no branches of HeHalutz in which there were local Halutzim. However, the large stream of Ukrainian Halutzim who began to organize also swept groups of local Halutzim, and with that they gave a boost to the establishment of a network of HeHalutz branches in all cities and towns of Wolyn.

The first district conference of HeHalutz branches convened in Kovel, in which a committee was elected to develop extensive educational organizational work in the entire district. Naturally the concern of the district committee was directed at the two centers - Lutsk and Rovno. The contact with the Halutzim in Lutsk grew and was strengthened by frequent visits, organizational-educational training - and mainly by personal meetings.

Lutsk stood out on the pioneering map of Wolyn thanks to its halutzim and its ability to adapt to living conditions - the transition of life of the halutzim who arrived every day.

The first buds of organizing the Hakhshara appeared in Lutsk. Over time, a very close bond was formed between Lutsk and Kovel - who helped each other with advice, guidance and organization. Many were the first patterns of organization of the Ukrainian Halutzim on the land of Wolyn. Young, inexperienced, isolated and living in a foreign environment, we paved our independent path while trying to cope with the big role - to be absorbed in the new environment and absorb those who will come after us. A relationship was formed between Lutsk and Kovel - when Kovel grants its organizational authority as the district center and Lutsk contributes her blessed contribution as an experimental pioneering station to the entire district.

The talent of the Lutsk's halutzim to absorb those who arrive with concern and help in all areas - until the day of immigration to Eretz Yisrael - gave its positive and blessed results in HeHalutz work in the entire district. Lutsk and Kovel - as twin sisters - have done their hard work as a unifying nucleus that led to the organization of Ukrainian pioneers on Wolyn land.

In every meeting with our members from Lutsk we were able to draw encouragement from their work, and we also knew to appreciate the great help that the local Zionists extended to them in their first steps, which were extremely decisive and difficult.

And as we look back on this period of great deeds and efforts, we can note with satisfaction the great contribution that the Zionist and pioneering Lutsk made with its help to the pioneers from Ukraine in their first steps.

A letter to HeHalutz in Lutsk

Na Wolyniu
Zarzad glowny
  The organization office
In reply please mention
20 to the month of Nisan 5681
of “HeHalutz” in Wolyn
the United Committee of the
Border District Halutzim

To the organization of “HeHalutz” in Lutsk

The United Committee, the main organizer which deals with all the questions concerning to the border district halutzim, is sending you the members of a group from Yekaterinburg (Siberia) that was sent by “HeHalutz” center in Moscow, according to the certificates signed by S. Steimatzky and the director of Kern Kayemeth Leisrael the member Tcherikover, and turns to you to with a request help them as much as possible. We hope you will fulfill our request-their request as Zionists and halutzim, and in this we express our gratitude retroactively.

With “HeHalutz” blessing,
MG/Chairman M. Dickstein
The Secretary S. Resmusen

The letter is given above as worded.
The original is in the hands of S. Tzvitman - Jerusalem


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