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[Page 199]

The National Military Organization in Lutsk

Y. Fershtey

Translated by Sara Mages

While they were busy with their normal activities at the Betar[1] ken[2] several members, from among the veterans, longed for a contact with Brit HaBirionim[3] in Israel whose echo of activity also reached Lutsk. And when Betar emissaries arrived from Israel in 1935 and brought a greeting from the “front,” the first group of “activists,” led by Shalom Rapoport (Giladi), was organized here. The group included: Shalom Tabachnik (Shlomo Ben- Yosef hy”d), Yitzchak Fabrykant, and later also Izik Fogen and Rosa Bakowiecka. Similar groups were organized in Betar's Hakhshara companies in Wolyn (such as in Horokhiv under the leadership of Avraham Szpicman from Lusk). Their center was in Torczyn.

However, only with the outbreak of the bloody riots in Israel in 1936, and the transformation of the National Defense into -'Irgun Ha-Tzva'î Ha-Leûmî[4], cells of Etzel were established first in Wolyn and later throughout Poland. Their job was to prepare cadres of underground members from among the members of Betar and Brit HaHayal[5].

These cells, four in number, that were established in Lutsk were conspiratorial in nature and structure. Each numbered five people and headed by a person in charge. Their members were engaged in learning the use of small arms (three Parabellum Pistols, Nagan and P&B were purchased for this purpose, and practiced target shooting with an air rifle), conducting street fighting, history of wars of liberation etc. The theoretical lessons (from Hebrew

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lessons (from Hebrew instruction booklets that came from Israel) were held at the ken's club in the late evening hours or in private apartments. The training and field exercises were conducted mainly in Polonka. In addition, the members of the cells distributed the propaganda material they received from the center in Warsaw after the establishment of the cells network throughout Poland - in parallel with the Betar branches.

The members of the cells in Lutsk were: B. Ainbinder, Y. Alter, M. Burstein, Y. Benis, Y. Belfiore, B. and A. Gergies, S. Voskoboinik, Y. Turysk, Y. Libhuber, A. Menker, Y. Sima, S. Fogen, B. Feldenkrajz, M. Ranz, M. Szyfer, Z. Schneider, and Y. Szidler, Farstei coordinated them and after his immigration to Israel - Ainbinder.

In the fall of 1937, the first unofficial course of Etzel in Poland was held in Lutsk under the command of A. Amper from Volodymyr (who later became the commander of the cells in Poland. He was murdered by the British in Tel Aviv) and under the guidance of Y. Poznanski (a Jewish officer in the Polish army who came especially from Lodz). The course was attended by members of the cells in the Lutsk area and lasted a week (in the ken's club near the District Court).

In the years 1938-9, the cells consolidated and some of their members managed to immigrate to Israel - with or without certificates of immigration.

As stated, at the outbreak of the World War, in September 1939, B. Ainbinder stood at the head of the cells (he was also the ken's commander after Benis). The entry of the Soviets forced the members of Betar and the cells to literally go underground. In the middle of the night the ken's flag was buried in Ainbinder's yard together with the archive and the weapons (to which were added the pistols that Menaker managed to steal from the pile of weapons accumulated in the city square by order of the authorities).

Although it was officially forbidden to hold any political activity, the members of the ken, and especially the members of the cells, continued to meet to consult on how to survive and get to Israel. Y. Benis was sent to Sniatyn to find a way to Romania. But he was arrested at the border and sat in a Russian prison until he was drafted into the Anders' Army[6] and his immigration to Israel with this army. Ainbinder left after him to the Romanian border. He was also arrested near Kolomyia and when he was released he returned to Lutsk. In the meantime, Y. Sima, and E. Perkal decided to leave for Vilna [Vilnius], which has not yet been occupied, and after the border was closed - Menaker, Turysk, Alter, Ranz and Ainbinder, also left for Vilna. But despite the fact that Betar was almost the only movement in Lutsk that had contact with Vilna, most of its members, and the cells' people, were unable to escape.

After the departure of the aforementioned to Vilna, the contact in Lutsk remained in the hands of Ajzik Gergies until the arrival of the Germans and the establishment of the ghetto.

In Vilna, the aforementioned joined the battalion of Betar's refugees and when it was dispersed by the Soviets they settled in the provincial towns. Meanwhile, only Ainbinder and Sima managed to immigrate to Israel through Turkey.

When the Germans occupied Lita [Lithuania] and began to establish the ghettos, a group of Etzel members from Lutsk were in Šiauliai (Alter, Turysk, Menker and Feldenkrajz) and they, together with other members of Etzel, went through the horrors of war in the ghetto and the concentration camps. They helped each other while maintaining their affinity for the organization (they even tried and managed to obtain weapons in the ghetto and in the camp). At the end of the war they rejoined the ranks of Etzel in Europe and later in Israel, like their friends who managed to reach Israel before them and were active in the ranks of Etzel and Lehi[7]. They also participated in battles against the British and the Arabs and held responsible positions in their organizations.

* * *

Quite a few members of Ken Betar and Etzel cells in Lutsk fell in the War of Independence:

Shlomo Ben-Yosef, who arrived in Israel with the Etzel immigration, was the first Jew to be executed since the occupation of the country by the British for the murder of Arab rioters near Rosh Pina in 1938.

By the way, Isaac Fogen, who arrived in Israel before the war, survived a similar fate. He was in the recruiting companies of Betar in the Galilee, served in the Jewish Brigade and by the orders of Etzel remained in Europe after the disbandment of the brigade. In 1947, he was arrested by the British in Hannover (Germany) for trying to blow up a German military train. He was prosecuted and sentenced to death. The verdict was commuted to twenty years in prison only thanks to great public pressure in England and the United States. He was pardoned after a three-year term in German prisons and returned to Israel.

Shimon Voskoboinik David Yacobi), who came to Israel with Anders' Army through Teheran, was active in the ranks of Lehi. He was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces with the establishment of the state as a radio operator in the Armored Corps, participated in the battles of the Negev and fell in battle near Auja al-Hafir in 1948.

Yitzchak Fogen, who also arrived in Israel on the eve of the war with the Etzel immigration, was immediately recruited to companies of Betar in the south of the country. He was killed during the bombing of Tel Aviv by the Italians in 1940.

The British prisons and detention camps in Israel and abroad, also knew the freedom fighters from Lutsk who had been detained there for many years.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Betar - an activist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia. Return
  2. Ken (lit. “Nest”) the term for a local branch of the movement that suggested the intimacy of a family. Return
  3. Brit HaBirionim (lit. “The Strongmen Alliance”) was a clandestine, self-declared fascist faction of the Revisionist Zionist Movement in Mandatory Palestine, active between 1930 and 1933. Return
  4. -'Irgun Ha-Tzva'î Ha-Leûmî (lit. National Military Organization in the Land of Israel) was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. The organization is also referred to as Etzel, an acronym of the Hebrew initials. Return
  5. Brit HaHayal was a Revisionist Zionist association of Jewish reservists in the Polish Army formed in December 1932 in Radom, Poland. Return
  6. Anders' Army was the informal name of the Polish Armed Forces in the East in 1941–42 period in recognition of its commander W³adys³aw Anders. Return
  7. Lehi (Lohamei Herut Israel –“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”) was a Zionist paramilitary and terrorist organization founded by Avraham (“Yair”) Stern in Mandatory Palestine. Return


[Page 201]

Memories from the days
of Hakhshara in Lutsk

D. Blorey

Translated by Sara Mages

Since there was no youth movement in our town Nieciecza, I, and another member, were sent in the summer of 1932 by the HeHalutz Hatzair[1] branch in Kamin-Kashyrskyi - to Lutsk for Hakhshara[2].

The company was still at the beginning of its formation. We were a total of about twenty male and female members and lived in one of the houses on Nowo Strojenic Street.

At first the main work was, of course, chopping wood. We occupied plazowka (places) on Yogelonske and Karsne streets and others, near the Jewish bakeries.

However, slowly slowly we also began to penetrate other industries: to flour mills, construction work, and the girls - also to housework.

Of course, it was not easy to prove to the Jews of Lutsk that a balebatishe kinder (children from good families) know how to properly do jobs that were usually done only by the Gentiles.

We had to face this struggle on several fronts at the same time: the Bund[3] called us

lumpenproletariat[4], while the Polish workers saw us as competitors who came to take a piece of bread out of their mouths. They did not want to understand that we have the right to be workers.

But, in spite of everything, the company grew. We rented another house on the same street, but it was not enough. So we moved to Michel Lumer's big house on Vilke Street. At the time the company already numbered over a hundred members (I do not remember the exact number). Lutsk became the Hakhshara center for the whole area, and there was not a day that the halutzim did not go in different directions. Lutsk took the lead in capturing places - from here they left for Demydivka, Torchyn, Klevan, Berestechko and more. Michel's house was always in turmoil.

 

lut201a.jpg
“Alizot” group (1927)

 

lut201b.jpg
Shalgoniot” group

 

Memories of those days are now rising in me: on the one side the lumberjacks return from their work with axes on their shoulders; on the other side the construction workers walking and singing, heavy spiked shoes to their feet. And now they break into spontaneous singing: “we came to Israel to build and be built in it.”

In the meantime, the Jews of Lutsk realized that if a worker was needed, there was an address - the Lumer's house. No more balebatishe kinder, but real workers. The local HeHalutz branch also helped a lot.

It often happened that Michel Lumer, the homeowner, came to collect the rent and there was no money. Then, we also pulled him to the circle of dancers...

On Rosh Hashanah, a conference of all the Hakhshara kibbutzim in the bloc was held with the participation of members from the center. Members came from Klesiv, Dąbrowice, Olyka and other locations. From Israel came Feibush Bendori z”l from Givat HaShlosha and Gershom Ostrovsky from Ein Harod.

A heated debate was held at the conference over whether to approve the immigration of members after six months of training months. Those who demanded six months won. The country demanded immigration because it needed working hands.

The floors in the Halutz and Gordonia branches were lined with straw and in this way accommodation was arranged for members who came to attend the conference.

In the winter the situation worsened for members of the kibbutz, there was no work. There were also a large number of sick members. Chaika Binstock z”l (passed away in Givat HaShlosha), the coordinator, was at a loss. Not a day went by that we only ate a few potatoes.

I remember: in the “work schedule” three were assigned to look for work. I, and two other members, measured Lutsk in all directions, walked everywhere for a long time, rummaged in all the alleys, maybe we would found something - but everything was in vain. We crossed the bridge, arrived in Krasne, and a woman came towards us. She looked at us with tears in her eyes: Ich hab a tokhter in Chenstochov (I have a daughter Częstochowa), and added: kumen arayn kinder zikh anvaremen mit a glezl tey (children

[Page 202]

Come into the house to warm up with a cup of tea). Meanwhile, the day got dark. We walked back through the path along the creek, and here we found two meters of wood for sawing and a chopping. We reached an agreement on the price and started to work hard. It was already dark outside, but we worked diligently. We returned home in high spirits. We finally succeeded.

After a while we, a group of members, left for Demydivka to find work.

The whole time we were in Lutsk we met a lot with its Jews, especially with the members of the working class - builders, carpenters, painters, porters, carters and more. These were simple and kind hearted Jews.

And how painful is the heart that they were and are no more…

Translator's footnotes:

  1. HeHalutz Hatzair (lit. “The Young Pioneer”) was a youth group that came together in 1923 to train youth for immigration to Israel. Return
  2. 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
  3. The Bund (lit. “Federation” or “Union”) was a secular Jewish socialist party initially formed in the Russian Empire and active between 1897 and 1920. Return
  4. Lumpenproletariat refers – primarily in Marxist theory – to the underclass devoid of class consciousness. Return


A short visit in Lutsk

Yosef Weitz

Translated by Sara Mages

On a rainy and gloomy morning of one of the last days of Elul in the year 5690 [1930], the train from Warsaw brought us - my wife and I - to Lutsk station. The whistle of the locomotive and the rattling of the carriages had not yet subsided as they began to stop when the train slowed down, and through the window I saw Uncle Hykle under the umbrella and his eyes, full of anticipation, followed the windows. My heart, which has been longing for my uncle since I parted from him twenty-two years ago, was excited to see him in the longings of youth, and when our arms hugged and wrapped around, his laughing eyes peered at me and a smile of kindness, generosity and forgiveness flickered on his lips.

The city of Lutsk was new to me. It was my first visit there, although the town of Bormel, in which I spent eighteen summers and winters until my immigration to Israel, was not far from it and its inhabitants traveled to and from the district city. And if I came to it on my short visit to Europe, and not to my hometown, it is because that most of my family members moved from that town and settled in Lutsk, and the purpose of my visit was to see them: my uncle's family, the families of Avraham Lender and Yisrael Lender, the families Yehudah Nol and Yekutiel Nol, and others. The members of an extensive family, who sent several sons and daughters to Israel, lived here, and the “ties of the homeland” - as much as they still survived in me after twenty two years in Israel - were with them.

Gloomy, dull and helpless, the city seemed to me as the carriage drove me from the station to my uncle's house in the city center. Thin, prickly rain, dripped from dark gray clouds, and Jews in the streets, their heads bowed, ran quickly to get out of this gloom into some hidden refuge beyond the intense fog. When I saw them, there was a heavy feeling of sadness and melancholy in my heart. It is possible - I thought to myself - that the night journey, lack of sleep and fatigue, are what caused this impression. But, later, in the following days - twenty-one in number - of my stay in the city and in the company of family and acquaintances, and also when the autumn sun, warm and bright, shone again the its streets, squares and river - I found, that indeed, the Jews live in a sense of having to evade the gloom that surrounds them in this city and in this country.

In those days, many came early to my uncle's house, among them those who had already immigrated to Eretz Israel and “returned” - to ask me about the political and economic situation in Israel and the possibility of settling there. The pulse of the Zionist movement pulsed powerfully and spiritually: Zionist education, the study of Hebrew culture, training in the Hebrew language, and also physically- collecting donations for the two founds etc. The youth, for the most part, were awake and active in the ideological or religious movements within the Zionist organization. Also in the local affairs the Jews of Lutsk seemed organized as a conscious public, awake and careful to preserve its rights, and many were the activists who gave their time and thought to the needs of the community. Quite a bit was the part of uncle Hykle, who then served as deputy of the Polish mayor, but almost all matters were decided by him. And yet, he did not shy away from the needs of the Zionist movement. As one of its leaders, he served as model for others in his loyalty, and devoted every spare hour to the affairs of Eretz Yisrael. In spite of it, and maybe because of all this, there was distress in their hearts: their future in Poland did not seem pleasant, generous and friendly to them. Deep down, below the threshold of consciousness, resided a feeling of fear and anxiety for days to come. By then, the echoes of the savage screams of the malignant devil - Hitler - had already arrived. And there, in their depths, a voice whispered: save yourselves before it is too late, leave and immigrate! But the shackles of daily life were strong, and in these were bound not only the masses, but also the leaders and the activists who deliberated between the desirable and the existing situation, between the hidden aspiration in the heart and the necessity of the gray life. And from here the same inner layer of sorrow, as the body is shaken all day in the war of existence. The same twinkle of sadness from the looks of the eyes even when they become tired - in an angry argument or in a friendly conversation, at family party or in mass gatherings, of adults and youth. And to my eyes, the eyes of an Israeli Jews, these brothers seemed like prisoners who have no power to release themselves from their imprisonment, and the Messiah who will release them is not here. I was severely depressed all the days of my stay in Lutsk.

And not only in Lutsk. One evening I took the train from Lutsk to the town of Horokhiv, to which I traveled to visit the greave of my father z”l who passed away on the month of Second Adar in the year 5669 [1910]. The journey lasted many hours, and at nearby

[Page 203]

stations many different Jews boarded the train with noise and tumult, as is the custom of Jewish people who have nothing in their world but the commotion of negotiations and running around. A few moments passed, and without me knowing how, they discovered the secret of my being: a Jew from Israel in the train - and immediately surrounded me with a question “what is happening in Israel,” and they became other other people, not of this world, as if an invisible hand changed their secular clothes and wrapped them in a coat of longing to another world, as a Jew at the arrival of the Sabbath in Heine's well-known poem[1]. And in all of them the same struggle between the two poles: the bitter reality that there is no strength and courage to get out of it and the longing to reach a safe shore.

It was a sleepless night for me, because I had witnessed that difficult deliberation, and my heart was filled with sharp grief. And when I saw them in the agony of their deliberation I asked myself: where is the Messiah who will cut off the shackles from these brothers and redeem them from bondage? Around dawn, I arrived at the last stop before town, and from there I continued in a wagon drawn by two horses, full of sacks and packages. The carter was a Jew from Horokhiv. I sat down on a straw sack next to him, and when I asked him if he knows the house of Simcha Shatzkis, he answered me with a question:

-- Are you from Eretz Yisrael?
And without waiting for an answer, he showered me with questions that were repeated by every Jew - about life in Eretz Yisrael and the possibility that a carter like him could settle there, etc. He asked and he answered to himself, when the question was clear in its essence and purpose, and the answer was imbued with skepticism and hesitation as he hastened the horses to walk with his whip. And in the heavens the stars flickered, illuminated and sank, and the dawn twinkled and rose. The horses stopped and the carter also stopped his conversation and pointed with his whip to a house on the street.
--This is the house of Simcha Shatzkis.
The house stood in the darkness, and yet I remembered the shutters in its inner rooms. I walked to one of them and knocked and a sleepy voice answered:
-- Who is there?

-- Open, Rabbi Simcha, open for me. I am Yosef here.

I heard a cry of astonishment and double joy of two voices, and immediately a door creaked and I entered into a warm atmosphere of sweet childhood since then, since then.

Simcha Shatzkis, a merchant and owner of a hostel mainly for the Gentiles, who came to the market days in the city and housed their cattle in the big yard behind the house, and his wife Golda - a childless couple, humble, quiet and kind - were friends of our family. They admired my father z”l and loved his sons as if they were their children. When my father passed away and the family moved to Eretz Yisrael, they were orphaned. My sudden arrival to their home was considered in their eyes as “the revelation of Elijah.” They hugged me, caressed me, put me in bed and covered me. I knew that in my few hours of sleep they would walk on their toes and keep their eyes on me. When I woke up a few hours later they gave me food and drink and did not open their mouths to talk, just glanced at me, and the glance was penetrating and sad .What a deep sadness! And when they accompanied me to the cemetery and stood with me in front of my father's grave - they shed tears, because I was as still as a stone. I saw my good-good father, carrying within him the longings to the country “in which spring will dwell forever,” and now his property is a crooked gravestone, sad in the Diaspora, and in my heart the anxiety is piercing: who knows what would be the fate of millions of Shatzkisim, Helenderim, Nolim, and Weicim that their hearts is a nest of pinching and biting longings.

And so it was on my return that day, and the evening after it, from Horokhiv in the wagon of the same carter to the train station, and with the same Jews (though they were others) on the train to Lutsk station. And the same Jews in Lutsk in the few days I have left to be there, until their number would be twenty-one days in a Jewish community in the Diaspora. A community that is troubled, worried, gripped by terror and hallucinations of an inverted dream. Among them is uncle Hykle who is like a typical father to this generation. And as in days gone by I see him walking alone at twilight and thinking to himself about “a modest pool dreaming of an inverted world and no one knows what's in its heart.”

- - - And it is time to say goodbye... My uncle walks by my side among the dozens of relatives who have come to accompany us. He walks bent, and no wonder. The sky there is always low, lying so in their gloom. This morning is also rainy. My uncle is tortured and depressed. I look into his eyes. The dreamy spark is gone, extinguish. I take his hand in farewell and whisper to him:

- - My uncle, uncle, I want to see you again, but there, there, in the inverted world, in the world of your dreams...

The spark shone, but a damp veil covered it. We both cried. Has the heart foretold the evil of all the evils to come?

Jerusalem, Hanukah 5719 [1958]

Translator's footnote:

  1. Princess Shabbat, by Heinrich ?ayyim Heine, a German-Jewish poet, writer and literary critic. Return

 

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