By Dr. Jeszaja Ostry-Dan (Austriak), Mexico
Translated by Judie Ostroff-Goldstein
The history of HaShomer HaTsair in Ostrowa, was really the beginning of the spirit of pioneer Zionism, because HaShomer HaTsair was the first youth movement to properly educate contemporary Jewish youth in Poland about the aspirations, desires and ideals of Zionism.
The founding of the organization in Ostrowa was spontaneous. There was a meeting of young people, who did not know exactly what they wanted. The name HaShomer HaTsair had a magical ring in Polish cities and villages, and it was natural that the name grabbed people like a ready-made label. Everything came together. It was around the summer of 1922, if I remember correctly, that the first meeting was called and attended by older, single men, gymnasia students, students from Tarbut and the Polish Public School (for Jewish children), heder youngsters and even young workers. The organization had been in existence only a short time. Great political quarrels took place around those who wanted to be head of the collective and who secretary of the collective and who wanted Kibbutzim and what kind of Kibbutzim, and the organization started to diffuse
It is interesting that the older Zionists, especially Glynka and Arija Margolis, who were not organized enough, had quickly found the framework for their organization in Keren Kayemet. In the early 1920's, there was a rash of suddenly formed organizations by a large part of the youth in the city; middle class youngsters and the intelligentsia, who really typified the younger generation. They often asked questions after official sessions but they were ignorant about the ideals of the new organization. Some simply said that they were for Hashomer HaTsair. When pressed to be more precise, some said they were for Hebrew, for Keren Kayemet, for building the country, and also for Pioneering. Their ideas were naïve, which was understandable. Others had various forms of weird ideas. However, this did not last long. The organization enrolled a large number of members, especially older and younger groups. Among the leaders were Abraham Tejtel, Jakow (Cuba) Tejtel, Icchok Shoshani (Rozental), Dawid Tejtel, Mejer Wszewer, Cwi Jeruchem and the writer. The work got underway and in a short time HaShomer HaTsair looked like its original self, as we all remember it from our destroyed Polish homes.
Two events occurred that shaped the character of the collective and the members: a) The visit of members, almost all of the leaders of the cooperative, to the all Polish moshav administration that took place in Malkinia (seventeen kilometers from Ostrowa); b) The official visit of comrade Mosze Furmański.
The visit of Mosze Furmański in fact was the official recognition of the cooperative by high management and his visit clarified a lot of things and launched HaShomer HaTsair in Ostrowa.
The cooperative grew noisily in the first years. Many comrades were added and quickly the full range of educational activities crystallized in the form of class and collectivity that were the start of normal shomer work. The ideological principals of the movement quickly became clear to the members, as well as the large task ahead.
It is important to discuss the formation of HaShomer HaLeumi which was founded in Ostrowa by a small number of comrades who had left the group [HaShomer HaTsair]. It came about in large measure because they were not receptive to the ideals and obligations of the movement. The socialist concept also frightened some whose ideals did not match ours, and Hakhshara and kibbutz were not for them.
These splits were not uncharacteristic in the Zionist movement and did not happen only in our town. There were many reasons at that time, but looking back it is clear that these people were searching for an easier way to reach Israel without the intense effort and commitment the movement required. This is the real reason for the withdrawal of a small group of people and the formation of HaShomer HaLeumi. And then there was the General Zionist youth and they formed HaNoar HaZioni in the late 1930's.
HaShomer HaTsair was never more fully conscious of its role on behalf of the Jewish youth in the city as after the split. There were no failures and no turning back from our goals. Our ideals and methodology were clear and there were not contradictions. The thoughts of the older members were clearly socialist and so the position and character of the cooperative crystallized.
What was the place of HaShomer HaTsair in our city? We were a conscientious Zionist organization and handled daily problems in Israel, Poland and the Zionist movement. For example, there was talk of a Lag B'omer celebration in 1928 or 1929. In those days the holiday was like Yom HaAtzmaut is today. HaShomer HaTsair took the initiative and called a meeting of all the Zionist parties and groups to discuss what part each should play in organizing the event. There was conflict about which group should have the honour of leading the parade and eventually the place was ceded to HaShomer HaTsair.
When a comrade, who had recently moved to our shtetl wanted to take the initiative to create a Poalei Zion Tsairei Zion, today called Mapai, he had to come to HaShomer HaTsair for help. The Ligeh farn arbetendiknEretz Yisroel [League for a Working Israel] called a meeting for people sympathetic to their cause and they used our hall for their first meeting.
During the elections to the Zionist Congress, the HaShomer HaTsair's list was one of the most important. I cannot now give the exact number, but I remember that we received hundreds of votes from adults, sympathizers and parents who voted on behalf of their children. Our propaganda and enlightenment program was very effective and to the point. It was the exact opposite of the demagogy of the old, small town party activists, because we knew, and everyone with us knew, that our speakers talked about a real national freedom that they were prepared to realize and carry through on these ideas..
HaShomer HaTsair's clubhouse was the largest, but not the best decorated. The number of comrades in the movement was the largest of all the movements. We united with the Tarbut movement. We went to the Tarbut conference at the beginning of the 1930's with an overwhelming majority of the delegates from all the parties of the Zionist movement in Poland and we took over the leadership, with the central office, for four years of the large Tarbut movement in Poland.
There was no place in the city, other than the Tarbut School, where Hebrew was taught with such love and clarity. At that time in Poland, the HaShomer HaTsair publication was the only regular Hebrew publication in print. In our cooperative about thirty copies were spread around every two weeks. The comrades who read it, discussed and commented on the ideas and meanings expressed in the articles.
No other movement helped the first Hakhshara comrades like HaShomer HaTsair did. Immediately afterwards, HeHalutz was founded in Ostrowa through HaShomer HaTsair under the direction of our comrades, of whom some were also members of HeHalutz. When HeHalutz HaTsair was founded we did not see them as a competitor and it is true due to their undeveloped members, in the beginning we helped with educational activities. But later when they became a Poalei-Zion youth movement half-official half-independent, we stopped helping them.
There was no other movement that had such excellent leaders, preparation, organizers and educators. The best of our young people were concentrated in our movement and a large number from our city managed to make aliyah. The work of HaShomer HaTsair was the best prepared and best carried out. Our youngsters and members were conscientious and much better educated in regard to all questions about Zionism and Socialism. Then our youth movement took on a political role in Ostrowa. In a certain aspect because of our Palestine-Centrist approach to all the problems of Jews living in the Diaspora we were dealing with the present reality. We were active in the elections for the Sejm, City Council and Kehilla. We identified with the consistent, national pride politics of Icchok Grynbaum and El HaMishmar. In the last years before the Holocaust of the Second World War, El HaMishmar politics exposed all the problems in the country in regard to Polish Jewry.
One of the greatest hardships, that accompanied the educational work of HaShomer HaTsair and the other youth organizations, was the lack of an appropriate meeting hall. Our meeting hall was in the workshop of the Tarbut School on Rożan Highway.
By Jehuda Zylberman, Paris
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
There are a couple of reasons why I remember the founding of the HeHalutz organization in our town.
I was quite young, about twelve or thirteen years old when a young man from another town came to Ostrowa as a proposed husband for an Ostrower young woman (I do not remember the names of either of them). On a winter Shabes afternoon he called a meeting for youngsters. I was, at the time, a member of the Hebrew Youth Club Hebrew-Kibbutz. I went together with other comrades from the kibbutz, as well as my older brother Owadje (all were a little older than I) to the meeting at the Maccabi Sports Club that was in a warehouse at Hersz Tejtel's sawmill.
The young man, a candidate to be a groom of an Ostrower young woman, spoke about founding a HeHalutz, but in the middle he mixed in Hashomer and a sports organization. I had the impression that he was not too clear about what he wanted and nothing came of the meeting nor did he marry the Ostrower young woman.
A year or two later, approximately in 1923, we began to talk further about HeHalutz. This time because we got our hands on the Poalei Zion Yizkor book, in which the life, struggle and fall
of the first pioneers was written about. So we got together for a discussion in a sukeh (obviously this was during Sukes) in Luzym's courtyard, who was a member of Gdud Trumpledor [a Trumpledor Battalion]. Those who participated in the discussion were: Luzym, Natan Nutkiewicz (today in Canada), Isser Tejtel (died in Israel), Mosze Bursztejn, Lejbl Frenkel (the last two killed in Poland) and the writer, who initiated the discussion.
This time we were clear about what we wanted and only because of a legal technicality (all of us were minors), nothing came of it.
However, I could not get the thought out of my mind, so I wrote to the HeHalutz newsletter that had just started publishing in Poland. In the meantime I was a little older an active member in the movement of the World Zionist Organization in Ostrowa and I had had more opportunities to be involved in legal matters and to understand them.
One day (I think Sukes 1924), I talked with a couple of friends about realizing the plan to found a HeHalutz. We immediately called a meeting at Mosze Bursztyn's parents' house. Those attending the meeting were as follows: Bursztyn, Isser Tejtel, Natan Nutkiewicz, Szija Myszne, Icchok Berenholc (died in Israel) and perhaps others. Being familiar with the cause, I was able to give a lecture about HeHalutz, because I had stayed in contact with the HeHalutz Zionist committee in Warszawa and had already read the literature that was available throughout Poland.
We decided at the meeting to found HeHalutz and I had been chosen by the group to carry it out. Being a committee member of a Zionist organization, it was easier for me to get permission to use the hall, at that time located on ulica 3go Maja near the Church, across from Eli Lach's house.
I printed notices that were put up in the schools, library, Zionist organizations, Linat Hazedek, a to z. We called the meeting for a Shabes evening just after Sukes.
The hall was too small to hold all those who came to take part in the meeting. At the meeting, Mosze Bielski, who had worked with me on a committee of the World Zionist Organization, was elected Chairman. I gave a speech about HeHalutz. The comrades were very interested and immediately elected a preliminary committee. Comrades at the meeting were Mosze Bielski (killed in Poland), Menachem Nyska, Cwi Siedlecki, Jehudit Zilbersztejn (all in Israel), Jakow Grynszpan (in America), the writer, Mrs. Jasiński and others. The preliminary committee consisted of Mosze Bielski, Chairman and Menachem Nyska, Treasurer.
As secretary, I immediately communicated with the HeHalutz Zionist committee in Warszawa on ulica Orło. They immediately sent a secretary from the committee (his name was Skala) to stay in contact with us. The first thing the committee decided was to provisionally limit the number of members to forty in order to control their spiritual and moral qualifications. Understand that this decision affected the entire group (forty from the hundreds that had wanted to enroll) and the manner of our work. A little later, the doors of the organization were opened wider, but we were always particular in selecting comrades.
The next summer, in 1925, a group of comrades from our organization went to hakhshara in Kibbutz Josef the Gallilee near Szczuczyn-Grajewo and organized by Łomża district HeHalutz, to which we belonged. The Ostrowa group was the largest because they all had leadership functions in the ten kibbutzos, that the Kibbutz Josef the Gallilee had formed in ten different locations where hakhshara was established.
The following young men who went to Hakhshara that summer were Siedlecki, Nyska, Tejtel, Berenholc and Myszne. The young women were Grafa, Liba and the wives of Cwi Siedlecki, Pokrzywa and Zylberman, and possibly others.
HeHalutz took an active part in all Zionist activities in the city. The committee members actively took part in all the Zionist committees in Ostrowa. Among others: Nyska Keren Kayemet; Grynszpan committee for a Working Israel; Zylberman Israel-office; Bielski Keren HaYesod (also a committee member of Tarbut. I was as well.). As a result of the Hakhshara internship in Kibbutz Josef-the-Gallilee, the Ostrowa group, almost in its entirety, were designated to make aliyah. This was a lot, considering the situation at the time. To get the British to issue a certificate was not easy, and the HeHalutz Zionist committee did not give them out lightly.
At this time, it is perhaps not superfluous to tell about a misunderstanding that will shed some light on the relationship at that time between the Zionist groups and the political parties. As everyone knows, HeHalutz was apolitical, yet under the influence of the Labour Zionist parties, almost excessively so in the district headquarters. That is to say the left Zionists commanded and automatically led. But Ostrowa was an exception as the founders of HeHalutz, my comrades and I, were tied to the General Zionists as were later members. For example, politically impartial as Zionists in the Diaspora, not thinking about future, tangible conditions and interests in Israel. Due to the dualism between our Zionism and HeHalutz, that was even more under the influence of political labour Zionism, we had some difficulties, especially me personally, as I was in constant contact with the Zionist committee in Warszawa. The Zionist committee ordered us to distribute money from the labour Zionist parties. This was fine for awhile until the HeHalutz
Zionist committee decided that a halutz [pioneer] must not belong to any other Zionist organization; I found myself in a difficult situation, since I was an active Pioneer and also active in the Zionist Organization. My case was to be debated at a session of Centre-HeHalutz. I was in Warszawa and waited to see what would come of the debate about my situation. I remember a comrade from Centre came out of the session. It was either Skala or Funt, both of whom supported my personal stand on the question of remaining in the Zionist Organization and in left HeHalutz. One of them informed me of the decision to make an exception in my case and not demand that I leave the Zionist Organization.
Later the Zionist Organization committee decided to establish a General HeHalutz. In Ostrowa the Zionist Organization committee decided to do this as well, especially the committee comrades under the influence of Et Livnot. A delegate, Szyfer, arrived from Warszawa for this purpose. The committee requested our help in founding the General HeHalutz. This would mean the break up of the HeHalutz that I had worked so hard to create. This was quite a dilemma. What to do? I went to Warszawa to ask the advice of Icchok Grynbaum, whom I thought of, as a lot of Zionists did in Poland, as my rabbi. I still remember that when I went to see him, I was a little scared and shy to tell him my problem. He listened to me very seriously and advised me to remain on my path, in General Zionism and in left HeHalutz and the contradiction between them would work itself out.
I still remember, as if it were yesterday, that I stayed with him until late. It was dark when he escorted me to the street and he said to me: If I were in your place, I would handle it this way.
I arrived back in Ostrowa and at the next Zionist Organization committee meeting (that was held either at Margolis' or Holcman's, because they were neighbours, I think), the subject of General HeHalutz was brought up again. I managed to leave the question open until I left for Israel. So that is how it was decided.
Quickly a couple of comrades, I think Nyska and Siedlecki, left. Soon after them, Tejtel, Berenholc and I. There was a large celebration the night before we left. A little later Pokrzywa left.
The group of active comrades left, but HeHalutz in Ostrowa continued, but on a smaller scale. First, because soon after my departure the General HeHalutz was founded and also a little later a HaShomer HaTsair group. They did not have a negative effect on the attitude or work of the remaining HeHalutz. This is where my memories of HeHalutz come to an end. Aside from the fact that they had fewer activities, I do not know any details about the HeHalutz movement in Ostrowa after I left for Israel.
Now I will tell about what happened to the comrades who arrived in Israel. As previously mentioned Menachem Nyska (I think) and Cwi Siedlecki, left either two days or two weeks before the second group of Tejtel, Berenholc and me. Our group of three, arrived in Haifa on a Romanian ship, after we had travelled almost a week from Warszawa to the Romanian port of Constanza. The train, a direct train for immigrants, travelled so slowly, that on the way we had to hold a small war with the Romanians, who had thrown stones at us. We were able to run after the train and jump back on
Second row from right: Icchok Bernholc, Iser Tejtel and Jozef Pokryzwa
In Haifa, the secretary from the Poalei council Haifa, who came from Ciechanowiec, sent us to Petakh Tikvah, because (female) comrade Faskowicz (today in Ein Harod) was already there.
She then went to Mever, which later became Gvat HaShlosha and I thing Menachem Nyska was in Kibbutz El HaShomer. We were allowed to choose where we wanted to go.
We three Ostrowers, with a couple of Pioneers from Cuba, arrived in Petakh Tikvah by train on a Thursday evening. The train left us off on a central street in Petakh Tikvah, where the labour office was located. The train continued on and we were left in the pitch black with our parcels. There was no electricity at the time. We, the group of Pioneers, tried the labour office. A driver indicated to us that the door was locked. We soon found a couple of young men. We told them our problem, that we did not have a place to stay overnight. The labour office is closed. They immediately broke down the door and left us inside, where we organized ourselves for the night lying on the table and on the floor. We had scarcely lain down when the young men returned. We had not noticed that it was already morning. They told us what to do in order to get a place for ourselves. They gave us the address of the labour office chairman, Mr. Bader and I went to his house. A middle-aged woman answered the door and to my seventeen year-old eyes, she looked old. The smell of erev Shabes fish hit me where I lived. Mrs. Bader, after finding out the reason for my visit, told me, that her husband was not home. It is Friday and I can meet him at the bathhouse in the orchard it was not hard to find the orchard. At the time, thirty odd years ago, Petakh Tikvah was a small village.
It cost two piasters for a bath, but I explained to the attendant that I did not come for a bath, but to meet Mr. Bader and he allowed me in without paying. Steam and smoke blinded me when I went into the steam bath. A Jew was tossing ladles of water on the glowing stones, exactly like in Ostrowa, only a little more primitive. In the steam room somebody points out comrade Bader to me, a medium height, chubby, already not so young man. He listened to me, and then said first, young man, get undressed and then we will talk. I had to obey, what choice did I have? He stuck a broom in my hand, sat down on a bench and ordered me to hit him. I obeyed this order as well. Then he ordered me to lie down and again I obeyed him. Still I tried to excuse myself, saying I did not tolerate the steam bath or the hitting, but he still used the broom, and then said: Comrade, now we can speak with clear thoughts
His manner changed and he was encouraging (I think that he was the oldest comrade of the united office).
He soon took care of us and sent us to Mever on Gvat-HaShlosha.
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