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[Page 275]

The “Gordonia” Movement in Przemysl

D. Sim

A basement at 29 Slowackiego Street. Three small, dark rooms and a narrow corridor; in one of the rooms – a primitive stage; on the walls, faded pictures of Dr. Herzl and A.D. Gordon; meager furniture. This was the appearance of the place which served as a cradle for the Zionist-Socialist party “Hitachdut” and the pioneering-popular youth movement “Gordonia” in Przemysl. The outward appearance was not particularly encouraging and the feeling was of hardship. And even so, when evening fell, or on Shabbat and holidays, the picture changed and so did the initial morose impression.

Every evening, in the early hours, groups of members of all ages gather in the basement, and there is extraordinary liveliness in the basement. From one corner one hears a lecture or Hebrew lesson, in another corner a stormy argument breaks out, and all this often mingles with dancing and enthusiastic singing. Due to the activity and the ideological and social environment, which is serious and diligent, there is a noticeable contradiction, by all appearances. The older members are united under the “Hitachdut” party, which has once again championed the flag of the Zionist-Socialist movement.

The youth comes as well. At first only a few, mingling with the adults and, not finding their company satisfying, they leave, but return with others. They are helped by a group of Hitachdut members—and I shall mention only a few of many—Haim Elias, Elisha Stein, and those who are now with us in Israel: Dr. M. Schattner, Dr. M. Weisinger (Dr. M. Ziv), Y. Wolkstein (Ben Yitzhak), a member of the Schiller group, Rubin, Y. Goldfarb (Golan).

The youths were given a separate room, despite the crowdedness. And thus the “Gordonia” movement sprung up, not in order to add yet another youth movement to the segmented camp, but rather to rejuvenate the Jewish youth movement.

Similarly to the youth movement in all of Poland, and particularly in Galicia, “Gordonia” was started in our town as a response to the improper situation in the Jewish street, and the trends of the youth movements which existed at that time – Hashomer Hatzair, Hanoar HaZioni, and after the split, “Akiba” – who were comprised primarily of youth from the schools or from the privileged classes. The working youth and the youth from working classes – and they were the majority of Jewish youth in Galicia – were left unattended, excluded from any organizational framework and outside of the influence of the Zionist idea. And worse – the working youths joined anti-Zionist movements, mainly the communist movement, which exploited the difficult economic condition and backward social standing of this youth among the Jewish population.

The anti-Semitic policy of the Polish government at the time had impoverished the Jewish community, financially. Jewish youths, who had been subjected to a fight for survival from a young age, and often had to support their families, did not know the joys of youth. They were unable to adapt to the existing frameworks, which were not to their liking and were foreign to their Jewish outlook, and were unwelcoming to this special youth. The situation improved only with the establishment of a popular youth movement, Gordonia. This movement was able to develop a new approach to the daily problems of the working youth, and it paved new ways for education and dissemination of ideas regarding the destiny and development of the Jewish nation. And this is the root of the Zionist-socialist party of origin – the Hitachdut.

Gordonia called on working youth and school youth to join its ranks, because many were disappointed with the existing youth movements. In the Zionist-socialist outlook of our movement, the Jewish youth found a solution to their own concerns in life. The establishment of Gordonia was almost a historical necessity, and under its influence the other youth movements also began absorbing working youth, but our movement contained the majority of them.

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The organizational and education work of the founders of Gordonia in Przemysl was difficult. Those of them who now live in Israel are: Etka Rand, Dov Dank, Aharon Malberg (Givati), the Schneier[1] brothers, Zvi Bar, Yakov Kaner. Lacking experience in instructing youth, we learned from the experience and accomplishments of other movements, including non-Jewish ones, but our problems were different than theirs, and so the approach to their solution was also different. We suffered form a lack of appropriate place to gather the youth who needed space and freedom of movement. The existence of organized youth movements also had some effect on the way the local cell was organized, and the rapid departure of the first Gordonia graduates to hachsharah and their aliya to Israel weakened the movement again. The turning point came at the beginning of 1930, as a result of the events in Eretz Yisrael in 1929.

 

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The academic “Gordonia”

 

Various organizational groups were active at the local Hitachdut branch – managing social and cultural work – including groups of students from high schools, called “Agudath Gordon.” The members of both the groups (Gordonia and Agudath Gordon) were very close in age, social status and the search for solutions to their problems, but still there was no contact between them for a long time. At the beginning of 1930 there was a rapid development of Agudath Gordon, which encompassed dozens of students (mostly from the common classes) and developed serious educational activity. Under the influence of the 1929 events and as a result of an ideological uproar, some of the members (Kopel Weisinger, Meir Rosen, Arieh Zankel, Micha Wolkstein – Ben Yitzhak, Shlomo Remarz[2], Chana and Fela Elias, Dov Bolchover, Meir Frankfurt, Elimelech Sandbank and Dov Sim), after stormy arguments and difficult internal oscillations, decided to join the ranks of those fulfilling the Zionist-pioneer idea.

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A new spirit entered the small, dark room: with energy and gusto, all members of the cell went to work. After the extraordinary effort, and with the help of the Hitachdut members, a house was purchased on Szaszkiewicza Street. Three lovely rooms and a large yard enabled regular work, and activities which were not always acceptable in youth movements. The movement house became, within a short while, the second home for many of its members. They spent many hours in it, whether preparing their homework, playing or doing other various activities.

We began to reorganize the youth, and our work was not easy. The situation was difficult in the diaspora and in Israel during the years 1929-31. The closing of the entry to Israel, the economic crisis, the departure of the youth movement graduates – all these primarily affected the youths themselves. In their disappointment and desperation, they began to leave the Zionist-pioneering youth movements, and started seeking other solutions to their problems, outside of the Zionist camp. They were taken in by communist slogans, which were clearly present in the Jewish street at that time. In these difficult moments, of all times, our movement showed its vitality, its rootedness and its loyalty to the Jewish people, to the Zionist-Socialist movement, and to the values it had created during the years of its existence. In this year of crisis, the local cell reached the peak of its development in terms of numbers (from 200 to 300 members), and in developing new organizational and educational tools. A hachsharah battalion was founded and a meeting was held with the movement graduates, who patiently continued their work in the hachsharah groups for many years, due to the reduction of aliya. Our influence increased in the town, the party, and particularly in the JNF, where we held first place among the volunteers for several years. The anniversary of the death of A.D. Gordon, which was commemorated each year by the local cell in a public auditorium, was not only the movement's day, but also a rally for the entire Zionist population. Our influence on the immediate and more distant surroundings increased, and new branches were opened in the neighboring villages and a regional center for the movement was established in our town.

The year is 1930 – the founders of Gordonia rebuild Hulda, which was destroyed and abandoned during the 1929 events. The entire movement rallies to help its first kevutzah. Together with Keren Hayesod and the JNF, the “Hulda Campaign” is founded, and its educational weight exceeds even its great financial value. A meeting with Pinchas Lubianiker (now Lavon), who came to our town under the auspices of the “Hulda Campaign,” strengthened our ranks and his appearance in a harsh debate with the opponents of Zionism (including those who had recently left Israel), restored our faith in the movement's values and breathed new life into the entire Jewish-Zionist public, regardless of party or movement affiliations.

After overcoming the crisis, the pioneering movement became stronger and penetrated new circles. Under the influence of our movement, in the framework of the Hitachdut party, pioneering sister-movements were organized over time, “Boseliah” and “Ichudia.” A system of joint activities is developed, mutual influences are felt, joint campaigns are initiated. The members Mordechai Bauer[3], S. Bernstein, Dr. A. Sternberg, and Z. Hering, devoted themselves to the movement's work in those days.

Our counselors faced especially difficult problems. Most of the members came from the lower classes, lacking basic education, but thirsty for knowledge. More than once, we had to participate in the search for solutions to the economic and familial problems of the members, in addition to the cultural and ideological activity which was necessary for their education. In the movement, most of the members acquired their first concepts of the way of the world, of the Jewish people and its problems, of the Jewish effort in the diaspora and in Israel, of our place in the Zionist movement and the socialist movement. Many of them first learned how to read and comprehend a book in the movement – this is where young boys and girls developed in preparation for their new paths. They were faced, for the first time, with the need to adapt to a society and integrate within it, to take collective responsibility and participate in mutual assistance between one member and another, and between member and counselor. A fine example was set by the organization of all the members in local and national movement campaigns. After months of preparation work

[Page 278]

during which “products” were collected, and pennies were saved, most of the members (80%) would go to summer camps, which became one of the most important stages of the educational act, and a great help in shaping the characters of the members. Many took part in all the national movement campaigns, whether camps for the counselors, conferences, or the various movement gatherings.

 

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“Boseliah” group

 

The cell became stronger and more solid. A new generation of counselors emerged (Henia Weiss, Mania Scholdenfrei, D. Rubinfeld, Heika Goldstein, Devorah Knoll[4], Zygu Sam, A. Berg, A. Krebs, B. Wenig) who managed, when their time came after we made aliya, to develop and expand the local cell until the bitter, tragic day of September 1, 1939, the day the Second World War broke out, which brought destruction upon our nation and our movement. The fundamental, vibrant part of our nation was destroyed, and the inexhaustible fountain of life for the movement and the group, was closed off. Its graduates are scattered in a number of kevutzot: Hulda, Schiller, Mishmar Hasharon, Ramat David, and others.

Many of those mentioned in these pages, and also those who are not mentioned, gave their heart and soul to establish our movement and to shape its character in the town, and were extremely active in uplifting the spirit of the Jewish nation. Few lived to see the realization of their dreams, many remained in the diaspora, many died in Israel; each one of them carried out his or her duties. each in his position

Meir Rosner, a yeshiva student, joined the members of Agudath Gordon. He was full of energy and enthusiasm, which propelled him from one dream to the next, from one act to the next, without resting. Young in age and in spirit, he died in the typhoid epidemic which broke out in Hulda in 1935.

Kopel Weisinger, the eldest of the group, came to us from Agudath Gordon after leaving his studies.

[Page 279]

He was always quiet and calm, until making aliya he served as a counselor and educator for the generation of counselors which succeeded him.

Michael (Mishu) Tugendhaft, a student at the Hebrew gimnazjum, joined the first members of the local movement, and for a long period of time was the only counselor.

These two members fell victims to a work accident.

Haim Zieff (Lieber), a member of the local movement, member of the Schiller kevutzah.

Dov (Henek) Ringler, one of the first members of the local movement, one of the tireless youths who aspired to acquire new learning and knew how to seek new paths. Was a member of “Kfar Choresh” for many years.

Etka Rand-Segal, also one of the first movement members, worked in all the difficult jobs in Israel.

These three members died suddenly in Israel.

Abraham Scharf, one of the younger members of the movement, died after a difficult illness.

And finally, Arieh (Lunek) Schenkel and his wife Adela, Abraham (Boynk[5]) and Deborah Frei, and Zygu Sam, did not manage to reach Israel. They kept the movement alive until the last minute, acting with dedication and boundless loyalty, whether in the local cell, or the central leadership of the movement. Many others consecrated the name of the Jewish nation with their heroism and sacrifices.

May their memory be a blessing.


[Page 280]

The “Zionist Youth” Movement in Przemysl

Y.A.

The birth of the “Zionist Youth” movement or, as it was called at first, “The Hebrew Youth,” was in 1926, as an offshoot of the academic Agudath Herzl in Przemysl named “Hatikva.” The younger ranks of the school youth were organized in “Hatikva,” from the sixth grade of the gimnazjum and upwards.

In 1928 “Hatikva” joined the Hebrew youth movement, without severing its connections with Agudath Herzl, whose members continued to instruct it. The Przemysl cell immediately took on a prominent position in this national movement of scouts and pioneers. The movement's center was in Lvov, thanks to its productive activity in all areas of Zionist work, and mainly the pioneering and educational work among the youth. It was a glorious cell, comprised of the finest Jewish youths in town, and at its peak had close to 500 members. The cell leaders, Arieh Metzger, Haim Danenhirsch[6] (Danieli), Zygu (Shlomo) Asher, were members in the national leadership. The Przemysl branch became, over time, a district branch, and expanded its activities in the nearby rural areas. It organized summer camps and courses for counselors, established hachsharah points for the entire area, and disseminated the idea of the general Zionist pioneer among wide strata of the Jewish youth. It was one of the largest youth organizations in the town.

In the movement archives, which were brought to Israel, there is a report from the central leadership written on November 26, 1930, which says: “I followed the development of the cell from the day of its inception, and I discovered that after a year and a half the atmosphere among the young counselors, who were accustomed to excessive theorizing, has changed. Today, they are an active group which takes responsibility for the education of 150 youngsters. We are already reaping the first fruit of our labor: “Ivriya” has been established, the Hebrew language can be heard to an increasing extent among the youth in town.”

 

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The Management of “Hanoar Hazioni” (“Zionist Youth”)

[Page 281]

In a publication issued by the cell leadership and the “Aleph” battalion (the older members) from January 1, 1932, which was published after the rift and the desertion by the Akiba members, it was written: “After the crisis, whose consequences were only temporary, we must restore the cell to its previous blossoming state.”

Only a few remained in the “Aleph” battalion, but they were the most active in the organization. Zygu managed the “Tikva” division and the “Zohar” group, Yakov Blum instructed the pioneer group. Leon Metzger (Tamari) was the cell leader. Sela Litauer-Asher was the head of “Gimel” battalion, and the counselor of the “Degania” group, Zoshke Speiser (Tamari) instructed the “Shilgit” group, Lola Eisman was for the time being without a position, because of her studies in Lvov. A division named after Trumpeldor was added to the “Bet” battalion.

During the holiday, a course for counselors was organized, covering various topics. In the “Bet” battalion, the editorial published a newspaper once every two or four weeks.

In “Gimel” battalion, various courses were offered and a library was opened, where Shabbat evening parties were held, with Hebrew readings.

These are scenes from the life of this illustrious youth organization, which aspired to fulfill the Zionist ideals. It was active until the Second World War broke out in 1939. Many of the members did not reach the shores of safety. A small number of the movement's members managed to make aliya. They continue their work in the Zionist youth's kibbutzim (Yakov Blum, Mordechai Reches) or other places. Some occupy respectable positions in the government institutions, such as Leon Reich (Arieh Atir) at the Civil Service Commission, Moshe Nacht (attorney general to the Ministry of Defense), P. Honig[7] (chief bacteriologist at Beilinson Hospital). There are also activists in the municipalities and regional councils – Haim Daniel in Tel-Aviv, Moshe Dreiman in Karkur; attorneys, industrialists and clerks – Shlomo Asher, Shimon Langsam, Nathan Danieli and others.


[Page 282]

The Hebrew Youth Association “Akiba” in Przemysl[i]

Y.A.

Following the appearance of Dr. Herzl, the students from the Polish public gimnazjums in Western Galicia came together in organizations named after Rabbi Akiba. The slogan “A return to Judaism precedes the return to Zion,” was the guiding principle for these young people, who were shaking off the ways of the intelligentsia who, in those days, were tending towards assimilation. They were enchanted by the wonderful figure of Rabbi Akiba, the spiritual patron of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, who combined a love of mankind with a love of Torah, adhesion to Judaism despite the dangers, dedication of the soul and self-sacrifice.

The “Akiba” cell in Przemysl was a branch of the Akiba movement whose organizational and spiritual center was in Krakow.

During 1926-1939, Akiba became a pioneer movement and initiated the unification of like-minded student organizations throughout Poland, and even encouraged the formation of movement cells in most European countries. As a pioneer movement, Akiba was not supportive of the Socialist-Zionism which was prevalent in those days among the various pioneer streams.

In 1930 some 10 “graduates,” students of the sixth year at the gimnazjum, left the “Zionist Youth” in Przemysl and began organizing an Akiba branch in town, an act which the local general Zionist organization disapproved of.

The founders Menachem Wirth[8], Zvi Silberman, and David Hausman viewed this work as befitting the saying “when writers vie wisdom mounts.” The goal was to contain within the framework of the youth movement the 3,500 to 4,000 young people who were not yet organized, since at that period all the youth movements comprised only some 800-1000 members.

 

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An “Akiba” group

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We went about acquiring members enthusiastically, without any budget. The “Ivriya” people allowed us to congregate in their club in the afternoons. After a few months we had our first club – a rented room on Targowica Street. We held our “Oneg Shabbat” gatherings there on Shabbat evenings, with 50 members present. We also opened a Tanach class there, the first of its kind in the town. The youth meetings in the club were held in the early morning hours, and after finishing the reading we went to school. Even in the cold winter days, in the dark before the sun rose, we never abandoned the study of a daily Tanach portion.

 

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A youth group of “Akibah”

 

We did not feel that this was an archeological study of the distant past, because the words of the Torah and Nevi'im are aimed at each and every person in his own generation, and they contain the answers to our problems. Between the walls of Akiba, which was general Zionist, there was no preaching to religious faith, however there was no rejoicing over its undermining and weakening. The attitude of the movement leaders was: Jewry exists thanks to the religion of Israel and thanks to its rich popular traditions. The nation congregated in the Beit Midrash where, between the pages of Gemara, they forgot their tribulations and daily sorrows. Here, the Jewish people excelled, by studying the holy book. We must continue in this way, therefore, be cautious of breaking the chain of heritage, and adapt ourselves to the modern period. This was not romanticism, but a deep ideological urge, an honest love of Israel and a serious search for ways to prepare the members for pioneering fulfillment of the ideals on a kibbutz in Eretz Yisrael.

For many years, until the Second World War broke out, the weekly “Bnei Akiba” devoted an issue before each holiday to bringing people closer to one another, to the meanings of the holiday prayers, and their sacred customs. The goal was to reveal the light in the Jewish holidays. We aspired to make everything Jewish familiar to us.

After one year, the cell moved to Snigurskiego Street, not far from the Shomer Hatzair club. Here, a true movement club was established, including battalions and groups. The number of members reached one hundred. In the summers, we went to

[Page 284]

regional camps, where our members met the members of other branches, such as Dubiecko, Radymno, Pruchnik[9], Jaroslaw, and so forth. The older ones among us went to a central counselor camp, which was held every year in the Zakopane region of the Tatra Mountains. From these camps, which had 400-550 participants from all around Poland, the participants returned encouraged, full of energy and enthusiasm, and their organizational efforts doubled. Every member was required to work hard for the JNF, and we rapidly rose to the first place in town. I will never forget the praise given by the JNF chairman in those days, Dr. Yosef Knoller: “If a youth organization of 100 members, only two-years in existence, can reach the first place in town – imagine how we could increase our revenue if this organization had 500 members…” The Przemysl cell excelled at its exemplary activity. In all the movement activities, the hachshara kibbutzim, the counselor camps, the educational activities in Tanach and Jewish studies. The exams were held publicly in Krakow, administered by the finest pedagogues, such as Professor Kopilewicz and Ben-Zion Rappoport. Just before the war broke out, the cell comprised some 200 members.

Members from the Przemysl cell became Akiba activists on a national and international scale: organizers of Jewish youth in the villages and the environs, founders of the movement's kibbutzim in Israel. Our members took part in the movement periodicals (“Ze'irim”, “Divrei Akiba”). Among the more prominent activists were Menachem Wirth[10], the movement's delegate to the nineteenth and twentieth Zionist congresses, member of the senior secretariat of the movement in Warsaw, and its representative in the Balkans. One of the first members of the kibbutz in Petach-Tikva, and a founder of Beit Yehoshua (now the director of a department at “Rasko”); David Gazit (Hausman), one of the organizers of youth in Poland and Galicia, and one who fulfilled the ideals in Israel (now at the Kupat Cholim center); Zvi Kaspi (Silberman), a movement organizer abroad and a founder of the kibbutz in Hadera (now the headmaster of a school in Jerusalem); Meir Levi, from among the first members of Kibbutz Neve Eitan; David Stolz, a professional union member in Netanya; Sarah Schwartz-Eilon. We shall also recall the first pioneer from our cell, Esther Schwartz, who did not manage to reach Israel because she was overcome by a harsh disease in the diaspora. We also recall our two dear members whose lives were taken at a young age in Israel, Ella Wirth and Yakov (Yanek) Nacht.

We sensed the danger lurking in the form of the Nazi predator and initiated a comprehensive propaganda effort by means of gatherings and lectures, and in writing, on the pages of “Divrei Akiba.” The crowning event of this impressive campaign was the anti-Hitler exhibition in the “Sokol” auditorium. This event took place in town in 1934, and was the culmination of six months of painstaking preparations. This Przemysl exhibition later traveled to dozens of tiny Galician towns. It should be noted to Akiba's credit that it was the first movement to raise the issue of Nazism in all its severity, and to point to the danger it posed to the Jews, 5 or 6 years before the oppressive tyrant began his satanic work.

In 1932, David Ben-Gurion, then secretary of the “Histadruth” [labor organization], visited Przemysl as an emissary of “HeChalutz.” As a pioneer movement which prepared its members for the fulfillment of ideals on kibbutzim in Israel, we decided to meet with him. The meeting was held in his hotel room opposite the train station, and there was an hour-long argument on “Jewish labor,” the “White Paper” government's approach, and mainly on educational streams in Israel (which we opposed), and the place of the Tanach in education. The man who was to become one of the founders of the state of Israel was impressed, evidently, by his conversation with the three 16 year old gimnazjum students.

In May, 1939, we departed from Haifa for a short visit to our parents in Przemysl. We found a lively cell, the next generation had not let us down, and all were eagerly awaiting aliya. A large group was preparing to go to kibbutz hachshara, and they were the Vilna people, who headed on foot to the Russian border, and were destroyed by the tyrant. Blessed be their memory!

Akiba in Przemysl was a thriving organization of the glorious Jewish youth in our town, only a small number of whom were able to reach the soil of our land and continue the generational chain there.


[Page 285]

“Hatzofeh”

Simcha Antman

One of the many youth organizations in our town was the scouts organization “Hatzofeh” [“the scout”], which was not affiliated with any center, since there was no Jewish scouts center in Poland.

In 1928, Yisrael Busch and Simcha Antman founded the scouts cell for the young boys and girls who had not found their place in any of the existing movements in town, because of their party affiliations.

In a small room in the attic of the house where “Yuval” resided (at the “Gate Square” – Plac na Bramie), the young scouts were educated in the spirit of general scouting, as set forth by the world scout movement Baden-Powell, and in the spirit of A.D. Gordon's theories. The sports-oriented character of the organization, the field trips for nature study, the foot drills, and other similar activities of our youth battalions, were the attraction of the movement. Young girls and boys from primary school through high school joined the movement, with their parents' consent and even encouragement. Unlike the other movements, there was a majority of girls. The scouts heads were: Srulik Busch, S. Antman, Olek Kartganer and Yitzhak Koenigsberg. Every evening the youngsters gathered, sang songs, danced, and studied the “scouting” theories and the history of the Jewish people and Zionism. In the winter time – inside the room, and in the summer – on the banks of the San or on the “Zamek.” The Hatzofeh members' favorite book was “Yizkor” (in a Polish translation), which was dedicated to the first shomrim, who were killed on duty in Eretz Yisrael. The scouts' salutation was not “Shalom,” as in other Zionist organizations, and not “be strong!”, as in Hashomer Hatzair, but rather “Take Heed.” Our educational program emphasized the imparting of spiritual and moral values, both Jewish and general-humanistic, and the final goal of the members was to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, following agricultural or professional training.

 

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Group of “Tzofim”. Passover 1929

 

Original Footnotes:

  1. Based on the material supplied by David Gazit and Menachem Wurth Back

Translator's and Editor's Footnotes:

  1. Schneier. Spelled “shin, nun, yod, resh” (ed.) Back
  2. Ramerz. Spelled “resh, mem, resh, zayin” (ed.) Back
  3. Bauer. Spelled “bet, alef, vav, resh”. (ed.) Back
  4. Knoll. Spelled “qof, nun, vav, lamed” (ed.) Back
  5. Spelled “bet/vet, vav, yod, nun, qof” (ed.) Back
  6. Danenhirsch. Spelled “dalet, nun, nun, hey, yod, resh, shin”. This name also appears in other sources as Danhersh (ed.). Back
  7. Honig. Spelled with an “o umlaut” (ed.) Back
  8. Wirth. Spelled “vav, yod, resh, tet” (ed.). Back
  9. Pruchnik. In the original spelled “pe, resh, vav, nun, het, nun, yod, qof”. (ed.) Back
  10. Wirth. Here, this name is spelled “vav, vav, yod, resh, tet” (ed.) Back

 

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