Agudath Yisrael in Przemysl
Rabbi Efraim Weinberger [i]
In the year 5680, some activists from among the haredi Jewish communities established an Agudath Yisrael branch in Przemysl. The founders and leaders in our town were: Rabbi Shmuel Babad, Zvi Steiner, Leizer Bombach, Fiebel Silfen, Abraham Diller, David Langsam, Abraham Fried, Meir Leib Reich, Anshel Mayersdorf, and others. The latter three were able to make aliya and they died in Israel.
As early as its inception, Agudath Yisrael emerged as a strong and influential organization. The activists founded a large yeshiva in Przemysl, named Eitz Chaim [Tree of Life]. Hundreds of young men studied and trained in this yeshiva. The yeshiva directors were Rabbi Shimon Fogelman, one of the first students of Rabbi Meir Shapira from Lublin (then rabbi of Glinna and Sanok); Rabbi Shabbetai Segal, who made aliya and served for several years as a librarian at the Rambam library in Tel-Aviv; Rabbi Asher Miesels. Students also came to this yeshiva from the Reisha [Rzeszow] area.
Agudath Yisrael also founded a haredi school for girls, Bais Yakov. For this purpose, Mrs. Sarah Schenirer, of blessed memory, came to Przemysl. She was the founder of the Bais Yakov schools. It is worth noting that many parents who were not members of the haredi community, also sent their daughters to this institution. Before the Second World War broke out, Agudath Yisrael began efforts to construct a large building for the school.
For a certain period of time, Agudath Yisrael controlled the Przemysl community leadership. Rabbi Shmuel Babad, chairman of Agudath Yisrael in Przemysl, was chosen as head of the community, and Rabbi Yakov Hirschfeld and the Agudath Yisrael leaders were members of the community council.
Agudath Yisrael also established a few successful economic enterprises. Much like most of the organizational activists in Przemysl, the Agudath Yisrael people were also highly active, motivated not by rewards but by faith and purity of heart.
Agudath Yisrael Youth
The activities of Agudath Yisrael Youth deserve a separate section. After the foundation of Agudath Yisrael, some talented, resourceful and enterprising young men in our town established the Agudath Yisrael Youth organization.
The founders were: Rabbi Shmuel David Miesels, an educated biblical scholar, author, poet, philosopher and excellent orator; Rabbi Reuven Winkler, a man of distinguished character who would later become a rabbi in Opole; Rabbi Efraim Nussbaum; Yehoshua Fisch (Langsam); Rabbi Efraim Zupnik; Yehezkel Fried; Abraham Katz.
At a later stage, some one-hundred young men congregated in Agudath Yisrael Youth, mostly Torah scholars and broadly educated. The youths, who had their own synagogue on Jagiellonska Street, organized Torah lessons and religious lectures every Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh. A library was a further addition to the development and flourishing of the Eitz Haim yeshiva.
They published a weekly named Der Yiddisher Weg, with a supplement on Hebrew haredi literature. The editors were Miesels and Winkler, who were very active for the benefit of the building of Eretz Yisrael and aliya. During this time, some Agudath Yisrael Youth members made aliya and they live here with us today. Some also managed to come after the Holocaust, including the author of these lines, as well as Shlomo Tuchman, Azriel Frankel and others.
Two young rabbis were very instrumental in shaping the spiritual aspect of Agudath Yisrael Youth. They were well-known as Torah scholars: Rabbi Shlomo Hister, a member of the Przemysl court; Rabbi Eliezer Mieses, later the rabbi of Sambor.
One of the founders of Agudath Yisrael Youth who is still alive, is Mr. Yisrael Wiederkehr, son of the presiding judge, Rabbi Y. Wiederkehr. He was very active in various areas for the flourishing of Agudath Yisrael Youth. Today, he is a well-known religious activist in the Antwerp community.
The ZPS movement in Przemysl began in 1905, when Jewish workers belonging to the Briederlichkeit, a branch of the Polish PPSD, left the Polish party and founded the ZPS (Jewish Workers Party). The PPSD leaders were angry, and tried to dismantle the movement. Among the founding members of the ZPS in Przemysl were: Bienstock, A. Gahlberg, H. Katz, A. Gottdank, A. Pechtalt and Fast (a clerk at the Sick Fund and the administration of Nowy Glos Przemyski). The latter was especially courageous, considering the party affiliation of his employers.
The first public appearance of the new party in Przemysl was supposed to be the lecture, in Polish, by the party leader, Henryk Grossman from Krakow, who had previously published the theoretical platform of his party in Polish. The lecture was not completed, due to disturbances on the part of the PPSD members both Jewish and Christian who brought the lecture to a halt with their shouts. Despite the disturbances by the PPSD, the founders managed to establish a local organization in Przemysl. Its members were mostly tailors, shoemakers and other skilled laborers, and a relatively large number of commerce workers (sales clerks). The party also established an organization of craftsmanship and commerce trainees. This had already been done by Poalei Zion, but not by the PPSD. In 1912, the ZPS and the Jewish section of the PPSD finally reached an agreement regarding the activities among the Jewish community. The agreement was ratified by the PPSD's main institutions.
The ZPS's influence in the town was not particularly great, although it had many supporters among the former sales clerks and laborers, who remained loyal to the party even after becoming independent merchants or artisans (meisters). A small group of students also joined the party. The Jewish Socialist school youths belonged at first to the student organization with Polish-socialist tendencies, Promien. However, when a Zjednoczenie organization was founded for Poles, Ukrainians and Jews together, they mostly moved to this new organization. There was no non-socialist assimilationist student group in Przemysl. Most of the school youth found their place in the Zionist camp.
The party members had cultural activities and ideological education, conducted by the academics, who included Leib Landau (from approximately 1909), the Sohn brothers, Abraham Gottdank, Adolf Frim, Maurycy Axer and Arnold Gahlberg. The latter left the party and the socialist camp in general after a few years.
Among the prominent ZPS members in Przemysl we should mention Leib Landau, who was chosen at the beginning of 1909 as chairman of the revolutionary national council (Volksrat) instead of Dr. Maks Rosenfeld, who passed away. A few years later, when elections were held for the community board, he was chosen to represent his party on the board, and also as chairman of the community board, although this created problems for him in his party.
Yitzhak Sohn (later a physician), one of the editors of the monthly Zjednoczenie, an organ of the organization of the same name for high-school and university students in Lvov. This organization encompassed Poles, Ukrainians and Jews.
His younger brother Moshe Sohn, a great activist, dedicated and loved by the party members. After he finished his military service as a physician, he moved to Yugoslavia, where he was also active in socialist organizations.
Abraham Gottdank, extremely knowledgeable about socialism and very dedicated to his party. Occupied various positions in public institutions as a representative of the party.
Adolf Frim, a respectable lawyer in the town, who was chosen by the party to serve on the city council.
Yosef Strudler, a member of the youth organization, who later acquired control of Yad Charutzim, as a representative of his party, and was also elected to the community board. The Bund people in Yad Charutzim, and particularly Yosef Strudler, must be credited with the establishment of the boarding school (Bursa) for the Jewish working youth in town. (Yosef Strudler's widow and daughter live in Israel.)
Even after the First World War, when the ZPS merged with the general-Polish Bund in 1920, the Bund's influence in town did not increase by much. Thus, for example, in the Sejm elections in 1922, the Bund in the Przemysl voting area received 403 votes, as opposed to the 15,148 votes given to the Zionist camp. During the Bund period, the party was devoted to economic activity. With the help of the Joint, they established cooperatives such as: a cooperative shop, and cooperative production facilities for tailors, painters and so forth. Jewish professional associations, which were organized under the influence of the Bund, were affiliated with general professional associations, but enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy.
In its cultural activities, the party promoted the Yiddish language. A public library was founded, theatrical plays were held, and lectures by well-known guests from other towns were organized. The name of the party's youth society during those days was Zukunft.
Przemysl Jews in the P.P.S.
The prominent personality of Dr. Lieberman was very instrumental in causing a number of Jewish activists to join the P.P.S. (the Polish Socialist Party). They reached important positions in the party and influenced the character of the party in the town. Among the activists we should mention Dr. Ludwig Grossfeld, a lawyer and advocate of communists, who served in the new Poland as a minister; Leon Nessenfeld, a Sick Fund activist; Michael Estreicher; Yosef Sigman; Maximilian Teitelbaum, editor of the Glos Przemyski; Dornbusch, a journalist, and others. In addition to the party members, the P.P.S. also had a circle of supporters among the Jewish public.
Przemysl Jews in the Communist Party
The difficult economic situation, the impoverishment of broad sectors of the Jewish population, the hostile policy of the Polish authorities, the closing of the gates to Eretz Yisrael all these were the causes of the rush of desperate youths to the communist party, hoping to solve their problems there. They were idealists, zealots of the idea of tomorrow's world.
During later periods, the Shomer Hatzair and Bund graduates reinforced the ranks of the communists. The party also had supporters among the wealthy families, of the salon-communist type.
Among the youngsters who joined the communist party there were brave fighters, with strong faith, who spent most of their time in Polish prisons. Some even died in prison. The more prominent ones were Jacob Wilner, the brothers Emanuel and Bernard Sokol, Halina Stein, Salek Nathanson (now in Russia), Dan Entenberg, Lolek Feuer; the latter three were Shomer Hatzair members. Some of them, who survived the Holocaust, now occupy respectable positions in new Poland.
During the transition from one government to another, when the political situation of the town was not clearly defined, part of the Jewish population declared, in effect, that they belonged to the state of Poland, by means of their participation in the Sejm elections. At this time, there was a need for a Jewish journal which would defend the rights of the Jewish population at large, which had declared itself neutral during the conflict between the Poles and the Ukrainians, and was therefore subjected to abuse on the part of the Polish authorities.
1) The first weekly founded in Przemysl during this period was Der Przemysler Jud [sic]. The first issue appeared on February 7, 1919, published by Dr. Efraim Schutzman, Dr. Moshe Richter and the managing editor, Zvi Luft. The editorial board was located in a house at 21 Mickiewicza Street, where all the Zionist institutions in town resided. The weekly was printed at Knoller's press.
In the programmatic editorial, we read: Der Przemysler Jud wants to represent the Jewish viewpoint in all the dealings of the city. We also want to continue to have a strong connection with the general Jewish population in the spirit of peace with our neighbors and in recognition of our rights. We want to bring the national spirit into the Jewish street.
The weekly endured confiscations on the part of the prosecution, and was shut down after only 20 issues had appeared. The attempt to publish a weekly in the town was renewed in 1924.
2) In cooperation with the Tagblatt in Lvov, a weekly supplement to the Przemysler Naies was published. The first issue appeared in January, 1924. The editors were Dr. Moshe Richter and Menachem Orenstein. A total of 50 issues were published.
3) Volks Freind organ of political, economic and community affairs was published from 1927 until July, 1929, as a weekly edited by Mr. Emanuel Gromet. The editorial board was located at 14 Dworskiego Street, which housed the General Zionist institutions. After the Volks Freind ceased being published, a different weekly appeared:
4) Unzer Tribune, edited by Emanuel Gromet. The first issue appeared on July 25, 1930 and the final issue, No. 49, on July 1, 1932. The weekly was terminated because it could not survive the financial difficulties and the proximity to Lvov, where the newspaper Chwila appeared twice a day and provided plenty of news about Przemysl.
5) Przemysler Tribune was published from 1934 as a supplement to the Lvov Yiddish newspaper, Der Naier Morgen (previously, Tagblatt).
6) In addition to these newspapers, which were organs of the General Zionists, there was a monthly published by the youth council of the labor party Hitachdut and Gordonia, in Polish, called Nasze Drogi (Our Paths). Two issues appeared in 1930, edited by Z. Hering.
7) The Revisionists published one issue of a newspaper in 1931, named Der Zioinister Emes.
8) The students of the Hebrew gimnazjum published seven editions of their journal in Polish and Hebrew, named Hayenu [Our Life], from 1935 until 1938.
9) Among the few newspapers published in Przemysl in Hebrew, we should also note the two monthly publications of the Zionist youth organization, Hashomer, edited by Benjamin Brettholz.
10) The supporters of the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S.), and in fact the supporters of Dr. Herman Lieberman, occasionally published before the elections a newspaper in Yiddish, Volksschtime, edited by Mr. Estreicher, one of Dr. Lieberman's enthusiastic followers.
11) The P.P.S. published a weekly in Polish, Nowy Glos Przemyski, for many years. It was edited mainly by Jewish members of the party, and subsisted from Jewish advertisements and Jewish newspaper readers. The paper always took a staunch anti-Zionist stand, although it fought against anti-Semitism in the town and the surrounding areas.
The Halutz and Przemysl's first Pioneers
The first pioneer [halutz] organization in Galicia was established in Brody as early as 1905, under the influence of Yosef Aronowicz, who preached pioneering and aliya to Eretz Yisrael. The first pioneers from Galician towns, who were influenced to a great degree by the values of the Poel HaTzair, which had a long ideological conflict with Poalei Zion, made aliya during 1907-1908. After the founding conference of the Halutz [The Pioneer] organization in Galicia at the end of 1919, a great wave of aliya began (The Third Aliya), in which Przemysl played a significant part. The foundations for a large pioneer movement in our town were laid by the members of Hashomer, mostly from among the school youth, and a few members of the Halutz, who made aliya during 1920-1921. This new organization resided in a small room at 19 Mickiewicza St., together with the Tzeirei Yehuda society, whose members later formed the central core of the Hitachdut. From among the Halutz founders in Przemysl, we should mention eng. Jawetz and the student Spielman, and the notable founding members included Yakov Eisner, Herz Antman, Sanke Antman, Rozke Bachman, Shmuel Doppelt, Simcha Witow, Yosef Weinberg, Moshe Tuchman, the Teichman brothers, Matilda, Mittelman, Millerdowna, Fratz, Knopf, Raab, Stern, Scheiner. During the early twenties, they were joined by, amongst others: Moshe Altman, Minke Engel, Frieda Antman, the sisters Menke and Simka Antman, Tonka Estreicher, Buterman, Bien, Bar, Glanzberg, Griner, Meir Diek, Moshe Hirt, Walek Siedwertz, Tova Singer, Bertha Bluger, Frieda Kraus, Tsila Schorr, and many others who, regrettably, have vanished from the memory of this author. Many dedicated themselves to cultural work, nurtured the pioneer ideology among the youth, and imparted the Hebrew language to their fellow members (Nechama Granik especially excelled in this). Moshe Tuchman and Yeshayah Fratz became well-known after a while due to their extensive activities in the Halutz center in Lvov.
The first agricultural hachshara [training] of the Halutz founders, was organized, with the support of the community board, in the Jewish cemetery on Slowackiego Street. In addition to this agricultural training, many also learned a profession, particularly carpentry or tailoring, recognizing that this type of study would enable the practical advancement of their aspiration to make aliya. However, the events in Israel in the year 5680 (Tel-Hai) and the 5681 riots (the murder of Brenner), and as a result of the riots the temporary halt in aliya and the publication of the White Paper by Churchill in 1922, lessened the tension in the Halutz movement, but did not stop the activities of its idealists. Much like other towns, with us too many people, both groups and individuals, went off to hachshara work on estates owned by Jews and non-Jews, hoping the aliya would be renewed. But the gateway to Israel remained shut. After the Mandate on Eretz Yisrael was ratified by the League of Nations (in July, 1922), the increased chances of aliya caused waves of enthusiasm among the 400 pioneers of Galicia. The joy was not unqualified, however, because the aliya was dependent on the country's economic ability to absorb the immigrants, and the area beyond the Jordan river was excluded from the national home. Eretz Yisrael now appeared not as a distant, unattainable ideal, but rather as a reality and a solution to the Jewish national and social question. Some of the branch members were allowed to make aliya immediately, but others had to wait in anticipation for the Certificate (aliya permit) for one or even two years.
In 1924 there was an improvement in the aliya rate: that was the beginning of the Forth Aliya, which was a mass aliya of civilians, mostly from Poland (the Grabski Aliya). It did exceed all the previous waves of aliya in terms of quantity, but it was not compatible with the pioneer ideology and the world-view of the Zionist labor movement. The Halutz organization, along with its ally the Hitachdut, took upon itself the task
of awakening the pioneer spirit and the ideology of the working Eretz Yisrael in contradiction to the business-like approach of the Forth Aliya people.
The youth in Przemysl, apart from some of them who were organized under Hashomer, had been for the most part indifferent towards the ideology of the national awakening movement, and even more so with regards to its actualization. The Jewish youth was mostly involved in daily life with no purpose, in dances, excursions to the korso , the Castle Mountain (Zamek) or in pursuing a career. But now, under the influence of the awakening which the Halutz had inspired, the youth began to change its values. This excitement was evident not only among the school youths, but also among the artisans, the children of storekeepers and small merchants and the poor. The narrow room at 19 Mickiewicza St. was now more attractive than the large Bund club on Slowackiego St., which tried, often successfully, to attract the working youth. The senior members of the Halutz, with the help of the Hitachdut leaders (including, most notably: Haim Elias, Yitzhak Antman, Yosef Wolkstein, Mordechai Kanner, Arieh Kawe, Elisha Stein) brought a new message to the youth, one which was not abstract, but rather based on actual facts in Israel. And this youth, who usually wandered unguided through the paths of life, was amazed and suddenly saw itself integrating with the new national route.
This was in 1924. Groups of The Young Halutz comprised of the common strata (laborers, working youth and school youth), were set up within the framework of The General Halutz and also within the framework of The Religious Halutz, under the auspices of Mizrachi. The change was palpable in every home and in every place.
Standing, from left: P. Lichtbach, J. Weinberg, Matilda, S. Antmann, M. Antmann, I. Fratz, Teichmann
Sitting, from left: Muhlrad, M. Tuchmann, S. Spielmann, K. Knopf, R. Bachman
The sounds of the Hebrew language were heard in the streets, and in the evenings there was much educational activity, not only within the Histadruth but also on the banks of the San river, Na Wybrzezu, or on the Castle Mountain. The first group in The Young Halutz was the Hofesh [freedom] group, which had six members: Zvi Abend, David Eisen, Simcha Antman, Anshel Ente, Mordechai Rubinfeld and Spiegler. They were joined by Moshe Lewendal, Zvi Spatz and Silber, all from the working youth. (They were all also members in the Hitachdut within the framework of the group).
The second group was mostly comprised of school youth, and included: Regina Eisen, Minke Ortner, Srulik Busch, Shiko Warth, Mishu Togendhaft, Motiu Langsam, Sabina Meister, Fischler, Kraus and others. The counselors of the two groups were two Halutz members at the time: Filek Stern and Hertz Antman. There was also a group of girls, which was comprised of the Fluger sisters, two Feiges Feige Blaustein and Feige Swirk (now Lewendal), the sisters Minke and Rozka Kraus, who joined the Halutz with the general wave of enthusiasm. Many of these group members were trained as counselors to younger groups which were established over the course of time. These groups continued the old tradition of nurturing the values of pioneering and Zionist fulfillment of Hashomer Ha-Tzair, which began at that time to deviate from its original path due to its members' overly leftist tendencies. The groups gathered every evening for Hebrew lessons, discussions and lectures, and on Shabbat all the Histadruth members congregated to discuss the situation in the movement, and to hear reports about the hachshara and Eretz Yisrael from the returnees who were sent by the Lvov center. The Halutz members were also the first to volunteer for any appeal for the national funds, the League for Working Eretz Yisrael and the shekel distribution. Many of them were also members of Ezra the society for the funding of the Halutz endeavor, hachsharah and aliya, which was directed at first by Spielman, and then by Dr. Weissberg and S. Knoller.
It was evident in the town, that the partition between the general population and the pioneers had been removed, and the parents' objection
to their children going to hachshara and to Eretz Yisrael was weakened. The Hofesh group left for hachshara in Tyszkowice (near Przemysl) on the Lubomirski estate, and was joined by the group of girls mentioned previously. The house, the work and the communal life in the country during the course of several months, developed and strengthened their sense of collectiveness. There was also great value in the meetings and national conferences of the Halutz, some of which were held in Przemysl. They contributed to the cooperation between the branches, the exchange of ideas, and the feeling of the power of a large, united camp. At the large Halutz national meeting held in Lvov in August, 1924, many members of our branch participated, both the old members and the Young Halutz members. This meeting was a profound experience for all the participants, and a sign of the general awakening in the pioneer camp.
The aliya continued to increase and many of our members left their home and went to Eretz Yisrael. But as early as the beginning of 1926, news came from Israel about an economic crises, which not only caused the rate of aliya to decrease, but also weakened the desire to make aliya among the active pioneers. Moreover, some of our members made yerida and returned home, and their reports of the harsh situation in Israel had an effect on those people with a defeatist attitude, and created a most pessimistic atmosphere in the pioneer camp. However, even in those difficult times, there were some members who were not affected by the desperate reports of those who returned. Quite the opposite they made even stronger pleas for self-fulfillment and aliya under any conditions, and many in our branch remained loyal to the pioneer principals, and answered the call to make aliya despite everything. They included Yosef Weinberg, Hertz Antman and others.
Life in our branch went on as before: no activity was neglected, not even the entertainment, the 'singalongs' and the Hora dancing. These activities had a magnetism which awakened among the youth even those who were not organized under the Halutz ideological-pioneering faith and brought them closer to the Zionist endeavor. In this way, the ties between the Halutz members and the Ivriya members were strengthened. Many of the latter even contributed greatly to increasing the level of education among the Halutz members and teaching them the Hebrew language. In this area, we should note especially Ortner and Kawe. The sense of ideological-national cooperation which was shared by all the participants in the Hebrew revival movement was emphasized. This contact with Ivriya (a society for the revival of the Hebrew language and the nurturing of national cultural values), encouraged many Halutz members who had been unable to acquire an education, due to the circumstances of their lives, to now devote themselves to intensive studies, both Hebrew and general, in order to elevate their intellectual level. Some were even spurred to complete their high-school and secondary studies. Three of these were Moshe Hirt, Yisrael Busch and Simcha Antman, who left their jobs and their parents' homes and traveled to Wilna, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to acquire knowledge. They found moral assistance and guidance there from the learned Przemysler, Dr. Moshe Altbauer.
A new and increased pioneering fervor occurred in our town upon the establishment of new Halutz groups in the framework of Gordonia, Boseliah, Ichudia, and aliya groups of the Hitachdut. The society of academic youth, Z.A.S.S., which was affiliated with the Hitachdut, also began to energetically renew the internal content of Zionism, in the spirit of pioneering, together with its educational activity (in the people's university), for the spiritual-cultural renewal of the masses. At the end of 1933 the Z.A.S.S held a grand farewell ball for the pioneering members before they left for Eretz Yisrael (see photograph). Many of them made aliya as students and many joined the working settlement movement. When I visited Przemysl at the end of 1936, Haim Elias, of blessed memory, expressed his sorrow over the pioneers of our town in Israel who did not continue the tradition of activity, volunteering, and nurturing the pioneer ideology, as appropriate for the movement members from Przemysl.
These words shall be a modest memorial for the vibrant life which lasted roughly twenty years, until it was brought to an end, and for all the Halutz members in our town, whether I have mentioned their names or whether I have not managed to do so. They were dear and pure people, who were killed during the Shoah, or disappeared after the war, including my brother Yitzhak Antman. May their memory be blessed and live on in the hearts of Przemyslers and their descendents.
Born in 1894 to a lumber merchant in Przemysl, studied there at the gimnazjum and passed the matriculation exams in 1912 (together with Zvi Luft). Joined Agudath Herzl and was considered one of the finest young members, both in terms of his loyalty to the society and in terms of his talent. Goldstein began studying law and political science, but when the First World War broke out his studies were interrupted. He was drafted and fought in Tirol on the Italian front as an officer (lieutenant) in the artillery division. He took part in the events of November, 1918 in Przemysl, in the defense organization. When the lives of the Jews in Niznakowice (south of Przemysl) were in danger, he was sent their at the head of a group of soldiers armed with Austrian guns, an act which involved no small degree of danger.
Goldstein, who wanted to make aliya in December, 1918, first went to Vienna, and when he did not find any possibility of reaching a boat to Israel from there, he joined a shipment of Russian hostages who were being taken to their country, intending to reach Israel via Odessa. He described the trials and tribulations of his voyage in a letter to Dr. Leuterbach, excerpts of which are printed below. The descriptions attest to his courage and willingness to self-sacrifice for the good of the Zionist ideal.
He was very talented and acquired an extensive education and command of languages, which qualified him to excel at his position as secretary of the experimental plant in Rehovot, which he fulfilled until his death in 1951. He took this position because his difficult pioneering work had impaired his health, and he was unable to perform physical labor.
Shimshon Goldstein, the man of fine morals, was always willing to devote everything he treasured for the benefit of the nation.
Shimshon Goldstein recounts the events of his aliya[ii]
It has been twelve and a half years since we bid farewell and I left for Israel, and since that day you have not yet received any sign of life from me.
I cannot, of course, detail everything I have been through during that long period, in this letter. Therefore, I will provide a general outline of the most important stage in this period of my life.
The journey to Eretz Yisrael at that time, after the World War, lasted an entire year, from the end of 1918 until the end of 1919. Three weeks traveling by train from Vienna to Odessa, on my own among the dozens of families who had been taken hostage and who were returning to Russia. Most of the time was spent in carriages intended for cattle transport. We stopped frequently between stations and were shot at by enemy camps (Poles, Ukrainians, Petlura's people, Bolsheviks, whites) and gangs of robbers, searches and death threats. When I reached Odessa, I discovered that my efforts to continue on my way to Israel, whether legally or illegally, were in vain, because I was in a town under siege by the French-British forces. Those ten months were perhaps the most difficult time in my life: as the only Jewish laborer among goyim in a large dairy, I first tasted the taste of physical hard labor. Later, I spent the harsh winter months as a guard at the same dairy, with weapon in hand, protecting against the thieves who came at night, on the edge of the town in a region famous for its robbers (Moldovanka). As a simple soldier in the Jewish Odessian militia, I mostly worked during the difficult night shifts, with great responsibility during the pogroms which were prevalent at that time throughout the Russian province. Until the regime was changed, when the Red Army entered, with Gregoriev at the command, after the retreat of the White Army of volunteers (Dobrovoltsim ) and the Antanta forces (French, British, Greeks and Poles), the Jewish militia was dismantled. Along with most of its members, I entered a special Jewish military unit which was organized under the flag of Poalei Zion. When Gregoriev, who turned out to be a Pogromshchik , was removed, our unit was ordered to open battle against him, and I therefore spent a difficult day at the front among the Russians. The Jewish unit later went through various manifestations, became international, and was finally transferred, in contradiction to the agreement, from the town to the distant front. As luck would have it, I was not part of the transfer, because a few days before the order was given I was transferred to a German unit (Spartacus) as head of the regiment. Miraculously, I was also saved from the fate of the German battalion, which was almost completely destroyed in the first battle with the uprisers among the German colonists. This was thanks to some friends from Eretz Yisrael (Hashomer members) who entreated me to leave the military, because it was time to renew the hope of leaving the Russian hell and making aliya. The affair of organizing the Eretz Yisrael refugees began, and their registration at the Georgian consulate lasted several weeks, during which time there was hard work (grinding salt, at a jam factory, and so forth) and unemployment. The cost of living was high, and we literally suffered starvation. At one time there were seventy of us in a sailboat which was supposed to take us out of the town to Yevpatoriya (in the Crimea) which was under British rule at that time. However, after roughly two weeks the negotiations with the quarantine authorities fell through at the last minute, and were taken back to the town. A loaf of bread cost 600 rubles at that time, while wages if one could find a job were no more than 40-60 rubles a day. After a short while there was another changing of the guards, the Red Army was banished from the town and replaced by Denikin. The hunger continued, and the efforts to make the journey to Israel increased sevenfold. After many adventures, close to 700 people, myself included, managed to obtain the necessary papers, the certificates required as Eretz Yisrael refugees. We chartered a ship for a large sum of money and left the town after many inspections. After another 3 weeks of torments and humiliation on the way, the Roslan ship, the first from Russia, arrived in Jaffa during Chanukah of 5790 (December, 1919).
In Israel: during the first days after my arrival, the first fighter died in Tel-Hai (Saposhnik). The agricultural settlements in the Upper Galilee required urgent assistance, but the public, including the workers, were indifferent. I then managed, with great difficulty, to organize approximately 10 young men from among the new immigrants who had come with me, and after a few days we went to Tel-Hai. I participated in the defense for six weeks. (One of the letters I wrote during that period to Agudath Herzl was published, I believe, in a Polish newspaper.) From Tel-Hai, I went down south and joined the London estate in Karkur, as the first hired laborer. I worked mainly in preparing the land, in routine activities, etc. After approximately six months, I became ill with the malaria that was rampant in Karkur at that time, and took many lives.
In addition to the malaria, I also had gallstone disease. I had a difficult operation and had to spend several months in a hospital in Tel Aviv. Then the Przemysl group, led by Luft, came to Israel with the Third Aliya, and after working on the roads of Rosh-Pina and Haifa-Jeddah, they moved to Um-Al-Alek Tel-Zur. As soon as I left the hospital I joined the group. Two years of hard work in a malaria-ridden location followed, on the roads of Zichron-Yakov Binyamina. We drained the swamps of Shuni and Kavera, established an independent agricultural economy from the earnings of these side jobs. It was on a rocky terrain, without even a dirt road, with no support and no assistance from the settlement institutions. All this heroic episode was full of enthusiasm and martyrology. The ideas at the base of the endeavor were: being as there is no national capital to support mass agricultural settlement, and out of an essential need to make it cheaper, we must establish the agricultural economies on the basis of the settler's participation in the costs, derived from second jobs. We must stop using the method of budgets to support the people, which were paid at that time to every member of an agricultural settlement on a monthly basis. Today, that location is deserted and barren, and only one mute witness to the suffering invested in the place the grave of a member who was burned alive while she worked.
From Tel-Zur, I moved to Tel-Aviv, still suffering from malaria. That was when the first crisis occurred, and due to my unemployment I moved to Jerusalem. Here, we founded a working group, made up mostly of Tel-Zur members who aspired to return to the rural life as a workers' moshav. Not all of us had employment, and we lived for a year in the Romema neighborhood in tents, and worked periodically on the roads and in preparing building lots in this neighborhood and other new neighborhoods, such as Beit-Hakerem and Ratisbone (Rehavia). During that period, I was constantly negotiating with the agricultural center and with the settlement department, concerning settling the remainders of Tel-Zur. However, this went on for more than two years, and in the meantime most of the members dispersed. Some left the country, and I found myself an almost permanent job in the water department of the Jerusalem municipality, as an assistant to the head plumber. This job lasted more than a year. Eventually, the authorities proposed that we moved to a new moshav in Karkur, which was intended for 10 families. This creation, which was tiny and abnormal from the start, we considered at the time to be the peak of our aspirations. When we went up to Karkur in the summer of 5685, there were only 5 or 6 members, and the issue of the deficiency in members became a bone of contention amongst us and between ourselves and the external institutions. Despite everything, we began to work. During the roughly year and a half which I spent there, we managed to build 10 cattle-sheds and 5 houses, in addition to working the fields. The spirit of vivacity and construction permeated the place, which had previously been deserted and barren, and it had now taken on an entirely new form. This change provided the estate members, who had never taken on such an extensive operation, with the impetus to establish their own homes and agricultural economies, and search for water springs, upon which the future of the area depended. However, the missing members did not return from overseas, and in this abnormal situation it was not possible to continue without having some friction with those who wished to inherit the place. The members forgot everything I had done to fulfill this settlement, and they made my life a misery. Finally, after much work which I had invested in the place, working 16 18 hours a day in construction and farming, I saw no way to continue there, particularly considering my failing health. With great sorrow, I left the moshav and moved to Tel Aviv again.
My malaria did not cease here either. This time, it lasted 14 months. It was also the second crisis period, the shameful era of assistance to the unemployed. Although in the country I was always a loyal member of the agricultural union, I was not a member of any party in Israel. I valued the ideas of A.D. Gordon, but not in the narrow party sense. I moved to Jerusalem again, and got well immediately. I took a job in the government's department of public works, as a temporary daily laborer for private contractors, both Jewish and Arab. I worked 3 4 days a week, in difficult, unskilled labor, mostly among Arab workers, building various buildings for government officials, mixing cement and concrete and laying it,
loading and unloading bricks, and so forth. This went on for about a year. Minor disasters which befell me during that time, and the excessive effort of my work, must have alarmed some of my friends, and they encouraged me to take an easy temporary job at the agricultural experiment plant in Tel Aviv, as a part-time assistant to the secretary. I accepted this proposal, which was to determine my entire future in Israel, with some trepidation: I considered the tradition of the years of harsh physical labor, which I viewed as sanctified, despite the suffering, and my contempt for making an easy living. On the other hand, simple mathematics and the cruel reality, which was that my strength would not last for much longer, and should be preserved as long as it could. The cold consideration outweighed the sentiment, and so the heroic episode of my life came to an end, after nine years of labor in Israel. I began the prosaic life of a temporary, part-time clerk, at a salary of 5 Lira a month.
Until this day, I work at the same job. I gradually grew accustomed to the new atmosphere and the new way of life, and came to accept the situation. This was made possible by the satisfaction I derive from the plant's work, which addresses all the problems of agriculture in Israel. The illusion of an agricultural atmosphere in city life
Dr. Matityahu Gans
Zvi Luft was one of the most prominent and significant members of the Jewish community in Przemysl, bringing pride to the community. He was a perfect pioneer who faithfully fulfilled any duty he was given, under any circumstances, and strove to achieve the goals that were set for him, even if it required self-sacrifice. Luft was at the forefront, one of the pioneers in all generations and all aliyoth, as Shmuel Yavnieli said.
He was born in Przemysl on 22 Cheshvan 5655 (November 21, 1894). His father was Yakov Ze'ev, a merchant and descendant of the author of Tur Ha-Zahav, and his mother was Machla nee Reps. He studied at primary school and at the public gimnazjum in Przemysl. In his youth, he joined a study group of the Zionist gimnazjum students, which operated covertly because open activities of ideological clubs of this type were prohibited by the gimnazjum authorities. After one year, the club became the Bar Giyorah association a Zionist group of gimnazjum students. Luft studied himself, and also organized training for his friends in the Hebrew language and in Jewish and Zionist history. He was one of the founders of the Jewish scouts movement, Hashomer, from which the Shomer HaTzair movement later grew. He was active in the youth societies Hatikva and Tzeirei Zion, and took part in the establishment of the first sports society in Przemysl, Hashachar.
I recall the times when we would sit a group of fifteen year old gimnazjum students in my parents' house and enthusiastically read line after line in the pamphlets of the Zionist philosopher in Galicia, Shlomo Schiller.
After he finished his studies, Luft joined the academic Agudath Herzl and immediately became one of the more active members. When the society was chosen to serve as the center of The Organization of Zionist Academics in Galicia, (H.A.Z.) under the leadership of L. Lauterbach, B. Knopf and P. Kupfer, the youngster in the group, Luft, fulfilled his post as office manager enthusiastically.
At the same time, he registered to study in the law faculty of the university in Krakow.
When the First World War broke out, Luft volunteered for the Austrian army, although he was not required to because of his age. When he was rejected because of a physical weakness, he did not give in and tried again. This time, he was admitted to the academic volunteer legion, Deutchmeister in Vienna. The aspiration of the Jewish national youth
at that time was to disprove the accusations that the Jews were cowardly and that they evaded army duty, by volunteering for the army as active soldiers on the front. After completing an officers' course, he was quickly sent to the front with his Przemysl division, No. 10.
At the front, he showed great courage and heroism. He was given high commendation and promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. When he led his squadron in an attack on the enemy camp, he was injured four times. He was taken to the military hospital in severe condition. The physician who treated him determined that his situation was hopeless, but Luft overcame his harsh circumstances thanks to his strong will to live. He rose from his death-bead and bore his suffering without complaint. Only those who were very close to him knew the real situation. Following surgery, he tried to move his crushed right arm, but was unable to. Still, his spirit was not broken, and when he grew tired of the menial tasks he was given, he tried his luck in reaching the front again. Cunningly hiding his disability, he almost managed to outwit his commanders. He then returned to Przemysl, continued his law studies and devoted his spare time to educating and guiding the youth from Hashomer movement. Still in uniform, he organized and participated in a public flag-raising ceremony of the local Hashomer cell.
When the war finished, he was among the organizers of the Jewish defense in Przemysl.[iii]
When the defense episode was over, Luft returned to civilian life. He finished his studies in Krakow and in 1920 was awarded a doctorate in law. During his studies he was head of the Organization of Zionist Academics (H.A.Z.) and was also active in the Halutz.
In 1920 he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael with a group of pioneers from Przemysl, to which he brought his energy, personal charm, noble character, initiative and skills.
In Israel he discovered that only by means of taking over Jewish work could the motherland be redeemed. As one of the enthusiastic students of A.D. Gordon, he internalized his commands and philosophy and delivered it to his friends. He quickly turned his vision into practice: he started his pioneering work paving the Haifa-Jeddah and Rosh-Pina road, and then as an agricultural laborer. He founded and managed the Tel-Zur kevutzah near Zichron Yakov (a group of 25 members who organized in order to drain the swamps and pave roads). Zvi Luft was the one who managed the farm and was responsible for it. He came up with the idea of a self-sustained farm which did not require the financial support of the national institutions. The land of Tel-Zur was a rocky terrain and it was hard to be self-sufficient. The farm was one of the first to grow tobacco and the first to market produce from the vegetable garden. They also had a herd of goats. During those days it was very unusual to compete with the Arabs in selling produce. I recall Luft telling me in those days, that they had a budget of eight pennies per person per day, and even this was next to impossible to exist on. The farm conditions were harsh. The members were plagued by malaria, and Luft was the one who encouraged them and banished desperation. At the end of 5683, P.I.C.A. [Palestine Jewish Colonization Association], who owned the land, determined that Tel-Zur should be evacuated, and the group dispersed.
Luft then began to fulfill important positions among the workers' institutions. He was a member of the Poel HaZair board (1923-31), the B and C delegates conference, the general secretariat of the Histadrut's agricultural center (1923-37), a delegate to the 15th and 16th Zionist Congresses, a Histadrut delegate to the international congress of agricultural laborers, a member of the management at Yachin, Nir, Haboker (the cattle raisers), a member of the supervising alliance of the agricultural co-op, in Hasadeh and in the company responsible for building housing for agricultural laborers. From 1937, he served in the respectable post of director general at Hasneh insurance company, and was very active in its development and strengthening. In this role, which Luft took upon himself, he gradually became one of the greatest entrepreneurs and
experts in the field. He published many articles on insurance matters and also a pamphlet entitled The role of welfare security in Eretz Yisrael (1946). Despite all this, his interests were not in insurance but rather in security, as David Remez put it. His true dream was to be one of the senior officers in the I.D.F.
Tzvi Luft was a man of unique synthesis as David Horowitz said of him he was a realist, who could be extremely critical, and at the same time he was a man of imagination and creativity, a man of vision tied to reality. Only a few people know that Luft was one of the first to dream of searching for oil in Israel, and perhaps the first who secretly brought a European scientific delegation to Israel, which conducted a study on the possibility of finding oil in Israel.
Tzvi Luft had great personal charm, and made an unforgettable impression on anyone who met him. His appearance was pleasing and noble. The sense of inner nobility left its mark on his entire being. He bore his suffering and pain in secret and modesty. Even during the hardest moments, his face never lost its smile.
Tzvi Luft, who had a warm heart and loved to have friends, was very selective in choosing the people around him. But he also knew the secret to the love of mankind, which was perhaps the greatest quality of this man, a combination of contradictory and complementary qualities.
During the difficult times in his life, he thought only of his parents' home in Przemysl, where his two sisters resided Tosia and Pepa, who filled the house with music and joy, and it became a social center for the Zionist youth in town.
That same warm heart, which never disappointed his friends, disappointed his own self. During the final years of his life, he developed a heart condition which often forced him to be hospitalized. And it eventually overcame him
Luft died an untimely death at the age of 54 in Tel Aviv, on 18 Adar 5709 (March 19, 1949). He had the pleasure of seeing his land liberated, and the state established, for only one year.
(Episodes from the Third Aliya)
There are nights in Massada which are breathless
from so much blood, so much force flowing through
their veins Then the campfires will be lit and the
children of Massada will dance around it
(Yitzhak Lamdan, Massada)
The Balfour Declaration on the one hand, and the identical example set by the foreign nationalities which established their own independent states on the ruins of Europe on the other hand, instilled us with the hope that we were also capable of bringing about the rapid resurrection of our nation in the land, a land like other peoples' lands. It was that awakening of national sentiment which encouraged us to fulfill our hopes on our fathers' land.
Even before the Halutz organization was founded in Galicia, a spontaneous movement of youth aliyah was formed, youth who were educated in the Shomer organization, which was at that time a scouts movement with national and Zionist values. And it was a group of high-school students, members of this movement, which convened for the purpose of fulfilling its ultimate goal, in practice.
The problem was, however, that there were many obstacles in our way. The World War was over, but the cannons still thundered in the wars of the Poles against the dissatisfied in Galicia, the Russian revolutions and the frequent changes in regime in our area.
Not only from outside, but also at home there were many obstacles. The World Zionist Organization had not yet managed to reorganize and crystallize, and the Zionist executive, which was based in London, objected to aliya. The reasons were that the roads to Eretz Yisrael were in poor condition, the oceans were still full of mines, and the borders between countries were closed. At the border areas there were emergency conditions, and the fear of death hovered over anyone who tried to cross them.
We therefore had to develop our dream in secret, where no strangers would see us and our parents would not hear us.
Our aliya was preceded by fervent internal activity. First, we had to train ourselves, emotionally and spiritually, because many in our camp were hesitant. And indeed, some changed their minds, deserted us and continued their studies instead. But those who remained were determined to make aliya at any cost.
We also needed physical training. For this purpose, we leased a plot of land for agricultural training. We grew a vegetable garden, chopped trees in the forest, and some even traveled to nearby villages to acquire professional knowledge from the Christian farmers.
At the same time, we increased our search for methods of border smuggling. The purpose of our enquiries was to find out how to cross the local border, in order to reach Vienna, and from there the Trieste port. From there, so we had heard, we would be able to reach Eretz Yisrael by sea. The preparations continued until late 1919. We then decided to secretly cross the Czech border at Beskydy in the Karpatian Mountains.
The time came to decide who would leave first. We drew lots. And thus we left the town at the end of March, 1920, immediately after Purim. The memory of the farewell ball which was given in our honor, was still fresh in our minds.
How strange it is to recall that festive evening which the local Zionist committee held, of all places, in the Sokol, the hall belonging to the Polish national sports association, whose treatment of our people was infamous.
Eng. Jawetz gave us his blessing: You are hereby leaving today on a dangerous road. At its end, the holy land awaits you, for which we all yearn.
The walls of the Sokol bore many words about the Jewish people denigrations, vilifications, and incitement. Now, new things were learned there: May you leave in peace and may your road be successful
The episode of the journey is a separate story, full of trials and tribulations, which cannot be described in this space.
We shall pass, therefore, over a long passageway, to the days when I finally arrived in Vienna, after many failures and hindrances, with my friend Yitzhak Estman. We were joined there by other Przemyslers Leibusch Poppers, Malka Glanzberg, Deborah Kushnir, Zvi Bauer and Zvi Fink.
Once I reached Vienna, I encountered no further obstacles. We went to Trieste port, from whence we set off in a passenger ship towards Alexandria. There, we boarded the Burlos ship, half of which was for passengers, and half for cargo.
And so we found ourselves in August, 1920, in the port of Jaffa, excited and nervous. The sky above us was blue and pure. There was no longer a shadow of doubt: we had arrived.
During those days, the Mandate government were beginning to pave roads. Our institutions tried to obtain this work for us. The work chamber of Hapoel HaTzair took upon itself the work of paving the Haifa-Jeddah-Nazareth road. After two days, we were sent to Haifa, a group of Przemyslers, equipped with travel fare by the work chamber. We then went to the mountains of Nazareth, the point of origin for the road, where we set up our camp. Every day new immigrants joined us, groups of people bearing the names of the places they came from.
I spend roughly six weeks in this camp, when suddenly a delegation from the agricultural center and Hapoel HaTzair came and proposed that we go to settle the land.
For us, young men and women who had just reached Israel, this was a huge step, encouraging and uplifting. We accepted the news enthusiastically.
Four of us went to prepare the land. A group of our townspeople was to follow us later. We were met with a deserted piece of land in the Shomron Mountains, not far from Zichron-Yakov. It was an abandoned, barren area, where the Arab village of Um al-Alek once stood. Most of the Arab residents had abandoned it, as ordered by P.I.C.A. Two families remained, who were unwilling to leave for any price.
In the other part of the village we found old clay and stone constructions, which had served our predecessors both man and beast. They were built in the shape of a square with three sides, with a rocky yard in front and a wall around them. The roofs were covered with earth and inside, the constructions were divided into two rooms the upper area for people and the lower part for animals.
This part of the village had to be made fit for more civilized living conditions: we tiled the ground and eradicated the divisions between animal and human rooms. The animals were transferred to their normal quarters. We whitewashed and painted the walls. We built cement roofs instead of the earth roofs and installed latticed doors and windows. Some of the buildings were modified to serve as a cowshed, a sty, and storehouses. We then turned to the kitchen and eating quarters.
It was not long before we had turned over the new leaf in our lives.
We needed more work, in addition to our agricultural work, in order to make a living. We took upon ourselves the paving of the road, which began in the swamps by the Shuni kevutzah, near where Binyamina was later founded, and ended in Zichron Yakov. We devoted our profits from the contracting or daily work paving roads, to building our agricultural economy.
Since we had decided to be self-sufficient and not require budgets and favors from outside, we had to abide by a reign of tightening the belt.
Could we not create an exemplary economy with our own means?
In those days, the Hebrew name of our settlement was born. We were sitting near our kitchen: two rocks with carob trees between them for heating, and the cooking vat on top. We were still drinking our hot soup, diluted with soot, when the new name for Um al-Alek village was proposed: Tel Zur. We came up with the name, at first fearfully and then persistently.
We came across many difficulties in preparing our rocky land for seeding and planting. In fact, there was no land worth preparing in our vicinity. As far as the eye could see, there were only rocks and more rocks and stones. As far away as one hour's walk, small plots of land peeped out from among the crevices, in sizes of five to fifty dunam, which had once been worked by the Arabs. The largest plot we discovered sprawled over an area of two-hundred dunam. We came to these plots every morning, riding mules, and brought the plough with us. Next to our houses, we were only able to prepare some three dunam for growing vegetables.
The swarms of mosquitoes which were everywhere you turned reminded us constantly of our obligation to drain the malignant swamps, which had covered the area for a long time. And so, instead of devoting our time to construction, we began to drain the swamps.
Another severe problem was the shortage in water, for the only water source was a spring almost one mile away.
How would we reach the water? How would the water reach us? When we bought our donkey, its first job was to carry buckets of water from the spring to the farm. Only over the course of time were we able to lay a pipe leading to our residence, but because of the local conditions it only held a small amount of water, and became a source solely for drinking. In the meantime, the road paving was progressing. Our income from this work increased, but due to the swamps the constant threat of malaria was always with us. The anopheles mosquitoes caused devastation among the members, some of whom were bed-ridden. And so, we had to spend our income on medical treatment.
At that time, our group had some 25 young men and 4 or 5 women, who were divided among the various sections of the farm business: cattle, which included four heads, a herd of goat with fifty heads, and the field cultivation, where two pairs of work cattle worked. While the men did the hard work, the womento their dismaydid the kitchen and laundry work. It was not long before they began to wage an all-out war: In Przemysl we did kitchen work.
Here, there shall be no difference between us and yourselves, they told the men. We then included them in our work of blasting gravel for the road.
We became the regional center of the Poel HaTzair party, and the various gatherings were held at our location. The day came when the party council chose Tel-Zur as its location, when the chairman was Yosef Sprinzak, of blessed memory. I recall the wonderful visit of Haim Arlozorov, of blessed memory. It was his first visit to Eretz Yisrael. He came, observed, and expressed how greatly impressed he was by our struggle in the harsh local conditions.
The members of our Przemysl group were of various ages: there were the older members, who had completed their army duty as officers in the Austrian army, such as our friends Dr. Tzvi Luft, Leib Poppers, my brother Shimshon and others. And there were the youngsters, which included myself. Over the course of time we were joined by people from other towns, such as Roswadow and Oswiecim (some of them now reside in Karkur). Of course these differences were manifested in the different approaches to our social problems.
At the time these changes were occurring, a consensus was formed regarding the type of agricultural settlement we should have, and the Moshav Ovdim [workers' moshav] was chosen.
We began to develop a cooperative basis for our affairs, each member shaving their own account. The days of work were recorded for each individual member.
The Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael began various recruiting campaigns, issued by the National Board. They included recruiting for the Fine Police, the gendarmerie of horse riders, which was called to defend the borders. We also contributed by recruiting four members: S. Tuchman, Yosef Warth and Yosef Lev from Przemysl, and Baruch Gofer (now the director of the Tel Aviv zoo), who was from a different town.
We lost four members and, furthermore, the road paving was stopped, which meant a loss of income.
It was not long before a plague of disease infected the cattle, the cows, the calves and the workhorse. The sheep and goats were also affected. Only our one donkey was saved and he went on carrying water and food which we bought in Zichron. [Zichron Yakov]
We went about draining the swamps of Shuni and Kavera. The latter was easier to work with, because we were given boots. But the malaria did not let up.
The jaundice and dysentery followed and were so severe that the Sick Fund management ordered us in no uncertain terms to leave the place immediately, and as a means of pressure they decided not to give us any medical help.
Would we give up, after all our efforts, after all our hard work? Would the sickness and epidemics be a barrier to our enthusiasm and aspiration to conquer the land? Would we be deterred?
The answer to this means of pressure was sharp and clear, unequivocal: Tel Zur would not be abandoned. The battle for it would continue.
We sensed the danger looming over us: there was no more water, there was no workable land and, above all, there was no budget. It was as if our spot had been doomed not to exist.
The events of the twenties put us on the alert due to the blood riots carried out by the neighboring Arabs.
Our spiritual world was also undermined. The arguments which arose from the faith and fervor of the romantic period were gone, and instead of the happiness and the security there was depression. Everyone was melancholy. From morning until lights-out, the members vented their unhappiness in arguments and anger.
Indeed, we were in a severe crisis: the moods which had spread through Europe as a result of the philosophical outlooks in Germany found an echo with us too: more than one member left the farm for various periods of time. The wave of emotional depression spread more and more, until it reached its peak in suicide attempts. We felt isolated, as if no one supported us or cared for us, we had been abandoned to fight for our survival, a fight imposed by ourselves and by the land.
We knew that we had to decide whether to continue or not. We tried to restore the spirit of joyful creativity which we had previously possessed, to restore the spirit of friendship and the will to live, to suffer and to rejoice together. Again there were endless arguments, a foul mood and open rifts between the older members Luft, my brother Shimshon and Poppers, may their memory be blessed and the younger members, including myself. Between meals, the dining room was a constant arena for arguments. The work in the swamps was once again full of pain and bitterness. We felt that we could tolerate no more.
In a moment of anger, four of us left the place. In our sudden rage, mixed with pain, we headed to Tel Aviv, with only a few pennies in our pockets. Our friend the late Tzvi Luft came to appease us and ask us to return to Tel Zur. Our departure had been a hard blow to the economy, with only a few members left.
We noticed the profound sadness in Luft's face. His heart was full of regret over the argument between us, over the struggle between his approach and that of the other members, and our own approach. Indeed, we were also sincerely hurt.
We decided to return to Tel Zur. But it was not long after our return that all the members of the group reached the conclusion that under the local conditions it was beyond human ability to keep on going. Only then did we begin to understand the meaning of what had been said by the officials, including the Sick Fund, who had long claimed that we should give up our fight in that place.
Now we were in a somber atmosphere of pain and separation. Was there really no way out? We walked around like shadows. And then, the final crushing blow came.
It was our custom to buy food in Zichron, and on that terrible day the was carried by our donkey back to the farm, with one of the members. This time, he stopped off to buy a can of oil, but the shopkeeper gave him instead a can of gasoline. Our friend, as usual, brought the can into the kitchen to use for frying. Our kitchen worker was Tzefira Lentchitz-Luft, the fiancée of our friend Luft.
My friend Y.P. and I went in to the kitchen to get some water, when a horrible scream tore through the air, Tzefira's scream! We witnessed a terrifying scene our friend was completely on fire, with the flames catching her clothes and her body and destroying her. She had poured the supposed can of oil, which was full of gasoline, on the hot frying pan and it had immediately burst into a ball of fire.
We immediately poured anything we could find on her. The fire was finally extinguished, but there was no chance of saving her life. After thirty-six hours of fighting against death, she took her last breath. Her grieving boyfriend engraved her tombstone with his own hands. It was the only grave we left behind us there.
We set off to conquer other work places in the Shomron, but we made a decision: one day we would reunite and become a farming economy again. This time our goal was to establish a new Jewish settlement of Przemyslers in another location.
The land remained barren after we left it. Other groups tried in vain to continue maintaining the settlement in Um al-Alek. The rocky, barren land would not be conquered.
Some time later, the group of Lvov people in our group transferred the remains of Tzefira, of blessed memory, who lay in the bare land, to Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel, where they built a permanent tombstone for her. Our last remainder was buried there.
And now, if a passerby were to look down the Zichron Yakov road as he approached Ramat Hanadiv in the direction of the grave of Baron Rothschild, towards the surrounding rocks, he might notice a small piece of land, deserted and bare, covered with thistles and stones, which was once our Tel Zur.
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