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[Pages 198-201]

Movements and Parties

 

Zionist Sarny

by Israel Rituv

Edited by Jane S. Gabin

 

Sar200a.jpg
The Shivat Tzion Group of Sarny in the year 1925, on the occasion of the trip of a delegation to purchase land in the Land of Israel

From right to left, sitting: Abraham Aharon Dworetzky, Reuben Tzudik, Israel Lieberman, Asher Gunik, Shammai Maturin, Shmuel Zingerman, Pesach Klyde, Yaakov Bryk . . . Yitzhak Mucznik . . .
Standing: Chaim Glick (Olenick), Baruch Klyde, Moishe Leib Zolotow, Abraham Belzhowsky, Ber'l Glick, Moshe Gurfinkel, Zerakh Danenberg, Noah Glick, Yaakov Yuz, Velfl Torok, Moshe Zingerman, Koppel Kozlov

 

Sar200b.jpg
The Group of the First Olim from Sarny, in 1921

From right to left sitting at the bottom: Chai'kl Koszar, Abraham Gottleib (from Dabrowica)
Sitting on the bench: Yekhiel Salutsky, Stein, Leah Pickman, Moshe'l Gamerman, David Levin
Standing on the top row: Zvi Biczik (Yardeni), Bayl'keh Gamerman, Joseph Ruznik

 

Sar200c.jpg
The Sarny Keren HaYesod Committee with Attending Central Office Resources

From right to left, on the bottom first row: Yehoshua Kostromecky, Eliyahu Rizhi
On the second bottom row: Israel Bar Neiman, Asher Nissman, Plaskon
Middle row, sitting: Baruch Salutsky, Yehoshua Glauberman, Yitzhak Levin, The writer Reisfeder, M. Bunim, Mendel Laufer, Yaakov Bryk, Shmuel Zingerman, Yitzhak Tzudik
Top row, standing: Meir Stein, Yehoshua Nissman, Israel Lieberman, Chaim Pearlstein, Abraham Turkenitz, Szepsl Derkhalter, Yaakov Yuz, Moshe Yuz

 

Sar200d.jpg
An “Oved” conference which took place in Sarny in 1935

 

Sarny – Translates as: Roe Deers. Therefore, I have likened you to the deer of the Polesia forests, Sarny – to treasured deer, with their necks extended, good-hearted, dreamy, as if pleading: take me, and love me.

Editor's note: to this day (2021), the Sarny flag and coat of arms depict deer.

I had a special weakness for Sarny, because it reminded me of my hometown, Asipovichy, in the Minsk province of Byelorussia. Both were relatively young (construction began at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries), both started out of towns and never reached the proportions of a city. Both were graced with forests and rivers: the Hurin and Sluch Rivers flowed around Sarny. Both pulsed with work, creativity, and commerce; both had a surfeit of grace, good will, and the joy of youth. Both towns were full of Torah and knowledge, both were Zionist, oriented towards aliyah.

Because Sarny straddled the borders of the Polesia and Wolhynia regions, it was simultaneously counted in both. On one side, northwest, it was drawn to Pinsk, which has given President Chaim Weizmann to the Zionist nation. On the other side, to the southeast, was Zhitomir, from which came the Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. If you add nearby Kuric, home to Rabbi Pinchas, and also Klesow, home of the creator of the Halutz movement, you see how the area resonated. The Jews of Polesia and Wolhynia had a “folksy” Judaism. They were hard-working, of a modest spirit, engaged in Torah study; they struggled for their bread, and for civil rights, and dreamed of the Land of Israel, independence, and continuity of survival. If you look at all these things together, you will have an idea of that holy and pure congregation of Sarny.

I first met the Jews of Sarny in 1930, in the Israel offices in Warsaw, where they would come to arrange details of their aliyah to the Land. Such offices, by and large, were in the free world in which Jews were residents. The largest and most important one was the Warsaw office. Poland was a prime source for aliyah, and from 1920 to 1923 was also a warehouse for myriads of refugees. At that time, the borders were not yet so closed and sealed off, and many people were clever enough to get into the interior of Poland (especially to the cities and towns of Wolhynia), and from there most of them made aliyah to the Land.

I was a member of the Warsaw office leadership, and directed its labor section. In this capacity, I was designated to allocate the emigration certificates we received from Jerusalem. There were difficulties in distributing these certificates because of a dearth of applicants for aliyah, especially during periods of economic depression in the Land. Then we had to encourage people to go, in order to safeguard the certificates and be sure they would not go to waste. If we did not do this, the administrators of the Palestine Mandate would use it as an excuse for limiting what aliyah could take place, and diminish the number of certificates made available. During the Fourth Aliyah (1924 to 1926), people would stand for days at a time, in order to sign up and present themselves to the examining committee. The purpose of the examination was to deal with questions about each candidate's character, to assess appropriateness from the standpoint of the cognizance of Zionism and commitment to the conditions of The Land. The examiners were able to develop a discerning eye and ear, and made the correct assessment of the worthiness of each candidate.

There were cities, even entire areas, recognized for their high percentages, even extremely high ones, of those olim who failed, and were returned. But there were others that stood out for very low, or no, instances of such failures. There were cities and towns in Wolhyn where just that name on the questionnaire caused the candidate to be directed to aliyah, sufficient for the requested certificate. And among the most respected of these towns was Sarny.

Later that year, 1930, I finally had the chance to make a personal visit to Sarny. I was sent there to arrange a fund-raiser for Keren HaYesod. In Polish cities, these fund-raisers were organized around a theme of “generosity” or an '”Israel week.'” There were not many cities or towns capable of utilizing this theme, because to pull it off required an especially dedicated Zionist base. But in Sarny, there was an outstanding base of this kind, and the fund-raiser had a “festive theme.”

Those days, with their emotions and experiences, rank so highly in my memory. Before my eyes passes the moment when I exited the train into the Sarny station, and met the many Zionist activists who came to receive me – so warmly, that it now causes pains in my chest. While still in the station, the candles for the “festival of fund-raising” were lit, and this festival continued all the seven days of my stay. There were wondrous assemblies, full of spirit, redolent with Zionist fervor, amidst unending attention to their guest, who had come to ask for money.

And with what generosity and broad-hearted spirit was this money given in Sarny! The sums were not large, because there were no wealthy people in Sarny – there were just a few people of means. At one time, when Sarny was on the main road between Poland and Russia, commerce was substantial, especially in the lumber trade, and there were many wealthy Jews in Sarny. But by the time of my visit in 1930, all that remained were the tales of those prosperous days, of rich people who had lost their fortunes. There was no one to turn to for substantial contributions. Yet how precious and sacred was each and every donation, as small as it might be, in Sarny! It appeared to me that, in general, no one in Sarny refused to donate. At the most, there were one, two, or three exceptions. The light was great that shone forth and rose from the hearts of the Sarny folk, a light of longing for Zion and redemption.

In the summer of 1939, I was sent from Poland to Geneva (with M. Argos, A.S. Uris, B. Maniv, and P. Rashish), to conduct the organization of the finances and the elections for the Zionist Congress from August 16 to 24. One morning close to the end of the Congress, Rashish told me I was required to travel again to Sarny. '”I have the impression,” he said to me, “that after Warsaw, £ódŸ, Czestochowa, Radom, Bialystok, Vilna, Cracow, Lvov, Pinsk, Rovno, which you have already visited, and after your having been tired out, little impoverished Sarny off in the hinterlands, is not destined to exert any pull on your heart. But it is important for you to know that, relative to the Jewish population, Sarny takes first place in all of Poland”

So, despite my exhaustion, “little, impoverished Sarny off in the hinterlands'” captured my imagination. And so I went in late August of 1939, arriving during the evening hours. At the train station, friends, comrades, and people I knew were waiting for me. And once again, the same warm-heartedness, the heightened emotion, the sense of festivity.

The same? No. It was not the same feeling or air of festivity. In attempting to produce a song from a violin, instead a silent, sorrowful tune emerged.

Yes, sorrowful. All of Poland at the time was sunken in a state of gloom. In July 1939, history tells us, we were close to the Second World War. Not only in Poland – the entire world was seized with a fever of the imminence of war. But for sure, in no other country was the issue sensed with comparable acuteness as this, having no circumstances such as these, as it was felt in Poland. All of the verbal fusillades of Hitler and Goebbels, and following them the cannon fire, were directed at its heart. The national leaders and the heads of the military made haughty speeches, brandished their swords, and increased the level of military maneuvers and parades: “We will cover you with our hats!” But all of this was to no avail.

The fevered military preparations in Germany, the hapless negotiations between Britain and Russia, and the relationship between Germany and Russia that continued to grow more intimate – these things and their consequences served as sharp indicators of the zero hour. A terrifying fear fell on the Polish population. And if this were true of the Polish population, it was all the more so with the Jews. The Jews had always been the first victims, from time immemorial. The scapegoats.

Yet there were Jews who – in the wake of the Polish embargoes, the awful economic oppression, the political and cultural assaults that continued to intensify – silently prayed in their hearts for a political break in the clouds, or for war from the perspective of Let my soul die with the Philistines. There were people like this; one from a city, perhaps, two to a family. However, the mass of the Jews out of a sense of an awful calamity were tense. Each clutched his neighbor, much like a flock of sheep before a storm, and they prayed for peace. They prayed this way – but did not believe their prayers would be answered. Their sorrow and desperation poured out, deepening and spreading, choking, causing breath to be constricted. There was a pitch black darkness, even at the height of noon.

I visited many cities in Poland during that summer of 1939, and in every place, I could cut this premonition, this dissipation of spirit, with a knife. The dim and cacophony, and the rapid pace of life in a big city would mitigate to some extent the sharpness of this suspicion. However, this was not the case in a small city or town, where people had the opportunity to think more extensively about their situation, to be more with themselves. So to the extent that the place was smaller, this sense of gloom was heavier. People would arrive at the crux of their despair even before the reality arrived, before the calamity.

I felt this awesome terror most intensely in Miedzyrzec, close to Brisk, and in Sarny. I spent only a few scant hours in Sarny, which seemed to have been brought low, withered, laid prostrate. People spoke very little, in hushed tones or a whisper. And the look one saw in the eyes of each of them was one of exhaustion – and resignation.

There was a large assembly in Sarny, at which I spoke. I told of The Land, the White Paper, the struggle with the British, the ongoing construction, the preparation for the Zionist Congress. I also spoke of the plight of the Jews in Poland, and the basis for their current economic status. I connected this to the circumstances in preparation for the imminent war. I tried to be optimistic, to raise their spirits, to comfort them, to give them the means to strengthen themselves. They listened to all that I said from the center of all their premonitions. But what I said fell on deaf ears, as they said to me: “Enough already! Our plight is clear to us, and understood by us more than it is by you! And it is not good for us! On the contrary. Go to the Congress and say there: 'It is not good! Return to The Land and say there: It is not good!'”

After the assembly, two young people approached me and said jokingly, “Take us along in your suitcase!” A joke made with tears, out of desperation. All Sarny laughed with this “joke.” Would that I had really been able take them along. They remained – and they are no more.

Yisgadal VeYiskadash


[Page 201]

A Clandestine Zionist Assembly in Czarist Times

by Yekhiel Salutsky

Edited by Alisa Klaus

Few of the emigrants from Sarny who live in the Land of Israel know that before the First World War, a group of young people staged a clandestine Zionist assembly in the town. I remember four of those who participated in this assembly. Only one is alive today, and that one is far away.

The assembly took place shortly before Hanukkah. Wolkowitz, who was the most active in the Sarny Zionist movement, invited about eight young men to his room and proposed that we organize an illegal assembly. Each of us would bring people we trusted with us.

At the heart of of the assembly was to be a presentation by Y.G. on the relevance of the Hanukkah festival and the lessons of the Maccabeean revolt for the Zionist movement that was then fighting for the re-establishment of the nation and its homeland.

At the planning session, we also drew up a precise and detailed agenda for the assembly. As camouflage, we contrived an engagement party, and all the participants were told to act as if they had been invited to such a celebration. We rented a room in one of the houses at the end of “Zapalieska Street.”

The day of the celebration arrived. To create a festive air, the room was decorated, the tables were spread with clean tablecloths and refreshments, and candles were lit. Three comrades were posted as guards around the house to be alert for any trouble that might develop.

At the appointed hour, all the invited people assembled. I believe that there were about thirty people there. Wolkowitz opened the meeting and then Y. G. gave his speech. At the end we parted, each to his own house, having decided on an action plan for the future.


[Page 202]

A Zionist Youth Organizations

by Ephraim Schneider (Munya)

Edited by Alisa Klaus

Sarny was a principal and “mother” city among Jewry, which lay on the principal road between Kiev and Warsaw, Vilna and Lemberg. All of the community movements that rose in the Jewish world were, at that time, in full bloom, and they included Sarny.

The HeHalutz organization, which had been founded by Joseph Trumpeldor, was already active after the end of the First World War, when making aliyah from Russia became more and more difficult. Groups of Halutzim began to move westward from Russia to Poland in the hopes of finding some way to reach the Land of Israel. After stealthily crossing borders, undergoing suffering and hunger, they finally reached their destination. Groups of such Halutzim would travel through Sarny. Sarny had been captured by the Poles several months before, and their arrival aroused and inflamed even the youth of Sarny.

In 1919, a group made up of the elite of Sarny's young people organized themselves for the purpose of making aliyah to the Land of Israel. This group trained itself to do manual labor in the vegetable fields and also trained under the tutelage of craftsmen. In 1920, the first group left Sarny, headed by Moshe'l Gamerman z"l. After much wandering, this group finally reached the Land of Israel.

A large public going-away party was arranged for them at the Wojnzowsky Theater and the entire Jewish population of the town was present at their departure from the railway station. These events and the speakers at these occasions left an indelible impression on the youth of Sarny. Over time, the town turned into a Zionist city, in which the personal goal of making aliyah was a hallmark of its young.

The Tarbut School in Sarny was an institution of considerable importance in providing the youth with a source of Zionist education. This school educated many hundreds of young people in Hebrew, Zionism and a sense of the fulfilment to be achieved in the Land of Israel.

The school was originally formed in 1918 as a Hebrew gymnasium. Even though the language of instruction was still Russian and most of the teachers were not Jewish, after a number of years, with the entry of the Poles and the establishment of contact with the centers of Polish Jewry, the school was transformed into the Hebrew elementary school, “Tarbut.”

The school was a two-story building of generous proportions, surrounded by a large fruit orchard, that stood on Ulica Ogrodowa. The building had served as the Czarist police headquarters. When it was put up for sale after the war a group of activists moved speedily to collect the money, and succeeded in taking possession of this building to be used as a modern trade school for the children of the city. Because of this, the Tarbut School was privileged to be housed in a nice building that enabled it to expand the scope of its activities.

All initiatives conducted on a community-wide level were, if not directly managed by the school, at least fundamentally influenced by its very existence. All youth institutions were supported, to varying degrees, by the teachers and especially the graduates of the school, who would return to it year in and year out.

 

HeHalutz HaTza‘ir

The aliyah of the first group of Halutzim, in 1920, left an indelible impression on the youth of the city. But these olim did not leave behind an organizational infrastructure to continue their work. It was only in 1923 that a new branch of HeHalutz organized itself in Sarny, and in 1924, a branch of HeHalutz HaTza‘ir.

From that time on, the attitude towards manual labor changed. Many of the young people who did not come from the working class left their studies and businesses and turned to labor. Many began to learn skills that were not common among Jews, such as lock-making, construction, and gardening. The branch organized vegetable gardens, the loading and unloading of trains, working the earth, and other such activities. These did not address the fundamental preparation needed by young people to face life under new circumstances in the Land of Israel.

In the summer of 1924, the HeHalutz branch in Sarny founded the “Stone Breakers Colon” in Klesów. Over time, this colony was transformed into the principal mainstay for training of Halutzim in Poland, and a beacon for the entire global movement. During its first year of existence, the colony was a part of the HeHalutz branch of Sarny. That branch was responsible for the organization of the colony and its continuity, and it was into this that most of its manpower was directed. It was only after following the designs of the Halutzim in the area that the scope of the colony was broadened.

After the first of its members made aliyah, the colony was transferred to the authority of the central HeHalutz of Poland. Over the years, the Klesów colony grew, adding various categories of work, and became the largest training facility, and the most important one in all of Poland. Accordingly, branches of this colony were established with Klesów serving as the center and as a source of guidance and direction. Thousands of Halutzim were trained in Klesów and its branches. Today, they reside in many Kibbutzim and settlements in the Land of Israel.

The Klesów colony had a considerable influence on the youth of Sarny. Their many visits inspired them and the relationship between the young people and the colony was very strong.

The Halutzim from Sarny were not always able to complete their training at Klesów, which was disrupted by the proximity to the home of their parents. Because of this, the Sarny Halutzim went off to more distant locations, usually far away. The members of HeHalutz HaTza‘ir in Sarny were the living spirit of the second largest training colony in Poland, Shakharia. The Halutzim from Sarny earned a distinguished reputation within the Halutz movement in Poland.

Initially, the activity of HeHalutz HaTza‘ir suffered from the aliyah of its members but it was not long before a new generation assumed the burden of the process of training and education. The branch once again filled up with members.

The branch developed a fundamental conceptual framework for education and training. Young people who joined up lacking experience and knowledge left it as Halutzim with knowledge and skills and were ready for action. The branch was composed of “youth,” “intermediates,” and “seniors,” and excelled in producing large numbers who completed their studies. The Sarny branch of HeHalutz HaTza‘ir was counted among the better and stronger branches of the movement in Poland.

 

HaShomer HaTza‘ir

The HaShomer HaTza‘ir organization was founded in Sarny in the year 1921. It took the young people by storm. Over time, it took in approximately 200 young people, organized in three levels: “The Young,” “Intermediates,” and “Seniors.” HaShomer HaTza‘ir in Poland was organized as a scouting organization as regards dress and the complexion of its activities. These features drew the youth to it in throngs.

The branch initially formed as a cultural initiative and the scouting activities developed from this. Over time, the branch attracted the majority of the internationally minded young people in Sarny and its role was recognized by all the Zionist elements in the city. However, this situation did not persist for long. During the early years of its existence, HaShomer HaTza‘ir did not provide education that lead to personal development and did not orient its members to get training or plan for aliyah to the land of Israel. After a while, its older members left to continue their studies in Vilna or the Polish gymnasium that had been founded in Sarny, or to craftsmanship to make a living. With the departure of the older members, the training of the younger members fell into decline. The HaShomer HaTza‘ir organization came close to shutting down.

Later, a new cohort of young people who were graduates of the Tarbut school, and its students, arose. This group revived the original initiatives. HaShomer HaTza‘ir, in the meantime, set out a direction for its graduates to develop themselves by going to training camps, making aliyah to the land of Israel and founding settlements there. This line of endeavor added a new agenda to the existing educational and idealistic initiatives. The branch re-organized itself anew from the ranks of the youth of all ages. The graduates went out to training camps and from there, they made aliyah to the Land of Israel.

The Sarny branch of HaShomer HaTza‘ir was counted among the most important of the branches of the movement in all of Poland.


[Page 204]

Hashomer HaTza'ir in Sarny

by Ephraim Schneider (Munya)

Edited by Karen Leon

Do not, my son, listen to your father's wisdom,
Nor bend an ear to your mother's lore...
These words of the poet continue to resonate in our hearts. They were read to us beside the flaming bonfire on the summer nights, and on the evenings of Lag B'Omer, ringing in the ears of the singing young people in the wide open space between the pine grove of the Starosta building and the Jewish cemetery.

It was as if cruel fate had played a joke that came to bear witness, that this very wide open space would become a killing field. That specifically here, dug up for its entire length and breadth, would be the mass grave, the very grave in which our parents and comrades would be slaughtered and buried alive.

Thousands of young boys and girls were educated in the branch of Hashomer HaTza'ir in Sarny, from the time of its founding until it was destroyed. Not all continued in this direction. For many, this movement was a short period of transition after which they turned away from its ideological roots and allied themselves to more worldly outlooks and different lives. Nevertheless, a spark remained that had been ignited by it in our hearts. And all recall this period in their youth, that they had spent under its aegis, as one of the bright and most pleasant periods of their lives.

Hashomer HaTza'ir underwent several transformations, changing from a purely scouting organization to an organization of scouts with a specific Zionist view of the world and the drive to be a Halutz. These changes were brought to bear by Ber'l Frimer. When he was a student at the Hebrew gymnasium in Kovel, he introduced the renaissance of the Halutz ideal in Sarny to the young people of Hashomer HaTza'ir. Despite the fact that Frimer spent most of his time outside of the city for his studies, he nevertheless laid the foundation for a solid organization of the local branch in Sarny. The uniform of the Hashomer HaTza'ir, its scouting agenda, the choice of the song and dance of Halutzim, captured hearts, and many young people joined this institution. At the beginning of its existence, the branch took in the elite of the city's youth into its ranks. However, over time, it was transformed into an organization for every young boy or girl in Sarny who wanted to join. It embraced clubs and groups, elements of the populace that were rich and poor alike, as one, taking in members of the Sarny intelligentsia all the way to the members of the common masses. All were absorbed into one single fabric. The uniform dress of the Hashomer HaTza'ir covered up the external inequalities. The educational endeavor also created a more equalized sense of internal worth, which drove out all traces of hierarchy and animosity that were more the norm, among the Jews of Sarny.

The Tarbut school, its teachers and principal (Rabinovich, Goldberg, Dikhtiar), supported the educational endeavors that were undertaken by the Hashomer HaTza'ir branch in Sarny. There were frequent meetings among the branch leaders, the teachers and the principal. Every year on Lag B'Omer, the school organized a special festive celebration for the initiation of whole classes into the ranks of the movement. Even though it also included many young people who studied in the public elementary school and the Polish gymnasium, the Hashomer HaTza'ir branch promoted the Hebrew school. Before the start of each new school year, the older Hashomer HaTza'ir students and its leaders visited Jewish homes to persuade parents to send their children to the Hebrew school. Sarny was proud that its children were educated in the ideals of the Halutz and national Jewish values, often to an extent beyond many other towns in Poland.

The public appearances of the local Hashomer HaTza'ir branch were festive occasions. Over many years, special plays and presentations were organized, prepared, and staged by members of the branch, for Hanukkah and Purim. These presentations were desiged to instill the Zionist and Halutz spirit, and the Hebrew language, into all ranks of the city's young people and adults.

And how beautiful were the parades of the Hashomer HaTza'ir branch on every Lag B'Omer. The branch marched to the forest in straight ranks, in rhythm to the sound of a trumpet, with flags and standards of its groups and sections. The faces of the Jews who gathered along the roads were joyful. The gentiles displayed looks of awed respect.

There were difficulties supporting the branch. The dues paid by the members was the only means of support. The treasury had to pay for the rental of an office and the activities it conducted. There were many times when we were compelled to conduct our work out in the field, in the groves, and in the yard of the Tarbut school, because we were unable to pay the rent.

The main difficulty we faced was to obtain government permission or legalization of the organization. Hashomer HaTza'ir was defunct in the larger cities of Poland. We were compelled to operate underground. We existed under the guise of Jewish scouts, beside the Tarbut institute in Sarny, under the aegis of TOZ (the Society for Safeguarding the Health of the Jewish population), and afterwards out of the office of the sports organization, Shomriya. We received considerable help from Mr. Tartakowsky k”z, and Shlomo Zandweiss, who, in the capacity of Chair of Tarbut in Sarny, endangered their own personal and community standing by protecting us from the provincial authorities.

The activities were multi-faceted. The Sarny branch provided educational and cultural activities in organized groups, designed to be suitable for each child's age range. The branch itself was organized into divisions, and within each division, smaller groups. When a child joined the movement at the age of 10 until about age 13, he or she was a member of the group of Bnei-Midbar; from the age of 13 - 15 in the Kfirim; and from 15-18 in the young and senior scouts. Lastly was the cadre of graduates. At that point the young man or woman would have to decide about their future. Either they went to receive further training, or they left the movement. And so, from year to year, the chain of those who went further, or left, continued. However, even those who left, carried the fabric of their training with them: the cultural content, personal development, the Hebrew language, and what it meant to be a Halutz. Many of our comrades can be found in the developed Kibbutzim of Yad Mordechai, Rukhama, HaMaf'il, Shamir, Ein Shomer. Many others are in various cities and settlements in Israel, and all are active in lives of work and creativity.

At the head of the branch stood the local leadership selected by its graduates. The leadership directed and led the branch in all its activities. It represented the branch before local central institutions, and joined initiatives with the HeHalutz movement, the League for Labor in Israel, and the remainder of the streams of Zionist and community endeavor in the city. The leadership's chairperson was one of the men or women among the graduates who dedicated the larger part of their time and energy to the movement. These included Rachel, Hanina, Son'ka, and many, many others. The heads of divisions and groups were young men and women who did not stint in their efforts to carry out detailed work, day-in and day-out, and to forge a new image of the young, creative Jew, able to stand tall, and free.

With the outbreak of the Second World War and the entry of the Soviets into Sarny, the operations of the branch ceased, but the ember of the coal fire was not extinguished. Many of our comrades were exterminated together with all the martyrs of Sarny, but many, afterwards, escaped into the broad expanse of the Soviet Union. When the day arrived, all of them, as one, found their way to the Land of Israel, and became part of its fabric of life.


[Page 206]

The Mizrahi Movement in Sarny

by Baruch Rabinovich

Edited by Karen Leon

 

Sar207a.jpg
R' David Birg

 

Sar207b.jpg
Facsimile of a Letter from R' David Birg to the Mizrahi Center in Warsaw

 

Sarny was known as a Zionist city. Many of the people of the city were close to the Mizrahi movement in their outlook even if they were not affiliated with it, before the well-known organizer, Rabbi Yitzhak-Yaakov Tziness of Bialystok, came to our city. An outcome of the fiery oratory of this man was that in the winter of 5693 (1933), a branch of the Mizrahi organization was founded in Sarny. The Rabbi spent approximately ten days in our city. His speeches in the Great Synagogue attracted large crowds, and they remain in the memory of many to this day.

Among those who were elected as members of the managing committee at that time were: R' David Birg - Chairman, R' Levi Gruber (today, Aharoni) - Vice-chair, and now living with us in Israel, and myself, as Secretary. The office of the Mizrahi institution in Sarny was located at Ulica Toplowa 4. It consisted of a spacious auditorium, four rooms, a prayer room and a library.

The Mizrahi institution occupied an important place in the Zionist activity of the city. Its members were active in Keren-HaKayemet L'Israel, and Keren HaYesod, and other fund raising activities. R' David Birg, a wise and enlightened individual, was the representative of Mizrahi to the municipal council.

I made aliyah In the year 5699 (1939). The men in the Mizrahi council of Sarny that year were: R' David Birg – Chair, R' Mendl Zindl – Vice-Chair, R' Shlomo Gamerman - Ritual Slaughterer and Meat Inspector, R' Yaakov Zandweiss and R' Asher Geifman – members.

A companion committee of the Torah V'Avodah movement which had been established in 5694 (1934) included HeHalutz HaMizrahi, HaShomer HaDati, and the Center of Religious Workers. The members of this committee were: Baruch Rabinovich – Chair, Yitzhak Aryeh Hartman (today the Chair of the community council in Montreal, Canada) – Vice-Chair, David Zomer – Secretary, Zechariah the wagon driver, and Yitzhak Ratfan - general members.

The members appointed to lead the HaShomer HaDati branch were: Yitzhak Aryeh Hartman – Head of the branch, Yaakov Gamerman – Secretary, Nahum Zandweiss – Treasurer, Chava Zandweiss and Shmaryahu Gendelman – general members.


[Page 208]

The Revisionist Movement in Sarny

by Asher Miasnik

Edited by Karen Leon

As early as the end of 1930 when Ze'ev Jabotinsky began organizing his movement in Poland, a number of the scions of Sarny were much taken by his personality, and publicized their allegiance as revisionists. Despite the rise of Jabotinsky's movement, it didn't take root in Sarny until the end of 1931, when a number of the elite members of the town's youth decided to establish a branch of Betar. The Gunik brothers, Chaim Kharpak, Joseph Binder, Mitia Feinstein, Shimon Pearlstein, Shimon Attstein, Reuben Kunik, Malta, Avigdor Murik, and Shlomo Zandweiss (son of Yaakov Zandweiss) were among the earliest members and organizers of the revisionist movement in Sarny.

By that time, all of the Zionist youth groups in Poland were already active in Sarny and so it was not easy to organize Betar at the start. However, young people were drawn to Betar. In a short time we were considered to be a robust movement which embraced a large number of educated and working young people.

Following the establishment of Betar in Sarny, a branch of Tzahar was also initiated. This group was led by the engineer, Jonah Margolis, Berezovsky, the lawyer Ostrowsky, Yaakov Bryk, Geller, and others. Similarly, another group, Brit HaKhayil, was brought to Sarny, and its leaders were Ben-Zion Barzam, Simcha Murik, Baruch Schneider, the sports arm of Betar under the direction of Aryeh Kramer, Wachs, and the brothers Goldman and Halperin. Little by little, the Betar movement penetrated the ranks of the gymnasium youth that tended towards assimilation, and drew them into the Zionist movement. Betar emphasized military training and a level of fluency with the Hebrew language. We were also active in fundraising and all other Zionist undertakings, working with other leading institutions.

In time, a number of the individuals from Sarny took respected leadership roles in the revisionist movement. Amongst these were: Avigdor Murik, the liaison with Betar in Warsaw and director of the education and cultural section in Sarny; Moshe Borko, a representative to the Congress in Vienna and a member of the national leadership of the Zionist Congress; Dr. Jonah Glick, a famous man of stature in the movement, and others.

Along with the successes, we also experienced failures along the way. The worst failures included our falling out with Grossman, and the murder trial of Arlozorov. After our schism with Grossman, some of the members even set up a separate group, called the Nationalists. As not too many went over to them, these members eventually returned to the mother organization.

The storm that passed over Poland after the murder of Dr. Arlozorov, beside the sea in Tel-Aviv, and the accusation that the revisionists had committed the murder, had an impact in Sarny, and it poisoned the atmosphere in the city. Nearly all the parties united against us, and labeled us as murderers. We experienced insults, abuses, and attacks against our homes carried out by the members of all of the other parties. We relied on the strength of our faith and ideals to overcome these difficulties. On the day of the elections for the Zionist Congress, in Vienna, we received more than five hundred votes for our slate of candidates. We believed this represented the solidarity of those voters with us.

Among the leaders of the revisionist movement who visited Sarny, was Menachem Begin, in his role as the leader of Betar in Poland. He came to Sarny in connection with a fundraising event for Af Al Pee, an organization supporting illegal aliyah to The Land. Begin's speech attracted a huge audience and generated palpable enthusiasm. Many of those who listened to the speech, later brought their jewelry to the various offices of the revisionist movement as a donation for the sake of the fund raiser.

Only a very fortunate few, from among the members of the revisionist movement, were able to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. Most died a martyr's death together with the members of their community.


[Page 209]

The Jews of Sarny
and the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (Jewish National Fund)

(From the Memories of the Chair of the Keren Kayemet in Sarny)

by M. M. Horowitz

Edited by Karen Leon

 

Sar210.jpg
Tabulation of Election Results for Representatives,
from Sarny, to the Sixteenth Zionist Congress

 

I am certain that I am not exaggerating when I make the assessment that in all of Poland there was not a town that could compare to Sarny in the number of residents involved with, and in the amount of money donated to, the Keren Kayemet.

There was not a household in Sarny that didn't make a monthly donation to Keren Kayemet, or a home in which its charity box was not to be found. Everyone donated willingly and out of a sense of respect. Dues were an assumed responsibility. If someone did not pay, they would apologize and not offer any words of resistance. The various organizations and parties competed with each other to receive a larger mandate for the collection of funds. All parties were united around Keren Kayemet, and at no time was there dissension regarding the allocation of roles in the committee. The essential goal was the success of the activities of the fund.

Some examples follow that are indicative of the devotion of the community to the entire undertaking.

1) Mr. Yaakov Bryk, a tailor by trade, was a wealthy homeowner in Sarny. Many people knocked at his door to ask for assistance with a variety of issues with the Polish authorities. Bryk was a loyal Zionist suporter. He was a plain Jew who did not engage in politics, but he ended up joining Tzahar. After Jabotinsky ordered the members of his party, Tzahar, not to donate to the national funds, Mr. Bryk turned to me during Shabbat services with the Zionists at the Tarbut School, and said, “When you collect funds for the Keren Kayemet, don't skip my house. If you can't put the donation in my name, put it in my wife's name.”

2) Michael Litvak was a Jew with many family obligations. His living came from work for public institutions, especially distributing funds raised from the dues of Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod, organising meetings and so on. He did not have a set salary, but rather he was paid something from each undertaking. For this reason he could not afford to partake in delicacies, such as meat or fish during the regular weekdays. I have no doubt that even on the Sabbath, all he could do was talk about them.

Once I asked him for help on who to invite for a project I was doing for Keren Kayemet. I offered to pay him in advance and was amazed when he refused. Mr. Michael Litvak k”Z said to me, “It is not worthwhile to expend the funds of the Keren Kayemet for such a trivial task. You can pay me after the work is done.”

3) Who in Sarny did not know Leib'ichkeh the Pauper, the merry one, who would go from door to door? He had an infantile personality which never matured as he grew older. As a result, he became an object of ridicule and derision, by young and old alike.

On one summer day, while a fund drive for Keren Kayemet was underway in the city, I ran into Leib'ichkeh on the day of Lag B'Omer. He approached me and said, “Please take these 10 groschen from me, because I too, wish to participate in the purchase of land for Jews in the Land of Israel.”

These few examples demonstrate the degree to which the Zionist ideal had penetrated the hearts of all in Sarny. They had great faith in the justness of its endeavors for the sake of the ultimate national redemption. For this reason, Sarny was privileged to have hundreds of its scions making aliyah in each of the waves to Israel, and who then participated in developing and establishing the State.

 

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