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[Page 410]

Beytar in Volozhin

By Beitar members

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

A scout Zionist movement was founded in 1928 in Volozhin with the purpose of uniting the Tarbut School graduates in organized sporting and cultural activities. But the young members wanted political ideas. Mr. Hayim Goloventshits the School manager, who sympathized with the Revisionist movement proposed to invite a suitable instructor from Vilna. We invited Mr. Betsalel Likhtenshtein from Brit Troompeldor. Our group became the Volozhin Beytar “Nest” (BeYTar – Brit Yosef Troompeldor).

All the nest activities were conducted in Hebrew. The members were called “Brothers” and “Sisters”. The Beytar symbol was the Menorah. It decorated our caps. We greeted one another by the word “Tel Hay”. We chose our leading Committee: Shabtay Baksht, Batia Guerman, Dov Lavit, Borukh Mordkhe Meyirson, Bela Kramnik and Efrayim Rogovin. The first nest commander was Dov Lavit (Also the first Volozhin Descendants- Head in Israel).

 

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Beytar Nest 1928

From left to right, rows from above down:

1st row: Hayim Perski, Kopl Kagan, Rochl Perski, Lea Potashnik, Beylke Mordukhovitsh, Feygl Kramnik, Hinde Rudnik, Mina Berman, Etke, Dovid Bunimotsh, Yosef Dubinski, Zalman Perski
2nd row: Itskhok Perski, Shmuel Berman, Hayim Alpert, Peshke Rogovin, Bela Potashnik, Isroel Berkovitsh, Zlatke Lavit,Roda Alpert, Avram Berman, Hayim Kissiel
3rd row: Isak Kaplan, Shlomo Libeman, Eliezer Maze, Bela Kramnik, Hayim Goloventhits, Dov Lavit, Mania Dubinski, Yakov Berkovitsh, Shabtay Baksht
4rth row: Rivka Perski, Roza Berman, Perl Rudnik, Pessah Berman, Perez Rogovin, Miryam Rosenberg, Hiene Rogovin, Tsila Perski, Hayim Shalman

 

Due to the Committee's hard work the number of members reached eighty after a short time. We held our sessions in the local Tarbut school in the evenings. There we heard lectures about Erets Isroel its history and geography. The Nest spread its knowledge and ideas outside the town into the surrounding shtetls. We helped to found Beytar nests in Vishnievo, Trab, Baksht, Ivianits and Horodok. Volozhin became the center of the vicinity's Beytar nests. Inside the town conferences were held, assemblies and meetings, in which renowned instructors took part like Tsvi Bergman from Baranovitsh, Gershon Ashknazi from Vilna, Daniel Perski the and others.

The nest emphasized military training. The local Polish garrison agreed to post an instructor at the nest and to lend us firearms, gas masks and grenades for training purposes. Among Volozhin inhabitants there were different points of view regarding this activity. A part of them was persuaded that Jewish youth should know military art prepatory to the dangerous duties awaiting them in Palestine. Others saw it as funny saber rattling. But after the 1929 Arab pogroms even the skeptical understood the serious need of military knowledge. Dov Lavit made Aliya on 1930, Efrayim Rogovin and Bela Kramnik in 1933.

 

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A group of Beytar military trainees' commanded by Efrayim Rogovin
Mount Bialik in the background

 

A new leading committee was elected after the veterans went to Erets Israel. Its members were Nekhama Lunin, Borukh Mordkhe Meyirson, Kopl Kagan, Isroel Berkovitsh Benyomin Kleynbord, Peshke Rogovin and Eliezer Maza as the nest head.

The nest members increased to hundred sixty “Brothers” and “Sisters” during the last years before WWII. Influenced by their teachers Yakov Lifshits and Gliker many Tarbut students and graduates joined the nest.

Mr Aron Propus the Beytar governor in Poland arrived in Volozhin to give the nest an award of excellence.

The years passed, years of hope and faith until the skies darkened and announced the disasters of the oncoming war. The events developed rapidly. The Polish rule collapsed quickly after the outbreak of the war. The Soviets occupied Volozhin two weeks later. Tsviya Maza, Dovid Shmerkovitsh and Tzipora Shepsenwoll ran to Borukh Mordkhe Meyirson, took the keys to the nest, went to the hall, opened its doors, gathered all documents they could find and burnt them. They dug a hole and concealed the banner and the award of excellence inside it. The Beytar members knew what they might expect from the Bolsheviks. They decided to leave Volozhin and strive to reach Palestine.

Some Beytarim ran away from Volozhin and went to Vilna, from where it was possible to emigrate. Among them were: Sara Bunimovitsh, Nekhama Lunin, Tsvi Lunin, Borukh Mordkhe Meyirson, Yakov Finger, Yakov Kagan, Peshke Rogovin, Leybl Shvartzberg, Dovid Shmerkovitsh, Hay-Liba Shepsnvol, Tsipora Shepsnvol.

Dovid Shmerkovitsh brought the can with the award and banner to Vilna. The banner was concealed again this time in the soil of Vilna. The award was given to Tsipora Shepsnvoll. She guarded it during all her wanderings and brought it finally in Israel.

The Beytar organization was active in Volozhin during eleven years. The Beytar organization became the leading Zionist movement in our town. Due to the inspiration of Beytar two organizations were founded in Volozhin: the Revisionist- Zionist Union, headed by Shlomo Hayim Broodno and Avram Tsart; and the second one, “The Soldiers League” headed by Avrom Berkovitsh, Shneur Kivilevitsh, Onie Rubin and others, all of them soldiers in the past.

 

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Beytar graduates and “Soldiers league” members during the visit of Lipa Leviatan from Erets Israel on November 13, 1934

From left to right, rows from above down:
1st row: Hayim Itshe Ore, Feygl Kramnik, Benyomin Kleynbord, Shriro, Rasl Shlosberg, Asher Yotser's daughter, Tsila Perski, Leybl Shalman, Tsviya Lunin, Pessah Berman, Freydl Kramnik, Yona Shapiro
2nd row: Yakov Lifshits, Mordkhay Maretski, Borukh Mordkhe Meyirson, Avrom Berkovitsh, Rivka Perski, Lipa Leviatan, Onie Rubin, Shlomo Meltser, Perts Rogovin
3rd row: Dovid Bunimovitsh, Moyshe Kaplan, Son of lawyer, Leybl Shvartsberg, Itke Kalik, Hinke Rogovin, Rivka Rogovin, Eliyakim Tsimerman, Peshke Rogovin


[Page 422]

“Shomer Hatsayir” Hakhshara in Volozhin

By Rachel Kna'any (Berman) – Kibuts Merkhaviya

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel

I arrived in Volozhin on 1933. It was a period of rapid expansion of the Zionist training site network in Poland. I came together with a group of thirty people. It was the first detachment of “Hasadan” (the Anvil) the Training Kibuts of Shomer Hatsayir, its members from Vilna and its vicinity, whuch contained also Rakov my natal village. We arrived, a group of youngsters at the age of eighteen-nineteen, on a cold winter day in a horse harnessed sled.

The Hakhshara was lodged in a small house near Polak's sawmill where we worked to earn our piece of bread. The Hakhshara house contained a small dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom common to all of us. It was impossible to put forty beds in a so small an area. We installed two surfaces along the room's length, one over the other, made from boards. It served us as a long common two-story sleeping bed. We did sleep very densely, young boys and girls, but as well as I can remember the behavior was irreproachable, compatible with the Shomer Hatsayir spirit.

We were young girls but our work was very hard. However we did not grouse. It was our way of life, we wanted it and chose it. At the sawmill we gathered the saw dust (so called opilki) from under the sawing machines, put it into sacs and dragged it on our shoulders to the saw-dust hill where the sacs were emptied to repeat the cycle anew.

The other frequent job was the dragging the fall-out from sawing the boards sides (so called obrezki). We pulled it in bundles shaped as long besoms with the ends dragged upon the soil.

Some days we we arranged the sawn boards length and width into high quadratic towers. Another manner of bread winning was wood cutting. We would be rented by shtetl house owners to saw wood lumbers to pieces 15” length and then to cut the short but thick pieces to make them suitable to be put in oven. It was hard work in the shtetl courtyards. The price of our work was very low, and there were days we were unemployed.

No wonder our nourishment was poor: bread, potatoes, tea and potage. Our most preferred dish was fresh black Russian bread and we will remember our benefactor, Hirshl the baker who let us have his good and so tasty bread in never ending credit.

Not only the Baker, most of Volozhin inhabitants received us in a friendly way and tried to help. I was sent to the more wealthy houses as a “seamstress“. I had to cut material and to sew underwear. But my experience in this work was almost zero and I did more dammage than was useful. Despite this my employers were gentle, did not reprimand me and paid my fee.

We were proud with our hard labor and of the style of common life. We were pedantic about guarding the rules of equality.

We had our leisure culture: Singing in common for long hours, reading, typical Kibbutz conversations, and walking around the Shtetl.

We had a frightful experience in common with the town inhabitants. A Volozhin Jew was murdered on his way to a nearby hamlet. The bandit was caught. All of us we went to see his execution by hanging. Until now I can see the drama: The green meadow, the hangman dressed in black, the sun in the skies, the brigand without expression led to his death and the stool overturned from under his feet.

A murderer had been punished. Who will revenge the innocent blood of the thousands of Volozhin Jews? Who will punish their murderers? How can we imagine Jewish Volozhin without Jews?

 

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Hashomer Hatsayir in Volozhin 1934

Standing from left to right: From Vilna, Gitl Rapoport, Avrom Perski, Yokh Dolgov, From Vilna
Sitting: Itskhok Kaplan, Leah, From Vilna, Hinda Rudnik, From Rakov, Rohl Perski
Sitting below: Mordkhe Eli Guirson, Elta Horodishtsh, Eliyahu Naroshevitsh


[Page 425]

Keren Kayemet L' Israel (JNF) in Volozhin

By Benyamin Shapir (Shishko), Karkur, Israel

Translated by Naomi Gal

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Activities for JNF[Jewish National Fund] in Volozhin was an important part of the Jewish life in the city. The building of the “Tarbut” School with the blue–and–white sign, reminded the citizens that their homeland is in Zion. One could feel the Land–of–Israel ambiance in this building. Whoever went in – be it a child or an elderly person – were partners in the revival and for Aliyah for the Land of Zion. Between the walls of this house each “circle” found its own corner. “Halutz”, “HaShomer–Hazair”, “Betar” –they were all in the same home. Points of view were different, but the common ground turned them all to one family – the family of Zion's sons.

The JNF council, under the direction of Rabbi Israel Lonin (presenting

 

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The Bazar's committee (“The Market”) of JNF on 9–10 July 1933

Standing (right to left): A. Moshe Skelyots, B. Polia Farver, C. Lea Kivilevitz, D. Yaakov (Yani) Gerber, E. Gittel Kline, F. Eliezer Maz'a
Sitting: A. Hannah Rogovin, B. Yaakov Lipsitz, C. Sara Yezgor, D. Onya Rubin (Kahanovitz's son in law), E. Rikla Shafsnovel, F. Haim Stkolshik
Sitting on the floor: A. Michael Perski, B. Rachel Rogovin, C. Yosef Schwartzberg

[Page 426]

the city's Hamizrahi”), included members of the General Zionists, “Zeirai–Zion”, “Haalutz”, Betar, “Hashomer Hazair” etc. The meetings took place on Saturdays, in the “Tarbut” School building. These meetings were Shabbat's Oneg (Pleasure) of Volozhin's Jews, craving redemption. Whoever saw R' Israel Lonin walking, after a Shabbat's nap, to a meeting of JNF, his face illuminated, relaxed, as if he had a revelation – would understand the secret for the existence of the people of Israel.

True, we were in the diaspora, but we lived as if our bodies were in the west while our hearts were in the east. The work for JNF was our daily nourishment, each student of the “Tarbut” School had a saving notebook where JNF stamps were glued. In every house hung a blue–and–white box in which the family members inserted their contributions to redeeming the homeland. Once a month on Shabbat they used to plan the emptying of the boxes. Couples from all “circles” and movements volunteered for this sacred endeavor and fulfilled the Mitzva to sacrifice to God at the beginning of the month.

The Rosh Hodesh in Volozhin was a day of the Land–of–Israel for all the city's Jews. The volunteers who came to empty the boxes were welcomed cordially. In every wedding hall they would sell, between dances, Zion flowers, money that was consecrated to redeeming the Land–of–Israel.

Lag BaOmer was majestically celebrated by us. Zion flags were held in the hands of the “Tarbut” students who walked in rows to the summit of “Bialik Mountain” (the mountain is in the eastern part of the city. They say that Bialik wrote there his poem “El Hazipor”). The children sang Zionist songs that uplifted the spirits of the city's Jews and multitudes followed them out to nature, as if they were on their way to the Land–of–Israel, their greatest wish.

There was a special tradition in Volozhin, to celebrate on “Shmini Atzert” the Simchat Torah of the Land–of–Israel that was called also “Simhat Torah of R' Shlomo Hassid”. This feast took place in the Kloizel[small synagogue] on Vilna Street – the prayer site of R' Israel Lonin (the main Gabbai) and of the leading Zionists of the city – R' Shlomo Haim Brodna, Yeshayahu Kahanovitz, David Itzhak Kantrovitz, Mr. Altman and R' Yehoshua Horovitz.

In the Kloizel prayed also R' Shlomo Hassid (Shepsnevol). He was born in Horodok and came to our city. Although he was a Hassid, this Jew was liked by the “opponents–Misnagdim” among whom he was praying. They respected and were fond of him and in his honor they performed on “Shemini Atzert” Hakafot the way the Hassid did[Hassid–style], and for him they celebrated in the Kloizel Simchat Torah on the same day it was celebrated by the Jews in the Land–of–Israel. And the day after they celebrated the diaspora's Simchat Torah. This celebration was consecrated to the redemption of the people of Israel in their homeland. R' Israel Lonin, as the head of JNF was in charge of the dancing. The children of the “Tarbut” School prepared blue–and–white paper–chains to decorate the synagogue. They brought with them the national flags and danced with them and with the Torah Books during the rounds, while everybody: men, women and children, sang Zion songs and danced enthusiastically while they were all immersed in a sea of

[Page 427]

blue–and–white. If you did not see the rounds of Shemini Atzert in Volozhin's Kloizel – you haven't seen real joy.

This grand singing, the singing of a people who believe in its redemption, the singing of the citizens of the city were founded by the associations “Nezach Israel” and “Ness Ziona” the singing of Volozhin's Jews where the eternal Torah of Israel was constantly studied – this singing began with the signing of “Moshe and Beni Israel”. In order to stay loyal to what was written: “And Devora took the tambourine” – a pretty girl came on stage, which stood in the middle of the synagogue, and was granted the honor to sing Zionist songs.

This signing will never stop, the singing of “Am Israel Hai” (“The People of Israel is alive”) coming out of the mouths of the remains of Volozhin who were lucky enough to make aliyah and build the country and this singing will go on from one generation to another.

Finally, I will bring the letter of the Zionist Histadrut in London to the local council of JNF in Volozhin about the convening of the Zionist Congress:

The Zionist Histadrut, Main Office
The Zionist Organization
Central Office, 77 Great Russel Street, London W.C. 1
To the local council of JNF, Volozhin August 7, 1930.

Dear Member,

“The central committee of the Zionist Histadrut in Poland brought to my intention your letter from July 18 in which you asked for a general meeting that was convened in Volozhin on July 16, 1930, dedicated to the memory of our leader Dr. Herzl. We want to inform you that even before receiving this letter we had decided, as you already know from the press, to prepare for a Zionist Congress by the end of this year, around December”.

Respectfully,

The Histadrut Department

Hence, we learn that Volozhin Jews held on July 16, 1930 a general meeting in which was decided to convene a Zionist Congress that would discuss the Jewish World events.

The main office of the Zionist Movement in London paid attention to Volozhin's opinions and thus responded as mentioned above.

 

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