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[Page 94]

Betar in Akkerman

by Shmuel Gaber

Translated by Sara Mages

In the summer of 1927, while visiting the community library under the management of Mr. Sternshis z”l, I came across a newspaper in which was an article about the activities of a youth group called “Brit Yosef Trumpeldor” in the city of Danzig. This article listed the principles and the foundations of this movement. At the end of this article it said that every young Jew is asked to submit, to a certain address, a handwritten essay describing the life of the Jewish community in his place of residence, and also indicate if there are young people in this community who want to build their future in Eretz Yisrael. We, a group of young people in Akkerman, students of “Tarbut,” saw the need to respond to this article because the principles outlined in this article seemed to us. We sent our address and waited for an answer. This is how our first contact with the Betar movement began.

We met often, even before we officially belonged to this movement, organized trips, engaged in fishing, sailed in boats, etc. We borrowed the boats from the residents of the village of Tasir, who made their living in the summer from fishing and in the winter from collecting reeds for roofing. Our activity entered a higher phase after Yitzchak Starec, who studied in Italy and came to Akkerman for vacations, joined us Yitzchak's father was a loyal and devoted Zionist activist who showed great interest in distributing the Hebrew book. In Italy, Yitzchak was greatly influenced by Gribaldi's teachings and ideas, and it was reflected in all his conversations with us. From him, we first heard about the life of the Italian nation and its history, the gap between the various strata, about the Christian church that delayed the progress of the masses of Italian people, etc. Gribaldi, and his friends, were introduced to us by Yitzchak as leaders who led the masses of people in the struggle for freedom and liberation from bondage. He adorned these heroes with a charming aura of admiration and prestige, which may not have been so much in tune with reality, but was very much in tune with our tendencies and emotions, and our hidden longings. Yitzchak read us poems by Tchernichovsky, Frug and others, and also tried to convince us to choose different hobbies to avoid boredom and idleness. There is no doubt that he had a great influence on those who came into contact with him and, by the summer of 1928, there were already about 40 young people in our circle. The most prominent in this circle were: Aharon Braski, B. Arbit and Zvi Schechter. The last was a resident of Sarata, but was active in our circle during his studies at “Tarbut” in Akkerman.

One day, we received a letter from Danzig to which was attached a note from the Betar commission announcing the visit of the leader, Aryeh Dissentchik, to our city. The activity of the movement across the Diaspora was described on a separate page.

When we got the news we started to prepare for the anticipated visit. The main problem was - finding a suitable place for the meeting with the important guest since our one and a half room apartment was not suitable for this purpose. This problem was soon resolved. An empty warehouse at the soda factory owned by Y. Gershkowitz, which was far from the city center, was prepared for the meeting. After we renovated it, and equipped it with benches for sitting, it also served as our club.

One day, at the end of June 1928, we welcomed the distinguished guest at the train station. B. Rabinowitz and I represented the young branch of Betar, and the conversation between us was conducted in Hebrew. The visitor was interested to visit the city and meet with personalities, who were close to the Zionist idea but not yet organized in a party framework. The meeting of all the Betarim in the city was set for the early hours of the evening, and since also young people, who were not yet organized in our ranks asked to participate in this meeting, we decided that everyone can come. The meeting was very exciting. We asked the guest to lecture in Yiddish since only a few understood Hebrew, and he did. As he spoke, he also translated various words and concepts into Russian to facilitate their understanding. The hall, in which the meeting was held, was packed and many heard the lecturer's words standing. After the lecture there were also questions and comments from those present, most revolved around the issue of military education highlighted in Mr. Dissentchik's words. During the days of Mr. Dissentchik's stay, the branch leadership was established and an action plan was drawn up for the next six months. This was our first opportunity to become acquainted with

[Page 95]

Group of Betar members in Akkerman

 

the aims and principles of the Betar movement, and the Betar organization was officially established in Akkerman. We were ordered to set up recruiting companies according to the instructions of the commission in Eretz Yisrael, to begin military training according to the possibilities in the place, and to prepare for immigration to Eretz Yisrael.

In October 1928, Akiva Brun (Kolya) visited us during his tour of Romania on behalf of the national “HeHalutz” movement, in order to explore the possibilities of recruiting Betarim for mixed Hakhshara companies. He also demanded that we prepare companies for Hakhshara towards immigration to Eretz Yisrael. We also heard from the visitor about a plan for a regional conference of Betar and the establishment of separate Hakhshara battalions in accordance with the decision of the institutions and the Betarim, who returned from “HeHalutz” general Hakhshara points and did not consider them a suitable framework for the training of the members of Betar.

I remember well the meeting with Kolya because I, and several other members (B. Rabinowitch, V. Hershkowitz and S. Frank), proposed that we join the Foreign Legion in order to study, in the framework of the legion, the theory of war under desert conditions so we would be able to implement the training, and the theory, in Eretz Yisrael. Kolya strongly rejected the idea and thoroughly explained the reasons for it, and we accepted his explanation.

Over time, the students of the Hebrew Gymnasium joined Betar and brought a new atmosphere to the framework of our branch. Along with that, we started to recruit Yiddish and Russian speaking members from other strata of the local population. Those, who excelled the most in the activity of recruiting new members, were: B. Arbit, B. Frenkel. A. Lapida, Shraga Cohen, Yosef Youngerleev, Z. Goldman and M. Girshfeld. With the increase of the number of members in the branch, a new headquarter, under the leadership of B. Arbit, was elected. His deputies were: the writer of these lines and Buria Rabinowitch. Yosef Youngerleev served as secretary and the sports instructor was Z. Goldman. Later, when A. Barski arrived in Akkerman, he was added as a cultural instructor. The members' activity was not only limited to activities within the framework of the branch, but for many other social and entertainment activities: joint visit to the cinema, walks in the public park, bathing in the sea and the Liman River, participation in the festivities etc.

Over time, a trio, which managed all the branch activities, was formed: B. Arbit, B. Rabinowitch and the writer of these lines. Each of this trio was in charge of a particular field of action. B. Arbit - the preparation of programs for educational activities with the emphasis on Zionist literature and joint reading from the books of Zionist leaders. B. Rabinowitch served as treasurer, raised money from various institutions and personalities, and also instituted the monthly tax every member had to pay. This tax didn't bring a lot of money, but it was also important educationally. I dealt with public relations, connections with institutions and personalities in the city, and also with other movements. It is worth noting that, despite the ideological contradictions between Betar and Poalei Zion we had a fair relationship and were helped, quite a bit, by Poalei Zion's large library for the sake of conceptual debates between us.

Of our active circles, it is necessary to note:

Camping circle, to which the affiliation was free at the choice of the members themselves. A training circle, that its main activist was my friend, Yakov Weinstein. The material for this circle was mainly drawn from the Scout's sources. A circle for fencing with sticks, which was a very popular sport in those days. A scout

[Page 96]

guide (Russian) agreed to teach us this sport since we saw it as self-defense training. Selected groups demonstrated fencing exercises in the festivities conducted by the branch. There was also a special circle for the preparation of public trials under the guidance of Busia Arbit. After his immigration to Israel the circle was guided by Aharon Braski z”l. Busia elected the presiding judge, the judges, the experts and the witnesses according to their education and skills. I remember that one of the issues that aroused a great deal of interest was restraint, in other words, the methods of reaction in Eretz Yisrael against riots and rioting Arabs. The first aid circle should also be mentioned. It was conducted in conjunction with sources outside the movement and, of course, was assisted by physicians' guidance. At Rabbi Youngerleev's recommendation, the circle received various tools and materials from the Jewish hospital, and great help was provided to us by Dr. Schwartzman.

The residents of Akkerman were known throughout the area for their great affection for the beaches of the Liman and the sea. Therefore, it was natural that one of the most active circles during the summer was the circle for boating and swimming which was headed by Zenvel Goldman z”l. The circle rented fishing boats and trained the Betarim in water sports. The activities of this circle took place in the evenings, and sometimes until midnight.

The first contacts with the local Revisionist Party were established after the visit of Michael Yehenson z”l on Rosh Hashanah 1930. The most active liaison between these two organizations was M. Clapouch. These connections also helped us financially, and we rewarded the party with our activities towards the elections for the Zionist congresses and in other operations when our young people's help was needed. 

From the days of my activity in Betar I remember, to this day, many operations and celebrations in all their details. I would never forget the celebration of “Vow Day,” which took place on the birthday of the leader of Betar, Zev Jabotinsky. The Betar branch in Akkerman was also awarded the visit of Jabotinsky. It was in 1939, but, to my regret, I was not in Akkerman during this visit. When Jabotinsky arrived in Akkerman he told his escorts that he wanted to go to the Liman's shore and glance to the other side of the river in order to see, maybe for the last time (as he said), the coast of Tirsapol and Odessa. For a short while, the Betarim stood in formation, at absolute silence, with the leader of Betar at the Liman shore. Later Jabotinsky thanked his escorts to allow him this exciting visit.

After many members left for Hakhshara and immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, there was, of course, a change of personnel and a new shift entered into a blessed activity until the outbreak of the World War and the Russian occupation.

[Page 97]

Betar's Hakhshara group, among them members of the Akkerman branch

 

Betar formation next to the club

 

 
Group of Betar members   S. Gaber, chairman of Betar branch in Akkerman

[Page 98]

The commanders of Betar in Akkerman with the branch chairman S. Gaber

 

Group of Betar graduates in Akkerman

 

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