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[Page 192]

Hashomer Hatza'ir

Translated by Ofra Anson

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Hashomer Hatza'ir was one of the first youth movements in Biala. We say one of the first, because Pirchei Zion [Flowers of Zion][1] was really the first. Yet, when Hashomer Hatza'ir was later established, almost all members of Pirchei Zion joined Hashomer Hatza'ir.

Before we turn to write about Hashomer Hatza'ir, something should be said about its forerunner, Pirchei Zion.

In 1918, there were already quite a few young people who had graduated from the Yavneh School. They were good friends, and felt they needed a place to meet and pursue their cultural life. The group used to meet in the evenings and holidays in the Yavneh School, have lectures on literature and host debates. The name Pirchei Zion was taken from a Warsaw newspaper, and later the group joined Pirchei Zion in Warsaw.

The founders of this group were: Eliezer Eideltuch,[2] Zelig Rosenfeld, Mirtshe Blankleider, Hantshe Zineman, Solomon Zarok, Arie Lamas, and Sara Kramarzs. The members elected a committee, chaired by Zelig Rosenfeld, and Eliezer Eideltuch as secretary. Pirchei Zion had 60–70 members, who paid monthly membership fees.

 

bia192.jpg
The leaders of Pirchei Zion
From right, sitting: Sara Kramatzs, Eliezer Eideltuch, Arie Lamas;
Standing: Mirtche Blankleider, Zelig Rosenfeld, Shlomo Zarok and Hentche Zinamon

 

As the name of the group indicates, it was a nationalist organization, its political orientation having been shaped while they studied in the Yavneh School. This youth movement drew the attention of the leaders of the local Zionist organization, Moshe Rubinstein and Haim Barlas, who supported Pirchei Zion and helped with the work involved in running the group.

The group received from the headquarters in Warsaw a variety of materials, which guided its activity. As time passed, they built a library which included both Hebrew and Yiddish books.

As mentioned above, upon the entrance of Hashomer Hatza'ir to Biala, Pirchei Zion ceased to exist, almost all of its members joining the new youth movement. The library also became the property of Hashomer Hatza'ir.

In 1919 a young man from Warsaw, Solomon Yankaviak, came to Biala with the Polish army. He was a member of Hashomer Hatza'ir and it was his initiative to bring the organization to Biala. Among the founders were: Abush Liberman, Zelig Rosenfeld, Eliezer Eideltuch, Tova Rubinstein,[3] Hanna Zineman, Arie Lamas, and Sara Kramarzs.

Hashomer Hatza'ir was similar to the scouts youth movement, encouraging both national orientation and the love of the Land of Israel. At first it recruited about 70 youngsters, later on the number increased to 100. Most members were former students, men and women, of the Yavneh School. All paid monthly membership fees.

[Page 193]

The youngsters of Hashomer Hatza'ir were divided into groups; each group had its own leader. The groups met several times a week for small–talk and physical exercises. On Saturdays all members would meet, to hear a talk given by the chair–person Abush Liberman, to learn Hebrew songs, and to have a good time. Often, the chair of the Zionist movement, Moshe Rubinstein,[4] came to these Saturday meetings to talk about Zionist matters and biblical themes.

To avoid interference with its activity, Hashomer Hatza'ir became a section within the Tarbut [culture] society, which was legally registered with the Polish authorities.

At first, the relationship between Hashomer Hatza'ir and the Scouts organization in the city was quite good. The Scouts even used to invite Hashomer Hatza'ir to take part in public drilling exercises on Polish formal events. Later, however, the behavior of the Polish Scouts group changed: they could not accept the fact that Jewish youngsters carried the International Scouts' standard. Hashomer suffered a lot of bullying from the Polish Scouts, who were assisted in this by the whole kingdom. Hashomer Hatza'ir recruited many of the high–school students, but the school objected to their participation. They thus had to hide their activity from the public, not always successfully, as the meeting place was situated in a Christian neighborhood. After the fall of Joseph Trumpeldor in the battle of Tel–Hai, the Hashomer Hatza'ir of Biala took on his name.

One of the main concerns of Hashomer Hatza'ir was cultural activity, which gave its members the opportunity to learn and develop. Evening courses were initiated, where members could broaden their educations in subjects such as Hebrew, Polish, mathematics, science, geography, etc. There were classes for the history and geography of Eretz Israel, as well as Hebrew literature. Later, when the courses stopped, high–school students used to teach their peers who were eager to study. The library developed, thanks to the intensive work of the librarian Haim Rosmarin. Often, a newsletter was hung on its wall, and every two months a newspaper, named Mehayeinu [from our life] was published. It included a variety of articles and poetry in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. The following members were involved in the newspaper work: Joshua Hafer, Rose Yakobovsky, and Leibel Finkelstein. They were responsible for both its content and graphical lay–out.

 

bia193.jpg
The “Reuven” Group of Hashomer Haza'ir
Standing from right: Selig Rosenfeld, Arie Lamas, Butche Finkelstein, Eliezer Eideltuch, Josef Nochevitz;
second row: Yankavyak (Warsaw), Gershon Rosmarin, Moshe Rubinstein (both from the leading committee), Appelboim (Warsaw), Abush Liberman (the leader of the group);
third row: Sara Kramarzs, Toibale Rubinstein, Hantshe Zinaman, Pearl Weisenfeld, and Gitl Weissglass.

 

[Page 194]

 

bia194.jpg
Lag–Baomer excursion of Hashomer Hatza'ir
(before departure from the public school courtyard)

 

The activities of Hashomer Hatza'ir were held in different localities. In the beginning, the elementary school on Gravanover Street was used; after this building burned down the new location of the school was used, in the rabbi's place on Mezritch Street. During the summer members used to gather in the rabbi's back yard, in the open air. During the winter Hashomer Hatza'ir went to Beit Ha'am [the peoples' house] for physical exercises, using Maccabi's sport facilities.

Hashomer Hatza'ir was under the influence of the Zionist party in the city, which, in turn, used to rely upon its members for different party–related tasks. They were sent to collect money for Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund], hang wall posters, distribute the Shekel stamps, etc.

Often, Hashomer Hatza'ir performed theater shows in Beit Ha'am, with great success. Every Lag Ba'Omer [35 days after Passover] Hashomer Hatza'ir used to organize field–trips to the meadows around the city and these practically became an annual nationalist demonstration. Members would gather in the early morning in the courtyard of the rabbi's house, all dressed in Hashomer Hatza'ir khaki uniform, and be organized in military–like groups. After hearing a short talk from the president of the Zionist movement, and headed by the Maccabi orchestra, they marched through the city to the fields. At night, all the Jewish community waited for them on the street to greet them as they returned to the city. The impression of this event was felt for weeks after it took place.

With the Bolshevik invasion in 1920 the activity of Hashomer Hatza'ir stopped. The archive of the organization was hidden in Reuven Feldman's attic. The Red Army stayed in town for a few weeks, and after it left normal activity began again.

We should note that the religious community did not approve of Hashomer Hatza'ir. Yet they did not have the power or the means to stop their children from going to a youth organization. They had an opportunity to pursue their objection to Hashomer Hatza'ir during the 1920s. One of the Radzin Hasidim whose daughter went to Hashomer Hatza'ir sent the rabbi a question written in the Torah script, and showed him a song by David Shimonovitz, starting with “Al Tishma” [do not listen, or do not hear]. He presented this as proof that Hashomer Hatza'ir encouraged Jewish children to convert, heaven forbid. It came after several incidents of disputes, and the rabbi of Biala did not think long before excommunicating Hashomer Hatza'ir and the whole Zionist movement. This was an excommunication with the full ceremony, including calling the people to the synagogue, lighting candles, and having his helper blow the Shofar.

The excommunication did not do a lot of harm. True, in the beginning the number of members dropped, but this was largely due to out–migration from the city of people looking for a purpose in life and who were no longer satisfied with Hashomer Hatza'ir activities.

[Page 195]

In the early 20s [of the 20th century], the romantic–scouts period of Hashomer Hatza'ir was over, as most of its members graduated from school.

The economic crisis among Jews had deepened, and the youth had to turn to vocational training. Those still in school had to decide whether to continue their studies beyond elementary school or to look for an occupation. Some could not make a decision; quite a few went to physical work. The situation brought about organizational change in Hashomer Hatza'ir, its second period. The majority of its members were now working people, and even those still in school were psychologically ready to learn a trade. Willingly or unwillingly, contrary to the wishes of the older members, there was a barrier between them and the new ones. The working youth were the main force behind the separation. Some of them were organized in trade unions, and were influenced by its ideology. At the same time there was a crisis among the school youth, which had an opposite effect.

The local leadership tried different ways to bring the two parts to work in harmony. It organized joint courses: Nathan Zigelnik and Lea Orlanski made a great effort for this purpose, they worked hard to make it work, but life took its course. Their activity did not yield the expected results. Work–related issues became the main topic in the discussions in Hashomer Hatza'ir and the questions raised were of practical, realistic, nature. Yet, this development was not unique to Biala, it happened in all cities and towns.

During this time Hashomer Hatza'ir started to establish Kibbutzim in Israel. The leaders in the headquarters of Hashomer Hatza'ir coined the notion of hagshama atzmit [self–realization, self fulfilment]. The poem of Davis Shim'onovitz “Al tishma beni musar av” [son, do not follow in your father's footsteps] became a slogan calling every young person to stop studying, to leave their parents' home, go on Hachshara [training], and get ready to immigrate for the hard labor awaiting in Eretz Israel. This call, however, was too harsh for the students in Biala, and only few of them took it on.

 

bia195.jpg
A group of Hashomer Haza'ir

 

The new course taken: The central leadership strengthened the working youth of Hashomer Hatza'ir in Biala. It helped them to take over the local leadership, and to dismiss those who were not interested in hagshama atzmit and had no wish to make Aliya.

[Page 196]

The local leadership of the young workers started its work in a difficult time. The active members went on Hachshara, and with a limited working force, collaboration between right (the Revisionists, General Zionists [liberals], and HaMizrachi [religious]) and left (the Bund and Communists) had to be established in order to find a new way to crystalize a socialist orientation. The central leadership sent help, first Moshe Platnikov, then Yitzhak Lehrer, and after his Aliya to Eretz Israel – Moshe Smolyar. They wanted to preserve the two main achievements of Hashomer Hatza'ir, the support for Keren Kayemet and the Tarbut library.

This is when the third period of Hashomer Hatza'ir's existence started, a period of search for a political way. Members who could not or did not wish to identify with the political orientation left Hashomer Hatza'ir. Some members joined the Left Poalei Zion, others joined the communists, other left political activity altogether. Some started a new youth organization – Magshimim [the fulfillers].

Except for Hashomer Hatza'ir, no other youth movement devoted to working in Eretz Israel operated in Biala. Thus, only Hashomer Hatza'ir could take on the initiative of establishing Hechalutz [the pioneer]. The local leadership decided to start a Hechalutz group, an organization which would attract young persons who sympathized with the Zionist cause but were too old to join Hashomer Hatza'ir and found no interest in other organizations.

Hechalutz developed and sent many members on “hachshara”, arranged work for other members, made Aliya and live in Israel to this day.

Hashomer Hatza'ir also organized a worker's–league for Eretz Israel, which attracted those who were sympathetic to the idea. All members of Hechalutz automatically belonged to that league. This is how the workers–wing of the Zionist movement came to be in our city.

Hashomer Hatza'ir was also involved in the establishment of the Poalei Zion party, though it had a right wing orientation, and in the Ha'oved branch of this party.

 

bia196.jpg
A group of Hashomer Hatza'ir

 

Almost all political organizations and activities went through Hashomer Hatza'ir, who constantly looked for collaboration in order to strengthen the socialist–Zionist influence in the city.

As active members went on hagshama [made Aliya], those who stayed took their place and fulfilled the necessary tasks.

[Page 197]

 

bia197a.jpg
Hechalutz group and several Hashomer Hatza'ir members
Standing from right: Hanna Grinberg, Sara Gittelman, Rivka Feigenboim, Itke Plat, Haim Liverant, Leibel Feigenboim, Bloome Rosenbloom, Fania Tzelinker, Asher Grinblatt, Rachel Listgarten, Mulie Urmacher;
sitting: Jacob Gelburd, Feige Tzukerman, Jacob Gliksberg, Bloome Edelstein, Itzhak Lehrer, Lea Shneiman;
sitting in front: Aron Miadek, Jeshayahu Stallavi, Shalom Knijshnik, Hershel Eidelman.

 

The third period lasted until the Second World War, when many members fled to Russia.

 

bia197b.jpg
A group of members of the “League for Labor Eretz Israel”
Standing from right: Solomon Hochberg, Yurberg, Rivka Grodner, two whose names are unknown, Shalom Knijshnik, Abraham Nochevitz, Lea Nochevitz, Aranski (a Hebrew teacher);
sitting: Josef Grinstein, Ytzhak (Aizik) Shien, a Shaliach [messenger, delegate], Eliezer Eideltuch, Hershel Nochevitz, Maskal

 

Of those who stayed through the Hitler hell, almost nobody survived. Yet even in the most difficult days under the German regime, the activity of Hashomer Hatza'ir continued, by both members from Biala and those who were deported by the Germans from other places.

The brave death of Godya Steinman was a strong evidence of the loyalty to Hashomer Hatza'ir values. Godya Steinman was an illegal representative of the central leadership. She worked with the underground movement, jointly with other members. Godya was cruelly interrogated in the Gestapo jail of Biala, in an effort to make her provide details regarding the activity and the people participating in that activity. Yet she withstood all the tortures and did not divulge any information.

This Information was provided by E. Eideltuch,[5] Y. Ofer, and A. Greenblat

Translator's Footnotes

  1. a. Translations of some of the Hebrew terms are given in square brackets in the text.
    b. Some of my family members are mentioned in the article, see reference numbers in the text and below. Return
  2. Eliezer Eideltuch was my father. Return
  3. My cousin Return
  4. My uncle Return
  5. My father Return

 

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