From the book Yidden Eich Latland by Mendel Buba
After the events in Kishinev and Homel, the Jews of Dvinsk began to organize a form of self-defense.
When the Tsarist police began to turn against the Jews, the Letts decided to attack the Jews, and planned their activities for a market day when most of the Jews would be in the city and the Christians would be a little drunk from their day's profits.
The self-defense of the Jews was supervised by Shlomo Pokroi, who divided them into groups of dozens, with each person armed with axes, clubs, cudgels and every other sort of cold weapon that could be concealed.
The Lett attackers began to loot the Jewish shops and to beat the shocked and frightened Jews. The self-defense youths began to forcefully attack the looters and murderers and chased them away. The strong, burly butchers with their knives in hand threatened the looters, who became frightened and ran away in fear of the Jews.
The pogrom propaganda was not successful in Dvinsk following the organization of the Jews. Many jokes and stories were told about the beating the looters got.
The self-defense program justified itself. With pride and a head held high, the Jewish workers of Dvinsk walked with a smile on their faces. They had stood their ground, defending their property and their lives.
The looters never again dared to try and attack the Jews of Dvinsk. Their
unified, organized stand brought the Jews together against their harassers and
From the book Yidden Eich Latland by Mendel Buba
The younger generation in Dvinsk was educated in the Talmud Torah and the cheder, some of which became improved schools wherein the students also learned mathematics, science and the Russian language.
Several trade schools supported by ORT and the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) were established for girls as well as boys. In the three elementary schools in Dvinsk at that time, the language of instruction was Russian, and the younger generation of Jews was educated in that language.
The many synagogues and houses of study provided expression for the religious and traditional Jewish life in Dvinsk. At the center of Dvinsk was the Ker Shul, with the progressive Jews who visited there. There were also the Planover Minyan, where the Rogachover Gaon prayed, and the Community House of Study, where the mitnaged rebbe Meir Simcha HaCohen prayed. The simple people of Dvinsk, the various artisans, each prayed in their own special minyan: the Synagogue of Tailors, the Schneiderayshe Shul, the Butchers' Minyan, the Painters' Minyan, and so on.
The rabbis who ran the religious life of Dvinsk were the Rogachover Gaon Rabbi Yosef Rosen who wrote the Tzafnath Paneach, and Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen, author of the book Or Sameach. These men were considered authorities by Jews around the world. They were surrounded by a circle, not only of Jews but of members of the Christian population as well, which respected them, deferred to them and was considerate of them. There is a well-known tale of how the brilliant Rabbi Meir Simcha returned the overflowing Daugava River to its banks, thus preventing a flood that could have, God forbid, destroyed the city and caused a loss of life.
After a long conversation with the Gaon, H. N. Bialik of blessed memory
said of him that if all of the Rogachover's knowledge was collected in one
place, the world would be blessed with a treasury of scientific tomes.
By Mordechai Nieshtet, from the book History of a Movement
(Avraham Etay Mordechai Nieshtet)
Zionism was not so much an ideology for us, but rather simply a part of our character, something we drank in with our mother's milk; we absorbed it in the home and the cheder, at school and in the atmosphere on the street, from visiting teachers and emissaries from Eretz Yisrael, and in the libraries. The book Ahava Zion made quite an impact on the youth. From the age of the gymnasia, the ideologies of Shimoni were also influential.
It seems to me that if we analyze the components of our ideology to see which are results of the reality of Eretz Yisrael, and which are the results of our life in Latvia, we would discover that we were more influenced by Eretz Yisrael than by our daily lives. Zion was like a dream for us, an inseparable part of our souls. Sometimes we would count the remaining months and years until we could fulfill our dream of moving to Eretz Yisrael. In the climate of these ideas, the youth would not accept a Zionism of donations and gatherings; they responded more to a Zionism that took into its own hands a solution to the problem of the dispersal of our people in the Diaspora.
The youth read many books about the condition of the Jewish people; they were in search of a theoretical basis for the Zionist idea. Brener, Trumpeldor, and A. D. Gordon served as examples for the Zionist youth. They went to work in training camps in order to practice in reality the physical work that awaited them in Eretz Yisrael to build and be built there.
The youth attended summer camps at which there were competitions, exhibitions
which reflected the subject of labor. The youth movements, which attracted the
best young men and women, were at the center of a lively, active and
interesting life, full of awareness and saturated with lofty ideas regarding
training, aliyah and achievement. Their fate was the same as the fate of all
the sons of Israel who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Told by Mr. Moshe Hyal
Dvinsk, the third largest city in Latvia, is located on the Daugava River. Before the outbreak of World War II, there were 47,000 residents, of which 40% were Jews who lived mostly in the center of town.
There were five Jewish schools in Dvinsk and in a few of them the official language was Hebrew. In order to teach the language properly, there were teachers from Eretz Yisrael who came and spent several years at the schools. There was also a Hebrew gymnasia, and during the 1930s there was a training kibbutz, which prepared the Zionist youth from the Gordonia and Hashomer Hazair movements for performing agriculture labor.
The city was full of Zionist youth movements, which established youth clubs like the Borochov Club for youth and a Zionist Club for adults. The Hashomer Hazair movement published a monthly magazine called Hamishol. The youth of Dvinsk read and studied from the many books in the city library. The Zionist movements were very active, holding conferences, gatherings, and rallies which made quite an impression on the Jewish population.
When the pro-Nazi youth movement wanted to take over the streets of the city they did not find fertile ground. The city's butchers chased them out immediately, and forcefully.
Among the Jews, many of whom were merchants, there were various classes. The rich people who owned shops and warehouses were at one level, and the destitute at the other. Once a week, the latter would go from door to door begging for handouts just so they could survive.
At the head of the Jewish community were several go-getters, whose main concern was the welfare of the city. Most of them were rabbis, the spiritual leaders of the community.
The Jews of Dvinsk kept the traditions. The shops were closed on the Sabbath. On Sundays, the Christian Sabbath, some of the shops were open for half a day. The large factories were not inside the city. The Jews were merchants or artisans who toiled in workshops. Young men from wealthy homes would, upon graduating from high school, travel to Italy to study medicine. Other young people would help their parents in the family business or take over the business themselves. In the 1930s many Jews left Dvinsk, and the youth in particular went to Eretz Yisrael.
Dvinsk was famous for its hospitality and many visitors from Eretz Yisrael came
there. H. N. Bialik of blessed memory visited Dvinsk and awakened a lot of
interest. School children performed recitals for him in the large movie theater
and Bialik was quite touched. Yechiel Halperin also visited Dvinsk and met with
David Ben Gurion of blessed memory was supposed to visit Dvinsk. The Jewish community busily prepared for that event, but before he arrived in the city David Ben Gurion was forced to return to Eretz Yisrael. Everyone was very disappointed that they would not be able to see and hear the famous man.
The annihilation did not pass over the city of Dvinsk.
The Nazis demanded that the Jews of Dvinsk wear three yellow tags on their clothes instead of the two most other Jews wore. The Letts cooperated and assisted in the destruction of the Jews of Dvinsk.
The tombstone on the mass grave says only: Remember the victims of the Fascists.
Dvinsk, which is under the authority of Russia, was not able to raise a tombstone for the murdered Jews. It was not something the Soviet government in Latvia was interested in doing.
Students, Grade 8A
As told by Mr. Simcha Katz, written by Sofia Grade 8A
Dvinsk was a large, effervescent community with a lively Jewish character. Russians, Poles and Germans also lived in the city. The mixed population became integrated into the general life.
The Jewish youth was aware of the general problems and of Zionist problems specifically. Between the two World Wars there were about 35,000 Jews in the city, though the community shrank as the city was close to the front lines.
The youth, who were educated in the Zionist movements, attended training kibbutzim and moved to Eretz Yisrael with the appropriate documents, which were called certificates.
Until 1934, while there was a democratic government in Dvinsk, the Jews did not suffer from discrimination. They were merchants, artisans and members of the free professions and contributed with their energy and initiative to the economic development of the city.
Only with the national revolution in 1934 did the situation of the Jews worsen, following the restrictions imposed on them. With the coming of World War II the Holocaust came also to the Jews of Dvinsk, and destroyed them.
Since the Jewish community of Dvinsk was surrounded by a hostile population,
they could not defend themselves. No partisan underground was established
there. There were very few Letts who aided the Jews in escaping from the claws
of the Nazi. Here and there a villager might hide a single Jew or a Jewish
family. Those who helped Jews escape from the cruelty of the Nazis will be
Told by Mr. Gur Shmuel
I was born in Leningrad and moved to Dvinsk, where I lived from 1924 until 1940 and worked as a bookkeeper.
I knew the Russian language very well. My family was made up of five people, and we were traditional Jews. I studied in an elementary school where the language of instruction was Hebrew. My teachers were typical Zionists, and they infused the subjects we studied with Zionist content.
Our studies were designed to develop a nationalist feeling in the students. The atmosphere of the school was very pleasant. The holidays were celebrated in splendid fashion. On Lag B'Omer we would go into the forest with bows and arrows. For Chanukah we arranged ceremonies at the school, and the songs we learned awakened the activist spirit in us.
Some of our teachers came from Eretz Yisrael. They were sent to their posts by the Jewish Agency, and performed their duties faithfully, telling us many stories about the developing and renewed Eretz Yisrael.
I completed elementary school and high school in Dvinsk.
In our free time after our studies, we would spend time together at the school.
We would organize debates on literature and various other subjects of vital interest in the world. Representatives from the various youth groups would participate in the literature debates, and the arguments would be lively and fruitful.
We attended summer camps and winter camps organized by the youth movements. We organized night games, in which we strengthened our bodies and spirits for the future. Each of us made plans for going to Eretz Yisrael.
To my sorrow, not many of us reached Eretz Yisrael. Only a few individuals survived the horrific Holocaust which befell the Jews of the Diaspora.
Students, Grade 8A
By Hava Hapner, Grade 8
In my Holocaust studies class, I couldn't help but wonder: how could the world have kept silent when it knew what the Nazis were doing to the Jews? As I interviewed the refugees of the Holocaust from Dvinsk, I came to understand how magnificent that community had been.
There were Jewish youth there who joined Zionist youth movements, and never needed to ask the question the youth of today ask: where shall I go to have some fun? They studied, educating themselves for a goal and strengthening their character, and during the horrific Holocaust showed their ability to save themselves in the ghettos, the camps, and the forests. I feel great love, admiration and respect for them that they were able, in those terrible circumstances, to survive without losing their humanity.
We must learn, and know, what happened to one third of our people. The many communities in occupied Europe which were destroyed knew how to create a magnificent culture, and glorious educational organizations, and produced many great people: writers, rabbis, poets, and artists. The community was an entity which took care of itself. I am filled with love and admiration for their activities.
The big, wide world was indifferent to the slaughter of our people, and we must warn against and expose that evil injustice. The Nazi that barbaric beast controlled all of Europe and crushed the pride of man beneath its boot.
The wounded, beaten and bereaved Jews fought for their lives every day and every hour. Chapters about the Holocaust must be added to the history books, telling of the cruel murder, the rebellion, and the uprising of the Jews in those horrible conditions. We are studying this community, and I am filled with pride that I belong to such a people, who knew how to defend their dignity, and I personally feel a part of them.
This article appears in the file Yad Vashem
In Their Memory
11 Tevet 5735 [December 25th, 1974]
By Moshe Amir (Beliach)
From the memorial book The Jews of Latvia Tel Aviv, 5713 
With a trembling heart I take up my pen to attempt to make note of a complete Jewish community that was destroyed and no longer exists. Woe is me - that it has become my fate to bring up the memory of Dvinsk, the city of the Jews: my hand shakes and refuses to do my bidding. Shabbat: peace and quiet in the streets of Dvinsk. Even the goyim slow their steps, as if they too are reluctant to disturb the Sabbath rest. The joyful sound of prayers burst forth from dozens of houses of prayer. The most important of the minyans were the Planover Minyan and the Ker Shul on Opitzraskaya Street, where the two geniuses of the generation prayed, Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen and Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogachover Gaon. The two men were far from one another in the way they lived, but were so close to one another in their genius.
The regal and upright stature of Rabbi Meir Simcha the Mitnaged spoke of honor and dignity. He was involved in the lives of the people, had a pleasant manner, and weighed his words carefully. On his way to synagogue one Sabbath day he encountered the son of one of the wealthy men of the city, who had a lit cigarette in his mouth. The young man became confused and was rooted to the spot, the cigarette dangling from his lips. Good Shabbes to you, Meirel, said the Gaon pleasantly. You must have forgotten that today is Shabbes. Yes, Meirel, today is Shabbes. 'Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.' He continued on his way to the synagogue as if nothing had happened. The young man never forgot the lesson he learned that day.
I remember the turbulent days of October, when in the middle of the night people were awakened and forced out of their beds. Many people ran away, no one knows where or why. The hand of revolution cut people down indiscriminately…They arrested the rich man from Petranov, and on the way to the fort they shot him and threw his body in the river. They paraded Segal the shopkeeper through the town with a sign on his chest that said, This is what we will do to the burghers and the speculators (scalpers). The rabble tore him to pieces near the police station. Movshenson, the city engineer, was taken from his bed and in the morning his bullet-ridden body was found in the gutter. Suddenly a horrible rumor spread: They're bringing out the rabbi! Everyone burst out of their homes and saw the horrible sight of HaGaon Rabbi Meir Simcha marching down the street, his head held high, surrounded by Chekists with pistols drawn. He was taken to the infamous building, whose name alone inspired fear, Hachika, on Alayna Street. In spite of the great danger, thousands of signatures were collected, of Jews and non-Jews alike, on a petition guaranteeing the character of the rabbi. Even more than that, the undersigned dared to declare that the arrest of the Rabbi would cause general unrest amongst the inhabitants of the city, as it was written in the petition. The same day, the rabbi was released and never again harmed.
The other great spiritual leader was the shepherd of the Chasidim, the
Rogachover Gaon, short of stature and agile in his movements, the embodiment of
All my bones shall say
From the first light of morning until
late at night he paced back and forth in his room, completely immersed in his
studies. He had thousands of questions and answers, about everything and for
everyone. He was the teacher of the greatest minds of the generation.
On his way to the synagogue, the Rogachover would continue pondering the issue at hand, oblivious to his surroundings. He would run down the middle of the street, bumping into anyone who got in his way. Everyone moved aside when they saw him coming. Drivers would stop their wagons, and the peddlers their carts, women would rush to the sides of the street, and all followed the small figure of the genius of his generation with looks of love and admiration. In the synagogue he was always the first to complete his prayers, and would become annoyed with the one leading the prayers, What is taking him so long? Why is he prolonging his singing before the Master of the Universe? He knows, He knows everything, even without his singing! Faster, faster! And even before the tallises had been folded, he had dashed off back to his study, which he would not leave day or night.
I remember the graduation celebration at the yeshiva named for Sotcha Horowitz. In addition to the parents of the students rabbis from the surrounding area were in attendance. We, the graduates, studied the daily page. Suddenly there was silence. HaGaon Rabbi Meir Simcha had risen to make his concluding remarks. His homily was short and sweet. He didn't move mountains: he knew how to get straight to the heart of the issue. In his clear and sharp mind he separated the important from the unimportant as with a scalpel, presenting the former clearly to all. Everyone was listening attentively, when suddenly the Rogachover Gaon jumped up amidst general confusion with outrage blazing in eyes, to defend G-d. Rabbi Meir Simcha simply stood by quietly, with a forgiving smile on his face, and continued as if nothing had happened. The Gaon of Rogachov calmed down and mumbled, Go on, go on. Rabbi Meir Simcha continued with his speech, bringing it to its conclusion. When he had finished, the Rogachover Gaon jumped up and, without addressing the words of Rabbi Meir Simcha, he began to argue vehemently, and it seemed that the Shechinah shone out in rays from his face. Everyone thirstily drank in his words, and Rabbi Meir Simcha listened with enjoyment and was impressed.
These were the spiritual leaders of the Dvinsk community. They did not involve themselves in secular matters. All day to day matters were left to the community institutions and those elected to serve in them; it was they who determined the public character of the Jewish community in the city.
The educational system in Dvinsk was a broad one. There were five municipal elementary schools. In the first there were about 700 students; the principal was M. Beliach, and the language of instruction was Yiddish. The second had about 400 students, the principal was Ginzburg, and the language of instruction was Hebrew. The third had 350 students, the principal was Dovrin and the language of instruction was Russian. The fourth had 350 students, the principal was Levinburg and the language of instruction was Yiddish. The fifth also had 350 students, the principal was Kitski, and the language of instruction was Hebrew.
There was also a high school with 500 students. The first principal was
Lipshitz, who was followed by Gorfinkle, and the last, who perished together
with his pupils, was Kopilov. There was also a Central Jewish Schools
Association high school that met in the evenings, which was attended by 300
students. An ORT trade school with some 200 students was run by the principal
Bloom. Agudat Yisrael ran a private elementary school under the direction of
principal Nieshul, with 100 students. All of those lives were cut short. The
innocent voices of these fledglings were silenced by death in the ruins of
their nest. My tears for them will never run dry.
I also recall the splendid public institutions: the municipal hospital called Der Yiddisher Hospital and its devoted doctors: the chief physician Dr. Gurvitz, scion of a rabbinic dynasty, the chairman of the Keren Hayesod (he poisoned himself in the ghetto); Dr. Z. Gordon (he died in Jerusalem); Dr. Rozenberg (he died in a car accident in Haifa); and the experienced medic, Pyrenov. The banks: the Community Bank, which was supported by the Joint and gave assistance to thousands of its members; the bank for artisans: the Kupat Am Bank, which everyone called Stark's Bank, after the manager Stark of blessed memory who was a Zionist and a noble man. He made the bank what it was and was devoted to it. I remember the city's large library, which contained some 30,000 books, and Miss Brook who dedicated many years of her life to that institution, and the nearby public pharmacy that served the needs of the community, run by the white-haired pharmacist Karrol the Bundist. The Chevra Kadisha was located in the same building. The force behind that organization was Zalman Boaz, a noble soul with the face of an intelligent student, who was not disturbed by the work he did as an undertaker for so many years (he has a son and daughter at Kfar Giladi and Kfar Blum, and a son at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem). His right hand man was the elderly Rabbi Baruch Aginski, a former merchant who went bankrupt and took comfort in the holy work he did at the cemetery (his sons live in Kiryat Chayim ).
How could I forget the community institution for the lonesome elderly, the home of the aged, which was located outside the city limits in a quiet, soothing spot surrounded by a pine forest? The manager, Miss Berman, was like a mother to them (she now lives in South Africa). Close by was a lively neighbor, the farm of the Hechalutz, a large building surrounded by fields. In this place the young generation grew wings as it trained and prepared for moving to Eretz Yisrael. Every morning happy groups would set off for work, with a song on their lips. The immodest young people would roll up their shirtsleeves and wear short pants that exposed their thighs; this behavior set off a stormy controversy in the city. The children of the respectable folk of the city and surrounding towns received their training at this farm. When they set off each day for their work in the city, their tools on their shoulders, axes and saws for chopping down trees, or shovels for clearing snow and for other goyish work, they were followed by thousands of eyes, shaking heads, curses, and even some who watched with secret pride. The Jewish heart beat strongly; and deep in the soul there was pride and respect for those immodest youth.
There in the pine forests the pioneers would gather around a bonfire. They were joined by the Borochov Youth, Hashomer Hazair, Natzach, and various other young men and women. All would eagerly listen to the words and the messages offered by the counselor or by the emissary from Eretz Yisrael who might happen to be there, about the working society in Eretz Yisrael.
Sometimes there would be stormy arguments that lasted until morning. From here
the pioneers would make their way to Eretz Yisrael, where today they can be
found in all parts of the country: in the city, on the moshav and on the
kibbutz, especially in places like Shefayim, Mishmarot, Kfar Blum, Kinneret,
Afikim, Ashdot-Yaacov, Ein Gev, Kfar Giladi, and others. The places of those
who had gone were taken by more young people from Hechalutz, the Borochov
Youth, and the Shas Youth, who would gather at the community building at 80
The building, the place where those who would realize their dreams got their starts, and the street would be filled with people every evening. The very walls absorbed the urge of the youth, the movement to Eretz Yisrael, and a life of labor. It was from this place that the proud Jewish athlete with the symbol of the Star of David on his chest set forth to take his rightful place on the teams of the Latvian Social-Democratic Sport Organization. Within the walls of that building the Labor Union was founded. From that place the nationalist flag was first raised, together with that of the First of May. It was later recognized by the S. D. (in spite of the protests of the Bund).
From the threshold of this building the Zionist-Socialist manifesto spread out into the working people. It came into opposition with the powerful Bund, which had deep roots in the city, and with the Communist Youth, and was particularly successful in its propaganda for the Zionist-Socialist idea. The youth flowed into the ranks of the Hechalutz, who were the children raised at the knees of the elders of the Bund. Among the speakers of that esteemed movement were the following young people: Alter Goldman, Mordechai Chaikin, Muliya Brodbeka (now in Shefayim), M. Shvalav (Lieutenant Colonel Drori), Liobka Levy, Bella Beliach (Herzliya), Golda Pipkavich of blessed memory, Borka Goldin (among the dead in the Shefayim massacres), Issar Halperin (Harel), Chaim Shenkin, Yehuda Stoll of blessed memory, Boyerski, Donna Nachman, and many others. Many other young people gathered around them, putting the life of the Diaspora behind them and happily leaving home and moving to Eretz Yisrael.
Such devotion to the lofty ideal! Such youthful fervor! Such daring aspiration to change the status quo! What a stubborn position the youth held, that broke away from a tradition of many generations and rebelled against what was accepted. And all of those who remained and imagined they would put down roots in the place, were buried under the avalanche.
And the days of immigration to Eretz Yisrael: unforgettable! Each immigration of pioneers was an event, and each day of departure was like a holiday for the Jews of the city. From the first morning light the streets surrounding the station were full of people, all accompanying the pioneers. All the barriers to the train were broken, the excitement was tremendous. Tears of joy mingled with the tears of mothers and relatives. A single tear trickles down the face of a father, sinking into his beard. Every youth movement came, in uniform and brandishing flags, to give a send-off to its members who were leaving. The train moved away to the notes of Tehezakna and Hatikvah. From every side voices called out their longing and the hope that they would soon meet again in the Jewish homeland. The wheels of the train rattled, the national flags decorating the train with a festive atmosphere fluttered, and even the goyim waved and called out Du Palestina! Suddenly there was the sound of many voices calling out together, Who will build the Galilee? and many voices answering, We will build the Galilee! For awhile the sounds of voices singing Anu Olim Artza could be heard until at last the distance swallowed the sound.
When will it be my turn? many asked in their hearts. The tension dissipated, only emptiness remained, and disquiet. Eyes scanned the sky for signs of the train's smoke in the distance, where the pioneers were traveling to the Jewish land, to create and work.
Yes, those were unforgettable days. Many were able to leave in time, but many
more remained behind and were killed.
When I remember the Hechalutz, the youth of the Zionist movement, and the camp of the Zionist-Socialists, I cannot fail to remember the three crown jewels of the movement, the three who accompanied us like faithful shepherds in every stage of our work, our dear friends Saragovich, Moshele Zarodin, and Yosef Smoshkovich.
Saragovich, who came to us from some far-off place in Russia where he had served a punishment for his membership in the Z.-S. On his way home to his family in Finland, he came to our city and remained there. He carried on his thin shoulders the burden of the entire movement. Lonesome and without family, he lived in a tiny room, two meters square. Under his head were packages of releases, and other writings of the movement from the Diaspora. A crust of bread and a thin pallet were his portion, and in his slender body there burned a holy soul.
He never slowed down in his work. Although he had no official title, he was in reality the center point for all the various strands of the movement, until he moved to Eretz Yisrael. He didn't have the physical strength for the fight to reclaim the land, nor against the ravages of malaria; the disease took over his body and he didn't want to become burden.
We were shocked to read the note he sent, Now I put an end to my life. No, no, don't fear! I still believe. I am still as I once was. Continue your lives here come! And we immigrated and continued. His last wish was fulfilled to its fullest, and the place that the pioneers of Latvia founded was named after him Kibbutz Saragovich, known today as Shefayim.
And the second Moshele Zarodin. This young man's name was on everyone's lips. He was a sensitive, delicate Yeshiva student. He gave everything to the movement. We knew his days were numbered. His pale appearance bore witness to the disaster that was sure to come. He also recognized his fate, and therefore he rushed to do as much as he was able in the time that he had; to give the maximum, as much as he was able, before the end. Hechalutz, the labor union, the Borochov Youth, his involvement in all of them was an unbreakable bond. He was much loved and respected, though he left us when he was only 28 years old.
And the third and last Yosef Smoshkovich. He was an extremely fine artist. There was no form of craft that he could not master. There was no painter like him; he always had many artistic ideas and broad horizons, and both dreamed and fulfilled his dreams. He was devoted to the movement and was among the finest of activists, up until the end. He also fell ill with malaria and was taken from us in the prime of his life at age 40.
Those three were the ultimate pioneers. All three dreamed of Eretz Yisrael, but only one made the journey and actually set foot on the longed-for land; and then he fell. The other two were warmed from afar by the light of the Jewish land though they died in the Diaspora.
As I write about the movement Eretz Yisrael Ovedet, I particularly
remember the stormy period which was expressed through the bitter and
stubborn struggle between the Zionist-Socialist front and the anti-Zionist
workers' camp. This was the first battle of the Zionist-Socialist camp. After
stormy debates, and after endless discussions between the Bund and Z.-S.
on the question of the appearance in the First of May demonstrations, a third
person came, the chairman of the Latvian Social Democrats. A representative
of the gentile Sejm, Boimeister, decided in favor of the Z.-S., which received
permission to march as a special Zionist company under its own Zionist flag
with its own symbols and slogans. It was a great victory for the Z.-S. and a
defeat for the Bund, but the former were obligated to appear without humiliating
It was necessary for the first time for the Zionist-Socialist movement to show its proletarian face to the outside world. Both camps, the Bund and the Z.-S., prepared in secret so that, God forbid, the rival would not learn of the other's secret weapon. In the matter of the leaders of the camps, there was no argument both were equally accepted, though neither was truly what one could call a proletariat. That of the Bundist camp was a clerk in the health insurance company, and the other was the principal of a municipal school for the children of laborers. Thus everything was settled, and the biggest question remaining was, who would be the flag bearer for the movement in the parade?
It was known of the Bund that they had candidates for this prestigious task who had on their side both tradition and the right to carry it out: the painter Yitzhak Nochimovich, who lost an eye in the battles of 1905, and his two assistants: the mechanic Reiner and a senior laborer, a printer. Each of them had seniority and a history in the proletariat that could not be disputed. The competition was fierce and the young Z.-S. movement had a big problem.
The day of judgment arrived. The people formed lines and, to the call of the trumpets the flag-bearers appeared at the head of the parade. The huge crowd was surprised shocked even, for a moment then waves of applause washed the street. The new flag of the Z.-S. was waved proudly in the hands of a wondrously beautiful flag-bearer who had braids down to her knees. She was not chosen for her youth and good looks, but rather for her unusual profession. She was a welder! She could be found day after day working alongside her father in the forge. She would beat the white-hot iron with a mallet and sparks would fly up; she performed her work with the ease of experience (she is now in Kiryat Hayim). A Jewish girl a welder! Who could question her proletarianism? Any who might wish to complain had no grounds to do so. Her assistants also had unimpeachable qualifications on the one side the experienced weaver Hyatt who was born in the mill where the thread was spun, right next to the machinery, a fact he was quite proud of, a proletariat from the day he was born (he died at work in the Beit Hamoreh in Tel Aviv). On the other side was the painter, a day laborer every day of the year, Yankele Fisher, a man of the line devoted and faithful. They formed a trio to be proud of.
The movement met the challenge!
At the head of the procession was the Z.-S. committee, Dr. Zand (a poor youth who fought his way to the title of doctor, purchasing his status with years of hunger and suffering: an ear doctor and a simple man, he died in Siberia), Yosef Smoshkovich, Moshele Zarodin, Yodele Friedman, Chaim Shenkin (Holon), Yehuda Stoll (Shemen Haifa), Chaim Geller (died in Shefayim), Yosef Boyerski (Tel Aviv), Aharon Eidus (Shefayim), Shapira (Shefayim), the Donda brothers (one in Haifa), the Blair brothers, the Elisbok brothers (South Africa), Nochimovich, Y. Traub (Eshkol Kfar Giladi), Yosef Margalit, Alter Goldman, and many others a unified, honorable group.
After them came many more members of the Z.-S., young men and women
Hechalutz, Hechalutz Hazair, the Borochov Youth, the S. D.
athletic group; all of them strong young men bearing badge with a Star of David
on a red background on their chests.
Then came the rearguard of the preparation company, wearing their work clothes and carrying their tools. How our hearts pounded the first time it was announced, The representative of the Zionist-Socialist party will now speak. There, marching under the blue sky of Eretz Yisrael, he began in an enthusiastic voice, there they are marching as we do today, singing traditional working songs, the pioneers of the people of Israel, establishing the rule of labor and socialism, in their own country. We extend our laboring hands across the borders to our friends…
Long live Zionist Socialism! Long live the working Eretz Yisrael, and long live the Hebrew worker!
There was great excitement, and surprising renewal; the ice was broken, since they had stopped arguing. Z.-S. had taken its rightful place in the Labor movement in every field as an equal. There were still troubles from within. I recall the circle of Hora dancers spinning faster and faster, when suddenly a voice ripped the sky: Thieves! Kidnappers of children! Give me back my son! This was the bitter cry of the father of Velvel Kramer (of Shefayim) when his son was given approval to move to Eretz Yisrael. Similar scenes took place almost every day.
Complaints, pleas, and threats of the fathers and mothers were rife, to leave the sons and daughters with their parents, not to take them to Hechalutz, which was tantamount to making aliyah. Many snuck out of their homes in the middle of the night, leaving a note saying I'm traveling to Riga which in reality meant, I'm moving to Eretz Yisrael.
If an emissary from Eretz Yisrael arrived, it became a major event. Shops were closed, work came to a halt, and thousands of Jews dressed in their holiday best filled the station to greet the guest. They would carry him to his hotel, and he would be forced to make an appearance on the balcony so everyone could see his face. He was treated like a king, for he brought with him the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael. Even the non-Jews of the city would be on their best behavior; in their interpretation, the minister of the Jews has come from Palestina.
The theater, near the train tracks, could not hold all of the people who came to hear the speaker. Cramped and squeezed, all stood and listened with awe and reverence to the words of one who was a true eyewitness. And everyone responded with a generous hand, sometimes beyond their ability to pay, to every fundraising effort in support of Eretz Yisrael: Keren Hakaymet, Keren Hayesod, Bank Hapoalim, and Kupat Poalei Eretz Yisrael (the Workers Fund for Eretz Yisrael). Every fundraising campaign sent its own emissary, and each one was greeted warmly and with fondness. The city won the hearts of those emissaries with their love, and they never skipped the city on their tours. Dvinsk was a stop on the journey of the Prisoners of Zion from Russia to Eretz Yisrael, and for emissaries from Eretz Yisrael to Russia; their road was fraught with dangers. Z. Aronovich, Bar-Yehuda, Yehuda Kopilovich, Baba Edelson, Zeev Hayam, Dr. Adler, M. Lichtman, and dozens of others passed through the home of the writer of these lines.
In conclusion, a few words about the political and public streams in the city.
The most influential parties were the Bund and the Z.-S. party. The unified
Bund had deep, long-standing roots in Dvinsk. The cradle of the 1905 revolution
was there. Its influence was widespread. Its leaders were prominent, zealous,
and talented. Among them was the representative to the Sejm, Dr. N. Maizel. He
was a fiery speaker, a prominent mover-and-shaker. Yizhak Levin Shetzkiss of
the sharp pen was clever and quick, zealous, and consumed with every particle
of his being with Zion.
Peretz Meiksin, a powerful organizer. These three men were surrounded by experienced workers and devoted intellectuals. For years, the Bund held the keys to all of the public institutions in the city; it had almost no competitors amongst the workers in the Jewish community until the Z.-S. movement began to infiltrate the territory of the Bund. Their representatives began to appear in the Health Service, the municipal offices, and in the labor union; for the first time a Zionist-Socialist speech was heard on the First of May. Hechalutz marched in the parade carrying both the national flag and the red flag.
All of the above shaped the character of Jewish Dvinsk. But where are they today?
The beast arrived in the magnificent Jewish community.
Her babies were smashed against the walls by strangers. The best of her young men and women were led naked to massacre; her elderly dismembered before the eyes of all. The sacred Jewish community was dispatched to Hell.
Alas for those we have lost and will never forget.
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