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[Page 159]

Poalei Zion (Labour Zionists) – Z.S (Zionist Socialists)

by Eliezer Namiyat (Kiryat Chaim)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Cruel fate dictated that all who stood at the cradle of the Poalei Zion party in Zhetl would be killed, and I, who joined the party a bit later, had to write its history. I made a great effort trying to remember some details of our activities.


The Founding of the Party

The party was founded in 1926 according to the initiative of Alter Dvoretzky and Yudl Bielsky. The first to join the party were: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Mereh Rabinovitch, Shaul Kovensky, Pinkhas Kaplinsky, Borukh Busel, Motke Razvosky and many others. A while later some younger people joined: Me, Dovid Zelikovitch, Shepsl Namiyat, Moishe Aron Robetz and many others from “HeChalutz” and “HeChalutz HaTzair”.

The party and its youth developed intensive activity, most important, among the working youth who were by that time organized in anti Zionist parties like the “Bund” and the communists.


Farewell evening for Nokhem Broyde when he left for the Land of Israel, 1931

From right to left: Yudl Bielksy, Nokhem Broyde, Soreh Sokolovsky, Dovid Zelikovitch, Malke Lusky, Leybl Lusky, Yente Rivka Gal


Our appearance in the political arena in Zhetl had a different character. Firstly our scope was wider. We recruited over one hundred members into the party and the youth wing. Secondly we felt we were on a mission which the town required. We were the only socialist Zionist factor. We filled a gap which had existed. Even later, when the “HaShomer HaTzair” was unfolding their very successful activities, they could not play the same role we filled as they were mainly an educational factor and not a socialist Zionist factor.


The Political Activities of the Party

In the beginning we would meet in the small forest on the road to Baranovitch. We called it the Freedom Forest. Later, we rented a locale at Hirshl Kovensky's (the Romanovitch). This made it possible for us to carry out systematic activities. Our events had a good reputation in town. For example the Borokhov Academy which took place every year on the anniversary of Borokhov's death, with participation of the teachers from the Yiddish school led by Herman Frenkl.

Herman Frenkl was ideologically very close to us. With his enterprising spirit he drew in almost the entire Yiddish school into our circle, even anti Zionists liked Leybl Frenkl and Alter Fersky.

Besides this we received great support from the party in Slonim. The members Khatzkl Rabinovitch and V. Romanovsky from Slonim would visit us often.

Two separate political actions which the Poalei Zion in Zhetl executed are deeply engraved in my memory. Our participation in the elections for city council, really insolent on our part, because on the Jewish street there were two strong blocs: the Zionist bloc headed by the committee from the Tarbut School,

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Poalei Zion in Zhetl

From right to left – first row: Libe Shatzky, Pinke Kaplinsky, Mireh Epshteyn, Mikhle Sholkovitch, Asneh Zatzefitsky, Motke Rozvosky, Zelda Shelubsky
Second row: Binyomin Mnuskin, Libe Yoselevitch, Khaye Busel, Notte Izbornitsky, Mereh Rabinovitch, Dovod Zelikovitch, Nekhameh Belaus, Moishe Orlinsky, Libe Koyfman, Etteh Lusky
Third row: Henie Namiyat, Yekhil Yoselevitch, Frume Sholkovitch, Leybl Lusky, Rivka Dvoretzky, Avrom Yitzkhak Medvetzky, Kayla Rozovsky, Borukh Busel
Last row: Rivka Senderovsky, Zvia Krugman, Risheh Senderovsky, Minye Berman, Fraydl Green, Avrom….


and the second, an anti Zionist bloc led by those active in the Yiddish Folk School.

It was clear to us that as a third power we had no chance to succeed, and yet we presented our own list, ignoring the fact the majority of us did not have the right to vote, and we did not have money or candidates. Our list had two candidates: Alter Dvoretzky and Kalmen Busel. It was hard to believe, when the results came in, and the votes were counted, we were lacking 8 votes for a mandate.

The second communal action we took, if I am not mistaken in 1931, during the last democratic Sejm in Poland, we presented a bloc made up of the “Bund”, independent socialists (Dr. Kruk) and the Poalei Zion – Z.S.

At that time we did not have a locale. The “Bund” invited us to create a common election committee, however our members received this suggestion coldly.

Firstly, the list on scale did not have a chance for a mandate, and if yes, for the “Bund” and not for us. That's when it was decided to delegate me and Dovid Zelikovitch to the election committee. In the end only I remained on the committee.

I remember the night, when we went out to hang posters. Me, Moishe Indershteyn (the blond) and if I am not mistaken Sholem Lisogursky as well. We hung posters all over town, even on the House of Study.

The “Bund” did not believe this list would attract votes. The evening before the election the teacher Brandes asked me:

“How many votes will we get?” When I estimated one hundred, he laughed.

“We are at most a minority” he said. He estimated the Bund 30 votes and the Poalei Zionists, 20. The biggest surprise was at two o'clock in the morning the teacher Marayn came out and announced we received 153 votes. 80% were from our members and supporters.


The Poalei Zion and the Yiddish Folk School

Regarding our activities for the Yiddish school there were differences of opinion within our party. For example, Hirshl Rabinovitch, Pinke Kaplinsky, Mereh Rabinovitch and Motke Rozvosky and other members did not feel badly in the folk school. Opposing members were: Dovid Zelikovitch, Nokhem Broyde, Borukh Busel, me and others who could not bare to breathe the anti Zionist air which the board members: Avrom Moishe Barishansky and Shike Avseyevitch planted in every corner of the school. Later we decided to make an effort


Poalei Zion in Zhetl 1931

From right to left – first row: Moishe Orlinsky, Rokhl Shelubsky, Nokhem Bryde, Henia Namiyat, Motke Rozovsky, Leyzer Namiyat, Dobeh Lusky, Shepls Haydukovsky, Dovid Zelikovitch, Shepls Namiyat
Second row: Mikhle Shalkovitch, Libe Yoselevitch
Third row: Nishke Dvoretzky, Yosef Shelubsky, Shmuel Zakrysky, Kayle Rozovsky, Yente Rivka Gal, Noyakh Alpert, Malke Lusky, Borukh Busel, Henie Green
Standing: Leybl Lusky, Etl Belsky

[Page 161]

to recruit graduates from the Yiddish school. The first graduates we recruited were: Malke Lusky, Yente Rivka Gal and Nekhama Bielsky.

Later we succeeded in receiving the entire graduating class. I did this with the help of my sister and her friends as well as Hirshl Rabinovitch and Mirele Epshteyn.

After a few meetings with them we absorbed all the graduates with a few exceptions. This is how we broke the Chinese wall of Zionist hatred which existed in the Yiddish school.

At that time we had a teacher by the name of Marayn. We already had restricted relations with the school and decided to open our own pavilion at their bazar with our own slogans. We negotiated with the school administration for a long time until they promised our slogans would be valued. However, the “Bund” did not honour this agreement.


The Committee of League of Workers in Eretz Yisrael 1932

Seated: Khane Obershteyn, Yitzkhak Rabinovitch, Yitzkhak Leyzerovitch, Nekhama Belaus
Standing: Moishe Orlinsky, Khaim Yoselevitch, Dovid Zelikovitch


After the bazar opened they tore down our Zionist slogans. After short negotiations we took back our pavilion and with that almost disrupted the entire bazaar. Later we gave away our goods to the Jewish National Fund's bazaar.


Our Activities for HeChalutz

After this, when the older Zionists were not successful, the “HeChalutz” educated our members and the graduates of “HaShomer HaTzair”. I must say, as a compliment to us, some of our members went to the Zionist training camp and then left for the Land of Israel. The well off youth of “HaShomer Hatzair” did not go to training camp except for Yosl Dvoretzky, Feygl Dvoretzky and Yakov Indershteyn.


The League of Workers in the Land of Israel and the Party

As soon as the League was created I became its secretary from the first day. We worked systematically in town. We recruited many members and collected membership dues. We had a very good treasurer, Itche Rabinovitch. He would prepare a balance just like in a large bank. We would often bring in speakers, Funt and later Morgnshtern. Their visits were always a happening in town.


Our Activities for the Jewish National Fund

We always participated actively in the daily work of the Jewish National Fund like emptying collection boxes, organizing bazaars, flower days and other activities. We were also always represented on the council.


Our Professional Activities

The only professional union which existed in Zhetl was the Needle Union. This union obviously belonged to the Central Union of Clothing Workers.

Despite this, we belonged to the union. Our representative in their administration was Shaul Kovensky. After Shaul left for the Land of Israel I joined the administration and participated in their work as long as the union existed. The tailor's strike and later the solidarity strike of all other trades was organized in our locale with our active participation.


Ideological Questions

To begin with, all of our active members considered the works of Ber Borokhov holy, just as a pious Jew would revere the Code of Jewish Law. We read them many times and constantly discussed them.

As time passed two groups, if that's what we could call them, with two positions, were educated by us. The first was mainly composed of Yudl Bielsky and Dovid Zelikovitch. In political life they supported the Social Democrats. For Yudl Bielsky, the German Social Democrats were his guides. At the previously mentioned Sejm elections he did not vote for our bloc but rather for P.P.S. That is how much he was enamoured by the Social Democrats.

On the other side we had members like: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Pinke Kaplinsky, Motke Rozovsky, me, and many others who were not charmed by the Social Democratic ideology of the party.

[Page 162]

We stood close to the left “Poalei Zion”. Only their inactivity in the building of the Land of Israel bothered us.

There were also differences of opinion concerning our participation in the Zionist Congress. There were in our party, those who opposed participating in the Zionist Congress. So it happened, at the election of the 16th Zionist Congress, all our members with the right to vote did not want to sit at the ballot box. I then received authorization from the party to sit at the ballot box, however I was in the minority and the commission rejected it. However, thanks to the intervention of Eliezer Rozenfeld and Shaul Kaplinsky who vouched for me, I remained at the ballot box. There were other differences of opinion such as our position on the Socialist International and Soviet Russia.


The Last May Day Celebrations

This was in 1934. The chief of police was changed in Novogrudek and we attempted to receive permission for a May 1st academy. In those days I was spending more time in Novogrudek than in Zhetl. I went to the chief of police every day until I got permission.

Given that it had been a few years since we had received permission to openly celebrate May 1st, we decided this time to make an impressive celebration with an orchestra in the movie house.

At the opening I spoke about anti Semitism in Poland and about the fascist process which was taking place. Then the orchestra played the International. Suddenly, I noticed the “Pshadovnik” disappeared. Meanwhile, Dovid Zelikovitch began to speak. The “Pshadovnik” returned and announced that since we played the International he had to leave our meeting. (Translator's note: I could not find the meaning of “Pshadovnik”).

Borukh Busel was responsible for our relations with the authorities that evening. The police arrested him and beat him because of what I said about fascism in Poland. In the end we were sentenced and paid a fine.


Participants in the Flower Day for the Pioneer's Fund

Seated in the first row: Sonia Sholkovitch, Shaul Kovensky of blessed memory, Libe Zhukhovitzky
Second row: Miriam Kontesbrat, Yisroel Goldberg, Mereh Dvoretsky, Dvoyre Gordaysky, Fraydl Lvenbuk, Nokhem Broide, Fruma Sholkevitch
Standing: Borukh Bisel, Zavl Mankovitch, Shepsl Namiyat, Herzl Gertzoksky


That May 1st has remained in our memory. We did not sleep that night. We wanted to know what happened to Borukh Busel but the police would not let us in to see him.


I have brought a few facts about the diversified activity which the “Poalei Zion” Zionist Socialists and its youth group “Freyheyt” (Freedom) carried out in Zhetl.


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