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[Page 195]

Our Party [Right Poalei Zion] and the Frayhayt

by Shmuel Kokhalski, Tel Aviv

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

 

May Demonstrations

It was at the very beginning of our movement, in 1929. For May First, a group of young party members discussed whether such a small group as we should join the demonstration, and we decided that we should take our place among all the workers' parties.

In the short time we had, we recruited more young and old people under the flag of Poalei Zion and Frayhayt, so as to assure an impressive demonstration, and we exceeded our expectations.

To our surprise, early on May First, tens of people, young and old, began to gather under our flags and when the procession began there were more than 150 in our ranks. Dressed in blue shirts they marched under red flags, led by Menashe Kokhalski. From our party quarters, which were then located in Yosl Beker's building, we proceeded to the market place, where hundreds of people had already gathered and were looking at our procession with curiosity. The meeting was opened by Herr Menashe Kokhalski. Herr Sholem Kartsovitsh spoke about the meaning of May First for the international workers' movement and for Jewish workers. Next, the audience loudly applauded the guest from Eretz–Yisroel, Herr Yankev Korn, who conveyed greetings from the Israeli workers.

At the end of the meeting, we sent warm greetings to the Jewish workers in Eretz Yisroel and our procession returned, singing, to our party offices. From then on, until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, we party members and youth of the Right Poalei Zion celebrated May First and demonstrated along with all the other workers' parties in Nowy Dwor.

 

Initiative to Organize Jewish Self–Defense

In 1936–37 a wave of incitement and pogroms swept over Poland. The press published daily reports of attacks by Endike [members of N.D.K., a Polish nationalist, anti–Semitic party] hooligans and people began to organize Jewish self–defense groups in all the towns. The Endike attacks took place in Nowy Dwor, too, and hired thugs would start fights, especially on market days. It was dangerous to walk through the town gardens. People who lived on the outskirts of town suffered the most; almost every night the ruffians threw stones at the houses of Pinker and Kupershmidt. The Jewish political parties began to talk about organizing a self–defense.

At a meeting of Poalei Zion, Frayhayt and Hapoel, it was decided to call upon all the parties to form a joint self–defense force. To our great disappointment, we did not receive a positive response because of partisan politics. The Bund decided it could act on its own. The Communists said they would not act without the Polish parties. The bourgeois parties had no interest at all. So we had to act on our own and we organized a militia of over 50 members, divided into ten groups. The leaders of the groups were H. Kartsovitsh, the Vermus brothers, the Riba brothers, Menashe Kokhalski, Hershl Magid and Sholem Pitulski. The

[Page 196]

latter three were supervisors over the watches set up at specific places. It was understood that as soon as an anti–Semitic gang started a commotion in the market place, alarms would be rung as during a fire.

At the time, there was an encampment of homeless Christian youths at the Vistula River, who would come into town to carouse and would panic the Jewish residents. One evening, they began to run wild at the edge of town, near Itshe Mundlak's house, where the Poalei Zion officers were located But there the young hooligans encountered a group of guards led by Leybl Varmus and Motl Kartsovitsh, and they got beaten so badly that they started to avoid that location on their way back to their encampment from town.

After that, things quieted down a lot, but the Jews still lived in fear that every event in the land could evoke trouble in our town, and we had to be prepared for this. A characteristic episode of that time has remained in my memory A rumor spread that on a certain evening things would get “merry” in town. We immediately posted our groups at their designated spots. Our group, stationed near the alarm bell at Khaim Shedletser's, suddenly noticed among us a Jew with an axe under his coat. This was Elihu Pitulski, father of the Pitulskis, who had come directly from his work in the stable, still wearing his boots, and armed with an axe, to join his three sons in defending the honor of the Jews.

 

The Youth Organization Frayhayt

In 1926, when the Zionist Socialist movement in Poland founded Frayhayt, a branch of the youth organization was also established in Nowy Dwor. It was led by the members Sholem Kartsovitsh and Menashe Kokhalski. Forty young people participated in the founding meeting, which was held in the library, which became our regular meeting place.

Several months after our founding, we experienced a crisis. Twenty young people, who were left–leaning, left Frayhayt for ideological reasons, and their leader joined the Jewish Communists. (Today he lives in Israel.) But comrades Kartsovitsh and Menashe Kokhalski (who had recently returned from Eretz Yisroel where he was unable to settle in, but who remained true to the ideals of the land) were able with dedicated work to rebuild the Frayhayt organization and attract new members.

A large meeting was held at that time in Junker's hall where young and older workers heard a talk by Herr Anshel Rays about the path of Jewish youth. After the speech, many young people joined Frayhayt. Their impressive number was seen in the party's contingent in the May First demonstration. There was strong need for a club and that was when we rented the premises at Yosl Beker's .

Hershl Magid, a frail, thin carpenter, came to the forefront of our work. Around him gathered many active young members: Sender Blank; Khaye Litman (now Perlovitsh, living in Kibbutz Afek); Ester Kokhalski (secretary of Frayhayt until her departure for a kibbutz in 1933); Yenkele Kosover; Malke Likhtenshteyn; Zelig Hershfang; Gitl Bender; Mindl Brazilia; Leybele Skshidlo; Srulek Goldshteyn (one of the prominent Mapai members in Uruguay); Khave and Tobe Gutman; Dvoyre and Leyetshe Kupershteyn; Avraham, Esther and Sore Zilbershtyen (especially Sore who did so much for Frayhayt); Yisroel Loketsh; Shayele Riba; and many others.

Four circles were formed: the Borochov Circle, led by Comrade Sholem Kartsovitsh; the Mundlak Circle, led by Herr Magid; the Brener Circle, led by Herr Menashe Kokhalsi and a

[Page 197]

Circle for Political Economy, led by Herr Kalman Pitulski.

In 1934 Frayhayt organized the “Red Scouts” for school children aged 11–14. Many of the children had left school early in order to become bread winners for their impoverished families, like Avraham Finklshteyn, the Tsudiker brothers, Shimen and Moyshe Plotshinski, Leybl Kokhalski, Yankev Evenson, Shloyme Korn, and Moyshe Hershfang. With this group of over forty kids Itshe Riba sang songs, Avrahamtshe Roznberg read stories by Jewish writers, and Sore Zilbershteyn took them on walks and to gatherings. These kids later grew up to be Frayhayt activists and members of the Hechalutz movement until 1934 when they left for hakhshore [Zionist training programs] to prepare for emigration to Eretz Yisroel.

When they left the Red Scouts for the party, Henekh and Sholem Pitulski, Sender Blank, Ester Kokhalski, Shayele Riba, Tsudiker, Avraham Kviat and others began to be active members in Frayhayt. There they joined with Shloyme Korn, Shimen Plotshinski, Leybl Kokhalski, Yankev Evenson, Zelig Gutman and Yosele Riba, and later with the Kartsovitsh brothers. The work continued and so our Frayhayt organization got stronger and we had a good reputation with the movement leaders in Warsaw.

Also, our brother organization Hapoel was strengthened by a group from another sports club. This group included Leybele Vermus, Yeheskl Roznberg and others. They weren't only good athletes and soccer players, they were dedicated party members who protected us at mass meetings when our opponents disturbed and tried to provoke us, using tact and strength to prove their loyalty.

Our organization made a big impression with our appearance on behalf of the Austrian Shutzbund [defense organization of the Austrian Social Democrats). The police were surprised by our demonstration on an ordinary day. (They were used to demonstrations on May First.) Herr Pitulski

 

now197.jpg
Frayhayt organization in Nowy Dwor, 1926–36

 

[Page 198]

was arrested for organizing the illegal demonstration, and was freed only thanks to the efforts of Nakhem Neufeld.

The youth organization Frayhayt was always in the first ranks of the work of the party and in all public events. In 1938, 25 of the Frayhayt members joined the Poalei Zion Party (Right). The young comrades Pitulski, Khaye Mirl, Zimpl Goldshteyn, Leyetshe Kupershmid, Leybl Kokhalski, Mindl Brazilia, and Gitl Bender were in the forefront of party activities. Thes were the well trained people upon whom one could rely. In their place, others from Red Scouts entered Frayhayt. But one could already feel the coming storm, and the work no longer had the same impetus as in earlier years.

Some members left for Eretz Yisroel with the illegal aliyah. I and my wife were the first to go, then Avraham Zilbershteyn. Leybele Varmus prepared to go but did not succeed in doing so. The Second World War broke out and all the members of our movement who hadn't been able to realize their dream in time were left in the clutches of death at the hands of the Nazis.

 

now198.jpg
A group from Frayhayt

 

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