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[Column 255]

Section D

Zionism, Youth Movements and Pioneering

 

Between Wars

by M. Bar–Gil

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

A. After WWI: A Zionist–Pioneering Spirit

At the close of World War I, I was still a child. The revolutionary period was at its height; on the one hand, the Bolshevik revolution and on the other, the crumbling of the Austrian–Hungarian empire. The Austrian military crossed the border in our region and returned home. Some Austrian soldiers were armed and uniformed; others were disarmed and wore partial uniforms. An armed Czech army unit quickly passed through on its way to Czechia. Young Ukrainian men audaciously approached the local policemen, removed the Austrian symbols from their uniform and raised their national flag declaring a Ukrainian regime. Ukrainians and Poles struggled for power as the Bolsheviks invaded; all sides promised equal rights to Jews in order to acquire Jewish loyalty. Meanwhile, bandits plundered and Jewish possessions and life were abandoned.

In the midst of the chaos, news of the Belfour Declaration[1] reached us and, along with it, the hope for redemption. The crowds in our town became very enthusiastic and Zionism became very popular.

Meanwhile, everyone was busy and faced with dual roles. The short–lived Ukrainian government aimed to protect [us] against Ukrainian rioters. Jewish youth, including secular people and Torah scholars, volunteered to stand guard.

Some university students and other scholarly folks headed by the families of Pohoryles, Saltzman, Tenenblatt, Bedler, Schissler, Grosser, and others

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founded a Zionist organization named Tikvat Zion. The small organization made significant contributions; its activists made the first and largest mark on the Zionist social–cultural field in the town. A successful and organized Hebrew school was founded, Keren Kayemet[2] collection boxes were placed in many homes, a drama company was formed, and parties and lectures were held, creating new life and a new spirit.

After the founding of Tikvat Zion, the Poale Zion[3] union was also founded.[4] Members of Poale Zion came from all factions of the town but a majority of members were from simple families. Poale Zion's leader, [Moshe] Hitnik, was very capable in terms of organizational skills and expertly developed many activities. Hitnik placed discipline, order and Zionist–Socialist content above all else. The competition between the two organizations added much color to life in the town, especially the younger residents. Moshe Hitnik, originally a tailor from Lviv, was stationed in Jezierzany as a military policeman so he acted underground [in secret].

However, the light of the glorious, enthusiastic period flickered and diminished. After a few active years, a low point was reached. The reasons for the decline were varied and mostly typical of a small town. The most active core had left town and others entered professional life. Either way, the organizations gradually weakened.

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They slowly dispersed, leaving a void. Only one facet remained as a token of what was –– Keren Kayemet advocacy. Organizations were founded and collapsed but the Keren Kayemet boxes were passed down like the Torah at Mount Sinai. Then youth regathered and connected to past generations, maybe thanks to the collection box.

 

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Aliyah – A group says goodbye to Shimshon Bedler

 

After a long pause, Zionist activism reawakened. New winds blew from east and west and carried with them the motivation for aliyah as pioneers. In 1921, Shimshon Bedler of Tikvat Zion made aliyah. Shimshon was followed by Moshe Wallach of Poale Zion. Shimshon and Moshe acted alone. Two years later, a Hahalutz[5] branch was founded in our town. That same year in our town, a regional conference was hosted and attended by representatives from headquarters in Lviv and a decision was made to establish Hahalutz in our town. A small group of members began advocating among the youth and membership increased to dozens of young people.

Zionist youth enthusiastically and energetically approached implementing the idea of aliyah. The first step was to train for labor; we began by lumberjacking.

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If there is a will among idealistic youth, there is a way. We gathered work tools such as axes and saws from members' homes. We also found a sympathetic man who loaned us tools. When we began lumberjacking, news spread throughout the town and people of all ages came to watch the strange scene of young Jewish men doing the work of Gentiles. We divided our group into three: one faction worked, another explained to the crowd why we were doing the work and a third faction stood guard to warn if a parent of one of the revolutionaries was approaching so he could leave and another would take his place so that work would not be delayed.

At first, the parents and the crowd criticized us. Our work and explanations were received partly with objections and partly with mockery. Yet, we paid others no mind and continued working. As time went by, we became accustomed to the work and did it proficiently and for pay. The objectors and mockers accepted it and the work was perceived as ordinary.

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Pioneers Train at Schultz Manor in Jezierzany

 

We also added [other] work, including driving bulls to the train station.

We continued our labor in town for a season but our aim was agricultural work. Eastern Galicia is known as fertile land where owners of large estates hire employees to work the fields. During busy seasons, owners imported workers from afar, especially Hutsuls from the Carpathian region. Envoys of Hahalutz who sought to train searched for work in nearby estates and our members who knew the area served as guides. Several Hahalutz training groups worked in the Jezierzany area.

After much searching we, too, found training grounds. A Jewish man named Weissglass hired us. Weissglass later told us that he himself was a Zionist and saw hiring us as a great Zionist contribution. Unfortunately, the conditions and his treatment of us did not conform to his declaration.

We joyfully but anxiously prepared for training. When we began designating which members would train, parents objected. Even though parents had made peace with our work in town, they persistently objected to us, especially the girls, going elsewhere to train. As a result, only a small group of 10 boys and girls went to train.

Other chapters of Hahalutz also encountered a similar situation and Hahalutz leaders had to join groups from several towns. The pioneers of our town joined halutzim from Tovste and even Lviv, thereby creating a group of 35 trainees.

In the spring of 1924, we reached our training spot. Conditions were harsh; we resided in horse–stable attics and were paid a non–living wage. Our work included processing sugar beets, driving wagons, tilling and harvesting. Despite the harsh conditions and the subsequent exhaustion, happiness abided in our barn. We sang and danced until midnight and conversed and debated on various issues

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oze261
Author Joel Mastbaum with local youth during his visit to Jezierzany

 

of ideology and procedure. Our supervisor, a Zionist Jew named Kantzelfolt treated us respectfully and lovingly and his family did so, too. We established great relationships with the local Jewish families, especially the three Waldman families. The Waldmans were educated and some of their sons completed university studies. One of them, Dr. Schneor Waldman, is in Israel. The Gentiles respected us but also suspected us because they perceived us as a potential threat and competitor.

After four months of agricultural training, we had learned a lot about a world we had not known before. We left training with new experiences and an invigorated desire to make aliyah. Unfortunately, our hopes of aliyah were not implemented at the pace we wanted. The only one of our group to make aliyah that year was Menachem Applebaum. The gates of aliyah were shut and the rest of our group did not make aliyah.

The organization stayed active. Members also traveled alone to train in nearby estates. Others traveled to urban training centers. We searched for employment within the town and were hired by Schultz, a local estate owner, to work during the busy seasons.

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Soon thereafter, many unemployed older and younger folks joined us and worked alongside Hahalutz. We also organized a matzah–baking group before Passover. We did that work very successfully and it even earned us publicity in the newspaper. Not being ashamed of labor became acceptable in the town and many folks thanked us for that attitude shift.

When we returned from training at Chernivtsi, an organization named Achva existed in the town. It was probably a version of Tikvat Zion but without its constructive activities; Achva was a social club, a meeting place for youth during their free time.

During training, our Hahalutz group was graced by visits from many Zionist groups, including Fischel Werber of Hitahdut. We joined Hitahdut because of Werber's influence. Back home, we found many members of Hahalutz who had joined Achva and we joined as well. We advocated for a change and were successful; Achva as a whole joined Hitahdut. Hitahdut was a Zionist–Pioneering socialist movement whose mission statement was: (a) to instill the idea of productive labor as a goal among youth;

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(b) agricultural training and aliyah; and (c) cultural Zionist activity. At the time, Hitahdut was the only youth organization in town and our propaganda succeeded in attracting many young folks of all classes. Within a short while, the Hitahdut chapter in our town became one of the largest, most active chapters in the region. Truthfully, we succeeded the most in part (c) of the mission statement, social and cultural Zionist activity; we succeeded only somewhat in implementing the [other] two main prongs. Aliyah was suspended, technical schools or factories did not exist in the town and the only place one could learn a profession was through local Jewish craftsmen. Job training was difficult to implement given the economic and psychological conditions in the town. A single exception was that Hitahdut sent Eliyahu Goldenberg to train in Stryi where he learned engraving. Goldenberg is with us in Israel and is successful in his field.

 

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Members of Hitahdut say goodbye to Eliyahu and Tzila Goldenberg before their aliyah

 

Although the activity in our chapter was mainly social–cultural, the pioneering spirit did not dissipate. The primary goal of most members was aliyah and, with baited breath, they awaited the easing of restrictions on aliyah. Meanwhile, members advocated for the Zionist ideal.

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At the time, the chapter's influence encompassed the town as a large and unopposed chapter. Later, several organizations were founded and became social and cultural influencers, including Perets–Fareyn, the Froyen–Fareyn (Women's Union) and, years later, Beitar[6]. In my opinion, the Hitahdut chapter always remained the most dominant and influential.

Within the chapter and outside of it, social and cultural activism occurred that was reminiscent, in extent and content, of the glory days of the combined Tikvat Zion and Poale Zion. Zionist institutions sent lecturers who advocated for Zionism and writers also visited the town. Literary discussions and Question & Answer sessions were held and added to the daily newspapers displayed at the club, including newspapers from Eretz Israel. At one point, Hitahdut published a wall–posted newsletter about the activities in the chapter and it also contained members' essays and feuilletons[7]. Hitahdut also hosted chess competitions and held other cultural games to pass the time. All of the Zionist activity in town e.g. Keren Kayemet, Ezra, and Kupat Poale Eretz[8] Israel were administered by Hitahdut; the collectors [of funds] left from there,

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meetings [were] held there and decisions were reached about fundraising and advocacy. During those years, fundraising activity was organized and constant, and headquarters knew that our town was one of the best in the region.

The founding of the theatre company awakened the town. The talented and kind David Weintraub, chairman of the Hitahdut chapter, was the director and lead actor of the theatre company. Every announcement of a theater company's performance or an artistic gathering excited the town; performance day instilled a sense of celebration in the small town that was seldom entertained. A large audience, composed mostly of youth, attended performances and crowded the room. The audience paid with money and thunderous applause.

The proceeds from the parties and plays went to the funds and to the library. The library was the crowning glory of Hitahdut. The miracle of the library happened thanks to members Lonek Bolchover, who facilitated its founding, and Motteli Schulbaum,

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The Gordonia Youth Movement

 

who cared for and guarded the library with awe and reverence. We began the library by collecting book donations from friends and admirers. The library grew and developed from membership fees and mainly from the proceeds of the theatre company. Within a few years, the library grew into a large and respectable library that included thousands of books in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew. The readers were not only members of Hitahdut but also hundreds of the town's residents, including Christians. Jews from neighboring villages also came to borrow and read books. Thus, the library became an important cultural asset for all town residents.

In 1928, some members of Hitahdut founded the Jezierzany chapter of Gordonia.[9] The first seeds for Gordonia were planted during a children's field trip. The children attracted more children each trip and eventually they banded into the Gordonia chapter. Guidance was initially provided by members of Hitahdut and later by envoys from Gordonia headquarters. In 1930, a Gordonia agricultural training unit came to our region

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1933 Regional Gordonia Conference with members from Chortkiv, Tovste, Probizhna and Jezierzany

 

for seasonal tobacco–planting. Members of Hitahdut accompanied Gordonia members, provided guidance and organization, and helped put finances in order. After the short work season, we arranged with an estate owner [to have] another training location near our town.

While the visiting Gordonia members were in our town, they and the local Gordonia members became friendly which increased our boys' determination for implementation [of activities] in Eretz Israel, although it was early because our boys were still too young. The example provided results some years later; many Jezierzany Gordonia members participated in agricultural training and several made aliyah as members of Gordonia.

Members of Hitahdut were alert to community tasks and filled an active role in local or regional community matters. During the election for the Polish Sejm,[10] the technical organization and campaign was concentrated at Hitahdut. Hitahdut members, of course, supported the Jewish delegation

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that was supported by Zionist leadership and were opposed to the delegation favored by the ruling party. Local authorities who were aware of Zionist activism abused their power and imposed limitations. On election day, police arrested Hitahdut activists and held them until the polls were closed. Of course, others filled the arrested activists' places and Jewish voters voted for the Zionist delegation.

In the final years, Hitahdut also took part in municipal elections and supported candidates who were sympathetic to Hitahdut. The same was true for the community council.

In conclusion, Hitahdut was the driving force behind all aspects of life in the town, mainly Zionist activism. Activism was done by volunteers who worked day and night for the public good. Only a small number of members made aliyah before or after the Holocaust. The Nazi villains murdered most of those beloved Hitahdut members.

May their memory be eternally blessed and preserved in the pages of this book.

Kvutzat Shiller, 5718


Notes and Footnotes

All notes, many of them copied from Wikipedia, were added by the Hebrew–to–English Yizkor Book co–coordinator unless otherwise specified.

  1. Belfour Declaration – issued by the British government during World War I, a public statement announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Return
  2. Keren Kayemet – Jewish National Fund. Return
  3. Poale Zion – a movement of Marxist–Zionist Jewish workers founded in various cities of Poland, Europe and the Russian Empire around the turn of the 20th century. Return
  4. According to a different version, Poale Zion was founded before Tikvat Zion but dispersed and later reorganized. According to that version, Tikvat Zion was founded by a faction of members who withdrew from Poale Zion. (note added by the original author of this section) Return
  5. Hahalutz – Literal meaning: “The Pioneer” – a Jewish youth movement that trained young people for agricultural settlement in the land of Israel. It became an umbrella organization for pioneering Zionist youth movements. Return
  6. Beitar – a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1923 in Riga, Latvia. Return
  7. Feuilletons – kupatpart of a European newspaper devoted to light fiction, reviews, and articles of general entertainment. Return
  8. Kupat Poale Eretz – Palestinian Workers Fund. Return
  9. Gordonia – a Zionist youth movement. The movement's doctrines were based on the beliefs of Aaron David Gordon, i.e. the salvation of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people through manual labor and the revival of the Hebrew language. Return
  10. Polish Sejm – the lower house of the Polish parliament Return

 

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