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[Page 86]

The First Buds
(Sections of memories)

by L. Baion

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Tomorrow was still covered in a cloud and the future was not secure at all. Battles still took place in the vicinity between the Ukrainian nationalists, the Red Army and volunteers of the Polish Army over rule of our district. For several weeks, there was no reliable government in the shtetl. There was an atmosphere of wantonness, and everyone did as they pleased. Gangs of Ukrainians roamed around the forests and the villages of the region, attacking passers-by, killing and pillaging. Wagons carrying dead Jews from the villages appeared daily in the shtetl. No ray of light was on the horizon, and the footsteps of redemption were delayed in coming.

It was specifically during those cold, serious days that the dawn of social and ideological awakening began among the younger generation. Evening meetings in the dark Beis Midrash where people analyzed various problems were not sufficient. The need for the youth to have their own place was felt, as well as the need for social-organizational activities. A hall for social gatherings was opened up for the first time in the shtetl. A house stood at the edge of Holianka Street that had served as the civic prison. It is symbolic that specifically that house turned into a meeting place for the youths. It was renovated, a small stage was built inside atop which a blue and white flag fluttered.

I recall one of the first meetings dedicated to defining the ideology of the group. We, 12 and 13-year-old youths, were then scouts from the side. The chief speaker was Noach Kotzker, the teacher of the shtetl. His words centered on the Zionist ideal, the vision of the prophets, Dr. Herzl, and the Balfour Declaration. He called upon the youth of the shtetl to gather around the blue and white flag of Zionism and to struggle for the realization of the dream of a Hebrew State. Some of those gathered came from the “wide world,” and were imbued with class consciousness and ideas of social revolution and a class war. They attempted to oppose the idea of Zionism blended with Socialism. They were also stubborn in expressing their outlook, and it was clear that they were more sensitive than they were able to express. It was finally agreed that the new organization, Bnei Zion, would also include the Socialist idea in its program.

The activities of the Bnei Zion group included weekly meetings with lectures on various social and Zionist topics, recreation evenings, and literary evenings. A list of topics was also issued so that the members of the organization, who were people of understanding, would be able to prepare and hear the words of introduction. It quickly became clear that nobody aside from the teacher Kotzker would be able to carry out this task. The purpose of appearing before the community was to restrain people from

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going on the stage and stating their words, thereby imposing fear on the community.

Going to the Bnei Zion hall had a festive aspect to it. The festivity was especially felt during the literary celebrations, for which the members of the dramatic club of Bnei Zion prepared for a long time. Thanks to the activities of this group, specific artistic talents were revealed among the youth, which earned communal recognition. We will mention only a few of them here: M. Merkazi, Maya Shapira, Chaya Itzikson, Hershel Shapira, and others. Activists were trained in the arena of social activities of Bnei Zion, who later ran various institutions in the shtetl such as the public kitchen, the Jewish National fund, the school, and other institutions.

When the desire to take part in sporting activities, scouting, hiking, and sailing was aroused among the older youths, the Hatzofeh organization was set up in the pattern of a similar organization in nearby Kowel. This was a nationalist organization by nature. It celebrated all the national holidays with parades in the streets, it conducted activities for the Jewish National Fund, but it did not conduct cultural activities worthy of the name.

The “Tarbut” School at its inception
Among the students: Moshe Gutman of blessed memory, Aryeh Avrech of blessed memory, Moshe Stern, Moshe Droog, Ruth Greenstein, Pnina Droog of blessed memory, Pesl Miryo of blessed memory, Sara Papir-Goldman, Sara Ginzburg-Schwartz, Mordechai Gefen

 

When the activities of the older youths weakened and they entered into the yoke of family life and the struggle for existence - a new cadre of youth who had passed through all the nightmares and frights of the First World War ascended the stage of communal activity in the shtetl. They began to act with great momentum, raised heads, and natural optimism, as if they were making up for what was lacking in the preceding years. The first objective was a civic library. This was during the time of flourishing book publishers such as “Shtibel” (in Hebrew), “Kultur League׆ (in Yiddish), and the publication of other books

[Page 88]

that flooded the marketplace with a great bounty of books, and aroused a great thirst among the local youth for reading. What did they not do then to quench this thirst? They saved their last coins, presented literary critiques and held celebrations, organized flower days, etc. in order to bring the best of literature to the library. The first meetings of this youth group were held in the home of Nachum and Velvel Rajsky. Many youths went there to play chess or checkers, and especially to exchange books. Every new monthly shipment of books was received with literal trembling and awe. When the youths discovered that the exchange of books lacking hard covers caused damage to the books, many learned the bookbinding of craft, and bound the books with their own hands. Our member Leibel Blostein especially excelled in this work.

The influence of the Hebrew and Yiddish books on these youths was beyond estimation. Their eyes were opened to see what they had not previously seen, to become familiar with issues and problems that had been far from them. They would debate out loud on the intentions of various authors, and tell each other about the content of new books or articles and essays that were published in “Hatekufa”, “Miklat”, “Chaliastra”, “Ringen”, “Bicher Velt”, “Literarishe Bleter” and various other publications. They would also read these publications during parties.

I will mention positively here our good, heartwarming friend Binyamin Ponach, who in the evening served as a resource for youths who were experiencing difficulty in reading. He would tell them the content of various books, such as “Ba'aish Ubacherev” (With Fire and Sword) by Sienkiewicz that was published in Hebrew translation at that time by Shtibel publishers. He lovingly fulfilled this role that he had taken upon himself. At that time, there was nobody to direct the youths in reading and to show them what comes first and what comes last in reading. However, after some time, several of them excelled and served as librarians and guides for their friends in reading. I recall that when the library obtained the first works of Peretz Markish, Melech Ravitsh, Uri Tzvi Grynberg and others who were pioneers of futurism in poetry and literature. In the same manner that earlier youths would sit over a page of Gemara, delving into the commentaries of Rashi, Tosafos, and others; young people would sit together and attempt to uncover the various expressions in these works, so that they could understand the personalities of the authors. Some of them learned entire works by heart, and some took bets as to how much of a certain work they knew by heart.

During the years 1924 and 1925, a group of about 30 youths sprouted from this group and founded Hechalutz. Thus began the physical and spiritual preparation for aliya to the Land of Israel. However, this path of Hechalutz appeared overly revolutionary for the more conservative of the youths, who were not ready for this revolution that included leaving the home, traveling to a Hachshara kibbutz, proletariatization, etc. There were also those who regarded the Hechalutz movement as a nationalist movement that contradicting Socialism, world revolution, and human emancipation. However, there is no doubt that the Hechalutz organization was the most significant factor

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in developing noticeable communal and cultural activity in the shtetl. In the Hechalutz hall, there were clubs that were involved with the study of the doctrines of Borochov, A. D. Gordon, and classical Socialism. Lectures on various topics were frequently arranged, with debates and discussions continuing until late at night. The members of the central and district leadership who visited us gave very positive reports on the Ratno chapter after their visits.

In 1926, the first three members of Hechalutz in Ratno went on hachshara: Shlomo Pogatsh, Yitzchak Kozak and the writer of these lines. When we returned to the shtetl after a year of hachshara, we strengthened the chapter significantly, and encouraged other members of Hechalutz to follow in their footsteps. At that time, and with the influence of the first pioneers, many members ended their lives of boredom and idleness, and went out to work in the paving of roads, quarrying of stones, and other jobs; changing their petite bourgeois attitudes toward manual labor.

In the Old City

 

A serious crisis affected Zionism and the pioneering movement during the years 1927 and 1928. The Mandate restricted aliya to the land, and the members that were authorized for aliya sat in their homes without anything to do as they awaited their certificates. The pioneering movement weakened. The Jewish youth could not relate calmly to what was taking place around them, to the increasing anti-Semitism, to the oppression of the national minorities in Poland, and to the strong hand raised by the government against the progressive movements. The economic situation also worsened at that time, due to the taxes that worked against the

[Page 90]

poorer classes and the workers. In the wake of all this, many of the younger generation came to the conclusion that the ideals of Zionism and pioneering were also a form of escape from the front and of evading the problems that were afflicting the masses of the Jewish people. “Let us turn toward the work of the present!”, “Let us turn toward the shtetl, toward the working fathers and their worries!” - These were the mottoes that were heard from the maturing youth. The intelligentsia in the shtetl turned its hearts toward the working youth, and attempted to direct their paths of lives and educate them. There was also a change in attitude toward the Yiddish language and the potential held within it. In the wake of this, a chapter of O.Y.Sh. (Organization of Jewish Schools) was founded in Ratno, as well as an analogous cultural club that organized lectures, discussions, and debates on the issues of culture and literature. This cultural activity eased the melancholy in which they youths found themselves, scattered the heavy clouds, and slightly assuaged the pressure and tribulations of the Jews under the semi-Fascist Polish government of that time. The activists of the Yiddishist movement girded themselves for a heavy task - the establishment of a Yiddishist school in the spirit of their ideological principles. They succeeded in reaching this goal that they had taken upon themselves, but the school only lasted for four months, for the Polish government closed it with the pretext that the building was not appropriate for a school.

The local government authorities began to “take interest” in the activities of the progressive circles. They followed after O. Y.Sh. and its members, and did not hold back from engaging outside provocateurs and local agents to spy on the circles that appeared to them as leftists. As a result of these espionage activities, almost all of the members of the workers movement were arrested. This was in the autumn of 1929, when mass imprisonments took place in the cities and towns of Pulsia Wolhyn, and dozens of members of the youth circles of Ratno were arrested and hauled to Kowel. They were tortured and interrogated through many brutal methods. There was no concrete evidence against most of the prisoners, and they were forced to free them after several days of imprisonment. Only two of the prisoners, Chona Tyktiner and Aharon Shapira, remained in prison and were later sentenced to five years of imprisonment.

From that time, the youth circles began to disband. The pursuing and slander discouraged many youths from continuing their activities. Some of them got married, remained in the shtetl or traveled to other places, and entered the yoke of livelihood. Others reached the point of complete despair over everything that was taking place in Poland, and immigrated to the United States, Argentina, and other places. A new guard entered into social activities in the shtetl. They too faced many problems that had no easy solution with the realities of those days. The years 1922-1936 were years of spiritual activity, ideological battles and aspirations for a better and more beautiful life.


[Page 86-alt]

Letter to a Friend

by A.Y. Ginzburg

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Aharon Yankel Ginzburg of Ratno Writes to his Friend L. Baion in Mexico about his Ideological Struggles

Ratno, July 5, 1937.

It was a summer Sabbath eve. I was busy with my work and other matters all day. You recall that I always had many jobs and few blessings. And you see, just as there was a form of competition between my various jobs (a painter, a secretary of the community, and a secretary of Y.Sh.A), there is also some sort of conflict in my spiritual life. I am a Yiddishist, and I simultaneously love the Hebrew language. The Land of Israel is close to my heart, but I also love Birobidzhan. I like the Communist idea, but I still remain a nationalist idealist. I have searched for a bridge that could bridge these various poles, and it seems that I have found it. I have read your letter, and before that, I read your articles in various newspapers in Mexico, and several things surprise me. First of all, I see that you participate in nationalist Zionist publications. Second, you are already writing in a different spirit, almost in the national spirit - far from the class war and closer to the people of Israel. Third, your articles are printed alongside greetings and announcements of Bar Mitzvas, circumcisions, and other

[Page 87-alt]

Jewish happy occasions.

I do not imagine that you are not true to what you are writing and publishing. I attempted to resolve the various contradictions in that, while you were still stuck in the confines of Jewish life along with masses of Jews, you felt choked in that life and wanted to spread your wings and anchor yourself in other realms; but now, when you have gone out to the wide, strange world (Mexico), you have choice: to assimilate along with everyone or to return to our roots. This is all through the principle of responsibility toward the upcoming generation whom you, as a teacher, must educate.

Therefore Leibel, we must stand on guard, and protect the existence of the nation. Whoever wishes to be responsible for the maintenance of the Jews as a people must give preference to the national problem over the social problem, at least until we reach the level that other nations have reached. It was specifically from the Soviet Union that I have learned that we must restrain somewhat the rhythm of our “revolution.” Whereas this was the path that led to national and social liberation for the Russian people, for us the path of revolution is liable to lead to disappearance… I cannot come to terms with the command to wander tens of thousand of kilometers to the banks of the Amur River in order to clear the Taigas there - something that Ivan himself did not do[1] - to wipe out with one stroke of the hand our history from “In the beginning G-d created,” and to begin our existence from the year of the great revolution of 1917.

On the other hand, if we do not go to Birobidzhan, a second great danger awaits us - to assimilate and disappear from the stage of nations. What would we attain? We would help establish a beautiful world for others, and we would commit national suicide ourselves. This is indeed the situation. The Russian revolution is liable to cause 3.5 million Jews to disappear, not from great tribulations, but rather from too much comfort, so to speak. Woe to us for such good fortune!

And with respect to the Land of Israel. It is true that this is a small land that cannot absorb many Jews, but it can become the force that assists the existence of Jews in the Diaspora. Therefore, we must nurture and study the

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Hebrew Language, not only because this is our living language, but also because this language added a great deal of charm to our Yiddish Language. If we are truly interested in the existence of the Yiddish Language, it is our duty to also nurture Hebrew.

My conclusions are as follows: Our nation is forging a way to the family of nations. The solution is not assimilation, nor is it Socialism. It is forbidden for us to commit national suicide. Just as we overcame the dangers in the time of lack of culture, we will also spiritually overcome the dangers lurking in the times of culture and flourishing civilization.

Enough of these matters. I wish to add something of my own: I await the possibility of emigration, but in the meantime, all of the lands are sealed. Aside from my work hours, the days generally pass in idleness. The evenings are spent in discussions with friends. My friend Levi Shapira is about to leave today for his new home in the State of Cuba. Where will my home be?

Indeed, in the last few weeks, various events took place in the city of your brother. (This is referring to the pogrom against the Jews of Brisk). The conclusions from all this are clear: With regard to the outside, in relation to the outside world, we are all Jews - -the rich, the poor, the middle class, the workers - the dangers await us all.

With warm regards,

Aharon Yankel


Translator's Footnote

  1. The Amur is a river in Birobidzhan, the Russian area in the Far East, bordering China, designated as a Jewish national republic within the Soviet Union. The use of the name “Ivan” here is meant to symbolize a typical Russian. Return


[Page 91]

The New Era in Ratno

by Simcha Lavie

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the end of First World War, when the refugees who had fled to other places and the young people who had fought in the battles began to return, new winds began to blow in the shtetl. There were those who hoped that the new Polish government would fulfill its obligations toward equal rights for all citizens without discrimination between religion and nation, as was formulated in the international agreements. However, this rosy dream began to fade very quickly. The various decrees of the Polish government proved that this was nothing other than a pipe dream. The turn for the worse of the situation of the Jews was noticeable in all areas. This fact increased the social ferment and the inroads of various parties whose mottoes also began to penetrate little Ratno.

Changes in the way of life began to be clearly noticeable. These were not drastic changes, but were changes nevertheless. In addition to the youths who returned from the battlefields, youths from larger cities arrived in Ratno after they married Ratno girls. These people also were a factor in the change of values, which was expressed in modes of dress, hiding the tzitzis, secular books that took the place of holy books, social gatherings, etc. There is no doubt that these changes worried the Orthodox communal administrators, who regarded them as a form of revolt against the accepted modes of behavior and was liable to weaken their decisive hegemony in the Jewish community. This was further exacerbated when the Zionist activities began to increase in the shtetl. The establishment of the Tarbut School was apparently one of the signs foretelling the beginning of the new era, and it is no surprise that the efforts of various householders to establish this modern school was a thorn not only in the eyes of the cheder teachers who were afraid that their livelihoods would dwindle, but also in the eyes of the members of the various shtibels who were particular about exacting religious education for their sons and daughters. The shtetl, or more precisely the Jewish community of the shtetl, was divided into two camps. One camp consisted of those who preserved the embers of the old traditions in its full essence for the education of the children, way of life, etc. The second camp was composed of the more liberal or progressive folk who began to circulate around the doors of the parents in order to register the children for the Tarbut School. The latter group included Moshe Eilbaum, Yehoshua Bekerman, Leibel Grabov, Mottel Ginzburg, Amalia Droog, Yitzchak-Hirsch Held, Berl Held, Avraham Hochman, Yisrael Weinstock, Yosef Zesak, Baruch Tanis, Asher Leker, Berka Mogilensky, Asher Perlmutter, Noach Kotzker, and others.

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At around that time, Bundist and Communist groups also began to operate in the shtetl. These activities were very restricted, and were assisted primarily through “injections” from the headquarters of these parties. However, one could not ignore them. The Bund directed its activities primarily toward the circles of the tradesmen, whereas the Communists directed their publicity primarily toward the circles of the workers. Despite the ideological opposition between the Bund and the Communists regarding all things related to the actual problems of Poland, they had a common front with respect to anything relating to Zionism. The common denominator was the hatred of Zion.

It can be said that this era, until 1927, was characterized by an increasing controversy between the Zionists and non-Zionists. The youth movements were still absent from this battle or controversy. The dispute was primarily between the adults. As time went on, separate lists for the civic elections of the Zionists and non-Zionists arose, and the division left is mark on all areas of communal life. The library was divided into two, and a separate Yiddishist library was set up. A Yiddishist school was founded. It was weaker than the Tarbut School, but it was supported by the Bundists and the circles close to them. People were certainly talking in the shtibels about the controversy and the opposition between the different camps, but it seems to me that the majority of the Jewish community did not stick its head into the thick of it, and stood at the side. The economic situation grew more serious and the Jews felt that their salvation would not come from the factions that were fighting among themselves. Many began to search for various means to immigrate overseas. Some arrived in the State of Colorado in the United States, and were followed by relatives and friends who heard about the land of gold. Others went to Argentina and Canada. The disappointment in the new Polish regime apparently penetrated the community, and anyone who could escape did so.

A noticeable change took place in 1927. The pioneering movement gained recognizable momentum in Poland, and our shtetl was also taken over by that movement.

Mendel and Gittel Klein, Yitzchak-Hirsch and Riva Fuchs, Dvora Choker, Feiga and Shachna Steinberg, Maya Steingarten, Pearl and Yitzchak Shapira

 

The one to come first was without doubt the Hashomer Hatzair movement, which forged a path to many youths who began to see their way in life

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as tied to this movement. Our friend Moshe Droog, who joined this movement while he was studying in Kowel, was the person who laid the foundation of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter in Ratno. Almost all of the students of the Tarbut School of all ages and classes, quickly found their way to this chapter. The central activists of the chapter included Chaim Ides, Chaya Droog, Dvora and Chaya Grabov, Yehudit Sandiuk, Zelda Feintuch, and others.

At almost the same time, a group of members organized themselves in the shtetl and set up Hechalutz Hatzair. This organization primarily catered to the working youth, including tradesmen and others, for whom the ideological path of Hashomer Hatzair was not acceptable. The prominent members of this group included Charna Greenstein, Maya Weinstock, Batya Chayat, Avraham Grabov, Mordechai Yanover, Shmuel Goldman, Yisrael Honik, and the writer of these lines. This group was helped by the leadership of Aryeh Avrech, who was already among the central motivators of the Hechalutz movement, and visited the various chapters from the Hechalutz headquarters. It is worthwhile to note that despite the difference in ideology and educational methodology between these movements, both functioned with the idea of honorable mutual coexistence. The competition between them was based on constructive foundations: in activities for the Zionist funds, in common events, activities of Hechalutz, and the like.

At the beginning of 1929, the first group of Ratno natives went out to hachshara. At the end of that year, in the midst of the disturbances of 5689 in the Land of Israel, our member, Mordechai Gefen, was authorized for aliya, and he set out on aliya. From that time, the path to actualization and aliya was open to many youths of Ratno - each person in the context of his movement. Many Ratno natives made aliya in this manner. The following are the names of the first ten people to make aliya, in the order of their aliya: Mordechai Gefen, Moshe Stern, Shmuel Marder, Isser Kwashnyk, Moshe Gutman, Simcha Lavie, Moshe Droog, Shmuel and Sara Goldman[1], Eliahu Feintuch, Ch. Givoni…

A group of activists
Bottom: Amalia Droog, Sheina Itzikson, Feicha Honik
Sitting: A. Ginzburg, Pogatsh, Esther Eilbaum, Chaim Steinberg, Sara Yunevitz
Standing: M. Eilbaum, B. Cohen, A. Held, Ch. Rider, Shapir

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. Sara's maiden name is Papir. Return


[Page 91-alt]

On the Borders

by Aryeh Avrech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Our mothers hardened their hearts to their sons and said: If you have a grocery store, you will ensure your livelihood. You were not created for greatness, and you must not set out overseas. Your house stands here at the coast, where your cradle was located, and where you will find comfort for your souls. A foolish spirit has entered into you. You speak of high and lofty things. Better than that would be for you to bear the yoke, live as a family with a mother of children, just as your father and I raised and nurtured you. You will be merchants. Do no disparage the small things. Earn coin after coin, and see a purpose in life. Climb the ladder higher and higher and merit to conduct business with the large cities of the country and amass a fortune. Your name will become known. - No dear mother! I cannot remain in your house - for it is destroyed. Idleness is consuming me like a moth and boredom is like mildew to me. There, outside, movement is beginning, calling toward life, work, and creativity.

The hidden gate is opened before us from there. It is like the gate of the Garden of Eden has opened before us, and a new light, the light of life, is sown for us. Let us arise, brothers and sisters, and go light the eternal candle in our home, which is the kibbutz.

Mother, you light the candles on Sabbath eves. We also light the candles on the eve of our great Sabbath, the eve of our aliya to the Land. We will prepare ourselves in great holiness to greet the queen that is waiting by the gate. We will wait with a trembling soul for the great moment when the voice will be heard, “And the children have returned to their borders!”[1].

Dear mother, will you prevent us from returning to the motherland? Will you prevent us from greeting the great Sabbath that comes at the end of the six days of work and creation? Will you withhold life from us?

The day will yet come when you too, Mother, will be called to join us and dwell in security in our home.

5689 (1929) (Lehavot, booklet 2)


Translator's Footnote

  1. Jeremiah 31:16. Return


[Page 94]

The Era of Ideological Excitement

by L. Baion

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Young Chalutz (Hechalutz Hatzair) in Ratno, Passover 5688

 

Even though Ratno was dependent on larger cities from an economic perspective, this was not the case from a social and cultural perspective. The larger cities were not dependent on Ratno, and apparently Ratno was not dependent on them. Jewish life in the town was forged through the generations, and had set patterns and norms. The way of life was based on tradition and religion, and there were no factors that deviated from that path. Sabbaths and festivals, weddings and circumcisions, Bar Mitzvah and Shalom Zachar celebrations and the like were based on the traditions of many years, and they formed the transcendental connection of Jewish settlements.

The town had its own clergy: a rabbi, rabbinical judge, scribe, teachers of children, beadles, teachers, etc. who forged the spiritual life, and never felt any need for any trusteeship or assistance from the Jewish communities of the large cities. Even honorable matters such as the writing of a Torah scroll, the acceptance of a new rabbi, the choosing of a gabbai and the like never deviated from the narrow confines of the small Jewish community. The Hassidic movement did not function in this manner. The movement forged connections and relationships between Jews in various cities, including Ratno. All of the Hassidic shtibels that were centered on the Street of the Synagogue (Shul Gasse) developed and nurtured social activities and mutual connections on the way to or from the court of the Rebbe, and through various meetings with the Rebbe himself. This led to economic and business connections that strengthened throughout time. This way of life continued until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The world order was shaken up in the wake of the world war, and

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cracks began to form in the set Jewish way of life. New winds began to blow in the world, which reached the narrow alleyways of tiny Ratno. The war sowed destruction around. There were frequent changes of regime which brought destruction and ruin in their wake. It was primarily the Jews that suffered. The retreating and advancing armies first took out all their wrath upon the Jews. Each side accused them with spying for the opposing side, and the Jews paid the full price for every defeat and every victory, even if they had no connection to either.

 

Hechalutz in Ratno Sept. 27, 1930

 

The Beginnings of Political Organization

At the end of the war, signs of small changes in the way of life began to show. The most significant was that the connection between Ratno and the regional city of Kowel was strengthened. The Zionist movement began to organize, the Hatzofeh scouting organization arose, dramatic clubs were founded, and various groups for social activity for orphans and other social needs were formed. In all such activities, there was influence as well as direct assistance from external institutions, the center in Warsaw, and the large neighboring city of Kowel. At around that time, the Jewish public bank was set up, which offered assistance to the merchants, tradesmen, and small-scale merchants. Various political movements sprouted and rose, including the General Zionists, Poale Zion, Young Zion, Hitachdut, Bund, and the Communists. All of these movements developed cultural activities. The debate between those faithful to the Hebrew Language and the Yiddishists was particularly felt in the town. Each side maintained its own school. At that time,

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the tradesmen's union, the professional union and the civic library were also established. Emissaries and speakers came from Kowel to lecture or organize party activities. The motion was bi-directional, however, since delegates from Ratno also went to the various conventions and gatherings.

I wish to rescue from oblivion several episodes related to the beginning of the pioneering movement in our town.

The years 1924-1926 were the golden era of this movement. Chapters of Hechalutz sprouted up throughout Wolhyn in an almost spontaneous manner, gathering in thousands of youths who had reached the decision that they must move over to a more productive life and bind their fate to the kibbutz movement of the Land of Israel. At that time, hachshara also developed - that is, dozens of places in Wolhyn in which the chalutzim [Zionist pioneers] would have to prove their level of fitness for physical labor, their readiness for personal actualization, and their ability to accustom themselves to a collective life. In the hachsharah points in the city, the members worked at road construction, wood chopping, various building efforts, and any other job that came up. Their salary went to the kibbutz kitty.

 

Elka Papir on Hachshara in Kosow (1935)

 

One of the largest hachshara kibbutzim in Wolhyn was in Klesowa [Klesov], not far from the city of Sarny, where the members worked primarily in rock quarrying. Aharon Werba of Kowel, one of the leaders of Hechalutz in Wolhyn, would visit the chapters, help organize the work, choose the members who were to go to hachshara, and organization various events in the cities of Wolhyn for the benefit of hachshara and aliya. He interrupted his studies in the Diaspora due to economic reasons, but did not want to continue in the petite bourgeois lifestyle of his parents. Therefore, he immersed himself, with his full enthusiasm and energy, into the activities of Hechalutz, which he regarded as his primary objective. He arrived in Ratno as an emissary of Hechalutz,

[Page 97]

in order to strengthen our activities, to lecture, and to solicit for some campaign of Hechalutz. He impressed us greatly with his interesting lectures and his personality. It was immediately recognizable that this youth was blessed with talents. Indeed, the days that he dwelled in our town were like festival days to our youth.

I also went out to hachshara in Klesowa, and remained there for 11 months. My connections with several members in Kowel were strengthened - especially my connection with Yisrael Wachsman. These connections finally led to a specific ideological crisis. We both were troubled, and we both had doubts about the path of the movement. We both regarded the idea of the kibbutz as promoting social isolation and distance from the social struggle. We decided to view the kibbutz as a specific group enclosed in the bounds of the collective, and not involving itself in the general struggles that break out within the group. Many questions began to go through our minds: Does this not smack of egoism toward the chosen group? What is our role in the struggle against enslavement and toward salvation that was being conducted by Socialists throughout the entire world? Are we able or permitted to remain neutral in that struggle? We infected other members in Klesowa with our concerns and our doubts, and the debates regarding these matters were very vibrant, ending with our victory. In a general meeting of all the members who were certified for aliya, a decision was made to accept our ideological principles. The following is the text of the decision: “The kibbutz must be a small-scale social laboratory, which must prepare the spiritual leaders of the collective to take their appropriate place at the time of the social revolution, and to direct the world economy.” This was more or less the version that was accepted with the most votes. From then on, the doubts and concerns deepened. New reasons arose in addition to the aforementioned reasons: the chalutz and kibbutz movement separate themselves from the world Socialist movement, do not identify with the workers striking for an increase in salary and better working conditions, and at times become strikebreakers by acting as scabs in workplaces that are in the midst of a strike. An additional complaint was that the chalutz movement directs its revolutionary fervor only toward the Land of Israel, and thereby distances parents from their children, instills a lack of faith in the youth toward their parents and their way of live, disparages Jewish culture and the language of the masses of the Jews by negating the Diaspora, etc. etc. We began to sense the need for a certain ideological sanitization that would bridge the gap between us and the masses of Jews in the Diaspora and their culture. The motto was: to return to the masses, to strengthen their class and situation, and to forge a strong permanent connection with their language and culture. The members who were attracted by these ideas gave up on aliya to the Land of Israel, and, from that point, invested all of their energy in completely different activities: setting up Jewish schools and libraries, bringing culture to the masses, promoting enlightenment, conducting lectures, founding Yiddish newspapers, and other such activities. I recall that Peretz Markish[1], Yaakov Zerubavel[2] and others were among the lecturers brought to Ratno and Kowel.

(From the “Pinkas Kowel” book.)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peretz_Markish Return
  2. A Labor Zionist leader (1886-1967). Return


[Page 94-alt]

Hechalutz Hatzair [The Young Pioneer]

by Shmuel Goldman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

We were young. The realm of our lives was narrow, and the desire to organize began to foment in our hearts. The feeling of “young pioneers” began to enchant us like a legend. Our knowledge of the various issues of the movement was cloudy and unclear. The opportunities for organization were also meager. Idle, without work experience and financial means, but with energy and zeal, we continued without interruption with the idea to which we aspired, but did not exist. Day by day, we gathered in the fields and engaged in discussions. We knew one thing: our actions would succeed if we learned how to raise our restricted group to a high level with diligent effort.

The cultural work relating to pioneering issues was successful. Slowly but surely,

[Page 95-alt]

we became a significant factor. Our knowledge broadened, and new members were added. One of our primary goals was to infiltrate the ranks of the populist working youth. We worked with the challenge of a meager location (a narrow room without sufficient light or room to sit). Nevertheless, our numbers grew with time, and approached 30 members. “Bituyim,” our publication, of which five issues had already been released, helped significantly in gaining members. In particular, our influence increased in the Polish school, which most of the children of meager means attended.

The chapter grew and various questions floated about. We sent two members to the convention of directors in Beresteczko. The convention had a positive effect on the work of our members. They learned about the problems of the movement and better connected to its values. When they returned to the organization, they dedicated themselves to the work with their full energy. It was particularly difficult to organize the youths of the movement. We were lacking the appropriate mindset for this. It was only after frequent requests from their side that we organized them into a regiment called Tz'Yzyk. Today this group has 25 members, most of them students of the Tarbut School. They are dedicated to the organization, are concerned with it, are active in the Jewish National Fund, etc. There are two groups in this regiment: Dror

[Page 96-alt]

and Amal. A member of the Bachurot section directed the group. The regiment committee is composed of directors of the groups and members chosen by the entire regiment. Through joint effort with Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz was organized into a group that numbers 60 members today. Our comrades are active in it and concerned for it. A female member of our chapter participated in the convention of leaders in Zelena (near Kowel) during the summer. Two others participated in the Hechalutz seminar in Warsaw. Today the chapter has 80 members who are organized into three different strata: Bachurot, Neorim, and Tzeirim. Each stratum has its own unique plan of activities.

Hechalutz Hatzair, issue 7, 1931


[Page 97-alt]

To Escape from the Valley of the Shadow of Death

by Batya Chayat

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It was a summer day. I sat alone at that time next to my house, while the wings of imagination bore me far away from the world of reality. I saw wonderful and amazing visions. Images passed before my eyes. I try now to remember, but I cannot bring them back to life. Yes, I do recall something. -- -- -- It was a summer morning. The sun had risen to make its path in the bright blue skies, and I was in the expanse of the fields. Everything around me was pleasant. The drops of dew winked in the heavy light from the grass, and the pleasant aroma that wafted up to my nose made me completely drunk. Mountains covered with grey could be seen in the horizon through the clear air. The thick grey and the peaks reached the heavens. -- -- --

Everything alive within me roared, and I was pinched. I woke up, but the echo of vague things arose within me. Wake up, leave the wasteland, flee, save your soul from the valley of the shadow of death, lest destruction overtake you.

I became sober, but my spirit did not quiet.

From the booklet “Bituyim” (Expressions), a publication of Young Hechalutz in Ratno. 10 Tevet, 5689 (1929).


[Page 98]

Six that were Designated

by Avraham Grabov[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

We were six with innocent childhood whims. When the glances of the eyes could interpret the matter - the face blushed… We, two girls and four boys, gathered together in the sand dunes, near the coniferous trees. Friendship flowed from their words, and the truth was clarified: From today, we are members of Hechalutz Hatzair. When we returned to the city, the six of us had different faces. The field served as the place for the discussions. We were sustained by the newspapers of previous days. We spoke about connections with the headquarters, about “ourselves” and “them,” about difficulties. It was still too early to speak about attracting the youths, even though we had the desire to impart our ideas to others. We had already received several letters from the headquarters, which imparted hope to us. We also read an article in Hechalutz Hatzair about such matters.

The town was in ferment, and the work of the secretary was beyond compare. The duty was accepted with love. There was internal organization, heartfelt love, and mutual responsibility.

We rented a room before the end of the summer. The windows were broken, and it did not even have a bench or a table - just four unplastered walls. We were careful to pay the monthly rent. Everything was in order.

If the candles burnt out, a member would run home, a distance of a kilometer or more, without anyone asking him to do so. He would return with a red face, breathing heavily, with a candle in his hand. The group sat on the floor. One person held the candle and a second one read. After deliberations, they would disperse with fear of the next day. From time to time, everyone would be enthusiastic over new programs. Doubts would be intermixed with dedication and worry.

With the passage of time, the small group took on an entirely different form. The self-interest grew. The childhood caprices gave way to conflict, and there was a desire to expose the bad in other people. There were conversations that were not for a positive reason.

From within the ranks sprouted the individual, the one who bore the load: it could not go on like this. He saw the need for changes, and would not abandon it. At night, during long evenings, in the morning, masses of demanding children stood before his eyes.

Months passed, half years went by and the youths grew up. Intelligence exuded from their eyes.

Traditional notions, concepts from the parents that had been collected in the minds of the youths, fell away in heaps within one evening.

The youths knew about freedom of thought and democracy, and became skilful

[Page 99]

at critical inquiry. The bounty of life beckoned to them, and they came to the group willingly to take hold, to take hold. He, the member of the ranks from that time, was like an overflowing well that gave of its bounty. He snatched a glance of pity upon himself at every appropriate moment. Before him were dusty souls, eyes thick with beauty, demanding and complaining.

… And the town - its Sabbaths continued on like the slumber of a cat. The light in the houses gave evidence of people sitting by the table playing cards. An extended yawn. In his heart - desires, aspirations, and pining for the expanses.

5681 (1921) - Hechalutz Hatzair, booklet 7.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The style of this article is awkward, and was difficult to translate. There was a mixture of first person and third person - and I changed it to first person for clarity. Return


[Page 98-alt]

by Shmulik Goldman[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The pioneering movement was the central point of my life. I differentiate between two periods of my life: the first period was before I came to pioneering, and the second period was when I was within the pioneering organization and movement. Very few impressions remain with me from the first period, but I do remember the following: My father was fleeing and a Polish Hallerczyk was chasing after him, a man chasing after a man: a man fleeing and hiding from another man. A second moment was during the pogroms when they were murdering Jews. A feeling of revenge was awakened within me, and this came to fruition during my day to day activities.

I got to know Hechalutz for the first time through my work in digging trenches in the field. I enjoyed this, and thoughts about the kibbutz began with desires for pioneering “harmony.” I was among the organizers of Hechalutz Hatzair (before this, I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair) in my Shtetl. After I joined the chapter and began to work, the feeling of revenge passed. I understood the immorality of this. There were teachers in the Polish school who insulted the honor of the nation. There were altercations between us, and I was removed from the school more than once. I transferred to a Hebrew school. I did not find myself properly there either. They did not educate in the pioneering spirit.

[Page 99-alt]

I said that a Hebrew school of this nature had no rights of existence. At home, they did not permit me to work in the chapter.

I wished to actualize. I was 16-years-old, not yet fit for physical labor, but my will was strong. I was certain that the kibbutz would accept me. How could they not accept me when I wished to actualize? I escaped to the moshava. I met other young pioneers. Klesowa became my objective. Many legends floated around about it. There was a story of a group of members who stubbornly tied their fate to the place until the gates of the Land would open. It was told about a march on foot to Warsaw, to the Office of the Land of Israel, in order to demand the opening of the gates of the Land.

I struggled with “connections.” I befriended everyone. This angered my parents. As time went on, they also got used to this reality in the house, but they did not yet get accustomed to the idea of hachshara. We worked at chopping trees. After work, we did not go home, but rather to the hall. We danced a great deal until we fell to the ground in exhaustion. This was a moment of enthusiasm. We already began to feel this in the chapter. I was very dedicated to the chapter. I always dreamed about agricultural work.

When I returned from the moshava, I began to work in the district. I thought: I must not remain in the chapter, I must actualize. I was the first one of our Hechalutz Hatzair chapter to go on hachshara, and this was without authorization. The separation was very difficult. I had a feeling of regret, but I overcame it and restrained myself.

From Klesowa I went to the pioneering seminary. I wished to obtain a scientific grounding (even now, I want to learn very much). The conversations on “friendship” left a strong impression on me. “To love a person even if he is bad.” The farewell party at the seminary, the words of Tabenkin and Grinbaum, were words filled with flames. I got sick and traveled home. Even at home I took no interest in the business of my father. I could not tolerate myself for living under the support of my father, so I traveled to a kibbutz. The natural setting in Neman influenced me greatly and established my relationship to nature.

(From a discussion about my path to the movement, and my way in it.) At the conference of directors in Lachowice, 5691 - 1931.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Untitled in the text. In the table of contents listed as “My Path to the Movement.” Return


[Page 100]

Mornings in my Town

by Avraham Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As I was walking in the marketplace, rays of sunlight sparkled in my eyes.
A cool wind caressed me, and various feelings went through my insides.
I saw the shops before me.
The shops, upon which the merchandise was arrayed on the shelves: lies and falsehood!
They are still closed tight. They also seek rest and fragments of dreams.
There is no movement. Only silence sings and rings.
And I am standing here as if in a circle, it is dancing around me, it is closing me in,
To where? Where should you go? Stand here!…
My heart wonders, and my hands spread asking questions:
Should I indeed remain here, and not go out to the field at sunrise?

The Second World Seminar of Hechalutz Hatzair in Grochow (1931)
At the rightmost edge of the top row: Avraham Grabov of blessed memory
At the left most edge of the third row: Shmuel Goldman

 


[Page 100-alt]

Moments

by Avraham Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He[1] derived a special type of enjoyment in my home as he sat next to the oven having sad thoughts, unintentionally making a line with the finger on the dew-covered window panes with everything that comes to mind: his name, and the names of the family members. After all this - words in the vernacular lacking any meaning, that entered the system during the school parties from long ago, wrote themselves.

[Page 101-alt]

He would stand and look, think and ponder, weave his own and borrowed threads, about the complexities of life and the riddles of the universe. Atop this - was the clock with its deathly ticking, as the death of a person. These were indeed unpleasant moments, frightening as the sparks of madness that removed all self-control from a person and left him open to blind fate, where anything could happen. However, they also had a unique charm, some sort of comfort for the soul and satisfaction: who are the human insects, crawling in such an absurd manner to earn their bread - can you understand it? Enjoyment sprouts up in the depths of agony. And when he would go out to stroll - he would bear upon himself a burden of thoughts that cast dust throughout all the cells of his brain, about the difficulties of life and personal preparations, about internal calm and certainty in the face of death. He would continue to go, kneading the mud with his shoes, as the rays of sunlight beat down upon him, penetrating him - without sensing the tears on his eyes.

Why did the tears come? Perhaps over the 15 years of his young life? It was not that. Strange hidden forces pulled him in both directions, with him in the middle.

Many attempted to interpret these goals. Dreams fluttered by: perhaps to abandon this “nonsense” and come to the status of Father, who sits every Saturday night surrounded by merchants like the spider from which many threads spread out.

No! No! Not this, not this. A life of understanding and human feeling.

Hints beckon. The heart is pulled after “great men.” Wholeheartedly, he swallowed biographies of poets, writers and people of renown. Books of memoirs, and learning parables from them, were pleasant to him. A feeling of a mission welled up inside of him. How? In what way? To where? It was not clear.

5693 (1933) Hechalutz Hatzair, booklet 15.


Translator's Footnote

  1. As in other articles by this author, the story mixes the first and third persons. Return


[Page 101]

by Shmulik Goldman[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

“How pale is your face! How strange is your gaze. Are you ill?”
My gaze is strange and my face is pale when I look upon you who are immersed in the Diaspora.
I am not ill. It is only you who are ill!
My gaze is strange as I peer into the depths of your conscience and see:
It is empty of anything new, it is full of old withered stuff!
You have only one concern - to fill your stomachs.
The fleshpots, the onions and garlic, will always stand before your eyes.
You are the generation of the desert, you will not feel the desolation;
Dead corpses do not want to know and understand the transition to life!
Your feeling has dimmed. Your flesh will be ploughed over and your skin will be flayed.
Then the old refrain will emanate from your mouths:
“We are sanctifying the Divine Name!”
-- You know that G-d commanded you to be killed over a commandment,
But to attempt to build over the destruction and to change your situation -
This too will not enter your spirit!
(Bituyim [Expressions] booklet, Ratno.)

 

The Cyzyk Group in Ratno. September 27, 1930

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. This poem is untitled Return


[Page 102]

I Will Not Allow!

By Shmulik Goldman[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It seems that Mother and Father tried to plant gall and wormwood in me,
The weeds that grow on a desolate field.
And intend to bind me in chains,
Also the redeeming hands for the abandoned soul.
I will not allow -
You believe!
And what if my back is not used to being bent under a heavy load?
It will become accustomed!
And what if my feet are not used to walking on scorching stones?
They will get used to it!
And I will not allow Mother and Father to bind me in chains.
(Published in the Massada publication in Kowel, 5689 - 1929)

 

Sara Ginzburg, Ruth Greenstein and Shmuel Goldman of Ratno on Hachsharah in Klosow

 


Translator's Footnote

  1. This poem is untitled Return


[Page 102-alt]

Spring on the Roads

by Shaul Greenstein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The fields and meadows clear out. Paths overflow between the colorful carpets. Trails intersect in the blue horizon, and a pleasant silence whispers a secret all around. Wayfarers go along the way in wagons and on foot, and many Jews go to the fair in the nearby city. They go in grey groups, one like the next. The same groans, the same conversations, the same sunken eyes and faces wrinkled with tribulations. Footpaths lead to the different chapters. Lone people go through the paths in the fields alongside the spring sun. It is like a colorful kerchief spread out before the fields. The wind plays with my coat. I walk with a joyous heart and sense the pulse of spring in my veins. Jewish towns. Lowly houses, poverty and lack. Worries of livelihood darken the faces “like the underside of a pot.” There is sadness, sadness. Even in the spring. Only in the chapter, in the meeting hall, is there a bright, encouraging corner. The eyes sparkle and the hearts are bound together and alert: what will we do on hachshara? What is with the movement? What is the news from the Land? More than once when I came to the chapter that I had been attending for several months, I see: the context widened, the membership grew, it strengthened. You are filled with an internal joy when you witness the joy of a gardener watching the growth of his saplings, woven with strands of love.

There is a faithful splendor to our pioneering movement. It is spring. A pleasant, bountiful spring. Far off, the thunder roars, but the heart swells with joy. What type of deep faith and encouraging hope fill you as you see the trees budding, the fields growing with pleasant greenery, and the young pioneers who are growing up and making aliya to the towns of Israel.

Booklet 3-4, Hechalutz Hatzair, 1939.

 

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