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[Page 31]

Youth Movements



With the emergence of the Hehalutz movement in Poland in the early 1920's, a small group was organized in Suwalk as well. But it was only in 1925 that the Suwalk branch began to grow, and the 18–year old Pinchas Koslowsky (later Sapir) to gain prominence. The young Pinchas was soon given important functions within the movement.

During the heyday of Hehalutz in Suwalk, evening classes in Hebrew were held at the local branch, and young men and women were sent for agricultural training in the Polish estates of the surrounding area. A house was rented for a group of pioneers preparing to settle in Palestine, where they formed a kind of kibbutz.

A group of youths, too young to join Hehalutz, attracted by this “kibbutz”, later formed the nucleus of Hehalutz Hatzair.

Betar (Brith Joseph Trumpeldor)

by David Stern

In winter 1926, Moshe Gutkovsky returned home for Christmas vacation. During his university studies in Warsaw, he had been attracted to the teachings of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and, upon his arrival in Suwalk, proposed the establishment of a cell of the Hashahar youth organization. The name was the Hebrew translation of the Russian journal, Razsviet, edited by Jabotinsky and his colleagues in Paris which called for political activism in the Zionist movement.

The Hashahar group in Suwalk, headed by David Stern, was composed of 15–20 young people, most of them students in the Hebrew high school. Hashahar was to be the forerunner of Betar.

The Betar cell was active in all fields, governed by military discipline as befitted future members of the Jewish Legion, as well as scout ethics and rules, in both its cultural and physical activities. Ion the course of time, Betar became the largest and most important youth movement in Suwalk, emphasizing the fulfillment of the ultimate goal: the establishment of the State of Israel.

At the end of December 1928 and early January 1929 the first Betar convention in Poland was held in Warsaw, together with a meeting of world Betar representatives. Ze'ev Jabotinsky attended the convention, at which Aharon Zvi Propos, founder of Betar in Latvia in 1923, was elected chief commander of Betar in Poland. The convention, attended also b y a delegation of the Suwalk cell, had an important effect on the development of the local cell. It marked the beginning of intensive cooperation between the Betar headquarters in Warsaw and the leaders of the Suwalk cell, who were to occupy central positions in the Betar movement. Three members of the Suwalk cell served as officers of the Betar Headquarters in Poland in Warsaw: Itshak Rosenthal, Elhanan Pen (Poniemunsky) and David Stern.

In 1930, the first four Betar members from Suwalk left for Palestine, followed by others who were forced to enter the country illegally. Thus were the lives of 15% of the cell's members saved, making an important contribution to the country, as pioneers and as soldiers.

The members of the Suwalk cell displayed resourcefulness and energy in organizing Betar cells in the surrounding towns, which continued to rely on the Suwalk members for instruction and guidance. With the outbreak of war in 1939, many Suwalk Betar members remained active: in the underground movement, among the partisan fighters, in the concentration camps and in the Allied armies.

[Page 32]

Hashomer Hatzair

by Edit.

The beginnings of Hashomer Hatzair in Suwalk dates to 1919. This was a period of political instability and war, and the movement's activities were quickly halted. The cell was reorganized in 1923. It was at this time a Zionist scout organization, still far removed from socialist slogans and from the Zionist left. The cell, numbering some 150 boys and girls, was headed by Lola Levite. The group of cub scouts, up to the age of 11, was led by Avraham Stern who had two years earlier returned from Russia to his parents' home. After the Danzig and Warsaw conventions, when Hashomer Hatzair adopted Marxist socialism with the red flag as its banner and May 1 as its holiday, most of the Suwalk members left it, and the cell was ultimately disbanded.

In 1935 it was reconstituted for the third time, with only 18 “adult” members (aged 16 and up) but a considerable intermediate group who began to recruit younger members. They also made inroads in the high school, which was known as a Betar stronghold.

The Suwalk Hashomer Hatzair group operated under the aegis of the Grodno cell and its members participated in the latter's camps. The group did not achieve the ultimate stage – pioneer training and aliya. The war and the Holocaust put an end to its activity. Only a few survived, some of whom eventually settled in Israel.

The Communist Movement

by Lea Welsher

Aside from the various Zionist movements to which most of the local youth belonged, there were in Suwalk also leftist movements, such as the Bund and the Communist movement.

During the 1920s many Communists were arrested in Poland, including Suwalk. They received heavy sentences, with long periods of imprisonment. Most of the activity consisted of the distribution of placards and propaganda, the waving of red flags, and the like. The early 1930s were marked by a new wave of arrests, but the activists continued their work underground. Several students of the Hebrew high school as well as of the Vilna University joined the movement. Those arrested were tried, and once again received long prison sentences.


by Lea Welsher

Among the many Jewish organizations founded in Suwalk after World War I was the Maccabi sports association. It was preceded in 1919–1924 by a Jewish soccer club called the “Amateurs”. In 1925 this club declined, and was succeeded by Maccabi. The founder of both was Y. Kershkovsky.

The Maccabi soccer club enjoyed considerable success. On a number of occasions, the Polish scouts were unable to control their feelings when a game ended in victory for the Jewish athletes, and an exchange of blows followed, sometimes with bodily injury.

Maccabi developed rapidly. In the 1930s the association numbered 300–400 active and 200 passive members. They had a beautiful clubhouse with a large hall for meetings and exercise, a stage for performances, a piano and expensive sports equipment. The clubhouse bustled with activity and gaiety throughout the year. Maccabi also had a small sports field for athletics, volleyball, swimming, etc. The Maccabi ping–pong group was the best in Suwalk.

The 1936 Maccabi suffered a serious crisis over personal differences. A rival sports association called Hakadur was formed, composed of former Maccabi members.


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