Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Będzin lay not far from the two borders: the Russian-German and the Russian-Austrian. Thanks to this, the city always was a place where the largest number of those had been persecuted politically by the Tsarist government found a temporary place of refuge and a point through which they would smuggle themselves across the border, some to Vienna, some to Switzerland. There were professional smugglers who earned their livelihood from [the smuggling]; there also was a group of Poalei-Zion comrades, who also specialized in smuggling socialist activists across the border.
Leib Trotsky, who escaped from Russia, spent some time in jail in Będzin until he crossed the border. In 1905 Yosef Szprincak was in Będzin, where he also spent time in the municipal jail, on his way to Eretz-Yisroel. Ber Borochov and his wife, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Meir Jarblum, the wife of Yitzhak Tabenkin, [Yosef] Chazanowicz, [Yakov] Zerubavel, [Dovid] Bolch-Blumenfeld and a whole series of activists from various socialist groupings crossed the border in the years 1905-1907.
Shlomo Zemach, in his book Bereshit, describes how he crossed the border on his way to Eretz-Yisroel in 1904. After the First World War, right after the Balfour Declaration, when the great Zionist revival movement began, Będzin also was the base for dozens of groups of halutzim [pioneers] from Russia and Poland, who were taken care of by us in the city with food, clothing and documents and were sent on their way across the border to Vienna and Trieste.
It is no wonder that Będzin pioneers took part in the all of aliyahs. A group of 10 young Bedziner went in the Second Aliyah in 1905-1907. This was Eliezer Hampel, Arya Szwicer, Moshe Sztajnfeld-Szaham, Yosef Kaluczinski-Ariali, the brothers, Dov and Shlomo Sznajderman, the sisters, Sora and Malka Hampel, and the sisters, Sora and Chana Sznajderman.
It is particularly worthwhile to remember the two groups of Będzin young men that left for Eretz-Yisroel in 1918 and historically the date marks the start of the Third Aliyah with six Bedziners who arrived in Jaffa on the 12th of December 1918. The first group consisted of Yisroel Oppenheim, Sender Lubling, Yakov Lasker, Yitzhak Handlsman, Kuba Czmigrad, and Dovid Majtlis. The brothers, Moshe and Yakov Rotenberg, the painter Avraham Goldberg, Mordekhai Winer, Hershl Tenenbaum, Yosef Zabuski, Shmuel
Standing from the right: Oppenheim, Zelinger, Feldberg, Majtlis, Wajnsztok
The first group left on a lengthy road Lemberg, Odessa, Turkey, Beirut, Jaffa; on the other hand, the second group went through Vienna-Trieste. It turned out that the longer road was the shorter one and the six halutzim succeeded despite difficult pitfalls, the great chaos that existed then in Poland [and arrived] in the land [Eretz-Yisroel] first. There was heroism among the six young men, who left without documents between two fires, the Polish and the Ukrainian military, and went to great lengths by all means to go further and further on the designated road, not stopping because of the great danger of being arrested or of falling from Polish or Ukrainian bullets. They succeeded after 43 days in arriving in Eretz-Yisroel. All were children of well-to-do parents, had left firmly established homes against the wishes of their parents and were driven by the pioneer spirit of wanting to build the country.
We provide here the impressions of those taking part in the 3rd Aliyah: Yisroel Oppenheim, Shmuel Liwer, in Yiddish, and Yakov Lasker in Hebrew.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
On a rainy day, the 31st of October 1918, seven halutzim in Będzin left on the road to Eretz-Yisroel, walking 25 kilometers to the Austrian border. There with the help of smugglers to whom we each paid up to 70 krone, we crossed the border on a military train. Thus we arrived in Trzebinia where we had to wait an entire night to be able to travel further to Lemberg.
We had to leave the train, which did not go further, in Przemysl because the Ukrainians had occupied a part of Lemberg County. In Przemysl we saw the Polish legionnaires were confiscating the weapons and even the clothing from the retreating Austrian military. Since there was no possibility of going further and not knowing what to do in a strange city, we turned to the Rabbi, Reb Gdalye Szmelkes, a fervent Zionist. The rabbi, hearing about our destination, welcomed us warmly and immediately sent for the esteemed Zionist middle class in the city, who invited us to their homes for Shabbos [Sabbath]. In the morning, Shabbos, we decided to go further in order to reach our destination despite the fact that there was gunfire all night in the city.
At the train station we found a military train that was supposed to leave for Lemberg and, as it was full of people, we hopped onto the roof without much thought, traveling this way for a while. Gunfire broke out between the Ukrainian and Polish military. Many traveling on the roof fell as a result of Ukrainian bullets. People jumped from the moving train. We also prepared to jump, but as the train had increased its speed, we remained in place. Thus we traveled slowly to the Zimnavoda station, before Lemberg. Despite what we had been told, that street fighting was happening in Lemberg, we decided to go further on foot. Thus we slowly arrived in the city, where there raged terrible chaos. We moved to the wall in the darkness under unending gunfire. We often were stopped by patrols: once it was Poles whom we told we are Poles; once it was Ukrainians whom we told we are Jews. Finally, we were stopped at the Ukrainian military post and we were brought to their commander, where we were searched to see if we had any weapons, and, in addition, taking our second pair of shoes. When they found our Zionist identification cards, we told them that our goal was [to reach] Eretz-Yisroel. Then they apologized, took us to the Jewish part of the city and gave us into the hands of the Jewish self defense [organization].
We were welcomed [warmly] there and received food immediately and we also were provided with places to sleep.
In the morning, the 11th of March, we went to Yad Khorutsim where the Jewish militia was located. A Jewish officer accompanied us to the editor of the Lemberger Togenblat to whom we had a letter of recommendation from Dr. Bikels (now in Israel). Hearing our request, the editor gave us a letter to the Ukrainian commandant, who told us to wait a few days because the train to Odessa had stopped. After three days in Lemberg we decided to go further. We turned to the Zionist organization and asked for a recommendation. They asked us to wait until the situation became clear. We had to turn back several times because of the unceasing gunfire in the city. As we could not really move freely in the city with our documents, two of our comrades joined the Jewish militia where they received weapons and then we were again able to lobby the Ukrainian military regime so that we could leave Lemberg.
Birncwajg's mother arrived in time to keep him from going further and tried to influence us to relinquish our crazy plan to now travel to none other than Eretz-Yisroel.
We learned from Mrs. Birncwajg (now in Israel) that the letter we had left with our comrades for our parents before our departure and which we asked them not to deliver for five days until we were far from home, immediately had been given to our parents. Thus, Mrs. Birncwajg succeeded in reaching us to save her son, who later finally emigrated to Eretz-Yisroel, and, a short time later, his entire family.
Despite our difficult situation we did not let ourselves be influenced and continued on our way.
On Monday the 11th of November, we again turned to the Ukrainian regime with a letter of recommendation from the Jewish militia and asked for travel-passports to Odessa. We decided that we would travel even if we did not receive the passports. But this time we were successful: we received the blessed permission, but there was no train to Lemberg. What could we do? On the 13th of January we left for Lemberg on foot. We walked 60 kilometers to Glinowa. There we hired a peasant for a payment of 100 krone, who took us to Krasna, from where we succeeded in going to Pidvolochys'k by train; there we again had to leave the train because it did not go any further.
Meanwhile, we saw a military train arriving. We did not think for long and managed to board it.
Thus we slowly reached Volochys'k. We thought we would immediately be able
to travel to Odessa. There we were told that the train to Odessa would depart from Zhmerynka and we left for Zhmerynka in a fully packed train wagon. The trip that normally would last an hour took an entire day and therefore we were very hungry.
New trouble began in Zhmerynka: it was impossible to receive train tickets. We only received one train ticket for first class. Not having any way out, we decided to travel as contraband. We paid the train conductor 50 rubles per person and he made sure that the train would stop in Odessa. There was such jostling upon entering the train that we lost each other. Arriving in Odessa we all again met up with each other. And it turned out that Handelsman had remained in Zhmerynka.
On the same day, the 17th of November, we turned to Menakhem Mendl Usiszkin, who told us that at that time he saw no possibility of traveling to Eretz-Yisroel. In the morning we went to the Palestine office, but there, too, they gave us no hope. We turned to Bialik who gave us two letters: to Usiszkin and to Tzeirei-Zion, but these letters of recommendation did not bring us closer to the train.
Meanwhile we had no money. In Odessa we met a group of nine immigrants [to Eretz-Yisroel] who were supposed to travel on the next ship. They brought us to the Ukrainian chief, who signed our passports with permission to travel further. Then we found a freight ship in the port and after much effort and negotiations with the captain, he expressed his readiness to take us along to Turkey.
We said goodbye to Bialik, who greatly helped us in Odessa. We boarded the ship on the 21st of November, which after a few days of traveling brought us to Constantinople.
Yakov Lasker, our foreign minister, reported to the Turkish regime with our passports. We declared that our parents were in Eretz-Yisroel and that we had been born in Jaffa. Thus, we received entry to Eretz-Yisroel.
We were in Turkey for 19 days until we succeeded after difficult efforts and trouble to find a spot on a freight ship that brought us to Beirut and then on the 12th of December 1918, we anchored in Jaffa.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
At the same time that the first seven halutzim left Będzin via Lemberg-Odessa: Yisroel Openheim, Yakov Lasker (both in Israel), Kuba Zimigrad, Sender Lubling, Yitzhak Handelsman, Dovid Majtlis (all perished) and Ayshek Birncwajg (Bari) (died in Israel in 1957) at the beginning of November 1918, we eight young men started off via another road to Eretz-Yisroel. The eight were Avraham Goldberg (Tel Aviv), Mordekhai Liwer (Jerusalem), Yehuda Prager (Kiryat Motzkin), Shmuel Liwer (Haifa), the brothers Moshe and Yakov Rotenberg (died in Paris), Shmuel Trapauer and Shlomo Zabatcki. We traveled to Vienna and from there to Trieste. [We were] the first group that arrived in Trieste with the hope of finding a ship to Jaffa.
During the three months we waited in Trieste, a group of 60 halutzim from Będzin, Sosnowiec, Monczew, Lodz, Radom and Piotrkow assembled here.
Our efforts to board a ship did not succeed because of the war between England and Turkey.
Standing from right to left: the two Sznajderman brothers
Meanwhile, while in Rome we did not want to do anything; we left for Naples. There, too, we found a group of halutzim whom we joined. Meanwhile, in Rome we were recognized by the Italian government as stateless and as such we received support, two lire a day. We lived then in difficult conditions, with dry bread and soup. We had all spent our last pennies that we had brought from home. It should be mentioned here that there was a Christian from Poland in Naples whose name was Palak, and he helped us greatly and found work for several of us.
We were called to the Naples city hall a week before Purim and the mayor told us that we would be leaving for Alexandria in two days.
Two days before Purim, 1919, we boarded the ship, the first ship after the war that took on private passengers.
We were 63 halutzim among an assortment of Italians, English, Arabs, Sudanese and so on. The ship arrived; we danced and sang halutz songs and as soon as the ship left the port, we unfurled a blue and white flag. Our accompaniers and friends, whom we had acquired during that time, seeing the flag, began to shout, Viva Palestine! Viva Palestine! However the ship's officer came over to us and said that we must immediately wrap up the flag because no flag but the Italian flag was permitted. We hid the flag with the hope of again unfurling it at the shore of Jaffa.
There was an elevated mood on the ship. The halutzim did not stop dancing and singing. Our comrades gave a concert on Purim. The daughter of the captain accompanied our comrade Szpilman from Kielce, who played a cello; later, the captain raised his cup to the health of the Jewish people and Eretz-Yisroel. The next morning a delegation from first class came to us and brought a sum of money that they had collected for us Naturally, we returned the money.
After eight days we arrived in Alexandria. Waiting for us was a delegation of local Jews who immediately settled us at an Alexandria hotel. There was then in Alexandria a large group of European Jews who received their first greeting from home from us. A short time later, another 42 halutzim arrived from all corners of Poland, so we were 105 men in total. From then on we were called the group of 105, which, after the first six Będzin halutzim, was the first large organized group that had come to Eretz-Yisroel after the First World War. The Third Aliyah actually began with them.
Because there was unrest in Egypt, the English permitted only a small group to travel. The first group of the 105 was supposed to number 18 men. Everyone wanted to be among the first. And it was decided that those who had left their homes first would also be the first to travel to Eretz-Yisroel.
On the eve of Passover 1919, we, eight from Będzin, were among the 18 who settled on the train to go to Cairo
First row: Yakov Rotenberg, Mordekhai Winer, Moshe Rotenberg
As a comrade of Ahdut haAvoda, the party sent me to Kfar Giladi [a kibbutz]. Comrade [Pinkhas] Shneurson from Kfar Giladi came for us with a wagon hitched to mules; we were four men and one woman and we traveled for three days. There was only one shed at Kfar Giladi, divided into two parts the cattle were in one part and the second part served as an eating room and an office and at night as a bedroom. After I had been in Kfar Giladi for a few months, we succeeded in receiving a few pounds and bought straw mats from the Arabs in Hulata from which we erected a few huts. It then appeared to us that we were living like lords
When the Arab attacks on Tel Hai began, we, a group of comrades, were sent to Tel Hai to help the comrades there. Thus, Moshe Rotenberg and I with 30 comrades delivered the bloody attack on Tel Hai.
When [Joseph] Trumpeldor was wounded, we made a litter out of blankets and we began to take him to Kfra Giladi, but he died 200 meters before the kibbutz. The same night we returned to Tel Hai, from which we brought out the fallen comrades and, later, the living. We finally withdrew to a hill and two of our comrades set fire to Tel Hai. I will never forget the night when I lay at Shneurson's side; and when Tel Hai began to burn, Shneurson shouted out: Tel Hai is gone! this was the cry of the entire settlement.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In general, Będzin was a pioneer in the Jewish neighborhoods in a series of communal areas, so it was natural that if Będzin took part in the Second Aliyah with one of the first groups of halutzim groups, it was six Będzin young men who began the Third Aliyah. To them we need to add the seven from the year 1932. [They were] the only ones in Poland that undertook to travel to Israel in a small car despite the great difficulties connected with such a trip through borders and countries.
The trip by the seven halutzim was one of the most beautiful propaganda trips for Zionism at that time. They were warmly welcomed everywhere they traveled and not only by the Jewish population, but also by athletes from all nations. Perhaps thanks to this, they actually succeeded in achieving their purpose. The trip was not financed by any institution, but by the seven halutzim themselves.
The idea arose with one of the group, who already had been in Israel and because of a conflict with the Arab and English police had to leave the country. This was Dovid Honigman, of blessed memory, who turned to the writer of these lines as managing committee member of the sports-union, Hakoach, which made contact with the Makkabi World Union in Poland and asked for their support for the realization of the idea; the Makkabi World Union in Warsaw agreed with the plan in principle with the comment that the trip could be made only with the responsibility being with those taking part.
After a certain time the appropriate candidates were chosen. These were: Dovid Honigman (died in Israel), his brother, Shimeon Honigman, Kalman Honigman, Arya Majtlis, Moshe Galek and two from Sosnowiec, Yehezkiel Sztajnic and Arnold Waksberg (all in Israel). The seven, all dressed uniformly, left for Israel in a Mercedes car with a blue and white flag on the 4th of December 1932 from the Będzin Hakoach Square, accompanied by several thousand Jews. They spent the first night in Krakow where they were welcomed warmly by the Zionist organization and the local Jewish sports union; from there, on the second day they traveled to Bielsko-Biala, in Mährisch-Ostrau to the Czech border. Here they were met by Max Weber [and] representatives of the Makkabi World Union in Czechoslovakia, who accompanied them to Brin, where they slept in a dormitory. They were welcomed enthusiastically everywhere, in Proshnits, Wischau, Olomouc, where they had their first accident with the car. Traveling up a mountain, suddenly the car began going backwards and was stopped by a tree. If not, they would have rolled down into an abyss of a few hundred meters. Emerging with light wounds. they looked for the village magistrate, who helped them, took them in for the night and gave them food. In the morning, unable to find a garage, they drove the car to a Polish smithy and fixed it themselves and
they traveled on to Vienna where they had to remain for 10 days because of visa difficulties. They slept in a dormitory, spending the time with arguments and song. Thanks to the intervention of Dr. Shtriker and Dr. Hurbitz, they succeeded in receiving a visa to Yugoslavia.
They also were happily welcomed by the entire Jewish population in the Yugoslav shtetlekh. They spent the first night of Chanukah in a small town where the entire population, Christians and Jews, happily welcomed them. A banquet with speeches of welcome was arranged for them in another town. In the meantime, they succeeded in founding a Makkabi club in a short time.
They arrived in Zagreb on New Year's night during a heavy rain. Not knowing where to go, a stranger suddenly approached them and asked for whom they were looking. He led them into a hotel, asked that they be given food and in the morning brought them to the Jewish sports club where they learned that this was a Christian who declared that he considered it a necessity that he help all athletes. Later, they were invited by the Jewish millionaire, Shpits, to lunch in his palace. As they were saying goodbye, he asked them to take two revolvers and asked them to give them to the Haganah in Eretz-Yisroel. They could not continue in Danji Miholjac on the road to Belgrade because of the heavy rain. The peasant population helped them go through the difficult and slippery road with love, bringing sand and ash and spreading it on the road. Thus the car traveled on. However, not far from there they had a second accident. With luck it was not far from the castle of the Jewish Baron Shlezinger, who welcomed them with great respect, let them repair their car and thanks to him, who gave them a letter to the English consul in Belgrade, they received an English visa to Israel.
They were welcomed by the Chief Rabbi when they arrived in Belgrade and also by the Polish consul; not able to receive a Turkish visa (because the Turkish consul declared that because of the unrest in Eretz-Yisroel he was afraid for their lives ), they traveled to Greece and from there to Alexandria on a ship, where they were the guests of the Jewish sports club, which housed them in the nicest hotel in the city.
The time the group spent in Alexandria was a time of revival for the Zionist young people they sang and danced every day until late at night. From there they traveled to Cairo and, again, were welcomed by the entire Jewish population and as the kehile had just opened a new house for Shabbos [Sabbath] visitors, they were the first guests there.
They spent eight days in Cairo and were taken around the country by the Makkabi Union. There were banquets with speeches every night, Zionist songs, gifts. They traveled accompanied by all of the young Jews to Ismailia, across Suez, to El-Arish and from there, on a sandy road, to Eretz-Yisroel. They arrived in Beersheba with a few hardships. They were arrested there by the English police, who found sacks of revolver bullets in their car. They were fined by the court to pay 7,350 pounds. Not having any money, they telephoned Jerusalem; the [Jewish] Agency immediately sent the money and paid the penalty.
They were joyfully welcomed by the Makkabi Club in Jerusalem on the 14th of February 1933. The next morning they traveled to Tel Aviv where they were met on the way there by the Makkabi chairman, Moshe Shaham, our townsman, who led them into Tel Aviv with a great parade.
by Abram Gold
Translated by Rita Ratson
Donated by Erin Einhorn
Over 50 years ago, the population of Będzin was almost entirely Jewish. The city was laid out from the water mill to the peasant gate on Kollataja Street that led to Dabrowa. If it weren't for the church on the hill in the old market place, and the ruins of the royal castle of Kazimierz the Great one would be able to say, that in those years that Będzin was a purely Jewish city. It was not easy to make a living. One did everything to earn a precious piece of bread and because of this, there was no shortage of teachers in the city, who made an effort to get as many children as possible of businessmen who barely managed to keep their head above water into their cheders. Every four-year-old boy studied with a teacher (someone who taught the youngest children); where they learned the aleph-bet and Hebrew, and then later they attended cheder, where they learned Pentateuch [traditional Yiddish version of the Torah] and Talmud. The aspiration of every father and mother was for his or her child up to be a rabbi's assistant, a wise person or a cantor if he had a good voice. Parents purchased less food in order to collect the money necessary to give their children a proper education.
The cheder teachers were known in the city by their nicknames. My teacher was called Kalman Katlass, another: Nuchem duck, a third one Lajbisz with a broad beard. What did the cheder look like at that time? The entrance was straight in from the street into the house. A barrel of water stood on one side that Ephraim the water carrier had brought from the pump in the old market. From time to time the Rebbetzin [Rabbi's wife] sent the pupils out to bring back a pail of water. We happily carried out the Rebbetzin's wishes we also rocked the baby, shopped for her food in various stores, and other errands anything apart from having to sit at the Rebbe's table in fear. At the door stood a pail of dirty water, which we called the slop pail. Then there was an iron oven and a long table with two large benches where we, the Gentile boys (as we were called by the Rebbe) used to sit and study. The next room served as a room for the members of the teacher's household. The teacher used to have a helper, a strong young man, who used to go round and pick up the children every morning. He used to pick them up, a few children at a time, on his shoulders, in his arms and by the hand.
The teacher and his assistant taught the pupils the aleph-bet from a prayer book, while holding a wooden pointer and yelling loudly in our ears, demanding that we remember the letter and when our poor frightened soul did not allow us to remember the aleph-bet, the child received a real beating; and so many marks were left on the children. After about two years, when we completed the Torah in Hebrew, we progressed to the cheder, where we learned Chumash (Pentateuch traditional Yiddish version of the Torah) and the first part of the Talmud. Despite this, the teachers did not earn enough to make a living and so their wives had to do whatever they could to help earn more money. They sold baked foods and so forth. During the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkoth, the class lessons ended and the teachers went from house to house to find new pupils. We did not learn worldly subjects in the cheder, apart from Russian, which was ordered by the Czarist government. Every child had to learn, by heart, the Czar's oath. On every Russian national holiday or birthday of one of the Czar's court, we went to the school and said prayers in honor of the Czar (for his good health) and for his friends and court.
When we were older, we stopped listening to the Rebbe, we went on to yeshiva or traveled on our own to learn in the Bet Hamidrash. Children from more worldly homes and families were able to continue to study in Wroncberg's synagogue, which at the time had already become a reformed school, made up of three classes in which they learned all sorts of subjects. This particular school was one of the best. Students from the whole region came to study there; if their parents were capable of paying the tuition for them. Hebrew was studied in Ashkenazi, the bible and the director, Mr. Wroncberg, taught grammar. He was a good Hebrew teacher and Talmudist. There was a different teacher for German and Russian; a private teacher taught Polish, because the Russian government forbade it. The teacher for Russian was a Gentile. Later on a relative of Wroncberg from Warsaw arrived. This teacher, Jehoszua Rapaport, taught thousands of students in Będzin up until the Holocaust period.
Also Szlomo Sabatke, born in Slomnik, one of Wroncberg's mentors, was an excellent teacher and extraordinary Hebraist. He began working independently some years later and opened a school of his own with great success.
In the school we were educated to have a national spirit; we learned about the origins of our holidays, not only the religious ones, but also the national ones. There also was a teacher, Iszajahu Jakob, who spoke Hebrew very well. He ran his school in the art house in the new market. His wife had a boarding school for Jewish children from Lithuania and Russia who used to study at the Russian school of Będzin, Komerceskioje Ucilisze [commercial junior high school] in Rubin Street in Nunberg's house.
In 1905, a Polish marketing school was founded, in which a small group of students from very worldly circles, studied. They had to go to school on Shabbat, as well. There was a school in Jechiel Wajner's house where Jewish students studied to be writers. They studied in the Russian language. They wrote petitions to the government. Girls from the level of society studied additional subjects and also a little Yiddishkeit in the two public schools belonging to Szmul Judl Rozenes in Zukerman's house and in Majer Lemel Sendiszew (died in Israel) and Blimele Sendiszew's house. When two Polish high schools for girls were established, managed by two women (Kszimowska and Ceplinska), both teachers gave up the schools and became storekeepers.
M. L. Sendiszew immigrated later on to Erez Israel together with his family. His son, Moszele, fell during the incidents of 1936-1939.
Girls from wealthier homes continued to study with Mrs. Mandelkorn. In Będzin
there were quite a few young men from Russia, who studied in our city because
of the many restrictions in their native towns. There, young men suffered a
great deal because of their ethnic background. They gave lessons in private
homes to the families' children. They wore special school uniforms with brass
buttons and special caps, because in the religious circles they were regarded
as Gentiles. They were welcomed by the enlightened families, who were seeking
worldly education and to become acquainted with foreign languages. Yiddish was
regarded as non-kosher. The language embarrassed secular people, not aware of
the fact that the greater portion of the city's population spoke Yiddish though
reading a Yiddish book was forbidden. Those who read a Yiddish book were
regarded as a model to be emulated. It took a long time till it was
accepted that Yiddish was a language and it worked against the assimilation
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