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[Page 268]

The Zionist Workers party “Hahitachdut”

by D. L.

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

At the initiative of members Mosze Openhajm, Israel Gertner and Dawid Liwer, a branch of Hitachdut party was founded in our town after the party was established in 1921. The following is a collection of articles that were published in the movement magazine Folk on Land about the party branch in Będzin.

In the newspaper edition from July, 1921 we read: “When a notice was received from the main office, we convened a meeting, which welcomed the world organization of Hapoel Hatzair [Young worker] and Tzirei Zion [Young Zionists].” It was unanimously decided to join the new Hitachdut movement, whose political outlook was close to our hearts, and it had good prospects of wide development in our town and in the whole region. There is no doubt, that in the course of time that it will be an important entity in the Jewish public. The lack of an independent center is an impediment to the activities being carried out in not so convenient room of the Tarbut association. Hilel Lipszyc visited us and lectured on the subject of “What was learnt from the bloody riots in Eretz Yisrael (1921)”

In the July edition of 1924, it was written: “We were visited by Dr. Gur-Arje Tarlo, who lectured on the origins of Labor Zionism. Our branch has set out in heightened activity thanks to a visitor from the main office who motivated us to this. In the near future the number of our members will grow, since we declared a conscription drive for new members.”

In the edition of February 1925: “For some time the Zionist parties have been discussing the Hechalutz organization in our town. For this issue a committee of four members was founded, amongst them two of ours. This committee announced a collection drive for the “Hechalutz fund”. Members of ours who took part in this project were: Israel Gertler, Bencyjon Fogelewicz, Mordechai Korb, J. Openhajm and Dawid Liwer. Our member I. Gertner was appointed secretary of the collection drive. In the general meeting of our branch a great deal was spoken about the need for Hechalutz to be apolitical. Our member Israel Aron Liwer, who was given the distribution of “Folk on Land”, did good work for our magazine and acquired 30 additional conscriptions. In addition the weekly from Eretz Yisrael “Hapoel Hatzair” is distributed amongst our members with seven copies. The new committee of our party in comprised from our members: Mosze Rozekner (chairman) Rechnic, Gertler, I. A. Liwer, Dawid Liwer, M. Korb, Fogelewicz and D. Bajtner. We rented a spacious center in Nachum Cukierman's house that allowed us to increase our activity which has already been noticed: We founded the very promising Gordonia youth organization”.

Bed-268.jpg [22 KB] - A group of members of the "Hitachdut" party
A group of members of the “Hitachdut” party
Standing from right to left: Alter, Szlomo Liwer, Spiegel (Israel), Dancygier,
Cwi Ginsburg (Israel) Seated: Yoro (America), Szlomo Feldman (London),
Joel Openhajm, Fiszer, Elkana Manela, Dow Liwer (Israel)

[Page 269]

Not only Zionist education takes place in our new center, but also activity to spread knowledge and learning. A reading room was established which also includes newspapers from Eretz Yisrael. Evening classes have been organized for continuing education (folks-univerzites). The lecturers were: Frenkel – Hebrew literature, Dawid Liwer – Yiddish literature, Magister Erlich – Polish literature, I. Gertner – Zionism and the Eretz Yisrael, Rechnic – political economics, Gertler – Socialism.

On Sabbath evenings discussions were held on various current issues of Jewish life and Eretz Yisrael. There were questions and answers (kestel-oventen) evenings, free debates with representatives of other parties. From time to time the party published, in particular before various festivities, a humorous newspaper Der Knayper (the Whip) edited by Dawid Liwer.

Our branch took on an important position in the public life of the town, and was represented over the years up until the outbreak of war, in all the civic institutions by Mosze Rozenker – in the kehila, and Dr. Ruwen Rechtman – in the town council.

In 1925 our first members made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and amongst them the founders of our party: Openhajm, Gertner, Dunkelman, Fogelewicz and Liwer. Their aliyah was an event in the town and many came to bid farewell to them at the train station, which encouraged members of the party, who took on more intensive activity. A new committee was elected: I. Gertler, Berisz Liwer, I. A. Liwer, M. Korb, Mosze Groncki, Iser Londner and Fiszl Zygrajch.

In the Folk on Land (September and October 1926) we read amongst other things: “In the last town council elections we were very active. Our member Dr. Rechtman was nominated with the active town council members and is active in all fields. We have penetrated to the large towns in Zagłębie and Silesia. Our branches in Katowice and Sosnowiec are satisfactory. We have also managed to organize branches in Dąbrowa, Königshütte, Wolbrom, Olkusz and Ząbkowice. On Sunday, the 10th of October, a meeting of our party took place in which branches from all the Kielce region participated. The main office was represented by member Mordechai Jafe, a member of Hapoel Hatzair [Young labor] in Eretz Yisrael.

In edition no 4 from March 1927: “Last month a general meeting of our party took place in which all our members were present. After an opening by the chairman, Dr. Rechtman, reports were given by Mincberg (secretariat), Londner (treasury), Zygrajch (cultural committee), B. Liwer (newspapers). Members Hampel, Londner and Zygrajch lectured on coming activities. Many members participated in the discussions about the reports and in the lectures and they expressed their recognition of the committee which had done everything to strengthen and develop the party. The last to lecture was our member Hampel about the third conference of the labor Histadrut [union] in Eretz Yisrael. On the 29th of January of this year a founding meeting of Gordonia was held that had renewed its activity, comprised this time of youth from the common people based on pioneering principals. Arie Liwer opened [the evening], and Dr. Rechtman lectured on the importance of the Gordonia movement and its place amongst the Jewish youth movements. Greetings on behalf of the Hitachdut were heard – by member Sznycer, Hashachar [the Dawn] – by Lustiger, Hashomer Hatzair – by Szpajzer, Tarbut – by Altman and representatives of Hechalutz, K.K.L. and the League for a Working Eretz Yisrael. Member Mordechai Hampel lectured on A. D. Gordon and his doctrine, and Szlomo Najmark on the mission of youth at this time.”

In edition no. 14, July 1927, we read: “It is accepted that Tzirei Zion (Z. S.) [Young Zion], in their merge with Poalei Zion Yamin [Right-wing Zionist Labor] would forgo Hebrew, but they also placed a condition, that the secretariat of the K.K.L. committee in Będzin should not use Hebrew – something that was unheard of up until then. Yes, this happened here, purely and simply: Poalei Zion (most of who were from the former Tzirei Zion) affronted the K.K.L. committee with a threatening letter, that if they don't stop carrying out their correspondence and meeting protocols in Hebrew – they would leave. In order to ingratiate themselves with the Poalei Zion Smol [Left-wing Zionist Labor] they were willing to desecrate the dearest values of their party, Achdut Ha'ovada [Labor Unity] in Eretz Yisrael. Bravo, Poalei Zion Z. S., you are making progress!”…

Bed-269.jpg [23 KB] - The young guard of the "Hitachdut" in 1936
The young guard of the “Hitachdut” in 1936
with Israel Gertler, the party chairman

First row:
Dancygier (Israel), Stawski, Grosman, Noyman (Brazil), Golenzer,
A. Liwer (America), Szwarc, Prager, Rozenberg, Broner (Israel), Rozyner (Israel), Fiszer
Second row:
Szer, Rozyner (Israel), Himelfarb, Erlichman,
Wolgryn, Israel Gertler, Frydman (America), Szapir
Third row:
Benek, M. Grosfeld, S. Dafner, Wajsbord, Golenzer,
Skoczylas-Szwarc, J. Lencner, Dancygier

In an article from June, 1930: “150 representatives participated in a regional conference of our party that took place in Będzin. In the opening speech M. Hampel reviewed the situation of Zionism, in Eretz Yisrael and in the movement. The state secretary of Hitachdut in Poland, Josef Lewi from Łódź, lectured on various current questions. Gedalia Geler, the Histadrut envoy in Eretz Yisrael (murdered in the bloody riots of 1936/39 – the editors) lectured on Hechalutz, hachshara [pioneer training] and aliyah.

[Page 270]

Bed-270.jpg [23 KB] - A group of "Vitkinia realizers", 1932
A group of “Vitkinia realizers”, 1932,
with the sponsor, Dawid Liwer

First row from right:
G. Buchbinder, Wolf Golenzer (Israel), Aron Cukierman, Cwi Grosfeld (both in Israel),
Carola Gutman, Josef Neufeld, Alter Rechnic (fell in the War of Independence),
Dow Rapaport, Sara Skoczylas-Szwarc, Jecheskiel Syskind (Israel), Dow Londner (Paris)
Second row:
Aron Werdygier, Tonia Neufeld, Arie Liwer, Jadzia Mirowski, David Liwer, Chedwa Honigman, Dow Liwer
Third row:
Joszua Federman, Grosfeld, Tuwia Kokotek (all three of them are in Israel), Aron Golenzer,
Wajsbort-Golenzer, Ruwen Alter

In a discussion the following participated: Gertler, Zygrajch, Regina Holander and Sznycer from Będzin, Introligator, Milsztajn and Drezner from Sosnowiec, Sztraus – Częstochowa, Hercberg – Pilicia, Szperling – Kłobuczyn and others. After the presentation of reports, various discussions and decision making – a new limited regional committee was elected: Dr. Rechtman, Gertler and Lajbl Kerner (later an editor of Zagłębie Zeitung – the editors). Decisions from the meeting:

  1. The conference condemns the restrictions on aliyah and formally declares that no obstacle would delay the Hitachdut members from realization and making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael by every means available to them.
  2. The conference is against the merge of the parties of the Zionist labor movement in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora, which could distort the ideological essence of our party.
  3. The conference placed right of center, endeavors to strengthen the party with a “Popular Jewish Socialist” spirit, in the light of the principals determined in Prague and Berlin.”
In the same edition we read: “A considerable effort was undertaken by our members in Będzin, in order to nullify the combined Poalei Zion and Z. S. attacks on our Zionist flag, that we suggested flying in a procession against the aliyah restrictions that took place in our town this month. Poalei Zion Yamin only wanted to protest under a red flag, however in order not to break up the general protest it was decided to fly both flags. The procession in which thousands of protestors participated was extremely impressive. Appearing amongst the other speeches was our member Josef Lewi from Łódź, and on behalf of Hechalutz, Mordechai Hampel who had just returned from Eretz Yisrael, in which he toured as the envoy of the local Zagłębie Zeitung newspaper.

When Gordonia, which we founded and nurtured over many years, became independent and unaffiliated, our party saw a need to organize a youth movement called Vitkinia. The first committee was comprised of the following members: Arie Liwer, Golzner, Tuwja Kokotek, Sara Skoczylas, Cwo Szwarc, Rozenberg and Grosfeld. Attached to the committee on behalf of the party was – D. Liwer. Over some time the Vitkinia comprised about 200 active members who were in all the Zionist activities and also in the Hechalutz. Its members left for hachshara in Królewska Huta (Silesia), Radomsko and other places, and at the end of their training made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. Evening Hebrew classes were organized run by a professional teacher.

With the development of the party, Vitkinia rented a spacious apartment with a number of rooms in the Duwidl Zmigrod home and our previous clubhouse, which had become too small for us, we left to Gordonia, which also grew and grew and didn't disappoint us on the day when their numbers were counted.

In the May 1933 edition Arie Liwer wrote: “The liquidation committee of the Hitachdut in Danzig [Gdańsk], which decided on the merge of our party with Poalei Zion, did not have an influence on us at all. On the contrary: our reply to the “capitalization” of our movement will be increased activity for the existence of an independent and sovereign Hitachdut. And indeed, the party in Będzin serves as an example, greatly increases its activity and is destined for greatness. The housewarming of our new clubhouse took place in high spirits. 250 members participated in the celebration, apart from our youth and many of those who were invited from our nearby branches. Our orchestra opened with the playing of the national anthem. Dr. Rechtman welcomed the visitors and representatives of the Histadrut and the Zionist institutions who came to celebrate together with us. The main office envoy Josef Lewi presented problems of the movement, which should under no circumstances be liquidated and should retain its ideological and organizational independence, and wished that the party building would serve as an abundant source of light to all sectors of the people. At this opportunity A. Liwer bade farewell to the first group of Vitkinia members leaving for hachshara. Ruwen Alter gave thanks on behalf of the Vitkinia pioneers. The celebration took place next to laid out tables and our orchestra played pleasant Hebrew and Eretz Yisrael tunes.

[Page 271]

Bed-270.jpg [23 KB] - Members of the "Vitkinia"
Members of the “Vitkinia”
on a Lag B'Omer outing

The humorous newspaper Der Knayper caused a wave of laughter and hilarity. We enjoyed the pleasant festivities till early light and whose impressions won't be readily forgotten”.

Activity continued at a tempo and with vigor till the outbreak of war, and didn't let up for a moment, and even though the ideological discomfiture relating to the merge with Poalei Zion brought the movement in Poland to a crisis point, the branch in Będzin was not rattled and remained faithful to the main office which intensely strove to retain existence as an independent party. Our branch was renown throughout the movement in Poland as the most established from all aspects that served as an example to others. Our members didn't rest their activity for a moment, even during the difficult period in the whole movement. Our senior members made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and in their place came the young generation – and the succession continued.

During the war years, as well, we didn't abandon our activities which took place in underground conditions, and we took a distinguished position in defense and in the well known agricultural farm in Będzin, that served as a camouflage for Zionist activity.

Thanks to our covert connections with Eretz Yisrael envoys in Switzerland, who equipped us with foreign passports, several Hitachdut activists managed to save their souls, and after the war settled in Israel.

The chapter of the Hitachdut life in Będzin is completely over, for which a glorious page in the movement history in Poland has been written.

Our Hitachdut party had a name for itself in the town and excelled in its activities to the credit of its dedicated members, of which I will note some of the most active: Julek Openhajm, Szlomo Liwer, Icchak Buchbinder, Elkana Manela, Sznycer, Dawid Richter, Efraim Goldminc, Najman and Ichaar Hozenes. All of them were killed in the Holocaust.

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