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Youth Organizations {Cont.}

[Page 287]

“Gordonia” during the Years of the War

by Mordechai Krzesiwo (Keshev)

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Despite the persecutions and the terror that our town underwent with the outbreak of the war, the activities of “Gordonia” did not stop for a single day. Indeed, all public work was forbidden and entailed serious risk, but we knew how to evade the prohibitions and devised ways to continue our activities. We started to draft our friends who remained in town, because a considerable part of the Jews had tried their luck by a frightened rush out of town. Most of those who had fled did not come back, and when things calmed down a little and citizens wanted to return, many of them were shot.

We gathered in groups, clandestinely, in private places. The main venue of our meetings was the house of our dear friend, the late Szlomo Cymerman. This was where the leading members met. But we had other places to convene – in Hana Pszenica's house, at Josef Szwimer's, where we kept the flag of “Gdud Ha'avoda” (the 'labour corps') which I headed, in the house of the late Hanka Borensztajn, the glory of our “Histadrut”, at Szlomo Lerner's, at Cypora Zyndorf's (Israel) and in my house as well.

One day I dared and went to our house together with Szlomo Cymerman, (one of our best members, who was killed), in order to take out a few valuable objects and keep them until times get better, because we did not imagine, at first, that the war would last so long. We took our magnificent flag, shining in its golden ornaments, interwoven with silk threads on velvet, the flag which had been inaugurated in the days of M. Hampel's and A. Liwer's term of leadership, and which was saved by me when I brought it to the country. Likewise, we took out and hid the little flags of the Gdudim, the minute-books in which we recorded the history of the group (“ken”), various books from our rich and impressive library and much more. That was my last visit to the house of our Histadrut, to which such pleasant memories are linked as will never be forgotten.

We then re-settled our group, (“Hanhaga”), adding new members. We contacted the main administrators who instructed us how to operate. Our new goal now was to save lives and our activities were directed towards fulfilling this goal. Eliezer Geler, of blessed memory, one of the head administration, paid us a visit in order to clarify to us what our role was. He was one of the main activists of “Gordonia”, one of the organizers of the underground and its fighters. It had been decided that we should act in Germany, equipped with Christian Aryan papers, join the partisans in Poland's forests, create a route of escape for ourselves and get to Israel by crossing the borders illegally. And indeed, some of us managed to break through almost impassible routes and reached our destination, the longed-for land, but most of us were captured, arrested and killed.

A group of members, headed by the late Aron Rotner, went out to the village Oswiecim, not far from the district of Zagłębie, which had not yet turned into a site of extermination of millions of our brethren, and founded there a settlement of Hachshara (agricultural training). That village, Oswiecim, located on the crossroad of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, was designed to become a smuggling post and a spring-board for escape. Holding this post was not an easy enterprise, but thanks to the help of some of the inhabitants of the place, the members managed to maintain it. We should be particularly grateful to one of them, comrade Manhajmer, a member of Hitachdut-Ichud, who did a lot for them. Later on we found out that our friends were occupied in a place which was strictly guarded by S.S. people and was designed to become a death camp. Half a year later, Oswiecim turned into hell with its crematoriums whose chimneys exhaled pillars of smoke day and night.

In 1941 the Judenrat suggested that we set an agricultural farm on the lands of lower Srodula. We agreed and decided that all the pioneer youth movements and also those who did not belong to the pioneer Histadrut should participate in the activities of this farm. After a short while the farm consisted of 120 members who were trained by the agronomist Sztrochlic from Czeladz. According to our request Ari Liwer was appointed technical coordinator. The gentiles mocked us when they saw us dealing with agricultural work, which we were not used to, but very quickly we learned the work and after a short while we set a successful and flourishing project on the neglected plots which had been given to us. Let me add that on those dark days the farm was a source of comfort and encouragement for the local Jews, who could envisage a new life in Erez Israel, which they longed for so much. The farm served a very convenient place for underground activities because it was so well-camouflaged. Mordechai Anilewicz came there for a night meeting on August 8, 1942. He came as the commander of the Fighting Jewish Organization in Warsaw, to summon our help to rescue and uplift the depressed spirit of our people by bearing a message of faith and liberation.

In June 1940, we received a postcard from Geneva (Switzerland) from our friend Natan Szolba who acted in Europe for the rescue of Jews. He wanted to know about the families of Gordonia and Hachalutz. Jews were not allowed to write letters abroad, but with the help of bribery, we managed to pass our letters to comrade Szolba .through Poles. We also used hints and special nicknames in our writing. In that way we received a few passports for a few members as if they were foreign subjects, which reached a concentration camp for foreign subjects, whom I was one of.

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We were also in contact with Berlin through comrade Gad Bek and with the dedicated, dear guide of the Austrian youth in Vienna, the late Aron Menczer who also visited us (perished in Auschwitz).

In the end of 1942, we realized that the process of exterminating Poland's Jewry was coming to an end and it was our turn now. We heard that only those occupied in army- related works would be left at their posts and as for the rest - their fate was decided. The members of the agricultural farm and the youth did all they could in order to penetrate military works. I and some more members succeeded in getting accepted into a huge sewing workshop, which employed about six thousand people. In my job, in the clothes warehouse, I was able to be in touch with the underground members. From this warehouse our friend, the late Edzia Pejsachson (member of Hashomer Hatsair and liaison officer of the National Jewish Organization in Zagłębie), went on mission to Warsaw, and on her way back to us, trying to pass us weapons, she was caught by the Germans and shot. Let us cherish forever the memory of this brave and courageous woman, and of the rest of our friends who fell on duty.

When our passports arrived, we were very anxious that the authorities might find out about it, because we had heard about former cases when subjects of Erez-Israel, who had got stuck in our town at the outbreak of the war, were apparently allowed to return to their country but were shot on their way back. Our future was obscure, but we had nothing to lose, and we were full of hope that a miracle would happen and we would survive.

Among other things that I packed, I hid the flag of Gordonia inside a pillow case. When we reached the “Internierungslager”, a Gestapo man who was checking the luggage, came across the flag but did not know what it was. For a minute I stood, embarrassed and bewildered, my heart running wild lest I might be caught, but I was not at a loss. I pretended to be completely innocent and answered calmly that it was a “Gebetstuch” (praying shawl). The soldier stared at me with wonder, and rage spread on his coarse face. As for myself, I wondered at my own impudence and audacity.

The Tallith was not disqualified nor banned but left in my package. I put the flag back in the pillow case and kept it all the time I was in the camp. I hid it among the wooden planks of my bed, guarded it and did not let it out of my sight during all the tribulations of my journey. The only relic of my Histadrut, in which I was raised and educated reached Erez Israel safely with me.

In April 1945, our camp was liberated by the French, and two years later I reached Erez Israel and handed our flag to be stored in remembrance in the archives of Chaver Hakvutzot.

The following is a description of a day in one of the summer camps of Gordonia, as published in “Zaglembier Zeitung” in 1938 (which was written by the late Lejbl Kerner):

A long distance from the village Rycerka-Dolna, near Rajcza in Silesia, where the summer camp of Gordonia was located, one could easily trace it by the national flags which waved on a tall mast and by the noise of youth which sounded nearby. When we reached the decorated gate of the camp, there was an “incident”: two boys, who were standing guard at the gate, stopped us and did not allow us to drive on, apologizing politely with a pleasant smile that entrance was completely forbidden without the permission of the staff .In fact, they recognized us, but discipline and regulations required that unbiased treatment.

Meanwhile, somebody ran to inform the staff members of our arrival. The permission was granted and the gates were opened. In the courtyard of the camp there were intensive preparations for the day of rest, the Sabbath. Tables covered with white tablecloths and candlesticks for the Sabbath candles had been placed in the centre of the specially-decorated courtyard. The children, dressed festively, sat at the laid tables which were arranged in the form of the letter Chet and waited eagerly for the beginning of the Sabbath eve prayers.

We, the guests, were invited to the secretariat's room, where we met those in charge of the camp. We were informed that ninety trainees of the Gordonia youth movement in Zagłębie had been gathered there and divided into groups according to age. The Sabbath agenda included scouting activities, physical training, swimming in the river, trips and, of course, cultural and educational activities would not be omitted.

The local executive of "Gordona" - Bed-288.jpg [36 KB]
The local executive of “Gordonia” in the war year 1940
Standing from right to left: A. Rozenberg, Hanka Epsztajn, Abram Manela, Riwka Kuperberg, Cwi Kaner
Seated: Chana Pesznicka-Cohen, Abram Tenenberg, Hanka Bornsztajn, Josef Swimer, Chana Grauer

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Sunset started and twilights wrapped the camp which fell silent because the Sabbath eve prayers were about to begin. After words of introduction and reading chapters from the Weekly Portion, a traditional Sabbath meal was served – wine, Challah, fish and other tasty foods. The kitchen, which was run by the farm owner, the devoted Mrs. Liwer (wife of Dawid Liwer), was well-equipped, and the faces of the campers indicated good feeding. When the hearty meal was over, the children burst singing and start dancing. When the signal of sleeping time is gently sounded by a trumpet, the merry camp retires to a tender Sabbath slumber.

I will not describe the whole of the following day, the Sabbath that we spent together with the children of Israel, but I will depict “Shalosh Se'udot” and the end of the Sabbath.

As evening gets near, the sun slowly sets down. In the horizon the sky is illuminated bright red and it seems that the whole world is set on fire. The spirit of gaiety, which filled the air of the camp most of the day, subsides for a minute and the boisterousness abates a little. The faces are covered with light and shine from within.

Dawid Liwer opens the ceremony of “Oneg Shabbat” and tells a tale of yearning to the Messiah, whose footsteps can be heard approaching, and the people of Israel will be redeemed in their own country, the land of the forefathers. All the people sitting at the tables listen attentively and their thoughts are in a faraway place, which is so near their souls, the land of Erez Israel, their ideal country.

Then singing bursts out again: How good and pleasant it is to sit together with your brethren. Hands of dancers hold tight to each other and intertwine, legs lift and stamp, moving in the dancing circle. The songs “No people is like your people Israel, the chosen people!” and “The people of Israel is alive” break through the silence of the night. The flames of the fire which was lit climb up straight and dissolve the shadows of the dark throwing light all around. The children sing continuously and the dancers never tire. One song ends and they already hum the next one, and they are not short of songs, gay songs, and songs imbued with fervent love of Erez Israel. And the heart longs and yearns.

The "Gordonia" flag - Bed-289.jpg [43 KB]
The “Gordonia” flag

God in heaven! Where do our youth find the energy to sing and dance endlessly and unwearyingly? Perhaps they try to find an outlet to their sadness and the grief pent up in the aching Jewish heart? And perhaps they try to express their unshakable faith that no obstacles and hurdles that stand in our way to complete redemption will impede the fulfillment of a two-thousand-year-old dream?

And the fire burns stronger and higher as if it wanted to bear evidence that the flames in the hearts of the youth will never quench either. The laughter and singing does not stop until late at night.

Szlomo Cymerman (one of the activists of Gordonia in Będzin, who was killed on duty) concludes the Sabbath festivity and departs from the many guests, the children's parents, who had come to spend time together and have fun with the children of Israel who forecast the future and pave for us the path to Erez Israel.

The whole camp sang: “We immigrate to Israel and sing!” We are submerged in the feeling of transcendence to such an extent that we do not want to leave this precious site.

Yes, that was a blessed Sabbath and we are sorry that we stayed there only one day.

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