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[Page 320]

Echoes of the Opening of the Hebrew University

by Mordechai Hampel

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

On the first of April, 1925, in a very impressive ceremony, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was inaugurated. Many of the non-Jewish world of culture and many Jews in the Diaspora responded to it because they saw in it the beginning of the realization of the prophets' vision that “Out of Zion shall go forth Torah” (Isaiah 2:3), and “Not by might nor by power but with my spirit” (Zechariah 4:6, Koren translation).

Gaiety and joy filled our town as well. The buildings where Jews lived were decorated with pictures of Zionist leaders, carpets, flags and lights.

The Polish authorities sent their representative to the opening of the university in Jerusalem. After all, many states took part in this event. In our town a special newspaper edition was issued which stressed the great importance of the day. Now Jewish youth will be able to acquire academic education in their national palace of knowledge. Until that day Jewish students were discriminated against in Polish universities and persecuted violently by their Christian colleagues. Admittance of Jewish students was limited to a minimum (numerus clausus), and many were obliged to immigrate to other, more enlightened, countries which opened the gates of their academic institutions to them.

In the evening of that festive day there was a magnificent public convention in the “Nowości” hall in our town with the participation of a huge crowd. Many could not attend because of lack of space in the big hall, which was filled to the brim throughout the galleries and corridors. In the front the elderly of the congregation presided, and dignitaries, communal workers, writers and artists participated as well. Speeches were given in Hebrew and Yiddish by engineer Zmudzki (died in Israel), Icchak Wygodzki, Mrs. Necha Rotner (both murdered) and the teacher of Hebrew history in the “Yavneh” high-school, Grubert, whose end is unknown.

After the lectures there was an artistic program: singing, playing and reciting poems. During the breaks and after the party the orchestra played national tunes and the youth danced the “hora”, which grown-ups joined as well. In many houses there were parties and festive meals and a special ceremony was held in the Jewish gymnasium (high school). Some of the students were already preparing to study later at the Hebrew University. I would like to mention especially one of our townsmen, the learned Dr. Jehoszua Prawer who serves as a professor there.

At the time I wrote a detailed report of the celebrations in the Hebrew newspaper “Today”, which was published then in Poland under the editorship of the late Josef Heftman, but I did not keep that special edition and I did not find it in libraries in Tel-Aviv either. Undoubtedly, there are many interesting details in it which have been forgotten since we are dealing here with an event that took place about 35 years ago.

[Page 321]

The Balfour Declaration and San Remo

by M. H.

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Toward the end of the First World War, when the victory of the Allies over the Germans was beyond doubt, on November 2, 1917, we obtained the Balfour Declaration. In April, 1920, the Declaration was confirmed in San Remo (Italy) by the states of the world who decided to deliver the mandate over Eretz Yisrael to Britain in order to help the Jews establish their homeland.

It would be very difficult to describe the exhilaration of the Jews all over the world, and when the news reached Będzin, all of us – men, women and children – went out to the streets and danced with joy. Greetings of “Mazal Tov”, “Shehecheyanu” and “this is the day we hoped for” could be heard from all directions. The newspaper “Zaglembier Zeitung” printed special issues which were devoted to this significant event. We walked around like dreamers who could not believe that they were hearing the footsteps of the Messiah approaching and that redemption was near. Will we really be like other nations? Is it possible that this is the end of our troubles?

The children who learnt in the “Cheder” were excused from their studies as on a regular holiday and we, the students of the Jewish schools, marched in the streets on our way to the great synagogue which was crowded to the brim. A ceremonial prayer for the Jewish state about to be established was held. The local leaders gave fervent speeches and ordered the people to show loyalty and total devotion to the newly re-built Zion. Many people took off their jewelry and ornaments and donated them whole-heartedly for the building of the country. This fundraising reached all the sections of the community. With tears of joy in their eyes people brought their donations to the special fundraising committee. Those were glorious days. The parties and the marches lasted seven days like the seven-days traditional festivities of a wedding, every day a new festivity. We were overcome with joy.

When the storms of gaiety and happiness died out, the Zionist parties and the youth organizations turned to their members with an appeal: not to be satisfied with cries of joy alone, but to realize and fulfill the need of the hour, to go to Eretz Yisrael. Now was the opportunity to reconstruct the ruins of our country and to restore it to its former splendor.

This appeal did not fall on deaf ears: enthusiastic young Będziners started out on their journey to Eretz Yisrael and were followed by tens and hundreds. This emigration (Aliyah) continued until the destruction of our town.

An Anti-British Demonstration

by M. H.

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

On the ninth of the month of Av, 1929, bloody riots broke out in Eretz Yisrael. To us, who lived in the Diaspora, it had seemed that the whole Yishuv (settlement) in Eretz Yisrael, our beloved brethren, were doomed to extinction.

About 30 years have passed since then and still the memories of those days are imprinted in my memory as if the riots happened only yesterday. I remember the oppressive days and the sleepless nights. In the evenings we would gather in the clubs of the Zionist movements and search for ways to send help to the Yishuv. How can we remain indifferent and not unite our forces to save our brethren? After all our place is in Eretz Yisrael and the only reason we are not there now is that the gates of the country are locked for us.

I will not forget the phone conversation I had with the editor of the “Haynt” [Today] newspaper in Warsaw, to obtain information about what was going on in the country. When he told me the horrible news, my heart broke. The press bombarded us day and night with terrible headlines: “The Yishuv is in danger!”, “Eretz Yisrael Calls For Help”. These calls spread despair and confusion among the Jewish communities, for whom Eretz Yisrael was the only ray of light in the darkness of the Vale of Tears of the Diaspora.

In Polish towns, which were densely populated with Jews, an Anti-British movement rose. Demonstrations and protest gatherings were organized against the English who abandoned the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. In our town a demonstration and a procession were organized as well, on a Sunday which was the general day of rest. All the Zionist parties with their banners and slogans marched in the streets of the town. This very large demonstration, which was joined by regular citizens, moved along the main streets and when it reached the late Rabbi Chaim Szajn's house on Małachowskiego Street, the demonstrators listened to the speakers who complained bitterly against England who broke her promise to assist in the foundation of a national home for the people of Israel.

I had just returned from Eretz Yisrael, where I spent a few months taking care of family matters and also as a journalist of the “Zaglembier Zeitung.” I delivered to the excited and angry audience direct greetings from our brethren in Eretz Yisrael, whom I had seen in their sacred work of making the deserts of our country bloom and of reviving our language. Other speakers were Abram Liwer (America), Juda Prager (Eretz Yisrael), the late Aron Hampel, Mosze Openhajm, and Josef Lewi from Łódź, the secretary of the Zionist Labor Party who was sent to our city on matters of his party. All the speakers had one thing in common: we were shocked and our hearts ached for the blood of our brethren which was spilled in Eretz Yisrael, but we swore that these terror acts will not frighten us, nor soften our hands and hearts but rather drive us towards greater efforts for the building of our home. We will not go away from our land. There is no power in the world which will stop us from returning to our country and from reviving our homeland. We will live here again with our wives and children.

At this elevating event greetings of encouragement were telegraphed to our brethren in Eretz Yisrael and protests were sent to the British delegate in Katowice, the British government in London and the High Commissioner in Jerusalem, who were criticized for their animosity towards the Zionistic enterprise and requested to carry out the responsibilities of the mandate which was invested in their hands.

Also in 1936, when there was another surge of terror acts in Eretz Yisrael, which lasted three years this time, the Jews of Poland reacted intensively. Again they went out into the streets of Będzin demonstrating against the British rule in Palestine, which was hostile and heartless: they blocked Aliyah (immigration), deported immigrants, persecuted “Hagana” members and so on. Large crowds entered the “Hakoach” sports field and brought their petitions. As soon as the convention ended, hundreds of demonstrators travelled to Katowice, stood in front of the British Embassy, booed, screamed, threw stones at the windows of the building and also invaded it and caused damages. The police dispersed the demonstrators by force and order was restored. Some of our people were arrested and released after the intervention of our institutions.

[Page 322]

The “Hakoach” of Vienna and Zisza Brajtbard

by M. H.

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

The “Hakoach” association in Vienna was the world football champion, one of the most famous teams in the twenties. There was no team in the world which was not defeated by “Hakoach”, which represented the Austrian sport in the world.

“Hakoach” displayed their superiority all over the world.

In 1924, when they were in Poland, “Hakoach” visited Będzin too, and they played against the local “Hakoach”, which was the best in Zagłębie. Some of the members of the team were: Chaim Jechiel Œiwek (now in Israel) and his brother Jidel (who was killed), Moniek Zmigrod (in France), Moniek Birencwajg (Israel), Jidel Rechnic, Meloch, Jura, the brothers Brama and others, who are not with us anymore.

The day of the match was wintry and heavy rain poured relentlessly. Still, large crowds convened in the sports ground to watch the game. We stood there for hours in the pouring rain. The field turned to a huge puddle, the ball was muddy and heavy, the players were dirty and their shirts and shoes stuck to their bodies, but the excellent performance of the guests was evident, and they beat their hosts 7:1. M. Birencwajg, who lives in Haifa, scored the honor goal.

The result did not discourage our people. They learnt their lesson, practiced more and became a strong, successful group in sports and football in Poland.

In the beginning of the twenties Zisza Brajtbard, born in Łódź, became famous all over Poland for his exceptional strength and bravery. His name was mentioned by every Jew with pride. They called him “The King of Iron”.

He travelled from town to town and displayed his strength to the crowds who were amazed and proud at his outstanding tricks. The press wrote about him that he is a Jew proud of his nation, who donates to national funds and to charity and brings honor to our people.

He came to Będzin in 1925. The whole town was excited. All the tickets had been sold out in no time. The performance, which took part on the “Hakoach” grounds, attracted not only sports lovers but also old women and young mothers with babies in their laps. Also Yeshiva students and “Cheder” pupils came to have a look at the contemporary Samson, who rooted out mountains and destroyed palaces…

Before the performance started, the hero came out to the front of the stage and the audience applauded him warmly. He came up riding a small two-wheeled chariot harnessed to two beautifully trimmed pairs of horses, his upper body naked, wrapped by a silk cloak with the emblem of Magen David embroidered on it, a helmet on his head and straps on his legs. This scene reminded the audience of the gladiators' fights in Rome…

He demonstrated exercises of surprising audacity and strength: he took apart iron chains of particularly thick links, curbed two pairs of horses that were slashed to keep running and prevented them from moving forward, he carried on his back a fully loaded cart, bent huge iron rails and more.

The spectators followed the acts with great attention. They accompanied his performance with continued shouts and rounds of applause. At the same time the people blessed him in their hearts and were anxious that nothing bad would happen to him, especially not a curse of his competitors. However, at one of his performances he had an accident: a rusty nail was thrust deep into his flesh and after a short while he died of toxemia. His fans mourned his tragic death. For them he had been a legendary figure, a descendent of the “Hashmonaim.”

His younger brother, Josef, was also very brave and was blessed with exceptional physical strength. He was named the “Bar-Kochba of the 20th century.” He visited our town and displayed to the crowds his magnificent body which did not shame his late brother's memory. His varied acrobatic exercises of weight lifting and of breaking chains were amazing and brought applause and wishes of success from the spectators.

There is no doubt that Zisza Breitbard and his brother Josef contributed greatly to the cultivation of physical education of our people.

Bed-322.jpg [34 KB] - Members of 'Hashomer Hatzair'
Members of “Hashomer Hatzair” (1924)
with group leader, Dorka Hampel

(sitting third from the left)

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