by D. Melamdovitz
Translated by Sara Mages
This youth organization was founded in the city in 1928. I was 15 years old at the time, devoted to scouting, a member of Hashomer Hatzair and dreaming a dream… the dream of the fighting Jewish boy, healthy, proud and preparing himself to remove the shame of the Diaspora from the people. I thought I would find this in Hashomer Hatzair, which has engraved the scouting on its flag without probing in politics, and saw its main role in the recovery of the generation's body and soul. That year Yehudah Gothelf appeared and his words were clear, Hashomer Hatzair cannot be satisfied only with scout activities and instilling truth and honesty in the boy's heart, but the youth of Hashomer Hatzair must direct themselves to a political war in favor of human principles etc., and it was implied from his words that this war is also directed against a part of the Jewish people.
In my opinion it was a strange turn and most of the principles were foreign to me. I was completely absorbed in a highly motivated national treatise, and in weaving a great vision of the small nation I renounced any role of our people in the system of opinion of the great world. And here we were called to give up the national issue, if it is about international principles. This was my first clash with the goals of Hashomer Hatzair.
Then, a crisis occurred and my path was made clear to me. Yeruham Sluhovsky and
Trumpeldor - Bielsk
several members older than me, and I among them, decided to establish Betar as a great personal need, through which, and in it, we will be able to continue on a path that seems to us to be the truest of all.
Over time we gathered good, enthusiastic and ready to action youth, and ken Betar in Bielsk became one of the strongest in the area.
When Begin had to carry out an informational and organizing operation in the towns around us, he came to us and from here he departed to the nearby towns. Our ken served him as source of inspiration and enthusiasm that he carried to the region. From time to time I accompanied him and ended his informative evenings with a living example, so to speak, of a representative of a ken that justifies every effort invested in the youth of the generation. Then, ken Betar was a real example for the youth who see themselves completely immersed in the problems of nationality, the exiled people and the return of the homeland.
In 1935 I made aliyah to Israel and by then Betar was already well known in the city. Its members were among the participants in every general Zionist activity in the city, and tried to serve as a symbol of national unity and willingness to act for this unity.
The activities of the ken were among the most constant. Our general meetings also aroused enthusiasm among the guests from other youth organizations. The ken became a kind of hothouse for the Zionist soul, and its enthusiasm stood the various tests of times of crisis, which befell the Zionist movements and the aliyah movements. We didn't let go of the great faith, and didn't let the doubt to erode and collapse foundations. It is clear, that the image of Jabotinsky filled our whole being, and by the strength of his warrior vision our spirit was also strengthened. But Betar, in the version of Bielsk, also had something of its own, which was an expression of a deep ideological national unrest.
When it comes to Betar at that time, it is impossible to ignore the mutual enmity that raged in the organized Jewish street. This enmity was in fact a substitute for a war of opinions and a search for a way, and it raged throughout the Zionist camp on all its systems and shades of ideas. But it is known that most of the enmity was always directed at Betar. Which was not the case in Bielsk, here the cooperation between all shades of Zionism and the youth movements was highlighted, and it seems to me that many will agree with me if I say that the Zionist unity in Bielsk was largely preserved thanks to ken Betar in the city. We have shown that we can overcome much vulnerability for the sake of the common national cause. We proved, in practice, that the principle of national unity and love of Israel must be lifted above all principles. This quality was one of the most prominent in our nest, and it can be said that throughout Betar's existence in Bielsk, national brotherhood was maintained as a principle, which members of Betar controlled it, since they saw it as the main point and root of their Jewish national education.
During its operation, the ken established a Hakhshara company in Bielsk, and a dimension of fulfillment was added to its operation. The company demonstrated to the city, to the youth, and to the ken itself, that Zionism has no value if it is not used as a means of advancement, and there is no value to it, if it is not trained for the reality of Israel and a willingness to dedicate years of youth to the needs of the people.
The ken brought a holiday to the life of the city. In its demonstrations, uniforms, in the external appearance of its youth, Betar added content to Judaism and gave it legalization to be proud of itself and its desire to be like all the peoples in its country and in its character.
The activities of the members of Betar for the national funds brought a blessing and increased the
scope of its results, just as they expanded the circle of true Zionists that commit to fulfillment, to a national appearance and to the full obligations of the generation. Contrary to the Zionism of the declaration, Zionism imposed personal duties on everyone. All the youth movements in the city have done this, and Betar among them, but Betar, as a distinct political movement that opposes practical Zionism, innovated in this act of practical activity also something for the older members of Hatzohar, its mother movement.
The scope of Betar's activity in Bielsk is evident in the large number of those preparing for aliyah, and in the number of immigrants it brought from Bielsk. It's a pity that various circumstances blocked the waves of aliyah and among them also the immigrants by force of Betar youth of Bielsk. It is a pity that they stayed there and in the mass graves they, and their dreams, were buried together.
The memory of the glorious members of Betar in Bielsk will live forever.
by Yakov Shemesh
Translated by Sara Mages
It is difficult to say that the Jews in Bielsk constituted one close-knit family. In the period before the tragedy of the Holocaust a united Jewish front had not yet formed. Its eight thousand Jews were divided among themselves like all the Jews of the cities, for various political reasons and contradictions. But from a Jewish national point of view, in their attitude towards the gentiles and their active enmity, the residents of Bielsk were united and maintained a single front of national pride and standing up for their dignity.
I entered the movement of Ze'ev Jabotinsky zl when I was eight years old. At this young age I already had a developed national recognition and a tendency towards political Zionism and, to my great regret, I encountered the phenomenon of a lack of attitude [respect] towards Betar on the part of the people of HeHalutz and the members of Hashomer Hatzair. I saw it in the attitude of these movements towards an important Jewish personality, the lawyer Klemantinovski. Although he was from Bialystok he managed the ken of Betar in our city and commanded it - and the attitude was no different towards his deputy, Mr. Vilin, a photojournalist who was the son-in-law of Mr. Melamdovitz. A despicable personal campaign had been waged against these two men, and when a disaster happened, and one of the members of Betar, who came from the nearby town of Orla, was dragged into the moving belts of a flour mill and killed, in the nearby town there was no visible participation in the grief by the members and activists of Hashomer Hatzair and the people of the anti-Zionist Bund. This matter made me very angry and left a scar in my soul. However, when the anti-Semitic members of Endecja ran amok in the city under the leadership of the priest Stolowski, the young people of Bielsk found courage in their hearts and under the guidance of Betar pushed the rioters and broke their pride to shards.
The management of the Union of Revisionist Zionists, 1935
In the national movement there were also religious men [in a group] named Brit Hashmonaim Yeshurun. Once, a delegation of fifty members, dressed in the magnificent uniforms of the Betar movement, came to the District Governor to lobby for something. The anti-Semitic Deputy District Governor told them: by now I was used to seeing frightened yehudonim, now I am beginning to better understand your great leader, Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky. The delegation asked the District Governor for police protection for the Jews who are occasionally harmed by the incited mob, and warned him that if the hooligans interfere with the course of life of the Jews in Bielsk, incite the gentiles against us and the police would not protect the Jews from the hooligans, the trained Betarim would give the anti-Semites the answer they deserve.
The governor Krishlevski lowered his head, pondered and answered: I have no doubt about this warning, I trust you more than the Polish police.
On September 24, 1938, in the early hours of the day, the town's Jews were surprised to see that their shops and workshops were dirty with tar and anti-Semitic slogans, and hooligan guards stood by the shops to prevent non-Jewish shoppers from entering and buying. A whole gang gathered near the shops of the Barchat brothers and the Freodles brothers, and I saw it. I immediately alerted the members of Brit Hahayal, Betar and Hatzohar, and at half past eight they all appeared in their uniforms with pointed sticks in their hands, and the rioters left. By the Catholic Church, near the train station, shkotzim [young gentiles] distributed an anti-Semitic leaflet to worshipers accompanied by wild incitement against the Jews. The distributors were immediately removed and close to two thousand copies of the leaflet were destroyed. Then, a serious quarrel broke out next to our store on 80 Mickiewic Street, and Vronsky's grocery store near the Town Hall Square. In this skirmish six Poles were injured and a member of Betar named Yochanan Lev (now he is a lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces). Next to the place of business of a man named Topoloski, three old Jews, who at the same time were returning from Beit HaMidrash Yafeh Einayim, were beaten. The attackers escaped towards 3 Maja Street (Paranda Street) and fled into the pharmacy where they smashed all the windowpanes. We immediately chased after them, dragged the hooligans into the large yard, and a few minutes later they were all wounded and bleeding. Mr. Klementinovski and Mr.Villach immediately appeared and asked for an interview with the station commander, when the commander refused to accept them [i.e., to see Klementinovski and Villach], the members of Brit Hahayal appeared and forcibly released the Betar members, and the police chief, who was known to be a complete idler, swallowed his insult and remained silent.
The life of the peaceful town was often disrupted by the quarrels of the Jewish shopkeepers, who fought each other over their poor livelihood. However, in the evening after the businesses and various concerns ended, the ancient and beautiful synagogue, Batei HaMidrash, Itzale or Shaare Zion, were filled with ordinary people of all kinds who came to participate in a Mishnayot lesson, or to listen to a biblical chapter in Shulchan Aruch. Radiant was the appearance of HaRav R' Ben Zion ztl, and his awe-inspiring figure and sincere humility attracted the common people from the leather worker to the carter, and they came, for half an hour, to hear the traditional melody of those studying Mishnayot or the Gemara. I don't remember
the names of the explainers, but it is hard to forget the interest of the common people to each explanation, and every word, that came out of the mouths of the preachers.
How nice it was to observe how the Jews received the Shabbat in Bielsk. Everyone gathered in Beit HaMidrash in their best clothes, and all the worries of the weekdays seemed to have disappeared from their faces, In Bielsk they really felt the holy Sabbath in their hands.
The worshipers literally fought with each other to receive a guest, or guests for the Sabbath, and no one missed this opportunity - of the mitzvah of hospitality.
When the holidays, and the Days of Awe [High Holidays], were approaching, everyone prepared with reverence to stand before the judgment of the Creator of the world, and surpassed themselves on Yom Kippur. The prayer houses were illuminated with an abundance of lights that had a kind of holiday and remembrance, and the shamásh, R' Baruch, lit the large candles in the afternoon before Kol Nidre, and placed them inside special sandboxes. The city's Jews received the holy day with trembling, awe and fear. No one dared to desecrate the holy day, even indirectly, and on the eve of Kol Nidre prayer, everyone reconciled, forgave each other's transgressions and turned from enemies - to friends.
It seems to me, that Betar absorbed its Jewish values, and its national pride, from this way of life. In this social image, which took shape in Jewish cities in the Diaspora, my movement saw a national achievement worth fighting for and maintaining force brigades for this war of gentiles and Judaism.
Therefore, when I wrote about Betar, I slid to the description of the precious way of life in Bielsk and its dear Jews who, to my sorrow, are no longer.
by M. Kaplanski
Translated by Sara Mages
Kadima [forward] wasn't founded on the ruins of Hashomer Hatzair or at the expense of HeHalutz Hatzair. These movements were active at the same time and continued their activities. The basis for the founding of Kadima, and the ideas that were at the foundation of this movement were desirable to everyone, and the same factors that nurtured the two [movements] also constituted the father of our movement. I mean, that it was impossible to establish a youth movement without the support of some older movement, or some older circle, and this was also the case with Kadima.
I remember that we were sitting at the home of Mrs. Gramayza. She was a distinct Zionist figure and devoted in heart and soul to the Zionist movement in the city. She, the adult, always found interest in the youth, her home was a meeting place for all the Zionist movements, and I always found a common language with here. We sat and talked and made the total account of the youth in Bielsk. It was at the time when Hashomer Hatzair decided that the matriculation certificate was not important. The most important thing is aliyah and the fulfillment of Zionism, that is to say, to leave for a kibbutz and make an aliyah to Israel. As a result, there were many children from the government gymnasium in Bielsk who were not even interested in getting the matriculation certificate. They left their studies in the middle and departed for Hakhshara. However, there were many good youth in Bielsk, close to Zionism, but since they opposed going to a kibbutz and communal life, and also because their parents were not ready to allow them to leave them, these youth would surely have left the existing movements that advocated Hakhshara and aliyah. And there was a danger that we would lose them. We, the members of the youth movements in the city, and especially Mrs. Gramayza, discussed what we should do in order to not lose these youth, some of whom were learning youth who did not want to go to Hakhshara and some wanted to finish their studies and then make an aliyah to Israel. We wanted to find a way out that would keep them within the Zionist framework, and that they would be useful to the Zionist movement in the city. We decided that it was necessary to gather this youth and find a framework of activity for them, such as Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund], Keren Hayesod [The Foundation Fund] and Eretz Yisrael Workers' Fund, that they will organize all kinds of traditional celebrations of the Zionist movement so that Tarbut school will not be cut off from Zionism. In this manner the idea of the academic corporation, Kadima, came about.
At this time also Bialystok, which was a city close to us, debated the problem of its academic youth, who also has not yet decided to leave for Hakhshara and make an aliyah to Israel. We tasked Shlomo Epstein to be one of the founders of this youth movement, and Joseph Serlin, who was one of the founders of Kadima in Bialystok, would help him.
We brought Serlin to us, we gathered 20-30 teenagers, boys and girls, and he lectured to us about the Zionist movement and its roles, and in this manner Kadima was established in Bielsk on October 9, 1928. A small part of its members made an aliyah to Israel, through the Halutz and Gordonia, or Hashomer Hatzair, and since in Kadima it was possible to also be a member of HeHalutz it did not interfere one to the other.
Unfortunately, the lion's share of the people of Kadima perished in the Holocaust, some of them fled at the outbreak of the war to all countries of the world.
And those are the first founders of Kadima: Anyuta Sinai - she survived and lives in France. Sara Gramayza - perished. Chava Vaksman and her husband Shlomo Epstein perished, and I am the only one of the founders who is in Israel.
The branch in Bielsk was not a big branch and about thirty teenagers belonged to it. This movement existed and has done all the Zionist activities together with the Zionist movement
Kadima in Bielsk 1928 - the Knesset member, Serlin zl, in the middle
in the city under the main leadership of Gramayza and the patronage of Melamdovitz, Stupnitski and Appleboim, who were usually the leaders of the Zionist movement in the city.
The main activity of Kadima, and its leaders, was the support of Tarbut school.
Tarbut school in our city was always in a difficult financial situation and it was always necessary to take care of the teachers' salary. We had no teachers in Bielsk and they were brought from the surrounding area, from Bialystok and other places, and they needed money. The budget of this school was always in deficit. Therefore, the people of Kadima invested a lot of energy and hard work to organize balls, evenings of entertainment with dances and a program, or presentation of plays, and all the income was dedicated to the school. It really was a big part of the school's budget.
In 1936, I visited Poland and was in Bielsk for 4-5 years [the author probably meant days]. Kadima hardly operated in the city at that time. Then, Hashomer Hatzair was the strongest movement in the city, and HeHalutz
who has done a lot for the idea of fulfillment. Sara Gramayza was still in the leadership of the Zionist movement together with Stupnitski, Melamdovitz and Appleboim. Epstein was from the youth of Bielsk. After his studies abroad, when he returned as a student to Bielsk, he married Vaksman and stayed as the principal of Tarbut school in Bielsk. He then began to engage in full Zionist activity.
Then I realized that Kadima fulfilled an important role in Zionism, if not in its fulfillment in Israel then in its preservation abroad, it formed a framework that fostered Zionist activity and inspired people to this action. And that is its importance.
by Yakov Zahavi- Goldvitz
Translated by Sara Mages
HeHalutz Hatzair, as a youth organization, was very active. In my time it was headed by Motke Idelman who passed away here in Jerusalem, and Aharon Reichman who is here in the kibbutz. Later, I was also in its management.
The activity of HeHalutz Hatzair was centered on mobilizing for activities for the building of Eretz Yisrael. The existence of Tarbut school and all the Zionist organizational activities carried out by the adults. HeHalutz Hatzair was also represented in all the Zionist institutions, such as Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund], educational institutions, and others. With the crisis in Israel during the meora'ot the pioneering movement weakened and disbanded. That's when the Zionist youth organization, Kadima [forward], was founded. Some of our youth began to move to the communist movement, and to keep them connected to Zionism, the Zionist youth organization, Kadima, was founded. However, we were not satisfied with this and did our best to continue within our framework.
We were helped by the leaders of HeHalutz in our city, Yakov Golomb, Stern and Heschel Kadlvuvski. They took HeHalutz Hatzair under their wing and we did the work. At that time the activists of HeHalutz Hatzair were: Feivel Kremer, myself, Malka Goldvitz, Zevergitzky and Shoshana Kaplanski.
In the late 1920s, the duty of HeHalutz Hatzair was to train its members for pioneering fulfillment. Members on the verge of adulthood left for agricultural training in Grochów near Warsaw. Whoever was a working youth, had a profession or started in his profession, stayed in Bielsk with the consent of our committee and in the knowledge of HeHalutz Hatzair center, and continued his training. Our second role was to instill the Hebrew language to the members. In this role we entered into a special activity in everything related to the existence of Tarbut school.
We participated in fundraising campaigns held to the balance the budget of this school. We bore the burden of worrying about the teachers' salaries, and were partners in everything the adults, and the parents' committee, had done for this institution. We collected items from the wealthy for the Hanukkah bazaars, sold tickets to the various balls held for the benefit of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and the school, and by this we increased the sources of income for the existence of the school because we saw in it the concentration point of the reserve of the Zionist fulfillers.
In fact, there were other youth organizations that cooperated in all the aforementioned operations, but we did what was assigned to us with serious dedication, the seriousness of working boys who have passed the test of action in life by the necessity of their fate and are used to action.
Hashomer Hatzair was also active with us. But there was a difference between us and Hashomer Hatzair .While it did these things as the main ones and saw the Hachshara as secondary thing, or, at least, non-binding on behalf of the movement, HeHalutz Hatzair devoted itself entirely to Hachshara and aliyah, and did the rest of the activities as required by the main thing, which is the building of Israel by self-fulfillment.
HeHalutz Hatzair was involved in education, Zionist life, collecting donations, agricultural training, professional training, distribution of certificates, in the day-to-day life of its members, while Hashomer Hatzair was not active in those areas. Hashomer Hatzair was then the favorite child of the General Zionists of the faction of Al HaMishmar of Gruenbaum and Sneh (then Klaynboym). They were radical General Zionists, and saw Hashomer Hatzair in Poland as the national intelligentsia of the learning youth. Hashomer Hatzair gathered the youth who attended high school and, the most important thing for Gruenbaum, was to take these youth out of assimilation, move them to the lines of Zionism and include them in activities for the benefit of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, distributing shekels, to cultivate Hebrew culture and the culture schools, and also that they learn Hebrew.
HeHalutz Hatzair gathered within it the children from the middle school that were members of the working class, who actually also studied trades such as carpentry, shoemaking and tailoring. The main activity was to give them a conceptual education about Eretz Yisrael, to interest them in everything that is happening in Eretz Yisrael, what is a kibbutz and what is a moshav, the moshava, HaKibbutz Ha'artzi [Nationwide Kibbutz]. All these things were taught to them so that they would know the country before they make an aliyah and be able to receive a certificate. Anyone who needed to get a certificate had to take an exam, and know what Israel is and the theory of Zionism. That was the main thing.
In 1924, we divided HeHalutz Hatzair into groups and there were teachers who supervised them once a week, twice a week, and gathered them for meetings of conversation and activity. But it was forbidden, it was illegal in Poland. All these activities were illegal and we had to arrange all this in such houses that the Polish government would not suspect. At the beginning it all was done under Tarbut. I remember that we once held a meeting at Winograd's, the police came and asked what is this, and we said it was in relation to the Tarbut schools and a meeting is now taking place here.
In 1924, on the holiday of Shavuot, Reuven Uzisky and I left for Orla, a town eleven kilometers from Bielsk, to found [a branch of] HeHalutz. It was a town of religious people whose occupation was mostly in peddling, and there the communists were strong. There was one there, Chachki, a well-known communist who grew up in his town's background, and was opinionated and active. HeHalutz and Tarbut were not there. Once, Einstein came from the Tarbut center in Warsaw to Orla and was about to speak at the synagogue, what did the communists do? They turned off the lamps and beat him up. Since then we haven't done any activity there. We couldn't ignore it. Therefore, we mobilized on our own free will, and by the strength of our spatial movement awareness, because we felt that if we would be alone in Bielsk, and there were no branches in the vicinity, we would not exist. We concentrated in the forest, because the eyes of the police were open in the city. Immediately, the communists also gathered, started arguing, until it came to beatings. Coincidentally, I had a relative there who knew the police, and when the policemen started to ask - what is going on there? we hear shouts in the forest! I approached that Chachki and said: look, if they will arrest us, there is a Zionist organization and there is Tarbut who will take care of us, but when you fall into the hands of the police they will not release you, and I took him and entered
the town arm in arm with him to remove the police suspicion from him. And on the same day we convened a meeting of the founders of HeHalutz and established [a branch of] HeHalutz in Orla. Later, a Hebrew school was also founded on our initiative. Since then, the communists stopped bothering us. They knew that we would not be deterred and beatings would not scare us, and if we decide, we would carry it out.
When I made aliyah, I remembered the activity of our HeHalutz Hatzair, in and around Bielsk, with a certain pride because we dared during the crisis period for Zionist fulfillment, we acted and also activated others in Bielsk and its surroundings.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Bielsk-Podlaski, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 05 Apr 2023 by JH