by Yehoshya Zilber, Tel Aviv
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I took part in the Revisionist Party from 1932 until my departure for Israel, that is, until 1939. In 1939, the Revisionist Party had its greatest momentum.
The Chairman of the Party was then the advocate (lawyer) Rogak and the commander of Betar (Brit-Trumpeldor) was Sender Davidson, who is now in Israel.
The reason for the great momentum of the party in Chelm was understandable and natural because the young and the masses had already begun to understand that the Jews would not build a nation with the slogan, not with soldiers and not with force, but through the spirit of labor, but the state of Judea was felled by fire and blood and it will be resurrected by fire and blood. In this spirit, Betar began to give the young people military training, and Betar organized military courses for the liberation of the land.
The Chelemer Betar also created a hachsharah settlement on the estate of the landowners, Podczacki, under the direction of Commander Shlomoh Hercberg, who, together with Borukh Davidson, went to Israel in 1937 with a general aleyah from Betar. The same Shlomoh took part in the struggle against the Hitlerist beasts during the Second World War and today is an officer in the Israeli army. Borukh Davidson is now the instructor of the Israeli police.
The Chelemer Betar under my leadership, also in 1933, organized and carried out the boycott action against the movie theater owners for showing German films. The boycott action had the greatest results because the owners stopped showing German films and as a sign of remorse they gave a few hundred zlotys to the Passover collection for the poor.
The Revisionist Party, Betar and Brit Hahayal [Revisionist Party paramilitary organization], which we had just created, twice in the years 1933 and 1936, brought the great Revisionist leader, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, of blessed memory, to Chelm for two great political lectures. The city was transformed into one great demonstration for Zionist ideas during the days of his arrival and stay in Chelm. The days will always remain in the memories of the surviving Chelemer Jews around the world.
The Chelemer Betar also took part in the work of sending weapons to Israel, and three of the Chelemer Betar members were caught in such activities and were arrested. The three arrestees were the following: Moshe Szufl, Pinkhas Kolodny and I, the writer of these lines. The anti-Semitic organ, Gonietz Warszawski, published an incitement and my photograph during my trial, presenting me as the Jewish marshal in Poland and demanded a severe punishment for me.
Under my leadership, the Chelemer Betar also organized a self-defense [organization] that had to be ready in the event
of a pogrom that the anti-Semites wanted to make on the Polish religious holiday of Bosza Ciala [Corpus Christi]. For three days and nights, Betar and Brit Hahayal, under my leadership, were armed and based in the Jewish clubs. The societies and Makabi club on Lubliner Street were ready to react to each attack. The Polish village chief, Woronowicz, learning of this, summoned me to him and said I am very pleased that you are ready to protect yourself from sudden attack and I also ask you to join with the police, whom I have ordered to be in contact with you and to give their help if it is needed.
After a conference between me and the police commander, I sent out patrols over all of the streets and alleys of the city. An armed Betarist or Brit Hahayal went with each policeman and thus the city was guarded against a pogrom.
In 1937, the Revisionist Party also published a weekly under my editorship with the name, Der Nacionaler Wokhnblat [The National Weekly].
How great the activity of the Revisionist Party was in Chelm is shown by the City Council elections in 1937. Out of a total of eight Jewish city councilmen, the Revisionist Party had four, and the only Jewish alderman Abraham Szein; the left Poale-Zion and the Zionist organization one.
(photos, caption: Top: Revisionist movement in Chelm. Reception for Ze'ev Jabotinsky [in center, left Dr. Sakular]. Bottom: Jewish Betar members in uniform with weapons during a parade.)
In March 1939, when a secret military mobilization was decreed in Poland, I called together a meeting of the community workers in the auditorium of the Jewish community, warning them of the volcanic eruption, that we were up against and calling on the Chelemer Jews to take part in the great plan of the Revisionist Party: immediately, we were sending 100 thousand Jews to Israel against the wishes of England.
Alas, the volcanic eruption came before we expected and at the end of July, I and a ship of 875 people, organized by the Irgun, left Poland, and after six weeks of wandering from port to port, at the beginning of the war we arrived in Israel, where I and others were arrested immediately by the English. And after sitting in a concentration camp, Sarafend, for a short time, we were freed.
The national education of the Betar, Brit Hayahal and the Revisionist Party saw its first fruit in Israel.
The former commander of Betar in Chelm, Sender Davidson, who was already in the country in 1933, was the commander of the old city of Jerusalem during the unrest in the land in 1936-1939, where he and his Betar members protected the Jews from Arab ambushes.
In 1939 he also brought a ship of illegal
Jews to Israel and was arrested. By 1944 he had served four years in the country and in South Africa for taking part in the underground work of Irgun, Etzel [acronym: Irgun Tsvai Leumi National Military Organization].
I, the writer of these lines, was also arrested by the English for taking part in the struggle for the land of Israel and served in all of the Israeli prisons and also in all of the South African jails, where I was sent for about four years.
by B. Amindov
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
One night at the beginning of the winter of 1938, Hitler Germany expelled twenty thousand naked and barefoot Jews to Poland, to the shtetl Zbaszyn that was on the Polish[-German] border, because the Jews were of Polish origin.
Jewish society was struck by fear by the savagery and they organized widespread aid for the benefit of these refugees. A Central Aid Committee for the Zbaszyner Refugees was established.
Jewish Chelm joined this aid work, too. A conference took place in the meeting hall of the Chelm kehile at which representatives of all of the Jewish parties and organizations were present. A committee was elected consisting of the following: Dr. Josef Feldman (chairman), Yitzhak Szwarcman (secretary), Dr. Izrael Aks (treasurer), Friszman, Moshe Beker, Berl Liberman, Ben-Zion Bruker, Shlomohle Bursztajn, Shimeon Sajkowicz, Abrahamle Sztajnberg, Motl Goldman, Gershon Lustiker, Anshel Biderman, Hirszfeder, the attorney, Rabinowicz, the attorney, Mrs. Dr. Willenka, Mrs. Aks, Mrs. Feldman, Engineer Tenenboim and Councilman Goldberg.
An appeal went out to all religious Jews that was edited by Councilman Goldberg and Ben-Zion Bruker. This appeal had a warm response from all circles of the Jewish population in the city.
Immediately, special meetings took place in the synagogues, organizations and parties that called on members to give extensive assistance to the Zbaszyner refugees.
The money collections in Chelm surpassed all expectations. Never before in Chelm had campaigns brought in as much income as the aid campaigns for the Zbabszyner refugees. Many Christians also contributed donations to the campaign.
The clothing campaigns that were headed by Mrs. Dr. Feldman [Translator's note: the use of Mrs. Dr. indicates that Mrs. Feldman was married to Dr. Feldman] were particularly successful. Several women and female gymnazie students, working girls and students at Beis Yakov schools [religious school for girls] went together to collect clothing that was packed in boxes that were prepared by Basha Lerber's grandson. The boxes of clothing were sent very quickly to the Zbaszyn refugees.
The Chelemer starost [village chief] was not pleased that the Chelemer Jews had given such a large sum to the aid campaign and he tried to prevent the transfer of the money. However, an appropriate agency of the central committee of the government authorities prevailed so that the amount could be sent undisturbed.
The amount of money and clothing that Chelm sent for Zbonszin was substantial aid for the Zbaszyn refugees.
by W. Gotlib, Australia
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
It was the time of the First World War. The Austrians occupied Chelm. The committee of the recently organized Scouts organization consisted of the following people: J. Mandelboim, B. Luksenburg, M. Morgnsztern, J. Dreksler, M. Ebri, Herc Fiszlson, Sh. Beker, the writer of these lines and a few others, whom I no longer remember.
I was invited because I has been a member of Hashomer [Socialist-Zionist youth movement] in Eretz-Yisroel and it was calculated that I had work experience and I could help with the organizing of the Scouts organization in Chelm.
Young boys and girls of age nine or older were registered as Scouts with the permission of their parents and several groups were created. They held physical exercises, marches and outings. In addition, they were taught Jewish history, books were read to them and they learned Yiddish and Hebrew songs. Educational discussions were led with them and there was close contact with the parents who would be invited for consultations with the administration of the Scouts organization.
The children quickly learned the rules of sports discipline. They had special uniforms which delighted the children. They took great pleasure in singing songs and marching while singing.
The Scouts organization had a great influence on the Jewish population in Chelm.
The first public parade took place during a Herzl celebration. The Scouts marched through Lubliner Street to the old historic synagogue in the finest order with resounding Yiddish and Hebrew songs, drawing the attention of Kolmus, the president of the Austrian City Hall, who sent out a patrol of Austrian soldiers to clear the way for the marching Scouts.
The Jewish population stood closely packed on the sidewalk, heartily and warmly greeting the marching children, accompanying them with long lasting applause and admiring how they went, so perfect and proud.
The streets and alleys next door to the old historic synagogue were overflowing with people. The doors of the synagogue opened and great streams of Jews pushed inside, occupying the women's section and the remaining synagogue rooms and entrance hall.
The memorial prayer for Dr. Theodore Herzl was eloquently given and the speakers were heard with the greatest attention The Scouts and their leaders were passionately thanked by the crowd with expressions of appreciation to the young Scouts and the committee for their part in this memorial evening.
This event is also remembered:
Winter, after midnight. I hurried to go to a sick person who was under the medical supervision of the Linas haTzedekh [an organization to help the sick]. A thick wet snow was falling. On the way, I was stopped by an Austrian soldier and he led me away to the City Hall, where I had to wait until the morning. When Kolmus, president of the City Council, came
(Photo, caption: Jewish Scouts division in Chelm in 1915. From the left in front is found W. Gotlib, commandant of the Scouts movement.)
and recognized me immediately, he strongly reproached the soldier, asking why he had detained me, the commandant of the Scouts.
The outings with the Scouts were a substantial part of our program of activities.
The outings would regularly last from early in the morning until the evening and took place in the Hrubieszower or in the Rejowiecer Woods. Sometimes the outings would last a full two days. Our goal was to harden the young children to various circumstances and make them independent of their parents, although for a short time.
At first, mainly the mothers were uneasy that their children were being taken and they were being led to the woods and fields. The leaders would have an answer for such troubled mothers, explaining that we should be relied on and that they should believe in the good results of the methods of the Scouts organization.
The young Scouts would come together very early at dawn, at 5 o'clock. All were happily playful and the children marched with firm and sure steps through the streets of Chelm that were still enveloped in early morning fog and empty of people. Everywhere, we noticed craftsmen going to work, still with sleep on their eyelashes, and women and children looked out of the windows. The singing of the children and the orders of the leaders: One, two, three, four echoed in the quiet morning
We stopped outside the city, in the lap of the meadows and fields, in order to eat breakfast. Each little Scout had a stick and during a rest they would be stood together in the same way that soldiers stand their guns.
The path through the aromatic fields and through the trees in the forest was leisurely, and we went along carefree until we came to the appointed spot.
The Scouts worked industriously like bees setting up the tents with the greatest precision. Fires were lit and kettles of water were set up to boil. The ruck-sacks were opened wide to take out the food that was brought along.
Each day that we were on the outings with the children was unforgettable. The birds warbled and flew from tree to tree. The children did the same thing, with their songs echoing in the woods. They moved freely and played football [soccer].
When they became tired from various games and sports exercises, they lay on the soft grass. Several of the children fell asleep and several were drawn to sweet melodies and listened to the stories of Sholem Aleichem and Y.L. Peretz that we read aloud for them.
When twilight fell and the evening and night came, we sat by the fire. The children told each other
all kinds of episodes and stories, about various events and developments. In the night shadows of the forest, one child huddled against another and they connected in an intimate closeness and strong friendship.
The young Scouts stood watch during the night just as in military situations and this song echoed here and there in the surrounding quiet:
Go to sleep my dear son,The night disappears. The morning stars appear and the blue bright light shoots up. The sun appears and it becomes lighter and lighter.
Listen to the song (that I will sing to you)
In distant places many years ago
There was a city...
A signal from the leaders is heard: Kumu, kumu. A movement, like disciplined soldiers; the children run out of their tents and we go to the crystal-clear well water to wash ourselves.
According to the daily plan, seven o'clock was the time for breakfast and the work continued until night.
It also happened that the sky would be enveloped with clouds and a pouring rain would descend. However, the leaders' plan would not change because our motto was to harden ourselves in the worst weather and in the most difficult situations.
Our Scouts organization developed quickly and was well appreciated in the neighboring cities. Reciprocal visits by the Scouts organizations would take place very often.
A conference of the Jewish Scouts organizations took place in Warsaw. I was sent to the conference on behalf of our Scouts organization. Since the First World War had not yet ended, I needed an illegal pass to Warsaw, which was under German occupation.
Several hundred representatives came to this gathering that was opened with our national hymn, Hatikvah. And when the chairman announced the agenda of the conference, the Wilhelm German occupiers entered and dissolved the conference.
Then consultations were held and a central administration was chosen.
I then left the Chelemer Scouts organization for ideological reasons. As thanks, the Scout gave me the following gift: a Scout knife with a bone handle and the knife case was silver. On the case was sewn the emblem of the Scouts and the inscription: strength and truth.
This gift was very dear to me and in 1920, when I left for Eretz-Yisroel, my leave taking with the Chelemer Scouts was very touching.
by B. Binsztok, New York
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Chelm is an old Jewish city.
Chelm is well known in all Jewish communities. The name Chelm brings a smile or hearty laughter to Jews everywhere.
Chelm is a magnificent, beautiful city, built in the bosom of an amazing, beautiful high mountain. The Bug River, where the Curzon Line became famous as the boundary between the Soviet Union and Poland, lies a 20 minute train ride from the eastern side of the mountain.
Hundreds of thousands of genuine Russian and Ukrainian peasants and their wives and children would travel together (the czar provided free trains) to a three-day holiday every year at the end of summer, in order to drink the water from the holy wells on the mountain. They would also drink tea and snack on rolls at the Jewish tishlek [small tables] that were put out in the hundreds in all of the streets in the city. The last czar, Nikolai [Nicholas II], was present at these ceremonies in Chelm several times.
The overseer of the mountain with its holy wells and over all of the holy pravoslawne [Russian orthodox] learning institutions was the mournful, well known pravoslawner, Jepiskop [Father] Jewlogi, Rasputin's right hand. He was very much concerned with the Russification of the Chelemer area. Chelm and the entire area were supposed to become a pure Russian gubernia [province]. However, the First World War undid the plan, from which remained government buildings that had been begun or completed; the Jews renovated these into housing.
The pravoslawner, Father Jewlogi, or as the Jews of Chelm would call him, Zawali Drogi [zawalidrogi idler or loafer in Polish], made a very great effort to lead the Jewish population onto the right path, too, and, particularly the young Jews during the stormy years of 1905-1906. He would call quiet meetings with city businessmen, demanding that the Jews keep an eye on the young people who need to go on the right path and, chiefly, to esteem and love the czar. The businessmen would promise him. And when they went with the wide steps down from the mountain, they would hear the thundering voice of Meir, son of Raub'ele Szakher,
a baker, then a Bundist. (Today he is in New York. His name is Meir Celnik; he is no longer a Bundist, but a very sympathetic class conscious bakery worker.) His voice rose, called and damned the bloody animal with its bloody nails. This was the title of the last Czar Nikolai. Later, Meir Chelemer left Chelm to the relief of the well-to-do in the city.
The mountain provided many Jews in the city with income. Ten thousand blond pravoslawner clerical students, male and female, lived in Chelm at the expense of the Czarist government. The Jews in Chelm provided food and clothing the most beautiful and best.
The father of a khazan [cantor] in New York had a contract to repair and make new boots for the students. He was named Reb Melekh Hersh. He was Jew a stately person, trustee of the khevre kadishe [burial society] and very respected in the city. If a poor man, may this never happen to you, lay ill for weeks and months, his neighbors would call in Reb Melekh Hersh. They would wait near the door, wringing their hands and with their eyes turned toward heaven, they would wish: Oy, may he be the good angel! Reb Melekh Hersh, a very reticent person, would try to save the poor man with his own remedies. First, he brushed his throat with his usual brush, a thick hard twig from a broom with a piece of cotton from an old jacket, bound to the tip with cobbler's thread and dipped in vitriol. Afterward, he took the temperature with his thermometer and then, right after this, placed a feather under the nose
Tailors had the contract to repair and make new, beautiful fitted uniforms. Butchers provided good, fat, unroasted forequarters. And other Jews in the city provided all other needed products and food.
In Chelm, l'havdil [word used to separate the religious from the secular, the Jewish from the non-Jewish] there were pravoslawner churchs with holy wells, houses of prayer, Hasidic shtiblekh [houses of prayer], where young men enthusiastically studied.
The walls of the Chelemer synagogue, with the hidden grave of the bride and groom who perished while standing under the khupah [wedding canopy] in the synagogue courtyard at the hands of Chmelnitski's Haidamacks [rebelling Ukrainian peasants who massacred Jews in 1648], describe the sad Jewish history of hundreds of years.
Culturally, Chelm was on a high level. Two weekly Yiddish newspapers were published, a Zionist and a populist. There was a Yiddish and a Hebrew library, later, also an eight-grade Hebrew school that Moshe Fiszelson (died four years ago in New York) ardently helped build and then fought for its support by the Chelemer landsleit in America.
There were parties, secret and open, in Chelm Jewish circles, where all Zionist and Socialist opinions were enrolled and presented. Chelm had a distinguished Jewish working class that took an active part in the liberation struggle against the Russian Czar
and later against the fascist forces in the Polish government. The Chelemer Jewish intellectuals and class conscious workers were always found in the first ranks of the struggle. Many of them today occupy responsible positions in the Soviet Union and in Eretz-Yisroel. Many fell on the battlefield in the struggle for freedom.
Shlomoh Elboim, the 23-year old son of a bread baker in Chelm, whom the Polish anti-Semitic government held and tortured, together with many, many thousands of other Jewish workers in the Polish concentration camps and jails, escaped to Paris where he joined the Botwin Company and went to Spain to fight against Hitler, Franco and Mussolini. He threw a fear into the fascist bands in Spain with his fearlessness. He received the rank of an officer for his heroism. As the chief of a machine gun division, he would always maneuver to have his position behind the enemy lines. He fell on the battlefield just two days before the Botwin Company returned from the front to be dissolved.
In 1920 when the Red Army entered the city, Berl Zeidenberg, a watchmaker in Chelm, joined them to struggle against the Polish ladies who first declared war against young and weak Bolshevik Russia with the lying pretext of saving Western civilization.
Berl Zeidenberg fell on the battlefield in Kiev.
Shmuel Zigelboim (Arthur), whom the Bund in New York sent as a representative to the Polish government in exile in London and who so tragically perished, committing suicide, took his first steps at the very beginning of his Bundist party work in 1916 in Chelm. He was born and raised in a village near Krasnystaw, not far from Chelm. As a result, he knew the Polish language very well, which he polished still more in Warsaw, where he worked before the First World War as a cane maker.
In 1916 the Bund founded the workers' home in Chelm and Sh. Zigelboim was appointed as the economic manager. Jewish workers would come there in the evening to read a newspaper, a book, to hear lectures, attend concerts, entertainments and similar undertakings.
The impression remains in my memory of a Bundist mass meeting in Chelm that took place at the very end of the First World War.
The Austrian monarchy had collapsed and the Austrian occupation regime ran away and left Chelm abandoned. The Germans were still in Warsaw and in the surrounding cities and shtetlekh to Demblin the border between Austria and the German area of occupation.
Chelm became a world unto its own: the telegraph, the telephone, railroad traffic ceased. Disquieting rumors spread: one heard and then saw Jews in Chelm in fear of death Suddenly, there appears on the street of Chelm
an appeal: the Bund calls all of the Jews in Chelm to a mass meeting in the great Chelm synagogue.
The frightened Jews stood head to head in the synagogue, one pressed to the other, like herring in a barrel. The synagogue has a high ceiling around 50 feet high this helped with breathing a little.
A crack of a special rattle that was on the reading stand was heard. It became dead silent
The Bundist leaders spoke, one after the other, about the crash of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy and about the winds of freedom. Shmuel Zigelboim spoke last. His voice was then more beautiful, clearer than the last time when I heard him speak, several years ago, at the forum of the International Garment Workers Union in New York. Here, in the great Chelemer synagogue, he called out, pointing with his left hand to the western side of the synagogue: There, there, there the sun is rising! Jews looked at each other and asked: What does he mean?
In the morning, after the mass meeting, the Chelemer Jews found out what Zigelboim meant: the first Polish independent government was founded in Lublin which is located to the west of Chelm. [Jedrzej] Moraczewski, the pepesowetz (Polish Socialist), stood at the head of the government.
Then came other governments: reactionary, anti-Semitic. [Wladislaw] Grabski came and brought ruin to a large part of the Jewish population.
The Jews of Chelm, as in all of Poland, had to accept one Polish cabinet and Sejm [Polish parliament] after another and the next was always worse than the last. The famous Jewish historian, Dr. Yitzhak Sziper, may he rest in peace, who perished Al Kiddush HaShem [In the sanctification of God's name] at the hands of Hitler's beasts, was chosen as the deputy in the Sejm from Chelm.
Jewish Chelm, in the years before the Polish fascist rule, fought with tooth and nail to repel the hard attacks, the bitter edicts and decrees from the government that aimed to weaken and to exhaust the Jews in Chelm and their institutions that were built with so much self sacrifice and devotion.
The Chelemer landsleit in America and Canada, the majority of whom were concentrated in New York, Chicago and Montreal, helped with sums of money in order to alleviate the need and poverty that increased particularly in the years 1936-1939 because of the policies of the anti-Semitic fascist Polish government.
The difficult economic life of the Jews in Chelm lasted until 1939. The war brought still more suffering. Hitler attacked Poland and the Polish government with Josef Bek at the head escaped to Romania. The Red Army came to Chelm. However it was only there 11 days. The Soviet commandant received an order to withdraw to the eastern side of the Bug River, about a 20 minute journey by train from Chelm. There days earlier, before the Red Army left Chelm, it
turned in particular to the Jewish population with a call: Jews take your wives and children, take your old men, take your bedding, take everything that you can and come to us. We will give you trains, trucks, wagons and horses; we will help you come with us because the Nazis are murdering all of the Jews everywhere and they are coming!
The Jews in the city, with Biderman, the head of the kehile, in the lead, held a meeting and decided that: We are not going, we are not traveling because our great grandfathers and we all were born here, lived our entire lives here where will we go now?
There were Jews who did not agree with the decision of the meeting and went to Russia with the Red Army. The vast majority, however, remained
in Chelm and were murdered by Hitler's beasts. Only a few, miraculously, survived.
Chelm, the old, beautiful Jewish city was totally destroyed.
Hitler installed the Sobibor death camp near Chelm, where the last remaining Jews in the camp rose in revolt against the executioners. Several hundred Jews saved themselves. The city of Chelm was given the honor that on the same day that the Red Army drove out the accursed Nazis from Chelm, the Polish Committee of National Liberation proclaimed from Chelm, Democratic freedom and equality for all citizens, without distinction as to race, religion or national origin, and that Jews must receive legal and actual equality in the new Poland.
by Itshe Akhtman, Montreal, Canada
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
(Photo, caption: Itshe Akhtman)
When I saw the book, A Thousand Years of Pinsk and other yizkor [memorial] books, I thought, is there someone who will publish a yizkor book dedicated to our city, Chelm. To immortalize the memory of the nearly 20,000 Jews who lived there.
There is not another city in the world that was as well known as Jewish Chelm. Let it be celebrated. A world of literature was written about it. Why should this city, after its great destruction, become silent?
However, when I noticed the appeal in the Jewish press of the Chelemer Aid Union in Johannesburg about publishing a yizkor book dedicated to Chelm, various remembrances about the city began to swim up. The closest to me and the most beloved of all of the memories was the cultural life in Chelm from the First World War, 1914. I want to record several facts and information here about one cultural body in our city, the Peretz Library, with which I had close contact.
It was in the summer of 1914, right after the outbreak of the war. At that time, the German and Austrian troops were
chasing the czar's army. The Russians had already left Zamoscz (Peretz's birthplace) that lies not far from Chelm. We were a small group of young men from a shtibl [small house of prayer] who sat in the shtibl and looked out at the Germans impatiently. Naïve small shtetl fantasies soared with us, that each German is a Goethe, a Nietzsche or a Thomas Mann.
At that time, while the artillery shells still resounded, the group of naïve shtibl youth only thought about establishing a Jewish library, fantasies of Jewish youth in Polish shtetlekh that became reality.
It was summer, 1915, the Germans grabbed civilians on the streets for work. We were a group of young friends who hid in an uncompleted building on Szedecka Street. Lying in that hiding place in great fear, the idea to establish the Peretz Library was born in us.
(Photo, caption: Receipt from a collection that was carried out on behalf of the Peretz Library in Chelm, in 1927)
It was decided that each of the group would give 10 rubles. We collected 250 rubles and immediately contacted two publishers in Warsaw that sent catalogues and wished us luck.
At that time, Warsaw was separated from Chelm by a border. Chelm belonged to Austria and Warsaw to the Germans; we had to smuggle the books from Warsaw to Chelm. There was no civilian train traffic then. Smugglers traveled in wagons and carried goods from Chelm to Warsaw and back. We gave such a smuggler the collected 250 rubles with a list to buy a number of Yiddish books. The trip to Warsaw then took 10-12 days and after great difficulties and hardships, we received the books. There was unlimited joy.
We rented a small room and each shareholder had to give one evening a week to serve as a librarian. The books had to have literary worth. Subscriptions began to increase. We had more readers than books. The room became crowded; new readers came every day, and simply, one needed influential intervention to become a reader.
We began to look for a larger meeting place for the library because of the growing number of readers, and for money
to buy new books. At that time an old house stood empty on Badowska Street. The owner, Josele, was away in Russia and, at that time, he and his entire family perished at the hands of the Ukrainians during the pogroms. We moved the library to this house.
(Photo, caption: Receipt for member dues for the Peretz Library)
Because the expenses were greater and money was needed, the Peretz Library decided to create a musical and dramatic section that from time to time arranged performances, concerts and other social events that helped the growth of the library.
The Peretz Library was of great importance in the city at that time. Many of the young Chelemer Jews received a cultural education thanks to it.
However, the vast Holocaust destroyed everything including the Peretz Library that was created by the young Chelmer Jews, ambitious young fanatics with great hopes and belief.
(Photo, caption: The founders of the Peretz Library in Chelm. (1915-1917))
by Itshe Akhtman, Canada
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In about 1910-1914, amateurs began to perform Yiddish theater. At first, they produced J. Gordon's plays. In as much as the amateur ensemble at first consisted principally of those who had been captured by tendencies toward assimilation and spoke more Russian than Yiddish at home, the first performances were weak. There were amateurs who did not even understand the text of the plays. Later, these circles were enlarged by the general public and workers.
At this opportunity, it also must be remembered that in 1909-1910 a young man from Chelm named Abraham Diker (Fitshke's son) who had musical and theatrical abilities gathered children 10-15 years of age and presented Goldfaden's Akeydes Yitzhak [The Sacrifice of Isaac].
The performance with the children and with amateurs under the direction of Abraham Diker had great success and was performed in Chelm's largest theater, Sirena, and, also in Zamocsz, Hrubieszow and in other cities.
In 1915, after the occupation by the German-Austrian powers, a musical-dramatic section was created of young men and girls, who had the insight and taste for music and literature. Those families with musical abilities were: Luksenburg, Ilywicki; the Herc family had artistic abilities.
The above mentioned section presented the plays of Sholom Alecheim, Peretz Hirshbein, Dovid Pinski, Fishl Bimko, A. Gordon and so on.
Conditions were difficult for Yiddish theater under the German-Austrian occupation. It was necessary to apply great energy in negotiating the receipt of
(Photo, caption: Dramatic Circle in Chelm)
permission from the occupying forces to present theater. In addition, there was fear, in general, of gathering in one place or walking the streets, people fearing that they would be taken for forced labor.
But risks were taken and Yiddish theater was presented. All of the seats in the large galleries of the Sirena Theater were occupied when a Yiddish theater presentation or a musical-artistic evening took place.
The Yiddish theater developed robustly after the war. Artistic vitality in Chelm increased and famous Jewish artists from abroad and from larger Polish cities would visit Chelm very often.
Text of Poster:
Tuesday, on the 20th of the month, one performance
presented by local art lovers will take place under the title
Sholom Aleichem Evening
with the following program:
1) A memorial service presented by the choir
2) Tsezeht Un Tseshpreht [Scattered Far and Wide]
Comical picture in three acts by Sholom Aleichem
Meir Szalant Mr. M. Boim Talcha his wife Miss R. Herc Flora Miss M. Feder Motvej Mr. B. Naturman Haim Mr. Sh. Brekher Valadji Mr. D. Herc Hana Miss Sh. Alergand Moshka B. Herc Moshe Zajensztater Szalanter's in-law Mr. A. Cikel Itela his wife Miss T. Herc Pesela, poor relative Miss Sh. Helfer Dowid'le, Matvei's friend Mr. G Herc Beni with a parasol Mr. Y. Akhtman Masha, a maid Miss T. Herc
3) Agenten [Agents]
A comedy in one act of Sholom Aleichem
Menakhem Mendil, seller of Shabbos candles and wine Mr. A. Cikel Mark Lamternisher B. Naturman Akim Bakfisz Y. Akhtman Lazar Terkeltoib M. Boim
and 4) The Poet's Own Songs
Prompter Kh. Feder Arranger Y. Akhtman
Printer M. Wajnsztajn, Chelm
(Photo, caption: Facsimile of a Poster)
Facsimiles of various programs from the Yiddish theater, performed by amateur efforts in Chelm.
On the right caption: Theater hall, Polanya, one of the local theater halls where Yiddish theater and Yiddish lectures were often presented. The building was built by the German occupying government during the years 1916-1917.
On the left: A play performed by the local amateurs in the years 1920-1921.)
by Berl Naturman, Canada
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In 1916, Poalei Zion [Marxist Zionists] already had its own choir, orchestra and a dramatic society.
When it was learned that the great Yiddish classical writer and brilliant humorist, Sholem Aliechem, had died, we, the dramatic society, decided to stage his play, Tsezeyt un Tseshpreyt [Scattered and Dispersed] at the shloshim [30th day after a person's death] of his death. We rehearsed intensely then at the Toybele Herc's house from 10 o'clock in the morning until the start of the evening because we were not supposed to be in the street at night.
We ordered posters from Wajnsztajn's print shop several days before the 16th of May, when the memorial evening for Sholem Aleichem was to take place.
Every public advertisement or announcement had to be shown to the county commandant according to the law of the occupying regime to receive approval from the commandant before it could be published.
Suddenly Mr. Wajnsztajn out of breath came running from the commandant to us with the news that they would not let us publish the posters unless we remove the Yiddish text.
However, we could not permit ourselves to dishonor Sholem Aleichem's name and not use any Yiddish text.
I, the writer of these lines, Itshe Actman and Avraham Honig went to Anshl Biderman to help us in some way. We gave Biderman a complete lecture about Sholem Aleichem's creations for the masses. However, he stood up and said: Gentlemen, do not use any foreign words with me. I cannot persuade anyone because a law is a law.
We remained puzzled as if bathed in a cold shower. There remained for us only to say good night and leave.
When we reached the street we again began to think about what to do. One of us said that maybe we should go to the commandant ourselves and try to explain to him the significance of the evening and so on. We three all looked and without spelling out things immediately agreed that we would do this and we really did go straight to the commandant.
The commandant's headquarters was near the Russian cathedral where we had to pass a separate guard and identify ourselves. Two private secretaries sat in the entry-room to the commandant's office, who did not permit entry to both those with special, important assignments or with high recommendations as to their political legitimacy. In addition, they had to show precisely what it was a question of, so that. God forbid, the master would not be disturbed with superfluous matters.
Hearing why we had come, the other one entered a terrible fury, understand that such rascals as we dared to disturb the commandant with such an unimportant trifle. The commandant to complete such important matters, such as supervising the royal and imperial city matters and do we not know that his majesty is involved in a bloody war with Russia on so on and so on. With luck one of the secretaries also was an amateur actor who had appeared several times with Polish amateur societies, and had really excelled in the role of the father in a play by [Stanisław] Przybyszewski. He interceded for us and said that he himself would enter the office of the commandant and if he found him in a good mood would ask him to welcome us.
We waited and the few minutes seemed to us like an eternity. We were afraid that he would send up away to forced labor or even worse, that we would be honored with a portion of blows from which we already felt the pain as well as the shame. While we stood so despondent and already having regret for the entire matter, the office door suddenly opened and no other than the commandant himself appeared, taller, thinner, clean shaven, the Count Pan Żaba and with an almost unfortunate helpfulness invited us into his office and he turned to us and he asked the secretary to have us state what this was about.
Understand that we did not take long to answer and we stated what this was about, that we were leading a gathering for the great Sholem Aleichem who had died not long ago and as he was a great Yiddish poet who always wrote for the Jewish people, it would be a great dishonor for him if the poster was not printed in the language in which he created. And we brought him proof and citations from Heine, Geothe and Börne and others and looking over everything with the secretary who shook his head in agreement at what we said. He suddenly turned to us in an affable tone he said: You have permission. I will be at the performance myself.
We remained standing in bewilderment, as if forged to the earth, no being able to understand what had happened here. However, the secretary came to our aid and as if we had awakened from sleep let us know that the audience was over and we had permission to print the poster in Yiddish, too. Thus did we, young men, unconsciously and unknowing that we were Yiddishists in the present sense of the world, winning a great victory for Yiddish.
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