Jakub Chuna Plai (Filik)
The elders living among us, still well remember well what was involved in communal work generally and Zionist [work], in particular, in bygone Poland. Until the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, Poland was under the Tsarist regime, which lay its heavy paws on the socalled Privislinsky Krai (the land by the Vistula), which encompassed as many as ten gubernias (governates), among them that of Piotrków, to which Częstochowa also belonged administratively.
Any Zionistic work was then strictly forbidden and needed to be carried out illegally and very secretly.
The ruling Russian power reacted particularly harshly, following the revolutionary years of 19041905, in which Jewish youth had taken a significant part. In the Jewish street, there arose, then, the Jewish socialist parties Bund and Poalei Zion, which it persecuted extensively and, incidentally, [it] also persecuted the nonsocialist parties the Zionist Union and the Mizrachi. Everything was forbidden and even such innocent work as distributing shekels or collecting money for Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel, were among the severest transgressions against the law and the ruling power.
These activities were not only frowned upon by the Russian government, but also by the Chassidim, for whom the Zionist ideal was tightly bound with the unburdening of the yoke of Torah and its precepts.
They strived to ensure that their children, the studyhall youth, should not be ensnared, heaven forbid, by the tempters and instigators. They checked every move the boys made and made certain that they were not, heaven forbid, reading the impure and illicit brochures and leaflets propagating Zionist and Mizrachist ideology.
The small number of Zionists and Mizrachists, who wished to do something for Zionism and the Land of Israel, were forced to do this conspiratorially literally hidden away.
The city's few Maskilim obtained their information on Zionism from the Hebrew press. They also distributed, amongst themselves, the little amount of Haskala books, which they had acquired through great effort. Furthermore, echoes reached them from the Zionist Congress and they also discovered that wellknown great rabbis, true lovers of Zion, had participated in it, who then created Ha'Mizrachi, around which religious Jews, who strove for the redemption and building of the Land [of Israel] in the spirit of Torah and tradition, would have to gather.
This work was not easy because, at that time, all the Chassidic Rebbes were opposed to the Zionist and Mizrachist ideology and they required all their Chassidim to distance themselves from the forcers of the End [of Days], even if they were godfearing and impeccable, who observed all the precepts of the Torah and even dedicated time to Torah study regularly. But these chosen individuals did not content themselves with loving [the People of] Israel alone and, in their hearts, there burned a love for the Land of Israel. They dreamed of becoming the followers of the era of Ezra and Nehemiah.
I pass by details regarding the establishment of Tzeirei Mizrachi, because others have already written about this for Sefer Częstochowa. So I shall move on to telling of my memories from the other areas of the religiousnationalist work in our dear Częstochowa.
The abovementioned repressions against the social and, above all, against Zionist and nationalist enterprises in Częstochowa, ended after the First World War and with the rise of a liberated independent Polish State.
The contemporary Germans, in one of their first proclamations, which they threw from their aeroplanes and which were addressed to the Jews in Poland, promised imminent equality, open organising and permanent liberation from the Russian yoke.
The occupationforce did not sympathise with Zionism, which was then based on the English orientation. Consequently, German orthodox doctorsrabbis Kohn and Carlebach were brought to Poland, so that they should pull the broad Jewish masses from Zionism and organise the religious elements of Poland along the lines of Agudas Yisroel, which was, as shown, opposed to Zionism. It nevertheless allowed the Zionist parties of all shades to widely develop their ideas and to conduct open, legal and undisturbed Zionist work.
But, at the same time, the orthodox elements were also greatly strengthened and received a free hand and so a fierce war with the Zionists began, with Mizrachi in particular, and hindered it in its work.
At the head of Mizrachi stood our beloved and approvedbyall rabbi, Rabbi Nachum Asz, and together with him, the most respected public figures, who distinguished themselves with their proper conduct, the love of the Torah and its propagators, such as the Maggid Rabbi Reb Józef Szymon Koblenz, Reb Mojsze Halter, Reb Abram Mendel Lipski and Reb Abram Henoch Finkelsztajn, and afterwards, when the heads of the Kehilla were those active in Mizrachi, Reb Szmul Goldsztajn, Reb Chaim Weksler and Reb Izrail Mendel Zilberberg. But [despite] all that, it was still not enough for people to be unafraid of persecutions and to proclaim themselves as Mizrachists.
Great was the plight of the religiousnationalistic youth, which literally tore itself to Ha'Mizrachi. They were simply forced to come into conflict with their parents and spiritual guides and, since they were as I've already mentioned studyhall students and socalled daddy'sboys, they did not possess even the couple of groschen to pay their modest membership contribution.
But the Chassidic brenn [ardour], which they possessed in a large measure, strengthened their will and, in their rich fantasies, they saw before them the fine historical figures of our national heroes the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, the military legions of Bar Kokhba, the Hasmoneans and the great heroes of Masada, who so heroically fought against the foreign lords for the freedom of the Jewish folk in their land, as well as against the impious haters who abandoned traditional Judaism. These young men saw themselves as the heirs of those heroes, who must lead [the way] to the redemption of the People and the Land [of Israel].
On Chanukah 5677 [December 1916], the Częstochowa Mizrachi held a general assembly, with the participation of the Rabbi of Gąbin, Rabbi Reb Juda Leib Zlotnik, and Rabbi Isaac Nissenbaum. After these two important guests had, with their brilliant speeches, literally electrified the ardent audience in favour of Mizrachi and Zionism, a group of religiousnationalist youth, who had already long been carrying the Mizrachi ideal buried deep inside their hearts, made the decision and, at the Mizrachi premises at ulica Ogrodowa 14, proclaimed the founding of the Tzeirei Mizrachi movement in Częstochowa.
Standing (as above): Zvi Minc, Oberman, Zvi Granek, Szmul Koblenz and Mordka Gold.
The founders were Mordka Gold (Zahavi), the brothers Jakob and Szmul Koblenz, Abram Bajgelman, Zvi Granek, Ze'ev Wiewiorka, A.N. Sztencel, Abram Enzel, Dov Goldberg and Jakub Chune Filik (Plai).
They were later joined, as active members, by Jakob Leslau, Jakob Lewenhof, M. Danziger, M.Ch. Tiberg, Chaim Fajnsztadt, A.Z. Rozen, the brothers Berkowicz (Barkai), Jakob Szyia Kohn, Sz.D. Kaminski and Izaak Kac.
The temporary council soon set about their organisational and cultural work. It arranged courses for the study of Hebrew Bible and Hebrew, as well as a Talmud lesson, which was held daily, immediately following the prayer service.
Special committees were created within the council for the shekel [and for] Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel.
A reading hall and a library were opened and lectures on Zionistic, cultural and social questions were held often. A special committee dealt with the recruitment of members for Tzeirei Mizrachi. Tzeirei Mizrachi also participated in national and district conferences. At the first Tzeirei Mizrachi national conference in Łódź, three Częstochowa delegates took part Gold (Zahavi), Koblenz and the writer of these lines.
Our work proceeded normally until the PolishBolshevik war which, at the beginning, halted all communal work because the majority of the Jewish youth were either mobilised into the Polish military, or had left the country.
Following the rise of the independent Polish State and after the mandate for the Land of Israel had been approved, energetic, intensive work began which was, mainly, carried out by members Jakob Leslau, Dov Goldberg (Achiyahu) and J.Ch. Filik (Plai).
Apart from them, many of the members mentioned already, who had succeeded in emigrating to the Land of Israel and who, there, helped with the development of Ha'Poel Ha'Mizrachi and its institutions, also participated actively in the work.
This particular Aliyah was much aided by the Land of Israel Bureau (the socalled Palestine Bureau), which had, in every town, opened local offices in which all the Zionist parties were represented, including Tzeirei Mizrachi. Through them, a horticultural farm was created in Częstochowa, where our male and female members completed their training.
We also organised courses for steel and concrete works. At that time, Mr Sz.Z. Shragai (nowadays Director of the Immigration Department of The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem), came to us for a certain period and also helped us very much with the work. The Ha'Chalutz Ha'Mizrachi was also then created.
Częstochowa also had the privilege, from time to time, of being the most suitable location for different party districtconferences, not only of our party, because Zionist and communal life here pulsated strongly and this was used by the central committees of all Zionist parties.
(Sadly, only a fraction of these activists and dedicated members were able to emigrate to the Land of Israel. The rest and this was the larger part were destroyed by Hitler's murderers, may God avenge their blood!
Sefer Częstochowa is a modest living tombstone for our martyrs).
The Book Committee
More than forty years have passed since that great day on which Jewish and Zionist Częstochowa farewelled its first four pioneers to the Land of Israel. Yet these events are still alive in the memories of those that have had the privilege to remain alive until today.
These fortunate pioneers were the most active and the principal members of Tzeirei Mizrachi Abram Berlinski, Jakob Leslau, Sz.Z. Shragai and Dov Goldberg (Achiyahu).
The Central Council of Mizrachi in Poland sent a delegate to the ceremonial farewellbanquet in honour of these members. He was the editor of the weekly Ha'Mizrachi, Sz.Ch. Landau (the later ideologist of the Torah Ve'Avoda [Torah and Work] movement and one of the most active builders of the nationalistreligious settlements in the Land of Israel).
The banquet was opened, in name of Tzeirei Mizrachi, by A. Danziger, who stressed the importance that, as the first pioneers of the movement, [those] travelling to the Land of Israel [were] the finest and best members of the Częstochowa organisation Tzeirei Mizrachi and [he] expressed his hope that the remaining members would intensify their activity, in order to fill the void left after the departure of the best members.
Following the festive, ceremonial meal, which was served in honour of these important members, warm farewell speeches were given by Reb Mojsze Halter in name of Mizrachi, Sz.D. Kaminski Tzeirei Mizrachi, Izaak Kac Ha'Chalutz Ha'Mizrachi, J. Barkai the Agricultural Group, Gitte Woznica the Female Pioneers Group, Reb Lewi Jungster Ha'Mizrachi and the Zionist Union in Sosnowiec, Mr Herman Ha'Mizrachi and the Zionist Union in Włoszczowa, Natan Gerichter the Zionist Union in Częstochowa, Józef Goldsztajn Hitachdut, Abram Gerszonowicz Tarbut, Mr Borensztajn Ha'Mizrachi in Zawiercie, Mr Altman Tzeirei Mizrachi in Będzin, Mr Epsztajn Herzliya, Mr Bratt Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel, Mr Grinbaum the district Zionist Council and Mr Windman the Zionist Union in Zawiercie.
Szmul Goldsztajn, the Prezes of the Jewish Kehilla, as the last speaker, summed up the great benefits that these four pioneers had [brought] to the strengthening of ZionistMizrachi ideology amongst Częstochowa Jews and blessed them that, in the Land of Israel also, they should be successful in building the land in the spirit of the Torah and tradition.
The guestdelegate from the Central Council and member of the Executive Committee, Reb Sz.Ch. Landau, in a brilliant speech, described the tasks of Ha'Mizrachi and Ha'Poel Ha'Mizrachi, currently, when the foundations were being laid for great national building which [would] lead to the realisation of building a national Jewish home in the Land of Israel.
The speaker also elaborated upon the great significance it had that Tzeirei Mizrachi had sent their very best members as the first.
He furthermore stressed that the ranks of Tzeirei Mizrachi must not become weakened, but must be fortified through active and very intensive work on the part of the members remaining in exile. His appeal to the members present caused great enthusiasm and everyone applauded him warmly. As a consequence, they immediately began singing songs of Zion and Jerusalem, accompanied by fervent dancing, which continued almost until morning.
Before ending the banquet, the departing pioneers delivered very warm, farewell speeches, of which the short address by Jakob Leslau made a particular impression. He concluded with the words:
To the blessings of [May] your departure [be] to peace, we have but one answer: [May] your coming [be] to peace and may [God] grant that we see you all soon in the Land of Israel in our holy and built land!
The following morning, hundreds of friends and relatives came to the train to farewell our four pioneers. When the train arrived, we discovered that, on it, were another eighty pioneers. This caused great excitement. The assembled crowd had a quick little dance and then saw off the train, singing Hatikvah.
(among them D. Goldberg (Achiyahu), J. Leslau and Sz.Z. Shragai)
The horticultural farm was founded in 1902 by the wellknown philanthropists and public activists Leopold Werde, Henryk Markusfeld, Mr Grosman and Stanisław Herc. They bought a large parcel of land behind the city and established a gardening school there in order for Jewish young men to learn and become qualified in agriculture.
Among others, the brothers Aron and Abram Finkler (members of Poalei Zion) graduated from this school in 1908. Abram Finkler immediately left for the Land of Israel. Aron Finkler was arrested by the police for being a Poalei Zion activist. Afterwards, as he later reported, seeing as how he was prepared to voluntarily serve in the military for an [appointed] time, he was released from prison and was sent away as a soldier to Turkestan.
In 1912, he was released from the military service and returned to Częstochowa. Here, he planted a garden next to the Old Synagogue (on the other side of the Warta River) and, afterwards he also departed for the Land of Israel. He joined the group at Merhavia [a kibbutz] and occupied himself there with agriculture. Due to the malaria disease, he was forced to leave Merhavia and settled in the Upper Galilee. At the start of the First World War he was, as a Turkish subject, mobilised. His brother Abram also took part in the war. They were both in ElArish ([El]Qantara).
We have told of them in detail, because they were the first Częstochowa youngsters to learn at the farm.
Now about the farm itself in the 1930's, there was a pioneersfarm on which up to 130 young men and women worked. The farm had its own 21acre field, which was very intensively cultivated. Most favoured were the tomato plantations, as the pioneers had convinced themselves that this produce brought in the best proceeds. The farm also had a welldeveloped henhouse for fowl. Cattle also [were kept] and the milk was taken to town and sold well.
When the farm passed over to Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair, its pioneers developed the farm as much and as best [as possible]. A short time before the World War, they built structures for new branches of agriculture. In this way, they greatly developed the gardens for fruits and they built by themselves the warm ovens for their plantations, as well as workshops for shoemaking, tailoring of clothes and even linen, both for their own use, as well as to sell. They also had their own bakery and the farm was provided with a fine dining room and a reading hall. The sleeping quarters for the members were clean, wellventilated and comfortable. They also created a rich library with precious books and, as is selfevident, a separate room for the sick members of the kibbutz.
Of the 130 members of Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair, 85 worked in the city and 45 were employed in the kibbutz.
(All this was until the destruction. Everything fizzed with life and idealism until Hitler's murderers put an end to Polish Jewry. The wonderful farm with its idealistic youth, too, was destroyed by the barbarians!)
Poalei Zion had already become active in Częstochowa 1904. It was established by the Zionist high schools and was conducted by Szyia Fridman son of the editor of Ha'Tzofe [The Observer], which appeared at that time in Warsaw.
The revolutionary socialist idea, as well as the influence of Nachman Sirkin, who wanted to merge Zionism with Socialism, also infiltrated Częstochowa. Here too, there were arguments about Yiddish and Hebrew.
Following the split within bourgeois Zionism, due to The Uganda Proposal, the same occurred in the ZionistSocialist circles. Two parties were created the S.Z (SocialistsZionists) and Poalei Zion. The split was conducted at a conference in Kraków.
At the first assembly of Poalei Zion in Warsaw, in 1904, the SocialDemocratic Workers' Union Poalei Zion was created and, from the Częstochowa members, Szymon Pruszycki was elected to the Central Committee.
The leading and active members were, at the time (alphabetically [Heb.]) Eliasz Ickowicz, Dawid Borzykowski, Aleksander Behm, Abram Wiewiorka, Wolf Lewenhof, Izrail Fajman and Szymon Pruszycki.
At the initiative of I. Fajman, evening courses were opened for male and female workers. The course for girls was directed by Gitte Zilberminc and the teachers were Mrs Wajzer, Leder, Majorczyk and his wife, Kelim and a few others.
Thanks to this educational and organisational work, the party acquired active agitators and organisers, among whom should be mentioned are Judl Danziger, Szymon Waldfogel, Izrail Warszawski, Majer Fajwlowicz, Mojsze Cieszynski and Jakob Kopinski.
In all the political strikes and mass demonstrations that arose at the time and especially in 1905, hundreds of Jewish workers marched under the flag of Poalei Zion.
The renowned teahouse of Marjem Lea, where the members used to meet, was frequently visited by the police, who quite often arrested suspicious teadrinkers there.
The Poalei Zion organisation in Częstochowa also organised a selfdefence group and provided it with weapons.
From time to time, Częstochowa was visited by party leaders, among them Ber Borochov and Marc Jarblum.
Following the downfall of the revolution in 1905, the Tsarist government began to persecute the workers' movement more intensively. Part of the intelligentsia abandoned the movement. Others hid themselves or went abroad. But there were enough who were arrested and sent to Siberia. Member from the Częstochowa Poalei Zion who were arrested and sent away included Dawid Borzykowski, Judl Danziger, Izrail Warszawski and Majer Fajwlowicz. Szymon Waldfogel fled abroad. Due to the fact that Częstochowa was near the German border, many of our members came here from faraway Russia and then smuggled themselves out abroad. The party fully aided them.
In 1906, Marc Jarblum (who used the pseudonym Comrade Solomon) lived in Częstochowa and was editor of the Poalei Zion regional weekly periodical Das Jüdische Arbeiter Wort [The Jewish Worker's Word], which was printed in Kraków.
It should be noted that members of Poalei Zion travelled to the Land of Israel long before the large Aliyah. Thus, as early as 1907, the PoaleiZionist activist, Józef Kaluszynski, a printingpress worker, who was known as Y. Arieli, founder of a large printingpress in TelAviv, travelled to [the Land of] Israel.
Later, in 1909, the Finkler brothers (among the first pupils at the Częstochowa horticultural farm) left, as did Gerszon Ickowicz, Chaim Behm, Handelsman, Bluma Rubinsztajn and others.
Sadly, not all remained in Israel.
Although the work in the years 190708 was very limited and strongly conspiratorial, the party did everything to maintain its existence.
In 1909, the writer of these lines travelled to Warsaw and, there, succeeded in renewing the contact with the Poalei Zion Central committee and, thanks to it, the Częstochowa members also received the information leaflets, which the Central Committee printed every fortnight on a hectograph.
Many times, joint political actions were also conducted with diverse workers' parties. When, in 1912, proteststrikes erupted throughout the Russian Empire against the cruel and bloody suppression of the workers' strike at the goldfields by the Lena RIver in Siberia, the Jewish workers' parties in Częstochowa also organised a proteststrike.
That very successful strike showed that the Jewish workers, too, felt a great sentiment of responsibility and solidarity.
The writer of these lines represented the Poalei Zion party in the unified commission which organised the successful proteststrike.
Shortly before the First World War, Poalei Zion members Dawid Borzykowski, Judl Danziger and Izrail Warszawski returned from exile and Sz. Waldfogel from abroad. Party work took on a greater prominence. But immediately, with the outbreak of the World War, Częstochowa was also occupied by the German army. Economic life came to a standstill, due to the regular requisitions and because Częstochowa was torn from its large Russian market, and, therewith, communal activity was also completely paralysed.
The Germans announced that it was possible to be voluntarily registered for work in the German factories and in the coalmines. Many workers, including hundreds of Jews, were sent away to Germany for work.
The first urgent necessity was to alleviate, as far as possible, the need among the Jewish masses, which was very great. The workers' parties organised an inexpensive kitchen and a free teahall. A workers'home was also established, which had a great influence on the workers. Through our party's participation in the different social actions, it grew and became a great massorganisation.
Later, with the combined forces of the workers' parties, a bakerycafeteria was established. Our party was represented in its organisation by A. Gotlib.
At the end of 1916, the Germans organised elections for the City Council, according to a reactionary voting system. The Poalei Zion party called a great massassembly and, there, fiercely protested against this voting system.
When the bloody war ended in 1918 and the German army surrendered and allowed itself to be disarmed by the civilian population, the P.P.S took over power in Częstochowa. They disarmed them and created a folk'smilitia. Poalei Zion also took part in the disarming. The government of Independent Poland in Lublin issued a decree under which the civilian population was to give up its weapons to government agencies.
The freshlyorganised P.P.S militia entered and seized the workers' home and, there too, searched for weapons and arrested anyone suspicious.
At the transporting of the weapons confiscated from the Poalei Zion, Icek Rozencwajg was arrested at the trainstation. With great effort, the party were able to free him.
The Temporary Polish Government, which was primarily a socialist one, gained the trust of the working classes and, in 1919, six representatives of Poalei Zion were also chosen for the [newly] created workers' councils.
At the City Council as well, two members of Poalei Zion were elected as Councillors Aleksander Behm and Szymon Waldfogel (after the latter's death on 20th February 1920, Juda Danziger, who died in Israel, took his place).
At that time, Częstochowa went through many economic difficulties. At that time, our party opened a foodcooperative and several departments, as well as its own bakery, with which to alleviate the difficult plight of the Jewish population.
Once the party was allowed to conduct its activities legally, it organised different assemblies with the participation of leading personages such as Yaakov Zerubavel, Dr Chaim Zhitlowsky, Marc Jarblum and A. Revusky.
Following the Poalei Zion conference in Kraków, a split emerged in the party and Poalei Zion Right and Left were created. The split aroused a conflict among the factions, regarding the assets of the splintered party, but in the end, the financial institutions remained with the left wing.
These frictions did not weaken the Poalei Zion party, but from it were created two congressional parties: Left and Right Poalei Zion.
(in centre, the party's Leader, Marc Jarblum).
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