by Yaakov Gorni
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Note by translator: in the original, this article appears to be a translation, into Hebrew, of the Yiddish article appearing on pp. 298-299 of the reference cited in Footnote 1.
by Chaim Lord
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Our town was never considered a large residential area; after all, it numbered only a few thousand Jews. It was surrounded by mountainsthe mountains of Golubas well as by woods and forests. The Dreventz River traversed it, adding a lovely touch of tranquility. Nevertheless, even this small town was not a greenhouse, isolated from the winds and storms that were raging through the world. The new ideas that were spreading like wildfire between the two World Warsthe period during which our/my generation grew upreached and penetrated into our little town, as well.
From a social standpoint, the Jews of the town had never been divided by class, as determined by property ownership, but rather by their viewpoints and beliefs: that is, their ideologies. Thus our parents' generation was split between the Hassidim of Gur and those of Aleksander, or between those who attended prayer services in the synagogue and those who attended them in the Beit Midrash.
Nor were the secular of the town all cut from the same cloth. On the contrarythey were a veritable rainbow of opinions and beliefs: Folkists, Bundists, General Zionists and even Communists. Many a time the struggle between the various ideological groups stirred the town up, shaking it awake from its tranquility and serenity.
When I was very young, I myself found my way to the Hashomer Hatzair movement. The year was 1929, and I happened to attend a Purim party given by the movement's ken. The party took place in Goldman's house, which was located not far from the Prum bakery.
That year is engraved in my heart not only because it was then that I joined the movement, but also because it was the very year of the shocking massacre of the Jews of Hebron. I remember, as if it happened just yesterday, how the Jews of our town gathered in the synagogue to pray, all together, in solidarity with the souls of those who had been slaughtered.
What was the experience like of being in the ken in those days? What did we do when we used to regularly get together? Generally we spent the time singing as a groupsitting around and singing songs of the Land, songs of longing for youngsters who were dreaming about Aliyah and about a very different life. The Oneg Shabbat parties were particularly charming, as were the games we played and the many outings we took. These activities would unify and embolden us.
We received a great deal of support and encouragement from several patrons. Their outlook may actually have been very different from ours, but that did not stop them from standing up for us and helping us out in various ways. It is likely they preferred to see the young people of the town spending their time in the Hashomer Hatzair movementdedicating their free time to thought and to Jewish/Israel activities, looking forward to immigrating to the Landrather than wasting their time.
I would like to mention here that among these patrons were the following families: Offenbach, Ruda and Riesenfeld; and especially the youngest among them, Meir Kszeczanowski and his family. Indeed it is hard to imagine how the Shomer ken would have persisted without Meir Kszeczanowski's help; he stood at our side with advice and guidance and never ceased to encourage us. He was frail in body; but that did not prevent him from being dedicated, with all his might, to the activities of the movement. And throughout he was longing to fulfil his dream of going on Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
The 1930s were difficult years for the Jews of Poland, a period during which antiSemitism was intensifying, casting a shadow of fear and terror over the Jewish communitiesparticularly after Hitler's rise to power in Germany.
This was reflected in Golub, where a flag bearing a swastika flew over the German school, portending dark troubles for us…In Dobrzyn itself the Endek (ND) movement spread; their members had no compunctions about conducting pogroms against the Jews. Thus, for example, [in Dobrzyn] they went out to demonstrate in a procession after the events of Przytyk; this procession ended with the smashing of shop windows of Jewishowned businesses.
I still recall this pogrom, as if it happened just yesterday: The Endek procession passed along the Street of Gold, where the Jewish shops were located; they smashed the shop windows one after another, terrifying the Jews. And indeed, the Jews were at that time holed up in their own houses, afraid to show their faces outside.
The only ones who were not intimidated by the Endeks and who were not hiding in their houses were the members of Hashomer Hatzair, who still gathered together in the ken and continued to engage in their educationalcultural activity. We were prepared to display our might to the Endek hooligans and to use additional methods of selfdefense; we were determined to not shut ourselves up in our houses.
Even graver and particularly depressing was our feeling that we teenagers had no future in our town. Children of the wealthy families, only few in number, left for the nearby cities to study in high school. Others, whose parents could afford to help them out, immigrated to countries on the other side of the ocean: the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, the rest of us, the ordinary people, were forced to join our parents' meager businesses after we completed elementary school. These businesses consisted of shops and open stands in the marketplace. Some of us continued on in their fathers' professions: tailoring, shoemaking, painting and carpentry.
One of the principles on which we were educated in the Hashomer Hatzair movement was that of productivitythat is, acquiring productive professions that had the potential to change the economicsocial structure of our people. However, it was particularly difficult to find someone skilled in a profession who would accept Jewish apprentices for training. I remember once going out of my way to approach an exceptionally good, nonJewish professional painter, requesting that he would take me on to teach me the trade. But he refused to accept me.
In the Jewish town they looked upon professional workers with disdain; as a result, those young people who sought to learn a profession found the path they were on to be laden with hardships. I recall how Yosef Siskind's mother, Chana of blessed memory, approached me, pleading that I should convince her son to give up his intention to learn to be a shoemaker. At the time her son Yosef was about to leave for hachshara. She was quite puzzled by this aspiration of his, which she viewed as inappropriate for their welloff family. In those days laboring with one's hands was considered a stain on a family's reputation.
I will not forget the bold impression made on us by the hachshara members of Kibbutz Hayotzrim. Today some of them are to be found in Kfar Masaryk, and among them: Yitzhak Sperling, as well as Nechama and Tzadok Zudkewitz. However, the members of this hachshara group spent only a very short time in our town, since it was difficult for them to find work there. But even their short stay in the town aroused excitement and pride in us. It was no small matter to see Jewish young women toiling at sawing logs in the courtyards of houses that belonged to Jews.
Our instructors were, of course, the backbone of the movement and the guiding spirit of the ken. Several of them had a profound influence on me. I am very pleased that, although not all of them are in Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim, all are living in Israel.
I vividly remember Shoshana Offenbach, whose maternal attitude to us members of the Kfirim troop is engraved deeply in my heart to this very day. She was always there for us with an attentive ear and a sensitive heart, and so her very presence would make us feel good.
Years later, when I got older and became the administrator of the ken, I once happened to be leafing through old meeting minutes and found that when Shoshana was responsible for the secretariat everything was extremely organized. Indeed, she was not only sympathetic and maternal, but also well organized, wise and responsible.
When I think back about Avraham Rosen, memories of the Oneg Shabbat parties come back to me. During these parties, which took place at dusk, he would sing Hassidic melodies in a pleasant, passionate voice that would overwhelm even us youngsters.
Each of us would usually bring fruit or candy to this party from home, according to his means; and afterwards we would sit down for a common meal. These parties implanted in us the first seeds of cooperative living, since each of us was taught to bring whatever food he had available to the table we shared.
We were very fond of Yaakov Lipka for his likeable temper and for his riveting stories about the Shomer in the Land. I remember these stories to this very day. He got special affection from us for the lumber yard owned by his parents. He gave us permission to use it, and there we were able to engage in various outdoor sports.
The very first flag of the group was embroidered by Minja. It was a red, silk flag embroidered with sheaves and below them the name Ruth. How enchanted we were by this flag, and how we were filled with pride whenever we waved it!
There is no doubt that the graduates' leaving for hachshara and their immigration to the Land had a definitive influence on the formation of our personalities. Personal example served as the most powerful educational factor.
I recall how great the influence on us was of the bonvoyage parties that we made for the group leaders when they left for hachshara, or when they left for Aliyah to the Land of Israel. Afterwards we would read their letters with excitement and jealousy, since we were filled with the desire and anticipation of being just like them. Their tribulations through hachshara, their meanderings on their way to the Land of Israel, their adventures in Aliyah Bet or during the World War that had broken out, all fed our imaginations for a long time.
It would be difficult to describe the ideological convergence of the members of our ken without mentioning the welcome influence of Yisrael Shleifstein (now known as Lahav), currently a member of Kibbutz Mizra, who was sent to us in the role of a shaliach and as a Hebrew teacher. His serious attitude to our studies and his indepth approach to ideological problems awakened in us a strong desire to increase our knowledge, so that we could use our critical approach on contemporary issues. And indeed this preparation helped us afterwards when we had to take part in stormy debates with members of other movements, particularly nonZionist leftists.
The Zionist activities of our ken were extensive. We participated in all the activities of the Zionist movement: organizing meetings for Keren Hayesod; selling shekels; and collecting money for the Jewish National Fund, something we always excelled at and invariably led in.
I recall those conferences that we helped organize; crowds of Jews of the town attended them to find out what was going on in the Land of Israel. And among the noteworthy speakers were: Bialopolski, Dr. Schiper and GrossZimmerman.
We worked hard to distribute the newspaper of Eretz Yisrael Haovedet, and we did much to support the existence and expansion of the Shalom Aleichem town library. Indeed, I spent a good deal of my adolescent years in this library, expanding and improving my knowledge.
It is fitting to mention here those who aided us in founding and developing the library: Eliezer Zaklikowski (Lozar), Aharon Holtz, the Fein family, as well as others. Within the framework of the library there were also cultural evenings that were dedicated to various literary topics.
Organizationally our ken belonged to the Mława regional branch; we obtained our educational directives from both the regional administration and from the head administration in Warsaw.
Some of our members were sent to summer camps in the vicinity of Ciechanow, where they spent several weeks in the forests. These gettogethers contributed greatly to expanding their horizons and their idealistic base, as well as to creating ties with new comrades. And most important, we returned afterwards with renewed energy to being active in the movement.
I myself also participated in a national seminar for instructors near Warsaw. Janusz Korczak, the renowned educator, the children's friend, took part in this seminar. Later, during the Holocaust, he refused to abandon the children he was responsible for and went up into the train cars of death with them.
In this seminar there had gathered together those who were expected to take the reins of leadership into their hands just before the war broke out. Among them were the comrades of Mordechai Anielewicz, the hero of the Warsaw Ghetto. They headed the people's struggle until the very last moments of their lives.
The members of my group were drafted into the [Polish] army the year before I was drafted. They were in active service when the war broke out. Nearly all of them were killed on the battlefields.
Just before the war broke out, I myself left for hachshara in Rovno, a city in the Wolyn district, on the RussianPolish border. The war found me there when I felt its impact as we were being bombarded from the air by the Germans. Hundreds of thousands of refugees with just the shirts on their backs flocked to the city, terrified and desperate. Among them was our comrade Shimshon, who was so completely worn out and exhausted that it was difficult to even recognize him.
Then the eastern region of Poland was occupied by the Russians, and the local inhabitants welcomed the Red Army with joy. But I was concerned throughout about the fate of my family and sought ways to immigrate to the Land of Israel as soon as possible. I believed that if I could steal across the border to Romania I would find a way to continue on from there.
Days of wandering south, in trains and even on foot, ensued. I travelled via Lwów, Stanisławów and Kołomyja. One rainy autumn night I somehow managed to reach Romania via back roads in the Carpathian mountains.
I stayed in Romania an entire year, leading the life of a refugee. I was thrown into prison, threatened with being drafted into the Polish army, and lived in dread of the Germans, who had already made their appearance at the outskirts of Bucharest. Finally, at the very last moment, just before Romania was conquered by the Germans, I was able to get away and immigrate to the Land.
Nor did my aliyah take place smoothly, in tranquil waters…The ships of the Italian navy were already dominating the Mediterranean Sea, while the British ships were retreating towards Alexandria from their bases in this area. After two weeks of sailing in cargo ships within a British military convoy, we reached the port of Alexandria, and from there to the port of Haifa in the Land of Israel.
On the left: Meir Kszeczanowski (head of the ken [local branch])
Standing: Florman, Yaakov; Rosen, Avraham; Kszeczanowski, Meir; Lipka, Meir
Sitting: Florman, Menashe; Bielewski, Yaakov; Waldenberg, Yehuda
by Chaim Lord
Translated by Allen Flusberg
The library in Dobrzyn, which was named after Sholom-Aleichem, served as the cultural and social center of the town. Several evenings every week, when the library was open, the young people would gather there. Sometimes it was just to spend time together and have friendly conversations; at other times it was to browse through books in the reading room; and at still other times it was to attend either a lecture or a debate on some contemporary issue.
However, it is difficult to describe the cultural and social activity of the young people in the town without referring to the library. It was there that they got together during evenings; it was also there that those who thirsted for knowledgebut did not have the means to study in a large cityacquired their education.
The library began as a covert facility in a time when libraries were regarded with suspicion by the Czarist regime of Russia. And indeed, in those days nationalist and social activity was associated with acquisition of knowledge, with reading the works of thinkers and revolutionaries whose writings were forbidden throughout the Russian empire.
At first the books were collected from various donors, particularly from the Folkists and members of Poalei-Tsion, who had purchased them in Warsaw and Lodz and had contributed them to the library. As time passed the number of books ballooned. Most of them were in Yiddish and Polish, and later many were in Hebrew as well.
Fein, who was one of the Jewish communist activists in the town, ran the library, organizing it into various departments and guiding the readers with his advice. Sitting nearby to help him were: Menashe Florman (a Tsioni-Klali), Meir Kaszczenowski and Shimshon Abramowitz (of HaShomer HaTzair), and Eliezer Zelikowski (of Poalei-Tsion).
The library relied on a monthly membership fee, which gave members the right to borrow books and to participate in the various cultural activities that took place in the library auditorium. In addition, there were donors who supported the library with their contributions.
When I took over the administration of the library it already had more than 3,000 books and dozens of daily newspapers, as well as weekly and monthly magazines, that we received from various cities and countries. There were more than 100 membersa substantial number for such a small townwho were paying the membership fee every month.
Within this collection one could find works by the Yiddish writers Mendele Mocher-Sforim, Sholom-Aleichem, Peretz, and others. There were also translations into Yiddish of books on political economics, Marxism, etc.
I recall the library auditorium that was decorated with photographs of Sholom-Aleichem, Mapu and Bialik. This auditorium had about 200 seats in it. Hereparticularly on Saturday nightswe held cultural evenings that were dedicated to book reviews or to literary discussions. For example, one evening was dedicated to Peretz Markish, while another was dedicated to Oscar Wilde's work, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In the auditorium we also had many meetings that were dedicated to Zionist activity, whether to organize the distribution of shekels, or to hear a report from the Zionist congresses, or to hear from a delegate who had recently been in the Land of Israel what was happening there.
No one knows what became of the library during the Holocaust period. Most certainly it was destroyed, sharing the fate of the synagogues and Houses of Study of the town.
Right to left: Yechiel Fogel, Freida Gorny, Tziporah Alberg, Azriel Dobraszklanka, Itta Rappaport, Lidzberski, Shmil-Baruch Rusk, Esther-Freida Prum
in Dobrzyn to Wolff Lichtenfeld in Chicago
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