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[Page 200]

Hashomer's Ball

Henya Birnboym

Translated by Dalya Yohai

It is very touching to see grass coming out of ruins. I am amazed by the force of life coming back to cemeteries and find that it represents the victory of life over death! Horodenka was burned during World War I, when the Russians took over. There was no Jewish life whatsoever – only ruins and demolished chimneys.

But everything ends – the war as well. And when this happened, people started rebuilding the town during the day and sleeping in the cellars which were not completely demolished at night

We lacked everything – clothes, materials, food, etc. There were no jobs either. Fighting still erupted in some places around us and, from time to time, we were subjected to new rules and new terrors. We tried to hold on and do the best we could.

The soldiers brought with them some army supplies such as shoes and uniforms. We would get them and dye them new colors. But most precious were the army blankets. We kept them in secret. We were afraid the army would take them away because after all, it was their property. Often it happened that a person would be stopped in the street and the authorities would take his shoes or coat leaving him in the bitter cold. And still he would feel lucky that there wasn't a more severe punishment.

From all over the country we heard news that the Poles were much worse off than we. The soldiers sometimes amused themselves by cutting off half of the beard of an Orthodox Jew. And they didn't mind if the skin went with it. Other Jews were forced to sweep the floor with their beards and to lick the floor with their tongues. The authorities did nothing about this. They just treated it as funny pranks.

In Lvov, the population was without water or bread. They had no windows in the houses in the middle of winter. A Jew had to bend down like a blade of grass that bends in a storm in order to save his life.

But little by little, life came back to the ruins. People were able to get materials. We soon saw some windows in houses instead of the wooden boards. Spring was in the air and there was hope for renewal.

One day a young boy came to town. He was thin and dark skinned. Benish Noyman had come back from Vilna with his parents. He was a member of HaShomer in Vilna and he was so enthusiastic and genuine in his passion that he managed to infect us all. He was quite young at the time, 16 or 17, but nevertheless managed to excite young and old alike.

This activity was extremely important. It infused us with a nationalistic sentiment that had been dormant in all of us – the sentiment that comes from saying “Next year in Jerusalem.” But this time it looked like it could become a reality.

Benish talked to the youth and explained very convincingly that they were the future men and women of action. Some of the adults had real problems accepting this huge change of attitude. Nobody prayed or wore yarmulkas. Nevertheless, they couldn't argue with Benish, so convincing was he.

It is difficult to explain to those born in Israel what this meant to us. We were able in HaShomer to taste the future. We could sing and dance and argue freely. We were taken seriously and we had a goal and a dream. We didn't feel alone and oppressed anymore. We had the hope of tomorrow!

We started with one group that became the model for the other groups. The place we rented in town became a center of activity for the whole community. We had a library. Some youth who had finished high school during the war but didn't have the opportunity to continue their studies, volunteered to teach the younger children. And soon enough we had a Hebrew school.

Azriel Libster, Asher Yungerman and Eliezer Bilder were the main forces behind the successful school. And I want to thank them here for their effort on behalf of myself and hundreds of other students.

It was not an easy task. Most of the youth didn't have any formal education because of the war. The teachers had to teach both Jewish history and general studies. We discussed different subjects and, when the weather permitted, we had our lessons on the grass. Some of the time was devoted to singing. We reconnected with songs from the past and this added to our cheerfulness. We also planned a show for three reasons: 1) to raise some money, 2) to show our achievements, and 3) to reach the public.

I remember very well one of these evenings. The program was very diverse and was done only by us – the youngsters – with no help from the adults. We miraculously had some money to dye our shirts green and we all wore them. The hall was full of people. Nobody wanted to miss this rare event. We had put a lot of effort into this. We had to get a permit from the authorities which was really difficult, but once we got it, we had the green light.

Benish was the first one. He congratulated everybody and was greeted enthusiastically by the audience. He spoke with warmth and fervor and everybody listened to him carefully.

The mood was very festive. Benish created a good rapport between the audience and the players. Everybody congratulated him for his speech and we were full of admiration. How could one of us express all that was in our hearts so successfully!

Then it was time for our big show.

I remember the brother and sister Sucher. It was very touching to hear them sing: she with her innocent face and devotion and him next to his sister, proud and humble at the same time. They were both singing about the dire conditions and the hope for the future. Their sweet faces were beautiful and full of faith. Their singing was full of warmth and emotion. The audience thanked them from their hearts.

Then Mendale came to the stage. He was chubby with dark eyes and was a very talented comedian. Sometimes he read for us the writings of Shalom Aleichem or other comic writers in the center on Shabbat. Now he was on stage, reading to everybody. In no time we were rolling on the floor. He was such a good mimic. He was very confident and did a great job. And the audience was roaring in laughter. He was trying very hard not to laugh himself. He managed to finish and then bowed to the room – his face all red against his green shirt.

The rest of the program was full of songs and games. But the best part was the funny pantomime of Mendel Diner. He came to the stage dressed like a mom, with an apron and head wrap, and started making latkes with kids and a baby around him. The whole act was so funny that the entire hall went crazy with laughter. Everybody was roaring, laughing and applauding. This community, so worried about its daily life, was laughing a hearty, healthy laughter together. It was very liberating and uplifting.

Mendel Diner, the son of the old rope maker, became the most famous person in town. In the days after the show everybody was “making latkes” and we all sang and stayed very much in the cheerful mood of that evening.

Many new members joined us after this show. We received many more books for the library and people were not so indifferent anymore. The green shirts of Hashomer were seen more and more in our town.

[Page 203]

The First Pioneer Group

Asher Yungerman

Translated by Dalya Yohai

At the end of World War I, people started coming back to town. The youth that had managed to finish high school during the war organized themselves and met at the house of Hershel Sucher (Yiskar), who was the Zionist idealist in town. Slowly but surely we decided that it was time to act, go to Palestine as the first pioneers, and start the process for others to follow as well. We were 15 but only ten could go. We were between the ages of 19 and 22.

In August 1920, we separated from our families and friends and started the journey. Most of the people in town came to say goodbye and many of them looked at us with admiration and some with jealousy. It was a new era. We were not elderly people going to our ancient homeland to be buried; we were the best of the youth going to work and renew the land.

The journey lasted a month. On September 6, 1920, we came to Jaffa. We stayed there for a couple of days and then we were sent to Rosh Pina to work in an English military camp. We dug and built new roads and the “experts” among us built wooden houses. For six months we lived in a tent. Sometimes after a long day of work, the wind would blow through and the rain would wet us completely. But nobody complained. We were happy to be there and to participate in the work. In the evenings we danced the hora and Mr. Kena'an echoed our songs. After that period some of us found jobs in the farms of Rosh-Pina. We were the first Jewish farm workers. Before we came, they had usually hired Arab workers.

It was a time of severe work shortages. Some of us – about half of the group – couldn't take it and decided to go back home to finish their studies. Only two came back; all the others were killed in the Holocaust. May God avenge their blood.

[Page 204]

The First Pioneer Group

Menachem Streyt

Translated by Dalya Yohai

The first pioneer group that was organized to go to Palestine in 1920 included Moshe Fleshner, Reuven Reys, Nachum Katcher, Yosel Yurman, Eizi Eyzman, Yom-Tov Greidinger, Yehoshua Schweger, Shlomo Geffner, Motl Birnboym, and Menachem Strum. When it was time to go, Motel Birnboym gave his place in the group to his sister, Henya Birnboym. Tova, the daughter of Melech Marksheid also joined us. We were in all ten young men and two women. Henya Birnboym was our chairwoman and the administrator was Yosel Yurman. On August 8, 1920 we left Horodenka and went to Bratislava ( Pressburg).

Unfortunately, there was severe unemployment at the time in Eretz Israel and the British Mandate stopped immigration altogether. Seven hundred of us were stranded in Bratislava. Two months later we on continued our way to Vienna.

In the meantime, our group spirit was depleted and upon arriving in Vienna the group separated. Some went back to Horodenka; others went to the States. Only three of us, Yosel Yurman, Yom-tov Greidinger and I decided to stay in Vienna, learn a trade, and wait until it was our time to go to Israel. Tova Marksheid joined another group and went with them later on.

It was not easy to stay in Vienna. I contacted Libster, my old chemistry teacher, and with his help found a job as an assistant to a Jewish painter. I managed to find housing where I stayed there until the end of my apprenticeship. After situating myself I started looking for my friends who were still in Vienna. I found Yosel Yurman, and helped him to find housing. He started working for a jeweler. A third friend joined us and studied plumbing. We didn't miss any opportunity to enjoy the cultural riches in Vienna and went to operas, museums, etc. We tried to make our unexpected stay a constructive and beautiful period in our lives.

In the course of the two years of our stay, two more friends came. But they were not planning to go to Eretz-Israel, rather they had left Horodenka to make it in the big world. Michali Pilpel, the son of Yankl Pilpel came first and then Motel Birnboym. We all lived in the same building and managed to all get a special room in a dormitory. Altogether there were 200 of us there and our group was always mentioned as exemplary.

Around August 1922, I finished my studies and went back to Horodenka to say a last good-bye to my family. The Zionist organization had organized a lecture to promote Karen-Hayesod. I managed to leave the party my parents were giving me and go to that event. When I arrived at 3 o'clock I found Moshe Fleshner and Rosa Yeger working on while and blue banners. The Ofenberger sisters and Moshe Karp were ushers. At 5:00 sharp the event started. Mr. Freshl opened and then Zvi Yiskar. I only remember that he asked those present to give money to Karen-Hayesod. When he saw little enthusiasm in the audience he spoke directly to the young girls asking them to contribute money from their dowries. He advised them to go to Eretz Israel where they would find husbands and get married without a dowry and fancy clothes. We then sang Hatikva. Many of us contributed and they collected a couple of thousand dollars.

When I was in Horodenka I also visited our friend Yosel Yurman. (there were two of them in town, so we nicknamed him Tares Shwatshenku) Yosel, who was our administrator and who had tried so hard to get our passports and permits to go to Eretz, was now very sick. He was completely paralyzed and couldn't even talk. He had gone back to Horodenka and contracted the flu and never recovered.

With a heavy heart I left my friend and his desperate mother. When I was in Vienna a couple of weeks later, I heard about his death.

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