by Katriel Stein
I was nine years old when World War I broke out. My parents then lived in Kalish where they owned a 'restaurant'. I was educated in Blaszki with my grandfather Reb Yoel Wangczewski, of blessed memory. He was known there as Black Yoel and was a well-to-do and respected Hassid who engaged in communal affairs. He was a member of the Community Council and of the Municipal Council and always sought ways and means of helping his people.
I remember how such dreadful words as 'War' and 'Mobilization' were hanging in the air. The chief thing done by the soldiers who passed through the little town was to steal liquor, drink themselves drunk, pour the rest out on the ground and set it alight. Several shops were burnt down. Where Kalish lay, on the horizon, there was something grey like smoke rising up into the sky.
At last my parents arrived after all kinds of adventures and mishaps. My father related that on the first day, the townsfolk looted the railway station. The Russian soldiers had already withdrawn and the city was left without any rulers or protectors. So the Jews welcomed the Germans as redeemers, particularly since they spoke German and could understand one another. The German soldiers willingly purchased from the Jews and behaved politely.
Suddenly there was a storm of bullets. Machine guns could be heard chattering all night long. The men said Psalms and put heart into the fainting women. Quiet was restored only in the morning. The Germans put up posters declaring Martial Law and gave permission to go out and purchase food during three hours. Between the shots, people peeped out like mice from their holes.
My grandmother Rachel, may she rest in peace, hired a cart with two horses and went off to Kalish in order to fetch back the members of my family. But they had already left the town. All the property they took with them was loaded on a baby carriage. By the Sabbath most of the Jews of Kalish had fled to Blaszki. Rabbi Kanal announced to all the townsfolk that this was an emergency that deferred the Sabbath and all those who had vehicles went off to Kalish to fetch the refugees back.
The little town filled up with refugees who were housed in the synagogue and all the public institutions. The large square was also full to overflowing. Many found refuge with their kinsfolk. The rest went on to other villages and small towns.
That Sabbath the Germans mishandled eight hundred Jews who were collected from the entire city. They were ordered to count to ten and told that they would be shot. This trick was repeated several times without any
shooting. The last time a messenger arrived with a letter of reprieve for them.
Parts of the dwellings of the city were destroyed but the industrial section was less affected. Some say the reason was that the machines were German and the purchasers still owed money to Germans for them. In Blaszki itself, they ruled firmly but without any cruelty.
One winter morning in 1918, young Poles marched into our courtyard in civilian clothing, with rifles on their shoulders. What is this? I asked and they answered: Nasza Polska! (Poland is ours!) I had gone to sleep as a German citizen and woke up as a Polish citizen. They went over to the German soldiers and demanded their arms. The Germans, who had claimed that they were going to conquer the world, very quietly handed over their weapons. The Poles also stripped some of them of their uniforms and boots.
When an ultimatum was served on the garrison, the Germans decided to fight a last battled and trained their artillery on the Church. On that Sabbath, Rabbi Kanal headed a deputation and requested them not to destroy the town whose Jewish inhabitants were certainly not responsible for what had happened.
That was the end of the German rule after World War I.
by L. Shurek-Halevi
This happened in the year 1925. Since all these years have passed, it is good to revive the scene of the events in my imagination. It was the Island we knew so well in the Prosna.
Let us stand facing the bathing cabins, our eyes towards the Prosna current coming from Piewonice. To the right is the floating bridge by which we passed over to Prochowski who was a tall and a very decent Christian. From him we used to hire boats and kayaks. About a hundred metres further on stood a little booth with a jetty for better boats beside it. Two hundred metres further along the right-hand bank going against the current could be found the Kazimierczak's Restaurant, which was at the service of the boatmen.
From Kazimierczak's restaurant the way leads to the Cross. Here the bank is very pleasant with high grass and shady trees and it is easy to reach the boats. At this point the river is deep and wide and many people used to come to bathe here, naturally free of charge. Near the bank stood a wooden cross and so this bathing beach was called the Beach of the Cross.
Now let us return to our starting point. One the left was the magnificent waterfall and next to it a narrow bridge enabling people to pass to the bathing
cabins and in later years to the Stadium. Behind the bathing cabins stretched the great meadow in which natural pasture grew. This was the place where the army conducted its training and where there were also horse races and athletic exercises of the Kalish Sports Clubs.
At the end of the meadow the Prosna becomes quite shallow for about a hundred metres and has formed the Island we know so well, opposite the Cross. And now to the story proper:
Several hundred young fellows devoted themselves to the Talmud at the Kalish House of Study. Most of them belonged to poor families who ate on regular 'days' with the worthies of the community. They used to eat their breakfast together in the cellar at the corner of Zlota and Garbarska Streets where they were provided with a bran soup, cabbage borsht and a slice of bread.
Between three and six of them used to sleep in one hired room while some of them slept on the benches of the House of Study. Those were the conditions under which they studied Torah for its own sake.
Now Kalish had good swimmers but it should be noted that excellent swimmers in no small numbers were to be found among the Yeshiva lads who lived under the miserable conditions we described above. Almost every afternoon when study was over the lads went to the river bank in order to swim and play in the water.
I remember one nice looking young lad named Aaron who came from the neighbourhood. He could tread water. Sometimes he would fold his arms on his chest, smoke a cigarette and keep still in the deep water. From the bank we could not see any movement on his part. Some of the lads used to go as far as the Cross because bathing was free there.
One summer day after exercising in the meadow, a number of us went to the Island. All of a sudden we heard yelling and shouting. The Yeshiva lads were bathing not far away. A large crowd of young Christian scamps had flung their clothes into the water and then began to fling the lads themselves in. We dashed over and intervened.
I was the oldest of our group and I knew the local street slang very well, so I tried to turn the whole thing into a joke. But I did not succeed. Our situation grew steadily worse. I knew the Polish temperament well from experience so I began in this way: Look, there are only a few of us here and there are hundreds of you. Aren't you ashamed to attack us? You choose one of your fellows to wrestle with me and put me on my back. Then you'll be the honourable winners, or maybe the other way around?
I should add here that in 1922 I had taken a course in boxing with the Warsaw Maccabi under the guidance of a Hungarian Jew who was an excellent trainer. I had regularly watched all the wrestling matches and had not missed even one of them. I had also won the boxing championship of D.O.K. Poznan.
The young Poles approved of my suggestion and burst out roaring and
dancing savagely yelling: You'll see what a goulash we'll make of this Jew! And they chose a hefty young fellow as their champion. Their voices mounted to the skies.
In brief, within less than a minute, I had sent the fellow flying over my head and brought him down. He remained sitting, unable even to yell. There was silence. His friends led him aside. I stood tense, waiting for developments.
A handsome young Pole, well built, came over and asked me if I would be prepared to wrestle him as well. I answered that his proposal was not in the agreement but still I was ready if he wanted it. On the other side of the Prosna stood many Poles, yelling: What are you playing at with the Jews over there! Kill them and have done!
My new rival was a better sportsman than the other and also demonstrated a greater degree of culture. A large circle was marked out. The first victim had already recovered and helped to keep order. This encouraged me for I was beginning to regret my tough tactics and the success that had resulted.
The second wrestling bout began. During the first few seconds neither of us allowed the other anything and the match was conducted according to all the established principles. All of a sudden, the other fellow hit me in the nose. What's this? I asked and he answered: We are going to box.
There is nothing much to tell. My Jewish sense of honour woke up and my blood began to boil. I started to pummel him mercilessly. Blood began to flow from his nose, his eyes and his mouth. Now I began to feel sorry for him.
There was no guessing the continuation. My victim was already completely finished. I did not wish to end the fight as drastically as I had finished the first one so I played with him a bit. He fell and then rose to his feet. I did not exploit the opportunity but he refused to give in.
The yells grew louder and louder. They were no longer shouting Kill that Jew! but: Don't give in! They wanted to encourage him with their cries.
But then he fell flat on his back. The Poles could not bear that. To this day I do not know how many louts between the ages of thirteen and nineteen came dashing at me with thin soft branches that had been prepared in advance and began whipping at me. My blood began running down my face and from all parts of my body. I saw that I was in a very bad situation. I could not defend myself and could expect the worst to happen. Honour is a very honourable thing but now I had to get away. Where? To break the ring, jump into the water and there I would again be strong and secure. I hit out with my arms and kicked with my feet, broke the ring and reached the water.
By the bank, I saw several boats with oars. Now I could teach them a lesson I thought to myself. The grandson of Reb Benjamin Hayyim Wolkowitch doesn't leave debts unpaid! I grabbed an oar and began to swing it around my head. Once again, blood began to flow but now it was their blood.
A ring formed again and I stood in the centre swinging the oar like the vanes of a windmill. I was like an animal at bay in the forest, standing wounded and bleeding, surrounded by dogs that wanted to bite but were afraid to with a few trying to get behind and hit there from time-to-time. My position was a little bit better but far from satisfactory.
At this moment there came shouts: Help! Help! Help! Man drowning! The attention of the mob was diverted to the drowning man. All of them ran to the bank and I was alone at last without needing to defend myself. I felt fine. I knew I had emerged the victor.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people were standing on both banks of the Prosna and the shouts did not cease. Hello! Hello! Over there! Help! Take a boat! Help!
I stood about fifteen metres from the river. The yells awakened me from my thoughts. I ran to the water. Several people were already swimming. Two of them wanted to save the drowning man. A boat set out from the other bank with several youngsters and a sergeant.
As I learnt afterwards, one of the rescuers was already dragging the drowning fellow ashore when the latter suddenly gripped his rescuer and they both began to go down. The rescuer succeeded in getting loose but now the other two were afraid of the drowning victim. At that moment, I saw a few fingers above the water. I dived in and swam to the drowning fellow under the surface, seized him and came up together with him. I held him with his face upwards and made for the shore with the other arm as I had been taught.
Once again came the shouts, this time: Bravo! Bravo! A real champion! Half-way ashore, the boat caught us. The sergeant pushed an oar over to me and in that way we reached the bank. They stretched the drowning fellow out on the pasture and began getting the water out of him. Within a very short time he began to breathe properly and came to himself.
One of the men, a municipal official then turned to the crow with these words: Gentlemen! As a Catholic I feel very bad and am quite ashamed at what I saw here today. I was bathing at the Cross and saw all that happened on the Island. Just imagine the drowning man is a Catholic and a poor swimmer and he risked his life and wanted to cross the Prosna in order to help in beating up peaceful citizens who have done nothing wrong. You all saw what happened. It was this gentleman, who is a Jew and whom you attacked unfairly and beat till he bled, who risked his life to save the drowning man. Now, because of that, I request of you that henceforward there should be no attacks on bathers on the Island. Otherwise, bathing will be entirely prohibited there.
After that, the lads from the House of Study continued to bathe on the Island for several years and nobody interfered with them.
by M. Packentreger
In a chilly twilight during the month of Ellul, the sound of the Shofar bursts from the House of Study and spreads tremulously through the Jewish streets. Reb Mendele Baal-Tokea (the Blower of the Ram's horn) a squat Hassid with a tufted reddish beard, is testing his Shofar in preparation for the New Year. In the corridor of the Great Synagogue, the aged cantor, Reb Noah Zaludkowski (or Reb Noah Klager as they called him in town) is teaching his choristers a new version for the awesome 'Unetaneh Tokei' prayer and for 'Upon the New Year this is inscribed' and also a new melody for the cantor's personal prayer: Behold me poor in deeds. The sweet voices of the lads ring out like silver bells through the twilight hour and spread far and wide.
On the pavement nearby, Jews pause; Jews with beards and ear-locks, wearing black silk kapotas and black Jewish peaked hats, listening to the prayers that go to the heart.
Slowly and deliberately, the town is preparing for the Days of Awe. Through the heat of the day, immersed in god-fearing thoughts, slowly paces Reb Itshe the slaughterer, passing along the Hospital Alley. He is a lofty Jew with a pink and fleshy face surrounded by a reddish beard going down to his middle and a woollen scarf around his neck. His slow and thoughtful pace is evidence that this year he is preparing to sing the Morning Prayers in the Synagogue. The woollen scarf is there to safeguard his voice lest it should be affected by some draught, Heaven forbid, that might make him hoarse.
Wandering cantors and Hassidic prayer leaders have come from distant towns and villages in order to be tested in readiness for the services in the many synagogues. They have been waiting a whole year for these Days of Awe.
In the Great Synagogue and the smaller synagogues, the sale of seats is going ahead already. Wealthy Jews and everyday Jews have already provided the places for themselves, their wives and children. In the plate-glass windows of the stationery shops, all kinds of many-coloured New Year greeting cards are signalling the passers-by. The shops have filled up with purchasers, all selecting their greetings.
Every day the railway is taking a different group of Hassidim who are setting out to spend the festival days with their particular Rebbes. The coaches are full of long-bearded and ear-locked Hassidim wearing black robes.
As is his fashion, year-after-year, Reb Leibish Hersh, the bookseller, appears in town during the days before the New Year. A tall withered-looking Jew with a short and small goat-beard, dressed in a torn and dirty kapota, wearing muddy and old knee-boots, sells fringes, prayer-shawl bags, prayer books and festival prayer books. Everybody knows him. When the congregation leave the House of Study, each of them does a good deed and
buy something from him. Leibish Hersh is smiling. His goods are being sold and, please God, he will be able to go home the day before the New Year with a good profit.
The eve of the festival approaches. At dawn, as day comes grey on the horizon, a dense dust-cloud rises on the long earthen trails? Out of these clouds, suddenly and simultaneously, appear the waggons of peasants coming to market. On their ladder-carts the peasants have brought vegetables, poultry, ducks and geese for the Jews of the city. Now they reach the market place. The old peasants come stiffly down from their seats, hitch up the horses, hang a nose-bag around the neck of each and light up their long pipes which are stuffed with home-grown makhorka. Little-by-little, the noises of the market begin. Hose neigh, cocks crow and geese cackle. A white mist hovers in the air and rolls along the ground. From the cart of one peasant comes leaping and flying a white fowl with a red comb, beating her wings and fluttering down to the ground. The peasant runs, puffing to catch her, but she evades him between the carts and waggons. At length, he grasps her by the leg.
Now the Jewish housewives appear in the market carrying white woven baskets in order to purchase a fowl or goose. They puff at the feathers and feel the fat with their fingers. Quite often, the transaction doesn't come off. Just as the housewife is about to pay the peasant his price, one of the market women snaps up the bargain from under her nose. The housewife stands her ground, yells her fill and goes on to another peasant to buy a bargain there.
It becomes late. The market grows empty all of a sudden. The last of the shopkeepers close up their shop and fasten them with iron bars. The apprentices take the new clothes from their masters' workshops to the homes of the worthy householders; those new clothes that have been specially prepared for the festival. Of course they expect some beer-money. Jews go off to the mikveh with bundles of underwear under their armpits.
The sun slowly moves westward. Its last gleam lights up the windows. A silent melancholy fills the Jewish streets and alleys as they await the Day of Judgment.
Jews with scoured heads, beards and ear-locks still wet with the mikveh water, wearing their black kapotas have already begun pacing slowly towards the synagogue. Lights have already been lit in the houses. Little flames quiver yellow and their pallid radiance spreads into the street.
In the streets of the Jews, everything is silent. There is an awesome solemnity in every corner. Silently, like a shadow passing, Mordechai Meir, the water-carrier, moves through the synagogue alley, a short Jew with an astonishingly camel-like head planted like a block of marble between his broad shoulders. His large black eyes are melancholy and a thin little beard sprouts on his chin. He also wears a new kapota and on his legs are shining knee-boots smeared with pitch. He stops every householder in the street and wishes him a Good Year. The Jews greet him in return and say: Reb Mordechai, beg for a good year for all of us! And may you not need to carry water to the houses in your old age!
Amen he answers with a god-fearing look on his face.
From the Hospital Alley comes Moshe the Fool with a large winter hat covering his head and ears, great knee-boots on his legs. He hurries along panting and sweating, shouting hoarsely: Jews, pray for a Good Year for all of us!
Night descends on the city. From the illuminated synagogues and shtieblech come the chants and melodies of the evening prayer. Jews are praying in fervent devotion, begging for the atonement of transgressions. And after the prayers, the entire great assembly bursts into the streets, men, women and children all wishing one another a Good Year. Long-standing foes make it up and forgive one another.
Next day, the sun rises high. Girls with well-braided plaits walk through the streets. Jews wearing their prayer shawls stand in the synagogues praying. Here and there the shofar can be heard together with the warm appealing outpourings of the prayer leaders. In the shtiebel of the shoemakers stands Yankel, the old cobbler covered head, shoulders and body by his prayer shawl, beating his fist against his chest like a hammer for the sin that we have sinned. When he reaches the verse: do not fling us away in old age, he bursts into bitter lamenting tears as though the great calamity were already taking place. The tears pour from the dim eyes of the old man as with his hands raised on high he repeats the words: do not fling us away in our old age. And his tears roll one by one down onto the open pages of his yellow-leaved prayer book.
by H. Solnik
For several days, the air has been heavy with signs of war. The faces of the Russians seem to be veiled in mystery. There is lively movement in all the government institutions. They are packing up, vacating the premises. The railways are carrying everything away. Silently and secretly. The officials work and run to and fro diligently. No citizen hears a sound from them. Everything is wrapped in deepest secrecy.
There is a hurried mobilization. Parents moan and groan, brides and young married women sigh from their hearts. Pale startled young men part from their families as though they were ascending the gallows. Confused and perplexed they look back again dropping another tear and calling: be well!
People murmur something as they hurry to the banks to take their money out but the banks are closed! They refuse to pay. Heavy burdens press down upon each heart. Everybody is buying food. People are hoarding. The hurried alarmed folk
can feel that something is approaching. Nobody trusts anyone else. There is no more credit. Do you have cash? Buy and pay. Everybody has an unvoiced fear of the morrow, of the passing day, of the approaching moment.
We live on the frontier and are on the verge of war. What is going to happen to us? Oh stop it nothing. You pass the threshold and go into the room without excitement. The parlour is a long way from the corridor.
People think a great deal but do not know what they should do next. Thoughts are as heavy as lead. A true nightmare. What's the news? everybody asks. There are guesses. Hints. People whisper a secret in your ear: The Russians have withdrawn. What! Just abandoned us without any defence?
Sunday, the 9th of Av. A confused mood. The sad familiar melody. The quiet moans of the god-fearing congregations and the light-hearted mischief of the boys. We stand together on the pavement of the Old Market, the snow-white teacher, Sinai Blei, may he rest in peace and I. It is an hour or two after the singing of the lamentations. The shops are closed. It is Sunday, the 9th of Av and there is a grave-like silence. Thoughts of the 9th of Av mingle with war thoughts. There is no sign or trace of a policeman or a soldier.
Where have they all gone? Old Blei asks me. It's really queer, frightening there is something in the air, I answer. There is a new epoch coming. Will it be for the better? No one can say yet.
Out of the Breslau Street (now Pilsudski) a soldier pedals a bicycle into the market place. About ten metres behind him comes another, then another, and another and yet another. For a moment all the senses seem to blur. Germans? Yes.
Slowly and steadily they pedal glancing to either side. Behind them a large force is marching, all armed and at a quiet and rather terrifying pace. From the pavement opposite us a number of people welcome them by waving their hats.
We gaze at one another. What has happened? Out of sheer astonishment, we stand as though frozen, not uttering a word. Our hearts tell us that something great is taking place before our eyes, tidings of a threshold that has been crossed.
Home! Some secret sense commands us.
That silent entry into the town with light furtive thief-like paces has depressed us and awakened harsh forebodings. Nor do they keep us long in our expectancy.
by Meir Packentreger
Like a priest preparing to serve in the temple, I remove the shoes from my feet when I come to speak of Kalish my birthplace. My very fingers weep when I remember what Hitler's hordes did to our fathers, our mothers and our children. My ears still hear their weeping the entreaty of the martyrs being led to slaughter.
I can still perceive you, Kalish my city. The streets, alleys and the closed-off entries. The Houses of Study and the Synagogues. The Old Market, the stalls and the shops. The streets of the Jews and the Jews chasing and toiling for a livelihood. The hawkers tossing about at night in covered carts as they go to the markets at Kozminek and elsewhere. The burly carriage drivers taking passengers to the railway station. Here they are, quarrelling one dragging a passenger from another fighting with shafts tugged from the carriages, hitting one another over the head. Blood flows. There is a commotion and then silence again. They have made up they have reached an agreement and then drink together as though nothing ever happened.
Now I hear the shouts of the beigel sellers proclaiming their wares: Fresh egg cake! Ten groshen each! Jews, buy fresh cakes without holes! And here comes the voice and melody of Torah from the Old House of Study beside the Great Synagogue. A Yeshiva lad sits swaying and studying his Talmud text. His voice vanishes in the noise of the street and its tumult. The hawkers are louder than everything else there is. And now comes the chant of the Talmud Torah boys: Vayedaber and He said Adonoy God- leMoshe to Moses.
These are the pictures that still quiver so clearly before my eyes.
by Gershon Wroclawski
When I look back on the last years of the city, I see Endek men standing in front of the entries to Jewish shops and preventing all Christian customers from coming in. The market has been divided: here Christians and there the Jews. The boycott is at its height. The first to be broken are the small merchants, the peddlers and those who travel to the fairs who are not permitted to enter the markets in scores of towns within the Poznan District.
When the fairs are closed off, the Jewish craftsmen, particularly the little men, find themselves with nothing to do. The Endeks put up their notices even in the Municipal Park: Entry to dos and Jews prohibited! We enter in groups; we fight them in the park and around the shops. Yet, how can we help? There is a spirit of gloom all over these days.
Yet, it had not always been like this. I remember other times which bring a smile to the lips and sometimes a twinkle in the eye. There was a kind of tranquil innocence about the life of the Jews as I see them again with the eyes of a young boy.
Here are the alleys, open and concealed, scattered here and there. There are only Jews in the streets. The only non-Jew is the Shabbes goy, the gate-keeper. Further on is the wooden bridge. There are couples strolling, apparently innocently but they have secret intentions. You can see it in their eyes. Strolling would be good and pleasant if only the non-Jews didn't set their dogs on them. The couples turn around and enter the park.
The park was a paradise for those feelings of love which had to find release and things happened there which did not lead to the slightest suspicion of even one single Jewish maiden
And now come voices from the House of Study. My eyes rest on the stand where I once helped my father when he prayed as leader of the congregation. And do you remember? Once upon a time a foreign painter came and painted the whole House of Study, free of charge.
As for the House of Study itself, it is an absolute market-place between the afternoon and evening prayers. They discuss everything. Politics, trade, who is rich and who is poor and what's happening in general. After the midday meal on the Sabbath, Jews fill the House of Study, their voices ringing as they study Midrash. But after study, they begin a comprehensive and careful discussion of communal affairs, of the Mikveh to which my mother sent me to immerse a glass and whose special scent then filled my nostrils.
And I also see young fellows studying most melodiously and loudly while between the pages of the Talmud text are hidden letters which were certainly not written by any male hands.
When the Sabbath was about to begin, the town became very happy. The shopkeepers locked the doors of their shops and hurried off to welcome Queen Sabbath. The father went off to the Mikveh with his sons while the mother and daughters cleaned up the house, polishing lamps and sooty pots. There is fresh smell everywhere.
Father has brought a guest home from the House of Study and loudly hallows the Sabbath. The voices of the Jews and their melodies can be heard all over town while the fragrance of food spreads far and wide.
After the afternoon sleep of the Sabbath the fathers examine their offspring to see what they learnt during the week while the mothers sit with the Tse-ena Ure-ena, the women's Yiddish Pentateuch on their knees; some reading it and others simply glancing at it now and then.
As the Sabbath ends the girls take possession of the street with the lads after them. The world goes on after its old-established fashion.
All this has departed together with the picturesque individuals whose very names are enough to bring a way of life back to you: Feivish Poiker, Leibish Hoiker, Joel Piatek, Mordechai Smatek, Mendel Trik, Moshe Bik, leibish Brand, Yehiel Tanz, Abraham Koch, Mendel Fluch, Michael Floi, Joseph Shtroi, Mordechai Ston and Moshe Han.
Mordechai Ston, the grave-digger, used to frighten everybody yet even worse was his son-in-law who could joke only with his knife. There is no light without shadow and no community without its bad and its fools. And if Moshe was asked who died today he would answer: one man and two Jewesses.
All that innocence and all that innocent badness has been destroyed. It is as though it had never existed.
by Benjamin Zvieli
There was a special style of life about Oppenheim House which stood at the corner of Pilsudski Street and Pilsudksi (formerly Josephine) Boulevard; a two-storey corner building with Jewish shops all around it.
Here on the corner was Reb Shlomo Herszkowicz's delicatessen shop called Zloty Rog. Next to it was the iron and building-materials stores of Reb Eliezer Lipshitz and nearby the textiles shop of the brothers Braun and the Kollektura of Weltfried, the Orbis Travel Agency and the drugstore of Solnik, a brush shop and the sausagery belonging to Beatus, a clothes shop and, at the end, Daum's Pastry Shop.
On Sundays when all the shops were closed in front, commercial life continued behind in the courtyard. The neighbours who often used to help one another out with a loan, used to sit at the back doors between customers, chatting about Torah or the latest news or reading the Haint, Moment or Nasz Przeglond. Up above on the second floor all along the gloomy corridors running from end-to-end of the building were wooden doors leading to private rooms, offices and workshops. Here is Dzialowski the glazier, small and hunched who is always uttering wise sayings and quoting the words of our sages, of blessed memory. Here is portmanteau maker, a sign painter and a barber looking for new customers.
At the end is the door leading to the Mizrahi Synagogue and Club with its two large rooms. On the Sabbath Day it was always chockful and its congregation included outstanding figures that held official positions in the Kehilla or were exceptional by reason of their own personalities. Among them was Reb Eliezer Oppenheim, owner of the house and the timber store in the courtyard, the almost permanent head of the Mizrahi; the testy Reb Mordechai Hacohen Shapira and Reb Moshe Krakowski, both of them scholars and enlightened after their fashion; Reb Shlomo Herszkowicz owner of the Zloty Rog with whom every important person visiting the town stayed as a matter of course; the aged Reb Shmuel Weltsman who owned the large book store in Ciasna Street and who was a historian and bibliographer, always busy writing his book on the History of the Kalish Community. And here is Reb Simeon Widewski, a fleshy man who is both learned and wealthy; the modest and gentle Reb Feivel Lipshitz who is an
expert Hebrew grammarian and scholar; Reb Alexander Ziskind Moses, the crippled son of the Rabbi Reb Welvel Moses who reads the Torah on the Sabbath and boils and erupts at every imagined or actual misdeed; Reb Shlomo Kalman Parzenczewski who allocates the order by which the congregation are summoned to the reading of the Torah and then says the relevant blessings; lame Reb Joel Sitner who always proclaims every event and every action and last but by no means least, Reb Mordechai Mendel Weintraub, a Hassid who loves the Land of Israel with every bone and sinew in his body. He has a hoarse voice and shares in countless prayer quorums all the time. Ever since he visited Eretz Israel he sits at the third close-of-Sabbath meal in the twilight singing Sabbath melodies to Sephardi tunes he heard in Jerusalem. Between the afternoon and evening prayers on the weekdays, he produces the Haint or the Moment from his pocket, goes over to the Bema and reads an article on the Land of Israel aloud as though those were the words of the living God. When it is time collect for the Jewish National Fund he is always hard at work making sure that the prescribed amount should be raised.
And here is Reb Joseph Moshe Fisher and his brother Reb Getzel, Reb Jacob Hyman, Reb Israel Braun who sings the Additional Prayers (Mussaf) on the Days of Awe and the short and lively figure of Rabbi Jacob Littman (Avtalion), a fiery orator and the head of the Tahkemoni School.
On Sabbath and festivals, the shops in Oppenheim House are closed and locked but in the Mizrahi Synagogue they gather and sit like brethren over a glass of liquor. To one side is a little wooden barrel and the pump produces foaming beer whose sharp tang spreads all through the Synagogue.
I can still hear their voices ringing in my ears.
by Joseph Sieradzki
Kalish lies on the banks of the Prosna and as long ago as the year 1264, Jews were dwelling on both sides of the river. Indeed, ancient Jewish houses are still standing here and there, including worn old paving stones. Long-established householders lived in Babina, the Jews' Street.
Over the water hangs an aged wooden bridge which is the chief artery of Jewish life in town. On the one side of the river are old and new houses while on the other are the butcher shops, the fish market, the vegetable market, the Kehilla building, the Mikveh, the Jewish Hospital, the little synagogue of the tailors and many Jewish religious societies. On one side is a pharmacy and on the other, an inn. From the time it was built until the time of our destruction, this bridge saw the life of the Jews in Kalish. If any trouble came down on the Jews and there were riots, the bridge was broken. As soon as things became quiet, it was repaired.
All kinds of boots have crossed the bridge. Here passed the conscripts in the Russo-Japanese War. In 1905 the Cossacks crossed it; in 1914 the Germans; in 1918 Haller's Poles whom they called the Hallerchicks and in 1939 Hitler's brutes.
And here is a day of Jewish life in the Kalish of the past. From the little wooden houses slowly shuffle elderly Jews with bushy beards and large prayer-shawl bags under their arms. On the bridge they meet and enter the Hospital Synagogue for prayer. These are butchers, waggoneers, tailors and cobblers. They are the first on the scene in the early morning.
Business is also done on the bridge. A wealthy butcher sells meat to poor butchers. They shake hands on it and do their trade by word of mouth according to a margin of profit. And the fish-sellers do the same. Carts full of meat and fish cross the bridge. On this side of the bridge the lean horses stand and the wizened waggoneers and on the other, in a long row, the porters with ropes looped around them and hand-carts. All of them are waiting to earn a few coins and keep their households going.
On the bridge the unemployed also stand including bakers, shoemakers, tailors, hat-makers; and it is indeed sometimes called the 'labour exchange'. From time-to-time a small factory-owner or a master craftsman comes and chooses himself a few workers for the day. The others go on with their arguments. One group wants to immigrate; others want to stay here and struggle shoulder-to-shoulder with the Polish workers. These call for a revolution; those for gradual improvement. All of a sudden somebody mounts the bridge parapet, flings communist leaflets among the unemployed and shouts: We demand work and bread, down with the capitalist governments, long live the revolution! Another lad has tied a little red flag to a stick and there you have a demonstration all cut and dried on the bridge. Off they march towards the Town Hall. The police disperse the unemployed with rubber truncheons and tear-gas.
Then the bridge is taken over by members of the underworld. Their own private trials begin as they start thrashing one another. After that, they make it up and go off to the inn near the bridge to have a drink together.
And now come the hawkers with the sacks who make the rounds of the courtyards shouting: Old clothes! Old clothes! On either side of the river, they spread out the 'wares' that they bought in the courtyards and sell them to the tailors and hat-makers. This is also a way of making a living.
Here stands a youngster next to a large basket full of flat hard cakes, hoarsely proclaiming from morning to evening: Hot egg-cakes, hot egg-cakes! A woman sells cold water in glasses. A little old crone sells hot peas from her bowl. And now suddenly a black waggon appears with black horses slowly driving across the bridge by a Jew with a long white beard. Those summoned to weddings and funerals have to cross the bridge because the synagogue stands nearby. Jews accompany the departed as far as the synagogue. There they wash their hands and then go back to daily life.
Towards evening, the bridge is taken over by the ordinary people, the needle and thread fellows and their like. They come out of their close rooms
to breathe a little fresh air. The children play in the dirty gutter and the women sit along the banks talking from shore-to-shore. The men stand beside the parapets and discuss politics. The Kalish match-maker hurries from group-to-group, tall and long-necked, suggesting matches. The bridge is his anvil. Here he has hammered out many a successful match. Young men and women meet on the bridge and along it pass peacefully more than one couple who wanted to get divorced.
It grows dark. The porters disperse. Jews cross the bridge for the Evening Prayers. Mothers call their children home and the children don't want to go. The mothers promise that they will let them come tomorrow as well. Someone brings a big torch to the bridge, lights are lit and Jews say the blessing for the moon. And now the bridge is deserted. The moon lights up houses with closed shutters. The Jews of Kalish are sleeping after their exhausting day's toil. And the Prosna flows quietly beneath the Old Wooden Bridge.
When the Nazi entered Kalish in 1939 and annexed it to the Third Reich, they took all the Jews of the city away by that bridge. Those Jews who were unable to walk were taken across the bridge and exterminated. After they destroyed the last Jews of the city, they fetched Jews from other cities and countries and ordered them to block the branches of the river with the debris of Jewish homes, synagogues, gravestones and so on. They burnt the bridge.
There is no longer any Jewish life in Kalish. Every trace of the Jews has been erased from the surface of the earth. With the lives that were lost and have vanished, every memory of the old wooden bridge of Kalish has also been lost.
by J. Holz
The picture of Jewish social life remains incomplete if we do not mention the cafés and restaurants, those who went there and sat there and the atmosphere they established. The Jewish public, the intellectuals, the middle class and the class-conscious workers all spent pleasant hours in cafés. Current affairs of any kind, from a chat about fresh news to scandal all the days of the year which the observant Jews gets rid of after his prayers in the synagogue or shtiebel or in the corridors leading from them, provided the material for café conversation. All the local sensations spread from these tables as a rule.
There were certain cafés where Jews concentrated. For the greater part, each of them had its own particular style and clientele.
After World War I the best known was the Mayer Café whose cakes were renowned. It was situated in the main market at Milstein House which was built after the war. In those days it was the meeting place of the Polish gentry, the Polish and Jewish middle class and the
professional men and intellectuals. As through a mist, I can see the large plate-glass window and the darkish hall beyond. My father used to take me there. If my memory does not mislead me, it was a male institution. I do not remember women at the tables. It would seem that the presence of women in cafés was not yet acceptable to people of good taste.
On market days when the squires and estate-owners of the neighbourhood used to gather together, there was far more noise outside the café than inside. Agents and factors, chiefly Jews, used to wait for them on the outside. Those Jews would glance in to find the men they were looking for. Religious considerations and the withdrawn and distant attitude of the Poles did not permit them to sit together with their Jews at the tables.
At that time there was also the Shaub Café which was similar apart from the billiard tables which also attracted Jewish youngsters. Until World War II the most successful café was the Udzialowa in Wiszniewski House on the Josephine Allée. This was the meeting place of doctors, lawyers, engineers, industrialists, businessmen and a large group of snobs of both sexes. Many of them had regular tables here; their own social groups and meetings at regular hours. The coffee hour, with or without milk, was from 12 noon to 2 p.m. The ladies usually arrived first and the men came in on their way home from work. Between 5 and 7 p.m. it was the same thing except that people sat around longer, there were more people and in general the mood was livelier.
The most crowded time was on a Sunday before noon and in the early afternoon. The regular habitués included people who provided a kind of permanent background. Here you would find Dr. Alexander (Olesh) Danziger with his wife Maria Janka, the oldest daughter of Reb Bezalei David Halter. This corpulent old man with his tranquil face, constant sense of humour and considerable shrewdness, used to attract many people to his table. Bronek Silber (Dzims) the impresario of the revues and representative of the 'Muse with the tucked-up dress' was a treasury of jokes and japes and his name went ahead of him throughout the neighbourhood. And here you could see Elvira Holz who never grew old and was surrounded by her circle of admirers.
The Udzialowa Café was the place for the lawyers among whom Zygmunt Neuman was outstanding for his humour and liveliness. Here too the lawyers Mieczyslaw Danziger, J. Perkal, Leon Sitner, J. Prager, Stanislaw Frenkel and Kacenel were regularly to be found. The engineers were represented by the architect Leon Tzomber, member of the Town Council on behalf of the Jewish Artisans, Stefan Pinczewski, A. Fisher, Jacob Holz and Kazimierz Danziger, Leon Danziger, Manager of the Merchants' Bank and member of the Town Council was also a regular visitor.
At 12 noon the millers came in, namely: the brothers Leon and Moritz Kowlaski with their representative Moniek Semiaticki, Fisher Gottfried, Nowak and Scheinfeld.
The lace-making industry was represented by Jacob (son of Isaac) Adler who had been paying court for decades to Xenia Seidorf (known as Sidonia). The merchants are displayed by Leon Semiaticki, Chairman of the Zionist Association and of the Cooperative Bank. He usually came together with Leon Szubin, the Bank Manager.
There are usually a couple of doctors to be found here. Among them would be Drs. Trachtenberg, Plotsky, J. Beatus, Lubelski and Zeid. The younger ones included Berek Goldstein, Pabek Neuman and others.
The only non-Jews regularly fond here were the particularly courteous waiters Andrzei and Leon. The atmosphere was Jewish. Conversations touched on all possible subjects from international affairs to verbal onslaughts on others. There were also certain tables reserved for certain subjects. During the six week-days the Poles were a distinct minority here. On Sundays they were as much as half for then they brought their families with them.
Entirely different was the Café George at n°3 Pulaski Street. This was the café of the young folk, first of the members of Hashomer Hatzair and afterwards of all the other Youth Movements from right to left. However, the Hashomer Hatzair was always a majority. They had discovered the 'Institution' in 1920 and had made it their own. The café cannot be thought of without 'Auntie' who ruled the roost here. This elderly spinster was always grumbling, but was very fond of those who came regularly to her café. We grew up and became mature before her eyes and afterwards we visited her as husbands and wives and fathers and mothers of families. Here the activities of the Movement were planned as was Aliya to Eretz Israel. Here we began our first flirtations, assignations, casual and more serious love affairs.
Auntie knew who had been there, who had gone out and when he would return. She was a post office for various purposes. She knew exactly what to give each visitor and never made a mistake. In those days the constant visitors included Abba Seife, Shlamek Buzhwinski, Duciu and Lutek Krassucki, Olek Poznanski, Genia Krassock a and others.
Guests included the active Maacabi leaders whose club was not far away. When they returned from the club they would enter the café. Among them were Heniek Oppenheim, Mottek Oppenheim and his wife Marina, née Temkin, M. Jarecki, Zeif and others.
When I entered the Café George after the war in 1945, Auntie received me most cordially and asked me whether I still liked a 'Stepanka' with my coffee. Her professional memory had survived and defeated the war.
by Alexander Poznanski
Anybody who wishes to know how far we Jews are from true autonomy can do no better than read the regulations governing the elections to the Councils and Executives of the Jewish Kehillot. And if anyone is interested in the powers and possibilities of action of the Kehilla, let him attentively read the minutes of the recent sessions of the Kehilla in Kalish.
We entered the election campaign enthusiastically. Many of the deeds of the Kehilla Executives until now were shameful and we wished to make an end of them.
The elections ended with the victory of the Progressive Jews. The Council members elected are people who in the course of their communal activities have proven that they know the functions of a Jewish representation quite clearly and are capable of overcoming all the obstacles on the way towards a secular and democratic Kehilla.
With the same dedication as was evinced by our supporters during the campaign, we have now gone to work in the Kehilla. But to our regret, the activities of the recently elected bodies are being slowed down by the third party. (And when we come to speak about interferences in activity, let us not forget those quarrels of a personal and party character which burst out and have become permanent even among us ever since the 19th Zionist Congress).
The election of the Executive the actual controller of the Kehilla which should have been completed at the 1st Meeting of the Council has now been deferred to the second month under articles 14 and 64 of the election law: and there is no end in sight. People who have already been approved as Council members are found to be ineligible. It is absolutely impossible to understand the steps taken by the authorities and the effect of these measures on the Jewish community is painful. When the Kehilla liberates itself from the burden of the Executive, all its activities in respect of current needs are brought to a standstill. The old Executive should have gone long ago. Do they expect any initiative at all during the transition period?
The Block which I represent had to face a choice: either to do nothing and wait explanatory letters, confirmations, and elections and so on or, in view of the tragic position of the Jewish population, ignore all formalities of procedure, take over the administration of the Kehilla and begin working. We chose the second alternative. That is the reason for my urgent proposal at the last meeting of the Kehilla with regard winter relief. The Council found my proposal of real interest, adopted it unanimously and resolved to carry out the programme and elected an organizing committee.
Will the Council succeed in providing relief in these difficult economic situations of Jewry? Most definitely and certainly! The will to live of the Jewish community is powerful and it will not fail at this tragic moment. We cannot rely on any help from the outside. Therefore, let everybody respond gladly and willingly to the summons of the Kehilla. Our self-help will determine the fate of many Jewish families. Do we have to seek the means to awaken Jewish generosity?
You, worker at a job or Jewish craftsman, will you refuse to contribute one day's work for your hungry brother? In spite of the boycott, will you, Jewish merchant, refuse to aid your starving brother who was also a merchant only a short time ago? Jewish mother and housewife, will you not save some of your meagre food at least once a week so as to contribute what you can spare to the Relief Committee?
I am convinced that the first Relief Action of the New Kehilla will be crowned with success.
by I. Holz
Dedicated to the precious memories of Abba and Bella Seife.
In accordance with the meaning of its name in Polish, this was really a narrow street which always had a smell of sewage. On either side of the street stood houses of two or three storeys. They had no style whatever. Sometimes they were ugly, crumbling with old age and the dust of generations, and the plaster peeling off.
What caught the eye in these houses were the broad double gates through which the peasant carts used to rumble to find a resting place, particularly on Tuesday and Friday market days. Behind the gateway was the 'heart' of the house that is, the courtyard surrounded by all kinds of buildings and wings.
In 'our' house there was a courtyard that was just like a lengthy pipe paved with shapeless cobblestones in which ran runnels of sewage. It took considerable skill to cross these runnels, particularly during floods caused by rain or simple overflow from cess-pits.
On the left-hand side of the courtyard was Biezwinski's workshop, a locksmith who was well-known in the city. On the right was a succession of apartments in the wings standing one behind the other and full of poor families, each with any number of children. These inhabitants engaged in petty trading or some in selling all kinds of trifles on the stalls of the Municipal Market. At night they often used to sleep on their little carts in order to go off to markets in the neighbouring villages and small towns early in the morning. There were also two shtieblech of different Hassidic groups in this courtyard. On festival and Sabbath nights their melodies used to compete with one another and strangely enough, the competition often blended well.
At the end of the courtyard, in a building which had formerly served as a factory, was the Hashomer Hatzair Club. The entrance and staircase were perfect archaeological specimens. The wooden stairs were warped and dry with age. They creaked and groaned at every step and functioned by sheer force of habit alone while the peeling walls rounded off the melancholy scene.
A high door with a rusty lock in it was the entrance to the club which carried the picturesque Russian name Izba (cabin). We were young then so we paid no attention to the entry-way, the stench and the ugly surroundings. We were busy re-shaping the world and our eyes were raised on high all the time.
The big room was actually a hall in which the ceiling was supported by many pillars as in every such room intended for machinery. At the end, behind a wooden screen that ran the width of the chamber, were two tiny rooms. One served for the secretariat and for meetings of the local leadership,
the other for the meetings and activities of the groups. The problems with which we dealt were grave and difficult. The arguments and debates were lively and tempestuous. We were indeed young.
The walls were decorated as the times required, changing according to festivals, holidays and Zionist events. The photograph of Herzl was never missing.
There was a feeling of cleanliness and beauty in there. Whenever you came you would find either Hasia, Yutka, Genia or else Rhuda with a broom in her hand. It was noisy and cheerful. There was always a great deal of hubbub. There was dancing, particularly the Hora and sometimes danced until very late at night. We also had a wall newspaper with notes and remarks on current affairs. It always caught the eye with its beautiful arrangements and its drawings. I also remember the slogan Hebrew speaks Hebrew set out with the aid of little electric lamps.
We were well organized, between four and five hundred youngsters of both sexes, full of high standards and ideals. It was a most intense and stormy period in our lives. There is no going back to that period. But one may and can refresh one's memory.
by Bluma Wroclawski
The house, in which I was born, grew up and lived until the outbreak of World War was like any other house, and yet, there was something special about it which makes my heart ache.
There were dozens of inhabitants in the house and apart from the non-Jew, they were all Jews. Who was he? The janitor, of course. Each tenant had his private world and goings-on and together, they constituted a panorama of Jewish life.
To the right of the gate there was a large shop belonging to Pazanowski and selling second-hand clothes. The enormous courtyard was full of stables and cowsheds. On Fair days, the courtyard would fill up with wagons before dawn. Farmers would bring geese, poultry or butter. The inhabitants of the house would go down to buy the goods. Artisans used to live in the house; factory workers and a water-drawer. There was a bakery in the house, a pastry-cook's shop and a laundry. The Rebbe of Zychlin lived there as it was near to the big synagogue.
A water pump stood in the centre of the courtyard. The water-drawer, Moshele, was a short, thick-set man with crooked legs. He would lift his ware pail-by-pail and pour them into the barrels of his clients.
There was a traditional atmosphere about this courtyard. On Friday evenings it would become very quiet. All the tenants who had been rushing around each day to make a living now seemed to have changed their very image. Suddenly they turned into Jews praying to God, wrapped in their prayer-shawls.
The days before Passover were happy and noisy ere. The children would light a bonfire and there was no end to their delight. Women would throw parcels of Hamets (leaven) from the windows to be burnt. The children were delighted to fulfil the Commandment.
But as the hour of the Seder drew nearer, the courtyard became very still. Everybody would be sitting around with a grave air trying to impart certain splendour to the ceremony, and anyone who prolonged it deserved to be praised.
Once the Passover was over, the grey days returned to the courtyard, worries and problems, making a living, taxation and various hardships. This went on until the Feast of Succoth.
There were sixteen booths to adorn the courtyard and one of them was particularly impressive that of the Rebbe of Zychlin. The Rebbe would only enter his Sukkah after all the other Jews had settled in theirs. I can clearly recall his impressive figure in his silk kapota, his white socks, and the shtreimel on his head. He would chant the Kiddush in a loud voice and all the inhabitants of the courtyard would cray: Amen after him.
On Yom Kippur, the fear of the Day of Atonement could be felt in the courtyard. At the time of the lighting of the candles, rivers of tears would flow from the eyes of mothers. Voices were heard mourning and weeping. When the meal was over, the fathers would bless their children and go down to pray. The following day they would stand wrapped in their white shrouds, praying and weeping all day long.
But their prayers were not heard. One day in September 1939, Gestapo men came and took all the residents of the courtyard at n°3 Nova Street; old people, women and babes in arms to the buildings of the Shrier market. They walked with small parcels on their backs, driven by Nazi whips. It was the beginning of the end.
by M. B.
In the early hours of the morning, groups of young people could already be seen wearing their uniforms, hurrying to the premises of their various organizations.
At seven o'clock precisely, all the youth organizations had already gathered at the starting point in the large courtyard of the Zionist Organization buildings at N°21 Josephine Boulevard.
By 7:15, they set out on their journey headed by Mr. David Wolkovitch. The Hashomer Hatzair band played marches. It was an impressive trip.
The fine weather and the sunshine contributed to the very effective parade which passed through the Josephine, Pilsudski, Warzawska and Turek streets towards Winary. The following Youth Movements took part in the trip: Histadrut Zionit, Hehalutz Hamerkazi, Hashomer Hatzair, Hebrew Gymnasium, Hehalutz Hatzair and Gordonia.
In the Forest
Once they reached the Winary Forest the various movements parted. Each had its own corner of the forest in which it set its tents and organized its own plan as had previously been arranged.
An outsider would have noticed that discipline and order prevailed in all the youth movement camps. There is no better proof than the fact that the Hora dance was not sufficient for them, though the man in the street tends to believe at times that it is all they do. Oh no! National Zionist work is carried out among them and is of immense value. They change the character of the Galut Jew from its very foundation in both physical and mental aspects. They prepare him for a life of freedom as against his fettered life of today. This sort of educational activity can only succeed if it is begun while the children are still very young.
In a number of camps, speeches were made on current affairs and in particular on the closing of Aliya to Eretz Israel. Y. Litman of Brit Trumpeldor and H. Palach of Hehalutz Hamerkazi addressed their listeners making impassioned speeches. They pointed out that the closing of the gates
Would be of no use for we would continue to immigrate and penetrate through the cracks. All day long the road to the camps was busy. Carriages, cars and bicycles kept bringing visitors. Many pilgrims were drawn to the forest at Winary. The guests were estimated to have numbered several thousand. This public was varied and belonged to all sections of the community. The majority were the parents of the young members of the Youth Movements. They were now given an opportunity of seeing part of the work of the movements to which their children were so devoted.
The march back to Town
At 7 p.m. all the Movements prepared to march back to town. As soon as the order was given, they started homeward. The marchers were in high spirits and never stopped singing. They were accompanied by a large audience all the way.
At 8 p.m. they approached the town. About 2km away, they were awaited by hundreds of people whose numbers grew constantly. The public cheered the marchers and three flowers at them. The roads through which they passed were crowded with people. Everybody watched the marchers with a sense of pride and satisfaction. They passed through Babine Street, New Market, Ciasna, Nova, Zlota, Pilsudski Streets and Josephine Boulevard to the courtyard of the Zionist Organization.
At the end of the ramble, an impressive parade took place and the various Movements then went off, each to its own premises.
In their customary, fashion the Zionist Youth Movement have kept up their tradition of rambling out of town this year as well. At 7 a.m. the Brit Trumpeldor left to the sound of their band, displaying their blue-white flag along the road to Lissa and wearing their brown uniforms. They were joined by the Brit Trumpeldor youth of Stawiszyn. Mr. Grausalz headed the youngsters who made a very nice impression.
At about the same time, the Hashomer Hatzair, Hehalutz Hamerkazi, Gordonia and Hehalutz Hatzair left for their traditional march to Wolitza (Lissa). This march had many participants and the column was a long one. The walked to the sound of the bugle and the drum. Although very small children took part, the marching was exemplary. In the morning, the weather was not very good but this did not affect the proud and steady marching of the young people. It is interesting that they chose the Lissa forest for their trip, although it was six kilometres away from town.
When the hikers reached the forest, each Movement marked off its own area with string, put up tents and set out to carry the plans which had been prepared previously. The youth enjoyed themselves, engaging in sports activities and games. They also discussed current affairs under the guidance of older members.
Visitors kept coming to the forest all day long and the youngsters with the blue National Fund boxes called on them to donate.
The first to return at dusk were the Brit Trumpeldor. Their band began playing as soon as they approached town. In town itself, a large crowd of parents and children awaited them and the streets were full of spectators. An hour later, the second set of marchers arrived. Its members carried torches and sang Halutz and Shomer songs. As soon as they approached the town, their band began to play and continued until they reached the Hashomer quarters.
20th of Tammuz. A real and hot summer's day. The sun has been beating down since dawn and it is very hard to bear the heat. The sky is crystal-clear; no clouds mar the pale blue horizon. Nature must be preparing herself, putting on her best holiday garb in honour of this holy occasion. The camp is noisy. A hundred kfirim (Lion Whelps) are hastily getting ready in couples. The atmosphere grows tense.
Then suddenly silence. Attention! The bugle blows a half-note and then spreads sadly. The blast ends in a long call today is the anniversary of Herzl's death.
One minute more and a great band of Jewish children wearing white shirts and Shomer ties, stand ready for parade; the leaders at their head. The flags are down at half-mast, waving in the wind. Attention!
The head of the camp reads the Order of the Day. The Hebrew words are pronounced in the Sephardi fashion, echo in the silence of the Polish countryside. For a split second you can imagine to yourself that you are in Eretz Israel.
It seems as though Herzl, the figure standing on the balcony of the Congress House in Basle must be looking down on the youngsters who have gathered in this place and smiles his gentle and fatherly smile.
The children's eyes are bewildered, pensive, dreaming.
Am Yisrael Hai! Amcha Yisrael Yibaneh! (Israel is alive. Your People of Israel will be rebuilt).An enthusiastic Hora dance is the response to the Order of the Day. The circles of dancers move as though they are in a spell.
Shomrim Yivnu Hagalil (Shomrim will build up Galilee!) The words ring out for the first time in the forsaken Polish village. The driving force of the youth can be felt, the iron will is there.Evening. The sky has grown dark. Newly harvested sheaves of rye like around in the field. A row of cherry trees can be seen in the background. On the border between the field and the row of trees, Herzl's picture has been set on a special stand. Sheaves have been placed on either side of the picture and agricultural implements are laid before it. Everything is lit up by two campfires. They throw a rosy glow on the picture and on the whelps that pass in a file. Hundreds of Jewish children march past without a sound, turning their heads to the noble face of the leader.
Anu Nivneh Yehudah! Anu Nivneh Hagalil! (We shall build Judea! We shall build up Galilee!)
The tune of Tel-Hai is quietly played on the violin. The sad notes harmonize with the surrounding. Suddenly an explosion! A white flame bursts aloft in the field. The Kfirim have lit the bonfire which has been prepared for this purpose. A moment later, they have all gathered around the bonfire and the head of the camp begins his speech.
He reviews the generations of Jews in the Diaspora and speaks of those who fought in the past for the Freedom of Israel; the Hashmonaim, the Maccabees, the martyrs who went to the flames in Spain, Benjamin Zeev Herzl, the Pioneers and the Shomrim. He ends by saying that the 20th of Tammuz has turned from a day of mourning into a day of rejoicing; rejoicing for the achievement of creation throughout the years; for each footstep that brings us closer to the aim set out by the leader.
The bonfire burns higher. Its flames are very high.
This is the gift of youth: Arms entwined, heads set back, shirts are out of pants and skirts awhirl they are dancing. Dance! Dance with all your heart! Dance with body and soul! Mi Yivneh? Anu Nivneh! (Who shall build? We shall build!)- sparks from the bonfire and the moon in the sky is red. The hours move on. It is already midnight while these children of Israel still dance their victory dance on the 20th of Tammuz.
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