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[Page 130]

Memories of the “Chalutz“ Movement

by Isser Zever

I cannot write about the Halutz movement from its beginnings since I was not among the founding members. In 1920 I joined the Halutz just prior to the Bolshevik entrance to Kobrin. I belonged to the Halutz movement until 192 6 when I went to live in Israel. In 1920 I was a member of “Tzerai-tzion” (Youth of Zion). The meetings were held in the women's section of the congregation. I met there two Jewish communists, Yorozditzky and Sender Chomsky. After the second Aliyah in May 1921 there was a restriction ordered for Jews going to Israel. Five of the second group came back from Vienna to Kobrin. We tried to have better Zionist education and less singing and dancing. The first Jewish National Fund Committee was started, then the Zionist and Mizrahachi, all the movements represented in the committee.

I was called to the army in 1922 but even there I was in touch with the Halutz. In the spring of 1924 I returned to Kobrin from the army. At that time Bentzi and Eatcha came back from Vilna at the same time. They quit school and all of us founded the “Halutz” movement. We met once a week in the Zionist club. We had many debates on how to proceed with the movement. Aharon Wornick understood the situation very well. He tried to analyze sensibly the purpose of our movement. We called a meeting and elected seven men to be the head committee. We found a place and started a library.

At that time a Halutz conference took place in Polsia. Pantel Ben Zion was voted to be the representative from Kobrin. How happy we were to see the wonderful youth joining the Halutz movement. The youth who joined were studious and hard working. I was one of the elders and the youth used to call me “Tata”. They received training in various areas of professions including in the ORT schools of Kobrin.

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kob131a.jpg [25 KB] - A group of pioneers from Kobrin on their way to Palestine
A group of pioneers from Kobrin on their way to Palestine,
while in Vienna
kob131b.jpg [32 KB] - "Freiheit" conference from Brisk in Kobrin
“Freiheit” conference from Brisk district in Kobrin
in 1928

The Halutz was a major force in Kobrin. In 1926 Halutz sent a representative to the ORT conference. The Halutz excelled in Kobrin. About its whereabouts after 192 6 I will not be able to tell anything since I left that year to go to live in Israel.

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Another subject I can not treat is the elementary school in Kobrin. In fact I am not a person of Kobrin but a native of Brisk and only during the second year of the war, after much wandering from city to city, did I remain to live in Kobrin.

From the Recent Past

by Shlomo Parmen

As I come this time to write my memoirs about Kobrin, the only subject I can treat is the elementary school in Kobrin. In fact I am not a person of Kobrin but a native1 of Brisk and only during the second year of the war, after much wandering from city to city, did I live in Kobrin.

My memories of the elementary school in Kobrin (Kobriner Folks Schule) have to do with a cultural era in Kobrin during days of suffering and poverty in the first years of the previous World War. If we want to memorialize the important people of the city of Kobrin my task would be then to recall those that committed themselves to its culture. Although that culture has been ruined again and we are standing on its heaps of ashes, still we cannot disregard that era which left such a deep impression in our hearts and was the one that gave us hundreds of pioneers who are now participating in the building of our land.

And now to the heart of the subject: The Russian regime when it left Kobrin did not leave even one cultural institution deserving of its name.

Kobrin was a small town, not really God forsaken but without cultural institutions, and in the course of the war, when the conquering German yoke sucked the juices of the country of Polsia, they even took the bricks out of the ruined Brisk and sent them to Germany. During those days there were some “good Germans” who established in Kobrin an institution that was then called “Tzvang Schule.” Something like a pre-high school, it was supposedly only for the sons of poor people because the rich people had two schools which belonged to the brothers Privolski on one hand and the late Mr. Elkon, of blessed memory, on the other hand. Those two schools had one mission. Although you learned Hebrew, the dominant language was Russian and the whole education was conducted in Russian. They could not be considered national institutions.

Mr. Elkon was a very special teacher and it would probably be worthwhile to devote a special article to his personality. The Tzvang Schule that was established supposedly under the initiative of the Germans and started in the women's section of synagogue actually succeeded in bringing together a group of very dedicated teachers with a national cultural mission who succeeded in creating something from nothing.

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I want to note here the conditions under which the teachers worked. The budget was very meager. The synagogues where that school was held during the first winter were not heated. Being mostly from the lower strata, the children and their teachers were not adequately dressed and they suffered from the cold. The teachers wrapped themselves in winter cloaks. The children were also hungry as there was no food in their school bags. Only with the help of those teachers, some of whom are still alive in America, did the school reached its peak. The first to be noted is Mr. Noah Holtzman, of blessed memory. Although he had a Russian education and had no experience in Yiddish (which was the school's language at the beginning) he nevertheless succeeded in teaching high students the subjects of mathematics and geography in Yiddish, despite the fact that the Yiddish instruction books had not yet come to Kobrin. On his own he composed instructional notebooks which he translated from Russian or German, acquainting himself with geographic and mathematical terminology. Indeed, in a short period of time he gave his students wide knowledge in arithmetic, algebra, and also geometry.

A partner to his work was a very praiseworthy teacher, Dvora Zelkind. {I do not know if she is still alive). She taught us geography and history in Russian and, with the influence of Holtzman, moved to Yiddish. In their dedication those teachers overcame all the obstacles and taught their students the language, broadening the knowledge that was the basis for their education when they transferred later to other schools.

The Hebrew teachers were Mr. Yaffe and Pinchuk. Tanach and the Bible in history according to Dubnov were subjects that we especially liked and our knowledge in those subjects was more than people even learned in the high schools that I mentioned above. In these subjects we hardly had any textbooks because the contact with Warsaw or with Vilna was very weak in the first years of the war. We had also a teacher for Hebrew and Yiddish by the name of Bortnovski. He did a lot for the school and he is still alive in America. It is interesting how the teachers succeeded gradually in taking out the Tzvang Schule from the rule of the Germans although we did learn also German. (Young Mrs. Epstein was our German teacher at that time).

The teachers also brought to our school the Hebrew and Yiddish element. They transferred to a public house and built an independent institution that was called Kobriner Folks Schule. That is when the blossoming period for the school started. It was a spacious house of two stories with large, clean rooms which were well heated during the winter and a group of teachers faithful and dedicated despite the small, very meager salary. The number of students grew and reached six to seven hundred children.

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We had a program of seven years study, four preparatory classes. We also learned to sing in a chorus. There were more than eighty students. (The teacher, Chomotinski, is now in the United States). We also learned physical education. From time to time we arranged parties and presentations in which the kids participated under the direction of their teachers.

Once we even presented a children's opera in Hebrew which became a model for other cities. Then they brought from Warsaw and Vilna textbooks in Yiddish and Hebrew which made it much easier for the teachers and for ourselves. As is known, the rulers had changed at the end of the war and it should be noted how also the teachers very quickly got used to the new conditions. At the time of Petlura, there was a demand that we learn the Ukrainian language and suddenly the same teachers started speaking Ukrainian. Because they became so accustomed to it they succeeded in saving the school from a foreign domination.

Between one rule and another we had to learn a little from every language and still the dedicated teachers succeeded in giving us the Hebrew culture that produced faithful sons and daughters for Eretz Israel.

The teachers were also active in other institutions that arose during the last days of the war and also in youth organizations. Yiddish, which we spoke in assembly, and the Hebrew that we used were the cultural assets that those teachers gave us. Who of the people of Kobrin does not remember our beautiful presentations on every holiday and national celebration, in our physical and spiritual cleanliness? We remember the trips we took on Lag Ba'omer with a blue and white flag at the head to the forest outside the city. Above all of it was hovering the spirit of our good teachers that created something from nothing.

At the end of the war there arose more schools and some of them had a religious national bent or direction. Despite the fact that the governments and languages changed in Kobrin, there reigned Jewish and Hebrew elements in every corner of the life of this city.

Also there was Jewish theater in Kobrin. Although not professional, it was established through the initiative of a group of amateurs that spoke Yiddish. The people active in it were the same teachers that brought to life our national languages for us.

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Among the people active in the theater will be remembered for good the late teacher, Noah Holtzman, the teacher, Bortnovski, who is still alive, the teacher, Antopolski, the maiden Stavski and Zalman Lipschitz who are now in Israel. Among those active people were also the brothers Markuza one of whom, Noah, is not alive anymore. His brother, Avram'l, is still alive and is among us. Even in the midst of this foreign culture they created something from nothing and the performances of the Kobrin amateur group were known and praised in Kobrin and the near surroundings up to Pinsk. Who does not remember the performances of readings from the works of Shalom Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Sforim that made it a delight to the people of Kobrin?

It is hard to reconcile with the bitter fact that this cultural city has been erased and we are standing in front of heaps of graves. O, for those who are gone and cannot be replaced!

kob135.jpg [20 KB] - Mostova Street (the bridge)
Mostova Street (the bridge)

The Revolutionary Movement in Kobrin 1904 - 1905

by P. Sapoznikov

The revolutionary wave that swept through great Czarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century affected us in Kobrin.

Our town was not blessed with industrial establishments. We had only small workshops in different occupations and each one of them employed only a small number of workers. On the other hand, we had stores of cloth and groceries and such. Jewish Kobrin made its living on the two military units in town which were stocked by Jewish suppliers.

Actually you could not say that artisans in Kobrin were very well off but the laborer barely eked out a living and his life conditions were not enviable. This is why so many of the artisans and laborers emmigrated to America in considerable numbers.

A number of the emigrants amassed something of a fortune when they had been in America five or ten years and then came back to their families whom they had left in Kobrin. But the majority of those who left did not want to tear themselves away from their new life and would transfer their families to them in America, the country they had chosen for their new homeland.

Not all laborers found it possible to extract themselves from the places where they lived. Some were tied to their way of making a living without even knowing why and what for. Some found it impossible to come up with the money for the expenses of the trip.

[Page 136]

But then there appeared a bright ray of light in the difficult, darkened lives of those workers and a spark of hope for better days in the image of a young woman student who ignited their bitter souls.

The half-assimilated family Malivitch, who lived in Kobrin, sent their sons to study at the capital city of Petersburg and there their daughter got caught up in the revolutionary movement. When she came back to Kobrin to her parents for vacation and saw the poverty of the laborers she could not stand from afar. Her revolutionary fervor pushed her to start some action for enlightenment among them. This work had to be done in secrecy because of the evil eye of the government. Through various means she succeeded in making contact with groups of laborers. She gathered them in the stable of Moshe, the carpenter, and talked with them about their condition.

The action of this young propagandist was very successful but its end was tragic. In the home of the young woman her meetings with the “unfitting company” became known and her father, the lawyer, started worrying that the behavior of his daughter might put an end to his status, so he took all the steps to disrupt his daughter's actions. When she saw that she had to stop her blessed work, she decided not to go on living: A very tiny portion of poison put an end to this beautiful life.

At her funeral were several laborers who were lucky enough to enjoy her work for enlightenment.

As it was said, the conditions of the laborers in Kobrin at that time were very difficult. The workday started at dawn and ended at a very late hour at night. When the sabbath ended the laborer took off his sabbath clothes and with a deep sigh put on his week day clothes. Here again began a week of very hard and exhausting work. This was also the fate of the woman laborer.

Kobrin's only industry at the time was the filling of cigarettes and in that trade were employed mostly young girls. The work day continued without end. From dawn until a very late hour the pale girls sat by long and dirty tables covered with cases of cigarettes. Next to those heaps was a bowl containing some sticky material. Extraordinarily quickly the girl's scrawny fingers caught those little cases and filled them continuously and the cigarettes collected in the boxes: 100, 250 or 500 in each one.

The dream of such a woman laborer was to collect enough money for a dowry, but the salary was hardly enough for a cheap dress and in many cases they would contract the germs of tuberculosis.

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The laborers began to grumble more and more about their bitter fate. First and foremost they desired to be free of work on Saturday nights, and they gave a message to their employers that from now on they would not work on Saturday nights.

That message created the first storm. Everyone waited for the results of the struggle and the city of Kobrin was astir. The employees called for a big assembly at the Jewish school, Chayey Adam, in Horodniki. The head of the speakers was a dress maker, Itzik Shershevski (Pizik), a Jew with wide shoulders, a long beard and a very firm sternness on his heavy face. His angry eyes were now ready for battle. R'Itzik expressed his position on the “nervy” demand of the workers in a simple manner like someone who is.doing arithmetic: His laborers work on Saturday night on two dresses. During the year this adds up to 100 dresses and so it is in the other places of work. If, God forbid, they should give in to the laborers they would become impoveri shed.

These arguments made an impression and all those assembled responded to R'Itzik, but the laborers did not surrender. They decided to continue in their struggle until the complete victory. And indeed they won a victory. When the laborers came after a hard battle to their first achievement, one free Saturday night was given to.them and the opportunity for meetings where they could explore a future program for the achievement of a shorter workday. In those days they used to work every Friday night so that the employer would not suffer, God forbid, from the stoppage of work two hours before the lighting of the candles.

The revolutionary winds that started blowing in Czarist Russia brought new ideas to the laborers of Kobrin. It was the eve of the big struggle for liberation of 1905. On the road from Pinsker Street to the forest of Brileva there were posted guards from among the young laborers so as to notify others in time about the arrival of the police. Laborers assembled in the forest at the time, led by the representative of the Jewish Socialist Movement in Pinsk. On the following day it was made known in town that the laborers intend to put forth “nervy” demands: a work day of 12 hours and a break of 2 hours during lunch time. When these conditions were finally demanded of the employers with the addition of the condition that they should be answered in 3 days, the employers reconsidered. They also called for a meeting to deal with the new situation.

The employers argued: How could it be? How could Jews sit and eat for 2 hours? In that meeting it was decided to stop the work. Okay, let them go. Never mind. When they get hungry they will make up. A number of informers reported to the police. Some of the laborers were arrested.

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Several were thrown into solitary confinement without a trial for 3 months. But all this did not help: The workers did not go back. Then the police went to the county government which decided in favor of the laborers. The strikes ended and in Kobrin there was a work day of 12 hours.

When 1905 arrived the Socialist movement started really putting down roots among the laborers of Kobrin. There were party arguments in the streets, in the workshops and in the clubs that arose in town. The Bund club was in the “tea house” at the home of Nate Friedkes and the club of the S.S. (Socialists) in some poor wooden house in Brisker Street. During work, revolutionary songs were sung which were imbued with deep desire to be free from the yoke of the Czar.

The songs of Eidleshtadt, Rosenfeld, and Reisen were then the first songs that aroused to battle. A place of honor was assigned then to the songs of Elikon Tsonzer. Among the songs of an anonymous composer that were brought from Pinsk was a song written on the occasion of a conflict between an owner of a factory in Pinsk, Daniel Paparatski, and his laborers. The content of the song teaches us about the development of the case. I will endeavor to convey a few lines of that song: “You did such a bad thing without a forethought. You traveled to Odessa and you brought some workers, so we have decided you're no good. You will be deprived. We will be tortured and you have a face without eyes.”

And then it was told that the owner of the factory chased away his laborers and instead of them brought laborers from Odessa. The hungry laborers who were chased away decided to seek revenge. They poured very strong acid on his face, blinding him.

In 1905 the Socialist Movement started, working underground and showing distinct signs of life in Kobrin. There were assemblies and secret debates. Printed on a hectograph and distributed, propaganda sheets contained heavy accusations against the oppressive Czarist regime.

The writer of these columns was an apprentice in a place of work that was visited by Russian soldiers. He took every opportunity to put into their coat pockets propaganda flyers, always peacefully. As much as the police followed and chased the. distributors of this illegal literature, they never succeeded in catching them.

The Kobrin youth and a part of the laborers read fine Russian literature. The books of Tolstoy, Gorky, Andreyev, etc. were among the most distributed books among the adolescent Jewish youth of Kobrin. The leader of the Bund, Yitzchak Pinchuk, and the leader of the S.S., Motel Auerbach, a youth from Pinsk, were the hub on which revolved the Bund and the S.S. in our town.

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And we have to note that there were already the first signs of the movement of Poalei Zion, the laborers of Zion. A shoemaker named Akiva who was a yeshiva bucher participated in the debates with the Bund, the S.S. and the Poalei Zion. In the synagogues there would be Socialist assemblies despite the will of the sextans.

In the fall of 1905, the laborers of Petersburg declared a general statewide strike of all railroad workers. The economic life became completely paralyzed. A lot of merchandise was assembled in the warehouses by the stations. The delivery of the merchandise to its owners was allowed only by a special license from the representatives of the local Socialist parties. A merchant in Kobrin who wanted to take out his merchandise from the station had to bring a written and signed confirmation by Yitzchak Pinchuk and Motel Auerbach. Suddenly the whole town came alive. The big tidings about the manifest about giving of the constitution of the Czar brought out all the workers of Kobrin into the streets. There were waves of happiness and joy in town. Jews felt that their economic and political life would now be easier. From now on it would be permitted to every Jew to move in all of Russia. The children of Israel would have free entrance to the middle and high schools. Jews and Christians hugged and kissed and blessed one another with good luck in light of the great events.

The local Rabbi, Aharon Yehoshua Shafit, announced to the inhabitants of the town that on October 17th at 2 in the afternoon he will read, as the representative of the government at the big synagogue, the liberation scroll of the Czar which gives equality and liberty to all the citizens of Russia. At the announced time, the synagogue was full, including the women's part, to an overflow, mostly laborers. On the stage there were two banners, one from the “Bund” and one from the S.S. and on them were various declarations like: “Down with the rule of the one” “Long live the Bund” “Long live the S.S.”, etc.

Those assembled waited for the “representative” Rabbi who came accompanied by the respected home owners: Aharon Lieb Vladovski, Szidevitch, Maury Tanenboim, and Berl Kavas (Pantal).

The Rabbi was wearing the official uniform, like on a holiday, with a black sash and frills of silk and a Napoleonic hat on his head. He mounted the bimah where the ark was with his entourage. He took this liberation scroll and started reading it. But with his reading of the first line, the assembled laborers started screaming and yelling, “Down with the representative of the Czar. Go down. We suffered enough with you all these years. Down. Down.”

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In the pandemonium there were also some shots of a handgun and all this was enough that many of the assembled ran for their lives and crowded toward the exit.

Outside there was organized a laborers demonstration carrying red flags and banners and they were heading toward the hall of Freidecks. When the demonstration passed on Pinsker Street there came out the deputy Ispravnik Audeyev, who saluted the demonstrators.

At Freidecks Hall there appeared speakers from the Socialist parties. The audience sang revolutionary songs and they were very happy there.

At the end of the assembly it was announced that tomorrow there would be another assembly at the same place and at the same time. But who would guess that tomorrow there would be a lot of laborers' blood and Jewish blood spilled in tens of towns of Czarist Russia.

The following day there was a gathering of laborers at the same place. The speakers were ready but in the high windows there was already a satanic plan to nullify the granting of liberation of yesterday.

From the county government there came a final order to the government of the town to use force and fire to do away with any attempt of the Jews and not to refrain even if it takes the spilling of blood.

The auditorium with all the people was surrounded by police and military. The governor accompanied by police came into the hall and, probably with the intention of looking good for his superiors, jumped on the red flag that was held by a women laborer, the daughter of the tailor (Beryl Faninka). But his victory did not come easy to him. The carrier of the flag hit him good. The police and the military starting shooting. The exits were blocked by the military law guardians and people jumped without any choice through the windows of the second floor and quite a bit of Jewish blood was spilled on that day.

The Czar went back on his liberation scroll and all his promises. The only thing that the ruling gang agreed to was election by a very well thought out plan which promised the continuation of the regime of the hangmen of the Czar. In the land, the reactionary movement grew. There was a new wave of riots in tens of Jewish cities and also in Kobrin there were the beginnings of preparations of riots.

A ranch owner and a hater of Israel, Gun, incited the village Balat.

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The peasants of Balat were ready to come to our town and to steal and to rob and at the same time to spill blood.

Immediately there was organized “Jewish Defense.” Jewish laborers, coachmen, butchers came out armed with iron bars to welcome the rioters. When the rioters learned that there was a hot reception waiting for them, and after the Ispravnik authorities received a goodly bribe, the plan for the parade on Kobrin was cancelled and the congregation of Kobrin breathed a sigh of relief.

The Czarist government then transferred to Kobrin a goodly number of Circassian horsemen to demolish any revolutionary attempt. The Jewish congregation suffered terribly from them. Every Jew was in their eyes a revolutionary, that it was a good deed to give them at least a woven whip with lead in its end. Despite the wild behavior of the Circussians in the streets of Kobrin, there was a continuation of the assembly of the laborers. Those horsemen's attempt was in vain to try and uproot the little plant that was putting roots among the laborers of Kobrin. The advanced laborer spent his free time reading a book. There were debates whether it was altogether worthwhile that the laborer would participate in the elections to the Czarist “Duma.”

A part of the public, among them workers but also other circles, that joined the revolutionary movement during the excitement, organized and they looked and found themselves now more convenient circumstances without fear of danger to continue to enjoy their lives and to the satisfaction of their parents.

In Kobrin there appeared the dance artist (Tanzmeister) with long, uncombed hair and on his nose pince-nez tied to his clothes for security.

For this kind of bargain the police of Kobrin was hoping; for this “important” institution the rulers waited a long time, an institution where every evening the youngsters of Kobrin would meet every evening to spend the time pleasantly to the sound of an orchestra. This institution influenced the youth with a lot of emptiness and made them forget that not far from there lived another youth that was ready to endanger its life for lofty ideas and ready to fight for a nobler life.

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