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[Page 166]

On Beitar Activity in Kutno

by WIGDOROWICZ, Tel Aviv

During the so-called “spring period” of Polish Beitar, in the years 1925-26, when in a number of cities and towns in Poland the National-Zionist youth set up their organizations, a Beitar nest was also formed in Kutno, which was later headed by its first commander, Abraham Goldstein.

At first, the youth were not entirely clear about the end goal of the new movement, but they understood that Zionism meant first and foremost a Jewish independent state that would not be achieved through the ways and means of the already paranoid Zionist organizations. At that time, the soil under the feet of Polish Jewry began to burn, the rural youth sought employment and employment in the cities where the Jews were rooted. Influenced by the anti-Semitic elements, the Poles of town and village saw in Jew the rival and “seeker” of their economic positions. Later came the sad anti-Jewish excesses in Przytyk, Mińsk Mazowiecki and other places. Jabotinsky's slogan: “evacuation of the Jewish population of Poland”, had a wide repercussion — among his supporters, as well as among his opponents.

Although there were no specific anti-Jewish demonstrations in Kutno, the older generation knew that during World War I, our city was miraculously saved from a pogrom because the two enemy armies did not meet here. Their clashes took place in Łowicz and Sochaczew, and local Jews suffered greatly in both places.

In my time, there was a case that during the procession of “Corpus Christi” (during “Green Thursday”[1]), which drew from the great church in the old market, one of the Poles threw a stone, with the express intention to provoke anti-Jewish outbursts. Fortunately, the provocation did not succeed and the police took control of the situation.

In the twenties and thirties, Kutno was not immune to the constant influx of freshly-baked Polish merchants, who by all means sought to expel the Jewish craftsman and retailers. Antisemitism became so widespread that the Jewish youth saw no other solution than to immigrate to Eretz Israel.

But in and around the Land of Israel, in those years, the historic conflict between the British Mandate and the Jewish “state-to-be” was taking place.

The first Beitar groups in our city were recruited from working-class youth, students, tradesmen. In the beginning, Beitar had a special influence among the participants in the evening courses of the Poalei Agudat Israel, where our friend Yaakov Zeidenwar was active. At first, they gathered in the premises of the Zionist organization, in the new market, in the house of N. Rabinowicz.

In addition to ideological-enlightenment work, the Hebrew language was studied and military exercises were carried out. The latter was not a simple matter, as all parties without exception and individuals mocked the “Jewish army”, and even insulted us. This did not deter the young Betarists – and they continued to do their job.

There was not a single area of general-Zionist activity where the Beitar was not among the most active. For example, in the collects for Keren Kayemet, Keren HaYesod, for the cultural school, as well as for the annual “bazaar”. I remember that the first bazaar in the “Modern” cinema hall, with the participation of Mr. Isaac Greenbaum, on its way back from a meeting of the Zionist Action Committee, which took place in Berlin, was quite impressive. Most of the exhibits and artifacts for the bazaar were provided by Beitar colleagues.

One of the most active and responsible Zionist activists in Kutno, Josef Steinfeld z”l, emphasized on several occasions the loyalty and activity of the Betarists to their organization and to the Zionist work in the city.

*

The events in Palestine, in 1929, provoked a wave of protests among the world Jewry. In Kutno too, in those days there was a large protest-demonstration of all Zionist groups. There, we marched to the meeting in the Great Synagogue, in uniform and in a military manner. With astonishment and appreciation, the comrades were watched marching from their premises on the old market, in the house of Yehuda Nosal – all the way to the synagogue. Mr. Yehuda Riftin and A. S. Elberg, who had just returned from Eretz Israel on a visit to their hometown of Kutno, gave speeches.

The protest demonstration, after the passing a series of conflicting resolutions, took place in the courtyard of the “Maccabi” club.

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Due to the transfer of Kutno Beitar's commander, Zvi Szczig, to Plock, together with his entire family, Zelig Kowalski z”l, one of the most conscious and capable Beitarist in town, was appointed chief of staff.

Zvi was a very capable and dedicated commander, but the new leadership successfully continued the activity in the organizational as well as the cultural sphere. The “Live Newspapers” every Friday night stood on a high level and attracted a large audience. The feuilletons of Shmuel Elbaum and Shlomo Herszkowicz were received with great admiration.

Shmuel Elbaum was one of the last commanders of Kutno Beitar. The surviving Beitarists in Israel remember well these loyal neighbors and friends. He died in the ghetto with his family. Shlomo Herszkowicz was one of the first Beitar members in town, the son of a well-known family in Kutno. He emigrated to France before the war, and settled down well. While bathing in the sea, he drowned. It was not until the third day after the accident that his body surfaced. His death evoked sincere grief in all who knew him.

*

In the thirties, in the rural workshop of the Jewish landowner Brewda, a training point was established for Betarists candidates to emerge. Brewda came to Kutno from Lithuania, and settled in the village of Malina[2]. There, Jewish youths experienced the taste of earthwork. The priest of the village of Malina had at that time returned from a trip to the Near East and his enthusiasm for Israel was extraordinarily strong.

As a leader of training, I needed to care for workplaces. In Malina we managed to recruit 20 colleagues, some of them out of Kutno. It is worth noting that Yaakov Winyarski (“Alfa”) worked at that training at the time, then became deputy commander of Etzel[3], now Knesset deputy Yaakov Meridor.

*

At the 14th Zionist Congress, Beitar in Kutno presented an independent list. The number of votes received – 4. (from Chaim Zeidenwar, father of our friend Yaakov Zeidenwar; from our later commander A. Goldstein, the actual founder of Beitar and one of the devoted colleagues; the third vote belonged to Isaac Luidor, later chairman of the Kutno Revisionists).

We have already received 24 votes in the 15th Zionist Congress. To the 16th Congress – 60 votes. To the 17th – above 200 votes. And 1,000 eligible voters have already taken part in the elections for the new Zionist organization.

We sent three of our colleagues from Kutno and surroundings to the first Betarist Central Hachshara in Klesow: A Goldstein, Lipman Menche and A. Kaluszinski. At our first meeting of Polish Beitar in Warsaw, our delegation had 40 members participating.

When a training ground was created in Iwacewicze, we sent four colleagues there. One of them, Pesach Gwircman, drowned in a river when he volunteered after work. Pesach was one of the first Beitar, the son of a Ben-Torah, a carpenter, who emigrated from Lithuania to Kutno. Pesach had an opportunity to emerge on the basis of a challenge from his brother. But as a Beitarist, he previously wanted to complete the training, to be ready for a working-class life in the country. After his tragic death, the Beitar Library in Kutno was named after him. A memorial service was held at the time of the year, and his picture hung on the premises for many years.

 


Union of Soldiers – 1932

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We have never claimed to be the best Beitar nest in Poland, but an ambition to be one of the most active – yes it was. It even published its own hectographed page “Tel-Hai”. Only one issue appeared.

*

Just in the year of the Stawski[4] trial and during the elections to the 18th Zionist Congress, the organization had grown. The number of members in Beitar, HaTzahar and Brit HaChayal had virtually doubled. Sholem Grosminc came at that time to Beitar – from the Folkist Party. Later became one of the devoted and leading colleagues. I remember that after the court in Palestine released A. Stawski, Sholem Grosminc came to me with a proposal to buy all the “Today” copies that arrived in Kutno that day, so that the Jews could buy only the “Moment” – and thus expressing their protest to “Today” for its anti-Stawski stance…

 

KKL Power of Attorney – FROST

 

Beitar member GWIRCMAN, who drowned during a training in Iwacewicze

 

Among the leading colleagues of those bygone times, we can name:
Abraham Kaplan, a Lithuanian fellow with a teaching permit, was very active at HaTzahar.
Mordechai Walter, son of a prominent family, where he received a national education. Very competent.
Eliyahu Welcman, a young lawyer, was a good speaker at Warsaw University.
Joseph Zhelichowski, a descendant of the well-known family of millers, commander of the Brit HaChayal
Of the women, it is worth mentioning the Skusowski sisters. One of them has been Secretary of HaTzahar for many years,

The young and active members included: Bella Metal, a student at the Hebrew Gymnasium: Franie Frenkel; Miriam Neimark; Rebecca Bild; Paula Pukacz; Hinde Spayer; Teitler, Lasman and others. Comrades Moshe Kaufman, Shmuel Szapszewicz and Moshe Goldwasser. He and his father had already been immigrants, but later returned to Kutno due to the crisis in the Eretz Israel. Unfortunately, he and his whole family perished in Chelmno. Moshe Goldwasser was full of enthusiasm and idealism for the Jewish land.

*

The visit of revisionist leader and brilliant speaker, Zeev Jabotinsky, left an unforgettable impression on Kutno. Jabotinsky was returning from the Katowice conference and his lecture in one of the largest halls attracted thousands of listeners, most of whom had to stay outside.

The second major undertaking, which gave the movement much prestige and glory, was the celebration in honor of the unveiling of the Beitar flag. Thousands of people from Kutno and the surrounding area marched in their uniforms through the most important streets – from the school to the old theater. From the windows and balconies, the marching Jewish youths were thrown flowers.

Survivors of the Kutno ghetto know that this flag accompanied their followers on the last journey to Chelmno.

*

Kutno Beitarists have not been privileged to emigrate to Eretz Israel with the help of certificates, except Yaakov Zeidenwar. On the other hand, some yes managed to get to the shores of the Land of Israel – thanks to the illegal Beitar-aliyah.

Many members of Kutno's Beitar were active on the front lines of the illegal immigration, especially after the liberation. A glorious account of the Jewish struggle, resistance, and heroism has been shown by some of our comrades in the Kutno ghetto, on the various fronts of World War II and most recently – in the Independence War after the proclamation of the Jewish state. Many of them fell with arms in hand in battle with the Nazis and later – with the Arab gangs. Honor their memory!

In the underground in Eretz Israel, which fought against the English mandate-power and Arab pogromists, Kutno Beitar member Nachman Falc hy”d, son of Yechiel Falc, fell in the ranks of Etzel.

*

In my memories of Kutno Beitar and Beitarists, I would like to end with a few recollections of the Beitar activity in the surrounding towns: Krośniewice, Łęczyca and Dąbrowice.

As a larger center, we set ourselves the goal of establishing a nest in Krośniewice. The task was easy here, because all that was needed was to turn the “revival” branch into a Beitar organization – its chairman, Zvi Appel, became Krośniewice's commander in Beitar. The organization later grew. Ezekiel Bagno z”l, who was visiting his parents from the Land of Israel at the time, set up the branch in Krośniewice. He fell as a guard, during the events of 1938.

To Łęczyca, a district capital like Kutno, twenty kilometers from there, we used to go on foot, headed by commander Zvi Szczig to organize the youth there. It did not take long and Łęczyca possessed a lovely Beitar organization; led by the youths Stulinski and Szorek. Beitar's growth came at the expense of “Gordonia”[5].

Abraham Knopf died in Israel – a convinced

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revisionist. He received a Jewish-national education at home. After immigrating, he was active in the HaTzahar in Haifa, where he died in 1961.

Dąbrowice had a small Jewish population that was predominantly Zionist. Therefore, it was not difficult to set up a Beitar organization here.

But all the towns, like the city of Kutno, were destroyed by a brutal enemy.

 

Translator's footnotes
  1. Thursday before Easter. Return
  2. at 50km northwest of Kutno, near Piotrków Kujawski. Return
  3. aka Irgun Zvai Leumi, or simply Irgun. Return
  4. accused of being an accessory to the murder of Haim Arlosoroff. Return
  5. Pioneer youth movement following the ideas of A. D. Gordon. Return


Organization “Brith Trumpeldor” in Kutno

by Yaakov ZEIDENWAR, Tel Aviv

Translated by Sara Mages

In the mid-1920s, a nationalist-minded youth could also be found in Kutno, close to the heart of the world-renowned revisionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky. The youth were interested in the ideas of the Beitar organization and its first founders in our city were:

Abraham Goldsztajn, Zvi Landau, Zvi Kruczek, Aharon Klar, Moshe Goldwasser, Yaakov Zeidenwar. The latter was a board member of the evening classes at the Poalei Agudat Israel. This was a great success. Shortly after its inception, Beitar counted about 30 members. Comrade Goldsztajn was at the head of the founders' headquarters. Aaron Klar, Zvi Kruczek and Landau actively collaborated with him.

In fact, it must be said that the genesis of Beitar in Kutno was not easy. On the contrary, the “Jewish army” was ridiculed step by step, and the uniforms and exercises were mocked. But we did not pay attention – and continued with the work.

Although the former students of the Poalei Agudat Yisrael had behind them social work experience, the activity of Beitar has grown in scope thanks to the new, strong force, that joined the movement in 1927 — Zvi Szczig. The organization was divided into groups of 10 to 12 years, 14-12, 14-16 and three older groups. The meetings of the administration were held every Saturday at the home of Zvi Kruczek. The appeal (by order in the nest) was conducted once a week (Shabbat) behind the bajeszki[?], where people learned to march, listened to the commands and decisions of the headquarters and completed the appropriate exercises.

After an application to the Zionist Organization in town, we were assigned a room in Rabinowicz's house. Engineer Bibering was appointed commander. A Beitarist training was held in the village of Stanisława.

The girls were particularly active. From them emerged the temperamental and energetic Hinde Szpajer. In general, the organization has grown and embraced workers, students, employees. Even in the assimilated circles, the Beitar gained a foothold.

Our first participation in the elections to the Zionist Congress brought a great deal of excitement and warmth to the entire campaign and gave Beitar 40 votes. At the Beitar National Conference, held in Warsaw in 1928, Kutno was represented by four delegates: Abraham Goldsztajn, Zvi Szczig, Aharon Klar and Yaakov Zeidenwar.

 


Beitar branch — 1930

 

As the work progressed, the board of directors of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Kutno was approached, who agreed to allocate us some rooms in the evenings. In 1930, a cross-conference was held, which gave impetus to the establishment of branches of Beitar in the surroundings province. Kutno provided the instructors and former organizers.

It would be a mistake to assume that Beitar's main activity consisted of military exercises. Obviously, the cultural-educational and enlightening activity was so extensive! In special courses and circles, the trainees were taught Jewish history, Zionism, Hebrew and Jewish literature, about Jewish personalities and historical figures, problems of the Land of Israel. The new forces that joined Beitar in 1930 were helped by: Moshe Wigdorowicz, Zvi Nordenberg and the gymnasium students Felix Tajchner, Mordechai and Yehoshua Zandberg (studied in Kalisz), Salek Walter, Miryam Tiber, Bajle Metal.

Entry into the public school (“Powszechna”) began thanks to Chaim Zeidenwar, who became friends with school principal Klapper, an assimilated

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Jew who liked the Beitar idea. His brother even joined the movement.

Due to the growth of the organization, the work was divided among the headquarters in the following way: Commander — Zvi Szczig, who also dealt with organization and cultural issues; Abraham Goldsztajn — with military work. He was sent to a central military course in Zielonka, which was led by Yeremiahu Halperin from Eretz Israel.

Beitar especially cherished the anniversaries of the deaths of Trumpeldor and Herzl, organizing commemorative sections with an appropriate program. Every Friday night, lectures and open debates were held in the premises, sometimes with the participation of representatives of opposing parties, who came to discuss and hear. The “Living Newspaper” every Saturday, prepared by our own colleagues, was a great success. It also had

 


Gwircman z”l — In a coffin, after drowning

 

a dramatic circle of its own that prepared a new show almost every three months. It also made attempts to publish its own (hectographed) newspaper.

Belonging to Beitar meant emigrating to the Land of Israel. In order to achieve this, it was necessary to first complete the training. In Kutno itself, the Brewda brothers created a training center, where 55 colleagues from the city and surrounding area prepared for a productive working-class life in Israel. The first of Beitar's who were sent for training (in 1930): Goldsztajn, Kaluszinski and others. At the training ground in Iwacewicz, Kutno Beitar lost one of his loyal friends, Pesach Gwircman z”l, who drowned while bathing. Although 10 members had already completed the training, none of them received the required aliyah certificate.

The Beitarists in Kutno were not active only in the commemoration of the dead in their movement. Their participation in all Zionist meetings and general actions was well known in the city. Even during the by-elections, when the main candidate was Yitzhak Grynbaum, an opponent of the revisionists, the Betarists actively participated in the General Zionist list. The same goes for the community and city council elections.

In 1931, the HaTzahar (Revisionist Party) was formed in Kutno. The underdeveloped and older Betarists obviously needed their organizational framework. Among the General Zionists were members Kaplan, Arbuz, Motl, Walter, Lidor, Chaim Zeidenwar, and Skosowski's sisters, who were active in WIZO. The HaTzahar and Beitar got new premises and the work expanded greatly.

Elections to the 18th Zionist Congress were approaching. Hundreds of delegates from the area came to the Beitar cross-conference, which took place in the Maccabi Hall. Dr. Szechtman from the national headquarters participated.

In the year 1933, the leader Zeev Jabotinsky came to Kutno. His performance in urban theater attracted thousands of people indoors and outdoors. Hundreds of Betarists from the area came to see their leader. The march of the Beitar to the memorial service at the school, the official participation of representatives of the Polish government and the Jewish community, as well as the fact that the police kept order during Jabotinsky's visit to the city, greatly affected the movement's perception. The Christian population, as well as officers of the Polish army, watched in amazement the march and proud attitude of the uniformed Jewish youth.

After the congressional election, the HaTzahar received 50 percent of the vote, at a time when was starting a strong campaign against the movement after the assassination of Dr. Chaim Arlozoroff.

The premises were too small to accommodate the high-growth movement. We rented a large, comfortable room on Podrzeczna Street. There was also a change in the headquarters due to the fact that Zvi Szszig left Kutno. In the new headquarters were elected: Moshe Wigdorowicz, Felek Teichner, Mordechai Zandberg, Abraham Goldsztajn, Yaakov Zeidenwar.

The pushkes[1] of the Tel Hai Foundation have occupied a prominent place in hundreds of Kutner Jewish homes. In addition, there was a flower day once a year. The work for the Tel Hai Foundation was led by Yaakov Zeidenwar, Andrzei Welcman and Moshe Kaufman.

*

Most of the benefactors of Kutno, dear Jewish youth who were imbued with the Zionist ideal, were not privileged to realize their dream of working and protecting the Jewish land. They shared the tragic fate of Polish Jewry. And those who did manage to come here — before the war and after it, remained loyal to the movement, serving the people in the Escape, the underground and in the IDF.

 

Translator's footnote
  1. from Polish "puszka", a little container kept at home for charity. Return


[Page 171]

Ken Hashomer Hatzair in our city

by Yehudit Riftin, Ein Shemer

Translated by Sara Mages

In 1917, when I was ten years old, I entered ken[1] Hashomer Hatzair in the city of Kutno. The ken already existed. It seems to me that it was founded by the Torunchik brothers of Lodz. The scouting performances of the ken's members in the city streets, their uniforms and the scouting sticks in their hands, made a great impression on me. After putting a lot of pressure at home, my eldest sister, Rachel z”l, agreed to take me to the ken to register. The ken was in a large lot which, I believe, stored scrap iron. It was far from the city center, beyond the railway tracks and (I suppose) belonged to the Bromberg family. When we got to the lot the instructor was busy. He ran one of the members around the lot as “punishment” for some offense. When he was free he registered me and I was accepted. Some time later, the ken's flag was placed in my hand and I brought it to my father's house.

I remember wide scouting activity from my first period in the ken: extensive scouting games in the local park and nearby forests - bonfires, field kitchens, guard duty, signal training, knots, etc. We learned the theory of scouting from Polish scouting literature. We also fulfilled general “public” functions such as: honor guard next to the municipal synagogue on the occasion of installation of electricity in it, or an honor guard at a public meeting in which Dr. Yehoshua Gottlieb, member of the Central Committee of Polish Zionists, appeared. It seems to me that I stood in two honor guards. Guardians, from among the parents, were also active in the ken and one of them was my father. They even participated in the questions during the “guard exams.” I remember that one of the parents asked me during the exams: “in what knot was Haman hanged?” and “where, in the map of Eretz Yisrael, lies Shiloh?”

After the pogroms in Lvov we held a memorial evening in a hall that, I think, also belonged to the Bromberg family. There, I read my poem about these pogroms.

I delivered the guard's promise inside a dug valley, in the “gunpowder valley” (prochownia). Apparently, at one time, there were gunpowder warehouses there. In our time - in the vast valley - at night, facing a flag bent over us, around a burning bonfire - we gave the promise.

Great assistance to the ken's scouting activities, its festive gatherings and night trips, was given to us by the agricultural farm (mainly the rose farm) of the Isaac brothers near Kutno. Today, the farm and one of the brothers are probably the only remnant of Jewish life in Kutno. One of the brothers was one of Israel's chief defense commanders (Major General Isaac).

I remember the ken's first newspaper that I was “responsible” for publishing.” It appeared in several hand-copied forms. The Polish section consisted of brief news items about Eretz Yisrael or, as we said then, of “palestinographia” [the study of Palestine]. The Hebrew section included a section of the poem, “Tziyon ha-Lo Tish'ali” [Zion Won't You Ask], by Yehuda Halevi. My group believed that this news paper could serve as a legitimate source of revenue for the group's coffers. And, indeed, one of the parents paid three zloty for this newspaper, but we received a severe reprimand from the ken's leadership.

I remember very well the visit of M. Ya'ari in Kutno. He stayed at my parents' house. His visit took place on the opening day of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ya'ari expressed doubts. He believed that this celebration symbolizes a turning point from the period of pioneering to the period of careerism. Until now I had known him only from his articles, and when I saw him face-to-face, it seemed to me that I was standing before a great living legend. However, the public meeting in his participation was not crowned with great success.

Part of the ken's activity was conducted through the district leadership, Kutno-Włocławek, and close ties formed between the two branches. It seems to me that the district was managed by Beta Schnitzer from Włocławek and by me.

 


Aryeh group, Yehudah HaMaccabi Battalion in Kutno

 

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There were also some friction with the main leadership, but I do not remember on what. In the city we were a serious public factor and everyone respected us, Jews and non-Jews. In the days of “Pilsudski rebellion” that, as we know, a large part of the working population in Poland believed that it was an advanced coup, representatives of P.P.S. youth approached me about revolutionary cooperation with our branch of Hashomer Hatzair.

The members of Hashomer Hatzair, in the Polish and Catholic gymnasium, fought bitterly for their right to carry the symbols of Hashomer Hatzair at school. It was not easy for us to carry the insignia on the other side of the lapel while we were studying.

In 1926, we, several graduates, left for our first Hakhshara [pioneer training] in Kishlintza farm near the city of Łomża. A short time later I was drafted to work in the main leadership in Warsaw.

 

Translator's footnote
  1. Ken - nest in Hebrew, local branch of a youth movement. Return


“Our eyes are raised to Eretz Yisrael”…

by Ita Ayalon, Kibbutz Eilon

Translated by Sara Mages

As if through a lead screen the “rynek” (market) in our city rises in my memory. This was the place where the youth concentrated. We had regular places next to the shops or next to the warehouses. There we gathered, and there we also tried to solve personal and general problems that occupied us. There it was possible to talk about everything: about politics, about anti-Semitism, about Eretz Yisrael and dream about the future that awaits us. At such moments the world seemed large, open and wide.

But the days were the days of Hitler's rise to power. The border town, Zbąszyń, was filled with Jewish refugees expelled by the Nazi regime in Germany. Relatives, who were deported from Germany, also came to our house and told us horror stories about the German abuse of these refugees. Anti-Semitic spirits also began to blow in the city. The street began to empty of youth. The youth group found a place in one the city's corners, within the walls of ken[1] Hashomer Hatzair. There, we sought a solution to the problems that troubled us. there we tried to find out what was going on around us. The ken symbolized freedom, self-respect and national pride. It restored our love, joy, and hope. We spent long hours singing, which transferred us to distant worlds, to a world of light and sun. With the sounds of singing we reached the shores of Lake Kinneret, Emek Yizrael, the Negev and the kibbutz. Many came to us. Many were attracted by the radiant light of the ken.

I remember one Lag BaOmer. There were many preparations for it. At dawn one woke up the other, many did not sleep that night in their home fearing that their parents would not let them leave for the forest for fear of the anti-Semites. In the morning the ken left for the forest, pitched its tents, the lungs filled with fresh air and the eyes were lifted to the blue sky. On this day, the youth unloaded the burden of worries that weighed on them all year round. Lag BaOmer was a holiday for us. At dusk we returned to the city in unified rows, flags and torches in our hands and cheerful singing in our mouths. The Jews, who were waiting for us by the roadside, welcomed us with applause and joy.

When I tell my children today about the Lag BaOmer celebrations of the Jewish youth in Polish towns, I must emphasize that, even then, we needed a new Rabbi Akivah in light of the decrees of the state authorities These were the days of the rule of Rydz-Smigly, Selvy-Sladkovsky and Mrs. Prystor, who decided that the slaughter of animals according to Jewish law was barbaric and, therefore, it was necessary to slaughter the animals that are intended for Jewish needs by a more “humanitarian” method, in other words, in the form of a shot and not according to Jewish law. This decree, of course, was not the only part of their anti-Semitic policy. They wanted, by all means and methods, to deprive the Jews of their livelihood and to make their life miserable. A few years before the outbreak of the war the prime minister of that period, Skladkowsky, gave expression to the anti-Semitic line taken by the Polish authorities when he announced in the Sejm, “pogroms against the Jews - no, but boycott and economic dispossession, quite so!

 


Graduates and youth of ken Hashomer Hatzair

 

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However, it was precisely then, during the period of harassment against the Jews, that the ken developed and flourished. Before our eyes stood the idea of immigrating to Eretz Yisrael, the kibbutz and labor. We felt the need to give some reason to our lives in the city under the hostile conditions around us. Our battalion decided on shared life: together we visited the cinema, the library, we spent a lot of time together in all kinds of parties, but it did not last long. Before May 1 we were arrested by the police as we sat in the movie “The World us laughing.” Fear and panic gripped our parents. Their sons and daughters were detained by the police! After all, everyone knew the nature of the Kutno's policemen, those “nobles” who respect people… That night, parents, relatives and friends gathered around the police building, which was located then on the corner of Nowy Rynek and Sankivicza streets and fear was visible from their eyes. What will happen! What to do!

But we, the detainees, sixty in number, were not frightened. All of us, as one, declared that we were members of Hashomer Hatzair and we don't have a connection with the communists. We are Zionists and our eyes are raised to Eretz Yisrael. Indeed. Hashomer Hatzair movement gave us confidence. We were proud and not afraid of the authorities' imposition of fear. After all, at that time the Jews needed security and pride. In the evenings the Jews were afraid to go out into the street, afraid to be seen in the street, maybe today is a holiday for the Poles, maybe they got their salaries today and already spent their money on vodka and in their drunkenness they would harass the Jews. After all, they never lacked “reasons” to beat up the Jews…

The atmosphere became more and more poisoned. Every gentile felt that it was his “sacred” duty to incite against the Jews. From time to time we were rewarded by visits of students from Poznań who delivered speeches and incited against the Jews. Many of us still remember that Friday, a hot and scalding summer day, when a warning passed from one Jewish home to another, “do not buy cream and butter in the market - the “Endecja” poisoned all the dairy products,” and the Jewish women went to the market on Sabbath eve, bought only poultry, and dairy products did not reach their mouth. The Jewish carters organized night guard duty on the Jews and their homes, and young men carried iron fists in their pockets.

The days grew darker, the tension increased, there was no air to breathe, we concentrated in our ken that many flocked to in those days. Between the walls of the ken we asked for an answer and a solution to our future. Everyone wanted to immigrate, and even the parents pressed for immigration by all means, whether by a certificate or by Aliyah Bet [2], but the gates of Eretz Yisrael were locked.

“We are immigrating to Eretz Yisrael” - we sang in the hot summer evenings, and for a moment you imagined that we will immigrate, all of us, all the young people in the city. But it was only a dream.

The storm of blood and death quickly approached and destroyed the Jewish communities with their inhabitants.

 

Translator's footnote
  1. Ken - nest in Hebrew, local branch of a youth movement. Return


A glorious page in the history of the Jewish youth in Kutno

by Naftali Krul, Beit Alfa

Translated by Sara Mages

Ken[1] Hashomer Hatzair in Kutno was one of the oldest in Poland. It was probably founded during the First World War by the Torunchik brothers of Lodz. At that time the ken bore a distinctly scouting character and devoted itself to the study of the Hebrew language and knowledge of Eretz Yisrael. The ken gained the support of the Jewish public thanks to its educational activities and its loyalty to the values of Zionism. For a long time it carried the name of the Scout Federation or the branch for the distribution of culture of the Zionist Organization. At that time the ken was assisted by a parents' committee. The ken consisted mostly of the youth who studied in the two schools in the city: the students of “Am Ha'Sefer” and the students of the Polish gymnasium. My friends and I joined the ken after a conversation with the ken's leader at that time, Yakov Riftin.

In addition to the emotional element of joining the ken we also wanted to emphasize the difference that distinguished us by activities for the community and being an example to others. The movement served as a platform for social activity and over time, with its ideological consolidation as a Jewish youth movement that educates its members to national loyalty and aspires to a society based on the principles of justice and equality in which the kibbutz serves as a model for this life - we saw in the movement a challenge to the stark reality of Jewish life in Polish towns. Indeed, such was the reality. The waves of anti-Semitism began to rise and the Jew's stature leaned over. There were many solutions to the distress of life that the non-Zionist parties raised before the Jewish public. As I listened to the debates conducted by the Bund and the Communists, which were also held in our home (my brothers belonged to these parties), I knew that I would not find my way in these parties and the way to the revival of our nation.

 

The ken's activities

The ken was composed of three age groups: “Kfirim” [young lions] - boys and girls up to the age of 15; “Tzofim” [scouts] - up to the age 16-17; and “Bogrim” [graduates]. We operated under uncomfortable conditions. We did not have a permanent club and we had to wander from place to place. The educational activity, which included the study of the Hebrew language, history of the labor movement and the settlement in Eretz Yisrael, was conducted according to age. Inquiries were made on various subjects, such as: our relations with other parties, the Diaspora and Eretz Yisrael, our place in the international labor movement, etc. However, the essence of education was the aspiration for self-education, self-realization, and the renewal of man and society.

One of the main activities of the ken was the organization of “summer colonies” for all the members. In 1925, there were already three “summer colonies” of the Kutno and Włocławek region which included the kens in: Kutno, Włocławek, Żychlin, Gąbin and Płock. The head of the regional leadership was the member Yakov Riftin.

The summer colonies were organized for the purpose of educating for greater independence, for group life with youth from nearby towns, closeness to nature and centralized cultural activities. Of course, we were interested in full participation in the colonies, but it was not easy because of the parents' fear for the fate of their children. It was necessary to invest considerable energy in persuading the parents to allow their children to go to these summer colonies.

The ken also took part in general public activities and gained a reputation for its dedication to the activities of the Jewish National Fund in which we always took first place. In addition, we participated in the distribution of the “Zionist Shekel” and the League for Labor Eretz Yisrael. In the thirties, we conducted the activities of the Halutz branch in our city and left our mark on all its activities.

As the members of the ken matured it was time to leave for “Hakhshara,” meaning, to prepare ourselves for immigration and life in a kibbutz. In 1926 the first group of members left for “Hakhshara” in Kislenice near Łomża, and over the years our members left for “Hakhshara” points in Radom, Kielce, Częstochowa and others. There was great blessing in the “Hakhshara” period, social groups were formed and the members adapted to physical work that most of them never experienced before..

[Page 174]

On the verge of the end

The ken knew periods of ebb and flow in its activities. The gates of Israel were closed. The hope of a rapid immigration was slim, and it was necessary to spend many years in “Hakhshara.” The graduate stratum was reduced and there was no one to deal with the faulty ideas of the “Bund” and the extreme left that brought the Zionist movement to an end. Such was the condition of the ken in the years 1935-36. It numbered more than 200 members whose instructors were members of the “Hakhshara” in Kutno (Podlaskie A). After a short time, the number of members was reduced to 150. Part of the graduates' battalion did not go to “Hakhshara” and was considered to leave the movement.

With the Nazi occupation the ken began to regroup. In reports sent from the ken to the main leadership by Dov Treschmil, (two of them are kept at the Ringelblum Institute and copies at “Yad Vashem”) the member, Azriel Meroz (today a member of Kibbutz Gazit), wrote in the summer of 1939: “Despite the tension in the city and the smell of war felt in the air, the ken operated as always. In particular there was activity in the following strata: “Zofim,” “Zofim Bogrim,” and “Bogrim.” Because of the lack of a club there was no activity in the young strata. In July, the “Zofim” stratum left for a summer colony in Dobrzyń nad Wisłą. Two weeks later the colony was dispersed by order of the authorities on the grounds of public disorder. After our return home it became clear that all the other colonies had been dispersed for security reasons. The stratum of “Zofim Bogrim” did not leave for the summer colony, but the ken continued to operate and its activities were held in the public parks until September 1, 1939. After the outbreak of the war there were only a few meetings of members and one of them was - aid to the refugees - to the members of the movement who fled from Bydgoszcz, Włocławek, Toruń and Poznań who were on their way to Warsaw.”

“On September 16, the city fell in the hands of the Germans. The meetings stopped and after some reorganization, we resumed our meetings. The main activity was how to hide the ken's little property. In a meeting with Dov Tarshmil, and members of the “Zofim” stratum, it was decided to hide the flags of the ken and the scouts' battalions, while the booklets in Hebrew and Polish were to be burned.”

“With the increase of the flow eastward, most of the members of the movement left the city, especially the older strata, including me.”

 

The dream of a new tomorrow

The member, Zipora Maron (Kibbutz Gazit), who was a young member of the ken, adds: “After the entire graduate stratum fled eastward we were left with no guidance. We were at a loss and we did not know what to do. From time to time, when circumstances allowed us, we met and reminisced. We lived in the hope that everything would pass quickly, our members will return home and the life of the movement will be renewed. I am sure that if a few members of the “Bogrim” stratum remained, we would certainly have continued to operate in accordance with the conditions created in those days.

In this way we passed the summer, a summer full of worries and decrees imposed on us by the Germans.

In the summer of 1940 the order was given to leave our homes and move to the ghetto. I don't have the strength to describe the ghetto with its horrors and horrific conditions, but we looked for each other and even met together. The meetings were an essential need of all of us, a way to escape for a moment from the hellish conditions and reminisce about the old days. Sometimes we read books and dreamed of another tomorrow. We could not sing for fear of being discovered, we knew very well that the power of singing together can help a person in his grief and sorrow.

“The meetings, which took place on one of the hills inside the ghetto, were only known to our members. We set up guards for the fear that the police would find us and, indeed, they did everything to suppress any spark of organization. Although we did not ignore the danger involved in these meetings, we felt a strong need to maintain contact between the members and, of course, we had no contact with the outside. We were completely cut off from the world”...

Indeed, ken Hashomer Hatzair in Kutno had written a glorious page in the history of the local youth. His education for change in values, his desire for self-fulfillment and Zionist activity, brought dozens of members to life in a kibbutz in Israel. Today they are in Eilon, Beit Alfa, Gazit, Gal On, Merhavia, Evron, Ein HaHoresh, Ein Shemer, Ramat HaShofet, and dozens of members are currently active in Israel in various fields and, in this, the right and value of ken Hashomer Hatzair in Kutno.

 


Group of Hashomer Hatzair members

 

Translator's footnote
  1. Ken - nest in Hebrew, local branch of a youth movement. Return


[Page 175]

“Thanks to the Nest of Hashomer Hatzair

by Simcha FRUMER

 


'Strength and courage' – In honor of the emigrants of 'HaShomer HaTzair' from Kutno”

 

Among the young people of our city — students of the Polish State Gymnasium — came the awakening to Zionism and the national and social problems of the Jewish people, thanks to the HaShomer HaTzair branch in Kutno.

The very fact that we were students of the Polish Government Gymnasium, which had a Polish nationalist atmosphere and the great influence of the Christian clergy, prevented us from any tendency to problems and ideas that were contrary to the school's mood. But not only that. Even inside, an assimilated spirit was blown in the homes of the Jewish students. The denial of Jewish national recognition in general, and of the HaShomer HaTzair idea in particular, marked many parents. It is no wonder, then, that their sons — high school students, were distant from the values of Judaism and Zionist national recognition. Moreover, many parents have tried to create an atmosphere in their homes that will make their sons forget from the very heart that they are Jews, in order to prevent them from coming across “unpleasant” situations when meeting their Christian friends. Many of my friends did not know Yiddish, were far from the folk tradition, its sacred values, its culture and way of life.

At the same time, the Jewish youth sought a framework to which he could belong, to find his satisfaction and most importantly — a framework or organization that would take him out of his loneliness, which was his faithful companion from the beginning of his steps in the Polish school. The number of Jewish students in our school did not exceed three dozen, as it was carefully controlled by the numerus clausus. However, our Polish members were organized in various youth movements, such as ZHP[1], Strzelec[2] and others. They wore handsome uniforms, practiced various sports and scouting activities, and their public appearance always made a great impression on us — the Jewish youth. But these organizations and movements were closed, and the Jewish youth were not given a foothold there. Many of the Jewish students accepted the discrimination and boycott against them with equanimity, pretended nothing had happened and continued to push into Christian society. But there were others as well. They felt lonely, but could not explain to themselves its nature, due to their young age and lack of understanding of the processes among Polish society. They had no choice but to envy the students of the “Am HaSefer” school, who were far from assimilated influences and educated in a national Jewish spirit.

It is therefore easy to understand that the HaShomer HaTzair movement was a lifeline for these youth. Although there were other movements in our city as well: General Zionists, Beitar, HeChalutz, Poalei Zion-Left, the Mizrachi, but not a single movement paid attention to that embarrassed youth in the Polish Gymnasium and they left him alone. Until HaShomer HaTzair came. Interestingly, it was precisely this movement that was not popular with parents, with a socialist tone, and far from a petty-bourgeois worldview, precisely this movement tried to bring Jewish gymnasium youth closer to affluent Jewish homes.

Interestingly, a movement like Beitar drew its power from the youth of working-class families, while HaShomer HaTzair turned to youth from petty-bourgeois homes, to gymnasium youth, who were far from a national Jewish consciousness. Years later, as we grew up, we wondered about this phenomenon This may have been due to the more serious and profound demand that this movement placed on the Jewish children. It demanded more depth from them,

[Page 176]

more thought for all the problems of life and society, not accepting agreed and accepted things about anything. Only young people with a higher intellectual level than the rest of Jewish youth in the Jewish towns of the 1930s in Poland.

 


In the 'nest'

 


Adult group of HaShomer HaTzair

 

How did the HaShomer HaTzair movement operate within the walls of the school? The authorities, who did not approve of HaShomer HaTzair's activities at all, banned all gymnasium activities from the movement. There was no other way left but the conspiratorial way. In the upper classes there were one or two who belonged to the movement and they brought the word of the movement to their younger friends, in the lower classes — not to all but to those who were trained, provided that if they did not join themselves, they would at least know how to keep a secret and not endanger their friends by their chatter.

The nucleus was originally founded, numbering about eight students in the second and third grades. They gathered under the guidance of another high school student, Kuba, (now Yaakov Riftin) who talked to them about the problems of the Jewish people and the youth of this people. This group of boys worked hard to learn the Hebrew language, the history of the Jewish people on its literature and its origins. Little by little, the realization began to permeate us that we were an integral part of the Jewish people, and that its fate was our destiny. We recognized that we must first identify ourselves as members of this people, not to obscure our Judaism anywhere and first of all in our Polish school. This is worth emphasizing more emphatically, since the gymnasium has occupied the main place in our lives and our thoughts and everything revolved around this axis whose name was: the Christian Gymnasium in Kutno. More than once we had to defend the dignity of the Jewish people, which the Polish students defamed and slandered. And not only did we stand up for verbal defense, we also tried physical defense against the various antisemites who flooded Poland in the last years before the outbreak of the war.

There were many demands that HaShomer HaTzair placed before us. It taught us introspection — about our thoughts, our feelings and our way of life. It educated us to love the book, education, it motivated us to continuously train, to understand the processes that take place in the Jewish people and in the whole world.

Not everyone could meet these demands, not everyone was able to change their lifestyle and thinking. Many have fallen out of our ranks. The rest were added to the group of their peers, the students of “Am-HaSefer” and despite the differences in education and lifestyle, the merger between us went up nicely. Inside the gymnasium they began to feel the uniqueness and difference of this group of boys and the other students of the gymnasium. Their answers in tests and lessons in history or literature were critical, as if they sought to analyze the question not only from the visible side but also to reveal what was hidden from the eye. Their interest in national and social problems, their proud position as Jews and their dignified personal appearance, aroused suspicion. Therefore, the members of HaShomer HaTzair had to appear with extreme caution, as they were expected to be expelled from school, as has happened more than once. That is why all the operations took place in secret, without public appearances, without wearing a uniform and even the ceremony of handing over the HaShomer HaTzair emblem was held in the evening at Ayzik's farm[3] outside the city. Despite this, the activity of the HaShomer's ken[4] did not stop and even expanded, students from the lower grades joined it. Over time, this group of students became the leaders of the nest, either as instructors or in the leadership of the nest.

Many of them live with us today in Israel, some in kibbutz, some in cities or in villages. But despite the differences in the forms of life and their ways, it is very much that which connects us, thanks to our past and our shared experiences in adolescence in the HaShomer HaTzair movement. However, it is not only shared youth experiences in the past that unite us, but the foundations of our education, the shaping of our character. Challenging ourselves and self-criticism, respect for others — all these were acquired during adolescence in the HaShomer HaTzair movement. And these values, the fruit of the education of the HaShomer HaTzair movement, accompany us all in our way of life, to this day.

 


Group of members of HaShomer HaTzair in Kutno, in 1926

 


Same group in Tel Aviv, 1962

 

Footnotes
  1. Polish, Scouting and Guiding Association (Polish: Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego ZHP). Return
  2. Polish, Sagittarius. Paramilitary organization for boys, branch of the ZHP, merging with it in 1918. Return
  3. The Ayzik's brothers had a rose farm outside the city where the future pioneers could train in agriculture. Return
  4. Hebrew, “ken” means “nest”, the youth group of HaShomer HaTzair. Return

 

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