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The Zionist Movement {Cont.}

[Page 77]

The Jabotinsky Movement in Rokitno

Itzhak [Isia] Golod (Haifa)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Betar Branch and Brit Hayal

The public atmosphere in Rokitno was Zionist. I came to Zionism not only through Bible studies and parental upbringing my father was one of the first Zionists in our town but also by looking at our economic and political situation in Poland. I saw that we had no place on Polish soil. Bloody attacks by our Ukrainian and Polish neighbors spotlighted our miserable situation in exile. From early on I talked to my friends about making our home in our ancient land.

Influenced by the articles of Zeev Jabotinsky, where he described his point of view about a Jewish state and the road to it, I decided that Betar was the only way for me. I decided to organize a Betar branch in Rokitno, along the lines of the Latvian Betar.

It happened in 1928. We met in Rokitno during vacation from Hebrew High School in Vilna. Leibl Lifshitz, I, Busia Levin, Moshe Binder and Yehudah Kaplan decided, after a lengthy discussion, to explain to the youth of Rokitno the world view of Jabotinsky. He believed that the redemption of Israel would not come through pacifism and socialism, but by armed conflict.

We were successful in organizing a group of 15 boys and girls. The branch was founded on my parents' balcony. There was much enthusiasm because what we told the young people was new and imaginative. We got in touch with Betar headquarters in Warsaw and our branch was attached to the other branches of Betar in Poland.

Our main activity was in cultural fields and we strongly emphasized sports in many forms. We became part of the cultural and public activities of the Zionist movement in Rokitno. We took part actively in the drama presentations whose income was dedicated to the Zionist movement. Every year we helped in organizing the Hanukah bazaar. Income from the bazaar was dedicated to social assistance, such as Linat Hatzedek, Gmilut Hasadim, help to orphans and for Zionist funds. Preparations for the bazaar began right after Rosh Hashana. First, the musicians established an orchestra. These Klezmers were Abrasha Klorfein, Yosef Kitziv, the drummer Syoma Klorfein and I. In addition, we participated also in organizing Purim balls where a Purim queen was chosen. Among the queens were Etia Klorfein, Manya Gendelman, Polia the milliner, Anya Shlafer and others.

Hachshara Unit of Betar in Rokitno
Click here to enlarge the picture - rok078s.jpg [3 KB]A Hachshara unit of Betar was founded in Rokitno. Young men and women from different places in Poland arrived and brought a fresh wind to town. Among them were educated people who helped with cultural activities of the branch. The Hachshara group was billeted in one of the houses near Motel the Shoemaker, across from the “Palace”.

I was the first commander of the Rokitno Betar branch. My second-in-command was Busia Levin. In addition to the founding of Betar, the Zionist Revisionist movement was also established in Rokitno. Its chairman was Leibl Lifshitz. It operated as a political party, like all parties and movements in Poland.

“Brit Hahayal” in Rokitno
Click here to enlarge the picture - rok079s.jpg [3 KB]In 1933 “Brit Hahayal” was established. Its organizers were: Baruch Felhandler and his father, Moshe Bukstein and Isia Grempler. The bloody events in Eretz Yisrael awakened in us the urgent need to give military training to Betar members. Several of the “Brit Hahayal” members were on friendly terms with Polish officers. Their influence enabled us to receive a permit for training with live ammunition.

In 1932 the members of Betar began to go to Hachshara in Klesov, Orhov, and Rozhishetz. Upon their return to Rokitno they continued their activities in the branch, since the number of Aliyah certificates assigned to Betar was very small. In spite of this, several Betar members made Aliyah. Among them were Busia Levin, his sister Shifra Levin, Israel Kek and Shmuel Shuber. When the illegal immigration began in 1936, several Betar members were active and some of them made Aliyah in this way.

[Page 80]

From “Hashomer Hatzair” to Betar

Israel Michaeli [Kek] (Haifa)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

I came to Betar from the Hashomer Hatzair branch in Rokitno. It happened in 1929, the year of bloody events in Eretz Yisrael. The Jews of Poland were incensed and were attuned to events in our homeland. At that time, the commander of the Hachshara unit of Betar in Klosov, Avraham (Avremke) Axelrod came to Rokitno. (Today he is the vice-mayor of Jerusalem). He was young, 16 or 17, but a talented orator. He spoke in the old synagogue and many of the town Jews came to hear him. His speech was convincing and impressive.

What happened to me is what happened to Bilam in the Bible. I came to disrupt the meeting and to interrupt the speaker. Indeed, the meeting was nearly canceled and the stormy discussions continued past midnight. In the end, my Hashomer Hatzair ideology was shaken by this magical speech. When Axelrod came back to Rokitno a year later to give another speech, I was already a member of the command committee of the Betar branch in Rokitno.

With Axelrod's influence, Betar gained in strength. We went from 15 to 30 members. We were housed in Baruch Felhandler's home. We were very active and our movement went from strength to strength. We had great success in the elections to the 18th congress.

We earned the love of the Jews of Rokitno. Time was on our side. We came out to the Jewish youths with a slogan: The Jews must leave Poland because here only destruction awaited them. Very few heeded our warning.

In 1932, I went to Hachshara in Lutsk. After one month, I was appointed by headquarters as commander of the Hachshara unit in Volyn. It had 14 sections. After six months, there were 8 section commanders from the Rokitno Betar branch. Isia Golod served as secretary. In 1933, I was elected representative of Betar at a conference in Katowicz. It ended in a parting of the ways. Some went with Meir Grossman. I remained true to the Jabotinsky movement. In 1934, I returned to Rokitno and I undertook the command of the branch. The years I spent in Hachshara made me dislike life in exile, although I lived a life of active Zionism. In 1936, I was fortunate to achieve my dream and I made Aliyah.

rok081.jpg [22 KB]

The Hachshara Unit “Edmondia” in Rokitno in 1935

[Page 81]

The Second Generation of Betar

Shimon [Syoma] Klorfein (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Yoseph Trumpeldor and his heroic death caused an upheaval in my Zionist beliefs. At one of the sessions of my Hashomer Hatzair group, we read about Trumpeldor's death. I was so influenced by these words that I suggested to change the group's name to Tel Hai. My suggestion was adopted unanimously.

Therefore, it was not surprising that when Isia Golod approached me I was very enthusiastic. He told me that a youth movement was founded in Rokitno, one named after Trumpeldor and whose purpose was to give the Jewish youth military training, so that they would know how to use arms when they will fight to free the homeland in the spirit of Trumpeldor. I joined Betar. In addition, I became a propagandist for Betar among my friends in the Tarbut school and in my neighborhood.

My classmate was Yehudah (Nonia) Freierman (now in Argentina). I told him, using my imagination, about the guns we would receive and that we would create a new generation. These would be young people never seen before in exile a generation of Jewish soldiers, marching together, who would restore our national pride which had been demoted and trampled upon. He did not take me seriously and since he could draw well, he sketched a caricature. In it, I held a gun and I was aiming it at a mouse. In the end, he also joined Betar.

In 1934, Yehudah Kaplan returned from the Halpering training course for counselors in Warsaw. He decided to organize a program for members of our unit. Most of the participants were members of the preparatory kibbutz in Rokitno. Those who took part were: Hinia Gorenstein, Aharon Shachnovski and I. The discipline and order in this program were of a high caliber. The participants received an excellent military preparation.

1935 was not a successful year in our unit. Most of the leaders made Aliyah and others were scattered among different preparatory groups in Volyn. At that time, a visitor from Betar headquarters arrived in Rokitno. Since I wore the Betar uniform, he asked me to call all the members of Betar in Rokitno to meet with him. I was able to bring six members to a room in the Zandweis Hotel. In total, there were only 12 members since the unit was not really operating.

At this meeting, I was chosen as leader of Betar in Rokitno. Yosef Golubovitz and Haim Weiner helped in this task because I was not able to lead others at my age. The unit was revived and many new members joined us 10-12 year olds. After a month of searching, we rented a room in Chechik's house in the Halles of the old town. It was a small room, but it suited our purposes. Since the unit grew from day to day, we ran out of space and we rented the gymnasium in Shlomke the butcher's house. A year later, when the representative from headquarters again visited Rokitno, he was pleasantly surprised to see a unit of 60 young and vibrant people.

In 1938 we received circulars from headquarters about Aliyah Bet (Aliyah In Spite of Everything). When it was rumored that it was possible to make Aliyah through Betar and not in a dangerous adventurous way, many members joined us. Toward the end of the year, several of our members, as well as members of Hashomer Hatzair, made Aliyah. The newspaper Unzer Velt (Our World) organized a “visit” to the exhibition that was taking place then in our land. The condition was that every “visitor” would remain in Eretz Yisrael. Many joined this “visit”. The Rokitno youths did not need this condition because they were dedicated heart and soul to Aliyah.

In 1939, members of our Betar unit began to go on Aliyah. The first was Isia Golod. He went on the boat “Farita”. In July, a second group left. It included Moshe Kutz, Israel Greenberg, Baruch Shuber and myself. We reached Shiatin, but the Rumanian border police would not allow us to continue. A tiny group somehow managed to get through. We refused to return to Rokitno and we waited for the right moment to cross the border. We were organized into groups. A group of 25, which included those from Rokitno, settled in Kolomay. We sat there and waited for a proper opportunity to cross the border.

However, World War II broke out and we reluctantly returned to Rokitno. When the Soviets occupied Rokitno we knew our dream of Aliyah had died. Still, a small group of members continued its activities underground until it was denounced by local Communists. Noah Soltzman, the teacher Mordechai Gendelman, Avraham Schwartz and I were jailed in Rokitno. This is how the Zionist movement in Rokitno, including Betar, was extinguished.

[Page 83]

The Activities of Wizo in Rokitno

Fania Freiman (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Rokitno was a vibrant Zionist town, full of lively interest in everything that was happening in Eretz Yisrael. I will describe our activities in the WIZO branch in Rokitno. I lived 13 happy years in our town and I dedicated my time to the local WIZO branch. We did not look for personal honor. The work itself gave us satisfaction and happiness.

The members of the executive were: Mrs. Baratz, chairman, Clara and Luba Soltzman, Rivka Shapiro, Mrs. Katzenelson, Mrs. Shulman, Mrs. Turok, Clara Zumerman (still with us) and the author of this article. Our relations with WIZO headquarters were strong.

Our most important activities were the annual balls we organized. We did not depend on others to do the worrying and preparing, but we did it all ourselves. We worked night and day. When it came to a Purim ball, we sewed paper hats and paper flowers in order to increase the merriment.

Some time before the ball, we began the canvassing. We were quite demanding, but we were the first to donate. After we fulfilled our duties we went from house to house to obtain donations. When we knew people had the means, we were more forceful. We walked with baskets. Some people gave money and others bought raffle tickets.

rok084.jpg [15 KB]
WIZO Leaders in 1938
Standing [right to left]:
1. Baila Zandweis
2. Berezovsky
3. Tzessia Golod
4. …
Sitting [right to left]:
1. Batya Grinshpan
2. Trigun
3. Rachel Gutman
4. Persitz
5. Necha Shulman
6. Henya Turok
7. Clara Zumerman

The balls were held on Saturday nights in the school auditorium. It was a day full of planning and activity. We brought carpets, tablecloths, cutlery and towels from home. We decorated the auditorium and we set the tables. The ball would end late at night. We did not feel like going home because we were so elated. We put our poor husbands to work in the coat checkroom, at the cash register and in similar jobs. The women served as waitresses. Our hearts were full and our feet wanted to dance. Even though we were young and we wanted to dance, we did not allow ourselves more than one dance because we were all involved in working for our goal to increase the income.

When the partygoers left the auditorium, the executive stayed behind to count the money. It turned out that our work was worthwhile because we were pleased with the results.

We also worked on JNF donations. The blue box was very dear to us. The work for this fund was so sacred in my eyes that even in the last months of my pregnancy, I went out on a winter morning with the blue box and I waded through the snow. I would return exhausted, but happy. The satisfaction that I was taking part in a special activity always encouraged me and gave me strength.

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