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{Page 146}

History of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow

by Michael Walzer-Fass of Hod Hasharon (Hadar Ramataim)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 146 – Michael Walzer}


In 1904, there already existed in Rzeszow a group of workers and officials within the Zionist organization, which maintained an independent position regarding social problems and particularly concerning the economic struggle.

In May 1904, a convention of the union of Zionist workers and officials of Austria took place in Krakow. Among the delegates were some of the workers and officials from Rzeszow [1*]. At this convention, the Poalei Zion union of Jewish workers and officials was founded – in such a manner we can establish the year 1904 as the year of the founding of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow.

Immediately afterward, the process of spreading out of Poalei Zion in Galicia took place, and one year later, in 1905, when the second convention of Poalei Zion took place in Austria, it had already expressed the ideals of the Zionist worker.

At the same time, in 1905, there already was a Poalei Zion branch functioning in Rzeszow [2*], whose leaders enthusiastically took up the motto of national and social freedom.

The following were among the pioneers of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow: Mordechai Buchbinder, Ben-Zion Fett, Bernard Fish, Levi Chaim, Meshulam Davidson, Nachum Sternheim [3*], Elisheva Walzer [4*], A. Hirschhorn, D. Shapira, and may he live long Yitzchak Oestreicher. The latter dedicated much of his time to Zionist and communal work in Rzeszow, and today heads the organization of Rzeszow survivors. Levi Chaim served as the first secretary of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow. Yitzchak Oestreicher took up that position after him.


The activities of the young Poalei Zion group in Rzeszow were directed in three directions. The fight for national rights for the masses of the Jews did not affect the struggle for economic benefits for the Jewish worker. At the same time, the publicity and cultural work for the organization among the Jews took place.

Regarding the struggle for equal national rights, it is important to point out that in the fall of 1905 a movement pushing for the right of free elections for the parliament in Vienna took place in all of Austria. Poalei Zion in Rzeszow played an active role in this struggle, as did similar organization in other cities of Galicia, which influenced the Jews toward nationalist activism.

The most important efforts took place in the realm of economic activity. There were no legally set working hours in the workshops and the stores, and the wages were minimal. Therefore the Poalei Zion in Rzeszow took it upon itself to play a primary role in the fight for personal rights. As the founder and theoretician of Poalei Zion, B. Borochov, wrote in the Yiddisher Arbeiter Pinkas (volume 1, page 53) – the Poalei Zion union of Rzeszow conducted a strike of shoemakers. Around the same time – relates the above mentioned Yitzchak Oestreicher, the secretary of Poalei Zion at that time – the striking shoemakers conducted a stormy demonstration, where the windows of Berel Kleinman's shoe store were shattered in anger.

During the first years of the 20th century, Rzeszow became an important center for Jewish cultural activity. Aside from the courses for the illiterate and the general education, a great deal of activity was conducted in spreading Yiddish literature. Important Jewish writers were invited to Rzeszow on occasion. They were received enthusiastically and warmly. The great and multifaceted cultural activity of the dedicated and diligent activists of Poalei Zion is demonstrated by the fact that an amateur dramatic group was founded under the direction of D. Ducker. Ben Zion Fett, Tzvi Simcha Leder, and Yitzchak Oestreicher belonged to that group. J. Gordin's play “The Deranged”, that was performed in the Fishbein hall, was very successful.

The multifaceted activity of the Poalei Zion organization of Rzeszow in its first years contributed greatly to the vigorous spreading of the ideals of Poalei Zion among the Jewish workers in Rzeszow.

Footnotes at bottom of page 146:

1*. Yaakov Kanner, “Kwarshnit” page 24. Back

2*. N. M. Gelber, “The History of the Zionist Movement in Galicia”, page 750. Back

3*. Nachum Sternheim went to trial on account of his implication in the demonstration that took place on October 17th 1904 in the evening, for the benefit of the strikers of Stanislawow. The demonstration took place when the members of Poalei Zion, after their meeting, gathered in front of an open store and sang “Hashavua” and “Hatikva”. (Yiddisher Arbeiter, volume 6, Nissan 5665, May 1, 1905). Back

4*. Elisheva Walzer was elected chairman during a meeting of the activists on November 25, 1905. At that meeting, the Yehudit female workers' organization was founded in Rzeszow, with forty members. Yiddishe Arbeiter, volume 8:21, Kislev 5666, December 15, 1905, and volume 8:4, Shvat 5666 February 2, 1906. Back


As we previously mentioned, during its initial years, Poalei Zion did not sever its organizational connection with the national Zionist organizations. Poalei Zion in Rzeszow was still affiliated with the Zionist center in Krakow.

However, as time went on, the proletariat elements began to have greater influence upon the ideals of the Poalei Zion movement. There was a rise of class consciousness among the Poalei Zion ranks together with the desire for full national autonomy. At the third national convention of Poalei Zion in 1906 in Lvov, the aims of the movement were clarified. The struggle for Socialism and national autonomy for the Jews of Austria came to the fore. The movement was given the name: The Jewish Socialist Workers Party of Poalei Zion in Austria [5*].

With regards to relations with the national Zionist organization, it was decided at this time to sever ties and to forbid members of the party from belonging to other political organizations. As a result of this decision, a large number of active Poalei Zion members decided to leave the party, for they refused to accept the Socialist ideology.

There was a crisis in the Poalei Zion organization in Rzeszow as well due to the new ideas of the movement. The group of Poalei Zion leaders in Rzeszow (Ben Zion Fett, Levi Chaim, Hirschhorn, and Yitzchak Oestreicher) left the organization.

Despite this separation between Poalei Zion and the Zionist parties, Poalei Zion still participated in the Zionist Congress and even actively participated in collecting money for the Jewish National Fund; even though there were echoes of a difference of opinion in this matter with the Poalei Zion movement of Russia.

With regard to this issue, it was decided at the second convention of Poalei Zion of Austria, which took place in Krakow in 1905, to register candidates for election to the Seventh Zionist Congress and to set up there a “special party whose purpose was to protect the interests and ideas of the proletariat with respect to Zionist activity”. In Rzeszow as well, they decided to register their own candidate [6*].


The workers' point of view, which Poalei Zion of Rzeszow applied to all of the questions of Jewish life in Rzeszow, became more and more prominent. During the time of the struggle for an eight hour working day, during the elections to the Rzeszow communal council, and also during the elections to the house of representatives of Austria – the Poalei Zion organization of Rzeszow fought with all its might and effort for the victory of the ideals of Poalei Zion. During these political battles, Poalei Zion of Rzeszow won its right to existence along with the Zionist organization and the Z.P.S (Jewish Socialist Party). Thanks to its multifaceted activity in all areas of Jewish life, it gained the trust of the Jewish workers' community.
The increase in strength of the Poalei Zion movement in Rzeszow, its successful activity in the arena of the trade union, in particular its responsible action to support the Jewish officials – all of this had great influence on the leaders of the local P.P.S. branch. Poalei Zion in Rzeszow participated in the May 1st demonstration of May 1906 [1] alongside with the P.P.S. and the Z.P.S. A joint mass rally took place next to the statue of Adam Mickiewicz. Shapira spoke on behalf of Poalei Zion [7*].


We have previously pointed out that after the Austrian Poalei Zion convention in Lvov that took place in October 1906, the class-based platform of the Poalei Zion group of Rzeszow had already been forged. Nevertheless, the realities of the Jewish situation in Galicia at that time still influenced the strategy of Poalei Zion during the time of the elections to the Austrian House of Representatives in 1907. In accordance with the decision taken during the third convention, the members of Poalei Zion had a duty to support their local Socialist candidates in those places where the Zionists did not register their own candidates, on the condition that the Socialists would look favorably toward the national requests of the Jews. In other places, it was permitted for the members of Poalei Zion to support Zionist candidates. That was the way it was in Rzeszow, where Poalei Zion supported the Zionist candidate, while at the same time stressing the class ideology of Poalei Zion in its fight for national Jewish autonomy.

After this first political experience of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow, it conducted a heroic struggle with regard to the census of 1910. Poalei Zion of Rzeszow campaigned along with all the other Poalei Zion groups for the official recognition of the Yiddish language.

During the political campaigns that took place at the beginning of the second decade of the 1900s (the election to the house of representatives of 1911, and the movement for electoral reform in the Galician Sejm) – the independent style of Poalei Zion of Rzeszow was expressed in all of these battles through its valiant activity.

The vistas of the movement were strengthened, and the cultural and professional activity was not neglected. In 1913, the members of Poalei Zion of Rzeszow joined together in the Achva group, which, thanks to its active and dedicated leadership, was able to have great influence in the ranks of the Jewish workers of Rzeszow. The leadership included: Bernard Fish (chairman), A. Hirschhorn (vice chairman), Y. Grinbaum, V. Buchner (secretaries), B. Soroka (treasurer), Nachum Sternheim and D. Shapira (librarians), M. Ducker, Ch. Grauer and Z. Haar (members of the leadership committee). They were precious and important fighters, who served the ideals of Poalei Zion well, and were always prepared for the work that demanded self-sacrifice on behalf of the simple folk of the Jewish masses.


In August 1914, the First World War broke out. A large number of Poalei Zion members of Rzeszow were drafted to the army. The organizational work ceased. The voice of the Der Yiddisher Arbeiter newspaper was silenced. Only a few activists remained in Rzeszow and maintained communal contact among themselves.

Footnotes at bottom of page 147:

5*. Elisheva Walzer was elected as secretary of the third convention, which took place on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of October 1906. (Yiddisher Arbeiter, volume 35/36, Cheshvan 5667, October 19, 1906) Back

6*. M. Eizland: “Austrian Poalei Zion at the Zionist Congress”, in Folksblatt, 1964. Back

7*. This fact was told to us by the head of the Rzeszow organization of Israel, Mr. Yitzchak Oestreicher. Back

{Photo page 148 – Executive Committee of Poalei Zion (1913). Standing from right: Y. Grinbaum, Jachemowitz, Tz. Fett, Y. Berger, M. Harning, Y. Nussbaum, D. Shapira. Sitting from right: Nachum Sternheim, A. Hirshhorn, M. Ducker, B. Fish, Ch. Graber. From right: B. Soroka, Z. Haar.}

Already in 1917, the publication of the Poalei Zion periodical “Der Yiddisher Arbeiter” began to appear again in Vienna. In December 1917, the final convention of the Austrian Poalei Zion took place in Krakow. A delegate from Rzeszow also participated. At this convention, permission was given for the Galician Poalei Zion to join the Polish Poalei Zion after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1918, the war ended with defeat of the Austrian-German alliance. The independent state of Poland arose from the ruins of the defeated nations, and in December 1918, the first Poalei Zion convention of Poland took place, where the merger of the Galician Poalei Zion with its sister organization in Poland was officially confirmed.

In Rzeszow, the members of Achava who returned from the front entered enthusiastically into party activities. In the meantime, deep differences of opinion arose in the Poalei Zion movement with regard to its relations to the Third Communist International, as well as with regard to its participation in the Zionist congress. During the fifth world convention of Poalei Zion in Vienna in 1920, these matters created a division. When the leadership council of Poalei Zion in Poland, which convened in Poland in November 1920, decided to join the left leaning world Poalei Zion organization, some Poalei Zion activists, particularly from western Galicia, headed by Dr. Yitzchak Schipper, decided to form an organizational committee with the aim of convening a convention of all Poalei Zion groups in order to direct the world Poalei Zion organization rightward, with the Poalei Zion group of the Land of Israel serving as the center. These activists issued a proclamation, signed by the leaders of Poalei Zion of several cities, including the long-serving and well-respected Rzeszow Poalei Zion activist, B. Fish.

The division in the Poalei Zion movement did not pass over Rzeszow. Most of the members in Rzeszow preferred a right leaning direction. At the convention in Krakow that took place in April 1921, they set themselves up as the “Social Democratic Party of Jewish workers, which is not affiliated with Poalei Zion of western Galicia”. They had their own periodical: “The Workers' Word”. A delegate of Rzeszow participated in this convention.

With the influence of the right-wing Poalei Zion organization in Rzeszow, the Achdut workers cooperative was established, which provided food for the workers and officials at cheap prices. There was a well-stocked reading room in the organization's hall, and the Zamir band of Poalei Zion was beloved in the city.

The children's home was similarly well organized. It took care of approximately sixty of the children of workers, who were educated and received their meals there. This institution existed by virtue of the diligent work of the communal activist Mrs. Esther Weisenfeld. She was a writer, playwright, newspaper writer, and the author of several manuscripts (after 1926, in America together with her husband Leon Weisenfeld, who was the Yiddish and English activist). She dedicated herself to this work with her entire soul and all her resources. As a token of gratitude and recognition for her important and beneficial work for this institution, at the festive good-bye party prior to her departure to the United States, she was given he title of life-long president of the Poalei Zion Children's Home of Rzeszow. Mrs. Esther Weisenfeld was the founder and chairman of Hakoach, the Poalei Zion sports organization of Rzeszow.

{Photo page 149 – Active members of the League for Eretz Yisrael in 1932. First row: Ozech, Sarah Trom, Bernard Fish, Eva Kirsch (Wang), Moshe Goldbander. Second row: Alec Hershlag, Giza Klarnet, Shechter.}

The most important activity of the right-leaning Poalei Zion movement in Rzeszow was the founding of a youth group under the direction of the young activist Margulies. It had a large number of members, apprentices and salesmen, for whom courses were arranged in accordance with the group's philosophy, and lectures, rich in content, were presented on various topics.

The local committee of the Poalei Zion organization in Rzeszow undertook diligent activity in raising money for the party's newspapers, the fund for the Land of Israel, the Jewish National Fund, etc. As a result of these activities, the right-leaning Poalei Zion in Rzeszow always took the first place. Thus, for example, as reported in Der Arbeiter Vort, number 22, on June 21, 1921, 7,000 Marks were collected for the party's fund in Rzeszow, whereas in Tarnow they only raised 4,000 Marks, in Lancut – 3,000, and in Nowy Sacz – 1,000 Marks.

The central committee of the right-leaning Poalei Zion organization in Warsaw paid special attention to the Poalei Zion in Rzeszow, and sent them their best speakers in order to strengthen the institutions that were committed to the Poalei Zion's ideals. Public relations activity began immediately after the division. In January 1921, Dr. Yitzchak Schipper lectured on the topic of the state of the Poalei Zion movement. At the end of that month, the secretary of the world right-leaning Poalei Zion movement, Mendel Singer, visited Rzeszow.

The visit of the leader of the worker's community in the Land of Israel, Zalman Rubashov [2], today the president of Israel, to Rzeszow in April 1921, left a great impression. He spoke on the topic: “The establishment of the Poalei Zion headquarters in the Land of Israel”. At that opportunity, a public gathering of the movement took place in honor of the important guest [8*].

The Poalei Zion activist A. Sh. Yuris visited often during that era. He was very dedicated to the success of the fundraising activities of Poalei Zion.


In 1922, the headquarters of the right-leaning Poalei Zion party moved to Warsaw. In 1925, the right-leaning Poalei Zion merged with the Socialist-Zionist Young Zion group. At the convention that ratified the union, B. Fish and Lozberg were the Rzeszow delegates.

The leaders of the Poalei Zion party in Rzeszow took to their work with a new spirit. The activity for the funds for the Land of Israel strengthened significantly. The Poalei Zion movement in Rzeszow now participated in work on behalf of the Keren Hayesod. In 1925, when an inter-party committee for Keren Hayesod was established in the presence of a delegate from the Keren Hayesod headquarters, Dr. Trela, two respected Poalei Zion (Socialist-Zionist) activists became members of this committee. They were B. Fish and Soroka.

Appropriate appreciation for the great efforts of the Poalei Zion leadership of Rzeszow to broaden the party's activities among the community of workers in Rzeszow can be found in an article from Rzeszow that was published on January 22, 1926 in the Bafreiung Arbeter Shtime newspaper of Warsaw. We bring it down here, word for word:

Footnote on page 149:

8*. Arbeiter Vort, number 22, June 21, 1921 Back

“Last week, we celebrated the completion of 20 years of activity on behalf of the party by the leader of the Rzeszow chapter, our member Bernard Fish. The festivities were very successful. In the presence of many members, several local activists described the stages in the life of the movement in general, and in the local Poalei Zion chapter in particular. The representative of the regional committee in Krakow, our member Shlomo Welner (today Sh. Gal – this is a note from the writer of this article in the Yizkor Book), spoke. The lecture traced the beginnings of the Poalei Zion movement in Austria and the struggles of organized Jewish Socialism against bourgeois Zionism and against the assimilationism of the P.P.S. (formerly Z.P.S), as well as against the Bundists of Galicia of that era. He described successful milestones in the struggles of the Jewish workers, lead by the Poalei Zion: the professional struggle, the population census of 1910, the battle for the recognition of Yiddish, etc. These activities are tied to the name of our member Bernard Fish, who always stood in the front ranks of the movement. After the fifth world convention, when the Communist faction left the ranks of world Poalei Zion, and the center of Poalei Zion in Poland moved to Krakow, Fish became a an active member of the central committee of Poalei Zion in Poland, and assisted greatly in the strengthening of our party in the Land. Mr. Welner concluded his warm speech with heartfelt warm wishes to the Poalei Zion movement in Rzeszow, its leader Mr. Fish, and its members Dr. Fett, and Chaim Shapira, pioneers of Poalei Zion in Rzeszow.”

Thanks to the efforts of the activist Dr. Hirsch Fett, an arbitration office was opened up in March 1927 next to the official's union. It became very popular among the community of officials. This union had a difficult crisis; however, thanks to the activities of Ch. Shleier, it was reorganized and had more than 120 members, most of them members of Poalei Zion. A special committee was also established to organize the workers of other professions [9*].

{Photo page 150 – Bernard Fish}


The leaders of the Poalei Zion group of Rzeszow also played an honorable role in the leadership of the Poalei Zion movement of western Galicia. Under the direction of the chairman Dr. Bahm of Krakow and the activist Chaim of Rzeszow, on May 30, 1926 a regional convention took place in Krakow. Representatives from the nineteen Poalei Zion branches took part. Neubauer of Rzeszow [10*] was elected, among others, to the regional council.

In Rzeszow, there was no political activity in which members of the right-leaning Poalei Zion did not participate. In 1926, when elections took place for the sick persons' fund of Rzeszow, Poalei Zion participated, with the agreement of the P.P.S., in a united faction of the trade unions. Due to its participation in this faction, Poalei Zion received two mandates on the sick persons' fund advisory committee, and three members were appointed as assistants. In addition to these, two Poalei Zion sympathizers became new members of the council. A candidate from the Poalei Zion party also stood as a candidate for the directorship of the sick persons' fund.

The activities on behalf of the “League for the Working Land of Israel” were very successful in Rzeszow. The right-leaning Poalei Zion always played a leading role in all the fundraising activities for that organization. Members of all the Zionist youth organizations belonged to this league, including Agudat Hanoar, Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, and Poalei Zion (Zionist-Socialist). At a meeting of the league that took place in 1926 in the presence of the leader of Poalei Zion Dr. Yechiel Heilpren, Bernard Fish was elected as chairman of the league. Several years later, in 1933, a convention of the Working Land of Israel took place in Rzeszow, with the participation of Dr. Herzl Berger and A. Grodzinski [11*].


The growth and flourishing of the right-leaning Poalei Zion organization in Rzeszow was demonstrated in excellence during the festivities of May 1st 1927. The power and influence of the right-leaning Poalei Zion party among the Jews was such that the community of Jewish workers who were faithful to Zion went out along with the proletariat of Rzeszow in a joint demonstration. A faithful description of this festivity was written in Rzeszow and published in number 19 of the Bafreiung Arbeiter Shtime on May 13, 1927.

It is written there: “On May 1st at 10:00 a.m. a May 1st gathering was organized, and 200 members gathered. The gathering opened with a pleasant speech by Ch. Shapira. After him, Dr. Fett and Soroka spoke. They discussed at length all of the issues which were connected to Poalei Zion. After the speeches, a declaration was read out, which was accepted unanimously. The gathering concluded with the singing of Hashvua and International. After the meeting, we joined up with a joint demonstration of Jewish and Polish workers, in which thousands of people participated. A delegation of P.P.S. came out to meet us, and greeted us warmly. The demonstrators went out accompanied by the sounds of the Railway Workers' Band toward the statue of Adam Mickiewicz. The leader of the P.P.S. greeted the Jewish workers warmly. In the evening, an academia of May 1st took place, which we enjoyed until 3:00 a.m.

Thus was the strong stream of the right-leaning Poalei Zion movement in Rzeszow. It engaged in multifaceted and successful work for all of the following years until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The terrible storm arrived, which shook up and destroyed the foundation of the Borochov Poalei Zion movement, which was established in Rzeszow, with such great effort and persistence.

Footnotes page 150:

9*. Bafreiung number 24, June 18, 1926. Back

10*. Bafreiung number 27, July 9, 1927. Back

11*. Bafreiung number 18, May 5, 1933. Back

{Page 151}

“Hashachar” “Haivria” and “Hechalutz”

by Alter Tishbi (Sitz)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 151 – Members of Hashachar in 1927. First row sitting from right: Mordechai Hillinger, Karpf , --. Second row sitting from right: Chaim Kanon, Trink, Kamelhar, Salpeter, Mordechai Eisen,. Third row standing, from right: Leibish Beck, Engelberg, Friedman, Landman, Alter Sitz (Tishbi).}

The tribulations at the end of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the breakup of the Austrian Empire, the establishment and independence of Poland, the Balfour Declaration – all of these events shook up the Jewish masses. The Zionist idea began to take root and to win over the Jewish youth from all walks of life. It even reached the Yeshivos and Beis Midrashes. The family oriented ideology disappeared, and the battle between parents and children heated up. There was almost no household in which there was not a son or a daughter who had become involved with one of the various Zionist youth groups.

In particular, the youth rallied around the Hashachar organization. Wearing their long black kapotes, young people would come to Hashachar on Sabbath afternoons in order to hear a lecture about Zionist affairs or other topics in Yiddish or Polish. The Yiddish lecturers included Yosef Storch, Kova Alter, and Meshulam Davidson (all of whom died in Israel). Lecturers in Polish included Dr. F. Hopfen, the lawyer Aharon Wang, Rabbi Dr. Yechezkel Lewin, Magister [3] Reich, and Simcha Seiden.

The Hashachar group had its headquarters in two rooms in the Kupat Cholim (Workers' Hospital) building in the courtyard on Wolia Street. In one of the rooms was a library that contained Hebrew and Yiddish books, which could be borrowed. The librarians were Metzker, A. Sitz (Tishbi), and Yisrael Pinkas. Next to Hashachar was the Hebrew school. The teachers were Feldman, Wagner, Birenbaum, Blumenfeld, Horowitz, and Mrs. Sturmlaufer.

One of the roles of Hashachar was to organize the Jewish youth into Zionist activity; to assist in fundraising for the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod; to distribute the Zionist Shekels; and to assist the Zionist movement and local committee at the times of elections to the Zionist Congress, the Polish Sejm, the local government and the communal council.

The activists of Hashachar included: Mendek Fett, Avraham Hoffstetter, Moshe Soroka, Simcha Trink, Moshe Frankel, Alter Sitz (Tishbi), Shmuel Pinels (Penueli), Henech Landman, Leibish Beck, Yisrael Kamelhar, Yissachar Friedman, Yisraelik Pinkas, Chaim Kanon, Mordechai Hillinger, Manek Salpeter, Mantel, Engelberg, Eisen, and Karpf.


A group of members of Hashachar and Young Mizrachi conducted a joint meeting to found an organization for the speaking of Hebrew. Participants of this meeting included Yehoshua Frei, Alter Sitz, Mendel Bayer, Hersch Shapira, Shmuel Pinels (Penueli), and others. It was decided to name this organization “Ivriya”. There were differences of opinion as to whether to include girls in this organization, since until that time in Rzeszow, there were no joint groups for boys and girls. In the end, it was decided that Ivriya would be open to members of both sexes. It is important to point out that at that time there already were many girls in Rzeszow who knew Hebrew and who were members of the Shulamit organization. These included Sala Regenboigen, Freda Zwiebel, Pepi Sheinbaum, Golda Eisen, and others.

When the first word of the founding of Ivriya spread, youth from all segments of the city, particularly girls, began to flock to it. They were divided up into groups according to their knowledge of the language. Among those who signed up were a few who, by virtue of the knowledge of the language, were able to lead other groups. In this manner, enough people were found to teach the Hebrew language, since the teaching was done on a voluntary basis.

The teachers included Lonek Herschtal, Yosef Blumenfeld, Sh. Pinels, Alter Sitz, Yehoshua Frei, Anshel Lieber, Monek Salpeter; and from among the women: Chaya Goldbander, Luriner, Chaika Shreiber, Zeisler, and Beck.

The Ivriya injected enthusiasm into the youth of Rzeszow. The Hebrew language was heard on the Jewish streets. Speaking Hebrew during an evening stroll was considered a particularly honorable activity, even if the speaking was not fluent. After a short period, there were hundreds of members of Ivriya.

Ivriya ceased its activities with the emigration of most active members. Hashachar, which was the general Zionist youth movement, became the revisionist youth movement under the leadership of Yanek Geier, Leibish Beck, Mordechai Hillinger, Tzvi Goldbander, and others.

The local Zionist committee later founded its own youth movement, known as “Hanoar Hatzioni” (Zionist Youth).

{Photo page 152 – Hechalutz Organization in Rzeszow, 1929}


Following the establishment of the Hechalutz organization, which was joined by several Ivriya activists, members left the city and went to agricultural locations in areas around Rzeszow for hachsharah (Zionist pioneering training) purposes. These members included Shlomo Shalem, Mordechai Eisen, Moshe Wachspress, Yehoshua Frei, Friedman, Freda Zwiebel, and Hinda Kurtzman. They were headed by Moshe Neubauer (Ben Uri, who died in Israel). After six months, this hachsharah group made aliya to the Land. A second group followed them. This group included Hersch Shapira, Moshe Resnick, Alter Sitz (Tishbi), David Speiser, Leib Zavel, David Wagschal, Chaya Goldbander (Tishbi), Yochka Silberman, Dvora Meller, Pnina Meller (Jaslow), and Hanka Wolf.

The owners of the estates in the area put pressure on us to produce a great deal, and paid a meager salary in agricultural products for a day of labor (for example, a liter of milk, a kilogram of flour, and some potatoes). If it were not for the stipend that was received from the Ezra foundation under the direction of Dr. Tzvi Kanarek, the group would not have been able to support itself. Dr. Kanarek was dedicated to this task, and he would visit the hachsharah locations. Due to the shortage of appropriate provisions, the energies of the hachsharah members dwindled, and they were forced to leave the agricultural work and began working in road building.

The second group also completed its hachsharah. The members appeared before the examining committee of the Land of Israel, and received permission to make aliya. However, due to a variety of reasons, the group disbanded, and only a few members made aliya. These included Hirsch Shapira, Chayka Shreiber, and Moshe Resnick. The rest of the members remained in the Diaspora. Alter Sitz and his wife Chaya made aliya only in 1935.

{Page 153}

Organizations and Societies in Rzeszow

by David the son of Avraham Tuchfeld

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 153 – David the son of Avraham Tuchfeld}

As was the case in many cities in Poland, our city Rzeszow excelled in vibrant communal life. It was effervescent with Jewish and Zionist life. The leadership of many activists sustained the social, cultural, and sport organizations.

Among the first people who awakened and became enthused with the Zionist idea in our city were: Chaim Wald (his children in Israel are Dr. Moshe Yaari Wald of Tel Aviv, Meir Yaari one of the leaders of Mapam, and Tuvia Wald of Kibbutz Merchavya); Abba Apfelbaum; Naftali Glucksman; Kalman Kurtzman; and Levi Chaim. They were active in the Chovevei Zion movement already in the beginning of the 20th century. The Zionist organizations Yardenia, Hashachar, and Maccabia were established. Their activists included Dr. Henryk Reichman, Dr. Moshe Wald, Dr. F. Hopfen, Yaakov Alter, Storch (died in 1952 in Tel Aviv), Yehoshua Yareh, and Dr. Yechezkel Lewin, who had served as the rabbi of Lvov, and was murdered by the Nazis in 1941.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there was already a Hebrew school under the direction of Abba Apfelbaum. Meshulam Davidson, who arrived in Rzeszow from Berdichev in 1904, taught there. He taught the Hebrew language, and in his school, Hebrew songs were sung. The children loved and revered him. After he made aliya to the Land of Israel (he died in 1960 in Kibbutz Nir David), the directorship of the school passed over to the Tarbut organization, and the study of Hebrew language primarily took place in groups during the evening. The prominent teachers of that time were: Yerucham Horowitz of blessed memory, and, may he live long, Yosef Blumenfeld, who today lives in Ramat Gan, Israel. It is important to note that the administrative direction of the school was in the capable hands of Shlomo Munzberg. In his merit, it is important to stress the positive development of the school. His family brought his remains from Rzeszow, and he was buried in Israel in 1962.

Due to ideological differences in the Jewish community, there were many Zionist groups active in our city, from the left-leaning Poalei Zion all the way to Beitar, the revisionist movement. The activists of Poalei Zion were Bernard Fish and Dr. Hirsch Fett. Hashomer Hatzair was one of the strongest youth organizations of our city. Many of its members made aliya to Israel, and were among the founders of the Kibbutzim Nir David and Ein Hamifratz. The members of Hashomer Hatzair who made aliya prior to the war include: Yisrael Freund, Avraham Landau, Yisrael Reich, Hugo Standel, Yitzchak Batist, Avraham Wang, Dr. Yehuda Hershlag who is today a professor at the University of Tel Aviv, Yehoshua Frankel, Moshe Goldwander, Yosef Wachspress, Shimon Bilevi, Yitzchak Shiffman, Alex Hershlag, and others.

In the last years before the Second World War, the general Zionist organizations Hanoar Hatzioni and Akiva opened. These two organizations included most of the studying youth. The Bnei Zion organization included the older youth, who were for the most part working. It is important to note that Akiva was founded in 1931 as a result of the split in Hanoar Hatzioni, when some of the leaders in Krakow such as Iden Orenstein, Yoel Dreiblatt, and Marcel Singer, demanded that Zionist education fit in with Jewish tradition. I also left Hanoar Hatzioni, and as one of the founders of Akiva, I wish to mention Tzvi Yafeh who headed the organization during the final years prior to the outbreak of the war. His name was known outside of the boundaries of Rzeszow. I will never forget the feelings in our town during August 1939 when it became known that Tzvi Yafeh perished in a mountain storm near Zakopane.

I wish to list a number of members of the Akiva movement who today live in Israel: Pinchas Horowitz in Kibbutz Neve Eitan, the lawyer Yitzchak Frei (Drori) in Jerusalem, Yosef Klein who is today a professor at the Hebrew University, Rozka Kos (Nussbaum) of Ramat Gan, Rina Rand, and others.

One of the founders of Hanoar Hatzioni was Zeev Sandhaus, who lives in Tel Aviv from 1932. The most important activists of Hanoar Hatzioni included Klara Munzberg (Maayan, a teacher in Tel Aviv), Lotka Goldberg, Nashka Zucker, Menachem Strenger of Kibbutz Usha, Yehoshua Strassberg and his wife Dina Einhorn, and Lonek Grauer of Kibbutz Tel Yitzchak.

The life force of the Bnei Zion organization came from Magister Kamil Dornfest. Moshe Reiber, who died in Russia, was the secretary of the group for many years. Some of the Bnei Zion activists who are now living in Israel are Avraham Blasbalg of Ashkelon Nachum Rosenwasser of Tel Aviv, Moshe Tuchfeld of Tel Aviv, Naftali Baum of Tel Aviv, Max Licht of Tel Aviv, and Hillel Rinde and Tzvi Grauer, both of Netanya.

The membership of the youth in the Zionist organization often caused them difficulties. They had to beware of the teachers in the school, for belonging to youth movements was liable to cause expulsion from school.

In the Mizrachi religious organization, the members were for the most part middle aged. The activists prior to the war included Kalman Hertz, Shimon Dim, Naftali Tuchfeld (died in Tel Aviv in 1953), Moshe Rosenbaum, Hersch Fromer, Yaakov Rebhun (died in Haifa in 1962), and, may he live long, Baruch Schlissel of Tel Aviv.

The head of the Beitar revisionist organization was Naftali Tenenbaum, who was murdered by the Nazis in Zbararz in 1941. The Beitar activists included, A. Mussinger of Tel Aviv; the Maccabia academic organization whose chairman prior to the outbreak of the war was Dr. Alexander Rosner; and Yaakov Pariser who today lives in Haifa.

From among the various Zionist organizations, WIZO excelled in its women's activities. Its chairman for many years was Mrs. Anna Kahane. Its active members included Dvora Abramowitz of Israel, and Mrs. Rebhun. Mrs. Kahane participated in Zionist gatherings, and was a delegate to the Zionist Congress of 1937. She had a prominent role in all Zionist activity of the city.

Despite the differences in ideology between the various Zionist organizations and factions, they were united in one aim, which was the education of the youth in national culture, Jewish Zionist literature, the Hebrew language, and preparing the younger generation for making aliya to the Land of Israel.

The relationship between the various Zionist organizations was not always cooperative. On occasion, disputes broke out between different groups over the scope of their activity in various Zionist endeavors such as the national funds, elections to the Zionist Congress, the distribution of the Zionist Shekel, and other such matters.

{Photo page 154 – A group of “Hanoar Hatzioni” 1929. Bottom from right: Zeev Sandhaus, Mendel Knecht, Storch. Upper row from right: David Tuchfeld, Tuchfeld, Nathan Bodner, Yitzchak Batist.}

The meeting places of the youth organizations were scattered throughout the city. Most were in cellars or attics. Hanoar Hatzioni met in the cellar of the Fett home on Garncarska Street. Akiva met in the attic of the Amster home on Slowacki Street, and later in the cellar of the home of Yechiel Bau in the Town Square (Rynek). The building of the Beit Haam (People's Hall) named after Dr. Tenenbaum, which was established thanks to a donation of an English Jew who was born in Rzeszow, uplifted Zionist-Jewish life in the city. Most of the organizations found their home in this splendid location. The Beit Haam housed the public Hebrew library, and later the government licensed Hebrew gymnasia. From among the teaching staff of the gymnasia, we should point out in particular the work of Yitzchak Weiss, who now lives in Jerusalem. Through his lectures, he contributed to the awakening of the national spirit among the youth. The Beit Haam also housed a large library consisting of books in various languages. It also had a hall with a stage for performances, which attracted to the city various Jewish acting troupes, including The Vilna Troupe, the Jewish Troupe of Lodz, Dzigan and Shumacher, Ida Kaminska, Rachel Holtzer, Dina Halpern, Yone and Zygmund Turkow, Diana Blumenfeld, Alexander Granach, Cantor Moshe Koussevitsky, and others.

On this stage in the Beit Haam hall, the following people appeared before the Jewish audience, who filled the hall to the brim: the Zionist leader of Krakow; Dr. Yitzchak Schwartzbard, a member of the Polish Sejm; Dr. Berkelhammer, the editor of the Nowy Dziennik Zionist Newspaper; Magister Leon Salpeter, the chairman of the Hapoel Hatzioni committee, currently of Tel Aviv; Dr Avraham Chomet, the chairman of the Tarnow community council, now of Ramat Gan; Chaim Neiger of Tarnow; Dr. Shmurk; Dr. Shreiber; Dr. Avraham Stop; and others. Zionist representatives from outside of Poland also came to lecture, including Zeev Jabotinski, Robert Shtriker, and may he live long, Wolfgang Von Weisel.

Dr. Aharon Wang, the chairman of the local Zionist umbrella organization, conducted great work for the Zionist idea. When the war broke out, he succeeded in making his way to the Land of Israel. He died there a short time after making aliya. It is fitting to point out with esteem a number of activists who performed their work faithfully over the course of many years for the Zionist organization, as well as those who looked out for the interests of the Jewish population on the city council and within the Jewish community. The following should be remembered for their good work: Avraham Hoffstetter, Elish Wang, Magister Shmuel Wachspress, Dr. Felix Hopfen, Shlomo Munzberg who was well-known for his speeches and lectures delivered in the Hebrew language in the synagogue on Sabbaths, as well as Yaakov Alter who was the chairman of Keren Hayesod, and died an untimely death in Tel Aviv in 1951. Among the active Zionist was Simcha Seiden, who was the chairman of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael for many years. He immigrated to the United States in 1937, and died there in 1961. His dream of seeing the State of Israel was never realized. Magister Moshe Reich, currently of Haifa, was active on behalf of the Zionist idea.

To our dismay, not all of the Jewish youth found their way to the Zionist and nationalist organizations. Many went along the path of assimilation, and many others joined the Communist ranks.

Agudas Yisrael had a communal presence in Rzeszow. It encompassed the Orthodox circles. Its head was Rabbi Aharon Lewin who was a representative to the Polish Sejm for a certain period. Its honorable members included: David Hager, Chaim Moses, Avraham Tuchfeld (died in January 1942 in Russian exile in Bukhara), Berish Landau, Yehoshua Shapira, and may he live long, Shmuel Nebenzahl.

Rabbi Avraham Lewin was captured in 1941 as he attempted to cross the border. He was sent to Lvov, where the Nazis murdered him. His three sons live in the United States. The eldest is Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Lewin, who is active in Agudas Yisrael, is a lecturer in a university, and well known as a historian and newspaperman.

It is important to point out that on account of the strong Zionist organization and its influence upon communal life, various Zionist representatives served in the communal council, even though the head of the community was not a Zionist. He was Reb Asher Silber, who was respected by the community. He fled the Germans to Chernovitz (Romania) and died there in 1953.

In our city, there were charitable and assistance organizations, and groups for culture, social affairs, and sport. The pride of the Jews of Rzeszow was the Jewish hospital, which was established for the most part by virtue of donations from Rzeszow émigrés in the United States. There was an old age home in our city, which contained a synagogue. Moshe Schlissel served as the prayer leader there. His beautiful tunes are remembered by many. The life force behind the orphanage and children's shelter was the well-known activist Mrs. Anna Kahane. She was assisted by Esther Weisenfeld, Elias Wang, Dr. Shapira, Sh. Munzberg, Mrs. Feldmaus, Mrs. Wachs, and Mrs. Nathanson-Weinbach.

A chapter of the Taz organization was active in Rzeszow. This was an organization dedicated to the preservation of health. It was headed by Ashkenazi, an advisor in the regional treasury office. The purpose of this organization was to offer medical assistance to the poor of our community. Activists in Taz included Rebbetzin Lewin, Mrs. Astlein, Malvina Tuchfeld, Milrad, Westreich, and others.

{Photo page 155 – Active members of “Benei Zion” (1929). Sitting from right: Leib Gross, Finka Fromer, Moshe Soroka, Yitzchak Weiss, Moshe Reiber, Hela Hauser, Avraham Blasbalg. Standing from right: Noach Fuhrer, Naftali Zigelbaum, Leib Kalter, Esther Amkraut, Salek Zucker, Nachum Rosenwasser, Yaakov Friedman.}

The Ognisko academic organization arranged parties and evening celebrations, the income of which was dedicated to assisting needy university students. Activists in this organization included Magister Dovel, Magister Tuchman, Magister Zughaft, Magister Rosner-Keller, Magister Nadel (in the United States), Pepa Tuchfeld (Liask), Engineer Yaakov Horen, Dr. Manes Fromer, Kuba Pariser, M. Herzog, Milrad, and others. Most of them live in Israel.

The Yad Charutzim artisans' organization was one of the oldest organizations. It maintained a mutual help fund for its members. Its activists included Zelig Grauer, Weinsilber, Ducker, Einhorn, Rosenbaum, and others.

The Kredytowy Bank was an important factor in the city.

Dr. Einfeld was one of the founders of the bank and its president for many years. He made aliya with his family in 1951 and died in 1962.

In Rzeszow, there was a branch of the Organization of Jewish Fighters. Its representatives were Major Speiser (died in Russia) Dr. Paitzer (died in Israel), and Dr. Radlmesser who died in the holocaust and whose son lives in Israel.

The Bar Kochba sport organization excelled in well-developed sporting life. Its leaders for many years were the dentist Dr. Shapira and Dr. Schildkraut, and, in the years prior to the Second World War, Dr. Henryk Weinbach (today in Krakow). The secretaries of the organization were Magister Dornfest (currently in Warsaw) and Avraham Ungar, today in Kibbutz Givat Brenner. The organization owned its own playing field and clubhouse. A number of various sports teams were under the umbrella of this organization. The most prominent was the basketball team. Well-known members of this team included Shimon Garber, the Rubal brothers, the Hirsch brothers, Dov Wachspress, the Keller brothers, Michael Green, Salles, Mendek Laub, Nathan Bodner, Yehoshua Strassberg, Zeev Sandhaus, and others.

{Photo page 156 – Charter members of the Akiva movement.}

A second prominent team was the boxing team. Its members included Milek Grauer who competed in the Polish boxing championships, and Rotholtz. Some members of the boxing team now live in Israel: Yehoshua Shwebel (Ramat Gan), Gedalia Lifschutz (Herzlia), and David Brost of Haifa.

There was a musical group in our city called Zamir. Its was conducted by Mandel, who died in Ashkelon, Israel.

The dramatic group that enriched the life of our city was called Scena (the Stage). The honorary president of the Rzeszow organization in the United States, Mr. Tzvi Simcha Leder, wrote in his book Reisher Yidden that plays were performed in Rzeszow already in the first years of the 20th century. In 1908, through the efforts of Ben Zion Fett, Efraim Hirschhorn, and may they live long Tzvi Simcha Leder and Yitzchak Oestreicher, there was an amateur dramatics group who performed the plays of Gordin, Goldfaden and Richter on a wooden stage. The main obstacle that impeded the development of this group was the lack of a hall and a stage, for the Poles refused to rent their Sokol hall to the Jews for plays.

In the 1920s, the crowd of theater attendees was familiar with the hall of Berger on Kolejowa Street (the Train Station Street). The lovers of the arts in our city were very satisfied when the Beit Haam was set up. It was a large hall with a large stage, upon which were performed various performances. “Hascena” succeeded in putting on many performances, such as “The Dybbuk”, “Der Toiber”, “Der Darfsiung”, and “Bar Kochba”. That active force in this group in the last years before the war was Jozek Heilblum, who covered the deficit out of his own pocket. It is related that the Nazis tortured him to death, and did not succeed in extracting any information from him. It is fitting to mention here several of the actors and actresses: Mesdames. Elion, and Klara Schindler; and Messrs. Klein, Henek Fuchs, Naftali Offen, Weider, Henek Immer, Nadel (today in the United States), Aharon Pariser, and Tzvi Weichselbaum (today in Israel).

One of the most interesting personalities among the Jews of Rzeszow was Maurycy Freilich. His plans and activities were a symbol of progress and culture. Even though he excelled in modesty, Freilich had an uncanny intellect. His lectures always attracted a large crowd, and often concluded in vibrant debates. Jewish Rzeszow was also blessed by having one of its natives being recognized as a popular poet – Nachum Sternheim. His poems are still enjoyed today in the Jewish world.

The community of Rzeszow was destroyed and is no longer. Only memories remain…

{Page 157}

Religious Parties

by Naftali Hakhel of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{The photo is of Irving Low by mistake. The errata at the end of the book points out that the photo should have been of Naftali Hakhel, and provides a photo of Naftali Hakhel.}

The Jewish youth of Rzeszow belonged to various Zionist organizations: Poalei Zion, Hashachar, Young Mizrachi, Shulamit (an organization of Zionist girls), and later Hashomer, and still later, Hashomer Hatzair. All of these organizations had one purpose – to work for Zion, to collect money for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, and to popularize the Zionist idea and the Hebrew language. With the passage of time, no small number of opponents of Zionism arose. These people opposed Zionism for various reasons, whether to the left or to the right. When the time of elections for the Sejm or the local Jewish community approached, battles took place between the different factions. When a crisis arose in the Land of Israel or in Zionist politics, the opponents of Zionism would raise their heads. The Zionist youth of Rzeszow was wonderful, most were quite intelligent and full of idealism. The young men of Hashachar and Young Mizrachi, etc. were the crème de la crème of the youth, and most of them desired to make aliya to the Land of Israel. The youth of Aguda were also full of enthusiasm for aliya to the Land of Israel. Our outstanding mentors were Dr. Yechezkel Lewin, may G-d avenge his blood; Yoel Babad may G-d avenge his blood; and Moshe Kamelhar, who is today in Israel. They left an indelible impression upon us. There was beneficial interaction between the youths and older people of Mizrachi. I see before the eyes of my spirit Kalman Hertz, Naftali Tuchfeld, Hirsch Moshe Eisen, Chaim Moses, and others – all of them masters of Torah, wisdom, and idealism for the idea.

Aside from the Zionist and religious organizations, there was also an organization of working religious youth called Machzikei Limud. In that organization, the members studied Bible, Jewish lore (aggada), etc. During the course of the years, Reb Shlomtze Teitelbaum of blessed memory gave classes on Torah and Psalms. He was honored and beloved by everyone. During his lectures, he brought to life the personalities of the Bible and Jewish lore, and he attracted the hearts of the audience.

Political Life During the 1920s

With the arrival on the scene of the government of independent Poland, and when the storm of the pogroms abated and life returned to its normal path – political life began to consolidate among the Jews as well. The San Remo declaration awakened much enthusiasm, and most of the Jews tended toward the Zionist idea. This was the situation in Rzeszow as well. The Zionist organization of Rzeszow had a great deal of influence over the community. At that time, masses of people registered for aliya to the Land of Israel; however, since there was no practical opportunity for mass aliya, everyone turned to his profession and the worries of daily life. The Zionist organization occupied itself primarily with elections to the Sejm and the Jewish community, as well as work for the Land of Israel, such as the selling of Shekels and collection of money.

The Zionist Organization

        It was headed at that time by Reb Chaim Wald, Eliahu Wang, Dr. A. Wang, Reb Abba Apfelbaum, Kuba Alter, Simcha Seiden, and others. Alongside the Zionist organization, there was the Hashachar youth group, where most of the youth of the Maskilim of the city gathered. There was also a right-leaning Poalei Zion organization, which attracted primarily Maskilim and those who tended toward a Socialist outlook.

The Mizrachi and Young Mizrachi Organizations

This was one of the strongest movements in Rzeszow, to which belonged the cream of the crop of the educated religious Jewish youth. It was headed by Naftali Tuchfeld, Hersch Moshe Eisen, Kalman Hertz, Yaakov Rebhun, Chaim Moses, and others at that time.

The leaders of Young Mizrachi were Dr. Yechezkel Lewin, Yoel Babad may he live long, Rabbi Moshe Kamelhar, and others. From among the younger crowd, there were Itzi the son of Zecharia Silber and his brother Mordechai, the Wechsler brothers, Ginsberg, Moshe Meller and his brother Yosha, Yehoshua Frei, Zalki Weinfeld, Moshe Margulies, the Friedman brothers, Mendel Bayer, myself, and others. Mordechai Silber, who already had prepared to make aliya to the Land of Israel with a few other members who went on hachsharah, suddenly took ill and died in Rzeszow. Young Mizrachi put on cultural events. Most of the members were frequenters of the Beis Midrash. A few of them earned their livelihood from working at home, in business, or in labor. Zionist activity on behalf of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, Shekels, Keren Hayesod, etc. was to us a holy matter. In particular during the election campaigns for the community, the Sejm, etc. the battle was fierce to the right and to the left – against the Aguda and the Orthodox [4] as well as against the Bundists, Socialists, and assimilationists, who appeared again on the Jewish scene with the decline of the situation in the Land of Israel and the rise in prominence of Birobidzhan [5].

The attitude of the Mandate government to aliya caused a dampening of the enthusiasm for Zionism among the masses, to the point where it was necessary to bring in speakers from Warsaw and other cities. I remember that on one occasion the Rabbi of Staszow lectured in the large Kloiz, to a full house. He spoke about the Mizrachi idea, about the need for national unity and participation with the non-observant in order to support the settlement in the Land of Israel. This rabbi was a wonderful and a very impressive figure.

Reb Yosef Reich, who had a great influence among the Orthodox, was also a supporter of Mizrachi. His support of this movement had great influence among the Orthodox and Hassidic worshippers of the Kloiz. Reb Yosef Reich was chosen as the religious judge to replace his father Reb Mendele. Reb Berish Steinberg, who was the head of the rabbinical court, was also one of the important supporters of Mizrachi, even though he was not a registered member of it. Nevertheless, as usual, all of the Zionist work fell on the shoulders of a few people, particularly Naftali Tuchfeld. He, with the assistance of a few younger people, was the organizer, the speaker, the convenor of meeting and assemblies, and the one who maintained the connection with the center in Warsaw. Of course, all of the work was done on a volunteer basis.

Agudas Yisrael and Agudas Yisrael Youth

At the beginning, the Orthodox and the Hassidim looked with disdain upon the Zionist idea, and the idea of factions in general. An Orthodox Jew had the synagogue and the Beis Midrash, which filled up his entire world, and the Hassid similarly had his Kloiz and his Rebbe. However with the re-establishment of Poland and the awakening of political life, with elections to the Sejm and communal councils, the Orthodox also woke up to factional life. After the Zionist movement took over the Jewish masses and the communal leadership, which had up to that time always been in the hands of either the Orthodox or the assimilationists (such as Dr. Wilhelm Hochfeld the assimilationist head of the community whose children converted to Christianity), who were in a coalition with the Hassidim Reb Asher Silber and Reb Motish Eckstein; a segment of Orthodox Jewry saw a need to set up Agudas Yisrael as a counter force against the Zionists, so that they would not loose completely the communal leadership. I remember a large meeting in the Dzikower Kloiz which was convened by Reb Motish Eckstein. Reb Wolf Pappenheim, a prominent member of the world Aguda organization from Vienna, appeared at that meeting and lectured about the need for organization among the Orthodox. At that time, the Aguda was founded in Rzeszow, or as it was called “The Union (Aguda) of the Faithful of Israel”.

Afterwards, the Aguda founded the Young Faithful of Israel – the youth movement of the Orthodox. The leaders of the Aguda were, of course, members of the Eckstein family, Berele Mintz, and other respected Orthodox people. Later, Rabbi Aharon Lewin came from Sambor to replace his father. He gave of his personality as a leader of the national and local Aguda. They called themselves “The Faithful of Israel”, in order that the fanatical Orthodox people would not suspect that they are no longer complete in their faith. Nevertheless, there were Jews who opposed them, suspecting that there was something “new” here, and “new is forbidden by the Torah” [6]. Even though the Aguda had a strong influence among the Orthodox, the influence of Mizrachi was even greater, in particular among the normative Orthodox Jews. The Aguda, and in particular its youth, also worked to gather money for the Fund for the Settlement in the Land of Israel, and they set up their own organization, called Hechalutz, to prepare the youth for aliya, for only in this manner was it possible to receive a certificate for aliya. There was always a fierce battle between the Aguda and the Zionists in the Sejm or community elections. While with regards to Sejm elections, agreements were often made to elect nationalist Jews, the communal elections usually were won by the Aguda along with the assimilationists and anti-Zionists. I remember a meeting in the Great Synagogue during a Sejm election campaign, where Dr. Yehoshua Tahon appeared together with Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin, the founder of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva. Both of them spoke wonderfully, and of course left a deep impression upon the city.

In the early years after the founding of Mizrachi, we decided to establish a Moshava in the Land of Israel named after Rzeszow. The plan was to choose a committee who would purchase a tract of land in the Land of Israel, either in a private manner or through the Keren Kayemet. Everyone would donate to the best of his ability and purchase a plot for himself. The enthusiasm for this was great and large pledges of money were made on the spot. However, to our dismay, this matter did not reach fruition. The decline and weakening of effort for this endeavor was contributed to by the returnees who returned from the Land of Israel in 1928 [7].

At that time, the movement for settlement of Birobidzhan raised its head, and this greatly influenced the Jewish youth with anti-Zionist leanings. The left leaning circles in Rzeszow strengthened, and there were fierce debates between the Zionist youth and the left wing youth, in particular with the members of Hashomer Hatzair. Since the Communist movement was forbidden at that time, they would gather together during evenings in a thicket near the Wislok. There, during the summer, members of the Zionist youth and Young Mizrachi would also gather, and we would always engage in debates with the Zionist left.

In those days, the revisionist youth founded a Beitar organization, which succeeded in influencing the younger youth of the city. However most of the older youth were perplexed, for even though the hope and dream for a future in the Land of Israel was near, the “desert had closed them in” [8]. Many dreamed of the possibility of immigrating to Germany, America, etc. The Jewish youth had no possibility other than aliya to the Land of Israel, and there were others who awaited salvation that might come through a victory of the Communist movement.

In March 1929, I left Rzeszow for Berlin. In those days, Germany was one of the closest and most comfortable destinations for the Jewish youth of Galicia. Nobody could imagine the great destruction that was approaching; and certainly nobody would have thought that the holocaust would spring out of Berlin.

{Page 158}

The Founding of the Mizrachi

by Rabbi Moshe Kamelhar

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I wish to present a few details about the founding of Mizrachi in Rzeszow. Toward the end of the First World War, when the Admor of Drohobych was living as a refugee in Vienna, he decided to found a group for “The Settlement of the Land of Israel”. Religious Jews of all walks of life who desired to make aliya and settle in the Land of Israel were accepted into this group. After the Balfour Declaration of 1917, he and his son made aliya to the Land and their dream was fulfilled. In many cities and towns in Galicia, including Rzeszow, religious people organized themselves into groups for “The Settlement of the Land of Israel”. After the First World War, when Galicia was annexed to Poland, founders and leaders of Mizrachi began to come to Rzeszow to organize efforts for this movement. On one clear day, the well known Rabbis Bornstein from Plonsk, Zlotnick from Lipna, and others arrived in town and in public assemblies spoke enthusiastically to the community of Rzeszow until all of the members of “The Settlement of the Land of Israel” transferred allegiance to the Mizrachi movement. With the passage of time, other members joined, and Mizrachi became a major force in Rzeszow. Mizrachi organized the Young Mizrachi organization, to which the best of the religious youth belonged. It is important to mention Rabbi Yechezkel Lewin the son of the rabbi of the city, the Rosenbaum brothers, the Babad brothers, Avraham Kluger, Yoel Fink, and others. In the year 5679 (1919), some of these young people made aliya in a group to the Land of Israel.

In those days of peace and quiet under the Austrian rule of Galicia, the sparks of Zionism became ignited in Rzeszow. At the beginning of the century, Nachum Sokolow, the editor of Hatzfira and later the president of the Zionist organization, visited Rzeszow. I do not know the purpose of his visit to Rzeszow. I was a young boy at the time, and in my father's house they whispered about the arrival of Sokolow. When I left the house, I saw people accompanying a man who was not a native of the city. He looked very impressive. I walked after him and found out that he was Nachum Sokolow. I recognized the writer Shalom Aleichem from his pictures with his unruly hair, and I recognized him immediately when he visited Rzeszow.

Zionism was still in its infancy. The community was still run by the assimilationists and the Orthodox. The battle to win over the community only took place later, when Dr. Herzl issued his proclamation. At that time, certain men, such as Dr. Fechtdagen, a complete assimilationist who was also a member of the city council, were secure in their seats. Incidentally, in my memory, I recall one event that took place at the time of his death. The city council arranged a funeral for him and declared a special period of mourning. The gas street lanterns (there was not yet electricity) were covered with black. They brought Yosef Fisher, the well-known printer, from Krakow. He also served as the cantor at the “Temple” there. A black wagon led by four horses covered in black carried the dead. Floral wreaths were tied to both sides of the wagon. Cantor Yosef Fisher was also dressed in black, with a splendid hat on his head. He walked before the wagon singing “Yoshev Beseter” verse by verse. When he came to the phrase “Ki Yatzilcha Mipach Yakush”, he pronounced the words “Mipach Yakush” with half Ashkenazic and half Sephardic pronunciation. This was very unusual, and from that time on, they nicknamed him “Hapach Yakush”, pronounced with that pronunciation [9].

Slowly, the Zionist idea penetrated to the masses, and it strengthened day by day. When the time came for communal elections, the battle was between the Zionists and the remnants of the assimilationists, and were it not for the fact that the Orthodox supported the assimilationists, the Zionists and nationalists would certainly have won.

Zionism in Rzeszow functioned in two directions. A reading hall called Hashachar was opened, as well as a library. A Hebrew school called Safah Berura was opened as well. These two institutions were like thorns to the Hassidim, and if it became known that a son or daughter visited there, their lot would be bitter. Abba Apfelbaum was the head of the teachers at the school. He was an Orthodox Jew and wore the streimel and traditional Sabbath garb. He was also a writer who wrote several monographs in Hebrew. There was another teacher whom I knew in Rzeszow and later here in Israel. This is Naftali Glucksman (Ashriel). He was an ardent Zionist who dedicated himself to the movement with all his heart. During his vacation times, he would dedicate himself fully to travelling from city to city on behalf of the Zionist headquarters. He even went to Stanislawow. During one of the memorial ceremonies for Herzl on the 20th of Tammuz, he delivered a eulogy in the Great Synagogue there. In his old age, he changed and came closer to the Orthodox. On several occasions he complained to me that his children do not follow in his path. He died in Israel, as did his son who was an official in the Yehuda insurance agency.

The third teacher was Meshulam Davidson. He also made aliya to Israel. These teachers practiced themselves what they preached to their students. They were the first to fulfil this desire.

{Photo page 159 – “Young Mizrachi” (1922). Sitting first row from right: Hersh Babad, Ginsberg, Naftali Tuchfeld, Kalman Hertz, Chaim Moses, Hersh Moshe Eisen, Shimon Dim, Yoel Babad, Yechezkel Lewin, Ashkenazi. Second row from right: Margalit, Chaim, Apfen, Yisrael Eder, Yisrael Karp, Yechezkel Kirsch, Reich, L. Rebhun, Wunder, Buch, --, Moshe Mantel, Moshe Meller, Moshe Resnick, Itzi Silber.}

Translator's Footnotes

1. Text here says 1960. This is obviously a typographical error. Back

2. He was later known as Zalman Shazar, his Hebraicized last name being taken from the initials of Shneur Zalman Rubashov. Zalman Shazar was third president of the State of Israel, from 1963-1973. He died in 1974. Back

3. Magister is a Polish academic title, equivalent with a Master's degree. Back

4. Here and in many other places in this section, the Hebrew word for 'Orthodox' is Charedim, which has the implications of ultra-Orthodox (for want of a better word). When we see the Orthodox pitted against Mizrachi, it reflects the ultra-Orthodox (i.e. Aguda) competition with Mizrachi. It does not mean to imply that Mizrachi was not Orthodox. Later in this section, we see the Orthodox siding with the assimilationists against Mizrachi and the Zionists. The strong anti-Zionism of the Aguda at that time would have been the cause of this strange alliance. Back

5. Birobidzhan was the Soviet Union's attempt to solve the 'Jewish problem' by setting up a 'homeland' or Jewish Autonomous Republic in remote Siberia, on the Mongolian border. Needless to say, the experiment failed. However some form of Jewish cultural life, with Yiddish as the official language, did exist in Birobidzhan for quite some time. Back

6. This is a play on words of a law from the Torah which forbids grain from the new crop to be eaten until after the second day of Passover. This is an explicit law in the Torah that applies to the time of the temple, and there is some debate of its applicability in post-temple times. This law is phrased in halachic works, as “new is forbidden by the Torah”. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken this statement as a play on words, interpreting it to mean that the Torah forbids any innovation or concession to modernity. Back

7. The Hebrew word here is “Yordim” (those that go down), which is the opposite of “olim” (those that ascend – make aliya). This word is used even today for those who leave Israel to live in the Diaspora. Back

8. A quote from the Book of Exodus describing the situation of the Jewish people shortly after they had left Egypt, with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh's army behind them. They were “closed in by the desert”. Here it means that they found themselves in an impossible situation, with the path in front of them being closed off. Back

9. Yoshev Beseter is Psalm 91, often chanted at funeral services. “Mipach Yakush” means “from the ensnaring trap”, and “Hapach Yakush” means “the ensnaring trap”. This was obviously a derogatory reference to the Reform Cantor. Back

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