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[Pages 109-110]

The Way to Zion

Founding the “Tarbut” School

by Shlomo Sheinboim

In the year 1923/4 a teacher from the nearby town of Rechelovka was brought to town to be the Hebrew conversation teacher. His name was Gerber. Later on Mr. Gerber made aliyah to Israel and served as a principal of a school in Petach-Tikvah for many years. This teacher taught only a small group of students whose parents could afford payment. Also, the parents were patriots to the Zionist movement and considered learning Hebrew as a major part of the Zionist national education.

-- Under the Picture –
The teachers and students of the “Tarbut” school in its first year.
From right to left: Teacher Burstein, Principal Kunst, Teacher Rotblatt and Teacher Moshe Koifman.

Study took part at Stesel Waldman's house. It was the hardcore that served as the base of enlarging language studies, and with the help of some activists from town, they established the “Tarbut” school. At the beginning, they had students from 3rd through 7th grades. The first teachers were: Moshe Koifman, who started this as his mission and contributed greatly to the school's existence, development and standards for many years until the war broke out; also, teachers Rotblatt, Burstein and Chasdai.

The way to get permission from the authorities to establish the school was to get a certified teacher of the Polish language. Therefore, they hired a teacher whose name was Kamerman and the permit was obtained. Teacher Kamerman married a woman from Stepan named DovahWaldman.

Later there arrived in town the school principal by the name Auerbach and the teacher Shnerer. Also they hired local teachers by the name Yeshayahu Neiman and Baruch Kryzer, the son of the butcher and cantor Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Kryzer. The building that housed the school was donated at first by a Jewish man named Berel Nodel and his family who immigrated to the United States. This building was remodeled with a few years to meet the needs of the school.

-- Under the Picture –
“Tarbut” school students and their teachers.
Moshe Koifman, Yeshayahu Neiman, the school principal Auerbach
and his wife, the kindergarten teacher, Pesya.

[Pages 111-114]

The Beginning of Zionist Activities

by Shlomo Sheinboim

Already by the year 1911, the Zionist movement had come to town. Zionist youth activists started selling shequels for the coming Zionist congress. Also they established a drama class.

In the year 1917, the Zionist Histadrut (union) was established and also the JNF (Keren Kayemet).

-- Under the Picture –
The Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel council in Stepan.

The Zionist youth movement also organized other public activities. They established a group for “Linat Tzedakah: in which volunteers spent days and nights with sick people who could not get up from their beds.

The Zionist activity moved to the next generation and that was how the political party started.

In the early 1920s a young woman arrived in town from the city of Kovel by the name Bracha Shickman. This woman later on married Yitzchak Guz.

Under the umbrella of “Hashomer Hatzair”, Bracha collected young people from the town. This movement was characterized as the Zionist scouts. Many youngsters were attracted by the impressive uniforms and to the scouts' activity in general. This activity included trips to the countryside, to the fields and to the forests. These activities lasted for almost a year and then stopped for a while. Later on the teacher Chasdai from the “Tarbut” school restarted the movement “Hashomer Hatzair”. For most of the youngsters belonging to this movement their main goal was to make aliyah to Israel.

-- Under the Picture –
“Hashomer Hatzair” activists in Stepan.

After a few more years, there were mostly political party activities in town and the “Hachalutz” and “Beitar” movements were established. Most of the youngsters left “Hashomer Hatzair” (which was characterized as a left-political party) and joined “Beitar” under the leadership of the teacher Yeshayahu Neiman, z”l. The “Hachalutz” and “Hashomer Hatzair” movements were still active but had a low profile. Some from these movements left town and were active all over Poland and then made aliyah to Israel as part of the “Aliyah Bet” (second immigration) based on the certificates given to them.

These activities of the young Zionists lasted until the war started in 1939. Right before the war, “Beitar' took a few members – Motel Rasis and Nunya Hochman – and smuggled them through “Aliyah Bet”.

-- Under the Picture –
From the organization “Hashomer Hatzair” in Stepan.

The National Fundraisings

“Keren Hayesod” mainly directed its efforts towards the wealthy Zionist people in town, while “Keren Kayemet” (JNF) was directed to everyone else who wanted to donate. Almost every Jewish house in town had a JNF blue box. The JNF box served an educational value for the young generation.

-- Under the Picture –
The Zionist Council in Stepan.

In addition there were all kinds of activities involving the collection of money and the selling of JNF stamps at every holiday or family event. At the beginning of every month, the JNF people walked from house to house in order to empty the blue boxes.

The Zionists had a separate minyan on Simchat Torah and the income from the aliyot was donated to the JNF. Also the income from the drama class was donated to the JNF.

-- Under the Picture –
A nature trip by the students of the “Tarbut School” in Stepan
led by the teacher Shnerer.

[Pages 115-118]

Reflections of the Wohlyn Press on Public Activities

by Betzalel Shpritz

-- Headline –
Publication about Stepan in the Yiddish newspaper in Wohlyn, “The Mentsch”, that was written in the 1930s by the local journalist Betzalel Shpritz.

Mr. Betzalel Shpritz, from Stepan, was a writer in the Wohlyn newspapers. Today Betzalel Shpritz and his wife, Rozka-Shoshana, also from Stepan, are living in Tel-Aviv. They both made aliyah in 1935 as “Beitar” activists.
In the “Wohlyn-Nayes” the establishment of “Brit-Yeshurin” in Stepan by the “Beitar” commander is written. In total, 50 members arrived at the beginning. The first speaker was Sender Wolynsky, the Rabbi's son, from the head activists of the Brit. They continued with a very interesting and serious discussion. At the end they elected Tzvi Segal as general manager of the board, Levi Yitzhak Kryzer as president, and Sender Wolynsky as secretary, and the following board members: Yehuda Woschina, Dov Zilberberg, Nechemia Gaz, Yaakov Petashnik, Avraham Zilberberg and Yoel Baruch Becker. This committee was in touch with the headquarters in Poland and they expected a visit from the president of “Yeshurin” in Poland, Dr. Rabbi Treisman, to Stepan.

Big Success in Selling Shekels for the 18th Zionist Congress

In spite of the economic recession, they succeeded in selling shekels for the 18th Zionist Congress to 550 families in town. The Revolutionists sold 270 shekels, the “League” sold 200 shekels, and the General Zionist sold 80 shekels. This was a lot more than for the 17th Congress in which they sold 180 shekels, in total, in the town.

An article in the “Wohlyner Tzaytung”, number 30 (733)

There is a story about the departure of Rabbi Baruch Twersky from Stepan. He left Stepan for good a few days before Rosh Hashanah with his family. Most of the Wohlyn Jews came together to offer a warm goodbye. The Rabbi was going to become the Rabbi of Lublin. It was told that the Lublin Jews gave a warm welcome to the Rabbi when he arrived.

An article in the “Wohlyner Tzaytung”, number 13

It reported about the elections for the 18th Zionist Congress in town when the results were known at 9:30 in the evening. There was great stress among the political party activists, but in general there were no clashes. The Revolutionists showed the most initiative and the election results were the following: General Zionists – 64 votes, “Et Livnot (Time to Build)” – 16 votes, Mizrachi – 12 votes, Hitachdut (Union) – 10 votes, Grossman Group – 2 votes, the “League” – 80 votes, and the Revolutionists – 248 votes.

An article in “Eber Wohlyn”, number 23 (726) on expanding the number of students in the “Tarbut” school in town

It was 5 months after the death of the active teacher and great Zionist Mr. Yeshayahu Neiman. This was a big loss for all the citizens of the town and for the routine activities of the “Tarbut” school.

A meeting was held in order to increase the number of students in the “Tarbut” school and to ensure for a proper National-Zionist education to the young generation in town. This meeting took place at the beginning of the school year. Among the participants were the teachers and representatives from all of the Zionist youth movements of any kind. The meeting took two hours in which they established a youth department at “Tarbut”. The following members were chosen to be members of the department: the teacher Moshe Koifman, Rafael Yukelson, Betzalel Shpritz, Yitzchak Weisman, Shlomo Sheinboim, Chaim Slabotsky and Gershon Krokover.

The same newspaper published an article that had the eulogy of the passing of the great philanthropist Melyah Washtzina at the age of 67. Most of the people of the town took part in her funeral. The widows and orphans who Melyah Washtzina supported with donations during her life were crying and very sad. Of the rest, she also contributed much money to yeshivas in Israel.

An article in “Eber Wohlyn”, number 181 (721) on the memory of Dr. T. Hertzl

Traditionally they had a memorial ceremony in which all of the Zionist representatives took part. This time it was the 28th year since the death of the leader Theodore Hertzl. Many times in the past, there were clashes between the different youth parties. Even this year there were attempts by the leftist groups to interfere but the presidents of the groups succeeding in quieting the people and the ceremony went on without interruption.

The ceremony was organized by Avraham Weitznodel from Rovno and other speakers were: Yitzchak Weisman from Beitar, Zev Washtzina from “Hachalutz (The Pioneers)”, and the very impressive speaker Dr. Gurin. The member Hershel Shpilsher read a protest against the obvious intention of the British not to keep their promise to establish a national Jewish home in Israel.

The ceremony was concluded with the singing of Hatikvah.

An article in “Eber Wohlyn”, number 32 (735) on a fight between political parties on Simchat Torah

Traditionally, for the last few years, the young Zionists of the town would get together to celebrate Simchat Torah in the auditorium of the “Tarbut” school.

From the auditorium of the school you could hear loud and happy singing from the Zionist youth. But suddenly a fight broke out between parties that were restrained by the strong discipline of the Beitar youth who prevented fighting among brothers.

Here is what happened. The youth of Beitar, Group A, happy in celebrating the holiday, started to dance the hora. Immediately, curious people from the town clapped hands and encouraged them. Unfortunately there appeared a number of youth from “Hashomer Hatzair” who interrupted the singing and dancing with yells and screams. And so it went from words to fighting. Adults from Beitar got involved and succeeded in separating the youth and stopping the fight.

Most of the Jews of the city in attendance protested the provocation by the youth of “Hashomer Hatzair”. Many of the parents decided to take their children out from this movement.

An article in “Mament” from December 1933 on the big petition against the British mandate decree in Israel

In the big synagogue in town there was a protest against the British mandate decree in Israel. In memory of Leo Mitzkin every assembled stood on their feet for a few moments of silence.

During the event there were speeches by: Yitzchak Weisman, deputy leader of Beitar, Betzalel Shpritz, and Yaakov Petashnik. The cantor, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Kryzer said the “me sheberach” prayer for the Zionist prisoners in Zion and Betzalel Shpritz read the decisions that came out of the gathering:

“This great general gathering expresses its deepest protest against the British mandate decrees in Israel which reverses the former promises to help establish a national home for the people of Israel in the land of Israel, and calls on the Zionist leadership to act immediately to prevent these drastic consequences.”

[Pages 119-122]

Illegals to Israel: Stepan 1939

by Yeshayahu Peri

When the Soviets entered the town in 1939, Beitar activists understood that they could no longer function under the Soviet authorities. So, some young Beitar activists decided to do everything possible to get to Israel.

Among them were Motel Rasis and Nunya Hochman, who turned to Romanian border and after much difficulty made it to the land of Israel. Nunya Hochman, z”l, later on died in battle fighting the Germans in the Italian frontier. Meanwhile, Shimon Rosenfeld, Zvi Rosenfeld, Chaim Hochman and Zvi Gorenstein crossed the border from Russia to Lithuania. First they lived in Vilna and then they moved to Panevezys.

Right after Lithuania was captured by the Russians, some immigrants tried to contact the western embassies before they evacuated Lithuania, hoping to get out of Lithuania through their borders. Those who did that were captured by the Soviets and sent to Siberia. Fear of this caused many others to avoid this option. Shimon Rosenfeld tried to contact the British consulate in Moscow and request a visa claiming that he had a certificate from Turkey. But the Soviet authorities caught him and put him on the train to Siberia. This was in 1941 after the war between Russia and Germany had started. This train was bombed and he succeeded in running away but later he was beaten to death by nationalistic Lithuanians.

-- Under the Picture –
Activists in the Beitar Organization in Stepan

Additional Details about the Illegals from Stepan – Shimon Rosenfeld--
From the Book by Chaim Lazar, “Destruction and Resistance”

Rosenfeld, Shimon, a Beitar member from Wohlyn.
A Polish refugee who came to Lithuania in 1939. He was a counselor in Beitar of Panevezys. He was arrested by the Russians and was about to be sent to Siberia because of his Zionist activity. When the war started he was liberated from the Lokisky prison in Vilna. He was in touch with the Beitar member of Vilna. He died during the provocation in the summer of 1941.

One day I met Shimon Rosenfeld, a young man who ran away from Stepan in Wohlyn to Lithuania in 1939. I hadn't seen him for more than a year. His pants were torn and his upper body was covered with a worn shirt. He was nearly barefoot and he looked very hungry.

He tells me that a few months earlier the Russians arrested him and suspected him of Zionism. They put him in the Lokisky prison and interrogated him many times. Two days before the war started, they put him on a train with a few dozen other people who were about to be deported to Siberia. They never had the chance to make it there because the Germans started to bomb the town and particularly the train station. Bombs fell from every direction and the prisoners thought that they would die from the bombing.

After two days silence prevailed and the prisoners noticed that there were no guards. They broke out of the train car and escaped for their lives. Shimon was hosted by one of the Jews who was a prisoner with him on the train. He lived on Rechov Hazagagim – The Street of Glaziers (Galezer Gaz).

After two days, Shimon Rosenfeld came to me completely wounded. Two days earlier he and some other Jews were captured by the Lithuanians and were brought to Lokisky prison. At the entrance to the prison, they passed between two long lines of Lithuanians armed with iron and rubber sticks, and they hit them brutally with no mercy. Whoever didn't have the strength to withstand until the end, was beaten to death.

They repeated the beatings between the gates and between the inner courtyards. After a basic inspection, they were pushed into a courtyard which was crowded with Jews. It was so crowded that you couldn't move. Anything that you had to do, you did in your place. The suffocation was great.

-- Under the Picture –
Shimon Rosenfeld z”l

From time to time the Lithuanians opened the gates demanding gold and money from the prisoners and each time they kept beating the prisoners on their heads. The prisoners started to run away but there was no room and they crashed into one another.

The next day they took the prisoners to the main yard and ordered them to climb on trucks that were ready to go away. Shimon was already on a truck when suddenly a fancy car stopped by and a German came out and read names of Jews from a list in his hand. These Jews were separated from the others. When the German called a name that wasn't answered, Shimon decided to answer as it was him. After a few minutes, the German took out “his” Jews from Lokisky and he sent them to work. Shimon was very happy that he survived a definite death. But the miserable man didn't know that this was a temporary relief.

There is no evidence about the rest of the group of members, except for Zvi Rosenfeld who fled to Russia before the Germans entered Vilna. He survived and lives today with his family in Israel.

-- Under the Picture –
The Beitar Group in Stepan during the 1930s

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