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[Col. 779]

The General Zionists

Yakov Tabakhovitch

Translated by Janie Respitz

There were hardly any anti –Zionists among the established families in New – Sventzian. Even Rabbi Kimchi openly proclaimed an affiliation to “Mizrachi” and participated in all the activities for the good of religious Zionism.

The main workers for the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund were simple Jews for whom Zionism was interwoven into their daily spiritual and even religious lives. Jewish mothers, after the Balfour Declaration, before candle lighting on Shabbat and holidays,

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would toss more coins in the JNF box than in other charity boxes. They did this in the hope of quickening the redemption and be freed from the difficult exile.

The following was often heard: “give, my husband, to the Zionist fund. Today we will forfeit our lunch”. JNF boxes were full at the homes of Basia Tabakhovitch, Soreh Kruz, Khasai Pupisky, Shifra Kavarovsky, Rokhl Lipnholtz and others. All of these devoted people were not organized, but participated in all Zionist activities in town.

The organizational work was done by

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the youth organizations like Shomer Hatzair and He Chalutz.

When the Polish authority began to control the activity of the Zionist organizations, they began to organize under the name “General Zionists”.

To achieve this goal, a meeting was called in 1931 in the home of Velvl Pupisky. A committee of three was formed: Velvl Pupisky, A. Feygl, and Yakov Tabakhovitch. It was decided to activate the fund to raise money to help people emigrate, and support the Tarbut School. In order to do this, it was decided to merge with the existing youth Zionist organizations. Thanks to the help of the members Gershon Gurvitch, Nakhman Libman, Feyge Soltaysky, Rivka Katz, YItzkhak Levinshteyn and others, funds were raised. Most households in New – Sventzian contributed to the JNF. They collected more than other towns in the region.

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Fund raising Bazaars and lotteries were held in the Folk –Shul. All the Jews in town participated.

To raise money to help those in need emigrate, people went door to door, and staged performances. Thanks to these efforts many of the less fortunate were able to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

In 1934 the only chapter of “He Chalutz Workers” was founded in New– Sventzian. They were connected to the General Zionist central office in Warsaw. Because of our great accomplishments we received two certificates. This was quite a success considering the lack of certificates.

All the events of the Zionist organization were carried out by the leadership of the in the name of the General Zionists, thanks to the stamp and signature of the chairman Velvl Pupisky and secretary Yakov Tabakhovitch.

 

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HaShomer HaTzair – Departure of Rivka Levin to Eretz Yisrael, 1935

I Lying down: ____, Kryane Gordon, Yitzkhak Shmulevitch
II Kneeling: Rivka Fleisher, Zamke Broyde, Rivka Levin, Yudke Troytze, Soreh Klotshko
III Standing: Shmuel Gevenda, Libe Zakh, Mulke Gevenda, Feyge Soltaysky, Feyve Karpas, Gershon Gurvitch, Binyomin Rabinovitch, Lipke Shmulevitch, Bayle Zakh, Zalman Rudnitsky, Soreh Elperin</font>


[Col. 803]

The “Ha Shomer Ha Tzair”

Yitzkhak Gurvitch

Translated by Janie Respitz

 

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The year was 1929. Moniek Tenenvurtzl came to New – Sventzian from Keltz to visit his brother who was a dentist. He used the opportunity to found a chapter of “Ha Shomer Ha Tzair”. The first meeting took place in the forest, under the open sky.

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When it got to cold, they met in the home of Velvl Pupisky. His children, Tzadok, Leybl, Yosl and Rivka were among the first members of the organization. Besides them, the others who joined were: Yete Karovsky, Miriam Shutan, Dvoyre Elperin, Henia Aronovitch, Gershon Gurvitch, Dovid Katz, Eliyahu Bak and others.

Together with the older group,

 

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Ha Shomer Ha Tzair – 1930

Sitting: Leah Gurtich, Hirsh Broyde and Zamke Broyde, Mila Katz, Shloyme Itsilkovitch, Yitzkhak Shmulevitch, Zamke Rudnitsky, Ruven Abelevitch, Motl Wolfson, Soreh Klotshko
Kneeling: Mule Gavende, Moshe Kliatchko, Gedalia Katchelnik, Avrom Gubesky, Note Kimkhi, Yitzkhak Katchelnik, Dubke Shutan, Zelig _____, Hirsh Gildin, Khaim Bak, Feyge Soltaysky
In the middle: Soreh Katz, Nakhman Libman, _____, Gedalia Gurvitch, Dovid Rudnitsky
Standing: Teme Kisberg, Bluma Gurvitch, Nakhman Tzepelovitch, Tirza Shutan, Rokhl Leah Katz, Sholem Katz, Regina Ruditsky, Khaya Rudnitsky, Gershon Gurvitch, Yitzkhak Levinshteyn, Rokhl Sinderovsky, Pinkhas Singalovsky, Rivka Katz, Yose Elperin, Yakov tabakhovitch, Dovid Katz, Yakov Kliatchko, Yose pupisky, Leyb Brydo, Hirsh Mirman, Golde Ginsburg

[Col. 805]

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Ha Shomer Ha Tzair – The Group on Their Way

I Standing: Hirsh Portnoy, Yosef Kovarsky, ___, Rivka Pupisky, Potoshnik, Dovid Katz, Kharmatz, Yakov Kliotshko, Yitzkhak Gurvitch, Hirsh Gildin, Muleh Katz
II Sitting: Bluma Gubesky, Rivka Katz, Golde Ginsburg, ___,___, Yitzkhak Levinshteyn
III Lying: Feyge Soltaysky, Teme Kisberg, ___, Avrom Kharmatz, Rokhl Singalovsky, Yoske Pupisky

 

two younger groups were formed. Their members included: Hirsh Gildin, Dovid Gubesky, Yitzkhak Gurvitch, Bluma Gurvitch, Golde Ginsburg, Shmuel Katz, Yosef Lapidot, Gavriel Wolfson, Yitzkhak Levinshteyn, Teme Kisberg, Rivka Katz, Feyge Soltaysky, Pesia Kurliandchik, Moshe and Yakov Klatchko, Pesia Geller, Leyb Broydo, Henekh Kovarsky, Binyomin Ligumsky, Rokhl Leah Katz and Berl Tzinman.

The Shomer Hatzair made an effort to recruit students and graduates from the Jewish School.

As Rokhl Singalovsky, Bunie Singalovsky, Bluma Gubesky, Nokhem Tsepelovitch, Yose Elperin, Hirsh Mirman, Dovid Rudnitsky, Gedalyahu Gurvitch, Shloyme Itzkovitch, Nakhman Libman, Soreh Katz, Tirtza An Kayla Shutan, Sholem Katz, Yosef and Regina Ruditzky, Khaya Rudnitsky, Hirsh Portnoy, Khayim Bak, Dovid Rudnitsky, Yitzkhak Elperin and others.

The members were active in the Tarbut School. They helped to empty the charity boxes for JNF, and for the Worker's Fund in Eretz Yisrael, in order to help the Zionist youth emigrate. Like the other Zionist organizations, HaShomer

[Col. 806]

organized a variety of programs like plays and lotteries.

Gershon Gurvitch was the leader of Ha Shomer Ha Tzair in our town.

 

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Soreh Kruz – A devoted collector for the Jewish National Fund of Israel.

All her children and grandchildren were members of HaShomer Ha Tzair

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He dedicated all his energy and his life to the organization. Besides him, others who gave a lot of themselves were: Dovod Katz, Feyge Saltaysky and Rivka Pupisky.

New – Sventzian was the district. Other towns in the district were: Sventzian, Prodbrodz, Ignalina, Duksht, Lingmian, Heydutzishik, Mikhalishok, and New– Dugelishik.

 

Lag Ba Omer Celebrations

All the towns in the district participated in the Lag Ba Omer festivities, including the younger groups and older Scouts as well as the Tarbut School with its teachers Lazar Hellerstein and Mr. and Mrs. Rufaytz.

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The meeting was held at Boyershteyn's place. It was led by Gershon Gurvitch. All the groups had to give him their reports. After the meeting there was a parade led by Sventzian He Chalutz and the worker's orchestra through the following streets: Train Street, Sventzian Street, Dolg, Kaltinya. There was great joy and enthusiasm among the Jewish population.

It is important to note, the Poles who participated in the march were firefighters of which the majority were Jews.

When we talk about HaShomer HaTzair in the New – Sventzian district, the great personality of the young Gershon Gurvitch shines.

 

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HaShomer in New– Sventzian October 27, 1928

Lying: Feyge Saltaysky, Mulke Katz
Sitting: Rivka Katz, Teme Kisberg, Rokhl Sinderovksy, Golde Ginsburg, Rivka Pupisky, Menevurtzel, Dovid katz, Hirsh Portnoy, Yitzkhak Levinsdhteyn, Gedalyahu Gurvitz, Moshe Kliatshko, Nakhman Tzeplovitch
Standing I: Tzadok Pupisky, Rivka Kovolsky, Khaya Rudnitsky, Yosef Gurvitch, Beynish Mirman, Pese Geller, Khaya Las, Bluma Gubesky,Dovid Rudnitsky, Yosef Lapidot, Yitzkhak Gurvitch, Yosef Ruditsky
II: Hirsh Mirman, Khana Elperin, Yerakhmiel Elperin, Kayla Shutan, Tirtza Shutan, Leah Wolfson, Frada Rabinovitch, Yakov Kliatshko, Gershon Gurvitch, Yeta Kovarsky, Khana Portnoy
III: Sholem Katz, Bayla Rudnitsky, Soreh Aranovitch, Dvoyreh Elperin, Shloime Tcharnebrodsky, Fruma Rozovsky, Avrom Ligumsky

 


[Col. 809]

The Song of Life and the Song of Heroism
(in memory of the poet and fighter Michael Ashbel, may G–d avenge his blood)

I. Gurion

Translated by Meir Razy

 

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And if by hanging
I will give my soul to the nation –
Do not cry.
This is my fate.

(From a poem by Michael Ashbel, may G–d avenge his blood, written in the condemned cell of the prison in Jerusalem)

 

A. Does Your Soul Want to Know?

Was this the way my fate was determined?

In “Wilhelm Meister” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the philosophers says: “A man's fate is his character”. The character of Michael Ashbel, may G–d avenge his blood, the character that forged his fate, the fate of a brave warrior, is astonishing. What was its origin? What was the spring from which he drew the great mental power for the many great battles and the serenity to sing, with enthusiasm, as he stood under the shadow of the gallows? Unconsciously, we think of the poem “Does your soul want to know?” by Chaim Nachman Bialik.

His parents' home:

His mother Judith, the daughter of Dvora and Mordechai Zack, an offspring of those orphans who were left in the Ukraine in the days of the Chmielnicki Pogroms (1648 – 1654), who were brought for adoption by Lithuanian Jewish families. The Zack family had settled in the town of Novo–Sventzian. The generations passed since those pogroms but the Jewish blood remembered, so when his mother Judith leaned over her little son's cradle and hummed a lullaby, Michael suckles the sadness of life in the diaspora and lack of safety for the Jews with his mother's milk. The milk carried a warning: “The Diaspora is never safe”.

His father Aryeh was educated in Vilna, known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. He was a national Zionist and educated his children, a daughter and two sons, Dov and Michael, guided by his Zionist principles. All three children were educated in Hebrew schools. When Michael (born February 1922) was seven years old his father introduced him to the local BEITAR[1] branch. He was the youngest BEITAR member in Vilna. He went through all the levels of the BEITAR hierarchy until he became a commander in the organization. He joined the ranks of the “Irgun Zvai Le'umi” (National Military Organization, abbreviated below as the “Irgun”), which was founded within the ranks of BEITAR and took a Commanding Officers' Training Course to prepare himself to immigrate to Eretz–Israel. However, World War II broke out. Michael fled to Russia, undergoing all the troubles and harassment a Jewish refugee in Russia was subjected to during wartime, and joined the Polish Army that was organized in Russia (The Anders Army). With this army he was able to reach Iraq. There, he deserted and continued his journey to Eretz–Israel. He then re–enlisted, this time to the Jewish underground army where he renewed his military training. Now that his wish had been fulfilled, he was ready in spirit and body, anticipating his next mission as a resistance fighter for Jewish independence in its Homeland.

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“Mike” we called him fondly. We always remember him, so familiar to all his friends and acquaintances in the underground: the cheerful “Mike”, with his singing full of joy “joie de vivre”. “Mike” loved life and exactly because he loved life so much he went to his death with peace of mind. He had this same peace of mind when a hand grenade primer detonated in his hand while he was teaching us how to use weapons in Netanya. This same peace of mind was present while attacking the British Intelligence building in Jaffa, when we attacked a train in Hadera, or during the attack on the British military camp at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv, and during a daring entry into the Lod airport, where dozens of British planes were destroyed. From that operation we still have the beautiful poem we used to sing, with enthusiasm, in the underground: “Even without the road the platoon marches.”

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He excelled in each of his activities for the underground, exhibiting heroism and courage. Let us elaborate only on his last action – the daring attack on the British military camp in Sarafend (called Zriffin in Israel), the attack that brought him to his arrest, to the gallows, to his escape and finally, to his heroic death.

 

B. In the Lion's Mouth

It was on March 6, 1946 when the residents of the Hatikva neighborhood in Tel Aviv looked in fear and rage at an abandoned Arab house in their vicinity, where British soldiers wearing the uniform of the 6th Airborne Division were assembled, and sporting red berets on their heads. Our little Sabra children called these soldiers Kalaniot (“Anemones”). The people of the neighborhood were very experienced. The concentration of “anemones” in the area meant searches, harassment and even arrests. This time the neighborhood residents were incorrect. The “Anemones” were soldiers of the Irgun Zvai Le'umi (the National Military Organization, known in Hebrew by its acronym Etzel). They prepared for a bold penetration, in broad daylight, into the largest British military camp in the country – Sarafend.

The British army stored a large quantity of weapons in the camp's warehouses, British weapons that the Irgun needed to fight the British. The best of the Irgun's soldiers and its most experienced commanders were mobilized for this operation. The commander of the operation was Yehoshua Zand, the future hero of the celebrated liberation of Jaffa. His deputy was Dov Cohen, “Shimshon” being his underground code–name, the hero who, a year later, would break into the Acre Fortress jail and release the Irgun's imprisoned members. “Mike”, of course, was not absent from the list of attackers.

At noon, when most of the soldiers in the camp were having their lunch, a “military” vehicle approached the camp's gate. The “British Officer” in the cab presented the guards with an “Entry Permit to the camp for the purpose of transporting weapons to another camp.” The guard did not suspect anything. The printing service of the Irgun excelled in meticulous precision. The gate opened wide, the car with the symbol of the unit – a green tiger, drove straight to the central warehouse and the “Anemones” began loading the truck with weapons and ammunition. A British officer who happened to be in the storeroom was ordered to surrender and to lie on the floor. He was puzzled. He, too, did not recognize the difference between the soldiers of His Majesty the King and the soldiers of His Majesty the Hebrew Revolt. However, a sentry at one of the observation posts began to suspect that something was not right and fired warning shots. There was panic in the camp among the British personnel. None of them knew who to fight with as the “burglars” were wearing the same uniforms. However, the loading of the weapons was stopped and a withdrawal order was issued.

The burglars quickly left the camp after they exploded many weapons depots. The British chase was unsuccessful and the fighters were able to hide the weapons and disperse according to plan. Three of the wounded were taken from the camp and received medical treatment in Tel Aviv, and the two more seriously wounded, Michael Ashbel and Yosef Simchon, were taken to Rishon Le Zion.

[Col. 812]

On the way they encountered a British squad that was searching the area. The British noticed the blood from their wounds. The two, along with the girls who gave them first aid, Zipora Flumin and Shulamit Shmueli, were arrested and brought to the prison of Jaffa. That same night they were operated on, and a few days later they were transferred, for security resons, to the hospital by the Jerusalem Central Prison. The two girls were transferred to the Bethlehem detention camp without any trial, on the basis of the “State of Emergency Laws.”

Being captured and imprisoned was only the end of the first act for them. The second act, no less heroic, and in many aspects, exceeding the first act, had just begun. Simchon was very young at the time of the attack. Ashbel was not identified by any of the British military men from the camp as a participant in the attack. Both had a chance of a light sentence by following a regular legal defense line. The leadership of the Irgun left the decision in their own hands, but they rejected this line! For them it was a deviation from the principles of a fighting force.

The British government published “The Emergency Laws” in 1945, stating that a man caught carrying arms would be sentenced to death. The Irgun, in response, replied that hangings would be answered with hangings and that an underground soldier who falls into British hands must be treated as a prisoner of war.

The trial of Simchon and Ashbel was the first to be conducted under “The Emergency Laws” and they both decided to turn the court into the “second act”: The courtroom must become a battlefield with the British. The Irgun leadership confirmed their position.

 

C. The Battle Continued

As soon as the hearing started the Defense Attorney, Max Krichman, announced he was leaving the Defense. The defendants do not recognize the legality of the Court or its ability to conduct a just trial. The British Military Court was surprised. The president of the tribunal, Colonel Pell, an unmistakable anti–Semite, angry at “Jewish chutzpah,” warned that the consequences of such a move will be harsh, but Michael Ashbel stated: “We will not answer questions. We refuse to participate in this trial. We have no interest in it.”

From then on, the proceedings became a comedy of hypocrisy. One witness after another ascended and descended from the witness stand. They described the attack and the destruction of the weapons the attackers did not have time to take. None of them recognized Ashbel as one of the participants, but this was of no importance to the British Court, who did not determine the “verdict”. The “verdict” was dictated by their superiors. The sessions lasted for a day and a half and on June 13 the prosecutor, Colonel Campbell, summed up the prosecution's statement. Both prisoners made strong political statements. Simchon was the first one to speak.

Ashbel spoke after him (sections):

“We do not recognize your laws. Just as no citizen who loves freedom refuses to accept a regime that has turned his country into a big prison, its citizens to prisoners or to candidates for the gallows, and whose rulers are executioners…

Your superiors established this terrorist regime.

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They want to break the spirit of our people who are fighting for their existence and for the future of their children. They want to force us to accept the fate of a scattered and enslaved people that can be murdered and trampled–on…

But all your efforts are in vain…

A just aspiration and a yearning for freedom cannot be suppressed…

There is no injustice without punishment…

And if your rulers have robbed our country and brought their barbaric and tyrannical laws upon it, it is a sign that G–d has deprived them of the ability to think straight and has blinded them, so He can remove them from the stage of history…

Whatever happens, you will not be able to break the will of the Jewish people. You cannot destroy the desire for liberty that fills the hearts of all its sons. The statement we have made here will serve as one example among many, that you will not be able to break the will of six hundred thousand Jewish citizens united in the struggle to liberate their country from bloody British rule.

(“The Trial” took place at a time when the Haganah also participated in the war against the British, a period known as the “Resistance Movement.”)

The trial was a question of prestige for the British government. They knew that the Irgun would not be silent about the “death sentence,” but they had to respect their own “laws”. Both prisoners were sentenced “to be hanged by their necks until their souls will leave their bodies.” The two prisoners sang “Hatikvah” as loud as they could and all the Jews in the audience joined.

 

D. British Hostages

The Prison Death Cells differ from the other prisoners' cells. It has only one adjacent cell: the gallows. From the moment the prisoner was dressed in purple he knew that this was the end, that he was already living between two worlds. Rabbi Aryeh Levin and lawyer Max Krichman visited Ashbel and Simchon and wondered at their peace of mind, their supreme heroism inside the death cell. In a secret letter that they smuggled “out” Simchon wrote:

“It turns out that during the two days I was in solitary confinement, I never thought about my imminent death.”

And Ashbel wrote: “I am waiting for the gallows, confident that I did not disappoint my commanders… I fulfilled my oath to the Irgun.”

He spent the next few days documenting his prison life in a diary and writing poems, one of which would eventually become the favorite of the underground. This is the song “Alei Barrikadot” (=On the Barricades) part of which appears as the opening at the beginning of this article.

This, however, was not the case with the Irgun's leadership. The condemned had resigned themselves to death by gallows. The Leadership – did not!

On the same day that the “death sentence” was announced, the organization's radio station, “Kol Zion Halochement” (=The Voice of Fighting Zion), broadcasted another warning to the British: “Do not hang our captured soldiers. In G–d we swear that we will break your gallows. Your gallows will be answered by our gallows.”

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And indeed, only five days after the British “sentencing” and the organization's warning, on the afternoon of June 18, a group of Irgun fighters entered the dining room of the Hayarkon Hotel where two dozen British officers were eating lunch. They ordered the British to stand and put up their hands, took the five highest ranked officers from among them and disappeared, all within a few minutes.

At the same time, a group of fighters captured a British major in Jerusalem. He was a security officer at the British army headquarters. The British, In light of the rapid and daring response by the Irgun, were humiliated and very confused in both London and Jerusalem. Radio stations around the world stopped regular programming in order to report the arrest of the officers in the middle of the day in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. The British threatened sanctions against the Jews. The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem appealed to the population in Palestine to help the British in their efforts to free their officers. The British did not place much hope on this appeal, and they turned to the mayor of Tel Aviv with a clear threat: “They will turn Tel Aviv into ruins.” The Irgun's leadership did not respond to either the appeal or the threat. I informed the Mayor of Tel Aviv, the late Israel Rokach, that as long as the lives of Ashbel and Simchon were in danger, the British officers would not be released. The British began realizing that their “game of prestige” was lost. As a first step – Mr. Rokach told them that if a curfew was declared in Tel Aviv, he would not be able to help handle the release of the officers. The threat of curfew was removed from Tel Aviv. The British were ready to make concessions.

The talks between the British and Mr. Rokach continued for sixteen days. They tried to bargain in the hope that they would still be able to release the officers without promising to lift the “sentence”. The British executioner was thirsty for the blood of Ashbel and Simchon. Searches were conducted throughout the country. In Jerusalem, the British approached the shelter where the captured senior officer was held. The guards were forced to leave their guard–post and the officer took advantage of this and fled. In Tel Aviv, the Irgun was forced to release two officers, since their place of detention had become unsafe. The British felt renewed courage and started dragging their feet.

 

E. The shadow of the gallows is removed

Meanwhile, June 29 was approaching.

That was the “Black Sabbath” in which the British dealt a heavy blow to the Jewish Agency and its military branch – the Haganah. The Jewish Agency buildings were seized by British military personnel. All the documents were confiscated. Members of the Jewish Agency and the National Committee were arrested. Thousands of Palmach (=the Jewish military force) members were arrested and sent to jail in the Latrun military base, most of the commanders among them. Ashbel and Simchon heard about what was happening outside and their hearts were proud and joyful. The Haganah had also entered the war against the British.

Ashbel wrote: “I will give up the pardon that may be given to me if my death may serve as a unifying force for the Jewish population. Who knows better than me what is the power of a unified people can do? Our blood will determine who will rule this land.”

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Michal Asbel

 

Strangely, it was during those same difficult days that the British asked for Mr. Rokach's intervention. I was summoned to him dozens of times to report about the situation of the jailed officers. I had only one answer: when the British remove the threat of the gallows – the two soldiers will be freed. Not a moment before. At the beginning of July, the British began to show signs of nervousness and fear. It was a good sign. I added another requirement in accordance with the instructions I received from the Irgun – they demanded the lifting of the travel curfew in the country.

On July 3, at 5 pm, an official announcement was issued on the Jerusalem Radio that the commander of the British army had approved the death verdict, but the High Commissioner of Palestine had replaced the death sentence with life imprisonment. The threat of the gallows was removed from Ashbel and Simchon. The next day, after the travel curfew was lifted, the three British officers were brought to SHADAL Street in a box that had been unloaded from a truck that managed to leave the place immediately. Everything was done very quickly. I informed Mr. Rokach about the release so that he would be the first person announcing the British officers' release.

That evening, the scarlet garments were removed from Ashbel and Simchon. They left the death cell and joined their comrades in one of the regular cells in the central prison in Jerusalem.

 

F. The Death of Michael Ashbel

They were both wounded in the daring operation in Zriffin. They were both captured. They were both sentenced to death. There was a fierce and bitter war over their lives, which was crowned with victory. The two remained in the central prison in Jerusalem for a few more months, and in January 1947, they parted ways. Ashbel was suddenly transferred to the jail in the Acre Crusade Fortress and Simchon remained in Jerusalem. Ashbel lived the life of a prisoner who was sentenced to life in prison for four months, and he believed that the end of British rule in the Land of Israel was close. His imprisonment did not worry him. What did worry him was the fact that the Irgun on the “outside” was fighting for the liberation of the homeland. What about him? Would he end up rotting in jail when his help was needed elsewhere?

At the end of April 1947, the Irgun planned to break into the Acre fortress and to free dozens of prisoners. The war was at its height and the underground needed all the brave fighters and experienced commanders it could get. Michael Ashbel was, of course, on the list of fighters. The Irgun needed him.

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On May 4, 1947, one of the legendary heroes, Dov Cohen, known by his underground name “Shimshon”, stormed the fortress of Acre at the head of three dozen members of the Irgun, disguised as British soldiers. They pierced a hole in the walls through which 41 soldiers and commanders of the Irgun and Lechi escaped under the cover of fire. One of their rescue cars encountered strong resistance from a British company. A fierce battle developed and “Shimshon” ordered the fighters to disperse in the fields. He himself gave them cover with a “Bren” machine gun. The British were forced to stop chasing after the escapees, many of whom were wounded and could not get too far. Their car had holes punctured by dozens of bullets. “Shimshon” was also wounded.

The British approached the wounded. Again, they were wounded prisoners. Perhaps the British would behave properly and take them to hospitals. But the British did not think about that. They gathered the wounded one by one from the field and brought them to the road. Is this the end? Ashbel has not finished the battle as long as he was alive. He continued fighting the only way possible for him now: “We'll show them again” he whispers to Shimon Amrani, who was dying next to him. A bus carrying Jewish passengers was stopped nearby by the British. Ashbel, with his last strength, raises his voice and shouts to them: “Jews, see how we fight for you.” One of his friends, relatively lightly wounded, tried to help Ashbel' who smiled at him: “Everything is fine with me. They will taste my “violin” (=rifle), Shimon's condition is worse, try to help him.”

But he was dying.

The blood was draining from his body while the British stood around him. None of them provided any help and they even prevented others from giving medical assistance. Ashbel felt that his strength was eroding, that these were his last few moments. He reached to Mendel Blilkowsky who was lying next to him and smiled: “We played enough, time to say goodbye. I started with the “Anemones” and I will end with the “Anemones”. Give my regards to our friends. Tell them to continue. It will be good”. And he closed his eyes forever.

Thus a poet and a warrior lived and died. The smile on his face remained even when the British placed a military blanket over him and covered him. His turbulent soul was put to rest in the common grave of the heroes of the attack on the Acre fortress with their commander, “Shimshon”, in the cemetery of Moshav Shavei Zion.

We will remember him all the days of our life on earth, on this part of our homeland, liberated from the oppression of foreigners by the blood of Michael Ashbel, G–d will avenge him and his comrades – heroic fighters of the Hebrew underground.

His name will be cherished forever.
R.I.P.


Footnote:
  1. \BEITAR – Hebrew contraction for “The Alliance of Yoseph Trumpeldor” was founded by Jabotinsky in Riga, Latvia, in 1923 with the mission of fostering a new generation of Jews thoroughly indoctrinated in nationalistic ideals and trained for military action against all enemies of Judaism Return


[Col. 817]

The Sports Club and Its Competitions

Yitzkhak Gurvitch

Translated by Janie Respitz

As soon as the Poles took over our town they founded a Polish Patriotic Union (Z.B.K). It's members organized a sports club with a separate section for football (soccer).

Due to their influence, a Jewish Football team was created which competed against the Polish team as well as other Jewish teams in the region, particularly the Sventzian Maccabee team.

The first members of the New Sventzian team were: Mulieh Berman, Sasha Kisberg, Aharon Boyershteyn, Zalman Bernstein, Leyzer Gordon, Avrom Gordon, Yehoshua Katz,Moshe Elperin, Eliyeh Shaftman, Yisroel Gurvitch, Nakhman Cohen and others. In 1937/38 it was decided to revive the team to show our strength. We divided up into two separate teams, “Maccabee” and “Ha Poel”.

To accomplish this, a committee was formed consisting of: Nisn Las, Dovid Kimkhi, Leyb Fingerhoyt, Gershon Gurvitch, Yudl Gordon, Aharon Boyershteyn, and Asher Bitshunsky. The committee decided to form an apolitical sports club, which would be connected to “Maccabee” from Vilna. This club was divided into the following sections: Football, cycling and swimming.

The captain of the Football team was: Asher Bitshunsky.

The players were: Aharon Boyershteyn, Leyb Fingerhoyt, Yosef Zak, Yudl Elperin, Yitzkhak Levinshteyn, Chaim Rabinovitch, Itze Moshe Tzinman, Mulke and Yudke Troytze, Avrom Gubesky.

The leader of the cycling section was Chaim Rabinovitch, the sim section – Bayla Katz.

[Col. 818]

Because of the fierce anti–Semitism felt by the Polish youth, “Maccabee” had to leave their previous location which was in a Christian neighbourhood. In order to carry out normal activities, they purchased land near the mill in Finfelke, cleared the area of the small trees and played there.

Before every match we hung posters in Polish and Yiddish announcing who would be playing. The Jewish community was helpful. The beadles from the synagogue, Elyeh Meir and Yose Cohen gave us benches. Yose Tzinman, Avrom Kliatchko and Chaim Fine carried the benches back and forth. The older generation helped the youth as much as possible.

The Jewish community came out en masse to watch the Football matches. Mothers and children would enjoy the fresh air, forgetting their daily troubles and taking pride in the strength of the of the Jewish kids playing.

The matches were played against “Maccabee” and “Ha Poel” from Sventzian, and Jewish teams from Brodz and Ignalina.

When the Soviets took over the region, the Jewish sports club became a part of the Phys – Culture organization. Now the Jewish teams in New Svetzian played against other Jewish teams from Soviet Lithuanian towns like Utian, Salok, Maliat and others. The fate of the athletes was the same as everyone else's. The nails of the human – beasts found everyone.

May their memory be a blessing.


[Col. 819]

Yitzkhak Gordus

Translated by Janie Respitz

As these last pages of the New Sventzian memorial book were going to print, we received the sad news of the passing of one of our most devoted cultural activists and teacher in the Jewish school, Yitzkhak Gordus, may he rest in peace.

In the chapter about the teachers and fighters for the Jewish school, we spoke about the great personality, Yitzkhak Gordus, who until the Second World War fought for Jewish culture in our region. We told of his devotion and activity, and we hoped he would receive our book, the memorial of our destroyed town

 

Sve0819.jpg
Yitzkhak Gordus

 

where he lived, and gained so much recognition and love.

We remained in contact with him the entire time and felt his enthusiasm for our work. Each one of his letters was filled with excitement. When he heard the book was going to be printed we wrote to us: “…you are doing holy work. Your efforts should be strengthened and blessed as they eternalize the beauty of the Jewish life in the region of Sventzian, as well as its fateful end. The publication of this book will be a great event, one of the most important of my life”.

Unfortunately he did not live to see the day that for us will be a great happening. He will not be able to read, after so many years of separation, the heartfelt tributes written by his students about their teacher, the good hearted Yitzkhak Gordus, the educator of an entire generation of Jews from New Sventzian, who saw him as a dear father.

Up until the Second World War he actively worked for the national interests of the Jewish community, either as a teacher in the Jewish school or as a representative in the magistrate, a councilman, a representative of the Jewish community, active in “YEKOPO” and the central Folks Bank in Vilna. Whatever he did, he gave all his energy and idealistic passion.

The Jewish community in Sventzian that existed for a few hundred years, was familiar with talented and energetic people who they called: the intelligentsia of Sventzian. The Jewish community in New – Sventzian existed only 80 years, was much smaller in numbers and cultural activity, but always strove for great things. This was thanks to some outstanding workers, filled with idealism. Yitzkhak Gordus was one of them.

After the war he returned to Vilna where he could no longer carry out his work among the Moishelekhs and Shloimelekhs, (Jewish children) in his mother tongue, Yiddish, which he loved so much. He began working in the Russian school for which he earned the highest Soviet honour, the Order of Lenin. But this did not quiet his longing for his roots. He was and remained a passionate nationalist Jew until the end of his life. He died suddenly on December 15, 1963.

We will never forget him!

 

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