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For me those times were…

A shtetl just like all the other shtetls. A heap of wooden houses on a little hill. Short streets with long names. The official names are Polish, but in practice they are the same Russian names as in the past. But what do you need the street name for? Such and such son of such and such, such and such wife of such and such. There are no secrets - the man, his family, his job, his connections and his daily business. There's no need for a surname either; the nickname alone is sufficient. Even a baby in the cradle knows it: Moyshe palubke [covered wagon],Yankl der hoz [the hare], Ichie der burak [the beetroot] and so on. And if he doesn't have a nickname he will be called by the name of his occupation: Borukh der kovel [the blacksmith], Yosl der sherer [the barber]. Just a Jew, a simple Jew who makes do with what little he has.

Of course they make a living the same way as all the Jews: as shopkeepers, small traders, butchers and tradesmen. The common trades are: cobblers, tailors, carpenters and masons. There are many working in each of these trades. But there are some less common trades, including some single-handed ones: one barber, one tinsmith, one chemist, one hat maker, one bath attendant and, on another level - one rov. But let's not forget to mention the doctor and the photographer. A doctor for a certificate when you are ill and a photographer for state registration documents. However these two are from the 'Goys'. It's better for Jews if they don't need to go and see them. May God spare us from both of them.

Endless wide open spaces surround the little hill on which the shtetl stands. These open spaces are full of goodness: green fields, dense woods, fast-flowing rivers, quiet ponds and meadows in bloom. On summer Sabbaths young people flood here, in groups as well as in couples and by themselves. The rivers bustle with swimmers, orchards hum with those going out for a stroll, meadows whisper with dallying couples. The river in particular is always teaming with life. In winter groups skate on sledges or simply on blocks of ice. In spring groups sail in fishing boats along the broad stretch of water, which flows and spreads wide. In summer many go bathing and swimming in various styles.

Here, in the long summer Sabbaths in those spacious meadows, many a youthful dream is nurtured. Many a hidden spark of passion catches fire reading Bialik's[237] poetry or Shimonovych's[238] idylls or Masada by Lamdan[239] or strolling happily along paths through the verdant fields. Many a spark is lit in their hearts at the sight of Goy farmers ploughing, sowing and harvesting.

In the same meadows children from the rov's school would light their bonfires in order to roast wild pears, fruit growing in the cemetery on the bank of the river. In later years the same children would build similar bonfires on lag ba'omer[240] and on caf tamuz, singing and dancing round the fires and dreaming their dream of a return to Zion.[241]

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World of the Fathers

A Jewish shtetl like all the other Jewish shtetls. Over the pious world of the older generation hover piety and respect for others. Chassidic sects, each with its own synagogue, its own rebbe and its own cantor. And there is no joy in the shtetl like the joy on the days when the rebbe comes to visit, especially on the Sabbath: many Chassidic visitors, communal meals, festive prayers, enthusiastic dances and charity banquets. Young boys and youths, in groups or by themselves, hang on to the corners of their fathers' clothes. With staring eyes they open their mouths, lift their legs and join the dance, stamp their feet, grab 'leftovers'[242] - and wonder...

Then there are the children from the rov's cheyder. Each cheyder and its own level of teaching. One for beginners, for Hebrew, a second for Chumash[243] and Rashi[244], a third for Gemara.[245] At times the chadorim are united to form a Talmud- Torah[246], in which there is also a teacher for several general/elementary subjects – arithmetic, Hebrew, Polish, history and so on. A Tarbut[247] school has also existed for some years, but it is specifically for girls. Each cheyder has its own way of teaching, passed down from previous generations. Taken together they represent all the types of education practised in the Jewish world in the preceding generations.

Over everything hovers the spirit of ancient Israel. Israel, the Land of Israel, the Torah and God the Holy One blessed be He are one. God is far away, above the seventh heaven. But he is there - love him, fear his countenance and keep his commandments.[248] The Torah itself is in the Ark of the Covenant – honour it and guard it. On Simkhat Torah[249], if for a brief moment you have managed to hold the Torah in your arms how happy and fortunate you are! Israel, that means the Jews in this shtetl and in neighbouring shtetls. But the Land of Israel? What is it? Where is it and what is in it? It was near and far away at the same time.

Day by day and hour by hour you got to know it, read its name in prayers, in studies and in melodies. But at the same time it was also incomprehensible, strange, far off, concealed and mixed up with many obscure concepts, like the hills of darkness, Sambation[250], the resurrection of the dead, the transmigration of souls, the Messiah and so on. You believed in all innocence that this Land of Israel was far away at the end of the spaces, beyond the seven seas, a desert ruled by the Dark Arab, and that there was no way out of it or into it. Only at the end of days the Messiah would bring us there with the blast of a trumpet and the sound of a ram's horn.

One's heart swelled and throbbed with tales from the Bible about Israel sitting securely on his land: 'Every man under his vine and under his fig tree'.[251] One's heart wept and tears came into one's eyes hearing the rebbe tell the tales of the destruction on the eve of Tisha b'Av.[252] And again one's heart rose with sounds of the vision of the last of the days: 'and the Lord's house…shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it'.[253]

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But between that distant past, whose beginning was happiness and peace and whose end was disaster, destruction and banishment, and the distant future of the end of days there was no bridge. The heart was torn between the past and the future and did not pause to think about the present. Something indistinct gnawed in the depths. There was something of an echo of that pain in 'These I remember: I remember and yearn for God when I see every city raised high and the City of God brought down to hell's abyss'.[254] A certain yearning grew in one's soul, with no solution.


And there came a new spirit…

Something happened in the world of the Jews: the Balfour Declaration[255], confirmation of the [British] Mandate, realisation of 'Zionismus'.[256] Things started to happen in the shtetl and in the Jewish world in general. Speeches, demonstrations, charity bowls in the synagogue, a library and so on. The shtetl was in ferment. The 'Zionisten' were everywhere. The intellectuals became Zionists. Young working people and trade apprentices were Bundists.[257]

The struggle between the sides reached boiling point, as was the case throughout the Jewish world at that time. Some were for Eretz Israel while others were for Poland; some were with Herzl while others were with Medem[258]; some were for Hebrew while others were for Yiddish; some were for the Haynt[259] while others were for the Folkstsaytung[260]. This is how it was along the whole of the frontline. The war of words raged in every street, at home and in the synagogue, as well as in the public baths.

The third side in this dispute, the 'older generation', fathers and mothers, Chassidic and pious, at first stood as if apart, continuing on their own path, but in the course of time even they were dragged into the dispute. A primary cause of that was money for aliyot[261] on festivals and for charity bowls in the synagogue. Some asked for donations on behalf of KKL[262], others asked for the needs of poor people and yet others asked for holy vessels.

And so it happened that on one occasion the Sefer Torah[263] was brought into one of the synagogues. But the various camps were unable to reach a compromise. So each camp demonstrated separately the respect it felt towards the Sefer Torah. In a long procession they accompanied the Sefer Torah to its holy place. In this procession each camp came with its own banner and signs. The Zionists with theirs: the national flag with slogans in Hebrew and flaming blue and white torches. The Bundists with theirs: the red flag with slogans in Yiddish and flaming red torches.

And the 'older generation', those closest to the occasion, with theirs: the Sefer Torah

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itself beneath the holy canopy. But all of them, all of them dancing and prancing in a circle in honour of the Torah.

The following is a true story. On Simkhat Torah[264] the dispute came to a head in the synagogue, leading to fisticuffs in front of the Ark of the Covenant. In his wrath the rov cried out: 'Let me die with the Philistines'[265], the Zionists sang 'The hands of our brethren shall be strengthened'[266] and the children from the cheyder cheered and clapped their hands. Then one of the Zionists got on to the bimah and spoke openly about the shtreymlekh[267] and the frumme ketz[268] taking it upon themselves to rule the public. He said such a thing would no longer exist among Jews in the twentieth century. And thus the shtetl seethed with excitement.

But this was in the early days, in the first years after the Balfour Declaration. In later years the various camps apparently saw the error of their ways. Bit by bit, as the young people left the follies of youth behind, they became normal like everybody else. Young men and women, both good Zionists and convinced Bundists, became good 'little homeowners', each with his own business, with his talis[269] and tefilin[270], with his own rov and his own synagogue – just as in the old days.


The Fourth Aliyah[271]

The Fourth Aliyah burst forth. With it came a great change of values. The Jewish pioneer movement flourished. Something strange came to the shtetl, strange and wondrous. It had always been the case that a son of a tradesman would also become a tradesman and the son of a shopkeeper would become a shopkeeper. Both looked around for a bride with a dowry sufficient to enable them to open a shop. Although in most cases, even after they were married, they did not in fact manage to change much in the way their fathers had done things. But note, something new happened: landlords' sons suddenly changed and became workers.

The rumour spread that there was building work ('oyfboy arbeyt') in the Land. Who was suitable for building work if not masons, carpenters and plasterers? And so the pioneers became carpenters, masons and plasterers. Not only that but they also sometimes took on extra work within the shtetl, chopping wood and drawing water, to cover the specific expenses of their organisation. Then the first training groups were set up and flourished in the neighbouring villages. In the quarries and sawmills the young pioneers did all the hard work alongside the 'Goys'. Equality and cooperation among them all; the female comrade joined in and was equal with everyone. This became a topic of conversation on everybody's lips - and they were puzzled by it.

When a pioneer came to the shtetl they would point him out. So a branch was organised and divided into two: HeKhalutz HaBoger[272] and the HeKhalutz HaTzair[273]. But they all sing and dance and make speeches and talk, arrange dances, organise plays, go out in groups for walks and travel in small bands to the nearby shtetls and towns as well as to conferences. There are visits from the headquarters

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and from the regional council, reporting and speaking about Eretz Israel, about pioneer life and about the kibbutz.

And now the first olim[274] emigrate to the Land. To begin with people talk about it in whispers: such and such, son of such and such has received 'permission' to make aliyah to the Land. No longer whispering, they say aloud: he is already preparing the paperwork. Then there is a farewell party: a feast and celebration, speeches, singing and dancing until the early hours of the morning. And in the morning the departure. The whole shtetl gathers by the house of the ole. Women crying, pioneers singing and children shouting for joy all mix together in the great wonderful bedlam of voices. Carts, cyclists and pedestrians hurry, running to accompany the ole to the nearby train station. At the train station the same picture repeats itself: crying and singing and speeches and shouts of joy mix in the hubbub. Then come the first letters from the first olim. Women standing on the thresholds of their homes, men in the synagogue and pioneers in their club all talk about and read the letters out loud. Enthusiasm for the Land continues to grow.

Every fine young man in the shtetl is a 'pioneer', without distinction of origin or who he knows or what his occupation is. The adults go by the name of Khalutz- HaBoger and the young ones by the name of Khalutz-HaTzair. But in the eyes of the shtetl there is no distinction between them; all are equal in its eyes.

The HeKhalutz HaTzair branch, 1925
From right to left standing [top row]: Simche, Eliahu Vaks, Malka Bigon, Sheynke Abelson, Reuven Kolkovsky, Sheyndl Khover, Itzhak Meir Vaks, Mindl Kolodny, Mordekhai Kolkovsky, Reuven Khover, Asher-Aaron Sher; middle row: Rakhel Vinner, Brakha Kortach, Chana Lopatyn, Tama Borovyk, Pinkhas Gelman, Lea Kortach, Chaya Vaks, Eliahu Bolyar;
Front row: Sara Miriam Katz, Golda Shtoper, Velfl Urman, Nishke Borovyk, Feygl Gutman, Pinkhas Ryzhy, Leybl Nafkhan


The pioneers' club becomes the centre of the shtetl and there is light and joy in it and singing and dancing every Sabbath eve and on holidays. Children and toddlers, pupils of the chadorim and Talmud Torah peep through the windows and the doors, imitate what the older ones are doing, make speeches, dance and even sing:

bin ikh mir a kholetzl   I am a little pioneer
a kholetzl fun Poylin.   a pioneer from Poland.
gey ikh mir in shikhalakh,   I go around in little shoes,
shikhalakh ohn zoylin.   little shoes without soles.

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And in the Hebrew version:

Khalutz, Khalutz hineni,   A pioneer, a pioneer am I,
Khalutz ro'e ruakh.   a pioneer 'vexer' of the spirit [cf. Eccles.6,9].
bli begged uvli na'al   Without clothes and without shoes
uvli 'dag-maluakh'.   and without 'dag-maluakh[275]



Thus it continued until the period of yerida began. It began in a soft hush. The letter from the Land would herald it. News concerning a letter from the Land was passed in whispers from one person to another. Then came a second letter which told about a lack of employment, a halt in construction work and so on. After that voices were raised saying there was a crisis in the Land. Haters of Zion, Bundists and devout Jews, raised their heads, the first saying the Zionist dream was false, a utopia, the others saying it was a punishment from God for forcing matters and that it was spelt out in a passage from the Bible: 'That the land spue not you out … when ye defile it'[277].

The pioneers tried to stand their ground. They maintained that it proved you couldn't build a country overnight and so on. But even among them there appeared a breach. First one, then a second, then a third turned and went wherever they could: the first to continue buying and selling in his father's home, the second simply into idleness, the third to communism. Then the first yordim[278] themselves arrived. Out of their mouths came slander against the Land. These quiet, simple Jews, who had made aliyah to the Land for an adventure, returned disappointed. Their mouths were full of imprecations and curses about how the Land was devouring its inhabitants.

Communism blossomed and flourished among the people. Again the shtetl turned into a tangle of arguments. The yored, the communist and the devout Jew formed a united front, abusing, reviling and defaming the Zionists and in particular the pioneers. The HeKhalutz and HeKhalutz HaTzair branches could not take the strain and crumbled. Only a tiny number kept the faith. Even the training kibbutzim in the neighbourhood crumbled. The Hebrew school was demolished. Hebrew speech fell silent. The library ceased to order Hebrew books; instead it made a particular point of ordering Yiddish books. In addition to that there was also a new library founded by the communists, where of course everything was in Yiddish. The value of the Zionist funds went down. If a Zionist speaker were to appear in the shtetl and make a speech he would be interrupted rudely by a mass of voices and would have great difficulty finishing his speech, at times not being able to finish at all. Hatred of Zion was triumphant everywhere.

Only here and there some sparks carried on flickering, in the expectation of being set alight once again. These were remnants of the HeKhalutz and the HeKhalutz HaTzair who guarded the flame in secret so that it would not go out. In the twilight hour at the corner of a street or at the edge of the bench in the synagogue they would tell one another in whispers about the one remaining stone-cutting training kibbutz in Klusova, alive and well, working, singing and waiting for a sign.

And so two years of Zionist yerida in the shtetl passed by. Meanwhile the children had grown up and become youths. These pupils of the cheyder, who in their childhood had peeped into the pioneers' club through the cracks of the windows and beyond the locked door and had mimicked the actions of the adult pioneers, dancing

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and singing bin ikh mir a kholetzl [I am a little pioneer] – these children, having grown up, now stood facing their destiny, the destiny of their people and the destiny of mankind as a whole. Their bewilderment was interwoven with another bewilderment, the eternal destiny of youth, the bewilderment connected with adulthood and the awakening of sexual attraction. This double and triple bewilderment was the meeting together of adolescent girls and boys, getting to know and understand mankind and man, questions of building the Land and the renewal of a nation. And thus, through various recurrences, arose the revival, the new pioneer organisation of the young people of the shtetl, with its name, the dear, familiar name: HeKhalutz HaTzair.


Boys and girls

Boys and girls in the shtetl were two separated worlds. Each world circles in its own orbit. Boys learn in the chadorim and the Talmud Torah, and girls in the school. Boys cause havoc in the shtetl: make 'wars' with Gentiles, steal fruit from the orchards, catch fish in the river, sail in boats. Girls sing on balconies, play quiet games and read books. Boys have fun swimming in the waves of the deep river. Girls, far off, paddle in its shallow waters. The boys, as soon as they grew up a bit, bought a football and on Sabbath afternoons went out to the meadows beyond the shtetl and played enthusiastically until they were exhausted. And the girls at the same time - who knows what the girls do at the same time?

The two worlds were circling in their orbits when suddenly they saw each other and here they were coming towards one another. Soon their glances meet and they are struck. Girls, out for their walks, approach as if incidentally to see the group of boys playing football. The boys' hearts are throbbing and the games become more intense. When,as if by chance, the boys approach the group of girls singing on a balcony the singing intensifies and becomes louder. When groups of boys and girls meet on the pavement the encounter will not pass quietly: snowballs are thrown, water from a nearby puddle is splashed, words are exchanged, there are mutual compliments and insults. If one of the boys happens to snatch a serious conversation with one of the girls then the matter becomes an event. His friends will be told in secret about the manner and content of the conversation and about what was discussed. She will do the same among her friends. And so meeting follows meeting and conversation follows conversation until they reach the stage of twilight walks. The young people's hearts were beating and they were drawn to one another. They didn't know why their hearts were beating or what they were drawn towards. Unclear longings were awakened for something wondrous, far and near at the same time.



A report concerning the event in Tel Hai and the death of Trumpeldor and his comrades was circulating for three or four years before it also reached the pupils of the rov in the shtetl. Before they knew who he was and what it was all about they had heard his name and they had seen his picture. In the corridor of the synagogue adult pioneers would take illustrated newspapers out of their pockets and would point him out with their finger: there he is! One of few against many strong ones. Young people and children would push forward secretly, pressing themselves in among the

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circle of adults. Standing on tiptoe they stared inquisitively at the picture and the famous words underneath: 'It is good to die for our country'[280]. In the boys' eyes he was a miracle, everything was strangely comprehensible and incomprehensible at the same time. Their hearts beat and continued to beat for something for which there was no explanation.

And thus yearnings intertwined with yearnings, becoming one. The quivering of the soul on hearing about Tel Hai and Trumpeldor and the yearning for a communal life joined together. The Tel Hai idea and Trumpeldor became the centre of inspiration for the young people. The name, containing hidden within it the embodiment of the inspiration for the idea and the attraction of an independent communal life, was on everyone's lips. In short, an 'organisation', that is to say the organisation of young people.

Joy entered the camp of teenage boys and girls. In the nearby shtetl there was a 'Trumpeldor', that is to say a youth organisation with that name, where boys and girls talked, went for walks, danced and had fun together. So that was the answer! We needed 'to make a Trumpeldor'. And so one of the 'Trumpeldorim''[281] was invited and came from the nearby shtetl to organise us.

That Sabbath in the month of Elul[282] was very festive. Boys in the synagogue and girls on the balconies whispered with enthusiasm and urgency, talking and telling one another about the organisation and about the visiting organiser. The 'comrade' visitor would stroll with boys and girls (the only one at that time who went for walks in the middle of the day in public with the girls in the shtetl) praising the organisation in our shtetl. The faces of the boys and girls were ablaze with enthusiasm. Soon they would also have a 'Trumpeldor' organisation. There was no end to the joy and the preparation. The place and the hour were set. The boys arrived early, coming from one end of the street. And the girls came a little later from the other end. The boys stood crammed together in the corners of the house, and the girls sat comfortably around the table. The opening, speeches, a committee and the organisation was established. We dispersed, each gender going its own separate way.

What had happened became known in the shtetl. It reached the ears of the rov (he was the rov/melamed of the boys in Gemara[283]). During the lesson the next day the rov's voice trembled: 'Woe to you, you rascals! What is it with you and this epicurean Trump (he meant Trumpeldor)? It is the month of Elul and you should be singing the Psalms and showing reverence' and so on and so forth. The boys lowered their eyes, tried to defend themselves, but to no avail. The voice of the rov shook and rose to a terrifying volume. The shtetl heard about the matter. Fathers and mothers joined in the battle. The boys and girls did not have sufficient strength and were defeated.


The Little Library

The Trumpeldor business fell silent. But young hearts do not know silence. The spring, blocked in one place, gushes out of another. There is a library in the shtetl known as 'the large library' with books in both Hebrew and Yiddish. It had always been in the hands of the Zionists and passed 'from generation to generation' until it came into the hands of the pioneers.

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Following the disappointment of the Fourth Aliyah and the return of emigrants to the shtetl the communists grew stronger. The quarrel broke out also in connection with the library. There were those who said the library was Zionist and belonged to Tarbut[284], and there were others who said no, because it was a general library and belonged to the whole shtetl. There were meetings, arguments and votes. In the end the Zionists gained the upper hand; they defeated the communists, and the library continued as a Tarbut library.

Young men and women followed this argument, and an idea occurred to them. Until now they had only read short books. They had also already acquired a taste for edifying literature: 'Love of Zion'[285], 'Guilt of Samaria'[286], and 'A Donkey's Burial'[287] and others of a similar nature.

But there were so few of such books in the library, and they longed to read more. Each book was devoured immediately. A second was requested, but there wasn't one. So the call went out: come let us also establish our own library. There was a joint meeting of the young men and women, fees were levied on everybody, a committee was chosen and money was collected. After a short time the first books arrived, all in Hebrew. It was called 'the little library'. A monthly reading fee was imposed. Reading in any other library was forbidden. When there weren't enough books for all the member-readers they decided to read a book in groups. First of all five at a time and after that in fours, threes and twos.

But they weren't satisfied with the monthly fees of the readers and looked for additional sources of income. In the winter they would chop trees in the homeowners' yards and draw water for the tanneries. The income was dedicated to the library. A most important source was the purimshpil[288]. It was a tradition from former times to go and visit Jewish homes in the shtetl with a 'purim play'. This tradition was adopted by the young people for their own purposes, for the sake of the library if not for ourselves. It wasn't sufficient just doing the local rounds within the shtetl; groups of actors would go into neighbouring villages. During the two days of purim they would wander from village to village along roads impassable during spring, through melting snow and on the surface of rivers packed with ice and present 'David and Goliath' or 'David and Saul' – all for the sake of the library.



To begin with the name of the new youth organisation was Kadima, that is to say a Zionist Hebrew youth organisation for independent development and social renewal. It was given this name by its organiser, a teacher in the neighbouring shtetl. From the start the educational and cultural activity was imbued with a pioneering content. The leaders – to be more precise, the female leaders - , comrades from what remained of the former HeKhalutz HaTzair, saw in the new organisation a kind of direct continuation of HeKhalutz HaTzair. It was they who gave it its pioneering character. The content of conversations, reading material, the form of the organisation – everything was stamped with this mark.

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But when on one occasion the organisation was confronted with the question of clarifying its position regarding affiliation to a national organisation an argument ensued: HeKhalutz HaTzair or HaShomer HaTzair[290]?

It was a group of boys and girls from HaShomer HaTzair in the nearby shtetl who unwittingly started this argument. This group had come to the shtetl on a walk dressed in uniform. Decorated with various marks of office, armed with banners and sticks and bugles, they walked in formation, greeting us in a loud voice. It was this group that attracted some of our people.

In connection with that the argument broke out regarding 'externality' and 'internality'. Some said all this was 'externality', which marked out the HaShomer HaTzair. We did not share this, for the spirit of HeKhalutz HaTzair was one of 'internality', self-development, renewal, studying, reading and so on. For that reason we were in favour of HeKhalutz HaTzair. Others said it was precisely because of this that our heart was with HaShomer HaTzair where everything was beautiful, there was discipline and order. In short, 'externality' was precisely what our souls craved.

And there were conversations, inquiries and arguments. One of the Klusova kibbutz people came, also two from the training kibbutz Grukhov, to explain and talk about what united and what divided these two organisations, about form and content, about internality and externality, about pioneering and 'guardism'. The issue was decided: the Khalutzim[291] defeated the Shomrim[292] and the result was announced at a joyful celebratory party – HeKhalutz HaTzair.


HeKhalutz HaTzair

The HeKhalutz HaTzair was the only youth organisation that this shtetl had ever known. All the young people in the shtetl belonged to the HeKhalutz HaTzair. To start with the branch consisted of just one age group, 16-17. But as time went on other age groups also joined, and the branch embraced all the age groups, from the age of 9-10 to 18-19, representing the movement as a whole. Each year was an age group, forming a broad educational unit. There was no further division into groups. Nor could there be, both because the number of those belonging to an age group was not too large (20-25) and also because all the young people in an age group were from the same background in respect not only of age but also their educational and cultural level. So much so that any division into groups would have been regarded as artificial, creating a division among friends.

The branch was founded precisely at the time when there was a slump in pioneering and Zionist activity, at the time of the crisis between the Fourth Aliyah and the Fifth Aliyah. Fathers and mothers became angry, even Zionists had doubts. At this time of crisis in the Land what was the point of pioneering? Had these boys and girls gone mad? But together with the anger and the bewilderment there was something akin to forbearance. 'After all they're only children – let them play a little. Eretz Israel? Training? When they've matured a bit they'll sober up.' But these 'children' treated the matter very seriously. They worked on literature and pioneering journalism, argued vigorously with parents and opponents and listened intently to anything coming from the Eretz Israel.

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was several dozen kilometres away. It was often the case that somebody from the shtetl would go there, either for work and trade or with the express intent of seeing the 'miracle'. They would talk to groups of boys and girls of the HeKhalutz HaTzair about this miracle, unique of its type. 80-100 young men and women from all corners of Poland living together, with 'gumboots' on their feet, working in the quarry and in the sawmill together with the 'Goys'. In spite of the unfamiliar surroundings and the lack of any hope of making aliyah in the near future this kibbutz was buzzing with life, with meetings, singing and dancing.

The HeKhalutz HaTzair branch, 1929


The boys and girls would listen, wonder and dream. They even began to speak openly about the matter to their parents and other Jews simply in order to force them to pay attention, for the issue was also of relevance to them. But the latter became angry and asked furiously what these urchins were getting themselves involved in. This Klosova business was complete madness. What was this longing and what was the 'joy' in it? Then there came an 'envoy' in order to recruit additional members for Klosova. The envoy spoke about Klosova, about life there, about its activities and about its hopes. Two young men, from the remnants of the former branch of HeKhalutz HaTzair, stood up and went off to Klosova. They and Klosova became the central force of attraction for the young people in HeKhalutz HaTzair and a stumbling block for the parents and the shtetl as a whole.

Many varied questions occupied the branch. The members heard and also read about topical matters and concepts and questions, the meanings of which they did not know. The questions kept coming, urgent and flustered, crowding in on one another. There was not enough time in the hours devoted to 'cultural activity' to solve them. They heard that there were political parties and trends in the wider world and among Jews and in Zionism (these also existed in miniature in the shtetl) and that each party had its own purpose and its own programme. And there were arguments and rivalries between parties.

Even within Zionism itself there were several parties, and six or seven lists appeared at a Zionist Congress. Moreover even in the shtetl there were proponents

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and supporters of each list. There was great bewilderment and with it the desire to know what kind of trends they were and what their doctrine was. They also heard – this too was talked about in the shtetl – that there were social classes among the nations and that the workers' movement had its own doctrine with its different interpretations: socialism and communism and anarchism. And within these subdoctrines there were such things as democracy and dictatorship, reform and revolution, trade unions and cooperation and so and so forth. Again bewilderment and its fruit, a thirst for knowledge.

They heard that among the Zionist trends there was a labour trend. HeKhalutz and HeKhalutz HaTzair were part of that trend. But this trend is also not that simple. Within it there were Poalei Tzion[294], PZ Right and PZ Left, Hitakhdut[295] and HaShomer HaTzair. What were they all and what were the differences?

Many of us were still attached to religious customs and tradition. When they heard that there was a religious stream in Zionism this stirred in them vague feelings for a non-secular Eretz Israel. On the other hand some people were also sometimes bewitched by the bragging of the Revisionists[296] in the newspapers: 'In blood and fire Judea fell'[297].

Certainly they had all read Bar Kokhba[298], Nir David[299], David Elrai[300] and Bironika[301]. Perhaps we shall conquer the Land by the sword as it fell…

So there were many questions concerning 'the differences'. What was the difference between PZ right and PZ left? What was the difference between Al HaMishmar[302] and Et livnot[303]? What was the difference between socialism and communism? What was the difference between reformist socialism and revolutionary socialism? And more and more.

Such questions would flow, especially in the 'free conversation', in the 'boxparty' and at the time of a 'visit'. 'Free conversation' was a conversation consisting of questions and answers, free and open. One person would ask a question and anybody was free to answer, and so a conversation developed. A 'box-party' meant an evening of questions in a non-open form. Many threw their questions into a box, they then opened the box, decoded the questions followed by the answers, i.e. the conversation.

But our favourite was the evening of a 'visit'. The visitor, who might be from the 'headquarters' or from the regional council in the nearby kibbutz or even an 'envoy' from Eretz Israel, was among friends, as if one of them. But all eyes and all attention were directed towards him, as towards someone of eminence. Many sorts of questions were asked. He, the visitor, was the 'final arbiter'.

His words were devoured, his looks absorbed. For a long time the young audience would remember the grace of his visit. His expressions would be repeated, they would come back to what he had said, they would imitate the way he had

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behaved, they would discuss his visit and would see in his whole demeanour an example and symbol. And when sometimes an argument arose later regarding one of the questions one of those present would remind the others of one of the things the visitor had said on the subject and all arguments would fall silent.


Young people at work

What do boys and girls in the shtetl do? The answer is they enter the same trades as their parents. There is a rule in the shtetl dating back generations: the sons are engaged in the same work as their fathers. And their fathers are engaged in the same work as Jews in general in the shtetls in exile: shopkeepers, traders, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers or simply artisans. In recent years a certain change has also been felt: there are more carpenters and fewer tailors, while shoemakers have almost disappeared from among the young men of the shtetl. And all of this – for what? The young people have their own answers.

Each trade in the shtetl has a purpose of its own. The young people of the shtetl felt a particular attachment to the trade of carpentry. These young men, in whom the spirit of the time and the fragrance of Eretz Israel inspired a yearning for something new and different, saw for some reason in the trade of carpentry something of greater scope, of greater physical strength, something more 'Goy'. Not only that, but this trade was associated with the building of houses and with construction in Eretz Israel. In the circumstances of the shtetl no trade was closer to 'building the Land' than carpentry.

Their attitude to the trade of shoemaking was precisely the opposite of this. There were many adult Jewish cobblers in the shtetl, but young cobblers were few and far between; not a single one of the young branch members worked in this trade. There was something of an attitude of rejection towards it. They would see in it the trade most typical of the Jewish exile, from which anybody seriously seeking something new and different would recoil. The 'Goys' sensed it and began to learn this trade, and the wheel turned full circle; shoemaking, the most 'Jewish' trade, began to pass into the hands of the Goys.

There were few tailors and blacksmiths among the young men, but on the other hand many of the young women were seamstresses. This trade was the only one available to them in the shtetl – that is if one leaves out of account housework, which every young Jewish woman did in any case. A young woman growing up in the shtetl had many needs, and since her poverty-stricken parents were unable to satisfy her needs she looked for a way of satisfying them herself. There was no other way apart from sewing. There was plenty of sewing work. As is well known, Jewish girls, although poor and although living in a god-forsaken shtetl, need many dresses, of all sorts and in all styles. Not only that. There are many Goys in the shtetl and in surrounding villages. They too, the shiktzes[304], also learned how to adorn themselves and make themselves pretty, by retaining something of the traditional Byelorussian costume and to some extent by imitating the young Jewish women. And so the work for Jewish seamstresses grew and grew. The number of seamstresses in the shtetl increased at the same time. Therefore when a Jewish daughter in the shtetl finished her obligatory studies in the Polish school in the majority of cases she turned to sewing.

The conditions of work and the hours of work are as with the young men: many hours, no wage in the first year and after that extremely low pay. A woman's wage is lower than a man's out there in the big wide world, not to mention among

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Jews in the little shtetl. The conditions of work were hard and inhuman for the young men and young women alike. They would work, as the saying goes, 'from darkness to darkness', from sunrise until sunset and then generally even longer. On winter evenings, by the light of a paraffin lamp, the employer and his apprentice would also work together for 14-15 hours a day. After all the employer was only the home-owner, himself a poor man living on small means. It is no surprise that there was no sign of a trade union, of workers' organisations or any kind of social institution in the town.

On one occasion the young workers, of all ages and from the various organisations and parties, rebelled against the employers. Pioneers, Bundists and communists joined forces to fight together for fair working conditions. They called a strike with minimal demands: shortening the hours of work, minimum wage and so on, but to no avail. The employers stood firm, not recognising any organisation and not accepting any demand. All of this whilst remaining on the most friendly of terms with the strikers. They simply maintained the one thing: they could not afford to meet the demands. The strike continued for many days and ended without anything. The strikers gave in and everything returned to how it had been previously: a meagre wage, long hours of work and every man, apprentice and employer looking after himself.

HeKhalutz HaTzair, the young age group, 1932
From right to left, top row: …, Itzhok Gutman, Rakhel Khaznchuk, Gitl Tkach, Malka Lopata, Freydl Furman, Asna- Golda Katz, Khana-Mirl Reykhman, Itzl Lopata;
Second row from top: …, Shoshana Gelman, Eliezer Lopata, Pesl Shnayder, Feygl Mayzl, Chava Nafkhan, Lea Lopatyn, Gitl Sheynman, Dvora Borovyk, Yakov Vinnik;
Middle row: Breyndl Lopata, Esther Furman, Rivka Fialkov, Breyndl Lapinsky, Berl…;
Second row from bottom: Teybl Fialkov, Lifshe Borovyk, Dvusya Shtoper, Nishke Lopata, Brakha Feldman, Esther Shuster, Sara Khaznchuk;
Bottom row: … Bolyar, Gitl …, Esther Gelman, Feygl Berman


Although these boys and girls were constant in their work and in their professions this did not prevent them from also doing their own 'pioneer' work, as they called it. They did this work together, as was customary with pioneers, for the benefit of everyone in the branch. Chopping wood for other Jews. This famous 'Goy' work was something young men of the branch pounced on; renting a room for the branch club as it didn't have one; fund-raising activity undertaken by the movement; urgent help for a member making aliyah to the Land; money for participation in summer camps and courses if there were insufficient funds and so on. They

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announced a special joint day of work, the proceeds from which were devoted to the above-mentioned causes. Then they gathered axes and saws and, like the shkotzim [Gentiles], went into the yards to chop wood. The shtetl heard about it. These new woodcutters knew their job very well so people would gladly offer them work. At the end of the day they would come direct from work to the branch club, with axes in their belts and saws over their shoulders. There was great joy, and the exalted dances and the singing spread throughout the shtetl.

An area of pasture-land for cows covering several tens of desyatins[305] was allocated to the Jews near the shtetl, between the spacious pasture-land belonging to the Goys. The plot of land was purchased with the aim of freeing themselves once and for all from the pressure of the Goys regarding pasture-land for cows belonging to the Jews. The sale process continued for about ten years. With all the means available to them, by force, via informers and through legal demands, the Goys undermined the process in order to avoid the final handover of the area to the Jews. With every legal process that ended in favour of the Jews the Goys would appeal and bring the matter to a higher court of justice.

Meanwhile funds were extorted, legal processes prepared, more and more journeys undertaken, documents written - and the area itself continued to shrink. There was uproar in the shtetl regarding the matter: general meetings, committee meetings, discussions and elections, fund-raising, visits and internal division. In the end the bulk of the land was handed over to the Jews. As a result of this there was more work, harvesting and hay-making work that their fathers and their fathers' fathers had not known. In fact this was also later handed over to the Goys. But Jews also sometimes tried their strength in this work, and the first to do this were young members of the branch.

On one hot summer's day a group of young men from HeKhalutz HaTzair went out to do hay-making. This work was particularly attractive because it was Goy work - and pioneering work in the Land. They worked energetically, sweating, as they should. At the end of the day they marched back, rakes and pitchforks on their backs, singing cheerfully, celebrating the conquest of a new branch of labour and their victory over themselves. And so to the branch club for an energetic hora[306].


Going away for training

What happened when young men and women went away for training? In the movement in Poland it was customary for young people up until the age of 18 to be members of HeKhalutz HaTzair and from then onwards to be members of HeKhalutz. Questions of training and decisions regarding who was to be sent for training were in the hands of HeKhalutz. At that time the branch did not recognise this standard separation. All of the 15-16 year olds were officially HeKhalutz HaTzair, but in reality everything concerning the Khalutz was also discussed here as a matter of course. Between the HeKhalutz and HeKhalutz HaTzair no separation was recognised or noticed. As far as they themselves were concerned and as far as the shtetl was concerned the general and one and only name for the young people of the branch was HeKhalutz. That was it.

In fact in everything relating to pioneers, whatever the matter was, the HeKhalutz HaTzair branch was involved: it sent members away for training, helped members make aliyah, stamped, distributed and read newspapers and pioneer literature, took part in HeKhalutz fund-raising and all other pioneering activities. It

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had links with both of the 'headquarters' [HeKhalutz and HeKhalutz HaTzair] and as far as it was able to it carried out the instructions of both of them equally. Envoys from both 'headquarters' and from Eretz Israel would visit the branch. In their meetings with members of the branch even these envoys would 'forget' whether they had come to HeKhalutz or HeKhalutz HaTzair. What was the difference? For surely it was one and the same idea? Why and for what purpose was there a division?

As has been said, the kibbutzim in the area exercised a special influence in the shtetl and in the branch. First and foremost there were the two large kibbutzim, Klosova[307] and Dombrovitza. Members of the branch, by themselves or in groups, would often visit the kibbutzim, on various occasions or for some special reason. On one Friday it so happened that a group of young people from the branch went from their homes on foot to the training kibbutz in nearby Dombrovitza. They spent the whole Sabbath there as 'pioneers' in every aspect of kibbutz life. On their return on foot to the shtetl they were full of enthusiasm. They sang and danced their hearts out all the way to the branch club, carrying on until they were exhausted. The visit was a source of experiences, memories, impressions and influence for years to come.

Visitors would also come to the branch from the kibbutzim, to give lectures, to recruit people for the kibbutz and to collect money for training and for aliyah. Whenever there was a meeting of branches it would take place in kibbutz Dombrovitza. Whenever a branch outing was arranged on holidays the destination was the nearby kibbutz. And the other way round: whenever the kibbutz was in need of people and 'headquarters' was not in a position to supply them envoys from the kibbutz would go to the nearby shtetls to 'snatch' those willing to be 'snatched' from the branches. Whenever it was necessary to increase the number of members going to the Land and finances of the 'joint funds' were insufficient envoys from the kibbutz would appear again in the shtetl asking for help. Meanwhile conversations, question and answer sessions and lectures would take place in the branch.

Relationships took shape, reciprocal friendships were formed. That is how the renewed exodus for training began on the eve of the Fifth Aliyah. These were difficult days for the training kibbutzim. This was evident particularly in the lack of aliyah. An envoy came to the branch from Klosova asking for members to join the kibbutz in order to fill the places of those leaving and of the few making aliyah. It was that extremely harsh winter of 1928-29. Cold, frost and heavy snows carried on throughout the winter. How, in this of all winters, would young men and women go away for quarrying and sawmill work in Klosova?

The feelings of confusion grew in the branch. Two of the older ones stood up. Together with the envoy they left their homes for Klosova that very day. As if that were not enough, several weeks later a second envoy came to 'snatch' for a second time. Again the feelings of confusion in the branch intensified. By this stage those left were only 15- and16-year-olds. Who at that age can find the strength, in such a winter and in those conditions, for the labour and hard life of Klosova and not end in failure, thereby bringing disgrace on the branch as a whole? Feelings ran high and there were many arguments. These claimed this and those claimed that. The envoy tried to encourage, to enthuse, to convince. It seemed he was right, but boys and girls, in their instinctive fear and in their mumbled and naive words, were also right.

What was the solution? One of the youngest stood up and announced that he would volunteer. There was relief in the room and admiration for the young volunteer. But for all that doubt and fear gnawed. It was forbidden to let anyone in the shtetl, apart from members of the branch, know about his preparations for departure. In particular it was forbidden to say a word to his parents, for they would

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for certain keep him locked in and cause trouble for the branch. The matter was kept entirely secret. On the same night in which his departure was to take place a kind of secret rejoicing reigned in the branch club. They danced and sang as if on a normal evening, but at the same time in the corners of the room they whispered to each other while they helped with the preparation for the departure. It was a clear cold night. With their departure from the club the celebratory tension increased. Columns of people passed by in the darkness of the night after the boy had left on foot to the train station. The tension increased with his departure.

His older brother, who at the last moment had been informed about the departure of his young brother, caught up with him on the way in order to take his leave of him. The moment of parting between the two brothers was moving and painful. The older brother handed the younger a pair of tefilin[308]. This, in his words, was a sign and token of remembrance of his father and mother's house, to which he would never return. The hearts of the young people throbbed and trembled as if the young man were going to the other side of the world. Hands were clasped tight and lips whispered a blessing and prayer, lest he return [to the shtetl], lest he abandon [the training kibbutz]… After two weeks he returned. He could not find the strength to carry on.

But the seed sown in those days was not sown in vain. With the end of the winter many made a move. It was the business of the branch to look after anybody going off for training, to answer his questions in discussions and meetings, to give authorisation [to leave], to undertake supporting activity, to organise his departure etc. Beyond the wallsof the branch it was forbidden to reveal anything, especially not to the parents who fought fiercely and with all means available to them to prevent the departure of their sons and daughters for training. There were many difficult discussions with the parents. They would hide clothes, lock money away from their children and even go so far as to inform the police.

There was the case of one who had been preparing to leave for a long time, he brought his clothes over in secret to his friend's house in order to keep them hidden until the day of departure. He left the shtetl on his way to the train station in secret. One after another the members of the branch followed him, moving inconspicuously, accompanying him and carrying his personal belongings. With every rustle of footsteps and rattle of carts on the path all of them would hide in ditches by the sides of the roads lest passers-by catch sight of them in the darkness of the night. But despite everything the facts became known to the parents an hour after their son had left their house. The father quickly chased after his son but was not able to stop him. Then he took his suitcase and personal belongings from him, but to no avail. The son arrived in Klosova without anything; his clothes and personal belongings returned with his father to his home in the shtetl. In the case of a second young man, his parents caught up with him in the kibbutz with the intention of bringing him home but they did not succeed. There was a third who only managed to escape from his home on the pretext of going to look for work in the nearby town. And so with a fourth and a fifth and so on.

Fathers and mothers became angry, exploding in rage. They cursed their children, the branch, the movement and Eretz Israel as a whole. Parents insulted and abused the name of the branch, and there were those who would spit when passing the branch club, as if they were passing a 'house of abomination'. The fight between fathers and sons was hard and bitter, but not for too long, for the fathers realised they could not change the mind of their stubborn sons. They came round and accepted the situation. Sons and daughters came back from training and were received warmly by their parents. They were also helped as far as was possible in their aliyah to the Land.

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Interest grew with the first ones making aliyah to the Land and with the arrival of the first letters. Every envoy from Eretz Israel was invited to the parental home. They eagerly devoured what was said about Eretz Israel, the kibbutz and so on. Members of the branch were among those who visited the homes of parents whose children were in Eretz Israel or on training. They were received extremely warmly. Fathers and mothers would accompany the olim and, trembling with emotion, would send their blessings [to their children in Eretz Israel]. Behind the windows and doors they sometimes listened to what the envoy or visitor said inside the branch club about the situation in the Land.

On the occasion of the visit of Tzipora Lukov to the branch
Top row: Leybl Vaks, Tzipora Lukov, Rivka Fialkov, Yehoshua Lopatyn;
Bottom row: Eliahu Goldberg, Barukh Vinnik, Gershon Goldberg, Shalom Vinnik


As time passed fear increased greatly regarding what was happening in the Land. As early as the events of 1929 they would be worried and pray for peace in the Land. Then there was a rumour that many were making aliyah to the Land to help the defenders. They were simple Jews prepared to join in. Greater still was the fear over the events of 1936. Every black frame in the newspaper was like a knife in the living flesh of the Jews of the shtetl. Every piece of news about a new settlement was received with great joy.


KKL[309] collection boxes, which in previous years had been boycotted by many of the families, were now brought into all of the homes.

With the rise of aliyah all opposition to departure for training ended. There was almost no home in the shtetl which did not have a son or daughter in the Land or in the training kibbutz. And so, thanks to the children, the shtetl became entirely Zionist-pioneering. At the time of the elections to the congress[310] the shtetl would deliver, relatively to its size, a large number of shkalim[311], and nearly all the votes in the elections were given to the Working Eretz Israel list.


The shtetl in the years before the war

New houses and wide streets. The fires that would afflict the shtetl almost every summer had almost completely destroyed all the old wooden houses with their straw roofs. In their place arose houses of larger dimension, which with their many large windows and glass doors looked with pride on to the street which was in the process of being renewed. The streets became broader and even had pavements at their sides.

Although the appearance of these new houses gave grounds for thinking that hardship had lessened and poverty decreased, that was not the case at all. Hardship

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and poverty grew and flourished, as if in parallel with the new houses. In the shtetl the shops grew in number, yet their turnover went down. Tradesmen were busy in their trades, yet wages dropped markedly. Many kinds of taxes added to the impoverishment of the small traders and the poor artisans. Teachers and Polish officials lived as tenants in the large new houses, while the 'landlords' would live in one or two of the rooms of the house.

A statue of Pilsudsky (he was the 'national hero' and prime minister of Poland at that time) was displayed in the market square as a symbol and sign of the source of these changes. A substantial decorated house stood proudly at the entrance to the shtetl. This was the state Polish school which had branches in houses all over the shtetl. At that time all the Jewish children studied in this school together with the Goy children. It was above all in this area, the area of education, that the 'revolution' in the shtetl was particularly noticeable.

8-10 years previously you had no doubts about Jewish education. The immovable corner stone, chadorim and Talmud Torah, had been established for boys and an elementary Tarbut school, attended mostly by girls. Parents would give their soul to provide their children with a Jewish education. Although the Tarbut school had closed because of poverty, private Hebrew lessons, where boys and girls studied Hebrew, did not stop. But at the present time an end has been put to almost all of that. If still some private lessons took place this was certainly only for an hour a day after the lessons in the Polish school.

Nowadays boys and girls of all ages study in the Polish school. In place of the Hebrew language, the sound of which in former years you could frequently hear ringing from the mouths of boys and girls in the streets of the shtetl, now sometimes the Polish language is heard. In addition to that, children are not allowed to visit the branch club.

The Polish school stamps its heavy heel on its pupils. Using all means and all kinds of pretexts the pupils are not allowed to visit the club. Thus the majority of the youth of the shtetl have been uprooted from the branch; there remained only the older age group. In fact boys and girls did not always obey the school's instructions and would often gather in secret for conversation and communal singing in a private house, in a side alley or in the open field far from the shtetl or beneath the shade of trees.

A group of HeKhalutz members, 1936
From right to left, standing: Mindl Sheynbeyn, Tzipora Shuster, Yoske Vinnik, Nekhama Gottlieb;
Front row: Dovid Shtoper, Aaron Shabshi, Esther Goldshteyn, Leybl Vaks, Dina Borovyk, Yehoshua Lopatyn

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HeKhalutz HaTzair, the graduate age group, 1936
First row, from right to left, standing: Shmuel Kaftan, female visitor Feygl Mayzl, Gitl Sheynman, a male visitor, Esther Furman, Dvusya Shtoper, Itzhok Gutman, Rakhel Khaznchuk, Yehoshua Gottlieb,…, Sholem Vinnik,… Esther Gelman, Breyndl Lapinsky, Dina Berman;
Middle row: …, Malka Lopata, Sara Khaznchuk, Brakha Feldman, Pesl Shnayder, Teybl Fialkov, Nishke Lopata, Rivka Fialkov, Breyndl Lopata, Lifshe Borovyk;
Front row: Leybl Vaks, Khana-Pesl Lieberman, Yehudl Furman, Eliezer Lopata


But the long arm of the school reached them even in these places. Teachers and officials and policemen and Goy pupils constantly followed the movements and actions of the Jewish pupils after the lessons. Woe-betide boys and girls if they were caught in their mischief. Bad marks, fines and even house arrest were all used as a means of punishing pupils and those teachers who disobeyed orders. Yet in spite of everything they would continue to get together, in greater secrecy and with greater caution. These conversations and this activity of the branch were for them almost certainly the only source of any form of Jewish Hebrew education. Even cautious parents did not object to it.

The Polish school on the one hand, the lack of Hebrew education on the other hand and the influence of the surroundings in general all had their effect, even on the more mature youth. The previous generation were all in the Land or in the training kibbutzim. In contrast to its predecessor, for this new generation the branch, its business, its activities, its club were not the centre of their attention.

At the present time the boys and girls are occupied first and foremost with all sorts of other matters. On Sabbaths they crowd together on the balconies of houses, chatting aimlessly. In the evenings, in particular on Sabbaths and Sundays, some of them spend time in joint dances with Goy boys and girls.

The authorities have built a large hall in the centre of the shtetl, home to the firemen and their equipment. By the way, it is used as a hall for dances and parties and plays of all sorts organised by the Goys and in particular by the local Polish officials and teachers, of whom there are already quite a few in the shtetl. Although at these parties there has been no lack of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks on Jews, young Jewish men and women have not stayed away from them.

Only occasionally did separate, independent Jewish parties take place. Various things prevented that: lack of money, lack of a licence, lack of a hall etc. But what are young men and women supposed to do on beautiful summer evenings and during the long winter nights? What indeed? What are you, members of HeKhalutz HaTzair, doing at those parties? No answer was forthcoming.

In the final months before the war there was a noticeable stirring among the young people of the branch. Aliyah to the Land increased, the period of training was

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shortened, the central activities of the movement improved: more visits, more seminars, more summer camps and study weeks, more links and more direct educational training. All these activities had their effect in the shtetl and in the branch. A steady exodus to training kibbutzim began. Letters from the kibbutzim from people in training aroused enthusiasm and attracted others. It seemed the wheel had begun to turn again and began to swing vigorously. More and more went away for training, classes and groups went away occasionally, particularly to far-off kibbutzim. As a result of this the branch was spurred into greater activity and into reawakened vigour. It seemed it would take just a little longer and the former days would return. And then the war broke out…


The bitter end

With the Soviet occupation news arrived. There was renewed life in the shtetl. Electricity was introduced; outside in the streets there was lighting, as there was inside the homes. An additional new school was built, and Jewish children and Goys study there together in peace. One person was made commissar, another was made head of the police and somebody else was appointed as a teacher in the school. Former policemen and officials were dismissed and sent away. New ones came in their place, locals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, good and polite and so on.

But look, a miracle! A group of young men and women from the branch came forward, from those who had attended the training kibbutzim in the area now under German occupation and from those who had not yet been in training at all, young and innocent people, who had uprooted themselves and moved to Vilna, the centre for the few survivors of the movement. Their voices still reached us from Vilna. They told us about the training and about the movement and its activities and in particular about the hope and the yearning for the Land. Suddenly, with the outbreak of the German-Russian war, these voices fell silent. No voice and no echo, either from the shtetl or from the fragments of its dispersed people.

Tiny Jewish shtetl, how were you destroyed[312]? And your Jews, were they banished 'in an unknown direction' and did they meet their death there? Or perhaps they were killed there and then, in that very market square, the place of tribulation from the time of Petlyura[313] and Belkhovitz? Perhaps they were hurled alive into the terrible burial pits by the muzzles of guns and machine guns? Perhaps they were chased to the River Horyn and drowned in its deep waters? Did any of your young people succeed in escaping and joining the Red Army? Or perhaps no survivors remain? And your houses, the new and the old, synagogues and schools, did they turn into the dwelling place of criminals and the cruel enemy? Or perhaps they all went up in the flames of the greatest and most terrible of all the fires you have ever known? Tiny shtetl, where are you, where are you?

With the liberation of these districts by the Red Army the blackout was lifted. In the few letters that arrived a few lines cry for the bitter and hurried end of the shtetl, along with the whole of the House of Israel in Poland. The axe came down on it too. There survived only a few scattered and shattered remnants in the wide spaces of Russia and in the Red Army, in the forests round about and in the partisan detachments. Most of those few who returned came to the final shore, to Eretz Israel.

  I. Fialkov
(Mishmar HaYam 1945) Afek

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A discussion at a HeKhalutz HaTzair summer camp near Vysotsk[314]


  1. Chaim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) the most famous Hebrew poet of the modern age return
  2. David Shimonovych or Shimoni (1891-1956), Hebrew poet, teacher and translator, born Bobruysk (now Belarus) 1891, emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1920 return
  3. Itzhak Lamdan (1899-1954), Hebrew poet and translator, born in Ukraine, emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1920. Masada, published in 1927, strongly influenced young Zionists in Europe return
  4. Festival, 33 days after Passover return
  5. Theodor Binjamin Ze'ev Herzl died on caf tamuz (3rd July) 1904. Born in 1860, he was the first President of the Zionist Organisation and is regarded as the founder of Zionism. In his book der Judenstaat (the Jewish state) he demanded a 'legally guaranteed homeland' for the Jews in Palestine return
  6. It was the custom for visiting Chassidic dignitaries to leave food for others to eat return
  7. Pentateuch return
  8. Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, who wrote the first commentaries on the Bible and Talmud return
  9. Part of the Talmud return
  10. Like a cheyder, providing a traditional religion-based education, free of charge for poorer pupils return
  11. 'Culture', a network of Hebrew-language educational institutions founded in 1922 return
  12. cf Deuteronomy 5 return
  13. ‘Rejoicing in the Torah’, a festival marking the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings return
  14. A legendary river return
  15. Micah chapter 4, verse 4 return
  16. The 9th day of the month of Av (late August), a day of mourning marking the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people return
  17. Isaiah chapter 2, verse 2 return
  18. A piyut (liturgical poem), part of the Ne'ila (closing section of the Day of Atonement service), written by Amittai ben Shefatiah who lived in southern Italy in the late 10th century return
  19. On 2 November 1917 British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, confirming that the British government favoured the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people return
  20. Presumably the German word is used to reflect the fact that Theodor Hertz wrote in German return
  21. The Bund was a non-Zionist Jewish socialist movement founded in 1897 to represent Jews throughout Imperial Russia return
  22. Vladimir Medem (1897-1923) a leader of the Bund return
  23. 'Today', a leading Yiddish paper in Warsaw (1908-1939) return
  24. Founded in 1921 as the organ of the Bund, the Folkstsaytung ('People's Paper') was renamed Naye Folkstsaytung ('New People's Paper') in 1926. It ceased publication in 1939 return
  25. Literally 'ascents', the honour of being called up to the bimah (readers' platform) to chant a blessing before and after the cantor read from the Torah return
  26. Acronym for Keren Kayemet l'Israel, the Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 in order to buy and develop land in Palestine for Jewish settlements return
  27. Handwritten copy of the Torah only used during synagogue services and kept in the Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark) return
  28. ‘Rejoicing in the Torah’, a festival marking the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings return
  29. Judges chapter 16, verse 30 return
  30. The first line of the poem 'Spirit of a Nation' written by Bialik in Odessa in 1894 return
  31. Yiddish: fur hats worn on the Sabbath return
  32. Yiddish: literally 'pious cats', presumably a nickname for religious zealots return
  33. Prayer mantle return
  34. Small leather box containing hand-written passages from the Bible return
  35. Over the period of the Fourth Aliyah (1924-1929) 67,000 Jews arrived in Palestine, the majority from Poland return
  36. Adult Pioneers return
  37. Young Pioneers return
  38. Emigrants, those making aliyah (singular: ole) return
  39. 'Pickled fish', typical food of poor people return
  40. Literally 'coming down', return from Eretz Israel return
  41. Leviticus chapter 28, verse 28 return
  42. Returnees from Eretz Israel (singular: yored) return
  43. Yosef Trumpeldor (born 1880 in Pyatigorsk, Russia), together with seven other 'Guards', died in 1920 in a fight defending Tel Hai, a farming village in the north of the Upper Galilee valley return
  44. cf. dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (Horace Odes, iii,2,13) – 'To die for the fatherland is a sweet and becoming thing' return
  45. Members of the Trumpeldor organisation return
  46. August/September return
  47. Part of the Talmud return
  48. 'Culture', a network of Hebrew-language educational institutions founded in 1922 return
  49. Regarded as the first Hebrew novel (published in Vilna (Vilnius) in 1853), written in 1867 by Avraham Mapu (born in Kovno (Kaunus) in 1808 and died in Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) return
  50. Also by Mapu return
  51. Published in 1873, by Peretz Smolenskin (1842-1885), a Russian Jewish socialist novelist return
  52. Yiddish folk theatre dating back at least to the 17th century which parodies the main characters in the story of Purim, a festival that takes place on the 14th or 15th day of Adar (usually late March), marking the victory of the Jews over their Persian oppressors, as told in the Book of Esther return
  53. Forwards', the provisional name of the local Zionist youth movement return
  54. Young Guard return
  55. Pioneers return
  56. 'Guardists', members of HaShomer HaTzair return
  57. From 1924 until 1937 Klosova, a granite quarry dating from Tsarist times near the village of Klosov (now Klesiv), c.25 km. east of Sarny (itself c.50 km. south of Udrytsk, the nearest railway station to Vysotsk), was the foremost training kibbutz in eastern Poland return
  58. 'Workers of Zion', an independent Zionist-socialist party return
  59. 'Union', a Zionist Labour party founded in 1920, merging HaPoel HaTzair (Young Worker) and Tzeirei Tzion (Young Zionists) return
  60. Right-wing nationalist Zionists return
  61. The slogan continues: 'in blood and fire Judea will rise' return
  62. Shimon bar Kokhba, the last king of Israel, led a revolt against the Romans in CE/AD 132. The independent Jewish state of Israel was defeated three years later, with huge losses on both sides. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries numerous novels, plays and even operas were written on the subject return
  63. 'The Field of David' by Shalom haKohen (1771-1845) return
  64. Almost certainly a translation into Hebrew of Alroy by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881, British author and, later, Conservative Prime Minister) return
  65. Probably a translation of the section of Flavius Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews telling the story of Bernice, daughter of King Herod Agrippa the First and sister of Herod Agrippa the Second (allegedly also his mistress) return
  66. 'On guard', a pre-war radical Zionist group in Poland (with no connection to the subsequent Israeli left-wing newspaper of the same name) return
  67. 'A Time to build' (Ecclesiastes 3,3), a relatively conservative, middle-class stream of Zionism return
  68. Yiddish: Gentile girls return
  69. Russian: 1 desyatin = 2.7 acres return
  70. Jewish/Israeli round dance originally from the Balkans return
  71. From 1924 until 1937 Klosova, a granite quarry dating from Tsarist times near the village of Klosov (now Klesiv), c.25 km. east of Sarny (itself c.50 km. south of Udrytsk, the nearest railway station to Vysotsk), was the foremost training kibbutz in eastern Poland return
  72. Small leather box containing hand-written passages from the Bible return
  73. Keren Kayemet l’Israel, the Jewish National Fund return
  74. Jewish Congress return
  75. Certificates given in return for payment of annual dues to the World Zionist Organisation return
  76. cf. Lamentations chapter 1, verse 1 return
  77. Symon Petlura (Petlyura), born 1879, a Ukrainian nationalist who became head of the government of the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic (1919-1921) return
  78. At the German colony of Sofiivka (see The shtetl in earlier times, page 8) return

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