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[Page 528]

Three Years of the Agricultural Farm in Bedzin

byArie Liwer (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

The farm in Bedzin, a project like which there were few of during the period of the Holocaust and destruction in Poland, was a continuation – under the special conditions of the occupation – of the tradition of pioneering training.

Why was the farm established?

Its origins were in May 1940. At the same time, we received news that the Germans had erected buildings in Srodula, using laborers that had been sent by the Judenrat. Their intention – to establish a labor camp for agricultural workers.

On receipt of this news, the “Brit Hachaluzim[1] activists began negotiations, that were centered around Kibbutz Borochov, about the stand that should be taken regarding this labor camp and the potential it secretly held.

During the same period the Judenrat increased their pressure on the youth to go to the labor camps. Every night the “Ordnungsdienst” [“Maintenance of public order organization”] of the Judenrat organized a hunt to complete the required quota ordered by the Germans. One day the Germans grabbed whoever they could get hold of and sent them to the camps. Anyone who had some money could arrange to be in one of the “shops”.

Since most of the youths were lacking in means (and also didn't have “protektzia” [“pull”] in the Judenrat) it was decided: if destined to do labor, it would be good to stay together and help one another and receive assistance from friends that had remained in the city.

Herszl Springer brought up the proposal, according to our agreement, in front of the Judenrat. At the first meeting the Judenrat people refused the proposal, however, it was not rejected. In the meantime, work continued in erecting two large sheds and smaller buildings in close proximity to them. In the end, the Judenrat accepted our proposal and we decided to transfer the youths to work in the uncultivated land, spread over 100 morag [land measurement], property of a mining company. When the buildings in Srodula were completed and experts brought in (a gardener from the municipality, a graduate of the agricultural school in Czestochowa, and a German-Jewish gardener, whose grandfather lived in Bedzin and had visited him during the war).

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Zag529.jpg [22 KB] - Herszl Springer
Herszl Springer (X), leader of the Dror kibbutz
speaking before the representatives of the
Zionist youth movements about the resistance organization

The kibbutz members and youths began leaving for the farm. The farm manager was a kibbutz member, a young talented student of the “Bloy-Weiss” [blue-white] by the name of Pohorila. The initial stages of the farm were not successful, and a labor regime was lacking.

Some of the members slept there, in a room rented from a Pole, and the rest would go back to town in the evening. The sheds were later transferred to the camp authority. Every Shabbat, representatives of the Judenrat would come to pay local farmers who had rented horses and work implements, and, as an aside, later had a sort of “picnic” there…

In July 1940, Herszl Springer called a meeting to discuss the farm. It was decided to continue keeping the farm and it would be run in a pioneering-type format, and I would serve as its secretary. In discussions that took place in this matter, I announced that I was unwilling to cooperate with the Judenrat in the farm management and proposed the following conditions:

  1. The farm would not belong to the Judenrat, rather ours, even though it was subsidizing it.
  2. The farm management would be internal-autonomic, such that problems would be solved by us, including the appointment of workers that would be under the auspices of the movement according to a specific classification.

It was obvious that I did not approach the Judenrat to negotiate this matter. In the end, the Judenrat agreed, that the youths themselves would be responsible for the farm, and members sent to work there, would be supplied with a work permit, providing some reprieve from being sent to a hard-labor camp. Together with this, several of the Judenrat members asked to send their sons, or close relatives, however, we stood up to this pressure and opposed doing so, except where a welfare case was concerned or something similar.

All the farm workers were members of the youth movements. In fact, the Judenrat already began regretting the idea of establishing a youth farm, but could not back down because of the Germans. They had not readily transferred the management of the farm to myself, and if they had agreed, it was because the farm was disintegrating, and the youths refused to take on the Judenrat's responsibility.

When I took on my post in the farm, I found neglect – there was no tools, no experts of any worth, no discipline and no collective responsibility. (The ground that we received to be cultivated had been neglected for decades). The comrades would leave the soil however they felt like. The food was substandard and didn't come in time. On top of all that, every member of the Judenrat saw himself in the position of a “landlord”. I established a committee and determined a work organizer, a secretary, and a daily work roster was made compulsory. I arranged for the sheds to be transferred to our control, and we obliged all the members to live there. A general assembly of all the members decided on a commune type lifestyle. It should be pointed out that not only was there no work evasion, but on the contrary, we achieved significant results in all areas. The members learnt all the jobs and carried them out as if they were farmers from birth. There were also manifestations of mutual assistance – a member who worked in the kitchen transferred his shoes to a worker in the field and so on. I, myself, moved to live permanently on the farm, with which I was associated till its end, for some three years.

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When the order came from the Germans that the Jews had to register the cows and horses in their possession, we requested that the Jews put their livestock into the farm, since they would be taken away, anyway. However, the Jews still didn't believe this – and refused. Only a few wagoners handed over their horses to the farm and still for asked for a fee. During the season there were farmers working in the farm's fields.

All the youth's social life and activities gradually moved to the farm that grew greatly in awareness and scope. The farm served as a cover and camouflage for meetings of hundreds of youths from all the movements, and each movement was assigned a specific day in the week. We printed (using a stencil) movement magazines. Together with this we maintained a work and life regime. At night there was guards. We were noted for our exceptional organizers – Hajka Klinger and Israel Diamant.

The Judenrat sensed was happening, though never knew the scale of activities in the farm that numbered one hundred and twenty workers. A third of the land in the farm was used for pasture and the rest as agricultural land. The produce was sent to the city. There was no shortage of pestering by the Poles, particularly residents of one murderous village. There were skirmishes, beatings and thefts. Once even, at the beginning, of course, they went into a field and cut it down in front of us. I approached a priest, but he himself was afraid of these people.

Zag530.jpg [15 KB] - Young men and women in the Srodula farm in Bedzin
Young men and women in the Srodula farm in Bedzin

The Judenrat did not leave us alone. One day they demanded, that the farm members report to carry out various orders that had been received from the Germans – deportation orders, theft and looting of the Jews. We refused. On the same day all the farm people left the city and dispersed. On another occasion we were ordered to reduce the number of farm members by a third. They demanded that we wear the Jewish “Order Police” caps, and this would give us security – and once again, we refused. The demand to send some of the farm members to serve as “ Vorarbeiter” (foreman) in the camps – was not dropped from the agenda. There were members caught and were to be deported, in order to prove to us, that they did not take us into consideration. Within our abilities – we rescued them. We also knew how to take advantage of the differences and internal competition between the members of the Judenrat. We never yielded. It also seemed that the gave us respect, otherwise we can't understand how they didn't punish us, in spite of the constant state of war between us…

The farm prevailed in its relentless campaign to survive, and was a focus point for the Jewish youth (including non-movement) during this depressing and terrible period. On the other hand, it was detached from events in the city, from the Jewish ghetto life. There were occasions that farm members intervened to save Jews from deportation. When the ghetto was established and it was impossible to leave and enter without permits, the Germans already were used to that the farm people came and went – and they were not held back.

At the end of 1942 the farm began disintegrating, which came at time of a gloomy financial situation in the ghetto. Everything was seen in the light of the end that was steadily approaching.

The members lost their families and left the farm, in order to take care of those that remained. There were those that left the farm in order to find work in one of the “shops” in the hope that this would give them more life security. Quite a few were captured during their visits to the ghetto, and sent to camps where there was no way we could help them.

In the farm, itself, the shortages was the norm. The Judenrat never paid wages to the farm members. During the better times, the farm members received a small addition to their rations that every Jew in the ghetto received. It was very little, but with the addition of farm crops in the communal kitchen, we were able to provide the members with sufficient food and even good in comparison with the state of nutrition in the ghetto. Members who worked in the ploughing and harvesting received larger portions.

[Page 531]

Zag531.jpg [14 KB] - A group of youths from the Srodula farm
A group of youths from the Srodula farm (1942)

Now the farm did not even receive the normal rations that had been reduced over time. A similar situation occurred in Kibbutz Borochov. Without the supportive assistance of Szlamek Zimerman (the head of the “Gordonia” center before the war), who worked in the Judenrat storeroom, the kibbutz and farm members would certainly have reached starvation.

In February 1943, I moved to the ghetto, but continued to manage farm matters and the “Lakrav[2] till I was arrested in April of the same year. Around thirty male and female members remained in the farm till its eventual demise.

A tear falls on your devastation, town of my parents

by Aryeh Ben-Tov (Hessenberg)
(Tel Aviv)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Thirty years have passed by since the Second World War broke out with the annihilation of the Jews of Bedzin, however we, the remnants of the glorious community, spread around from place to place, have not forgotten and from time to time we remember her on various occasions, in particular during the annual traditional memorial services.

What is the spiritual strength, that drives us, survivors of our parent's town Bedzin, that now lies abandoned since there is no longer a Jew there, shady places scorched from the inferno, witnesses to the horror, atrocities and sufferings – don't forget our origins, raise it in reverence from the abyss of oblivion to pass on the tradition to our descendants.

I was a boy of sixteen, when the last war broke out, when a heavy tragedy befell us, however I remember the town of my birth, as if it is placed in front of my eyes. I remember its vibrant and spiritual life, a central town in the coal and steel region of Zaglembie, geographically bordering with Germany, land of bloodshed.

I remember, my battered homeland with its forty thousand Jews, its personalities, elders and activists, its Chassidim and its Mitnagdim [opponents to Chassidism], its rich and its poor, in a physical struggle for survival, its learned and its uneducated; a town that was renown throughout Poland, Mother of all the Diasporas, as the “Jerusalem of Zaglembie”.

Bedzin was not just a provincial Jewish town, but a central settlement that struggled, definitely, in its physical struggle for survival, however at the same time it bustled in its public, movement, and cultural life from which springs of life and vitality flowed.

[Page 532]

zag532.jpg [15 KB] - A group of Noar Zioni in Bedzin
A group of “Noar Zioni” [Zionist Youth] members
in Bedzin, during the war (1941)

On the left hand side the “Magen David” that the Jews were forced to wear, stands out on the clothing.
Standing from right to left: Yocheved Malach, Tova Gutman-Bauer,
Arie Hassenberg (today the Attorney Ben Tov, chairman of the
Society of Bedzin Émigrés in Israel), Miriam Tencer.
Seated: Szlomo Goldencwajg, Alexander Gutman-Gatmon, Yitzhak Gold.

The Jews energetically built Bedzin, developed and expanded it, for generations they were rooted and firmly attached to the land, they invested their strength and capital, their energy and talents, and it was a Jewish town, purely and simply, a town filled with activity and manufacture, imbued with lofty virtues, noble attributes, supreme aspirations, love of Israel and Zion, love of fellow man.

There were periods, during the second decade of this century [twentieth], after the First World War, in which we the Jews were a definite majority in town and we ruled the roost. The municipal authority was for a certain period in our control, and as such the Bedzin council was called the “Jewish Sanhedrin” by the gentiles. The Polish authorities became aware of this and they annexed its neighborhoods, villages populated by Christians, who lived in inferior housing and made a meager existence, in order to create a Polish majority. Indeed, Jewish Bedzin became a minority, but a Jew served as the deputy mayor for years, till the arrival of the “reaper”, and Jewish industry continued to develop.

The Pioneering Zionist Jewish youth in Bedzin had a good name, with its organizations and societies, its factions and flags and symbols. The “competition” between the youth organizations strengthened the Zionist atmosphere, the glorification of the Zionist idea, reinforcement of the sense of the need to realize [Zionism] and make aliyah to Israel. A relationship of brotherhood connected all the Zionist youth, in spite of their outlooks, since the Zionist yearning and the country united everyone.

Sadly, only several hundred of us, children of Bedzin, were lucky enough to realize their ideal and reach the country of their aspiration, to the shores of the Motherland through a yearning for her and the enchantment of emancipation, to live and be revived in her, to build and be established in her, to achieve, to be redeemed and to be rebuilt. Many of them achieved important positions in the life of the country in all fields and served in honorable positions in the economy and society, in the universities and higher institutes, in literature and in the press, in political movements, in governmental institutions and in the army.

There is much to tell us, to our children and coming generations, about this bloody period, which occurred so suddenly and is unlike anything else in the long and bloody history of the Jews, being that we were trampled and persecuted for two thousand years on foreign soils. To an extent we have done this in the treasured “Pinkas Bedzin”, and now through the excellent and many pages of “Pinkas Zaglembie”, in whose chapters the entwined soul of Zaglembie Jewry is unfolded. Those voluntarily doing this holy work should be thanked, who for years tirelessly struggled and labored in immortalizing Jewish Zaglembie, of both its large and small communities.

We erected a lofty and fitting monument in memory of the holy souls of the Zaglembian martyrs in the Nachlat Yitzchak cemetery. However this isn't sufficient. We should imbibe an awareness of Zaglembie, as part of Polish Jewry, amongst the youth in Israel and adopt one of the schools for ourselves, just as other communities have adopted various schools; in order to reflect the history of Jewish Zaglembie, about its lengthy past and its wide ancestry and tradition, its growth as a creative and viable center of magnificent Polish Jewry, and the present – the plunder and the looting.

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How did my native home, Jewish Bedzin, become immersed in the valley of death without protection or aid, in view of the enlightened world without conscience – and the land with its peoples did not murmur?

How did your elderly and women, your young men and women, your babies and youths wallow in their blood, hacked and crushed, suffocated in the extermination camps and in the furnaces turned into ash, and the fools had no mercy or pity?

How did the communities of Zaglembie fall at the hands of the devil, like stalks after the scythe of the reaper?

The innocent love and the our great longing for you has not left our hearts, Greater Bedzin, a Jewish metropolis, that was completely erased from the face of the earth by the filthy murderers and the wicked! We will remember you as long as we live, your last remnants, Bedzin, the cradle of our birth!

About Bedzin and the neighboring communities, that are no longer – our soul weeps and we deliver the lamentation of the prophet:

Who will supply my head with water and my eyes a source for tears,
And that I will weep day and night for my nation's dead.

zag533.jpg [16 KB] - A street in the Bedzin Ghetto
A street in the Bedzin Ghetto

  1. “Brit Hachaluzim” [Pioneer Pact] – a Zionist youth organization for combined efforts in specific fields in opposing the JudenratReturn
  2. “Lakrav” [To Battle] – an underground framework of Zionist youth dealing with resistance, purchase of weapons, military instruction and so on.  Return

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