Hechalutz Movement in Ostrowiec
The “Hechalutz” Wins over the Youth
by Moshe Rosenberg
Article from 1971 Ostrowiec Yizkor book, page 245. Translated by Pamela Russ
[ ] translator's remarks
It is still difficult now to make peace with the idea that Jewish Ostrowiec, with its yeshivos [religious schools], Talmud Torahs, and Zionist youth organizations, that buzzed with such pulsing life, went down and no longer exists. The memories swim past, one after another.
I remember the first gathering of the Zionist youth. The meeting took place in a location of the right-wing Poalei Tziyon. At that meeting, the active Zionist Dr. Shibber came out. In his lecture, he explained the goals of “Hechalutz,” and called for the self-realization of the goals of Zionism. He underlined that the only one who could join “Hechalutz” is someone who was prepared to change his life goal and immigrate to Israel in order to build our own Jewish country.
Soon after ending his richly filled lecture about 50 friends registered, and the Ostrowiec “Hechalutz” was established. The youth, who until now had a comfortable lifestyle, were thirsty for activity and tasks, and yearned to become productive and find physical work.
In fact, there were very few opportunities in Ostrowiec to get to a working position. The large steel factory “Zaklady Ostroweicka” [“the Ostrowiec steel mill”] was locked to the Jewish youth. The Jewish youth was only able to profit from the factory by hearing the signals at specific hours and adjust their clocks to that. Wanting to actualize their ideals, the first “chalutzim” who registered had to go out into the “Hachshara” places that were created in other cities in Poland.
But the older chalutzim did not agree to allow their children to leave home and go to a strange place. It was difficult to explain the meaning of this to them.
I remember a few incidents that happened because children left their home. The blond Zalman Joiczarzh went to the police with a report that they robbed him of his daughter Bashe. The secret agent Wikerek then came to the location of the “Hechalutz” to find out where Bashe was. I remember a second incident that is almost unbelievable. The shochet [ritual slaughterer] of the town Szenne, and his wife, came on Friday night to the ”Hechalutz” location out of breath from their long walk. The shochet took out his knife, placed it on the table, and cried out: “Slaughter us, because we have nothing to live for any longer, now that you stole our daughter Bashe from us!” Bashe had joined the Ostrowiec ”Hechalutz” because there was no such organization in Szenne. The “Hechalutz” had sent her away to a “Hachshara” and after that she immigrated to Israel, and after some time, she brought over her parents. With the knife that he had asked them to slaughter him, today he is slaughtering fowl in the Tel Aviv area. Thanks to the “lost” daughter, the parents remained alive.
I remember all kids of cultural and political projects that the group of the Ostrowiec “Hechalutz” undertook. We brought over all kinds of performers for outings, such as Jacques Levi, and Menachem Kipnis and his wife Zeligfeld. We carried out a very bold project that had many expenses:
We invited the chairman of the Jewish “Kala” [club], Yitzchok Gruenbaum, of the Sejm [Polish government] to deliver a lecture. In order to carry out the project, we borrowed money from a lot of people. A day before the gathering, we suddenly received a telegram that Gruenbaum had to delay his coming to our town, because he had to attend a conference with a Polish minister. The announcement unsettled us very much because this also forced us to close the location of our organization. We went into debt, which we were not able to pay back.
We then sent a special representative to Warsaw, friend Yisroel Hercyk [Yisrael Libai in Israel], so that he could come to an agreement with Gruenbaum. He found the famous leader still asleep. Gruenbaum explained to him that the conference would stretch until three o'clock and then after that he would be ready to go. Not having any other means of travel, he took a special taxi and rode with the lecturer on a snowy day. He telephoned us that Gruenbaum would come to us that evening. We prepared a festive welcome. The “Hanoar Hatzioni” [“Young Zionist”], and other delegates, went into the Kunów forest to await the esteemed guest. Because of the frosty weather, one flat tire after another happened. We waited in the forest until 10 o'clock, and the taxi had not yet arrived. Meanwhile, the crowd that was sitting in the hall had become impatient and demanded back their money from the tickets. The lecture began at 11 o'clock at night. The hall became filled, and Gruenbaum spoke about the theme of: “the political situation in the country.” After the speech, a banquet was organized and it went until early hours. After covering all the costs, more than 200 zlotys were left in our cashbox.
Background on the history of the worldwide Hechalutz movement can be found here.