Wyszkow, Poland Yizkor Book

from SEFER WYSZKOW, ed. D. Shtokfish, 1964, Tel Aviv, pp. 51-52. Trans. Alan Hirshfeld

A Bundle of Memories from Days Past, Pages 51-52

By Chaim  Levin, Givat Hashlosha [kibbutz near Petach Tikva in Israel]

So many events and years have passed since I was in Wyszkow, that it it is hard for me to remember dates and details. I only remember that our lives there were full of rich content and movement.  I lived in Wyszkow during the best years of a person's life - their youth. Until I was 24, I hardly left the city from the day of my birth.  I will attempt to put something on paper from those years.

During the first world war a group of friends (Klosky, Mittelsbach, Mendel Rosenberg, Yakov Shtellung and others) set up a branch of "Yugent" [youth] in the city. This was an organization of Zionist-socialist youth (of the Poale Tzion party). We devoted much effort to this organization; educational activities, and many-branched cultural work, classes, lectures, parties, and a library. The work was semi-legal; we were always suspect by the government. Nevertheless we also started to organize the youths who were working at the shopkeepers - tailors, shoemakers and carpenters - learning a trade.

The custom then was that these apprentices would work three years without pay and they were also exploited by the shopkeepers to work in their private homes. It was very difficult work for us. Even the parents of the youths objected to our efforts for fear that the youths would be fired.  The meetings with the youth would always take place out of doors, in remote corners of the city, in order to hide from the shopkeepers and the police. Nevertheless we often succeeded in improving the lot of one youth or another.

These youths later became members of the youth organization and the parties. For all these projects we volunteered willingly, with the aim of helping these working youths. More than once we contributed our own funds for the expenses. At the same time there existed in the city a youth group of the "Bund" - "Zukunft" [future]. We always had debates with them, for they were opposed to Zionism. But the main debates were in public, following the speeches of lecturers that each party would invite from Warsaw. But besides that we were very active and there were endless meetings in connection with every important incident in Judaism or in the world.

In the city there was a large library in Yiddish and to a lesser extent, in Hebrew. We were proud of this library. We all derived knowledge from it. There were many scientific books there. And when parties arose, each tried to influence the library according to its outlook, and to introduce changes consistent with its spirit.  This led to arguments, and whoever had more readers at the library pulled it toward his view.  Assemblies of readers more than once pulled in the other direction, towards a different party.  Finally a group of us friends arose with the goal of maintaining a proper library, as a  general cultural asset, and we worked out a special set of bylaws for the assembly of readers. In it there was a paragraph that all the parties would have equal representation, and that it was forbidden to transfer the library to any one party.  The assembly approved the bylaws and from then on the library proceeded to grow.  No community board or institution supported this library.  There were token charges for use of the books and we covered the expenses by arranging parties, performances, etc. and particularly by voluntary donations.  At the end of the first world war it was partly destroyed through removals and confiscations by the Polish government, in whose eyes everything was 'tref' and forbidden.

In those years there was also a clubhouse on Shkolna Street that we called the "Verein" (a special interest group). Actually it was a place for various cultural activities in Yiddish by individuals, members of socialist parties, who could do cooperative work quietly without political debates. In particular, I remember my good friend, Beinush Ostrovyak. I was a Zionist and he a leftist, a communist. Nevertheless together we did almost all of this intensive work.  We established  a chapter of "Tzisha" (Central Yiddish School-organization). We had strong ties with the central [office] in Warsaw. We organized a school, both in the day and the evening, for poor children.

We acquired books and writing materials and hired teachers. This school existed for several years and the funds for it we got from monthly membership dues and from modest admission fees to lectures.  All of  the administrative work was by volunteers and the students paid nothing.  It must be remembered that the hostile government, particularly the Polish, did not give us rest. Every lecturer that we brought to the city was suspect in their eyes. We had to use subterfuge and all kinds of covers so that they would not interfere.

Once, during a lecture in the "Verein", at 10 o'clock at night, the police surrounded the building and started an intensive search. This was a result of some informer. However, they found nothing suspicious except for one socialist book and some papers, among them a draft of bylaws of a "Hechalutz" chapter that I had. Before the search I had hidden the notebook, but after we had left the hall they overturned everything and found it. The next day, with the intervention of some respected individuals, the police returned the bylaws for they already had suspected that there was an illegal organization. The bylaws were in Hebrew and when it was translated for them they left us alone.  However, they held us all night until almost dawn; but that did not prevent us from continuing our work in the succeeding days.  The town was like a cauldron over this affair, and for several weeks we were forced to move the school to a different building.

Because of such events we were also forced to arrange our First-of-May meetings in the forest...with a circle of guards surrounding them. Of course only the members of the socialist parties participated.  Almost all the parties existed and held activities under some sort of cover. Only the General Zionists, "Aguda" carried on legally and had an open clubhouse. And since the adults among them were not active, we, the Hechalutz youth, used their clubhouse frequently. We even moved the large library there, because that was the most secure location.

I recall a meeting in the home of Eli-Meir Goldman on the "Warsaw Road" (Kosciucsko Street), while the Red army was in the city, at the end of WWI. The meeting was called at the initiative of the Communists, with the participation of an army officer who chaired the meeting. They ordered, in the name of the government, that all the socialist parties disband. The "Bund" then announced that it was disbanding because "socialism has come" and the Jewish question would be solved. We, Poale Tzion, felt and knew that this was not true. We announced, after some discussion, that we were connected to the center in Warsaw and that when the Red army would shortly enter Warsaw an answer would be forthcoming for the country as a whole, since we were only a branch chapter. Our answer was received with disbelief, but the meeting broke up. The army was in our vicinity for a week and when it retreated many communists retreated with it.  The next day we heard that the Polish army that entered the city shot and killed two Poles and a Jew of the communists who were caught, without any trial.

The Poale Tzion party of course continued to operate, but the "Bund" for a long time could not raise its head, because they had disbanded.  After that our Zionist activity intensified. We collected money for the JNF [Jewish National Fund] and for the KPAI (fund for the workers of Palestine) of that time. We expanded "Hechalutz", etc. When the oppression  and the persecution of the Jewish minority in Poland began, emigration to Palestine began from Wyszkow, too, naturally from the younger generation.

I remember, however, the emigration of one adult Jew before this. And this was the event: A Jew by the name of Rosenzweig, a simple shoemaker, came to my father in 1920, as I recall, and since he knew him to be an active Zionist, asked that he help him go to Palestine.  My father was very surprised and asked the Jew how he would make out in Palestine with his large family?  And there were [violent] incidents then in Palestine and only young people, if any, went there, not adults.  But the Jew announced that he was travelling to Jerusalem and was taking a pistol. He would bake a loaf of bread and put the gun inside the loaf.  My father, when he saw the enthusiasm of Rosenzweig, helped him and recommended him to the "Mizrachi" institutions. The Jew went and later brought his family. And to this day part of the family lives in Jerusalem.  This was a unique event in those years.  Most of the Jews were either apathetic toward Zionism or opposed it because of their religious orthodoxy.  My father had many arguments with these Jews, the Chasidim and the rabbi. He frequently spoke in the "beis medrash" [study] on Zionist topics on behalf of "Mizrachi". The chasidim and the rabbi called him an "apikoros" [non-believer] because of his Zionism.  And when my father z"l died, the rabbi and the chevra kadisha objected to erecting the gravestone on his grave because there was a star of David on it.

There was a great conflict in the city between the Zionists and the "misnagdim". This was in 1926. But even before this, in 1924, the first of the "Hechalutz" members from Wyszkow left for Palestine and this was a great joy for us. The dancing at the train station went on for a long time. And in 1925 I too went.

Michael Tobin
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