The History of Bălţi before the Holocaust
Movements and Parties
Most of the Jews of Bălţi were drawn to Zionism and were active in the Zionist parties and organizations, among them Maccabi, the General Zionists, Poalei Zion, and Tzeirei Zion. They contributed to the Keren Hayesod and JNF Zionist funds. Zionist youth movements also established themselves in Bălţi. Pioneers of Hashomer Hatzair from the town were among the first immigrants that established the Maabarot, Sha'ar Ha'emekim, Dalia, Ruchama, Shamir and Reshafim kibbutzim.
The Zionist Revisionist engineer Yerachmiel Yoffe was the head of the Jewish community in Bălţi in the 1930s. Both religious and secular Jews sat on the community's committee, as well socialist Bund members and Zionists. In the interwar period, they formed a wide coalition of religious and secular Jews, Hebrew supporters and Yiddishites, workers and members of the bourgeoisie.
Many Zionist leaders visited the town, including Shmariyahu Levin, Joseph Spritznek, Yaakov Hazan, Pinchas Lavon (Luvianiker) and Revisionist leaders Michael Yechinson and Meir Grossman. Ze'ev Jabotinksy came to Bălţi three times in 1912 and 1925 and on the eve of WWII. At the Skala Theater, packed to the rafters, he gave his celebrated speech containing the famous words: "Eliminate the Diaspora, or the Diaspora will surely eliminate you." His visit made a deep impression on many of the Jews of the town. The Revisionist movement produced collection boxes and shows and published pamphlets, newsletters and books.
A number of Hachshara (pioneer training) Centers. were established in Bălţi. Many youths from the town emigrated to Eretz Israel with the Tzeirei Hamizrachi, Hanoar Hatzioni, Dror and Hechalutz Hamaccabi youth movements to study at the Hebrew University, to take part in the Maccabia games, as "free professionals" (teachers and engineers) and as financial workers that received certificates from the British authorities to stay. Gordonia pioneers from Bălţi were among the founders of the Hulda, Masda, Hanita and Avuka kibbutzim.
Zrubavel Seker (Skliar) related:
One night, a meeting was arranged between representatives of the youth movements with Zionist party activists… we were told to arrive at seven, which was exactly the time that the sixth class was to take place at the Gymnasium…– that of my teacher, Leib Cuperstein. The whole day I was very careful during recess not to run into Cuperstein. The next day, I thought, I would come up with an excuse for my absence. And so, at 7pm, I sneaked out of the school and ran to the meeting place. When I opened the door – I couldn't believe my eyes: at the head of the table sat… my teacher, Cuperstein! Our gazes crossed and then dropped. "He also cut class," I thought. A moment of embarrassment lingered. And then my teacher burst out: "You cut my class, my friend! Tomorrow you will have to go to the principal's office!" The whole room burst out laughing, and the discussion began."Sefer Bălţi, pp. 217-220
Yosef Mazur, a Beitar member, related:
On Lag B'Omer we would go out into the bosom of nature with our bows and arrows together with the students of the Gymnasium, to the fields surrounding the town… in uniform, blue trousers and white shirts, seeing ourselves as the descendents of the students of Rabbi Akiva more than those of the school. The albums: the pictures and postcards from the pioneering life of Emek Yizrael… the Hebrew teachers would show many of these to the students – all of them inspiring us from childhood to aspire to be like them when we grew up.Sefer Bălţi, p. 185
In the 1930s censorship was enacted, and the Jewish newspapers were forcibly prohibited. The Hechalutz movement was dismantled and a ban was instituted on collecting for the JNF. With this, however, illegal emigration to Eretz Israel continued even during the war years, and dozens of young people from Bălţi went to live in the Jewish homeland.
Many Yiddishites were active in Bălţi, including members of the Bund, as well as communist party supporters that during the period of Romanian rule were persecuted by Romanian secret police and forced underground. Some of them were arrested and many fled to the USSR, among them Leonia Augenstein (Leonta Routo), later the ideologue of the Romanian communist movement, and Kishinovsky, later the assistant to the deputy Romanian prime minister Ana Pauker.