Chelm before the Holocaust
Political Parties and Movements in Chełm
Zionist activity in Chelm increased after the Balfour declaration, on the 2nd of November 1917. A branch of the Zionist Histadrut Labor Union was established, and donations were collected for the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod. The Zionist movements tried to convince the Jews of Chełm to send their children to Hebrew speaking schools. 10 out of the 12 Jews elected to the city council were members of Zionist parties. The historian and Zionist activist Itzhak Shiffer, was elected to the Sejm - the Polish parliament - as the representative for Chełm and its environs; Shiffer was later murdered in the Holocaust.
As early as the beginning of the 20th century, a branch of the Zionist party Tzeiri Zion(Zionist Youth), which was also known as the ZS, or “Zionist Socialists”, was established in Chełm. This party cooperated with the local Poalei Zion (Zionist workers) party, and together they established and operated drama groups, a choir, a library (named after Dov-Ber Borochov, one of the leaders of Poalei Zionin Russia), and even a sports club called “HaKoach” (The Strength).
In 1905 the Bund, an anti-Zionist movement opened a branch in Chełm, later establishing a Jewish self-defense organization as well. The Bund was also active in offering night classes, educational programs and cultural activities for Jewish youth and adults; particularly of the working class. Between the two world wars many of the Bund members immigrated to Latin America. They continued supporting the Bund from abroad, and their donations funded the school which the movement established in Chełm.
A branch of the Orthodox Agudat Yisraelwas established in Chełm in 1930.
A number of the Jews in the city were members of the Polish Communist Party, which was outlawed in 1926. In 1925 a branch of the Mizrachi party was established, and ten years later, in 1935, a branch of the Revisionist Movement.
In the interwar period many Jewish youth movements were active in Chełm, most of them Zionist. HaShomer HaTzair established its branch in the city even before the First World War – it was one of the earliest branches of this movement. HaShomer Hatzair followed an ideology of Socialist Zionism, and called upon its members to immigrate to Eretz Israel en masse. HeChalutz established its branch in Chełm in 1930, and most of its members came from among the working class. In 1931 HeChalutz founded a Kibbutz in Chełm for hachshara (practical Zionist training).
The religious Zionist youth were connected to the Mizrachi movement. In Chełm, such youths were mainly active in the Tzerei HaMizrahi (MizrachiYouth) and HaShomer HaDati (Religious Guard), an organization which also stressed practical education and the goal of fulfillment of the Zionist ideal through immigration to Eretz Israel as pioneers.
In 1932 the Beitarrevisionist movement established a branch in Chełm.
Chełm was also home to non-Zionist Jewish youth movements: Tzerei Agudat Yisrael (Agudat Yisrael Youth), Zukunft (Future) - the Bund youth movement, and Skif, the children’s branch of the Bund.