On the activities of “Hashomer Hazair” in the Lodz Ghetto
Esther Dublin, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Lodz, the only daughter of a Zionist-socialist family. She was in the 5th grade when the war broke out. Esther emigrated to Israel in 1957.
“I was hungry all the time in the ghetto, and in the winter I suffered badly from the cold. I wore wooden mules that were agonizingly uncomfortable. Due to the lack of hot water, I could not shower often, which led to scabies. During the second winter I caught a bad cough and fever, which was bad news. Not long ago, I was told that at the time my mother turned in despair to Feivel Podmowski, my youth group leader, and he arranged for me to visit to a good doctor and procured me medicine, which saved me from tuberculosis…
“In the most difficult times of 1941, Feivel came to our house, and told us that they were secretly organizing all the youth groups in the ghetto, including my group from the 4th grade – Hashomer Hazair. My mother volunteered our apartment for meetings. From that time on, I held my head up high. We would meet twice a week (after work hours), sing songs in Hebrew, prepare for aliya to Israel, learn about the land, communications and first aid. The older members taught us about Chaim Nahman Bialik. We sang "techezakna", shouted ‘We will build the Galil!’ organized evenings dedicated to authors and holidays, and arranged well as mutual aid organizations. We felt that this was our resistance against the Germans.”
From the Yad Vashem Archives: Testimony number: 0.3/5492
On joining “Hanoar Hazioni” in the Lodz Ghetto
Israel Aviram, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Lodz. He grew up in a religious family. He was a leader in the “Hanoar Hazioni” youth group in the Lodz Ghetto, and afterwards joined “Hashomer Hazair.” Today, Israel speaks about his experiences at Yad Vashem and during missions to Poland.
“I was born in 1926. I grew up in a very religious family… in the late 1930s, a Zionist atmosphere permeated our home, so Zionism was not unknown to me…
“I joined “Hanoar Hazioni” only in 1942. I didn’t know anything about the establishment of training kibbutzim in Marysin; had I known, I would have run there immediately…
“One evening, a friend whom I worked with invited me to come to the ken (meeting place) of “Hanoar Hazioni”… that first evening at the ken was a turning point in my life. Everything that had happened before that evening was different to what happened afterwards.
“Suddenly, there was a point even to the gray and sad days in the ghetto. There was a reason to look forward during the day to the Zbiorka (gathering) evenings, or simply meeting with friends – it was as if the ghetto around us didn’t exist! Not the deportations, or even the hunger.
“I can say with certainty that thanks to the youth movement, I survived and was saved from hunger. Beforehand I was hungry every hour of the day, but when I the time I spent in the ken and with friends, I did not feel hungry, I completely forgot the hunger. I was busy—my head and the rest of me—with other things.”
From “Mesuah”, an annual compilation about the history of the Shoah and its heroes, volume 22, Tel Aviv, 1994, pps. 64-65
“We also cooperated with other Zionist youth movements. There was, for example, a leader in the “Gordonia” youth movement, who came to our “ken” one day and taught us Hebrew songs. We sang a lot in Hebrew. I remember that I knew over 100 Hebrew songs.”
From an interview with Israel Avraham,28.07.04
On the establishment of training kibbutzim in Marysin, and on the training of the Bnei Akiva youth group
Sarah Stern, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Lodz to a religious Zionist family. When the war broke out, she was 20 years old and worked as a teacher and leader in the Bnei Akiva youth group. During the war, she centered her Bnei Akiva activities in the Lodz Ghetto. She immigrated to Israel in 1947. There she served in many public offices, including as a Member of the 9th Knesset (Mafdal party), and a member of the Yad Vashem Directorate. She passed away in 2001.
“Before we organized in youth groups, we felt as insignificant as the others who were there. There was nothing – nothing to do, no school, no work—and people wandered around as if in a halted life…
“First we went to find any place where it would be possible to organize the youth. And from there it began: from the search for a place to gather. For if we could organize them, maybe it would be possible to do something… We came to an uninhabited area in the center of the ghetto where there were small houses with beautiful gardens, green gardens. We thought this would be the place for our headquarters, or for clubhouses for the youth movements… where the groups could claim to the Germans that this was not a gathering of youth movements or other kinds of groups, but groups who were there to work the land.
“The food allowance was a very important addition, especially for the children. They didn’t eat at home but ate there (in Marysin) and the accommodation – they slept in Marysin, so their own bed in the family home became available … So the plan had a double importance, and a multiple meaning for the members: spiritual and physical, for the youth and for the family.
“We grew vegetables – onions, radishes – …for the young people, there were also studies – real classes. Classes in Torah and in other subjects… in the afternoon there were activities, discussions on different topics … the day was occupied without thinking about the fate that surrounded us… it was a full life…”
From the Yad Vashem Archives: Testimony number: 0.3/10236
On the activities of the Communist youth group in the Lodz Ghetto
Joseph Meyer, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Lodz in 1925. He was a member of the Communist youth group in the Lodz Gheto. He survived the death camps, and returned to live in Lodz after the war. His testimony was given three months after the war ended, in August 1945.
“Immediately after the ghetto was established, a left-wing youth group was founded in the grounds of the Gymnasium in the ghetto… at the beginning, the activities were cultural and educational. The organization held a wide range of classes for the youth, in which they seriously identified with the issue, and worked with vigor to educate themselves and others.
“In addition to our group, another organization – left wing, professional – was active in the factories and “resort” departments… At that time there were many departments (“resorts”) in the ghettos – and work was brought to them.
“The goal of the organization was to improve the economic situation, and combat the administrators of the resorts – the battle was conducted under the codeword “P.P.” (Powoli Pracuj) – that is to work slowly, to sabotage the products, to damage Fascism”.
From the Yad Vashem Archives: Testimony number: 49/10236
On the youth movements in the Lodz Ghetto
Shmuel Krakowski, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Warsaw in 1926. He grew up in Lodz. He joined the “Hashomer Hazair” youth movement in Lodz in 1941, in which he was both a cadet and a leader.
Dr Krakowski directed Yad Vashem’s archives between 1978 and 1993. He wrote many books and research papers on the Holocaust. Today he is a researcher and advisor in the International Institute of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.
Q: Dr. Krakowski, you were born in Warsaw. When and under what circumstances did you move to Lodz?
Dr. Krakowski: Yes, I was born in Warsaw, but at the age of three moved with my family to Lodz and there I grew up and was educated. Apparently my father heard from his brothers that there were more work opportunities in Lodz than in Warsaw, and so we moved to Lodz. I see myself today as coming from Lodz, but having said that, we continued to visit our relatives in Warsaw until 1939.
Q: When did you join a youth movement?
Dr. Krakowski: I joined the Hashomer Hazair youth movement only in the summer of 1941. I came with a friend of mine who lived in the neighborhood with me before the war. He was called Mendel Wolfowicz. We would meet from time to time, but during the winter of that year (1941) many of our friends became sick and died, and the group almost ceased to exist. In the summer of 1942, activities resumed.
Q: Tell me a little about the activities of the youth groups in the ghetto.
Dr. Krakowski: I wrote about this in an article in Yalkut Moreshet under the name “Revelation of Resistance in the Lodz Ghetto.” The main sector of activities of the youth movements was the cultural work and the ideological training. Ideological training was the most important part of all the youth group activities. Young people spent many hours in the ghetto trying to determine what was positive and what damaged national life, which kind of world they would want, how to take part in building a better world and what was the best way to serve their people.
Q: Did you have contact with Chairman of the Altestenrat Rumkowski?
Dr. Krakowski: No, there was no contact. The attitude of our organization (Hashomer Hazair) was extremely against him.
Q: Based on what?
Dr. Krakowski: Mostly based on Rumkowski’s cooperation with the Germans. There was an additional problem on which we condemned him, the unrighteous allocation of food in the ghetto. In the ghetto, when they allocated the food, there were “Prominents” (favored people) who received a little more.
Q: Did you cooperate with the “Bund” and the communists in sabotaging production?
Dr. Krakowski: We also stood for sabotaging production and “slow work” in order to help the enemy as little as possible.
I’ll give you an example of sabotage that was really stupid from my point of view. I worked in a factory repairing sewing machines, and once my administrator caught me making a fault in one of the machines. So he turned to me and said: “Don’t teach me socialism, I marched with the red flag on 1 May. Instead, do this with intelligence, and without getting caught… it’s better to create a fault that will happen over time, so you won’t get caught.”
Q: What was the attitude of the parents and adults to your activities?
Dr. Krakowski: That differed among the homes. For example, in my house my father was an activist in the “Poalei Zion” left-wing party. I suppose he was not against my activities, but because we were careful to keep suspicions to a minimum, we did not speak about them… my father didn’t know about my activities in the movement. I hid my experiences. One day I had to tell my older sister. I needed to ask her to take my place in the line for food, as I had to be teaching at that time. That is how she found out, and later she herself joined the movement. Despite this, when Tauber (my first leader)’s mother found out that he was reading Lenin’s writings… she made a huge scandal. Generally speaking though, the parents did not protest at all to the activities.
Q: What did you know about the transports and their destinations?
Dr. Krakowski: We knew very little. The Germans succeeded to deceive us that the deportees were being sent to labor camps. But in any case, we did everything in our power not to be deported.
Q: Until when did you remain in the ghetto?
Dr. Krakowski: I remained in the ghetto until the very last stages, until the liquidation in August 1944. When we learnt of the intention to liquidate the ghetto, we decided to hide and not to report for deportation. We also produced propaganda which we disseminated among the people in the ghetto not to report. The problem was that the Germans closed the factories and ceased to give out the scraps of food that we needed to survive. Food was given only to those who reported for deportation. In the end, we had no choice but to report, all together, on the last day of deportations, 30 August 1944. We alighted the trains to Auschwitz. When we arrived, we realized what a mistake we had made, but that was too late for us…
Q: Do you subscribe to the view that the activities of the youth movements saved many young people, and helped them survive the events of the Holocaust?
Dr. Krakowski: I think that today the fact that we were members of the organization under the conditions of the ghetto, the terrible hunger… when people were dying like flies, when a fifth of the people in the ghetto died of hunger… if that gave us a kind of goal, something to hold on to… it gave us a lot. I’ll give you an example: we had a secret library in the ghetto. There were hundreds of books there. I don’t remember a time that I read so much as when I was in the ghetto. That certainly gave us strength.
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