Jewish-Political Activity in Plonsk Before WWII
The Jews of Plonsk took part in a variety of political activities throughout the years. By the second half of the 19th century, Zionism was already growing in popularity in the city, through the framework of the "Hovevei Tzion" and later the "Bnei Tzion," organizations. Following the First Zionist Congress and then WWI, the Jewish residents of Plonsk became more involved in the various political streams.
Miriam Zilberstein with her entire family at the Plonsk railway station on her departure for Eretz Israel, 4 October 1935. Miriam emigrated with the help of David Ben-Gurion (Grün), a relative of hers.
In 1900, the "Ezra" Zionist movement was established in Plonsk, named after Ezra the Scribe. The movement aimed at providing free Hebrew education for poor children. One of the founders of the "Ezra" movement was David Grün – later, David Ben-Gurion.
The youth in Plonsk belonging to "Ezra" established a branch of "Poalei Tzion" in the city. Its members set up a "Workers House," as well as the Borochov Library, and organized Yiddish reading and writing circles, drama groups, a football team and a wind orchestra. They bought weapons, and trained the Jewish youth of the city to defend themselves against attack. With the failure of the 1905 Russian Revolution, some of the youth were arrested for owning weapons and illegal literature. Four out of the nine founders of "Hapoel Hatzair" in Israel in 1905 were from Plonsk: Shlomo Zemach, Yitzhak Kivshani, Lipa Taub and Shlomo Lavi (Levkowitz). This period also saw the establishment of a branch of "Mizrachi" in Plonsk, founded, among others, by Avraham Grün, the older brother of David Ben-Gurion.
Plonsk had a library, that loaned books for payment, with hundreds of books. The library was illegal, and was hidden in an attic. In 1910, the maskilim of Plonsk were permitted to established the "Or" (Light) organization (later known as "Tarbut" – Culture). The Library was moved to a clubhouse, which had a reading room with Hebrew newspapers from Eretz Israel. The clubhouse held courses and evening classes in general education as well as in the history of the Jewish people, the geography of Eretz Israel, the history of the Zionist movement and the settlement of Eretz Israel, and Hebrew and Bible studies. Members of the movement sold the Zionist "shekel," and collected donations for the Jewish National Fund. On Sabbath eves, they organized lectures and Bible lessons, and on holidays – balls and parties. Sometimes a lecturer, singers or theater group from outside of Plonsk was invited to appear.
During WWI, branches of "Mizrachi" and "Poalei Tzion Smol" (left) and "Poalei Tzion Yemin" (right) were established in Plonsk. In 1923, a branch of "Tzeirei Hamizrachi" (Young Mizrachi) was founded in Plonsk, and its members prepared for aliyah (emigration) to Eretz Israel. In 1927, branches of the Revisionist Party and its youth movement, "Beitar," "Brit Hachashmonaim" (a Revisionist faction) and the Revisionist organization "Hashachar" were all founded in Plonsk. In 1928, "Hechalutz" and "Hashomer Hatzair" (The Young Guard) were set up, which also organized Hachsharah groups for aliyah. A year later, an organization called "Hashomer Haleumi" (The National Guard) broke off from "Hashomer Hatzair". Most of the Jewish youth in Plonsk belonged to a Zionist youth group, including "Noar Poalei Tzion Smol" and "Hechalutz." The majority of the parties and youth organizations had clubs and libraries, as well as groups for sports, drama, drills and self defense, some of which were held on the city's football pitch.
The youth groups held activities and lectures, political gatherings, conferences, trips, scout camps and summer camps. Most sent their members to hachshara (aliyah preparation) groups. Their activities influenced many Jews in Plonsk to consider emigrating to Eretz Israel. Those with means even went to Eretz Israel to explore the possibility of settling and investing there. The youth movements invested resources in finding employment for Jews, proving they were just as skilled as their non-Jewish contemporaries.
Because of its small population, Plonsk was not able to elect a Jewish representative for the Sejm. Despite this, Yitzhak Grünbaum came to visit Plonsk during one of the elections for the Polish Sejm. Grünbaum, who grew up in Plonsk, was greeted at the train station with flags and torches, blessings and applause, and his lecture in the city theater hall was given to a full house.
The Zionist youth movements collected "shekels" for the Zionist Congress, as well as money and valuables for Eretz Israel. At the height of their activity, the youth movements in Plonsk had hundreds of members. While they held separate activities, they joined together for Lag Ba'Omer marches, performances, and Hebrew and Yiddish lectures. The Zionist youth movements held joint rallies and events with many other Jews from the city to protest the limitation of Jewish emigration to Eretz Israel, as well as other significant events such as the confirmation of the British Mandate over Eretz Israel and the laying of the cornerstone for the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem.
Agudath Israel in Plonsk
In 1918, a branch of Agudath Israel opened in Plonsk. Agudath Israel had great influence over the orthodox community in the city. The movement also established youth and women's organizations. In 1924, it opened a Beth Yaakov school for girls, with 150 students.
The Bund and the Communists in Plonsk
The Bund, which had gone underground during Communist rule, brought its activities into the open. In the interwar period, it had dozens of members. In the 1920s, small groups of Folkists (secular Jews that supported Yiddish culture and Jewish autonomy, influenced by the Russian push for Jewish settlement in Birobidzhan) were active in Plonsk. The illegal Communist Party in the city counted many Jews amongst its members, and many of those arrested and indicted for communist activity were Jewish. Kalman Gelbard, the communist leader from Plonsk, was arrested many times. When he arrived in Eretz Israel, he became a founding member of the Jewish Communist Party.