Zionism in Europe
The Betarim

Home       l       Site Map      l      Exhibitions      l     About the Museum       l      Education      l     Contact Us       l      Links

In the confusion that followed the First World War, the youth group Betar (the name goes back to Brit J. Trumpeldor) had a particular character. It stressed in deliberate contrast to other groups which had not recognized the true character of the Russian Revolution and which spouted socialist dogma, the primacy of the national-Jewish attitude relating to the “question of the day.” The young people had clearly formulated their demands. They longed and hoped for an Eretz Israel on both sides of the Jordan as the final goal of the fight for national rebirth. On the path to that goal, they rejected every detour that would hinder the building of Eretz Israel. This great ideal excluded the principal of “class war” that guided the worker's movement. Also, the strike which belonged to the mentality of the class conscious worker was rejected and contentious issues must be settled by a mediator (National Arbitration). In the view of Betar, before the final goal could be reached, the “order of the day,” was to nourish a healthy nationalism.

The Betarim of Czernowitz

As is often the case in life, chance led to the founding of Betar. The Vienna Zionist organization, Zeirenu had a branch in Czernowitz. Among its members were Jakob Gross (today vice mayor of Benjamina), Arie Ulin, Josef Tiger, Stanislawczekar, Sandberg, Tuchmann and others who later played a role in the Movement. In December, 1927 several members of the even newer Zionist Revisionist Party (it was founded at the Zionist Congress in 2925) among them M. Geiger, J. Mann, Benno Sternberg and Jakob Schieber tried to better organize the loose group Zeirenu and to win it for the Revisionist Movement. They were successful in creating the Zionist Revisionist youth organization Betar which was to win a place of honor in the Zionist movement in Bukovina...more ►►

Read about the funeral of Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky by clicking here.

photo: Betar founder Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Party, 1925

See more photos of the various Betarim groups by clicking here.

Many of the Betar fighters battled against the British who occupied Palestine during the Mandate, and they were also important players in the creation of an Israeli state.

The name B-E-T-A-R stands for "Brit Yosef Trumpeldor," who was a Jewish fighter who fell in battle at Tel Hai.  He is credited with coining the phrase "Never mind, it is good to die for our country."

At first in agreement with the youth group Brith Trumpeldor in Riga, the local Betar was made into a branch organization of the General Revisionist Youth Movement with the goal of working from Czernowitz to spread this movement to all parts of the newly created Greater Romanian nation. The Czernowitz cell quickly became stronger. The headquarters of the organization was in the school house of Safa Iwria on Synagogengasse. Many meetings took place and lectures on Zionist subjects were held, Hebrew was taught and in anticipation of joining a Jewish army in Eretz Israel, physical training was done. Betar sought and achieved a connection with the Romanian Boy Scout Movement and later with the Strajeri and because of these connections enjoyed the advantage of being able to operate undisturbed by Romanian officialdom. An official ban on their continued operation due to an unfounded accusation was soon lifted. Now the way was clear for spreading this national Jewish youth movement and its propaganda goal. Cells (Kenanim) were started in almost every town in Bukovina that had Jewish residents. It soon became obvious that the Zionist Revisionist Youth Movement had the strength to withstand the agitation against Revisionism that arouse after Arlosoroff was murdered and the Revisionist Zwi Rosenblatt from Kotzman was one of those who were accused of the crime. In 1931, our speakers were stoned because of the murder. In addition to the main organization in Bukovina (Galil-Betar Bukovina), new cells originated outside of Bukovina in Noua-Sulita, Hotin, Piatra-Neamti, Bacau and Jassy.

In Czernowitz, Betar published a weekly newspaper, “The Jewish World,” directed by Jakob Schieber and edited by H. Fekler. The Betarists [I've taken the liberty of coining this word to designate Betar members] were not afraid, in the interest of propaganda, to sell the paper in public places. The meeting of the state organization in 1931 was attended by representatives of most of the local organizations.

Almost every year, summer camps were held for the members, the first one being held in 1928 in Wizenka. There as also in Wiznitz, Lopuschna, Ribnia and other locations, summer meetings were organized at which also non-Bukovina natives attended. Among others, a camp was led by Eisik Remba (today publisher of the Cheruth) in 1928 in his capacity as general secretary of the main leadership (Schilton Betar). Arie Disenczik (fellow worker of the Maariv) [the evening prayer service for Jews and a newspaper] was also a delegate of the Schilton. Many went to Romania as teachers, among others Arie Ben Elieser (today the vice chairman of the Knesset). In Czernowitz a Hebrew seminar was started where many members from Bessarabia, who otherwise would have been caught up by the Communist stream received a thorough Zionist education. All the instruction was intended to prepare the participants for life in Eretz Israel. For that reason, Hachscharoth (training in agriculture) was created in Zastavna (leader of the farm was David Schuster), Kuczurmik, Doroschoutz, moreover in Nepolokoutz, Luzan and in Storozynetz on the estates of estate owners Ornstein and Baron Flondor. When Jabotinsky stayed in Bukovina he visited several Hachscharoth. At this point it should be remarked that also other personalities from the Revisionist Movement were interested in the accomplishments of Betar, like Aron Propes, Eri Jabotinsky, Eisik Remba, Dr. Wolfgang and Noemi von Weisl. The visit of the last named was organized by Betar. When Colonel Wedgwood visited he was greeted by a mounted Betar unit with others marching smartly. The English friend of Zionism took home a lasting impression. He had met a youth group that was preparing itself militarily for a life in Eretz Israel.

The young idealists ran into difficulties again and again. The Zionist organization wouldn't grant them the certificate, which alone would allow them to enter the British mandate of Palestine. But they knew how to help themselves. They traveled as escorts of transports by way of Constanza or attached themselves to illegally traveling groups.

The leader of Betar, Jakob Schieber moved to Bucharest in 1934 where two years later he successfully worked with others on the organization of the illegal Aliyah Bet which transported emigrants to Israel by way of the Black Sea. After he left, the Bukovina organization was directed from Czernowitz by S. Jungmann, A. Feiger, M. Steinmetz, Lecker and others. The illegal Aliyah became a pivotal factor in the Romanian youth movement.

The anti-youth policy of the Romanian security police became more oppressive from year to year. Emigration was the only possible path to relief. In 1936 the young Edi Wagner died a martyr's death in Czernowitz, supposedly because of participating in the murder of a Romanian theology student. Another victim of the police for the same reason was the Betarist Rudolf Mehr, of whom, no trace remained after he fell into the hands of the Romanian police.

When the Russians marched into Northern Bukovina in 1940, all Zionist activity ceased. Some tried to disappear from sight, but most just waited to be deported to Siberia. As, however the Russians seemed to take no measures against the former Zionists, the friends of Zionism began to make contact with each other. The Betarists and other Revisionists remembered the words of Jabotinsky that only the existence of a Jewish state presented the right conditions for social progress. So a movement started to reactivate the “Ken,” to be sure, on a strictly underground basis. The initial goal was to create a small “core” group which at the opportune moment could quickly put together a large group. Among the most enthusiastic proponents of the idea were the Betarists Liquornik, Axelrad (perished in Transnistrien), Moritz Horowitz, Rennert and others. The group came together mostly in public places always “armed” with Communist literature which served at the same time as a discussion theme and camouflage. The Russian propaganda literature had the reverse effect of its intended purpose in that it deepened their belief in the Zionist ideology. The Betarists, however suffered deeply because of their isolation.

In May 1941, the long feared deportation started and lamed every activity. When soon thereafter uniformed Romanian and Nazi German criminals occupied Czernowitz there followed constant persecution, house searches, arrests and dragging away for forced labor. The last Betarists again contacted each other and met relatively undisturbed in the courtyard of the Jewish Hospital. Gradually young middle school students joined the activities of the “Ken.” Even in the Czernowitz ghetto (October, 1941) the secret activity of Betar continued unbroken.

Although most of the active members had been deported, the work started afresh. Since among other measures taken against the Jews, school instruction of the Jewish children was forbidden, the children were threatened with growing up uneducated. Here Betar started a new activity. Qualified members gave group instruction in the homes of the parents of the school children, among others Goldig, Schifter, Weiser, Thaler, Schieber. Miliu Singer especially distinguished himself. He was a man full of energy and ideas who significantly helped to build up “Ken.” In addition to him should be mentioned the Betarists from Poland who succeeded in finding a refuge in Czernowitz. In particular, Izchak Ganzweich (Gan-Zwi) should be mentioned. Even in the catastrophic years, education continued. An excellent library of Judaic and Zionist texts was put together and also there was no lack of books with socialist and political content.

Soon an event took place that threatened to destroy the organization. Ukrainian residents who had noticed the meetings of the members in a private dwelling reported them for carrying on Communist activities. The police blocked off the street, arrested the girl's group with their leader Schmidt and Moschkowitz and 16 youths from the neighboring houses. Luckily, with money and much effort the problem was resolved. They were able to prove that the prisoners were not Communists, whereupon they were freed by a military court.

In 1944, the front came ever nearer to Romanian territory. Preparations were made to evacuate the Betar members, most importantly, the illegal Poles, to the Old Kingdom [the original Romanian state made up of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia]. Unfortunately, several were arrested on the trip including among others Ganzweich, but he was freed in a short time. Finally, the Revisionists succeeded in organizing the first Aliyahs from Constantinople and Bucharest. Eight days before the Russians marched into Czernowitz, the first transport left Constantinople. Two weeks latter began the manhunt for the Revisionists. Fortunately, almost all of them had already left Czernowitz.

With that, the decades long activity of the Czernowitz cell came to an end. The last transport not only brought the banner of the cell to Israel but also many fighters for the independence of our land. Soon the Betarists were in the forts at Latrun and Bethlehem, but also could be found in the cells at Akko. The kibbutzniks Schneeweiss and Merling fell in a battle with the Arabs. The son of Dr. Tamler from Zastavna, the top leader of “Ezel” died a hero's death in the War for Independence, during the fight for Haifa.

Besides the above named, some other noteworthy members of Betar were: D. Kohn, Urzu Geller, Nagler and A. Fabian (Sereth); B. Pasternak, Tennhaus, Gruber, Bubi Sommer, Miliu Singer, Postelnik, Dr. Adi Mechel (Radautz); Udelsmann brothers, Muli Muhlstein, Paul Beberer, S. Fischler, Fanny Horowitz, the Mischoschnik family, Rauchwerger, Held, Zimmer, Pasternak (Czernowitz); Lawyer Scheuermann (Gurahumora); Aron Frölich and Kirmayer (Storozynetz); Fritz Baruch (Kotzman); Ausfresser, Schuster (Zastavna); Rosen (who died together with Strume (Wilavcze); Axelrad.

These and the many that were not named in this report earned the thanks of the nation. Honor their memory.



From "History of the Jews of  Bukovina,"  p. 176. Article: "The Youth Group - Betar" by  Jakob Schieber and A.  Liquornik (Tel Aviv).  Translated by Jerome Silverbush.   Photo from Wikipedia.





Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Copyright © 2008. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved. 
Image Use Policy.