Zionism in Europe
The Gordonia and Hachsara

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 The doctrine of the Gordonia youth movement was based on the beliefs of Aaron David Gordon, the founder of the group Hapoel Hatzair.

Excerpts of an interview with Gordonia member Smelka J. (Israel):

I was born into a wealthy and religious family in the year 1914. We were four brothers and two sisters. When I was just eight years old, I first learned about the Pioneer movement. I hadn't been interested in religion, and I didn't want to live the life of a religious person. I wanted a different type of life. At home I was coerced to pray and to put on tefillin, to put on phylacteries. My mother was very strict with me and insisted that I read the Bible and pray every day, and she checked with me every day to make sure I did.

There was a time when I was young when I began searching for a way to change my life, in a way that would not lead me into a religious life. This was very difficult. At home we didn't speak at all about Zionism and did not think about making Aliyah to Palestine. We had been living well; money was not lacking at home. Whomever would have no money would be miserable.

In the movement, we were told about and spoke about our country Israel. In my city of Parczew there were all sorts of movements, of all different types, e.g. the Hechalutz (Pioneers), the Young Hechalutz (young Pioneers), Communist Groups, Betar, Gordonia, and there were also religious movements as well.

At first I joined the youth movement of the Hechalutz, or the Young Pioneers. My sister Hilda Ayelet, who was older than me, asked me to leave the Pioneer group and join the Gordonia group with her. She laughed when she said that, and I could see her eyes twinkle. She said that there would be many pretty girls there. She said to me that she would come with me to Gordonia. So I went over to Gordonia, and I stayed with the group until the time came for my Aliyah to Palestine. In Gordonia, I was the guy that all the girls wanted; they watched over me...

photo: Smelka with sister Hilda and a girlfriend, Parczew, Poland.

of the
Gordonia movement


Question: What caused you to become involved with a youth movement?

Answer: We were very young and full of motivation and energy, and there was not much for us to do. We had heart about the many youth movements....and all the young people in the town wanted to be together. Also, we had nothing else to do, and for our parents it was good that we would have something to do and not disturb them.

Question: What kind of activities did you do as a group (in Gordonia)?

Answer: On Fridays, all of us would meet at a place that we had rented. There we would sing and dance, and we'd spend time together until eleven o'clock at night, because at eleven o'clock there had to be silence. God forbid we would make any noise! Also in the movement we would hear lectures from instructors who had arrived from Palestine. It was there we would learn more about Israel.

Question: In which language did you speak? Were you speaking Hebrew or what?

Answer: No, we spoke Yiddish and Polish, and the instructors from Palestine wanted to see how progressive we were.

Question: What other activities did the Gordonia group do? How many people were there in the group?

Answer: I played football with the group. We were one hundred and twenty young boys and girls.

Question: What happened next? Did you go to a training farm (Hachsara)?

Answer: By the year 1933, there existed a place in Niedzwiada for us to train at, in a little train next to Lublin. I spent two years in training. The role of the trainer was to teach us how to work. Before that time, Jews didn't know how to work. They worked more as dealers, merchants or traders. The trainers also taught us how to live lives of partnership and how to socialize well.

: Smelka et al, at training farm, Lublin, 1933.

Question: Did you do your work, your job, in a special place? Please tell me what you did during the time you were being trained?

Answer: We worked on a farm that dealt with trees--a saw mill. My role was to care for the agricultural tools. The work was very herd and the Gentiles did not want us to work there.

Question: Was it because of the competition of the workplace, or was it because.....????

This happened in the beginning until we learn how to work "clean." The Gentiles didn't wanted us, but it was better after we had learned how to work "clean," which is what they wanted. I was responsible for the sharpening of the tools and the axes too. Each two people held a big handsaw and would cut blocks of wood into slices. This would leave a lot of chips…

Question: Under what conditions did you work? Did you earn any salary, any money when you worked?

Answer: The food was poor--soup with potato and black bread. And we were not paid for our work. The conditions were hard, but we wanted very much to learn how to work, to be good. Before we would make Aliyah to our country (Israel), we needed to learn how to work. The Jews had been dealers, and they didn't know how to work, to work in agriculture. We wanted to arrive (prepared) at the kibbutz in Palestine, and we needed to learn the differences in tooling.

Question: What about the girls? What did they do? After all, they wouldn't saw. That's not for girls, right?

Answer: The girls worked well in the fields, and they also did well doing needlework or stitching. They learned to cook, they washed or learned how to milk cows, and they learned how to prepare different kinds of cheese. They also helped the boys.

Afterwards, I was sent to a different place, and there were few friends there. We were compelled to go to this new place, to
Lubartów, which is thirty kilometers from Parczew. There we worked in a glass factory making bottles of glass. After that, in Zdunksa Wola, which is next to Łódź, we worked with clothing material. There was a textile factory owned by a Jew named Stayer.

After that, we went to Warsaw. There I received a permit to drive a carriage. We worked at the factory, a workshop for wooden shingles. And I transported the merchandise in the horse and carriage with the special permit that had been arranged for me.

In 1936 they conscripted me into the Polish Army to Łańcut for two and a half years in the cavalry, together with the Ukrainians. They were illiterate and didn't know how to read or write.

In the Jewish army, with me was a Moshe Klidenmacher. He was from my village and did not know how to write.
I would write letters for him that he would send home, and later on I would even sign his name "Moshe."

I left Poland eighteen hours before war erupted. When I arrived in Romania, there appeared a Jew in the train who told me in Yiddish, "Tonight Hitler forced his way to the Danzig." I got into the country (Israel) ?????
We sailed on a ship called "Tigry." We were at sea for a month! The year was 1939.....


Interview of Smelka J. (Israel), conducted by Roni Peled, 2008.






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