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The Youth Zionist Movement Akiba
Before discussing the evolution of the Akiba movement we should briefly elaborate
on the whole Zionist movement in Europe during the early twentieth century. In the Jewish
community within Europe, Poland included, were many political streams and associations.
Almost all the mentioned parties had established their own youth movements in order to
ensure their future existence. The Jewish political parties, except very few, maintained
some inclination towards Zionism. Zionism was perceived as the solution to many of the
lingering problems faced by the Jewish communities. However, in addition to the message of
Zionism each movement was pushing its own agenda regarding the implementation method of
the Jewish state. Some parties emphasized the religious aspect of life and some emphasized
the establishment of socialist society. Some youth organizations had a leftist agenda and
some turned to the extreme right. A few youth movements were associated with the General
Zionist political party. These youth movements advocated the revival of the Jewish nation
based solely on the Zionist ideology. They did not push for a change in the society
structure and did not lean to the left or to the right. Their whole agenda was aimed
towards restoring the pride in Jewish hearts and rebuilding the Jewish homeland in Zion.
The Akiba youth movement was affiliated with the General Zionist Party. The Akiba movement
was established in the city of Krakow in 1901. This association was educating the public
in the history of the Jewish nation. In this way Akiba attempted to strengthen the sense
of affiliation of the common Jew with his nation and stop the erosion and assimilation
process that affected the community at that time. Akiba struggled to incorporate the
teaching of the Hebrew language as part of the religious study in schools and for adding
the subject of Jewish history to the public schools' curriculum. This struggle was not
successful and Akiba had to complement its members' knowledge within its own structure
providing lectures and courses. At that time the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair presented
more challenges for the Jewish youth and attracted many of the Akiba members into its
ranks. In 1918 most of the Akiba members in Krakow joined the Hashomer Hatzair movement
maintaining the name Akiba for their group. After the Polish Russian war in 1924 The Akiba
movement started to rise again. In September 1924 the movement leaders held a meeting in
Krakow. The association headquarters had decided on a large scale expansion in Galicia1
with noticeable deviation in ideology and method of operations. Subsequently the five
active youth organizations in Krakow: Akiba, Hertzelia2 , Hatikva, Hashmonaim,
and the Jeuda merged into one movement. The Jewish youth organizations of Jaroslaw,
Rzeszow, Debica, Byelsko and more (associations which were close in their ideologies to
that of Akiba) joined the Akiba movement and new Akiba cells were established in Tarnow
Bochnia and Brzesko within four months. In December 1924 a general meeting was held in
Krakow. In this meeting the Hebrew Youth Association Akiba was established.(ZHA-39)
|In November 1926 the Akiba's executive committee agreed to turn Zionism and its
implementation into the main goal of the Hebrew Youth Association. From this point Zionism
was perceived as a way of life. Zionism for Settlement and establishment of the Jewish
country in Palestine Zionism as the force that enables the very existence of the Jewish
nation. The members were encouraged to implement their Zionism with an immigration to
Palestine. The people that could not leave Europe were encouraged to be active in their
communities and use Zionism as the tool with which the life of the Jewish Nation should be
revived. All the Akiba movements activities were modified for the implementation of the
final goal- The immigration to Palestine and building a new Jewish nation there. In the
following paragraphs the Akiba methods of operation will be described. Please pay
attention to all the qualifications that the movement members had to acquire.
Qualifications that were required from the new pioneers were emphasized.
The Hebrew Youth Association Akiba accepted into its ranks Jewish youth from the age of 12 years and up. The members were divided into three regiments. Regiment C for the adolescents (12 to 14 years of age), regiment B for the teenagers (15 to 17 years of age), and regiment A for adults (ages 18 and up).
Regiment C concentrated on scouting and the study of the Hebrew language. Scouting encouraged their independence and their self confidence. They had to endure physical exercises improving their fitness and hiking that sharpened their sense of orientation. The members learned to appreciate the life in a group and the mutual support within the group. They learned the history of the Jewish nation and became familiar with the Jewish tradition through celebration of religious holidays.
Regiment B members had to prepare themselves to guide the younger age group as well as to upgrade themselves for implementation of the Akiba ideas in the future. They improved upon their Hebrew knowledge and read Hebrew modern literature and poetry. They read Jewish history books and got familiar with the biblical Hebrew by reading the bible. The members were encouraged in this way to attend synagogue services by making the prayer language closer to their hearts. In their club houses there was always a map of Israel and the Akiba members learned about Palestine as well as about the history of the Zionist movement. They were active on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and learned first aid techniques.
Regiment A was active in transforming the apathetic Jewish public into a dynamic
Zionist community in the Diaspora. The members were expected to gather at least once a
week for lectures and ideological discussions. The adult regiment had to form a Kibbutz
(commune) as a last step prior to the anticipated move of immigration to Israel. Formation
of rural (agricultural) and urban (industrial) type Hachsharah centers was the first step
of its implementation. The members encouraged vocational education and development of
technical Jewish workshops in their communities. The members of regiment A were expected
eventually to immigrate to the land of Israel and settle there in order to fulfill the
ultimate dream of the Zionist ideology. (ZHA-87)
The meaning of the word Hachsharah (in Hebrew) is training or preparation. Hachsharah centers were required in order to train the prospective pioneers in the skills needed in the new land. For many generations the Jews in Europe were not permitted to engage in agriculture. A a matter of fact the Jews were restricted from many professions. As a result most of the Jews were dealing with trade, tailoring and a few other specific trades. In order to rebuild a country the pioneers needed agricultural and industrial skills. The Hachsharah centers were established in order to provide the pioneers with the skills they were lacking. The Akiba movement rented a few farms and sent their members to run it. In these farms the members had to face the harsh reality of hard physical work and poor nutrition. They were taught how to cultivate the land and how to cope in a commune setting. Members of a Hachsharah were sent to work in factories and workshops in the close vicinity and acquired many skills they did not have before. After a lengthy period of time in the Hachsharah a person was considered ready for settling in the new land. Hachsharah centers in Poland were established from 1928 all the way to 1939 (the outbreak of the Second World War). Seven temporary (during the summer) agricultural Hachsharah centers were established as well as four large permanent educational agricultural farms (Bonarka, Krzeszowice, Krajowice and Leopoldynow). During the same time span (1928 - 1939) 23 urban Hachsharah centers were established and functioning all over Poland, among them were the centers in Bielsko, Krakow and Bochnia.
Hachsharah centers were very instrumental in bringing about unity within its members and uplifting their spirits. However it was restricted to regiment A only and to the members who were considering immigration to Palestine in the near future. The majority of the Akiba members were supplemented with the activity of summer camps. All members of all regiments were eligible and participated in these camps. Members spent their summers in the mountains and in the woods. A lot of trips were organized for the Akiba members and they never felt left out. The activity among the movement members was so intense and persistent that many members started to relate to the rest of their activity group as family and that was one of the aims the Akiba movement set for implementation. From the Krakow book (published by the Harav Kook Institute in Jerusalem) here are some numerical values substantiating the size and activity of the Akiba movement in the last decade prior to the Second World War:
The Akiba movement felt responsible for the safety of the Jewish community as a
whole. As such it was very active in the battle against anti-Semitism in Europe. Akiba
correlated its actions and supported the activity of the Movement for Jewish Defense.
|Eirena Harand, an Aryan woman from Vienna was the initiator of this movement. She
wrote the book "The Truth About The Anti-Semitism". She published a journal
named "Justice And Truth" in the German language. Akiba supported Eirena in her
struggle by translating her book and journals into the Polish language and distributing
the material among the Polish population. In 1934 Eirena attended a convention in Krakow.
At that time she visited Akiba centers, Summer camps and Hachsharah centers and was
honored with a special ceremony by thousands of Akiba members in a large athletic field of
the "Macabi" center in Krakow.
The Akiba movement of the thirties was a dynamic stimulating and enlightening movement. Its members did not follow extreme and rigged slogans. Akiba was not a religious movement in spite of its positive approach to tradition. It was not nationalist but Zionist. Up to here was the description of Akiba by one of its leaders. This description reflected the ideology of the managing body of this movement.( WUK-90) In reality, because of the center stand of the movement, Akiba consisted of people from the left and from the right, of religious and atheistic background. Zionism was the uniting force behind this movement but eventually it could not bridge over the political and religious differences that existed among its members.
In 1936 an ideological tear occurred in the Akiba movement when a group of its members started to question the emphasis of the leadership on religious ideas within the general Zionist ideology. This group established a separate movement Akiba-B but during the Second World War they joined the main stream in their armed struggle against the Nazis.
In 1930 a few members of the Akiba movement made the first move towards implementation of the Zionist dream. They immigrated to Israel and established the first Akiba's Kibbutz near the city of Petach Tikvah. This Kibbutz was in a temporary location and a few temporary locations were established later on. From 1930 all the way to 1939 there was a steady stream of Akiba pioneers reaching Palestine. In April 1938 the first Akiba permanent Kibbutz, named Bait Yehoshua, was settled in the Sharon region. In November 1938 the second Akiba settlement, Kibbutz Nevah Eitan in the Bait Shean valley near the sea of Galilee, was established. The second Kibbutz was formed after a similar ideological split (like the one in Krakow) occurred in Bait Yehoshua.
The Akiba Movement after the outbreak of the Second World War
On the eve of the Second World War The leader of the Akiba movement in Krakow was
Aaron Libeskind (Dolek in Polish). Another outstanding member of the Akiba leadership
committee who was also the editor of the Akiba weekly magazine (in the Polish language)
was Shimshon Deringer (Mark in Polish). In September 1939 the Wehrmacht Forces broke
through the Polish defense lines and took over Poland. At this initial stage of the war
there was total chaos in Poland and the life structure of the Jewish communities vanished
overnight. Many Jews fled to Russian held territories and others were taken to labor camps
or arrested for no apparent reason. During this period the Akiba leadership attempted to
regroup and organized the members that were accessible back into some
|form of activity. During 1940 there were a few attempts to smuggle Jews outside
the third Reich area. Some attempts were successful but the number of people saved in this
way was very limited. After a few failures of rescue attempts and after Slovakia joined
Germany during the German offensive against Russia3 the Akiba movement stopped
these activities altogether. In parallel to the smuggling attempts, the Akiba movement
tried to protect its members by sending them to Hachsharah centers away from the watchful
eyes of the German authorities. However these centers were closed eventually by the
Gestapo and the Hebrew youth organization Akiba ran out of options.
The transformation of Akiba into a warring faction
About two years after the outbreak of the Second World War, in July 1942, the leaders of the Akiba movement started to consider the possibility of armed rebellion against the Nazis. At that time they came to the realization that the whole Jewish population was facing extermination and they had no other choice but to defend themselves with arms. The leadership made the decision to act in a meeting that took place in the Hachsharah center in the Kopalini farm near Bochnia. Dolek brought a gun to the farm and started to train the members with the use of a weapon. In a matter of weeks the preparations for organized rebellion were in full speed. For that purpose Akiba joined forces with the organizations of Dror4 , Hashomer Hatzair5 , and Bund6 members. The new organization was called The Jewish Warring Organization of the Pioneer Youth. (Will be referred to as JWO) The leadership committee of the JWO consisted of five members. The three most outstanding leaders who influenced this underground partisan movement were: Dolek, Mark and Abraham Laibowitz - Laban (Romek in Polish). Laban was the representative of the Dror movement in Krakow.
Subsequent to German riots against the Jewish population in Krakow in September
1939 the Akiba movement kept its activities in private homes. The members used to maintain
their ideological discussions, sing their traditional songs, and were nourishing each
other's morale with their belief that their dreams, although delayed somewhat, would be
materialized eventually. This passive activity was altered as the sad events of the
holocaust took place one after the other. Many Jewish communities from the surrounding
area had been liquidated and surviving youth of these communities found refuge in the city
of Krakow. An anticipation for some action in the coming future and a collective will for
a fight united the young generation. The older generation was more desperate and searched
for ways of escape or hiding. The mature Jewish population was very far from the idea of
armed struggle but the young people, even if they did not believe in the possibility of
survival, refused to retreat without a struggle.
|After the aktion of June 1942 in ghetto Krakow many apartments were left vacant.
Homeless Akiba members arriving to the city found shelter at 13 Jozefinska St. This
apartment, located inside the ghetto, was the home of Simon Lusgarten (an Akiba member).
His parents were deported during this aktion and he remained the only surviving member of
his family. Akiba formed a commune in 13 Jozefinska St. Local members joined the commune
after the loss of their families or after hiding their parents outside the ghetto. The
members shared responsibilities within the commune and held a common kitchen and supported
each other economically. The commune became a substitution to the families they had lost.
13 Jozefinska St served as l launching point for offencive operations within the city of
Krakow. For the moment it consisted mainly of ambushing German soldiers and claiming their
weapons as a preperation for future actions. This apartment became the headquarters of the
JWO and a centre for its activities. (JD-
At first the organization chose the route of armed struggle in the woods. They prepared groups of five people each to relocate to the woods and strike the Germans from there. There was a hope to create a connection between the Polish partisan movement and the Jewish organization. The Polish Laborer Party - PPR7 was contacted and after long negotiations the PPR helped the JWO to purchase five revolvers in Warsaw. The first group equipped with Aryan documents left with a guide provided by the PPR. After being left in the woods they found out the hard way, that survival without support points in the close vicinity is impossible. After they barely managed to escape a German search the first group came back to Krakow. All the Polish rebelling organizations were hesitating about the time in which they should act against the Germans. Their need to act was nowhere as desperate as that of the Jews, and they did not want to rush into battle. The JWO was running out of time and its members were murdered with the rest of the Jewish population at an alarming rate. They knew that their only chance for action is the present and this is why the JWO chose to work closely with the PPR since this organization was the only one that was aiming for immediate action. However, even the PPR was not willing to mobilize its forces fast enough and the JWO ended up operating on its own.
Two companies of five warriors each were sent to the woods. One company to the
town of Debica and the other to the town of Miechow. Accommodation for the warriors was
arranged and retreat bases after actions were set. Certain people were assigned to
maintain a contact between the partisans in the woods and the JWO headquarters in Krakow.
Maintaining the partisan companies in the woods required a large expense which the
organization could not afford. The technical office of the JWO was producing and selling
forged documents for rich Jews but the income from this operation was not sufficient to
cover the new expense. Due to this grim situation the JWO had to resort to forced
collection of money from people with economical means.
|A group of three JWO members dressed in Gestapo uniforms went on special mission
(the purpose of this mission is not clear. It might have been establishment of new
partisan bases or taking possession of some money or weapons) but they all got killed. A
group of four people was sent on a mission of preparing support and retreat points for the
warriors near Rzeszow, Debica, Tarnowska, Rodnic and more. The amount of weapons was
limited. Two people of that group armed with one revolver went to get supplies in one of
the nearby villages. A local informer reported them to the German authorities. The two
were confronted by German police and managed to inflict some casualties on their enemy
before being killed themselves. The rest of this group was instructed to return to Krakow.
In spite of all the efforts to hide the underground resistance activities the local population took notice of the JWO's members. At first this information became a source of pride to their circle of friends. However within a short time they were spotted by collaborators who informed the Jewish police of their existence. The JWO's commanders were aware of the situation and decided to move their headquarters outside the ghetto. Towards the end of November 1942 Dolek was taken to custody by the local Jewish police. He managed to escape and immediately moved out of the ghetto. On November 25 the JWO center on 13 Jozefinska St. ceased to exist. Numerous warriors took residence in different locations near Krakow and in the city itself. The JWO headquarters was located in 5 Zolawska St. (in the Aryan part of Krakow). Laban was residing in this apartment.(WUK-32)
The failure to establish permanent partisan bases in the woods of the Krakow district and the cooling weather of the fall convinced the JWO headquarters to alter its tactic of operation. From this point on the JWO concentrated its operation in the city of Krakow along with a few cities on the Krakow - Lwow line and the Krakow - Warsaw line. Support points were set up in the larger centers. All operations took place outside the ghetto boundaries to prevent any collective reprisal against the Jews. For the same reason the warriers kept their false Aryan identity. Small groups of JWO members used to attack armed Germans and collect their weapons. Acts of sabotage against the Nazi regime took place as well. However, the real identity of the attacker was never revealed. Every evening a group of warriors was sneaking out of the ghetto to the Aryan side and performing their limited operation. Inside the ghetto the organization took upon itself to take revenge against Jewish traitors and informers. In spite of the limited success in their struggle the JWO members desired an operation of larger scale that would cause noticeable harm to the German forces. After careful preparations and planning they were ready for their biggest action yet - The operation Cyganeria.
In July-28,1942 the Z.O.B.8 - Jewish Resistance Organization was
established in ghetto Warsaw. This body was established as an umbrella organization that
would oversee all Jewish combat activities in occupied Poland. When the warring faction in
Krakow was established a short time after, it was organized in correlation with the Warsaw
|However, some differences in local conditions and ideologies dictated a different
approach in implementation of the ultimate goal - armed resistance. The Warsaw ghetto was
big in size and contained a large number of residences. The Krakow ghetto was very small
with a limited number of residences. Due to the given conditions the Jewish rebels in
Warsaw could hide their activities with relative ease compared to their friends in Krakow.
The Dror movement in Warsaw concentrated its activities within the ghetto itself. They
hunted all Nazi collaborators and informers and took control over the internal life of the
ghetto. The approach of the Dror movement was more extreme and in a way more practical
then the approach that was taken by the JWO in Krakow. The Akiba movement formed the
majority of the JWO members and its leaders set the tone for the method of operation. The
Akiba approach for any aspect of life was moderate and any action was analyzed prior to
execution morally as well as logically. For this reason the JWO was not so anxious to go
after Jewish informers and collaborators (the hesitation to act against informers caused
the JWO its demise). Residing in a small ghetto like the one in Krakow with many informers
watching them from every corner made the rebels operation within the ghetto close to
impossible. The German body (General Government) who governed occupied Poland was located
in Krakow and General Frank (the head of this governing body) resided in this city with
his family. The Gestapo headquarters was located in Krakow and almost all decisions
affecting the fate of the Polish Jews were made there. It was just natural that the
Germans maintained a military buildup in and around Krakow to protect their leaders. The
activities of the German Gestapo were much more noticeable in ghetto Krakow then in any
other ghetto in Poland. The local Judenrat in Krakow was on the lookout for the
underground members. With the cooperation of the informers the Judenrat knew the
identities of many JWO members and did its best to catch them and deliver them to the
hands of the Germans. For these reasons the JWO moved its headquarters and most of its
operations outside the ghetto. Since the JWO's leadership did not want to cause any harm
to the local Jewish population as a reprisal to their actions, they chose to operate under
Polish identity. All the attacks on German targets took place outside the ghetto and the
Jewish identity of the attackers was never revealed.
At the initial stage of
the rebellion in Krakow the JWO faced an internal struggle regarding the methods of
implementation of its armed resistance. A group of the Hashomer Hatzair did not agree with
the limited struggle in the remote forests. They were anxious for more offensive actions
in Krakow. A warrior group under the command of Hirsh Bowminger joined the ranks of the
PPR (The Communist party) and formed a cell of the Gwardia Ludowa (the offensive arm of
the PPR) in Krakow. This group felt that affiliation with the PPR would enable them to
engage in combat and sabotage activities against the Germans without restrictions. When
the JWO started its activity in Krakow the Bowminger group joined forces with the Jewish
underground but stopped short of rejoining back into their ranks. In the operation of
December 22,1942 the Bowminger's group took an active part. However they still maintained
their own individual identity with separate launching and retreat bases. Such a
cooperation between the Jewish underground and the Gwardia Ludowa was quite common in
Poland. For the time being both organizations had a common goal and it made common sense
to correlate their actions for better efficiency and impact. However, the operation of
December 22 was executed by Jewish warriors only and mainly by the JWO.
|Isaac Zukerman (Antek9 in Polish), a representative of the Z.O.B.
(Jewish resistance organization which oversaw and coordinated all Jewish rebellion
activities in Poland) arrived in Krakow on December 21st. The leadership of the Z.O.B. in
Warsaw heard about the pending large scale operation in Krakow and sent Antek to try and
stop it from being materialized. The Z.O.B. considered this operation a waste of effort
and manpower. They wanted the JWO to put all their effort inside the ghetto. The Z.O.B.
was interested in full control over the ghetto as a preparation for unified rebellion of
the local Jewish population against the Germans. When Antek arrived in Krakow it was too
late. All the preparations for the Cyganeria operation were completed and the fighters
were hidden at assigned locations waiting for the order to attack. Antek met with Dolek
and Laban on the day of the attack. The Z.O.B. was worried that by sending all the
fighters to the battle they were leaving the ghetto without protection. According to their
policy the battle should have taken place only inside the ghetto during an Aktion. In such
an occasion the JWO should attack the Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) in attempts to
protect the Jewish population in the ghetto. Since Antek's arrival came too late10
he had to give his permission for the operation but at this meeting with Dolek and Laban,
they agreed to concentrate their efforts inside the ghetto from that point on. According
to Antek's request they added one small action inside the ghetto. One JWO member had to
kill a Jewish Gestapo man (possibly Spitz) as the first step for things to come.
The Cyganeria Operation
|After the completion of the Cyganeria operation all the JWO warriors that took
part in the operation retreated to 24 Skabinska St. as planned. Unfortunately within the
JWO were some collaborators with the Nazis who informed the German authorities of the
whereabouts of this hiding place. The German reaction was swift. All the participants in
the operation were captured and executed shortly after. Laban, the operation commander,
with Antek came to the hiding place unaware of the situation and Laban got caught. Antek
got wounded but managed to escape back to ghetto Warsaw. The information in Laban's
documents brought the Gestapo to his apartment (The JWO headquarters located in the Aryan
side of Krakow) where Dolek was waiting. Dolek and another JWO member fought with the
Germans and managed to kill a few of them but were overcome by the large German force. The
members of the PPR branch in Krakow (all of them Jewish) participated in this operation
but they kept separate retreat points and this is how their members were saved11
. The Jewish Warring Organization practically ceased to exist before it had the chance to
start its operation within ghetto Krakow. The traitors in the rebellion movement were
discovered and executed however the deed was done and the Krakow branch of the Jewish
resistance organization never recovered from this devastating blow.
Operating under Polish identity, although for valid reasons, conflicted with the main goal of the JWO. In addition to the harm the warriors wanted to inflict on the enemy they wanted to show the world that in spite of their isolation the Jews resisted the Nazi murder machine. It was important to show that the Jews did not go like lambs to the slaughter. Dolek Libeskind, in what was called the last supper,12 said that the whole struggle will result in three lines in the history books. But now, with their true identity concealed, they were going to be deprived out of these three lines in history as well. In Poland the history of this event was recorded as a rebellion act which was executed by the Gwardia Ludowa. They had all the right to do so since all the presentation to the public (like the flags and leaflets) indicated as such. The Jewish warriors were not mentioned even once in spite of the fact that not even one Pole participated in this event13 . The Germans also contributed to the historical distortion by never admitting in public to the Jewish rebellion.
Almost all the JWO members were captured during or a short time after the
Cyganeria operation. The Germans managed to trace them with the help of the Judenrat and
the collaborators in Krakow and its vicinity. Only a small group located in Bochnia
managed to maintain its activity until March 1943. In the Montelupich prison all the
Jewish warriors were kept for interrogations including severe beating and torture. Some
JWO were kept in isolation but later all of them were put together in two cells (one for
men and one for women). In March 43 the Bochnia company joined their friends in their
prison cells. From time to time a few were taken to the Plaszow camp for execution. A few
were sent to Auschwitz and some survived the war. During the incarceration period Gusta
|(Mark's wife) wrote a diary (The Gustina Diary) that was hidden inside the prison
cell. She realized that the formation and struggle history of the JWO would be lost for
the reasons mentioned before. This diary was published in Poland and later in Israel in
its Hebrew version. On the way to execution the prisoners made a few escape attempts. In
April 29 1943 Gusta and Mark succeeded in their escape. Each one escaped at a different
time but they met later in the city of Bochnia.
The JWO's armed resistance in the Krakow district was the first Jewish rebellion that took place in German occupied Poland. The number of its participants was limited and the JWO never took control over the ghetto. The Jewish rebels had to operate outside the ghetto and under assumed identity. Never the less, this armed resistance managed to put a dent in the German arrogance and took control of the city of Krakow (although for a very short time) out of Nazis hands.
The Bochnia Connection
In the town of Bochnia existed a well organized Akiba movement cell. From the moment the leadership of Akiba decided to choose the armed resistance route, the Bochnia cell was involved in its implementation. Dolek Libeskind visited Bochnia at that time and a short time later, an underground partisan cell of the JWO was established there. Similarly to the development in Krakow, here too the warriors were targeted by the local Judenrat for destruction. The information about the underground operation in Bochnia is scarce but we know of cases where activists of the JWO resided in the Aryan part of the city (like in Krakow) but the extent of this phenomena is unknown. The Gustina Diary mentioned the existence of the Bochnia's company, their activities and their demise however most of these details got lost during the war. Like their friends in Krakow they all were equipped with Aryan papers. They were recruiting new members for their organization from the local Jewish population in Bochnia. It is known that the Bochnia cell of the JWO was active in rescue operation of Jews but there are no details regarding their offensive actions. Gusta Daividson (Gustina) herself was the contact person between the Bochnia cell to the JWO headquarters in Krakow. We know that the JWO members in Bochnia shared with the rest of their comrades the same concern regarding the fate of their loved ones. In JD-63 we learned about a plan, that was initiated in Bochnia, to support the families of the warriors who might perish in action (JD-63). When the JWO formed a cell in Warsaw it received, according to ZHA-215, some support from the other two established cells in Krakow and in Bochnia.
The JWO commander responsible for the Bochnia - Wisnicz area was Hillel
Wodislawski. Hillel was also a member of the JWO headquarters. The Krakow Jewish
underground devised a backup plan in which they would move all their forces into the woods
at the Bochnia - Wisnicz district. For this reason Hillel was occupied constructing a
chain of camouflaged bunkers in the forests. The underground anticipated that after the
large scale operation in Krakow the Judenrat would intensify its war against them in
conjunction with the Gestapo operation. Under these circumstances the continuation of arm
resistance from Krakow was impossible. The bunkers were built as part of a plan to
continue the rebellion from the wooded area after the operation of December 22, 1942.
(JD-139) Hillel was born in Wisnicz and knew the area well. He used his connections with
the local population to obtain construction material for this project.
|The Judenrat of Krakow was very active in its attempts to destroy and erase the
remaining forces of the JWO. As anticipated the hunt for JWO members was intensified after
December 22nd. A few weeks after the operation of Cyganeria Shimshon Deringer was arrested
by the Nazis who were tipped by an informer. Deringer was taken to Montelupich and joined
his friends at the prison cell. A group of the remaining JWO members managed to escape to
Bochnia. They hid in a bunker14 waiting to be transferred to the woods by
Hillel Wodislawski. The surviving warriors were in desperate need of money in order to
finance their planned lengthy operation as partisans. They required a lot of supplies,
ammunition and weapons. For that reason the JWO members launched an operation inside the
ghetto in which they forced a wealthy Jew, from the Stempel family, to relinquish a sum of
money to cover these expenses. (ZHA-211)
On Friday night, the 12th of March 194315 , the JWO members (the group from Krakow with some local JWO members among them) were caught after the Judenrat was informed about them by Jewish collaborators. Hillel Wedislawski was out of the bunker at the time and was saved. During this arrest all the warriors in the bunker were caught and were brought to the prison cell at the local Judenrat building (the men were put in one room and women prisoners were put in an adjoining cell). Simchah Shapiro, the head of the Jewish police in ghetto Krakow and the man that oversaw all Jewish police operations in the Krakow district, was brought in. The number of prisoners were at least eight men and three women (IAJ-43) . From the book "Dare to Survive" I understand that the warriors were arrested in several groups. From that fact I can determine that the partisans from that single bunker were only part of the detainees. The rest of the prisoners must have been some of the local JWO members from Bochnia who were arrested at the same time. Shapiro was conducting the interrogation and through torture and severe beating attempted to reveal the identity of other members of this group. At eight o'clock a.m. the next morning (March 13) all the prisoners were bussed away to the Montelupich prison in Krakow where they joined their friends at their prison cells awaiting their execution. (DTS-211, JD-117) The Bochnia cell of the JWO was not erased completely on March 13 1943.
In April 1943 Shimshon Deringer and Gusta Davidson arrived at Bochnia after
escaping execution in Krakow. They managed to contact Hillel Wodislawski, who gave them
shelter in one of the bunkers (located in the woods). The bunkers served as shelters for
the remaining Jewish rebels and the survivors of liquidated ghettos in the area. (TST4-13)
Hillel was the only person that knew the location of all the bunkers. He used to come at
night time to deliver food and supplies to the bunkers. He was caring for a large number
of survivors and carried all the supplies personally over long distances. The warriors
conducted sabotage attacks against German posts and took punitive action against peasants
who had collaborated with the Nazis. On one occasion a Jewish boy was murdered in the
village of Korolowka (near Bochnia). Three JWO members went to avenge his death from the
farmer that took part in the murder. Hillel was wounded seriously
|in this action and died a few days later. Hillel's death posed a disaster for the
bunkers' residence. No one knew the location of all the other bunkers. The delivery of
supplies to the people was interrupted and no one had the connections with the local
farmers which was needed in order to renew the delivery of essential items.
After settling in the bunker Shimshon Deringer could not sit still. He took part in organizing the attack groups who hit German targets and participated in their actions. He went to Warsaw (using Aryan papers) and purchased a new typewriter. Mark and Gusta published the underground journal "The Warrior Pioneer" while hiding in a bunker in the woods near Bochnia. The print of the journal and its distribution were executed from within Bochnia. The journal of about ten pages used to be printed in 250 copies. The journals were handed out from one reader to another and in this way it could have reached thousands of people. Messengers (contact persons) risking their lives, were distributing the journals to the remaining Jews in camps and in hiding places. With this journal the publishers attempted to lift the spirit of the remaining warriors in Poland while documenting for history the great deeds of the JWO in Krakow. The last addition of the Warrior Pioneer was published in October-1- 1943.
Every underground partisan movement in history enjoyed certain public support. The Polish underground was supported by the Polish population. The Jewish underground had to rely on the support of the Jews in the ghettos. The JWO was relying on the Jewish support from the Krakow ghetto and later after March 1943 (liquidation of ghetto Krakow) on the support from within ghetto Bochnia. In September 1943 after the liquidation of ghetto Bochnia the JWO lost this last support center as well. The Nazis were a common enemy of the Poles and the Jews. Some JWO leaders assumed that for the time being both sides could overcome their differences and fight the Nazis together. However the strong anti-Semitic feelings kept prevailing in Polish society. Local farmers kept informing the Germans of the whereabouts of the JWO's bunkers. Due to that the Jewish force in the woods started to dwindle. The Polish partisans organization A.K.16 which was active in the same area, invested a lot of efforts in the elimination of the surviving Jews. The wooded area near Bochnia, which was designated by the JWO as the place of rescue, turned into a trap.
At the end of October 1943 Shimshon and Gusta spent some time in Krakow. At that time the Germans discovered the location of a few bunkers. The warriors resisted with arms and many of them fell in battle. Shimshon and Gusta had no place to come back to and could not locate the few survivors that were left. They made an attempt to escape to Hungary but this plan was not materialized. In November 1943 they too were captured by the Germans. Shimshon and Gusta were executed a few days later.
The act of war by the Akiba movement was initiated in the Hachsharah center of
Kopalini near Bochnia. The last actions of the JWO took place at the same location.
Bochnia was hardly mentioned in history books in reference to the Jewish rebellion of 42
but it had played an important roll in its creation and its demise.
The leadership of the JWO was faced with a severe dilemma. They had the foresight to see very clearly what the "Final solution to the Jewish problem" was all about. They had the urge to revenge and attack the Germans with all their limited force. On the other hand the JWO's leaders had to struggle with the thought that their actions would speed up the mass murder of their communities. The Jewish councils (the Judenrats) were representing the other extreme of the Jewish spectrum. The Judenrats were under the impression that a blind obedience towards the German occupying forces would enable at least part of the Jewish community to survive. Bearing that in mind would explain why there was such a rivalry between the Judenrat and the JWO. The Judenrat did its best to capture and destroy the underground members before they would disturb the illusive stability that the Jewish council was trying to achieve.
The members of the JWO were idealistic and honest people. They did not expect to
derive any personal gain from their actions and risked their lives in order to help the
Jewish community. To emphasize this thought I will mention here a certain fact. Laban,
together with some other Jewish youth movements leaders, was in Soviet held territory at
the beginning of the war. At that time when many Jews were attempting desperately to
escape German held territories he made his way back into Krakow. He knew that by doing so
he was risking his own life but the fate of his friends in Krakow was too important to be
ignored. It is important to remember these facts when we discuss the operation of the
underground among the Jewish community. The rebellion against the Germans had its price
tag. Weapons and ammunition had to be purchased. Forged documents had to be produced, the
warriors had to be fed and some officials had to be bribed. With such a horrific sacrifice
by the JWO members they could have expected some cooperation from the Jewish community.
However, the very few people that could help economically did not do it voluntarily. Some
of them were forced to contribute and others were practically robbed of their money17
. The well off Jews preferred to invest their money in an attempt to save their own
families. By putting all the money with the JWO the contributor had to give up all hopes.
After all the Jewish rebellion's aim was to save the self respect of the nation. Saving
the physical existence of the Jewish communities was not feasible. It is very clear that
the JWO's demand to be financed by the Jewish community is justified. However, I can not
blame the individuals who still did not give up hope and tried to save their children and
family. And indeed some of these people, although very few, managed to escape and save
their lives using a large sum of money to buy their way out of hell.