Chajka Grossman- Life Story
An article from a Memorial Booklet published by the family and Kibbutz Evron after Chajka's death.

Edited by Sima Talmon

Translated by Eli Lapid and edited by Ada Holtzman, courtesy of Bialystok Landsmanschaft in Israel (the "Vaad")
September 2003

Chajka Grossman Orkin
Bialystok Poland, November 20th, 1919 - Kibbutz Evron Israel, May 26th, 1996

Born in Bialystok, Poland to relatively wealthy parents; the youngest of children. All of the children received Hebrew education. The family home was absorbed in Jewish culture, mainly secular. The languages that were spoken at home were Yiddish and Hebrew. Polish was taught as almost a foreign language. The residence area- the industrial city center was almost completely populated by Jews (60,000 Jews out of a total population of 120,000). The only Polish people she knew until the beginning of the 2nd World War were the attendant in the Hebrew High School, the street cleaner and the housekeeper. Father, Nahum Grossman, had a factory in the town of Sokolky and most of his workers were Polish. Chajka banned the factory out of principle reasons: workers were exploited there and they had strikes there. Father had liberal stands and the fact that he owned a factory did not stand in contradiction to the fact that he was the honorable manager of the synagogue affairs. Mother and Father came from very religious families. Father's family was especially well-know for being orthodox. Grandfather had a rabbinical certification. All his life he learned and taught Torah. The relationships between the families were warm despite of the differences in the way of life.

Grandfather and grandmother, Rabbi Israel and Fajge Grossman returned to Eretz Israel (the whole family lived in Eretz Israel before World War I and moved to Egypt in the famine days. At the beginning of the 20th century, part of the family came back to Eretz Israel, to Rishon Le Zion and Jerusalem and the other part of the family returned to Bialystok before World War I).

In 1935, the grandparents bought a house near the Me'a She'arim Street in Jerusalem. Grandfather taught Torah. He died 6 months before Chajka came to Eretz Israel, in 2nd half of 1947 and grandmother Fajge lived for many more years in Jerusalem and in Rishon Le Zion and died at the age of 92.

Chajka studied in a Hebrew school and graduated from the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bialystok (of the network "Tarbut") a year before the beginning of World War II. This school was one of the most famous schools in the whole of Poland in the Zionist-Pioneer education that it gave its graduates and also in its general high level of studies. Almost all of the teachers possessed a doctoral degree and were able to integrate the western-European culture together with Judaic studies. The preferred subjects were Bible and Hebrew literature alongside with Latin and world literature. The Grossman family was scattered over several continents in many places: Poland, Eretz Israel, the United Stated and amongst them were wise scholars, rabbis, teachers and merchants.

The two Grossman sisters in Bialystok 1936

Nahum Grossman's home was open to the winds of time. The children were all integrated in the new Jewish movements. My father was often away on business and brought back the spirit of the big world. My mother was a housewife and she gave the children inspiration for Jewish Folklore and an infinite source for wisdom, grief and warmth.

At the ages of 9 -10, Chajka joined Hashomer Hatzair (Zionist & Socialist Youth Movement).. It was a natural thing to do. The Ken ("nest" - a branch) of the movement was a source of inspiration for every boy and girl in Israel. During her period in the youth movement Ken, she completed her school education and training.

At the ages of 15 -16 she studied Borochov, Marx, Freud and Schopenhauer and of course the new literature that appeared in Europe between the two World Wars. Because the Yiddish literature was deprived in the literature lessons at the Hebrew School and the Hebrew Gymnasium, the youth movement atoned for it. There was an absolute zeal for the Hebrew language (the spoken language in the Ken) together with a love for the whole people with its different stratums and layers. The accepted stream was the Hassidism. Overall, the youth absorbed from anything that came to hand in order to satisfy its intellectual curiosity along with the linking and identifying with the Jewish people.

The years of studying in the Hebrew Gymnasium and in the Hashomer Hatzair movement were years of preparation towards a pioneer fulfillment in Eretz Israel. At the end of her high school years, Chajka presented her graduation diploma to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. With the aid of her family in Jerusalem, she immediately received an immigration certificate through a limited amount of certificates that were authorized to students. However, at this point the movement's "order" came in and instead of immigrating to Israel to study in the university, Chajka was sent to the area of Brisk-Pinsk to organize the activity of the youth at that district, which was one of the slowest districts in Eastern Poland, but populated with many Jews in different towns. In every town like this there was of course a beautiful library, a Hebrew school and pioneer Zionist youth movements, Hashomer Hatzair among them. Haim Weitzman, Israel's first president, came from one of those towns.

Chajka wandered during 6 months in that region and lived in Kibbutz Hachshara (training Kibbutz for pioneering Kibbutz life in Eretz Israel) of "Hakhalutz" movement in Brisk; lived a life of materialistic poverty but spiritual wealth. Brisk had a Hebrew gymnasium and a rich library in which Chajka spent many hours. Just before the breach of World War II, Chajka returned to Bialystok, to her family, in order to complete the final preparations towards the fulfillment of her lifelong dream: to immigrate to Eretz Israel and to study literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There she planned to wait for her friends from the group of Hashomer Hatzair that she belonged to, until they complete the training in a farm near Czestochowa and join her. She planned one day to establish together with others a new Kibbutz. In the meantime, she was informed from the central leadership of the Hashomer Hatzair in Warsaw that if she implements these plans and go to the university, she will be expelled from the movement. This was something that Chajka couldn't bear. She stopped her preparations towards the immigration to Eretz Israel ("Alyia"), but everything developed too quickly for her to plan any personal plans.

The political tension grew stronger. War was at the gate. A general draft began. Several days before the war, Chajka received a notice to come immediately to Warsaw; she was 19 years old only.

There, in the central leadership, she was informed that she was chosen to be a member in the leadership of hashomer Hatzair in Poland, in the underground movement that will act during the war, which is inevitable. She returned by train to her family in Bialystok, a single girl amongst many draftees. Two days later, the war began and swept everything. The western parts of Poland were conquered immediately. The Germans also entered Bialystok and stayed there for 7 days. During this week the Jews found out about the true cruel force of the Nazi regime. According to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which divides Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Germans vacated the city and the soldiers of the Red Army entered. Of course the latter were received as liberators. Even Jewish merchants such as Chajka's father received the Red Army with great joy. Many refugees started flowing into Bialystok from the western parts of Poland- from the battlefields and bombings and afterwards from the Nazi occupation- and tried to find ways of immigration. The pioneer movements were looking for ways of escape.

The Zionist movement members moved north to Vilna, which was handed by the Soviets to Lithuania - a country that at this stage remained neutral and to Romania towardsBlack Sea. The pioneer underground acted in the Polish areas under Soviet control and its center was in Lwow. Bialystok started to become a passage point to Vilna. The Grossman house was open to refugees and messengers of the movement who came and went; some from north-east to Vilna and others back to Warsaw under German occupation. In November 1939, Chajka arrived in Vilna after walking 15 kilometers by foot through fields covered with snow up the knees and in extreme cold. The passage from White Russia and Lithuania became more and more difficult. People were caught and others arrived with frozen organs.

Vilna had a large pioneer center; many refugees tried to reorganize, live life of work and establish frames for cultural life while constantly striving to immigrate to the shores of Eretz Israel. Zionist leaders and "Bond" leaders usually found a way to immigrate overseas.

Chajka was assigned to the main leadership of the Hashomer Hatzair Movement, acting in Vilna. She was sent to Kovno to work in the pioneer center and in the central leadership of Hashomer Hatzair. She was the instructor of the senior class and lived in Kibbutz Hachshara (training Kibbutz). In the summer of 1940, Lithuania's neutral stand period is over. The Red Army entered Lithuania and established a Communist regime. Immediately all the Zionist frames were dispersed, including all of the youth movements and training Kibbutzim. Chajka returned to Vilna, where Hashomer Hatzair B' leadership is formed (illegally) and whose goal is to lead the underground pioneer movement of Hashomer Hatzair in the Soviet Union.

Chajka received again an immigration certificate to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This was one of the few real formal certificates that came to the Soviet Union. In a dramatic session of the central underground leadership, they decided that that she must give up the certificate and stay to lead the underground together with 5 other members (Aba Kovner, Adek Buraks, Mordechai Roseman, Pinhas Stern and Moshe Balush)- all of them are several years older than her, but younger than the senior leadership members. Each and every one of senior leadership - whether according to the decision or in contrary to it - left Vilna and immigrated to Eretz Israel. Until the beginning of 1941, the group that remained, including Chajka, is very united but short of means and the Soviet Security Service (N.K.V.D.) tracked them down.

Some members of the pioneer movements received jail sentences. Chajka enrolled to the University of Vilna in order to find a formal cover to her existence in Vilna. She studied economics and of course Marxism studies. The teachers wondered how such a girl has such profound knowledge in this issue. At the university she associated with Polish students- a fact that was difficult for her a year later in her undercover work disguised as an Aryan.

In all, she lived a life of poverty; made a living through giving private lessons to the wealthy children and also as a house cleaner.

In June 1941, on the first days of the German invasion to the Soviet Union, the Nazis enter Vilna. Many young Jews flee east in order to avoid living under Nazi occupation. The members of the main leadership of Hashomer Hatzair assembled in the street under a shower of bombs dropped by the German planes. Chajka tells them that if anyone should stay here, it should of course be her. She says that she is the only girl in the group and it will be easier for her. They didn't yet take into consideration her Aryan face.

3 men leave and 2 men stay and go underground immediately tomorrow because as soon as the Germans entered town, they began to hunt the Jewish men; abductions began, decrees and the yellow patch. The Russian front collapses quickly and some of the people who escaped east, return back to town while trying to escape the German encircling.

Chajka quickly realizes that her appearance looks Polish and she moves between her friends, connects between them and ignores the decrees given to the Jews. Subsequently, a friend of hers from the catholic Polish underground, supplies her with a birth certificate signed by Catholic Church priest. Mordechai Tenenbaum from the pioneer center crowns her as Halina Woronoevicz. From June 1941 until August 1943 she operates in the fighting Jewish underground in many Ghettos and also outside them: Vilna, Bialystok, Warsaw, Czestochowa, Lublin and Grodno. She moves by train between the borders, from the Ghetto to the Aryan side and back. Her home base is in Ghetto Bialystok, from which she leaves and returns back and forth. She is in charge of the contact with the Aryan side; purchasing weapons and smuggling them to the Ghetto. She is also in charge of the contact with other Ghettos, especially the Warsaw Ghetto until the beginning of the great deportations, when the contact with the Warsaw Ghetto and other Ghettos was cut off completely. In the Bialystok Ghetto she is the member of headquarters who is in charge of preparing the armed revolt. She meets constantly with the head of the Judenrat though with mutual suspicions. Her primary goal is to inform the head of the Judenrat about the extermination in other places. He receives through her the message from Vilna and the message about the mass murder in Punar at the beginning of 1942.

Chajka Grossman right after liberation

She takes an active part in the revolt that broke on the 16th of August, 1943, when the Germans began their plan to exterminate the ghetto. After the revolt, when the battles dim, she exits to the Aryan side and tries to organize hiding places for those escaping the gun fire and also to renew the connection with the group of Partisans who were sent earlier from the Ghetto by the organization.

From August 1943 until August 1944 she worked under the command of the Soviet Partisan Brigade Headquarters under Klinovsky. She was a member of the Anti-Fascist committee of the district- a committee that included 5 disguised Jewish girls. The committee had the authority to organize new underground conditions, to recruit Partisans and to lead them to the forests. The activity centered on saving Jews. Every Jew that was found, received help and a hiding place, until he could be brought to a Partisan unit in the forests. Among other things, Chajka dealt with finding sources to buy weapons for the Jewish Partisans who were isolated at first and hunted down. Many of them were killed in the battles before they could reach the Soviet Partisans from the east, who came by foot and by parachutes from planes. It is to her credit that she established the underground unit of Germans that at first supplied weapons to the inferior and after that they cooperated with the Brigade Headquarters of the Soviet Partisans. One of the most important operations was the supply of top-secret information to the Brigade Headquarters, usually through the help of the Germans.

After the war, Chajka was decorated with the highest decoration of valor of Poland - the Grunwald Cross.

After the liberation of Warsaw, Chajka leaves Bialystok, where she returned to from the forests and moves to settle in the ruined Warsaw together with Partisan Brigade Staff.

Following the organization of the Central Jewish Committee- the formal representation of the Polish Jews after the war- she represented Hakhalutz (the Pioneer) and Hashomer Hatzair Movement in this committee and dealt with the absorbing of refugees: youth and children returning from the forests, the few that returned from the camps and those who returned from the Soviet Union. She worked in rehabilitation and in opening ways for immigration. She also represented Hashomer Hatzair in the new Polish government.

The Central Jewish Committee in Warsaw at 1946 (Chajka the second to the right, Stefan Grajek, fourth from the right)

In July-August of 1954 she participates in the first Zionist Assembly in London, where she appears for the first time in front of the Jews of the world and there she takes part in her first meeting with the leaders ohmovement- Yaari and Hazan. In 1946 she participates in the Zionist Congress in Basel. In the summer of 1946, prior to the congress, she participates in a formal delegation of Polish Jews to the Jews of America.

In May 1948 she immigrates to Israel in the beginning of the War of Independence. She arrives in the "Providence" ship together with 2000 immigrants- mostly young survivors of the Holocaust- and hears about the announcement of the State of Israel on the radio on their way to the homeland Eretz Israel.

She comes to Israel as if she was returning home from a long journey to death, which has skipped her for some reason. She speaks Hebrew and is familiar with the places and history. She does not suffer from the regular physical problems of the immigration process, but there are other difficulties that she will not yield to. The account is still open and the hand must record and not forget.

She arrived at the Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, works in agriculture and after 6 months moves to the Kibbutz Evron. There, she marries her youth boyfriend and her instructor in the youth movement, Meir Orkin. Following the calming of the battles of the War of Independence in 1949, she writes her novel: "The People of the Underground"1) . On the day she finishes to write the book, she drives to the hospital and gives birth to her first daughter, Lea.

In 1950 she is chosen by her Kibbutz and by the Kibbutzim of the Western Galilee to be the head of the regional council of Ga'aton. During these years she assists new immigrants, who are lodged in immigrant transit camps, in saving children from disastrous floods, hunger and lack of work, which degenerates the population of the immigrant transit camps ("Maabarot"). The days are days of austerity, unemployment and massive immigration.

In Kibbutz Evron she is a youth instructor, a teacher, a secretary and kitchen worker. In the 1950's there is a political crisis in the movement and in the party. Chajka is on the left side of the camp, but is close and loyal to the whole camp. In later years, after Moshe Sne had retired and following him also Kuba Riftin, she leaves due to political differences over general Zionist issues, the Six Day War and the Soviet invasion to Czechoslovakia. Her primary guideline is to be close to the Kibbutz Haartzi Movement (the National Kibbutz organization of Hashomer Hatzair) and to Unified Workers' Party ("Map"m"). She objects to dividing and seclusion.

Chajka returns to public life in the Haifa branch of the Unified Workers' Party. At first she receives the position of neighborhood coordinator and then she is appointed as secretary of the whole branch, which is the largest branch of the Unified Workers' Party in Israel. From there, she was chosen to coordinate the world pact of the party. She goes on an impressive journey to the Jews of South America and Australia. She takes a break for academic studies at the Tel-Aviv University and in 1969 she is elected to the 7th Knesset.

She takes part in all of the political struggles of the Hakibbutz Haartzi and Mapa"m (the Unified Worker's Party) together and usually stands among the holders of the radical stands. She opposes the entrance of the Unified Workers' Party together with the Labor Party to the united frame of the Maarach Party (the Labour United Party), but when this unification was implemented she acts in the frame of the Maarach in the Knesset to sharpen her stands and against the blurring of the differences between the Maarach and the right and between the Unified Workers' Party and the Labor Party.

In the Knesset, from her first day as a parliament member, she persists the social struggles because in this field she is given more freedom to act. In the 7th and 8th Knesset she holds the position of chair of Public Services Committee, which is in charge of all of the social issues: youth in distress, poverty neighborhoods, welfare, health problems, handicapped and elderly.

In addition, she is very sensitive to the issue of human rights, religious coercion and the discrimination of women due to the matrimonial laws. The binding coalition agreements and the stands of the Labor party headed by Golda Meir made it difficult for her to act freely. Civilian marital laws, which Chajka initiated was rejected by the Labor party before it was even raised for discussion in the Knesset.

However, Chajka succeeded in passing a progressive abortion law (a law that was later revoked by the Begin administration), a youth law (one of the most progressive laws of its kind), IRS law (pro women), a law against battering children etc.

The social uprising in the lower class neighborhoods, which was carried by the immigrants of eastern origin such as the Black Panthers have won Chajka's ear. The opacity, which was very common amongst the leaders of the Labor Party and the cry of the youth in distress did not reach them ("they are not nice..."), were suddenly heard and much credit is attributed to Chajka, which transformed the Committee of Public Services from a minor committee to one of the most important committees in the Knesset. The pressure helps and Prime Minister Golda Meir establishes the Supreme Committee for Youth in Distress. In the last years of power of the Labor Party, prior to its fall in 1977, special projects began to take place in the fields of education and welfare and Chajka took an active role in the shaping of these projects.

In the 9th Knesset, while the Maarach Party was in the opposition, Chajka was the secretary of the Mapam faction and Deputy Chairman of the Knesset. During the elections to the 10th Knesset, Chajka was chosen by Mapam as a candidate for the government, but the Maarach was left in the opposition and Chajka was out of the government and Knesset.

Chajka was chosen as the state secretary of Mapam and her job was to reconstruct Mapam's status amongst the lower class neighborhoods, the eastern oriented Jews and the youth who has mostly turned to the right wing.

In 1984, Chajka returns to the 11th Knesset. In this Knesset, just like in the 9th Knesset she is chosen to be the Deputy Chairman and Chairwoman of the Mapam faction in the Knesset. She is active in the Committee of Labor and Welfare and in the Knesset Committee. Mapam at this point was in the opposition and separate from the Maarach.

On the 19th of April, 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin invites her to join his entourage in his journey to Warsaw. After the memorial day of the Warsaw Revolt, Chajka appears in a remembrance assembly in Paris and the next day in an assembly in Brussels. On the day of her return home, she lit a holiday beacon on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, celebrating the 45th year of independence of the State of Israel.

13.5.93- A party for the people who ignited the beacons on Independence Day- among them is Chajka. The party took place in the Villa of the Sheik Muhamad in Abu Gosh. Chajka gave a speech in that event: "I am pleased that as a former Member of Knesset and Holocaust survivor, I was given the opportunity to ignite a beacon together with an Arab who has tied his destiny with the State of Israel. I feel the sound of peace approaching". At the end of the party, while she was going down a steep stairway, someone called her name; Chajka fell and hit her head. She lost her consciousness and went through a complicated head surgery. Since then, she was unconscious and placed in the Levinstein Home and afterwards in the nursing home of Kibbutz Evron.

On Sunday, May 26th 1996, her heart gave up at 5 o'clock in the morning.

She left behind her husband, Meir Orkin, her two daughters, Lea and Yosefa and three grandchildren.

1) Chajka Grosman, Anshei Hamakhteret, People of the Underground, Sifriat Hapoalim, Merkhavia 1965 Sifriat Hapoalim, Merkhavia 1965

Chajka & Meir with the first born daughter Lea

Anna Kaminska

The Loss

All our losses
have drowned in that one
and the loss was
so large
who will lament it?
great as the sea
as freedom
as a whole nation
as a single human being
whose place can not be filled
by no one
by nothing.

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