Edited by David Shtokfish
Sports Clubs and Self Defense
†by Baruch Yismach (
Translated by Abraham Holland, March, 2004 and contributed to this web site by Howard. B. Orenstein
In the year 1925, the idea arose to create a sports club. Understandably, the need to organize such a club was another link in the chain of societal activities, such as early-morning school, evening courses and professional groups. The first was the woodworking section. Afterwards, it was broadened to include many other skills. This ambition then included forming libraries. Almost every party and organization took upon itself the initiative to create its own library. Understandably, the availability of books was not very great---but people did read. Every library put up its best person as librarian. It was also decided that a reader could not keep a book more than 15 days. When a reader returned a book, the librarian had the right to test him to see if he had actually read it. And if he did, whether he understood it.
Many times there were strong and passionate discussions about the heroes of one or another book. The most requested books were those of: Sholom Aleichem, Sholom Ash, Y. L. Peretz, Avraham Raisen, Peretz Hirschbein. We, the young readers, barely out of school, loved the Jewish writers.
The second most requested were the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and others. Understandably, there were not many copies available. Sometimes there were many weeks of waiting for a requested book. Because of this the librarian had to accept the complaints from all, because it was, of course, his fault.
I volunteered to be the librarian because in the bylaws of the three sports clubs that were organized at that time, the first task was to find a librarian.
The sports movement started with two clubs. "Maccabi" formed from the secular elements of the city with the active participation of the "Chalutz" and "Shomer Hatzair," and the United Worker Sports Club, "Skala." But the union did not last very long---only a few weeks. The main reason was ideological. From "Skala," there left the whole organized movement of the leftist "Poalei Zion" who then immediately formed a third sports club "Gviyazda" ("Shtern"). After that the ambition to overtake each other broke out. Each club formed a football team and in the town it became lively because of the competition. At the beginning the matches were strictly of a local character. The victories were varied. It goes without saying, the atmosphere in the town was tense because a victory in a match also meant the victory of one clubís ideas over another.
I have commented earlier about the political affiliation of the "Maccabi" and "Gviyazda" clubs. The "Skala" club belonged to the Communists. Known as "Yevsektziyeh," they also enticed a certain element, politically undecided, under the slogan, "If you are a worker, then you must belong to this club." In this way, almost every club became entrenched in a party. Although the battle between the Jewish clubs was a bitter one, yet there were certain individuals with a greater understanding. When one of the clubs had to travel to another town for a match they would borrow players. There were also moments of farat (?) when, for instance, "Gviyazda" had to play the town club of a different town, and they borrowed a player or two, the last ones played especially weak so that their "idea club" should win. However, it was different when a Polish club called for a match, then "Maccabi" and "Gviyazda" were in full understanding that they would play with full earnestness and win. (page 88) There was also a time when two clubs made an agreement to hold a common gymnastic exhibition. The only club that organized a full array of sports sections was "Gviyazda." They even had uniforms for each section. It was imposing when the club would march from their location, through the town, to the places where gymnastics were held. Our elders were not happy. There were already those who were spreading all kinds of rumors. However, when the idea of an organized self-protection was brought out, and that gymnastics made the muscles strong, these people became sadly quiet.
Two moments stand out from that nice era. One: The sports club "Gviyazda," made up of a menís section, a womenís section, and a youth section, each in their representative uniforms and sports insignia, marched from the center of town to the train station "Puflaves" and after that in full dress into the town of "Ruzan." Our arrival in Ruzan caused a whole revolution. An orthodox town, it was not accustomed to seeing such a group of young men, women, and children, dressed as soldiers---although not soldiers. The Jews ran to their Rabbi and asked what to do with us, The Rabbi ruled that since it was Sabbath eve, the town had to welcome us. We felt very good that Sabbath and Sunday. Monday evening, when we returned, there was waiting for us a large mass of people and our parade into town was a beautiful demonstration of Jewish strength and organization.
The second moment was: The 13th Peoples Army, which was famous in Pultusk with their football section made up of officers, challenged the club "Gviyazda" to a match in Pultusk. The parents of our players did not allow them to travel there. The population was known as the worst sort of anti-Semites. Knowing that our team would not allow them to win easily, it was a real fear for the lives of our players---but the challenge had to be accepted. After a bunch of discussions, in which most of the Jews in town took part, it was decided that the team would travel and allow the others to win, but with honor.
There were also moments when the Jewish club had community problems.
There was in Wyszków a habit
(difficult to tell when it started) on Friday evenings, after the meals, of
almost all the young Jews strolling back and forth in pairs and in groups. We
talked, had discussions, gossiped about this one or
that one. There was enough time for this. The stroll lasted from about to The street was full of people. The
laughter and happy voices made the stroll very pleasant. As it turned out, our
Polish neighbors couldnít take this, and they hired street youths, got them
drunk, and sent them out to chase the Jews off the street. When such a
"goy" showed himself among the strollers and started yelling:
The anti-Semitic group also did not rest. Even if their strength was not up to it they were able to receive help from the police. Behind them were always the policemen. In this way they were the innocent ones and we --- the guilty. In a well-organized manner, they started a war against individual people in our organization who were pointed out to them. A warning arrived: Either leave the town or receive a knife in the back. Many of the youth left, mostly to Latin American countries---the only places where one could emigrate in the years 1929-1930.
The Jewish situation became worse---the self-defense had to stop. Against hooligans we could defend ourselves but against the police we were too weak. Besides that we were informed that any self-defense could lead to a Pogrom.