Site Map: Structured Outline

Hop to Top of Documentation Tree
Leap to Chapter-Start
Move Up a Page



Page 141

The abrogation of the Non-Aggression Treaty between Germany, Poland, and England, became known to the Gymnasium students during the long lunch break. A few 12th grade students hurried to a friend's apartment in Sienkiewitz Street and heard Hitler's declaration of the abrogation of the Treaty. They heard the response of Polish Foreign Minister Alexander Beck on the radio in the school hall, together with all the students. "Poland will not allow Germany to seize its land", said Beck with Polish pride. On 1 September 1939, the Nazi army invaded Poland and also reached Bialystok. On the 22nd. of that same month, the Germans left Eastern Poland (they would return two years later), and the Red Army occupied it in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Bialystok's appearance changed overnight. Here is the eyewitness account of one of its residents, Shmuel Soltz: "Now Bialystok was full of refugees who had fled from the west. There was not a house, or even a corridor, which did not contain refugees. Before the war, Bialystok had ninety thousand inhabitants, to these were now added a quarter of a million refugees. It was difficult to obtain food, medicine, and most of all find a place to live. The Community Council and its Chairman, Barash, organized the opening of soup kitchens. The clinics and hospitals were full to overflowing with sick people. Every day we would hear of arrests, particularly of owners of factories and businesses, and community activists. The threat of arrest hung over everyone.

We knew not what the morrow would bring, what new orders and new decrees". Educational establishments were numbered, the Gymnasium in Sienkiewitz Street was given the name "Die Ninete Shule" (the Ninth School), and its teaching language was immediately changed to Yiddish. Already, By the following year, the language of tuition had become Russian. Teaching in Hebrew was forbidden, and also speaking Hebrew was considered to be an offence. It was a black day for Moshe Zabludowski when he entered the classroom and said to his pupils: "From today, we will only speak Yiddish". Chaya Chazan remembers: One day, before the Red Army entered Bialystok, the former gymnastics teacher, the German Bendorf, warned his friend David Rakowitzki: "Flee for your life, the Russians will certainly arrest you". Chaike Grossman recalls that she and her friend Rachel Orlinski told Rakowitzki one night that he must escape immediately. Rakowitzki knew that he had an "unsavoury past", in that he was a Hebrew teacher, the principal of a Hebrew educational institution, and a representative of the Keren Kayemet Le'Israel (Jewish National Fund). His daughter was very ill, but he had no choice. After much wandering and hardship, he and his family reached Eretz Yisrael. He came to Eretz destitute, but not as a stranger. He had come home. His ex-pupils came to his aid, and members of the education department of the Yishuv (Jewish Community in Palestine) knew who he was. Shortly after his arrival, he was appointed as principal of a high school in Tel-Aviv.

Daniel Albeck tells of the dramatic meeting Rakowitzki had with representatives of the new regime before he escaped. The Soviets wanted to make a pretence of being democratic and tried to stage-manage the agreement of the teachers and the principal to their decrees. The senior students and their parents were summoned to a meeting. The authority representatives made speeches in praise of the alteration of the teaching language and the transition from reactionary to progressive education, and then Rakowitzki was invited to the podium. The principal stood facing the local government representatives and members of the secret police who were sitting in the front rows, and said: "You can force us to do anything, but you will never receive our voluntary consent to change the face of the Gymnasium and erase its Hebrew and Zionist image".

There was uproar in the hall. The men from the secret police climbed onto the podium, but Rakowitzki had already slipped away through a side door. The stage-managed consent was not given.

Dr. Shimon Dattner recalls: Moshe Zabludowski, Franca Horowitz, and Chaim Welger received notices of dismissal from the "Ninth School" because of an article which appeared in a local newspaper - "Der Bialystoker Stern". The author of the article dared to criticize the attitude of the new authorities to the schools which had been Hebrew ones before the occupation. The three of them found employment in other schools. Several students from the 1939 graduate year were deported to Russia, and those who were tainted with being "bourgeois" were exiled to Siberia. Naomi Dzivack recalls: "The Gymnasium students who were deported to Russia and Siberia stayed alive. None of those who remained in Bialystok and were shut up in the Ghetto, survived". Rachel Kalisher (Kaplanski) The Gymnasium During the Soviet Period (1939-1941)

The name of the institution was changed to "The Ninth School". The teaching language was Yiddish. Hebrew was banned. Hebrew words used in Yiddish such as: Ganav (thief), Hatunah (wedding), Emet (truth) etc. were written phonetically in the Yiddish pronunciation. We, the students, regarded this with scorn: this is what their "truth" looks like. The portraits of important national figures on the walls of the hall on the top floor disappeared, and were replaced by Soviet pictures and slogans. In the centre, hung a large photograph of Stalin, hugging a smiling girl holding flowers, to illustrate how happy children were in the Soviet Union. A Jewish teacher from Minsk (I forget her name) was made director in charge of the curriculum. One day she brought a song to the class in praise of Comrade Stalin, which had been written by a poet from one of the Asiatic Republics. She told us of the tremendous love which all the peoples of the Soviet Union feel for the great leader, full of goodness and kindness, the guiding star of the nation. See how your lot has improved, she said, since you were freed from the yoke of the Polish Panowie (masters). You had the great privilege to live in a country which has been liberated by the Red Army, inspired by Stalin. To prove her point, she read the poem, which confirmed her claim, and even embellished it.

We, the students, in our accustomed manner from the period before the "liberation", expressed our critical opinion of the poem, and one of the students even dared to disqualify it and claimed that it contained an exaggeration: Stalin is portrayed as an ideal figure, completely pure, but in reality people like this do not exist. Why, even the heroes of the Bible, Moses and David, who are admired by everyone, also sinned. The teacher's face reddened and she became confused, she was apparently unaccustomed to criticism. She fidgeted nervously with her handkerchief, silenced us, and said: Everyone, pay attention! With all this confusion we will never be able to reach any conclusions, we won't go into this question right now. Tomorrow, I will explain the significance of the poem and what the author's intentions were. And indeed, the following day the teacher addressed us. One of the students, who concealed a book of literary criticism under the desk, followed her lecture, in which, word for word, she quoted by heart from the book. This occurred during the first few days of the school year. After a while, we realized that if we valued our lives and freedom, we had better remain silent. The shelves in the Gymnasium Library were always full of books in Hebrew and in Polish, but now all the Hebrew books were destroyed. They were burnt. In the depths of night, a few students stole to the site of the bonfire. They were my brother Abraham Kaplanski, Eliezer (Lazerke) Lipkes, and Hanoch Poczebutzki. They raked amongst the piles of ashes and removed a few scorched books which had not been consumed. I remember Abraham returning home, blackened with soot, with books hidden under his coat: "Perhaps these books will bear witness to the crimes perpetrated by the Soviets against the treasures of Hebrew culture", he said. Teacher Moshe Zabludowski, whom the students called Moishele, once met my brother in Sienkiewitz Street. In response to his pupil's greeting he winked slyly, and hinted that my brother should follow him into the schoolyard. With a gentle smile and trembling voice he whispered in his ear: "Kaplanski, we must still speak Hebrew in secret". He glanced about him and added, "Be careful. You can never tell. Maybe we are being followed". On the eve of Passover, Munkatch the principal, who spoke fruity Yiddish, came into our class and said to us: "Lads, you are probably excited about the Passover Seder, I can read your thoughts. You would like to sit at the table on the evening of the festival and read: 'Once we were slaves to Stalin in the U.S.S.R." There was dead silence in the class, and then the principal laughed sarcastically and said, "A macke farn veln" (some hope - forget it!). It will never happen. You are going to spend the rest of your lives under Soviet rule".

The Story of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Bialystok find out more!

(c) Ya`acov Samid, 2003 Contact Ya`acov Samid