Report on the Activities of Ha-shomer Ha-tza’ir in Occupied Belgium
(November 15, 1943)
(Written in German. Hebrew words that appeared in the original in Latin characters are presented here in boldface when they first appear in the text.)
Dear Comrade Mendl,
I am taking the time today to write you the report you requested. I will try to make it as comprehensive as possible, although I am sure that it will be lacking a lot. It is only with difficulty that I can give a thorough description of our past experiences and our present situation. I have already written several letters to comrade Fita in Kibbutz Dan regarding our situation, so you can obtain information from him as well.
The war broke out on the morning of May 10th . You can probably imagine the impression this made on us. We had read enough reports beforehand to be able to envision the tragic consequences. Although we expected this development, we must admit that we were not prepared for it.
On May 8th, a successful neshef [ball] was held to mark the yovel [jubilee] of our ken [branch]. During the three months preceding the ball, we were intensively active. We decided to hold a machane aviv [spring-camp]. The day before the outbreak of war, final preparations for the camp were under way at our ma'on [shelter center]. The next morning, we awoke to the sound of bombs dropping; nevertheless, we were still unaware of the fact that we were in the midst of a war. All of a sudden, we understood the severity of the situation. We suddenly saw how the fruits of many years of activity were going down the drain. Although we were young and had never experienced a similar situation before, we understood the tragic consequence in store for us and accepted them silently. We began to adjust ourselves to the new situation. Soon, the chaverim [members] began going through their papers, and many items that were precious to us were set to fire.
Then we went to a member that was in hachshara [training], who kept the Hechalutz archives. At 11 o'clock this member was arrested without explanation, and we have not seen him since. At 12 o'clock we held an asefat histadrut [a movement meeting]<I.</I> We explained the situation to the members and officially closed down the branch. The degel ha-ken [branch flag] was taken down. In the afternoon, a meeting of the moetzet menahalim [board of directors] was held, which decided on the actions to be taken in view of the situation. As it was anticipated that most of the directors would be drafted, the major part of the activities was entrusted to the bachurot [women].
Since the Ashkenazim (Germans) were advancing rapidly, the situation became increasingly dangerous. We discussed whether we should all flee or stay in the branch as long as we can. We could not agree on this issue, so most of the members left the city with their parents. In the end, only a few members of the pluga [adult company] remained in the city. Shortly thereafter, orders were issued that all young people were to be drafted. It was then that we, too, decided to leave, since it would have been futile to remain.
We drove to a place where some of our comrades were located and set up a house in the cellar. There we re-organized a kvutza [group] . We wished to make aliyah [immigrate to Israel] from there. The Ashkenazim (Germans) were advancing very rapidly, so many abandoned this place, too. They all went to zorfat [France]<B><I>.</B></I> Only our group stayed in the village. We got ourselves food from ha-anglim [the English] . Soon afterwards, the return-road was blocked, and our area was involved in a ma'aracha [battle].
After a week of bombing and heavy fire, our medina [state] surrendered. The English boarded their ships, and the Ashkenazim advanced. We were prepared for anything. We returned home. In any case, all the members returned to the city. We held a mo'etzet bogrim
[meeting of older members], in which we discussed the reorganization of the movement and the groups. As the situation was still uncertain, it was decided that each group would continue operating independently with its menahel [supervisor] . The general activity was entrusted to ha-hanhaga [the leadership], which remained secret. The activities were very successful. We also assisted other histadruyot [unions] to get organized. This situation continued for about 4 months. We were intensively active in all fields. We could not rely on any help from the Jews . On the contrary, when we wanted to take the books out of the Zionist library, we were prevented from doing so; a short time afterwards, the Ashkenazim confiscated it [the library].
We changed our organization, as we did not need to be so careful any longer. We even enlarged the young section. Everything was organized properly again, and we carried out our activities as we had before the war. We turned our attention to the problem of the adults, as we wanted to arrange aliyah for them. Several members launched preparations for avara me'ever lagvulot [transfer over the borders] . Everything proceeded well, but the matter had to be aborted, as the ships were not sailing any more .We suffered greatly from the fact that we were detached from you and did not have contact with any movement.
The question of the adults was particularly difficult, as no field of activity could be found for them. Training was impossible. In the meantime, we established contacts with the Communists and carried out intensive operations against the Ashkenazim. I can safely say that we were the strongest and the most active. We also initiated the creation of an irgun [organization] for all of the Jewish youth. We had grave difficulties, as we could not rely on your support. They abandoned us in the middle of a mission.
'Maccabbee ha-Tza'ir' (another Zionist youth movement) caused us the greatest concern. We were in conflict with them all the time, and they harassed us in a most vile manner. Despite the many daily difficulties, we successfully continued with our activities. We could rely on all of the members, even on the young ones.
We had to deal with difficult problems with the middle members. They had an abnormal company life. Almost all of them had financial difficulties, so they had to work to support their families. They had ties with the Communists. We managed to overcome all of these obstacles. Our supervisors held daily contacts with them ... We held balls and even published occasional leaflets with translations. Thus we were active until the middle of 1942. In the meantime, our situation worsened as a result of various orders by the memshala [government].
We were forbidden to leave our houses after 7 o'clock in the evening. We continued our activities during the days, but in order to maintain contact with the organization, we also needed to go out at night. In accordance to a decision of the machteret [the underground], we began to organize kvuztot [teams] to learn to use neshek [weapons]. We composed a strong team from our adults. The Communists, who were very influential in the organization, did not want to give us weapons, so we were forced to [find supplies] ourselves. Our members received training from Comrade Krater of Kibbutz Dan. When we went out on a yozma [mission], we would pass on weapons to the Communists. Soon afterwards, we had to wear the kochav [star] . (The Jewish badge).
In this situation, it became impossible for us to continue our activities in their existing format. We decided to move our activities underground. The teams operated independently. Meanwhile, rumors spread concerning transports to forced labor. As we feared that our adult members would be drafted, we decided to remove them from educational work.We gave all the work to the young members. We debated over what should be done with the adult members in such a case, and we decided on a yetzioa [departure].
Therefore, we began to organize it [a departure], but we were not in agreement as to whether we should really escape or be transported with all the other Jews in order to keep the youth united in the camps [as well]. Nevertheless, we decided to depart, since despite all of our connections, we were not at all certain that we would beable to beof help. ...
Kesef [money] was our biggest problem. We might have been able to save more people if we had the money. We divided our members into groups and gave them directions for the derech [road]. We set meeting points, arranged niyarot [papers], and set out on our way. Two memebrs of the leadership stayed behind. We left them the route [for departure] in case they would not be able to stay any longer. After the adults left, the young ones were no longer in danger; it was said that people over the age of 18 would be taken. Thus we did not fear for the fate of the young.
Within a month, the situation deteriorated considerably. People were taken out of their beds at night and never seen again. We heard that the parents behaved outstandingly in these situations. In Antwerp, which was the center of our activity, no one remained. A few managed to save themselves, and they are now with farmers, holding niyarot shchorot [black (false) papers]. The two supervisors could not stay on, and they left as well. One group held on, probably consisting of the last young members who embarked on the departure. The remaining have recently arrived here [in Switzerland]. Their reports reveal their resourcefulness and courage. Operations have been carried out despite all difficulties.
Here [in Switzerland], there are about 40 shomrim . But our situation is not good. All the members are scattered in machanot avoda [work camps] . One year in a machane [camp] has had a severe and dire effect on the members. Some are badly demoralized. I am afraid that if the situation continues much longer, it will have grave consequences for us. We are able to find farmers who will accommodate some of the members. But this is ... no solution, and we have ceased that activity.
We have strong links with the hanhaga [leadership] here; they are aware of all the problems. We do many things in cooperation with them, including almost all of the activities related to the outside world. But no real movement activity is possible; we maintain contact only by correspondence. We have held some large conferences with the Swiss movement, but these always entail large financial expenses.
I hope that this report has provided you with a clear picture of the problems which our movement has faced. But we are lucky that we have managed to bring here at least part of the movement. Together with the Swiss leadership, we would like to try to use the time in the most effective way possible in the spirit of the Movement. Our souls anxiously await the day when we will be able to join the path of the Kibbutz movement.
With wishes of strength and courage, and heart-felt wishes, in the name of the Hanhaga Harashit ha-Belgit (Belgian leadership)
November 15, 1943
Source: Dan Michman, "Zionist Youth Movements in Holland and Belgium and their Activities During the Shoah," pp. 121-123.
Source: Yad Vashem