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Max Lederfeind from Kolomyya — Part 2 of 2: Hashomer Hatzair

by Aurelie M. Amidan

After the First World War the economic and social hardships of the mass of Jews in the towns of Galicia increased, and raised the need to immigrate to Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). As a consequence of this need a Zionist pioneer (chalutz) movement was founded among Jewish youth that became “Hashomer Hatzair” youth movement.

From an article written by Meir in “Sefer Kolomea” – the memorial book published by the survivors of Kolomea.

Economic hardships and the persecution against the Jews under the Polish regime strengthened the emigration of Jews out of Galicia to other countries, especially the United States. Several members of the Lederfeind family also emigrated to Germany and to the United States, but more and more young Jews realized that the true solution to the problems that Jews faced could be found in Zionism and aliya to Eretz Israel. In Kolomea, as in many other towns in Galicia and Eastern Europe, sprouted a variety of youth movements, expressing all shades and hues of opinion in the Jewish public.

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The Galitzianer - Hashomer Hatzair

Meir (then Max Lederfeind) at age 19, with Hashomer Hatzair girl scouts

Hashomer Hatzair was a pioneer youth movement whose goal was to train Jewish youth for aliya and a life of equality and socialism. The members were youths between ages 12 to 18, mostly high school students. In the movement they learnt about the situation in Eretz Israel and in the Zionist movement, Jewish history and Hebrew. Also in Kolomea a club of Hashomer was established and Gershon, Meir’s older brother, was among its founding members.

In 1919 a tragic event endangered the activity of the movement in the area. Soldiers of the anti-Semitic Polish army attacked a training camp of Hashomer youth from Kolomea killing three boys, among them the leader of Hashomer club in Kolomea, and wounding others. After this murder the people in Kolomea feared for the life of their children and the Hashomer club was disbanded. It was re-established in 1925, but the original ideology of training for aliya and life of pioneering and self-realization in Eretz Israel was neglected. Hashomer club members still spoke eloquently of aliya but did nothing to carry it out themselves.  After graduating from high school they pursued higher studies in universities in the Diaspora. Gershon, Meir’s brother, for example, went to Germany to study medicine.

At age of 13 1/2 Meir joined Hashomer Hatzair. He loved being in the movement. Even at that early age, he made up his mind to go to Eretz Israel and consequently didn’t put too much effort into “useless” studies. At age fifteen he became a group leader of younger scouts. Shortly afterwards Meir participated in a seminar for Hashomer group leaders. There he met group leaders from other towns, where the idea of aliya was still considered the way of the movement. They not only preached Zionism but actually trained youth for aliya and sent them to Eretz Israel.

Meir, together with two comrades, demanded from the Kolomea club leaders that they return the club to the true way of Zionism and aliya. The leaders refused. As a result, Meir and his friends “revolted” against the club leadership, to drive the present leaders out, and to reinstate the Kolomea club as a pioneer (chalutz) movement that practices aliya.

The revolt of the three boys against the established club leadership made waves all over the land. The Hashomer Supreme Leadership sent delegates to Kolomea in order to examine the case. In the ensuing examination, the young “rebels” were justified and so, already at the age of 15, Meir and his two comrades became the club leaders. They succeeded in reorganizing and enlarging the club, and even assumed responsibility for other Hashomer clubs in surrounding towns.

Meir devoted almost all his time and energy to the activities of the movement. He spent his time traveling by foot among the surrounding towns, sleeping away at comrades’ houses, making speeches, enlisting youth and organizing things. However, for what the young “rebels” preached they had to set an example. And so Meir left the Gymnasia (high school) at the end of the 10th grade. Together with some comrades he joined an agricultural training camp so as to serve as a personal example. Life at the camp was very difficult, the work was hard, and the food scarce. In addition to those hardships, local Ukrainian farmers used to raid the training farm. But there the Jewish youth defended themselves. During one raid a Ukrainian farmer got killed. The police intervened and the young camp members were arrested. They were released two days later for lack of evidence.

At the end of the camp Meir returned home. His parents tried to convince him to pursue his studies. They wanted him to graduate university and be “serious” like his brother and sister. His brother Gershon was a doctor, married and the father of a son. His sister Rosa graduated a teachers’ seminar, married and was the mother of two children. Only Meir refused to walk the comfortably paved road and continued his pioneering way to aliya.

After a short while Meir went to another lengthy period of training, this time at a sawmill. After eight months of hard work at the mill his comrades, who needed his help to resist a communist movement that threatened to take over the Hashomer club, called him back to Kolomea. Once again Meir became Hashomer leader of Kolomea and the entire region. He was also promoted to the Supreme Leadership of the Hashomer. Even though he no longer attended school Meir read whatever he could find in Polish, Yiddish, German and Hebrew. Thus he educated himself in a wide range of subjects and became a true scholar.

Once again he went out to a training camp, and once again he was called back to reconstitute the movement and safeguard it against communist and nihilist elements who infiltrated the movement. During those periods of intensive training and struggle Meir coached young leaders to take his place and lead the movement when he would finally go off to Eretz Israel. Once he made sure that the Hashomer club was in good hands he set on preparing his aliya. At first his parents, despite their Zionist views, objected to his intention. However, Meir reached the age of being liable to be drafted into the Polish army, where conditions for Jewish soldiers were particularly difficult. So, after a long debate, his parents gave their blessing to his departure. Meir, with a small group of Hashomer members, set out on a journey south to Trieste in Italy, where he embarked on a boat to Eretz Israel. In December 1932, when he was twenty years old, Meir’s dream came true and he made aliya to Eretz Israel.
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