Zionism & Israel/Palestine

Będzin survivor Sam Pivnik, who went to Palestine after liberation.
Będzin survivor Sam Pivnik, who went to Palestine after liberation.

Zionism is a movement that advocates the return of the Jewish community to Israel after an almost two thousand year exile, also called galut. Zionism evolved during the mid-nineteenth century with the rise of European nationalism and the growth of antisemitism.


Fundamentally, Zionists longed for a nation of their own on the premise of religious motivations and political autonomy. Theodor Herzl, concerned about the antisemitic climate in Europe, is credited as the father of Zionism. In 1895 he published his seminal work Der Judenstaat (The State for the Jews) and created the Zionist Organization (ZO). Following Herzl’s death, the ZO relied on the leadership of Chaim Weizmann, a Russian Jewish scientist living in Manchester, England. Weizmann played a key role in British support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The movement gained traction in 1917 when the British promised to support a Jewish homeland through the Balfour Declaration. Three years later, in 1920, the British acquired Palestine in a post-World War 2 agreement with the League of Nations. The 1939 “White Paper” implemented a policy that restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.


In Będzin, like in many Polish cities, Zionist youth groups were part of the political landscape of Jewish organizations in Poland. Other organizations had socialist and traditionalist orientations, like the “Bundists” (a socialist Jewish workers’ union promoting secular nationalism) and the “Agudath Israel” (representing Orthodox Jews and advocating to stay in Poland).


When the Germans occupied Poland, the Zionist youth was better prepared for the needs of the community. They formed underground schools in the ghettos and prepared for kibbutz life through cultivation of small plots of land, like the Farma in the Kamionka ghetto of Będzin. Among the various Zionist movements were Hashomer Hatzair, Dror and Betar. One of the famous Zionist youth leaders was Mordechai Anilewicz, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.


While Jews in Poland suffered from the Nazi onslaught, an armed underground Jewish organization emerged in Palestine, the Haganah, to secure the Jewish community against Palestinian Arab attacks. Faced with the British apprehension to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Haganah facilitated illegal immigration along a network of transportation, especially after 1945.


The ensuing guerilla warfare between the Haganah and the British resulted in internal splits in the Jewish underground. After 1946, the Haganah no longer participated in attacks against the British and concentrated on the immigration efforts of Jews into Palestine. Sam Pivnik from Będzin took part in the fight for independence in Palestine after his liberation. Eventually, the efforts of Zionist armed forced proved successful. The British withdrew from Palestine in early 1947 and handed over to the United Nations the political task of deciding what to do with Palestine.


After the Holocaust, an estimated 200,000 Jewish survivors were living in Displaced Persons camps in Europe. They no longer had homes to return to, or they fled the continued presence of antisemitism in Europe. The question of where to place them fueled the Zionist idea of an independent state of Israel. On May 14, 1948 the State of Israel was established.



More information on Zionist Jewish Youth:

USHMM: Jewish Youth Movements in Wartime Poland