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Bialystok - The Jewish City

The years 1919-1921

The Year 1930

Under Soviet Rule

The Holocaust, 1941-1943


Page 5

It has been a great privilege to realize - albeit after a delay of more than fifty years - the dream of the principals of the Gymnasium in its latter years: to publish a book documenting the history of this Hebrew and Zionist institution which flourished in the Diaspora, without government support, and under a hostile regime.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Gymnasium, the school principals had intended to publish a "Jubilee Book" of articles and essays contributed by the founders, teachers, graduates and students. Several of the Gymnasium's graduates who received this "rallying cry" from the School Board, answered the call and sent articles to Bialystok. That was in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War and the Holocaust. The book was never published.

The memory of the Gymnasium, which we have cherished throughout the years, inspired us to organize a reunion of ex-students which was held in Tel-Aviv in May 1990. We are publishing the "70th. Anniversary Book" as a natural sequel to this reunion, and as a fulfilment of the wish of the Gymnasium's principals to record its special character and history in writing. The impressions of a nostalgic meeting, however stimulating, evaporate in the course of time and its memory fades, whilst a book containing recollections, photographs, and descriptions of incidents from the life of each graduation class remains an asset in every high school student's home, and a heritage for following generations. To quote the Latin adage: "Verba valent, scripta manent" - "Words fly away, writing remains".

Our book makes no claim to convey a complete and comprehensive picture of the Bialystok Hebrew Gymnasium. That would have proved a most difficult task even for professional researchers, because the archives of the school have been destroyed. Our intention was merely to provide a vehicle to document the recollections and experiences of the students, and even this modest aim was by no means easy to accomplish. Most of the Gymnasium's students are advanced in years, and many of them found difficulty in recalling events from the distant past. It was not easy to sit down and put pen to paper. Many, whose memories of their schooldays were very close to their hearts, found difficulty in describing them because of everyday distractions, and yet in spite of this, we received written material from a sizeable number of graduates. On more than one occasion we were presented with contradictory versions of certain incidents. In trying to verify these and establish their accuracy, we resorted to libraries and interviewed people personally and by telephone. We were helped a great deal in our research by the students' magazines "Anachnu", "Koleinu", "Le'An", and the booklet "Iton Ha'Yovel" published by the staff on the Gymnasium's fifth anniversary. In this book, we have allocated ample space to these magazines, which immortalize the spirit that then prevailed in the Gymnasium.

Many of the Gymnasium's students went on to record impressive achievements in the fields of science, medicine, engineering, law, journalism, education, politics, and public service. To mention but a few: former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Member of Parliament Chaike Grossman, and from those who are no longer with us, ex-Minister of Health Joseph Serlin, and the designer of the Atomic Reactor at Dimona, Engineer Manes Prat (Prenski). Lack of space prevents us from listing here the names of all those alumni who presently occupy key positions in their fields.

We trust that the day will come when an in-depth, scientific study will be undertaken, documenting the history of the Gymnasium and the full contribution that its graduates have made to the Jewish People, and that perhaps the researchers will find this book of some assistance. This English edition is a translation of the original Hebrew book entitled: "The Hebrew Gymnasium in Bialystok (Poland)", which was published in 1992.

Many of the ex-pupils of the Gymnasium live in the Diaspora. Over the years they have forgotten the Hebrew language, and their children and grandchildren too are not conversant with the ancient tongue. These graduates have expressed a wish that the book be translated into English so that their descendants too will be able to learn of their roots and the source from which they have drawn their inspiration, and the spirit which beats in their hearts for the love of their birthplace and the Hebrew language.

I have endeavoured to ensure that the book will be published in a de luxe edition which, both in content and character, including the many photographs, does not fall below the standard of the original book.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my dear friend, Dr. Max Ratner for his unwavering support, and personal encouragement. Also, I wish to thank Electrochemical Industries (Frutarum) Ltd., the company Max Ratner established.

Max Ratner has expressed his deeply felt wish that this book become a guide and reference for his grandchildren. I do hope his wish will materialize. Just before press time I heard that Dr. Max Ratner passed away. I lost a dear friend and therefore I decided to dedicate the book to his memory.

Yaacov Samid

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

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