By Aviad Ben Izhak – Translated from Hebrew by Ellen Stepak

 

On the first of September 1939, the very day on which World War II broke out, the refugees’ boat known as Tiger Hill approached the beach of Tel Aviv. Among the hundreds of refugees on the ship, was a close-knit group, a group which had boarded the boat at its embarkment port of Varna, Bulgaria. The group numbered about 45 men and women, emigres from Bulgaria, in their twenties.

Who were they and how are they connected to the subject of this article?

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The Hashomer Hatsair movement in Bulgaria was established in 1923, with 3 branches in the largest Jewish communities (Sofiya, Ruse and Plovdiv). At first they were led by Jewish teachers who viewed the movement as an important tool for embedding the Hebrew language.

The founders’ convention of the movement took place in 1925, and by 1931, one by one branches were established in all the Jewish communities. Already at the time of its inception, there were approximately 500 members.

All the activities of the movement took place in Hebrew and in the beginning, the movement followed the spirit of the international Scouts organization.

It is worth noting, that the Bulgarian movement stood from the outset in contact with the worldwide Hashomer Hatsair center in Warsaw.

Hashomer Hatsair was active in Bulgaria from its inception until 1948. During the fascist control of the country during World War II’ activities were halted. In 1948 the movement disbanded voluntarily, because of the massive Aliyah of the Bulgarian Jewish population to Israel.

During its existence, 11 national conferences took place, there were 17 summer camps, and periodicals were published, among other activities.

Early in the movement’s existence there was deliberation as to its political identity, and already in 1927 the decision was reached to join the Eretz-Israel workers’ camp, which is to say, the leftist Zionists.

The movement required of its graduates Aliyah to Erets-Israel. The first pioneers of Hashomer Hatsair from Bulgaria made Aliyah in 1931, and in that year the movement made the decision to build kibbutzim as a means for achieving its Zionist ideals.

It should be noted that the movement was the largest Jewish youth movement in Bulgaria and its importance was substantial, therefore, both in terms of numbers of membership and in terms of influence. The movement was a definitive factor in molding the pioneers’ point of view.

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And as to the group which arrived in Israel on the refugee ship Tiger Hill: all members of the group were members of Hashomer Hatsair, most of them from Russa – Ruschuk. They were fluent in Hebrew and had trained in agriculture prior to their emigration.

During the journey to Israel, this group was of considerable importance. The ship suffered from many hardships, and at one stage there was almost a mutiny. The Bulgarian group defended the officers of the Israeli boat, and prevented the mutiny. That and more: before the boat’s arrival in Israel, hundreds of refugees from another boat which had been grounded were transferred to the Tiger Hill. It was the Bulgarian group that transferred them on lifeboats during one long night.

At the time of arrival of the Tiger Hill to the coast of Israel all the members of the group jumped into the water and reached the beach of Tel Aviv by swimming.

Some members of this group later joined Kibbutz 4 (Dalet) and still later established Kibbutz Yakum. Others took part in establishing additional kibbutzim.

A group of Hashomer Hatsair members from Rusa (Rosav, Ruse) Bulgaria 1930

Second row – first on lefthand side – Shabtai Ben Izhak Papo – father of the author

Photo from the book Korot Yehudei Bulgaria

 

 

 

The above list is of “Members of the Bulgarian group (group planning to establish a settlement)”

and comes from a census of Ha’Kibbutz Ha’artsi from 1940.

The person marked on the list is Shabtai Papo, father of the author of this article.

This list was found among the databases of IGRA, and the source is the Yad Yaari Archives.

 

This article is dedicated to my father Shabtai Ben Izhak (Papo) of blessed memory, who lived from 1917 to 1982 – member of Hashomer Hatsair in Russa, Bulgaria, and a member of the Bulgarian group mentioned in the above article.

Sources:

The Jewish Community of Ruschuk – Zvi Keren

The Jews of Ruschuk – Yosef Kovo

The History of the Bulgarian Jews, edited by Chaim Keschales, Volume 2

Wikipedia – “Tiger Hill”

 

About the author – Aviad Ben Izhak (Lt. Colonel) past commander of the computer school (“mamram”) in the IDF

Specializing in building family trees and searches for family roots

All rights reserved to the author