G. Gafner, Translated by Adam Prager
As to the question which teacher was the most memorable and influential, the answer would be unanimous: Shlomo Dik. What was the secret of his success and influence upon us? We had many teachers and some may even have been better. However, he was exceptional in his devotion to his students and their problems. We concealed nothing from him, be they the most intimate and personal matters or simply issues concerning our studies. One could always find in him a sympathetic listener, one willing to offer true help. He had one aim in life for which he strove tirelessly in all that he did: Drawing Jewish youth closer to nature, which he loved and had a great knowledge of. The surroundings. with their dense forests, streams and fields were of great help, and he knew how to take advantage of every element and opportunity with utmost efficiency in order to attain his goal. He wasn’t satisfied in teaching a vocation alone; he wanted Jewish youth to regain their identity and self-esteem as human beings as well as Jews.
This was the period of the pogroms in Russia and some pogrom attempts were also made in Galicia. I shall never forget Dik’s words when he demanded we be prepared to aid the Jews who lived in the Jewish town of Kolomea, which feared an onslaught. He warned us not to be provoked into attacking anyone, but to demonstrate our right and duty as Jews and human beings to defend ourselves from any assault. He would include in his words historical facts of how the Jews used to defend themselves and their land and showed his disdain for Jewish submission in the diaspora in more recent times.
Dik also knew how to show his young students that only cooperative and organized forces could achieve substantial progress in the present and in the future. He was the first to organize a student board by which students could tend to their own affairs, with special committees that dealt with cultural, professional, and legal matters. Success here led to his request that students be allowed to take an active part in their institution generally. Here, too, he was successful, even though the rest of the teachers, who believed in a different kind of educational system, tried to lay obstacles in his way.
The ideas of Dik, the teacher and educator, provoked much opposition. His fellow teachers, as was mentioned above, opposed his approach to education. Nevertheless, he remained fearless and undeterred. The conflict reached its peak when senior officials from the Jewish Colonization Association [ICA] in Paris decided that the level of studies and cultural activities for the boys must be reduced to that of the farmers in the area. For only such men can be farmers. Contrary to their views, Dik wanted the range of education to be expanded; he wanted students to learn the latest scientific developments in the field of agriculture, to improve work methods by means of modern machinery, to deal with eradicating pests, etc.
His ambition was to prove to the Jews that it was possible to live from farming and to do so on a much higher level than that enjoyed by the neighboring farmers and the Jews with their luft (‘air’) occupations. We students felt that the dispute concerned our lives and our future, therefore we organized and supported him with all our might. He succeeded in canceling the edict from Paris.
It can be said with great satisfaction that from all the classes under Solomon Dik’s tutelage over 80% stayed in the field of agriculture (unfortunately, they are scattered all over the world), an achievement that no other agricultural school can claim.
Dik, who dreamed of a wider educational purpose for the Jews of that generation, went to complete his agricultural studies at a university in Berlin. Upon completing his studies he was offered the position of principal at the Jewish agricultural school in Steinhurst, Germany. Here too he met with great difficulties. Once again the dispute concerning system and goal arose. And again he encountered narrow-minded employers, giving him no choice but to leave.
Dik started to manage private and communal farms in Germany. He succeeded in reviving and re-organizing abandoned farms, which was met with wonder and admiration among experts. He was very happy that he could give Jewish youth from east and west a chance to learn the practical features of the agricultural profession on these farms.
His connection with Jewish youth and agriculture and his aim of bringing them together led him to Oppenheimer, to the latter’s method, and to Zionism. The ninth Zionist Congress decided to establish a cooperative association at Merchavia. It was to be run according to Professor Oppenheimer’s system under Dik’s management. Dik immediately contacted his students from Slovodka for this purpose. A few of us (including me) went to Erets-Yisrael prior to the founding of the association in order to study the special local conditions. With Dik’s arrival in Erets-Yisrael, and with the aid of a number of workers from the Galillee settlements, the foundations of the cooperative at Merchavia were laid.
This is not the place to unfold the story of the founding of Merchavia. I would only like to say that of all the settlements that were founded after it, not a single one experienced such hardships as Merchavia did during its first eight years. I will mention just a few details: about 100 young men and women, most of whom infected with various types of malaria, and about 50% to 80 % bedridden and unable to work during the most important work season, in the most primitive hospital situated in shacks swarming in every corner with fleas, scorpions, snakes and rats. True, the neglected fields were plowed with the latest machinery at the time, for there were neither tractors nor combines then. There was hardly any water; at times one had to literally fight over each and every drop. We were isolated in a savage environment surrounded by bandits and enemies. As if it were not bad enough not to receive any aid from the government, the same government made life even more difficult by false accusations and arrests, confiscation of our crops and work animals, killing of cows, confiscation of houses for the use of the army, etc., etc.
Each and every one of us, especially Dik, contributed as much as he could to the project. In addition to his vast professional knowledge he continued to learn from our neighbors and from Aharonson, of blessed memory, in Atlit. He introduced new plant species, a seed cycle and insecticides. He taught and trained the members, developed relations with neighbors and government, caught malaria and suffered with the rest of us. However, the extremely difficult conditions weakened the spirits of the members. After 4 years of strenuous work Dik left Merchavia, hoping to hear good news from afar. However, the war broke out, bringing an end to his hopes and ours.
Dik believed in and instilled in us the belief in cooperation as a system and a way of life. To this belief we added enthusiasm and devotion. Unfortunately, the combination of all the obstacles nature introduced, the neighbors and the government was stronger. By the end of the war our cooperative had been eight years in the making. We were both mentally and physically broken and exhausted, weak and low spirited. Eight of our members were gone, having died or been killed. The farm was in ruins with no water, tools, animals and all the conditions necessary for any kind of development.
Dik returned to Germany and continued with settlement activity according to the Oppenheimer system as well as manage other farms. He participated in Zionist Congresses and other public Jewish projects, appreciated and honored by those around him. In 1935 Dik came to Erets-Yisrael, and at the invitation of Dr. Ruppin, of blessed memory, prepared a report on various Jewish agricultural settlements and presented suggestions for new settlements and for the expansion of existing ones. He was against leaving things to chance and insisted on accurate and organized planning in dealing with the settlements as well as having the appropriate equipment and training. He was against monoculture in agriculture, and against the extreme kibbutz system. He hoped and believed that the extreme cooperative kvutsa and the extreme individualistic moshav would meet in cooperation; all this prevented him from living in Israel and contributing his priceless experience and devotion to our endeavor.
He left the country a bitter man and took an active part in the effort to save Jews from the Nazi Hell, but he himself could not escape the crater which was to swallow up a large part of our people. Far off in a foreign land, away from his country and friends, Dik met his death. We can but praise those first steps of his which, though they failed, constituted the basis for the new agricultural settlements and their prosperity.
In Germany he achieved great success and recognition in his field: as manager of the agricultural estate near the well known copper factory owned by the Jewish Hirsch family, as government inspector of the estates belonging to the former German Kaiser, and as a well known assessor for the major mortgaging banks. He was a Jew with a deep national-Zionist awareness. He was proud of his Jewish first name and of his eastern Galician origin and continued to be so when the Nazis rose to power.
During all of his stay in Germany he furthered the work of the Zionist Organization, especially in the field of agricultural training. He served as an expert in the London Committee in 1920 and at the Zionist Congress in Prague. He published articles and held lecture series on agricultural and settlement subjects.
A short while after the Nazis were well established, he left Germany and in 1934 he emigrated to Israel. Here he acted on behalf of the settlement department of the Jewish Agency. preparing reports on kibbutzim, moshavot, etc.
In 1937 he visited Madagascar as a member of the delegation appointed by the Polish government to investigate the possibility of settling Jews there. For a similar purpose but on behalf of a Dutch settlement company he toured Dutch Guiana.
These two trips affected his health and forced him to stay for some time in France to recover. Thus he was stranded in France when World War Two broke out and it was there that he died of a malignant disease at the beginning of 1944.