(No. 5/2006 – May 2006)
Editor: Fran Bock
Hints of Jewish Life – What I Found in Ivenets
by Ruth Wilnai
I told my family in
"His childhood memories were dark and unhappy" she said.
turned out to be an expert about the family history of our parents and
"If you go to Rakow, you should also go visit Ivenets. Ivenets is the town where our grandfather, David Lifshitz, was born. You should also go through Wolma. Wolma is where my grandfather, Yehuda Lifshitz, was born."
I had never heard about Ivenets and Wolma before the discussion with my cousins. I added the two Shtetls to my list.
June 2002, my husband Amos, my sister Ora, and I went to
We walked up a small sandy hill, covered with green weeds, to the cemetery in Ivenets. Only a few tombstones still stood. Most of the tombstones had collapsed and were buried in the sand long ago. A dirt road crossed the cemetery field. There was no fence around the cemetery. Only small wooden homes stood on the border of the cemetery. We could barely read the inscriptions on the tombstones. The place was deserted.
The narrow road led us toward the synagogue of Ivenets. We looked ahead and saw a double-storied building standing wall-to-wall with a one-story building. Today the structure no longer serves as a synagogue. Today it is a disco hall and cinema for young people. The building looked neglected and dirty. Here and there graffiti stained the outside walls. I walked around the disco hall trying to find a hint of its old meaning.
A special engraved wood column on the corner of the house seemed to be trying to tell us old story: "The house was a distinguished one not a simple one."
With the image of the column filling our minds we entered the hall, a big neglected and deteriorated room. Red, purple paper covered the tall walls. I continued to search for the past. My eyes scanned the walls for unique signs and there it was. The wallpaper on one of the walls had worn out to reveal a layer underneath it. A faint yellow crown and maybe Hebrew letters, Gimel, Dalet, appeared, again telling us: "The house is a distinguished one not a simple one."
No smile crowned our faces when we stepped out the door.
Galina continued to lead us through a short trail between the small huts. Gray wooden fences on both sides of the footpath, behind them there were green vegetable gardens. At the end of the short path, a couple named Kantarovich welcomed us to their home.
Josif Ilych Kantarovich told us that he is
originally from Rakow. When he was a child, he went to the Heder there.
During WWII, he walked from Wolma to the Urals, about 600 kilometers. There
he worked and received many medals. Kantarovich's wife, a small gray haired
woman, her dress printed with purple and pink flowers, was from the
non-Jewish Baranovskaya family. She was born in
She was quietly proud of having a home with Jewish character. Proudly, she pointed at the big-built in oven "It is a Shabbat's oven."
On top of the closet stood a unique breadbox, shaped as a tiny home with red windows surrounded by sophisticated decoration. Kantarowicz's wife brought it down and described its details.
While Josif Ilych Kantarovich told us a little about his life the atmosphere in the small, well-kept home, became warmer. His wife served us fruit juice and Josif Ilych told us that he wished to be a Rabbi or a cantor. Soon he started singing in his deep elegant voice. His body moved, filled with emotions, his red face glittered like the light of a fire. His hands waved with the rhythm. An image of a chorus's conductor, he stood in front of our eyes. His wife accompanied him in a very modest, quiet whisper. Together they were like the Red Army Choir, singing “Victory Day" to mark the victory over Nazi Germany.
The Victory Day
(Translated from Russian by Genndy Pasechnik)
The Victory Day, it was so distant then,
Like a coal waning in a dying-out fire.
There were burnt dust-covered miles…
We spared no efforts to hasten that day.
That Victory Day
Smelled with gunpowder,
A feast with graying temples,
Joy with tears in one's eyes.
The Victory Day!
The Victory Day!
The Victory Day!
All day long our Motherland kept awake
Before steel furnaces;
All day long we fought a difficult struggle –
We spared no efforts to hasten that day
Hello, mom, not all of us have returned…
How I'd like to run barefoot over the early dew!
We have crossed half of
We spared no efforts to hasten that day.
The visit in Ivenets left a tender spot in our heart for the Kantarovich couple but on our way to leave the town Ivenets, we stopped by its valley of the death, an area where the 800 Jewish people of the Ghetto of Ivenets' were slaughtered and buried.
On our way, Galina told us: "People used to say that on hot days, long after the murder and the burial, the earth of the mass graves was shocked. The earth trembled and emitted clouds of steam among the tall tree toward the skies."
It was already late in the afternoon. The sun was going down. The sight of the grave, tall trees around, wild weeds, black engraved memorial board, heavily marked our memory with a symbol of the destruction of Jewish life.
To remember the dear faces of the men, women and children who were murdered, see the following web page:
I am not the first one to tell about a visit to Ivenets. Josef Rubinstein visited Ivenets in 1997 and reported about his visit in the following link:
Scroll down the page to the entry for Ivenets. The cemetery location and its status are detailed in Rubinstein's report.
Florette Lynn visited Ivenets in September 2005 and I am sure she will share her experience with us.
Ivenets' Yizkor book tells us about the synagogue and the Jewish customs in the town.
two years ago, I started to negotiate with Yuri Dorn, head of the
Josef Rubinstein and I supported the project.
In the middle of November 2005 I received from Yuri Dorn a CD with 347 photos of tombstones, a list of the inscriptions and a map of the cemetery. About 54 tombstones could not be deciphered.
We thank Yuri Dorn and his organization for performing the project.
The earliest tombstone is from 1812: Simha the son of Yakov 1812
שמחה ב״ר יעקב שנת תקע״ב
The most recent tombstone is from 1940: Noah the son of Leibush Zhivenyaz 26 Tishrey 1940
נח ב״ר לײבוש זיועניאץכ״ו בתשרי שנת ת״ש
About half of the tombstones are from the period of the years 1860 – 1900.
At the end of the current project, the cemetery was cleaned up. During the clean up new tombstones were found. About 40 tombstones were found in the Eastern part of the cemetery. About 30 tombstones were found in two areas where local residents now live. About 20 tombstones were used as a foundation for a woodshed standing not far from the cemetery.
We hope that recovering and deciphering the newly found tombstones will be performed in the spring of 2006.
A meeting is scheduled between Yuri Dorn's organization and Ivenets' Mayor to discuss the preservation of the cemetery by the town.
A future goal, which cost more money, is to fence the cemetery. A plan for constructing the fence already exists. There were efforts in the past to raise money for the fence, but they failed.
I thank my daughter Sigal Tzur, my sister Ora Kuller and David Fox for reading and drawing my attention to correct details.
I thank my husband Amos Wilnai, Ora Kuller and David Fox for the photos.
I thank Bruno Mir for finding the text of Red Army Victory Song.
thank Genndy Pasechnik,
Below you will find the list of names on the tombstones:
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