No. 2/2001 - 16. January 2001

Elsebeth Paikin
Copenhagen, Denmark
The editorial staff:
Jack Blagman
Lori Miller
Estelle Nemoy

A letter from Streshin, Belarus, 1922

by Carolyn Javitch

We thank Carolyn Javitch for sharing with us the below translation of a letter written in 1922 to her grandfather, Sam Finesmith in America, from his brother Efroyim who remained in Streshin, Belarus.

We also thank Sheldon Benjamin for giving permission to use the below photos from Streshin.

Town center showing church and school

Street that goes down to the Dnieper River (now called Gagarin Street)

Marker outside of Zlobin where the Jews of Streshin were buried in a mass grave by the Einzatsgrupen.

German aerial photo taken in 1941 prior to the capture of Streshin

Strechin, 1 Teyves, 20 December 1922

Dear brother Shloyme, sister-in-law and children, long may you live.

Your letter, my brother, which I received along with Chaim's, finally brought me the news and convinced me that you are alive, thank God. Actually, I assumed that you were lost to me forever, and that you would never respond. I did not know where to look for you.

A burden the size of a mountain lay upon me, because of our father's death, the guilt of having to notify you oppressed me for five years, and my conscience gave me no rest. I always felt somehow guilty, not having fulfilled my obligation to our deceased parents, in that their children would not even mention them.

As soon as I became aware that you are near our people (I was made aware of this by Leybe's children Shloyme and Feyge, when, in a letter of theirs to their brother Leyvik they wrote: "Greetings to Uncle Efrayim from his Shloyme."

It then became much easier for me, and I thanked the Eternal One that you are in perfect circumstances and that He gave me the opportunity to be freed of my obligation and my conscience to our parents.

To tell the truth, I did no more than dash off my previous letter to you. Made short shrift of a debt, as it were, far from a family letter, not in the sense that you might answer it, because I always felt that you held a grudge against me.

For I remember the last time, before you left for America, you were in my house, and you were standing there, and I sensed that you wanted to say something to me, but you had so much pride not to hurt me. I assumed that surely you did not have enough for the trip. That is how I understood it. (Perhaps I was mistaken.) Unfortunately, I had, at that time, to pretend ignorance. I myself have felt that my behavior to you remained a permanent stain on me. I understood that you needed help, but I was in such a situation, that it was quite impossible for me to react.

I was, at that time, prevented because it had come to the point that I was mortgaged, surrounded by debts, my wife's jewelry pawned. I couldn't make a move, but nevertheless, should you have spoken up and reminded me, I do not know what might have been. But when you were silent, I too was silent. Therefore I think, and have always thought, that you would never write to me. But, as it appears, everything comes to an end. Time changes everything and hurls the past into forgetfulness.

You surely remembered that your brother still would like to hear from you. Nu, thank God, you are alive, and, what's more, I am happy that you have also made a fine life.

You may all be greatly happy that you left Russia on time, and did not see or suffer the fear, terror and horror that we have lived through and in which we still live now. Hunger, cold and nakedness, and then the small things. That for one year almost the entire town, were sitting in darkness, there was nothing with which to light a fire at night and we were frightened from the outside, that soon robbers, thieves would come into the house to take the last linen pants and to slaughter everybody.

You must greatly thank God. Many, many Russians would not be able to bear this great poverty if America were not to appear here with her great help. We are barely living now. The horrors, which we have suffered, have ruined our health tremendously, so that we are barely alive. Frightened and malnourished, Russians have lost almost two degrees of temperature. That means that when a person has a fever of 36-37 degrees he is already a sick person, where normally this is no threat to life, his usual situation makes a higher temperature necessary.

I can write one example about myself, how earlier, when one could say, were the good times, not to speak even of a little later when misfortunes had already grabbed hold of and touched almost everyone. This was still at that time, when the Jews in Russia had figured that they had been redeemed from exile, that the following event happened to me.

You surely know that in Russia in 1917 there was a big upheaval. The powerful government of hundreds of years suddenly fell. The throne occupier removed himself from kingship. There was such a blow, such a strangeness among the people while reading the posters, no more king, no more leader, no more oppression, all no more. All free, all gone. The subjects themselves are now respectable people, have become leaders. Wonderful! This cannot be described. Then, when people caught sight of a policeman wearing epaulets (because they had not yet believed and had not yet seen him tear off his shoulder straps), with shouts and cries of hurrah they tore off these shoulder straps along with some punches.

At that time, the people founded their own police and called it militia. I got myself entangled as a policeman, that is, the public selected me. I served with five other militiamen, Christians, one of them, the militia chief. They gave me a saber and I wore it and felt important. I reconciled people and disputants and merely sat in the government office and all the rest of the work was done by the senior with the Christians, and who held me to be something of a boss over them.

One time we received orders that a certain bandit was being sought and should be brought to Rogatshov. This was on Friday. The chief dispatched three militiamen and he himself had to depart. So he directed me that when the bandit was brought in -- Yoshke was his name -- I should, in the meantime detain him in jail. The next day he was, in fact, brought in. I took a look at him, (it was frightening to look at him) big and coarse like space, swift, strange eyes. I began searching and asking for the keys to the jail. He heard this and understood that I wanted to arrest him. He did not expect this because the militiamen fooled him and said that he was being summoned to have money returned to him, which was due his militia. Now he understood, that they had tricked him.

He was very angry with me the entire time. Afterwards, we sent him off to Rogatshov. He sat in jail for three months and returned to his village. Only later did I find out how much of a bandit he was. He had a very big gang and shot many people, killed a Jewish household, and I trembled from his anger.

In the village, as soon as he would see our militiamen, he would always ask them, using the expression: "Is that little Jew still walking around? Is he still alive?" They would pass this on to me, and I went around with my fear, always worried and thought nothing but that this Yoshke and his gang would visit my poor household at night. My life did not agree with me, and I cursed his work. In a short time, my fear was fully reached.

I was asleep at one in the morning and there was a knock at my door. It was a bright night. I looked out through the window. Two Christians, one with a rifle, were shouting: "Open up." I asked who they were, what the wanted. They answered: "Just open up. You will know soon enough!"

Frightened, half-dead, I awakened my family - quickly, let's flee! In my house there are two doors, and we did not used to nail shut even one. But because of all of this, we now did. With force we took off the second door, ran out onto the street shouting. But thank God, it turned out that I was needed as a militiaman. In the middle of the night a thief had been caught and I was needed for a rifle. But you can imagine my - and my family's - fear. This and similar things are reflected in my health. But thank God for everything.

Afterwards, Poles came to us and took this Yoshke as a criminal and shot him in our town. Thus a mountain was lifted off of my shoulders. This and much more did many, many suffer here. But enough.

My household now consists of only me and my wife Dishe, two girls Leye and Tsirle. Leye works with my wife. From this we barely survive. I myself sit now without even a bit of work. Tsirle, after seven years studying in Retsitse and in the gymnasium is now in her third year at Kharkov University of Medicine. May the Eternal One grant that we may live to see her as a complete doctor. She suffers greatly from hunger and cold but nevertheless enjoys her studies. Now she is supported by my son Natan with his monthly drafts. She sweetens our life, makes our sorrow forgotten, with her liveliness and happiness and brings us much pleasure, (may no evil eye harm her). She is already her own person, knows foreign languages - German, French, Latin - and what's more, absolutely beautiful. Natan is taking Leye to America.

Copyright © 2001 Belarus SIG, Carolyn Javitch and Sheldon Benjamin

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