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Barnovichi was a town of "Mitnagdim", Jews who emphasized learning the Talmud and the intellectual side of Judaism. These were opposed to the "Chasidim", Jews worshipping with dance and music and devoted to their rebbe. These rebbes held court and became dynasties with their positions handed down from father to son. Despite the hostility of the "Mitnagdim", the Chasidim kept coming and settling in the town. Eventually they built their own synagogue, called a "shtibel", from the word "shtub" meaning a house. Once a Rabbi came to town. That Shabbat, some big boys got together and went to the Chasidim while the Rabbi was eating with them. At the entrance to each synagogue was a small tank with water and a basin for washing the hands - and some very wet towels. The boys rolled up some of these wet towels and pelted the Rabbi with them!

A favorite trick with the boys, especially in the Big Shul, was to line up the "standars" (individual pulpits on which the large volumes of Talmud were kept) a small distance form one another, in a circle around the Bimah in the center of the synagogue, and then throw one over. Like dominoes, the first one hit the second, and so on creating a chain reaction and a lot of noise.

"Novobrantzes" was the name applied to newly recruited soldiers who came to Baranovichi. The first few days they would roam the streets, usually drunk, and bother people. Those were days when you were better off at home. There was also a Christian holiday, which must have been Easter, when an icon of Jesus was buried near the church and dug up on the next day. Then a procession was formed with the icon carried out in front. This was another day when it was advisable to spend the day at home, or at least keep out of the way.

My older brother Yikutiel joined the "Paz'arneh", the fire brigade, which was a voluntary institution with only two or three paid workers, who took care of the horses and the red wagon with the large pump handles operated by four people, two on each side. This was a big attraction, for everyone, but especially the children. Each pozarnik got a shiny brass helmet, and the "natchalnik" (commander) had a special hat. There are photos of both my brothers in the Baranovichi Memorial (Yizkor) Book. In later years, my brother Yankel also joined the "Paz'arneh", since the firefighters became sort of a self-defense unit during the war years between Russia and Poland. They played a big role in serving the town from burning and looting. Having horses and equipment, with axes handy, they commanded authority, and risked their lives many times.

The Czar used to come, it seems, every summer through Baranovichi. My father saw him seven times, since he would pass near the slaughterhouse which was in the forest. I saw him only once, not only him, but his entire family. They passed through the city in a row of automobiles. I stood on the corner of Marinska Street. Police were everywhere. When the Czar passed, we all took off our hats or caps, and loudly yelled "Hurrah!" according to the policemen’s' instructions. The royal couple was in the first car. In the second car, an open one, sat his uncle, Nicolai Nicolaiyewich, I think, the Commander in Chief of all of Russia. Others filled the rest of the row of autos, and Cossacks rode horses on all sides. I remember that on Shabbat in the synagogue, a special prayer was said for the Czar, after the reading of the Torah. A policeman was always present to make sure that the prayer was said.





World War I


As the war approached, a German circus appeared in Baranovichi. The tent was set up in the marketplace. Over the course of a week, two horses would run away every day. One German always ran out to find them, either in the Lager (soldiers' camp) or in one of the railway stations. Later on it was claimed that the disappearance of the horses was deliberate - for spying purposes. Just before the war broke out, a tiny German plane landed in a field near the city, very close to the railway and the houses. It was said at the time that it just ran out of gas. It was the first plane I ever saw close up.

The city began to fill up with Jewish refugees ("bezjentzes"). They were strangers to us, and came from the borders of Germany and Austria. They were forced to evacuate by the Russians, who claimed that they were a danger to the Russian Empire. At first the refugees tried to rent rooms, but then they came by the trainload. They were a pitiful sight, with babies in their arms and a small valise or package on their backs. They slept in the synagogues on the floors. People volunteered to give them shelter. Some looked like wealthy people, but since they were evacuated in a hurry we could not tell for sure. What amazed us was their Yiddish dialect, and such a different way of speaking. We said "do" (yes) to parents, and Tate (father) - Mami (mother). They said "Tateteshy mir gebun" or "Mameshy" (father or mother will give me).

As the Germans and Austrians broke the Russian lines very quickly, these refugees were ordered to move on deeper into Russia. We heard of Brisk (Brestlitovsk), a fortress, falling. That meant the front was coming closer. People counted as many as a hundred trains a day passing through our stations, loaded with wounded soldiers. But just as many kept coming to the front. A platoon of newly recruited soldiers, all of them "muzjiks" (Russian peasants) from farms, were stationed in our yard - about thirty of them. After two or three days, a sergeant came with a rifle. They lay on the grass and the sergeant demonstrated how to use the rifle. First you put it against your shoulder, then you aim, lift the lock up, push it back, lock down, and then pull the trigger. This went on for several days, with the single rifle going from hand to hand. The Muzjiks did not catch on at all. I was already an expert from watching. I heard another story about the Muzjiks who were drafted, but didn't know left from right. The sergeant solved the problem by tying hay to one of their legs and straw to the other. When he taught them to march he called out "hay-straw" instead of "left-right". These so-called soldiers were soon to go to the front. When someone asked the sergeant about rifles, he was told that they would get them at the front from the soldiers who had been killed.

After the fall of Brisk (Brestlitovsk), the front moved in our direction. We saw Siberian soldiers called Kalmiks with slanted eyes. We were told that they were the best. Cossacks passed through the town on horseback, with long lances. This was a joke against the German armament. They all marched to the front, but few returned.

The front came ever closer, and one day three Cossacks and a high-ranking officer stopped in front of our house. All of us were scared to death. The officer marched into the house and asked very politely for the engraver. My brother, Yikutiel, had by then set up shop in the house: engraving tools, a press for making rubber stamps, some raw rubber, and wooden handles were part of the equipment. The officer, a nephew of the Czar, had just received a gift from the Czar himself - a beautiful sword. This was to be engraved with a legend the officer had carefully written out. It was to be done in two days. No price was asked or mentioned. Yikutiel left everything and worked on the sword. He did a beautiful job, and when they returned they carefully inspected the work. Yikutiel had planned to ask 5 kopecks per letter, but when he saw the smiles of the officer, he asked 7 kopeks. The letters were counted, and Yikutiel received payment seven times what he had asked. We were all thrilled and delighted by the gentleman.

The following day, this same officer passed our street, in front of our house, with his escort of Cossacks. A neighboring Jew passed by him on the sidewalk. The officer stopped his horse, called the Jew to him, and started to whip him without warning, using his "nagayke", a horse whip. When he knocked the Jew's hat off he yelled, "Why didn't you remove your hat when you saw me coming? Pick up your hat and put it on!" He did so, and was again whipped hard and knocked to the ground. The Jew screamed for help, and his wife came out screaming too. The Cossacks asked the officer to move on, and he did…

The front got closer. The officers were drunk, the soldiers were drunk. The order came to burn the "sclad", a giant warehouse of vodka. But first the bottles had to be broken. Soldiers, under the officers' eyes, put hammers to the bottles. The vodka ran like a flood and pails and barrels were filled. Some was stolen. Three officers were stationed in our living room. One afternoon a horse and wagon pulled into the yard loaded with cases of vodka. We managed to take a case of the best and bury it in the cellar. It wasn't missed, since there must have been about two dozen cases. We now had Cherkes soldiers in our yard. They wore black coats, carried bayonets, and rolls of bullets across their chests. Each one had his own "nagayke" without which he never moved. They refused to sleep in the house, preferring to be with their horses. Each one wove a straw sleeping mat for himself in no time. They might have been Moslems, since they had sheep with them for meat. One day, as the Russians began to retreat, horses with cannon rumbled through the streets. Suddenly our next door neighbors screamed for help. Some Cossacks had invaded their house. It was a prosperous house, and the Cossacks were collecting whatever they liked. That group of soldiers were going from house to house, so that we would have been next. My parents went to the Cherkes, begging them to intervene next door. When they were told that the Cossacks were doing the robbing, they refused. After long pleas, three of them agreed and walked into the neighbors' house. In my eyes they were giants, each holding his "nagayke" in his right hand behind his back. They entered the house and said to the Cossacks, "Out!". The Cossacks walked out sheepishly, taking nothing, and disappeared from our block.

It suddenly got very quiet in our streets. Just an occasional shot was heard. A rider sped through the street, disappearing fast. Firing was heard in the distance. After about an hour, a few soldiers in strange uniforms appeared, first on horseback, then on foot. They spoke German and some other language. We found out that they were Austrians and Hungarians. They led away some Russian prisoners. After setting up a command post, they began giving orders. First thing - to clean up the streets from all horse and cow manure. The Hussars would come to our door with their horse, knock and say "putzele, putzele", clean the street. They were smartly dressed, with a short jacket carried on one arm. We finally called them Putzilach. There were many Jews among the Austrians, some coming to the synagogue to pray. They soon asked for civilian clothes, burying their uniforms, and sneaking back home to Austria and Galicia.

It was autumn and we had no food for the coming winter. Two or three families got together in one wagon, and went to the nearest village to buy food, only to find all the houses vacant, everything open, pigs roaming about the chickens, the stables open, with cellars full of milk and cream, potatoes, etc. We took shovels and began digging up potatoes from the nearby field. Suddenly artillery shells began exploding all around us. I distinctly remember the sight. A shell would hit the ground, sink in, and then a burst of flame would come from the hole. The shells kept coming closer to us, and we beat a hasty retreat home. But we managed to get half a sack of flour, and a bag or two of potatoes.

The Austrians and the Putzilach didn't last long. The Russians pushed them back almost out of town, and then the Germans replaced them, staying in Baranovichi until the revolution, when I saw a German soldier pull an officer off his horse, and rip his epaulets from him. The officer was white from fear, got back on his horse, and made a hasty getaway.

The Germans were very different from the Austrians and the Putzilach. Everyone was immediately registered in the Commandanture. The Sukharney Zavod (toast factory) was turned into a camp, surrounded with barbed wire, and held sleeping bunks in two tiers. Young men were stationed there and made concrete blocks for the front. The Germans dug in just out of town, before the famous swamps that stretch as far as Pinsk. My two brothers were stationed in this camp. Others were sent far away to cut lumber, which was shipped to Germany. Some boys never came back, being killed in accidents, or freezing to death. I had a taste of one day in that camp. Yankel had a bad cold, and I sneaked into the camp to answer the roll call. The soup was cabbage leaves with worms swimming around. Each one was given a half pound of bread for the day. The bread was as heavy as lead, made of half-raw potatoes and a bit of flour mixed with ground sawdust. A little later, during the occupation, when food supplies were exhausted, my brothers would save up some of the bread and bring it to us so that we could survive. The one night I slept in the camp, it was bitter cold, and at 5:00 A.M., even in winter, everyone got up for work.

I worked for the Germans on one other occasion. A neighbor of ours had to stay home one day for some reason, and there was a heavy fine for not coming to work. I got half a ruble for taking his place at work. He didn't work at the concrete block factory as did my brothers, but somewhere near the railroad. I showed up for work, and together with this man's friends, was placed in the rear row, and said "Here" when his name was called. We were counted and marched to work, carrying railroad ties, 15 to 20 on our shoulders. I was placed in the middle, and raised my hand to carry the load. I couldn't reach it (I was only about 12 years old), so I managed to sneak away and get home.

My Bar Mitzvah came during the war. It was on a Thursday, since the Torah was read on Mondays and Thursdays. Naturally there was no fuss, but what remained in my memory was a German who had a very small pair of boots. They were too small for the soldier, so my father bought them, or mother earned them by doing laundry for the soldiers. But I wore them to my Bar Mitzvah, and I was thrilled. It did not matter that they were too large, I stuffed something into them to fill up the extra room.

Some Germans set up quarters in our house. We were allotted the kitchen and one small bedroom for the three of us boys. The living room was occupied by a high officer named Westfal. He was a mean man. The other room was occupied by soldiers and officers who spent two weeks at the front and two weeks in town. One of them was a sergeant named Franz. He was a tall, good-looking fellow, seemingly good-natured, and we knew him well, or thought we did. He would sit at the table and fart loudly while eating. He would say it was healthy. No one protested, of course. One day we heard screams from the barn. We ran out to see what was going on and saw Franz skinning a sheep alive, the sheep hanging from a rope. Father begged him, with tears in his eyes, to kill the sheep first. "Go away!" was the answer. "I want the skin clean without blood on it."

Mother did the soldiers' laundry for them, mended their socks, etc. We ate what the soldiers threw away, including potato peels from the military kitchen. Mother sometimes earned some brown sugar for doing a soldier's laundry. The brown sugar was fed to the military horses. I remember doing my homework or reading to the light of long strips of thin pine wood which were stuck horizontally into something over the table, and one end lit. They burned slowly and made a lot of smoke. The Germans had kerosene lamps. Towards the end of the war, they built an electricity station, and for the first time we enjoyed electricity.

Food was very scarce during the war, and men with long white beards stood in line near the German field kitchens. After the soldiers had their fill, they tried to get a little soup, if anything was left over. People tried to get the green tops of potatoes and usually got deathly sick from them. I remember someone who caught a flock of birds in his barn. They were tiny and he brought them by the pocketful to my father to have them slaughtered. Many people contracted a sickness that caused difficulty seeing in the dark. The remedy was liver, but who had liver?

My friend Menye Gershuni, who was a few years older than I had a job on the "Lager". They would pump latrines into a tank. He would drive the horse and tank out of the town and dump it somewhere. He had a special permit to get out of town, which was surrounded by barbed wire. The Germans had planted potatoes in the fields close to town, and instead of digging them up with shovels, as we did, they plowed the rows and workers walked after the plows picking up the potatoes and putting them into sacks. One day Menye told me that the Germans had plowed a field. He suggested that I get two shovels and that night I would ride out with him saying I was his helper. After dumping the tank, we would dig in the field, maybe finding some potatoes. We did actually dig for several hours, but the yield was very small, since the Germans were careful to leave nothing behind.

I suppose that the Germans couldn't get much work out of their hungry laborers, and they decided to give them some meat once a week. My father was called to do the slaughtering. He managed to bring some meat home hidden in his long coat. We ate meat for several weeks, but without salt, bread or vegetables. Mother had to be careful when cooking the meat, so that the smell would not reveal our secret. But one day on his way home, some blood from the meat showed through father's coat. He was stopped and arrested. You can imagine what we went through until he came home again. I don't know how he managed to get out, but that was the end of the meat for us.

The Russians bombed Baranovichi quite often. If I am not mistaken, the pilots and the planes were French, since the Russians had no air force. The Germans had some stationary platforms with six anti-aircraft guns on them. These were revolving platforms. Later on they mounted anti-aircraft guns on trucks which moved about the city shooting from one street after another. The Yeshivah, which was a large building, had been turned into a bathhouse by the Germans, and once it received a direct hit. When shooting started, all lights were turned off. Anyone caught with lights on at night was subject to severe punishment. One evening when the alarm sounded, our officer Westfal was writing a letter. The windows trembled, and sand fell from the ceiling. (Sand was used in the attic as insulation against the cold.) We heard bombs exploding all around us, but the light in the officers' room burned brightly. We were sure that the planes would concentrate on our house - with the only light in town. My father dared to knock on the door and asked that they put out the light. But he was chased away with abuse. Revenge was sweet some months later, when the soldiers came back from the street without Westfal. Upon inquiry we were told that on the day they were to be released, and return to town a Russian mine severed his legs. It seemed that the soldiers were not too sorry for him either.

I have a photo of a bomb crater in a yard, and next to the crater is a dead horse with a large steak cut from his rear. The crater was about six feet across, and soldiers, some boys and myself are standing at its edge. A Jewish neighbor of ours owned a horse, who would graze somewhere at the edge of town. When the bombs started falling, this smart Jew ran to bring his horse home. He succeeded getting him into the yard, and then went into the house to get the stable key, where he intended to lock up the horse. A bomb fell, killing the horse, while the lucky man was saved. Some soldier was quick enough to cut a hunk of meat from the horse.

The Germans introduced a blimp with a carriage under it. The blimp was tied to a cable on a large truck. Two soldiers with binoculars would rise some hundreds of feet into the air, and from that vantage point could direct the artillery against the Russians. Towards evening, the blimp was lowered and hidden in the trees. The Germans also introduced a tiny fighter plane - a one-seater. The plane did not have to circle in order to gain altitude, but would shoot straight up in the opposite direction of the incoming planes, trying to rise above them and engage in dogfights. We observed some of these fights right overhead, and watched as these little planes would attack four or five big ones. I even have a photo of a burning plane shot down in the snow.

One day at noontime, one of these small planes went on a mission over the Russian lines. It was forced down there and came back with a Russian or French pilot. The plane circled over the city once or twice, but did not land. The Germans couldn't figure out what was wrong, and signaled him to land. They sent up colored rockets, but he continued circling. Finally, two planes were sent up towards him. He then veered towards the blimp, firing two long bursts into it and sending the blimp and its occupants crashing to the ground. The plane then escaped across the lines. I watched the whole drama, and was not far from the crash.

One day there was panic in town. The Germans used poison gas against the Russians. Suddenly the wind changed direction and the gas reached Baranovichi. In the area around the "Lager" people were coughing, and there were some victims of the gas, but no one knew how many. School was irregular during the war years. My parents decided that I would learn Gemorrah, that is Talmud. Not a very fascinating subject for a young boy, unless one is inclined to law from childhood. Talmud makes for complicated study, especially when it comes to the commentaries. I didn't care for it then, though now it seems easy and interesting. I was at it for two years. The first year I studied with a "Melamed", who taught a class of boys only, of course. The study room was in one of the synagogues. This teacher, whose name was Fitel Iser, was very strict. He had a wide, white beard, and would lecture with his glasses on his forehead and both hands on his chest, thumbs up. After his lecture he was constantly on the go, his eyes open and watchful. He would slap your face for every little thing. Since he knew my father, who was of some prominence, he expected more from me than from the "regular" boys. I remember one rest period, when we heard a band marching through the next street. We all ran to see what was going on, and then returned as fast as we could, sneaking back into our places. Fitel Iser singled me out for punishment. Why did I leave the class? I received a few slaps in the face...he never missed!

The following year I went to a Yeshivah of a different kind. It was a Musar Yeshivah. In short we studied ethics and forms of prayer. We studied, of course, but the emphasis was more on behavior. Prayers were conducted in a special way, and most impressive were the evening prayers. At the very beginning of the evening, the lights were not turned on. In semi-darkness, the boys took turns at the pulpit, leading the prayer. There was deadly silence, except for the leader's voice. The prayers had special melodies, which were melancholy but pleasant. The lights were then turned on and the studies resumed, with more "flavor".

By that time I had read a lot. In Hebrew school we were given small pamphlets called "Nitzanim" (buds) and other things to read. These were very effective, since they concentrated on easy language and on one subject, which made you think. Most of the subjects were on Jewish history. I did a lot of reading, mostly in Hebrew, some in Russian. I read some of the Russian classics which were a "must" for everyone. I even read German since I had learned to read and write it. But I was most influenced by the Hebrew readings. I especially recall Zangwill, Mapu, Bialick, etc.

Father had a tremendous library. Most of the books, especially the good ones, were bound in leather. Years back a Hebrew newspaper had been published, and these papers were bound in enormous volumes. Of course there were also all the tractates of the Talmud. They were very large, with commentaries in them, and, in the margins, notes in father's exquisite handwriting. Father's handwriting was famous in town, and people who had to write important letters in Yiddish or Hebrew would come to him. Among the books were commentaries on the Torah, history books in Hebrew, etc. I now realize the importance of that library. I remember reading a book called "Yosiphon", supposedly written by Josephus Flavius, the Jewish General who had defected to the Romans and became one of the most famous and reliable historians of the Roman siege of Judea. A Jerusalem professor is currently [1979] publishing a book dealing with "Yosiphon" on which he worked for ten years. His theory is that "Yosiphon" was actually written in the year 1000 by an Italian Jew who had collected much information that had been passed down by word of mouth over generations.

Then I encountered a book which practically shaped my future life for the rest of my days. I have told and retold this story a thousand times. It happened in late 1916 or 1917, in the Yeshiva library, where I found a small thin book, no more than a half-inch thick, and six by twelve inches in size. The first few pages contained a will, the writer's will, from Rabbi Yehuda Chasid, to his children. I did not bother reading these pages. What fascinated me in the book were the bizarre stories about devils, demons, and dead people. When I think about it now, I find it hard to believe that a great man like Rabbi Chasid could have written anything like that. It doesn't seem consistent with true Judaism. Anyway there is more to that book than I know or remember, and I would like to get a copy. I would read those little stories, and be afraid to go home. A pair of "gatkes" (long underwear) hanging on a line and moving in the wind terrified me. I was afraid to pass near a closed, dark synagogue, assuming that at night the dead gathered there to pray. I was scared to pass near a well, etc., etc.

But one day I decided to read the will, on the front pages. There I discovered that Rabbi Chasid said to his children, 'I will tell you what will happen in the end of days." He mentioned the Jewish calendar year parallel to 1914, foreseeing that Germany (Ashekenaz) would overrun half the world and that Germany would lose the war. A league of nations, he said, would give the land of Israel to the Jews. Another world war would come in which the Jews would go through a time of harshness such as nothing they had known before, and Germany would be destroyed. Then the land of Israel would be given to the Jews by the judgment of the nations. I do not recall the rest, but was struck by the date 1914.


Note from Alison Greengard:
My grandfather spent his whole life trying to find another copy of the book with the entire writer's will in it, but to no avail. I did find a copy of the book in the Brandeis University library. It only contained the first line of the will, followed by a note that said that historians knew that there was an extensive will to this book, but there were no copies of it left anywhere in the world, and no one knew exactly what it had contained...



The fact that the Germans were in Baranovichi, impressed me. We had heard something of a Jewish legion being formed, but knew nothing exact, of course. I grabbed the book and ran home, finding only mother in the house. I shouted, asking for father, and was told that he was across the street, by Isenshtadt. I crossed the street in a moment, opened the door, and was in the dining room. To my left, at the dinner table sat Mr. Isenshtadt at the head, a bearded respectable man. My father sat at the side, to his left, with an open Gemorrah, glasses of tea before them. I came in like the wind, and began chattering about 1914 and the Germans were here, etc., etc. Father took the book from me and read intensively, handed the book to Mr. Isenshtadt, who also read attentively. Then father asked where the book came from, and I explained that I had brought it from the Koidinover Shtibel, where I was learning. Father directed me to return the book to its place and I did so. He did tell my brothers about it.

Those lines I read made a big impression on me. I discovered something which corresponded to all my dreams - an independent Jewish state. I dreamt of being a Jewish soldier, walking in the open with a rifle, and perhaps riding a horse, not fearing a German or the Czar. This I kept to myself, locked in a secret place in my heart.

Just before the Germans left Baranovichi, a truck loaded with crates full of cows' legs pulled over. The soldier was taking the train for shipment, but he wanted to get rid of his load fast. Father bought the load from him very cheaply. We stacked up crates between the barns and the fence. The legs were without hide, which made them worthless on the market. But a Jewish housewife knew how to make a delicacy from a calf's leg, especially if it was a front leg. A little heat would remove the hooves, boiling water removed the hair, and the leg was singed over a fire to remove any hairs left behind. The leg was then taken apart at the joints. The large bone was placed over a knife turned on its back. The bone was placed on the edge of the knife and gently tapped with a hammer. This cracks the bone in half. Then it was cooked with lots of garlic. The final result, known as "ptchah" was eaten hot, and the bone marrow is very delicious. What was left over jells and was very tasty when cold.

After the German collapse, Russia went through a period of pogroms. Denikin (Russian Rightwing Czarist general) operated in southern Russia, I believe, and his followers were called Belo-Gvardeitzes, the Whites, as against the Red revolutionaries. They were the best organized of the many rival armies at the time, and if I am not mistaken, supported by outside powers such as France. Denikin was also anti-Semitic, since the leaders of the Russian Revolution such as Trotsky and others were Jewish. Then there was Petlura, a rascal who operated in the Ukraine. His job was to rob, kill, and rape Jews, plundering from town to town. Another upcoming band, mostly "muzhiks" under the leadership of Balachowich, operated not far from us.

The Germans disappeared overnight, and suddenly we were all Communists. I remember a Jewish family appeared in town as commisars. A daughter of well-known Jewish family appeared in "galife" (riding pants) with shiny boots. Her two brothers, also party men, then took up some high posts in the city hall. Then the son of a poor rabbi/teacher turned out to be a big shot in the party. The rabbi and some prominent people were told to clean the streets, just to degrade them and show them who was boss. Anyone who didn't have a job (and who had?) was considered a parasite. Unions were formed fast. All workers had to belong. I had a friend two or three years older than myself who was in charge of the union office. He took me up to his office, which was in "Shulainers Moyer", the richest house in town, and said to me, "I'll give you a job in my office. Write down names, etc." I agreed, but now he wanted to convert me. He started to indoctrinate me in communism. I wasn't very sympathetic to the idea, and when I asked him what would happen to the Jews in a communist society, he said that they would disappear like all other minorities, through assimilation.

Especially happy with the Revolution were the Bundovtzes, the ones who belonged to the Bund, an organization which was violently anti-Zionist. They argued that Jews were Polish or Russian citizens, and no more than that, but they were entitled to speak Yiddish. But all these people soon disappeared from the scene. They were either arrested as counter-revolutionaries, or deported to some unknown place.
The real victims were the people, who became paupers overnight. All the currency - Russian Czarist rubles, German marks, all had to be exchanged for Kereskies. The bills were small, about 2 1/2 inches by 3 inches, and were soon valueless. The Bolsheviks took over, and the train that brought Lenin from somewhere in Europe passed Baranovichi on its way to Moscow or Petrograd. A giant meeting of the Red Army, estimated at over 100,000 took place at the marketplace, and the crowd was addressed by Trotsky and others. The Petluras and Balachowich threat disappeared, and we started adjusting to life under a communist regime, but not for long…

The Poles felt that their chance for independence was at hand, and with the help of France and America, they formed well-armed legions which, with the leadership of French generals, started pushing back the Russians to their original borders. The Russians were tired of the long war and were not enthusiastic about more fighting. They fled in retreat.

One bright morning we discovered that we were without a government. Fear arose that the surrounding villagers would soon come in and make a pogrom. The first to organize themselves were the "Pozharnikes" - the boys who served as volunteer firemen, mostly Jews. My older brother Yikutiel was an officer. Yankel was also a Pozharnik. Yikutiel had a fancy brass helmet, shiny and impressive. Yankel shined his helmet until it looked like a mirror, and they patrolled the city in pairs or in threes, stopping strangers to ask for documents. They had some rifles and marched around with them in the open. Weapons were plentiful and free for the taking. I had a hand grenade hidden in the attic. As children we used to pry open the bullets from rifles and collect the black power, which we would spread in circles or zigzags, light one end, and watch it burn from end to end.

Coming back to the quiet period between governments, we suddenly saw young Polish boys, sixteen or seventeen years old, with square hats and a single eagle as an emblem, armed with rifles and two bayonets hanging from their belts. The first two words in Polish that I heard from two such boys were "Hei, sluckay Antek" (hey, listen Jack).

A governor soon took over, who was very much surprised to see "Jeedy" (Jews) walking around with rifles. It was soon decreed that anyone possessing arms must bring them to the marketplace. A pile of rifles was delivered by the Pozharnikes. I buried my hand grenade in the latrine. And before we knew it we were penniless again. Russian money - you might as well burn it. "Zloties" was the money which no one had. The Poles kept pushing the Russians back across the Berezina River. Even Vilna was taken by then. But in Baranovichi, as well as all over the occupied territory, the anti-Semitic "Hellersachikes" with the square hats (General Haller was an American who came to help free Poland) were busy cutting Jewish beards. In Baranovichi they cut beards with a knife and scissors and would then take out a mirror to show the victim the results, and ask to be paid for the job. But in some cases the beards were cut off with a dull bayonet. This was reason enough to hate their guts, but it wasn't all. Soon a neighbor named Yomtov, the father of a family in whose house the legionnaires were stationed, disappeared as though the earth had swallowed him up. He was found a year later, buried in his barn under the manure.

But their rule did not last long, since they over-extended themselves. The Russians drove them back in a mighty offensive, all the way to Warsaw. During fierce battles, the Poles committed atrocities, and their retreat was accompanied by robbing, plundering, and burning. Our town, like many in White Russia (Belarus), was vulnerable to fire. Some houses in the marketplace were set on fire. The firefighters brought tanks of water on horse-drawn wagons. The pumps were hand-operated, with two firemen on each side. Our family, like all the others, prepared barrels of water in the yard near the water, taking turns on watch. In one instance, on the block near the market, a Jew spotted a Polish soldier setting fire to his home. He hit the soldier over the head with a board, killing him on the spot. Luckily for the man, the Russians appeared the next morning, and just took the body away. The town changed hands several times. On one occasion, when the Russians had retreated, a whole family was found slaughtered.

My own experience with the final Russian retreat was not a pleasant one. On one Thursday, three high-ranking Russian army officers were stationed in our house. The Russians were in retreat. The three officers had taken over the living room, the largest room, where we three boys had slept. I slept on the dining-room table instead. It was hard, but better than the floor. I woke up to the sound of a large argument. Mother and father were arguing with the Russian soldiers in the kitchen. My brothers were almost dressed, and I ran down to see what was happening. The argument was over a sack of flour, and we, of course, lost since the soldiers were armed with rifles. In front of the house I saw a horse and a wagon, and on the wagon were all our linens, whatever food had been in the house, and most important, the flour for baking bread. I looked into the dresser where the linens had been and cried out that my coin collection was gone. I cried hysterically. By this time the officers were dressed and packing to leave. My mother pleaded with them for the half sack of flour, and I for my coin collection. But to no avail. They didn't say a word. A car came and picked them up. My curses followed them.

How did I come to have a coin collection? This is interesting. My father would get a few kopecks for slaughtering a chicken. Father had an eye for old coins. He accepted them and I collected them. So, whoever had a bad coin, or an old coin, or a strange one would try to get rid of it by paying the Shochet with it. The collection was an interesting one, and I can now assume, a very valuable one. But it went with the revolution...

The Russians retreated slowly. Thousands of horse-drawn wagons passed. All peasants were left without horses and without wagons. Hundreds of trains passed Baranovichi. All young men were drafted into the Russian Army, or joined of their own will, for fear of the Poles. Streams of soldiers passed through the city without end. It was then that the Russians suddenly were ordered to stop their disorderly retreat. But how? Patrols were sent out into the streets. They would stop a soldier and ask him, "Why are you here? What regiment do you belong to etc.,?" If the answer was not satisfactory, he was jailed and immediately tried. There was a moviehouse next door to us, and on the stage a table covered with a red cloth. Three officers formed the tribunal. The public was allowed to witness the trials, since they were interested in the publicity. I witnessed two trials, and am still horrified at the faces and the cries. The questions went like this: name, rank, regiment, location of the regiment, etc. Why are you not with the regiment? After a few minutes' questioning, they were pronounced deserters and sentenced to death. Immediately Cheka men came over and tied the prisoners' hands behind his back with plain wire. They were set aside and few protested. One was a young boy of about sixteen who was accused of stealing something. He too was sentenced to be shot. But a man in his late fifties, with gray hair, did cry out when accused, "Me? An old revolutionary who just came back from Siberia? You dare call me a deserter? I was a principal of a high school. I was sent to Siberia to conduct revolutionary activities, etc. etc." He finally broke out crying, but it didn't help him. As a group of about eight were marched out, among them was a young Jewish boy, who asked for a cigarette. Someone lit one and shoved it in his mouth. There was a potato field two blocks away, and there their coats were removed and they were shot. An officer then came over and fired a bullet into each one's head. Then their boots were pulled off. The firing squad returned to town and sold the coats and the boots in the street. Two days later they were gone, court and all.

More about the same moviehouse: I would often sneak in there to play on the piano. (We were all musical, father and Yikutiel played violin, and Yankel played the balalaika.) There was a small door under the stage and many times my friends and I would hide there from soldiers who wanted to drag us to work. The last time I hid there with two other boys was when the Russians made their final retreat, because they took able-bodied young men with them.

The Poles were making a forceful push against the Bolsheviks, this time with a powerful, well-organized, well-armed army. A few miles out of town was a creek of running water, fifteen or twenty feet wide. But it was deep between its banks. This time the Poles had a "Bronvik" with them, a tank-like train, fortified with steel on its sides and guns mounted on it. As the Russians retreated they blew up the bridge across the creek, and without that train the Poles couldn't carry on their offensive. Hundreds of men were brought in to repair the bridge. Heavy timber was cut down in a nearby forest, and floated down the stream to this point. I don't know how they repaired the bridge, but we waded in the water, neck-deep, to bring in the logs.

Regiment after regiment passed by on foot, crossing the creek on a make-shift bridge. The officers would come over to the train, asking for information. How far were the Russians from this point, they wanted to know. Meanwhile, the soldiers decided to have some "fun" with us in the deep water. They would throw hand grenades into the water a short distance away. Some of them fired rifles over our heads. They had their "fun", and we were scared to death. About twenty minutes later, some soldiers on horseback came over to the train. They looked disturbed and suspicious. After awhile they departed and a regiment came marching in. A general called the officers to him and gave them an argument. Apparently the regiment had heard the explosions and shots in the distance. They were informed that the road was clear, but hearing explosions, they halted and sent a "razsvetske", a lookout patrol, to find out what was going on. We worked on that bridge until after midnight without food or water. Then we were told to go home. Before leaving, we were told that on the next day we would not be taken to work, and we would have a day's rest. We were afraid to walk at night, but we were told to go, and we left in a group. Somehow we were not stopped, and fell into our houses, dead tired.

In the morning I was kicked awake and told to get dressed and come along. I protested that I had been told to stay home for the day since I had worked eighteen hours straight. The Commandanture was a short distance away, and I decided to run there and plead my case (how stupid of me). When I started to run, the soldier was sure I had decided to run away. He cocked his rifle and warned me to stop. I was by now around the corner, and ran into the Commandant's yard, only to find two rows of men lined up and the soldier hot on my heels. Instinctively, I pushed myself between two men in the rear row, as if I had been there all the time. The soldier searched the yard, passed the rows, looked at the faces, but didn't discover me…

We were soon taken to the central railroad station, where I loaded a locomotive with logs of wood. That work almost killed me. Each log was over a meter long, and they were just trees split in half, soaked wet with rain, and weighed more than I did. My hands bled from large splinters. After that experience, Yankel and I would hide in the stable, in the hay when the soldiers came to round up men for work. We had a secret entrance from the rear, so that no ladder was visible. But one day soldiers came on horses looking for us, and they searched the hay with long lances, to see if anyone was hiding there. The lances flashed by us, but we were lucky that time.

My brother Yikutiel retreated with the Russians. I don't know if it was voluntary or not, but he had been put into uniform and given a rifle. At the battle on the Berezina River he stopped a Polish rifle bullet with his left arm. Luckily it did not shatter the bone. After the wound healed a bit, he made his way to a small town where he shed his uniform and got some civilian clothes. He started working his way back to Baranovichi. He stopped in Slutzk, where he was helped by a Mr. Keslin, who later became his brother-in-law. Mr. Keslin's wife came from Lyakhovichi, a small town about twenty kilometers away. Keslin directed Yikutiel to stop on his way at Lyakhovichi, where he got more help, and there he met his future wife, Reizl Peker. After a few months, Yikutiel showed up. He couldn't stretch out his left hand because of the wound, and he couldn't wear a sling since he didn't want the Poles to discover he was wounded. For a while he was in hiding, until he got some documents, after paying heavy bribes. To hide his handicap, Yikutiel kept a lit cigarette between his fingers, so that his left arm was forever cocked. He became a heavy smoker.

 

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