Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
In Northeast Poland (after World War I), the town of Lubtch was to be found, surrounded by other small towns and villages.
A wonderful view surrounded Lubtch, grazing lands and wide fields, excellent fruit orchards, forests and thickets with their tall trees, thick trunks and branches. In the shade of the trees were hidden raspberry bushes, forest berries and mushrooms. The silvery shiny mirror of the Neiman river charmingly flowed by Lubtch.
The origin of the name Lubtch is unknown, and even the history of the town is unknown, - who founded and established it, and when Jews settled there, because it was so small. The Neiman was used as a source for identification and pride, the address was Lubtch on the Neiman.
One kilometer north of Lubtch, dipped in a sea of green, was the Vinova Estate, lazily warming in the sun and surrounded by small forests. The place was attractive for pleasant walks on Shabbat and Holy Days, a hiding place for loving couples, and for a meeting place for the youth. On the 3rd of May - the national festival of Poland and on Lag B'Omer, it served as a meeting place and starting point for processions.
From here originates the stream that begins as a sort of small lake which flows into the Neiman. The Jews would place barrels of cucumbers for pickling in this lake, before the winter, and before the lake froze. When the warm rays of the sun melted the snow in spring, the barrels would be pulled out. These cucumbers and their taste had great fame, and whoever had not pickled cucumbers by himself would run to buy the cucumbers together with their juice (russel).
On the left hand side of the path Hanan Boldo's mechanical flour mill stood imposingly. The mill was an innovation in the area, because most of the mills were operated by the many rivers in this region. The farmers would bring the yield of their yellowing fields wheat and cereals - to Boldo's mill.
A little past the flour mill came the first street of Lubtch, named after the very small town of Delatitch, which was situated 5 kilometersnorth of Lubtch, and joined by strong neighborly ties.
This was a fairly long road inhabited mainly by Christians, who incited their dogs against the Jewish children who happened to be there alone, and sometimes they also assailed the inhabitants with loud shouts. The Jewish youth would gather in groups in order to cross this street, carrying arms in their pockets for defense slingshots and stones.
East of Lubtch were the villages of Kapotscheva and Kopitchik. The Christian inhabitants of these villages were farmers and pet-breeders and made their living selling their produce to the Jews.
South of Lubtch was the large village Itchokevitch. On the south side of the town was the exit to the regional city of Novogrudok, which was located at a distance of 20 kilometres from Lubtch, and from there to the whole world.
The town was connected to Novogrudok for administrative purposes. There was lively commerce between the town and Novogrudok, so therefore it was necessary to set up transport between Lubtch and the regional city.
My grandfather told me that in his time, when he wanted to go to Novogrudok, he would get up with the first watch, before dawn, take his tallit and tefillin, and with a stick in his hand, arrive in Novogrudok in time to pray with the first minyan.
A common way of getting to Novogrudok was by horse and cart. Whoever had a horse and cart would travel this way. There were citizens for whom this was their livelihood, bringing passengers and goods to and from Novogrudok. The main part of the way was done by riding on the cart, but when they got to the hill by the village of Korvitch, the driver would politely ask the travelers to get off the cart, because the heavy weight was too much for the horse to pull, and the travelers would have to reach the crest by foot.
Modern means of travel also connected Lubtch to Novogrudok; there was a small train, kleinbahn, in which people traveled comfortably and even could doze off during the trip. Whoever was lucky enough to find a place by the window would sit there and not move lest someone else would grab it
A number of years before the Holocaust began, a bus also connected the town to Novogrudok. Although it was more expensive, it was more comfortable, more frequent, and the journey took less time.
The mail reached the town by train, newspapers came by train and bus; and rumors from the big world came with every person entering Lubtch.
In the North, the town was bordered by the Neiman. It originates on the Russian-Polish border, in the area of the town of Stolpatchi.
The Neiman A beautiful large river, carrying its cool, good-tasting waters from a distance with the sound of merry ripples. Many edible fish swam in its waters. As if to beautify the river, its banks were decorated with grassy meadows, and to the north of its banks, ancient forests proudly raised their tree tops.
The Neiman was an endless source of entertainment and enjoyment. In the hot summers it was full of bathers, from the town and from other villages. The bathing was a pleasant enjoyable pastime, especially early in the morning when the river was flowing peacefully, caressed by the sun's rays and the water was extremely clear. In the hot summer evenings, one could see schools of fish in the clear waters - a heartening and comforting sight.
Sailing on the river was another source of enjoyment. To start with, people would row upstream against the current, in order to return easily with the flowing current downstream. Often a number of boats were joined together, and then they would merrily return in a long string. And in this wonderful silence one would often hear sounds of music some of the youth would bring musical instruments with them: mouth organs, the soft sounding mandolin which would make hearts tremble, and the wind instruments, and songs which would burst out of the throats of the rowers, with a great echo from all directions, carrying the songs infinite distances. These were work songs, love songs and songs of yearning and longing for Zion. It is no wonder that the Neiman was also a well-known and friendly matchmaker for young couples from the town.
The river is entwined among the memories of my childhood. Every spare moment we school children would run to it. We would run towards the upcurrent several kilometers upstream, and returned on pine-tree timbers which were destined to be exported.
A legend went around, that every year a human sacrifice would drown in the cruel river; and so children would refrain from swimming in the river until someone drowned. And as soon as someone drowned, we would run and swim there, despite the sadness on the loss of life.
In the spring and summer the river would overflow its banks and flood many districts; the area looked like a lake full of charm and splendor. The floods caused the farmers of the area much trouble and even complete isolation; the farmers that needed help lit fires, and the youth of the town would come in boats to their aid, bringing food for man and beast, to the isolated houses.
When winter arrived, the river froze over; through its thin ice covering you could see the depths below. The ice cover was used as a place for ice-skating and sledging, - thus also in the winter the river was a social meeting place.
In the center of the town was the marketplace. The place centralized all the areas of the livelihood and upkeep of the town: the grocery shops, building materials, grain shops, clothing etc. Every Tuesday there was a colorful market, and farmers from all the surrounding villages came to the place with their agricultural produce including meat and fruits and vegetables, as well as their homecrafts merchandise: coarse fabrics, carpets, embroidered tablecloths, wooden pots, wooden tubs etc. The market place hummed with the sounds of people, the bellowing of cattle and the crowing of poultry. The local Jews spent a lot of their time at the market, buying and selling and negotiating with the Gentiles in order to trade and buy produce.
The point of departure of the six streets of the town and its lanes was at the marketplace. Most of the houses of the town were one storey only, built from wood and their roofs covered with wooden tiles or straw.
In the center of the market stood the Fire House building, a large hall where the firefighting equipment was stored, and which was used at night-time for performances of the dramatic club, or for general meetings of the inhabitants.
Most of the families made a living from trade. Some owned shops in the town itself, others took their produce on horse-pulled wagons and peddled their wares to the villages and farmers in the environs; these peddlers were called karabelnikas. Sometimes they received money in exchange for their merchandise; the main products they brought to the farmers were salted fish, salt, matches, soap, cheap fabrics, buttons, threads, needles etc. The wandering peddler received a warm welcome from the farmer and enjoyed generous hospitality, but despite this, the farmer knew how to haggle with him over the prices.
The area of Lubtch was known as a large supplier of flax, and many Jews traded in it. The farmers of the area grew flax for sale as well as for weaving linen cloth on home spindles and also for producing linseed oil for their needs.
The farmers of the surrounding countryside supplied eggs, cheeses, meat and cereal grains to the town. The agricultural produce arrived from the area as far as Vilna and Warsaw, the capital.
The forests that the area was blessed with were an important source of livelihood; the cheap wood was used for home heating in the winter, and the better kinds of wood were used for building, while the choicest logs of wood were exported all over Poland, and even to Germany and other European countries.
Because of the swamps, it was difficult to take the trees out of the forest; they were usually cut down in the winter when the water froze and were taken out by sledge. In places where trees could be felled in the summer, they were transported to the far away areas by raft; many Jews traded in trees, and thus supplied the needs of the tree traders who came from the large cities; there were even a number of houses which were used as a small hotels for the wood traders that were visiting.
There were also craftsmen: tailors, painters, blacksmiths, sewers, boot-makers, carpenters, builders and others. The group of craftsmen was not organized, they worked unlimited hours and their income was distressfully low.
When there were disputes between Jews and gentiles, the matter was brought to the governmental court.
One of the most famous cases that took place between the Jews of Lubtch and farmers of the area had to do with the ownership of a parcel of grazing land by the Neiman. The land belonged to the Jews, who had a deed of purchase to prove it. But during the First World War it was lost somewhere. When this became known to the Gentiles, they served a claim for ownership of the land. After many court hearings and the efforts of the town leaders and many appeals, the community won the case and the plot of land was returned to its ownership. There was much rejoicing the end to the court expenses, and now there was much grazing land for free, and this was especially important since almost every Jewish household kept a cow in the stall.
A misunderstanding between two Jews was brought before the rabbi of the town, and the matter was settled according to his decision.
The livelihood of the rabbi was dependent on his community, so the Jews limited themselves to buying yeast and Sabbath candles only from the rabbi. Sometimes the rabbi received gifts from home owners who came to him as litigants. This way the Rabbi of Lubtch could live honorably.
After the First World War, when the Jews who had been exiled from the town during the fighting returned, their first concern was to educate their children according to the ways of tradition of the People of Israel. A network of chaderim [elementary schools] developed, where the melamdim [teachers], who were experts in the smallest details of the Talmud, imparted knowledge to the pupils, and the paths of the Bible and its commentators were made clear to them. There were melamdim who also taught the Hebrew language and a few secular studies. Here is the place to mention R' Eliezer Kalmanovitch, who provided a deep explanation of Hebrew grammar.
When the Polish rule became consolidated, the township was ordered to build a modern school, according to the laws of the State. The chederim were abolished and the Tarbut school was established, which was connected to the country-wide network of Tarbut schools in Poland. Authorized teachers were sent to teach at the school and a headmaster with knowledge and experience came to administrate the institution. The language of teaching was Hebrew, and the school was located in a large and spacious building that was built by the Jews of the town.
Within the walls of the institution, the youth received a general basic education. The teachers' primary goal was to give the pupils Torah with good manners. And above all, to instill in their hearts the Zionist idea and the yearning to live in Eretz-Israel
In the evenings, young people who were organized into Zionist youth movements met in the school building. They were active and educated in these movements for the fulfillment of their dream to go on aliya to Eretz-Israel.
I remember the impressive ceremony which took place in the school in 1925 on the day the corner stone was laid for the construction of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem. The teachers explained the deep significance of the occasion -surely the Jewish People is the People of the Book and from Zion will come Torah. In the Land of the Patriarchs, which is being built up, the foundation has been laid for imparting Torah. The people who were dispersed in seventy exiles, who had to struggle to enter universities, are now establishing a Hebrew university. After the ceremony we went around with the blue box to raise money for the Jewish National Fund.
The school succeed in planting within us love of Eretz-Israel and for the new reality of the Land in the life of the Jewish People; the reality which laid the foundation for the establishment of the independent Jewish State.
By Hilel Kroshnitz
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Dedicated to my father-in-law,
R' Yehoshua-Yaakov Ze'ev Feivishevitch, of blessed memory
A Summer's Day In The Village
Five Jewish streets, a few lanes, a market place with houses and stores; another long street where the gentiles live, the Neiman River, which swaddles the synagogue yard- this constitutes the village.
To this we must add Jentchelski's mill at one end of the village, and the sawmill, on the shore of the Neiman River, rising above the houses with its tall, black chimney smoking all day long - at the other end of the village.
Castle Street occupies the seat of honor in the village. It is always dressed up and cleanly swept. The street boasts a lovely garden at the church as well as many-branched trees, beautiful homes and important owners- the pharmacist, Dr. Rabinovitch, Yisrael Saladucha, the wood merchant, and Chaim Bruk, the head of the community.
The night still struggles, unwilling to give up its place to the coming day. Darkness still lies over the village, but the morning star is shining and announces the arrival of a new day.
From the darkness emerges a figure- a broad shouldered, black wrinkled Jew, like a gypsy. A bag with food hangs dawn from his shoulders, a long whip clenched in his right hand. He has a deep, thick voice which pierces the quiet of the dawn. This is Moshe-Grunim, the village herdsman, who leads the village cows to graze in the meadows along the Neiman River. Moshe Grunim, a coarse, ignorant fellow, looks like a healthy country peasant. His voice is rough and firm. He speaks in chopped sentences. It is more like a roar than human speech.
Women half asleep rub their eyes, hurry out of bed, grab something to put on and run quickly to open the stable door to drive out the cows. The cows come together and the sound of their mooing, Moshe Grunim's roar and the crack of the whip is carried over the village.
The village has awakened:
Along the streets and lanes, a movement of people begins- men hurrying off to shul to catch the morning service with the first minyan to thank God for granting them another day of life.
An hour later, the rattle of wheels and horseshoes is heard echoing along the stony pavement. Traveling through the villages and hamlets are the itinerant peddlers- Jews who earn a livelihood buying flax, linseed, mushrooms, eggs, small hides, pig bristles and other agricultural products from the peasants. At the same time, they sell various kinds of merchandise to the peasants: soap, needles, matches, combs, mirrors and other bargains. Others, however, buy torn clothes, bottles and old metal from the peasants. Most of the time, this is barter, wares for wares, from which both sides derive satisfaction. Butchers also go on horse and wagon through the villages buying calves, cows, and once even a sheep-the cheapest meat for the village pauper.
With a crack of the whips, the wagon drivers hasten their horses on. They are going to Novogrudek, the neighboring city in the district. Seated in the wagon are passengers clinging to their seats, still half asleep. Some of them are going to the district city to buy merchandise for their little stores and to bring it back later loaded on the same wagon. Others- it shouldn't happen to us- are traveling to see an important doctor or to a government office in the district city.
In the wagon next to Arl, a member of the strong and healthy Yedidovitch family, sits Rabbi Yossel, the grocer, enjoying a piece of sweet ginger cake. Seated next to him is Avraham-Chaim, the shoe store owner, who has been trying to draw Rabbi Yossel into a discussion about politics. Avraham-Chaim is an ardent Zionist, while Rabbi Yossel has become a passionate supporter of Aguda since Podolski, a scholar and Aguda activist, has been trying to find a good match for Rabbi Yossel's daughter. Rabbi Yossel does not let himself get drawn into any discussion. He calmly munches on the ginger cake and grumbles something to himself.
Seated in the wagon is also a young son-in-law, originally from Lubtch, who is now returning to Warsaw after a visit to the village. He is an ardent opponent of the Aguda and now has an opportunity to unleash his anger against Aguda. He gets involved in the discussion, gets excited and pours out his wrath on the black clerics.
Arl, the wagon driver, keeps quiet, doesn't get involved in the discussion of such important passengers, but when their arguing gets too heated, he suddenly gives a crack with the whip and lets out a giddyap! in such a loud voice that the passengers tremble and become silent. Arl smiles, pleased that he succeeded in calming down the hot heads. He takes out of his pocket a bunch of white kernels which he shares with the passengers as if to say: Eat, keep quiet and enjoy better the natural beauty around you.
In the village, the little stores and workshops are opening up. In the flax-granary, the flax is pressed by a machine which throws out four-cornered sacks ready to be sent off to Vilna, to the flax company which has a branch in the village. One can hear a rhythmical clip-clap from the granaries, the peasant girls stamping on the flax and cleaning it from the waste material.
Mitzkovski, the police officer, walks through the village like a ruler. He looks to see whether the houses are whitewashed, the pavement is swept and if the bread and cakes in the bakeries are kept under a glass cover. In Poland, everything must be clean and hygienic and if not, you have to pay a zlota. This is often made cheaper by putting a smaller coin into the policeman's hand.
The village youth meet on the market place: Avraham Pertshik and his sister Sarah, Dovid Movshovitch, Kalmanovitch, Yoskeh Yedidovitch, the Kaplansky brothers, Palia Kapushtshevsky, the Lipchins, Motte Kivelevitch, and others. Most of the boys are tall, healthy and athletically built. The girls are well proportioned, charming and pretty. The young people mill about and have nothing to do. There is no work or livelihood, and there are no prospects for the future.
They stand in a small circle and just talk. They tell jokes and relate what those who emigrated to Palestine (Eretz Iisrael) write in their letters. Moshe Pikelni comes by with a bundle of newspapers. Everyone grabs a paper and talks about world politics. These are serious times, one event closely follows another, and the young people of Lubtch take a stand. Yoske Yedidovitch, a giant of a young man, a left-wing Zionist, thunders out against the Fascists. He assures everyone that if there is a war, socialism will triumph all over the world. And meanwhile, he has his eyes turned on a guest in his mother's small hotel which has been empty nearly a whole year.
Ovseyevitch, the tailor, comes out of his workshop- the work won't run away- and goes over to the circle of young people. He wants to know what they read about in the newspapers and gives his opinion. Yossel Kapushtshevsky, a quiet, calm teenager who leans to the left politically, also comes over and listens quietly to the discussion. When everyone has been heard, he makes a null and void motion with his hand and interjects a short sentence:-- Our people will settle everything. The discussion is over for him and he hurries off to his workshop.
Hey gang!, if you have a few cents in your pockets, let's go and play billiards, suggests Pertshik, and they leave and go over to Wilner in the restaurant to play billiards.
Moshe Levin's and Gershon Kapushtshevsky's sawmill is located in the vicinity of the old castle. All day long, a murmur is carried across the village from the machines which saw the logs that are driven down the river on rafts from the Nalibak district. This is the only place in the village where you can actually hear the living breath of work. Gentiles pull the logs out of the river, shout, curse their mother, and the pile of logs grows higher and higher. The athletically built Gershon Kapushtshevsky is all heated up by the work. He shouts, gives orders and doesn't let the non-Jews out of his sight as they drag the logs. His partner, Moshe Levin, is calm, polite, speaks pleasantly, measures the timber and records everything in a little book.
In the afternoons, the villagers go bathing and swimming in the Neiman River. The young people cross over the river on foot and run through the meadows on the other side. Some of them, however, rent a rowboat from Gentiles for a few cents and go for a ride down the river, singing songs on the river. And when night falls and the heavens are ablaze with stars and the shine of the full moon shines is reflected in the water, they imagine they are in Eretz Israel under its starry skies, and a song is carried over the Neiman: How lovely are the nights in Canaan!
When the sun sets, the small train arrives, huffing and puffing. Castle Street, which leads to the railway station, becomes crowded. Everyone is going to the train: some to meet a close relative or friend, some just out of curiosity and some who cannot wait till the next morning and want to pick up, right on the spot, a letter which is brought by train and which the postal clerk distributes a few minutes later, although it is already well after the official mail delivery hours.
The small train reminds the residents that their village is not separated from the world. There are cities and people, and if you want to, you can sit on the train early the next day and go directly to Novoyelnya and from there the way is open to Vilna and Warsaw.
Supper is over. Sometimes supper consists of a dish of groats with milk and sometimes of a potato with its skin and a herring with a small glass of chicory, and sometimes of a piece of sausage with tea. And if the weather is nice, people sit on their porches and breathe in the fresh air and talk with their neighbors.
The young people are busy in the evenings. The Mendele library is open and they go there to exchange books. The theatre group, under the direction of Alter Chemes (Shmulevitch) is putting on a new performance. In the Hechalutz, a representative from the drama club has come just this very evening, and the people are going there to hear his talk. Late at night, when nearly everyone is asleep, loud singing is heard from the local chapter of Hashomer Hatzair The stamping of feet while dancing the hora awakens and disturbs the older generation. They remember how they were once young and used to dance. They let out a sigh:- Oh, God, where have the former years gone?
The village has become quiet. Somewhere from a henhouse, a cricket chirps-chir, chir chir, its grating sound piercing the nocturnal tranquility. From the gentile pigsties, the oinking of pigs is carried through the village- oink, oink, oink. The Gentiles sleep soundly, the pigs in the pens give them rest. Jews sleep fitfully- they dream about making a living, providing a dowry for their daughters, paying their children's tuition and about good policemen who (don't) take bribes and about the gentiles with their pigs which have recently begun oinking at them very noisily like the Berlin swine: Jew, Jew, Jew!
Under Soviet Rule
On September 1, 1939, the radio broadcast the jolting report of the outbreak of the Second World War.
A few days went by and the war was only a remote idea in the minds of the villagers- it hadn't reached here yet. The newspapers stopped coming. The radio reports are confused. You can't get at the truth. The Germans are advancing, sowing death and destruction, and in our village people believe the Germans will be quickly defeated. It's a mere trifle that England and France are also fighting them! Meanwhile, life goes on as usual, almost without change.
Suddenly confusion in the village! The police are running away in great panic without even trying to burn documents. The police officers, Frantzish-kevitch and Mitskovsky, reveal a secret that the Red Army is approaching. This report makes hearts quiver with happiness. We are simply overwhelmed with joy. The end of the war has come and mainly an end to the detested Polish anti-Semitic rule.
Several days go by and we still don't see anyone. The village is without leadership. People are eager to see their liberators, but apparently they are not hurrying to get here.
And look! Here they are! In all, a few uniformed men, in long gray cloaks, caps with red stripes, big boots, and their faces all smiles. We hug and kiss them. The young people can't keep away from them, thirstily swallowing down whatever they say. And they, those in uniform, can't stop telling about and describing the happy Soviet life. Eyes light up, the fantasy plays itself out, what a splendid time has come for everyone- and mainly, in fact, for the youth.
A meeting takes place in the big synagogue- Jews and Gentiles together. A representative of the new authority is talking - Dorosevitch, a former resident of the village, Vereskova. He calls for brotherhood between Jews and non Jews. He tells about the Soviet paradise and closes with a shout of Hurrah! for the Father of the People - Josef Vissarionovitch Stalin.
Hurrah! Hurrah!- an answer reverberates between the wall of the synagogue. The Torah scrolls in the Holy Ark wake up from their rest - Who is shouting like this in a sacred place? The window panes rattle and the carved cherubic angels over the Holy Ark seem to be getting smaller under so many painfully stinging Gentile glances.
My friend, the writer and educator, Zavel Reinovitch, a refugee in the village who is inclined to be cynical, calls to me: - You know why people are shouting Hurrah when Stalin's name is mentioned? - It's Hebrew- Hu ra! (He is bad).
For the time being, Soviet authority in the village ended with that meeting. Only Dorosevitch remained there, and everything was still going on as in the past under the old regime.
Meanwhile, the only change that took place was in the Tarbut [Culture] School. As the use of Hebrew was strictly forbidden, classes were now taught in Yiddish. New teachers, mostly refugees, were hired and Zavel Reinovitch became the pedagogical director. Since there were no textbooks in Yiddish, the pupils studied from handwritten texts. The literature lessons with Zavel Reinovitch were hours of deep, soul stirring-deliberation. He led them through the noble examples of Yiddish literature - harnessed to grandfather's pony, laughed Shalom Aleichem's redemptive laugh, and when it came to Peretz's works, he taught them how the links of the good qualities in the golden chain of Yiddish were forged.
People were very happy that Yiddish was now granted equal status with other languages and enjoyed full government support. Who, then, could have imagined, in those first days, that in the new academic year 1940, a parents meeting would be called at which it was proposed to the parents to decide whether the school should stop teaching Yiddish and be turned into a Russian ten year school.
As things are done in the Soviet Union, where the people alone decide their destiny, Poupko the shoemaker, an ignorant, loud mouthed Jew, was well prepared by the authorities, and he - the true representative of the people- stood up at the meeting and gave a speech, claiming that the people don't need a Yiddish school. No! We parents want our children to learn only Russian! The chairman then asked: Who is opposed?, a question which smacks of threats and danger. Fingers were clenched in fists, but not one hand was raised against the proposal. And thus came about the end of the Yiddish (Jewish) middle school. The former Tarbut School began a new Russian metamorphosis.
Zavel Reinovitch left Lubtch. At out parting, he said with bitterness: The end of Jewish schools is also the end of Jewish (Yiddish) national life.
On April 1, 1940, Lubtch rose to greatness. On that day it became the administrative and political center of the newly carved out Lubtch region, which took in an enormous area from the Naliboka district, including Tschars, Niegnievitch, Delatitch, Veroskova, Zenevitch, as far as the town of Lachovitch not far from the Neiman glass works.
Dozens of offices and bureaus sprung up in the village like mushrooms after a rain. First of all, there was the regional executive committee with all its departments: finance and taxation, education, health, communal economy, agriculture, statistics, planning and others. Departments of various governmental organizations were also opened such as Zagotsherna,(grains preparation), Plodoovosht (potato and vegetables preparation), Zagotlion (flax preparation) Soyozpushnina, Potrev-soyoz (cooperative trading) Narkomzag (government bank), Lessplav(milk production), Melnitshni-Kombinat(which united all the mills in the region, wood and electric combinations, sawmills, steel mills, and the electric power station), a court, militia, and a whole series of other bureaus and organizations.
To this we must add the bureau of the town council-Mestetshkovi Sovet with Yossel Kapushtshevsky as chairman, the so-called mayor or the village; two middle schools - Russian and White Russian, library, movie theater, hotel, hospital, ambulatoria, professional fire fighters organization with over two dozen salaried fire fighters- Jews and Gentiles; restaurant, food store, cold drinks and ice cream kiosk, department store (fancy goods, shoes, fabrics and perfumes) pharmacy, and a Lessplov store managed by the brothers, Paul and Meir Kapushtshevsky (who distributed merchandise to women refugees); buying center for small hides and pig bristles, store selling crude oil to peasants after supplying government products (grains, potatoes, flax, etc)- the former flax merchant, David Yedidovitch worked there; store selling books and musical instruments; bakery, bathhouse equipped with bathtubs and kept open all day long, small factory where they pickled mushrooms and produced wine from grabinas (the sour fruit of the grabina trees) managed by Shmuel Leibel Feivishevitch. There were also warehouses for grains, potatoes and vegetables, which the peasants were forced to supply to the government.
Hundreds of people were given employment in offices, enterprises, warehouses and stores-there was simply a shortage of workers. Anyone who knew a little Russian became an official. Peasants even came from surrounding towns to work in the village. Moshe Perskyi was the head bookkeeper at Potrevsoyoz, which did business in the entire region. About 15 or 16 Jewish teenage boys and girls worked in the same bureau. Yanes Itzkovitch was the head bookkeeper of the finances and taxation office.
The workshop owners, shoemakers and quilt makers, Jews and gentiles, were organized into a cooperative (Artel), which was swamped with work. The tailors did likewise. The chairman of both cooperatives was the quilt maker, Leova Levin.
Wagon drivers and some of the town vehicle drivers transported merchandise from the bases in the district city of Baranovitch, to which the region belonged. They also brought brandy from the Mir distillery and transported agricultural products to the train station at Novoyelnia.
According to official statistics from September 1940, 2,115 people lived in Lubtch, of whom approximately 1,500 were Jews, including 35 Jewish refugees from the Polish areas occupied by the Germans. Among the latter were writers, teachers, engineers, doctors, technicians and other specialists.
200 Soviet citizens still lived in the town. Among these were many Jews who worked in all the offices and organizations. Most of them worked in the Communist Party institutions, party regional committees, NKVD, party cabinet, Voyenkomat, Osoaviachim, Komsomol, etc. It is worth mentioning here that the female secretary of Komsomol- Katya- later remained with the Germans and distinguished herself with her sadism by torturing and murdering Jews. When the Germans were finally driven out, she was shot by the Russians.
In general, the Jews of Lubtch breathed more freely, economically speaking. They did not have any worries about finding jobs or making a living, and the anti-Semitism calmed down. As the Soviets had been in control for only a short time, there were still considerable reserves of merchandise remaining from Polish times and also as most of the peasants were not yet collectivized and supplied an abundance of agricultural products, the economic situation was, generally speaking, quite satisfactory, without any comparison to the difficult situation in the USSR itself. People were not bad off and were able to manage quite easily. Of course, with time, the reserves of merchandise would run out and the collectivized farmers would have little to sell in the city.
The former store owners and traders were sorely embittered, however. Their livelihood was cut off all at once. The larger stores were able to hold out for a few months until their entire stock was sold off. It was a long period of agony for Jewish business. Later the tax office imposed heavy taxes on them and took away their entire wealth. Some of the storekeepers worked on the black market while others who knew Russian managed to get government positions. But their anger was great and was expressed especially on the day the Soviet authorities fled the village. At that time a few former storeowners - with a fire of revenge in their eyes - swept the pavement in honor of the arriving German forces and laughed at the few Jews who were fleeing with the Soviets. May it not be to their disgrace! The poor things didn't know what was awaiting them.
In the only government store, one was able to freely buy bread (baked in tins so that it would be a bigger bargain) [pripiak], cans of real coffee which no one in the village used unless suffering from diarrhea, large bottles of denaturate, which no one used either, Fruktavi Tea, (a tea substitute made from dried leaves and waste products of fruits) and brandy. Day and night wagon drivers delivered full barrels of brandy, but it was all winy. The peasants no longer saved their money to buy dirt. They poured out their grief in bitter drops.
From time to time they sold sugar, a cheaper kind of candy, cigarettes, soap and matches. But supplies and purchases were limited and you had to stand on line a whole day. Cold drinks were made with saccharin and people were able to get ice cream only when sugar was available.
In the second government store, you could always freely buy cheap perfumes, various and gaudy broaches, beaded necklaces and other items. From time to time, shoes, men's underwear, galoshes, socks and cheap items for women were brought in. In such cases, customers were already standing in line around midnight and it would often happen that after standing 10-12 hours on line, they got nothing. However, as mentioned earlier, people had not yet begun to feel shortages in goods, since they still had reserves from before and they were also able to buy behind and around.
The garden surrounding the old castle was opened to the public. They made a park there - paved paths, put up benches, planted flowers, and young people would spend their time there until late at night, singing and looking for quiet, intimate little corners. In the uncompleted Polish warehouse for harvested crops next to the former Polish police station, a movie theater was opened which also served as place for people to meet.
The three study rooms and synagogues became produce warehouses where they gathered and stored the crops which the peasants had to supply and deliver to the government, but the churches were untouched. Every Sunday the Christians said their prayers there as before.
Jewish houses of over 100 square meters were confiscated. The owners had to leave their homes, and various bureaus and institutions set up quarters there. Houses from 80-100 sq.m.were nationalized. The difference consisted in the fact that the owners of the smaller dwellings remained in their homes but had to pay rent. They also had to take in neighbors, mainly newly arriving Soviet people and refugees.
The market place was moved to the former cattle market opposite the Gemina building. Stores were used for offices, warehouses and government shops. A plan was prepared - summer 1941 - to turn the former market place into a park and to set up a monument to Stalin in the middle.
In the village, there was also a radio connection which was installed in nearly all Soviet state communities. The radio broadcast news and folk songs over loudspeakers several times a day into the streets. Only a few people had the right to own a radio set. And in general hardly anyone had a radio set even in Polish times. For a few rubles, you could install a receiver in your home and in this way you had a home radio set, and the government authorities were warned of the unsuitable foreign propaganda. Rosenberg, an engineer and refugee from Lodz and his assistant, a technician, were in charge of the radio connection.
The Mendele library was closed in January, 1940. The books, which had been purchased by collecting money penny by penny over a course of so many years, were placed in a cellar which was sealed up with lead and there the books languished. In its stead, a new library was opened in Yosel Breinkes' former store. The new library contained 2,000 books, of which there were but 100 Jewish books from Soviet publishers. The librarian was Chaya Niegnievitsky.
All my requests regarding selecting books from the Mendele library which were considered legal in the USSR and putting them in the new library had gone unanswered.
All cultural undertakings in the village as well as meetings and assemblies were mixed, for Jews and Christians together. A Yiddish song or short talk was seldom heard. From time to time, the writer of these lines also had a referat in Yiddish on a literary theme which had to be squeezed into the Sodom bed of the Soviet Freedom of the Word.
Every Sunday evening, dances were held mainly for young people. On these evenings, the separations between Jewish and Christian youth were thrown aside. A Jewish boy could flirt with a Christian girl and vice versa. Actually, this was only the beginning. The short time of Soviet rule was meanwhile the most important factor which managed somewhat to slow down a process of a more intimate drawing nearer of the young people of two worlds which, until then, had been completely separate. The first signs of such a drawing nearer called forth much worry and sorrow in Jewish homes and not one mother raised a finger God forbid the moment should come
A new Jewish generation was growing up which believed that the new regime opened wider horizons and would give them the opportunity to study and attain something in life.
The youth had really blossomed. Young men and women were tall and good-looking. It was a pleasure to look at them. I especially remember Bruchke Gorodiski who, as a child, experienced the bitter taste of need in his mother's house, as she was a woman whose husband had disappeared before granting her a divorce. Bruchke grew up to be tall and handsome and also had unusual talents: he played the accordion and violin, sang and danced well, laughed happily and made everyone around him laugh. He worked in Kamsomol and a great career was predicted for him.
We must note further that Lubtch was one of the smallest villages where none of the local Jewish population was arrested or sent away - not even the wealthiest Jews in the village. Who knows if it wouldn't have been better for them had fortune not favored them at that time?
On June 21, 1941, an evening of dance with an artistic program was held in the village. Afterwards, the young people strolled about the streets until late at night, singing and laughing loudly. No one had the slightest idea of what was going to happen a few hours later.
At 9:00 the next morning, June 22, the news was broadcast over the loudspeakers that the Germans had attacked the USSR. This was the way Hitler was paying back his partner - in the 1939 treaty - for the great economic and political help which he received from the Soviets against the free, democratic world.
The loudspeakers also broadcast Molotov's speech. People listened quietly and calmly. They had such faith in the strength of the Red Army that they even thought the USSR had begun the war and that Berlin would fall within a few days.
People could hardly sleep the first night of the war. All through the night airplanes, roaring overhead, were flying towards Minsk. Everyone was sure that these were our - Soviet - planes, flying back after bombing German positions.
In the morning, mobilized soldiers from the entire region began assembling in the park by the castle. They were arranged in groups and were waiting for the army representative to come and take them away.
At the same time, several Soviet party officials suddenly approached in a completely shot up tender. They had fled, in confusion, from the attacking German army.
There was a terrible panic. The Soviet people and their families began fleeing towards Minsk. The mobilized soldiers were instructed to go home and await further orders. The NKVD managed to burn some documents and also fled.
Terror befell the Jews - terror of the approaching enemy, but they didn't want to flee and save themselves. They were still hoping to find a way to survive the German Amalek.
We, however, decide to escape, quickly throw a few things on a wagon harnessed to a little horse, leave doors and windows open - free for the robbers, seat the women and children on the wagon, all ready to set off on a distant and difficult journey.
Hennia Baksht, Moshe Levin's wife, dressed up in holiday attire, comes out of her house and calls to us:
Where are you running? Why are you so afraid? Take my advice and stay home!
Her mother-in-law, Frumeh Levin, lets out a sigh: Oy. Woe to us! and says: God only knows who will be jealous of whom!
The sun sets, painting the horizon red like a bloody lake. The houses are wrapped in a cover of dark blue. Lips fall upon the walls of the house and kiss the boards. Father's hand touches the mezuzah, tears streaming down his face. His glance wanders over the houses of relatives and friends, etched in his heart, which is now oppressed as if squeezed in pliers. A pull on the reins, the wheels rattle over the pavement, the village behind us, sunk in the grayness of the twilight.
Dear village, our loving home, will we ever see you again?
On The Ruins Of Lubtch
A cold December day, 1945. Snow has not yet fallen, but the wintry cold bites the exposed parts of the body.
The village lies in ruins. Almost nothing remains of the Jewish street, only mounds of dirt like graves, and piles of bricks from ovens. Smoke- covered walls with torn down doors and windows are still standing from a number of houses. The wind weeps inside here with a sigh, the only lamenter of those who were once here and whose bones are today sown and scattered over gentile fields.
Today, however, the wind is not the only one bemoaning the lost community. Three more Jews have come to help it weep and wail.
Three Jews are standing there: the elderly father, his son and son-in-law. Three not very passionate Jews who have come back to the village, from the far and long, agonizing journey of the few remaining survivors. The dream they had for many years of staying alive to come back here, now lies all run out as they stand by this hill of earth which was once their home.
Father's eyes no longer cry; there are no more tears left in them, only grief and mourning. His lips mumble something, we can't hear what he's saying. Whether it's a kaddish for his mother - Rashe - whose 90 years were ended by a German bullet, a kaddish for his brothers and sisters, for his large, many-branched family of which no trace remains. And perhaps it is a quiet thanks to God, Master of the Universe, with a blessing for his son-in-law, who led him out of the burning hell just in time, saved him, his wife and children?
He suddenly bends down and looks for something in the little hill and pulls out a rusty door hinge. A fountain of tears gushes forth again and with these tears waters the last trace of his former home.
Three Jews from Lubtch walk through the streets. They're looking for traces of former Jewish homes. Here stood Chaim-Isser's house. Here was Moshke Berezinski's house, and right there was the spacious home of Chaim-Leib Levin, the rich manufacturer and store owner. Every mound of earth, every pile of bricks-another name which is etched in our memories. And right over there lived Dr. Rabinovitch, who married Yenta, the rabbi's educated daughter in the ghetto. Dr. Rabinovitch who, before his death, spit in impure German faces just as his father-in law, the rabbi, would do whenever a pig crossed in front of him on his way.
The street where the Gentiles live is intact. They were protected and warned by the oinking of the pigs. Today, the gentiles are the only proprietors in the village. They are already building new town style cottages on Jewish places. The houses of the gentiles are filled with Jewish things. Even Jewish candlesticks decorate their homes - the only thing missing are Sabbath candles. Familiar Gentiles come over and wonder what we're doing there.
There are also Jews in the village- the elderly Shalom Leibovitch with his children. They were saved by joining up with the partisans. Shalom runs over to us and hugs and kisses us. There we were, two Jews standing in the middle of the former market place among the ruins, squeezing and kissing one another and weeping aloud, shoulders moving convulsively and lips trembling, unable to utter a single word.
At Shalom's house: a bottle of liquor on the table and a bite to eat with the drink. The last Jews of Lubtch are sitting around the table, drinking l'chaim! that they lived to meet again. Each l'chaim accompanied by a sigh, every drop of liquor salted with tears. Tongues chatter. We remember and remember events, happenings, episodes and names. Dozens of years of people's lives roll by and everything comes to the same- terrible end.
Three Jews are walking on a cold morning. They are making a pilgrimage to Vorovievitch, to the communal grave of the Jews from Lubtch. The cold wind drives them on, chasing and whipping them- Go faster, go faster! The Jews of Lubtch were driven along the same way, their heads and shoulders bloodily cut by whips and rubber poles - Faster! Faster!
Close by the right side of the Lubtch- Novogrudek road, not far from the town of Vorovievitch is the communal grave. A young peasant shows us the place. He tells us how the Jews were murdered there. He actually enjoys telling the story:
- Many, he says, fell into the pit while still alive and that's how they were buried. The Jewess, Sara (Sara Pertchik), a beauty, was lightly wounded in her foot and asked us to save her. It was a pity to bury such a beauty alive! We could have played a game with such a beauty, but the Germans ordered us to fill in the grave with soil as quickly as possible.
Jews of Lubtch, control yourselves and don't choke that non-Jewish boy to death so that you defile that sacred place with his impure blood. Don't let your anger get the better of you! Old father, wipe away your bloody tears and don't let that non-Jewish boy have any joy from seeing you weep.
Three Jews bend down, take up handfuls of cold soil, warm it with their fingers- to transfer the heat of heart and soul to the soil- and put it to their lips, breathe their living Jewish breath on the soil and throw it back onto the communal grave - a greeting to the martyrs of Lubtch: Jews of Lubtch are still alive! They have outlived the Nazi Amelek - the Jewish People lives!
Another glance behind, a final look, forever - and our feet carry us further and further away from the defiled gentile earth and then - on the distant, agonizing way to the shores of the Jewish Homeland, which we have been dreaming about. Will we get there?
Note: Our father, Yehoshua-Yaakov Feivishevitch, unfortunately, did not live to reach the shores of the Land of Israel. He passed away in Germany on 13 Adar 5707, Eve of Purim, 1947 and was buried in Munich.
By Hilel Shmulovitch
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
Lubtch was a small town. To the north the Neiman flowed by, and behind it grew eternal, thick forests that spread over wide areas; in the west, downstream from Lubtch were the cities of Ivyeh and Lida; on the south-west side, at a distance of twenty-three kilometers was the city of Novogrudek, where the administrative institutions of the entire region were situated. Lubtch was connected to Novogrudek by trade and cultural connections.
A small train, remnant of the days of the First World War, connected Novogrudek to Lubtch. The railway station in Castle Street, was used as a social meeting place for the inhabitants of the town who came there to meet the visitors; to receive mail and newspapers, and to carry on idle conversation about matters of supreme importance.
The Jewish community in Lubtch was resident on the lands of the aristocrat Peker, who was apparently close to the Tzar, and was one of his advisors for a month of the year. After his death, his wife married again to an aristocrat called Nabokov, who became owner of the estate.
Proof that there was a community in this place in the 17th century is found in the book of Dr Raphael Mahler Divrei Yemei Yisrael b'Dorot HaAhronim (History of the Jews in the Last Generations (3rd volume, 12th Chapter, Page 188).
Dr Mahler writes: Prior to the Chassidism movement founded by the Ba'al Shem Tov, there are also indications of a new behavior, either on the part of individuals or groups, who were called by the people of their generation chassidim (pious, devout ones). Regarding ascetic cabalists, the philosopher Shlomo Maimon writes in his memoirs: One Shimon, from the town of Lubtch, tortured himself, wore sackcloth, and took upon himself repentance of the Exile and repentance weighed in proportion to one's sin, and finally starved himself to death.
According to this evidence, the event occurred before the appearance of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who was born in the year 1700 approximately, meaning that the community was already in existence in this area in the 17th century.
Another proof of the early presence of the community can be found in the Sefer Yechusin [Book of Lineages], which was written and edited by R' Tzvi Shimshi (Shimshelovitch), father of the President of Israel, Yitzchak Ben Tzvi. In his book, R' Tzvi Shimshi describes his forefathers, from whom the whole family stemmed - the couple Eliyahu Shimshelevitch and his wife Chana Feygah, who lived in Lubtch, between the years 5460- 5535, that is 1700-1775. This means that at the beginning of the 18th century, a community was active there.
Likewise, the Charter of Privileges also testifies to the existence of a Jewish community in the 17th century. These rights were given to the Jews of Lubtch on the 30th January 1690, by Jan Kazimirez Sapieha, the big hetman [chief, leader] of the Greater Principality of Lithuania, governor of Vilna and the district. We bring a translation of this charter in this book [Pages 11-15].
It may be that a community existed in the area before the 17th century, but we have no proof. However it is clear that the Jewish community lived in the area for hundreds of years - until it was destroyed and annihilated without leaving a single mark that would tell about its past.
The Livelihood and Occupations Of The Jews Of Lubtch
The town of Lubtch was blessed with fresh air and a wonderful view. The river flowed past it and forests surrounded it. And within this panoramic gem the Jewish community fought their daily war of existence.
The farming environment influenced the socio-economic situation of the Jews in the town, and the economic reality also had serious repercussions on the cultural activity of the community.
Jews of the place usually made their livelihood from trade and serving as middlemen with the Christian population in the villages. Although it was a farming area, the Jews themselves did not work on the land (except for a vegetable garden by the house for personal consumption), and not even industry developed there. The Jews earned their livelihood by very hard work and toil. Every tremor in the yields of the crops of the farmers in the area affected the economic situation that became worse and worse, because the anti-Semitic Polish government increased its interference and pressure in matters of trade, squeezed the Jews out and raised difficulties and restrictions on trade. From here one can understand that very rich people were absent in the town.
|Peddlers||58||Flour mill owners||4|
|Restaurants||7||Candy industry and vinegar||2|
|Hotels||3||Tree traders (foresters)||2|
|Making soda and ice-cream||1||Pharmacists (owning a pharmacy)||1|
|Leasers of orchards||2||General stores||24|
|Fish traders||1||Shoe stores||2|
|Flax and flaxseed traders||8||Grocery stores||8|
|Dairy owners and cheese industry||8||Material and textile stores||11|
|Sawmills and power station||2||Flour and grain stores||6|
|Tailors||14||Butchers (owning butcher shops)||17|
|Seamstresses||4||Barbers (owning barbershops||4|
|Boot-makers||11||Glaziers (selling glass)||2|
|Blacksmiths||10||Watchmaker (selling also)||1|
|Harness and saddle makers||4||Fishermen||2|
|Ritual Bath Tenders||1||Yeshiva pupils||5|
|A total of 307 employed workers
Unemployed - 8
Widows making their living in whatever was available - 5
|Heads of the Household||275||Of whom were widowers||17|
|Married women||295||Of whom were widows||37|
|Male children||340||Female children||320|
in the family
By Dov Cohen
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
In the First World War, I was still very young, but I remember the heavy artillery battle that took place between the German army and the Russian army. All the inhabitants of Lubtch were evacuated to the forest and we remained there all night; the next day, after the artillery barrage had been silenced, we returned to the town. We were greeted by the Germany army band, playing triumphal marches.
Since the Neiman river was now the Front, we were forced to leave the town again. The inhabitants were transferred first to a village by Silov, and when the battles intensified, the Germans transferred us further away to the town of Svilslotch - there we remained until the war was over. There I also began my classes at the cheder.
We returned to a Delatitch which had been reduced to rubble and lay in ruins. The yard of our house was cut up by seven bunkers, but thanks to the help from the United States, we repaired our house and filled in the trenches in the yard. Our livelihood was ensured because we had opened a grocery store, where we later sold fabrics as well.
We began to organize community life in the town, we repaired the synagogue and built a bath-house. A branch of the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael [Jewish National Fund] was established, and my father, Yosef, of blessed memory, was the official agent of the Fund in the town and even organized various money raising drives.
My father was also the treasurer of the community income, which came from donations in the synagogue and from leasing the parcel of land by the banks of the Neiman to wood traders, who came for the summer months.
Delatitch was known as having good prayer leaders: my father - who had a pleasant voice, who read the Torah and blew the shofar on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Avraham Gorodisky - with a bass voice - who prayed shacharit, and his brother Moshe who sang the mussaf prayers.
During the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there was a lot of tension in the town, especially after the sermon of R' Yaakov Baksht, who expounded the law and preached every Yom Kippur.
At Simchat-Torah - there was much rejoicing in the town. Rabbi Beynish would dance with the Torah scroll in his arms, and everyone joined in enthusiastically; it was known that people who had heard a nice tune during the year kept it secret in order to sing it on Simchat Torah- as a surprise.
On the evening of Passover - the matzot were baked and it was a whole ritual. In our house, the house and oven were made kosher, and a large room was allocated for rolling the matzot. The utensils which were stored from year to year were taken out and the work began, from rolling and pricking the dough through to putting it straight into the hot oven. Every family baked much more than was needed in order to distribute it to the needy, and also part went to the Gentile customers who liked the matzot very much. My mother of blessed memory also gave matzot to poor, needy gentiles.
My father, R' Yosef Cohen of blessed memory, was the ritual slaughterer. To earn a living from slaughtering in the one town alone was difficult, but luckily, in the winter there was a lot of work, since the butchers from Vilna came to the area to buy calves, which they brought to Delatitch for slaughtering. In 1934 the police began to harass my father, sudden searches were made in our house and there were night time ambushes in order to catch father in the act of slaughtering. Finally he was caught, the calves brought for slaughter were confiscated, and my father had a court trial that cost a lot of money and caused the family much sorrow.
In 1934 I made aliyah to Eretz-Israel, where I built my house, and married a girl from Rishon Letzion. My brother Aryeh made aliyah to Eretz-Israel in 1939, and set up his house and family in Kfar Saba.
My family was annihilated by the Nazis, who arrested all the Jews of Delatitch and sent them to the Lubtch ghetto, from there they were transferred a few months later to the Novogrudok ghetto. My three sisters managed to escape from the ghetto and reach the partisans, where they fought until they fell heroically.
By Frumka Eshed (Asherovsky)
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
The town was encircled by a very pleasant frame, vast fields on one side and the wide Neiman, on the other side. Behind the river were grazing meadows, and behind them - the villages. The third side - the squire's estate, and on the fourth side on the back of the hill surrounded by a huge garden, - was the palace of the well-known Nabokov family. At the foot of the hill was the river. Between the houses of the town and the Neiman, were the vegetable gardens of the Jews, inhabitants of the town.
In the middle of the town was the market place and in its center the shops were arranged in a square. This was the shopping center of the town. The market area was surrounded by houses, also in a square formation, from which the streets of the town led out, all leading from the market - to the fields, to the palace and to the close-by town - Delatitch. By the market was the Shulhoif - where there were three synagogues and a bath-house.
Lubtch was a remote town, in an area of poverty-stricken villages. There was meager farming and no industry. The Neiman river hinted that there were distant locations where the people and places were well established and richer. The timber rafts floated on the Neiman, to the large centers, and added to the income of the town; the raft captains would stop at the town to stock up on food supplies for the continuation of the trip, and sometimes they needed clear markings on the raft: I and my brother would be busy at night time cutting out letters from thick white cardboard for the rafts.
In the winter days, when the river was covered by a thick layer of ice, it was used as a wide area for making trips and ice-skating. The towering palace was silent and locked most days of the year, only in the summer did its owners come, and added some interest for the Lubtch townspeople. However it is doubtful that they also added to the livelihood of the townspeople.
The town on its wooden structures (there were only two houses made of stone there, one was the home of the wealthiest man in the town), did not lie on the main transport routes and was not involved in commercial and social ties with other towns. In the autumn and winter especially, the few connections that did exist, were blocked. The town curled up then in mud, snow and frost and sank into the poverty-stricken daily life which continued sluggishly as if it were cut off from the world and had no connection to the goings-on in the big world.
The inhabitants of Lubtch were mainly Jews, and the gentiles - a few Belarussians and Russians, were mainly from the authorities, the priest, manager of the government shop Hay'sh and a few families that seemed well-off. On Sundays, gentiles from places outside of Lubtch would come to pray in the church, but during the week, the town had a Jewish character.
Trade was not abundant in the town. Only a few were well-to-do traders: traders of flax that was combed in the town itself, horse and cattle traders, fabrics traders - these made up the more well-off layer of society. The town was mainly based on practical work. The inhabitants were mostly craftsmen, and made their living also from the surrounding villages. There were taverns for the farmers. The vegetable gardens by the houses and the cows were of great help for existence. The townspeople also enjoyed the fish from the Neiman, which were sold cheaply.
My memories of the town of my childhood start from the beginning of the [20th] century. I was then very young, and two outstanding events have remained in my memory since then: the fires in the summer that regularly broke out in the town every year, and the muddy Novogrudek Street which led from the market, encircled the streets and had ditches on the side to drain the swamps. Once, when I was crossing the trench by a little bridge made of boards, I tripped and fell into the trench and almost drowned; by chance a girl from the market passed and saw something pink that was sticking out of the water and pulled me out.
These two phenomena, the fire and the swamps, bothered the inhabitants very much. The winter months were long and difficult, when the children were closed inside and locked up in the houses cramped with people, the windows were sealed, with no ventilation. With the beginning of the thaw, the children burst outside into the wide open space, but the streams of water and the deep mud in which the farmers' wagon left furrows were an obstacle to the springtime mischievousness of the children. When the summer came, the fear of fires would descend on the town. They always started at night-time, accompanied by the thunder of warning bells tolling from the Christian church, the trumpets of the firemen. The fear of the fires was etched deep in the heart of the children (although the fires never reached our home, and there was an assumption that the swamps in the streets were what had stopped the calamity). And the fear of the flames which consumed the houses without restraint has remained etched in my memory. More than once we sat at nights, on our packed bags, ready to flee, when the fires were raging in the neighboring streets. More than once children disappeared from fear during the fires, and were found after great efforts, even in the local cemetery.
The prevailing idea in the minds of the public was that the fires were a result of arson, as a way to get rich from the insurance; but as are the ways of Satan, there were no rich people in the town despite the many fires. The fires were so frequent that they were also used as a guide to the yearly calendar, to mark the dates of birth and other events: that happened during the great fire; or before or after it, etc. Another catastrophic event that would visit at the town, was malaria, due to the swamp. The inhabitants were continually forced to swallow quinine.
Novice doctors came to the town, remained for a short time and left. People would say that every doctor left his mark behind - in the cemetery. In the case of the pox the doctor was careful not to enter the house, and passed on instructions from the outside, by the window. The instructions could be summarized as Don't scratch your face - and that was all, and If the child cannot stop herself - bind her hands together. One doctor, Dr Shapira, remained in the town more than the other doctors, about ten years. He was a tall man, wide-faced, full of energy, devoted to his patients, but he too left for Vilna and became well-known there.
The birth rate among the Jews was high, but the death rate of babies was high too. In many families there were ten children, but usually several of them died. The children were the top priority of the parents. Much attention was paid to education; also orphans and children of poverty stricken families learnt at the cheder from the age of four. The girls were taught by special melamdim [elementary school teachers] who were thought to be inferior to other melamdim [for the boys]. For example, my melamed was a lumberjack by profession and became a melamed after a work accident. The girls' melamdim became teachers late in life, and the schoolroom was a room also used by the married son or daughter of the melamed for their trade.
The parents were interested that their children would study, and for this they sacrificed themselves, even the poorest of parents looked for a way to finance their sons' education. If they did well in Torah studies, they were sent to yeshivot in other towns, since there was no Talmud-Torah in the town and no yeshiva. Usually they learnt in the town until the age of fifteen or sixteen. The girls, as usual, were deprived of learning. Some learnt with private teachers to write a letter in Yiddish and addresses in Russian. Whoever did not continue in his studies would join his father's business, learnt a trade, or was unemployed. Some of the girls learnt sewing.
Until I left the town in 1907, there was no library, and no newspaper reached the town.
With the revolution in 1905, the revolutionary spirit penetrated the town too; young men and women gathered together, sang revolutionary songs, embroidered a red flag, wore embroidered Russian shirts, mainly colored bordeau. There were extremists who made speeches in the synagogues in order to win over souls for their revolutionary ideology, to revolt against conventional ideas. Brochures appeared which were secretly passed from hand to hand, for fear of the authorities and also of the parents who were against the idea of the revolution.
The young men and women sang revolutionary songs at wedding ceremonies of young couples in order to demonstrate.
It was an important time of awakening in the town, the freeze was broken in the lives of the youth. Understandably, it aroused disagreements between fathers and sons, but the period was very short. Again the youth sank into their freeze, and the revolution - as if it had never occurred. It seemed that the town had become more impoverished and more remote than ever.; many youth left the town and wandered to the large cities - Minsk, Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, (mainly to the cities where they had relatives), others went overseas.
The young people who went far, to the large cities, subconsciously took the image of their hometown with them, and being in a strange environment, were often overcome by longings for what they had left behind - their parent's house, the way of life of the small community, the weekdays and festive days, the vegetable garden behind the house, and the Neiman river. From a distance, the steady and compelling system of the town's social and ethical customs was painted in all its beauty. They themselves felt detached, far from their town, and had not yet been absorbed into the new society. In the foreign land, the wanderers knew not a few years of poverty, hard work, and often unbridled exploitation by their relatives, their benefactors. But for the most part, they arrived at an economic base (most in business. I don't remember any who worked in foreign lands in crafts). They established factories and took care of their younger brothers and sisters who had remained there. In this way Lubtch also contributed to the stream of Jewish emigration, especially to America and South Africa. Those whose travel expenses did not stretch far enough, emigrated to London and Paris. The parting from the family who remained in Europe was relatively easy, but from those who emigrated to America, leaving was difficult, a separation forever, - a separation accompanied by heartbreaking weeping.
How sad was the equipment that a girl aged 13 took with her when she left her hometown, when she left on her way towards her life's destiny. It was lightweight, all wrapped up in a colorful handkerchief, two or three blouses in the bundle, a Shabbat dress and one ruble in addition to the money for the long voyage - and the address of the uncle in the big city, on folded notes sewn into the pocket and into folds of the clothes. Her total education: she knew to read and write in Yiddish, Russian and a little arithmetic.
The town was far from the railroad, a distance of a day's wagon ride. The girl was amazed and frightened when the wagon-driver took her hand and led her to a strange creation on large iron wheels, a noisy, breathing creation, and said to her: This is the train which goes to Warsaw, here is the ticket, look after yourself well.
In this manner the girl left the town, the same way as other young boys and girls before her, as also her two sisters had done before her and travelled over the seas, to America. She sat in the train and travelled to the unknown, but one thing she did know, and on that she had fought at home: there in the big city of Warsaw, she must fight for her future and succeed.
In 1934, when we were on shlichut [overseas service] on behalf of Hechalutz [Pioneers youth movement] in Poland, I returned to Lubtch, my hometown. This time we came there, Yaakov and I, not in a wagon, but in the mesilonit - a narrow railway. The small train chugged along slowly, breathing heavily, but nevertheless - advancing. Many of the town's inhabitants came to the station to meet the residents of Eretz-Israel who had arrived. I was excited, I remembered the young girl of thirteen with the little bundle in her hands, her limited education and her many hopes.
The town, it seemed, had not changed. The same marketplace, the same streets, the same houses, although most had been rebuilt after the fires, always looking old. And of course, the same wide Neiman river, flowing towards the horizon, to faraway places.
But even so, there were changes. The Hebrew school - small and modest, the pioneering youth movement which was active there, although it did not take the place over by storm, as had happened in other towns. However, several youth were already on hachshara [training].
Lubtch was remote also after the war and the revolution; first it was Russian, then it became Polish, but it had always been, and remained Jewish. The daughter who came to visit her house took pity to the point of tears on the poverty and innocence of her town, and was very saddened to see it in its humiliation.
On the horizon - the clouds of fury of the Holocaust were threatening and the Jews there did not sense that they had to flee from the terrible storm.
My hometown was destroyed together with all the other Jewish communities in Europe. May these words be a memorial, a commemorative plaque to all that was and was totally destroyed.
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