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With The Appearance Of The Book:


History of one town
The scroll of the rise and destruction of the community of Sopotkin

Translated by Solomon Manischewitz


…I establish with my full honesty and without any flattery that his book was written in good taste and in excellent language. This book is much more accomplished than many other memorial books. I have to say that a tremendous amount of work was put in this book. According to my opinion this was work of many months, of days and nights. I express the feelings of my admiration to the faithful and diligent work which was put in the book.

Words of praise for the author
by the writer Chanan Eylati.




Page 7

Title Page


With unusual difficult means a memorial monument was erected in memory of the Sopotkin Community. Almost without a stop we searched for material for the memorial book, we turned to people to supply us with any kind of material in order to be able to publish a Sopotkin memorial book for future generations, but we have not received almost any material in writing. In this kind of a situation, despite our willingness and desire, we could not gather all details and all happenings in connection with this history of the Sopotkin Jews. Everything that was in our power we did and everything that was in our power to save, so it should not be forgotten, we saved. At this occasion we give thanks from the bottom of our heart to all those who helped us and gave us a helping hand to gather the material. May a blessing come upon those who helped us more or less to publish this book.

Committee of Sopotkin emigrants in Israel:

Efrati (Perestonsky) Zelig   Borovsky Chanan
Egozi (Niselkowsky) Reuven   Ben-Yehuda (Paleskovsky) Yaakov
Avni (Kaminitsky) Zalman   Manor (Mentchinsky) Aleksander
Shapiro (Sheolzonsky) Esther    




Page 9

Instead of a foreword

(Preface)


Forests and mountains surrounded Sopotkin. Among the forests ran the Augustov canal which connected as a bridge the two big rivers, the Vistula and Nemen. The life of the town was adorned with the beauty of the nature around. The children absorbed the charm of the nature together with the milk of their mothers. Some properties and possessions around Sopotkin belonged to the Jews and they turned to be training places for young Jewish people who decided to continue their life in Israel. In the forests and fields around, the youth began to train themselves to a working life in Israel. In the forests of Poland the beautiful sounds of the Hebrew language began to be heard and from there echoed new modern Hebrew songs. The beauty of the nature around increased their love for Israel, for its beautiful nature, for the fields and forests in the Hebrew homeland. With their coming closer to nature, their desire to come closer to the Israeli nature increased very much. They wanted to be very near to the nature of the land of the Bible.

The Jewish identity and the Jewish tradition that were created in the town forced the youth to attend a Hebrew School and to absorb the Jewish spirit and the Jewish tradition. This way the town played an important part in developing the idea of the national future, the town weaved the prophecy of the Hebrew redemption. And this is how the (Chalutsim) Pioneer Movement grew, which laid the foundation to the realization of the independence of our Jewish State. And another thing, the life in the town implanted in the hearts of our youth the Jewish consciousness and increased the tie with the Jewish people.

The atmosphere of the town was absorbed with Judaism and Jewish tradition. Here was lit the Jewish spark, Apintele yid – suspension point, quintessence of one's Jewish identity.

Beautiful buildings did not decorate the town. We see there the poor, the old homes, the miserable cheder (one room school), the old synagogue, which is ready to collapse – they all were full of visitors and scholars, and the Torah melody never stopped there. Here grew up intellectual people, people of much wisdom, people of the book. And in the same time the town was happy to have plain, good working people, as they were called!

It is not in my intention to describe the town and its surroundings only in clear and bright colors. I wanted to collect the sparks of light that the town was so rich in.


Page 10


About the destiny of our Jewish town during World War II, we lost many wonderful images full of brightness, images representing simplicity, images which represented the good and the light in our lives, images that are a symbol of an era which was, but is no more, gone forever.

In memory of those, we decided to put up a memorial monument, at least to remember them in a book in order that the chain should not stop and the tradition of generations should continue. We should not forget the values of those who perished, their values that were a light for generations. Thanks to their values and thanks to them we came to the place where we are today. It is true – the town is no more, but let us keep all the images in our heart and hold to them, the inheritance left by our dear ones.

Do not break the chain of the generations!

Watch over every link and joint.

And to one of the precious links this book is dedicated.

Aleksander Manor


Page 11



sop011.jpg [18 KB]
Picture of the general view of Sopotkin



Page 13


Chapter 1


Outline of the history of the Jewish settlement in Sopotkin


Page 15


The beginning of the settlement


A distance of 25 km (kilometers) from the city of Grodno along the highway that goes from Grodno to Kovno, the heart of Lituvania, the little town of Sopotkin occupied its modest place. It was hidden behind mountains and hills from east and west. The historic remnants which are witnesses of the first Jewish settlement in this town were the ancient cemeteries filled with old tombs, and the old synagogue from the 17th century. The ancient synagogue was built from wood and was famous for its adornments and ornaments.

Next to the big and ancient synagogue was the old cemetery which was filled with graves and tombstones whose Hebrew inscriptions were erased because so many years went by. According to the remnant inscriptions and the dates on the old tombstones it is clear that the first Jewish settlers came to Sopotkin in the beginning of the 17th century.

The main historic source: The memorandum-book (Pinkas) of the Sopotkin community was destroyed in a fire on Passover 1906. Also the first shock that hit the town was with the outbreak of the First World War, when the wicked Russian ruler the Czar Nicolay Nicolayewitch and the czarist government ordered to drive out the Jews from the border zone. This cruel law brought about the dispersion of Sopotkin's Jews all over Russia and the destruction of the sources which could tell us more about the beginning of the settlement in Sopotkin.



The origin of the name


The town took the name of the Polish prince, Sopotko, who was the owner of much land in the surroundings. Until the year 1863 most of the land belonged to two Polish noblemen: Prince Sopotko and Count Volovitch. The entire community was called – Volovitchovce from the name of Prince Volovitch. The Poles called the town Sopotskinie, the town's Jews called it Sopotkin. In the books of Rabbi Shemuel Yaakov Rabinovitch who was the town's Rabbi, in all his papers and documents the name of the town was Sapatkin. On all the letters, notes, certificates and documents issued by the Jewish Board of the Community before World War I, the name of the town was Sapatkin*.

* [Both spellings are correct. Sometimes the town was called Sopotkin, and in other documents – Sapatkin.] (Solomon Manischewitz)




Page 16


sop016.jpg [15 KB]
The Ancient Synagogue



Page 17


The geographical conditions


Sopotkin, 25 klm from Grodno, served as a transfer-bridge, from the time it was founded till the First World War, between Grodno and Kovno, the capital city of Lituvania. It was the juncture of roads to all cities of Lituvania, going through to Kovno. Day and night did not stop the movement of the caravans passing through the town of Sopotkin along the highway that connected the two cities mentioned above, which three km from Sopotkin flooded the canal Oygustuv which connected the main river in Poland-Vistula with the river Nemen. Because the town Sopotkin was surrounded by forests this canal was a water pathway for rafts. The rafts floated through the canal into the river Nemen and from the Nemen to the Vistula and from there to the Baltic Sea. The earth around Sopotkin was very fertile thanks to the many sources of water: small rivers, ponds and fountains.


Page 18


The structure of the town and number of its inhabitants


The town was built in a shape of a square and on its sides came out six streets.

1) Grodno Street (the new street)

2) The Synagogue Street

3) Vasivevitch Street

4) Baleslav Chrobry Street (Asotchaniki Street)

5) Teolin Street (Street of the Public Bath)

6) Yurezoliki Street (3rd of May Street)

7) The Market Place

In every street there lived about 40-50 families. Before World War II the population of Sopotkin was about 1500 souls. In Sopotkin and in the nearby villages there lived 315 Jews. In the year 1897 there lived in Sopotkin 1243 Jews. In the period of the general census of the inhabitants of Russia in the year 1897 there lived in Sopotkin 1674 Jews.



The sources of existence


Until the First World War the forests that surrounded the town were the source of existence for the Jews who lived in Sopotkin. During the entire winter season the cutting of the trees took place. The Jews had to put the trees together and to pile them up near the Oygustuv canal. The peasants, who worked in the forests, used to come to the town to buy from the Jewish store keeper all kinds of necessities for their families. This was the livelihood of many of the Jews in Sopotkin.

A good part of the forests and farms around Sopotkin were acquired by the families Maretsky and Ben-Yaakov (Bibliograph).


Page 19


Their representative was in Sopotkin, Mendel Lutoreytschik, this was a Jewish family which came from Krementchug which is in the Ukraine. In the hands of this family concentrated the management of the farms and forests in Sopotkin's neighborhood. The Jews of Sopotkin had also an additional trade – pilling of the trees. They dried the pilings and this became a good material in producing skins and leather. About 200 Jews were busy in this trade. Another branch of livelihood and sustenance were mills.

After the First World War Poland became an independent, free country and Sopotkin was no more a transit bridge between Grodno and other Lituvanian cities. Lituvania became an independent country and the border between the two countries was established 8 km from Sopotkin. This was an artificial border than surrounded Sopotkin from three sides. The highways, the roads and all kinds of transportation ways that were so vital in the past, were cut off in the middle. The Polish government was not interested at all to develop any town so near the border. The economy of the town changed completely. Now the main sources of life were small businesses, grocery stores where you buy not only groceries but all different merchandise, working people, tailors, shoemaker and smiths. All the businesses were connected with the villages around. The owners of the small stores waited all week for Friday – market day, when the peasants came to buy their needs. And this way the Jews made their poor living. Carpenters sold their products to the farmers: chests, chairs, tables, etc. Small businessmen were mainly grain produce merchants. The grain they used to buy from the peasants and sold it in Grodno. Many Jews in Sopotkin became peddlers.


Page 20


They used to spend all the days of the week (except Sabbath) in the villages, buying from the farmers all kinds of milk products, mushrooms and other products and sold them in Grodno. In addition to all these livelihoods every family had a milk cow and a small piece of earth on which grew potatoes to feed the family. To keep a cow was not too expensive. The town's shepherd used to take out the cows in the morning to a pasture, in the noon time he brought them back for milking and again back to the pasture and before the sun set the cows returned to their homes. Winter time the cows remained in cowsheds. They were fed with straw and potatoes. After the holiday of Succot the potatoes were picked and gathered and put in the cellars which were in every home.



The act as intermediary between the village and the town


On the eve of World War II there were in the town more than 250 families that made about 1300 Jewish people. One third of the inhabitants were peddlers, storekeepers and merchants. Most of the Jews were physical workers. About twenty percent were tailors and shoemakers. The general structure of the town and all the branches of work were directed toward the needs of the inhabitants of the villages. Therefore we see in Sopotkin work shops where wages were made, smithery, taverns, dyer's shop, shops to work out leather from lambskins. These working shops were connected with the villages and for the villages. As far as the stores, they all existed from the income the storekeepers made during the market days. About one fourth of the Jewish inhabitants of the town were grain merchants, cow merchants, etc.


Page 21


They all mingled between village and town bringing products, bought from the peasants, to the towns, mainly to Grodno. The town played the role of the middleman between the village and the city. The general function of the town was to supply experienced workers and merchandise to the farmers and at the same time to buy products made by the peasants and to bring it to the town. The villages made the structure of the town.


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