by Meir Spektor
The name of the town was spelled Stavishtshe. In Russian that means ponds, because the town was surrounded by ponds on three sides. More accurately, we should call them lakes, large wide lakes which teemed with delicious fish. There were carp, perch, and other kinds of fish which provided tasty meals for the holy Sabbath feasts.
There were the sandy ponds, around which were the clay fields where the white and tallow clay was dug up for whitewashing the walls and for smoothing on the kitchen floors Sabbath eve.
There was the brick pond whose clay was suitable for making bricks. I do not know whether or not it was used for this purpose.
There was a bath pond, near which stood the old Jewish bathhouse.
The town belonged to Count Branicki, a famous wealthy Polish magnate. The story was told about him that he owned one thousand estates. He sold one so that people would have to say nine hundred and ninety nine instead of just the one word thousand.
A highway divided the town into two parts. It started at the count's palaces where his officials lived. They were all Poles, of course. Many of the Stavisht merchants learned how to speak Polish for that reason.
The palaces stood among thick orchards and gardens where there were all kinds of fruit and flowers. From the estate to the first Jewish houses there was a boulevard a narrow strip of land bordered by small wooden columns and tall trees, and dense lilac bushes whose fragrance, especially during the month of May, was heavenly. Next to the trees were benches. The promenaders, especially we youth, would sit there for hours on quiet moonlit nights until the break of dawn. It was a pleasure to sit there at night in the quiet when the breeze would intoxicate us with the fragrance of the flowers and the pine trees. From the woods we would hear the sweet trill of the larks. Sitting with you, leaning on your shoulder, is a dark-haired or blonde girl, and you are young and carefree.
I shall never forget the Friday and Sabbath nights.
On the other side of the sandy pond, going to the right towards Zhashkov, was the thick pine forest which stretched for hundreds of viorst. During the summers groups of boys and girls would stroll among the fragrant pines. The forest was so thick the rays of sunlight could not penetrate. We would pick sweet berries and dash through the forest yelling, Ooha, ooha! just to hear the mysterious other-worldly echo reply. That is how we would spend our Sabbath afternoons until nightfall, and end the evening on the boulevard, under the trees, not alone, you understand… The town had a number of twisting streets and many alleys. In the middle of town was the highway, paved with cobblestones. When you walked there in the summertime, you could twist your ankles on the cobblestones. In the wintertime, before Passover, when the snow started to melt, you walked in mud over your ankles. Nevertheless, you always tried to walk on the highway, because the mud on the sides was so thick, you could lose your shoes and galoshes in it. The highway started at the Count's estate, the road to Shvarts Timeh [Belaya Tserkov], and continued downhill to the Count's mill by the brick pond. From there it continued on to Uman. On the left, uphill from the bath pond, there was the road to Tarashcha, the district capital.
The name given to the pond, bath pond, was because of the old bathhouse at its edge. There were the wooden outhouses where on the hot summer afternoons the householders of the nearby streets and especially the school boys would often run to take care of matters or just to get away from the teacher and the difficult Talmud lesson. Often the schoolrooms would empty out on hot days.
While the students were enjoying themselves at the pond, the teacher would catch a snooze and dream about the Holy Land. Most of the teachers in town were fervent Zionists and dreamt about Erets Yisrael. My teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Shumsky, or as he was nicknamed, Yisrolik the melamed, or Yisrael Tsines has been living in Erets Yisrael for quite a long time.
Even though the town was quite small, it had a number of small prayer houses and the large old wooden synagogue. The school boys would shiver when they walked past it on dark winter nights, carrying their lanterns, for they feared the dead who would arise in the night to pray there.
The Makarov Kloyz and the big Bet Hamidrash were where the elite went to pray. Nevertheless, if someone did not get the honors he felt due him, there could be quarreling and even candelabra flying from the pulpit towards the heads of the offenders.
The more respectable householders lived on both sides of the highway—merchants, shopkeepers, wealthy dealers in grain. The simple folk lived along the alleys behind.
On the synagogue street and surrounding streets lived the artisans: tailors, cobblers, carpenters, butchers, and waggoners. On the bath street, in small humpbacked wooded shacks with straw roofs, lived the poorest class: tar makers, rope makers, peddlers who spent their weekdays traveling from one gentile village to another trying to make a living, and just plain paupers.
People did not use surnames in Stavisht. Everyone was called by a father's or grandfather's or wife's name. Sometimes a nickname was given for the color of one's beard. Thus, for example, there were two Yoeliks, both fine men, owners of dry-goods stores. One was called Yoelik the black because he had a fine respectable black beard and the other was called Yoelik the red because of his red beard. My grandfather was called Arye Meir Dina's for both his grandfather and grandmother. My mother's brother, my uncle Fishl, was called Fishl Moshe Yosi's and my mother was called Shifra Moshe Yosi's. My uncle Pesah Hersh Salganik was called Pesah Hersh Trayne's for his wife's name was Trayne, and his son was called Shmulik Pesah Hersh's but his older son was called Shelomo Salganik. Why? Because his fine foods shop stood removed from the other shops in town and was patronized only by the nobles from the Count's estate. Also he socialized with Simha Shohet and Barukh Boyarski, and played chess and even cards with them. There were a handful of householders, important grain dealers, who frequented the Count's estate, and government officials who spent their time mostly in the big cities. They were called by their family names, e.g. Simha Shohet, Barukh Boyarski, Granovski, etc. [Spector explains the way the names are formed and he does use apostrophes.]
There were quite a few waggoners in town. They transported the shopkeepers to Shvarts Timeh and Berditshev to buy goods. They would sit in the wagon on pallets of straw covered with straw mats.
There were two waggoners who were nicknamed Garden of Eden and Gehenna. Garden of Eden went to Zhashkov and Gehenna went to Tarashacha. Garden of Eden was a tall heavy man with a black beard, a good natured smiling face, and with a chuckle would call out Nu, children, crawl, you should excuse the expression, into the wagon.
Gehenna was a mean-spirited blonde man, always angry at the world. He never uttered a kind word. He addressed everyone, young and old, by the familiar du. Why are you standing there like a golem? Are you waiting for respect or your inheritance? And maybe you'll throw yourself into the wagon already?
There were water carriers, blacksmiths, large heavy-set men with thick black beards covering their faces, always wearing high heavy boots smeared with pitch, simple folk, weak in Hebrew, who would kill themselves for an aliyah in kloyz, but they were all good hearty Jews.
On the other side of the sand pond on the road to Zhashkov, on the hill which went down to the waterside, was the cemetery, overgrown with thorny and burry bushes. The wooded slats of the wall surrounding it were broken and falling apart, the old wooden markers were crooked, fallen and covered with the green moss of generations, the letters rubbed out. But the relatives of the dead knew where their burial places were from the mementos they left behind at every visit.
On Tisha B'Av [ninth of Av, a fast day] and Rosh Hodesh [first day of the month] all the inhabitants of the town would come to visit the graves, to ask for help for the living. Meanwhile, the boys would collect burrs which they would then throw at one another in the synagogue during the reading of kines [Book of Lamentations and other lamentations read during the Ninth of Av].
At the border of the Count's estate stood the Russian Orthodox church. There the gentiles of the neighboring villages and farms would gather on Sundays and Christian holidays. They would leave their wagons in the market place, from the church up to the Jewish shops, unhitching their horses and tying them up behind the wagons, and then, families in tow, would wend their way to the church to hear the priest preach.
After the prayer service the gentile families would come to the market place and go shopping in the Jewish stores, which stood in two long rows, built of wooden weather-beaten boards. Sunday was market day, almost a fair. The gentiles would buy everything beginning with an A [e.g. a shirt, a spool of thread, etc.] and the Jews earned a living from the gentiles. In general, the local gentiles and the Jews got along on a friendly basis.
There were frequent fights after the men had drunk a great deal in the Monopol [government monopoly of liquor] near the whiskey shop, but the old town policeman, Sergei, would quickly make peace. He would cuss out the Russian Orthodox people who laughed at him and beat some of them with his club. Then they would once more crowd into the Jewish inns to drink and eat some good food, and Jews would again, thank God, earn some money.
The weekly fair took place on Tuesdays. Thousands of gentiles would come in their wagons to wheel and deal. They would bring their produce to sell to the Jews and they would buy their household goods, material for a dress or a kerchief, a pair of pants and boots for themselves and their children.
The town lay amidst ponds and forest and wide green fields, surrounded by a sea of gentiles who had lived at peace with the Jews for many years. On the Jewish holidays the peasants would bring their Jewish friends gifts of produce from their orchards and gardens, and fat fish from the river for the Sabbath. In the wintertime, for Christmas, they would come in the greatest frost and snow to bless their Jewish friends, pouring wheat and barley over them, as was the custom, and receiving in return halot [white loaves baked for the Sabbath. I use the Library of Congress transliteration for the Hebrew het. In England it is common to use ch.]
Who could imagine that these fine peasants would suddenly turn into cruel wild
animals, dreadful murderers, who would kill their old friends and destroy the
entire town, which had never done them any wrong. It is written, Do not
depend upon human beings, or as Tevya the milkman explained, Do not
trust a gentile, even in his grave. The hatred of Jews lies deep in the
gentile heart. As fine as exile is, it is still exile, not like being at home.
We should thank God that we have lived to see a Jewish state, the State of
Israel. Here we will not suffer from gentile brotherliness. Here no
gentile youth will set his dogs on Jewish boys, and here we will not hear the
derogatory Zhid or Sheeny.
by Yosl (Syuni) Golub
I remember my childhood years as if peering through a mist. I can see my first experiences, the wonderful beautful years in my sleepy little town, Stavisht, and then the nightmare changes, the horrible experiences of that time, the robberies and tortures and the burning of my little town of Stavisht.
I am still sorry that I was so young when we, together with hundreds of other residents, fled from Stavisht, and I did not experience any more of the golden days which filled my childhood
Now, forty years later, in the big city of New York, I recall the unforgettable scenes of childhood, as well as the bitter times, my last days and hours in Stavisht. When the rumors came that a new band that had destroyed and murdered all the inhabitants of Tetiyev was heading towards Stavisht, my parents grabbed the children and together with the rest of the inhabitants began to run along the road from the church to Belaya Tserkov. It was a long way. As I write these lines I relive the experience as if it had happened only yesterday.
From the church to the mill (from one end of town to the other) there was a highway, lined with small pillars on both sides and telephone poles every four hundred feet. There were footpaths leading to the houses and shops which stood on both sides of the highway. In the middle of town were a few inns, the government bank, and the Bet Hamidrash.
The town had probably gotten its name from the Ukrainian word "Stav" which means lake. I imagine that the many lakes in Stavisht had something to do with its name. Here in America the town would have been called Lakeland or Lakeside or Lakeview.
The Jewish part of Stavisht started at the Catholic church and went from the boulevard, the town park on the right and left of the highway which divided the town into two parts all the way to the mill. On the right side after the church was the town pump, where we got our water. From there the road led through the village of Raskashne to Zhashkov. This was also the road that led to the cemetery, to the government high school and also to the distillery.
On the right side of the highway, after the pump, there was an empty plaza. On fair days the gentiles would tie up their horses and wagons there and set out the products which they had brought with them to sell. They would also put up stands where they would set out their wares. Here onc could see pots, embroidered and knitted clothing, icons, and other village handiwork.
A little further down were the Jewish shops which sold manufactured goods, groceries, suits of clothing, and other items which village peasants could acquire only in town. A little further down, on the right hand side of the highway, there were butcher shops and a few fishmongers and some stores which sold flour, bread, and so on. Then came the bank, surrounded by a wooden fence. During the summertime the peasants would stand near the fence and sell fresh fruit, vegetables and berries.
On the left hand side of the highway across from the church was the police station with its few officers. Behind Yagovski's apothecary shop there was a gentile butcher shop that sold all kinds of sausages, pickled foods and conserves. Then came Smushkin's house and yard. Smushkin was the richest man in Stavisht. He had his own horses and wagons in his courtyard. A little further down were the inns. Here too were the establishments of Yankl Berdishevski, Yosl Grosman, Zelig Levinson, Gulba, Nehemiah the watchmaker, Hershl the maker of uppers for shoes, Reuven the tailor's inn courtyard, Solomon Golub's book store and house, Tetievski's inn courtyard, Potovski's inn courtyard, Rubtshanski's apothecary shop, Noah Wilfand's house and the Beth Hamidrash.
On both sides of the highway on the way to the mill there were many houses standing in a row. Others were scattered about, and among them a shop or a business. On the left side there was a house with a large porch, then came Alter Baltyanski's grocery store and the Talnoye kloyz. A little further from the highway, it seems to me, was Golditshe's house with the only telephone in Stavisht. Lower down were Binyamin Feinzilberg's apothecary shop, Dadyuk's house where the Hefets family lived, and further down was the town hall, where from time to time there was an exhibition or a film. Here I saw a film for the first time in my life, "The Exodus from Egypt." Somehere around here was the only photographer in Stavisht, Haym Leyb's inn courtyard, the Glants family lived there. Further down lived the Bisitski, Persyan, and Boyarski families and right at the edge of town , it seems to me, was the town apothecary shop. On the right hand side of the highway lived the Wilfand family Yank and Sonia and their parents, and right next to them was the Makarov kloyz and then came some houses whose owners I do not remember. I do remember the house of Shmuel Krentsel (the melamed). Then came the home of the dentist, Luzya the melamed's house, the Zaslavsky printing shop on a hill, the Marynovski house, the church, and further down I remember was a blacksmith, Yankl the blacksmith, it seems to me. Then came Gedalke's lake and then the mill. From here there was a road through the hillside to the tarelke[?] and to Tarashcha.
Between Golub's and Tetievski's houses there was an alleyway that led to the synagogue and Synagogue street. The synagogue was a tall red wooden building, the tallest in town , it seems to me. On Synagogue street lived the Fishlin family, Pitsie Sheyne's, the Golditsh family and Zelig Levinson, among others. Synagogue street led to Feldsher Trembitski's house and also to the Pshinke, the gentile villages.
After the Bet Hamidrash there was a little street that turned
left and led to the rabbi's house, to the Sokolovka kloyz and right to Barukh
Zeyger's house, to the Postrelkes, and to the neighborhood where stood the
little house of my first teacher, Moshke Vaysman. Exactly opposite was a heder.
Then, going downhill, there was the bathhouse and the town bathhouse--but this,
it seems to me, was already outside the town limits.
Shelomo Golub's father-in-law
There were wider and narrower streets with houses on both sides of the highway. There lived the shopkeepers, tradesmen, and artisans--tailors, seamstresses, cobblers, hatmakers, carpenters, coopers, tinsmiths, waggoners, porters, blacksmiths, and so on and so on.
Up from the church the highway went past the Count's estate and there were princely dwellings on both sides, then Doctor Garakh and the town judge with their fine houses and large gardens and the town hospital. Then the road led past villages, large and small, through fields and woods -the way to Belaya Tserkov (Shvarts Timeh) the largest city on the way to Kiev. It used to take a whole day and night to get there with a horse and wagon.
I remember the footpath from the highway to our house and to my father's book store. There were steps leading up to the porch and then one entered the store. We sold all kinds of articles in our book store. One could buy musical instruments, gramaphones, records, sewing kits, pen knives, cosmetics, candies, conserves, etc.
All of the town's gentile intellectuals, teachers, and students, nobles and peasants, all found what they needed in my father's store. We even received the newspapers from Kiev. Our Jewish customers bought Yiddish and Hebrew books, prayer books, and other Jewish [ritual] articles.
Our dwelling was in the same building as our store. We had about four or five rooms. One of the rooms had a stove which was heated in the wintertime with sheaves of straw. The stove provided warmth for the entire house. There was a large oven in the kitchen. It was a pleasure to lie on the shelf over the oven in the wintertime. That is why I loved the kitchen most of all. First of all, the fine odors of delicious food came from the kitchen where my mother and the maidservant cooked. When they baked bread or rendered fat the smells would permeate the entire house. The fragrance of cracklings, and of borsht, remains with me to this day. There were usually a few guests in my mother's kitchen, Yosi Mazerake, Itsikel the madman, or other poor people invited by my mother to partake of a meal.
There was a door from the kitchen to the storeroom, a large room full of logs for wintertime. Here too was the water barrel for household use, as well as barrels of sauerkraut, pickles, and sour apples. From this room a ladder went up to the attic. There, hanging from the ceiling, were dried fruits. Under a straw cover were fresh apples and pears. That is why the attic had the most delightful smells. I would go up to the attic from time to time to enjoy the aromas, as well as the heavenly tastes.
There was a door from the storeroom which led to Synagogue street. At the side was a door to the courtyard of our neighbor, Reuven the tailor. The courtyard was a large enclosed space with a high roof. Quite often peasants and waggoners or simple merchants would come to stay there for a few days and nights. There was a smell of horses and straw there. In the summertime my mother and her neighbors, Hayah Shakhanovitsh and Beyle Dorf, would make jams there on large brass trays. For us children this was a very important occasion and the taste of the jam has remained with me to this day.
Between our house and Tetievski's inn courtyard was a little street which led to the Synagogue street. In the middle of the street was a puddle which never dried up. Quite often, in the summertime and especially in the wintertime, horses and wagons would get stuck in it and not be able to get out. We could look out of a window of our house and see the horse and wagon stuck in the mud puddle. Sometimes it was Yankl Dantsis, the waggoner, or Velvl the porter. We children would run and look on. I cannot understand to this day why the people of Stavisht did not drain this puddle as well as the other mud holes which were abundant all over town.
I remember the twilight hours in Stavisht, when the gentile boys would drive the herds of cattle home from the pastures. We could hear the boys and girls singing on their way home after a day's work in the beet fields. Their singing could be heard throughout the town until it was dark and quiet all around. We used to sit on our porch and listen. The barking of dogs would disturb the quiet of the night. From the ponds we would hear the croaking of the frogs. When the moon was out it would light up all of Stavisht. It seemed to us that our footpath leading to the highway was also a path to the moon. The roads from our town led to a wide unknown world. But the center of the unknown world was certainly my little town of Stavisht. The highway and the footpath led directly to my house - otherwise the moon would not have shone directly over us.
We used to fetch our water from the town pump near the church or from the few wells in town. And it seems to me that we also had a water carrier who would sell water from a large barrel on a wagon. One could hire a gentile boy or girl to bring water. At the pump one had to turn a large wheel in order to bring up the water. The water was very cold, both in summer and winter. At the wells, one would lower a bucket with a rope, fill it with water, and draw it back up. Then the water would be carried home in two buckets attached to a wooden yoke which hung over one's shoulders. For most of the residents it was a long walk. But this was one of the acceptable discomforts of living in Stavisht. It was interesting to see the water carriers carry the water buckets without spilling even one drop of wter. This was a learned skill. Some of the water carriers did not even hold on to the yokes with their hands when they delivered water to the houses. When I was a young boy I viewed this as a heroic feat and wished to grow big so that I too could carry a yoke with two water buckets and not hold the yoke with my hands.
One of the local characters I remember was Stefan Visotski. He was a tall, well built peasant with lots of black hair. All year long he wore a tall black hat. In the summertime he sold melons across from our house on the other side of the highway. He would build a little shed to protect his melons and sleep there at night. From our house we could see the lanterns which lit up Stefan and his melons. When Stefan got drunk he would forget about his melons and he would roll in the mud, crying or singing, unrecognizable, covered with mud. But his melons were famous in town. Each melon squeaked when you held it in your hands.
I still regret the fact that my parents did not send me and my older brother Yani to a heder where all the Stavisht boys studied. Instead we had a private tutor, Moshke Vaysberg. I have nothing against him, but I would rather have gone to heder with all the boys my age. Every time I passed by a heder and heard the boys sing out the phrases from the Pentateuch in unison, I would feel a pang of envy. I wanted to be one of them, just like everybody. When I finally started to go to the Talmud Torah I began to feel like part of the crowd. My teachers were, as I remember, Luzi the melomed, Tsherpovodski, Lande, and, it seems to me, Yisrael Tsinis. My Talmud Torah friends made me forget about heder. Among my friends were Yosl Wilfand, Avraham Zeyger, Avraham Baltyanski, Naftoli Dorf, Binyamin Ganapolski, Avraham Rubtshanski, and a son of Lande. We founded a children's club called "Nekhde Tsiyon" [Grandsons of Zion] and afterwards "Yalde Tsiyon" [Children of Zion]. We had meetings and read aloud and sang Hebrew songs. Our town enriched our childhood imaginations with its natural beatuy, its gardens, fields, wood, lakes and hills.
I really did envy the heder boys. In the wintertime they would come home late at night and carry along lanterns to light the way, so that they would not step into the Stavisht mud holes in the dark. It seemed to me that it was a heroic act to walk home at night by the light of a lantern. I also envied the boys their hard soled boots, with which they could slide on the frozen puddles, which could take your breath away. Oh, if only my parents would have allowed me to wear hard soled boots, which the heder boys wore, how happy I would have been.
In the summertime the boys would go bathe in the lake or go to the Synagogue street where they and the gentile boys from the Pshinke would throw stones at each other. Sometimes they would go pick up wood chips or fruit in the police station garden.
There was a lot more to the holidays than simply going to the synagogue and breathing in the sanctity of the prayers. First of all, we did not have to go to heder or Talmud Torah. Every holiday had its own character. We would look forward to it all year long. Getting ready for Pesah, making the pots and pans kosher, helping father burn the unleavened bread, etc., the Seder with the Pesah foods, playing various games with nuts. There was no holiday like it for a young boy. Moreover, it was the beginning of springtime, and everything in nature was revived.
Then came Shavu'ot, with delcious dairy food, and once again we played games with nuts. On Lag Be-Omer we would prepare our weapons. Our "cannon" was an old lock with a an old nail tied into it. We used to rub the powder off the tops of matches, pour it into the keyhole of the lock with the nail, and slam it against a wall. Its bang could be heard all over town. Sometimes we would celebrate Lag Be-Omer in the tarelke[?] behind the town on the hill on the way to Tarashcha. Sometimes my close friends and I would celebrate Lag Be-Omer in Barukh Zeyger's or Lande's gardens.
And so, too, with the other holidays. We celebrated Hamishah Asar Bi-Shevat with carobs, figs, and dates, which we got only once a year. The High Holidays were more serious. First of all, there was more prayer in the synagogue. Then, on Yom Kippur, we would vie with one another as to who could fast longer. On Sukkot and Simhat Torah we were revived. We would build a sukkah and sitting in a sukkah meant dwelling directly under the Divine Presence. In the Torah procession we would carry little blue and white flags with an apple and a lighted candle on top. We would carry and kiss the Torah scrolls. For Hanukkah we would prepare little cards, drawing the pictures ourselves, showing our skill at drawing. We would play cards and spin tops. Then we would get Hanukkah gelt and eat latkes. At Purim time we boys were the leaders with our noisemakers and whenever the name of Haman was mentioned we would fill the synagogue with noise. Then we would come home to a festive meal.
That is why we looked forward to every holiday with longing. During the whole year we were kept busy in school. In the wintertime we would slide on the ice on skates or on the hard soles of our boots. We also had wooden sleds with which we would slide downhill behind Zaslavski's house. At home the stoves would be heated with sheaves of straw and the smoke would pour out of the chimneys up to heaven. The frost burned outdoors. When you pulled a sled behind you the snow would squeak under the runners.
In the summertime the Jewish students who studied in the big cities would come home for summer vacation. My oldest borther, Isak, was among them. You cannot imagine how I looked up to these young men and women who were gymnazium students. We had a wonderful group of students from Stavisht, of whom I remember these: Gedalyah and Isak Lande, Hershl Gorovits, Itsi Shadkhen, Shakhne Shakhanovitsh, Hershl Bisidski, Leyb Kubernik, Mutsi Volodarski, Brayne Shadkhen, Riva Fishlin, Gitl Faynzilberg, Sonia Wilfand. They made a fine sight as they promenaded on the boulevard in their uniforms with the gold buttons and their caps with the gold or silver crests. I idolized them, for they came from the big cities beyond the horizon, from the great unknown world. I wanted to grow up very quickly so I too could achieve the role of secondary school student from Stavisht. Unfortunately, it was not fated to happen. I did not get to be a heder boy with a lantern and hard soled boots, nor a gymnazium student returning home to Stavisht in a uniform with gold buttons.
But I did get to be something of a secondary school student, without a uniform, but with a cap with a Hebrew crest. My father, with the help of a group of townspeople, founded a Hebrew secondary school in Stavisht. Their goal was to keep the young people at home, so they would not have to go far afield to study. They imported teachers from some distance, set up a physics laboratory, and so was founded the first Jewish secondary school in the area, in our Stavisht. All subjects were taught in Hebrew, with Russian taught only as a language. It is impossible to evaluate what effect this institutuion had on our town. Unforutnately, we could not continue our studies for long. The dreadful events which came to pass soon put an end to this wonderful experiment, as they did to the lives of most of our townspeople.
Everyone in Stavisht was always busy trying to make a living, buying and selling, in handicrafts, etc. From time to time a cantor and choir would come from one of the big cities to appear in the big synagogue where the artisans prayed. We would listen to the chanting and derive great pleasure from it. I remember when the renowned Pinchik [Pierre S. Pinchik, 1887-1971] came and his sweet voice rose to the ceiling of the synagogue, if not higher. I envied the choristers. It was a great privilege for a boy to be a chorister, especially in the choir of a cantor like Pinchik.
On Fridays the shops would close earlier and business would cease. Then we would go to the bathhouse, and afterwards, with slow, measured steps, we would walk to evening pryers, --to the synagogue, or the Bet Hamidrash, or to the Sokolovka, Talnoye, or Makarev kloyz. My father and his three sons prayed in the Zionist kloyz. It was quite a long walk from our house. We would walk down the highway then turn right at the bank. I especially loved these long walks. Sabbath reigned all around.
The Zionist kloyz had the most comfortable and beautiful pews of any synagogue in town. When one faced the Holy Ark, one really felt he was in God's house. The prayer leaders were, as I recall: Shiye Moshe, Yankl Salganik, Yankl Berditshevski, Yankl Shumski, and sometimes also Yisrael Tsinis. All of these men led the prayers at one time or another and it was a pleasure to hear their chanting, and of course, [it must have pleased] the Master of the Universe.
The Jews of Stavisht lived with faith. When the fair came everyone was busy with commerce, buying and selling, with lively noisy merriment. The peasants from the surrounding villages would come to town to sell their produce and they would wander around from store to store to buy what they needed. They would set up their wares in the market place next to their horses and wagons. There was not an empty place to be seen from one end of the market place to the other. Our Stavisht wheelers and dealers would walk around among the wagons, looking for opportunities to earn some money.
The various sound of the fair, the shouting and bargaining of buyers and sellers, the cries of drunkards and the music of the beggers playing their banduras, the crying of babies, the neighing of horses, the barking of dogs and the lowing of cattle - all blended into a noisy symphony--the fair in Stavisht.
This is how the revolution arrived in Stavisht. They began by tearing off the epaulettes of the police and army officers. No more officers, all are free and equal. Then there were meetings and manifestos and everyone marched with red flags and bands. We heard speeches which promised a free and better Russia for everyone, also for us Jews. Groups of militiamen appeared, and everyone was addressed by the title "tovarishtsh"[comrade]. Night and day there were discussions about politics. Newspapers came from Kiev with screaming headlines about important events in Moscow and Petrograd.
The soldiers returned from the front with weapons. Often a soldier would get his merchandise without paying, because he had a gun in his hand.
The peasants sensed that the time had come to settle accounts with the wealthy. This meant the nobles and the Jews. One fine day, it seems to me it was a market day, they attacked the Count's estate, robbed and pillaged and burned everything down. I can still see the burning buildings before my eyes. They also robbed and pillaged the distillery. They carried the liquor out by the bucketsful. The peasants had barrels of liquor available for drinking
Rumors spread of pogromchiks coming from the nearby villages and towns. Jewish travelers were attacked on their journeys, robbed and murdered. Some of the dead were brought to Stavisht to be buried. A cloud of fear hung over Stavisht and we did not know what the morrow would bring.
In the early morning of the second day of Shavuot a band of pogromchiks came into Stavisht. Their leader was Zsheleznyak. We heard gunfire on the Tarashcha road and then in town. We heard steps running up our porch, and then banging on the door of our shop. No sooner had we opened the door when four bandits burst into the house, grabbed my bnrother Isak with revolvers in their hands, and told him to stand against the wall to be shot. They thought he was a Bolshevik. My parents and we children began to cry and beg them to let him live. My mother fell to the ground at their feet. My father put money in their hands, and finally, for a sum of money , they let him live. As soon as they left we hid him in someone's attic. Their leader, Voytsekhovski, stayed in our house the whole time the pogromchiks were in Stavisht. The "Zsheleznyaks" who occupied Stavisht killed more than twenty Jews. Among the dead were the woman dentist, Itsi Shadkhen, Hershl the cobbler's elderly mother, and others whose named I do not remember. They demanded a heavy tribute from Stavisht, of money and provisions - or they would kill all the Jews in town. Rabbi Pitsie Avraham Gaisinski, my father, and, I think, Binyamin Faynzilberg, called a meeting in the Bet Hamidrash and collected the money and provisions and saved the town from a greater catastrophe. Most of the Jews of Stavisht hid in attics and cellars. Others fled and hid out in the homes of friendly gentiles in the villages. Then the Bolsheviks came and we were able to breathe freely for a while. We were revived, but we did not feel secure. We did not know what the next day would bring.
During this time, various bands of pogromchiks passed through Stavisht and there were numerous Jewish victims. After Zsheleznyak's gang came the followers of Selyane, Makhnovtse, Zeleny, Petliura, and Denikin. When the Bolsheviks were in charge there was a bit of order and we could at least feel sure of our lives.
We heard news of the destruction wreaked by the pogromchiks in the surrounding towns. Tetiyev was completely burned to the ground and all its Jews were killed. Most of the Jews of Sokolovka were killed. We were afraid that there would be no where to flee. One night a small band of horsemen rode into town, arrayed themselves with guns in hand across the highway opposite the Bet Hamidrash, and demanded a large sum of money or they would kill the entire population. Once more the householders were called to a meeting and once more they redeemed their lives for money. I can still see in my mind's eye how a pogromchik led the rabbi and my father from door to door to raise the funds to save the town from slaughter.
We were in constant fear for our lives. We could not sleep through the nights. Whenever we heard a shot we would lock our gates and doors and run to hide wherever we could find a hiding place, in attics or cellars or with friendly gentiles, or in the field s and woods. Our family hid at the home of the teacher Shtsherbina, whose house and school were near the church. During very bad times we hid in his garden.
When we heard rumors that the pogromchiks who had destroyed Tetiyev were headed our way, many Jews left town. Whenever a shot was heard from the distance, parents would grab their children and run towards Belaya Tserkov. They ran for their lives, taking along whatever they could carry. I did not realize that this would be the last time I would see Stavisht.
We managed to reach the village Astramagele, where a Russian teacher, Mayestrenka, an acquaintance of ours, lived. We spent the night there, full of fear, because we were still too close to Stavisht. Jews were not sure of surviving in peasant villages in those days. The next morning Mayestrenka took us to Belaya Tserkov with his horse and wagon. There, in the big town, the Bolsheviks were in charge. We heard that Stavisht had been set afire.
There was no pillaging or murder in Belaya Tserkov. We
breathed a bit more freely. We spent the night under a roof, and without
hearing shots fired. We hoped for better days in the future.
by Isak Golub
My father, Solomon Golub, had a book store with a section for musical instruments, such as violins, balalaikas, guitars, harmonicas, and gramophones and records. Our home was in the same building. Since the gramophones and records required a lot of space an entire room of our dwelling was devoted to them. We had two clerks in the shop and a maid for the house.
I was the oldest of the children. At the time of which I write I was due to graduate from the Stavisht four grade school. The two younger children attended other schools.
It was 1916 and the First World War was on. There were battles on all fronts and the Russian army suffered one defeat after another. It was in constant retreat. The Germans had already occupied Poland and the Baltic provinces.
Since we had the only shop in town that sold newspapers, many people, especially the local intelligentsia, would gather there on the porch and discuss various topics literature, music, and the war. I remember how Luzi the teacher, Beni Mashanyanski and Beni Zunkov devised war strategy superior to what the Russian generals were doing on the front, on our porch. They used to say that Foni [derogatory name for Russia] is in bad trouble and heading for disaster. They would figure out every step and how long it would take before the Germans would occupy Stavisht.
Soon it was February 1917. There were rumblings in town. We were afraid to open our mouths. The police station was in disorder. The next day we found out that Czar Nicholas had been deposed and his brother, Michael, had taken his place. Shortly thereafter we learned that he too had been deposed and that the Duma deputy Kerensky had taken power and that the revolution had begun.
One can imagine what was going on in Russia at that time, as well as in our town of Stavisht. The Jews were immediately granted full political equality.
I graduated from our school and I began to participate in the revolution: marching with flags, singing the Marseillaise. We organized ourselves into Socialist clubs. Together with Pearl Rubin we organized a club called Hoveve Tsiyon [Lovers of Zion] in Yankl the wheelwright's home. We used to meet to read about the Land of Israel, the Balfour Declaration, and the French Revolution. (Pearl Rubin is married to Yisrolik Rubin from Ksindzifke near Stavisht. They now live in White Plains, New York.)
At the end of August that same year, I left for Tarashcha to attend the Real School [Science curriculum] there. There were others there from Stavisht Yisrael Alper, we used to call him Yisrael Heyzi, Reuven Fishlin, David Fishlin's son, and Aharon Banderov. (I have heard that Reuven Fishlin's sisters now live in Tel Aviv. I remember them as pretty young girls in Stavisht. Aharon Banderov is a doctor in Russia.) Mutsye Yaakov Yosef, the Rabbi's son, and Shelomo Rubtshanski studied in the gymnasium. (I have heard that Mutsye now lives in Jerusalem and that Shlomo Rubtshanski, now Rubin, is in America.)
In October the Bolsheviks under Lenin took over. They ceased participating in the war and demobilized the army. I remember the soldiers returning to town bringing with them what they could take away horses and wagons, guns, machine guns, and cannons.
In a few months a Ukrainian government was organized in Kiev, headed by Vinishinski. It declared its independence from Russia. There began a power struggle. There were battles between the Bolsheviks and Ukrainians. In a short time the Bolsheviks drove the Ukrainian army out of Kiev, and out of Ukraine.
This did not last long. With the aid of the German army the Ukrainian leaders re-occupied Ukraine and set up a new Ukrainian regime in Kiev. The Germans also occupied Stavisht. Everything went along at a normal pace and Jewish business prospered.
After the revolution in Germany, German power in Ukraine crumbled. The Bolsheviks took over again and life for us Jews became very dark and dismal.
Anti-Bolshevik Ukrainian bands were formed. Their liberation movement was aimed against Jews for they identified all Jews as Bolsheviks. After every defeat by the Bolsheviks, they avenged themselves on the Jews by pillage and murder.
While I was a student in Tarashcha, Passover 1918, we heard that a partisan group was approaching to take over Tarashcha, so I returned to Stavisht. I remained there until we left the town for good. The retreating Bolsheviks from Tarashcha, with many Jews in their ranks, occupied Stavisht for a number of weeks. After they left, we Jews remained without protection.
Very early in the morning on the second day of Shavuot, we heard shooting and before we knew what was happening, the town was taken over by the band which had left Tarashcha. A few thousand pogromchiks entered Stavisht.
At their head were two leaders, Zsheliznak and Voytsekhovski. Two Jews were murdered upon their entrance to town David from the Tshekhrayke [wool cleaning establishment] and Ben Tsiyon Batya Leah.
Several armed bandits entered our house. They put me up against the wall, ready to shoot, accusing me of being a Communist. My grandmother Beyla and my parents fell at their feet, kissed their hands, and begged them to wait until they had verified that I was indeed a Communist. I was at that time sixteen years old, and I knew about Communism as much as Arke of Stavisht knew about rabbinics. My father offered them as much money as they wished. As soon as they heard the word money, their hearts softened and they agreed to wait until an investigation was completed. My dear mother turned grey that day.
Later I learned that Mutsye Yaakov Yosef, the Rabbi's son, had been arrested and had also been accused of Communism, and that they were looking for Reuven Fishlin as well. He was hiding out at the home of the Peshinke priest Leyavitsh whose children were friends of Reuven's. After a day of suffering, Mutsye was rescued from certain death.
That same day the Jews were driven into the Bet Hamidrash. I remember that when my father and I arrived there was no longer room to stand. The pogromchiks surrounded the building with guns in their hands and demanded a very large sum as ransom, along with leather wear, food, and the delivery into their hands of all Jewish Communists.
There were no Jewish Communists in Stavisht. The local gentiles accused the son-in-law of Hayim Meir the water-carrier of being a Communist and he paid with his life.
Our beloved Rabbi Pitsie Avraham, along with a committee of the most prominent men in town my father Shelomo Golub, Binyamin Faynzilberg, Reuven Yagovski, Shalom Tripolski, Ya'akov Smushkin, and others whose names I do not remember were responsible for collecting the ransom. I spent the day in the Bet Hamidrash with my father. We knew that if the required ransom was not collected every Jew in town would be slaughtered. As it happened, when the same band came to Sokolovka, they murdered all of the young people in town, because the ransom was not forthcoming as quickly as they demanded.
The Stavisht committee gave them everything they wanted and that is how our town was saved. The bandits stayed in our town for a week. Then the Bolsheviks began to surround us, and the bandits had to retreat. As they were departing they killed 20 people. A battle began on the other side of town and the bandits started returning. As we saw them returning everyone, old and young, began to run away from Stavisht. We left everything behind, just ran for our lives. It was a fearful sight thousands of Jews running down the roads. My parents, my grandmother, Hayale Berozi, and we children ran down the road to Belaya Tserkov. Others ran towards Voladarke. After ten days in Belaya Tserkov, we returned to Stavisht. There were only a few people in town. Little by little more people returned.
That is how the Ukrainian pogroms began. Bands of pogromchiks were formed, with a few score members, with hundreds of members, and more. They struck fear into the hearts of the Jewish residents of the small towns. These bands had all kinds of names. They claimed that their goal was to free Ukraine from the Bolsheviks. Obviously, this was just lip service. Actually they robbed, destroyed, and killed whomever they pleased.
I remember when an armed bandit dressed in a Petliura uniform rode into town on his horse and demanded thirty thousand rubles threatening to kill everyone if he did not receive the money. He said that his band was waiting outside of town. He sat on his horse, gun in hand, and looked at the Bet Hamidrash, waiting for what he had demanded to be given to him. Naturally he received the money. He left town. The next day we learned that he had no band and that he had, on his own, fooled us into complying with his demands. The Jews were so fearful that they gave up everything they owned to save their lives. Thus one bandit was able to fool an entire town.
The years 1917 and 1918 were full of such experiences. One band left and another entered. They pillaged and murdered. Those who escaped with their lives were lucky. Stavisht was impoverished and there were many victims.
I remember one summer evening when there was a commotion in town. There was a rumor that a Bolshevik group led by Karanivski was near. The young people in town wanted to oppose the group, consisting of about ten soldiers. The young people argued that since the town owned some guns it would be possible for them to defend it.
Many people assembled in the streets. I stood next to my dear father. They consulted with each other about what to do. Suddenly we heard wild cries and shooting. We saw the bands riding their horses into town. Everyone began to run. My father and I did not have a chance to return home so we ran into an abandoned burned down house. We lay quietly on the ground so that we would not be noticed. We saw the bandits ride past several times, but they did not see us. We heard screams and shooting all night long. The next day we found out that the band had robbed, beaten, and killed twelve people. That night they killed the only dentist [female] in town. After the dreadful slaughter, a night watch of young people was organized. They were called Habkhad.
I remember the names of some of the young people in the night watch Luzer Golditsh, Leyb Smushkin, Bentshek Golditsh, Yosef Glants, Yehiel Snizshetski. (These now live in Boston.) David Zaslavski, Moshe Monis Maryanavski, Yisrael Rubin (now in New York). There were others whose names I sadly do not remember.
As time went by there were other incidents. The Bolshevik army retreated from Crimea and came through our town. They did not harm anyone. When the Denikin group retreated from Ukraine on their way to Odessa, thousands of them rode through Stavisht, but they did not harm anyone.
From these examples it is clear that we small town Jews were ravaged by bands of Ukrainians who had always been anti-Semites and had always hated us. The Russians regarded us differently. If there are any Jews left alive after the dreadful pogroms in Ukraine it is thanks to Russia, which saved them.
I remember when Tiutiunik came through town with a band of a few thousand men. We gave them everything we had. My father and the committee worked day and night, until they collected what the band had demanded. On their way out of Stavisht they killed a Jewish hatter, whose name I do not remember.
We were able to hold out until the local gentiles began to oppose us. Then all was lost. There was no place left to hide. We had to save ourselves by fleeing to the larger cities where there was some form of government.
Not far from our town the local gentiles surrounded the town of Tetiev. They killed all of the Jews and burned down the town. The towns of Pyater [Pyatigory] and Zhashkov were also destroyed. There was nothing left for us to do but to flee. We headed for Odessa. A few weeks later Stavisht was burned down and many Jews were murdered. I met many refugees from Stavisht who had managed to escape to Odessa. We suffered quite a lot in Odessa until we were able to leave Russia. After months of wandering from one town to another we arrived in Kishinev, which was then part of Romania. We spent two years there until we had an opportunity to come to America. We arrived in New York in December 1922.
My dear mother, Beyle Golub, lived until August 1951. My dear father also lived
a long life and died in February 1960. And I and my two younger brothers, Yani
and Suni, and our families live in New York.
by Aharon Shohet (Arthur Shechter)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In 1906 I was thirteen years old. I tried to study on my own, but even then I dreamed of coming to America. I could not realize my dream at that time. So I looked for a way to make a living so that I would not be idle. We were tenants at that time of Todros the maker of felt hats. His son, Itsie, married Feyge, daughter of Yisrael from the hamlet. All the neighbors were invited to the engagement party in the hamlet. We were in the same carriage as our rabbi, called Pitsie Avraham. He started a conversation with me. Where are you studying? he asked. When I told him that I was no longer a student, and that I was planning to go to America, but I was not doing anything meanwhile, he said, You know, teaching someone is also very meritorious. Then he looked around, for he did not, it seems, want anyone to overhear our conversation, and continued, You know, the bride whose engagement party we are attending, does not know how to read her prayers, and she has a younger sister who also does not know how to pray, so if your father and their father agree, you can remain here as their teacher, you'll get paid and you will also have a mitzva [merit].
I thought it was a golden opportunity. Firstly, I would earn money, become an independent person. Secondly, I would be in a village surrounded by nature, which I still love to this day. I asked the rabbi to arrange the matter as soon as we arrived.
It was decided. I remained in the hamlet. On the night of the engagement party I was in seventh heaven. The next day I got a good look at my students who were both bigger and stronger than me and I became a bit worried. The first day of studies they did not even want to look at me. On the next day Yisrael persuaded the bride to come to the table and take a look at the rebbe. On the third day the bride's sister, Nekhe, dragged her away from the study table to play with the gentile girls outside. They made jokes in Ukrainian about the Jewish rebbe. I was so embarrassed, I started crying. When Yisrael asked me why I was not teaching his daughters, I told him that they were making fun of me and did not want to study.
He told me that I would not be able to manage them with gentleness. A teacher has to be strict he said and if necessary, even strike his students. Well, even the thought of striking them scared me. One was a bride and the other was a big healthy girl. But still, I felt vindicated. After all, I was in charge, and I could, if I wished, hit…
On the fourth day I demanded from my students, quite sternly, that they come in and sit down to study. The bride was a bit more polite, possibly worried that her bridegroom might find out how she was behaving, and she sat down at the table. Her sister, Nekhe, did not want to come in under any circumstances. Even though she was bigger and even prettier than her sister, I went out and started to pull her into the house.
It even came to blows. But you know who got hit? I, the rebbe, received a hearty slap from a big healthy girl. Very embarrassed, and perhaps fearing another slap, I walked all the way home.
That is how I ended my career as a melamed.
Itsikl Itsikl the meshugener [crazy one] as he was called, was really not crazy. He was mentally retarded. He was very tall and strong, with wonderful black eyes, a black beard, and he was always happy and laughing. Only one thing could anger him. He used to help Moshe the old clothes dealer carry heaps of clothing out to the market. For this his recompense was a meal. The most important thing, however, was that he was trusted to so this delicate job. When the idlers wanted to upset him, they would say, You know, Itsikl, Moshe is planning to hire another 'meshugener' to replace you. Itsikl would become enraged, and with tears in his eyes he would yell and curse and declare that he would allow no other meshugener to take his place.
Itsikl seemed to know intuitively whenever there was a joyous occasion in town, a wedding or circumcision or engagement party, or even just a regular Kiddush [party with refreshments and wine to celebrate a holiday, Sabbath, or important occasion]. He would instantly show up among the guests, laughing his wild laugh, drinking le-hayim [toast, 'to life'] with the others, making crazy remarks, and sometimes even clever ones, which were then repeated all over town and greeted with laughter.
I remember when the richest man in town married off one of his children. Naturally Itsikl was present. The host, Motl Zaslavski, called him over and gave him a glass of brandy and said, Drink a'le-hayim' with me. Itsikl took his hand and said, Le-hayim Reb Motl. What can I wish you? Wealth? You already have it. Health, you have, 'beli ayin ha-ra'ah' [without the evil eye]. Pleasure from your children, you have as well. Only one thing is left to wish you. Next year, may you have my wits, and I have yours.
Naturally, everyone appreciated the humor of this remark. No one was ever angry with Itsikl, not even the host.
However, the Germans lacked a sense of humor. During the First World War, they
became angry when Itsikl did not halt as they had ordered him… [implication
that he was shot].
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