This is the story of a vanished world, the shtetel of Antopol. The material for this presentation was gathered painstakingly over a long period of time by a relatively small group of dedicated people who wished to preserve its memory and heritage for the descendents of its martyred. More than a history, this story is very personal because our parents, grandparents and great-great grandparents going back many generations came from this community. This is also a place whose many sons and daughters in years past left to seek a new and free life. Many achieved success and prominence all over the world - the United States, South Africa, Argentina, and other areas of the globe. We are the fortunate descendents of these hardy forebears and pioneers.
It is hard to imagine that only a few decades ago there existed a vibrant, living community called Antopol, with its men, women and children; its market place, stores, schools. Beth medroshim (Houses of Prayer), orphanages, Gmilas Hasodim (free loan society for the needy), newspaper stands - all so familiar and so dear to memory. This little town was typical of hundreds of similar smaller and larger communities. And, like Atlantis, or some past people recounted in a saga, it suddenly vanished in the most bloody massacre in all of history.
But this presentation is for the living - to convey to us, the "she'erit" or "last remnant" of descendents, something of the heritage, spirit and, record of the life of this community which many of us know only in an abstract and detached way. The task is too great, and our resources too limited to write the whole story. This little volume, condensed and translated into English, is both a record and a personal memorial to a profoundly meaningful and warmly nostalgic past.
"Let us remember the day full of light,
The sun which gazed down on the bloody
The clear blue sky which saw but was silent,
And the hills of ash beneath the blossoming
We the Antopol landsleit, the bereaved orphans, who left Antopol more then 50 years ago and emigrated to far countries overseas, with the ardent wish and aim to extend relief to our parents and families, who were left behind in the old home, and numerous families did get relief at the end of the first world war by their children, husbands and relatives who remitted the first-aid through delegates, and since then many families and youths, with the help of American relatives, did emigrate to all States of America as well as to Eretz-Israel, with the desire and hope to send relief for their families and take them out of the Polish antisemitic regime and people.
Alas, to our deep regret we were too late and had not the privilege to let all our beloved join us, so that it has just been left to us - the orphans to set up monuments in their memory. We have already erected many monuments, and now, with the publishing of the nice Antopol Memorial Book we have set up a really great and magnificent monument. The erection of this monument has taken many many years, since I met the first rescued remnant from Antopol who arrived in Israel, from whom I got aware of the heavy disaster which had befallen us with the annihilation of the whole beloved Jewish community of Antopol, of blessed memory. Since then I started outlining the Antopol plan, marking all houses, just as I recalled them to my mind from the eve of the first world war, having contributed to the Book many articles which I had taken out of my memorial book, as I noted many years ago. I have also been active in demanding and collecting some material from local and American landsleit, who have very warmly responded in contributing plenty of material, pictures and money towards the publishing of this nice and monumental book.
Following our ardent wish and tendency that our Antopol Book should include contributions of our landsleit who knew Antopol, the writers and poets, who are capable of perpetuating the memory of destroyed Antopol, in eulogy and lamentation over the ruin and destruction of the Jewish Antopol community of blessed memory, and in this way publish the Memorial Book, in its proper form, and appearance. We shall, however, refrain from being arrogant and giving compliments to ourselves. We did it because this is our ardent duty and devotion for the memory and honour of our perished families of our dear townlet Antopol.
I highly appreciate the activities of all devoted landsleit of all the American Committees, with respect and gratitude for their nice and gigantic help and assistance, 'which continues already for over 50 years, and for their great help extended to our institutions, that all of us, Antopol landsleit in Israel highly appraise and appreciate with innermost gratitude, all that they have done. for us and for Israel, and especially for the magnificent Antopol Book. I express my special thanks to our devoted friends: Max Futerman, Leizer Wolynietz, Israel Pernik and to all those who assisted us to discontinue the protracted delay in publishing the Book.
Antopol is one of about 30 similar little towns in Polesia, the greatest marshes-area in Europe. The district lies 150 meters above sea level, at 52º11'N and 24º42'E. The town is situated between Kobrin, Drohichin, Radostov, Zafrod, near the great marshes which extend south, east and north-east, and occupy about 56% of Polesia. Antopol, like other similar settlements, lies on a small elevation of land, but in its immediate vicinity we find already the beginning of marshes, especially to the east.
There is no river near Antopol, but 7 miles from the town lies the Karolevski Canal, 50 miles long, 20-30 meters wide, and 2-2,5 meters deep. As long back as 1795 the Poles began the project, which was finished by the Russians during the Czarist regime. The Soviets in 1941-42 deepened and extended it in order to adapt it to the shipment of vessels carrying wheat to Nazi Germany, and bringing back coal and metal ores. These were the times after the treaty between the German and Soviet foreign ministers. In the winter of 1941-42 they brought to Antopol about 5,000 prisoners from Russian concentration camps, who extended the canal and also built an airport for military use.
The zone, in which Antopol is situated, belongs to the border of the plateau separating the Baltic basin from the Black Sea basin, A smaller canal, named after Oginski, 30 miles long, 12 meters wide was dug in the eighteenth century. A total length of 1,250 miles of other canals was counted in 1935.
The ground water is very high in Antopol. Many wells were dug in the backyards in town, especially in the years 1930-1940, when cement pipes were manufactured by a local citizen, Podorewski.
Climate and Precipitation
The climatology of Antopol is affected by its being situated in an enclosed
area, low and marshy, in a continent extending from the Ural to the Atlantic,
from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. The summer lasts from the end of May till
the middle of September, and the temperature is about 17.6ºC. In the
summer there are western and north-western winds, sometimes also storms with
rains. After the hot day come nights with heavy fogs rising from the marshes.
The winter is severe, full of snow which lasts three months, and the frozen water, especially in the marshes, serve for transportation. Spring is short, and this is the time when the marshes melt again. Autumn is usually a rainy season. Precipitation reaches 600mm per annum.
Geologically the soil has a granite basis with varying layers of lime and sand. During the Diluvial period the whole area was covered with huge glaziers. The granite hills prevented them from moving, and thus were formed the Polesian marshes. In these marshes began to grow layers of Torf, which occupy about a third of the area. In other zones we find layers of Kaolin and Black Soil.
Around the 15-16th century, after beginning to dry the marshes, they began to till the land in an orderly manner. Most of the good land belonged to different princes. In the 20th century, with the abolition of servitude the land was parcelled and colonization began in 1927-33. After World War Il the soviets established two agricultural groups (Kolhoz): Pervomaiski and Gubernia.
Wild flora abounds in the region, especially in the marshy region. Large areas are covered with forests, which occupy 25-32% of the region, with 65% pine trees, as well as other indigenous species. These forests are full with mushrooms and berries.
The agrarian flora includes: Wheat, barley, flax, as well as potatoes, onions, cabbage, garlic etc. In Antopol itself there were many plots tilled by both Jews and non-Jews. The Jews perfected their production of industrial crops, mainly two: pickles and ganders for export.
The region boasts of riches in fauna. Forest animals include all the known varieties, from bears and wolves to rabbits and beavers. Hunting was therefore very popular in the area. Also fowl is abundant, and there is a variety of 40 different species of fish, as well as insects indigenous to marshy areas.
The population numbered up to 3,000 in good times, but epidemics, pogroms and emigration did not allow it to grow. The majority were Jews, and the others were: Polishuks, Bielorussians, Russians and Poles. The inhabitants live in primitive huts, wore hand made clothes, until manufactured goods arrived. Their countenance is pale, long oval faces, wide foreheads, straight noses, auburn hair. Quiet people, speak little and calculated, patient, conservative, not industrious, and in spite of availability of water - unclean. The adults often sleep on the furnace. The prevailing religion is Pravoslavic, but the peasants believe in many superstitions. Poles began swarming into the area in the 16th century. In various periods their immigration increased or decreased. After World War I immigration increased and with this wave came also the postman Chrominsky, the cursed hangman of Jewish Antopol,
ANTOPOL (Antipolie, in the Jewish slang). is situated near the railway Pinsk-Kobrin, 8 kilometers east of Horodetz and 28 kilometers west of Drohichin, in the subdistrict of Kobrin. district of Grodno.
The town is part of Polesia, known for its vast marshes and forests. Antopol is therefore known by its nickname "marshes of Antopol".
Near Antopol, on the west side, there used to be a large forest beginning from the road to Kobrin. To the south, on the road leading to the village Rusheve, there was another dense forest. In these forests used to roam wolves and bears, as well as dangerous snakes.
It seems that ancient Antopol began to develop from the Kobrin road, where the forest ended, and stretched until the site of the old cemetery, which by religious law was outside the town limits.
When was Antopol founded? When did Jewish settlement begin there?
There is little documentation, which can be relied upon, and we must contend ourselves with assumptions that Jewish settlement in Antopol began about 1604.
According to documents in Polish, the town is mentioned in relation to the building of a monastery around 1718. In the same documents it is mentioned that the good lady Antonina Zamoiska built the monastery, and the town was named after her - Antopol, Antonina's town (=polis in Greek).
Changes in Government
The region of Polesia has undergone many occupations, following revolutions and counterrevolutions. In 1315-1341 Polesia was conquered by the Lithuanian archduke Gdimin.
After the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1386, the Lithuanian archduchy opened its gates to Polish culture, and especially to its Roman Catholic religion. The Roman Catholic church extended its influence everywhere. Gradually and successfully it completed the Polanization of Polesia. This situation aroused the anger of the Cosacks and caused the famous Chmelnitzky Rebellion.
The Cosacks looted the country for two years. Much Jewish blood was shed in those two years in Polesia, until the Polish -army drove out the rebels.
In the spring of 1706, the Swedes, led by Karol XII declared war on Poland, but the marshes of Polesia caused them to withdraw in the same year.
History does not give us details about the fate of Antopol Jews in those years, but in Jewish folklore there remained the saying "it remembers the Swedes" as signifying an old story.
Poland was saved and remained intact until 1772, the year of its first partition. In 1793 1795 Russia annexed the districts of Minsk, Vilno, and Grodno. The district of Grodno contained the following 8 sub-districts: Grodno, Lidda, Novogrodsk, Slonim, Volkovisk, Prozhani, Brisk, and Kobrin. Antopol was then part of the subdistrict of Kobrin.
In the 1812 Franco-Russian war, Antopol also took its share of misfortunes. During the battles in the town the inhabitants suffered much and the Jews most of all.
The Polish residents were not happy under Russian rule, and tried twice to rebel against the foreigners, in 1830 and in 1863, but they failed in both attempts.
These Jews supported the Poles. They provided them with food and shelter, even though the Poles did not forget in the Jewish shelter to shout at their saviors: Filthy Jew, take off your hat!
The Russians did not forgive the Jews for harboring the Poles, and punished them very hard for their support of their enemies. Punishing Jews was an easy undertaking under Czarist Russia.
The land of Antopol and environs belonged to the squires, the noble landowners, and the Jews used to pay taxes. In 1904 the Jews paid taxes to Lady Sofia Dmitrivna Voitosh. Her property in land was immense and her business manager was an Antopol Jew by the name of Mordechai Sheinboim, through whose initiative she did for the Jews of Antopol many favors.
The region had been resting from wars about 100 years when World War I broke out. In the summer of 1915 the Germans conquered Antopol. Many Jewish houses were burned down and the Jews settled in the houses of the gentiles who had fled to Russia. The few Jews who remained reorganized life in the little town but the German rule was very strict. The young people were hurt most of all. They were seized and sent to labor camps. The German conquerors began to establish German public schools to spread the German language and culture.
Antopol was under German rule until November 1918 when the Germans began to return to Germany. Anarchy spread in town. When eventually Antopol was annexed to the new Poland, "legal" terror began to reign. The Polish regime protected the terrorists who continued to loot and riot. Later Antopol became a zone of fighting between the Russians and the Poles. In 1919 the Bolsheviks arrived in Antopol and they began to introduce their "new order". They did not stay long and the Poles returned to Antopol. Upon their return they avenged themselves on the Jews who suffered much during this period.
The region began to quiet down, and the population began to rehabilitate its life, when Poland and the Bolsheviks began fighting in July 1920. At first the Russians succeeded in getting to the gates of Warsaw, but finally the Poles repelled them. In the meantime the soldiers of General Belachovitz, leader of the White Russians, join forces with the Poles. This union is written with blood and tears in Jewish history.
In 1921 a truce was signed in Riga and Antopol was incorporated in Poland. The Polish government introduced strict laws against the Jewish people, including compulsory education in Polish schools and service in the army. In spite of that many Jews excelled themselves in their army service.
When World War II broke out, the Bolsheviks took over Antopol and environs.
The Soviet regime lasted, for better or for worse, until June 1941, when the Nazis crossed the Russian border and conquered all of Poland and the Ukraine, on their way to Moscow and Leningrad.
Under the Nazis, the Jews of Antopol were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned in a ghetto, but they did not surrender. They fought back, joined the partisans and took an active part in the underground. But eventually they were executed and murdered by the cursed Nazis.
In July 1944 the Red Army reconquered Antopol, which is now incorporated in the district of Kobrin in White Russia, but her Jews, our dear families are no more. Thus came an end to Jewish life in Antopol.
Economic Life in Antopol
We do not know much about economic life in old Antopol. We also lack information about its Jewish population in those years. Nevertheless we know that the Jewish population was constantly increasing.
About 200 years after its establishment in 1847 the Jewish population numbered 1108 inhabitants. By 1860 they increased to 1259 out of a general population of 1563. If we take into account the fires in town which drove away many people, the net increase is remarkable.
In 1897 the Jews were already in the majority, 3137 out of 3867. In 1904, when the total population numbered 5235, the Jews accounted for at least half that number. During that period the town developed, roads were extended and the side streets were inhabited by Jews.
What did the Jews do for a living? What caused them to spread out? Most Antopol Jews tilled the land, grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cucumbers etc. Those agricultural workers were called Morgovniks and worked the land in the back of their houses, especially along the roads to Pinsk and Kobrin. Some worked by themselves and others employed gentile hired workers. The vegetables were loaded on wagons and sent to the markets in nearby towns.
In the beginning of the 20th century an industrial crop came to the fore - pickled cucumbers, which were stored in cellars to protect them from the cold. Later they were sent as far as Warsaw.
The second agricultural industry was the goose trade. They used to import them from far away Russia, feed them and raise them in special "poshornies". When they became fat, they were transported to Lithuania or to Germany.
Merchants and commercial agents from other towns used to come to Antopol, and Antopol merchants were also constantly going to Vilno (capital of Lithuania).
There were also other enterprises in town, such as mills, brick factories, lime factories etc. In the middle of the town stood the market place, numbering 42 stores.
On Sundays the inhabitants of the neighboring villages used to come to Antopol for the weekly fair to exchange goods in the local market which attracted also merchants from far away. There were also two yearly fairs which were famous all over the region.
In 1840 when the Royal Canal was dug from Pinsk to Horodetz, a local Jewish contractor supplied workers for the project. In the 1880's, the Lifshitzes, famous forest traders, supplied lumber for a regional railway.
Another large project was the road between Horodetz and Antopol in 1908-1910. This road gave Antopol access to the Horodetz railway station.
A traders loan association began operating in Antopol in the beginning of the 20th century. Merchants were granted loans without interest from its bank. Its chief accountant was Peretz Gurewitz.
In the period between the two world wars a Gmilus Hassodim Fund was established following the initial hearty contribution of Mrs. Esther Cornblum from the U.S.A. This fund was a significant aid in the economic development in Antopol.
About 1928 a bus line was inaugurated, connecting Antopol with Kobrin, thus
helping also the trade of the town. In 1935 a small power station was
constructed to supply electricity and power.
The U.S.A. was an immense source of income for Antopol. Many men who had emigrated to America used to support the families left behind. After World War I the amount of aid increased, especially when the Polish regime proclaimed restrictions on the Jews.
Two waves of emigration began then: One to Israel and the other to South America. The Jews who emigrated from Antopol were the ones who remained alive to tell the world of the destruction of their birth town and the murder of their families by the Nazi inhumans.
Culture in Antopol
Antopol, like many other Jewish towns in Polesia, was a religious town. Religion was the framework for everyday life. The rabbis were the leaders in all walks of life, and everything went by religious law. Even some young people who "went astray" did so within the religious sphere. Such a man was Dr. Israel M. Rabinowitz, son of the rabbi Moshe-Hirsh, who went for secular studies, and became known as the translator of the Talmud into French.
The thirst for knowledge spread more and more, and the public demanded teachers for Hebrew, Russian, and mathematics, and when they were brought - they had an increasing number of students for these subjects.
The social movements during the Russian revolution had a great influence in Antopol. Antopol Jews tell about Fradel Stavsky, one of the organizers of subversive activities in town. She was exiled to Siberia. Zionist movements followed and many young people joined them.
Young boys and girIs learned also in Russian public schools and continued in high schools in Brisk and other cities.
The traditional Heider was reformed by Reb Aharon Lifshitz (Lief). The reformed Heider was later followed by another one established by Reb Israel Wall-Wollowelsky, who introduced also a teacher for the Russian language.
A private school for girls was conducted by Mrs. Teibe Shagan. Also private teachers were brought to teach languages and sciences.
After World War I a Hebrew School Tarbut was founded, in which Hebrew was the current language. There was also a library called "The I. L. Peretz library".
Talmud Torah schools and Yeshivot were opened in town and Jewish studies gave the tone until the Soviets closed the schools and the Nazis executed the population.
Colonies of Antopol Jews
Jews from Antopol spread also over Russia and Poland. Already in the 1880's there were famous branches in Kishinev and in Warsaw.
An important center for Antopol emigrants was the U.S.A. Although it was far away, one had to prepare a passport, cross frontiers, and travel by boat 2-3 weeks, and upon arrival they could not observe religion as they used to back home, but the desire to wider horizons overcame everything. They used to come to New-York and Chicago, and other metropolitan cities, where they could make a living and build a home, but people went also to Brownsville which was nicknamed "Jerusalem of America" on account of its Jewish population. There they established a union with emigrants from Kobrin and Horodetz called "Hevra Gmilus Hassodim Agudas Achim Anshei Kobrin, Horodetz and Antepolie".
One helped another to settle in the new country, but some did not find their place and returned back to the old country.
Many of Antopol immigrants in America advanced themselves in American industry, like the Farbers in silverware and Margolies in gas stations. In music we all know: Cantor David Putterman who was dean of the cantors association, and Roberta Peters (also a Putterman) star of the Metropolitan Opera in New-York.
In science Antopol is represented by: Prof. P. Berman, who was director of the large hospital in Pasadena; Dr. M. Kletsky, for many years chief dentist of Arbieter Ring and contributor to professional magazines; Prof. Herbert L. Henderson, who took an active part in the development of the first atom bomb.
Antopol Jews have earned prominent places also in Chicago. They established organizations and various associations. Their synagogue in Chicago was famous in the city. Rabbi Jacob Greenberg founded the "Beit Midrash LeTorah" in Chicago and presided over the institution all his life.
In Argentina there is an, important chapter of Antopol landsleit, especially in Buenos Aires, and it is said that they were of the first immigrants there.
In the building of the State of Israel the Jews from Antopol wrote (and are still writing) a brilliant chapter.
The Holy Land was always the dream of the Jews in Antopol. Already 200 years ago they began coming to Israel. Seventy Hassidim of the followers of Hagra came to Zefat in 1808. Others came individually in the same century, like Reb Moshe Ben Akiva and Reb Moshe Zvi, Reb Benjamin Yahalom and Reb Jacob Benjamin, Reb Nethaniel Haim Pape and his family, and the whole Saharov family.
In 1960 our dear brother, the late Prof. P. Berman wrote a letter to the governor of Antopol. In his letter he inquired what had become of his birth town. After two years came the answer in the form of a newspaper article in the local paper published in Minsk, capital of White Russia.
The reporter described a Jewish citizen named Isaac Berkovitz, who told him about the suffering of Bielorussians, Jews and Poles. He did not point out that the ghetto imprisoned only Jews and that the Nazis killed all the Jews with the help of the local population.
He tells happily about the progress which the Soviet regime brought to town. He tells about schools, libraries, bookstores etc. but no Hebrew or Yiddish is mentioned, because no Jews were left to enjoy it.
There is a church in town. But where are the synagogues and the prayer houses? Why does he not mention any of them?
And so, with this report we seal a 300 years chapter of the Jewish community in Antopol.
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