Kobrin had two other serious candidates and they were Rabbi Mordechole from Karlish (later the head of the Rabbinical court of Slonim) and Rabbi Eatzale Rabinovitch, who was the head of the yeshiva by the name of the Kneset Israel (Congregation of Israel) in Slavodkah. They were both known in Kobrin since they were active and lived close by Kobrin. Rabbi Mordechole was the student of Rabbi Pinchas Michael Groisglitin from Antipolia which belonged to the region of Kobrin. Rabbi Eatzale was born in Sharashovi region of Porozashani, which is nearby. He married the daughter of an estate owner from nearby Kamnitz of Lita, a region of Brisk. Rabbi Eatzale often came to Kobrin to talk Torah matters with his good friend Rabbi Zalman Sender Kahana Shapira. As it turned out, neither became Kobrin's Rabbi. Rabbi Mordechole became the head of the Rabbinical court in Ushmina and Rabbi Eatzale was accepted as the head of the Rabbinical court in Ponivaz.
The chief rabbi chair of Kobrin was taken by a candidate by the name of Chaim Berlin. Chaim Berlin was the son of the head of the Yeshiva of Volozin, the genius Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yahuda Berlin who was famous at that time among the Rabbis and the students. He was one of the greatest Torah teachers of his time. Rabbi Chaim studied primarily in his father's famous Yeshiva and also he studied a few years in the Yeshiva in Sheklov, the town of his father-in-law. When he reached 30 years of age in 1865, he was invited to be the head of the Rabbinical court in Moscow. He was the first Rabbi of that young community which officially received its rights from Alexander II. He was appointed to be a Rabbi and a teacher. Also his responsibilities included passing sentence and giving judgement concerning rules of kosher butchering (the slaughtering of animals which are allowed to be eaten according to the tradition and the forbidding of certain animals to be eaten). He was also in charge of bringing peace between parties. (See Hamagid from 1865, 16).
The Moscow community developed very quickly and became a center not only for
the Jewish communities in inner Russia but also for big towns which dealt with
the merchants of Moscow. The house of the great Rabbi Chaim Berlin gained a
great reputation among the Jews of the area. In the year 1884, we are aware
that he left Moscow because of various personal reasons. He spent some years in
Bialli (region of Shadlitz), the place where his second wife used to live,
which is close to Brisk.
From there he was asked by his famous father to come to him in Volozin in order to help him run the local yeshiva with money matters and spiritually as well. His father wanted to go and live in Israel and to leave everything concerning the Yeshiva in the hands of his son. In the meantime the authorities decided to close the Yeshiva in Volozin. Rabbi Chaim Berlin and the genious Rabbi Chaim Solovietzki, a Rabbi in the Volozin Yeshiva, left the town in 1892. A year later Rabbi Berlin's father died in Warsaw and in 1892 Rabbi Chaim Berlin became the head of the Rabbinical court of the community in Kobrin.
Although Rabbi Chaim Berlin hailed from opponents of the Hassidim, he was admired by the Hassidim in Kobrin. His preachings were most famous and the synagogue was always filled with people. During holidays and especially on Saturday night his place was filled with people. Even opponents like the Hassidim were drawn to him and listened to his talks earnestly.
In 1894 a convention of rabbis was held in the royal city of St. Petersburg. Prior to this, elections were held in the district towns. The Rabbi Aharon Yeshoshua Shafit (the son of the genius Meir Merim, may he rest in peace, the head of the Rabbinical court of Kobrin) from the district of the town of Grodna represented Kobrin as well. Two additional rabbis were elected to take part in the St. Petersburg convention, Rabbi Shmuel Mohiliver from Bialistok and the Rabbi of Kobrin, Rabbi Chaim Berlin.
Rabbi Chaim Berlin was very interested in the situation of the Kobrin community. He was particularly interested in helping the poor and those who suffered at the devastation from the big fire in 1895.
About that big fire, which hasn't been like it before and nobody
remembers a fire as big as this, (as it was written in the Hatzfira [1061
in that year by a witness to the fire], we have a few messages which were sent
from Kobrin to the Israeli media and to the close and other further away
communities to get assistance. That fire started on Shabbat evening when the
chapter of the week read in the congregation was Bechukotai. The chapter of the
week was read on the 23rd of Iyar at 12 noon. The source of the fire
was one of the center houses in the city. In a few moments it spread to all the
houses around the town. About 300 houses altogether were burned with all the
property. A few people were injured and one person was almost burned to death.
Unfortunately, the fire hoses were not in Kobrin that day. A day before they
were sent to help with the big fire that took place close to Brisk. Thousands
of unfortunate families were left without a thing and they had to spend their
nights and days under the sky.
Four religious schools were burned as well. Hasty help arrived from close-by towns like Divin, Yanova, Maltesh, Prozina, Antipol, and Shorshova. They sent food to the needy right away but for more help they had to ask all the Jews of Russia for assistance. In the paper, Hatzfira, for instance, from 1895 (106) we find this quotation: The town of Kobrin is appealling to the pity of everyone for the hundreds of its unfortunates. The elderly, the children, the babies, the women, etc. who are left without anything and who are staying on the streets naked, without food or any goods and property. Every heart is aching for us and feels for the catastrophe we are in. Please send us your help.
A special committee was established to help the victims together with the government's approval and participation. Mr. Ganatzki was the head of the committee and the head of the Rabbinical court was the spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The district minister also visited Kobrin and he ordered the treasury to donate 500 rubles from the meat tax. He also donated 25 rubles from his own private money to help the unfortunate. The rich people and the leaders of Kobrin who were not harmed from the fire also donated sums of money. Among them were Shmuel Solovietzik 100 rubles and Izik Birman 90 rubles. The main assistance came from other communities and from outside of the community. Two men were appointed as messengers on behalf of Kobrin to other communities. One was the Rabbi David Yaffe, who was a publisher in Po. (He served as the community leader for a year and he passed away in 1910). The one who accompanied him was very knowledgeable in Torah and a very charitable person, the Rabbi Aharon Vlodovoski.
Rabbi Chaim Berlin, himself, advertised.in addition to the letters he sent to
other communities. He also sent statements to the newspapers describing the
very sad situation with a special plea for assistance. We beg you for
help for the Kobrin victims in order that they can stand on their own feet.
And the Kobrin community appreciated dearly Rabbi Chaim Berlin's efforts to
bring help to the victims. As it was stated in the pages of
Hatzfira (117): As the rain and the light among the dew, the
donations kept coming to our beloved Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The Kobrin
community was afraid that because of the emergency situation in Brisk people
would ignore Kobrin altogether, but the opposite was the case. Kobrin received
an immense amount of money and other help. One has to emphasize especially the
assistance of the Bialystock community. In honor of-Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the
head of the Rabbinical court, the treasury minister, donated on behalf of the
meat department 3,000 rubles and also 400 marks from the righteous
Minister, Baron Rothschild. This money was primarily for food and
for purchasing equipment for the cutters and steel workers.
After Baruch Gerber's words in the Hatzfira paper, the second local writer, Shmuel David Andrinovski, also wrote in the paper Hamelitz (169) saying We thank Rabbi Berlin on behalf of the people of Kobrin and we also thank the communities which came to our assitance.
Following his hard work in Kobrin and after a brief period, Rabbi Berlin visited the city of Droznik for purposes of rest and recuperation. The Kobrin community learned that he accepted the offer of the Shedlitz community to assume the position of chief Rabbi there. This fact is also written in Hamelitz by that writer, who adds that it's very painful to lose Rabbi Berlin to the Shedlitz community. He continues and says, Is it fair to us to leave us like this in the midst of this great calamity? Rabbi Berlin resided in Kobrin when it was serene and nice but now when there is a crisis he deserts a community that needs him now more than ever. The writer urges him to return now before signing a contract with the town of Shedlitz. The urging helped only in part. Rabbi Berlin came back to finish assisting the fire victims and right after that he accepted the position as a chief Rabbi with a big community by the name of Yelisabetgrad in the south of Russia.
His reason for moving there and leaving Kobrin was very evident in the rabbinical world. His reason for accepting the post was to persuade the Jewish merchants in Yelisabetgrad to observe Sabbath, to close their businesses. Kobrin merchants were already observant of the Sabbath.
When the Rabbi Yitzchak Nisenbaum arrived in 1900 to Yelisabetgrad for the purpose of Zionist propaganda, he visited Rabbi Chaim Berlin and he reported in Hamelitz. When I came to Yelisabetgrad I first went to call on Rabbi Berlin in his office where he had an incredibly vast number of books. He sat there busying himself with Torah matters. This Rabbi left Lithuania and the learned and dedicated Jews of the town of Kobrin and chose to make his home among the Yelisabetgrad Jews. Since this community is growing in numbers and already has 20,000 Jews, he found it very important to come and teach them the Torah and the deeds of our religion.
Rabbi Nisenbaum voiced his personal opinions and said, The Rabbi's
intentions were good in that he turned Jews away from the sinning ways of life,
but still he found that he had a long way to go and he faced failure since not
many wanted to cooperate with him in helping change the ways of the
inhabitants. Rabbi Berlin seemed to regret having left Kobrin and he seemed to
be longing for the Lithuanian towns and its people.
He writes about these years with yearning in his many books, but although yearning to return he never did return to Lithuania. Although he was offered a position as a chief Rabbi in the community of Volkovisk, he declined it. He preferred to live in Israel and to make his home in Jerusalem, a place he had dreamed about all his life. In Jerusalem, as well, he was liked by everybody. After the death of Rabbi Shmuel Slant in 1909, he became the unofficial chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem. He also became the leader of the Torah establishments and the head of public institutions. He passed away in Jerusalem in 1913 and he was eulogized by every Jewish community throughout the world.
When Rabbi Chaim Berlin left Kobrin, the Rabbi question came up again. They decided to call upon Rabbi Mordechole to be their chosen leader, but nothing came of it. Rabbi Mordechole declined the position.
In the summer of 1896 there was another big fire in Kobrin. The local writer,
Baruch Gerber wrote in the Hamelitz that approximately 400 houses
were burned and over 1,000 people were destitute, spending their time outside
in addition to the many unfortunate from the fire a year earlier, who are still
homeless and wandering the streets of Kobrin. Again there was a cry for help
and one who answered that call was the Rabbi of Kovna, the genius Rabbi Hirshel
Rabinovitch (the son of the luminary Rabbi Elchanan), the head of the
Rabbinical court of Kovna, and again the community of Bialistok. In addition to
the help that the Bialistok community sent to the victims of the fire of the
town of Brisk, they excelled in sending help far more than any other community
to the victims of Kobrin. This is how the local writer described the
catastrophe in Hatzfira in 1895: Our city is an old one and built without
an architectural order. Now we will rebuild it correctly with wide open roads
and divided into specific neighborhoods.
Over the Position of the Head of the Rabbinical Court
Along with the exit of Rabbi Chaim Berlin from Kobrin at the end of the year
1895 and the fire tragedy, another turmoil occurred with reference to the
choosing of the new head of the rabbinical court of the Kobrin community. The
community experienced a division of opinions about distribution of the money
that poured in from the outside and differences of opinions as far as who to
choose for the head of the Rabbinical court. Since Rabbi Mordochole refused the
position, the local writer in 1897 in Hamelitz said that the town
had now been without a Rabbi for two years. Several times the townspeople met
to decide who would replace Rabbi Chaim Berlin, but without any results other
than fights and arguments.
The writer Shmuel Andrinovski told us that with everyone's agreement they chose the learned Rabbi, the head of the Rabbinical court of Chaslavitech, and he accepted the position of the chief Rabbi in Kobrin. The treasurer of the great synagogue in Kobrin, whose name was S. S. Solovietzek, was also among those who signed the invitation for the head of the Rabbinical court of Chaslavitech to come and accept the position. In the meantime, the Rabbi of Krakinavi (of the Zamot region), who was an exceptional preacher and who knew how to influence the people, preached to some of the Kobrin community and they were taken by him, including the Rabbi Cholovietzek, although his signature was on the invitation for the Rabbi of Chaslavitech.
The writer, Andrinovski, who favored the Rabbi from Chaslavitech, was worried about the situation. He opposed having two rabbis in Kobrin, a situation which could divide and demoralize the community. The group of the great rabbi which represented the learned rabbis in the town warned in the paper Hamelitz against selecting the Rabbi from the town of Krakinavi. The article mentioned that the opponents included people who were not learned and asked the Rabbi from Krakinavi not to accept the position. Among those who signed the warning letter in the Hamelitz paper were: Zvi Hirsh Zidevitsh, Chaim Levin, Abraham Yakov Kartzinelski, Leib Zelkind, Abraham Zvi Izraelzon, Al Palievski, Yakov Yosef Aetliz, Yitzchak Yosef Palaliak, Israel Baharav, David Shidrovitzki, Chaim Leib Lubin, Chaim Leib Katz, Pomerantz, Yerucham Yaffe, Shimon Privolski, Shlomo Leib Zaltzman, David Panizim, and Refael Rozenkrantz. All the above were established heads of families who owned their own houses.
The opponent group also did something similar in the paper Hamelitz
(163). They wrote that prior to the arrival of the rabbi from Krakinavi no
general meeting took place at which the decision could be discussed regarding
the selection of the rabbi of Chaslavitech, and those who wrote to him to offer
him the position did so on their own. When the learned rabbi from
Krakinavi came to preach in Kobrin he was outstanding and impressed everyone
with his wise words of Torah, therefore, after he left there was a general
meeting and the majority chose the rabbi from Krakinavi to take the post. Among
them were many learned leaders, Rabbis and ordinary people as well made the
decision. Hopefully, they wrote. This will end the
dispute and the community will remain a great one and a united one and
hopefully we will shine and live in peace, we in Kobrin and all the Jews.
There was a very strong reaction in a letter from the Hamelitz paper to that letter by the opponents. The writer of this letter, (which included 69 signatures) claimed that the rabbi from Krakinavi was invited here because of his relation to a certain visiting rabbi who lived for months in Kobrin. They wrote that this was not true. They claimed that the Rabbi Krakinavi stole the hearts of the people. This untruth is known in all the surrounding area of Kobrin, like Brisk, Prozina, and Pinsk, where all the learned people reacted with mockery and we are made the laughing stock. According to this letter only about 40 signed the letter of the appointment. On the other hand, among our people we have rabbis and learned people so the rabbi accepted the position. And those who opposed him were dividing the community, they claimed, and were trouble makers and have caused a situation in this city which we never had before.
The turmoil around those two Rabbis attracted the attention of many other Jewish communities. One of the writers of Hamelitz wrote a special article about the situation. In the end, the two opposing groups decided to make peace and to cancel both rabbis and to choose a third one. Some prominent people intervened, among them Rabbi Zalmand Sender, who was then the head of the Rabbinical court of Maltashi. The Rabbi for the Rabbinical court of Kobrin, who everyone agreed upon was Rabbi Meir Atlas. More details about the conflict of the choosing of the rabbis of that era was written by the author David Andrinovski in the paper Hamelitz from the year 1897, editions 175, 163, and 147. The famous Rabbi Aba Andrinovski was a relative of the writer David Andrinovski and also was a rich man and one of the owners of his own house. He was the owner also of an alcoholic beverage establishment and a store in the city.
Shimon Privolski died in 1901, and these words were written about him in
Hamelitz: In the town of Kobrin just passed away the Tzadik,
the righteous, the very well known and learned Rabbi Privolski. The deceased
was known as a great person, a giver, active in many associations in the town
of Kobrin. All the community eulogized Rabbi Privolski. The article was given
to Hamelitz by A. Bortinbaum.
Rabbi Meir Atlas was one of the great rabbis of that era and had great prestige
among the world-renowned and knowledgeable Rabbis and teachers of the Torah. He
came to Kobrin from Zamot, from the city of Salant, a place some of the most
famous rabbis and leaders hailed from. Prior to Salant, he served as a rabbi
and a publisher in Livoi in Korlandia. His father, Rabbi David, was one of the
most prominent citizens and an owner of an estate in the city of Veisgula, a
region of Kovna. He excelled in the knowledge of the Torah and was an avid
student of Jewish studies.
|Rabbi Pininke Shick
of blessed memory
|Rabbi Meir Atlas
of blessed memory
Rabbi Meir Atlas married a prominent citizen's daughter in the town of Talashi
and resided there for a few years. He was provided for and fed by his
father-in-law. Rabbi Meir and another learned student of Torah and Judaica by
the name of Rabbi Tzvi Yakov Openheim (later he became the head of the
Rabbinical court of Kellem) were among those who established the big yeshiva in
Talashi, which was taken over later by Rabbi Elazar Gordon. The Rabbi was
accepted there at the rabbinical court of the town in 1884. This yeshiva became
one of the most famous ones and one of the oldest yeshivas in the entire
Diaspora. Among the first students of that yeshiva during the reign of Rabbi
Meir Atlas who taught there (together with Rabbi Openheim) one has to mention
the learned and renowned researcher, Professor Levi Ginzburg. He was a teacher
in the Rabbi's seminary by the name of Solomon Shechter in New York in America.
Rabbi Atlas had a special way about him. He approached a very serious point, stood and did not move from the spot where he stood and debated and argued the suject.
In 1905, Rabbi Meir Atlas left Kobrin and moved to Shabli to assume the position of Rabbi Yosef Zachariya Stern. He died in Shabli in approximately 1925. We realize his importance among the geniuses of Russia by the recommendation of him to become the head of the Rabbinical court of the Ashkenazi Jews in Jerusalem. He was about to make aliya to Israel when the First World War started in 1914. Because of that war his aliya did not materialize.
During the years that he held the position in Kobrin, he was supported by his father-in-law, the genius and famous Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was a very prominent fixture among the heads of the yeshiva and among the pious Jews in the thirty years between the two world wars. He was a student of the Talaz Yeshiva and also a student of the Rabbi Chefetz Chaim, may he rest in peace, in Radin. He had a great impact on the students of the the religious school, in Kobrin and influenced them to study in the yeshivas in Lithuania. He was also popular among the Chassidim, and was especially admired by the great David Shlomo. In 1910, he was appointed as the head of the council in Brisk and between the wars he was the head of the council and the manager of the famous yeshiva in Barnovitz.
The second father-in-law of Rabbi Atlas was a Kobriner named Yehuda
Kahana-Shapira, the son of the genius Rabbi Zalman Sender. Thanks to the
recommendation of Rabbi Zalman Sender of Rabbi Meir Atlas he was given the
position of the head of the Rabbinical court of Kobrin and he came to Kobrin
directly from Salant (Zamot). Rabbi Yehuda passed away in the prime of his life
without having any sons. His wife received the Halitza, a ritual
removal of the sandal of her oldest brother-in-law, the Rabbi Abraham Dover,
the head of the Rabbinical court of Kovna, according to the law of the leverite
(obligating the brother to marry a childless brother's widow). After a while
she married the genius Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzanski fromVilna (from a second
marriage) as it was suggested and arranged by the husband of her sister, the
above-mentioned Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman.
Rabbi Shmuel was born in the town of Orla, near Bialistok (thus his name, Rabbi
Shmuel Orla) in 1825. He studied in a few yeshivas. He excelled in Torah
studies and was an excellent preacher. He acted in the role of Gemara teacher
for over forty years in Kobrin. Among his students one has to mention the two
sons of Rabbi Noach Naftali, Rabbi David Shlomo and Rabbi Aharon. He used to
preach chapters and lessons and talk about the Agada in the religious schools
in Kobrin. Especially he used to explain the Alshich interpretation of the holy
Rabbi Shmuel was a communal worker in Grodna and in the small towns. He also did propaganda for Eretz Yisrael. When the movement of Chibat Zion was established he worked for it as well. He was very anxious to visit Israel but his salary was not enough to be able to afford such a journey. Rabbi Shmuel found a way that he could afford to go to Israel when he reached the age of sixty. Being a teacher he recognized the fact that the biblical books were too long and difficult to comprehend; therefore he wrote a condensed translation of Rabbi Moshe Alshich's translation of the Bible. He published his condensed translation of the Book of Ecclesiastes in Lublin in 1885 with the approval of the famous genius Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Sloviechik (Rabbi Shmuel also asked the permission of Rabbi Nafhtali Tzvi a publisher from Brisk, who acted as a Rabbi in Rabbi Sloviechik's court). He also asked the head of the Rabbinical court of Kobrin, Rabbi Shaul Katzenellenbogen, Rabbi Pinkhas Shik, the publisher, the teacher, and also Rabbi Noach Naftali the grandson, the teacher, and famous Rabbi Moshe.
The genius Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi, the head of the Rabbinical court of Brisk, wrote about the writer, The knowledgeable Rabbi of the Torah and the God-fearing Rabbi who practices what he preaches. The publisher, Rabbi Nafhtali Tzvi from Brisk, wrote about him I have known him since he was a young lad when he was already a diligent student of the holy Torah and he was a full fledged believer and preacher of the Torah and its ethics.
Rabbi Shmuel, the head of the Rabbinical court, recommended the knowledgeable author Rabbi Shmuel who he said had preached and sermonized for forty years. (His recommendation is from the year 1885 although he began his work on the biblical text in the year 1846). He taught the Torah and its ethics in an eloquent speaking manner. The Rabbi and teacher Rabbi Noach Nafthali points out that Even though I don't usually act in the capacity of recommending books, on this one I did it with pleasure since the author deserves it. He continues to describe the author as an honorable man whom he has known for forty years.
The righteous publisher Rabbi Pinchas Shik's recommendation is interesting. He
also as a rule did not act in the capacity of recommending authors and books.
He wrote about the author, Rabbi Shmuel, my dear friend, was dedicated to
the Torah and its laws. He was a thoughtful God-fearing man. He asked
that I remember that years ago the genius and the righteous Aba Meri liked him
and appreciated him and praised him before the community. He said about him,
Everyone has seen his good work. I'm very happy to announce to the
community that his book is a new kind of writing which I have never seen
According to the introduction of the author, he was encouraged to write his book by Rabbi Shik and his son, Rabbi David, (who was a Brisk citizen and later made Kobrin his home town). Rabbi Shik mentioned that Rabbi Shmuel is trying to raise the money to go to Israel, the holy land, and live there.
The author wandered for more than four years from town to town until he raised the money to pay his debt incurred by the cost of printing his book. The remaining amount he used for the journey to Israel. He bade goodbye to his community and he, his wife and his young son, the Rabbi Yishaya Tzvi, arrived in Israel on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, 1891. He was sixty-six years old. He settled in the holy city of Jerusalem. He continued to teach the Torah in the Beit Yakov synagogue and became a communal worker and a treasurer and the money collector for the Horodna region (Kobrin, being part of Grodna, was part of that region). He befriended the author and the communal worker Yechiel Michael Pins and the Rabbi Arieh Leib Frumkin, who dealt with the agricultural settlements. They used to consult with him on the questions of how to befriend the old Jerusalem community and how to pacify the opponents.
Rabbi Shmuel died in Jerusalem on the twentieth of Adar II, 1902. He left
behind the condensed interpretation of Rabbi Alshich on the entire Bible.
In the year 1879, the genius Moshe Leib Ben Yechiel Michael received the
rabbinate ordination from the Krementshug community in the Poltava region. This
famous Rabbi used to live in the city of Konigsberg, the capital of East
Prussia (after he was expelled from Mohilov and Charson). He acted as a
spiritual leader to the Russian and Polish Jewish community there. When he went
to Krementshug with Rabbi Natan Levi, the head of the Rabbinical court of
Nikopol (in the region of Yakaterinoslav) they passed through Graieva and
Brisk. In the mean time, while on his way from Brisk, his destination, he
stayed in Kobrin and while there he took to his bed sick. All people were aware
that this genius Rabbi was now staying in Kobrin. According to Yehuda, the
caretaker of the academy of religious studies called Chayei Adam
(The Life of a Person), the genius Rabbi stayed in the house of Yasha Minkes
and all the city folks would congregate from early in the morning to late
evening in order to talk and to be blessed by this noble guest.
Next to him throughout all the time sat the famous young man, a yeshiva student, Rabbi Zalman Sender, the son-in-law of the host, and he engaged him in a Torah conversation. When his condition became better, the eldest of the community offered him the position of head Rabbi in the Kobrin community, since the position was vacated at that time, after the death of Rabbi Elinka Shik. Rabbi Moshe Leib Yechiel was happy about the offer, but he could not refuse the offer of the Krementshug community. He continued to Krementshug. However, on his way, when he was in Kiev, he became very sick and passed away on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in 1879.
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