by Moshe Vratinitzki
To the memory of my family
Seemingly, almost everything that was written here for the memory of Kobrin also includes the suburb Zemochevitz. But I think that it is worth while to devote a few words to the small and noisy suburb of Zemochevitz.
Zemochevitz was more important than greater Kobrin, more important from various points of view. All the connection with the external world was through Gontzarski Street in Zemochevitz because the train station was at the end of that street.
From the economic point of view, Zemochevitz was important to the development of Kobrin because of the leather factory and other factories and brick factories and a few other industries whose products were sent to other parts of Poland. In a cultural sense also Zemochevitz had something to do with Kobrin. A great and important part of the dear and idealistic youth was from the suburb of Zemochevitz.
I would like to devote a few words to the important homeowners in Zemochevitz
who deserve that their name will be remembered in a book about Kobrin: R' Aaron
David, the distinguished slaughterer; the dear and lovely cantor, Sander Baruch
Biltzki, who would make our hearts tremble with his pleasant and mighty voice
during the high holidays; the big family Pinchuk, that gave us many people who
had a lot to. do with the development of Kobrin in various areas; Shalom
Pinchuk who had the brick factory; Feibel Pinchuk, one of the sextons of the
Russian synagogue; Itche Pinchuk, one of the leaders of Poalei Zion,
an honest and good person; my late father, Shlomo Zalman Vratinitzki, who was
beloved by all because of his honesty, a man of truth. Honor to their memory.
by Chana Stolovitzki-Markuza
Kobrin, my lovely poor little town, my little town Kobrin! Forgive me for calling you small. It is not because you are small in area but only because of my excitement toward you that I will call you my little town, Kobrin! I loved you from close and I was proud of you from close. Your poverty hurt me and I rejoiced in your celebration. Even then, when one is blinded by childhood fantasies, by youthful dreams and when it seems that the house of father and mother becomes narrower and when the lovely little town is boring and when the great and wide world ambushes you and pulls you without your knowing it, on the day of separation, maybe then there is a quiet hurt in the depth of your heart because of the separation from you.
And in the distances, in the great world, thousands of kilometers away, when we are separated by land and sea, the longings are great and difficult. One looks for a hidden corner that a stranger's eye will not see and the sadness bursts out in a quiet cry that expresses the pull and the longing toward you. And my tongue will not tire of telling about you and of being proud of you. A tremble of joy attacks my entire being when I hear the name Kobrin! The longings are not diminishing. On the contrary, during the years they have become stronger and stronger.
And now, my poor little town, when you do not exist anymore, when you were destroyed so cruelly with everything that was holy and dear in you. There are shadows coming in, memories that are bound to you, Kobrin!
Winter, 1922 The train station in Gorodetz. Because of the snowstorms the train from Pinsk came late to Kobrin. When I was waiting in the booth that served as a temporary train station, an older man spoke to me. He looked partly like a Goy, fancily dressed, a merchant in the neighboring little towns. When he heard that I am from Kobrin, he said: Nu, a small and somber little town. I was angry and I retreated. According to his words he came to sleep in Kobrin and he knew only the area of the hotel that belonged to Abramovitch and up to the coffee house of Yagodzinski.
As a compensation for the insult to my town I offered to show him Kobrin. I led
him and showed him the beautiful surroundings. I was not too lazy to rebuke and
to tell him how happy I was when he promised me that he indeed did not know
that Kobrin was not so small and also was pretty. If he really believed what
his lips expressed I do not know, but I was very proud and happy that my Kobrin
was pretty and charming to that city man.
August, 1927 Paris at the German consulate. I was standing in line, the Polish passport in my hand, to receive a visa to Poland. Behind me a short woman, pretty, dark-haired, addressed me suddenly in Polish and asked me where I had come from. I looked at her, surprised. How should I tell this strange woman in Paris in the home of the German representative that I am from Kobrin? But in the end I did tell her that and how surprised was I when she told me that she was also from Kobrin. I looked at her unbelieving. Who is she? (I did not even think that she was a Christian). According by her dress, by her walk and speech, she was a daughter of noble people. I shrugged my shoulders. I did not know who she was. She explained to me that she was the wife of the nobleman Novomieski. A stream of warmth and excitement arose in me towards that Christian lady. She was from Kobrin!
On the way we drove together, I in the third class car and she in the fancy car in the first class. When we met one another we smiled at one another in a lovely way as if we were relatives from many days before.
Summer, 1937 Jerusalem. In the home of a Jewish personality. His wife is
a Christian, an English woman from London. To her, of course, I can not say
that I am from Kobrin, but still I told her, and how happy I was when she told
me that her husband was from Pinsk and that sometimes he mentions to her what a
happy and cultured little town Kobrin was. Who can compare to me? A warmth of
tears flooded my heart when I heard this from a distant and foreign person
about my Kobrin. So the memories come from the depth, some important and some
less important, and when I had something to be proud of, my sweet little town,
and now when everything is vanished and uprooted, the love and the longing
toward you, our beloved town, have become even stronger. I have not sung to you
before. I have not immortalized you in song but now after the cruel
annihilation I cry over you and my soul is hurting. My lovely little town, my
poor little town, Kobrin!
by Malka Levin
I remember Kobrin since the year 21, after our family settled in Kobrin. My father was Joseph, a tall Jew with clever black eyes who experienced a lot during his life time and after various wanderings he moved to Kobrin. My mother, Menucha, was of average height with a face white as snow, her blue eyes expressing softness and delicacy. Aside from myself and my older brother Nechemia, we had two other younger brothers, Shlomo and Yakovke.
From the day that I came to Kobrin I was a member of the Chalutz. Itzi, Bentzi, Yechiel, Yakov, Pesach were the lecturers in the Chalutz at that time. Pesach taught history. The geography of Palestine was taught by Pintze, literature by Yechiel, and a review of the press given by Bentzi. Itzikel Tenenboim lectured on political economics. In the evenings we assembled in the auditorium which was in the market in the center of town. There everyone would express their opinions about our desires and his vision as far as Palestine. When we came home we were immersed with vision and filled with the atmosphere of Palestine. I divulged a secret to my mother, that I wanted to go to Palestine. And what will you say about that? my mother cried with tearing eyes. Won't you be lonesome for us? It was difficult for me to decide and I fought myself over my future.
I remember on the fifth day when we came into town I addressed the teacher Alkon and I asked him to teach me Hebrew. He said that he was very busy and only at ten at night could he find the time to teach me Hebrew. I studied Hebrew with him and literature, history and the Bible.
I can see the image of the teacher Alkon, his fiery and brilliant black eyes, his excitement about studying the Bible and speaking about Palestine.
When I came home my good mother already waited for me and prepared for me something to eat and with a trembling voice asked me if I indeed planned to travel to Palestine. And when I lay in bed my mother still stood by me, looked at me in quiet sadness and felt the bed as if she wanted to prove to herself that it was soft and well made. Father looked at the whole issue of Palestine like a fairy tale and jokingly asked: With these children, build the country?
My brothers learned Hebrew and they participated in action for the National Fund. On Lag B'omer the celebration was felt in town very strongly. There was a march in the street and from there to the forest and happy songs came out from everyone. After a time I started with friends, boyfriends and girlfriends to prepare for the way. My mother was quiet and only from time to time would she sigh without saying anything and her good eyes express endless sorrow as if her heart prophesied that there would come a disaster which would put an end to all this. The cruel hand of fate landed on her and my mother was destroyed with all the martyrs of Kobrin.
Three years I spent in Kobrin until I went to Palestine in 1924. I remember the
fresh morning when the gentiles, men and women, would come into town in their
wagons covered with hay.
Before they even reached town some women dealers would meet them and buy eggs from them and chicken and butter. The peddling women would come back laden with full baskets to sell their wares to the women of the wealthy homeowners.
The petty merchants started opening their stores that contained flour, salt, matches, soap, oil, sugar, tea, herring and various groats. Jews ran to the synagogue with their prayer shawls under their arms and when they came back they looked for something to make a living. And there in that corner were the carriages that waited for passengers so as not to miss the arrival of the train. Children, their school bags on their shoulders, ran to school. The town was full of people. Jews led their cows to graze. There were also Jews who had little huts to sell soda. They sold soda water and little pieces of chocolate. The artisans went to their workshops. In the summer the youth spent their time in the nice places of Kobrin, the Botshavanik and Kliptzina, on the road toward Voldova and the Polish cemetery.
The friends that were in my group were almost all destroyed and only a few who came here survived. In 1931 I visited Kobrin and I was there for a year among my family. I cannot forget my town and I'm carried as if on eagles wings to the place of the graves of my forefathers and relatives.
All those dreams and aspirations live fresh in my mind, the Jews of the town,
my family and relatives, and I will be consoled in the building of our country
and in immortalizing my town Kobrin.
by Chaim Appelboim
I'm on the bridge that spans the Mochevitz and divides the city in two. I'm leaning on the railing on the east side and lower my gaze to the churning water when the stream comes between the two ice breakers on the bridge. On the horizon you can see the train bridge with its green-colored arches and among all these is the river valley as if squeezed between the Buchevnick (a steep path that goes along the northern bank of the river) and the farm buildings of the gentiles. On the southwest there is anchored a fleet of boats that belong to Shimshel, and a little farther on the beach, elevated in green, is the Plaza. Three ancient poplar trees, scarred, stand there side by side on the northern side and bend toward the east, moving and whispering.
I'm moving northward. Hiding at the downward path is the small wooden house of Snmuel Pnitel Hacohen. By the house stands his carriage with its shaft raised upward like a couple of arms without hands north, north The brick house of Alter Pinchuk.
From there diagonally you see the house of Aaron-David, the slaughterer, an elongated wooden house. Across in the valley stands the Russian school. On cold winter evenings Shalom Pinchuk would say there a prayer Ein Yakov and close to a minyan of Jews would embrace the stove and enjoy the tales that would come out of his mouth one after the other, and by the little light of a candle close to the entry would doze Shmulke the sexton. Across the road was the white house of Benjamin Tenenboim and past it small, small houses. Among them was one nice house surrounded by trees of Libke Hershenhoiz and across from it the Japanese school built of bricks, nice and distinguished. Below its tall foundation in a basement apartment lived R' Israel the sexton, a short, thin Jew with a long beard and cross-eyed. He would keep in his memory all the Yahrzeiten of the congregation in perfect preciseness. Nobody could imitate his reading of the El Maleh Rachamin during the high holidays with his special melody. And all together his whole appearance would say the next world. But he would also be involved with this world. He learned how to take care of the lanterns that the school acquired (before there was electricity in town) and once a year before the Kol Nidre he would light them all and he would see in that art, in addition to his El Maleh Rachamin, an additional completeness to himself. Accompanying him in life were his second wife, his mute son and his two goats.
Bobroiski Street was straight and stretched. Nikolivi worship house was
closed and poor-looking, its white paint peeling and its doors open for prayer
only one time a year, on Easter night, when it would be filled with worshippers
and in the courtyard the young non-Jewish boys and girls would pray.
On the left, pointing at one another, were the houses of Yankel, Feivel and their father, Yosel-Avramel Pinchuk. Across from them was the house of R' Baruch, the judge, and his son-in-law, Alter Miskind. Past the house of Avram-Moshe Guttman and its lower level was the blacksmith's workshop, just as wide as the heart of its owner, a righteous and a good hearted man with no one like him. But fate did not favor him and his heart was bitter. Another house here and another house there, one of R' Sender-Baruch and the brothers Vigodski, of Beryl the carpenter, Velvel the shoemaker. Beryl, a strong Jew with a brown-black curly beard, lived all the days of the year waiting for the high holidays when he would appear with a kitel as the messenger of the congregation in the morning prayer in the Japanese synagogue. And a few other houses and past them the railroad that stretches from Brisk to Pinsk which borders the Jewish settlement that only went a little beyond its rails.
On the horizon there appeared to be a small settlement of houses of one and two stories high. This was the camping place of the local military. Behind it was the huge chimney of the brick yard of Shalom Lipsiar, the Chassid from Stolin, and his sons.
A lonely grove was the New cemetery that spread its shadow on its surroundings and touched on the end of the path that led to the nearby village, Lihati. Among its residents was also R' Chaim the blacksmith, a tall and thin Jew with a silvering beard. He would make his way into town and back usually walking barefoot. He would wear a long faded coat and his pair of boots would be tied together and carried on his shoulder.
And due west, at the end of an open field, was shaking the windmill of R' Benyamin Katz. An older man, he would often be seen by the windmill shading his eyes with his hand and waiting for wind. And the gentiles believed that R' Benyamin knew the secrets and they would come to him for advice, but nobody knew R' Benyamin and the secrets stayed secret And the wind would whine and the windmill would squeak and cry and its wings going down and come back up and around it. Night became dark.
Kolyova Street surrounded almost the entire town on the northern side. The
houses were scattered with great distances between them and a road made of
smooth field stone was winding its path between them. Here the road would go by
the houses of Moshe Mintz and Choncha Kagan and circle around a small
orphan-like wooden house that was squeezed between neglected trees and wild
growth of Yankel Stavski. Then all of a sudden you saw the railroad and beyond
it the field and many clay holes in whose center stood the brickyard of Zelig
Losher. A little bit in the distance from the road, alone, stood a house of
bricks, long and solemn and sad.
Half of it was a warehouse and half of it served for living quarters where there lived R' Aaron-Chaim Swartz and his family. He was a Chassid who was a scholar and a modest man. He spoke very little and his hidden poverty he would dismiss with an eternal and deep smile. In front of the house there would be two long kerosene containers and close by in a wooden hut stood a grocery store, but sparks of Torah and excitement and fervor of destiny made light for that whole family and sparks of that light were flying also to the darkened alley where youth would splash in the mud and extend its hands to those who lit its way.
From here with one leap you are at the railway station. In front of you is a small round square with trees around it and in the center carriages tied to one horse with Jewish owners of those carriages standing by and smoking cigarettes, maybe quarrelling and sometimes pushing and making one another fall while kidnapping passengers when the train comes in. Most of their livelihood was based on the four passenger trains that went by on the railroad during the day. In addition to those passenger carriages some of them also had freight carriages and between each train these wagon masters would turn into freight transporters.
The last rays of the sun sink in the orchards of Shonka and Patrika on the west of town and a passenger train from Warsaw is arriving. A number of Jews come out of the train and a few go in. Outside it is cold and a locomotive is sneezing and spreading its smell. Wagons and train cars are trembling and pushing one another. The train rolls and breathes angrily. Along the road there is a muffled echo and longing and tired eyes of Jews peer through. They are Jews from Anatopol and Orohichin, Motele and Chomsk. Those eyes look into the darkness and absorb sadness. Around the square there is low sound. The cars push, one another and one after the other gallop away, one through Koliva and another through Gencherska, until the whole square becomes empty and only the muffled echo of horses galloping is heard.
There is quiet in Gencherska Street. At the end of the street, close to the
turn to Koliva Street, stands an old wooden house built like a Daled,
shrunken and broken, a hut with wings attached to its chest.
The main front looks toward the river in the south and the other side to the east. The
house passed as an inheritance from Rabbi Nachum from Dobovi to his son Herschel,
who came to live there, with his wife Chana and their children, as a refugee from a
close-by state during the upheaval in the country.
The river on the opposite side rolls its water as before and barges carry some Jews on the river. Only before the Passover, when the snows melt and the water rises, are there pieces of snow floating over it and wandering around, crashing and throwing streams of water. In the courtyard of the spacious brick house of R' Moshe Mordechai, the tombstone carver, there are scattered pieces of tombstones covered with mud and with some markings on them. No one knows whether some of the letters flew away.
R' Moshe Mordechai was short and had a thin and dark beard. His head was always between his shoulders and his look was somber. On the days of Shabbat and holidays he used to go and read the Torah and on the high holidays he was also the one who blew the shofar in the Beit Hamidrash, the Yaponi. And despite a lot of preparation before, and much encouragement that he received from the crowd of worshipers, he couldn't always overcome the devil that would be squeezed in the narrow part of the shofar. And lo and behold, on the eve of the invasion of the Red Army, a Polish soldier pointed him out, saying that he, R' Moshe Mordechai, had shot on the army. He was handcuffed and brought before the military court. Only through the urging of the important people among citizens in the place, his verdict was commuted to 100 lashes.
On the main corner of the beginning of the street stood a. strong wooden house on a base of bricks. This was the house of R' Leizer Miltzki. He was the owner of the factory that made oil. Close to the period when the event happened to R' Moshe Mordechai, the Ukrainian commander came to live in that house. Bolak Balakovitch, with his headquarters alongside R' Leizer, the quiet Hasid, and his household, and only through some special circumstances that seemed like a miracle those Ukrainians could not harm the family and create destruction in town.
Night outside, and the second shift has ended. You don't hear the cry of a
baby. And only in the window of R' Aaron-David a hand wipes the tear of the
night to see if there is time for saying the Sh'ma. Waves chase
waves in the night and when they come close to the bridge they spread and
surround its columns and slowly come back and explode into pieces on the
bridge and they spread pieces of tears.
|On the Bridge|
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