By Yitschak Vakman (New York)
English Translation by Murray Kaplan
The old homeour beloved home.
The older we get, the more we long for our younger years, and with everything else, the place where we spent our youth and the years gone by come to mindwe really mean our old home, Kremenets, our city.
I want to leaf through my memory, the pages of my life in Kremenets, the city of my birththe city in general, but especially the residents in their daily routine, and let my memories remain as a memorial to the city whose streets we walked.
First of all, only 34 years have passed since I left the city, and I have always dreamed of paying a visit home. And who could have guessed in their wildest dreams that the city of Kremenets as we knew it would be wiped off the face of the earth forever.
Kremenets: the city of the Palistranten. This was our city's nickname, exactly in the same way that Dubno was called the city of the Smutkes. When you spoke of Dubno Smootkes, you were referring to their sadness and dreaminessand when you referred to Kremenets Palistranten, you meant that they were movers and shakers.
Sholem Aleichem, in one of his writings, used the expression New Moon Kremenets. Why Kremenets and not another city? Certainly because our city was so well known for its progressive lifestyle.
When Sh. Anski visited our city, he stated that in no other city did he find so many Jewish melodies as he did in Kremenets. These melodies were showcased by him.
I'll begin with the old city of Kremenets, which was indelibly written into my memory when I was still a child.
I see before me Teacher StreetEli the teacher, Shakhne the teacher, Itsi the teacher, the kindergarten teachers, Leyb Rocheles, Mikhel Nonek. Small classrooms with long and narrow tables. The children sitting on both sides of the table, and Eli at the head. Most of all, the Jewish children's voices ring in my ears to this very day.
Eli the teacher had a long rod with a metal knob at the end. He kept this rod under the table, and when one of the little boys talked in class and didn't know the place in the reading, the teacher found it for him with the rod. Once in a while, he would mistakenly strike the child sitting next to the transgressor.
Between semesters, when the teachers went to recruit children for the next semester, yes, they remembered their teacher's punishments; but no child was ever crippled by these spankings. They feared the spankings, but they loved their teacher.
The synagogue, this splendid Great Synagogue, the city's showcase, the House of Holiness and Beauty: there was none to compare far and wide in any area of Volyn. Next to the synagogue was the Tailor's Small Synagogue, then the Magid's Small Synagogue, the Hasidic Synagogue, the Old Study Hall, the Butchers' Synagogue, and Bedrik's kloyz, where my fatherinlaw, R' Matisyahu Chazan, of blessed memory, was the cantor his whole life. There were the House of Prayer, the New Study Hall, and especially the little synagogues, where Hirsh Mendel's synagogue was, Perlmuter's, and the Dubno suburb synagogues. The city was actually soaked in cantorial melody. Worldrenowned cantors, such as Hershman, Koussevitsky, and so on, sang in the Great Synagogue. Aside from that, very often, traveling cantors would visit us with their choirs. People ran to buy tickets, and the synagogue was packed.
I am reminded of the beautiful songs after praying the evening prayers on Saturdays and after eating the third meal of the day. Someone would always come up with a new melody. The religious Jews of Kremenets would burst forth in song to the Creator: My heart bursts forth in song to the living God. Other than the singing, I must note the Saturday afternoon lectures in the houses of worship. I remember the craftsmen and salespeople sitting around the table, the worshipers in the Old Synagogue, and my father, R' Leyzer the watchmaker, of blessed memory, discussing the Torah portion of the week. I remember how, before the evening prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur, hay was spread out next to the synagogue, and one by one the worshipers would lie down while Itse the Sexton symbolically beat them in penitence. I was just a child then, but these scenes are indelibly engraved in my memory.
Life was difficult for our Jews in Kremenets, and still more difficult was the life of those who were financially supporting the synagogue and the Talmud Torah, which were located in Tsukerman's courtyard, where my fatherinlaw, Matisyahu Chazan, of blessed memory, worked with Lipa Tsizin, Beyrish Perelmuter, Blumenfeld, Gintsberg, and others. Like all cities, the city was in dire straits. However, of all the cities in Volyn, the city of Kremenets was outstanding in its industriousness and diligence; it wasn't a city of beggars but a city of working people.
Let's begin with the carpenters. There was a street in town called Carpenter Street. Whole families, fathers and sons, stood together and worked diligently. Each would try to outdo the other in excellence and speed. I remember how the work was distributed to the warehouses on Thursday or Friday. We'd see bureaus and dressers walking along. Porters were carrying them on their backs. A cupboard would move, and you could see two feet and the rope tying the furniture on. The merchandise was not only sold locally but was also shipped to other cities. Kremenets's furniture industry had a reputation, and the street was filled with melody.
Tailorsand Tailor Street. They worked for market day. They supplied cutrate clothing. The good tailors produced betterquality clothing. And all day long, young men's and women's voices would join in harmony as they worked.
Furriers, ribbon makers, cobblers, goldsmiths, watchmakers, cabinet makers, wood turners, rope makers, blacksmiths, hairdressers, boot makers, bookbinders, barbers, house painters, musicians and whatnot? The city was alive with work and laborers. The common peoplestorekeepers, butchers, fishermen, woodcutters, brokers, locksmiths, and othersI've always had a special sympathy for workers, as people, and most of them worked all week long, but on the Sabbath they were unrecognizable.
I remember a man named Fishel Aksel. During the week, he was called Fishel the Porter, and he carried a sack of flour on his back along the highway, from Ovadis's mill all the way to the marketplace, to Basye the cutter, and how he bent double under the weight of the 160pound sack of flour! He walked slowly, and his eyeballs protruded from the strain. You could see this same R' Fishel Aksel happy and calm, poring over a page of Gemara in the study hall. Two separate people: there with the obligation to earn a living, and here with spiritual exhilaration. As a boy, I loved to stand in the study hall and listen to the way R' Manus Toker would pray: the way he counted his words in the way you would count pearls, and all from memory, with incomparable naïveté. This is the same Manus Toker who worked alone doing his woodturning: he turned the wheel with his foot, and with his hand he operated the lathe to make cigarette holders, which he shipped all over Russia.
|Yitschak Vakman (New York) a visitor in Tel Aviv, showing a remnant of a Torah that was taken from a Torah in Kremenets by a Nazi, who then made a lady's purse of it and sent it to his wife in Germany.
Today, it is displayed in Jerusalem, at Yad Vashem, as a remembrance.
I want to remind you about the Jew R' Shimon Chayim the Bricklayer, the highly skilled man with the trowel, who was always busy fixing stoves in the houses and, on Passover eve, busy making the stoves kosher for Passover. Love of the Land of Israel burned so in this man that whenever you engaged him in conversation, he had no other theme than his love of Israel. His love of Israel and his love of the Land of Israel combined into one: the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. The man wasn't very learned; he could hardly pray, but how did this man develop this complete devotion to the Land of Israel? You'd speak to him only for several minutes before he'd change the subject to the obligation to settle in Israel.
Dr. Arye Landesberg was also in our synagogue. I remember him; he was an elderly man and the one to whom all of the Zionist Organization's literature was delivered, and he acquired the designation Dr.and he handed this literature down to the organization's younger generations. This very Dr. Landesberg had something in common, a sort of camaraderie, with Shimon Chayim the Bricklayerthey were both ardent Lovers of Zion.
Zionist songs filled the hearts of Kremenets's young generation, which later actually did immigrate home to Israel, and some did the name of Kremenets proud. Visiting Israel in 1952, I went to see my compatriot in the home for the aged in Tel Aviv, R' Mani Dobromil, then in his 80s, who was also one of the original Lovers of Zion. At that time, he said to me, Listen here, Itsik, this week's Torah portion is Ki Tavo, and in it you are commanded to settle here. You came here to visit; stay here. To this day, I regret that I didn't take his advice.
I remember the beginnings of the Bund in Kremenets, when we met on the square and agitated among the working class. This was in 19081910. I was still a youngster. My generation grew up intelligent and strong: Bozi Landsberg, Yakov Shafir, Meir Goldring, and many, many more, who threw themselves into work for the general good, to improve the situation of their brothers in Kremenets, who were suppressed, deprived, and in dire straits, especially when the Poles took over the government and it became difficult to get financial help to support the hospital, guesthouses, and schools. The Tarbut School had already opened, and there were arguments among the Hebrew school faculties and leaders. They had already started training girls, who were leaving to live in the kibbutzim located not far from Varkovychi, near Dubno, with the hope of getting ready to immigrate to the Land of Israel. And many of them later did.
Two newspapers were published, and people worked very hard to strengthen the Kremenetser fraternal spirit. I want to mention an organization in Kremenets that is ingrained in my memory. This was the Pallbearers' Society (those who carried the dead to their graves on a pallet). There was also a Burial Committee. This particular organization had no connection to the Burial Society (those who washed the body in preparation for burial). The leaders were Mikhel Shumski and Volodye Gorenfeld. But most important of all, and the leader of all, was Tovye Tshaykovski. He lived on Kladkova Street, the same street as Simche Bershtelmakher, in the first house before you got to Tsukerman's courtyard. He was a boot maker. He had more than 200 or 300 friends; all were poor, common laborers. Many had no money for wood to heat their houses in winter, no money for rent, to marry off a daughter, or for general expenses. They called on Tovye, and there was a free loan box at the organization. But the box was almost always empty. So Tovye put down his tools, went out to those who could afford to give, and absolutely demanded money from them. They gave, and money was raised. This went on constantlyday and night in the heat and in the dead of winterthe members were always ready to carry a corpse to the cemetery on the mountaintop. After such a trip, the members had what was called an overnight stay. In those days, there were epidemics, such as cholera, typhus, and others, and there was an ice shortage. So in the winter we prepared a supply of ice and kept it in the great cellar behind the synagogue, and when it was needed, we went down on a large ladder, which was actually two ladders tied together, and R' Duvid the Caretaker gave us the key. Sometimes it was my turn to climb down, accompanied by someone else with a lantern in his hand, to bring up bags of ice and deliver them to houses where the sick stayed in bed because there was no room in the hospital.
Members of our organization stayed overnight in these homes to relieve the weary relatives for a few nights. This was done purposefully and without a thought of remuneration of any kind, which we Kremenetsers were capable of.
The meeting of the organization at the Grand Hotel during the week of Torah portion Vayechi, under Yisrael Korobke's auspices, when new officers were elected, was very nice. And even grander was the tailors' section meeting on Simchas Torah in the Great Synagogue. There we all met: Chayim Leyzer Lempelthe cobblestone layer, with Mikhel Shumski, Mendel Karsh, Gorenfeld, Mordekhay from the Field with Duvid Goldenberg, Moshe Kadushke, Manus Toker, Eli Heker, Yitschak the sheep, and Barshap the telegrapher, but I was absent. The tables were beautifully covered. Hundreds of members around were seated them, and cakes and liquor were served. There was dancing and singing, and everyone enjoyed themselves.
Also, we used to meet at the cemetery on Lag BaOmer. The rabbi would accompany us. We brought bagel and hardboiled eggs, and Rabbi Rapoport would say a few words: it was a memorial service on life and death…Our Kremenetser Jews were beautiful people indeed.
Here I'm reminded of weddings, when the bride and groom were led through Sheroka Street to the synagogue and, on their return, musicians played and water carriers came with fully laden containersa sign of good luck and blessings. I remember the various rabbis who came to visit Kremenets: the Bazilyer Rabbi, who distributed kmiut (messages written on parchment for good luck); the Oliker Rabbi; the Ostrer Rabbi, R' Alteruni, a renowned sage, and his brother the Kiniver Rabbi, R' Yosiniv, a very righteous man. Hundreds of Hasidim gathered in the Hasidic Small Synagogue; they were actually standing on each other's heads. The rabbi, already an old man, held the cup of wine on high, and his hand did not tremble during the service.
I was left an orphan at a very early age and became father and mother to five siblings; quite often we went to visit the cemetery. I recall Rivke di zogerin, who knew the exact location of everyone's grave, who would lay down such a narration after knocking on the gravestone: Hello, happiness to you and happiness in your place of rest, your son has come to cry his heart out for you and to plead for your orphans' health. Or else Your daughter has come to invite you to your grandchild's wedding. Then she would immediately get up and go to greet another visitor. And her cries would reverberate and be muffled by the gravestones.
|At the cemetery, from right to left: (1) Golde di zogerin,
(2) Reyze di zogerin, (3) Mishke (Amolek) Gorelnikov, (4) Efraim Chazan.
We must not forget to give the highest honor to our Dr. Meir Litvak, the son of a man we called Obtsi the Drunkard. Through his own efforts, and alone, he earned his MD in those difficult times. He then, returned home, as a lieutenant doctor in the Russian army. Later, he devoted his heart and soul to the public's benefit. He never took a fee from the poor and, in fact, paid their expenses out of his own pocket. After immigrating to America, where his son, Abrasha, still lives somewhere as a music teacher, he returned with money to put up a guesthouse, which until that time was being run by Shlome the Yellow and Shimon Chayim the Bricklayer.
|The old marketplace in Kremenets.
Photographed by A. Kachinski.
Sent to us by our fellow townsman, Yitschak Vakman, former president of the Kremenetser Landsmanschaft Society in New York.
This picture appeared in the Forward.
The house was purchased, and as his secretary and assistant, I could see what a good person Dr. Litvak really was. I'll give a small example: he brought money to people in Kremenets from their families in America. Every penny was contained in a separate, sealed envelope, and when the moneychangers learned that he had foreign money, they wanted to exchange it. He was aghast: How can I touch money that doesn't belong to me? I must deliver the money given to me without disturbing the seal on the envelope.
Years have passed, regimes have changed, and the Kremenets Jew has remained true to his religious and national Judaism. No, no gentile aristocrat has taken over our beloved city, only true devoted friends, one to the other, and the truly pious. Standing before my eyes I see Goldring, Gershteyn, Goldenberg, Shtern, Fingerut, and others, who were always involved for the benefit of all. Ovadia actually sacrificed himself for ORT; Sofia Kremenetskaya worked for the orphanage and OZE.
They actually embittered the Kremenets Jews' lives. These very Poles later helped slaughter the Jewsmen, women and children. All of them were killed at the murderous Nazis' hand, may their names be erased forever. I remember the while in Portugal, on his trip to London, Dr. Chayim Weitzman, of blessed memory, remarked, I fear that one third of our people will be wiped off the face of the earth. The great catastrophe occurred, and I don't believe that there is a Kremenetser anywhere who can forget his citythe dear city of Kremenets and her dear brothers and sisters, who were annihilated. Years have passed, and in 1943 in America, Relief, the socalled aid committee, was organized, which searched for and found several Kremenets refugees, whom the committee helped with a good word and some aid. Shifrin's son, Kornits the cobbler, and many more came forward to help.
On one of my journeys in 1946, I arrived in Turin, Italy, not very far from Milan. It was winter, the snow was deep, and I finally found the camp where the only Kremenetsers remaining alive were to be found. I had been in contact with them from New York, and the joy expressed by my brothers, the children of Kremenets, was truly indescribable. There I found Tsadok the ritual slaughterer's grandson, who had a hole in his head covered with plastic and was only halfalive; Shlome Fingerut's son; and Ayzik Kutsher's son, a guard at Ayzik Shteyner's. I embraced them as a father embraces his children. I consoled them. I went into the camps, and I saw how they washed dirty laundry at the well in the middle of the yard; the dingy rooms were dirty but large. Somewhere there was an old torn comforter, and on the walls hung placards with sayings: If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. Only in battle will we be triumphant. Jews from everywhere who had miraculously saved themselves were coming together. Children, young adultsall were overcome with problems. They were embittered by their fate but at the same time proud and assured of the nation of Israel's redemption in the Land of Israel. It was at the time when England was the enemy and was preventing our refugees from landing on the coast as they tried to go home, because there was no alternative. I took my children with me to Milan, and here we were photographed. I divided up some money and several other things among them and, absolutely broken up, I left.
To this day, I see them standing before me: beaten, broken, but still proud. Subsequently, I saw a few of them in America and several in Israel. The last time, in Israel, one of them approached me, a fellow Kremenetser. He put his arms around me and kissed me: I'll never forget what you did for me in those dark days in the camp in Germany, with your letters. I was alone, without anybody or anything, and your letters gave me strength. With tears in his eyes he left, saying, Be well.
Brothers and sisters of my dear city, Kremenets; children, adults, grandfathers and grandmothersthis record is like a memory of you, and we long and cry for our old home, for the old city of Kremenets, with her beauty and sweetness and her innocent way of life, and we say: you perished in innocence, and we will never forget you.
Standing, from right to left: Yone Zeyger, Sh. Feldman, ChayimLeyzer Lempel, Ester Altvarg, Frits Eydis, Zhenye Beznoski, Meir Goldring, and A. Indes
Translation Editor's Notes
By M. Kornits (Jerusalem)
English Translation by Murray Kaplan
As much as my feeble effort at writing can overcome the knowledge that my birthplace is now and forever lost to us, I'll gather my thoughts to remember you, Kremenets, and your beauty so that future generations will know about you and remember you sometimes.
Kremenets is a city thrown into the grave. This is the way a Russian official described it. Maybe this official was a weakminded man with no connection to nature or imagery, or else his understanding of my birthplace would have been entirely different. If Kremenets is a city that was thrown into a grave, then he wouldn't have said that our Jerusalem, beautiful Jerusalem, which is surrounded by the hills of Judea, is a city thrown up on a mountain. Kremenets, in truth, lies in a beautiful valley, and it is surrounded on all sides by that chain of lush mountains. I remember that, as a child of about eight or nine, I already couldn't believe the beauty of Kremenets. Regardless of which mountain I climbed, whether it was Mount Bona, or Cross Mountain, Mount Vidomka, Mount Tsherentsha, or the Mountain of the Virgins, I couldn't tear myself away from its magnificence. But a dull mind such as that of the aforementioned Russian official couldn't see the wonderment of this picture. Kremenets in a grave! …Every house, every cottage in the valley was pretty, especially when I looked down on my father's house from Bona in my youth, I thought I was looking at a palace. When I grew up somewhat and got to be 13 or 14, a group of about 50 or 60 of us would climb one of the mountains in the evening and sing Yiddish folksongs in Russian. And how we could sing, and how we loved it. I was quite a singer, and I was famous from Kremenets to Zhitomir; and when we came down from the mountain, we then learned that the whole city, big and small, Jew and Christian, had come out into the streets to hear us sing. Faces were beaming; everyone was happy and got pleasure from it.
A second idea that we young people of Kremenets came up with is even more interesting, I believe. Because we sang so freely and with such gusto, everybody knew us as honest Jewish youngsters: the sheriff, the police, and the military from the two local regiments the Yakutski and the Rizhski battalionsand they knew that we sang well. This second piece of work was of a different character: a conspiracy. We, the 13 and 14yearolds, were then already Zionists and, as such, we had to hide from the police, because the Zionist movement was illegal. In Kremenets, there were a lot of young people, boys and girls, who didn't attend school; their parents were poor peopletailors, shoemakers, carpenters, tinsmiths, machine operators, and so forth.
Because of all their troubles in making a living, it was very hard for them to think about sending their children to school. Quite the opposite: the children had to help their parents at their jobs. For that reason, hundreds of young people didn't go to school. We, a group of youngsters, decided among ourselves to solve this problem. Four or five times a week, we visited these boys' and girls' homes and tutored them. Today in one house, tomorrow in another, we would assemble 8 or 10 of them and teach them Russian and Yiddish reading and writing. We gathered 4 to 8yearolds and taught them grammar. Our efforts so impressed the parents that very soon there wasn't one housenot a single homewhere a child wasn't a student.
The great change that suddenly entered our city I then attributed to the great spirit of Yitschak Ber Levinzon, who was born in Kremenets. There can be no other reason for this, only the fact that he was a teacher and leader who was familiar to the whole city because of his book on education. For that reason, the atmosphere was rife with the desire to learn, and students swarmed around this genius.
In my later years, I became very close to a former student of Yitschak Ber Levinzon's. This was Mikhail Duvidovitsh Shumski, with whom I served in the city government. Shumski was actually 25 years older than I was, but we developed a friendship as though we were the same age. And although we were at odds ideologically, in my eyes he was an aristocratic Jew in whose opinion the Jewish community's general interests stood higher then all party dogmas. He was an idealistic official. Thanks to his efforts, the Kremenets High School of Commerce was founded at the end of the 19th century. Through his wife Nadia's initiative, the first high school for girls was established in Kremenets.
And although I have mentioned the city's important personalities, I must pay homage to the memory of a few more.
Meir Goldring: a friend of mine from the earliest years. His father was a poor man (his mother died while he was still an infant). He graduated from a Kremenets technical school, but his knowledge and intelligence wasn't recognized because his lowly rank. He attained high positions in his social work, to which he was highly devoted. He was chairman of the Kremenets community, chairman of the Zionist Organization, and editor of Kremenitser Shtime, a weekly newspaper with a national orientation. Meir Goldring was much loved by the Jewish community, and those who knew him well admired him. Meir Goldring fell victim to Hitler's killers. The same fate befell his wife and children.
Hirsh Prilutski: a student of Yitschak Ber Levinzon's. He planted his leadership qualities in his son Tsvi, who made a name for himself in modern Jewish communal work as the publisher and editor of the large daily Jewish newspaper Moment, which was published in Warsaw until World War II broke out. Tsvi Prilutski, the enlightened Jew and sage, was the father of Noach Prilutski, the renowned author and literature researcher who made a name for himself in the Jewish world as an ardent fighter for Jewish justice in Poland. Noach Prilutski was also born in Kremenets. Like his father, he fell under the murderous axe of the Germans, may their names be erased forever.
Hirsh Mendel Roykhl: a very fine Jew. He was tall in stature, handsome in appearance, and had a white beard that was an honor to the possessor and also to the population. He was an Orthodox Jew, although he didn't wear his sideburns long, and he didn't wear a fur hat on the Sabbath, as did our Orthodox brethren in Jerusalem. Do they think they have a monopoly on the Jewish religion? With his goodness and integrity, he was an example of a true Jew. He handled wagonloads of sugar, lived honorably, and died honorably. He left fine children and grandchildren, and I am certain that his greatgrandchildren and subsequent generations will live according to this old Jew's traditions.
Mikhail Shumski: It was enough to say Shumski, and that said it all, everything that is embodied in good deeds. The word Shumski was a synonym: Shumski the aristocrat, Shumski the intelligent one, Shumski the representative of the Kremenets Jewish people, Shumski the protector of Jewish interests in the municipal government.
Although there was not yet a bank in Kremenets in those days, the czarist regime recognized him as the person responsible for the eastwest railway, so when a merchant needed to pay for the transport of his merchandise, let's say from Odessa or Kiev to Kremenets, the money was to be paid to Shumski before the merchandise was received. Shumski was a reliable intermediary and had the privilege of riding on all Russian railways, firstclass, at no charge. The man never lost his temper, and even in a heated discussion, he would stand there in all his glory and would say, Easy now, easy now, and with the slow ring in his voice, he would hypnotize his adversary, and he had to be heard: and I must tell you that in very few instances would his argument not stand.
Hirsh Krokhmalnik: He was my mother's cousin. He practiced law in Radyvliv. This town, like all other surrounding towns, including Kremenets, benefited from a string of privileges that this man negotiated from the czarist government, thanks to his communal position in the area. Kremenetser Jews held him in high regard.
Hirsh Krants: He was known as the Middleman by large numbers of Jews. Among men he was regarded as a trustee, and he was entrusted with large sums of money and property with which he was to create legacies at a low interest rate: he would find secure investments and watch them as if they were his own. Thanks to his efforts, people of small means were slowly able to increase their dowries for their daughters or strengthen their income stream.
|Tsvi Prilutski||Noach Prilutski|
Lipa Vaysblat, or Lipa the Writer (one of my mother's brothers), was well known as a correspondent in Russian. In his last few years, he also taught himself to write Polish. For his whole life, my Uncle Lipa was a friend of the Kozatski Study Hall, where he paid for the purchase of hundreds of prayer books. He would always lay aside 10% of his earnings in a little box, with which he would purchase religious books to be distributed among the people, especially the poor.
Chayim Bakimer: my fatherinlaw, a rich Jew and successful merchant. He owned 14 houses in our city and also in Rivne. He had a reputation as the best landlord and an honest person in business. His name was known from Kremenets to Danzig and Astrakhan. As landlord, he was known as a man whose word was his bond, and his renters' word was good enough for him. Not once did he ever evict a renter from his home or business for nonpayment. If a tenant's rent was due and he brought only a partial payment, sometimes only a tenth, that was enough. He would listen to his tenant and understand his situationthat at present he was short of funds, that times were not so goodand would then say, Good. God should send you prosperity, and when you have more money, then you'll pay the rent. I ask, is there another landlord like this in the whole world? From his extended family, only two daughters survived, one, the second, is my wife, Shifre Balaban, who is now in Tel Aviv.
Dr. Meir Litvak: a youngster from a poor Jewish home, a tailor's son. Throughout his youth, he lived in great poverty and need. But he had a great desire to learn. He graduated from the only school in Kremenets at that time, so he moved to Zhitomir to attend high school. He supported himself by tutoring his fellow students. On finishing high school, he went away to Kazan, and there he entered the university. He graduated with an MD and returned to his birthplace. For a long time, he was chairman of the city's Zionist Organization. He had a son and daughter, and he gave them both a good education. The son, Abrasha, did not take up his father's profession. He graduated from the Petersburg Conservatory and left for America; the daughter, Katya, married and went to live in Warsaw. My wife and I were very close friends of theirs, and when the doctor would come to visit his daughter, who lived at Zelosnia Barma 2, he would always pay us a visit, even though we lived at Aleya Oiyavdoskeh 18, quite a distance from his daughter's house. I always said that he worked hard and would sometimes complain that people would not let him rest. That reminds me of a good joke.
|Dr. Meir Litvak as a highranking officer in World War I|
A meeting of the board of the Zionist Organization in Kremenets was called. This was during World War I. Goldring's brotherinlaw, Kremenchugski, who by the way owned an oil factory in his birthplace somewhere in Ukraine, was at the meeting. He left everything to save himself and came to Kremenets with his family. Things weren't good for him; he had absolutely no income. At the meeting, Dr. Litvak complained, God gave me a doorbell, and even at night, when I come home tired and want to go to sleep after a hard day's work, my doorbell rings, and I must again go out on calls. When Kremenchugski heard this, he turned to the doctor and said, Doctor, if I thought I could do business, I would install two doorbells on my door.
Dr. Arye Landesberg: He was also a doctor, but he came to the profession much more easily than Dr. Litvak because his parents were wealthy. He was noted for his calm. I would say that, over the course of a whole day, this man didn't speak more than 100 words. He, too, was a devoted Zionist. For a long time, he was the doctor for the underprivileged.
Binyamin Landesberg: the only son of Dr. Landesberg. He was a good student, and by the age of 12, he recited well. His recitations still ring in my ears like a staccato by Bronislav Huberman or Yehuda Menuhin's violin. When he made a political speech (like his father, he was a Zionist), pearls of wisdom flowed from his mouth. You could listen to him for hours and not be bored. He was an attorney and married Poltorak's daughter. He was Yakov Shafir's brotherinlaw (Shafir's wife's maiden name was also Poltorak). Shafir and his family now live in Tel Aviv.
Chayim Gershon Shnayder: Don't think that his family name was Shnayder. His family name was actually Nudel, but he was a tailor (shnayder) by profession. Our Jews in Kremenets, apparently, disliked using the definite article the. Understandably, it would be more logical to have called him Chayim Gershon the Tailor. In any case, I can tell you that he was a very fine man and, in addition, a very good tailor. When parents needed to marry off a son, Chayim Gershon made all the clothes needed for the wedding, and his work was always a source of pleasure. Even Christian seminarians from the seminary used him. However, the tailor for the better sex was Mordekhay Shnayder.
Mordekhay Shnayder: He was a tall, thin man who always wore a long, buttonedup caftan; he was always in a hurry, almost running, when he was seen in the streets. How he got his family name, I can no longer remember, but then is that important? I'm certain that many other Kremenetsers as well didn't know his family name, but this is how he was known by the whole city and especially by fathers and mothers with daughters. And when they needed a wardrobe for the bride, you can be certain that Mordekhay Shnayder got the job, and he had plenty of work, because what kind of Jew didn't dress up his daughter for her wedding? When Mordekhay came into a home to measure the bride for clothes, you can imagine the happiness that he brought to the house. The father, mother, younger sisters, little brothers, and even the old grandmother all derived pleasure from it. In a word, Mordekhay Shnayder earned his good name.
Vizale: Chayim Gershon Shnayder's competitor was a tiny Jew, also a tailor, who probably had a family name, but he was positively called Vizale (little weasel). He was very small (from Mordekhay's caftan, you could make two for Vizale), and he, too, was always in a hurry.
He wasn't renowned as a firstclass craftsman, but he also had his steady customers, and there were occasions when he would get a job from a novitiate priest. You can well imagine how he would negotiate with this clientele, because he was very weak in the Russian language. I believe that the instinct from his given name helped him greatly. He was very quick at measuring: basting here, basting there, here a smooth, there a pull, and that is how it wentbut there was too much talking, and when it came to moneywell, he got himself ready for this at home: what to say and how much to ask for. They say he was also a ladies' tailor. Maybe so, but I don't recall this.
Yidl Shuster: Here, too, as you can see, Kremenets Jews, in their obstinacy called him according to his craft (shoemaking) and didn't use the article the. In reality, his family name was Portnoy, and Portnoy, as you know, is tailor in Russian, but he actually was a shoemaker, and not a bad craftsman at that. And imagine this: this little Jew, Yidl Schuster, devoted himself to community work, being deeply interested in curing poverty as well as in hospice care and oldage home issues. He helped the poor a lot and earned a good reputation among the populace. He lived in his own duplex. The whole house was composed of two dwellings: he lived in one, and in the second, the owner was Yosil Shnayder. So that there would be no envy between the two owners, they exchanged dwellings every four years. Each unit had two bedrooms and a kitchen, but no other amenities. And if you would like to know, did we really need lavatories, since the city had a very fine river with two banks that stretched from the streams near the new bath all the way to the Dubno city gate. But many times, you had to be careful, because it wasn't very clean there.
Ayzik Shlisale (middleman) was another Jew whose family name I can't recall. But this was a man who could keep a secret better than a general in wartime. When a merchant needed money for a short time, it was enough to tell Ayzik how much you needed, and the money was there. The lender knew who the borrower was, but the merchant never knew who the lender was; he only knew that Ayzik Shlisale was the intermediary, and you could be certain that he had delivered the money into secure hands, because you must not forget, mothers had saved up this money for their daughters, for whom they had saved a dowry, and many times this constituted, as we used to say, kishkegelt.
Buzim Keshene: I must tell you that Kremenetsers had a habit of giving their own people nicknames. Take these, for instance: Pesach Shovaksmakher (shoe polish maker), Dudi Draykop (you give me a headache), Yankel Ponimayesh (understand?), Chayim Shpringinbet (jump in bed), Hertsi Bezdientik, Mordekhay Beztolk, Motye Kashe (porridge), Mendel Amalek. This last one, this Amalekite, didn't wish to be fine and honorable like all the other Kremenets Jews, so he gave nothing to the Great Synagogue where he actually sat in the east. So once the sexton, Yosil Bitker, sent his lectern back to his house with Mendel the beadle. So what is so bad about a Jew wishing to save his money, which he and his wife had worked so hard to accumulate? And so that a drunken gentile wouldn't rob him or steal it from him, he would hide it in a breast pocket whether it was winter or summer; they therefore called him Buzim Keshene (breast pocket). But nothing bothered him. Quite the opposite: that name got him customers, and if you ever wanted to get a good knish made from cereal and boiled cracklings, you could always get them from himthat is, every day from six in the morning until midnight. And you can believe me, Dov Yosef would be very happy if in his monthly radio talks he could say that in 1970 we'd be able to eat a knish made from porridge and goose cracklings in the state of Israel.
Leybenov Atiets (priest) : This was a very clever Jew who made his living from pie in the sky, in the same way that many other Kremenetser Jews did at that time.
He would find out that a landowner or a priest had something to sell and find the buyer, and in this way he made enough money to support himself for several months. People would badmouth him by saying that he once made a terrible mistake while riding with a priest in the street by referring to him as atiets instead of batyushka. The priest took offense and left him, as though he were his wife, in the middle of the street, and another Jew who witnessed this affair gave him the name Atiets. And that is the way he got the name throughout his whole life. Actually, he wasn't ashamed of his nickname.
Moshe Tate: Since there was an Atiets in Kremenets, why shouldn't there also be a Tate, a Jewish tate (father)? Well, there was such a Jew, and they called him Moshe Tate. He was a teacher, and he taught boys and girls. Some of them also learned to pray in Hebrew and interpret the Torah portion, but they couldn't learn very much Torah from him because the course wasn't very long and he didn't have a lot of Torah learning to give his students. Moshe Tate lived for a long time, although he was fat and throughout his lifetime drank fish oil from a wooden spoon. When he got to be 75, he stopped drinking fish oil and died. He didn't leave a wife or children, because he never married, so the children in the city called him Moshe Tate.
Hersh Klezmer: Klezmer wasn't this Kremenets Jew's family name. His family name was Komediant (comedian), but the boys, our friends, were embarrassed, so instead of Komediant, they said their name was Commandant. This word is, of course, actually much nicer, but the truth showed like oil on water; so when they needed to show their passports, it was clear to seeKomediant. We all know what klezmer means, and so our Kremenetser Jews preferred, actually, to call them klezmer and not musicians. I know, and perhaps you do, too, that the reason is that they didn't want Hersh to carry the same nickname as Mitskevitsh's chickens, Yankel Musicant, so they called him Hersh Klezmer. And when there was a wedding in the city, they played quadrilles, waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, and other happy tunes. Who played? The whole family, Hersh and all the children: Hersh, Moshe, Ayzik, Yosl, Sore, and Malkethey all could play any instrument, but the drummer was Tovye the water carrier, who wasn't in the family or even a relative. It took three long years for them to teach him to bang on the drum. Even Hersh's motherinlaw, although she was from Brod (Brod was then called Zagranitsna, because it belonged to Austria), was also musical, but she didn't play in the orchestra because there weren't enough instruments. Henekh, the uncle, was also a klezmer, an even weaker player, but he used to play the trombone. His family was also called Komediant. Chaskel Klezmer and his two sons were all tiny. They weren't related, but they were also klezmer, and their family name was also Komediant.
Big Hinde and Little Hinde: When there were weddings in the city, there was a need for caterers. So those, too, were available, thank God. Both were called Hinde. One was very tall, so they called her Big Hinde; the second one was short, and they called her Little Hinde. And perhaps you might think that you had to measure with an arshin which one was the better cookI can tell you, no. Both of them were firstclass: a good strudel, a good cake, a golden soup, a tasty pot roast; don't ask what they could makeit all tasted like the Garden of Eden. And I'm beginning not to know how our Jews of Kremenets knew that you need to call these artists caterers. Our fathers and mothers didn't know any English or French, but they actually knew that in other countries there was a word catering, which means to serve, and from that they made the word caterer.
Oh my dear Kremenets Jews! If only Hitler had died a violent death the day he was born, then we would not have lost our dearest and best.
Yankel Tsadiks and Duvid Galperin: As youngsters, they both worked for Yankel Kremenetski in his manufacturing business. When they married, they opened their own manufacturing business. They were always the best of friends; when they had to travel to buy goods for the business, they would travel on the same train in the same carriage class, but one didn't know where the other was going, so that when Duvid Galperin would ask Yankel where he was headed and Yankel said he was going to Lodz, Duvid would say, You tell me you're going to Lodz so I'll to think you're going to Bialystok, but I know you're really going to Lodz.
Moshe Hipsh (Nice): a common Jew who earned his meager living his whole life as a porter, and he would unfortunately carry heavy loads on his back, such as a sack of flour or a barrel, which was even heavier. Radio had still not come to our town, and when our merchants needed a little advertising, they would hire Moshe and he would roam the city streets and proclaim their products. He would improvise in a strong voice, and the reason they called him Hipsh is that he would declare in a loud voice that at this or the other merchant there was hipsh [nice] product available or hipsh haberdashery to sell. Hipsh, however, didn't live well by his loud voice. He remained a poor man but an honest Jew.
Yankel Water Carrier or Yankel Always Bound: his family name was Kadushke (barrel), actually an appropriate name for his profession. He had two sons: Chayim Pinchas and Moshe. All three of them carried water on Karamislekh Street with two pails, six days a week. One water delivery was oneandahalf kopeks. Nevertheless, I remember that my mother, of blessed memory, would give our water carrier a freshbaked challah every Friday for the Sabbath as a gift. Chayim Pinchas actually saved his money from the oneandahalf kopeks, and one day he came in to see R' Leyzer Vakman, a watchmaker by trade, and a very good one at that. He asked R' Leyzer if he had a watch for him, and R' Leyzer told him that he did have a watch with two guns engraved on the case, as well as the following: For perfect shooting. When Chayim Pinchas heard this, he answered that this was really the watch he'd been looking for, and for 42 whole rubles they closed the transaction. Chayim Pinchas always wore the watch. When he had put together some more money, he purchased a truly golden watch from R' Leyzer, which was wound not with the little head but with a special key attached to the metal chain. R' Leyzer didn't make a lot of money on this watch, because he was the kind of Jew who would give away a whole ruble to charity if he made half a ruble on an item. Now then, on the Sabbath, Chayim Pinchas would dress up and put on both watches. So if you asked him what time it was, he would always ask you back, On which watch, the Sabbath watch or the weekday watch? A couple of years later, he bought another little watch from R' Leyzer, which he carried in his upper breast pocket. He reasoned that it was proper to have another watch with you just in case the other two didn't work. The second brother, Moshe, was fond of something else. He loved to go out walking on the Sabbath in a pair of shoes that squeaked, and this was his greatest pleasure.
Shalom Peyke: He started work as a lathe operator and ended his career as a porter. I want to carefully note here that his nickname was Peyke, with a p and not an f.
As a matter of fact, I believe that it would have been more correct for him to have been called Shalom Feyke. You know what a feyke is, don't you? If you don't remember, I urge you to read Ilyah Ehrenburgh's 13 Feykes, and you'll certainly know what a feyke is. Well, since our Shalom was a lathe operator in the early part of his career, he would turn out cigarette holders, and he was good at it. Since he was a smoker, he made himself a feyke (cigarette holder). Once when he was holding it in his mouth, a little boy asked, What is that, Shalom? And he answered, A feyke, but the little boy thought he'd said peyke, and from that time onward he was called Shalom Peyke. In the days when he was a lathe operator (every lathe operator in our city was a poor man), he was very poor. He lived somewhere in a hole, and you can believe me that our survivors of slavery lived like lords in comparison to his living quarters at that time. However, he had an eye on our little stream, not so much that he loved the water or that he compared it to the mighty Dnieper, no! They say that there's more water in the Dnieper than there is in our stream, so what interested him? The other side of the water. They used to call it behind it and not across it, and they would throw all the city's garbage into it. Shalom Peyke waited patiently until there was so much rubbish in the area that you could actually walk across it (you know of course, that time does such things), so he got together with Shimon the Bricklayer (children, was he a bricklayer; if we had bricklayers such as him in Israel, then every one of us would certainly have our own home), and both of them, with extraordinary strength and with the little money they'd saved (how much did we need? 25 rubles was more than enough), and what can I tell youthey built themselves two little houses, and they were good neighbors for the rest of their lives. If I am not mistaken, Shalom Peyke invested a little money as weekly income. We had such private banks: for a sum of 25 rubles, they would pay out onehalf ruble a week for 100 weeks.
Malke the Long: This was a lady who acted as a wheat broker. She lived in the Vishnevets suburb, and her family name was Yadushliver. There are Yadushliver horses, but heaven forbid you should think she was a horse. No! She was actually not a foolish woman. As I mentioned before, she lived in the Vishnevets suburb, but she was always to seen in the city, and people would just plain ask her why she needed her house since she was never there. Other people asked, who cooks for her at home? Nobody asked whether Malke ate, since she was always busy commissioning business in the city. At one time, I became interested in knowing whether we had a Malke the Short in our city, but I could never find such a person.
The Fisher: Children, I'm going to ask you to be very careful. We're not dealing with Shalom Peyke here; we don't need a dot in the fey, because if you make an error, this could result in a catastrophe. The man was in the business of selling fish, and therefore people called him the Fisher, and believe me, although he wasn't as well known as Dov Yosef, every Thursday he would bring in a barrel of fish as large as the Diaspora, and everybody could buy fish without scales, as much as you wanted, and do you think there was even one house in the city where there wasn't gefilte fish for the Sabbath? And maybe you think he had to bring in the fish from Oslo or from Kushtah, Turkey; no! He brought them in from our own city lake, the Ikva. His wife used to help him sell fish, and actually I do recall her name. She was called Babtsye from the Fish. When I say from the fish, please don't think that she comes from a fish; no, heaven forbid, she was a person like all other persons, and she once had a father and mother.
Babtsye from the Butter: and again the same. The woman, although she was also called Babtsye, also once had a father and mother, and she wasn't made of butter. All she did was sell it, and even if there was a shortage in the city, you could always get some from her, and good piece of cheese, too, and a bit of sour creamsour cream in a pitcher and not in a cup, like in the good old days in Israel, but she didn't deal in yogurt or buttermilk. She never studied chemistry, and she never heard of these two prime products that contain vitamins.
Perl Chicory: Have you ever heard of such a thing: you take a girl who's a little bit dark, and you call her Chicory. And when Shulamit from Song of Songs was dark, did King Solomon call her Chicory? On the contrary, because she was sunburned, he was lured by her beauty. Perl's family was Beznoska, and please don't think that she didn't have a nose. I myselfand maybe some of yourecall that she had a nose exactly in the middle of her face. She was tiny, and she used to sell egg cookies off a large baking pan. I remember that the Russian authorities in the city said that the cookies were called chrost. Maybe they were right, but no matter what they were called, they were very tasty. Perl Beznoska, alias Chicory, lived not far from Shalom Peyke, behind the river; once again, from the other side of the stream, because even fish couldn't live in that stream.
Chaye Rikel: at first I thought Rikel was her family name, but I was told that this was her nickname. Her family only knew our magistrate. I searched my dictionaries for the meaning of the word rikel, but I didn't find that word. When I learned English, I looked for the word in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and there again my search was futile. Chaye Rikel was in the tar business. As you know, there were a lot of villages on the outskirts of the city, and the peasants had horses and wagons, socalled carriages, and these carriages had wheels, and the wheels needed to be greased. And so Chaye Rikel was the supplier, the purveyor, of tar. Now tar is not exactly a clean substance, so our saleswoman was constantly greasy, and not only herthat is to say, not only her face and head and hands and feet, but her headscarf, jacket, apron, underclothes, and stockings, both stockingsone black, the other brown. In a word, she was soaked in tar, and so were her purse and the money in it. The story goes that at one time she donated a kopek to Duvidl Krivaruchko (he was quite a guy: he used to live behind the baththat is, on the other side of the bath, across the bridge; he couldn't live in the bath, he would have smothered to death), and the kopek was understandably covered in grease, so he asked her if she would please write him a note to take home so that he could get a clean kopek. The nerve of a Krivaruchko! Chaye Rikel should write him note! Can you imagine what sort of note it would be if she had to take the paper in her greasy hand, lay it down on the tar barrel cover, and write the note with a greasy pencil in her greasy fingers? The only clean spot on her face was her left eye. She had a cataract on this eye, so you couldn't see the pupil, and the whole eye was white, as though covered with lime. Once she almost died before her time: it was a cold autumn day. Snow hadn't yet fallen, but it was very cold, and to warm up, she did what her mother used to do: she took a fire pot full of hot coals and put it under her, actually in front of her. She completely forgot that tar burns, too! And what can I tell youthe fire completely enveloped her, and she was barely rescued.
She could have died, as in the Yom Kippur prayer, who by fire, but our Kremenetsers didn't allow that to happen, and I don't understand why that happened to her. She was definitely an intelligent woman.
Rachel from the Geese: She also once had a father, and also a mother, and she didn't come from fowl. However, she handled geese, and if you ever wanted a good little gizzard, or a little neck, or a bit of liver, or just a good piece of gooseflesh, you could buy it from heragain, no shortage, no problem. I have regrets about our Dov Yosef: why did he have to study to become a lawyer in Canada and then go to Israel and after that become a minister of finance and industry here in Israel, and he had to make speeches every month on the radio and promise to provide 100 grams of Argentinian meat per person every three months, not knowing whether the meat was kosher or not, when he could have come to Kremenets and learned from our Rachel how to supply the population with geese and cracklings? Vanity, truly vanity.
Sheyndel Tshuptshik: I tell you, when our Kremenetsers gave somebody a nickname, you could travel the whole world over and never find a duplicate. So they took a young woman, who was actually from Yampol, and they gave her the nickname Tshuptshik, because she married a Kremenetser called Tshuptshik. I haven't been able to find the derivation of this word in my dictionaries or in the Encyclopedia Britannica. However, I understand that the root of the word is the Polish tshepok (cap) or tshepatshka. In any case, Sheyndel was actually a very fine woman. Unfortunately, she was childless. Her husband Leybush used to buy whole orchards of fruit, and she used to sit in the marketplace and sell fruit. Good apples of all kinds, good pears, plums, cherries, and so forth. Not only for the holidays, and you didn't even have to write to your uncle in California that once in a while he should send you two or three kilos of apples by mail in a carton, because you could buy any amount you wanted from Sheyndel. You see, Sheyndel was our neighbor. She lived next to Yankel from the post office (if you ask me, I'll tell you sometime what an important person this was) in a room owned by my parents that was adjacent to his, separated by a wooden wall. Sheyndel wanted to write a letter to her mother in Yampol (a little letter to mother), so she called me into her room. At that time, I was all of nine. Stalye, sit down, she said to me, and write a letter to my mother for me. I immediately obeyed her and asked her to let me have a pen. Why do I have to have a pen in my house? I can't write, she said to me. So I went to our house and brought a pen and an inkwell, the kind I could overturn and the ink wouldn't spill. Sheyndel, be so kind as to let me have some paper to write on, I said to her. She answered me, I can't write, so how should I have paper in the house? So again, I ran into our house and tore a page from a particular book; the paper was printed in little squaresand I returned to Sheyndel's. I held the pen in my hand as a soldier holds his gun, ready to hear a command, that is, ready for her to dictate what I should write. And she began like this: Dear Mother, first I'll tell you that I am, thank God, well, and may God grant that I should hear the same from you, and immediately she ran into the kitchen, because she heard the milk boiling. She took the milk off the fire, calmed herself, and asked me to read back to her what I had written. I read, Dear mother, first I'll tell you. Well, shall I go on? I asked her. Go on, she said. Spin it yourself! Listen to this, she's three times as old as I am, she sells whole orchards of fruits, and she wants me, a child of nine, to know what an apple and pear salesperson writes to her mother?
And because of the way she said, Spin it yourself, I stood up from my stool and turned around. Children, she started to laugh so hard, I thought she was becoming hysterical. After a long and healthy laugh, we both sat down again and, very slowly, she started to tell me things to get me in the mood for secondly, I am writing to you. She did have an envelope in the house, and I also wrote the address, but she didn't stop laughing, and neither did I. I traveled far from home and returned from time to time, and Sheyndel held me in high esteem and liked me, exactly as she did then, when she told me I should spin it myself. She never forgot that.
Moshele Katerburger: I know now why our city was called Kremenets: because kremens grew there. (It's called flint in English, and if the Americans wish to come through Alaska and take over the city, they have a readymade name.) Although there was once a match factory there, there was no need for them. When someone came to Kremenets, they took two flints and struck them together, and fire flew, exactly as they say, When you chop wood, kindling flies. And so we already know the reason Kremenets was called Kremenets, but I don't know why the city from which Moshele came was called Katerburg. And even then an old friend of mine, an archaeologist, could not explain it to me. Let's say that they wished to give it the name Yekaterinburg. I don't know whether Catherine II was so beautiful a woman that they should name a city for her, and maybe they really had to name it so. The name was very longYekaterinburgso to save paper, they shortened it to Katerburg. Well, Moshele Katerburger moved out of the place where he was born and moved to Kremenets. Here he could do business with a clear head, because he had no competitors. He was the only merchant in town in his category. He sold rabbits. As a matter of fact, he handled only rabbit skins, because he was a pious Jew and didn't want to eat or deal in rabbit meat. People would even argue with him that it was impossible to know exactly whether a rabbit was a kosher animal or not, because if you examined the rabbit's feet, they looked almost as if they were split, so that at least 50% said they were kosher. But we couldn't determine whether a rabbit chews a cud, because as you know, a rabbit is always in a hurry; it's always running, and while it's running, you can't tell whether it's chewing a cud or not. Well, we know what Moshele Katerburger deals in. It's enough to talk about that. But in view of the fact that I've traveled all over the world and people regard me as a knowledgeable person, I'll describe Moshele's city to you. It had a bad reputation. In the first place, if you ever had a disagreement with anyone whose head had the signs of one of Pharaoh's plagues and you called him by the right name, he would scream at you, You, too, are a Katerburger! Secondly, it was well known that there were horse thieves in that town. The story goes that once in the good old days, a tenant farmer was traveling from Yampol through Katerburg to Kremenets for the Sabbath. When he arrived at his destination with his four horses, it was almost time to light the Sabbath candles. So he told his servant that they should drive to an inn, unharness the horses, and spend the Sabbath in Katerburg. The farmer chanted a good Kiddush, ate a good Sabbath meal, sang the Sabbath songs, said the prayers after the meal, and lay down to sleep. In the middle of the night, he heard someone singing in a good voice, Israel is a holy nation, wake up, wake up for morning prayers! He was greatly frightened, sprang out of bed, opened the window in his room, called to the man who was waking everyone to say the Psalms, and asked him, What do they pay you for waking people up for prayers? The man answered that they paid him 10 kopeks a week
So he called back to the man, Come see me tomorrow night immediately after the end of the Sabbath. I'll give you a whole ruble, and now go home, don't sing anymore, and let the holy people sleep, because if they get up, I'll be in trouble with my horses.
|A group of Kremenetsers in Tel Aviv at a reception for their compatriot Yitschak Vakman, of New York, during his visit to Israel|
Translation Editor's Notes
By Helen Gun Vaynberg
English Translation by Murray Kaplan
Sixteen years have passed, as though in a dream, since I left my hometown for the last time. Long years have gone by: years of pain and struggle, perhaps the worst years that I've ever lived through. Something of a bitter premonition filled my heart then as I saw my beloved city for the last time.
Kremenets, this magnificent city with her wonderful scenery, with her lovely and dear peoplethese we can never forget. I love you to this very day, my Kremenets! I long for you night and day, and I can't stop mourning for my dearest and most beloved, whom the German devil killed with such venom.
Oftentimes my thoughts take me to the distant past, in a world of my own, of dreams, in a nicer world that is no more but that lives in my soul's very depths.
And here I see our Kremenets with its little houses laid out in a row, and around them are intertwined the hands of the wondrous, beautiful mountains.
Who among us, we Kremenetsers, doesn't remember this city's indescribable beauty, in which nature painted a magical picture of a thousand colors with its paintbrush?
I see my city in the splendor of springtime, blossoming, dressed all in green, interwoven with an array of colored flowers with intoxicating aromas. I see Kremenets again in the summertime, with the fruit trees' hanging bounty. I see my city in the rich golden autumn and in the white winter nights, and developed in her brilliant mantle of snow, like a magical queen. And what about the fields and forestsfull of birdsong and the buzzing of bees and flies.
People came from all over the world to wonder at the splendor of our Kremenets, which was crowned with the name the Switzerland of Volyn.
And here above everyone the queen of the mountains arosethe Bona with its ancient walls of the old fortress, in which, according to legend, the Polish queen Bona lived at one time, and there she died. And again, the Mountain of the Virginsthe lady mountainthe Tsherntshe, Cross Montain, etc. On one side of Kremenets the Ikva River wound its way into the Krolievski Mostthe majestic bridgeand from there stretched the aromatic pine forests that overtook the towns of Velikiye Berezhtsy and Pochayev. Furthermore, nature wove an even more beautiful tapestry in which the songs of birds were heard along with the murmur of the waves of the water, the buzzing of the bees, and the rustle of the trees and grass. It was a godly melody in a wondrous landscape.
My dear city Kremenets!
The Kremenets streets were noisy with the fever of city life. A Jewish heart beat in Kremenets. Interwoven families drew their roots from many, many generations. They were good, hearty people. Everyone loved each other. Lovely Jewish children streamed into the schools with the will to learn, to absorb more knowledge. Kremenets produced many educated people: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and chemists, teachers and technicians, and over all rang the Jewish language, the Jewish song.
We can truly be proud of our Kremenets, which produced the worldrenowned Yitschak Ber Levinzon and also that great Polish poet Yuliush Slovatski. How can anyone forget all that?
How beautiful was the Great Synagogue of Kremenetsthe Jewish community's signature building. And there were other synagogues in which people prayed so devoutly and carried the love of the Almighty so deeply. Every little house, every blade of grasshow dear it was to all of us. And how much more dear it is to us now that we no longer have it.
Kremenets, my Kremenets! Where are you now?
Cities and towns have disappeared. Substantial buildings have fallen, forests have burned, but all of that is not the greatest pain. Cities can be rebuilt, but you, my dear ones, who will awaken you from your eternal sleep?
A frightful stillness has overtaken our Kremenets, it is still with the stillness of the cemetery; even the graves of our many generations have disappeared. The heart of our Kremenets has stopped beating.
There is no more Kremenets. The birds in the forest have been silenced; for whom shall they sing now?
Even the mountains have lowered their heads in sadness. The earth cries and shivers. She has absorbed too much innocent blood. She cannot bear it.
Sadness envelopes the dead town.
I cannot forget you, my destroyed town.
|Section of Sheroka Street|
By Manus Goldenberg (Israel)
English Translation by Murray Kaplan
A monument to a Jewish community that has fallen in the struggle for her own honor and the honor of her people.
Rivne and Zdolbunov have been freed. The thunder of the Red Army artillery has, for some time, been within earshot of my city, Kremenets. However, not a single Jewish soul remains there to capture with fear and trembling its echo, which brought forth the premonition of liberation the way it did in 1919, when the bandit Petliura's sword hung over their heads and bloodshed was a daily phenomenon.
Oh, with what great happiness did the Jews greet the young Red Army that came to redeem them, to give them back their humanity. How close to them where those tattered and frayed young men with red stars on their caps and tiny red flowers in their rifle's sights, fatigued from the slaughter but with beaming, friendly faces.
The city whose doors and gates had been locked and shuttered for months suddenly came to life. Young and old breathed the breath of freedom in deeply. Now, however, the Red Army found only burning embers and their comrades' graves.
Back in the fall of 1942, about a halfyear before the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the Kremenetsers rose up against the Germans with their weapons; for several days, they fought the enemy, and when all options were closed off, the surviving Jews burned down the city in its entirety with their own hands and left it to be consumed by fire.
This short account was delivered by a surviving child who ran away from nearby Vishnevets and, through a miracle, arrived here in the Land of Israel.
In my eyesand deep in my soulshe stands, the city of my birth; a city that has stood for many centuries and still carries the signs of Tartar and Turkish rule. I see itthe city that was so beautiful and went by the name the Switzerland of Volyncrowned with awesome mountains and dipped in the greenery of her orchards.
And in the middle of all this rises the great Mount Bona, with greenery on its highest peaks. This summitthe ruined fortress of the Queen Bona from the Middle Agesis steeped in wonderful legends and fearsome stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
The mountains that have encircled the city have protected her from strong winds, and no fires have occurred in my Kremenets. Many of our city's houses have endured in their original style. In these very houses, in very crowded conditions, lived Jewish laborers, artisans, bazaar salesmen, butchers, and deliverymen, with their colorful language sprinkled with Jewish and Ukrainian colloquialisms, Jews strong as oak trees in the forest.
In the last few years, many storm winds have passed over these oak trees, and they have withstood it all with stubbornness. World War I brought war to the suburbsto the city gatesof their city, our Kremenets.
For two years, our citizens' ears were consumed by the thunder of artillery and the screech of shrapnel flying over their heads. Then revolutionary storms and civil war spread throughout the city. Some fine, heroic stories were written about the wellorganized Jewish home security forces by the families of Noach Pandera and R' Shlome Nagid, who returned from the trenches with their weaponry. I remember them well in their uniforms as they marched into battle, throwing the neighborhood's saloons and restaurants into disarray.
Again in 1918, when the German forces arrived with their savage regime, the local farmers rose up and attacked the city a few months later. Two Jewish boys were in command at the front of this army, and the end that the farmers visited on the traitors was bloody indeed.
Then came the catastrophe of Petliura, the murderer. Days of fear and trembling followed by the Bolshevik takeover of the city, with all the bitter peculiarities of Cheka, among whose collaborators was one of my school chums. He used to recite Y. L. Gordon's poems of so beautifully and was also a Hebrew teacher, an intelligent and fine gentleman. Later, the Bolsheviks abandoned Kremenets, and the city fell under the whip hand of the White Russian authorities. It had hardly caught its breath before the outbreak of the RussianPolish war. The city changed hands several times. There were months of rumors and arrests. The Jews, the Bolsheviks, escaped.
Days of peace came again after stormy years, but they didn't ease the Kremenets Jews' lot. Tax collectors and their underlings came after them. Against their will, the younger Jewish generation was relegated to unemployment and became a burden on their parents, who became more and more povertystricken.
Just a few days after the outbreak of the war in 1939, Kremenets was the recipient of a great honor: the Polish authorities, who had just abandoned Warsaw, their capital, quartered themselves in Kremenets along with their diplomatic corps. It didn't take long for the Luftwaffe to find them in the city and bomb them constantly… And again came Soviet tanks, which saved the city from a terrible fate. Immediately, the citizenry's life became regimented. The new authority in Kremenets deviated from its regular footpath and struck out anew. It was lenient with the Jews. Jewish trees began to bloom and became leafy. However, the city's fate was apparently sealed, and soon Kremenets had fallen.
The Soviet tanks will perhaps someday again show up on its streets, but this time they will be greeted by dead silence and only the cawing of crows in the fine old Lyceum Park, which was a Polish youth center in the 19th century. In its hallowed walls sprouted the Polish writer Yuliush Slovatski.
A cemetery spreads out on the slopes of the highest mountain, among the stones and wilderness and close to meandering streams. Its squeezedtogether grey stones overlook the destroyed city like a frightened flock of sheep. A great congregation of many thousands of Jews lies here, hidden; they were the mute witnesses of the terrible tragedy that overtook their children and children's children.
And one day, when I can come to you, my dear city of my birth, I will summon the strength and go up the narrow footpath to your cemetery. I will place my ear on your gravestones and absorb this terrible tale of heroism in order to leave it as a legacy to my children and those who come after me, to the end of all generations.
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