The house of the Genius Ben-Zion Volinsky, of blessed memory, was known and famous in the town and its surroundings.
The Rabbi was known for his many talents and his knowledge of the holy books. He would sit day and night by his wide and big table and learn chapters in the Gemorah. At the time of his studies, his pleasant voice would reach many houses in the area.
The Jews of Stepan flocked to his house with all sorts of questions about Kashrut and other laws. His house was open all the hours of the day, and he would help all in counseling and guidance. Even though his economical situation was always difficult, he would invite Friday night dinner guests to his house. For the most part, the Rav would live from the support of his many followers from other countries, especially from the United States, where they appreciated their Rabbi as a great and wise learner.
His only son, Sandar, of blessed memory, was also a learned student, smart and of many traits. Despite his young age, he would solve all sorts of questions in Gemorah. Many yeshivah boys who visited Stepan would sit by the table of the Rabbi and his son, and would take in much wisdom and knowledge from the Rabbi and his son, Sandar.
Sandar was also active in the Revisionist Movement and would lecture and speak in synagogues in the town. When the news of the forming of the Covenant of Yeshurun, which was a branch of the Covenant of Tzohar (the Revisionist Zionists), became known, he was amongst its first founders. Thanks to his talent in speaking and his strong clinging to the Torah of Israel along with Zionism, he was successful in forming The Council of Supporters of the Covenant of Yeshurun, which was accepted by Religious Judaism in the town.
In the last years before the war, he also was a commander in Betar. His logic and energy contributed to the basis of the Revisionist Party, including all of its factions.
The house of the Genius Ben-Zion Volinsky and his son, Sandar, of great talents, and their family members, will always be remembered by the people of the town and by all who knew them.
Yisrael Kaufman made Aliyah as a pioneer in 1933. He was a member of Kibbutz Ramat Rochel. Today he is a member of Kibbutz Ein-Hacarmel.
There did not remain any pictures of my father. Because my father was afraid of breaking the negative commandment of Don't make for yourself a picture or any stature, he did not have his picture taken a lot. The picture he gave me before I made Aliyah was burned in the battles of the Independence War in Ramat Rochel. But I can place before my eyes the pure figure of my father tall, his face with a white beard, his soft eyes like the eyes of a child, which showed his good heart and pure soul.
My father was a man of the Torah, and every evening he would sit bent over his Gemorah until the late hours of the night and study. He tried to influence us, his sons, that we would look in the holy books, and that we wouldn't read all sorts of books that do not lead to the fear of G-d. Many a times I would sit with him and study Alshich, in order to make him happy.
Father was religious, kept the mitzvot, the difficult ones like the easy ones, and believed unreservedly in Divine Providence. He was religious, but would not argue with others about religious matters. He tried to influence us in pleasant ways, so we would believe that everything that G-d does is for the best.
Many times I was jealous of his great faith in G-d, of his ability to justify the judgment, even when fate was bitter, and his suffering was too great to bear. Till this day I remember the day of the death of my mother, Malcha of blessed memory. I was twelve years old then. All of us, including my father, cried bitterly over my mother's death. With great sorrow, we arrived at the cemetery. When the time came to say the justification of the judgment, my brother, David of blessed memory, could not hold back and challenged the heavens by saying: No, G-d is not right in taking our mother from us. I will not justify the judgment. Father was shocked when he heard these heretic words, and in a crying voice, he scolded my brother and said: We must not ponder the actions of G-d. G-d gave and G-d took. He is right and his judgment is right. We all cried and said again what father said about the justification of the judgment, just as he asked us to do.
Father was a seeker of peace. He was very accepted by the Jews of the town as a righteous and naïve man of contributing attributes. More than once when a quarrel would break out between two Jews, they would come to him for a din Torah (a decision according to the Torah). When he would make his decision, nobody would protest his decision because all knew he was a symbol of justice. The love of Israel was a holy principle to him. He went according to the ways of Reb Levi Yitzchak from Bradichev. He would judge every Jew in a positive way. Even when the Jew did a sinful act, he would look for a way to justify his action, and to find in this Jew the Jewish spark.
I do not remember father speaking an everyday discussion. All of his free time was spent in learning Torah and Talmud. Only once a year, he would allow himself to become less serious and tell a joke, which was also related to the learning of Torah, and that was on the day of Simchat Torah.
Someone who did not see my father dance the Hakafot on Simchat Torah, never saw someone who could transcend materialism. When the Sefer Torah was in his hands, he would dance ecstatically before the Holy Ark, with his eyes closed, his face pale, and he looked like a man not in this world, as if in the upper spheres of spirituality. When they urged him to rest a bit, he would continue dancing as if all his bones would say to him it is not the time to be urged to rest and would sing: All the Jews are happy on Simhat Torah, the Torah and Israel are one. Thus he would continue until his strength came to an end. Then he would return the Sefer Torah to the Holy Ark, sit in his seat, and his eyes would sparkle with precious light as if the Divine Presence was upon his face
The year that mother passed away, a year of mourning, everyone thought that father would not dance his famous dance on Simhat Torah. But all were surprised to see him dancing greater than other years, the dance of even though and despite it all, a dance that he had never danced all of his life.
Our house was a Zionist home. All the brothers knew Hebrew, and there was a period of time that Hebrew was the language of the home. Father was not a Zionist in the usual way. He was not a member of the Mizrachi Party or of Agudat Yisrael, but his love for the land of Israel was great. He enjoyed hearing the holy language spoken by us, and on the Sabbath, he would use only the Hebrew language.
I will never forget the minute when father gave me his picture, at the time when I came to say goodbye to him before I made aliyah in 1933. With teary eyes and a shaky voice, he said to me: I do not know if I will have the privilege to reach our holy land. I took my picture especially in order that my picture will be with you in the land of Israel, and let it be as if my body is also there. He requested from me that I visit in the holy places when his picture was with me.
Monthly I would receive letters from him full of yearning for Israel. He wrote his letters in Hebrew in the style of the Mishna, and every line expressed his great love for the pioneers that were building the land. I will never forgive myself for not helping him make aliyah. I was afraid that he would be disappointed when he would see me working sometimes on the Sabbath, and that I did not keep kashrut. Who would have dreamed then that the flood of the Jews of Poland was approaching, and that in a couple of years, the Jews of Europe would be destroyed, and along with them, my large family. My sister's son and I were the only survivors of the family.
Also at the time of the Soviet Regime, I would still receive letters from him in which he would hint to me of the difficult life. But his heart did not predict what was to be expected under the horrible Nazi Regime.
From pieces of information that I heard from my father's life in the ghetto and his bitter end, it seems that until the last moments, he did not lose his faith in G-d, and did not let others arrive at heretic thoughts. He saw himself as the continuation of the chain of righteous that died in order to sanctify the name of G-d. He accepted his suffering with love.
All his life he lived a righteous life, and died as a righteous man.
Mr. Kalat and his family were not born in the town. They came to the town from central Poland. Mr. Kalat was a teacher of Polish History in the public school, in which most of its students were Ukrainians and Polish and only a few were Jews.
In the school, Mr. Kalat was known as a short-tempered person, strict, not generous in giving good grades, and had high standards for discipline and order with no compromises. Amongst the Jews of the town, he was known as a Jew who kept his distance from the other Jews of the town. He and his family mingled with the Polish intellectuals and little with the Jews. They spoke Polish amongst themselves. Mr. Kalat and his family did not hurry to the synagogue to pray, except on Yom Kippur.
His children did not take part in the Zionist youth movement.
In summary, Mr. Kalat and his family were exceptionally different and heretic in the eyes of most of the Jews of the town, except for a few who were friendly with them.
Despite this strange behavior, I saw a totally different picture when he would join us (a small group of Jewish students amongst the sea of non-Jewish students) in a small classroom, and would teach us in the Polish language about the Jewish religion and its principles. Once a week, at the same hour, the rest of the Ukraininan-Provaslavic and Polish-Catholic students would receive religion lessons from a priest or his certified representative. Here the character of Mr. Kalat was totally different from his daily appearance in his regular classes. His face was lit up, and he was full of joy at his effort to instill in us our holy Torah and its principles. He always returned and stressed the importance of national pride, even though we were swimming in a sea of hatred and jealousy.
From a figure of a strict teacher, he turned into a friendly fatherly shepherd. He stressed the importance of deep learning of all areas in general, and especially of the Torah of Israel.
It can be said that Mr. Kalat and his family were on the inside very warm and proud Jews with regard to their Judaism, but because he had a state job, the needs of the livelihood obligated him, as it seems, from daily involvement with his people. On the other hand, when he was allowed in a formal framework as a teacher to teach the Torah of his fathers to his people, he was eager to speak and do his work faithfully. Mr. Kalat and his family suffered, like the rest of the Jews of the town, all the sufferings of the persecutions of the Germans even before the ghetto was formed and later in the ghetto. They were killed along with the rest of the Jews of the town.
With great honor and love, here I bring forth the memory of my father, Yoel Baruch of blessed memory, Reb Yoel-Boruch, as he was called in our town Stepan, the head and the crown of our family. I see him in my eyes: on his lips, a simple and pleasant smile, and his eyes showing warmth and goodness. He was short, had a high forehead which was a characteristic forehead for a talmid chacham (a learned student), and an educated man.
As a student of the Rovno Yeshivah, he immersed himself in the wisdom of Israel, and was well versed in the revealed Torah and the hidden wisdom. Along with this, our house was a traditional-nationalist home. Father would talk to his children sometimes in Hebrew. He had command of the language without any inhibitions.
As a lover of learning and knowledge, he was very committed to the existence and development of the local Hebrew school, Tarbut. His concern for Hebrew education and Jewish tradition was of his greatest priorities. He was the head of the parents' committee and had close contact with the teachers of the school. He made an effort along with the teacher, Moshe Kaufman, to pay the teachers their wages on time, something that was difficult at this time period.
Along with him being a well-off man, as a merchant of manufacturing utensils, and the owner of an oil press, he was a very popular person as his goodness was expressed on his face. He would say hello to everyone who came his way, and was very accepted by all levels of society.
Being of this type, he was accepted by all the religious judges of the town: Rav Ben-Zion Volinsky, the Rabbi of the working men, and the good nature, the Rabbi of the people and the craftsmen.
Our house was an open house to all poor people in need of charity. There were cases of people who lost all of their assets. Father would not be quiet until they rose up again. He even would not be ashamed to pressure his friends, who had money, in order to help out. It is superfluous to say that he would practice what he preached.
In addition to his great work in the area of Hebrew education, he was the father of the founders of the Covenant of Yeshurun in Stepan, and was amongst the active people on the committee of the branch in Stepan.
In 1933, he joined the Covenant of Tzohar (the Revisionist Zionists), and in the last years of the 1930s, he was the head of it. He also acted as a delegate of the Tel-Chai Fund. Because of his great dedication and success in the area of his activity, he received a letter of thanks from Mrs. Z. Botinsky from Paris.
Even though he was very involved in public activity, he did not neglect his childrens' education, and cared to plant in them good attributes and values, for instance: love for people, respect for adults, good friendships, not being arrogant, patience for others, and loyalty to the people and the land of Israel. When I would go with father to the synagogue on the Sabbath and on the holidays, father would say to me many times: It doesn't matter how a man prays and where he prays. The main thing is the prayer in his heart. This kind of prayer is more important than all. In general, we had a very warm relationship. I didn't only feel for him a relationship of a son to a father, but to an elderly friend with the wisdom of life. That was my sisters' feeling Brendele of blessed memory and Batya who should live a long life.
On Rosh Hashana, father would blow the shofar in our synagogue. He told me that this was something he inherited from his father, Yehoshua Halevi, my grandfather, of blessed memory.
On every Rosh Hashana, our synagogue would become filled with the usual people who prayed there, along with many visitors. Many of them were friends of father who came to hear him blow the shofar.
The fact that my father began, before the tekiot, the prayer Min-Hametzar by himself showed how accepted he was in the community. On his right, Reb Ben-Zion, the teacher who was very authoritative, would whisper in his ears: tekiyah, tekiyah, shivarim, teruah, etc. I remember this because I would stand by my father, with his prayer shawl over me. It seemed that his tekiot were stronger than the tekiot of the accusing Satan, and paved the way to heavens to the throne of the Creator of the World.
Along with this, my father was known in the religious circles as a progressive man and very far from religious fanaticism, and a keeper of the mitzvot in the true sense of the word.
Father was not a chassid, but was personally friendly with the rebbi, Reb Baruch Tversky, of blessed memory.
My mother, Bonia, of blessed memory, his helpmate, was very good hearted, and was one of righteous women of the town. She gave anonymous charity, and even my father and we did not know who she prepared the food for on the Sabbaths and the holidays. She was very honest, and always said what was on her mind. As a Jewish mother, she was very dedicated to her children, and she was considered as a good aunt on both sides of the family.
When we prepared for my Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the preparation of the cakes and the rest of the delicacies were like those of a wedding.
One of the friends of the family, Sandar Volinsky, the son of Rabbi Ben-Zion, who prepared me for my Bar Mitzvah, said: Bonia, we are talking about preparations for a Bar Mitzvah and not about preparations for a wedding. My mother answered him and said: I am fortunate enough to prepare for my son's Bar Mitzvah. I am not sure that I will be fortunate enough to prepare for my only son's wedding. She said this without knowing that this would be the truth.
When World War II broke out, the Russians conquered the eastern area of the Polish State. In June 1941, the German Army invaded Russia, and within a short period of time, the Stepan Ghetto was formed. The suffering of the Jews in the ghetto was unbearable. The Germans, along with the aid of the Ukrainians, put the Jews of the ghetto on the wagons of the Ukrainians and led them to Kostopol, which was 35 kilometers from Stepan. They forced the Jews to dig holes, take their clothes off, and they shot them, as they fell on their knees into the holes. This was the last road of our dear friends, holy and pure, may G-d avenge their blood.
While they traveled in the direction of Kostopol, there were those who jumped from the wagons, and fled to the deep forests in the area. According to the advice of Uncle Meir (the brother of my mother), my sisters, Batya and Brendele, my mother, and my aunt, Henia jumped and fled into the forests. Uncle Meir refused to do so. My sisters, my mother, and Uncle Meir's family hid in the forest, and they ate what my sister, Brendele, who was twelve years old, would bring. She would go to the doors of the farmers to ask for bread for us.
In one of the attacks of the Ukrainians on Jews, they shot and killed some of the Jews of our town who hid in one of caves in the area. My sister, Brendele and my cousin, Sonya, were caught alive on their way to Stepan. They were brutally tortured until their pure souls died, may G-d avenge their blood. This became known to my sister, Batya, from a Polish woman who lived near our home, and who had even helped us during the period of time that we were in the ghetto.
Mother died of exhaustion in the forest, and was buried there. My father and my Uncle Michel were murdered in one of the nearby villages after they were deceived by a guard of the forest, an old friend of theirs. Before they were killed, they made sure that Mosik and Zina, the son of the sheet-metal worker, would flee into the forest and fight for their lives.
I will always imagine them before me. May G-d avenge their blood.
The caption below the picture:
The house of Reb Pesach Bebtchuk and his good wife along with their children, Moshe Bebtchuk, Avraham, Shmariyahu, and the sisters, Chaya, Miriam, and Tziril, were known in the town as a large family.
Reb Pesach was a fair merchant of manufacturing utensils, and was accepted by his many customers from the nearby villages.
When the war broke out, many of his customers and friends from amongst the Christians and the Ukrainians in the area turned to him and helped him and his family to hide in their homes. His eldest son, Moshe, and his wife, Leah (from the Tachor family), and the two daughters, Yehudit and Sonya, were hid by a non-Jew in a nearby village for a certain period of time. When it became known that there would be searches soon for Jews in the village, Moshe had to bring his family back to the ghetto to his parents.
Moshe was known in the town as an excellent public dealer. He would support many orphans and people who needed help. In the years before the war, he was very active in the Achdut Avodah Movement. He organized many meetings, and would speak before the supporters of the movement. He planned to move to Israel, despite his age. Unfortunately, he was not fortunate enough to fulfill his dreams.
The Nazis murdered him along with his large family. Let their memory be blessed.
Their daughter, Shoshana, from the Shpritz family, is alive and lives in Israel. Their son, Avraham, lives in Argentina.
The captions below the pictures on page 210:
Chayke Bebtchuk Pesach Bebtchuk.
Their house served as a shelter in the town, a place for free sleeping quarters for homeless, and for passers by. It was the house of Yechiel and Reitza Vildgoiz. Yechiel immigrated to Canada in 1931, in search of a better livelihood than what he had in the town. His wife, Reitza (from the house of Weitchnodel the daughter of Ben-Zion Weitchnodel) and her children, Nachum, Chava, Rochel, and Gittel stayed in the town until the husband got in order the new home in Canada and could receive them.
Thus they waited in the town until 1935. The mother, with the aid of her father, carried the weight of the family by herself, with some financial support from her husband in Canada.
The children were involved in the town life. They were students in the Tarbut School, and were active in the youth movements. It was difficult for them to say goodbye to the youth of the town. The son, Nachum, when he visited Israel, was surprising in his many and detailed memories from those days.
Yechiel, of blessed memory, died in Canada. Reitza, the mother of Nachum, died in 1972.
Nachum and his sisters, Chava, Rochel, and Gittel, live along with their families in Canada.
The caption below the picture on page 212:
Reitza (from the house of Weitchnodel) Gordon of blessed memory with her children Nachumke, Chava, Rochel, and Gittel, that they live long lives, when they arrived from Stepan to Canada in the year 1934.
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