(No. 4/2007 – October 2007)
A Trip to Shereshev
Background on Shereshev
known record of our family name, Feldbaum, is Matas Feldbaum, who was born in
Shereshevo around 1750. He is our direct ancestor –
Martin’s gggg and David’s ggggggrandfather. Shereshevo is in Grodno Gubernia,
The picture on the left is our ancestor, Aaron Feldbaum (standing on the right), and his brother Nachman, with their mother Zelda, taken in Shereshev around 1875. The Feldbaums
lived in Shereshev continuously from at least 1750
until 1942. This was when the Germans
emptied the town of all the Jews by killing them and/or transporting them to
Our family had only one survivor living in Shereshev just prior to the war - Laibel
Feldbaum, the son of Nachman
Feldbaum, who was Aaron’s brother. After he was liberated from
Aaron Feldbaum married Yuddis (Judith) Smorgon, and in
1881 left Shereshev and moved to Białowieża.
They had 11 children, and both Martin Zafman
and Yuddis Feldbaum and
their children all immigrated to the
The picture to the left is from a painting of Aaron Feldbaum studying the Talmud. The original photo, taken
by a WPA photographer during the Depression, hung in the
addition to the Feldbaum ties to Shereshev, Martin’s father, Israel Zafman, and his family can be traced to Shereshev to about 1735.
The picture on the far left, taken about 1916, shows Martin’s
are a few notes on coordinating your own trip, especially if you are going to
Flights going directly into
The map above shows that we started in
afternoon we arrived in
On Sunday we left
On Monday morning, May 28, our driver and guide came to
the hotel to pick us up, and take us across the border to
David asked Martin for his passport and walked to the front of the line with our guide to see if they could expedite things. David told the border guard that he was traveling with an old man who was not feeling well, and he was worried about his health. The guard looked at the passports, and told David to go back to the car and move to the front of the line. They stopped the oncoming traffic so we were able to get to the front of the line. While the guard was “processing” us he stepped out of his booth to get a good look at me. He asked Martin for his medical insurance documents. Martin showed him what he had, and he decided that they were not adequate. He made Martin buy special Belarusian health insurance for a total cost of $4.00, and he sent us on our way.
As soon as we crossed the border our guide asked to see the insurance document, and she started to laugh. The piece of paper was an advertisement for something that had nothing to do with health insurance. It seems that this was his way of getting a bribe.
Once we got into
The picture to the extreme left is the main office in the Archives. As you can see, most of the records are either in card catalogs or binders – we did not see any computers. Every item in the Archives is documented in a master index. The index is kept in a journal much like an accountant uses. Nothing there is digitized, microfilmed, or reproduced in any other way to make it easier to find information. We spent the rest of the day looking through the indexes and listing all the documents that had the name of Shereshev, Feldbaum, or Zyvzich. At the end of the day, we gave the list to the assistant who said that she would have the documents ready for us the next morning.
When we arrived the next morning she had a pile of the original documents from the archive. Our guide started to go through these old files, some of them almost 200 years old. The original documents were filed in leather-bound books that were falling apart. The leather was mostly cracked and peeling. Some of the books were 5 or 6 inches thick with documents. The room we did the research in can be seen in the picture on the left.
We found information about our maternal grandfather’s brother, who left Shereshev with his 8-year old son during the time a census was taken. The two documents above show the front and back of the revision record form, necessary to prove that he had reason not to be home when the revision was taken. When he returned, his son was not with him. Apparently, his son died in 1875 while away with his father. We assume that our great uncle took the boy to get medical help but was unsuccessful. On the back of the census form there was a statement that attested to the fact that the boy died. The back was certified and signed by Rabbi Shereshevsky.
The Director of the Archives allowed us to photograph each document with our own cameras. We did have to pay about $5.00 for each picture. We needed the pictures so we could have a hard copy of the actual document that our guide would be able to translate for us. The other documents we found are shown in the pictures on the left. They are written in Old Russian Cyrillic. A great deal of the information we found gave very detailed descriptions of our families’ residences, including building materials, size of building, number of rooms, and whether or not there was a business in the building.
last night in
We toured the Ghetto, and he described to us what life
there was like. The pictures to the
left show the entrance to the Jewish Ghetto and the memorial plaque that
honored them after the war. While we
were standing at the entrance, Tzvi told us of his
daring escape from the train on the way to
The picture to the left shows a stork. There were literally hundreds of these huge birds’ nests on many buildings, poles, and any other available above-ground structure. Some of the nests were almost 4 feet in diameter.
When our parents and grandparents lived in Shereshev and Białowieża, a trip to Pruzhany was a long, tiring one – about 15 kilometers. Traveling that distance by horse and wagon on unpaved roads took its toll on the people. They only traveled back and forth on special occasions.
Today the trip took about half an hour on a road that had no traffic, but did have more than a few potholes. Still, it was an easy trip.
A few hundred yards from the outskirts of the city there is a road sign that announces that we have arrived in Shereshev. The picture on the left shows the sign that stands on the road from Pruzhany at the entrance to the village. The sign is written in Belarusian Cyrillic and reads “Sheresheva”. The Jews called it Shereshev. This picture was taken at the height of the local rush hour - notice that there isn't one vehicle in sight. We stopped the car, walked to the sign, and took pictures of it. It is so hard to describe the feelings we had - we were about to walk in the same streets that our ancestors walked...
As we began to walk around, our guide told us that we had an appointment with the mayor of Shereshev. His name was Vadim Malyshkevich. We went to City Hall (see picture at left), where he was waiting for us. He seemed genuinely happy to see us. He didn't speak English so our guide did the translating for us. He was warm and gracious, and asked us a bunch of questions. He said that he was born in Shereshev, and he told us a bit of the town’s history. He was sad that there are no records of any Jews ever living in Shereshev and that he knows that we had a major role in the development of the village. He was unhappy about this because the Jews were so much a part of the city’s history.
We asked the Mayor if we could take his picture and he agreed; however, he insisted that he sit at his desk and made sure that he was centered properly beneath the Coat of Arms of Belarus and the picture of Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus.
We told him that our ancestor, Matis Feldbaum, was born there in 1750, and that Martin’s gggggrandfather, Nossel Zyfzick, was born there in 1735. He asked us if we had any pictures of Shereshev, and David said that he did. David then downloaded pictures from the Feldbaum/Feldman website, and gave them to him.
We asked the Mayor if he had a map of Shereshev, and he produced a huge 5’ X 7’ map, dated 1911 (far left). It shows every street, house, and house number. In addition to the map, the mayor gave us a copy of the Coat of Arms of Shereshev, and a picture of this can be seen on the left.
At the time
Martin didn't realize that we had the address of the house that his great
grandfather, grandfather, and father lived in. It was on one of the
documents that we found in the Grodno Archives, but
hadn't yet translated. The house that
He then invited us to have lunch with a few of the local politicians in what we think is the only restaurant in town, called Raisa Bulchuk, owned by a woman who lives in Shereshev. She also owns 6 other restaurants in the surrounding area. She, along with the Mayor, hosted the lunch. There was no menu - the waiter just kept bringing food, and we kept eating. We also partook of the customary rounds of vodka that go with every meal. We were each given shot glasses, and had to have 3 shots of the strongest vodka we have ever had. It was potent.
The inside of the restaurant can be seen on the far left, and our meal is shown on the left. We noticed a moon-shaped window cut into the door of a very small building in the back, and subsequently, found out that there is no indoor plumbing anywhere in Shereshev. Each house has its own well (or a shared well) in the yard that supplies them with water.
The mayor told us that there are only a few people left that remembered what it was like before the war. One was a lady with whom he had arranged a visit for us in her house (picture at left).
When we drove up to her house, she was waiting for us in her yard. Almost every house in Shereshev had a garden, either in front, in back, or on the side, as did hers, where they grew their own vegetables. If they had more then the needed, they sold the excess at the market.
The pictures to the left and below show the main room in the house. It probably looks exactly the same as it did 75 years ago. It was immaculate and quite comfortable.
The main room was a multi-purpose room. It served as the dining room, living room, and bedroom. Notice the huge bed pillows. The carpets on the walls serve two purposes. First, it’s decorative, and second, it’s utilitarian. It keeps the drafts out, and prevents the heat from escaping in the winter.
The furniture was quite old, but in excellent condition. We suspected that there had been no changes in the house since it had been built. It gave us a great opportunity to see how the people live now, as well as 100 years ago.
We then sat down at the table shown to the left, and talked with the elderly woman though our interpreter, our guide. We asked her what it was like before the war. She told us that she remembered that every Friday evening a town crier went around calling, “Shabbos, Shabbos”, to let everyone know that it was time for the Sabbath to begin. She told us stories about going to school with the Jewish children and how everyone got along. She also had some photographs of herself when she was a student in elementary school. It was a mixed group that included the Jewish children who went to the secular school.
We asked her if she knew what happened to the Jews - she told us that one night they all ran away, leaving everything behind, and that no one was killed. We respectfully told her what happened to our great uncle, Nachman, who lived in Shereshev, and that he and his family perished in the Holocaust. She remained silent, as did we.
Martin asked her if she had a pripichuk. He didn’t know if she would laugh at him, or be embarrassed because she didn’t know what it was. Much to the surprise of all of us, she said, “Yes”, and invited us into her kitchen to see it. Her pripichuk can be seen below.
When Martin was a young boy, his father told him stories of what life was like in the “Old Country”. He described in great detail the many roles of the pripichuk, a wood-burning stove. First, it was an oven that provided heat for the entire house. It was also a cooktop where the food was prepared. In addition, it served as the clothes dryer. (See the picture to the left with the clothes drying on it.) However, in the winter it was mostly used as a bed because it was the warmest place in the house.
To sleep on the pripichuk, first a sheet was spread over the sleeping shelf. On top of the sheet was placed a “perineh”, a goose down-filled comforter, which acted as a mattress and softened the “bed”. A person slept on top of this perineh. A second perineh was used as a blanket. Sonny’s father claimed that sleeping on the pripichuk was as warm as toast and extremely comfortable. Our hostess was very proud of her house, and she showed us the heavy perinehs that were on her bed.
The mayor then had someone bring us to the Jewish cemetery in Shereshev. It was heartbreaking because it had been almost totally destroyed. The graves were destroyed by the Germans, by townspeople who used the stones for building materials, and by the locals who destroyed them for the fun of it. There are only 2 or 3 gravestones that are still standing, but leaning, and will eventually fall. The majority of the remaining stones have sunk into the ground so that only the top one-third or less is visible. The harsh seasonal weather softens the ground, which subsequently cannot support the full weight of the stones, so they have sunk into the soil over the years.
can see from the picture on the left, goats freely roamed the cemetery. There were many fragments of stones with
engravings on them. The picture on the
far left was the most well-preserved of all the stones that we saw. We took pictures of all of the stones that
were in any way legible, and sent them to
When we were finished taking pictures at the cemetery, we just drove around and took some photographs of the town. The pictures shown here show how little has probably changed from when our ancestors lived there. As you can see, transportation is pretty basic, from the horse-drawn wagon to the frequently seen bicycles.
On the main street through town we took a couple of pictures of houses showing the shared wells (see pictures on the left and below). People have to draw water from the well for all of the bathing, cooking, washing needs, etc. As already mentioned, each house has an outhouse in the back, as does the restaurant and all other buildings.
The house next to the elderly woman had a huge wood storage area. Even though it was summer time, there was wood stored for heating the stove for cooking and making hot water. We assumed that in late summer they would have to prepare a great deal of firewood to last through the winter.
While we were driving around, we never saw any automobiles, but did see animals such as the geese shown to the left.
Before we left Shereshev we
wanted to see the house where our grandfather/great grandfather’s
brother, Nachman Feldbaum,
lived. In 1891 he moved to a nearby
town, which we also visited, and details on this are below. A family member had given us a picture of
what she thought was Nachman’s house. In doing research before going on our trip,
we ran across a beautiful story written by Moshe Kantorowitz
about his life in Shereshev from 1933 until he went
Moshe’s story he mentioned his next-door neighbor, Nachman
Feldbaum, many times in the book. Moshe had a picture of his house in Shereshev in the story, and it was the same picture we
had which we thought was Nachman’s
house. Both the Kantorowitzes
and the Feldbaums had some of the larger homes in Shereshev so when the Germans arrived,
they wanted to take over these houses for their headquarters. Unfortunately, when the Germans demanded Nachman’s house, apparently he didn’t move
quickly enough so the German SS guard shot him in the head in front of his
family. Eventually, the rest of the
family met the same fate, except Nachman’s
son Laibel, who was with Moshe at
Having a picture and knowing that Moshe’s house was on the market square and that Nachman’s house was right next to it, it was not difficult to find both houses. Both of these houses can be seen in the picture above. The aqua-colored house on the left is Moshe Kantorowitzes’, and Nachman Feldbaum’s is the brown one on the right. The area in the front of these houses is currently a park, but before the war it was the market square. It was disappointing that no one was home because we would have loved to see the interior. We did walk around the house, and to the left is a picture of the back of Nachman’s house.
We have an old picture from Nachman’s house showing his mother Tzina and his daughter Sarah standing in front of the house. The sign on the door behind Sarah shows a picture of a shoe, and says “Gentlemen” (in English) - Nachman and his brother Aaron were both cobblers. This picture was taken about 1920. While Nachman’s house shown above has 4 windows in the front, on a blow-up of the picture an outline of where the door that Tzina and Sarah are standing by can be seen.
After spending most of the day in Shereshev,
we decided to leave for
So we arranged for another guide and driver to assist us
The entire train trip was supposed to take 18 minutes to
Our Polish guide and driver were waiting for us at the train station. They, too, were most pleasant and extremely knowledgeable. We asked the guide if he had ever heard of a Polish King named Sabetski, and he immediately told us the exact date of his reign in the 17th century. He was a walking encyclopedia, and even though it was a little hard to understand his English, he added so much to our understanding of the area.
In 1881 our grandfather/great grandfather Aaron Feldbaum and his wife Yuddis Smorgon Feldbaum, who were young newlyweds, moved from Shereshev to Białowieża, which was about 15 kilometers to the west. From the 1600’s until World War I Jews were restricted to living in certain areas within the Pale of Settlement. Białowieża was outside the Pale.
(pronounced B’ya-yo-vesh-ia), which is now in
The town of
Aaron and Yuddis bought a
house on the main street of town, where all of their 11 children were
born. Three of the children died at a
very young age. The family lived in
the house for 40 years. They left in
April, 1921, to go to
Martin Zafman was a small boy, his mother, Rachel
Feldman Zafman, told him many stories about her
In addition to knowing roughly how big the house was and what the house looked like, we also knew it was on the main street down from the entrance to the park. At the park we got a detailed map of the area, and found the main street we were looking for - it was called ul. Waszkiewicza. The first part of the street had some stores and restaurants, but after the first street it was entirely residential. It did not take us long to see the house that met the specs exactly, but we decided we should drive up and down the street to make sure that there was not another house that fit the description. There was no other house that matched exactly what Martin remembered from the stories that his mother told him.
The picture above and to the left was what we saw. It was the only house with a bay window on the main street that was well over 100 years old. While the house seemed small across the front, the house was quite long, as can be seen from the side view above and to the right. Given that there were 11 children and 2 adults, we felt comfortable that it was big enough to accommodate the family.
Martin also had mentioned about a separate room on the back, and sure enough we found one, as can be seen from the rear view, shown in the picture on the left.
Perhaps you can imagine our joy when we found the house. It was so special for us to see the house that some of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents were born in. It’s difficult to describe our emotions when we walked around the house, walking on the same ground as our ancestors. The stories that Rae Feldbaum (Rachel) told her son Martin immediately came to life, and we were transported back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. It was a very emotional time, and undoubtedly, the highlight of our trip.
next and final stop was Narewka, which is the
location of the Jewish cemetery for Jews buried in this area. The road between Białowieża
and Narewka is a single-lane dirt road that cuts
right trough the
We had a picture of a gravestone of a son-in-law of
Aaron and Yuddis, who died around 1924. The picture on the left shows Aaron’s
and Yuddis’ second oldest daughter, Reina, with her 2 daughters, Bella and Lily, at the
gravesite of their husband and father, Chaim Krugman. This
picture was taken in the Narewka cemetery some time
after 1924 and before 1929 when they immigrated to
to Shereshev, the Narewka
cemetery was in much better shape, but nowhere near its original
condition. After looking for over an
hour, we could not find any family members in the cemetery. The area around the gravestones was quite
overgrown, and there were no organized rows to follow, rather, just random
grave markers, some close together, others quite far apart. We took pictures of over 50 gravestones,
and some of the ones in better condition can be seen to the left. We also sent these pictures to
We would truly love to help bring the cemetery back to its original state, but, unfortunately, it’s just not realistic. Walking around the gravestones and reading as much Hebrew as we could really moved the clock back in time for us, albeit for a brief time.
Copyright © 2007
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