ONLINE NEWSLETTER
No. 12/2000 - 7. May 2000

Editor:
Elsebeth Paikin
The editorial staff:
Mario Kampel - Lori Miller

Delyatichi Between the two World Wars

A Village in Belarus and Research for Its Jewish Population

In loving memory of my father, Arie Cohen

by Ofer Cohen

Location and History

Delyatichi, coordinates 5347 2559, near Lubcha, the volust of Lubchanskaya, Uchastok 2, in the uyezd of Novogrudok. The village is located some 5 km west of the shtetl Lubcha.

Lubcha was in the 17th century, the Polish center of Calligraphy. There was the first Polish printing house. Afterwards it became a small village. It served as the municipal center of some smaller villages - Delyatich, Karelich, Naganbicha-Neishtat, and other villages that didn't have even a minyan - 10 Jewish men for praying correctly. Lubcha served also as the cultural center, and hence the description of the cultural institutions and Zionist activities will refer to Lubcha - all the rest were participating.

The Yizkor book states that before WWI the village Delyatichi Jewish population count was 350 Jews, although the official documents from 1905 (as were stated by Vitaly Charny) counted only 158. The difference may be explained in two ways:

A. The memoirs were written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The writers remembered the villages bigger than they really were, or wanted to remember it this way.

B. The governmental counts and census were not accurate.

During the war the river Nieman was the frontier between the Russian Imperial army and the German army. The German army occupied the village, and the civilian population was expelled. After the war, only 13 to 15 of the Jewish families returned. They found their homes robbed, and the yards were torn with holes of shells.

Economy

The Jewish population in Belarus was not stable: the Russian and Polish kingdoms, who ruled the area, exchanged the land between themselves. In certain times the living under the Tzar rule was easier, in other the Polish regime was more cooperative. My maternal grandfather was born in Lida at 1886 – at that time Lida was a Russian territory. However, his father came to Lida from a village in southwest Poland.

The population was poor: There is an infofile on JewishGen by Vitaly Charny there contains a list of the poor population vs. the overall population – in Delyatichi over 60% of the population were poor (95 poor people from a total population of 158). From reading literature of that period (Bialik, Shalom Aleichem, Mendele and other) we learn that poor were really poor, up to starvation, while wealth was, comparing to our nowadays life style, just a little less poor than the other. So, they chased after the "parnuse" - earning money for living - across the country.

The authorities wanted taxes, had "strange" rules regarding day-to-day life (such as "don’t pour the waste water to the street" – what a shame!), took the young men to the army, and had more bad attributes. So, our ancestors did all they could to avoid contacts with the authorities. Hence, the formal records have many "black holes".

The members of the two congregations made their living mainly on trade. The road from Minsk to Novogrudok, the current capital of the uyezd, is passing through the villages. The passengers stopped to make business. But the main source of living was from the Nieman river transportation. The trees from the upper part of the river were cut down, tied together into rafts, and were taken along the river. The sailors used to stop in the villages on the river banks and buy their needs.

The following table summarizes the occupation of the Delyaticher Jewish inhabitants, as was taken from the 1929 polish business directory - Novogrudok province (compiled by Ellen Sadove Renck). Do not rely too much on this information: not everyone was listed, not all who were listed declared accurately, and, of course, it was a mitzve to mislead the Goy ...

Surname Given name Occupation
Alpersztejn R. Grocer of food from the colonies
Bakszt J. Hardware shop
Berkowski - Brickwork
Gorodyski M. Cheese maker
Kagan J. Fabric_F
Slonimski F. Baker

Culture and Society

On the turn of the centuries, from the 19th to the 20th, There was a change in the character of the Jewish culture: The influence of the bloom of the Zionism came to the villages. The Zionist Congress meetings and the start of the Aliya to Palestine left its impression. The suffer that was caused by WWI was a trigger to the Zionist activities. The degradation of the financial status during the period of Gravski (second half of the 1920s), continued and deepened by the worldwide economic crisis in the 1930s, meant starvation. All this caused enhancement of the Zionist activities.

The congregations of Lubcha and Delyatichi lived very closely together. The description is of hard-living but happy people that shared their happiness and sorrow together. The Yizkor book mentions proudly the brothers Avrem'l and Moishe Gorodiski, who had good Bass voices, and frequently were used as cantors in Lubcha.

In 1910 the congregation committee decided to establish a library. The decision was to raise the money for the books from amateur shows. The Hebrew library was established in 1922, after the war. In 1927 a Hebrew literature learning group was established.

Yitzhak and Hana Dichter are telling in the Yizkor book on the Lubcher culture institutions: basic school, high school and afternoon club. The school was established in 1924. There were 7 classrooms, library, an auditorium and a teachers' room. The lessons were conducted in Hebrew. Beyond the program required by the Polish authorities, the children were taught Hebrew literature, art, drama and Judaism. The mothers, some of them could hardly read and write, were gathered every Saturday night to get lectures on education and Jewish tradition.

Most of the members of the congregations were so poor they could hardly pay the fee. In some of the years the teachers were paid only for eight months of the twelve. When the school needed more classrooms, the money that was donated too small, because of the poverty. So, one constructor was hired to serve as a guide, and all the work was done by the parents - every one gave three days of work.

The Zionistic youth activity started in 1924, when the Lyubcher branch of the "Hehalutz" was established. The first graduates made Aliya in 1926. The "Hashomer Hatzair" movement branch was established in 1928. In 1930 the cadets counted 180 children.

Two more Zionist movements that had small branches that were active sporadically were Poalei Tzion – left wing and Beitar – right wing.

The gentiles are hardly mentioned in the Yizkor book, and the witnesses did not agree to talk on them. This implies to carefully controlled relationship.

The Holocaust

By mid-1941 the Jews from Delyatichi were expelled to the Ghetto in Lubcha, with their pals from the other congregation, and from another tiny villages, where only few Jewish families lived. Few days beforehand the Belarusian neighbors came happily to tell the news, and to rob the goods. This was the sign for few, too few, of the Jews to escape to the woods.

The other stayed for a while in the Lubcher Ghetto. The Germans and mostly their local cooperators performed few small-scale actions, mostly in the older Jews. The rest were taken to the Ghetto in Novogrudok, where they were executed in the four slaughters, as the survivors call it.

The evidences are harsh: when the Jewish families were taken to the Ghetto, children were shot to death in front of their parents, old people were murdered, and young people were taken to work camps, and never been seen again.

The God will revenge the pure and sacred poured blood, as the Zionist national poet, Chayim Nachman Bialik wrote in his poem "Beir HaHareiga" - "In the City of Killing" (written 1882, on the pogrom in Odessa):

"And such a revenge,
A revenge of the blood of a small child,
The devil has not yet created"

The Map of Delyatichi

This map of Delyatichi was drawn during the interviews. The numbers in the following list are related to the house numbers in the village map.

  1. The synagogue. This was a big synagogue that served also as a school for Jewish studies. The children learned in the Polish school in the village during the mornings, and in the afternoon came to the synagogue to learn Yidishkite.
  2. Israel Berkovski – merchant of grains and bricks. Was named "tzigaine" – "gypsy".
  3. Avreml Gorodiski – Had a strong and good voice. Worked as a cantor. Sold fish.
  4. Slonimski.
  5. Michael Berkovski – bakery.
  6. Kushnir. The housewife was, probably, Yosef Kagan’s sister.
  7. Yankekevich – a wealthy family. Plantations owners and fruit merchants.
  8. Kibovich – bakery. Their son, Benyamin, was 10 years old in 1939, joined the partisans with his father and survived the war.
  9. Meishe Gorodiski (Avreml’s brother) – dairy. Like his brother he had nice voice and served as a cantor.
  10. Yosl Kagan – fabric shop and grocery. Slaughterer and cantor.
  11. Lish – Owned cattle. Merchant of wool and products. A wealthy family - the house was built of bricks.
  12. Alperstein.
  13. Lishanski.
  14. Fire brigade
  15. Krolbatzki. The housewife was a sister of Yosl Kagan or Siomka Kagan (Rabinovich).
  16. Baksht. The village Rabbi. Held a pharmacy. His son, Shmuel, joined the partisans and fought bravely. Two other sons escaped to US.

    The location of the following families’ houses is unknown:

  17. Beynes – bricks house.
  18. Asher Dvornik – came from Lida. Had a factory of beer.
  19. Klibovich – hiller

    Holocaust victims that are listed in the Yizkor book, but I know no further details:

  20. Bezsmertani
  21. Malkovitzki
  22. Klobak
  23. Shmukler

My Research

During the last year, I collected information from various sources, including interviews with some of the Holocaust survivors, the infofiles of JewishGen, the "Memorial book of Lubch and Delatich" (which most of it is dedicated to the bigger shtetl Lubch) and the resources of the Belarus SIG. I received a bunch of information from other genners. From all of these, I tried to construct a picture of the village and its Jewish congregation between World War I and World War II.

I am interested in the Kagan and Rabinovich families of this village. My grandparents were Yosef (Yosl) and Sima (Siomka, maiden name Rabinovich) Kagan. The picture of my maternal great-grand-parents, Moshe and Chaya Beyla, is attached. I have neither any picture of my grandparents or my paternal great-grand-parents, nor any other information on the families.

My grandparents had six children:

  1. Dov was the eldest. He immigrated to Israel in 1935 with "Hachalutz" Zionist youth movement. The second son, Arie (my father) immigrated to Israel in 1939 with "Hashomer Htzair" Zionist youth movement. They both lived here until they passed away at age 72.
  2. The third child, Bela (Bielka) was married in 1939 or 1940 to a merchant of fabrics in Novogrudok. I do not know his name, I know only that they lived next to the big synagogue. They had a baby daughter. They all were murdered in the first slaughter of Novogrudok – May 1941, in the forest of Novoyelde.
  3. The other three children 24 years old Haya, 22 Years old Shoshana (Shosha) and 14 years old Elhanan (Hunia) were murdered with their parents in the second slaughter in July 1942, in the forest of Varabevich.

A photo of the four younger children:
Bela is standing right, Chaya is standing in the left, Shoshana is kneeling at the right and Elchanan is sitting in the left.
The picture was taken in 1938 or 1939.
May the God revenge for their pure blood.

(Click on photo to see enlared copy)

My ancestors came from families with two very common names – Rabinowitz and Kagan.

The families were big. Hence, If a surname appeared in a village only once, it could have several reasons:

  1. The family origin was not there.
  2. During the last decade of the 19th century and the 1st decade of the 20th century a huge part of the Jewish population immigrated to US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, England, Germany and other countries. So, it could happen that all the family moved away.
  3. The surname system was not stable as yet, and the names could be changed.

I've found only one occurrence of those names in the villages. Due to a clue I've received lately, it seems that Avraham Rabinowitz of Lubcha was my grandmother’s brother. I have no hard evidence for this, but I’ve decided to adopt him and his family, and they are mine now!

I eliminated immediately the third alternative. I know that most of the Rabinowitz family immigrated to the US. As of the Kagans - I still can't find any clue.

What are the possible sources of information? We are nowadays in the period that the last live people who were there are passing away: I believe that my two interviews covered at least two thirds of the survivors worldwide – if not all of them. So - verbal sources are vanishing. The Jewish records, in the synagogue and congregations books, were lost: burned, stolen and destroyed. Hence, the two sources of information that were left are:

  1. The written testimonies – Yad Vashem, Bet Hatefutzot, Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, Spielberg project, and may be sporadic archives conducted massive systems of collection of testimonies.
  2. Governmental archives in east Europe – in spite of all its deficiencies.

I am planning a trip to Belarus. But, this is only for the sake of the curiosity and the nostalgia. People came back from such tours with deep feeling of loss, because the footsteps of our ancestors were vanished: some because of the war and the destruction, some because of the robbery and the anti-Semitism of the Belarusians.

And afterwards - to the archives!

Copyright © 2000 Ofer Cohen and The Belarus Newsletter

Reprinting or copying of this aricle or illustrations is not allowed without prior permission from Ofer Cohen, the editor: Elsebeth Paikin and/or the Belarus SIG Coordinator David M. Fox

Back to the index of the Belarus SIG Newsletters

Back to the Belarus SIG website