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[Page 87]

PART TWO

Memories and Recollections
of the Brest District

 

Memories Of Kamenetz

By Rachel Soifer nee Rinkowicz

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

My hometown of Kamenetz Litovsk, is 35 kilometres north of Brest, and situated on the River Lesznie, whose waters were used by the entire town. The water carriers would draw their supplies of water from the river, and carry the water to the more affluent homes. In the winter when the river was frozen, the young people would skate on the ice. In the summertime the women would do their laundry washing in the river, and on very hot days there would be swimming and rowing on the river.

On one side of the river there was a broad sandy shore, on the other side were wide green fields.

I must confess that the following lines are about the working class movement that greatly influenced me and are engraved in my memories of the town, as well as the emotions of pride in my hometown and my brother townsmen. I would like my memories to be recorded for posterity although I have only very limited means to describe the individual characteristics of Kamenetz.

On a tall hill not far from the river there is a tall tower that they called the “Sloop” or pylon that stood in a small depression, and as one approached, one could see that it was built on brick with brick channels going down to many streets in the town. This Sloop had iron gates through which one could enter and steps leading to the top where one could see all of the town and a great distance away.

In summer when this hill was covered in grass the people from the poor neighbourhoods would come and rest there on the Sabbath.

Whenever there was a visitor to the town they would always take them and show them this ancient tower, as it once was a fortress. If one wanted to insult a person they would call them a Kamenetz “Sloop”.

Kamenetz had a school, a synagogue, several prayer houses and a Chassidic shteibl (prayer house). There was a rabbi, a cantor, a schochet (ritual slaughterer) and everything else that generation and generations of local Jewish inhabitants had established.

In the middle of the market place there were two long rows of timber stalls of which about half were local Jews eking out their livelihoods. Every Sunday and Thursdays, the local peasants from the nearby villages would arrive to sell their grains, fruits and various other foods.

With the money they obtained they would buy goods from the Jewish stores – with the remainder they would drink in the taverns until they had no more worries….

There was no industry – in the psychology of those days people would thank God that there were no factory workers in their families! There were teachers, students, shopkeepers, tavern owners, all kinds of agents, merchants, employers, shoemakers, bakers, blacksmiths, and as much work as was necessary for the town's economy.

This small town was isolated from the outside world. The train line was 20 kilometres away at Zhabinka. The mail would be delivered by a townsman who carried passengers in his wagon to the train station at Zhabinka. His wife, Sara Leah, was the letter carrier and she only delivered the mail when she felt like it! The Yiddish newspaper was only accessible to the wealthy and two or three families would share it, it would arrive once a week.

The big synagogue had a yeshiva where many students studied – they were Mitnagdim. On certain days they would eat at the homes of the rich merchants, and when one would go past the yeshiva in the evenings, one could see the flickering white lights and hear the young men singing their sad songs of longing.

There were Zionist movements such as Chovevei Zion, the oldest member was Zelig the bookbinder who owned a bookshop and who would receive various Zionist literature. There were meetings and lectures – later on the Zionist movement produced some members that went to Israel.

There was a drama club that produced plays and brought much joy and culture to the town. At that time Kamenetz also had a library that contained Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew books.

The young people would read, think and dream of a better tomorrow, and knew that the world did not end in this small town, so they spread out to wider horizons and went away to unknown new worlds.

When W.W.1 broke out, the Germans occupied the town and life became much more difficult and restrictive. Already at that time the Germans showed systematic brutality – there was a 9.p.m. curfew and all sparks of life were stifled. On one of those evenings a fire broke out after curfew and by the time it was extinguished half of the town had burnt down – half of the townsmen were left with their goods and homes destroyed. This event caused tremendous hardship and poverty and a struggle for economic survival and existence.

When W.W.1 ended, the desperate economic situation was more evident. The youth left in droves for the larger world – some went to Israel and lived on kibbutzim, some went into Soviet Russia, but the majority went to the Americas, including those that built the Argentinean Jewish community.

Those that remained in Kamenetz carried on their traditional lives under a corrupt Polish regime. They lived miserably and without a future, suffered and went hungry under a deep economic depression and were persecuted.

At that time a very strong progressive revolutionary movement that conducted its work secretly in the towns and villages amongst the peasants, sprouted and grew. This movement raised the consciousness of the poor and oppressed that lived in permanent poverty and need, and worked for the rich landowners for a pittance.

This movement had many young Jewish members - if caught its members would be arrested and sent to the prison at Kartusz Bereza.

When W.W.2 broke out, the Nazi beasts overran the town, which was already infested with rampant anti Semitism and hatred of the Jews. The Nazi murderers together with their Polish fascist hooligans applied their cunning and murderous methods to destroying the Jewish population. Part of the Jewish inhabitants were sent to the Brest ghetto – many were dragged to concentration camps, those who fled into the Bialovezher forest were hunted down and murdered. There were many other terrible episodes of murder – unfortunately I do not know the details of how they perished.

Thus perished the Jews of Kamenetz, sharing in the fate of the six million martyrs. Thus was extinguished the lives of generations of pious, honest, hard workings Jews. Thus was extinguished the lives of a knowledgeable, fighting youth, who surely would have reached for a better and more beautiful tomorrow.


[Page 89]

My Terespol Between the Two World Wars

By S. Kaufman

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

After the scattered inhabitants returned from their exile in the various towns and villages spread throughout Poland and Russia – the majority of Terespol residents had returned to their home. Before W.W.1 there had been 700 Jewish families in Terespol, with an enlightened Jewish population.

In those stormy days, they endeavoured to build a cultural life – they established a cultural club which encompassed all the ideological streams – the Zionist, The National Cultural Autonomous and the Revolutionary.movements. There were great debates and discussions as to which direction the Jewish youth should take.

This flurry of activity brought consciousness – a library was established, a primary school and a drama circle that put on many plays. A professional workers association was formed; a cooperative savings and loans fund was established, as most of the townsmen were workers. A loans fund was also established for the small traders and tradesmen. Whatever institutions were established were linked to and branches of our neighbouring city of Brest. After W.W.1 all the economic and cultural activities were as one standardized entity with Brest. Under the Tsarist regime the entire town had been forced to evacuate in the first year of the war (1915) – the same as in Brest. They were scattered throughout the Ukraine, White Russia and Poland. Some of the young men were conscripted into the German army for forced labor, and they also returned to Terespol.

However, it was far more difficult for the Brest communists that returned – they had been immediately deported by the Germans into camps in Poland - these camps were in Lukow, Ragin and the Lublin district – they were held there for 3 years and hundreds died of hunger and disease – the survivors returned to Brest and Terespol in 1918.

The Jewish community was bonded together by their years of suffering – this bond was even closer under the aristocratic anti Semitic regime of the New Poland. The youth was forced to emerge and conduct a bitter political and economic struggle for their rights, equality and a better life.

Many of the Terespol and Brest youth subsequently ended up in Polish prisons for this reason, and many more were forced to immigrate.

This situation continued until W.W.2 when Terespol was occupied by the Red Army, which withdrew after the border was delineated at the Bug River. Terespol was on the German side. Almost all the young inhabitants fled into the Soviet Union and saved themselves, but the largest part remained in Brest and suffered the same fate as the Brest residents who were slaughtered and annihilated by the Nazis.

The page of history of our town and the other towns and villages of our Old Home has closed – it is a sad and tragic conclusion. However, it is not as absolute as the Nazis had wished. There is a continuation and it exists in the culture and tradition that 1000s have taken with them throughout the world. They took with them the golden thread that survived the Nazi slaughter, the golden thread that was woven by the victims of the Holocaust until their tragic deaths.


[Page 90]

Domachevo

By Chilke Weinreich

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

Domachevo is a township that lies 43 kms south of Brest, encircled by the beautiful scenery of high pine trees. It was a genuine Jewish shtetl with thousands of Jewish sons.

There was no heavy industry in Domachevo – or light industry either. It had one asset that it was renowned for, not only throughout the Polesie district, but also much further away. It was a famous holiday and health resort, and thousands of visitors would come from Polesie, Wolyn, Bialystok and from further away.

The entire town was ringed by a series of pine forests such as the Tchesker forest, the Liplevger, and the Podval, and studded with dachas (summer homes), that had been especially built for the summer visitors and were themselves historic and famous, such as Rosenberg's and Feldman's guest houses where Jews had come for their summer holidays for the past 40-50 years. Assorted types of people would come with their various illnesses – from Chassidic rebbes to religious leaders such as the Brisker Rav, the rabbi of Chelm, the Parover Rabbi, the Trisker Magid, and the various yeshiva students.

On the Sabbath the rabbis would conduct the prayers and the Chassidim would sing their songs. They would lie in their hammocks the whole day, swinging and discussing Torah. The rabbi of Chelm was a good-looking man of medium height with a white beard. Sometimes he would read a novel by Segalovitch – he was learned in literature, and well versed in I.L. Peretz. He would sit and play chess with a Jew from another district, and this Jew would always say, “Rabbi, don't cheat!” Evening would arrive and they would stand up as straight as the pine tress and recite the evening prayers.

The other type of visitors were political party members that received health leave and seized the opportunity to descend on Domachevo and get the benefits of the fresh healthy air. They would gain weight and the strength to continue their work. The Jewish intelligentsia such as teachers and writers would come from Brest, Bialystok, Pruzhany, Kobryn, Kartusz Bereza, etc. These were the permanent summer visitors.

The town owned two buildings that were used by the orphanage and the TOZ health organization. Children from poor homes and in poor health and from the orphanage would come for summer camps every year. They would gather at these camps surrounded by teachers and staff, the intelligentsia and all would socialize together.

The children's holiday camps had great communal and artistic significance. In the summer of 1936-37 the town had the honor of hosting the great teacher and writer Kalman Lys, the author of “Father Batrach”. Kalman Lys worked for Centos, he worked with handicapped and impaired children with various psychological and physical disabilities, and also children who had been left abandoned in the street. They were named after the days that they were found…Sabadski for Saturday, Nigelski for Sundays, etc.

That year Centos decided to make an experiment and bring the two types of children together, and see how it worked psychologically, and what sort of results they could achieve. These were very rewarding three months of very intense pedagogic and psychological studies, where the teachers studied the integration of the various types of children.

This is not the place to discuss the different aspects and events that I witnessed during those three months, but I must stress one thing – I personally got to know Kalman Lys, not only as writer, but also as a great teacher and pedagogue who shared his knowledge and wisdom in child psychology, and showed his concern for the welfare of each child. We would joke with him and tell him that we didn't know if he was a greater writer or teacher – he would smile broadly, this always happy, healthy, broad boned Kalman Lys. This is my personal recollection and thanks for the beautiful time that we spent together and for all that he gave and enriched me.

******************

Thus the town lived and drew its livelihood solely from the summer tourists and the guesthouses, they made their living during the short summer months for the whole year. It was a poor Jewish shtetl like all the other shtetls in Poland, but it was rich in spirit. There were two prayer houses, according to one's social standing. One was for the wealthy, the businessmen and merchants; the other was for the workers and tradesmen. One stood in the marketplace and the other in a side street.

There were two rabbis – one was Leizer Wolf, a tall thin Jew with a wonderful personality…. he was a learned man with sick lungs (tuberculosis). He would sit and study day and night until his illness conquered him and he passed away. He earned his income as a rabbinical judge. His wife the Rebbetzen Zlate was a small bent woman who had the monopoly of selling yeast for the Sabbath.

The second rabbi, Reb Yankel, was also tall, but strong and healthy. He had a tradesman's background. From time to time there would be smatterings of gossip about the two rabbis and their groups of supporters. There were the various political parties: the general Zionists, Gordonia, Hashomer, the Bund, the Communist party, the socialists, the trade unions such as the timber and the clothing industry workers. There was a bank and a loans fund headed by the famous activist Joshua Freidman from central headquarters in Warsaw, who would come to supervise the operation of the loans fund.

There were two libraries and a literary club where they would study literature and hold cultural evenings with literary discussions. There was a great deal more activity over the summer months when the visiting teachers and writers would participate.

The township seethed with all the various political events and battles. It endured a series of oppressive and discriminatory laws passed by the Polish government that plundered the assets from the poor peasants in the surrounding villages.

Domachevo witnessed many arrests – those arrested would be taken handcuffed and bound under tight security to Brest for imprisonment and trial.

The communist party was small in numbers but large in its activities. It produced good activists who took their place not only in Domachevo, but later on the larger stage in Warsaw: the comrades Nitzele, Henie, Osher, Reuven, and Sender Sarter, who during the time of the Spanish civil war was involved with this event. This ordinary simple worker and carpenter tried to change the world - he volunteered and fought with the Spanish army against the Fascists. He survived and later fought the Nazis, and now lives in France.

Thus the town existed until 1942 when the Nazis took the Jews to the German 'Cathedral', undressed them and shot them there. With this massacre the historical Jewish chapter of Domachevo was ended with great pain and suffering under the brutal Nazi regime, just as in all the other towns and cities of Poland, the Baltic states and the occupied areas of the U.S.S.R.

******************

The End of the Jews of Domachevo

An extract from a survivor, Israel Silber, who now resides in Israel

It was in the year 1942, on a Sunday before Yom Kippur, the Germans surrounded the ghetto, and took all the men, women and children – a total of 2,700 souls to the Ossover hall opposite the German Church.

Then began the most ghastly and terrible event. Everyone was forced to strip naked, taken aside in groups and shot dead.

Some hid themselves. Schiye when discovered, clung onto the police, he had hidden underground in a dugout for a long time and was blinded by the daylight.

Nissele and Henia were caught on the first day and immediately shot.

Thus our nearest and dearest were destroyed in Domachevo.


[Page 93]

My School in Terespol

By Beinish Katz, Porto Allegro, Brazil

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

I have set myself the goal of writing about my hometown of Terespol and to recall the best of my youth and schooldays. In truth, although Terespol was a small town in numbers, it was very developed communally and socially, and could be proportionately compared to the large neighbouring Brest. I will endeavour to describe some of the teachers from the Jewish primary school.

As a child perhaps I did not understand just what this school represented, all the dear and dedicated friends that the school had. One of them, the dear Meir Drachle, literally lived for this school, and strove for the school to have qualified teachers that Terespol did not possess. Every year teachers would arrive from Brest – among them the unforgettable Saperstein who is etched into my memory. Saperstein literally dedicated his body and soul to the school. He was one of the composers of the school song, written at a time when people were poor. We sang this song more than once being hungry. Although we were young we already understood that a better would arrive:

'We are only children, to be young and full of enthusiasm to live in a free world is very good. In the meantime, it is still dark and stifled and we are not free.

However with our strong determination it will become free. So let us children weave our duty, for us children knowledge will bring us freedom and light.”

Let this serve as a reminder of our beloved township of Terespol that perished so horribly under the Hitlerite murderers – the greatest murderers in all humanity.


[Page 94]

My Shtetl of Malorita

By Rivka Goldberg

Translated by Jenni Buch and Dr. Samuel Chani

Malorita is a little town totalling several hundred inhabitants. It had a long main street that went from one end of the town to the other. This and two other streets named Church and Bank streets. Bank St. had special significance as the train station was situated there, and the trains would arrive day and night. After nine p.m. the town would become festive as both adults and children would go to the train station. They would meet and greet each other – those who had just gone to the station, and those who had gone to welcome arrivals. It was better than the ordinary Sabbath walks – one plus was that both sides of the railway line were surrounded by hills with many trees. The hills were called the Gorki hills. On Saturday afternoons they would take their books and go to the hills and read under the trees until evening.

Malorita also had a fine library with many books from the best writers in the world. In the same building we had a club where we had cultural discussion groups every Saturday night. There were always many questions, most of them could be answered, but there was always someone to help with the really difficult questions. There were also lectures from which the youth learned a great deal.

We were advanced in terms of self-education, but man is never satisfied with his achievements and wants to progress further, but we could not go further with our education, as there was no high school in Malorita. There was only a Polish school in Malorita and to our misfortune, the teacher was an anti Semite. He immediately agitated the Polish Christian students against us – the Jewish children suffered a great deal from their hostile attitudes and were forced to abandon the Polish school.

The growth in anti Semitism was coupled with the growth of poverty – whoever could fled - they went to Palestine, Argentina, Brazil and the U.S.A. In those critical economic years we formed a trade union, from the outset we wanted to unite with the Christian carpenters, but we were faced with many obstacles. Eventually we formed a tailors union, which was embraced with great enthusiasm and had much success.

We held strikes and marched on the 1st of May every year. In Malorita the union had a strong effect on people – they would look at the few worker members with pride and the union was dear to them.

It took the bestial Nazi murderers to destroy all this in the most terrible manner. When I remember Malorita, it is always with a curse on my lips – my ambition is to live long enough to take revenge against the gruesome animals that destroyed my hometown.

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