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[Page 99]

SELF-DEFENSE

1918         

[Photo:] David Eisenstein


        As soon as the German occupation government left Drohitchin in 1918, and the town was left without any civilian government or police. the rabbi and his congregants called a meeting to develop plans to protect Drohitchin from possible attacks from various terror groups, which had started sprouting like mushrooms after a rainfall.

        A local committee was organized without extensive arguments; it was a type of local government made up of local community businessmen and Rabbi A. Y. Kolenkovich as the chairman. The rabbi took on the responsibility for the local leadership. The meeting was held in the house of Chaikel Miller.

        The first task of the committee was to create a Jewish self-defense militia; it wasn't a difficult task at all because every young Jewish man, married and unmarried, felt the duty to serve in the self-defense unit.

        The Jewish militia, which for all intents and purposes served as a police force, was made up of the following young men: David Eisenstein, Yudel Trashinsky, Asher Schwarzbard, Chaim Lev, Baruch Kakhler and Motya Yakhnes. The headquarters of the self-defense unit was located in the church, and the weapon depot was located at the home of Alter Goldberg, the merchant.

        The question of money then arose. They needed money to buy weapons and other local needs. The committee imposed a tax on all the Jews in town; families that had their own son in the self-defense unit paid less than those who weren't participating in it. Everyone had to pay something, however.

        Actually, in Drohitchin there were enough weapons because of what the Germans had left behind. However, one day a group of Bolsheviks came along and ordered that anyone who had weapons had to bring them to the Bolsheviks, who left a small number of weapons for the self-defense unit. This wasn't sufficient, and we needed money to buy more.

        Some well-to-do businessmen wanted to get out of paying the tax, but the committee used their authority to force them to pay their share. It would be useful to recount an event that occurred relating to this.

        The committee determined that Yankel Chacham (Rosenstein) had to pay a tax of 1000 rubles because no one in his family was serving in the self-defense unit, and because everyone knew he could afford to pay. However, Rosenstein remained obstinate, and refused to pay.

        One Saturday night a few members of the committee came to Rosenstein's house with the militia, and ordered him to pay the tax. Rosenstein broke open a windowpane, and screamed. In the meantime, the militia noticed Yankel's daughter running into a room and slamming the door shut.

[Page 100]

Since she didn't want to open the door, the militiamen had to break it open. They found the entire room filled to the ceiling with wheat. In those days, when it was hard to get hold of a pood of grain for any money, here was a virtual silo full of priceless grain.

        The committee confiscated 22 bags of wheat, which were valued at 1,250 rubles, and which covered the 1,000-ruble tax, plus 150 ruble fine because Rosenstein broke his own window, and 100 additional rubles for creating a public disturbance. The committee sold the wheat to Jews in town to bake Passover matzahs.

        The case of Hershel Papinsky was also something worth mentioning. When Hershel started building his house, he mistakenly built on a few meters of property belonging to the widow Zippa Buder. The Buders brought over the rabbi, who, of course, ruled in favor of the Buder family. However, Hershel's workers didn't want to stop working, and the rabbi called for the Jewish militia, who stopped the work. Since he had no choice, Hershel had to pay for the small amount of property he had taken.

        One night the rabbi called for me; when I arrived at the rabbi's house, I met Berl Zbar, who told me that a gang of Balokhovitch's men broke into Shmuel Yudel Piasetsky's house (Zbar also lived there) and demanded they provide women, sugar, etc. so they wouldn't carry out a pogrom in town.

        In the meantime, I organized a self-defense group, who were secretly waiting near the church for those demons. As soon as the gang rode by horse to the church, the Jewish boys surrounded them and pulled their weapons. The Balokhovitch gang were held prisoner a whole night in the church, and the next day they were sent off to Pinsk after undergoing a lashing. Shortly thereafter, when the Germans left Drohitchin, the peasants who had fled to Russia started returning from the surrounding villages. The return of the peasants created a problem for the Jews in town.

        As is known. the Germans took over the abandoned houses of the peasants, cut down the wood for use on the muddy roads. Many Jews in town took advantage of that situation. Before the Germans could demolish the houses, the Jews took over the houses and moved them to their own locations where their burnt down homes had stood.

        The returning peasants demanded back their houses. The Lasintz landowner, an anti-semite, called a meeting of the peasants and incited them to make a pogrom in Drohitchin. The situation in town worsened by the day, and people were terrified of what was in store for them.

        At a special meeting of all Jews in town, it was decided that all Jews, against whom the peasants had claims, should offer the peasants payment for their houses; as far as possible the Jews were to avoid entering into a conflict with the angry peasants. People should be prepared to allow peasants to purchase goods in Jewish stores without payment, and if a pogrom were to break out, the self-defense unit would intervene with its own force; however, this did not take place.

        A minor incident did take place in Yossel Shinder's store. A few peasants seized salt, spices, and other items, and didn't want to pay. Yossel's wife, Chaya Leah, ran out into the street shouting. At the same time, David Eisenstein, Chaim Lev, Yudel Trashinsky and others from the self-defense unit appeared at the scene. The gentiles, seeing the guns over the boys' shoulders, immediately paid for the merchandise and quickly left.

        As mentioned, everyone who was involved in the situation paid the peasants for the houses and barns, and the peasants calmed down.

        In general, the Jewish self-defense unit was extremely responsible in their work. Soon the term, "self-defense" aroused fear among the local gentiles and adventurers, who didn't dare attempt any adventures into Drohitchin. This should be remembered for generations to come.

NOTE. On a certain day a person named Vadka appeared in town wearing a Ukrainian uniform, and presented himself as a representative of the Ukrainian government. However, no one believed him. On one occasion, Vadka got drunk, wandered around town shooting off his gun at the ground – he would walk a few meters and then take a shot. As he walked by the house of David Eisenstein, Vadka became frightened of the boys, headed by David Eisenstein. They struck him on the head and removed the revolver from his hand, and gave him a few good punches. Then they let him run away frightened and defeated. We never saw Vadka in Drohitchin again.

[Editor]
Shmuel Fishman (Israel)

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