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[ Page 131 ]

RABBI NOACH KOHN

[photo:] Rabbi Noach Kohn

        Rabbi Noach Kohn, the rabbi of the “Polish camp” in Drohitchin, was born in 1891 into a rabbinical family in Kamenitz-Litovsk. His father, Rabbi Yeshayahu Kohn, was one of the most highly respected people in town.

        When he was still a youngster, Noach demonstrated great enthusiasm in Torah study, and attended the yeshiva of Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibovitz in Slobodka. Later he went off to the Volozhin yeshiva, where he studied intensively for many years. In approximately 1913, R. Noach became the son-in-law of R. David Mordechai Yudovsky in Drohitchin.

        R. Noach continued his studies for a period of time after his wedding, preparing for a rabbinical post. He was then ordained by Rabbi Rafael of Volozhin and Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibovitz, two of the greatest rabbinical scholars and yeshiva heads. After the death of Rabbi Yudovsky, R. Noach took his father-in-law's place, but was not able to have an uneventful life, since soon thereafter World War I broke out, bringing in its wake years of suffering and pain. Rabbi Kohn's home and House of Study, together with other Jewish houses, was burned down during the war. Many local businessmen died during the typhus epidemic, though Rabbi Kohn, his wife Etka, and their small children survived fear and hardship.

        Despite his personal hardships, Rabbi Kohn often interceded with the German authorities on behalf of the residents of Drohitchin. He was able to win the release of many Jewish men who were given heavy punishments for evading forced labor. After the war, R. Noach Kohn decided to rebuild his house, but he faced great hardship in earning a living, and didn't see a good future for himself in Drohitchin, so he decided to move to the United States.

        In 1929, he and his family arrived in Baltimore, where he was accepted as the rabbi of the Tavrig synagogue, Anshe Emunah. [Men of Faith] He and his family felt themselves fortunate when after so much hardship and wandering, things finally became easier. They were provided with income and anticipated a good future for their children. Their older son studied in Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan's yeshiva in New York [early forerunner of Yeshiva University], and was preparing for ordination. Unfortunately, this son suddenly became gravely ill and died. This misfortune struck a heavy blow to Rabbi Kohn, and his own health suffered because of it. In 1938 during the week of Sukkot, R. Noach died suddenly from a heart attack.

        He was survived by his wife, Etka, and a son and a daughter, but without any means of support. However, with the assistance of good friends, Etka was able to open a bookstore in Baltimore that was a successful undertaking. The children were soon married; the daughter married a rabbi, and the son remained in the business.
Details are from Y. B. Warshaw

[ Page 132 ]

RABBI ASHER EISENSTEIN

[Photo:] Rabbi Asher Eisenstein

Rabbi Asher Eisenstein was born in Drohitchin; his parents were R. Berl and Toiva. In Drohitchin, R. Asher was known as “Asher Toiva's” even though he rarely visited Drohitchin.

        I first met R. Asher in approximately 1923, when I went to study at the Grodno yeshiva. At that time Rabbi Eisenstein was the head of the elementary school division of the yeshiva, and it goes without saying that Rabbi Eisenstein was extremely kind to me, and I frequently visited him at his home.

        R. Asher was educated in the large yeshivas of Slobodka, Volozhin and others, and was ordained into the rabbinate by the great scholars and heads of yeshiva, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibovitz. In the yeshivas, R. Asher was known as “R. Asher Drohitchiner,” and was greatly respected. He was considered a great scholar and a man of great character. It is said that Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik greatly admired R. Asher, who became very close to Rabbi Soloveitchik. He was especially distinguished at the Grodno yeshiva, and held in high esteem by Rabbi Shimon Shkop.

        R. Asher was very creative in his Talmudic studies, and had written many of his own Torah commentaries, though I don't know if he ever published any of his manuscripts. Rabbi Eisenstein's wife was an attractive and educated woman; she was the daughter of the rabbi of Yashinovka (near Byalistock). Although they had no children, their life together was idyllic and satisfying.

        In approximately 1926 Rabbi Eisenstein was selected as the rabbi of Semiatitsch, near Byalistock. A yeshiva student (Chaimovich) and I were selected by the yeshiva administration to accompany R. Asher to Semiatitsch, where R. Asher was welcomed with great respect and affection. Over the years, I lost contact with Rabbi Eisenstein, and never heard from him again. I have heard that he and his wife shared the same fate as the other Jewish martyrs in Poland. Rabbi Eisenstein had a brother, Shimon, a full-time yeshiva student, and one sister. They were all killed, except for two sisters who were in Palestine.

RABBI ELIYAHU V. ALTWARG

[photo:] Rabbi Eliyahu Velvel Altwarg

        
Rabbi Eliyahu Velvel Altwarg was born in Drohitchin. His father, R. Chaim Ber the glassmaker, was a respected businessman from the Street House of Study, and served as the teacher of the Mishnah study group. Nothing is known about R. Velvel's youth; all that is known is that studied at the Slobodka yeshiva. He married the daughter of a rabbi in Lithuania, and for a few years before World War I, he was the rabbi of Vidz, a town in Lithuania.

        When World War I broke out, R. Eliyahu Velvel and his family went to Drohitchin, where he remained thereafter, and served unofficially as the rabbi of the Street House of Study. He would give speeches on the holydays and on various other occasions.

        Later, when the rabbi of the “Polish side,” rabbi Noach Kohn, left for the United States, some Jews from the “Polish side” started buying yeast from Rabbi Altwarg, which stirred opposition from the supporters of the official rabbi, Rabbi Kalenkovitch, who had previously purchased the rights to sell yeast from Rabbi Kohn. These supporters brought the rabbi of Pinsk, Rabbi Aharon Walkin, to Drohitchin to resolve the controversy. Unfortunately, no resolution was attainable, and R. Eliyahu continued selling yeast. His wife helped him in this business, and was a virtuous woman and community leader.

        R. Eliyahu Velvel had three sons and one daughter.

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